Friday, June 24, 2011

The Mortal Instruments Coming to the Big Screen In 2012

Yeah, you read that right. Cassandra Clare optioned the rights for the movie a bit ago (2009 I think) and casting has begun. Clary will be played by Lily Collins (Blind Side) and Jace will be played by Jamie Campbell Bower (New Moon, Deathly Hallows). Not alot of details yet, but the IMDB page is at
Also check out Cassandra's blog for her thoughs about the books, the movie, etc. etc.  As soon as there's a release date for the movie, I'll add it to the calendar! In the meantime, I am nearly thru reading City of Fallen Angels and will be posting a review soon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

3 Willows by Ann Brashares

Okay, so I know it wasn't the greatest movie of all time, but six years ago I sat in a darkened theater, my wife and daughters beside me and fell in love with Tibby, Carmine, Lena, and of course, Bridget, the four extraordinary young women that comprise the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  I can't remember if I knew before going to the movie that it was based on a book, but after seeing that summer compressed into 119 minutes, I knew I had to read the book.  While I easily connected with each of the four wearers of the Traveling Pants, I was particularly rivetted by Tibby's thread and the heart wrenching storyline that was Bailey. I loved these books so much, that I have acquired them all on CD and have been thru them several times.

So what does all that have to do with 3 Willows? Well, it provides a bit of context for my feelings about it for one.  It's entirely possible that I am simply biased... but I really don't think so.  The original series had a number of problems (particularly with the timelines of the various story arcs) that are easy to let go of because of the engrossing plotlines, the relatable characters, and the underlying friendships that bind the whole thing together. 3 Willows, on the other hand gets no such pass (at least not by me), primarily because the plot lines are less immediate, the characters are less relatable, and the basic premise of the book doesn't realistically work to unite Ama, Jo, and Polly.

Ann comes at 3 Willows differently than she did Sisterhood.  In Sisterhood, the girls had been best friends, practically since birth.  So when they begin to spend their summers apart, they have this deep well of support to draw from.  They share their trials and tribulations through emails, letters, phone calls, and of course, the pants, all of which serves to keep them united even through the separation.  In 3 Willows, however, we start out with the premise that the three girls have drifted apart, so when they spend the summer separated, it doesn't make much sense that they would somehow grow closer.  Each girl deals with her problem entirely on her own, and although there is some communication between the three, it seems far fetched to think that in the end their friendship would grow.

Don't get me wrong, this book isn't all bad, but it's NOT the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  Ann has connected this new series to the old by having the girls attend the same high school as the original Sisterhood. There are some cameo appearances from some of the characters in the original books and I really enjoyed seeing them thru new eyes.

I have listened to a couple of interviews with Ann in which she states that she intends to write more about Ama, Jo, and Polly and while I will likely read them at some point, I won't be waiting with bated breath for their publishing.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Lately, I've been reading a great deal of literature that is categorized by the publisher as "Young Adult", but this is the first book I've read that falls into my pre-conceived notion of what that is.  Before I started reading so much of it, I thought that the category dealt with teenagers and growing up, or at least functioned as a tool to help them do so... sort of a public service announcement or an "After School Special".  Although, I've been rethinking the definition (this would be a great book club discussion topic, Christine), this book is NOT the reason. Please, don't take that as a dis of this book, cuz it certainly isn't meant that way.  "After School Specials" can be very touching and generally have a good message to impart.  Lock and Key is certainly both of those things.

Although she has published a number of books, this is the first Sarah Dessen book I have read.  It won't be the last (in fact, I have another queued in my MP3 player right now) although I must confess that it was not love at first sight. I had to warm up to this book, but thaw, I did. I have a number of criticisms that I'm mostly willing to forgive at this point.  Although set in reality, there's an element of unlikeliness that can easily be picked at. Like many Nora Roberts books, the events in this story COULD happen, but most likely wouldn't happen the way they've been written.

In Lock and Key, 17 year old Ruby is taken in, by her older sister Cora, after being abandoned by her alcoholic mother. Ruby has been forced to rely on herself for the past 10 years (after Cora left for college) and consequently become leary of people in general, as well as fiercely self reliant.

