Thursday, January 24, 2013

What I'm Reading This Week

For various reasons, I’ve been finding it very difficult to review as of late. Some of it has been that I have been disappointed with many of the books that have crossed my path, or I’m reading the book so far ahead of publication that I have to wait to publish, and of course time is an issue—I’m just plain busy.

In an effort to maintain some degree of criticism I’m going to attempt to map out some of the titles I’m reading each week and a few of my thoughts. If I really love or hate something I’m sure I’ll be moved to write an in depth critique, but until my schedule opens up a bit, I’m going to give this way a try.

Right now I’ve bumped my usual reading quotient down to 3 books a week. So, here’s what’s on my desk, night stand, and bedside floor this week.

Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay (Release Date: July 23, 2013)
I’m all sorts of fairy tale driven these days, and since I’ve had the misfortune in the last few weeks to read a truly horrid fairy story (The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani—interesting premise, poor execution, and putrid ending) I was both eager and reluctant to pick-up another fairy tale inspired novel. Yet Of Beast and Beauty, which is of course a retelling of Beauty and the Beast (one of my all-time favorites) has an interesting twist that actually worked for me. In this version the hero and heroine are descendants of humans who escaped to an alien world. Isra, is a blind princess confined to her lonely tower, and Gem, a mutated boy trying to save his dying people, are the protagonists of this story, but who is the “Beauty” and who is the “Beast” is rather cleverly played with. I would recommend this one—original twist on an old tale, an entertaining and fun read.

Towering by Alex Flinn (Release Date: May 14, 2013)
Another revisionist look at a fairy tale. Towering is a Rapunzel-esque story of a broken boy, a hidden diary, and a girl possessed of magic hair locked in a tower. Flinn, the author of several other fairy tales re-workings, including the well-known Beastly, has an interesting concept with Towering, but the plot gets bogged down with bad dialogue, and an utter lack of mystery. The plot is fairly easy to figure out, and sadly it’s not really a plot worth figuring out. This one was simply put, a disappointment.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman (Out Now)
I’m a big fan of Forman’s first two novels If I Stay and its sequel/companion Where She Went—I’m interested to see what she does outside of that particular world. Preliminary reviews have been quite good, so we shall see.

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer (Release Date: February 5, 2013)
Like The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, Frances and Bernard is a novel inspired by a real life relationship, this one being between Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell (although they are not characters in the book as is the case with the former), and told through letters. I’m reading this at the same time as the Forman book. It will be interesting to compare the two romantic themes from two very different eras (today and the 1950’s) by an “adult” author and a “teen” author.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Me Before You"

Have you ever picked up a novel expecting it to be a great read, but instead find yourself being pummeled with a “message”? You know the type, the ones where some highly publicized real life event is bastardized by a fiction writer in an attempt to capitalize on the sensation, or tell the other side of the story, or worse, push a personal agenda in the guise of thoughtful fiction. If you’ve ever read a Jodi Picoult book I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Picoult fans, please don’t get up in arms, I’ve read, and enjoyed a few of those very books, but being smashed in the head with a hammer loses its appeal after a while. So, unless it’s done in a very tongue and cheek manner (thank you Max Barry) I try to avoid hot button novels.

Jojo Moyes, author of The Last Letter from Your Lover, a book I enjoyed, has produced with her newest novel Me Before You, a hot button novel, in that the story tackles the issue of assisted suicide. Usually, this has me running to me pile in search of something else to read, but in the case of Moyes’ work, what could have been a politically and socially fired look at suicide and Dignitas (a non-profit Swiss assisted dying group that helps those with terminal illness and severe physical and mental illnesses die through the aid of doctors), what readers get instead is a moving portrait of lost dreams, family, friendship, and unlikely love. Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clark and Will Traynor. At the end of her financial rope, 26 year old Louisa takes a job as companion to Will, a wealthy go-getter and thrill seeker, who is now a quadriplegic with little joy in his life, a large chip on his shoulder, and a far-reaching plan to end his suffering. As a reluctant friendship ensues, Lou must find a way to teach Will that he still has a life worth living.

This is a touching tearjerker that manages to display humor, love, and warmth. The characters are well-drawn, showing complexity that is rarely present in these types of books. Their chemistry is a blend of fire cracker and over-enthusiastic childlike behavior, that creates a constant tug of war for the readers, drifting emotionally from embarrassed discomfort, gut-clenching laughter, snide snickers, misty eyes, and gulping tears; a mixture that works to enrapture and captivate through the novel’s beautifully written conclusion.

What easily could have been a story where an author shoves her opinion down the readers’ throats becomes a wonderfully touching narrative that presents the information and conclusion softly, allowing us to digest and process in our own ways. Author Moyes handles a rather controversial subject with a deft and a respectful hand; a thoughtful way to approach such a difficult topic, one which is too infrequently used by mega-authors such as Picoult. So, if you are looking for a novel that approaches a real concept and handles it humanely, with three-dimensional characters you grow to love, scars and all, Me Before You is your book. A quietly riveting novel from beginning to end.

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