Category: Karen’s Review (page 1 of 5)

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Testimony by Anita Shreve

Testimony by Anita Shreve is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a summary of Testimony, please check out its introductory post.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Testimony* by Anita Shreve

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

General Thoughts

I had high hopes for Testimony. Its genre – mystery/suspense – is one that I usually enjoy reading. But there was very little of either mystery or suspense in this novel. The biggest question was what ultimately happened to Silas, because it was obvious that he was the most vulnerable character in this story. But by the time the big reveal came along, I had really ceased to care. The story dragged on too long and centered too much on the headmaster’s affair and not enough on the students caught on the pivotal sex tape.

Misleading Title

The title, Testimony, led me to believe there would be a legal trial, but instead the word referred to recollections of the events given to an outside interviewer by each of the characters. We never meet this outside interviewer; we only hear vague references to the initial letter this person sent to each character.

The headmaster’s chapters were the longest, with the most details, and yet his story was not told to the interviewer, but instead told as he wrote his own “memoir.” None of this worked from me – it felt too much like a writing device rather than the way a real story would flow.

Female Provocateur

As a female author, I expected Shreve to develop multi-dimensional female characters, but the few females in this book were hardly that. I was especially disappointed in Shreve’s development of Sienna, the 14-year-old female student involved in the sex tape. She gave us just enough “testimony” to dislike the girl and feel sympathy for the male students who were obviously ensnared, but no insight into the reasons behind the girl’s actions, family life, or childhood.

As an introduction to Anita Shreve, Testimony left me with no desire to read any of her other novels. I can only assume it made the New York Times Bestseller list based upon Shreve’s loyal readers and the popularity of previous novels.

If you have an Anita Shreve novel that you can recommend, please let me know.  Surely as a bestselling author, she has written better novels than Testimony.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 53. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (2011) – Discussion begins August 20, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is a collection of loosely-connected short stories and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.  Roberta wrote an excellent Writer’s Review, so if you haven’t already, please check it out.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Difficult Read

 I found A Visit from the Goon Squad to be a difficult read for a couple of reasons.  First was just timing – our six-year-old granddaughter spent a few fun but time-consuming days with us, which included two overnight treks to Arkansas on each end of her visit.  Needless to say, I had zero time to do any reading those eight days.  I had started Goon Squad the week before, but found it slow going and only got through the first 2 chapters before that 8 day interlude.

Picking it back up after our granddaughter’s visit, I still found it slow going along with being really confused about the change of characters in each new chapter/short story.  Which is the second reason I found it difficult to read – I just didn’t care for the format. Several times I almost gave up on it, but I continued slogging through and finished it Friday.

Mixed Feelings

I did like the book better towards the end, especially the last two chapters / short stories, but I certainly didn’t love it like Roberta did.  At the end, I had many more questions than answers, and still wasn’t sure how all the characters were interconnected, nor could I even remember all the characters.  It’s one of those books that leaves you feeling that you need to turn right around and read it again.

Time Is a Goon

The Bestseller Code showed us that the title of a novel is often an important component of predicting a bestseller.  A Visit from the Goon Squad moves backwards and forwards across a 40-year time span, which I found added to the confusing nature of the writing format.  It takes a while to catch the references to time being a goon, and much of the focus of Egan’s novel centers upon how the characters cope with the changes that the passage of time brings to themselves and their world.

The very last chapter takes place in a futuristic, post-war-on-terror New York City in 2020, and even though we are almost to that date now, it’s a scary thought that we are on the path to becoming the digital world Egan writes about.

Usually when I’m done reviewing a book for our reading challenge, I delete the book from my Kindle.  I’m not going to do that with A Visit from the Goon Squad.  Instead, I’ll be saving it to read again, carefully choosing a time when I have a clear schedule.  Roberta’s idea of a flow chart for the characters is genius and one I plan to implement. I expect then that I will more fully appreciate Egan’s unconventional writing style and format.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 54. Testimony by Anita Shreve (2008) – Discussion begins August 6, 2018
Mystery/suspense

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  I first read American Wife in 2012 and enjoyed the book then, so I was curious to discover if I still liked it.  I’m delighted to report that it was just as a good a read the second time through.  Sittenfeld has a real knack for writing dialogue and I was soon transported away to the world of Alice Blackwell.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Roberta’s Writer’s Review pretty much sums up my take on American Wife, so I thought instead I’d briefly outline Curtis Sittenfeld’s novels, which I have added to my reading list.

