The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell

The Madwoman UpstairsThe Madwoman Upstairs is a contemporary adventure/mystery about a young woman who is beginning her studies in literature in Oxford. As the last descendant of Patrick Brontë, Samantha Whipple is hounded by the media about her father’s mysterious death (by fire) and the myth of the Brontë inheritance. When the Brontë books from her father’s library begin mysteriously showing up at her door (which she believed were destroyed in the fire that consumed her father), Samantha tries to uncover the truth behind who is leaving them for her, and what her father was trying to teach her between the lines.

I picked this up because one of my favorite novels of all time is Jane Eyre and although the only other Brontë I’ve read so far is Wuthering Heights by Miss Emily, I’ve always felt a little affectionate for their family (Anne, I’m coming for you!). I learned a lot about their family from this novel, but there are also some very definite spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the big four – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenent of Wildfell Hall. Many scenes in the novel are Samantha in one-on-one study sessions with her literature professor discussing the classics, and I was feeling really stupid even a quarter of the way through when this 20 year old was discussing work from…well, pretty much everyone. I read a lot of classics and I’m nowhere near as well read this character is. I would almost say it is unbelievable, but her father was a writer and lover of literature and she did descend from possibly the most famous family of authors who ever lived, so maybe it wasn’t so out of the realm of possibility for her.

After first finishing the novel I was a little bit disappointed that the ending didn’t turn out as shocking/twisty as I was expecting (even hoping for), but the more time that passes now after having finished it, I appreciate it more and more. The suspense is built up quite a bit throughout the novel to the point I was expecting a ‘Madwoman Upstairs’ type twist as found in Jane Eyre, but there is nothing like that. In the end, this is a book about acceptance and family, a coming of age story, and I quite enjoyed it :-)

e.

Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King

Mr. MercedesDespite the fact that Stephen King is one of my favorite authors (as a person), I have only read a shameful amount of his fiction. I frequently watch his interviews and appearances on YouTube, and once heard him talking about a story he was working on; a retired detective is being mocked by one of the criminals he never caught on the job. The idea gripped me immediately. That work-in-progress turned out to be Mr. Mercedes. The one book expanded into a trilogy, and embarrassingly I never started Mr. Mercedes until long after the last book in the series had been published 😬

The novel opens with the scene of the crime – on a misty early morning, a madman drives a Mercedes into a crowd of people waiting in line for a job fair. It then fast forwards to find retired detective Bill Hodges doing nothing more exciting than watching daytime television and contemplating the thought of taking his own life, when a typewritten letter is delivered out of the blue. It is from the Mercedes killer, still at large, taunting him. Bouncing perspective between Bill and the Mercedes Killer, the novel is a non-stop crime thriller I found hard to put down.

Although I wouldn’t call this book a member of the ‘Horror’ genre, it is probably the most disturbing book I have personally ever read. Being inside the head of a serial killer is a freaky place to be, as you can imagine. **spoiler**At one point I thought I may have to put it down, as I have a sensitivity to cruelty to animals, but I pushed through and luckily the dog was not poisoned and brutally murdered. Somehow finding that his mother was instead didn’t bother me as much. (It’s the fact that animals are helpless and completely at the mercy of their caregivers is why, in case you are thinking I’m a monster for thinking that) **end spoiler**

Even though this book is part of a trilogy, I feel this novel stands alone very well. That is to say, it doesn’t leave off on a cliffhanger; there is a satisfying and complete ending, which I appreciate very much. There’s nothing worse than a cliffhanger ending. Or a violently abrupt ending (I’m looking at you Margaret Atwood), but this book doesn’t have that, so let’s move on.

Thrillers (especially crime thrillers) aren’t my preferred genre of novel to read, but every once in awhile a really good one can be quite satisfying. If you’re looking for something that fits the bill and is really well written, I recommend it! I’ve borrowed the next two books, Finders Keepers and End of Watch, from a friend, and I plan to read them later this summer. Stay tuned!!

