Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sizzling Sixteen - Book Review

Sizzling Sixteen, by Janet Evanovich (REVIEW)
June. 2010. 320 pages, St. Martin's Press, hardcover, $27.99
(978-0312383305). Mystery Thriller

I love Janet Evanovich. She's a creative, intelligent, humorous writer, and I have really enjoyed the Stephanie Plum series. Like Stephanie Plum, I just can't choose between the mysterious bad-boy Ranger and Joe Morelli, the Italian stallion police officer.

In Sizzling Sixteen, the gambling debts of Stephanie's sleazy cousin Vinnie catch up with him and so does the mob. It doesn't help Vinnie's case that they find him in the act of marital relations with a woman who isn't his wife. Now Stephanie, Lula and Connie have to come up with $786,000, rescue Vinnie from one mobster and keep him safe from the other (his father-in-law).

It seems like a lot of work for a man who really doesn't deserve to be rescued.

The storyline is good and moves along quickly, but there's nothing sizzling about this book. Hardly any time at all is spent on Stephanie's relationship with either Ranger or Morelli. Grandma Mazur (one of my all-time favorite characters) disappoints with her lack of personality, and Stephanie does very little aside eating unhealthy food and driving around looking for bad guys.

I usually read Janet Evanovich books when I need a good laugh. Sadly, un-Sizzling Sixteen left me dry.

I can only hope that the "Plumness" I know and love returns to Janet Evanovich's next book.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Reliable Wife - Book Review

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick (REVIEW)
Jan. 2010. 320p. Algonquin Books, paperback, $7.56
(978-1565129771). Historical Fiction

The back of the book describes it as such: "He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for a 'reliable wife.' She responded, saying that she was 'a simple, honest woman.' She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only thing simple about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him, slowly and carefully, leaving herself a wealthy widow. What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own."

It sounded harmless enough. Maybe romantic suspense? Guy puts an ad in the paper, girl shows up with an agenda, but falls in love.

That's what I thought, but boy was I wrong!

If I could rewrite the back of the book, it would be a much more accurate description: "Trifling harlot and her illegitimate lover find a personal ad placed by a wealthy business owner who happens to be the husband of the lover's late mother. The harlot marries the wealthy business man, plotting to kill him slowly and share his money with her lover."

Ridiculously unbelievable.

Imagine self-centered Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights, add to each a repulsively over-the-top sex obsession and  you have A Reliable Wife characters, Ralph, Cathrine and Antonio. This bodice ripper is bogged down with boring and repetitive narration that made it painful to trudge through. About 3/4 of the way through I stopped reading and started scanning, desperate to find something positive. The mediocre ending made me wish I would have put the book down hours before I actually did.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Willow - Book Review

Willow, by Julia Hoban (REVIEW)
Feb. 2010. 336p. Speak, paperback, $8.99
(978-0142416662) Young adult

On a rainy March night, 17-year-old Willow drove her intoxicated parents home from a party. When she loses control of the car both her parents are killed. Racked with guilt and grief, Willow becomes a cutter.

The only way she can deal with the mental anguish is to carve up her body. But when she's caught by an unusual and sensitive guy - named Guy in fact - her life gets complicated. In the days that follow, Willow spends her free time trying to convince him not to tell her older brother. Romantic feelings for Guy begin to blossom and Willow has to decide whether to risk emotion or keep cutting.

Raw and emotional, Willow and Guy are compelling, realistic characters who are brought to life in Hoban's story. I found myself tearing up in areas and completely involved in their bizarre relationship. Willow is the type o book you pick up and don't put down until it's finished.

An unusual love story. I only wish that Hoban would not have allowed the young lovers to go as far - sexually - as they did, cheapening this otherwise terrific teen novel.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wintergirls - Book Review

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson (REVIEW)
Feb. 2010. 288p. Speak, paperback, $9.99
(978-0142415573). Young adult

Best friends Lia and Cassie have committed their bodies to a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. A broken friendship and thirty-three attempted phone calls later, Cassie is dead and Lia is haunted.

Wintergirls is a first-person experience that made this reader feel like I was piggy-backing on Lia’s shoulders as she existed in a life completely controlled by her diet. It’s a realistic portrayal of a girl struggling with her desire to be beyond thin.

Maybe even a little too realistic.