Female Protagonists

 All of Sittenfeld’s novels and collections of short stories have female protagonists.  She writes from experience (in the case of Prep) and also seems to enjoy fictionalizing and/or updating famous women or books (American Wife, Eligible).

  • Prep, (2005) – a coming of age story centered around a girl from the midwest, Lee Flora, who attends a preppy boarding school on the East Coast.
  • The Man of My Dreams, (2006) – follows Hannah from 8th grade thru her college years at Tufts and into her late twenties.
  • American Wife, (2008) – Alice Blackwell’s life from childhood in a small, Midwestern town, to her years in the White House as President Charlie Blackwell’s wife. Loosely inspired by the life of First Lady Laura Bush.
  • Sisterland, (2013) – the story of Kate, an identical twin, who has psychic powers.
  • Eligible, (2016) – the modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • You Think It, I’ll Say It, (2018) – a collection of short stories, including “The Nominee,” about Hillary Clinton as she is just about to accept the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Sittenfeld is currently working on her next novel, one inspired by her short story, “The Nominee.”  Sittenfeld described it in an interview with The Guardian:

I’m actually writing a novel now about Hillary Clinton, which I think I was partly influenced to do by writing “The Nominee.” The premise is: what if Hillary had met Bill at Yale Law School in the early 70s – which she did – they had fallen in love, become a couple but then she made the decision not to marry him. Yeah… what if?

Yeah, what if?  I’ll be watching for that book to come out! 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Considering that our last novel was categorized as Christian/Domestic Fiction and this one is Erotic Romance, we’re obviously covering a wide variety of genres with this reading challenge.

If you haven’t read Roberta’s Writer’s Review yet, please do.  It seems that we are yet again in agreement about this novel, but I will try to come up with something “novel” to say.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Fifty Shades of Grey* by E. L. James

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Warning:  This is an Erotic Romance, for mature audiences only.

Mass Appeal

 I remember feeling quite skeptical of the hoopla around Fifty Shades of Grey when it was first released.  It seemed like everyone was reading it, which to me was as good a reason as any NOT to read it.  If anything, this reading challenge has reinforced my belief that being on a bestseller list doesn’t necessarily mean a book is worth my time to read, and Fifty Shades of Grey is the perfect example of just such a book.  So why did it become a bestseller?

The authors of The Bestseller Code spend the major portion of Chapter 3 examining Fifty Shades of Grey to decipher exactly why it was a bestseller.  And even more than that, to understand why their computer algorithm placed it so high on its 100 Bestseller book list when so many other books in the erotica romance genre did not make the list.  As Roberta stated in her review:

When they examined the novel in more depth in Chapter 3, Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers discovered that this novel is more about relationships than purely about sex.

I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed this novel more if James had downplayed the sex scenes a bit – I found myself skimming through them to get to the meat of the relationship stories. But then Christian wouldn’t have had quite the “bad boy” attraction and Ana wouldn’t have had all those conflicting emotions about Christian, so perhaps they really are an integral part of the novel.

Emotional Experience

The authors of The Bestseller Code also discovered that reader reviews left on the Goodreads website showed a definite trend of referencing the body.  They (the reader reviews) mentioned “shedding tears and overheating,” feeling “the bodily sensations of anticipation and nervousness,” and “ignoring the call to eat and sleep.”  The appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey was physical and emotional stimulation, rather than mental stimulation. This wasn’t a novel to dissect and analyze from a lofty, literary vantage point. This was a “let’s sneak a chocolate bar” guilty pleasure book!

A quote in Chapter 3 by Janice Radway, an American literary and cultural studies scholar, relates the emotional experience she occasionally has when reading:

There are moments for me now when books become something other than mere objects, when they transport me elsewhere, to a trancelike state I find difficult to describe.  On these occasions reading … manages to override my rational, trained approach to books as crafted objects.  When this occurs, the book, the text, and even my reading self dissolve in a peculiar act of transubstantiation whereby “I” become something other than what I have been and inhabit thoughts other than those I have been able to conceive before.  This tactile, sensuous, profoundly emotional experience of being captured by a book is what those reading memories summoned for me – and experience that for all its ethereality clearly is extraordinarily physical as well.

