Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Summary: Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. 

In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. 

Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

Kim's Review: This is the second of Hosseini's books that I've read, the first being A Thousand Splendid Suns, and I have yet to be disappointed. My favorite thing about this book (and Splendid Suns) is that it's multi-generational - chapters are written from many different POVs over around seven decades. It was interesting to see all the characters come together and how their plots interweaved. It did get confusing, keeping up with all the characters, but I didn't feel like my loss of a little bit of knowledge detracted from my overall understanding of the book.

I also love Hosseini's ability to write amazing, strong women. I really felt for the characters and could sympathize with them as I read about their lives. This is an adult book (I swear I'll get back to reviewing YA soon!), so the content is heavier, but it's not as emotionally taxing as A Thousand Splendid Suns.

All in all, I really loved this book. I feel like everyone should read one of Hosseini's books at some point, because they have made me think and change my outlook on life. I have The Kite Runner sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read, but I think I'll take a break and go for a lighter novel first. :)

Review: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Summary: While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call. The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum, a baffling cipher found near the body. As Langdon and a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, sort through the bizarre riddles, they are stunned to discover a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci—clues visible for all to see and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.

The stakes are raised when Langdon uncovers a startling link: the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci, among others. Langdon suspects they are on the hunt for a breathtaking historical secret, one that has proven through the centuries to be as enlightening as it is dangerous. In a frantic race through Paris, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu find themselves matching wits with a faceless powerbroker who appears to anticipate their every move. Unless they can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle, the Priory’s secret—and an explosive ancient truth—will be lost forever.

Kim's Review: I bought this book solely because a) I knew it was/had been popular, and b) because the hardcover was a mere eighty-six cents at the thrift store. When I picked up this book, I expected to read something resembling the Sherlock Holmes stories. In that aspect, I was pretty satisfied. It is an interesting story, but the cons seem to outweigh the pros on this one. 

By the time I'd gotten to the hundredth page, I was already looking forward to finishing it - and not in a good way, in the "I just want to know how it ends so I can start reading this book my grandma lent me" way. I got annoyed with the writing far too quickly considering how long this book is. Dan Brown seems to think that all of his readers are idiots and simply cannot comprehend the information given to them or draw their own conclusions. Every little detail is pointed out and stated by the characters either out loud or in their thoughts, and it just felt unnecessary because I was easily able to draw my own conclusion and get the same result a few paragraphs ago. Everything is spelled out; it's like Brown tells you what to feel about the situation instead of letting you feel what comes naturally. It got irritating after a while and felt really condescending.

And Brown isn't the literary genius he seems to think he is. Have you ever heard of the writing rule "show, don't tell?" Apparently, Brown has not - again, everything is spelled out for the reader. The writing is simple, and okay at best.

Another thing that annoyed me was the lack of character development in the main character, Robert Langdon. I never learned anything about his personality, and if anything was mentioned at all, it must have been in passing because I surely don't remember it. Then again, the entire book only takes place over one day, so I'm not sure how much his character could develop in that time. It did seem like Sophie, his "sidekick," and the other minor characters developed more than he did.

I wasn't crazy about the ending either. I can't really say much without spoiling it, but the end of the last chapter...ugh. There was nothing to elude that those events were going to happen throughout the entire novel, and then all of a sudden it happens and it's like, what? Where did that come from? (I'm aware of how vague that sounds and I apologize, but I'm trying my best to avoid spoilers).

This book was interesting, but it was a little too long considering something huge only happens every 200 pages or so. I believe there's a prequel to this, but I won't be reading it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Summary: Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon -- from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.

Kim's Review: Tina Fey is probably one of my top ten favorite people on the planet. I spent my entire Easter break last spring marathoning 30 Rock, and ended up watching the last episode right before we had to leave for Easter mass. Needless to say, I was sobbing on the way to church. 

This book is hilarious. Books hardly make me laugh out loud, but this one did on almost every other page. I've never laughed so hard at a novel. Fey's sense of humor is so unique, and I loved being able to learn more about her life. The last chapter was really inspiring to me - the timing of my reading it couldn't have been better. It was a little strange.

I absolutely loved this book. I feel like it's one of those novels that I'm going to keep pulling off of my bookshelf and just reading certain parts for either advice or just for laughs. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who loves Tina and her work!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: The Forbidden Game by L.J. Smith

The Forbidden Game by L.J. Smith

The Forbidden Game (Books 1-3) by L.J. Smith
Pages: 750
Published: June 8th 2010 (orig. 1997)
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Reviewer: Charlotte

When Jenny buys a game for her boyfriend, Tom, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the guy behind the counter. There is something mysteriously alluring about Julian's pale eyes and bleached-blond hair. And when he places the Game into her hands, she knows their connection is something deeper. 

