Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jenn's Review: Devil Bones

Summary: Dr. Temperance Brennan's quest to identify two corpses pits her against citizen vigilantes intent on a witch-hunt in bestseller Reichs's exciting 11th thriller to feature the forensic anthropologist (after 2007's Bones to Ashes). While working in Charlotte, N.C., Brennan investigates remains unearthed during a housing renovation and discovers disturbing clues possibly pointing to voodoo or Santeria. She must determine if the bones, including the skull of a teenage girl, are linked to an unidentified headless torso found in a nearby lake. Intent on using the deaths as the cornerstone of his crusade against immorality, fundamentalist preacher turned politician Boyce Lingo claims that the bodies bear the mark of devil worshippers. With the help of Det. Erskine Skinny Slidell, Brennan unearths a tangled web of dirty politics, religious persecution and male prostitution. Reichs, whose work inspired the hit TV series Bones, once again expertly blends science and complex character development.

Review: Another highly enjoyable novel by Reichs -her writing became so accessible after her first novel! She really has found a rhythm. I found the subject matter of the latest installment of Temperance Brennan far more satisfying than the last, at least for me. Reichs takes on the myths surrounding non mainstream religions and the fear mongering of politicians and religious zealots that can lead to chaos and destruction.

I was, however, slightly disappointed with Tempe (not Reichs) in that it took her a long time to decipher the perplexity regarding the second body. Maybe I've watched a little too much Bones, but I knew exactly the circumstances that created the confusion regarding the second body as soon as they found it. But, to be fair, Tempe was having some personal issues here. The last book turned Tempe's love life upside down. This book is continuing to deal with the fallout four months later. Hounded by the media and coping with death, motherhood, and lost love, Temperance falls off the sobriety wagon. (I was actually a little shocked at how quickly she could jump back on the wagon. Not having any experience beyond what I've read, I didn't think it was all that easy; Reichs made it out to be like flipping a switch ~perhaps my only real criticism of this book.)

I guess it is a testament to how much I love this series, that I really want to see Tempe get her love life back together. Aimless twenty-something daughters and ex-husbands will always be difficult, but Tempe should at least be allowed to win in love. Reichs has opened some options for Temperance and while I will still be routing for a rugged, handsome detective, Temperance (uh, I mean Reichs...) will make her own choices. Whatever they are, I look forward to reading about them in the next novel.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Makeover

It seems that the blog template we were using isn't supported anymore, so we need to update our format. So over the next few days we'll be "trying on" different layouts and updating our content. So if you see it changing frequently, don't be alarmed, we're just playing around.

Let us know your thoughts!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Julie's Review: 7th Heaven

Summary: At the start of the gripping seventh Women's Murder Club thriller from bestseller Patterson and Paetro (after 2007's The 6th Target), San Francisco is still haunted by the disappearance of Michael Campion, the much-adored teenage son of a former California governor, three months earlier. Following up on a tip that Michael was last seen entering a prostitute's house, homicide inspector Lindsay Boxer and her new partner, Rich Conklin, are shocked when the hooker immediately confesses that Michael, who had a heart defect, died during sex and she disposed of his body. Lindsay's ADA pal, Yuki Castellano, is sure she has a slam-dunk case, but the trial soon takes a bizarre turn. Lindsay and Rich also scramble to track down a serial arsonist responsible for murdering a string of wealthy couples. Lindsay races to put the pieces together before the fires hit too close to home. In true Patterson style, the reader is privy to Lindsay's thoughts as well as the killers', ratcheting up the suspense an extra notch. Fans won't be disappointed with the twist at the end that not even Lindsay sees coming.

Review: Besides the Alex Cross books, the Women's Murder Club novels are pretty much the only James Patterson books I look forward too. 7th Heaven (The Women's Murder Club) is a good book in the series, but not the best. I have to say I like the novels better when they focus on one crime than two. When there's two crimes going on one always seems to get sloppy in plot. This is the case with 7th Heaven (The Women's Murder Club), the story of Michael Champion gets dropped and pretty much unresolved until the last 5 pages of the book, while they concentrate on the fires in wealthy neighborhoods. There's also the subplots of Lindsey/Joe; Claire and her pregnancy; Yuki and Jason Twilly. So there's a lot going on but neither storyline is connected in any way, which is disappointing. I wouldn't mind two crimes so much if they intersected.

I'll continue to read Women's Murder Club books but I would suggest that they stick to one crime per novel from now on. I'm saddened that the tv show got cancelled before it really found it's "legs". Even though Lindsey is blonde in the books, I will forever picture the gorgeous Angie Harmon as her.

