Monday, August 30, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - Book Review #75

Monday, August 30, 2010
The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield

Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father's antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise–she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story. In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets. As well as the ghosts that haunt them still.

“Everyone has a story.”

The Thirteenth Tale is a mesmerizing, breath-taking gothic story, written in the best traditions of 19th century British novels. You have a writer, you have a storyteller and you have a listener. You have a murder (and not one), a mad woman (also not only one), an overgrown garden, moors, an old family estate that falling apart with the old housekeeper that remembers the beginning of the family. And of course you have a SECRET, a mystery that has been kept for generations and you are the lucky one, out of not many, to get the answers, if only you play by the rules. However, unlike most of the gothic stories of 19th century, this one ends with redemption.

The Thirteenth Tale is one of those books that captivate you from the first word. This is one of the books where you can completely lose yourself, forgetting about reality and living in the story. The Thirteenth Tale is the book that will keep you guessing until the last page, not letting your attention to slip for a single moment and praising you graciously at the end for the loyalty.

"Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes–characters even–caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you."

This quote from The Thirteenth Tale explains my experience with this book. This is the book that will get “caught in the fiber of your clothes” and in the gyrus of your mind. So beware, it will suck you in and will not let you go even after you finished it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith - Book Review #74

Friday, August 27, 2010
The Talented Mr. Ripley
by Patricia Highsmith

In a chilling literary hall of mirrors, Patricia Highsmith introduces Tom Ripley. Like a hero in a latter-day Henry James novel, is sent to Italy with a commission to coax a prodigal young American back to his wealthy father. But Ripley finds himself very fond of Dickie Greenleaf. He wants to be like him—exactly like him. Suave, agreeable, and utterly amoral, Ripley stops at nothing—certainly not only one murder—to accomplish his goal. Turning the mystery form inside out, Highsmith shows the terrifying abilities afforded to a man unhindered by the concept of evil.

I had such high expectations for this book. Long time ago I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley movie with Matt Damon. I didn’t remember the plot at all, the only thing I remembered that I loved it. Unfortunately, the book didn’t deliver. Either it was because the previous book I read – One Hundred Years of Solitude – made a huge impression on me and after that no book was good enough; or maybe there is some other reason…

I don’t think that there is something wrong with rooting for villain. I love villains such as Hannibal Lecter or Dexter. However, Tom Ripley wasn’t a villain. He was a paranoid, neurotic, insecure little boy, not a great villain. He wasn’t talented, he was just plain lucky. Most of the time, he was passive, floating like a piece of driftwood. I didn’t care for him at all. He didn’t shock me, I didn’t like him, he didn’t disgusts me and he didn’t amuse or amaze me. I was just indifferent towards him, and this is a novel killer – when the reader does not care for the main character. I didn’t care how he will get away or will he at all, at this matter. I didn’t care if he will be killed or end up in the jail (I didn’t believe that any of this will happen, anyway). I just did not care.

I know that a lot of people like this novel and it is considered being one of the greatest suspense, mystery, psychological thriller. I wouldn’t call it suspense or mystery; psychological thriller – may be. And even that… either I’m too hardened by great modern psychological thrillers (books and movies), that I have become as thick skinned as hippopotamus or… well, The Talented Mr. Ripley wasn’t as psychological and as thrilling as I like them to be.

I guess I would give some time to myself and maybe later, in a year or a couple, I will return to the Mr. Ripley series, only for the sake of so many people loving it so dearly. However, for now – I’m deeply disappointed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez - Book Review #73

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez

One of the 20th century's enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement in a Nobel Prize–winning career.

The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.

Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility -- the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth -- these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the veracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel García Márquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.

Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race.

People live and bear the same names - and different, almost carnival, masks. Who is to distinguish the hero from a traitor, and whore - from a saint? Differences in the lost world, the town of Macondo are very relative. For it has long been since the days’ connecting thread has been broken. And no one is able to repair it. No mortals. Neither fate. No God ...

This is a case where the phenomenon of local Latin American culture absorbs all the accumulated wealth of mankind and the diversity of ideas, meanings, images, moreover, all the silk threads of fantasy, gracefully bending and surrealistically transforming, interwoven into the fabric of a wonderful novel, polychrome design, where everyone (estimating objectively and without bias) finds for himself something similar, for the time being silently and invisibly hiding in the depths and the hiding-places of human nature. Allusions and clarity, illusion and harsh reality of the world, light and shadow, half-tints, sounds ringing in the void, inexorable withdrawal and stuffily, absurdity and meaning, naive charm and poignant melancholy for enchantment; and frustration, failure and death, a single chain of Objective Reality and Nothing as no-solution, no-outer, but inevitable.

