Monthly Archives: November 2012

Book Review: Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

A few reviews back (well… like 40!), I reviewed Save Me by Lisa Scottoline and this is how I felt about it:

Not ImpressedBut I decided to give her another try, because there are plenty of authors who have books that are misses — even the ones I love dearly. There were two books of Scottoline’s that sounded fascinating to me so I bought those in trade paperback and just finished one of them, Look Again. I really wanted to like the next Scottoline book I read because she actually took the time to respond to the negative review of Save Me that I posted on my blog (well… I assume and hope it was really her who did it. It could be an assistant or just an adoring fan.).

So I have to be upfront and admit right away that I hated Look Again even more than I disliked Save Me. Some of the problems in the book are the same but to a greater extent. But first, let me start with the good, and that is the premise of the book. Ellen Gleeson, human interest reporter extraordinaire, returns home from work on snowy winter night and sees a “Have You See This Child?” card in her mail. It takes her breath away because the child on the card looks exactly like her three-year-old son Will. But Ellen thinks — knows — it’s not Will because she adopted Will after he was abandoned by his birth parents at the hospital after a terrible heart defect is fixed. Still, the reporter in Ellen can’t help but wonder: Is this her child? The journey she takes is a legal and ethical and moral one, and it gets a whole lot of dicey and scary for Ellen and all of the people involved.

So let’s be upfront here. This entire review is a spoiler for the book because I hated it so much I can’t censor myself and the things I didn’t like without spoiling them. You have been warned. That said, let me move on. I think it’s pretty clear that Will is the child on the card, and spoiler alert: he is the kidnapped child whose parents put his face on the card.

Fact.

Doesn’t that sound like a great premise? It’s got the element of motherhood (and I think 30- and 40-something women are propbably Scottoline’s target demographic) mixed in with a crime murder mystery/thriller. I was expecting this book to be great but to be honest, I hated it from the first page. The biggest reason wasn’t plot. It was partially character and it was almost totally editing. I want to find out who Lisa Scottoline’s editor is and slap her upside the head and ask, “Did you actually read this book?” There are so many poorly edited places and parts of the story that it makes your head spin.

Wondering what a few of those things are? Here, let me share them with you (for the record, I tried to bulletpoint this but WordPress just could not handle the way I wanted it to look so I apologize that this looks like I can’t write a paragraph/don’t know how to format:

Scottoline relies to heavily on telling and not showing. This happens almost immediately. For instance, on page three (yes! 3!), Ellen has the following conversation with her nanny:

[Connie] asked, “How was your day?”

“Crazy busy. How about you?”

“Just fine,” Connie answered, which was only one of the reasons that Ellen counted her as a blessing. She’d had her share of babysitter drama, and there was no feeling worse than leaving your child with a sitter who wasn’t speaking to you.

Color me crazy, Ellen Gleeson, but if your sitter’s response to you is “fine” after you ask her how her day with your son was, that’s not “speaking to you.” You’re too busy telling us that your nanny is exceptional that hey! You don’t show us it. Not to mention this is just weird and awkward dialogue, and that is a pet peeve of mine. Unfortunately there is a lot of weird and awkward dialogue throughout the entire book.

See the last sentence above re: dialogue. I can’t stand it when authors write terrible dialogue. I think there is no excuse for it. We all speak, and we all speak to countless different people in different capacities every day. So there’s no excuse. Read your freaking dialogue out loud and most of the problems will disappear. Listen to the natural rhythms in everyday conversation and convey those in words.

Hello non-sequiters. I mean, this conversation actually takes place between Ellen and her boss:

Marcelo lifted an eyebrow. “Back home, many people have two names, like my brother, Carlos Alberto. But I didn’t think that was common in the States.”

“It’s not. He’s Brazillian.”

Marcelo laughed. He popped the soda and poured it fizzing into the class. “I live in town.”