This must be what occurred with all those enthusiastic readers of Fifty Shades of Grey who so eagerly devoured this novel and the other two books in the Fifty Shades trilogy. It didn’t happen for me – maybe I didn’t feel the need to “inhabit thoughts other than those I have been able to conceive before” in quite the way Christian’s BSDM desires inhabited Ana’s thoughts.

I’d be curious to see the age demographics of the enthusiastic readers compared to those who disliked the novel. I would likely have been a more eager reader of Fifty Shades of Grey in my younger years, say my twenties to forties; a time when reading romance novels and daydreaming of some rich handsome irresistible man swooping down and “rescuing” me from my mundane life was appealing.  Fortunately, those days are long gone, which means I won’t be picking up the remainder of the Fifty Shades trilogy to read any time soon.

 

Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  2. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  3. (We aren’t doing a book beginning this time)

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 56. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008) – Discussion begins July 9, 2018
Bildungsroman

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Categorized as Christian/Domestic Fiction, Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good returns to Karon’s fictional town of Mitford, NC (think Mayberry), to continue the story of Father Timothy Kavanagh’s ordinary life in an ordinary town.  It’s a peaceful town, a storybook small town where people are kind and life is sweet.  The Mitford series has been extremely popular, with many of the later books landing on the New York Times Bestseller List, some even debuting at #1.  Karon appears to have a loyal fan base!

This post does not contain spoilers.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon (2014)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What’s Wrong?

 As Roberta mentioned in her #BookBeginnings post, reading a book that is placed in the middle of a well-established series isn’t always the easiest.  Often you really need the backstory of all the characters to be able to follow the current story, and I found that to be the case with Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good.  There are so many characters to get to know in the town of Mitford and I didn’t feel that Karon did a very good job of providing us enough backstory for each, which meant it was extremely easy to confuse who was who and why they were saying this or that.

I also disliked Karon’s writing style.  It felt choppy and disjointed.  I often couldn’t follow who was saying what in long sections of dialogue.  And there were many times that it seemed Karon was writing for a movie instead of a book and expecting her actors to show what she meant, rather than actually writing what she meant to show.  Here’s an example:

While shaving, he had an impulse toward the ridiculous. He scarcely ever did anything ridiculous.

Puny’s ten-month-old twin boys were in the kitchen in their bouncing chairs, each with a pacifier. He was not a fan of the pacifier but it would be politically incorrect to express that opinion in his own household.

‘Tommy,’ he said, standing near the door while Puny swept the side porch. ‘What do you think?’

Tommy burst into tears, the pacifier fell to the floor; Violet pounced and skittered it to the corner of the room.

Puny opened the door a crack. ‘What’s goin’ on in there?’

‘I asked Tommy a question and he started crying. Sorry.’

‘Could you please pick ’im up? I got to get these steps cleaned off, you wouldn’ believe th’ raccoon poop out here.’ She closed the door.

He picked up Tommy, all eighteen pounds, jiggled him as he had jiggled Puny’s first set of twins, Sissy and Sassy. Jiggling was good—Tommy stopped crying.

Puny opened the door again. ‘What did you ask ’im?’

‘Oh, nothing much. He’s fine now.’

She closed the door; he put Tommy in the chair, went after the pacifier, washed it under the hot water tap, and stuck it back where it belonged.

Timmy, his very own namesake, looked up at him with Carolina-blue eyes.

‘What do you think, Timmy?’

Timmy took the pacifier from his mouth, laughed, and handed it over.

‘Thanks for sharing,’ he said. ‘Maybe later.’

Out of the mouths of babes, so to speak. He kissed both boys on the tops of their heads.

So, what exactly did Father Timothy do while shaving that was “ridiculous?”  Did he shave only one side?  Did he make a weird face with the shaving cream to scare the babies?  Who knows?  I kept reading, watching for reactions from others in the subsequent scenes that would indicate if he’d done some weird shaving of his head or something, but no comments were made, so I finally surmised he must have done something with the shaving cream itself.