This work can be read as a philosophical treatise, and as a musical score, it sometimes deliberate triviality is built in harmony and filled with meanings. What meanings? – Decide for yourself. And the loneliness, the eternal journey, relentless pain, tortuous path in the dark with only a single light in the hand (or rather in the heart) - hope. Such is life in its simplicity and complexity, charm and ugliness.

These words intended only to express my immense gratitude, admiration and respect for the novel that opened new horizons of the world literature and, more generally, culture, and to the wonderful author, who once wrote it, in the privacy of a distant country of Colombia, under the vault of the immense sky and under the eternal roar of the waves.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson - Book Review #72

Monday, August 23, 2010
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
by Winifred Watson

Miss Pettigrew, an approaching-middle-age governess, was accustomed to a household of unruly English children. When her employment agency sends her to the wrong address, her life takes an unexpected turn. The alluring nightclub singer, Delysia LaFosse, becomes her new employer, and Miss Pettigrew encounters a kind of glamour that she had only met before at the movies. Over the course of a single day, both women are changed forever.

What a farce! What a charm! What a fun! If I might compare some books to opera, this one is operetta. This is vaudeville.

My god, Winifred Watson was a great and talented writer. The dialogs in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day are one of the best I’ve ever read. The plot might be simple and reminds Cinderella, but it is still amazing and original. Not every time something complicated is better than something light and simple.

Through the whole day in which the story is set – through the whole novel – Miss LaFosse keeps repeating how amazing and great Miss Pettigrew is. I would have to go even further and say that she is unforgettable and outstanding. I dearly love characters that say: “The hell with everything else! I’m diving into this new adventure! I’m getting into this crazy and impossible situation!” And this is precisely how Miss Pettigrew acted. No, she never was temerarious or reckless. This is just an opportunity presented itself and Miss Pettigrew went with it, without looking back.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a great story about second chances and about new beginnings. This is the story that states that it is never too late - never too late to live, never too late to love, never too late to laugh. This is the story that encourages you to take a leap of faith, to try something new, or just to relax for a moment and let events develop without you interfering.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Envy by Anna Godbersen - Book Review #71

Friday, August 20, 2010
by Anna Godbersen

Two months after Elizabeth Holland's dramatic homecoming, Manhattan eagerly awaits her return to the pinnacle of society. When Elizabeth refuses to rejoin her sister Diana's side, however, those watching New York's favorite family begin to suspect that all is not as it seems behind the stately doors of No. 17 Gramercy Park South.

Farther uptown, Henry and Penelope Schoonmaker are the city's most celebrated couple. But despite the glittering diamond ring on Penelope's finger, the newlyweds share little more than scorn for each other. And while the newspapers call Penelope's social-climbing best friend, Carolina Broad, an heiress, her fortune—and her fame—are anything but secure, especially now that one of society's darlings is slipping tales to the eager press.

In this next thrilling installment of Anna Godbersen's bestselling Luxe series, Manhattan's most envied residents appear to have everything they desire: Wealth. Beauty. Happiness. But sometimes the most practiced smiles hide the most scandalous secrets. . . .
Envy is a third installment of the Luxe series and, in my opinion, the worst book in the whole series. To tell you the truth, I’m not a big fun of these books to begin with. First one was sort of cute. Second one was already too soap-operish and boring, but nothing compared to the third one.

While I was reading Envy the only thing that I could think of was that Anna Godbersen didn’t have any plot for the third book. I had a feeling that she had something stock up for the fourth book, but before that she had nada. However, she had to write this third book (contractual obligations?), so Envy turned out to be the big nothing. Nothing was going on in this book, the only continuous feeling that we (and all characters) are waiting for something. It turned out to be the long setup for the fourth and the last book in the series.

Despite all of this I still loved epigraphs to each chapter. Either it was an invitation, or the piece from the newspaper, or the quotation from some book. These epigraphs were terrifically written by Anna Godbersen, were sometimes hilarious and went very well with each corresponding chapter. I always enjoyed these tiny additions to a book, such as epigraphs, either written by the author or picked out from other sources, or chapter titles. I think these details add something special to a book and in case of Luxe series, they certainly did.

After finishing Envy, if I wouldn’t have the fourth book standing on my shelf already, I would probably never finish these series.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Booking Through Thursday #2

Thursday, August 19, 2010
Booking Through Thursday asks:

I got this from Lorette‘s blog and couldn’t resist adopting it for all of you.

1. Favorite childhood book?
Should I only name one? Ok, just from the top of my head - Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and Karlsson on the Roof by Astrid Lindgren. Also a lot of Russian books that I don’t think ever were translated to English.