But as Jenny and her six friends begin to play the Game at Tom's birthday celebration, a night of friends and fun quickly turns into a night of terror and obsessive love. Because the Game isn't just a game - it's the seven friends' new reality, where Julian reigns as the Prince of the Shadows. 

One by one the friends must confront their phobias to win the Game. To lose the Game is to lose their lives. And that is only the beginning...

L.J. Smith is very good at writing dark fantasy, and this book was no different. The Forbidden Game is a compilation of the three books in this series, The Hunter, The Chase and The Kill. The first two were very fast paced and exciting, but the last one fell a little flat.

Jenny did not start off as a very captivating protagonist. She seemed just like an average perfectionist. But as the books went on, the reader got to see the side of her that Julian craved, and the bumbling and dumb choices she made her seem more human and relatable. 

I felt like I was never given enough material to really understand Tom, and want Jenny/Tom to be together. I'm glad romance wasn't the most important thing in this series, but I didn't care about Tom at all. I liked Julian better, and he was the mostly evil one. Maybe if there had been more chapters just about Tom, it would have been better, but he was mostly presented as a perfect being off the bat. There was not much development in his and Jenny's relationship. One other small thing bothered me, and that was the relationship between Jenny and Zach. It's like something was missing between them, or just forgotten. They're cousins, but it felt like they had something more going on. Julian was by far the most developed and interesting character, and I craved more of him.

The dynamic between the many characters was very interesting and unique. The premise was very out-there, but I think L.J. Smith handled it well and remembered to bring in realistic things like police investigations and so forth. I read the first two books very quickly, and it was actually the last one that took me several days. If you have time out of your schedule to read this 700+ pg book, go for it!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

SummarySarah Byrnes and Eric have been friends for years. When they were children, his fat and her terrible scars made them both outcasts. Later, although swimming slimmed Eric, she stayed his closest friend.

Now Sarah Byrnes -- the smartest, toughest person Eric has ever known -- sits silent in a hospital. Eric must uncover the terrible secret she's hiding, before its dark currents pull them both under.

Marissa'a ReviewFirst and foremost, what an incredible story! Okay so I didn't exactly know what to expect from this book when I borrowed it from the library since the blurb is pretty brief, but I am so glad I ended up picking this one up. Our main character, Eric Calhoune, has known Sarah Byrnes since they were in grade school. If theres anyone who knows Sarah Byrnes best, its Eric. Refused to be called by just her first name, Sarah Byrnes and Eric have been friends for years since her scars and his weight marked them both as outcasts in school. They were pretty much partners in crime until high school, when Eric joins the swim team. Although it seems as if they have drifted apart, Eric still considers Sarah Byrnes one of his closest friends. So one day during their senior year, he finds out that Sarah Byrnes is in the psych unit in the hospital and is not talking or responding to anyone, even to him. Eric can not believe that his strongest and closest friend who stood up to bullies and refused to let people get in her way, now is completely silent. So he decides that if anyone is going to be able to help her and figure out what she is hiding, its going to be him. While Eric tries to figure out what is wrong, he attends a class taught by his swim coach, Ms. Lemry, called Contemporary American Thought, which is a class where they discuss controversial topics in the world today such as abortion, religion, and suicide. 

This is a book that has a lot of depth to it, which is part of the reasons why I loved it so much. It has a lot more depth than I thought there was going to be and this book is full of constant plot twists that you will never see coming! Unpredictable is an understatement in this book. This book is literally like a hidden gem, which is why I was surprised when I saw that none of the people on my Goodreads friends list have read this or added this to their TBR. Of course this has changed since I made Char and Kim add it. Heh. ;)
Overall I give this one a 4.5/5.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Summary: Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school—but no one knows it. Most people—her teachers and doctors included—don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write. 

Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind—that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.

Kim's Review: I went to a rummage sale at a local church a couple weeks ago, and while checking out the book section, the girl working there recommended this book to me. It was only a quarter, so I bought it figuring I didn't have much to lose. Honestly, I'm so glad that she pointed out this book, because it never would have "popped out" to me among the hundreds of others. This was a really fascinating book - I thought it was so interesting to be able to see/read Melody's thought's and struggles first-hand. The author's writing really makes you feel for Melody and want to help her or make her feel better; my heart was breaking for her by the last few chapters.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was the ending, the very last page before the epilogue. It just didn't make sense to me and seemed like it could have been a lot better.