The first time I read this, I had go back and read it again, and I actually laughed because “I live in town” makes zero sense. I mean, it makes sense because it’s a real, complete sentence, but it doesn’t make sense in the context of their conversation about a cat and a brother with two names.

The relationships in this book are terrible and so petty, forced, and fake. For instance, Ellen and Sarah (who totally is a see-you-next-Tuesday) fight like ridiculous school children, and Ellen and her nanny Connie just have the most jagged, forced conversations. Further, Connie (in what I am supposed to believe is deep love for Will) totally tells Will what to do when he asks his mom something. Dear nanny, when mom is around, mom is he boss. Even her relationship with Marcelo is really weird, and seriously? They get down and dirty when Ellen is convinced that Will is in dire danger? Yeah. I totally do the same thing.

I know many novels ask you to suspend your disbelief, but there were a lot of places where I had to take it one step too far. One example of this is the sex scene I referenced above. Another scene is when Ellen randomly faints, with no build up, and then is, literally one freaking page later, going sledding with her son. What! If I fainted at work, and I had a boss as invested in me as Marcelo is in Ellen, there is no way that I’d just get to leave. Another one: at Amy’s funeral, Amy’s friend Melanie from rehab has apparently forgotten to check her text messages from dead Amy, who she has called “the queen of texting,” until Ellen reminds her. Melanie says, “Whoa, weird. I didn’t. I totally forgot.” Dude. If my friend Megan doesn’t text me every few days, I worry she’s dead. I wouldn’t forget for a few days simply because we text a lot. It’s something you’d remember to do from the queen of text.

There’s just some things that slip under the radar, too, that point to shoddy editing. For instance, at the end of the novel when Ellen discovers that Bill isn’t Will’s real dad, she concludes that the real dad is Rob Moore, the killer, and she says she never noticed that they had the same crooked smile. BUT I CALL BANANAS on that crap because in the first part of the book she looks at a picture of Amy and the Beach Man, wondering if the Beach Man could be the baby daddy (this is back when she thought Amy was the bio mom) and she specifically points out that the two share the crooked smile. Ugh! Really, editor?

And the last thing that I’ll rant about, because this is getting really long and angsty, is that Ellen reminded me so much of the mom in Save Me. In fact, there is a particular scene that was almost lifted exactly from Save Me: Ellen is raging mad at Sarah for doing something she didn’t like. (Rose is mad at Kristen for doing something she didn’t like.) Ellen storms over to Sarah’s apartment in a fit of rage and bullies her way inside. (Rose storms over to Sarah’s apartment in a fit of rage and bullies her way inside.) Ellen yells and berates Sarah. (Rose yells and berates Kristen.) Sarah is defensive and stoic. (Kristen is defensive and stoic.) Sarah’s disabled husband comes out in a wheelchair and Ellen feels like a douche. (Kristen does a bad job of hiding her prenatal books and Rose sees them and feels like a total douche.) Ellen cries and apologies. (Rose gets upset and apologizes.) Seriously, it was actually kind of weird how similar these two scenes were to each other.

And thus ends my rant. I will probably read the other Scottoline book because it’s too late to return it, thanks to Barnes and Noble’s dumb two-week return policy, but I will read it with low expectations. Maybe I will be surprised (but I probably won’t).

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Book Review: Son, Lois Lowry

Cannonball Read IV #72

Last week I walked past a display table at Barnes and Noble that I’d seen before. It was for action stories or sci-fi stories for young adults or something like that and I looked at it to see if there was anything my eight-year-old sister might like. So when I glanced at it this time, I was surprised to see a book I hadn’t seen on there before: Son by Lois Lowry. But wait! Son the sequel to The Give and companion to Gathering Blue and The Messenger! The series is complete… and I am a sucker for finishing up series so I bought the hardcover.

