Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Defending Jacob by William Landay

I am intrigued by this book...sounds like the type of book I really like.

Phillip Margolin has been a Peace Corps Volunteer, a school teacher, and is the author of 15 New York Times bestsellers. He spent a quarter century as a criminal defense attorney during which he handled thirty homicide cases, including twelve death penalty cases, and argued at the United States Supreme Court. He is a co-founder of Chess for Success, a non-profit that uses chess to teach elementary school children study skills. His latest novel, Capitol Murder will be released in April, 2012.

One perk of being a bestselling author is that you are sent advance reading copies (ARCs) of books by first time authors, or published authors whose editors believe have written a breakout novel. The ARC is sent by the writer's editor in hopes that you will write a "blurb," which is a sentence or two praising the book that can be used in advertisements. The books I blurb range from fun reads to very good reads. Then there is the rare book that knocks my socks off. William Landay's Defending Jacob is one of these gems. It is a legal thriller, but so are To Kill a Mocking Bird, Snow Falling on Cedars and Anatomy of a Murder. Defending Jacob, like these classics, separates itself from the pack because it is also a searing work of literary fiction.

At the heart of Landay's exceptional novel is a parent's worst nightmare. Assistant district attorney Andy Barber, his wife, Laurie, and their teenage son, Jacob, are living an idyllic existence in a middle class Massachusetts suburb until one of Jacob's classmates is stabbed to death in the picturesque park where the locals jog, walk their dogs and picnic. It soon becomes clear that Jacob is the prime suspect and the Barbers have to confront the possibility that the child they have doted from birth may be a sociopathic killer.

Andy takes a forced leave of absence from his job and helps defend the son he loves from a charge he cannot believe is true. Is he engaging in self-deception? How far will he go to protect his family? Laurie wonders if something she did as a parent has created a monster and her guilt destroys her. And then there is Jacob. Is he a typical angst filled teenager or a psychopathic monster? Landay skillfully keeps the reader guessing about Jacob's culpability and true nature up to the shocking final chapters.

What makes Defending Jacob special is the way Landay gives the reader the twists, turns and surprises found in the best legal thrillers while making its centerpiece the tragedy faced by a normal family who are thrust into a nightmare

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel

I was really looking forward to reading this book...then reality set in as did disappointment. I totally agree with this review; so difficult to follow the voice of Oskar--and I really wanted to. It could have been a very powerful story; the quest for an almost unattainable answer, but what it ended up being was a mess of confusion. I want to know what others thought about this!

Extremely Loud is one of those novels that more than most will live or die on a particular reader's personal taste. Some will find it's twinned tales of a 9-year-old's grief over his father's death on 9/11 and his grandparents' tale of woe (centering on the Dresden firebombing) incredibly moving. Others will find it typographical and textual experiments wildly stimulating (blank pages, color plates, pages of nothing but numbers, photos, etc.). And some will have no trouble suspending disbelief with regard to Oskar's incredible precociousness or the fairy-tale quality of the New York City he moves in. Others, though, will find the book sentimental rather than emotional, cloying rather than powerful. The experimentation will be gimmicky distractions that mar rather than enhance the story. And the narrator's various quirks and gifts (his tambourine play, his vocabulary, his inventions and lists of aphorisms) not only unbelievable but almost unreadable. The lucky thing is it won't take you long to figure out which reader you're going to be. If the former, you'll settle in for an enjoyable ride. If the latter, it will be a long argument with yourself over just where you'll finally give in and quit reading.
Unfortunately, I fell into the latter category. It's rare that I come across a book that can have so much good writing in it that also makes me regularly want to hurl it across the room while I claw out my eyes. In the end, ELIC was a story ruined by talent, though I couldn't decide if it was insecure talent (propping up his story with gimmicks) or self-indulgent talent (throwing in everything and anything just cause he could).
As mentioned, the story centers on young Oskar, whose father left him several phone messages before being killed on 9/11. One day Oskar finds an envelope marked "Black" with a strange key in it up in his father's closet (in typical fashion, not a normal closet but a closet with a whole host of quirky associations). Deciding "Black" is a name, Oskar then goes off on a quest to find what the key opens, attempting to interview all the Black's of NYC. Interspersed between Oskar's movements are letter written by his grandparents concerning their history, which includes the firebombing of Dresden.
Oskar's story can be moving; there are some wonderful and truly brilliant passages. But for me it was marred by both his precociousness and his preciousness. One without the other would have perhaps been simply annoying, but both together made it almost unbearable. Toss in a consistent sense of arbitrary quirkiness and the book often left a bad taste in my mouth. Oskar for instance decides to interview the Black's alphabetically rather than by geographic proximity. Why? It serves the story's purpose. When seeking clues, a storeperson tells him it's interesting his father wrote "Black" in a red pen as that's so hard to do, write the name of a color in a different color ink. Really? Has anyone ever truly had to struggle to write the name of any color when using the trusty blue or black pen? Of course not. But this sounds quirky and mysterious. And so it goes.
The grandparents' sections also have their moments of true brilliance, but are also marred by problems of credibility with regard to voice and, again, quirkiness (such as designating parts of their apartment "nothing" areas), along with typographical stunts that from my view seldom enhanced the story.
ELIC therefore was extremely frustrating rather than loud, with the sense that one could have pulled out various lines/passages and put together a truly beautiful novella, but instead the reader got this. Is there talent here? Absolutely. Can you find places that will move you or make you laugh or make you marvel at the language? Absolutely. Is it worth it for those moments? From my perspective, absolutely not. But there is so much good here that I wouldn't recommend against trying it. I'd say give the book 30 pages (that's really all you'll need). If you can stomach Oskar's voice and mannerisms, you'll probably end up enjoying the book. If you find yourself cringing, save yourself. Put the book down and slowly back away. Don't strain to continue; you'll only pull something.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Movie Mondays