Both a strength and a weakness of this book is its meticulous construction.  For me, it didn't feel as organic as other books I've read, but at the same time it was marvelously well "built".  The "lock and key" theme is used effectively, if not subtley, as a metaphor throughout.  Events portrayed in the book have specific reasons for being there and efficiently facilitate the growth of our protagonist. Sarah is another straight forward writer.  The book is not heavy on prose or intricate description, but the dialogue felt natural and she's good at characterization.

My major knock on this book is the change in pacing. Sarah takes her time developing her characters and getting them from point A to point B, but at the end there is a mad rush to tie things up.  It's like she was limited to a certain word count and suddenly realized she was going to exceed it if she didn't sum things up.

I've seen a couple reviews where people have complained about the language (which i totally missed) and the use of drugs and alcohol.  Personally, I think these are elements that were under utilized given the subject matter of the book, but I guess you should be warned if this kind of thing offends your sensibility.



Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Torn by Amanda Hocking

Nothing is ever as it seems. This is the first line you see when looking at the back of the book. While this book is still rather enjoyable, I feel like that first line couldn't be more wrong. Maybe the major events in this book would be a surprise to younger readers or to people who don't read much, but I feel like you pretty much know what is going to happen. The book starts off with another bang though this time it isn't a flashback.

Something I greatly enjoyed about the book was that our amazing author describes Trylle's history to us in further detail. I like to hear about the history of the worlds that stories take place in. So this series is not so disappointing in that area as say The Hunger Games, is. I love The Hunger Games but it would have been nice to hear more about Panem and the Capitol. So anyway this book is packed full of forbidden romance, questions of duty and honor, and lots and lots of foreseeable plot twists and turns. And that about sums it up so read the book and enjoy because even if it's not a giant mystery it's still a great book.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Switched by Amanda Hocking

Alright. I'm going to try my hand at a review but if it isn't as great as dad's you will have to forgive me because I can't write like that. Anyway this book, Switched by Amanda Hocking, was recommended to me by a friend while I was working at the movies back home. While I ordered it on my kindle, I never actually read more than the first few pages. It was never that I wasn't interested but I only read while I was at work. Anyway Switched is the first book in the Trylle Trilogy. It is only $0.99 for the kindle edition. The other two books, Torn and Ascend, are $2.99 each. So now that I have my side notes out of the way I will begin the actual review.

I will start by saying that though this is not my favorite book, I greatly enjoyed this novel. It starts off with our main character, Wendy Everly. She is a strong-willed 17 year old with an anger management problem. The story starts off with a very good hook in which Wendy's mother attempts to kill Wendy. So from the beginning I was like WTF!!!?!! I mean that was on Wendy's sixth birthday for crying out loud. Anyway I'm only telling you that part cause you can read it on the back of the book. Shortly after Wendy finds out about a world that is very different from her own. This book is a supernatural fantasy. The thing's not the kind of supernatural creature you are used to. you wanna know more read the book. It clocks in at 330 pages so it is a fairly quick read. Anyway that my review. It's short and sweet. The book is good, you should read it. lol tell me in the comments if i need to and/or how to improve my review skill or lack there of.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (First Official Trailer)

I must confess that I only liked these books... not adored... not loved... merely liked.  I read the first (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) several months ago (primarily because of all the hype) and liked it well enough to read the rest.  While I don't think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, I AM very much looking forward to the movie, which is currently slated for release December 21, 2011. As a side note, I think the cover of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song is FANTASTIC.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Of True Blood, Dead Reckoning, and the end of a series

In case you've been living under a rock, a few years ago, HBO launched this new series called True Blood. I don't have HBO, so I didn't watch it.  In fact, I'm not sure I even knew it was out until after the first season aired.  All of a sudden True Blood was EVERYWHERE. It was winning awards, friends were posting about it on Facebook, I was hearing about it on the radio and TV, and the books with the series tie in covers started popping up in supermarkets and book stores all over the place.  I had discovered Urban Fantasy by then, and I was pretty deeply emersed in the likes of Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Jim Butcher. It's a wonder I hadn't heard of Charlaine Harris before all the mania, as all three of those writers (personal favorites, check out my links to the right) have published anthologies with Charlaine.