Unfinished

I tried, I truly tried, but I couldn’t finish this book.  This is the very first one on our challenge that I’ve not been able to finish.  I made it 45% of the way through and my patience wore out.  Too many scenes like the one highlighted above just wore me down.  Not knowing the backstory of all the characters led me to not care about their current stories.  Perhaps it would have been different if I started with the very first book.

I know small town people and events can be interesting – I used to live in a small town.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s why Somewhere Safe With Someone Good was a bestseller.  One of the topics that The Bestseller Code’s algorithm found to be most useful in identifying best-selling novels was the topic of human interactions and relationships, human closeness and connections.  Karon’s novel is all about human connections and relationships. In the end, though, that wasn’t enough for me.  Her writing style that left me cold and confused and I decided there are simply too many good books out there to waste another moment reading one that I disliked so.

 

Have you read Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 57.  Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (2011) – Discussion begins June 25, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Next Always by Nora Roberts

The Next Always by Nora Roberts is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Nora Roberts is an extremely successful and prolific writer.  She has written over 200 novels, many of them bestsellers, and there are over 500 million copies of her books in print.  With that many novels written, I was surprised to realize that I have never read any of her works.  This reading challenge is definitely introducing me to new authors!

This post does contain spoilers.

 

The Next Always by Nora Roberts

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Inn

As Roberta stated in her #BookBeginnings post, the Inn Boonsboro that is so lovingly restored in this novel is a real bricks and mortar bed & breakfast in Boonsboro, Maryland, that Nora Roberts and her husband restored and currently operate.  If you love watching renovation shows on cable television, you’ll delight in following the progress of the inn restoration throughout this book.  If you are not as interested, then this book will be a fast read as you skim through all the details of tile and wood and brick.  I’m squarely in that latter camp, but still, I would love to go to Maryland and see the actual Inn.  It sounds quite luxuriant and memorable.

After reading The Next Always, I was curious what other readers and professionals had to say about this book – was it a good indication of the caliber of Nora Roberts’ novels?  I found very mixed reviews, but many of the professional reviewers felt that this novel was one long infomercial for Roberts’ and her husband Bruce Wilder’s businesses in Boonsboro (they also own the real Turn The Page Bookstore & Café and the Gifts Inn Boonsboro gift shop).  I see their point, and it would be a valid one if the story itself didn’t work, but I felt that the story did work and that the Inn was a good setting.  Honestly, after writing 200 books, who can blame Ms. Roberts for diversifying a bit and cashing in on her writing fame?  And after writing 200 books, I’m sure she has a large faithful fandom that would love nothing more than to come stay at her Inn, walk the streets of the town where she’s placed one of her series, and even possibly have the chance to see the novelist in person.

It’s The Dialogue

One of the things I liked most about The Next Always was the dialogue.  The dialogue revealed strong love and respect between the three brothers (Beckett, Owen, and Ryder), between the three friends (Clare, Hope, and Avery), and even between Beckett and Clare’s 3 young sons without the author having to tell us about it.  There was very little to none agonizing head talk and angst for the reader to slog through as we’ve had in some recent romance novels.  The dialogue provided the action and the smooth flow of the story.

The family units were strong in The Next Always.  The relationships both within the two families (the Montgomery’s and Clare & her sons) and between the friends are what most readers wish they had in their own lives.  If there is such a thing as a cozy romance, The Next Always is definitely such.  Even the Inn’s ghost was a helpful, friendly ghost.  The side plot of Clare’s stalker played up the strength of the family and friendship bonds to the max, while providing the catalyst for the love declarations at the end between Clare and Beckett.

Three Brothers, Three Loves?

Nora Roberts knows how to write interesting characters.  Some of the romance novels we have read concentrated on the two main love characters to the detriment of the rest of the supporting cast.  In The Next Always, Roberts gives us three strong male characters in the Montgomery brothers. And it isn’t just coincidence that there are three female best friends.  Can you say trilogy here?  One can easily see early on the seeds being laid for two more romance novels to come. And you know what?  I loved it!  I want more and have already reserved the next book in this Inn Boonsboro trilogy, The Last Boyfriend, from my public library.  I do so want Owen and Avery to find true love.

 

Do you have a favorite Nora Roberts novel to recommend? I need more books to add to my “to read” list!