E.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendOne of my favorite books of all time is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. After I recommended that book to a friend (she loved it too), she told me she’d heard of a book often compared to it called The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. Odd title, I thought, and immediately it went on The List. Then one day when I was very pregnant, I went to Target on a ‘Treat Yourself’ mission (which was really just me trying to do a lot of walking to get little boy out of me) and saw this book. Sold.

It’s the story of a Swedish girl named Sara, who goes to visit her friend Amy in rural Iowa. It is her first trip to America, and her parents are skeptical of letting her go in the first place, but the bookshop Sara had worked in recently closed down and she wanted to see the town her friend had written to her about so fondly. By the time Sara arrives in Broken Wheel, Amy has died. Not sure what to do next, the townsfolk of Broken Wheel rally to make sure Sara is taken care of for the duration of her stay. It is not the trip Sara had imagined, but in time she learns the secrets Amy had kept from her letters, and falls in love with the town.

First, let’s just get this out of the way: It does not live up to Guernsey. Not by a long shot, not for me. But, since that’s one of the greatest books of all time…I really didn’t expect it to.

It took me quite awhile to get into the plot. It was past the halfway point before I really felt like I couldn’t put it down. To be honest I was worried for awhile that the book was never going to strike a resonating cord with me. The writing through the beginning seemed to do a little too much telling and not enough showing, and I’m not sure if that has to do with the fact that it was translated from the original Swedish. Sometimes it’s the translation that’s ‘bad’ and not the story. Overall, it was very what-you-see-is-what-you-get; it didn’t have the depth either of character or of plot to really blow me away. However, by the end I was very interested in how the story played out, and it was a satisfying, sweet ending. For me there was just something a little bit odd about the whole thing that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it was the cliches of a micro-community in rural America, or that some of the characters were a little bit over the top…and I’m still not satisfied with the title. But all of this is generally why I avoid contemporary ‘chick lit’ type books, it comes down to a style preference. You may love this type of book & love the style.

I did enjoy the fact that Sara and Amy’s relationship was based completely around their love of books & reading. Sara is a complete bookworm, and there are many passages throughout the novel about authors and books and how Sara feels about them. It’s always risky to do this in case the reader hasn’t read the books mentioned. If they have, there is a great payoff of camaraderie with the character for having thought the same thoughts or sparking a new conversation in the reader’s mind, but on the other hand, if the reader hasn’t read the mentioned books, there are some major plot spoilers. For me, there was a mix of both. I found her thoughts on Dan Brown to be especially accurate ;-) It does seem a little bit unfair for the author to assume that just because someone is reading this book, that he/she should be expected to have read ALL of the other books mentioned. Ultimately there are really only one or two passages with actual plot spoilers, the rest seem to just bring attention to books you may or may not have read – I can see some readers adding to their TBRs while reading this book.

This novel is very much in the chick lit/summer reads category for me. Purely entertainment. This isn’t the type of book that is going to change your life, but it’s a fun distraction from the every day and a fun book for people who call themselves readers.

E.

P.S. No one I’ve ever met in my entire life has made homemade corn dogs or sloppy joes. Just sayin’. These things generally come from the fair (or freezer section), and a can, respectively. It’s the American way.

Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult

Leaving TimeSometimes you just want a book that will grab you early and keep you turning the pages the whole time. I picked up Leaving Time exactly for that reason; Jodi Picoult is pretty reliably compelling, whether it’s a controversial subject, a thrilling court case (…or both), or a mystery (like this one).

Leaving Time is the story of a young girl named Jenna Metcalf in search of her mother, Alice. Alice was a researcher living and working in an elephant sanctuary in Pennsylvania. She ended up there for love, following a man who didn’t think her study on grief in elephants was a waste of time like many of her colleagues. When Jenna is only three, a woman is found dead, trampled to death by an elephant, and Alice disappears. Due to the lazy work of a retiring detective and no missing persons report, there is no investigation into the disappearance. Now a young teen, Jenna takes the search into her own hands. Consulting with a washed up celebrity psychic and the detective whose guilt never went away after the botched investigation, they are determined to find out what happened that night in the elephant sanctuary.