All in all, I really, really enjoyed this book, but it didn't really...stand out enough to earn a place on my bookshelf. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: The Year of the Great Seventh by Teresa Orts

Summary: Sophie has always felt out of step—an outsider, even amongst friends in her high school with all the hype about celebrity culture. Her life in L.A. seems to have been already written for her, but when her junior year starts, it all takes a drastic turn. When she crosses paths with the school's heartthrob, Nate Werner, they fall for each other in a way neither can understand. What they don’t know is that by giving in to their desires, they are unlocking an ancient Egyptian prophecy that threatens to return Earth to the dark ages.

To undo the curse, Nate and Sophie embark on an adventure that takes them across the country. But their quest is not only to save the world as they know it. It is also a fight for their very survival. Behind the scenes, there are those that are counting on them to fail.

Kim's Review: Going into this book, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I gave it a chance because the plot seemed quite interesting and original. While it was a bit slow in the beginning, the plot quickly began to develop after the first few chapters. I really, really, really loved Sophie, the main character and narrator of the novel. Despite the strange events she was going through, I still found her relatable; in fact, she may be one of the most relatable female characters I've ever read about. Of course, I can't exactly say I've led my troubled boyfriend across the country to unlock an Egyptian prophecy before, but there were a lot of things about her personality and mindset that I could definitely relate to, and I had never seen these subtle quirks portrayed in a novel before. Sophie was also realistic - this isn't your typical, head-over-heels in love female character. Although she has her problems with Nate, she still gets her priorities straight and focuses on school as well as getting into NYU, her dream university. I loved Nate as well as Sophie's friends; none of their lives are normal, but they are also extremely different. Her two best friends are celebrities and, between shooting movies, regularly attend premieres and exclusive parties, while Sophie herself has a much more complex life. 

I would recommend The Year of the Great Seventh to anyone who love books like Veronica Roth's Divergent - books with the perfect combination of action, suspense, and romance. This is one of those books where you tell yourself "one more chapter and then I'll go to bed," but before you know it it's three in the morning and you've finished it! Orts is an great, creative writer, and I cannot wait to read more about Sophie and Nate in this book's sequel!

(Also, just a little side note - multiple times while reading I kept thinking about how this book would make a fantastic movie. Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, but I wouldn't mind seeing Eddie Redmayne as Nate on the big screen. :) )

Thank you so, so much to Teresa Orts for allowing me to read her book and get to know her characters. I seriously loved reading this book and following Sophie and Nate on their journey!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Interview with Teresa Orts, author of The Year of the Great Seventh!

The Year of the Great Seventh, a newly released book written by the lovely Teresa Orts, is about a young couple who go on a journey across the United States to unlock an Egyptian prophecy. After reading her amazing novel, I got the opportunity to ask the author a few questions.

Q: How did you get the inspiration for your book’s plot?

A: I didn’t come up with the entire plot at once. One day, I was walking around Central Park and I came across Cleopatra’s needle. I thought it was quite interesting that there was a piece of Ancient Egypt in the middle of New York. When I got home, I researched on the internet how the obelisk had ended up in NY, and that was how I decided to have the prophecy linked to Ancient Egypt.

Q: In The Year of the Great Seventh, Sophie and Nate go across the country to research and unlock an ancient Egyptian prophecy. What kind of research did you have to do for your novel?

A: I spent a lot of time on the internet reading about Ancient Egypt. Also, I went to the Metropolitan Museum to see their Egyptian art, visited Cleopatra’s needle in Central Park several times, and the Cloisters in Washington Heights.

Q: Why did you decide to make Emma and Megan actresses? Did you base them/their experiences off of anyone in reality?

A: I’ve never lived in L.A., but I have visited several times. The entertainment industry is a big part of the city’s soul, and most people there, even if they’re just teenagers, are in one way or another related to it. I wanted the characters to come across as real, so I felt obliged to make some of them actors.
I didn’t base them on anyone in particular. Instead, each character is a combination of people I had met through the years.

Q: What chapter was the hardest to write and why? Which was the easiest?

A: I think the hardest chapters were the first few. Once you go into the action part of the novel, it is much quicker. Building up the characters and showing implicitly the relationship between them, it is definitely the hardest task. This is always done in the first chapters.
The easiest chapter was the one where the movie premiere takes place. I had been looking forward to writing it for a long time. I could see the scene clear in my mind, so it was easy to write.

