Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: February 12, 2013 (English edition)
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
     Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
     Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator,  The Dinner  promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

My Review:

If I had to name the book that was recommended to me the most times in the last year, it would be The Dinner.  I think I have the Wall Street Journal to thank for that, since it billed the novel as "the European Gone Girl" several months back.  (Must I remind you for the eleventy billionth time how I feel about Gone Girl?)

Okay, I knew I had to give this one a try.  I put it on my 30 Before 35 list to make sure it happened relatively soon, and here we are.

First of all, even though the two novels are vastly different in subject, I can see why the WSJ made the comparison with Gillian Flynn's novel.  It's more a comparison of themes rather than actual plot points.  The most basic way to put it is that there is a complete lack of moral compass in both novels.  In The Dinner, Paul (our protagonist) introduces us to his three fellow diners, as well as the terrible actions of their children that prompted this meeting in a hoity-toity Amsterdam restaurant.  These specifics are unveiled very slowly--so slowly, in fact, that after a while I started to get bored.  I didn't see where the hook was, the "thing" that was going to make this novel grip me and stick around in my brain for a while, because I felt like I had all the details and could see where they would eventually take me.

However, the catch is that none of the characters are quite as they originally seem.  Yes, you get a lot of the details about the 4 diners in the first half of the novel--enough detail to make assumptions about how they will later act.  But you're going to assume these things thinking that they are capable of rational action...when in fact, they often are not.  Nope, I'd say these four are quite psychologically effed up, for lack of a better phrase (two of them in particular).  And that leads to a whole series of events that I didn't see coming.  That's the hook.

By the time I reached the end, I had mixed feelings.  I like how Koch took the four diners, introduced them quite slowly and methodically in the beginning, and then suddenly started revealing details that changed my entire perception of them by the end.  That's not easy to do, especially in a novel that is relatively short in length--and especially when one of the four characters in question is narrating the story.  Character development = A++.

However, the downside for me was that by the end, I felt like the choices made by these characters were almost too unbelievable.  I know a lot of Gone Girl critics that panned Flynn's novel for that reason, though I disagreed with that assessment in that case.  However, in The Dinner, that was precisely my issue.  I understand what Koch was trying to illustrate--the idea that we will go to great (maybe borderline insane) lengths to protect our families--but it was a little too out there for me at times.  Not to mention that some of the specifics were a bit far-fetched (ex: there's an important detail that's based around an "amniotic fluid test" for mental disabilities that I'm fairly sure does not exist). I left Gone Girl feeling like it was a situation that could actually happen--I didn't leave The Dinner feeling the same way.

My final assessment: as literary fiction, The Dinner is an intriguing piece of work.  The pacing and character development is spot-on, and for that reason I'd say it's definitely worth the read.  However, on the "psychological thriller" side of things, it didn't completely grab me.  And for this, I blame the Wall Street Journal--because is it really fair to compare two authors' work so directly?

Have you read The Dinner?   Do you think it's fair to compare it to Gone Girl?   And if you haven't read it yet, how do you feel when a novel is closely compared to another well-known one...do you think it creates good hype, or leaves too much room for overly high expectations?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: We Are Water by Wally Lamb

Title:  We Are Water
Author: Wally Lamb
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

In middle age, Anna Oh-wife, mother, outsider artist-has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Anna has fallen in love with Vivica, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success.

Anna and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family's hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora's Box of toxic secrets-dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives.

We Are Water is an intricate and layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs-nonconformist Annie; her ex-husband, Orion, a psychologist; Ariane, the do-gooder daughter, and her twin, Andrew, the rebellious only son; and free-spirited Marissa, the youngest Oh. Set in New England and New York during the first years of the Obama presidency, it is also a portrait of modern America, exploring issues of class, changing social mores, the legacy of racial violence, and the nature of creativity and art.

My Review:

I am a sucker for novels with family drama, unexpected twists, and a good backstory.  Lucky for me, that sums up pretty much any fiction that Wally Lamb has written.  If you've read my review of Lamb's The Hour I First Believed , you know that I've adored many of his past novels.  And, I'm a tiny bit biased because he sets his books in the exact area of Connecticut where I grew up (more on that later).  However, in The Hour I First Believed, I noticed that he used the same structural format as he did in I Know This Much Is True, and I was worried that he was tending toward the formulaic.  In his new one, We Are Water, I can say without a doubt that that is no longer a worry of mine.