In the format of a typical Jodi Picoult novel, the narrative bounces back and forth between characters. Alice is the only narrator who isn’t in the present. Instead, she acts a flashback character, providing the background story that leads up to the night she disappeared, eventually revealing what actually happened. It is done skillfully, the reader never learns until the end whether or not she is still alive or if her story ends that night. Hers was ultimately my favorite perspective, although an impatient reader would call hers the slowest. I really enjoyed reading about her accounts of elephant behavior observed both in the African wild and in the sanctuary. The elephants definitely have personality, especially Maura, and I enjoyed the sections about them – you can tell, maybe a little too much, that the subject matter was researched well by the author. It reminded me of another of her novels in that way, Lone Wolf. As an animal lover and general softie in life, I could have done without some of the graphic descriptions of what happens to some of the elephants, but Alice is researching grief, so grief-inducing events are kind of necessary and expected. And everyone knows that historically elephants have not been treated very well in captivity, which were some of the hardest parts for me to read.

Another characteristic element of a Picoult novel is a twist ending, sometimes even on the last dang page (Handle With Care, anyone?). Leaving Time is no exception. While I did enjoy the pleasure of the plot completely flipping (a twist you don’t see coming is always oddly satisfying), it also cheapened the whole story in a way. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say this particular twist has been done before, and very famously. The author had to know it was a risk to use it, and I kind of wish I could get into her head to see what the other possibilities were, if there ever were any. For me it didn’t ruin the story because it made complete sense once it was revealed. It wrapped up the storyline of one of the characters in a great way – in fact, you could say the entire story was actually about her. Okay okay, let’s move on…

All things considered, this wasn’t my favorite novel by Jodi Picoult. I haven’t read them all, but I’ve read around a dozen. Leaving Time probably floats around the middle of the pack among them. As I said, I wanted something compelling to read, and in that sense it did not disappoint. However, if you are new to Jodi Picoult, I would recommend some of her other novels over this one. Some of my favorites have been Keeping Faith, Handle With Care, Lone Wolf, Vanishing Acts, My Sister’s Keeper, and Plain Truth. Just whatever you do, don’t start with Songs of the Humpback Whale. I couldn’t get through it!

Any other fans of Jodi Picoult out there? Which of her novels is your favorite?

E.

