Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games Series #3)

Collins's first two books in this series, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, are two of my all-time favorite childrens' literature books. So, needless to say, I was eagerly anticipating this one. Katniss Everdeen had just been rescued from the Quarter Quell games and whisked away to District 13 where a rebellion against the Capitol is underway and Katniss is slated to lead it. Gale is back fighting by her side, while Peeta remains under the influence of Snow and all things evil. Many character favorites have fallen in the fighting, though a few of the Hunger Games champions remain, such as (my favorite) Haymitch and Finnick. Katniss remained throughout the novel, an unwilling heroine - quick to complain about her lot in the situation and to lament her losses, while refusing to focus on what everyone else around her was also giving up. She seemed continually saved by those around her, despite her ungrateful attitude. Though she knows that others view her as selfish and opportunistic, I felt she did little to dispel these assumptions about her character. Overall, I was incredibly disappointed in how Collins chose to portray her in this important final installment. While there is, as one would anticipate, a final battle for control of the Capitol, this book lacked the suspense I felt in the previous two. I didn't care about the characters as much - and while there is the never-ending Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle to wonder about, I almost hoped both boys would escape her clutches and neither would "win" out. Plot-wise, I suppose I'm happy to know how this one panned out, but sadly my high hopes have been dashed.

The Partner - John Grisham

When traveling, John Grisham never fails me. Sure, his books are formulaic and even when you haven't read one before, while you're reading it, it still makes you feel like maybe you have read it before...nonetheless, I always find his books suspenseful and entertaining. In The Partner, Patrick Lanigan is living life on the run in Brazil after faking his own death and embezzling $90 million from his former law firm. With so many people looking for him, it's not long before he's captured and returned to his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi to face the music. Charged with capital murder, he has also left behind a not-so-grieving widow and a 6-year old daughter. But, Patrick has numerous tricks up his sleeve and he sets out methodically to settle and debunk all the claims against him. As usual, Grisham attempts to portray his theiving protagonist as an unlikely hero - the client and former law partners he stole the $90 million from are no doubtedly crooks themselves. His wife is a wholly unlikeable philanderer, and there will most certainly be an explanation to soften the blow of the child he abandoned. For the most part, I think, Grisham suceeds. I did want Patrick to untangle himself from all his problems, but the way he went about it was so self-righteous - as if he was unwilling to take any responsibility for the crimes he committed. In the end, I was waiting for Patrick to his just desserts...but along the way, it was most certainly an entertaining ride.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Faithful Place - Tana French

This is French's third novel in her trilogy about detectives from the Dublin undercover squad. While my memory is not always the best, it seems to me that each of the novels in the series (which also includes In the Woods and The Likeness) stands alone, and this third one doesn't even seem to have any of the same characters as the first two. What it does have is some pretty good twists and turns. Frank Mackey is dealing with an ex-wife he's still in love with, and a daughter coming into her own, when he discovers that the first love he thought abandoned him at age 19 was actually murdered. The murder forces Frank to return to his estranged family and deal with his abusive alcoholic father, and his simply horrible mother. As Frank works behind the scenes to find out the truth, he learns that his family is inextricably linked to his former lover's fate. The plot is a bit overly dramatic at times, but I liked the portrayal of Frank's big Irish family and the complicated relationships among siblings and family. I will note, once again, that I was highly irritated with the portrayal of the young girl in the book - the way her dialogue was written reminded me of Meg from A Wrinkle in Time. I mean, really, are 8-12 year old girls really that whiny and obnoxious? Maybe I don't want to know.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

I figure the only way I'm going to hit my goal of 150 books this year is to start reading a ton of children's literature! So, while perusing my mom's shelves this past weekend, I decided I'd go back and reread this classic from my childhood. The last time I read this book, I was about nine years old. I don't remember a single thing about it, except that I really enjoyed it. This is actually the first in a series of four books about the Murray family (she then went on to do write another series about the second-generation O'Keefes). Meg Murray, the primary protagonist of the story, is a high-school teenager who doesn't quite in with her peers, and is seen as a troublemaker by her teachers. Her parents are both physicists, and her father mysteriously disappeared years earlier while experimenting with time travel. With the help of some strange little women, Meg, her younger brother Charles Wallace, and their neighborhood friend Calvin travel throughout the universe on a quest to rescue Meg's father. While I appreciate any book that features a young female character, I found Meg incredibly whiny. I don't recall having a negative reaction to her as a kid reading this book though, so perhaps L'Engle actually portrays her in quite a realistic light from the perspecive of a child reader (I was reminded of watching "Star Wars" years after it came out and being surprised to find that I could not stand Luke Skywalker's whining). I did, however, love five-year old Charles Wallace - seen as slow by folks who don't understand, but possessing a unique intelligence and ability to empathize and understand others. While this book is filled with strange planets and seemingly tricky physics concepts, the plot itself is actually quite simple - and predictable. I was a little taken aback at the overt Biblical references and quotations throughout the novel - and read up to find out that this is one of the most frequently challenged books by conservative Christians because of its apparent "liberal" Christian viewpoint, and its inclusion of characters resembling witches and the use of a crystal ball. I think I was surprised that a book with any type of religious theme would be so common place in public schools. Given the popularity of the series, however, and the fond (if not specific) memories I have of it as a child, I plan to read all the books in the series - but as an adult, I'm not quite sure I understand what the hype is all about.

