Tuesday, November 29, 2011

CR Review #39 - 41: The House at Riverton, Where She Went, Blood Red Road

#39 The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reading The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (see my review here). I loved Morton’s language and her ability to weave past and present storylines together, blending to create a beautiful story and surprising mystery. And I’m a sucker for a long book.

I “liked” The House at Riverton, but didn’t love it. The wonderful writing and clever story were still there, but I just didn’t feel the same connection to the characters. Riverton tells the story of Grace, a young girl who is sent by her sick mother to work at the Riverton estate in the years before WWI. Grace becomes obsessed with the family that lives there -- Lord Ashbury and his extended family, in particular the grandchildren David, Emmeline, and Hannah.

The story switches between the past (as Grace spends time at the house, and eventually becomes maid and confidant to Hannah), and the present, where a 98 year old Grace helps a young film director who is making a movie about a scandal and murder that happened at Riverton (and that Grace happened to witness).

While I enjoyed the detail of the “Upstairs/Downstairs” life at Riverton, I just didn’t care all that much for Grace and the choices she made. Still, Morton is a talent, and I’ll definitely be adding The Forgotten Garden to my list for Cannonball 2012.

#40 Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I also recently read If I Stay, the heartbreaking story of Mia, the young girl who loses her entire family in a car accident and then must decide to die with them or to stay and live with her grandparents and her boyfriend, Adam (read my review here).

Where She Went takes place three years later, and is told from Adam’s perspective, which is a nice change of pace. It seems that since Mia woke from her coma, she went of to Juilliard to become a star cellist, and then just stopped talking to Adam, more of less breaking up with him.

Adam is now a huge rock star, with a movie star girlfriend, but he is still hung up on Mia. One day in New York, Adam is on a layover, on his way to London for a world tour, when he sees that Mia has a concert that night. He gets a ticket and stops backstage to see her...and then they spend the night walking the city and talking. Both are looking for closure to their relationship but are afraid to really open up to each other.

My one issue with this book was that I didn’t like the character of Mia AT ALL this time around, and could not wrap my head around the fact that Adam would drop everything for a high school girlfriend that he hadn’t heard from in almost three years. But still, a nice bookend to the original, and glad to have another point of view to the story.

#41 Blood Red Road by Moira Young

I recently read a review of Blood Red Road here on the Cannonball site, and for some reason, it stuck in my mind. When I saw it at the library, I picked it up and stuck it in my bag, and then sort of forgot about it. A week later, it was poking out of my library bag and I decided to give it a read -- and I’m quite glad I did.

Like many dystopian future YA stories, Blood Red Road is the story of a young girl (Saba) who must fight against evil to hold on to what little she has. Her life is changed in an instant, when men cloaked in black come riding onto her farm and proceed to kill her father and kidnap her twin brother Lugh before riding off. Saba swears that she will come after him...but what will she do with her annoying 8 year old sister, Emmi?

Saba and Emmi travel across desert and mountain, meeting new and dangerous people along the way, and forging a small army of warriors who want to fight along with her to destroy the people who took Lugh away.

Many of the reviews that I’ve read of this book spend a lot of time complaining about the language and style of writing used by Young. Saba speaks in a strange English dialect that is a bit odd at first, but easy enough to get used to (much easier than reading an Irvine Welsh novel -- at least you don’t need a glossary!), and the text doesn’t have any quotation marks to spell out who is speaking. I think this is a minor issue and actually works well with the particular story. If nobody from Saba’s time even knows how to read or write, then to me, the language fits.

Supposedly, this is the first in a proposed trilogy (shock!). I”ll be sure to pick up the next one to see what happens to Saba and her crew.

Monday, November 28, 2011

CR Review #38: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

First things first, I'm a huge Stephen King fan. I've read every single one of his books (except for maybe Danse Macabre) and as many of his short stories as I could get my hands on. I love figuring out how threads of his stories link to other stories (most of which link to the Dark Tower series, which I adore). I first read The Shining when I was in 8th grade (and my mom even got it out of the library for me) -- it scared me to death, and I loved it. When I read the Stand a few weeks later, I was so scared I couldn't sleep for days. And then I read it again as soon as I finished it. And over the next few decades, I devoured them all. Even the forgettable ones with weak endings (hello, Lisey's Story)...and it seemed like lots of recent ones have had endings that have disappointed lots of fans (Under the Dome was a great story and idea, but the ending didn't quite hold up to the first 700 pages. And don't even mention the end of The Dark Tower to most fans).