In Son, we meet Claire, who is a few years older than Jonas (remember him from the giver?) in the same community. At 12, she is chosen to be a birthmother, the least honorable but very much needed of jobs. Something goes wrong with her delivery and she is reassigned from birthmother to work at the fish hatchery. Claire feels compelled to know her son, though, and volunteers at the center where children are kept until the Ceremony of the Ones. Her son, Gabe, is the baby from The Giver who has a hard time adjusting and goes home each night to sleep at Jonas’s family’s house. When she finds out that Jonas and the baby have escaped the community, Claire boards a supply ship and escapes, too, in hopes that she can find her son, but the boat she is on capsizes and she washes up on the shores of a distance village. What happens next is her search to find her son before it’s too late.

To be honest, I don’t feel like this was as good as The Giver, but I love that it brought the three previous books together. It also continues to explore some of the same themes as The Giver and the other books, such as love, family, friendship, and bravery. I was totally engaged in the story and liked every character (except for Trademaster but we weren’t supposed to like him!), and I feel like a middle school or early high school student would enjoy this book, too. The only thing that I wanted but didn’t get was an explanation of what happened to the community Jonas left — did they get color back? Did they break down? It was called Son, however, so it wasn’t really a book to wrap up what happens after Jonas leaves… it’s Claire and Gabe’s story.

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Book Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Cannonball Read IV #71

It took me forever to find this book in real life. I will spare you the details, but needless to say I eventually found the only copy of The Age of Miracles, the first novel by Karen Thompson Walker, at Barnes and Noble and read it quickly. As soon as I turned the final page, I thought… well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

The Age of Miracles is the story of Julia, who is a young girl when “the slowing” starts. Suddenly, and without any reason given or able to be found by scientists, the world is turning more and more slowly each day. By the end of the book, the natural day (period of light) and natural night (period of dark) are weeks long. This is a book of what happens to one young girl as her world is thrown into chaos — literally.

Okay, so… when I shut the book after I finished it, the first thought I had was “I can’t tell if I love or hate this book.” First of all, I made the unfortunate mistake of reading on goodreads that this book had a voice as fresh as the voice in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Hi, my name is Krista and I am the world’s only member of the “I didn’t like The Lovely Bones” club (we are currently accepting new members). Maybe that tainted my thoughts as I read, but what I think made me feel so “meh” about the book was the fact that there is basically NO plot. Now, that isn’t alone a bad thing. A book that is character-driven with a meh plot can be good. For instance, I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I feel like that book is pretty plotless — but Francie and her family were really engaging. This book… I just don’t know.

I can’t even do a very good job of writing this review because that’s how ambivalent I feel about it. We find out, slowly, the effects of the slowing, and those parts were the most interesting for me. I wish we’d had more of that. It would have made it a bigger adventure story. The parts of the story that focused on Julia and Seth were great, too. Yet just when it gets good… he is gone. (Because he gets sick from gravity sickness, which is what they call the myriad of illnesses that spring up as the earth’s gravity changes as it slows down.) Now, this would have been such a great place to develop characters AND plot. I mean, first love? We have it. Interesting aftermath of the slowing? Also here. Together, these two things could be totally awesome and used to make an awesome story. Heck, these two things alone could be the basis of the novel and I would have known for sure that I liked it.

Despite my misgivings, I think I’d read a book by Thompson Walker again. I liked the writing itself in this book if not the actual plot (well… as I’ve pointed out: the lack of plot plot). She is a great descriptive writer and I did feel engaged because I wanted so badly to find out what happened (which was, sadly, nothing).

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Book Review: A Time to Embrace by Karen Kingsbury

Cannonball Read IV #70

Karen Kingsbury’s novel A Time to Embrace is the second in a two-book series (I reviewed A Time to Dance, the first book in the series, almost two years ago). This was available at my library and while I liked the first one, I received it for free in return for a review and didn’t enjoy it enough to by the second. So free from the library = a good way to finish out the series!