Incarceron - Catherine Fisher

I found this book listed on a top books for kids list - another science-fiction book to fill the void left by Harry Potter. Incarceron is a futuristic prison filled with violence and confusion. The people locked up inside don't ever remember a world outside - and some of them (for reasons I could never quite figure out) were actually created inside the prison. One young prisoner, Finn, is haunted by epilleptic fits - seen as visions by some, and evidence by him that he used to be on the outside. While he attempts to escape in order to find out where he came from, the Warden's own daughter, Claudia, is trying her best to get inside. Betrothed to a man she cannot stand, Claudia is certain that a boy she loved as a child, and who met an untimely end, is not actually dead, but locked inside the prison. Finn and Claudia stumble upon a key that allows them to talk to each other, and they hatch a plan to help Finn escape. There was a lot going on in this book. I particularly liked the relationship that was set up between Claudia and her tutor. And, I liked the idea of a prison that no one on the outside really knows about - and people trying to escape - and of course children as main characters. But, all in all, I just couldn't get too excited about this one.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Afterbirth - Dani Klein Modisett

This is a collection of mostly humorous, but sometimes painfully heartbreaking, essays by Hollywood writer and actor types, about the joys of parenting. With that loose theme to bring all the stories together, the essays themselves actually cover an incredibly wide array of subjects - from infertility to adoption to accidental pregnancies to parenting like our parents to parenting nothing like our parents to huge mistakes to regrets to unimaginable happiness. This book will make you never want children while simultaneously making you smile at the wonder that children bring into this world and all our lives - even if they aren't our own children. I particularly enjoyed one essay about a woman who adopted a one-year old daughter from China - and the difficulties she encountered with attachments disorder. There were also a couple essays that dealt with the conflict between Ferberizing (allowing your baby to "cry it out") vs. sleeping indefinitely in an enormous family bed. In this day and age where there is a book about everything, and people are so quick to hand out definitive and judgmental advice about child-rearing and who should and shouldn't be having babies, this was a refreshing collection of evidence that there is no one way to do it right - and while there are many ways that seem wrong - in the end, we're all just experimenting and hoping to do our best.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer.

I absolutely hated Foer's novel Everything is Illuminated - I found the writing style so obnoxious, I don't even think I finished the book. But, then I picked up his non-fiction book Eating Animals and was very impressed by his ideas. So, after much prompting by other reader friends who just love this man, I decided to pick this one up. And, I'm glad that I did. EL&IC is "simply delightful" - to use a phrase that I normally hate. Part of my affinity for this novel certainly stems from the fact that it utlizes a child narrator - when done correctly, one of my favorite ways for telling a story. Nine-year-old Oskar has recently lost his father in the World Trade Center 9/11 attack. After finding a hidden key in his father's closet, he is determined to follow the clues he is certain were left by his departer dad to discover the lock into which the key fits. Oskar's journey takes him all over the five burroughs of New York, introducing him to interesting people along the way. Interspersed with Oskar's story, is the story of his grandparents, and how they met and fell in love. While interesting, I didn't appreciate this part of the book as much I did the parts where Oskar took over and shared his precocious yet still childlike observations about relationships and parenting and the strange and ever-changing world around us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Personal Injuries - Scott Turow

After enjoying Presumed Innocent and Innocent, I thought I'd go back and read some of Turow's earlier works. Personal Injuries starts with a lawyer caught in the midst of a judicial bribery scheme. Caught in the cross-hairs of the justice department, Robbie Feaver, agrees to wear a wire and participate in an undercover scheme to bring down the corrupt judges. While I don't like these lawyer mysteries that take place entirely in the courtroom - I do like a little legal drama - which this book did not have at all. I found the entire covert operation a bit repetitive at times - and the main character was supposed to be some sort of ladies man, but came across on the paper as kind of a pathetic loser. Several of the other characters were also one dimensional, despite Turow's blantant attempts to make them different or interesting. I'm glad this wasn't my first experience with Turow, or I'd probably stop reading him, but given that I know I've enjoyed a couple of his other novels, as well as his non-fiction, I am going to chalk this one up as a bad apple, and keep plowing through the rest.

From Dead to Worse - Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse Series #8)

Not much to add here from my review of the first seven in this series, but I do continue to enjoy it. In this installment, Sookie meets her great-grandfather and finds herself in the middle of waring packs of werewolves. At the same time, not to be outdone, the vampires themselves are in a bit of a predicament with the King of Nevada attempting to wrestle control of Arkansas and Louisiana from Sophie-Anne. Typical supernatural craziness.