Monthly Archives: August 2012

Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

Cannonball Read IV #25

Kids do more and more creepy things at younger ages these days, including sexting and other sexual behaviors totally not appropriate for their age. There are a ton of books dealing with this very subject (in fact, I just bought one called Testimony a few days ago!); This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman is a look at what happens to one family’s life after their son, 15-year-old Jake receives a sexually explicit video from 13-year-old Daisy. Jake sends it to a friend, who sends it to a friend, and the rest is history.

Okay, maybe it’s me but are there any novels that take place in New York where the kids don’t sound like completely entitled brats? Because both Jake, his little sister Coco (who really was an unimportant addition to the plot), Jake’s friends, and Daisy herself seem even more Verunca Salt than most novels with teenage characters do. From the start, I didn’t like any of these kids, although I liked Jake briefly when he told Daisy she was too young — which prompted her to send the video.

I can’t even really gather my thoughts on this book except to say it felt lost and unfinished. When it was over, I thought, “This is seriously the end?” There comes a point where you have to realize that you cannot write a book that goes on forever, but this novel felt nowhere near that point. Much of what Schulman touches on his morality and how none of these characters — not Jake or his mother Liz or father Richard — really know what to feel about what is happening and that’s clear. I think that’s what gives the book that unfinished, sloppy feel. None of them know what the heck is going on, and they’re all trying to exist in separate worlds but none of it is making any sense. If there were some kind of message, this would be a good — or even great! — book. But even after thinking it through, any message just gets lost.

Overall Rating: 4/10

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Book Review: Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

Cannonball Read IV #24

I bought Chevy Stevens’ novel Still Missing after I read a review of it on another blog because it sounded like a book I’d totally love. Annie O’Sullivan is 32 years old and selling a house for work when she is abducted. She spends a year in the wilderness with her captor until she finds freedom again. Still Missing alternates between her healing now as a free woman and her time in captivity.

This book reminded me a lot of Room – young woman held in captivity, forced to have sex with her captor, and so on. And unfortunately, the number one thing that drove me crazy about Room is what drove me crazy about Still Missing: the main character’s voice. It just. didn’t. work. Actually, that is not entirely true. I thought Annie’s voice when she was in captivity was perfect. She sounded scared and intelligent at the same time, and as time elapsed and she was still in captivity, her descent as she started to lose her sense of self was evidence, too.

But when she was in her therapist’s chair? She was a different character entirely. Of course you can argue that someone who’s been in captivity against his or her will for any amount of time is a different character, and I’d agree. But the way she spoke… she went from intelligent real estate agent to Southern trailer park dweller. The change was TOO drastic. It was like there was Annie before was one character and someone who wasn’t Annie ever sitting in that chair, and I found it hard to sympathize with her because of that voice.

That’s my overall take: Annie is a very had character for one to have empathy toward. What happened to hear should be devastating, but the way Stevens makes her out, it’s pretty hard to look at her as a character and want to help her. This was a big bummer for me because I love the concept of this book and if done right, think it has awesome potential to be a really moving novel.

Overall rating: 5/10

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Book Review: Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

Cannonball Read IV #23

I never got into the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series the way I did the Babysitters Club but I definitely still read them. After reading Sweet Valley Confidential, I was nervous about reading Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares because SVC was so, so bad. But the series were so different to begin with so I took a chance. If you’re looking to avoid spoilers, maybe don’t read this one because a character dies and I’ll probably mention her by name.

You’ve been warned. Fair enough.

The four girls are grow and scattered about the world. Bridget lives with her boyfriend in California, Lena is a professor somewhere in New England, Carmen is a famous (and skinny) actress, and Tibby is… no one really knows as she’s suddenly gone to Australia and has not been very communicative. So when she sends all the girls tickets to Greece to have a reunion, the girls are nervous – but very, very excited. Unfortunately you know everything goes wrong.

Overall, I think this was a pretty good novel. I was kind of annoyed at some of the characters’ lack of change (LenacoughcoughBridgetcough) but I guess people really can stay the same for ten years if no one pushes them to be any different. As with the previous Sisterhood novels, Sisterhood Everlasting is told through alternating viewpoints, even for Tibby because she is the one who dies very early on in the novel. I liked that Tibby’s story wasn’t straightforward and that there were some things she had hidden from her friends.

My only bone to pick with this, which is probably the last installment in the series, is that it feels like sometimes the characters just needed to move forward and instead, they ended up just talking for pages and pages and pages about the same things, especially Lena. We get it, Ann! They’re trying to figure things out, but hoemygosh, there is only so much self-reflection and analysis we can take as readers.

Overall rating: 7/10

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Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Cannonball Read IV #22

This book. This book. I heard for months and months that I should read The Magicians by Lev Grossman because I am a big Harry Potter fan. “Read this!” people said. “You will love it! It’s like Harry Potter for adults!” So after reading the treatment on the back, I checked it out as an ebook (and its sequel, since both were available) from the library.

The Magicians is the story of teenage Quentin, a high school senior who’s still obsessed with a series of books about magicians he read as a child and the land those books take place in, called Fillory. On his was to a college entrance interview, Quentin ends up in a community garden and then suddenly he isn’t where he was before – he is in a new, magical land. It’s not Fillory, but it’s a secret college for magicians, and while he’s there he sits through an extensive entrance examination. Clearly he gets in because otherwise there would be no book.

