Book Review - Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

counting7s
counting7s
counting7s

I am a contrarian. Not about life. I'm not going to say the glass is half full. There is water in it. You're thirsty. Drink and stop analyzing.

I am a contrarian when it comes to books.

I'm turned off by quirk.

By lack of punctuation.

By single sentence paragraphs.

By substituting writing style for characterization.

Tell the story. Don't let the writing get in the way. Or the voice.

Counting by 7s (★★★) is a run-of-the-mill YA story. You know how it will end. Nothing will shock you. Though you will get choked up.

Unless you have a heart of stone.

The voice is quirky, though with correct punctuation.

Single sentence paragraphs abound.

If you like that kind of stuff, then this book is for you.

If you don't, you can read it to pad your yearly reading goal. It's a fast read.

Because of all those single sentence paragraphs.

You won't regret reading it. You may even love it.

You definitely won't forget it.

Classics Club Spin - The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

augie

I did not like this book. I did not finish this book.

I will never pick this book up again.

Besides not having enough story to keep me interested past page 60, Bellow describes every character in detail. In so much detail my mental snapshots were muddy, confusing and seemingly contradictory. These complex descriptions bogged down the narrative - what little narrative there was. So, I won't be checking this book off my 1001 Books list. I suppose it's in good company, with Moby Dick and Middlemarch.

In the good news department, I did learn something from what little I read:

In writing, less is more.

Classics Club Spin Book

The number selected for the Classics Club Spin is #4, which means I will be reading The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. augie

Description from Amazon:

As soon as it first appeared in 1953, this gem by the great Saul Bellow was hailed as an American classic. Bold, expansive, and keenly humorous, The Adventures of Augie March blends street language with literary elegance to tell the story of a poor Chicago boy growing up during the Great Depression. A "born recruit," Augie makes himself available for hire by plungers, schemers, risk takers, and operators, compiling a record of choices that is—to say the least—eccentric.

Doesn't tell me much about the book. Let's try Goodreads:

Augie comes on stage with one of literature’s most famous opening lines. “I am an American, Chicago born, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted.” It’s the “Call me Ishmael” of mid-20th-century American fiction. (For the record, Bellow was born in Canada.) Or it would be if Ishmael had been more like Tom Jones with a philosophical disposition. With this teeming book Bellow returned a Dickensian richness to the American novel. As he makes his way to a full brimming consciousness of himself, Augie careens through numberless occupations and countless mentors and exemplars, all the while enchanting us with the slapdash American music of his voice.

Hmm. The "Call me Ishmael" of mid-20th-century American fiction, as if there is an iconic opening line in every phase of American literature. Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis both call The Adventures of Augie March the "Great American Novel." Somehow, all of the accolades and hyperbole aren't exciting me. Still, I'll read it. I have it on my bookshelf, in fact. No idea why.

It's good, then, that the non-fiction book is one I've long wanted to read: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

cagedbird

A phenomenal #1 bestseller that has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly three years, this memoir traces Maya Angelou's childhood in a small, rural community during the 1930s. Filled with images and recollections that point to the dignity and courage of black men and women, Angelou paints a sometimes disquieting, but always affecting picture of the people—and the times—that touched her life.

Since I'm reading two from the lists already, I've decided to choose my September reading from The Classics Club and Non-Fiction Challenge lists. I have two books left on my bedside table for August and I haven't bought one book this month. It's a record!

"Speech is sliver, but silence is golden." Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

  I picked these books because of their length. It is a sad fact I have to pad my reading stats with short books with my 100 books read goal for 2013. The good news is one of these books is also part of my 1001 Books/The Classics Club Challenge and the other is by an author I've heard of but have never read.  The bad news is, I didn't care for either book.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Sparkbrodie

Synopsis: Jean Brodie is a teacher with advanced and unconventional ideas that put her at odds with the other members of staff at the Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh, as she endeavours to shape the lives of the select group of girls who form her "set".

What saved The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (★★★) from a two star rating was the writing. Spark has a unique style, omniscient narrator, jumping back and forth in time  between paragraphs. She so casually drops into the story who "betrayed" Miss Brodie I had to go back and read it a few times to make sure I read it right. I liked her writing style enough I will read more of her work, but the characters in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie were less than appealing. Thank God it was a short book.