Well once I became aware of her, it seemed only natural that I check out the latest vampire craze and so I discovered Sookie Stackhouse in the pages of Dead Until Dark (Sookie #1). How to describe Sookie?  I always thought of her as something of a cross between a Southern Belle and trailer trash.  She was a charming, perpetually sunny waitress that was flat broke. Oh! And she was "cursed" with telepathy... sometimes... you know... when it suited the story.  There are a truck load of people that think that Sookie is the height of Urban Fantasy, but I'm not (and never have been) one of them.  Although I wasn't captivated, I did enjoy the books.

First off, I've always been annoyed by the on-again-off-again nature of her "curse", particularly in that first book where it was rediculous to think that she wouldn't have spotted the bad guy WAY before she eventually did.  The problem with giving your character the "infirmity" of being plagued by the thoughts of others is that a person can't choose to not think about a particular thing once it's been suggested to them.

If you don't believe me, try it.  Go ahead, try not to think about... baseball, for instance.  Right.  See the second you read the word "baseball" all kinds of thoughts and associations popped into your head, you had instant understanding of the game associated with the word.  It's worse if your sitting there thinking "don't think about baseball, don't think about baseball."  To compensate, Charlaine began introducing all sorts of beings that were more difficult and/or impossible for Sookie to "hear".  Anyway, though this annoyed me, I suspended disbelief and just rolled with it. I mean, hey, this IS a world populated with vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc. etc.

My second difficulties is simply in the way Charlaine writes, at least in the Sookie books. The flow goes something like this... At the beginning of pretty much every book, something major happens, "the hook".  We then meander haphazardly along without much happening, "the filler" (although actual exposition happens here, I refuse to refer to it that way because so much of this portion of her books does little to nothing in advancing the plot).  Finally, lots of things start happening "the climax" but the book ends without resolving everything "the cliffhanger".  At the end of a Sookie book, I am ALWAYS eager to jump right into the next so I can find out what happend. Obviously, the pacing has worked for Charlaine, these books are bestsellers afterall, but I don't really care for it.

Now for this next issue, it is important that I explain that I picked up Season One & Two of True Blood after finishing Dead in the Family (Sookie #10). After watching them, especially Season One, my appreciation for the books rose considerably and NOT because I hated the show. On the contrary, I LOVED it. The written series took on a much darker tone after experiencing the imagery (I'm somewhat concerned about what this says regarding my darker nature...<shrug>... it is what it is, I guess).  While there are a lot of differences between Dead Until Dark and True Blood Season One, I feel like Allan Ball did an excellent job of relaying the story.

The real difference to me comes from point of view.  In the books, we are in Sookie's head. Consequently, her upbeat nature takes alot of the edge off the events for me.  She doesn't really dwell on them, so neither do I.  On the other hand, the show is necessarily third person.  When stuff happens, you see it... there's no filter.  These books are VERY violent and sexually charged, but I never really noticed that until I actually SAW it.

I am about half way into Season Three (Blue Ray edition) and am enjoying it less than Season One, but more than Season Two. The series has steadily distanced itself from the books and although you can still make out the bones of Club Dead (Sookie #3) it really only bares a cursery resemblance to the source material.  Sometimes I'm okay with this, and sometimes I'm not.  I watched an episode last night that was particularly jarring.  My continued enjoyment will depend heavily on how well I manage to separate the two works in my head.

So I finished Dead Reckoning (Sookie #11) the other day. This was the first Sookie book I had to wait the full year for (I finished Dead and Gone (Sookie #9) a couple months before Dead in the Family came out).  It has received pretty mediocre reviews so far and I won't be upsetting that trend.  The major gripe people seem to have are the continuity issues and the out of character behavior of the players. 

Personally, I can't really speak to the continuity issues.  As I said above, this is not my favorite series.  I don't re-read them.  While I remember generally what has taken place, alot of stuff has happened in 11 books and alot of characters have been introduced.  I found myself recognizing names (like Kennedy) without remembering exactly who they were and I certainly didn't remember the details well enought to register the inconsistancies, so this didn't hurt my enjoyment of the book as much as it will if you are a more devoted fan.

