Sunday, June 29, 2008

Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward

It's been a busy weekend. I've been off picnicking and bowling and doing all sorts of things of that nature. I bowled three games last night and had a final score of 113 for all three. Weird much?

Between all my activity, I had the opportunity to do some unofficial cheerleading for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon. Congratulations to all you readers out there who did the read-a-thon, especially those of you who managed to stay awake and read for the whole 24 hours. I was only able to visit a small portion of your blogs during the read-a-thon but it was great fun getting to visit and encourage those few of you that I was able to in the time I had available. Great job, readers! And great job Dewey and helpers for pulling it all off again!

Now it's time for another review that I've been putting off for awhile. Yet another that wasn't bad but wasn't great either. At long last, I've tried my hand at it.

Journalist Nadine Morgan isn't afraid to go anywhere and do anything to get the news stories that count. She's not afraid to look death in the face, she doesn't shy away from even the most grisly crimes against humanity, and she never gets so attached to one place that she won't dash to another to seek out the next big story. The things that haunt Nadine are far more mundane: the long distant death of her mother followed by her father's subsequent neglect, her best friend's choice of full time motherhood over what Nadine would call a more worthwile livelihood, and scariest of all, the threat of being trapped for any length of time on Cape Cod, a place she'd escaped as soon as she was able.

Amanda Eyre Ward's latest novel, Forgive Me, proceeds in three sections as Nadine returns to South Africa to follow up on the story of a Cape Cod native whose death brought her there in the first place. One follows her current activities as she begins to question whether she hungers and thirsts for stories like she once did, or whether she'd rather "settle" for the handsome Dr. Duarte waiting back in Nantucket. As she awaits the trial of Cape Cod native Jason Irving's killers, she finds herself chasing his parents to get their take on the events while doing some serious soul-searching of her own about what she really wants out of life and how to atone for her past in South Africa that continues to dog her steps. The second part offers brief glimpses into her past in South Africa as she sought the major story that would open the door to endless career opportunities. Neither her friends nor her lover can stand in the way of her naked ambition to seek out this lifechanging story. The third part, somewhat incongruously, is the journal of a flamboyant youngster seeking fame through his talent for musical theater, despite his reservations about the man who would open those doors for him.

Had this not been my third read by Amanda Eyre Ward, there's a distinct chance I might have enjoyed it more. As it happens, though, I've begun to recognize her writing pattern and knew that things certainly weren't as they seemed and that the three separate narratives would inevitably resolve themselves in an unexpected way. Nadine isn't a particularly lovable character and her budding relationship with the unlikely Dr. Duarte failed to draw me in. Ward's efforts to alternate between times and storylines results in writing that is a bit choppy and failed to fully engage me in her main character's story. That said, Ward is a great master of suspenseful literary fiction. Despite the fact that there is no particular mystery to be solved, no lives particularly at stake, and no one event that hangs in the balance, Ward keeps you hanging on until the end wondering if Nadine will find what she's been looking for all her life that ultimately has very little to do with her career goals and just how these three narrative threads are going to resolve themselves.

Ward's novel is certainly interesting enough, but I felt there was some special something lacking. Forgive Me is a quick, easy, interesting read about a woman who never managed to find herself and a South Africa trying to heal itself from years of Apartheid with a healthy, if unexpected, moral to the story. Unfortunately, however, I fear that for me it will end up being a bit too easily forgotten.

(I also fear that this review makes me sound a bit too much like Simon from American Idol. Tune in next week for a review of a book that I didn't have such an ambiguous feeling about, Three Cups of Tea).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The ARC Reading Challenge

My pile of ARCs/review copies is teetering dangerously, so this seems like an obvious challenge for me to join. Thanks to Teddy Rose for hosting this challenge and giving me extra incentive to get to my pile of ARCs - definitely a smart idea for a challenge! =)

Here are the (abbreviated) rules:

1. Make a list of all of the ARC's that you currently have and/or are on their way to you.

2. If you have:
1-3 ARC's then pick at least one to read and review for this challenge.
4-6 ARC's then pick at least two to read and review for this challenge.
7-9 ARC's then pick at least three to read and review for this challenge.
10 or more Arc's then pick at least 4 to read and review for this challenge.