 

 

Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolano

bolanoSynopsis -Paris, 1938. The Peruvian poet César Vallejo is in the hospital, afflicted with an undiagnosed illness, and unable to stop hiccuping. His wife calls on an acquaintance of her friend Madame Reynaud: the Mesmerist Pierre Pain. Pain, a timid bachelor, is in love with the widow Reynaud, and agrees to help. But two mysterious Spanish men follow Pain and bribe him not to treat Vallejo, and Pain takes the money. Ravaged by guilt and anxiety, however, he does not intend to abandon his new patient, but then Pain's access to the hospital is barred and Madame Reynaud leaves Paris.... Another practioner of the occult sciences enters the story (working for Franco, using his Mesmeric expertise to interrogate prisoners)-as do Mme. Curie, tarot cards, an assassination, and nightmares. Meanwhile, Monsieur Pain, haunted and guilty, wanders the crepuscular, rainy streets of Paris...

On the other hand, there wasn't much of anything I enjoyed about Monsieur Pain (★★), except the Paris setting and recognizing streets I visited on my trip there last year. There was no plot to speak of (the above summary is technically accurate, but it makes the plot sound more interesting and cohesive than it was); it seemed to be mostly about Pain walking around Paris, getting drunk and having hallucinations and nightmares. I found it a rather difficult read, as if Bolano worked so hard to write deeply he ended up with a story without a point. At the very least, the point or theme was so camouflaged I didn't get it. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind for Monsieur Pain, or maybe I'm just not bright enough to "get" Bolano. It definitely didn't make me want to read his 1000 page posthumous novel, 2666.

Book Review - City of Women by David Gillham

city of womenSynopsis: Whom do you trust, whom do you love, and who can be saved? It is 1943—the height of the Second World War—and Berlin has essentially become a city of women. Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.

But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets.

A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit.  A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions.  And then there’s the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.

Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two.

In this page-turning novel, David Gillham explores what happens to ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times, and how the choices they make can be the difference between life and death.

It seems the new trend in World War II historical fiction is to show how everyday Germans lived through the ordeal, to illustrate that not all Germans were high-stepping SS officers, or informants or persecuted Jews. Some were normal people, trying to keep their heads down and their families safe under a repressive regime. How well  this new paradigm is being received I don't know. I suppose it depends on your relationship to the events.

It is this area of the war that David Gillham mines in City of Women (★★★★). It is a very good book. Well-written and tense with expectation. Sigrid Schröder is a well-rounded character, full of faults, passion and intelligence. I would absolutely recommend City of Women to readers who enjoy WWII fiction. However, what kept me from giving it five stars (and made me consider giving it three) is I felt Gillham chose the safe route with creating Sigrid by giving her a Jewish lover (which provides her motivation for helping the Jews, I suppose) and by not giving her children. When she decides to help, she is only risking her own life, and the life of the mother-in-law she hates and the husband on the Eastern Front she doesn't love. The tension comes from the readers innate knowledge of the Nazi regime instead of fear for innocent life, because Sigrid isn't innocent. She has been complicit by burying her head in the sand for years. Yes, she opens her eyes and decides to help and, of course the reader wants Sigrid to succeed. But wouldn't the risk have been greater, and meant more, if she put her own children in danger, or at the very least, people she loved?

A few years ago my book club had a discussion about World War II, the Jews and what we would all do if a similar situation arose today, in America. Of course, we all want to believe we would do the right thing, stand up for the oppressed and do whatever we could to save them. Who wouldn't want to be the hero to that story? But, truth and reality are murkier than fiction. Would you put your family in danger to save someone else or would you keep your head down and ignore the atrocities going on around you?  In Sigrid, Gillham tries to write that heroine and almost succeeds.

Book Review - The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

beautiful mystery
beautiful mystery

Synopsis:

No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”
But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of  prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.

The eighth book in the Inspector Gamache mystery series, The Beautiful Mystery(★★★★) didn't captivate me until about 3/4 of the way through. Obviously, it was interesting enough to keep me reading, but I found the mystery uninteresting and a bit redundant, as if Penny was padding the book with mystery until she could get to the real point of the novel: the long, slow dissolution of Gamache and Beauvoir's working and personal relationship.

