Friday, November 4, 2011

October Book Report

Seriously…I’m Kidding
By Ellen Degeneres
Grand Central Pub., 2011. 241 pgs. Biography

Ellen’s got a new book, and it’s pretty funny. In her most recent memoir/collection of humorous essays she discusses her life and opinions over the last few years. She talks about her popular talk show, her season on American Idol, and her marriage to Portia de Rossi. She writes with her trademark happy humor giving advice on beauty (she is a CoverGirl spokesperson), finding true happiness, being nice, saving our planet, and she even includes a few coloring sheets for the kids.

Ellen is just fun. This book is not terribly deep or insightful, but it is completely enjoyable and can be read really in a day or two. Her fans will certainly want to pick this one up.

Heat Rises
By Richard Castle
Hyperion, 2011. 320 pgs. Mystery

Police investigator Nikki Heat’s career is on the rise. She is up for a big promotion and interested parties are coming out of the woodwork trying to take advantage of her imminent rise to power. Life isn’t quite perfect though since her new boyfriend, reporter Jameson Rook, has failed to keep in touch as he roams the globe researching his next big article. A new case is also giving her trouble and as the investigation deepens and the stakes go up, she may have to gamble everything she has earned to discover the truth.

This is the third installment of the Nikki Heat series which is written by the fictitious author Richard Castle from ABC’s hit drama ‘Castle’. Truly the best parts of these mysteries are the references made to the television series. This volume even refers to actor Nathan Fillion’s portrayal of Captain Malcolm Reynolds in the cult favorite TV show ‘Firefly’. If you are fan of ‘Castle’, I highly recommend reading the Nikki Heat series. If you don’t watch the show, they aren’t quite good enough to stand on their own.

The Twelfth Enchantment
By David Liss
Random House, 2011. 398 pgs. Fiction

Lucy Derrick is the charming heroine of David Liss’s new book which I’m surprised to describe as a Victorian supernatural romance. The recent death of Lucy’s father not only left her bereaved but also penniless. Forced to live with an unkind, distant relation, Lucy decides that her best means of escape will be an advantageous, though loveless marriage to up and coming factory owner, Mr. Olsen. But strange events warn her away from the engagement and even stranger events throw her into the middle of a desperate struggle for the future of England between a number of supernatural factions.

The Twelfth Enchantement provides an interesting story and a few intriguing characters. While I wasn’t captivated on every page, I certainly kept reading and, in the end, I was glad I did. Liss is an interesting author who continues to offer novels of differing types of writing for a variety of time periods and in a number of styles. I admire him for his efforts but would personally be completely satisfied if he stuck with 17th century financial thrillers starring one of my all-time biggest literary crushes, Benjamin Weaver.

The Leftovers
By Tom Perrotta
St. Martin’s Press, 2011. 355 pgs. Fiction

The premise of The Leftovers is absolutely brilliant. What would happen if millions of people just suddenly disappeared? No explanation. No warning. Was it ‘The Rapture’? Why were some taken and others left behind? How would society, families, and individuals react and cope? Perrotta’s story centers on Kevin Garvey, the mayor of a small town, and his wife, son, and daughter. Kevin attempts to keep his family together as they deal with the ‘event’s’ aftermath. But despite Kevin’s efforts, his son leaves college to follow a self-professed savior, his wife joins an organization giving up all earthly ties and takes a vow of silence, and his teenage daughter, once an ‘A’ student, struggles to keep from failing out of school completely. As they each deal with their own experiences and their own losses, they strain to find themselves and their individual futures.

The execution of this story was not quite as brilliant as the premise. While mankind is not a stranger to tragedy and loss, the idea of this type of sudden, mass heartbreak without definable cause or even an entity to blame demonstrates a fascinating theory of what we can survive and how we make sense of our world. What I struggled with was the way Perrotta’s characters all seemed to turn away from family and focus so wholly on themselves. Perhaps this reaction is possible, maybe probable, but I would like to think that in times of such personal turmoil people would turn to those they love and strengthen those bonds as opposed to breaking them. A very interesting read providing a great deal to think about.

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star
By Heather Lynn Rigaud
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2011. 424 pgs. Romance

The major plot points will surprise no one. Our proud and affluent hero meets our poor yet witty heroine and they both immediately dislike each other. Misconceptions and misunderstandings follow until ultimately they realize they are perfect for each other and live happily ever after. That is not to say that readers will not find a few surprises in this reinvention of Pride and Prejudice. With Darcy, Bingley, and Fitzwilliam rock stars and Elizabeth, Jane, and Charlotte members of a struggling girl band given the opportunity to open for Darcy’s group, expect a lot more sex, drugs, and rock and roll than the original story included.