The novel begins from a somewhat confusing perspective--that of Mr. Agnello, a former bigwig in the art world, who is retelling the story of Josephus Jones, a deceased artist that he once took great interest in.  I wasn't sure how this would relate to the central plot of the novel, but knowing that Lamb often weaves in an interesting historical backstory, I took it all in.  Sure enough, this early chapter came back to the main story again and again, adding to the complexity of the underlying messages in the plot.

Once the rest of the novel gets underway, We Are Water is told from many perspectives.  The primary ones, at first, are those of Annie and Orion Oh--a recently divorced couple with three kids, and Annie is about to marry the woman that she left Orion for.  In the beginning, it seems that this is simply a story of a marriage gone wrong, and you're witnessing how the family is trying to pick up the pieces.  However, it quickly becomes much more than that.  As we get the POV of other characters (the three children, Annie's cousin, and even an unknown neighbor from years past), you quickly begin to realize that this story is much more than what it seems on the surface.  Family secrets come to light, and they're put in an interesting historical context next to the sidestory of Josephus Jones.

I can't say enough how much I loved the alternating POVs in this novel.  Each voice is wonderfully unique, and provides important new elements to the development of the plot.  Plus, this structure allows the reader to more fully jump into the laundry list of issues that are tackled in the novel: gay marriage, infidelity, incest, child abuse (yes, a lot of heavy stuff here).  By the end, my head was spinning with all that I'd taken in in under 600 pages!  But I didn't feel like any of these issues were given short shrift.  This is a novel that takes on a lot, and does it well.

A necessary note for the "local" readers: southeastern Connecticut references abound!  I am still convinced that the fictional Three Rivers is mostly meant to be Norwich (and it was hard not to think that Orion Oh worked for UConn), but Lamb also peppers the novel with references to other local towns/businesses: Groton, New London, Electric Boat, the casinos, and most importantly, Fitch High School (okay, it was a passing one-line reference, but as my alma mater, I got very excited).  I always love the local flavor that Lamb adds to his work, because he really does such a great job making that area come to life.

We Are Water gets a resounding YAY from me.  The characters alone are a driving force behind its awesomeness, but the issues they face (and the twists that follow) make it truly great.  If you want an issues-driven novel that has a flair for the unexpected, this one is for you.  And Lamb remains on my favorite authors list for sure!

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Wally Lamb on his Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

GIVEAWAY and Book Review: The Stranger You Know by Andrea Kane

Title:  The Stranger You Know
Author: Andrea Kane
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It begins with a chilling phone call to Casey Woods. And ends with another girl dead.

College-age girls with long red hair. Brutally murdered, they're posed like victims in a film noir. Each crime scene is eerily similar to the twisted fantasy of a serial offender now serving thirty years to life-a criminal brought to justice with the help of Forensic Instincts.

Call. Kill. Repeat. But the similarities are more than one psychopath's desire to outdo another. As more red-headed victims are added to the body count, it becomes clear that each one has been chosen because of a unique connection to Casey-a connection that grows closer and closer to her.

Now the Forensic Instincts team must race to uncover the identity of a serial killer before his ever-tightening circle of death closes in on Casey as the ultimate target. As the stalker methodically moves in on his prey, his actions make one thing clear: he knows everything about Casey. And Casey realizes that this psychopathic won't stop until he makes sure she's dead.

My Review:

How could I say no to reviewing The Stranger You Know?  IT'S A BOOK ABOUT REDHEADS!  Okay, redheads getting brutally raped and murdered, yes...but still.  The poor redheads.  I had to read it for them.

The Stranger You Know is the third installment of Andrea Kane's Forensic Instincts series.  Normally, I am very anti-reading-out-of-sequence (I have not read the first two books), but in this case, I was assured that the novel can stand alone.  Given the intriguing subject matter, I decided it was worth the risk.

In the end, I have to say I was a bit disappointed.  I tried so hard to love this book--really I did!  But there were a lot of plot elements that, when put together, gave me an overall feeling of discouragement by the time I reached the conclusion.  The first issue for me was that this book was difficult to get into without having read the other two.  I spent the first third of the novel trying to put together everyone's backstories, and even with the details that were provided, I was left feeling that the characters were underdeveloped.  This was certainly because I was not privy to the events that had happened in the first two novels.  So, my first recommendation would be to start with Book 1 if you're going to jump into the Forensic Instincts world.