I wish I'd picked up the first book in this series instead of the eighth, because it is just the type of series I enjoy. Penny is an amazing writer, with an ear for dialogue and a deft ability with descriptions. But, where she really shines is her characters. Though I started with the eighth book, it didn't take me long to get a feel for these characters and the rich history they shared. It's obvious Penny has been building to this point for a while. I'm torn between despondency and excitement at having seven books to catch up on, with excitement slightly out front. It's nice to know such a rich, well realized world and characters are waiting for me, I'm just not sure when I'll get a chance to visit.

Life is too short to read bad books.

Tuesday, Goodreads posted an infographic "The Psychology of Abandonment," detailing what books are most commonly shelved as Abandoned, Not Finished or Unfinished, as well as the reasons why. I suppose you should take the infographic with a grain of salt, especially the percentages at the bottom, since there is no explanation of their methodology or a given sample size. Were 1000 people surveyed? Ten? Twenty? Did they email the survey (I never received one) or was it stuck on a page somewhere in their somewhat un-user friendly website that could only be found by a determined search or a lucky stumble? Those questions aside, the results are interesting and somewhat telling. The most common reason books are abandoned is "Slow, Boring" coming in at 46%. The next nearest reason is "Weak Writing" at 18.8%. That's a pretty big disparity and helps to explain why so many poorly written, but fast paced books top the best seller lists year in and year out (I'm looking at you, James Patterson). It also explains that while literary fiction will get the critical praise, it won't ever get the popular acclaim, it being more thought provoking and methodical as a general rule.

I wonder if all of those series obsessed publisher's hearts dropped at seeing only 2.5% of readers are compelled to finish from a dedication to the series? A whopping 36.6% sound obsessive compulsive, "As a rule, I like to finish things" and 25% are insatiably curious, "I have to know what happens."

Nearly 40% of readers finish a book regardless. That is astounding. I decided long ago life was too short to read a book I didn't enjoy. If a book hasn't caught my interest by the first turning point (which is usually at the 1/4 mark) then it's not going to happen. Those are the well-written books. If a book is poorly written (bad dialogue, canned characters, stupid plot) I'll dump it earlier. It's extremely rare I read a whole book I thoroughly dislike, though it has happened.

I'm not surprised Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the top five abandoned, nor am I surprised about The Casual Vacancy.  I haven't read the latter, mainly because the story doesn't interest me that much, but am not surprised the shallow reason "it's not Harry Potter" was so often cited. That was rather the point of the book, wasn't it? And, as I said a month ago, I tried with Fifty Shades.

My top two reasons for dropping a book is 1) bad writing and 2) boring. What makes you abandon a book? Or, are you one of the many who must finish no matter what?

The Classics Club/1001 Books - The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

innocenceLast month, I cheated a little bit on my Young Adult read. Car sickness, boredom and my inability to think ahead meant I had to listen to audiobooks I had already downloaded from Audible on the 12 hour car ride through flat, featureless though starkly beautiful New Mexico and west Texas. Since I wanted to be able to finish the book on the ride, or soon after I got home, the 12 hour reading of The Age of Innocence was the choice. Though I haven't read much Edith Wharton (The House of Mirth years ago and Ethan Frome recently), I knew what I was getting into when I started. SPOILER ALERT: Wharton doesn't do happy endings. Laura Miller, book reviewer at Salon, wrote a great piece last year: The Tyranny of the Happy Ending. The whole post deserves a read, but this stuck out (emphasis mine):

Some aspects of the human experience can only be addressed in a tragic mode, and the truth of “Romeo and Juliet” — that the intransigence of elders often leads to the sacrifice of youth — is one of those aspects. The tragic Victorian novels of Eliot and Hardy deal with, among other subjects, the restrictions that class and gender roles impose on heroes and heroines who are capable of much more than their allotted place in society permits. Seeing the intellectual and spiritual yearnings of Maggie Tulliver (in “The Mill on the Floss”) and Jude Fawley (in “Jude the Obscure”) being crushed is agonizing, but providing either character with a miraculous escape from that fate would render the novels themselves pointless. Their point is precisely that sometimes the best people will fail, and fail utterly.

