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Necessary Lies
Necessary Lies
by Diane Chamberlain
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.04
75 used & new from $2.38

4.0 out of 5 stars Up there with Chamberlain's best, September 10, 2013
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This review is from: Necessary Lies (Hardcover)
What Diane Chamberlain does best is takes a fascinating, sometimes horrifying concept and brings it to life through characters so real that they illuminate all sides of the issue in a way that mere narration or exposition - two things upon which way too many authors rely - could never do. Such was the case with North Carolina's eugenics program, sterilizing and "asexualizing" thousands upon thousands of people, and way later in history than I had been aware of. I never felt lectured to or told what to think or feel by the author, as is often the case. Instead, I was taken inside the world of rural North Carolina in a time where not only women didn't have many choices or much say, but where the poor were treated more like animals than people, all in the name of doing good. Chamberlain created a world where I could be horrified over the neglect of a child, yet sob when he was taken away from a family who truly loved him and did the best they could. I read this book in one sitting, and found at the end what is becoming a rare occurrence these days... a happy ending. The real kind of happy ending, the messy kind, where there are scars and there is pain that never goes away, the kind that is hard-won, as in real life. The only reason I didn't give this book five stars is that I reserve five stars for the books I consider masterpieces that I would read again and again. I would have given 4 and a half if I could have. There were no flaws with this book, and I would highly recommend it for both sexes, from teens on up.


The Returned
The Returned
by Jason Mott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.75
195 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing - lived up to neither hype nor concept, September 10, 2013
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This review is from: The Returned (Hardcover)
The dead are returning, and no one knows why... intriguing concept, to say the least. If there is anyone in this world who would not give anything to see a loved one again, I certainly don't know them. From reading other reviews, I knew going in that no explanation would be given, and as a writer myself, that made this book even more intriguing. There were things I really liked about this book, and wanted to love. Unfortunately, the story suffered from a lack of cohesion, mostly due to the multiple points-of-view. This is a very difficult thing to do well, and I wish I could say that the author had done so. It read like vignettes, with a few characters being revisited more than once, and that was the biggest flaw. If you are going back and forth between five characters and they take turns with the narration, it CAN work... but some characters got one tiny chapter, some characters were revisited in a minor way, some through the stories of others, and it was just jolting. I just couldn't find the story. Combined with the fact that no answers were ever really given about ANYTHING, it was hard to care about the characters as much as I presume the author did. It seemed like such a careful tale, which rendered a sadly bland story that could have been powerful. Every time I felt like the story was focused on the town as a microcosm of the world, the author would switch out to a one-off story about someone else we never really heard enough about to care for. The story I wanted to read was simply the story of the small family whose son had drowned and returned when they were old... that was the story with the emotion, with the conflict, and the one that broke my heart before all was said and done. I feel bad writing this because when I read the author's words about his own book at the end and saw how much it meant to him, it broke my heart even more. I wanted it to have affected me the way he hoped it would... but it just didn't.


The Spectacular Now
The Spectacular Now
by Tim Tharp
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.49
135 used & new from $1.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book every teen should read - MILD SPOILERS FOR ENDING, August 7, 2013
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This review is from: The Spectacular Now (Paperback)
I hadn't heard about this book before the buzz started about the upcoming movie, so I grabbed it right away. As others have said before me, with far more eloquence, the book is very well-written. It's really tough to write an unreliable narrator well, let alone to have readers rooting for him, but Tim Tharp succeeded admirably.

What I mostly want to talk about is the ending. I always think I'd welcome this kind of ending, that it would be honest, true and refreshing. Guess what? For me, at least, it wasn't. I don't need every book to have a happy ending, especially if it isn't organic to the story... but I guess I do need to feel like there is the hope of one. At the end, I was left disconcerted and feeling like the book just kind of... ended. Like there was so much story left to be told. Then I realized that whatever happened to Sutter, chances are it was going to be more and more of the same. That absolutely gutted me ~ and then I cried and cried. I cried for every lost friend and family member and acquaintance I could see so much good in, so much potential for greatness, who just squandered it away. Those who live their entire lives fooling themselves that they live in the Spectacular Now when all they are, at best, is the court jester, the buffoon, and at worst they become a statistic, a casualty, and sometimes even take down the blameless as they go.

Yet, in the end, this is exactly what makes it a great book ~ for everyone, but for teens especially. Because they WILL come out of this book feeling gutted. AND THEY WILL NOT WANT TO BE THAT PERSON. Not even for one second. And as much as I liked Sutter, that can only be a very good thing.