Soul Surfer

Book, 2004 by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk, & Rick Bundschuh

They say Bethany Hamilton has saltwater in her veins. How else could one explain the passion that drives her to surf? How else could one explain that nothing—not even the loss of her arm—could come between her and the waves? That Halloween morning in Kauai, Hawaii, Bethany responded to the shark’s stealth attack with the calm of a girl with God on her side. Pushing pain and panic aside, she began to paddle with one arm, focusing on a single thought: “Get to the beach....” And when the first thing Bethany wanted to know after surgery was “When can I surf again?” it became clear that her spirit and determination were part of a greater story—a tale of courage and faith that this soft-spoken girl would come to share with the world.

Soul Surfer is a moving account of Bethany’s life as a young surfer, her recovery after the attack, the adjustments she’s made to her unique surfing style, her unprecedented bid for a top showing in the World Surfing Championships, and, most fundamentally, her belief in God. It is a story of girl power and spiritual grit that shows the body is no more essential to surfing—perhaps even less so—than the soul.

Movie, 2011 directed by Sean McNamara

Features: AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, (Carrie Underwood)

Tagline: When you come back from a loss, beat the odds, and never say never, you find a champion.

Awards: It was nominated for the ESPY for Best Sports Movie. It was also nominated for a People's Choice Award for Best Book Adaptation.

Have you read the book or seen the movie?

The movie has been showing on Showtime recently and I watched it one night when I couldn't sleep. I can't believe she was able to surf again after the attack. Inspirational story.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fairy Tale Interrupted: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss

The release date for this book is January 24th.
I am a self-proclaimed addict of the Kennedys, and I am not ashamed to admit it. I was in fifth grade when our only Catholic president was assasinated. I will never forget that day, November 22, 1963. Since then I have read several books about our late President and his family. I have Jackie Kennedy's new book on my list and now I will put this one there. Can't wait to find time to read these...

To everyone else, John F. Kennedy Jr. may have been American royalty, but to RoseMarie Terenzio he was an entitled nuisance—and she wasn’t afraid to let him know it. RoseMarie was his personal assistant, his publicist, and one of his closest confidantes during the last five years of his life. In this, her first memoir, she bravely recounts her own Fairy Tale Interrupted, describing the unlikely friendship between a blue-collar girl from the Bronx and John F. Kennedy Jr.
Funny, moving, and fresh, her memoir is a unique account by the woman who was with him through dating, politics, the paparazzi, and his marriage to Carolyn Bessette. Her street smarts, paired with her loyalty, candor, and relentless work ethic, made her the trusted insider to America’s most famous man.

After John and Carolyn’s tragic, untimely deaths on July 16, 1999, RoseMarie’s whole world came crashing down around her, along with her hopes for the future. Only now does she feel she can tell her story in a book that is at once a moving tribute and a very real picture of her friend and employer.