This sums up Edith Wharton's sensibilities to a 'T.' Reading Miller's critique should make me appreciate The Age of Innocence's ending and while it does take a bit of the sting out of it, my dislike for the main character, Leland Archer, keeps any sense of awe or loss at the resolution at bay. Yes, Archer was restrained by society and the time he lived, but in the end, when the restraints were lifted, he was a coward. His final act transformed him from a tragic and noble character (at least I think that's what Wharton was going for) into a spineless weakling.

Still, Wharton is a master as depicting upper middle class New York and illustrating the mores of a group that rarely gets the attention. Think about it. When you think of fiction set in the 1870s, what comes to mind? England in the Victorian Era.  There is a real dearth of fiction set in the US during that time (save The Civil War era which usually always deals with the war, slavery and politics instead of class), either contemporary (written during the time it is set) or modern (or what we would call historical fiction, now).  And, what fiction there is is always overshadowed by their British counterparts, even in modern times. (It is telling that in Miller's article linked to above, she uses only British works as examples when Wharton would work as well.) Though American history is littered with examples of us rejecting England's religion, political structure and class structure, we have always been enthralled with their society, and the fiction that depicts it, to the detriment of our own.

I don't mean to suggest you must read The Age of Innocence (★★★★) because of a jingoistic zeal to support American writers and setting. Or that my four star rating is a result of a fist pumping celebration of 'Merica. Rather, you should read The Age of Innocence - as you should read any and all Edith Wharton's novels - because she will show you an America many of us haven't bothered to learn about, as well as make you wonder how much has truly changed in the subsequent 140 years.

 

June Reading Round Up: Young Adult Fiction

Sometimes, I confuse myself. I do. For the whole month of June, I was meh on reading. None of the books I read were so wonderful I couldn't put it down. But, six of the eight books I read this month received four or five stars. That is by far the best monthly rating average for the year. Maybe I graded the YA books on a curve, though that doesn't sound like me at all. I'm not nearly that nice.

An aside here: I'm sitting on my deck writing this post. It's 84 degrees in Texas at 5 pm on July 1. That makes me ridiculously happy.

Update: Here is is, July 3 and I haven't finished this post. That pretty much sums up my whole month of reading YA. Start and stop. Kinda dread going back to it but when I do, I enjoy it.

It's official: I'm a mess.

Top Pick of the Month

eleanor
eleanor

Eleanor and Park (★★★★★) by Rainbow Rowell - this was recommended by an agent I met at DFW Con and has been frequently included on Summer Reading lists.  It deserves the praise. I'm not sure what this would be categorized as - teen romance, maybe? But, it is a far cry from Sweet Valley High. The alternating POV and voices of the characters are well done and the setting (mid-80s) brought back teenage memories of my own. I don't even resent the author for that.

You Can't Go Wrong With...

Stargirl (★★★★★) by Jerry Spinelli

The Rules for Disappearing (★★★★) - a nice little thriller that probably shouldn't be a series, but whatever.

You want issues? I've got your issues.

Twisted (★★★★) by Laurie Halse Anderson - the ending, especially the resolution between the father and son, might be a little too pat, but overall a well-intentioned book with a good message.

Abandoned...

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel - I am a huge fan of Oppel's Airborn series (if you haven't heard of it or read it, you really should; action adventure with airships, a little teen romance, shipwrecks, a desert island and pirates!) and I thought the premise of this series (the teen years of Viktor Frankenstein) was a cool hook. It just didn't keep me interested.

Divergent by Veronica Roth - tries a little too hard to fill The Hunger Games void.

Three YA Book Reviews - The Rules for Disappearing, Stargirl and Twisted

What I've discovered the last couple of weeks as these three reviews have sat on my hard drive is, while I like YA well enough, I just don't have much to say when it comes to reviews. Which is why I'm lumping three very different YA books together into one post: a thriller, a message book and a parable. First up, the thriller.

 

rules

 

Synopsis: She's been six different people in six different places: Madeline in Ohio, Isabelle in Missouri, Olivia in Kentucky . . . But now that she's been transplanted to rural Louisiana, she has decided that this fake identity will be her last.