Passion Blue (A Passion Blue Novel)
Passion Blue (A Passion Blue Novel)
by Victoria Strauss
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $10.79
67 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique and lovely novel - highly recommended for all ages, January 27, 2013
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"Passion Blue" was one of the most original titles I've read in the past six months, if not longer. It was easy to root for the protagonist. She was unique, plucky and likable, even when she made the kind of unwise decisions most 17-year-olds are wont to do.

Setting the book in 15th century Italy was not only unique, but fascinating. I would have given this book 5 stars if the setting had been more fully developed, perhaps with a bit more evocative language. Not that Ms. Strauss didn't develop the setting ~ it's just that I kept finding myself wanting more ~ more sights, more sounds, more tactile sensations, more tastes.

The real star of this book was the convent workshop and its inhabitants. The descriptions of the methods of painting and the passion involved with the creative process were so fascinating, they sucked me in completely. I felt like I could have read hundreds more pages concerning what went on in that workshop and with those people ~ a true testament to Ms. Strauss' writing.

As for the ending ~ it may not be for everyone, but I personally adored it and found it very organic to the story. It was wonderful to see such an empowering story set in a time when women did not have choices, and to see the growth in the protagonist.

I felt like there was room for Ms. Strauss to revisit this world and these characters someday, for surely there are more adventures to be had here.


Summerland: A Novel
Summerland: A Novel
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A satisfactory summer read, July 16, 2012
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I was looking for a good summertime read, and I mostly enjoyed "Summerland." This was the first of Ms. Hilderbrand's books I've read, so I had no expectations.

THINGS I ENJOYED: I particularly enjoyed the strong sense of setting and the way Nantucket was actually woven into the book as its own character. I found this aspect to be very well-done. I also enjoyed Ms. Hildebrand's descriptions of Zoe's food... I now have an obsession with finding slumped brownies, since baking is not one of my talents.

I really enjoy multiple POVs when they are well written, a la Jodi Picoult and Stephen King. While I can't say Ms. Hilderbrand's transitions were flawless, I did enjoy her POV choices. The strongest POV to me was that of "we" who live on Nantucket, representing not only the setting but the particular lifestyle, complete with its own set of mores, blind spots and judgments. For this alone, I plan to read more of Ms. Hilderbrand's novels this summer.

I also thought Ms. Hilderbrand's characterization was strong. Her characters certainly weren't cut-outs, and each POV was unique. I found the character of Ava the most fleshed out and well-drawn. I love gray characters, and Ava was certainly that. I didn't like her incredible self-centeredness and how she only seemed to want what she couldn't have... but at the same time, my heart really broke for her. She was the only character whose journey I felt was entirely believable and, when I closed the book, I felt satisfied. Unfortunately, I can't say that about the rest of the characters. Which leads me to...

THINGS I FOUND DISAPPOINTING (MILD SPOILERS):

The denouement. After an excellent build-up, the secrets that are at the heart of this novel were kind of blurted at what seemed to be inappropriate times, and many of the characters' actions and reactions at the end of the story were simply not believable to me, most especially Hobby's. A two-dimensional character to start with ~ endlessly jovial, never frustrated with his recovery or therapy other than to complain of itching, seemingly sailing through his twin's death, learning everybody's secrets, including his mother's affair, not to mention meeting the ending of what was set up to be an amazing professional sports career with affable grace? I don't think so. To set up this young guy who has never done a single questionable thing in his life, only to have him deliberately withhold from his mother these burdensome secrets of what actually led to Penny's death? Wow. Dramatic license aside, I just didn't believe it.

All in all, though, the book kept me reading and wondering how it was all going to end... and for a quick summer read that I really didn't expect to change my life, I was content.


Out of My Mind
Out of My Mind
by Sharon M. Draper
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.25
164 used & new from $2.49

5.0 out of 5 stars You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll learn, May 23, 2012
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This review is from: Out of My Mind (Paperback)
How many times do we see children strapped into wheelchairs, limbs jerking, maybe drooling ~ at the grocery store, at the zoo, at Disney? It is a hard thing ~ especially for the parent of a healthy child ~ not to feel sorrow, maybe even a little guilt, for "There but for the grace of God go I." Many times I want to reach out to these children, to look into their eyes and smile, to speak to them... then I think, no. I'm a stranger. The last thing I want to do is come across as pitying or condescending.