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

After distancing myself for a few days from The Paris Wife, I decided that I’d like to write up a proper review for it, as it really was an outstanding book.
In short, it’s about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage, told from his wife’s perspective (Hadley Richardson). It begins just as they met in Chicago 1921, through their  mutual friend Kate and her brother, who Ernest and Hadley are both staying with (my feeling is it was some kind of large house with rooms for let, they weren’t sleeping on the couch or anything). Hadley, 28 at the time (to Ernest’s 21), had just lost her mother and desperately needed a vacation, which is what brought her there. Obviously, they fall in love and get married, yada yada ;-)
I think what touched me so much about this book is how real the relationship and the marriage felt. There were mistakes, there were awkward times, there were times of self-doubt and of loneliness. The entire arc of the relationship is covered in this book – from the first words they spoke to each other up to the last phone call they ever share, years after their divorce (if you read through to the epilogue). As a reader, you fall in love with them, you ache with them, you share their frustrations, and when you just begin to sense that things are starting to not go quite as well as they had been, you’re just as surprised to see that the problems had been brewing for a long time, and just as hearbroken about it. They were the couple their friends thought would never break up. This is the story of a real happy couple, and how their marriage crumpled despite, or perhaps because of, their passion.
Paula McLain’s writing struck me right away. It was descriptive and emotional, and conveyed the tone and style of the novel perfectly in every sentence. I’m actually not sure exactly how many of the events and conversations in this novel are true, but I imagine quite a bit of it must be (Hemingway was quite autobiographical in his novels, and he has multiple volumes of published letters – and an otherwise highly public life). What I loved the most was how much The Paris Wife felt like Hemingway’s novels. A big part of the book was dedicated to Pampalona and three different years they attended the running of the bulls and the festivities afterward, which is exactly what happens: fishing trip, toreros, characters and all, in The Sun Also Rises. Her writing didn’t exactly mimic Hemingway’s, but the same tone was there…agh, it’s hard to explain. It is perfect for what it is really:  the supposed recounting of the events through the perspective of his wife, who would sound similar to him, wouldn’t she? It’s really a wonderful novel.
I think Hadley’s voice from the 1920s is similar to many voices of modern women: a little bit insecure, a little bit lonely, completely dependant on her husband (emotionally, as in, she has few friends), and hopelessly in love. I found it easy to connect with, and I think many readers of historical fiction, or admirers of Hemingway’s work, would enjoy it.
As for Paris, well, I can’t speak for that. Hem and Hadley encountered many others we know well today who were featured in the novel: F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein the most prominent of those. I’m not very familiar with any of those, but I’d be curious to see if they’re really anything like how McLain paints them in this novel. I have Z, the Zelda Fitzgerald novel that came out recently, so I may have to get that out in the next few days…
This novel is also funny. The dialogue establishes the personality of whole parties instead of individuals, it seems, and everyone has multiple nicknames and drinks entirely too much (sound like any novels you’ve heard of?). It was a time to be social and to drink and to laugh and to love, and a time of great friends. And there was poverty and grime and beauty and madness that came of the time.
It’s really a wonderful book – you should read it.
Emma.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

If you’ve ever been a woman, single or otherwise, mid-thirties or otherwise, dieting or otherwise, striving toward ‘inner peace’ or otherwise, I guarantee you will find hilarity at some point in these pages (trouble is, the moments between ‘jokes’ fall a bit flat).

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Bridget Jones is somewhat of a mess, or she thinks she is. Because she is in her thirties and still single, Bridget’s mother is constantly trying to set her up with bachelors she thinks are eligible, while Bridget stands by with a face flamed in embarrassment. Bridget also sees her ‘singleton’ status as quite a bad thing most of the time, but she has a great group of eccentric friends who are always willing to do a good verbal bashing against whatever ‘Fuckwittage’ deserves it this time.

The novel is a diary kept over one full year in the life of Bridget Jones; hence the title. At the beginning of each entry, Bridget diligently records several stats, which she also rates on how well she did during that period; weight, cigarettes, negative thoughts, lottery tickets, message checking, and alcohol units are some of the most frequent stats recorded. Initially, reading these stats was the funniest bit about this book, though by April or so, that had worn off and I started briefly glancing at them for any ‘new’ stats she may have included. It got repetitive and boring, although the stats summary on the last page was worth quite a laugh, so maybe you’re meant to skip over those at a certain point.

I’m actually not much of a ‘chick lit’ reader. Perhaps that is why I wasn’t super impressed by this book. Yes, in some parts, it was hilarious, but between funny times, the book didn’t really seem to have any ‘meat’ to support it. I guess that could be a pro – for people looking for a ‘light summer read’ – but it just didn’t do it for me. I found myself basically forcing myself to keep reading, waiting for something to grab my attention, basically so I could just finish it and move on to another book. I will probably read the next one…eventually, but I’m not going to jump right into it. If you’re looking for a funny book to read, I’d recommend Bossypants, by Tina Fey way before this one.

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Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger

My first review in awhile! As I mentioned just before, we’ve moved recently, which has left precious little time for reading. The last few weeks though, I’ve been getting the itch to listen to audiobooks at work, I just never seemed to get to the library to pick any up. Until Tuesday.

First up from those selections, Her Fearful Symmetry. Audrey Niffenegger (how awesome is that last name, by the way?) is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I enjoyed intensely, so I’ve naturally been wanting to read this book since it came out in 2009. Unfortunately, almost every review I read about it was negative, and so it continued to be pushed to the bottom of my priority list – And here we are four years later….

