Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Saving CeeCee HoneycuttSaving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I want to say upfront that I suspect I would have loved this book had I read it before The Secret Life of Bees. There are a great deal of similarities between that book and this one. Unfortunately, I loved The Secret Life of Bees quite a bit more than this one. This is a really nice little book but it fails to live up to its promise. It just isn't as good at other books with similar themes and circumstances.

The writing, plot and characters were fine but the novel never went into the depths of the themes and situations in the novel which made it feel more like a fluffy, beach read than the complex novel it could have been. It was nice and sweet but never went anywhere beyond the surface. It definitely has southern charm, a sweet little story and nice characters ... but nothing that really made it great. It wasn't nearly as effective as similar novels that I've read. I kept hoping that it was coming ... some depth, some emotional exploration, some real examination of the issues ... but it never came. Which is a shame - this book could have been so much more than just good.

If you enjoy light, easy to read southern fiction without a lot of depth or examination, you'll adore this book. There’s nothing wrong with the book per se, but it definitely didn’t live up to my expectations. I was hoping for more. I should also add that most of my book-ish friends seemed to love this book so perhaps it just didn't work for me but might work for you!

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night StrangersThe Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fantastic surprise this book was for me! I seem to have a hot or cold relationship with Chris Bohjalian's writing so I was concerned going in about how I'd feel about it. But, I had no reason to be worried. I was in good hands with this novel. It's creepy, it's well written, it's multi-layered and just plain GOOD!

Let's face it, at his best, Chris Bohjalian is a wonderful storyteller. His writing is very accessible yet it has such depth. The story that Bohjalian concocts here is one of the better stories that I've read in awhile. The story is dark & chilling. And Bohjalian's writing brings it to life with wit, depth, insight and versatility! This book has a bit of everything - suspense, horror, paranormal/occult, mental illness

For me, one of the most impressive things about this book was how Bohjalian made the experience of a plan crash come alive. I can't imagine how much research he had to do in order for this book to bring that alive for the reader. I literally felt as if I was in the plane - as if I was experiencing it all first hand. Bohjalian handled the writing of those passages masterfully.

I also thought it was incredible how well he kept the various threads which are interwoven throughout the novel. It would have been a difficult task for a lesser writer. Boyhjalian's skill in keeping the various threads alive for the reader while also moving the plot along and keeping the suspense at a heightened level was simply fantastic! Personally, I felt it was impressive.

This novel keeps getting called a ghost story but it really is so much more than that ... it's a character study, its a horror story and a supernatural tale - all at the same time! Bohjalian brings these things together so well! This book is simply fantastic.

The only reason that this novel isn't getting 5 stars is that I didn't love the ending. It was fine, it was good but it felt a bit cliche and unsurprising in some way. For me, the strength of the novel is the journey you take. The ending didn't quite get me where I was hoping to go. Let me be clear - it's not a bad ending, just not nearly as impactful as I'd hoped. I also wish that there was less mention of the whole Sully Sullenberger landing in 2009. It felt a bit overdone - a few mentions would have been enough. The constant bringing it back up felt like a bit too much.

There were sections of this novel that sent shivers up my spine and made me feel like I was going to jump out of my skin. That doesn't happen to me a lot. So, this was a pleasant surprise for me.

I really liked this book a lot and would recommend it to anyone who loves a good scary, creepy story ... especially one that is well-written!

NOTE: I received the galley of this novel from the publisher for review.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Review: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The Complete PersepolisThe Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I kept hearing about Persepolis and what a fantastic graphic novel it was so I decided it was time for me to get my hands on a copy and read it. It's really more than a graphic novel - it is also autobiography, history and a social/cultural commentary. The graphics are very well done - they are piercing and really tell this story so well. I loved the historical aspects of the novel - they were fascinating and the graphic novel genre really made that history accessible.