I am an intelligent adult. I understand that not every special needs child is mentally deficient. Yet how many of us really understand? How many of us know how to reach out in a meaningful way?

Reading this book changed the way I looked at special needs children. Melody jumps off the page as a character ~ her anguish at not being able to communicate touched me to my core. The ignorance even of well-meaning teachers and adults rang true, as did her interactions with the non-special-needs students. I felt like I had a stake in Melody's triumphs and tragedies... and as a reader, that is the most rewarding of experiences.

Many reviewers expressed dissatisfaction with the book's ending ... I did not feel the same way. I felt that it was realistic, and ultimately uplifting. The entire book was well-written and took just the right tone. I will definitely seek out more of Sharon Draper's books.

I would highly recommend this book to ages 10 and above, and hope that it will make required reading lists in schools.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2012 6:18 PM PDT


The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel (Dark Tower Novels)
The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel (Dark Tower Novels)
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover
203 used & new from $0.01

54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure for Constant and New Readers alike, April 25, 2012
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For Stephen King's coterie of Constant Readers, Gunslinger Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are more than just characters. For better or for worse, they have become part of us; their stories have become *our* stories. But don't let that scare you off if you've never read the Dark Tower books, for above all else, "The Wind Through the Keyhole" is about the power of stories ~ how the stories of our childhoods, the stories of our pasts, affect the stories of our lives.

The three tales-within-tales King tells in "The Wind Through the Keyhole" weave together seamlessly and with bittersweet resonance, each illuminating both Roland's character and the quest to come in small but powerful ways, while being worthy and exciting tales on their own merits. The tales begin amidst the roaring wind of a deadly storm called a starkblast, where the winds remind Roland of the stories his mother told him in his childhood bedroom atop his own tower ~ a place where he was both safe and innocent, where the Dark Tower was only a footnote in someone else's story.

When he is asked for a story as his ka-tet waits out the storm, Roland obliges with a story from his own life as a young gunslinger, after the events in Mejis ~ the story of young Bill Streeter and the Skin-Changer, and how Roland comforts this frightened young boy with a story his mother told him in that round tower room ~ the tale of young Tim Stoutheart, a character you will also come to love very quickly.

For those who have not read the Dark Tower series, you probably will not find the same emotional resonance that those who "know" Roland are bound to find, but don't let that frighten you off. These are stories worth reading ~ and I believe you will be intrigued enough by Roland Deschain and with Mid World to want to know as much of his story as you can, and I encourage you to do so. I promise you, if you do, you will never be the same.

For me, to simply be with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy again was priceless. Knowing what is/was to come did not ruin it for me in any way ~ it was an extra glimpse of a peaceful time amidst the chaos, a time then the ka-tet was together and safe and warm as the storm raged all around them. My only complaint... I wish I could have stayed with them longer. I suspect that they will have new stories to tell in years to come and that Mr. King will be moved to share them with us. After all, the very best stories that never truly end... for ka is a wheel.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 14, 2013 11:51 PM PST


Lone Wolf: A Novel
Lone Wolf: A Novel
by Jodi Picoult
Edition: Hardcover
421 used & new from $0.01

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the right track, but ultimately dissatisfying, March 1, 2012
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This review is from: Lone Wolf: A Novel (Hardcover)
I have read every single one of Ms. Picoult's novels ~ many of them more than once ~ and consider myself a fan. In her very best novels, her plot lines, as exciting and controversial as they may be, are secondary to her amazing characters ~ never stock, never black-and-white, but always lovely and varying shades of gray. In her less-enjoyable books, I'm left feeling the opposite - that her characters were crafted to fit very specific criteria and never quite come to life the way she intended.

For me, "Lone Wolf" falls somewhere in the middle. I personally found the wolf sections fascinating, and the metaphor was carried through pretty well with all three of the main characters ~ Cara, Edward and their father, each of them feeling torn between two worlds, truly belonging in neither. Other reviewers have commented that Cara was unlikable ~ I didn't find her that way at all. Reading between the lines, it was clear to me that this was a young lady who was clinging hard to what she needed to believe, and that there were good reasons for that. My heart really went out to her, as it did to each character.

The book did move me, yet in the end left me feeling dissatisfied and uncomfortable.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

I had two problems with this book: Number one, the stereotypical secondary characters: The Catholic judge who had to take a recess to go to Mass and pray on the right thing to do because he was "so compassionate" ... the hippieish part-time lawyer/part-time pet medium, the blustery, publicity-seeking county attorney, etc. The characterization of the wolves was much more real than any secondary character in this book.

