Monday, May 30, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep: A Review

Before I Go to Sleep
By S.J. Watson

The subject of memory, or the lack there of, is the premise of this debut psychological suspense. Christine wakes up every morning shocked by her surroundings. Sometimes she is a small child, at others a twenty-something university student, but never is she the middle-aged woman that appears in the mirror. Christine suffers from a form of amnesia slightly similar to that made famous in the film Memento; every time she falls asleep she loses her memories; an affliction that has haunted her (although she does not know it) for twenty years. Her life and memories rest within the hands of her husband Ben, a man she has no memory of.

We are all liars. We change the past in our minds to save ourselves the pain and humiliation of past deeds and events. We alter the good and make it better to heighten our sense of euphoria. We dampen the bad on occasion, but sometimes we blow it up, making it far worse than it was in reality. We are the masters of our own minds, memories, and thoughts—at least we think we are, but sometimes we are fooled by our own psyches, tricked into believing the fantasies we’ve created, and never able to draw the truth from beneath the layers of deceits and half truths we have fed ourselves. This concept is one, which makes the premise of Before I Go to Sleep so compelling. Christine cannot discern what her truths are, she has no memory, only brief snippets from her life, rarely the same each day, to guide her. When she begins, at the behest of her doctor, to record her thoughts and snippets of remembrance in a journal, the question for both her and the reader becomes, “how much can you trust yourself not to manipulate the truth”.

As Christine, with the aid of her journal, begins to “remember” more she must choose who she can trust—herself, her friend, husband, or doctor—because she has remembered something and someone is willing to kill her to ensure her memory never awakens again.

The thrill of this novel is that the reader only ever knows as much as the narrator. Christine’s life unfolds for us as the pages of her journal, Watson keeps us just as much in the dark confusing world of Christine’s memories as he does with Christine herself. I do have to say that I figured a few elements out rather early, but Watson did enough misleading, to lead me on a few different paths, none of which were remotely close to the final outcome. Watson weaves an interesting tale, he deftly handles the horror of Christine’s situation, sucking the reader into her fears, and the panic and utter terror that we would all feel in her situation. An impressive debut, one sure to hook readers quickly and successfully.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ruby Red: An International Bestseller Making it's Way to the U.S.

Never before have I so thoroughly wished that I kept up with my German. Three years of classes and the most I can read are simple instructions (namely how much and where is the bathroom). Yet now, after having the opportunity to read the first book in Kerstin Gier’s internationally bestselling Ruby Red trilogy, I was tempted to go online and order the next two books (Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green) in their original German, just so I could keep reading. Alas, I’m afraid to say that my German skills are just not up to par, so I’ll have to wait along with everyone else for the English translations.

In both the adult and young adult book world, paranormal, dystopia, fallen angels, vampires, and werewolves rule the shelves, which can make sifting through the masses a little difficult. When I came across Ruby Red, a novel that seems to sit in it’s own genre—not quite paranormal, not quite historical—but definitely full of time travel, something about it just drew me in. In short, the plot revolves around 16 year old Gwen, a girl whose family has a time traveling gene. Gwen’s cousin Charlotte has been trained since birth to be the family time traveler, fulfilling a centuries old prophecy, only when the time comes, Charlotte doesn’t travel, Gwen does. What ensues is an introduction to an ancient society filled with dark and compelling characters, a handsome and dangerous fellow traveler, assassins, and the discovery of a family secret that will forever change Gwen’s identity. The story is not exactly complex—it’s only about 300 pages and moves very quickly, but it is captivating. In this first book Gier does preliminary character set-up, but does not delve (outside of Gwen) into motivations and allegiances. Many of Gier’s characters are shadowed, their natures and motives unclear, while others are so dark they seem to swallow you whole. The reader really doesn’t know what to think about many of the supporting characters—will they work with or against Gwen—and it is this that helps to draw you toward the sequels (that and a cliffhanger ending).

This is an easy book to read. Not because it is simple and juvenile (which it is not), but because it’s good. Good characters, original concept, and fun storyline; these all come together to create a fun and entertaining read. I eagerly anticipate the next books in this trilogy.

I wonder how long it would take me to brush up my German??

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Beauty Queens": A Disaster to Avoid

Satire, according to the World English Dictionary is a novel, play, entertainment, etc, in which topical issues, folly, or evil are held up to scorn by means of ridicule and irony.

Good satire can be seen in Max Barry’s Jennifer Government, Voltaire’s Candide, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and even Max Brook’s zombie epic World War Z. A great satire induces snickers and occasional guffaws, when the reader realizes that the character “so and so” is really similar to “that infamous CEO of that one company”, or when it is realized that “that ridiculous line” was really said by “this president”. Truly great satire mimics the real world in a way that takes away the horror of a moment and turns it into something not only comical, but also flips the event/person/quote/etc… into a rather intelligent comment on the world in which we live.

Beauty Queens, teen author Libba Bray’s (A Great and Terrible Beauty) newest novel, in a nutshell, is the story about a plane full of Miss Teen Dreamers (think Miss Teen USA) that crashes on a supposedly deserted island leaving the girls to fend for themselves. Of course the island isn’t what it seems—it’s really a secret base for “The Corporation” (think ultra-evil, world dominating conglomerate with political aspirations), complete with gun toting black shirts, an inactive volcano, and freaky, genetically mutated snakes. The girls are not what they appear either—although their true motives are all too plain to the reader. Throw in secret arms deals with terrorists, assassination attempts, and a boatful of reality TV teen pirates and you have the plot…what there is of it.

So is this satire? Bray sure thinks it is.

Unfortunately, despite it’s brilliant cover, Beauty Queens comes nowhere close to being an even halfway decent satire. It tries—very hard—to cover all of the bases; beauty pageants, feminism, the rights of indigenous people, transgenders, reality television, gun-toting former beauty queens (yes, the Sarah Palin digs are there in the form of character Ladybird Hope), race, sexuality, corporations, terrorism, capitalism, sex, stereotypes, self-image…the list could go on and on and on, unfortunately. Bray tries way too hard. She even includes footnotes and commercial breaks advertising (made-up) Corporation products, TV shows, and famous people. At first this tongue-in-cheek device is moderately humorous, but it gets old really fast. I think there were more nonsense footnotes here than there were useful ones in Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

This book is just too all over the place to be entertaining. It begins so promisingly, with a great “Word From Your Sponsor” moment, but it ends there. The plot wobbles, the characters are annoying, and not just because they are beauty queens (I know someone would say that is a given, but I digress), but because Bray is trying to infuse too many politically correct/incorrect/obnoxious characteristics into each girl. I almost wanted them all to blow-up with the island (not a spoiler btw). The book is too frenetic, tries too hard to be relevant and funny at the same time, and the ending; an Animal House-like homage to characters’ futures is a nice touch, if a little cliché, but not enough of one to make this book readable.

Avoid, avoid! If you want satire please read one of the books listed above or try out Animal Farm, Catch-22, Syrup, Fool, hell, even Molière’s Tartuffe—just stay away from Beauty Queens!

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