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 58.  Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014) by Jan Karon  – Discussion begins June 11, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of In the Woods by Tana French

In The Woods by Tana French is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  In The Woods is also the forty-first book we’ve read, which means we are 2/5 of the way through the list.  Can you believe we’ve read 41 books?  That also means that, between the two of us, Roberta and I have written 82 book reviews for this challenge alone, which is no small accomplishment.  We should throw ourselves a virtual celebratory party!

This post does not contain spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

For a summary of In The Woods, read Roberta’s Writer’s Review and her excellent description of the eight key components of a plot.

Debut Novels

Eight of the books we’ve read so far in this challenge were debut novels:  The Mill River Recluse, The Weird Sisters, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Silent Wife, The White Tiger, The Weight of Silence, The Marriage Bargain, and now In The Woods.  So 1/5 of the books read so far were debut novels.  I find that fact interesting – it means that 1/5 of the authors figured out early on or intuitively already knew what makes a great novel.

For this Bestseller Code Challenge we are reading through the list of books in The Bestseller Code, Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers for several reasons, one of which is to see how our tastes in books compares with the computer model.  In The Bestseller Code, the authors discuss a writer’s style and how that factors into making a bestselling book.

 

In short, style is important: it is the mechanism through which plot, theme, and character get delivered.  Style is at once mechanical and organic; it springs from a combination of nature and nurture; from innate ability and practiced craft.  And nowhere is the importance of style seen more vividly than in the work of those authors who are hitting the NYT list for the first time.  Saying it is difficult to make it straight onto the NYT list with a first novel is a great understatement.

First Lines, or #BookBeginnings

One of the elements of novelistic style the authors of The Bestseller Code discuss in great detail is the first line of a novel:

We believe that the first line of a novel can tell you a lot about the writer’s command of style.

They give three examples of famous first lines and then explain:

One thing that is immediately clear about all three of these classic writers is that their first sentences create voice.  Someone is talking to us, and that someone sounds authentic, in command of some sort of authority.  There is no wavering, or cautiousness, or lack of surety.  All novelists have the challenge of creating some sort of selfhood, and readers might note that they tend to keep reading when that selfhood, attractive or not, at least knows itself and leads its reader.  The best writers – or those that will achieve the most readers – are able to establish this kind of presence from the opening sentence with tiny and seemingly effortless modulations in style.

This is one reason why Roberta begins the discussion of each of our challenge novels with a BookBeginnings post.  The first line is an important style feature and bestselling authors know how to craft a first line that will hook their readers.  For a debut novelist, this ability is even more important – they cannot rely upon their faithful following of readers to buy their books because they don’t have a faithful following yet!

Here’s the first line from Chapter 1 of In The Woods:

What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective.

We don’t yet know if our narrator is male or female, but we do know that we’re being cautioned about him/her being a detective.  Why would he/she warn us about this fact?

This is the stuff a good stylist needs to recognize: that the first sentence is the hook and the hook is a mixture of voice and conflict achieved through the mechanics of diction and syntax. – The Bestseller Code

Are you hooked already?  I was.

Page Turner

From the very first sentence, In The Woods was a page turner.  I enjoyed the interplay of the two main detectives, Rob (“I am a detective”) and Cassie.  I was intrigued by the inner conflict of Rob as he tried to solve one murder that took place in the same location where, twenty years before, his two best friends disappeared and he was left with no memory of what happened to them.

In The Woods is not just a mystery, it is a psychological mystery, and a very good one at that.  I loved the little seeds and distractions that French left for the reader to pick up – I kept wondering who the psychopath was that Cassie warned the reader about and if maybe it was Rob, our detective narrator.

While the ending of the novel wasn’t all I wanted, I can see why French didn’t resolve the twenty year old case.  Rob does his best throughout the book to avoid memories, to avoid dealing with his past in any way, and that spills over into every aspect of his life, so it would have been terribly out of character for him to remember what happened to him and his friends all those years ago.  Knowing French has turned this Dublin Murder Squad division of the Irish police into a series, I hope she eventually resolves that old case, but I guess I’ll have to read the series to find out!