Number two: The ending, which you could pretty much see coming from the day after the accident, thanks to including the father's POV on the wolves, and the afterword, which I found both utterly cliched and completely unbelievable, and pretty much ruined the entire book for me.

Now that Ms. Picoult is a big-name, money-making author, her publishers and readers alike have come to "expect" certain things from her books. I understand that this must create a lot of pressure on her to choose controversial and timely topics on which to build her novels, and I feel like her characters have lost a certain raw passion and intensity they once had. I will continue to buy her books and I continue to be an admirer of hers. I feel like she's back on the right track, and I hope she finds that intensity again in her next book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 26, 2012 2:38 PM PDT


Anew: The Archers of Avalon, Book One
Anew: The Archers of Avalon, Book One
by Chelsea Fine
Edition: Paperback
21 used & new from $0.01

14 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great premise, sloppy execution, February 23, 2012
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It pains me to have to give this book 2 stars because I wanted so much to love it... I really did. I purchased it based on the many excellent reviews, and for all that enjoying a book is somewhat subjective, I cannot for the life of me figure why anyone would give it such a high rating. And I don't mean to bash it - I love books more than you can imagine, and it is very rare for me to be so critical without also pointing out what is good, even wonderful about a book.

In this case all I can really find good to say is that there is certainly something to be said for the starcrossed-lovers-with-a-curse angle, and I am not necessarily averse to the wildly popular two boys/one girl triangle. Even though "formula novels" based solely on what's popular at any given moment serve a purpose in the world of books, but my feeling is if you're going to write one, it has to be written well. And with all due respect to author Chelsea Fine, I think she is a much better writer than she has demonstrated here. The two "heroes" read like second-rate clones of Stefan and Damon from 'The Vampire Diaries' - and not in a good way.

Reading this book was more like watching a mediocre television show on the CW. The actual plot was buried so deeply, it was like pulling teeth to figure out what it was actually about. It's just one scene after the other of the heroine trying to figure things out, everyone keeping secrets from her, then her finding out, getting angry but unable to stay that way, etcetera, etcetera. Even precocious middle-graders reading this book don't need to be spoon-fed information. It didn't create suspense at all - it was simply frustrating. I am even willing to overlook the tired "amnesiac heroine" plotline if the story warrants it... but when it's not explained, it's just trite and leaves me feeling emotionally manipulated. Even the series' eventual "villain" is so obvious as to be painful.

In the acknowledgments for most books, I read glowing tributes to agents and editors, who flesh out the real story from among the weeds. If I were Sophie Fine, I'd find a new agent and some new editors but quick, because in truth, this book read like a good author's first draft. It needed a lot more work before being published. The saddest part is, this could have been a very good book. All the elements were there, albeit buried very deep. I feel readers deserve better than this.


Heft: A Novel
Heft: A Novel
Price: $9.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five-star except for the ending, February 23, 2012
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This review is from: Heft: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
I am not going to include a plot summary here, as other reviewers have already done so. This book was a sad and lovely portrait of loneliness and hope, and the voices of Arthur and Kel were perfection, each in their own way ~ never overblown, never overdone or melodramatic, which would have been all too easy to do. However, the ending of the book was so abrupt and so shocking, I had to keep clicking back to make sure I hadn't somehow missed a chapter.

As an author myself, I can understsand author Liz Moore's decision to end this story in the realm of possibility... these characters had all reached way beyond their respective comfort zones; therefore, ANYTHING could happen. It is left to each of us to imagine that encounter and the events thereafter. However, the book was so well-constructed and so deftly characterized that I grew very attached to these characters and wound up feeling extremely cheated and dissatisfied. I wouldn't have minded the ending being left open-ended in terms of the characters' future... but I wanted - no, NEEDED to be there for that dinner. But for that, this would have been a five-star novel.

That being said, as one reviewer mentioned, the ampersands bothered me a great deal, as did the repeated use of "O" as opposed to "Oh." I'm not sure if these were Kindle formatting issues or the writer's intent, but even were "O" to be an affectation of Arthur's, it didn't work here and only distracted from the character.
The rest of the book was close to perfection for me, and I think it would make a splendid movie... ESPECIALLY if it included the dinner party.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2012 9:44 AM PDT


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