Okay, first up we have the list of shame - all the ARCs/review copies that have piled up because I am a free bookaholic with big aspirations:

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
Homegirl by Judith Matloff
Franklin and Lucy by Joseph E. Persico
Far World Water Keep by J. Scott Savage
The Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin
The White Mary by Kira Salak
The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Heavier Than Air by Nona Caspers
In the Country of Brooklyn by Peter Golenbock

Okay, so that's...11. That means I've got to pick four for the challenge. I definitely hope to fit way more in, but I'll give priority to these four:

The Wednesday Sisters
Franklin and Lucy
Far World Water Keep

Monday, June 23, 2008

Wrapping Up the Spring Reading Thing

Alas, I have failed at my goal for the Spring Reading Thing...sort of. When I started, my goal was to read all those pesky books that were waiting for review or that I owed to somebody from BookObsessed at the time. More importantly, I wanted to boost my reading numbers. I got off to a sorry start to reading this year, and I was hoping to read a bit more than I started out the year reading. I failed at the first goal and succeeded at the second.

Here are the books that I claimed I was going to read...

Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Uglies by Scott Westerfield
The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich
The Widows of Eden by George Shaffner
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen
Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn by Sarah Miller
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Then, here are the books I actually read...

Stealing Heaven - Elizabeth Scott
The Beet Queen - Louise Erdrich
Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
Fever 1793 - Laurie Halse Anderson
The Widows of Eden - George Shaffner
The Cactus Eaters - Dan White
Black Wave - Jean and John Silverwood
Queen of the Road - Doreen Orion
A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libba Bray
Three Girls and Their Brother - Theresa Rebeck
Forgive Me - Amanda Eyre Ward

With Forgive Me squeaking in just under the wire (so under the wire in fact that I haven't had time to write my review of it yet), I made my number goal. Some unexpected reading "have tos" snuck in after I made my list and threw off my plan, but all in all, I'm pretty satisfied with how it turned out. I read some great books (ones that I was planning on and ones that I really wasn't).

All of my reads were written by authors that were new to me except for Forgive Me and The Beet Queen. My favorite? Probably A Great and Terrible Beauty for absorbing me so much that I was nearly able to forget that I had a dreadful cold while reading it. The Cactus Eaters and Queen of the Road tie for a close second for laugh out loud funny vicarious traveling. And I'm still plodding through Three Cups of Tea from my original list(which puts me at eleven and a half books, so, I did really good, right? Ha!), which is a good, informative, and even inspirational book but not a quick read by any means especially since I seem to be suffering some non-fiction burnout. I told myself I would read more non-fiction this year, and I have! Perhaps too much! 6 of 18...that's a solid third of my reading that's been non-fiction, and that's not counting Three Cups of Tea or those two other, ahem, I mean three other non-fiction titles I've agreed to review in the near future, and the five others that might well be coming in the mail shortly from Elle. Yikes! Anyhow, I digress.

All in all, I have to say that the Spring Reading Thing was a pretty rewarding experience for me despite my not quite success. It definitely got me reading more than I'd been, and that's just what I was hoping would happen. Thanks again to Katrina for hosting, and I might well join up should you choose to host a Fall Into Reading challenge!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Three Girls and Their Brother by Theresa Rebeck

You know, I've been thinking. The book that's hardest to review is not the book that you loved nor is it the book that you hated, it's the book that you neither loved nor particularly disliked. So it is for me and Three Girls and Their Brother which goes some way in explaining why it's taken me so long to so much as attempt this review, that and at some point here it became summer and it turns out I actually go out of the house and do stuff during the summer now. Who knew? Jeez, I'll be away this very weekend on a pseudo-vacation to the north of the state to basically sit around, read, and hang out with my grandma. So another weekend will go by with blog neglect, but at least I'll be reading...right?

I have one bone to pick with this book right off the bat that has nothing to do with its substance whatsoever. I got this ARC from Library Thing Early Reviewers, and it's a pretty nice looking ARC, three models in little black dresses looking like they are about to have their photo taken. You know, a decent looking cover, relevant to story, something to be excited about picking up and reading, right? Well, having finished the book, I trekked onto the internet looking for a picture of the cover to put on this blog entry.