Audiobook Narrated by Bianca Amato

Audiobook Narrated by Bianca Amato

This book reminds me of a mix between The Thirteenth Tale (by Diane Setterfield) and The Blind Assassin (by Margaret Atwood), both of which I’ve been meaning to reread. If you’ve read either of those, you will have an idea of what the tone of this book is, and also the layout:: It’s a story within a story, within a story – and Niffenegger is talented enough, like Atwood (The Blind Assassin), to pull it off. I think maybe it got bad reader reviews at first because it’s not like The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is what the hyped up readers were expecting. It’s not better or worse – it’s just a different story.

Probably one of the best skills and highest compliments an author can receive (/have), is to be consistent, something I’ve found Audrey Niffenegger to be in her full length novels so far. The storytelling is definitely there. She has ‘proven’ herself to me with this book, and now I’m not only a fan of the books themselves, but the mind matter they were created from, Audrey herself.

All the blurbs you will find about this book are very vague, and now I can see why. This is the type of book you have to discover on your own. There are layers to peel away, a little bit at a time. The limited knowledge beforehand is an opportunity of discovery not often available in today’s reading environment. Savor it.

Characters in this novel felt real. Real in the sense that some of them were likable, some I was indifferent to, and others I didn’t like so much, but not because they were constructed to be disliked…it’s hard to explain. ‘Real’ is the best descriptor I am capable of at the moment – and it’s times like these one realizes how grossly overused terms like that really are.

Imagine your neighbor. He’s not a bad person, but he has flaws – flaws that he has adapted to and effect things in his life, on a large and small scale. It’s almost like Niffenegger isn’t inventing these people, she’s just capturing them, and putting them to paper. Combining these captured personalities create real situations that they react to in real ways. Ironically, the only two characters I felt weren’t created so beautifully as the others are the two active ‘main characters’ in the story, The Mirror Twins who inherit their aunt’s estate.

Note: Martin and Marika are my two favorite characters, by far (though technically they’re ‘extras’). Also, Jack.

There is romance in this story, what I would think of as ‘real’ romance – in other words, not ‘falling in love’ romance but ‘loved each other for years’ romance. How many times can I say romance in one sentence? Many of the characters in this story are older, between 35 and 90 (haha). They have almost all found their life mates and are settled with one another. I imagine they all look like they belong together by now, you know? How people who are together for a long time sort of morph into one another? That’s how I imagine many of the characters in this book to be.

My only complaint about this book is basically the main plot. Not all of it, but the whole climax story bugged me. The twins were just written a little bit too immature for my taste. Then again they are 21, and now that I’m older than 21, that age does seem a little immature – but within reason, come on. I can also see that because they’re twins and do everything together, they are a little bit handicapped from many ‘growing up’ milestones, so perhaps that’s what Niffenegger was trying to accomplish.

Since I listened to this book in audio format, it’s more difficult for me to honestly assess the writing. It sounded good…I can really only remember one hiccup, where a short scene, while well written, sort of seemed jammed in…like it didn’t fit there, or really anywhere, but the information in it was needed as background and for the readers to understand some character tension. I think it could have probably been re-written in a more successful way…it was probably a case where the author just didn’t want to cut it because it was so well written. I don’t blame her. Eh, it was one scene. Perhaps two pages, it’s forgivable.

Now the narration. Bianca Amato of course introduced herself on the first track, and immediately I remembered her name from something else I’d read, but I couldn’t put my finger on it for several minutes of reading. Then I had it – The Lady of the Rivers, by Phillipa Gregory was narrated by Bianca Amato – and I LOVED that book, halfway because of the narration. That is to say, I also loved her narration in this book, but I have to admit it was less successful here. I was able to tell in many places where a new track began because of a forcefulness in her voice that naturally fades when reading aloud. There were also <i>a lot</i> of voices to do in this book, often without ‘he said/she said’, just directly switching out, like this::

“What is the meaning of life?”