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

The Choice by Nicholas Sparks is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Gabby moves to small town Beaufort, North Carolina, to be nearer her long-time boyfriend and hopefully soon-to-be fiancé.  She just happens to buy the house next door to a good-looking, adventurous, and fun-loving confirmed bachelor, Travis.  A series of mishaps and misunderstandings (typical romance novel set-ups) brings these two together and sparks fly (or we’re expected to believe sparks fly).  Can you tell I wasn’t buying it?

This post contains spoilers.

The Choice* by Nicholas Sparks

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

A Tale of Two Romances

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens wasn’t referring to our last two romance novels, but that’s how I felt after reading Me Before You and The Choice back to back.  Me Before You gave the reader the best that romance novels can offer and The Choice gave the worst.  Me Before You created memorable and believable characters; The Choice offered two clichéd main characters and a supporting cast that we barely got to know.  The plot of Me Before You presented each of the main characters with life choices to make and allowed them come to realistic decisions; The Choice had a Hollywood-scripted plot and the pro forma happy (unrealistic) ending.  Me Before You gave me renewed hope that romance novels were worth reading; The Choice only reinforced my previous belief that romance novels aren’t worth my time.

The Choice

This novel is split into two parts.  Part One presents Gabby’s dilemma: will she listen to her head and stay with her long-time boyfriend whom she expects to marry or will she listen to her heart and build a life with her neighbor Travis, who has turned her life upside down in a whirlwind romantic weekend.  But as Roberta writes in her Writer’s Review, due to the prologue, we already know which choice she makes, so there’s no suspense and no emotional investment by the reader.

Part Two presents the Real Choice of the novel: will Travis follow his head regarding Gabby’s specific instructions concerning her present medical situation (a long-term coma) or will he follow his heart.  I found Part Two to be even more clichéd and unbelievable than Part One, if that is possible.  Where Gabby was too much in her own head in Part One, dithering back and forth between her choices, in Part Two it is Travis’s turn to bore the reader as we are forced to listen to his feelings of guilt over the accident that caused Gabby’s coma and his anguish about the resultant choice he must make.  Truthfully, by then, I ceased to care.  I won’t even go into just how unbelievable Gabby’s remarkable recovery was from her long-term coma – it was the expected happily-ever-after ending, but totally unrealistic.

The Right Choice

 If you want a feel-good, tear-jerker, realistic romance novel to read this summer and you have two choices on the shelf, Me Before You by JoJo Moyes or The Choice by Nicholas Sparks, do yourself a favor and spend your money on Me Before You.  You won’t be disappointed.

Have you read The Choice by Nicholas Sparks? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 60.  In the Woods by Tana French (2007) – Discussion begins May 14, 2018
Mystery

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Categorized as a romance novel, Me Before You is not your typical romance story.  It’s an engaging take on the Pygmalion story, Worldly Rich Guy (Will Traynor) meets Low-Aspirations Poor Girl (Louisa “Lou” Clark), takes a liking to her, and decides to widen her horizons – only in this story we have a twist.  Worldy Rich Guy has suffered a debilitating accident that left him a quadriplegic and he no longer wants to live.  And, of course, Low-Aspirations Poor Girl falls in love with Worldly Rich Guy and wants to save his life.

This post contains spoilers.

Me Before You* by JoJo Moyes

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

A Love Story

 Me Before You is a refreshing and captivating love story.  In addition to its unusual plot, author JoJo Moyes gives us realistic characters and believable dialogue.  The interactions between both Lou’s and Will’s family members ring true.  Lou drew me in immediately and I quickly forgot I was reading a book for the purpose of writing a review and instead lost myself in the story.

It was expected that Lou would fall in love with Will – this is a romance, after all.  But in a true romance, love conquers all, right?  So it’s a bit of a shock when it becomes apparent that Lou’s love isn’t going to change Will’s mind.  What does change is the quality of those last weeks at the end of his life.  Lou provides Will with a challenge that has nothing to do with his own physical challenges, that of broadening Lou’s horizons.  What began as Lou’s challenge to give Will a reason to live becomes Will’s challenge to give Lou a wider world to live in.

Life Meaning

Me Before You compels the reader to contemplate on the question, “What is a life worth living?”  Is Lou truly living or is she just allowing life to happen to her?  Does Will, looking at a life of continually diminished horizons and increasing pain, have the right to decide when he no longer considers that life worth living?  Rarely does a romance novel tackle such difficult questions, but Moyes manages to do so with finesse.