Witness Protection has taken nearly everything from her. But for now, they've given her a new name, Megan Rose Jones, and a horrible hair color. For the past eight months, Meg has begged her father to answer one question: What on earth did he do-or see-that landed them in this god-awful mess? Meg has just about had it with all of the Suits' rules-and her dad's silence. If he won't help, it's time she got some answers for herself.

But Meg isn't counting on Ethan Landry, an adorable Louisiana farm boy who's too smart for his own good. He knows Meg is hiding something big. And it just might get both of them killed. As they embark on a perilous journey to free her family once and for all, Meg discovers that there's only one rule that really matters-survival.

I love the premise of The Rules for Disappearing (★★★★) and especially love it is set in eastern Louisiana. Southern literature, for the win! There were a couple of questions left unanswered at the end, which was irritating until I saw on Goodreads there is another book planned. I'm not entirely sure how this works as a series but I liked it well enough I will read the next book, as well as recommend The Rules for Disappearing to teens I know.

*~*

Next, the message book.

twisted

Synopsis: High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn't believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father's boss's daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy, and Tyler's secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in school, in his family, and in the world.

A writer friend insisted I read Laurie Halse Anderson during my month of YA and this is what I picked up at the library. Twisted (★★★★) is clearly written with an interesting central character that is just on the right side of likable, if barely. But, what teens aren't barely likable? I didn't feel the author show the suicidal tendencies of the MC clearly enough to make me believe he would really kill himself when it came down to it. That the book was from the MC's point of view didn't help with the tension, either. But, I liked how the character found his agency at the end and took charge of his life.

*~*

Next up, the parable.

stargirl

Synopsis:Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.

A parable is a short tale that illustrates universal truth, one of the simplest of narratives. It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results. It often involves a character facing a moraldilemma, or making a questionable decision and then suffering the consequences. Though the meaning of a parable is often not explicitly stated, the meaning is not usually intended to be hidden or secret but on the contrary quite straightforward and obvious. (source)

I may be the only person that thinks of Stargirl (★★★★★) as a parable, but it fits the above definition to a "t." The universal truth in Stargirl is to be true to yourself, to be kind above all, to put others first and to meet hatred with love. If those aren't messages Jesus would get behind, I don't know what are. This is the summer reading requirement for sixth grade in our district and I can't imagine a better message for kids going into middle school.

YA Book Review - Golden by Jessi Kirby

goldenWhy is it whenever there is a there is a  choice between stability and freedom, the traditional and the unexpected, it is always the arty, let's do the crazy option that is always chosen? How many romances have you read where the choice of future mate comes down to stable, buttoned down businessman/woman and the long-haired free spirit artist/carpenter/bartender? Who is chosen every time? The free-spirit. Why is it when the choice is between responsibility and irresponsibility, the latter always wins out and is, as a result, trumpeted as the way to true happiness? If I had to posit a theory, I'd guess the authors of these books are people who chose the responsible path and have regretted it. Who think their life is boring and OMG wouldn't it be so much better to be an struggling artist living above a shop with few possessions and even fewer expectations from others? Or, maybe they were pushed into a path they didn't really want to take and resented it. Whatever the case, contemporary fiction is littered with these stories and they all end the same. (If you know of one that ends with the main character choosing responsibility, please let me know.)

We can thank Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games for the current trend of adults devouring YA and New Adult novels. But, not all YA/NA crosses over well. Golden (★★) is firmly targeted to teens, with hardly a parent or adult being represented. The one parent that is given a few pages is overbearing and controlling. Of course. I can't imagine any adult, let alone a parent, even less a parent of a teenager who are constantly trying to teach our teens about responsibility and taking charge of their future would like Golden very much. But, teens will eat the message up with a spoon. The message being, as far as I can tell, that 1) a parent that wants the best for you is wrong and 2) making spur of the moment decisions that will negatively impact your future is okay as long as you have a hot snowboarder boyfriend you can fall back on.

Hey, I get it. I'm definitely not the target audience for this book. And, I don't think all YA, New Adult or whatever you want to call it, should have a message that is "parental approved." But, to have a "message" book that so clearly disregards both perspectives - the adult responsible one and the YA impulsive one - does a disservice to the target audience. In Golden, the author didn't do a good enough job of showing why the MC's decision was the right one. As a result, Golden will be one of those books that teens love but, when they revisit it as adults, they will wonder what the hell they were thinking.