In the Time of the Butterflies
By Julia Alvarez
Algonquin Press, 1994. 325 pgs. Fiction

In 1960, three sisters were found dead near the crash site of their Jeep. The official report claimed that their deaths were accidental but few people actually believed the story. In the Time of the Butterflies tells of how these beautiful young women ended up as legends and martyrs to their cause. Each of them, plus their surviving sister Dede, narrate the tale as they become active in fighting the despotic regime of General Rafael Leonidas Truijillo.

I listened to this book on CD and while I enjoyed the story itself, I did not enjoy the production. The readers were definetly not my favorite and the editing left something seriously wanting. I think if I had simply read the book, I would have walked away with a much more positive impression of the book. The sisters’ journeys were inspiring and I learned a great deal about the culture and politics of the Dominican Republic.

Girls in White Dresses
By Jennifer Close
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 293 pgs. Fiction

These are the adventures of Isabella, Mary, Lauren and a cast of their friends as they navigate life after college. Some of these girls are getting married and starting families while others are stuck trying to survive the dating scene. Further frustrations are felt when careers fail to move forward as well. But with a great deal of honesty and a good dose of humor, readers are treated to entertaining glimpses into the lives of girls becoming women, wives, and mothers.

At first, I didn’t love this book. The girls all seemed a little too jaded for my taste. They were funny, but I thought their attitudes were darker than they should have been having just graduated from college. It takes a few more years than that to give up on finding true love and gain that level of cynicism. However, as the book progressed, I started to love it more and more. In the end I walked away loving the lessons learned and the overarching message, which I interpreted as being: Life isn’t easy for anyone and your ‘happily ever after’ is not likely to look like you thought it would. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean it still isn’t happy.

The Night Circus
By Erin Morgenstern

An orphaned young boy and a traumatized little girl are headed, eventually, to a mysterious magical competition. Their respective teachers spend years developing their skills and strength but keep them completely in the dark concerning the nature of their approaching contest. The venue constructed to both showcase and disguise their magical duel is a breathtaking circus that appears mysteriously and treats its visitors to experiences and wonders beyond their wildest fantasies.

But such a public and complicated setting unavoidably involves a great many people, and when the duelists’ forbidden passion for each other threatens the stability of the circus, it also threatens the lives and safety of all the people they have come to consider family.

“The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern, is a dark and enchanting journey into a magical world described in such vivid detail that its colors and wonders simply come alive. Readers become visitors to the circus and explore the amazing tents, taste the delectable confections, and witness unbelievable feats of skill and daring.

This is a wonderful debut novel that has been described as “Harry Potter for adults.” It certainly presents an equally engaging and vibrant imagined world, with characters fighting against daunting powers. Positive buzz for this book was circulating long before its release and it seems to be living up to the hype. There’s a good chance “The Night Circus” will become one of this year’s most popular releases.

By Ally Condie

This is the second book in the Matched trilogy. Cassia leaves her comfortably controlled life with her family in the Society to search for Ky who has been sent to the Outer Provinces where he is unlikely to return. She finds clues to his escape into a distant slot canyon. I liked this book more than I liked the first. The narrative picks up a lot and I enjoyed the alternating viewpoints between Ky and Cassia. I'm excited for the third and final book to come out next year.

The Language of Flowers
By Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria Jones has spent her entire life bouncing from one foster home to another. Having finally reached her eighteenth birthday, she is finally able to emancipate herself and head to live on her own terms. Her obsession with flowers and their meanings, as identified by a Victorian guidebook, becomes a great means of supporting herself when she gets a job arranging flowers with a local florist.

This is an interesting look at families, the families we build around ourselves as well as the ones we are born with. Victoria isn't the most endearing protagonist, but she provides a great look into the mind of a very damaged young woman fighting to build her life. It was good...not squeaky clean...but good.

By Emma Donoghue

Jack has never left the twelve foot by twelve foot room he was born in. On his fifth birthday his mother begins to tell him of the world outside The Room. But without a point of reference, everything his mother describes seems unbelievable. She tells him that they are being held captive by a man who kidnapped her from her family years ago and that they need to escape. And so Jack begins his journey into the world and his discovery of his place within it.

This book was good, but disturbing. Jack's five-year-old voice got a little grating...I had to read it because I had tried to listen to it but couldn't get mare than 30 seconds into it without wanting to tear my ears off because of the annoying 'child's voice' that was being used. That said, it is also a really interesting story. How terrifying would the world be when your whole life you had only known a single person and a single place? It ends on a positive note, but it's quite a rough journey to get there.