2. What are you reading right now?
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I was thinking for years to read this book. It always looked interesting to me, but somehow I never got to it.

4. Bad book habit?
I don’t think I have any left. I eliminated them all, or rather my grand-father eliminated them in me. I used to eat when I was reading and then leave greasy stains on books. I used to dog-ear books. I used to use any kind of objects that I had around as a bookmark, some of them, such as pencils, would damage book’s spine. I used to leave books open page down. And many, many other terrible things.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
Yes. Nook.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I wasn't able to read more than one book at a time for quite a while, but I figured out the trick lately – books that you are simultaneously reading should be completely different – should be set in different time, should have different genre, et cetera. So now I usually read two books at a time – one at home and one at work.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
I really don’t think so. I started the blog just to record what I read and what my opinion on a book was at the time I finished it.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Fallen by Lauren Kate, as I wrote in my review, it wasn’t a novel, rather some piece of terrible writing.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
It is a hard question; I can’t just answer with one title, so I will do that by genre.
Contemporary - Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers.
Sci-fi – Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Adult - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Paranormal - White Cat by Holly Black
Children - The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison
Classics - The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Sometimes I do, when a book catches my eye or someone I trust recommend it to me.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
This is probably the hardest question, because I read pretty much any fiction. I can tell you what is NOT my reading comfort zone – most of non-fiction, in particular – biographies.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Not for a long time, I’m getting motion sickness very easily.

14. Favorite place to read?
At my house, on the lanai around the pool and in my library room at my house on the windowsill.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
Don’t eat and read, don’t dog-ear, not tear and yes, the most important, – I’m landing you a book, not giving as a gift, so please return it to me.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Lately – never, though as I already said in question 4 that I used to do this quite often.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

18. Not even with text books?
Not even if they are trying to make me.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English and Russian.

20. What makes you love a book?
Good writing; solid, imaginative plot; alive, fascinating characters.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
If I think that particular person might enjoy this particular book.

22. Favorite genre?
My whole life I’m trying to answer this question. Still can’t. I read pretty much everything.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
I rarely read non-fiction. Do I wish I would read more of that? Not sure.

Favorite biography?
None, I didn’t read that many biographies and this is probably my least favorite genre.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
No, never. I don’t believe in them.

26. Favorite cookbook?
My grand-mother’s notebook, I wish I would have it.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

28. Favorite reading snack?
None, I don’t like snacks to begin with.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I can’t think of any.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Hmm, I don’t read that many professional reviews or critical essays. I would say fifty-fifty – sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I feel indifferent. Negative review for me same as any other review. In my reviews I’m reflecting my own personal opinion. I’m not claiming to be a professional critic. I’m not trying to influence people with my reviews. My blog is my personal notes, not a promotion tool.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
French. I should try reading more in French, because I really want to pick up this language I used to know, but forgot when I started learning English. Also I would really love to read French classics on its original language.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
I don’t remember any book that intimidated me.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
None, because of the answer on the above question.

35. Favorite Poet?
Alexander Blok, Lord Byron, Anna Akhmatova, Sergei Yesenin – just to name a few.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Not more than three or four. I like coming back to the library and choosing new books. If I would have too big of a pile, by the time I would get to the bottom of it, I might lose my interest to the last book.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
When I was a child, I did it quite often.

38. Favorite fictional character?
Should I name only one?
Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She is smart and dangerous;
Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell;
Holden Caulfield from The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris;
Count Dracula from Dracula by Bram Stoker;
Mr Hyde from Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson;
The White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
The next ones on my TBR list.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
From my birth until fifth grade I haven’t read anything. I’ve been read to at least until first grade and may be even longer. Even though I knew how to read myself for a long time, I hated reading. I loved when I was read to. By the time of the fifth grade, I realized that if I will not start reading myself, no one going to read to me anymore and I will be left without my favorite stories, so I started reading and as it seems, never stopped after that.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Oh, there are too many to list them all. Lately, I started to reread books that I gave up on when I was at school and since I’m quite stubborn I’m finishing them all so far.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Conversations around me.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
War and Peace (1965) directed by Sergei Bondarchuk.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Twilight (2008) and both of the sequels – New Moon and Eclipse.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
The most I could remember was somewhere around $250.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
If I could not bring myself to pick it up again and nothing and no one could talk me into continue it.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Not really, I don’t actually care about that.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I keep all books that I bought. One day I would need a separate, devoted only to books, house.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
The latest is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is just not my cup of tea.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
The reading itself is my favorite guilt-free pleasure.