I enjoyed Me Before You much more than I expected to – I find most romances to be too sappy or juvenile.  Jojo Moyes shows that a romance can be a true-to-life love story without the fairy tale “happily-ever-after” ending.  Because of that, I’m looking forward to reading the continuing story of Louisa in the sequel After You.

Have you read Me Before You by JoJo Moyes? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 61.  The Choice by Nicholas Sparks (2007) – Discussion begins April 30, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This was author Jess Walter’s sixth novel and it received much critical acclaim.  NPR’s Fresh Air podcast named it the best book of 2012.  Readers on Amazon and Goodreads almost universally love it.  And yet, five days after I finished reading it, I remain ambivalent. There was a lot to like with this book, but equally as much not to like.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Beautiful Ruins* by Jess Walker

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Historical Romance or Literary Fiction

Beautiful Ruins is labeled Historical Romance and also Literary Fiction, but it’s definitely not your typical bodice ripping, hero saves the day historical romance.  In fact, so very little romance actually occurs that it’s difficult to see why it would be labeled as such.  The only truly romantic character was Pasquale, whom we meet in the opening scene:

She smiles at him and Pasquale falls in love, and “would remain in love for the rest of his life — not so much with the woman, whom he didn’t even know, but with the moment.”

While Pasquale remains in love his whole life with the memory of Dee Moray, the movie star who appears in his small village in Italy,  he goes on to experience love and a full life with another woman.  The memory of Dee Moray haunts him, though, and at the end of his life he endeavors to find her and to learn what happened to her and her child.

For all of Pasquale’s romanticism, Beautiful Ruins is a study of relationships and the never-ending quest and need for love, whether from a parent/child, a lover/spouse, or friends.

Beautiful Mess

Beautiful Ruins took 15 years to write and, at 372 pages, it felt like it took that long to read.  The story jumps back and forth between different time periods and locations — Italy in the 1960s, America, England and Scotland in the 1980s, present day in Hollywood and Idaho — so that you almost needed a calendar and globe to keep track.

The writing was a hodge-podge of different styles; in addition to the normal chapters, also included was the script of a play, the complete first chapter of a never-to-be-finished novel, and a screenplay pitch on the infamous Donner party, among other oddities.  It reminded me of one of my attempts at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where I needed to achieve 50,000 words by the end of the month and had run out of things to write, so I included grocery lists and Christmas letters to achieve my word count.

Surprises

 There are several strong female characters in Beautiful Ruins and perhaps that is why I believed the author, Jess Walter, to be female.  Or maybe it’s because historical romance authors are predominantly female.  In any case, when I finished the book and began to read the “P.S. Insights, Interviews & More…” section at the end of the Kindle version of Beautiful Ruins, I was shocked to discover that “Jess” was male!  I’m not sure it makes any difference, but I was truly surprised.  Actually, I think it was the only surprising thing about the whole novel.  The book itself seemed predictable – chaotic but unsurprising.

I was glad for the “Insights, Interviews & More…” section at the end of the book, as that led to more understanding about the Walter’s intent when writing Beautiful Ruins.  For example:

I wondered if the truth we know from physics—that an object has the most stored energy in the moment right before it acts (think of a drawn bow)— was true of romance, too, if potential wasn’t, in some way, love’s most powerful form.

Jess Walter also shared:

I was reading The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera and I came across this: “There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. All the sadness of life lies in that fact.” This, I saw, could be the ending of the book, a way of acknowledging the power of certain moments in our lives. These are the ruins of our memories, which loom in our minds like the Parthenon, even as they are decayed and weathered by time and regret. I hoped to convey the significance of such isolated moments in our lives, to show that Pasquale and Dee’s first meeting—which had kicked around in my own head since 1997— might indeed be powerful enough to drive him to find her almost fifty years later.

 As grateful as I was for that section of the book, I shouldn’t have needed it.  I should have gleaned at least some of his intentions from simply reading the book.  The fact that I didn’t frustrates me, and I don’t think good literature should leave the reader feeling frustrated.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

____________________________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 63. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – Discussion begins April 2, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker prize

Older posts

© 2018 It's A Mystery Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