This is what I came up with. This is the cover art. Okay, we live in an age of folks who judge books by their covers. That being the case, I wish they would have chosen something else, the picture on the ARC, or well...something else. I found the book to be a pretty decent read, but if I saw this cover at the bookstore, I doubt that I'd so much as look twice. Sadly enough, cover art counts for a lot. Here's hoping for something a little different for the paperback. I mean, does anyone agree? Or am I just over-snarky tonight?

Now that I've finished criticizing the cover art, I'm going to get on with the substance of the review...starting with yet another violation of the cardinal rule of ARCs - I'm quoting it!

You take so long to figure things out and just when you get there, they tell you you're out of time. I don't know why that is, but it does seem that way. Like most of your life you sit around all tense, going, "I know life is supposed to feel better than this. How do I figure out how to feel better?" And everybody's got opinions about how to feel better - get drunk, go to the movies, read a comic book or a p-rno magazine, watch TV, whatever. And so you do all that, and it doesn't work, but you're trying, you know, everybody gets points for trying. And then something happens and it just clicks. One day you're lying under a tree or something and it suddenly feels like you almost know it, how to be yourself, and then you do know it, for a second, and then something else happens. They blow up the World Trade Center or something. Someone dies. You lose everything. And then you think, Why didn't I know how to feel happy and content and at home in my life when I had everything I ever needed? How come as soon as I knew it, it all went away?

The three red-haired Heller sisters have just had their big break. Riding on the coattails of their famous literary critic grandfather, Daria, Polly, and Amelia find themselves in a photo shoot for the New Yorker done by famous photographer Herb Lang. For Daria and Polly and their washed-up beauty queen mother, this open door to fame and fortune is all they could have hoped for, but fourteen-year-old Amelia had other things in mind for her future.

In what seems mere moments, the three sisters, regardless of their intentions, skyrocket to fame, with photo shoots in all the major magazines, a billboard in Times Square, and even a part in an off-Broadway play for Amelia, who has hardly acted a moment in her life. As the girls sign a deal with an agent, and their mother actively pushes them even further into the spotlight in a desperate effort to relive her glory days through them, the three are swept away by the tide of their own sudden fame. Their brother Philip's lone voice of reason is drowned out by the din of those who only claim to have the girls' best interests at heart. Soon, even he is shipped off to his absentee father rather than allowed to "interfere" with his sisters' rise to fame.

The narrative proceeds in four parts, each narrated by a sister, and one by narrated by Philip. Rebeck writes in a colloquial tone that gives the impression of each character telling the story from their own perspective just as they would speak, which works, but is at the same time irritating owing to the fact that teenagers don't make for the most eloquent narrators. It almost strikes you as a fictional attempt at an E True Hollywood story except for the fact that the characters' voices don't seem all that different from each other and Amelia, especially, has a penchant of excessively bad language.

Nonetheless, Three Girls and Their Brother is a page-turner and a scathing indictment of what havoc fame can wreak upon a formerly normal family. Rebeck does a fine job of portraying the effects of the sisters' fame on everyone surrounding them from their fame hungry mother who easily loses sight of her responsibility to stand up for the best interests and safety of her children to the protective voice of reason brother who is slowly coming unhinged as he is tossed aside like so much garbage so that he can't stand in the way of the sisters' good fortune to the hoards of people so eager to exploit the newest "it" girls to make a buck that they will eagerly pack youngsters off to "meetings" with middle-aged movie stars who have anything but the best of intentions. Despite my occasional issues with the narration, I found myself totally absorbed in the story, wondering when and if someone would draw the line that would stop all the fame madness and hoping that lovable loser Philip might find his way back into the family that basically kicked him out on a whim and waiting to see how much of being used and posturing for the media the girls would take before they could finally learn to stand up for themselves amid the chaos.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

It's book you-know-what!