You guys, I really, really wanted to like this book. I tried so hard. In the beginning, when Quentin was a student at the college, I liked it. He was there for five years, and those chapters were so quick. I enjoyed hearing about him learning magic, and the relationships he forged, and the people who surrounded him. And then he graduated and the whole book went to hell in a hand basket for me.

I don’t really feel like this book was well-planned or executed. My overall impression was that too much happened in its 400 pages. Imagine all seven years of Harry Potter happening in a single book. You just can’t picture it. Or all three (four?) Lord of the Rings novels taking place in a single set of pages. No way. That is how I felt about this book. Grossman has already written another book, so it would have made so much more sense to break this one up into two different novels, the first being his time in college and the second being his time after he graduates.

None of the characters, especially Quentin, is really likeable, except Alice and well, you read the book and find out what happens to her. I wanted to smack Quentin in the face, tell him to cut and wash his emo greasy hair (because with all of his sulking and “I-don’t-fit-in-ness” that is precisely how I imagined him), and make him stand up straight. He was whinny and irritable for 400 pages. No thank you. And his cast of supporting characters also had very few redeeming qualities.

One last thing that just drove. me. crazy? The constant references to Harry Potter! Grossman makes mention of Hermione and Quidditch and I was like, WTF, man? I get they’re contemporary kids who might’ve read Harry Potter but you invented this land called Fillory! There’s no need to rely on Hogwarts! (Also, the Fillory books sound so stupid, aside from the rams Umber and Ember.)

Overall Rating: 5/10

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Book Review: Frindle by Andrew Clements

Cannonball Read IV #21

Nick Allen is a thinker. His new teacher, Mrs. Granger, loves the dictionary. In an effort to avoid homework, Nick uses his thinking cap to ask lots of questions. Eventually, Nick invents a word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary – the findle, which means pen. It takes off and soon his classmates are using it, and then it’s something that spreads throughout the US. The story of Nick’s invention and its repercussions are the store of Frindle by Andrew Clements.

This is a young, young adult novel, but I read it because I’m trying to find some more books to recommend to my sister (who is a 3rd grader) and the kids of my friends. Honestly, I really enjoyed this novel as well as Clements’ writing style. The book would be a funny, engaging read, and it’s also a very great introduction to words and their importance. I’m not a teacher, but I could see teachers of older students, parents who homeschool, or parents who do extra work outside of school with their children using this novel to  have kids do dictionary work and creative writing work while making the writing and reading process fun.

 Overall Rating: 8/10

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Book Review: The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

Cannonball Read IV #20

Jury duty is the place to read, and so I spent four days in early August reading The Condition by Jennifer Haigh covertly on my phone. It’s the story of a young girl who is diagnosed with Turner Syndrome, a condition where her body never matures into an adult body. But it’s all about the condition of her family: her two brothers and her parents, who divorced after her diagnosis. The Condition is told through the eyes of Gwen, the young woman, her two brothers Scotty and Billy, and her parents. It’s about truths and half truths and living in a world that isn’t as black and white as we make it out to be.

To be honest, I was initially disappointed when there wasn’t actually that much focus on Turner Syndrome as the description of the book made out, but after reflecting on what “the condition” even meant, I realized it was something that had so much more meaning than Gwen’s condition. I enjoyed how the different family members struggled with what was going on in their respective lives and how each of those things — from work to relationships to children to health to careers — came into play and affected the final outcome of so many people’s lives. I thought Haigh did a great job of creating real characters who were for the most part relatable, down to the sometimes unlikeability of them. The story unfolded at a decent pace, and I really enjoyed the different perspectives of each character. (This is something I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy a lot, but not everyone does.)

Overall Rating: 8/10

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Book Review: Friends Forever by Danielle Steel

Cannonball Read V #19

I don’t usually by Danielle Steel books because a) she is an awful writer and b) nope, mostly because she’s just an awful writer. I’ll read them if they were free from the library or from a friend, but for some reason I thought I’d read this. I’m not sure what possessed me to buy this one because I hadn’t read any especially heavy books before this, so… call it a moment of insanity.

Basic plot: Five friends start kindergarten together at an elite private school one September. 13 years later, they graduate high school and embark on adulthood.

In usual Steel fashion, this unfolding of time in this book is fast. I’m convinced the only reason Steel cranks out books the way she does is because she a) has an very formulaic plot or two she follows and b) she is the queen of telling instead of showing. Characters are never fully developed and there is a TON of boring, uninteresting, devoid-of-emotion narrative. This book is no exception.

And even worse, this is pretty much one of the most depressing books, Steel or non-Steel, I have ever read. Of the five friends, three of them die while they’re still young, and one comes very close to death. I actually enjoy books that have kind of depressing plots, a la Flannery O’Connor, but it’s safe to say that O’Connor and Steel will never, ever fall into the same box of awesome. If Steel took the time to develop these five characters instead of wizzing through almost 20 years, I think this could have been a mediocre book. Instead, it was just.plain.awful.

Overall rating: 2/10

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