Final Take: 3.5/5

Friday, September 19, 2008

Julie's Review: The Beach House

Photobucket Summary: Known in Nantucket as the crazy woman who lives in the rambling house atop the bluff, Nan doesn’t care what people think. At sixty-five-years old, her husband died twenty years ago, her beauty has faded, and her family has flown. If her neighbors are away, why shouldn’t she skinny dip in their swimming pools and help herself to their flowers? But when she discovers the money she thought would last forever is dwindling and she could lose her beloved house, Nan knows she has to make drastic changes.

So Nan takes out an ad: Rooms to rent for the summer in a beautiful old Nantucket home with water views and direct access to the beach. Slowly, people start moving into the house, filling it with noise, with laughter, and with tears. As the house comes alive again, Nan finds her family expanding. Her son comes home for the summer, and then an unexpected visitor turns all their lives upside-down.

Review: I'm a huge Jane Green fan and was excited when I read the summary of this novel. I thought it sounded like a great summer book. Well The Beach House falls flat and doesn't really ever recover. I saw many of the plots coming from miles away. Nan is interesting but yet I don't know if I'd call her eccentric but she definitely feeds into the perception of herself by keeping mainly to herself. She lost her husband decades before and continued to live in his family home called Windemere. Windemere is the most interesting of all the characters in the book and I wish we might have gotten a bit more history. I think a house like that deserves it's story to be told (for a books like that investigate Anita Shreve). I could definitely picture Windemere and Nantucket in my mind while reading the book. Windemere seems a like a beautiful but neglected old beach house, but that only adds to it's character in some ways. We are introduced to an array of characters besides Nan. Enter Daniel, Daff, Michael and Bee. I figured out Daniel's storyline right away and that bothered me. Daff's storyline wasn't that creative either and well you just knew what was going to happen once she ended up at Nan's Beach House. I enjoyed Michael but again his storyline was predictable.

Ms. Green does somewhat redeem the book in my eyes because of a pretty good twist that came with about 50-75 pages left. I didn't really see it coming but as soon as I read it, I saw the hints earlier in the book. The epilogue of the novel is preditable but it does wrap the book up nicely.

If you are looking for a good beach read skip The Beach House and pick up one of Ms. Green's earlier books instead. I recommend The Other Woman or To Have and To Hold: A Novel.

Final Take: 3.25/5

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Becoming Jane

Photobucket Summary: Anne Hathaway (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA THE PRINCESS DIARIES) gives a radiant performance as a young love-struck Jane Austen in the witty and engaging romantic comedy BECOMING JANE from Miramax Films. It's the untold romance that inspired the novels of one of the world's most celebrated authors. When the dashing Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) a reckless and penniless lawyer-to-be enters Jane's life he offends the emerging writer's sense and sensibility. Soon their clashing egos set off sparks that ignite a passionate romance and fuel Jane's dream of doing the unthinkable -- marrying for love.

Review: I had Becoming Jane on my DVR for a couple months. A couple weeks ago I actually got to sit down and watch it. What a wonderful movie. It's the wonderful "based on the life of" movie about Jane Austen and how she really becomes "Jane Austen". I've always wanted to say I've read Jane Austen and I tried Pride and Prejudice (Bantam Classics) but I just couldn't do it. I much prefer the movie adaptations. (I know the horror!!) This movie was just great. You know when Jane meets Tom Lefroy that it's going to be passionate and a whirlwind romance. I also had a feeling that this romance is the one that made her probably the most prolific female writer ever. I laughed and I cried (ok I bawled a couple times). I loved the ending even if it wasn't the "happily ever after" that Ms. Austen's characters ended up having.

Anne Hathaway is a delight as Jane Austen. I hadn't seen James McAvoy in anything althought I've heard wonderful things about it and he was quite good as Tom Lefroy. He's good looking but not in the classic sense; meaning he's not drop dead gorgeous but there's something about him that's very attractive. Maggie Smith is wonderful as usual in her small but significant role.

Even though it's "based on" historical findings about her life, I think that Becoming Jane is such a wonderful movie, that I really don't care if it's 100% accurate. At the end it said that Jane Austen wrote 6 of the most influential books of our time in her short life (she was 35 when she died). It's amazing the kind of influence the written words of one woman can make on generations of women.

Movie Final Take: 4.5/5

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jenn's Review: Breaking Dawn

Summary: When you loved the one who was killing you, it left you no options. How could you run, how could you fight, when doing so would hurt that beloved one? If your life was all you had to give, how could you not give it? If it was someone you truly loved?

To be irrevocably in love with a vampire is both fantasy and nightmare woven into a dangerously heightened reality for Bella Swan. Pulled in one direction by her intense passion for Edward Cullen, and in another by her profound connection to werewolf Jacob Black, a tumultuous year of temptation, loss, and strife have led her to the ultimate turning point. Her imminent choice to either join the dark but seductive world of immortals or to pursue a fully human life has become the thread from which the fates of two tribes hangs.