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris - Book Review #70

Definitely Dead
by Charlaine Harris

As a person with so few living relatives, supernaturally gifted Louisiana cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse really hated to lose one. But she never thought it would be her cousin Hadley, a consort of the Vampire Queen of New Orleans. Since Hadley was a vampire, she was already dead - weird! And now, as unexpected heir to Hadley's estate, Sookie discovers that someone doesn't want her snooping around, going through Hadley's possessions and her past. But why? And who?

Charlaine Harris has a tendency to under explain and over explain at the same time. I know it sounds weird, but it’s true.

Definitely Dead – the sixth book in the Sookie Stackhouse series starts when Sookie’s cousin – Hadley is already a vampire, lover of the queen of Louisiana and murdered, as definitely dead, and queen of Louisiana has already visited Sookie to tell her all of that. None of these events are mentioned in previous books. My first thought was if I missed something in the fifth book, but no, nothing is in there. Then I considered that I might have got confused and reading not a sixth book, but seventh. That assumption also proved to be wrong. So I kept on reading. Ok I’m fine with books that are not starting from the birth of the grand-grand-father of the main character. However, the way Harris handled it, is a little bit overboard as well. It would have been nice to have at least some sort of hint in the previous book, or start this one a bit differently, with Sookie explaining what happened and not just barely mention it like we are already supposed to know this.

On the other hand at least first hundred pages, if not the half of the book, Harris is spending scrupulously retelling to us events from previous five books, which every time makes me want to stop reading a book once and for all. And the further we go into the series, the worse this situation is becoming. I mean, the recap of events from the first book took only a handful of pages in the second. And now we are getting closed the half of the book. I’m seriously scared what going to happen next.

Besides all of that Harris managed to shove a lot of other events into this book. Every moment something is happening in this book, something completely dangerous and unexplained. This is never a bad thing if all the events connected to the main plot even if it is invisible at the beginning. A book should not contain any scenes that are not developing the main plot. A novel is not a hamper where you can throw anything that would enter your mind. Unfortunately, this is not always a rule for Harris.

Sookie Stackhouse books are horrible sometimes; I can find a million things that are wrong with them. Most of these things are bothering me like there is no tomorrow. Some of them are making me outrageous. However, at the end of the day, I’m still not able to stop reading them, same as so many other readers. Sookie still makes me laugh and I still longing for more of hers crazy adventures. May be it is a drug? (Do you see what I’m doing here? I’m looking for excuse, for justification of myself reading Sookie’s books. I guess that what I’m doing through all my reviews on these series. I cannot find a reason why I read them, if I’m criticizing them sometimes so harshly.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf - Book Review #69

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf

On a June morning in 1923, Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for a party and remembering her past. Elsewhere in London, Septimus Smith is suffering from shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Their days interweave and their lives converge as the party reaches its glittering climax. Here, Virginia Woolf perfected the interior monologue and the novel's lyricism and accessibility have made it one of her most popular works.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is extraordinary, exceptional and simply ravishing. I have never read anything like that in English. I didn’t even think it was possible to write the way Virginia Woolf wrote in English. Her sentences are piece of art, each and every one of them. Her, what may seem as complex, punctuation reads completely natural and makes total sense. Woolf’s writing reminded me of impressionists’ paintings – you have to stand away from the painting on some distance to be able to see the whole picture. Also, up-close observation can be fascination as well. Same as impressionist from the tiny and sometimes as it might look like unrelated to each other brush strokes created astonishing masterpieces, Virginia Woolf wrote her prose, using words and punctuation.

When I started to read Mrs. Dalloway, I was annoyed that it wasn’t divided on chapters or separated by any other visible means, rather than a meaning. I was annoyed because I couldn’t put the book down, the story was flowing farther and farther, caring me away with itself and not letting me go or take a break. It was hypnotizing. After a while I came to terms with this and even started to like it, thinking that Mrs. Dalloway was actually divided, however not on chapters but with the sound of different clocks all over the London that were measuring hours and halves of hours.

I was astonished how masterfully Woolf was able to tell the story from different points of view and how smooth and almost invisible the transition between one and another was. However despite that fact, I was always able to understand from whose point of view the narration was at any particular moment. Woolf managed to do that without confusing the reader. And not only Woolf was telling the story from different points of view, she was also describing the present events, revealing the secrets of the past and showing us the glimpse of the future. That too was managed with enormous grace and unimaginable lightness.