I've been a busy kid this week. "Summer" started and all of the sudden its almost like I have a life. I work a lot. I engage in social events. I host friends from out of state. I go out of state. I go other places in the state. And (and most importantly?), I go to book sales! The towns on either side of us had book sales on back to back weekends, which means I have a bunch of new (old) books. So, of course, I've got to share the plunder. And yes, this time, I've overcome my intrinsic laziness to! Okay, they're not the best pictures, but at least you can better drool over the pretty books, right?

First up we've got the book sale from last weekend. I didn't find too much on my wish list, but I (and my parents whose books I've factored in because I suppose I'll inevitably try to read them) got a bunch of tasty looking books nonetheless. Click on the pictures to make them ginormous, of course.

Let's see what we've got here (let's see if I can manage just highlights) - well, there's my dad's serendipitous purchase of two books on my wish list Turning Angel by Greg Iles, who I continue to think is one of my favorite authors since I read his book Black Cross and loved it (yet haven't read another of his since despite owning several), and Saucer by Stephen Coonts, the first chapter of which I read through one of those e-mail things where they send you a bit each day of a week so that you get all curious and go and buy it.

Island by Alistair MacLeod whose No Great Mischief was one of the first books I reviewed here. He writes like he would be a great short story writer, and I plan to find out with this rather lengthy collection.

A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve that I had convinced myself I didn't want but it looked so sparkly and interesting I decided I had to give it a try. The River Midnight and The Queen of the Underworld, a pair of wish list books. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation that had its glory days of people loving it on BookObsessed which, of course, made me curious. Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich which I hope reminds me more of The Master Butchers Singing Club which I loved than The Beet Queen which I, uh, didn't. A cast off ARC of Something Rising (Light and Swift) which I somehow managed to never know existed. Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner which Matt reviewed not so long ago. And Jihad vs. McWorld which could very well be awful but calls out to political science me and the me that likes cool book titles. Okay, that was some pretty extensive highlight for the rest you'll have to go and make the picture huge.

Next up, we've got the Bloomsburg Library book sale. I went early with the Friends. And the library has a lot of friends, and one evil capitalist with a bar code scanner that must be running some sort of bookselling operations somewhere which kind of just bothers you when you're looking for books that he's just planning on reselling. This was a rough and tumble crowd, but I emerged relatively unscathed and with yet more tasty looking books, which I've done a particularly dismal job of capturing on camera for you.

And highlights. I spotted sparkly new looking copies of Pete Hamill's North River and Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union which I elbowed some old ladies out of the way for. I'm telling you, it was a tough crowd, elbows were your only chance of even looking at the books. Everybody in blogland is talking about Marisa de los Santos' new book, so I jumped at the chance to grab the old one, Love Walked In. The History of Love has been on my wish list forever. A pair of Orhan Pamuk's because I'm curious. Shadows & Lies by Marjorie Eccles because one of you bloggers wrote a good review of it, though I'm hard pressed to remember which one. Wendy sold me on The Blackwater Lightship, I believe. Lisey's Story by Stephen King because Stephen King is one of my old habits that die hard. I'm always thinking about devouring a good Stephen King in the summer because I remember staying up til all hours or going on vacation with one and not being able to tear myself away. A Good Dog by Jon Katz because he came to my old Borders to sign and I remembered the books from all the advertising. And it sounds good, of course. My mom picked up a copy of Dogs Never Lie About Love, the title of which I thought sounded kind of cheesy, but it's by the same guy that wrote When Elephants Weep which I've got and think sounds fabulously interesting.

Since I'm at this whole picture thing, how about some bonus bookpile shots?

Here's the "My name is Megan, and I have a problem with seeking out and/or accepting free books" pile that's starting to get me into trouble because they all want/need reading/reviewing soon.

And then there's the "Really, Megan, you should stop promising people books before you've read them" pile that's also getting me in trouble. It (still) contains several books that I said I was going to read for the Spring Reading Thing challenge, which I have, as you might conclude, pretty much failed at. But the pile is definitely smaller than when I started, and I choose to blame Elle because I had to divert from my reading plan to read the free books they sent me. Not that I really mind about that all that much.