“The meaning of life? How should I know.”

“I thought you’d been pondering the question for days.”

“Yes, well…”

“and you’ve come up with nothing?”

“So far”

(Not from the book, BTW, just came out of my brain)

Dialogue like that can get very tricky when reading aloud and still seeming natural, try it. Generally though, great job. She has a very expressive and comforting voice. It’s very easy to follow and understand, I will keep one eye out for her name as I peruse the shelves in the future. Perhaps I’ll google her ‘voice’ography.

This is the kind of book that sticks around in your head after you’ve finished it, plots and motivations circling your mind during the blank moments in your day until you fill it up again with the next book and new characters. I’m already looking forward to the next time I get to read it.

Lone Wolf – Jodi Picoult – A Reading Journal

I sort of feel split on this one…

I loved the concept of the novel: a man who studies wolves so closely he becomes a member of a pack (well, several packs), is in a horrific accident and his family must decide whether or not to pull the plug on his life support. If you’ve ever read a Jodi Picoult novel, you sort of know the drill; a controversial topic told from multiple perspectives usually revolving around a judicial trial of some kind. Nineteen Minutes, The Pact, Handle With Care, My Sister’s Keeper, and Plain Truth (to name most) follow the same basic outline as this novel, one of her newer works…but this one fell a little below the mark for me.

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The basic argument of the novel, whether or not to terminate the life support of Luke Warren, is embodied by Luke’s two children: Edward, 23, and Cara, 17. Since their mother was divorced from the patient, the responsibility falls to their children to make medical decisions for him…and since Cara is just below the age of majority, the responsibility falls to Edward. BUT, Edward and his father had a major falling out and hasn’t spoken in 6 years, whereas Cara had been living with him exclusively for four years at the time of the accident, and makes it quite clear that she wants her voice to be heard, especially since she is the one fighting to keep him alive. So who should have the final say?

The main characters, to me, fell flat in this book – namely Edward and Cara. It almost seemed like Picoult needed the two kids to be dead-set in opposition, and forced them to be there until she was finished with what she needed to accomplish with them. It felt forced, flat, and fake, and at times I just wanted to skip ahead in the narrative because I’d heard their positions already and both of their arguments were completely futile – they were both incredibly stubborn. Edward was more believable that Cara, and more likable; she was very whiney, immature, and unlikable through most of the novel.

Reader beware, spoilers abound in the next paragraph; Skip if you’d like to be surprised!::

Outside of those two, I found three other characters just as annoying – Georgie, Luke’s ex-wife, her husband and Edward’s lawyer, Joe Ng, and Danny Boyle, Cara’s lawyer. Outside of how irritating the narrator’s voice was for Georgie, I did not understand her as a character. If she was willing to marry Luke Warren in the first place, and put up with him for 18 years, including his departure for 2 years to live with the wolves in the Canadian Wilderness and his re-adaptation back into civilization, why would she have left him then? First of all, I don’t believe that Luke Warren would have cheated on his wife – the man went 2 years without sex of any kind, and reveres an animal that would do anything and everything for family, I don’t think he’d be bunking the interns. The story just sort of fell apart for me, near the end. Joe Ng, the man who married Luke’s ex-wife, is utterly insecure about his relationship with her. He seems to be in awe over her even though they’ve been married with children for several years (also, Georgie’s new kids are constantly referred to as ‘The Twins’…who does that?). Both Joe and the other lawyer, Danny Boyle are not very consistently written, and their ‘parts’ in the novel are quite insignificant.

Hands down my favorite character in this novel is Luke Warren – yes, the guy in a vegetative state. Although during the ‘present’ struggle the main characters are going through Luke is completely unresponsive, Picoult throws in many tid-bits of his research and his life story; many times it had parallels to the ‘current’ situation discussed in the book.