My second issue was the lack of subtlety and surprise.  As a thriller/mystery, I expected more of this.  However, there was never much question as to who the killer was and who their next victim would be--I never felt startled by any "big" revelations.  Even the ending felt obvious, quick, and unsuspenseful.

Related to this was the fact that there are way too many convenient elements to this plot.  This is especially highlighted by the characters of Claire and Ryan.  Claire is a psychic of sorts, and every time a new victim was murdered, she would immediately get a psychic vision that alerted her to the crime.  How convenient for the team!  Ryan, on the other hand, is a techno-wizard who is able to immediately throw together a technological device that gets the FI team out of every tough spot they end up in.  Need to intercept phone calls from an unknown cell phone?  Done.  Need to trace phone calls more quickly than the police department?  Done.  Need a distracting mechanical mouse?  (Yeah.)  Done.  Between Claire and Ryan, I felt like the rest of the team never had to do any work, because they conveniently were able to solve so many major issues with their so-good-its-not-quite-believable abilities.

Ugh, I am being a Debbie Downer here.  Some good stuff to highlight: the plot is fast-paced, so even if it did lack suspense for me, it was never slow or boring.  The crimes being committed are truly horrifying, so if you're looking for a thriller that chills you, it will surely do that.  And if you enjoy a lot of the TV crime series (SVU, Criminal Minds, etc), my guess is that you will like the banter and comraderie amongst the FI team members.

I know, I've been really hard on this one.  I will say that I've seen many other wonderful reviews for this book, so perhaps we chalk it up to "this just wasn't for me".  I also strongly suspect that I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the first two in the series beforehand.  But, what's done is done, and in the end, The Stranger You Know did not blow me away.

Despite all that, as always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Andrea Kane on her website.

Just because this one isn't going on my favorites list, doesn't mean it won't be on yours.  TLC Book Tours is offering a copy of The Stranger You Know to one lucky reader of my blog.  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter!  Entries are for US/Canada residents only and contest closes 10/29.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (#SleepAlong!)

Title: Doctor Sleep
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of  The Shining  and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

My Review:

As you all know, I took part in the Doctor Sleep Read-Along hosted by Tif Talks Books and Charlene at Cheap Thrills.  You can read my first two check-in posts HERE and HERE (caution, some spoilers).  However, now that I've finished the entire novel, this is a SPOILER-FREE full review to recap my thoughts.

So, a sequel to The Shining.  At first, I must say I was unsure that it could be done well.  King admits as much in his note at the end of this novel, saying that The Shining is one of the top books fans mention to him when naming a list of his novels that scared the bejesus out of them.  How do you top that?

I wouldn't necessarily say that King "topped" The Shining here.  Doctor Sleep is not nearly as horrifying, in my opinion, and if that's your basis of comparison, you may be disappointed.  However, what King has managed to do is create an entirely different storyline that still brings in enough overlapping detail from The Shining to make the novels compliment each other perfectly.  From that perspective, I think King nailed this sequel.  He doesn't try to bring Danny Torrance right back into the world of the Overlook--I think that's an effort that would have bored fans and led to too much direct comparison to the first novel.  Instead, we get to see how the Overlook experience has changed Danny over time, while also bringing in an entirely new cast of characters.

And speaking of that cast of characters, I was captivated by them--especially the members of the True Knot, King's "bad guys" in this story.  Not quite humans, not quite vampires, they travel the country in RVs and hunt down little kids who have "the shining".  Creepy, eh?  Other than the interest I had in their particular brand of scariness, I also love how King took such an innocuous group of people (middle-aged RVers that travel the country relatively unnoticed) and turned them into this menacing force.  I'll surely never be looking at a Winnebago the same way again.  Muahahaha.

A few notes on the reading experience as a whole: the prologue of the book moves a bit slowly, and I know this has turned a few people off.  For me, I do think it took me a while to dive in at the beginning, but being familiar with King's brand of slow pacing, I hung in there.  By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked, and by the end of the novel, you'll see exactly why the prologue was important.