I'd love to hear if you've read any of the books on the bookpiles and whether you happened to like them! And that's all for significant book acquisitions until month. Now, I really must leave you and go read.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday O'Meme

Greetings, earthlings.

It has come to my attention that I haven't afflicted all of you with a "life-y" post lately. Since we are leafing through my life here, it seems only right that I should talk some about, well, me. I was looking forward to a nice relaxing weekend complete with book sale and excessive laziness and maybe even a nice wrap up post for last week's Weekly Geeks, since I actually achieved the goal set forth therein, but alas, it was not to be. On Thursday, my best friend broke up with her dirtbag (opinion subject to change based on when/if she decides she can't go on without him) boyfriend, and being the good friend that I like to think that I am, I said, "you should drive down and hang out with me this weekend because I can't do anything for you from here." So instead of moping around all weekend and taking him back in a weak moment, she came down and uh...crashed my nice, easy, relaxing weekend. And I had good time - a great time even (and I didn't even miss the book sale!) - but I'd hardly term this weekend relaxing. Oh, we went to the movies (may I recommend not seeing You Don't Mess With the Zohan?), we wandered aimlessly about town, we made terrible jokes at each other's expense, we went to the local amusement park in the 90 degree heat to ride the roller coasters and that big huge ginormous log flume that soaks you so much that you leave a trail of water around the park and people that ride the roller coaster after you get an unpleasant surprise, we ate breakfast, we took pictures of ourselves (on roller coasters!), we played cards and ate fatty food. It was delightful. And not relaxing. I fear that it will be some time before I achieve any measure of relaxing during any time of the week.

Not that I need any help to talk about me, but Rose City Reader did tag me for that Six Random Things About You meme that seems to be always floating around. Since I don't seem to have the mental fortitude for much else (I need more relaxation, darnit!) Much to my surprise, I did manage to come up with six exceedingly random things to share today, so here it goes.

- I loathe eggs and milk. Yes, these two staple foods I simply cannot stand. According to my mother, I loved eggs for the first 5 or so years of my life. Now just the smell of them is enough to make me gag. I love dairy products - cheese, yogurt, ice cream - you name it, I want it. But milk? I can't remember ever liking milk. I begrudgingly put it on my cereal, but only in miniscule amounts. But I wouldn't dream of drinking the stuff!
- I love to dance in random situations. I am not a good dancer. I do not look good dancing. But I uh..."break into" dance at random intervals. I amuse my coworkers by grooving to the oldies at work. I dance to music on commercials with only my arms from the comfort of the recliner. I "dance" alone in my car (and with people in my car) proving to any passing motorists that I am, in fact, insane.
- I love riding rides at the amusement park. Okay, this isn't that random. But I used to be terrified of the rides with big drops or that went upside down. Now I love them and can barely handle rides that spin - which I used to love.
- I'm a science-phobe who works in a lab. All of my best friends are biology majors. Yet, despite testing into high school honors' science, science has always frightened me. I managed to dodge ever having to do a science lab in my college years despite the fact that I was probably required to do one. I slipped through a loophole. Now I practice amateur chemistry, file human tissue embedded in paraffin wax into tiny little drawers, and carry around coolers containing things like amputated legs and placentas that need to have parts prepped for microscopic examination. And I kind of like my job, and I'm rarely terrified by it's science-y implications. It's true that wonders never cease.
- I drove cross-country to Montana. Lots of people dream of taking a road trip across the United States. Most of them don't do it in January. Because that's stupid. I was going to take a job out there, then I didn't. So my dad and I drove all the way out. After two hours at the destination, we turned around and came back. The icy cold January wind nearly blew my debit card away twice while I was fueling up the car, my driver's side view mirror was nearly taken off by that same wind, and the gas cap was nearly swept away in similar fashion. It was 7 days of driving non-stop from before sunrise to after sunset (some days as many as 800 miles), except for our "tourist" day when we saw Mt. Rushmore and Wall Drug and drove a mere 280 miles. My dear old car, Buddy the Subaru, got us there and back. Amazingly. He's since been laid to rest. I still miss driving him.
- I moved to the city then moved back to the country and the thing I miss most is the public transportation (and my job at the bookstore! That was cool, too!) It used to be that I could travel back and forth to work (and pretty much anywhere else I felt like going) for a paltry $15 a week and read while traveling. Now I spend around $40 or $50 a week just to drive back and forth to work, and I lost all that reading time. And no, you're not going to sell me on listening to audio books. It's just not the same. Besides, I have to listen to the radio - and dance. ;-)

All right. That's six. And since I'm still at this meme thing, Mariel over at Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops tagged me for that one with the three sentences from page 123 one.