There is a piece in all of us (I hope to think) that longs to re-connect with nature. I am part Native American (a very small part) and I am absolutely fascinated with the respectful way of life many tribes seemed to have, and their belief systems. My mom & I have medicine cards that teach us the medicine of each animal, and what we can learn from them, and what it may mean when we encounter them in our lives (either in dreams, thoughts, or in real life). Those cards are one of my favorite possessions.

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The wolf is a fascinating animal that we can all learn from – they will do anything and everything for the good of the pack – their family. They are not particularly violent, but cautious & protective. I feel like Picoult’s research on the animals was impeccable & I’m motivated to learn more about them. Although Luke is a fictional character, there is a real man, Shaun Ellis, who lived the way Luke does in the novel, where Jodi drew much of her inspiration and did most of her research.

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Because wolves are so fascinating, I thought I would share some facts about them with you guys::

-Beta wolves, not the Alphas, are the ‘tough guys’ of the pack, and will rush out to test any visitors or outsiders before any other member of the pack.

-An Alpha female wolf has many uncanny abilities: She can influence other female wolves to not go into heat, she can fake a pregnancy (which puts the rest of the pack on their best behavior…thinking there will be little ones around), and even terminate her own pregnancy, if need be.

-The Alpha directs the pack, completely. She dictates which animal to kill out of a group, who eats what, and can hear changes in a heartbeat rhythm from six or seven feet away.

-Even the ‘runt’ of the pack serves an important purpose. They are called the Diffuser wolf, the one who is always getting picked on, and who purposefully jumps into all arguments and fights. His/Her job is to diffuse the tension; to prevent large disruptions within the pack.

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Look at how beautiful these animals are. I would recommend everyone to read this book just for Luke Warren’s perspectives. Much of it may be fictional, but it was some of the best fiction I’ve read in a Picoult novel.

I got a little tired of Jodi Picoult’s ‘formula’ here. In this case I felt much of the ‘typical’ features she had in this book were unnecessary. The temporary guardian-the lawyers & trial-were they really necessary? Could it not have just been a family struggle? If she’d toned down Edward’s initial reactions, much of the most unsuccessful parts of the story wouldn’t have been necessary. I’ve read in a few places that people felt like this book must have been rushed by a publisher or something. Perhaps that was an issue, but to me it seemed like the author was stuck on an idea and was unwilling to change for the sake of the story and characters she created. I’ve never really understood what authors (like Stephen King) mean when they say ‘I create the situation and let the characters go where they will’ (not a direct quote…paraphrase!), until now. I think this is the first example I’ve come across where it’s been apparent that’s not what happened.

All in all, I’d give it about a three. I’ve definitely read better books of Picoult’s, but as always (with the exception of Songs of the Humpback Whale), it was a pleasure to read, and it always kept me wondering…she’s been known for plot twists and surprise endings after all.

Until Next Time,

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P.S. – My best friend just read The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, just released), and said it was her new favorite of Picoult’s. I plan to read it when it comes out as paperback!

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – A Reading Journal

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is 288 pages, and is told in very short micro-chapters and in three parts. It follows a young man, on a strange and somewhat fast-paced adventure spanning the Continental US and several hundred years. Clay, a computer programmer formerly employed in marketing, finds a job on the overnight shift at a quirky bookstore after being laid off by a Bagel cafe startup. Clay, like many of us in our generation, relies on Google searching and internet surfing for answers and random & often specific knowledge. He has talented friends and an eye for a young Google programmer who stopped by the shop one night. He becomes very curious about this little bookshop, which lends out more books than it sells, and they’re all written in code – not to mention those borrowing them are quite eccentric folk. As Clay, the girl, and his friends dig deeper into the bookstore mystery, the stakes raise and they find themselves traveling across the country to chase down answers.