I'm very happy to report that while 11/22/63 isn't perfect, it is definitely more like Stephen King of old -- a huge story with richly drawn characters, and a chilling and fitting ending that works ideally (I guess we have the wonderful Joe Hill to thank for that, as Mr. King thanks his equally talented son in the afterword for helping him to correct the ending. If you haven't read 20th Century Ghosts yet, run out and get it right now. It is awesome.).

11/22/63 tells the story of Jake, a high school teacher in Maine (surprise!) who ends up traveling through a "wormhole" in time to 1958, with the task of stopping the JFK assassination in 1963. Along the way from Maine to Texas and from 1958 to 1963, Jake changes a few other things -- he stops a man from killing his family, he prevents a young girl from becoming paralyzed, and he makes money by placing bets on sporting events that he already knows the outcome to. And then he gets to Texas, settles down, gets a job teaching at the local high school, and he falls in love with the town librarian. And all the while, he wonders about "the butterfly effect" that is always discussed in time travel stories -- how will the small things he changes in the past change the future?

Meanwhile, he studies and follows Lee Harvey Oswald from his arrival in Dallas after defecting back from Soviet Russia (with his beautiful wife and baby daughter in tow). Jake rents apartments near Oswald and even spies on him with tape recorders and binoculars. He decides that if he can prove that Oswald was the attempted assassin of General Edwin Walker -- an outspoken anti-communist (someone took a shot at him in his Dallas home in April 1963, but missed), then the odds were higher that he was, in fact, the sole shooter from the sixth floor of the book depository.

But if Jake stops Oswald, how will this change the future? If Kennedy lives, what happens next? Does the US still get involved in Vietnam? Does his brother Robert decide to run for president in the future? Does he live or die? What about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement? And what about the people that Jake helped along the way -- the family who lived because their father didn't kill them in a drunken rage in 1958? The girl in the wheelchair from rural Maine? And his beloved Sadie, the Texas librarian? Do they fare better or worse in the new version of the future?

King also includes some sly references to past works -- some of the kids from It appear at the beginning of the book, the Yellow Card Man (I'm guessing he's a "breaker" or something like it), and of course the town of Derry, Maine. And my absolute favorite reference: to Dwight Holly, the fictional FBI agent from James Ellroy's American Tabloid trilogy. American Tabloid is one of my all-time favorite books (Note to self for 2012 Cannonball Read: re-read and review American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood's A Rover).

Glad to see King back in his groove.

Monday, November 14, 2011

CR Review #35 - #37: Some so-so books I got on Kindle for less than $2

Ever since I got my iPad, I've been reading a lot more Kindle books than I did with my actual Kindle. I think I just like the option of being able to do other things in between chapters (check email, look over my to-do list, etc.). So I've been reading books that are free or in the $1.99 range...one OK (Glimpse), one forgettable (Bridesmaid Lotto), and one terrible (Slim to None).


Glimpse, by Stacey Wallace Benefiel, is the first in a trilogy (of course!). It tells the story of Zellie, a teenager in Oregon. She is the pastor's daughter, has an annoying little sister and a terrific best friend, and a curious ability to tell when and how people are going to die. It turns out that she has a hereditary power, passed on to the first born daughter of each generation, as her mother sort of explains. At her sweet 16 party, Zellie gets to dance with the boy she is in love with, Avery, and she has a vision of them together in the future -- she is pregnant and covered in blood, and he is lying in the middle of the road, dying.

With the help of her grandmother and aunt, Zellie learns to make sense of her new abilities (and finds that she can do even more than she knew), and make sense of her vision of Avery, and how she might be able to prevent it.

Not a bad read, but honestly, I probably won't follow up with the next two installments unless they are put into the same price range (not dying to find out what happens for $9.99).


Bridesmaid Lotto, by Rachel Astor, is also the first in a series of stories. I've read a lot of stupid "chick lit" stories over the years, and this one has to have the most ridiculous plot ever. Josie wins a contest (entered by her mother) to be a bridesmaid for a socialite who is marrying a man who's brother happens to be the biggest movie star in the country. While there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Josie and the movie star will fall in love Notting Hill-style, the writing isn't awful and the characters are mostly well formed (I liked her flamboyant friend Mattie), so it wasn't completely painful. You could do worse for a $0.99 Kindle book.


Slim to None, by Jenny Gardiner, was the worst of the bunch. The story of a NYC food writer who wakes up one day to discover that she is too fat to continue her job. Her boss puts her on leave for 6 months to lose weight and get her life in order. Meanwhile, her husband who loves her no matter what wants to have a baby, she discovers that she has a secret bunch of half-sisters, her dog almost dies, and she becomes best friends with a homeless man who is actually a multi-millioinaire. And of course, she loses tons of weight and finds true happiness.

Terrible, across the board. Poorly written, terribly edited, and such a bad story, I don't even want to give it another second's thought.