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

It happens that I've got a stacks of recent acquisitions piled all around me (more on those later - the month o' book sales has surely arrived), so I had some options. I kind of enjoyed the one from I Know You're Out There by Michael Beaumier the most, so that's what you're getting.

When he would visit my parents, he'd arrive with a goat in the back of his truck, which he would roast to perfection, or bags of beautiful organic tomatoes that he'd serve to them with mozzarella newly flown in from Italy, or gorgeous fillets of salmon caught wild in Alaska, or dry-aged steaks from Argentina, everything fresh, everything the best. Dad would shake his head and criticize Colin for spending his money on such frivolous, indulgent things - but mom would sit in the corner of her kitchen, watching, proudly amazed, not quite believing a son of hers could so confidently know his way around a kitchen.

My taste buds are far more welcoming of protein shakes and microwave popcorn, meals that are thoughtlessly easy to make and hardly require the annoyance of "savoring" or appreciating their "subtle delicacy" - so when Colin pontificates about food, I know to keep my mouth shut.

I'm not tagging for either, since I seem to see them around everywhere already, but if you want to do them, I'd be happy to read them!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

And I'm back for the second night in a row attempting to achieve this task of catching up on my book reviews. As promised, it's not a travel memoir! Tonight I have for you some well done, young adult magical historical fiction that I'm convinced everyone but me has read (but I'm usually wrong about these things).

When Gemma's mother dies of mysterious circumstances that Gemma foresees in a vision, Gemma is packed off to a London boarding school for girls where she hopes to become the sort of girl who will be able to get a good husband. There, she quickly gains entry into an elite circle of new friends - Felicity, a power hungry Admiral's daughter; Pippa, a stunning beauty about to be married off to a much older man; and the unlikely Ann, an orphan whose best hope in Victorian England is to gain a place as governess to a wealthy family. Among her new friends, with the help of secret diary discovered in another vision, she learns that she has the power to transport herself and her friends into magical realms. As the powerlessness their gender dictates for them is revealed, the allure of the magical realms where they get to choose and their best hopes are realized grows. As the four bring magic back to their own world, danger lurks, and only Gemma has the power to stop it.

Despite its historical setting complete with its implications for the girls, A Great and Terrible Beauty's characters face similar situations to today's teenage girls. For Gemma, as for many teenagers, there is always that dangerous line between being herself and changing herself to fit in with her peers. Her friends' activities are at once attractive and repulsive to her, but Gemma is by no means perfect. She is spunky, opinionated, and outspoken. She is blunt and tactless when perfect manners are expected of her. She knows what's right but she does what's wrong. In other words, she is a very real character and one who is easy to sympathize with.

Bray's writing is richly atmospheric, effortlessly evoking the many settings of her story. From a busy Indian marketplace to a slightly spooky girl's boarding school in London to incredible magical realms, Bray's beautifully rendered places play almost as important a role in her story as the girls themselves. Her rich descriptions make this novel a particularly engaging page-turner.

Most significant of all is Bray's skillful handling of the problems inherent in being a young woman in Victorian times and her use of these issues to further our understanding of the particular grip the magical realms have on Gemma, Felicity, Pippa, and Ann. Girls are sent to Spence not to learn for the sake of knowledge but to store up the lessons that will make them good and cultured wives for some wealthy gentleman of their parents' choosing. Bray's characters are strong-willed young women who desire husbands and beauty and fluent French but also want to have their opinions heard, to be able to have the power to influence the courses of their lives, to accomplish things that women aren't even allowed to attempt. This understandable desire for choice and for power plays beautifully into the girls' growing obsessions with the magical realms that will open for Gemma alone.

