Sunday, January 18, 2015

You were too far gone after the fall.

So I haven't hit a home run yet in 2015, but if I had to recommend a book of these three, it would probably be Before I Fall.

First, I was somewhat disappointed by Jane Green's Saving Grace and I'm not exactly sure why. I think because its plot synopsis reminded me somewhat of a Liane Moriarty book and by the end of Green's novel, I felt that Moriarty had done it much better.

Saving Grace tells the story of Grace and Ted Chapman. Ted is a famous and beloved author, though one in the bit of a decline, and Grace his faithful wife, well-known mostly for her style and grace (haha). To an outsider, the Chapmans look to be the perfect couple, but we learn that Ted is quick to rage and Grace continually finds herself walking on eggshells around her husband.

The one person who seems able to calm these rages is his assistant, Ellen. When she leaves to care for her ailing mother, Grace finds herself in despair. She feels as if her life is falling apart, trying to care for her house and Ted's needs. (At this point, I find myself a little frustrated and flabbergasted. Seriously? Join the real world, lady.) However, she feels like her prayers have been answered when her daughter, Clemmie, introduces her to Beth. Beth becomes Ted's assistant and also Grace's helpmate. But Grace quickly feels as if Beth is taking over -- not just as Ted's assistant, but over Grace's life. We're left to wonder, is Grace crazy? Or Beth?

The story itself is sort of a compelling one -- assistant moves in and takes over perfect wife's life. It sounds quite exciting (Lifetime movie, anyone?). However, Grace is not that compelling of a character, and her whiny ways did not garner a ton of sympathy with me, even if Beth was a horrible person. Her husband was clearly an ass, but we really didn't get to learn much about his character, either. Or, really, even Beth's. There's also a lot of far-fetched plot points - yes, Ted is under Beth's spell, but would he really believe some of the tales she weaves about his wife? It's all just very strange.

All in all, I read the book fairly quickly, interested to see what would happen to Grace, mostly for the sake of finding out. However, in the end, I just felt Green could have done so much more with the story, and with Grace's character.

Next, I forget where I saw a recommendation for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (who am I kidding, probably People or Entertainment Weekly, about the extent of my "literary" reading these days), but it wasn't quite what I expected. Less mystery surrounding a disappearance/death and more "human interest" about a-- truth be told-- rather unlikable family.

The novel chronicles the Lee family, who wakes up one day to find their eldest daughter/sister, Lydia, missing. Eventually Lydia's body is found in the local lake, and the family is turned upside down. It goes without saying, but it's really a rather depressing book. Lydia's parents, Marilyn and James, are just awful, and not just because they are grieving. I found very little to like in them. Lydia's siblings, Nath and Hannah, aren't nearly as bad (Hannah is truly the redeeming one in the family), but still. It's hard to root for a family that you don't much care for. There are also some strange side plots involving the siblings that never really seem resolved.

As a parent, I found aspects of the book interesting -- the way Lydia's mom pushes her so much to attain a dream that really belonged to Marilyn. In addition, the family is still reeling from Marilyn's brief disappearance before Hannah was even born. Ng does do a good job of showing how much this impacts the family, especially the kids. It's a little frightening, really, as the sinking realization of how every little thing you do can follow your children, even 10 years later (though in Marilyn's case, she really does some damaging things).

Still, those redeeming moments couldn't salvage the whole book for me. I liked it well enough, but I was left at the end feeling a little depressed and annoyed and wishing more loose ends were tied up.

 As for Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver), I think I would have enjoyed it even more if it wasn't coming on the heels of me reading several other tragic YA books about teenagers dying (including The In Between and If I Stay). I sort of felt bludgeoned by the senseless tragedy of it all - perhaps I need to get out more?!

Anyway, the book follows the main character Sam, who dies in a car crash one night after a party. However, she finds herself reliving that day over and over (think Groundhog Day) for some reason and has to figure out how to make it stop. It's a rather weird premise and the way she finally breaks out sort of bothers me, so I felt a little deflated at the end.