I was a little surprised that I predicted one of the biggest "twists" in the novel well before it was revealed.  I mentioned in one of my Sleep-Along check-ins that I had a prediction about a family relationship between two of the characters, and it ended up being spot-on.  Unusual for me (I NEVER see twists coming), but especially in a King novel.  I wouldn't say that this ruined anything in the book for me, but the amazement that comes with a big reveal was lost on me--something that I think other readers really enjoyed.  Ah well.  I guess I need to pay less attention next time?

One of the Sleep-Along questions this week was whether we feel it is necessary to read The Shining before reading Doctor Sleep.  Even though the storylines are so different, I would answer this with a resounding YES.  There are many small details that overlap between the two stories--for example, a quote during a job interview that Danny goes to is taken directly from a quote his father had during a job interview in The Shining.  Another example: Abra (the young girl in Doctor Sleep) has the same nervous tic that Jack Torrance had in The Shining.  Plus, the ending weaves in some very important information from Danny's childhood experience at the Overlook (details from the book, not the movie--so don't just substitute the Kubrick film!).  Is it imperative that you know these details before reading Doctor Sleep?  I suppose not...but your reading experience will not be nearly so fulfilling if you don't have this background beforehand.  If you want the full Doctor Sleep experience, get thee to The Shining first!

Final thoughts?  Doctor Sleep is the perfect compliment to its predecessor.  I love that it didn't try to repeat The Shining, but instead added on to it in a way that made many of the relationships from the first book (especially the one between Danny and his father) that much fuller.  It has a great blend of creeptastic-ness and suspense, plus a new world of characters that leaves you with more than enough to sink your teeth into.

Ever wonder what happened to little Danny Torrance?  Then you MUST read Doctor Sleep and find out.

Have you read Doctor Sleep?  How do you feel it compares to The Shining?  If you haven't read it but you did read The Shining, do you have any interest in the sequel...or do you want to leave little Danny as he was at the Overlook?  :)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Going dark!

Hello readers!  Just an FYI that I will be MIA for a few days...because my little (not-so-little anymore) brother is getting married this weekend!
Visiting little bro on the job this past June.  And to think I used to push him around and steal his Halloween candy.
We are off to Cape May, NJ to celebrate the big day with him and his beautiful bride (seriously, my brother is marrying a girl who could runway model, it's craziness).  I am super excited for them, as well as for Small Fry's big debut in the ring bearer role!  :)

I hope everyone has a great weekend of reading.  We have about 8 hours of driving to do each way, so I'm hoping to finish up the end of Doctor Sleep, and/or make some progress in Wally Lamb's We Are Water.  Both reads are fantastic so far!

What will YOU be reading while I'm away?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A book-related funny for your Wednesday.

True confession, readers: in some ways, I am really, really naive.

I mentioned a while back on Twitter that my idea of a perfect birthday gift would be one whole day of uninterrupted reading.  When I first thought of the idea last spring, I started brainstorming ways to make it happen.  With my husband and Small Fry at home, I knew I wouldn't be able to have my read-fest in residence.  I would get too distracted with their fun and games, plus I am very susceptible to "oh, after I finish this chapter I should probably do at least a few of those dishes" when I'm around the house.

I was at work one day, mulling this over, and I decided the best thing would be for me to get a hotel room.  Just for the day, no overnight.  That way, I could bring my books to the room, lock myself in, and read quietly for hours at a time with NO distractions.

Sounds awesome, right?

I started doing some Google searching.  For daytime hotel bookings.

After clicking on just a few links, I realized...that this was a horrible idea.  And that my office was likely going to cut off my internet access if I kept doing searches like this one.

If you're naive like me, let me elaborate: there is really only one reason why people book hotels during the day.  And it has nothing to do with fine literature.  It has LOTS to do with illicit affairs, though.

When I got home that day, I confessed my Googling blunder to my dear husband.  Who subsequently laughed his arse off, and has not let me forget about it since.  ("Honey, can I have a free hour to read this weekend?"  "Sure, maybe you could look into getting a hotel room for a few hours.  I could call a couple johns for you too.")


Monday, October 14, 2013

#SleepAlong check-in THE SECOND!