The writing, to me, seemed simple. The main character really didn’t seem like he had any special skills, besides corralling his talented friends and acquaintances to solve mysteries one small step at a time. Google is a very prominent ‘character’: Fruit Ninjas, Pixar, Wikipedia, and iPhones all get mentions as well – in that way, it’s a very modern book – but also for that reason, I really don’t think it’s going to span the ages. The adventure itself unfolds nicely enough, with just enough pitfalls and suspenseful moments, and it all gathers into a nice conclusion that I find satisfying enough.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about coincidence in story writing, ever since KM Weiland did a video about them, and I think this story just has way too much coincidence. Some of it I think is allowed, but some of them just don’t work as well. How is it that Kat – a super programmer whiz who works at Google – just happens to waltz into the bookstore that no one visits just when Clay is ready for a breakthrough on the program he’s working on? Kat has several other shifty coincidences that I won’t lay out here to avoid any spoilers! In fact, I think her character was the one I was most uneasy with throughout the entire novel. Anyone else feel the same way?

I rated this book with only three stars on Goodreads. Not to knock the story, it just wasn’t for me. To me, the whole book seemed only to scratch the surface of something bigger – just too light. I mean, I’m all for adventure/mystery/thriller novels – I loved The DaVinci Code & Angels & Demons as much as the next person (the next person that really liked it, that is), but I think this book almost serves as a bridge between young adult and adult fiction as opposed to the other end of the ‘adult fiction’ spectrum.

I know there are a lot of readers out there who are just looking for something they can pick up and read for entertainment and not necessarily to invest themselves in a book – for you, I recommend this book. Also, those of you who read primarily young adult fiction, I think you’d enjoy this book. For those of you like me, who thrive on depth, woven plot lines, and really darn good writing, just know that this is probably a better ‘break/in-between/vacation’ book than one you can really sink your teeth into.

Until Next Time,
Emma

The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult

I’ve been on something of a reading roll this month. I wanted to read a book I knew I would fly through and would just suck me straight in so I could forget how deperessed I was over The Paris Wife. I’ve read many Jodi Picoult novels before, and after hearing from my friend that this was her favorite Picoult so far (mine is tied between Second Chance & Plain Truth), and it just happened to be sitting on my shelf, I decided this would probably qualify.

In retrospect, this was not a good choice to lighten my mood.

This book is about the Holocaust. I somewhat knew that already, but what I didn’t know was that 1/3 of the book would be dedicated to a first-hand (fictional) account of a young polish girl whose life was destroyed by the war and was eventually sent to Aushwitz. I did not expect this, because Jodi Picoult generally does not write that way. She usually picks a controversial topic, centers it around some kind of court case, and tells the gripping, emotional story that takes place in a moral grey-area from all sides. I think she tried to do that here, at least partly, but failed.

I just finished writing my review of Mansfield Park, and in it, I wrote how it is unfair to judge a work by comparing it to the rest of the author’s work. Well, forget that, because that’s exactly why I didn’t like this book. I read Jodi Picoult books to be entertained (also why I read Philippa Gregory). When you read 12 books by the same person (I counted), you really start to get ahold of their writing style, their patterns…their comfort zone. The ‘modern’ section of this book (the other 2/3rds), just wasn’t good. I feel like she reused a character (Cara Warren from Lone Wolf – the similarities in personality were undeniable), a situation (the Jesus Bread, similar to scenes in Keeping Faith), and a tired formula (the court case/lawyer thing just didn’t work in this book). The ending felt rushed, and the twist ending wasn’t that meaningful.

Now, if you haven’t read any/many of Picoult’s novels, you would probably enjoy most of this book, but I would recommend others above it (see those mentioned above). I admit – I’ve become quite the snobby reader, so take my opinion with a grain of salt; I know a lot of people will not agree with me in this case (it’s average rating on goodreads is 4.23 with almost 50,000 reviewers – that’s incredibly high). I initially gave it three stars (the middle section really was very good), but the more I think of it as a whole, I’ve downgraded it on goodreads to only 2. They can’t all be winners, eh?

Hoping this trail of unimpressive books comes to an end soon! What are some five star books you think I should be reading?