As far as characterization goes, I kind of get this, but not really.  If you compare Sookie of Book 11 to Sookie of Book 1, they are worlds apart.  But Sookie has been subjected to a hell of alot in the intevening time so I get the differences.  There was quite a bit of jabbering about her calous nature in how she handles the major plot thread in this one and the hypocrisy of her reaction in the aftermath. I can't truly discuss this without spoilers, but honestly I have to say that anyone who thinks Sookie was acting the hypocrite is missing some subtle but major distinctions between how she felt and what she believed needed doing.

Most of this I lay at the feet of Allan Ball and the direction of the TV show.  Many feel that Charlaine no longer cares about Sookie (a possibility given recent announcements, see below) and/or she has been influenced by how her characters have been spun.  I kind of see this too.  There have been definite moments in the last couple of books that I have thought... okay, that was written for HBO.  Reinforcing this point... I just watched an episode in Season Three where Pam makes a statement to Lafayette that is used by Pam verbatim in Book 11 in a different context.  I don't know if the episode aired prior to that line being written, but a coincidence it was not.

Getting back to the book, there are some pretty big reveals in this one with regard to Sookie's origins and past.  Some readers are calling them revisionist.  The series is taking another major turn which will likely be its last as it is now in the home stretch.  Apparently, Charlaine has decided to call it quits on Sookie.  She has stated that the series WILL end when her contract does on book thirteen.  I'll be sad when the last one publishes in two years, but far from devestated. I have enjoyed the ride, but never been truly transported. Now the question is, how strong are True Blood's legs.  As it stands, I'll be more disappointed when it ends... maybe.  There is a strange synergy between the books and the show for me, so we'll just have to see.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Review of Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Wow.  Just, wow. It's hard to decide exactly what I should say about this book.  Let me start by noting, Gayle Forman is a professional writer.

"Of course she is," you say, "She's a New York Times bestselling author."

That's not what I meant tho.  No, Gayle, like my Pulitzer Prize winning Uncle Joey (I'm not name dropping here, this reference will make more since in a sec), was a journalist before publishing the two bestsellers that are If I Stay and Where She Went (Hear that Uncle Joey? BESTSELLERS!), and it shows, not only in the way she turns a phrase, but in her ability to trim the fat. Like its predecessor, Where She Went is not a thick book (the hardcover addition is a mere 208 pages) and it does not need to be (the irony being that I didn't WANT it to end).  How Gayle is able to craft such intricate characters, convey such heart wrenching emotion, and tell such a gripping tale with so few words is beyond me.  The simple fact is, she does it.

I read a creative writing piece, by my Uncle Joey, several years ago.  In fact, it's been so long that I don't really remember the story. I remember something about a drug dealer and a fire in a condo but little else, EXCEPT how impressed I was by his ability to convey emotion and atmosphere with so few words.  I have to wonder if this ability is a learned skill or something inate in really good writers (Yeah, I think yer a really good writer, Uncle Joey, so does everyone else who's ever read anything you've written... now write a novel already!). Obviously, I can't do it as I've now written this much without really saying anything about the book, so I suppose I should stop dallying and get to it.

Where She Went is complete in and of itself, you do not have to read If I Stay in order to read and understand it (although I recommend that you do). Moreover, you could probably read it without even knowing a book came before it.  In this way it is more a companion piece than a sequel.  While I believe Where She Went would not have the SAME emotional impact if you haven't read If I Stay, Gayle does not lean on the foregoing material, so I doubt that you would experience a feeling that you have somehow missed something.  That's something you'll rarely hear me say about books in a series.  One of my pet peaves is reading books out of order (grrrr publisher's need to be more clear about where a book falls in a series).

Told from Adam Wild's point of view, Where She Went tells the story of how Adam dealt with the tragic events of If I Stay. I'm being deliberately vague here, and I'll say no more about the story because I don't want to spoil anything in either book for you.  I will caution you that if you look at the Amazon reviews of these books (particularly this one) before reading them, you are likely to get more information than you bargain for.

This book is blessed with (or suffers from, depending on your taste) the same narrative style present in If I Stay.  It heavily uses flashbacks to provide the intricate details of the characters' lives.  Most complaints that I have read about this book involve the narrative style.  Some people feel flashbacks kill the momentum of the story.  While I personally disagree, I do understand where they are coming from.