I could probably spend forever trying to explain what I felt, what I saw, what I found in Mrs. Dalloway and never be satisfied. So I will only say – thank you Mrs. Virginia Woolf. Thank you for showing me the horizons I didn’t even dream existed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Christopher Killer by Alane Ferguson - Book Review #68

Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The Christopher Killer
by Alane Ferguson

The sleepy Rocky Mountain town of Silverton, Colorado hasn’t seen a murder in years according to Pat Mahoney, the county coroner. So when his teenage daughter, Cameryn, asks if she can be his assistant as preparation for a career in forensic pathology he figures it s a safe bet. But neither of them imagines that their first case will involve someone Cameryn knows . . . the fourth victim of a serial killer.

Attending her first autopsy is more difficult than Cameryn had ever expected, but she’s determined to find her friend s murderer. Before long, Cameryn is plunged into a disturbing mystery, matching wits with everyone from the cantankerous medical examiner who doubts her abilities to the famous psychic who is predicting yet another death soon.

The Christopher Killer is a forensic mystery. I was hesitant to read it for quite a while. I like mysteries and I was always interested in forensic work. (Especially in forensic ballistics, regrettably, ballistics didn’t play any role in this book.) However, lately YA mysteries disappointed me more and more. I understand that I’m not a target audience for those books – I’m not a teenager anymore, but either authors that write YA mysteries became less smart than they used to be, or for some reason authors came to decision that teenagers became dumber, either way I usually able to guess the whole mystery pretty much from the page one. My another concern that made my hesitant to read The Christopher Killer was – I wasn’t sure how Alane Ferguson will deal with the whole teenager being the coroner’s assistant business. Will she make it sounds like it is no big deal? (and make it unrealistic.) Will she make it a huge deal? (and there would be no place for the mystery itself.)

Luckily, Alane Ferguson didn’t disappoint me and pleasantly surprised me. In my opinion, her mystery was solid. I didn’t guess who was the killer till the very end of the book, though I guess who wasn’t the killer, because Ferguson was making suspects from them sometimes too brutally obvious. She also resolved the issue with teenager being the coroner’s assistant quite gently and realistic.

I really enjoyed that the resolution of the mystery in The Christopher Killer wasn’t build on pure luck and evidentially unsupported guesses. Cameryn’s chain of reasons looked strong to me, with one exception when her reasoning were more of a lucky guess. But, hey, I’m fine with a bit of luck!

It undoubtedly looked like Alane Ferguson knows the subject she is writing about. It felt like she truly did a tremendous research to write this book. The Christopher Killer is full of tiny details that will fascinate and satisfy any forensic enthusiast. Even though, Ferguson’s detailed descriptions fulfill reader’s curiosity, these descriptions are so good that they leave you longing for more information on the subject.

But the greatest delight for me was a tiny detail that was barely mentioned at the end of the book and left untouched. (No, I’m not going to say what it was. It would be a major spoiler.) I only hope that I’m not over thinking it, like it happens quite often to me. I only hope that this detail was one of the cliffhangers for the second book in the series. I only hope that Alane Ferguson will not leave it unanswered and will develop it in the second or the third book. I only hope that it wasn’t just a coincidence and overlook from Ferguson. I only hope it was a real deal and I’m dying to find out how it will be resolved. So you probably guessed – I will definitely read second book in the forensic mystery series - The Angel of Death.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen - Book Review #67

Monday, August 16, 2010
Girl, Interrupted
by Susanna Kaysen

In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele - Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles -as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary.

I really wanted to like this book, because I loved the movie it was based on. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of these rare cases when the movie is so much better than the book.

I always wondering what make one book better than the movie and another one worse. I still don’t have a definite answer, because so many factors and variables are involved. It is the time of your life when you watch a movie or read a book. It is your mood. It is the time of the year when you watched or read it. It is whether you watched a movie or read a book first. It is who you watched a movie with or who recommended you a book, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Millions of factors are at works and it is very hard to pin point which one actually influenced you the most to like a movie batter than a book, or other way around.

Girl, Interrupted’s title suits itself. With every chapter I had a feeling that every time Susanna Kaysen sat down to write, she had an idea what she wanted to tell to the reader. Unfortunately, as soon as she started to write someone or something (her cat/dog, her husband/boyfriend, a car outside/a phone inside) interrupted her and she had to wrap up what she was writing very fast. Whenever she was sitting down next time to write, she had a new idea and everything repeated. Each chapter from Girl, Interrupted reads like a separate story that told in a hurry. Almost nothing connects these stories together, except that they are all from approximately the same time of Susanna Kaysen’s life. These stories weren’t even told in chronological order. No, I have to admit that sometimes when author tells bits and pieces not arranged in time, it works out good for the whole story. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a case for Girl, Interrupted. Kaysen was constantly coming back, saying that this event happened before the event she already mentioned much earlier or skipping forward, revealing that this particular issue was still in the future. It read like a one big mess, at least for me.