I’d be cautious about encouraging teens to read Wintergirls, because it read a bit too much like a how-to manual. We learn how Lia cheats the scales, fools her parents and carves into her body, effectively hiding the evidence. The messed up teen I used to be, would seriously be taking notes …

Lia’s recovery seems almost like an afterthought, shoved into the last pages of the book. Her hallucinogenic bouts of anorexia are exciting, but her recovery is not.

Wintergirls is intense and well written. It absorbs readers and is easy for self-conscious teen girls to relate to. I just wish the author would have spent a little more time on the recovery and a little less time perfecting the techniques of anorexia.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Impossible - Book Review

Impossible, by Nancy Werlin (REVIEW)
Sept. 2008. 384p. Dial, hardcover, $17.99
(9780803730021). Grades 7-11.

While searching for young adult books without vampires, demons or werewolves, I picked up this National Book Award Finalist. Impossible begins with a version of the ballad, “Scarborough Fair,” which interested me immediately, since the lyrics are so … disturbing.

Impossible is full of telling, instead of showing, and in a few chapters, the narrative jumped heads so many times it made me dizzy. But once I got past the writing nit-picks and focused on the storyline, it held my attention. Lucinda (Lucy) Scarborough—a unique young girl who is comfortable enough in her own skin to wear sneakers with her prom dress—becomes impregnated when her prom date rapes her. Not just any ole’ prom date either, Gray Spencer has apparently been possessed by an evil elfin knight who has cursed the Scarborough women.

Through clues left by her completely insane mother, Lucy discovers that she must complete the three impossible tasks of the ballad before her baby is born. If not, she’ll lose her mind, just like all the other women in her line. Her foster parents and childhood friend, Zack, work against the clock to decipher the riddles and keep Lucy from going insane.

The book is rated grades 7-11. I might be old-fashioned, but I wouldn’t encourage a pre-high school teen to read stories of date rape, pregnancies and young marriages. I also found the dialogue to be a bit unbelievable for teenagers—having two of my own. The book did have many redeeming qualities though, like the blossoming relationship between Zack and Lucy, the belief and aid of her foster parents, and little diamonds of humor that broke up the intense moments.

Not great, but not bad either.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Displaced Daddy's Girl

My whole life I've wanted to be a daddy's girl.

I used to pray and ask Santa for one of those big, protective daddy's that you see in the movies. You know the kind; always cleaning their shotguns, waiting for scoundrel boys to come along and request a date with their little girls. Being a tomboy, I longed for a daddy to play baseball and basketball with. A man to drink soda and burp my ABC's with.

But sometimes we just don't get the thing we want the most. My parents divorce was final just months after I was born, and I’ve often wondered if Dad would have stayed had I been a boy, instead of his seventh daughter. Regardless, he left and married for a fourth, and then fifth, and then finally a sixth time.

He rarely called, occasionally sending a present or a card. Anger and disappointment in my absent father were emotions I felt entitled to. With each unreturned phone call or broken promise, my animosity became easier to justify. So I clung to my pain and stuffed it in the father-shaped hole in my heart.

But it never healed the wound.

Over the years the pain dulled. I convinced myself that I was no longer angry, but still avoided my dad at all costs. And then God gave me a dream. As we turned my dream into a novel—Rescuing Liberty—God used my characters to show me how prevalent my inner hostility still was. It affected me, weighing me down and keeping me from receiving the blessings He had in store for me. So after I finished the book, I sent my father a copy along with an apology.

We are called to love each other as God loves us. While my novel’s main character highlighted my imperfections—imperfections that God loved me through, I came to understand the dangers of judging my father. I called it justice, but God reminded me that love isn’t about justice—it’s about grace.

My dad accepted my apology and my book, calling me within a few days to say, “Your letter was an answer to my prayers.”
He explained that a few years back he gave his heart to the Lord and had been praying that I’d forgive him. While I harbored my animosity toward him, my dad actually prayed for me! And now, we’re speaking, emailing, and slowly working our way toward an actual father/daughter relationship.

Don’t get me wrong, my father’s not my new BFF or anything, but we’re working on it. And with him, has come a whole slew of sisters and their families that I’ve never met! That never would have happened had I kept a hard and unforgiving heart. But now that it’s softened, God is blessing me with an abundance of love from and for my new-found family.

It’s amazing what God can do if you just forgive.