Q: If you had to make a playlist for your book, what songs would be on it?

A: I know that playlists are in fashion at the moment, but I’m not really sure if I have one. I can share the songs I listed to for inspiration.

 “A Drop in the Ocean” Ron Pope
“Set Fire to the Rain” Adele
“Rolling in the Deep” Adele
“Devil Came to me” Dover
“The One” The Kin
“Somebody Told Me” The Killers
“I Wanna” The All-American Rejects
“Mona Lisa (When the World Comes Down)” The All-American Rejects
“The Wind Blows” The All-American Rejects
“Sex on Fire” Kings of Leon
"My Delirium" Ladyhawke

Q: Do you have any idea when the sequel will be released, and what we can expect from it?

A: I’m aiming to publish it next summer (2014). I think we’ll see a more mature side of Nate and Sophie. The sequel won’t focus on Ancient Egypt, but it will, obviously, still have a fantasy element.

Q: Which authors inspire you the most?

A: I rate authors and books, not by how much I enjoy a novel, but how many times I think about a book after I finished reading. For some reason, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes has been haunting me for a while.

Q: Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A: I think the best advice I can give is, do what you love, enjoy the journey, and don’t obsess too much about the endgame. That way, no matter what happens, you got some pleasure out of it. Publishing a novel sounds fantastic, but the true joy comes from writing each page.

Check back tomorrow for my review of the book! Thanks again to Teresa Orts for allowing me to read and review her amazing novel. :)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review: Exit Here by Jason Myers

Summary: Travis is back from college for the summer, and he's just starting to settle in to the usual pattern at home: drinking, drugging, watching porn, and hooking up.
But Travis isn't settling in like he used to; something isn't right. Maybe it's that deadly debauch in Hawaii, the memories of which Travis can't quite shake. Maybe it's Laura, Travis's ex, who reappears on the scene after a messy breakup and seems to want to get together -- or not. Or maybe it's his suddenly sensing how empty and messed up his life is, and wanting out.
But once you're at the party, it's tough to leave...

Kim's Review: "I lean closer to her, planting my hands above her shoulders, and we rub the tips of our tongues together. 'Spit in my mouth,' she says. I draw a glob of saliva to the front of my mouth and drop it into hers. 'Awesome,' she swallows." Ah, young love...

God, am I glad to have finished this book. This is probably one of the top five worst books I've ever read...I don't think I've ever rated a book one star before! When I read the author's note I learned that Exit Here is his first book - and you know, I suppose it's understandable that an author's first book isn't that great. But dear God! This is a longer book, around 450 pages, and there was little to no character development at all until the last fifty pages or so. The plot was so frustratingly redundant - let's have sex with a bunch of girls, snort line after line of cocaine, get drunk, and listen to music, and then do it all over again for the next 400 pages!

The protagonist and narrator, Travis, is an asshole. This is partly because of the writing - I don't feel like I learned anything about his actual personality. All I know is that he's addicted to drugs and wants his girlfriend back. Also, there were one or two occasions where his friends are literally like, "hey, remember that one time we gang-raped that unconscious girl when we were thirteen years old?" I'M NOT EVEN EXAGGERATING, that is an actual thing that these characters did. And if that wasn't enough to enrage me, neither the protagonist nor his friend showed any sign of remorse about it. It was just like "Haha, yeah, those were the days, huh?" Are you kidding me?! Because of things like that, I couldn't even bring myself to feel bad for Travis when something bad happened to him.
In the end of the book--SPOILER ALERT, but it doesn't really matter because you do not want to read this book--he decides to stop using drugs out of nowhere. I mean, that's good, but why? What was his motivation? What made him want to stop all of a sudden? The author doesn't even tell you.

There were also a few things about the writing that annoyed me. Every time there was a break in a conversation, the author felt the need to emphasize this by saying "<i>Pause.</i>" This happened on just about every single page. It got irritating after a while, and I feel like this book could have been at least twenty pages shorter if you just took out all the "pauses." For some reason the author also decided not to use quotation marks whenever Travis spoke. This made it confusing because sometimes it was hard to tell whether the character was speaking out loud or just thinking.

So, if you enjoy books that lack character development and a decent plot, boy, have I got a read for you! If you're like me and enjoy dynamic characters and good writing, then I'd pass on this one.

(Also - why are my negative reviews always the longest?)