However, I have to give the credit to Kaysen where the credit is due. Kaysen managed to describe characters very well. They definitely turned out to be fully fleshed out and alive. Either it was because Girl, Interrupted is an autobiography and these characters were real, or because Kaysen could see these people and knew them very well, I don’t know. I can only acknowledge the result.

So to conclude everything I sad above, my advice – if you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, watch the movie and skip the book. After all Angelina Jolie’s Oscar for the role in Girl, Interrupted is well deserved.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen - Book Review #66

Friday, August 13, 2010
The Gardener
by S. A. Bodeen

Mason has never known his father, but longs to. All he has of him is a DVD of a man whose face is never seen, reading a children’s book. One day, on a whim, he plays the DVD for a group of comatose teens at the nursing home where his mother works.*And before he knows it, Mason is on the run with the girl, and wanted, dead or alive, by the mysterious mastermind of this gruesome plan, who is simply called the Gardener.

Will Mason be forced to destroy the thing he’s longed for most?

How far will you go to help a person you know for less then fifteen minutes? Will you hesitate to sacrifice everything in order to do that? Mason – the main character of The Gardener – didn’t. He knew that was a right thing to do. It turned out into a lifetime adventure in length of twenty four hours that changed his life forever, revealing the secrets of his past he didn’t even know existed.

I expected to like this book, but I didn’t know that I will love it so much. The Gardener is The Minority Report meets YA sci-fi, fast paced, incredibly fun and sometimes completely terrifying YA sci-fi. I just couldn’t put the book down; I read it in one evening. Depending on how this book is pitched it can be a horror or sci-fi or even a mystery. Either way you can’t lose with this book.

I don’t want to sound like this book is a future classic, because I don’t think it is. The Gardener just a solid, entertaining, very nicely written and thought through book that can be enjoyed by any sci-fi admirer regardless if the reader is a teenager or not.

*I removed one sentence from the synopsis that in my opinion gives away the whole story. So if you are not afraid of spoilers that here is this sentence, but I don’t recommend to read it to anyone who hasn’t read the book and planning on doing so. SPOILERS!!! One of them, a beautiful girl, responds. Mason learns she is part of a horrible experiment intended to render teenagers into autotrophs—genetically engineered, self-sustaining life-forms who don’t need food or water to survive.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells - Book Review #65

Thursday, August 12, 2010
The War of the Worlds
by H. G. Wells

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own.” Thus begins one of the most terrifying and morally prescient science fiction novels ever penned. Beginning with a series of strange flashes in the distant night sky, the Martian attack initially causes little concern on Earth. Then the destruction erupts—ten massive aliens roam England and destroy with heat rays everything in their path. Very soon mankind finds itself on the brink of extinction.

It’s been a long time since I’m so desperately, so unstoppable, so … as there were no tomorrow… was falling asleep on a book during a day when I wasn’t even tired. It’s been a long time… Last time I remember it happening to me, when I was reading… The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. So I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that it happened this time, when I was reading The War of the Worlds.

With all my respect to H. G. Wells, unfortunately he wasn’t a great fiction writer. His ideas are priceless, but the execution of these ideas is what putting me to sleep. It seems to me H. G. Wells was a great writer of sociopolitical essays, commentator, columnist, textbook writer, you name it. However, the technique of fictional writes definitely wasn’t his. Even from his own words: “I had rather be called a journalist than an artist,” H. G. Wells wrote in his letter to Henry James on July 8, 1915. And in my opinion, he was much more a journalist than an artist. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that to be a journalist is worse than to be an artist. I just really don’t like fiction books that written with dry, reporting language of journalism. And this is, in my opinion, precisely, what H. G. Wells does in The War of the Worlds.

For some time lately I’ve been wondering why I wasn’t able to read H. G. Wells’ books when I was a child (Even now I was able to finish his books only on pure determination). I think I finally came to at least some conclusion, still not sure if this one is correct or not. The main reason, as I see it, that H. G. Wells wasn’t really writing a sci-fi, he was writing a sociopolitical allegory. It seems like the invasion itself or Martians wasn’t important to H. G. Wells. He wasn’t looking at it from adventurous, survival, victorious and/or triumphant point of view. He was looking at it, trying to study social reactions, developments and interactions. Don’t get me wrong, I think that questions if and how society and humanity can survive one or another catastrophe is important and interesting to study. It just when I was a child, I was looking for something light and adventurous, and you definitely won’t find it in H. G. Wells works.