I enjoyed reading this book but it never really took me to that place that you want a book to take you to. I just kept thinking, OK - the great stuff must be just around the corner, I like this stuff but where is the great stuff. And, unfortunately, it just never came for me. Something felt like it was missing. I still haven't quite pinpointed what that might be. I enjoyed seeing the journey, learning about the history, etc. but it just didn't connect with me the way I'd hoped. This is only the second graphic novel that I've read. I loved the first one but this one was underwhelming, especially after hearing so many of my bookish friends rave about it. I wish I'd loved it more. I think it is a good, solid read but nothing that struck me as amazing.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am super conflicted about this book ... I loved so much of it but there were flaws. Flaws that keep me from giving it a 5 star rating ... even though many aspects of this novel deserve a 5 star rating! This is one of those novels that has so much potential that I'm sad not to be able to give it a 'this is my favorite book of 2011' rating!

What I loved most about this book was how Erin Morgenstern created a story unlike any story that I've ever read. It is unique. It is compelling. It is simply wonderful. Seriously - like nothing I've ever read. I feel like most fiction today is just the same few stories told over and over again with different nuances. That is NOT the case with this novel. Until you've read it, you just won't understand the uniqueness of the novel. Seriously - it's that unique. I can't explain it and wouldn't even if I could. Discovering it yourself is one of the best things about this novel.

The structure of the novel is frankly brilliant. Different plot threads are woven in and out of time throughout the novel (which was sometimes a bit confusing, if I'm honest) but they come together amazingly at the end. And you realize just how brilliant Erin Morgenstern was in her structuring of the narrative. It's fantastic! I think I'll go back and read it again at some point because I think it would be interesting to see how she did it, now that I know what I know.

The best part of the book, however, is the creativity that Erin Morgenstern shows in her painting of the world of this novel. There are certain aspects of the circus that literally blew me away. I was amazed at some of what she created with her words and the use of magic. The circus itself makes this book worth reading. It is simply stunning. The setting of this book is, I suspect, the reason for the hype and insane attention this book has gotten. It's unlike anything you will have read about before. In some ways the strength of setting may well be one of the primarily downfalls of the book since it seems to overtake all other aspects of the novel. The characters, plot and story often seem to be taking a backseat to the stunning backdrop of the circus. They simply cannot compete.

There is a feeling of distance and coldness to the story. I'm not sure that I can explain it well but I never felt connected to the people or the places in any real way. They were beautifully described but left me cold. Even uninterested, in some cases. They were so woefully underdeveloped that they just left me cold. A case in point is the romance in the novel. It just didn't work. The two characters never really seemed connected to me - they seemed like cardboard mannequins walking around and saying they love each other but never showing it or even really feeling it. I liked them but I didn't connect with them. I loved the world they lived in but they never came alive for me.

The next thing that I didn't love was the fact that it felt like a truly slowwwwwww moving train at times. I felt like it lost some of its steam at times. Not the entire book but sometimes. I think this is a product of the intertwining of plot lines that didn't always make sense. It didn't allow the novel to flow in the fast paced way you might expect, given the subject matter - magic. It's almost like the book keeps you at a distance. It doesn't let you in at all. It treats you like a visitor, never giving you the sense of being there. Despite it moving slow at times, I was never bored or not interested in going back for more. I just felt like I was watching a really slow movie that I was dying to see but surprised at how long it was taking to get where it needed to go.

Although I love the story generally, I will say that its not nearly as full as it could have been. It's unique, its fantastic but it doesn't go beyond the surface. The descriptions make the world come alive but not the story. The magic of this novel is the writing - there were moments when Erin Morgenstern just knocked me out with her beautiful words. Her wordplay astounded me at times. I would re-read a passage, amazed at how beautiful it was. But, in the end, I wanted a bit more 'meat' in the story itself. I'd prefer to have that AND the beautiful writing. Erin Morganstern has insane talent at creating a unique world & describing it. But, I'd like to have seen a bit more behind that world and its descriptions. It would have taken a good book and made it outstanding.

I completely understand why this book is getting so much attention and praise. I'm sure that it will blow many readers away. I really liked it, for the most part, but I was not blown away. I recommend this book because when it is great, it is great. Just know, going in, that there are flaws here. I may be in the minority since so many others that I respect seemed to be astounded by this novel. Anyway, I recommend it and I truly hope you are astounded in a way that I was not. Happy Reading!

