Friday, August 26, 2011

CR Review #28: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay is a short, bittersweet, beautifully written novel about love and loss. Mia is 17 and has a pretty good life -- she is a senior in high school, applying to Julliard in NYC to play the cello, she has a loving and cool family, a smart and understanding best friend, and a beautiful and cool musician boyfriend named Adam.

One snowy morning, Mia and her family (mom, dad, and younger brother) go for a drive near their rural Oregon home, when a truck slams into her family car and kills her family, leaving her gravely injured. Mia finds herself disembodied from her physical self -- she feels no pain, but she can't feel anything. She can't be seen or heard, but she can see and hear those around her. She is rushed to a local hospital and a trauma unit does everything they can to save her while Mia's friends and remaining family members gather at her side.

Most of the story is told in flashback, and we learn all about Mia and her family, her love for classical music, as well as her relationship with Adam. And as Mia flashes through all of her memories, she begins to wonder what will be easier and better for her to do: to let go, and be with her family, or to stay and fight through the pain and her injuries.

The writing is beautiful, and I found myself tear up a few times (mostly when she described her little brother, as I have a son about his age). A short book, I read it pretty much in one sitting, but a moving one. I'll be sure to pick up the sequel "Where She Went" when I see it at the library.

Friday, August 19, 2011

CR Review #27: Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Here is an incredibly brief review for the fun, fluffy Spoiled, co-authored by the amusing founders of -- a celebrity fashion/style/gossip website.

Spoiled is the story of Molly, a teenager in Indiana. Her mom has just died and she never knew her dad, and she suddenly finds out that her father is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He asks her to come and live with him and his daughter (another 16 year old girl, named Brooke) in Beverly Hills. Brooke sees Molly as a threat to her imminent fame and fortune, and does everything in her power to let Molly know that she isn't wanted out in sunny CA.

This isn't Shakespeare, folks, but wildly entertaining nonetheless. Will Molly and Brooke become the sisters that they always wanted? Will Molly become Hollywood glam or stay the down-to-earth midwestern gal that she is? Will Brooke and Molly's dad ever put down his blackberry and take the time to get to know his girls?

Filled with pointed celebrity barbs (this certainly won't read that well in 5 or 10 years, as most of the pop culture references will make the reader scratch their heads), and amusing views of the outlandish social status scene in Hollywood, this book is a good laugh. It only took me a few hours to read, but I enjoyed it and would look for another book by Cocks and Morgan in the future.

Monday, August 15, 2011

CR Review #26: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

I originally signed up to do a half-cannonball and read 26 books. Last week, I finished reading my 26th book, which I absolutely hated. And I really didn't want it to be the book that met my goal of 26 books read and reviewed, so I put it aside and read a different book, hoping I would like it well enough to give it a glowing review.

Luckily, the book I picked up was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

Major Pettigrew is one of a dying breed -- an old-school Englishman who goes shooting, feels a man looks his best in black tie, and believes that the British countryside should be preserved at all costs. He lives in a small, southern seaside town on the estate where he was raised, and he is still mourning his wife, more than 3 years after her death. He lives his life according to protocol and with military precision.

And then, one day, his brother dies suddenly. The death of his younger brother affects him mentally and physically, and as he is about to collapse in his hallway, along comes Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani widow of the local shopkeeper, looking for his newspaper money. Mrs. Ali brings the major inside for some water, and shows him an unexpected kindness, later bringing a gift basket and checking in on him. The Major feels an urge to continue the friendship, and the two find that they have much in common -- a love for British literature (Kipling, in particular), love for their family and spouses, and a respect for rules and the "British way". But because they live in a small town, his friends and neighbors and confused by his sudden friendship with the "Paki" shop lady, and many derogatory comments are made, and friendships and family relations are strained and tested on both ends.

This is a beautiful love story, written with such rich description it made me want to get on a plane and go driving around the British countryside. I've read that it will soon be a movie, so I pictured Jim Broadbent (who I've loved since Iris) as the Major and Shohreh Aghdashloo as the lovely Mrs. Ali.

So glad I picked this up, and so relieved I liked it better than the other book (review of that to come...).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

CR Review #25: Bossypants by Tina Fey

While I'm definitely a fan of the off-beat sense of humor on 30 Rock, I was not a particular fan of Tina Fey when she was the head writer and did Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. But looking back, her stuff was much funnier than most of the skits and headlines that make it onto the show these days (sorry, Seth Myers). I was curious to read her book and find out which Tina was the author: the quirky, bizarre Tina from 30 Rock, or the feminist "women are funny, too" humor from SNL.

Bossypants turns out to be a nice mixture of both. Tina's book is a collection of essays, mostly about how she got to where she is today: she sold tickets for the local PA teen theatre troupe, she studied drama at UVA, she did improv at Second City in Chicago, she got her job at SNL and found herself under Lorne Michaels' wing, leading to her job today as star and executive producer of her own show. Tina is very keen to have the reader know that she is very lucky to have the job she has (comparing being on 30 Rock to being, say, a Chilean Miner was a cute way to be self-deprecating), she hates being known as a working mother, and that being famous is not as glamorous as you might think. Her detailed breakdown of what its like to be at a professional photo shoot was pretty interesting (I assumed as much about the prevalence of Photoshop, but never really considered how the stylists fit everyone into the same size dresses and shoes).

I enjoyed her detailed explanation of the whole Sarah Palin situation: how it came about that she guest-starred on SNL, what it was like playing alongside Sarah Palin, what her republican parents thought about it, etc. And I laughed out loud twice in the chapter about her teenage theater job in rural PA. But my favorite part of the book was the fact that Tina Fey has a pretty dirty mouth. I was surprised by the number of raunchy insults and swears, and I enjoyed every last one of them. Thanks, Tina Fey, for teaching me some new insults!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

CR Review #24: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Much has been written about Divergent by the CBR bloggers recently (from Ashley and Even Stevens) -- and it has all been good. I'm here as the third representative of our little group to tell you to RUN OUT NOW AND READ THIS BOOK. I loved it, its as simple as that.

Divergent is the story of Beatrice, a 16 year old girl in futuristic/dystopian Chicago. At age 16, all citizens much decide with which "faction" of the community they'll choose to live out the rest of their days. Each group values one aspect of their personalities above all else. The choices are: Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Amity (the kind), Erudite (the intelligent), and Dauntless (the brave). Do you choose to stay where you grew up, and where your family will be? Or do you choose to leave for another faction, to go alone into a part of society where you'll pretty much be alone?

Beatrice makes her choice to leave Abnegation early on, and in her new community she gives herself a new identity, Tris. Tris has to undergo a seriously challenging initiation in order to become a true member of her new group (those that do not pass initiation are left "factionless", with little support/food/shelter from the city, which provides to the other 5 factions). Along the way she makes friends, falls in love, finds out secrets about her family and herself, and most importantly, finds out what is going on at the top of the government chain, and why there is so much political unrest in the city.

I can't wait to read the next two installments of the planned trilogy. I hope that the future books will answer some of the questions I had while reading this: Is every city set up similarly to Chicago? What about people who live in the country, far from the cities? What about the rest of the world?

My only complaint about this book is that I read it as a new release, and now will have to wait an incredibly long time to read book two.