The War of the Worlds is undeniably one of the books that everyone should read at one or another point of his/her life. It raises a lot of questions that still dated and I don’t think will lose its importance and weight anytime soon, if ever. It also gives food for thought. So if you haven’t read H. G. Wells, pick a time, prepare yourself to think rather than be entertained. Do the effort, crack open the book’s spine and read it. Read it for yourself, read it for humanity and read it for H. G. Wells, because even though he wasn’t the greatest fiction writer, he was a true genius.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz - Book Review #64

Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Deadly Little Secret
by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Some secrets shouldn't be kept...

Up until three months ago, everything in sixteen-year-old Camelia's life had been fairly ordinary: decent grades; an okay relationship with her parents; and a pretty cool part-time job at the art studio downtown. But when Ben, the mysterious new guy, starts junior year at her high school, Camelia's life becomes anything but ordinary.

Rumored to be somehow responsible for his ex-girlfriend's accidental death, Ben is immediately ostracized by everyone on campus. Except for Camelia. She's reluctant to believe the rumors, even when her friends try to convince her otherwise. She's inexplicably drawn to Ben...and to his touch. But soon, Camelia is receiving eerie phone calls and strange packages with threatening notes. Ben insists she is in danger, and that he can help--but can he be trusted? She knows he's hiding something... but he's not the only one with a secret.

Deadly Little Secret is a suspense, thriller, mystery, YA novel. I’m not only classifying this book as an YA because main characters are teenagers, but also because it is more suited for the early teens. It has a very easy straight forward plot. Deadly Little Secret is dialog driven novel, so it reads very fast. Unfortunately, some of these dialogs lead to nothing, not moving the plot forward. These dialogs leave you wondering why they were even included in the story.

My biggest disappointment was how undeveloped and cardboardish all of the characters were. You could see at some moments that author was trying to flesh out these characters, but, unfortunately, the job wasn’t finished. Camelia – the main character – is plain and boring to tears at times.

Even though I guessed who was the stalker guy pretty much at the beginning of the story, Laurie Faria Stolarz was doing not a bad job creating the suspense and driving it to the climax. At some points, even though I was more than sure how the events of the story are going to develop, I felt… no, not scared, but definitely uncomfortable.

The only thought that didn’t leave my mind after I was done with this book is what a sick and creepy High School Camelia is attending. Not only it is a home of supposed to be ex-murderer and a stalker who wants to be a murderer, but also god knows who is lurking down those hallways.

Deadly Little Secret is not a bad book. It is just probably not one of those YA books that not only teenagers, but also adults can enjoy. However, I would recommend this book to 12-14 years old teenagers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells - Book Review #63

Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The Summer of Skinny Dipping
by Amanda Howells

"Sometimes I still wake up shivering in the early hours of the morning, drowning in dreams of being out there in the ocean that summer, of looking up at the moon and feeling as invisible and free as a fish. But I'm jumping ahead, and to tell the story right I have to go back to the very beginning. To a place called Indigo Beach. To a boy with pale skin that glowed against the dark waves. To the start of something neither of us could have predicted, and which would mark us forever, making everything that came after and before seem like it belonged to another life.

My name is Mia Gordon: I was sixteen years old, and I remember everything...."

After getting dumped by her boyfriend, Mia is looking forward to spending a relaxing summer in the Hamptons with her glamorous cousins. But when she arrives she finds her cousins distant, moody, and caught up with a fast crowd. Mia finds herself lonelier than ever, until she meets her next-door-neighbor, Simon Ross. And from the very first time he encourages her to go skinny dipping, she's caught in a current impossible to resist.

The Summer of Skinny Dipping is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Green Sea by Milton Avery, while Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is playing. Unfortunately, this is not my comparison. All these works were at least mentioned and sometimes played not the last role in the book. I wish I would be able to describe a book by using one book, one painting and one song. But this is not me, this is all Amanda Howells.

The Summer of Skinny Dipping is a romantic and tragic, beautiful and sad, funny and unsettling, reassuring and thoughtful. It also touches most of the issues that teenagers are going though – substance abuse, fist love, fist lost, fitting in, love the skin you are in, distraction of childhood illusions (delusions?) and relationship with family. It pretty much has it all for coming-of-age book. However, this is not why I loved this book.

Amanda Howells swept me away with her talent for creating settings. On one hand it wasn’t over descriptive or wordy, on the other, it wasn’t dry. It also wasn’t separated from narration of the story. It was interlaced into the story itself. And it was done so delicate that the whole time I was reading this book, I could swear that it was a night and I was in Southampton on the beach. I could smell the ocean, I could hear it roaring. I could feel the sand between my toes. I could see the moon shine and distant lights, and I could hear the music playing somewhere far away. It was me, not Mia who was sitting on the roof, looking into pitch black and feeling the ocean breath on my cheeks.