Now that Bella has made her decision, a startling chain of unprecedented events is about to unfold with potentially devastating, and unfathomable, consequences. Just when the frayed strands of Bella's life -first discovered in Twilight, then scattered and torn in New Moon and Eclipse- seem ready to heal and knit together, could they be destroyed... forever?

The astonishing, breathlessly anticipated conclusion to the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn illuminates the secrets and mysteries of this spellbinding romantic epic that has entranced millions.

Review: I really thought Stephenie Meyer had backed herself into a corner at the end of Eclipse. Apparently, I wasn't the only one questioning the moral fibre of the series (MSN article), but I think Meyer pushed the envelope and fought her way out of it with the only satisfactory resolution. We were left at the end of Eclipse with Bella's impending death. The only way to gain the moral high ground on this front was to make the question of Bella's immortality the necessary recourse to save Bella from the brink of death. It can't be the impending threat of the Volturi, the self serving ruling coven of ancients from the old world, because that thread must be saved for the climax of the book, as hinted in the final chapters of the penultimate book. [***SPOILERS AHEAD, ~you have been warned!***] How can Meyer make Bella's death/near death the ultimate sacrifice, giving it as much credence as possible while fueling the imminent battle? By making her a mother, of course. The willing sacrifice on behalf of her unborn child is heart wrenching (especially being new mother myself).

The existence of her enchanting, half-breed offspring is the impetus for the climax of the book, essentially the ammunition the Volturi have been waiting for to come after the Cullen's with a vengeance, apocalyptic wrath, if you will. The role of Jacob in this book is a little bit of a stretch, but it was a necessary stretch to keep the well oiled plot in motion. But I can see where Jacob's place in this new story is disturbing to some. I loved meeting all the covens and learning of the innate powers displayed by individual members (and if you have trouble keeping it straight, Meyer even provides a chart at the end of the book). It was intricate but well designed. This is not the Bella of New Moon who has control over nothing in her life, this is a Bella who is stronger and has more will power than perhaps all her fellow immortals. (I think this is at least partly due to being a mother, as Bella had a way to hold on to her consciousness during her transformation, thinking about her daughter.) Finally we see Bella be the strong heroine, that we all knew she had in her.

I have heard from teenagers who have loved this book and those who have hated it (although my niece has yet to weigh in on this). You can tell the Meyer is a mother as it is definitely written from a mother's point of view. (Perhaps another reason it is hard for some teenagers to accept the storyline?) For me, this is the perfect ending to an enticing series. I thoroughly enjoyed this finale and it resolved all my nagging qualms from my review of Eclipse.

Please feel free to add your point of view in the comments. (I would be really interested to hear from someone who hated it.)


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Julie's Review: Hold Tight

Photobucket Summary: Parents will find this compulsive page-turner from Edgar-winner Coben (The Woods) particularly unnerving. A sadistic killer is at play in suburban Glen Rock, N.J., outside New York City, but somehow he's less frightening than the more mundane problems that send ordinary lives into chaos. How do you weigh a child's privacy against a parent's right to know? How do you differentiate normal teenage rebelliousness from out-of-control behavior? When and how do you intervene if suicidal signs appear? Other issues include single parenting; career versus family; marital honesty; and how much information you should share with a child at what age. Coben plucks each of these strings like a virtuoso as Mike and Tia Baye try to deal with the increasing withdrawal of their 16-year-old son, Adam, after a friend's suicide. A pair of brutal, seemingly senseless killings, punctuate the unfolding domestic troubles that ratchet up the tension and engulf the Baye family, their friends and neighbors in a web of increasing tragedy. The this could be me factor lends poignancy to the thrills and chills.

Review: Hold Tight is the third novel by Harlan Coben that I've read and it's the best of the three. This definitely got me thinking. Granted I don't have a teenager but I do have kids and often wonder what they'll be like during their teen years, I know what I was like and sure I had my moments but compared to some other teenagers my stuff was pretty tame. Mr. Coben deals with teen angst and parental governance of their computers, cell phones and pretty much trying to get their thoughts. Tia and Mike Baye's son Adam has been distant and withdrawing from the family ever since his friend Spencer committed suicide. In order to try to figure out what's going on they "bug" his computer; and here in lies the moral dilemma of the book. As parents should we 1) know our children's every thought and 2) should we take it into our own hands to "spy" on them to know what they are up to? Are kids not allowed to have their own thoughts and privacy?