Many books have sought to capture John F. Kennedy Jr.’s life. None has been as intimate or as honest as Fairy Tale Interrupted, a true portrait of the man behind the icon—patient, protective, surprisingly goofy, occasionally thoughtless and self-involved, yet capable of extraordinary generosity and kindness. She reveals what John really had in mind for his political future, how he handled media attention, and the reality of life behind the scenes at George magazine. She also shares how she dealt with the ultra-secretive planning of John and Carolyn’s wedding on Cumberland Island—and the heartbreak of their deaths.

Fairy Tale Interrupted is a deeply loving story and a fascinating adventure, filled with warmth, humor, insight, and five years’ worth of unforgettable memories.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Group Picture-Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep was a great suspense-filled novel...definitely a page turner! Some things felt a little far fetched when we really thought about them, but still a good book. Congratulations to SJ Watson on a great debut novel!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012 Reading Goals

Before we get too far into 2012, do you have any reading goals for the new year? I didn't do so well with my reading goals last year. Here they were:

1| Improve my # of books completed in the 52 Challenge (>30). I actually read <30 in 2011.

2 | Complete all 4 seasonal challenges this year. I was unable to read The Millenium Trilogy.

3 | Read at least 10 books from my 100 list. I didn't complete any from the list!

4 | Start at least one more new book club tradition. I'm sure there's something we can count for this!

5 | Apply my One Little Word, CHANGE, to my reading this year. I did start reading mostly electronic books; I guess that counts.

For 2012, I guess I need to set more reasonable goals!
1 | Read an average of 2 books per month; I'll shoot for 25.

2 | Read 3 books from my 100 list.

3 | Apply my One Little Word, ACCOMPLISH, to my reading this year.

Anyone else have reading goals for 2012?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Whispers from the Ashes [Kindle Edition] by Patricia Hester

Since we all have the ability to read e-versions of books I thought I'd hilight a book that could be delivered wirelessly. It's on Amazon for $4.99 or if you have their rime membership it's free.

Whispers from Ashes
What a delightful coming of age novel by a new author. It is a fast moving story about Molly, a young girl searching for answers from the past as she moves forward to the future. Molly is a member of close knit family in the 1950's. She has a loving mom who has so much love to give that she shares it with her children as well as the children of other family members. She has a warmhearted dad who is probably an alcoholic but she constantly forgives his binges because of her deep love and respect for him. Molly's stories of family hardships and good times are entwined with a family secret she is attempting to solve by eavesdropping on private family conversations and trips to the library searching old newspapers. This appears to be is an innocent novel but at times there are shocking revelations. A very good read.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

February Book Choices!

It's already time to select our 2nd book of 2012!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford | Paperback, 290 pages

In 1986, Henry lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese girl from his childhood in the 1940s -- Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel's basement for the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet has been an IndieBound NEXT List Selection, a Borders Original Voices Selection, a Barnes & Noble Book Club Selection, Pennie’s Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club Pick, and a National Bestseller. It was also named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association. It has a 3.89 rating on Goodreads.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume | Paperback, 416 pages

In the summer of 1977, Victoria Leonard’s world changes forever when Caitlin Somers chooses her as a friend. Dazzling, reckless Caitlin welcomes Vix into the heart of her sprawling, eccentric family, opening doors to a world of unimaginable privilege, sweeping her away to vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, an enchanting place where the two friends become “summer sisters.”

Now, years later, Vix is working in New York City. Caitlin is getting married on the Vineyard. And the early magic of their long, complicated friendship has faded. But Caitlin begs Vix to come to her wedding, to be her maid of honor. And Vix knows that she will go—because Vix wants to understand what happened during that last shattering summer. And, after all these years, she needs to know why her best friend—her summer sister—still has the power to break her heart.

Summer Sisters is one of three adult novels that Judy Blume has written. She got the idea for the novel after spending a summer with her family at Martha's Vineyard. It has a 3.66 rating on Goodreads.

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister | Hardcover, 288 pages

At an intimate, festive dinner party in Seattle, six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate's recovery from cancer. Wineglass in hand, Kate strikes a bargain with them. To celebrate her new lease on life, she'll do the one thing that's always terrified her: white-water rafting. But if she goes, all of them will also do something they always swore they'd never do-and Kate is going to choose their adventures.

Shimmering with warmth, wit, and insight, Joy for Beginners is a celebration of life: unexpected, lyrical, and deeply satisfying.

Joy for Beginners was a Library Journal pick for top ten women’s fiction of 2011. It has a 3.62 rating on Goodreads.
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