This book picks up right where Dance leaves off — the Reynolds are newly in love after coming incredibly close to getting divorced. They are still dancing together, taking the cheesy metaphor from the first book to a new dorky level (they literally dance together by taking lessons that involve lots of ridiculous laughter from Abby). Life is going great until a tragic accident (how seriously cheesy of me to write that cliche!) almost undoes all of the restoration God has brought.

To start with the positive: one thing that annoyed me in the first book was the italics that indicated God speaking to Abby and John. While that still happens in this book, its frequency is a lot less, so I didn’t feel as crazy while I was reading. I still like Abby and John and yes, I rooted for them, just as I did in the first book. I also liked Nicole and Matt, the Reynolds’ daughter and son-in-law. They were a great addition to the story (well… their story gets kind of stupid at the end of the book).

But even though I gave this book four stars on goodreads (because compared it other Christian books — I believe you have to review/rate books in the context of their genres!), there was a lot of that made me roll my eyes with this book. First of all, John and Abby were almost gag-me in love in this book. It got tiring to read about them talking about how they were more in love than ever/like newlyweds/something else cliche. I get it. I get it! I didn’t need to be beat over the head with a stick to get it!

While we are on the topic of characters, hands down one of the most irritating characters in any book I’ve ever read is Jo, Matt’s mom. I understand that there are some people from the South who talk and act like her (very loud, brash, and bold), but I found myself skimming her parts because everything she said was just a joke or way too absurd.

The other thing that made me like this book less that its predecessor is the sheer number of terrible things that happened. First it was the parents of the kids who were on the football team John coached — they started a smear campaign to get rid of him. Then there was the car accident that paralyzed John. Then there was the bomb threat that everyone thought was done by the weird kid at school. Then Nicole had her baby way too soon. Each of these things, on its own — okay, that would work. Maybe even two bad things would work well, because they you could have parallel plots happening. But everything at once was too much.

It gets better, though. Every single situation is resolved so amazingly fast and with hardly any pain — because John is paralyzed, the parents realize it’s the kids on the football team who have bad attitudes and John shouldn’t be fired. And he has an experimental surgery (that the author acknowledges that doesn’t even exist yet and she just totally made up!) that leaves him able to walk. The weird kid ditches his goth clothing and spikes and black hair and dresses like a clean-cut normal kid. And last but not least, Nicole’s baby survives and has no evidence of any problems that come with a premature birth.

I love stories that are uplifting, but this one is just too sugary-sweet for me. (However… I have two more of Karen Kingsbury’s novels from the library sitting on my dresser as we speak!) Even though this wasn’t my favorite novel, I did like the first one and it’s an okay read if you’re looking for a conclusion to the events that took place in Dance.

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Book Review: Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

Cannonball Read IV #69

Clearly I’m on a Jennifer Weiner kick since this was my second novel by her in about three weeks. Then Came You is the complicated tale of what it means to be a mother and a daughter. Jules, a bright college senior about to graduate, decides to sell her eggs to put her father through rehab. Annie, a mother of two and wife, decides to be a surrogate using Jules’ eggs in an effort to make some extra money to support her husband. India (if you think that’s her real name, you’re nuts) wants a baby but her and her husband cannot have of their own, and turn to the same agency Jules and Annie work through. All is going well until India’s step-daughter Bettina has some questions about her step-mother than are answered by a private detective.

I was expecting this book to be kind of confusing one all four voices were present but it wasn’t. The four stories dovetailed well and each women supported the other. The fact that Bettina didn’t outright reveal what her private detective had turned up surprised me but I also liked it because it showed someone who actually thought things through instead of acting impulsively. And how everyone found out India’s secrets surprised me. One thing that kind of made me go “Meh” was how quickly — rushed almost — India’s back story was revealed during some of her final chapters. I wanted smaller pieces of it throughout the book. That said, I am sooo glad that I did get it! I’ve ready plenty of books where the author lets you know that a character has some kind of secret past and then never tells you what that secret past is. How frustrating is that! The way the come come together at the end to support the baby really was awesome to me, too. It’s really an uplifting story and a borderline fluffy read — and definitely chick lit.