That being said, I really liked Sam. She's a compelling character. Also refreshing is the fact that Sam and her gaggle of friends are the popular kids, on top of the pyramid at school. It's a change of pace from the usual romantics and geeks that show up in YA novels. (It does, however, make me 110% terrified for my children to reach high school.) As Sam starts to realize her own mean girl status-- and that of her friends--Oliver sets up a good message about high school and friendship. Not sure it would be readily apparently to every teen reading the novel, but I appreciate the effort.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Oh look, it's the woman we ordered.

My first two books read this year couldn't be more different...

For the first, it's a little unfair to John Grisham, but I probably would have rated this book 4 stars if he didn't write it. It was a pretty good book, but I kept waiting for the typical Grisham-flair to pop up - a huge courtroom battle, an epic good versus evil duel, etc.

Instead, the battle and storyline I would have really wanted to read about goes on in the background as a secondary storyline. The main plot follows Samantha Kofer, a young law associate at a powerful firm in New York City. However, when the recession hits in '08, Samantha finds herself furloughed and in order to keep her health insurance, and to potentially get her old job back, must intern at a rural legal aid clinic in Brady, Virginia.

There Samantha meets a cast of characters, including Mattie, who runs the clinic; her nephew, Donovan, also a lawyer; Donovan's shady brother, Jeff; and a host of other rural townsfolk. She also gets her first taste of real law. We, the reader, learn about the atrocities of Big Coal and strip mining, including Black Lung Disease, which the book goes into in great detail (and which personally, makes me want to become a lawyer or social worker, as it's all awful).

It's interesting to have Grisham write in the voice of a young female. It takes me back to Darby Shaw (of The Client - one of my all-time favorite Grisham novels), though Samantha is *no* Darby Shaw, by any stretch of the imagination. She's a bit spineless, though, really, she's not given much story to work with. The first 3/4 of the book I mostly enjoyed and then the last 1/4 just sort of tapers off. It almost seems as if a sequel is in order, but who knows.

Again, I think I might have liked Samantha and her story a bit more if it wasn't Grisham, as I might have expected a bit less. It's a good read, but leaves you wanting more.


For the second read of 2015, I requested Olivia Pierce's The In Between from NetGalley on a whim, based on the book's description. I confess that the book was not exactly what I was expecting. The novel appears to tell a typical tale of YA love, but it also spends much of its time in a paranormal, mystical world of the "In Between." It's very odd and I wasn't expecting so much talk of Heaven and Hell, despite the hint from the title.

The story follows Tara Jenkins and Justin Westcroft. Friends as children, they become close again after Tara saves Justin's life, when he nearly drowns in an accident at the public beach. Now in high school, Justin is a popular soccer star, while Tara is just a "regular gal." Tara and Justin quickly fall madly in love and become each other's world.

Part of my issue with this book is just that - Tara and Justin are in high school and the entire book centers on their "great romance" and the idea that they are made for each other, destined for all eternity. Some people pull it off, even if it's a cheesy YA series like Twilight. You find yourself rooting for Bella and Edward. Here... I don't know. Pierce's characters just aren't well-developed enough. I like Tara, but I'm not fully invested in her. I actually cared for Justin a bit more (he seemed to have more of a head on his shoulders), but I don't get to learn enough about him, or really get to know him enough as I read the novel. Instead, you are just left wondering why two young kids are so in love and so convinced, at this age, that they are meant for each other. Instead of falling for their love story, it seems like a Made for TV Special.

Once Justin actually dies (and I'm not giving anything away, the book's summary is forthright in telling you that Tara can't save Justin a second time) and he goes to the "In Between," you find him in this weird mythical, mystical land, and it's just odd. I do feel empathy for Justin as he struggles to get back to Tara, and even for Tara, as she grieves for Justin, but it often feels like two kids playing at being grown up. With the distraction of some weird mystical characters thrown in to boot.

That being said, the book managed to keep my interest. I kept reading, wanting to know what would happen to Justin and Tara. Would they kill them both? Would they be reunited? Surely it wouldn't just end with him stuck here and her still pining away? After all this?! In the end, the ending is rather "pat" and the book just sort of ends.

Come to think of it, this probably *would* make a great Lifetime movie. And I'd no doubt guiltily enjoy it with a box of chocolates.

(Note, I received a free digital copy of The In Between in return for a honest review.)