 

YA Book Review - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Theboyinthestripedpyjamas

TheboyinthestripedpyjamasThere is a major flaw at the center of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: the main character is not believable. Bruno, the 9-year old son of a Nazi SS officer whose promotion to commandant of Auschwitz starts the book, is completely ignorant of the world he lives in. He doesn't know what a Jew is, how to pronounce "Furher," what "Heil Hitler" means, what a Star of David or a swastika is, or what the thousands of people behind the barbed wire fence behind his house are doing there.  This from a boy born in 1934, two years after Hitler rose to power and the son of a high-ranking Nazi who is not a German who went along to get along but was dedicated to eradicating Jews and who "the Fury had great plans for." This from a boy who, in the real world, would have been a member of the Hitler youth. This from a boy who would have heard friends, neighbors and strangers deriding Jews. This from a boy who would have seen a Star of David in Berlin.  This from a boy whose father wore a red, white and black armband on his arm every day. If Bruno would have been five or six then I might have bought it. But, he was a ridiculously immature nine-year old who I kept thinking wasn't so much an innocent as an idiot. Does Boyne expect the reader to believe Bruno's family would have kept their beliefs about Jews, the purity of the Aryan race and Nazi ideology secret? It's patently ridiculous. Bruno's father would have been indoctrinating him, not protecting him from the ideas. To keep that information from your children implies you are uncomfortable with the beliefs and nothing in the book indicated that was the case. So. That was the biggest issue, but not the only one. Shmuel, the boy Bruno meets through the fence because of course there is a large section that is never guarded, is unbelievable in his own way as well. This little boy prisoner can sneak away every day for over a year. And, it is easy enough for a half-starving child to lift the bottom of the chain-link fence enough to scoot under, but he never does. Nor does he ever tell any of his fellow prisoners about the unguarded spot with the wonky fence.  He never calls Bruno out in his ignorance. His father disappears and this little boy, who has lived in a death camp for at least a year, doesn't know where he went. He also doesn't know what happens to the prisoners who "march," but he never sees them return. Gosh, what could be happening to them?

This book was on an end cap at Barnes and Noble titled, "What Every Teen Should Read." Really? It read more like it was written for a child. Boyne never said "Auschwitz," instead dumbing down his protagonist even more by having him mispronounce it "Out With." Boyne doesn't describe an act of violence against a Jew that Bruno witnesses and he, unbelievably, let Shmuel live after being caught by an SS officer stealing food from Bruno's kitchen. By skimming over the details, the climax of the book didn't have the visceral emotion it should have, or easily could have.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (★★) is a dumbed down version of the Holocaust, masquerading as a YA book. While there aren't any gross inaccuracies that I could see (I am, admittedly, not an expert), the mistakes are in what isn't said, what is glossed over and ignored in the guise of being from an unbelievable naive 9-year old boy's perspective.  The best you can hope for is your child or teen will ask questions because Lord knows, Boyne leaves lots of gaps. When they do, you can help educate them about one of the darkest eras in World History because the only thing that will keep us from repeating the mistakes of those before is not forgetting.

June Reading Goals - Rec me a YA

divergentThis month, I'm reading Young Adult. Today, I start Divergent. Other than that I have no plans; I'm open to suggestions. However, I refuse to read anything with vampires in it, including Twilight. I tried reading a ridiculously popular, poorly written book last month and that didn't turn out so well. Also, vampires hold no interest for me. Neither do zombies. FYI, I've read Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games.

Bring on the suggestions.

 

May Reading Review - Romance

cheesyMy month of reading romances turned out better than I thought. The quality of the writing was surprisingly good and I didn't end the month wishing my husband was an Irish bar owner in the middle of nowhere. If I have a complaint about romances is they are formulaic to a fault. But, the formula is part of the Romance Writers of America definition of the genre:

Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

Which means a good romance depends on a unique setting, characters and story. There are plenty of average romances that will leave you happy and satisfied. Finding an exceptional one is much more difficult. But, so is finding a horrible romance. They seem to hum along around three to four stars and, you know what? Sometimes the book you're reading doesn't need to change the world or make you ponder deep themes. It just needs to make you feel better when you finish than when you started. Most of the books I read in May did.