Happy Monday, all!  Today is the second discussion day for the #SleepAlong, the Doctor Sleep read-along hosted by Cheap Thrills and Tif Talks Books.
**Just a warning: all Sleep Along posts are likely to contain spoilers for both The Shining and whatever part of Doctor Sleep we're reading up to that week!**

This week we read up to the end of Chapter 13, around page 360.  Here's the discussion questions:

In Part One, we get to know Abra mostly through her parents or other adults. In Part Two, we get to know her much better. What do you think of this extraordinary girl?

Stephen King obvious has a knack for writing excellent child/adolescent characters.  I think Abra is no exception.  She had to be a challenge for him to write, given her age, because even if she didn't "shine", she'd still be at a point in her life where she's showing more maturity, but is still really a child.  And with the shining mixed in, that makes her development even more complex.  I think (so far) he's reached a great balance between her childlike and more adultlike features.

I am immensely interested in why Abra has the same type of "tic" that Jack Torrance did in The Shining!  She rubs her mouth as a calming technique, something that Jack often did to the point of making himself bleed.  I have a very faint prediction about a family connection between Abra and Dan (due to the fact that Abra's grandfather is unknown), but we'll see if that pans out.  If it does, it could explain a lot of things...

Do you have any speculations on what the True Knot are? We know how they sustain themselves, and we've seen the way they die. They're not, as Abra calls them, "ghostie people," but they aren't really human either.

I don't know if I have a specific category to place them in.  My guess is that they are meant to be a villain all their own, just like vampires, werewolves, etc. are all in their own "species".  I do wonder if the True Knot is the only band of people like themselves...are there others out there?  Or is Rose's group the entire population?  I do like the fact that they are extremely flawed.  I think about books like Salem's Lot, where the vampires really ran the show all the way up until the very end.  Here, we see the True Knot tripping up quite a bit, which adds a lot of unpredictability to the plot.

I also want to know how they are connected to the spirits in the Overlook--there HAS to be some relation there.

Considering that Chapter Thirteen is one of the most intense in the book so far, did anyone actually stop reading here? Or could you not wait to race on ahead?

I did stop reading there!  Mostly because I just finished it this morning and have not had time to go on.  Haha.  But I am looking forward to jumping back in ASAP!

How's Doctor Sleep treating you so far, readers?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

My last word on World War Z

Back in 2011 (pre-blogging years), I read World War Z by Max Brooks.  And it was the first step toward my total infatuation with zombie novels.

If you've never read WWZ, essentially it is written from Brooks' (fictional) perspective as if the zombie apocalypse has already happened, and now he is traveling around the world to get the testimonies of survivors.  Why did I 5-star it?  The novel has a tone that is so rational and well-detailed, I couldn't help but find myself thinking I was reading nonfiction at various points in the book.  Brooks creates a post-zombie world so chillingly realistic, you will find yourself sleeping with a baseball bat under your pillow by day's end.

After finishing the book, rumors were just ramping up that it was going to be made into a movie.  I was SO EXCITED.  How could anyone screw this up?  Zombies were MADE for Hollywood!

Then I saw the first trailer.

And wailed despondently.

For a while, I said I wasn't even going to watch the Brad Pitt movie adaptation.  I could tell from the trailer that it was a total abortion of the book's premise, and didn't want to bear witness to such an atrocity.  However, as with most things that I say I will never do (except read 50 Shades of Gray, I STILL WILL NEVER DO THAT), I watched it.  Last week, in fact.

So here's my last word on World War Z: book vs. movie.

In the movie, Brad Pitt stars as a former UN employee who is called upon to help stop the zombie apocalypse soon after it begins.  So yes, the very premise is different: we are in the midst of the zombie attack, not reporting from after it.  And Pitt's character is not wandering the world, gathering witness testimony, but instead is jet-setting around the world trying to find a cure for the zombie disease before humankind dies off.  There's lots of zombies and blood and death and screaming and zombies.  And more zombies.  (They're actually pretty terrifying zoms, I'll say that.)

In the end, my feeling was this: if I knew nothing about the book, the movie would have been pretty decent.  The zombies were scary, the action was good, the ending was kind of cool and I didn't see it coming.  Compared to the book: it's a totally different world, and my initial reaction was to be mad about that.  I can't stand when an author's work is obliterated after Hollywood buys the rights.