There are a lot of characters in this books and at times I did sit back and wonder how he was going to tie them all in but did he ever. The book is a roller coaster up and down of not only action but emotion too. As a parent I could definitely identify with the situation that the Baye's found themselves in. I just don't know if I would have gone down that route of spying on my kid. Then again, if it's your last resort, it's your last resort. Mr. Coben truly does not give an opinion on the subject but instead writes the novel so that you think about the morality of it. There are a few good twists and turns that come towards the end of the book and right at the end of the book which make the book that much better. There is violence and some of it pretty gross and yet not completely needless as much as I hate to say that.

I highly recommend Hold Tight if this is your first Harlan Coben book. If it's not and you haven't read it yet, pick it up because it definitely won't disappoint.
My only complaint is that I wish some of the characters had been flushed out a little more but I understand the book was more on plot than on rich character development.

Final Take: 4.25/5

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Group Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Summary: Murder on the Orient Express is a tour-de-force variation on the theme of the English house-party, gathering a remarkable set of characters, each a secretive soul, for a journey on the fabled Orient Express train as it travels from Istanbul to Paris. On hand to resolve the murder of an American passenger is Hercule Poirot, the dapper Belgian detective, dependent only on his wit, who tucks away obscure, seemingly unrelated minutiae in his facile mind. When he determines that the corpse was a renowned child kidnapper/killer, he begins to wonder about connections between the passengers and the victim. A misplaced button, overheard conversations, a monogrammed handkerchief, and an elusive figure clad in a scarlet kimono all become clues as Hercule Poirot interrogates the snow-trapped travelers and comes to his own conclusions. Murder on the Orient Express, with its skill plot construction, adroit writing, and thought-provoking revelations, reminds us that what is "just" is not always what is legal.

Julie's Review: I was in 7th grade when I first read Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians or And Then There Were None and was hooked. So since it was my choice for our book club pick, I decided to go in Ms. Christie's vault of mysteries (Jenn prodded me towards Murder on the Orient Express). I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can understand why she's referred to as the Queen of Mystery, because this book had me guessing till the end. I really enjoyed the cast of characters that were under suspect and Hercule Poirot is interesting himself. Quite the clever and cerebral man.

I really don't want to give too much away in case you haven't read it but she really does keep you guessing until the last 10 pages and even then you get a couple different scenarios to digest. Kind of like those books I used to read as a kid that you could go to one page to go for one ending and another page for another ending (God, what were the names of those books?!!) I did guess one plot detail while Poirot was collecting the evidence which made me feel pretty smart given the outcome of the book. I truly enjoyed the ending of the book. It makes me sit back and think about the definition of "justice". I thought that the commentary on all the different types of people were pretty stereotypical and yet funny because most of them still remain true to this day, which while funny is still sad. I'm sure most of the world views Americans as boorish and materialistic.

What amazes me is how the story-telling of Agatha Christie stands the test of time and how other writers try to emulate but can never replicate. I have And Then There Were None on my TBR list so I'm sure I'll read that sooner than later. I'll probably also eventually get around more Hercule Poirot books. I definitely recommend this book. I look forward to viewing the movie at some point.

My only 2 complaints were that 1)there was a bunch of French in the book without translation and that irked me to some degree but I understood the reason she used it and 2) it did seem to drag in parts.

Julie's Final Take: 4.0/5

Jenn's Review: I too started reading Agatha Christie sometime during middle school and this story is one of my favorites. I too get slightly frustrated with the conversational french used in the book, though it is never anything important, it is a bothersome part of all of the Hercule Poirot books. Unlike so many modern mysteries Poirot always seems to be a font of information (information that the reader's are never privy to until the big reveal) which always makes him seem so brilliant.

This is also one of the best book to movie translations that I have ever seen. I refer to the original 1974 star-studded production of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. The movie is true to the dialogue and the characters (with, I think, a slight tailoring of the character of the Swedish missionary to better fit Ingrid Bergman - and I would hardly call Dame Wendy Hiller ugly!). If you have never read the book or seen the film I suggest you do both! And this is one of the only times you may find me saying that I don't think it matters whether you read it or see it first. It's that good.

Jenn's Final Take: 4.7/5

Lisa's Review: Unlike my friends this is my first and quite possibly my only Agatha Christie. Even though, I now get what the big whoop was all about, I'm becoming more and more aware, that I like my writing a lot more on the contemporary side (does that make me a shallow, mindless, chick)? Though the more I think about it, it could simply be that the writing seemed stiff because it was meant to seem as if it was translated from French? Not sure. Other than that, this was a pleasant reading experience. This is easily an intriguing mystery. The sheer number of characters was difficult to keep up with at times, however served the to keep you guessing right up until the last few pages. I was positive, I knew who dunnit, but uh uh uhh.

I was far more impressed by the 'moral of the story' than anything else - it was extremely compelling and makes sense as the foundation upon which this mystery is built.

Lisa's Final Take: 4/5