Top Pick of the Month

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand () by Helen Simondson - Major Pettigrew is the best kind of romance; great characters, believable conflict, sweet love story and uniqueness. I've wanted to read this novel for years and I'm so glad I did. Would recommend to anyone and will most likely re-read it in years to come.

You Can't Go Wrong With...

Jewels of the Sun () by Nora Roberts - Roberts is the quintessential romance author that will always deliver a reliably enjoyable read. Some complained on Goodreads about the ridiculous Irish stereotypes. To that I have this to say:  you don't read romance for veracity; you read it for fantasy. So what if the Ireland Roberts depicts is more Brigadoon and blarney stone than reality? It's fun, well written escapism. Also, don't talk to a Texan about stereotypes. In college I was able to convince two New Yorkers we all rode horses to school and had oil wells in our back yards. If a reader is stupid enough to believe the over the top stereotype, what do you care?  I stay away from Texas-based romances. I suggest easily offended Irish do the same for Ireland.

Georgette Heyer - I read two Heyer books this month (The Devil's Cub ; Lady of Quality ) because she is, far and away, my historical romance comfort read. The plots of her novels unfortunately share too many similarities, but I don't care.

This was shelved in Romance?

About a Boy () by Nick Hornby - There is nothing romancy about it, though I suppose Romance might have the widest definition of any literary genre. About a Boy could be considered romance, if you squint and turn your head a little, as if trying to catch sight of a shy fairy.

Good, not Great

Fall into You () by Roni Loren - My first full length erotica. Eh. Well-written but I'm not overly interested in reading about BDSM. I would read another if someone gave it to me but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy one.

With Just One Kiss () by Francis Ray - Thoroughly enjoyable. Will read another. Not as well written as Roberts but still lighthearted and fun. I liked it enough to seek out the next book in this series.

Bend in the Road () by Nicholas Sparks - I'm fairly certain this is the first Sparks novel I've read, and it will probably be the last. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. The sex scenes were sweet instead of sexy or erotic. I'm not going to complain about the lack of drama with the pair getting together - this is romance after all - though waiting for weeks of dating to kiss is totally unbelievable. The conflict after is good, but knocked down a star because the final scene was a fade to black. I wanted to see Miles grovel a bit and I wanted to see Sarah call him out for his behavior. Sarah turned out to be way too weak and Miles was too big of an ass. Overall good, not great; I won't waste my time with another Sparks.

Let's Get a Classic in Here...

Lady Chatterley's Lover () by DH Lawrence - For a book that is known more for being banned for thirty years, I expected something much more obscene. Though, of course, for 1928, all the talk about penises and orgasms would be quite shocking. It was pretty funny when Lawrence continued to call a woman's orgasm "coming to a crisis." I've only ever thought not coming to one is the crisis, but maybe that's just me. My reaction to Lady Chatterley is contradictory - I liked it overall but hated the characters. DH Lawrence is an excellent writer but he is repetitive, especially with his social commentary. I think all romance writers, especially ones that write erotica, should read Lady Chatterley, if only to honor the author that had the courage to take on the establishment in 1928 and pave the way for them.

Skimmed or Abandoned

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen () - writing wasn't good enough to carry a convoluted plot. Really, one of the worst books I've read this year.

The Typewriter Girl - besides having a horrible title, there were occasionally strangely structured sentences, not to mention an unlikable main character.

Fifty Shades of Grey - I tried.

Book Review - Fall into You by Roni Loren

fall

At the DFW Wfallriter's Conference last weekend, I attended a class titled "How to Write a Love Scene" taught by BDSM romance writer Roni Loren. It was an interesting class, though I'm not sure I learned anything I didn't know already, which was a common reaction to the craft centric classes I attended. I admit, that sounds a little arrogant coming from an unpublished writer. But, by this point, much of the information I heard is information I've heard before. But, it doesn't hurt to be reminded, or to hear it in a different way. Before I get into this review, you need to know two things. One, I didn't read Fifty Shades of Gray. I wasn't interested in reading a poorly written novel about a subject I had no interest in (BDSM). Two, I know nothing whatsoever about BDSM. So, why did I decide to read Fall into You? Curiosity about how Loren wrote the sex scenes, pure and simple. I've written my fair share of sex scenes (though no BDSM because, see above) though none make it into my novels, at least not the detailed ones. I'm more of a pan to the fluttering curtain or crashing waves kind of love scene writer. There are only so many ways you can describe the emotional and physical reactions of desire. Most of the time, it comes across as either cheesy or stilted. Plus, the reader's imagination is usually much better. Writing a good sex scene takes a great amount of skill which thankfully, Loren has. The scenes in Fall into You were well written and, besides a few repetitive descriptions of darkening eyes and Charli's private parts,  unique. They were equal parts titillating and cringe inducing.