HOWEVER.  I can at least see why Hollywood made the changes that it did.  Having the movie take place during the apocalypse (vs after) is an obvious plus for the audience, because it's an excuse for non-stop action (vs flashbacks to the action, which is what the Brooks novel would require).  And making Pitt's character a bit more invested in the plot was necessary for a big-screen version as well.  They did at least attempt to have some vague connection to the novel, in the sense that Pitt's character travels the world and gets a lot of different perspectives on the outbreak (just for an entirely different reason than the novel did).  I appreciated the common theme there.

Final verdict?  As a movie, World War Z kept me entertained.  If I hadn't read the book, I would have loved it.  BUT, I did read the book, and even though I understand why Hollywood made the changes that it did, I still can't completely get over the fact that Brooks' work was basically dismantled.  (Are you kidding?  I can't handle it when the character's hair color is different in a movie vs a book, let alone the entire plot premise.)

Readers, what say you?  Have you both read and watched World War Z?  What did you think?  If you've only read it (or watched it), will you be seeking out the other version to compare?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Book Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books
Publication Date: September 26, 2006
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart 
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg 
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle 
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

My Review:

My first "30 before 35" book already!  I knew that giving myself a reading challenge would push me to finally get to a few of those novels...

Remember how hard I crushed on Gone Girl last year?  If I love something enough to describe it with an atomic bomb GIF, it must be pretty okay.  And it made me want to read everything Flynn had written prior.  But, as per usual, I got distracted and never managed to pick up one of her other novels...until now.

Sharp Objects is Flynn's first book, and I went into it with high expectations.  How could I not, after loving Gone Girl so much?  This would normally be a recipe for disaster (my high reading expectations are rarely met), but in this case, Flynn delivered yet again.

The description of this novel made me feel like this was going to be your average "whodunit".  Camille isn't a cop, but as a roving reporter and native to the town where these murders of young girls are occurring, she's in a unique position to uncover the truth.  However, I quickly realized that this was more than an average mystery.  In the first quarter of the book, I found myself feeling...generally unsettled.  You are nagged by the constant sense that there is something "off" about the entire scenario.  Something's not right with the town...with Camille's family...and with Camille herself.  Flynn has a way of weaving in tiny details and snippets of conversation to give you this foreboding sensation, even as the action of the plot seems to be  moving along otherwise normally.  This is one of the things I absolutely adore about her writing.  She has a way of creating feelings of shock, dread, and horror in a very subtle way, something that I think a lot of thriller writers fail to do.  They go for the gusto with big plot reveals and grotesque murder scenes, whereas Flynn's pull comes from the mounting sense of unease that unfolds in the narrative.

After reading Gone Girl, I went into Sharp Objects expecting a killer ending.  I was not disappointed!  Just when I thought the final loose end had been tied up, Flynn turned the conclusion on its head and left me with an awful lot to process.  I ended up re-reading the last 5% of the book just to make sure I caught up with everything that happened.  I was happy for this, because up until that last part, I felt like the ending had come together a little too...clinically, for lack of a better word.  But the final twist gave it a macabre finale that fit the rest of the novel perfectly.

You guys, I almost don't want to read Gillian Flynn's other novel, Dark Places.  Because that will mean I read all of her stuff and I have to wait around for her to write something else.  GAH.  I loved this book.  LOVED.

Have you read Flynn's two lesser-known novels?  What did you think?

Monday, October 7, 2013

#SleepAlong check-in THE FIRST!

Happy Monday, all!  Today is the first discussion day for the #SleepAlong, the Doctor Sleep read-along hosted by Cheap Thrills and Tif Talks Books.
**Just a warning: all Sleep Along posts are likely to contain spoilers for both The Shining and whatever part of Doctor Sleep we're reading up to that week!**

This week we read up to the end of Part One, around page 195.  Here's the discussion questions:

Doctor Sleep picks up not long after the closing of The Shining. For those who have recently read The Shining, do you think it proves to be helpful in diving into the sequel? If you have not recently read The Shining, do you feel you are missing out on some of the details?

I love the fact that Doctor Sleep picks up when Danny is still a boy, even if it is only for a few chapters.  I recently re-read The Shining , and this continuation really makes Doctor Sleep feel like a true sequel.  I think it would be very disorienting to go from Danny at 6 years old in The Shining, immediately to Danny as an adult in Doctor Sleep.  The introductory part of Doctor Sleep is, admittedly, a little slow-going plot-wise, but I think a necessarily element in bridging the two novels.