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Book Review: Impulse & Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Cannonball Read IV #67 & 68

I have a love-hate relationship with the poetry-ish novels that Ellen Hopkins writes and my thoughts on Impulse and Perfect are no different. Impulse is the story of three teenagers brought to a rehab/mental health facility to recover and near-death: Connor, who shot himself in the chest; Vanessa, who cut her wrists; and Tony, who tries to end his life by pills. Impulse follows these three through their time together as they become friends and learn what it means to develop relationships based on trust and love. Perfect‘s time-frame overlaps slightly with Impulse and is the story of Connor’s twin sister Cara, her boyfriend Sean, their classmate Kendra, and the boyfriend of Kendra’s sister, Andre. Each struggles with what it means to be perfect and the ends to that mean.

I can’t really write too much about either of these without giving away stuff I’d be bummed as a reader to have ruined for me, so let me focus on something else here: how the stories work with the style of writing. I think it usually works pretty well, especially for angsty-teen stuff. We are freed from the continual sappy narrative. It’s also a great way for the story to progress quicker. For instance, both of these books span months, and the passage of time in a normal prose novel could be done very poorly. But the poem structure workers well for that. I think we also get to explore the sides of characters that are a little more difficult to explore in a traditional novel. It’s interesting to see how the kids in these two books unfold and their inner workings. It’s easier to get emotion across in this format.

What I didn’t like about it was that in both novels, but especially in Impulse the chcharacters’ voices just sounded too similar. If I hadn’t had the different fonts and names at the top, I would not have known who was who. It was easier in Perfect but Impulse was pretty difficult. There were also times where the spoken words were just TOO flowery and poem-y, not to mention one like by Vanessa in Impulse that made me want to weep, a line about nothing being able to save her from cutting herself but love.

No. Love of a man does not save you from anything. What a horrible, horrible message to give to teenage girls.

Other than that, I enjoyed reading these two, but felt kind of emotionally spent after them.

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Book Review: Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner

Cannonball Read IV #66

Two daughters, a mother, and the secrets that haunt them: this is the premise of Fly Away Home, the first Jennifer Weiner I’ve read in a while. Sylvie’s secret becomes public when the world finds out that her husband, a US Senator, cheated on her with one of his interns, and he later got a job. Sylvie leaves him for the family beach home and invites her distant daughters to visit her as well. Both girls have secrets of their own. Lizzie, a recovering drug addict, finds herself pregnant and fully of major fear, and Diana, the older of the two, is in a loveless marriage and having an affair with an intern at the hospital where she is an ER physician. The three women come together to face their secrets and figure out how life goes on and if it will.

This was a great book but there were times where I really, really did not like Diana. She was very controlling and demanding, which was fine, but there were points where she just went crazy and I was like, NO I DO NOT FEEL SORRY FOR YOUR CRAZY ASS. Her husband was a wet rag and she never told him that she was unhappy because she thought she was in control of her destiny. Yeah, that works. And then she yelled at Lizzie one time without ever hearing her out, simply assuming that she was going drugs. That really upset me. I guess the dynamic between my sister and I was is very different since there are 20 years between us, but I feel like I would always fall on her side, not the sides that makes her feel like she can’t do anything right.

I liked the uncertainty that Sylvie has with Richard and how she doesn’t come close to letting him back into her life easily or even quickly. I appreciated that Weiner didn’t make a woman go running to a man to find her worth and value. And I also really liked that she tried to make amends to her daughters, especially Lizzie, who had a terrible thing happen to her, a thing that Sylvie wasn’t forceful enough about. Making amends was really important to her in the midst of her own crisis and I loved that. I think it’s important for women — especially mothers — to make amends when they’ve wrong someone. It’s never too late to try to fix those seemingly-broken relationships.

Another hit from Weiner.

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