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The LeftoversThe Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first Tom Perrotta novel but I had heard things about his writing style that made me think that he might be right up my alley. And, based on The Leftovers, I think that might have been accurate. Let me just say it ... I really liked this novel. A lot. I think its one of those novels that is more than just a good story. It is definitely a good story but it's also the kind of novel that makes you think.

The novel centers around a community that is dealing with the sudden disappearance of random people (There is no apparent rhyme or reason for their disappearing). It is three years after the event and the bulk of the novel tells the story of the aftermath. Perrotta's focus is exploring how people respond and how they make sense of something unexplainable.

There is no doubt that Perrotta is a good writer. The story itself was unique and interesting. He creates multifaceted characters who really jump off the page. He explores a variety of difficult themes in this novel with a great deal of respect and honesty. I didn't feel that he was ever shoving his point of view down my throat and it appears that he really tried to show a variety of sides to each issue.

I said the following in my blog post about the buddy read that I did for this book but I think it captures a great deal about how this book made me feel so I wanted to share it here ...

The primary reason that I was interested in reading this book is to see what the fiction brought to light about faith and belief, particularly as it relates to religion. I appreciated how Perrotta explored these themes in the novel. Although I will say that I got a sense of where he fell in the 'believe or don't believe' camp, I don't think he shoved his personal beliefs down the readers throat which I appreciated. I found that a lot of the issues of belief and faith explored in the book did lean towards the side of stating that there are great perils in relying on outside structures for meaning in life (religious, political or otherwise). This is a sentiment that aligns closely with my own beliefs so perhaps that is why I was comfortable with the material and the leanings of the themes being explored.

I felt like there was a lot of material in the novel that really gave the reader the opportunity to explore belief and faith in new and different ways. I found myself once again thinking through my own personal beliefs as a result of the themes of this novel. Faith can be a very polarizing issue so I liked how Perrotta handles religion and its exploration in the novel. I will say that, by the end of the novel, much of my personal beliefs about faith were reinforced as a result of thinking that I did while reading the novel.

All to say - I really liked this novel and will actively pursue some of Perrotta's other novels. I like his writing. I like his exploration of interesting issues and themes. I definitely recommend this novel. It is a fascinating look into belief, faith and extremism. You can't go wrong with this one!

NOTE: You can read the entire buddy read that Carrie and I did for this book on my blog at the following link -

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker

The Winters in BloomThe Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that defy categorization - it has a bit of a number of things (mystery, psychological thriller, literary fiction) but none of them are a clear match. All in all, I really liked this book. I think its very unique and interesting. I haven't really ever read anything quite like it, yet its not so out there as to be strange. It's definitely a psychological study of families, love and redemption. All of these aspects really appealed to me as a reader.

The pacing of the novel was extremely well done - giving away just enough to keep me reading but never enough to keep me from wondering what was really going on. The novelist moved back and forth in time effortlessly, giving the reader much to think about as the plot moved forward. Some of the pieces involving going back in time seemed to be short vignettes of their own. Yet, by the end of the novel, everything comes together to a satisfactory conclusion. All of the bits and pieces dropped along the way finally come together. It's obvious that Lisa Tucker is a good writer. She can construct fantastic stories and capture so much with her word.

The characters are what really made this novel stand out for me. I loved how well rounded they all were - fragile, raw, and complex. They are not particularly likeable but they are flawed and interesting to read about. Their experiences and the resulting flaws of character certainly made me think about the effects that our past experiences have on our current lives.

This isn't a happy book, per se. Although I wouldn't call it sad either. It's a fairly dark look into human fragility, family dynamics and forgiveness. But, its not sad or depressing in any way. I didn't find it to be a downer type book at all. But, it was thought-provoking and captivating. I definitely recommend this if you lean towards literary fiction, particularly stories with a strong psychological bent.

NOTE: I received the galley proof of this novel from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for review consideration.

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