Plus, I love that I did a re-read so recently!!  There is an overlap in some small details that I would have never picked up if I hadn't had the first novel fresh in my mind.  (Ex. when Dan is in a job interview as an adult and thinks of his interviewer as an "officious pr*ck"...definite overlap from Jack Torrance's job interview at the Overlook.)

Danny has now become Dan. In Part One, we watch his transformations from learning to live with the horrors of The Overlook to succumbing to the drink (like his father) to his road to sobriety and earning the title of Doctor Sleep. What do you think about the journey King has taken Dan on thus far?

It was, honestly, a little hard for me to stomach all of these changes at first.  Danny changes to Dan quite rapidly between the introduction and Part One, and it's a little hard to see how he jumped from innocent pre-teen to drunken 28-year-old so quickly in the novel.  Part of me almost wishes there was a little bit more detail about his teen/early-20's years to provide better transition.  (Ex. I would love to know what a struggle he must have gone through when he first started in with alcohol, especially knowing how horrible it was for his father.)

However, with Part One ending at a time when Dan is sober (and has been for quite some time), I am very curious about how his battle with alcoholism will escalate when he encounters the True Knot...

We are also introduced to the True Knot in this first section. What do you think about this group?

Terrifying and fascinating all at once!  I didn't know what to think of them at first, but by the end of Part One, I was sufficiently freaked out by their activities and their very premise.  It's obvious how their story is going to clash with Dan and Abra, now it's just a matter of waiting for the showdown.  I also enjoy how King has chosen a seemingly innocent group of people that we've all encountered (RV-ers) and made them into eternal child-killers.  GAH.

Overall, what do you think so far? Have you completely fallen into the story? Or, has it taken a bit longer to get back into the life of little Danny Torrance?

At first, I was slow to get into the novel.  As I mentioned, the intro didn't pack a lot of punch for me, even if it did provide good background, so I wasn't feeling completely absorbed as I started Part One.  However, as I got a better sense of Abra's story and the intentions of the True Knot, I found myself getting sucked in.  Can't wait to see what else is in store.

How about you, readers?  Anyone else have thoughts on Doctor Sleep so far?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Moved In! September 2013 in Review

Another busy month around these parts!  Obviously my posting frequency has gone down lately, but I am happy to report that we are fully moved into our new home...PHEW!!  We are still busy with unpacking the last few boxes, making endless trips to Home Depot, and wishing we had a box spring (our queen size box spring didn't fit up the stairs...therefore, I have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for the last 3 weeks as we await our new one...fun!), but overall the move went well and I am looking forward to getting into a routine around here.

We did have lots of exciting milestones this month too.  The Hubs and I celebrated our 6-year anniversary, though it landed smack on moving day, so it was mostly celebrated by unloading boxes and sweating too much.  Still, a great day:

I also had my 30th birthday (as you know), and I hit the third trimester of this crazy pregnancy!  Time is flying and I can't believe I have less than 3 months til Tater Tot arrives.  EEK!!  Here's an update on my growing bump for ya...this was taken when we went out to dinner for my birthday (27ish weeks), and I feel the moving boxes as background are very appropriate:

Otherwise, I have been trying to fit in all the reading I can with my new birthday gift, a Kindle Paperwhite (thanks Mom!).  I am pretty much in lurve with it, madly and deeply.

Anyway, how was the reading this month?

The September 2013 Fave/Least Fave picks go to:

September 2013 Favorite:  Flowers for Algernon  by Daniel Keyes
September 2013 Least Favorite:  Help for the Haunted by John Searles

In total, I read/reviewed 6 books:

Early Decision  by Lacy Crawford
The Shining by Stephen King
Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Expecting Better by Emily Oster
Help for the Haunted by John Searles

Otherwise, I celebrated my favorite books of love, and created my "30 Books to Read by 35" list (kinda) in honor of my epic birthday.

Now, on to October!  Month of fall and pumpkins and PSLs and way too many apples!  (Seriously, we went apple picking last weekend and I have a bushel of them, so send me all your apple recipes before I develop a fruit fly problem.)  Enjoy your month, reader friends!
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