I wouldn’t call this book a vacation read. I would call it a vacation itself. I would recommend this book to any teenager that would listen. The Summer of Skinny Dipping is Amanda Howells‘s debut novel and I’m anxious to see what she will create in the future. I wish her best of luck and at least for now, she got herself another faithful reader.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris - Book Review #62

Monday, August 9, 2010
Dead as a Doornail
by Charlaine Harris

When Sookie sees her brother Jason's eyes start to change, she knows he's about to turn into a werepanther for the first time - a transformation he embraces more readily than most shapeshifters she's known. But her concern for her brother becomes cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population - and Jason's new panther brethren suspect he may be the shooter." Now, Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who's behind the attacks - unless the killer decides to find her first.

For the first half of the book, the fifth installment of the Sookie Stackhouse series, Dead as a Doornail, made me really wonder if the series itself was dead as a doornail. It started slow and sort of messy. It took me some time to get into this novel. Sad thoughts whirled through my head that it might be the end of my involvement with Sookie. Fortunately, in the second half, the book picked up, almost returning to the glory of its predecessors, almost, but not quite.

The series are becoming too soap-operish for my liking. I had already written in one of my reviews on the previous books in the series that number of accidents (near-death experiences) happens to Sookie is going off-scale. However, this installment excels all previous ones in this matter. Through the book I kept wondering how come with all these accidents Sookie is still didn’t become a favorite study case for the local shrink.

Dead as a Doornail is also the first book in the series that didn’t have any sexual escapades for the Sookie, even though this time it seemed as the whole male population of the Bon Temps and nearby cities was interested in her (it must be her unforgettable style and/or her good manners).

Dead as a Doornail is definitely not the best book I’ve ever read, neither it is any close to be the best in the series. However, it still was hilarious at times and kept me entertained though at least a half of it. I’m most certainly willing to try my luck with the next one - the sixth book - Definitely Dead.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - Book Review #61

Wednesday, August 4, 2010
The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton

Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s masterful portrait of desire and betrayal during the sumptuous Golden Age of Old New York, a time when society people “dreaded scandal more than disease.”

This is Newland Archer’s world as he prepares to marry the beautiful but conventional May Welland. But when the mysterious Countess Ellen Olenska returns to New York after a disastrous marriage, Archer falls deeply in love with her. Torn between duty and passion, Archer struggles to make a decision that will either courageously define his life—or mercilessly destroy it.

Can one decision form and define your life and another wreck it completely? I don’t think that anything is as black and white in life as this statement is and it seems to me neither Edith Wharton thinks so. A lot of components and tiny details shape our lives and even at the edge of making a decision, I don’t think we are able to comprehend all these components and make a correct prediction on how this or that decision will influence our future.

Why I started to talk about life defining decisions? Because I think this is main theme of The Age of Innocence – decision between love, passion and social obligations, family duty. Newland Archer – a protagonist of the novel – facing probably one of the toughest and fundamental decisions: do you live for yourself, trying to chase that elusive happiness or do you live for others and maybe one day down the road you will achieve the satisfaction by seeing the happiness of others around you brought by your actions.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is an amazing novel that cannot be described nether by one word not by a thousand. At the beginning the novel reads like a gossip column, but also Wharton’s writing makes it unbelievably visual. I could almost see two hypothetical gossip girls from the mid 19th century, one whispering to another the latest news, covering her lips with a fan. I could almost see the eyebrows shot up and big round eyes of the second girl and a quiet “Ah” on the inhale coquettishly covered by elegant hand in a lace glove. Wharton’s writing did amazing things to my mind – she was just introducing the characters and my imagination added these gossip girls as if they were talking about those people. The author, same as her characters, does not converse everything to the reader, but at the same time, using different techniques, she does not allow the reader to pass through without an understanding what’s actually going on.

Sometimes Wharton’s prose is hilarious, insightful and full of irony:

His heart sank, for he saw that he was saying all the things that young men in the same situation were expected to say, and that she was making the answers that instinct and tradition though her to make – even to the point of calling him original.

[...]since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences. This seemed as natural to Newland Archer as all the other conventions on which his life was moulded: such as the duty of using two silver-backed brushes with his monogram in blue enamel to part his hair, and never appearing in society without a flower (preferably a gardenia) in his buttonhole.

At other times Wharton’s prose is wise:

Does no one want to know the truth here, Mr. Archer? The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!

However, at any time, her prose is phenomenal, her story is unforgettable and her characters are divine. I’m sure that I wasn’t able to make the justice to The Age of Innocence it deserves with my review, so my advise – if you haven’t read it, grab the book and do this now. You will be surprised how much you going to love it.