I suppose complaining about lack of plot in a BDSM novel is like complaining about the lack of plot in a porn movie. You aren't reading for deep characterization or complex plot. What plot there is in Fall into You is there to service the sex scenes. At least 2/3 of the book is sex, and 1/3 is plot. And, the plot is lame. Okay, it's beyond lame. Loren's characterization of Charli was good, but she left a pretty gaping hole in Grant's back story, namely how did he get into BDSM and where did he get all of his money? This is the third book in the series, but I gather from other reviews Grant has been a secondary character in the previous two. This is his spotlight, how he got into the lifestyle should have been mentioned.

I do have to knock Loren for some of her dialogue. Most of it was good, then there would be a clunker of a line dropped in. No, I don't mean the dialogue during the sex scenes. I don't think there is any way for those lines to not be cheesy and cringe inducing. Is it even possible to be eloquent during sex? I don't think so. The best example that comes to mind is when Charli says Grant was 'scrambling her gray matter' or something of the sort, meaning her mind. No one says that in dialogue. "Blowing my mind," yes.  The worst was when Charli called Grant 'cowboy.' I mean, just no. Every time Grant called Charli 'freckles' I thought of Lost. Unnatural dialogue like that jolts the reader out of the scene.

Will I read another of Loren's novels? If someone hands me one I will, but I won't seek it out. Will I read another BDSM novel? Sure, if it had more story outside of the sex and deeper characterization.  I have decided to read Fifty Shades of Gray to compare the two, but not for a couple of weeks. It's time to see if exposure to this genre has ruined me for fluffy, vanilla romance.

Side Note: This is the first novel I've ever read that had a "Mature Audience" warning on the back. Is this common for the BDSM genre?

April Reading Round-Up - "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

The month of mysteries is behind me and I do not regret it. I can't remember why I thought I would.  My one regret is I only read two books from my To Read list (The Cater Street Hangman, Leaving Everything Most Loved). I blame that on the library. I got sidetracked by the "New Mystery" section by the front door and didn't make it upstairs.

I read ten books in April, nine mysteries, on graphic novel. The best of the bunch is probably Say Nice Things About Detroit, though I gave The Cater Street Hangman a higher rating. Confusing, yes. But, I have a theory. Since I am reading so much, the books that are unique in some way will stand out in my memory. My initial reaction for Say Nice Things About Detroit was four stars, a rating I still believe in. With The Cater Street Hangman, my initial reaction was five stars, but I can't remember why. The reason most likely lies in the fact that Perry's book is so similar to other books I have enjoyed that I am inclined to give those types of books (historical mysteries) better ratings. I am also influenced by my appreciation of Perry's body of work. But, because I have read so many books like The Cater Street Hangman, the specifics of the book don't immediately leap to mind later on. Whereas Say Nice Things About Detroit does because of it's uniqueness in relation to what I usually read.

Anyway. Enough of that. In May, I am reading romances! Woo-hoo! I gave romances up years ago, when I was newly married and I realized my husband was never going to be a shirtless shipbuilder on Nantucket Island and to keep comparing him to these types of men was doing my marriage a disservice. Now, seventeen years on, my husband is a sexy sports business consultant and can stand toe-to-toe with any romance novel hero. At least I hope he can.

I'm not going to make a list of books since history says I will ignore the list. I'm thinking of going to Half Priced Books and seeing if they have a bundle of romances to buy. Just roll the dice. What I will read: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (currently reading and loving it, for book club) and probably a Georgette Heyer or two.  Feel free to recommend romance novels/authors in the comments.