My heart's a stone, sinking fast. We make polite conversation. Grandmama tells us of her garden and her visiting and all about who is not speaking to whom these days. Tom prattles on about his studies while Ann hangs on his every word as if he were a god. Father is lost to himself. No one asks how I am or what I am doing. They could not care less. We're all looking glasses, we girls, existing only to reflect their images back to them as they'd like to be seen. Hollow vessels of girls to be rinsed of our own ambitions, wants, and opinions, just waiting to be filled with the cool, tepid water of gracious compliance.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is a delicious, spooky page-turner that doesn't shy away from serious themes. One of my favorite reads of the year.

Read another review at Reading Adventures.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Black Wave by John and Jean Silverwood

The Weekly Geeks are catching up on reviews this week which seems like a good plan to me. I've only got two, so if I write one today and one tomorrow, then I'll have it made. Now to see if it can actually be done. I really must get to it, but first a few side notes. I went on "vacation" this past weekend and it was glorious. I had a swell time, but I'm behind at everything (but it was so worth it), so I'm going to write this book review (it's about time), then I'm going to open up my feed reader and, most likely, cry a little (because of all those unread posts). Oh, and thanks to all of you who commented on the last post, I probably won't get a chance to respond to you all individually, but the "get well soons" were appreciated...and I'm finally getting well, but it certainly wasn't soon by any stretch of the imagination. ;-)

So yeah, book review. The last of my travel memoir trio, at long last. Up next? Something that isn't a travel memoir!

Black Wave is Jean and John Silverwood's chronicle of their decision to take their four children out of their cushy California lives and pursue their lifelong dream of sailing the world. Worried that their children have not learned to really experience life and meet the world head on, the Silverwoods decide that, despite the dangers inherent in sailing long distances, the risk would be worth it to see their family grow together and their children mature in these unique circumstances. On one hand, they were right. On the other, they get much more than they bargained for when their ship wrecked on an isolated coral reef.

Jean's portion of the story alternates a night fraught with terror as the family battles for their lives on the coral reef with flashbacks of their trip up to that point. The recounting of the shipwreck is terrifying, the chronicling of the family's experiences at sea amusing and sometimes heartwarming. However, the interspersing of the two is clumsily done, alternating between tenses and time frames and locales in such a way that it begins to be confusing. Jean's narrative comes to life as she keenly observes her two eldest children coming of age throughout the journey and sees them as their new adult selves on the night of ship wreck. Unfortunately, she occasionally seems to get caught in a trap of trying to describe inherently difficult to describe feelings and situations and failing to do so. These efforts lead to writing that fails to seem genuine and often comes off as overwrought.

John's portion of the story is oddly incongruous with Jean's given their experience of the same events. Instead of weighing in at length on the experience of the trip, he mostly dwells on theories of how the ship came to wreck on this little known stretch of reef and a historical tale of the Julia Ann, a ship that wrecked on the very same reef many years earlier. I found the story of the Julia Ann to be well-written and engaging, with its historical figures coming to life through John's capable writing. John's efforts to return to the theme Jean has begun are also well worth reading as he attempts to identify those qualities in his family members that made it possible for them to survive their harrowing night on the reef.

Overall, I was confused by this book. While its parts are interesting and keep the pages turning, the book as whole just doesn't come together well. Upon reaching the end I was perplexed about what the Silverwoods intended this book to be. Is it a story of their ship wreck? A history of someone else's ship wreck? A contemplation of what caused the ship wreck(s?)? A transcendant tale of a family that truly learned to live life in unusual circumstances whose members grew and matured together and eventually beat the odds because of the lessons they learned throughout the trip? Had the Silverwoods been able to agree on one angle to focus on (ideally, the last), instead of spreading themselves too thin trying to include a little of everything, this book may have been great. As it is, this book's identity crisis undercuts its effectiveness.

The book will be in stores in July.

From what I can tell from Library Thing, my opinion of the book is a bit dissenting, so if any of you have reviewed this book (or do so in the future), I'd love to link to your review. Just leave me a comment with the link.