I really wish these two books had been selected by our book club for discussion, because I have A LOT to say about both of them.  The material is deep, character choices are tough, and the writing mechanics are fascinating. So if anyone out there reads this and wants to discuss please hit me up.  You can use the comments below, but if you do please be conscious of spoilers.  Better would be to email me. One of my future projects for this blog is to setup a discussion board for books like this.

In closing I'd just like to say thanks to Gayle for these gems.  I read a lot and I generally like whatever I read, but some books really get in my head.  I don't think I've been this swept up by a writer since Orson Scott Card's, Ender's Game.


The Hunger Games

Though this a book that has been read by almost everyone in book club already, Kayla and I are reading it together because she hasn't read it yet. I was thinking that maybe we could chat about the book when we are done so we can all take part in discussing this amazing work. Of course this is not something any of you have to do just a suggestion I am making for those of us that would like to discuss. Anyway let me know what you think :) if no im sure kayla will post a review when she is done love you guys

Thursday, June 2, 2011

If I Stay by Gayle Foreman

In case you didn't notice, USA today says "this will appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight."  While I myself AM a fan of Twilight (you haters out there can just deal) I don't like this quote being attached to this book.  "Why," you ask? Well, let me tell you.   It's because this book is NOTHING like Twilight.  There are no sparkly vampires, no beef cake werewolves, and tho there is certainly a "spirit"ual element to the book, I would hardly categorize it as supernatural in the least. In fact, this particular peace of fiction is not far off of what you hear from true life, near death experiences.  I have friends who wouldn't be caught (un)dead reading Twilight (sorry, I just can't resist the puns) and a daughter who did so only over a lost bet.  If the USA Today blurb prevented any of them from reading this book it would be a real tragedy. If I Stay manages a gravity Twilight can't hope to approach.

If I Stay is the story of 17 year old Mia Hall who is involved in a horrific car accident which instantly claims the lives of her parents and leaves both her and her 8 year old brother on the brink of death.  Mia finds herself separated from her body, and faced with the choice that inspired the title of the book. As she wanders the hospital where doctors fight desperately to keep her body alive, Mia's life and relations are revealed to the reader through brilliantly executed flashbacks.

Some may not care for this method of story telling as it requires a degree of trust in the writer and the patience to let the story unfold in its own time.  Names of characters are frequently introduced without relational references making the reader wait to understand that character's significance.  While it may sound awkward, I found it terribly effective and surprisingly subtle for a book that is considered "Young Adult" literature.

If I Stay draws comparison to The Lovely Bones. I've seen the movie, but not yet read the book, so I don't know how the two stack up, but it might be helpful to some of you reading this review.

The paperback weighs in at a sleek 272 pages without feeling rushed in any way.  It is a quick but powerful read.  Gayle's deft handling of this emotionally charged story never felt heavy handed, though I cried at several points in the book (yeah, yeah... I'm hyper-senstive... sue me).

The publisher has recommended this book for readers 14+ and I would definitely let my 14 year old daughter read it (in fact she has done so), but I feel obligated to caution parents.  There's some strong language in this book.  Also, Mia's parents were "free spirits" which gives rise to some events that more conservative readers might find objectionable.  These elements are not pervasive, but the majority of negative reviews at Amazon (there aren't many) cite these as factors.

How much did I like If I Stay?  Gobbs.  As with many of the books I "read", I listened to this one (Kirsten Potter gave a fantastic reading) during my daily commute to New Orleans.  I was so absorbed, it seems that those drives went by in a flash and it's a wonder I didn't find myself in a horrible car crash as I don't remember the trips at all. 

I originally intended to listen to Charlaine Harris' Dead Reckoning next, but after discovering that Gayle has published the follow up Where She Went,  I was compelled to check and see if my library had a copy of the unabridged audiobook.  Low and behold it did, so Sookie has been pushed back a bit. You can expect a review in the next couple of days. 

In the mean time if you have any questions or comments regarding If I Stay, please feel free to post (avoid spoilers, please, or at the very least mark them as such so people can avoid them if they so choose).