Friday, March 23, 2012

The Boiling Season

The Boiling Season, by Christopher Hebert.

She continued to look out the window, seemingly deep in thought. And then she turned to me with a puzzled expression. "I'm surprised that you don't have more compassion. These are your people, after all."

"My people?" I said. Could she really not see the differences between them and me? I stammered on for a moment, but I saw no way to correct her without giving offense. All I shared with such ignorant people was an island. I did not see how the accident of my birth in this time and place compelled me toward loyalty with others simply because they share the same fate. If I must be assigned a people, why could those people not be Senator and Mme Marcus instead? Or even Mme Freeman herself? People who had worked hard to achieve their success.

Imagine my surprise when I received a copy of this novel and saw that two of my former professors at the University of Michigan, Laura Kasischke and Peter Ho Davies, had written two out of the six "blurbs" on the back of the book. I soon learned that Christopher Hebert is an alum of U of M's MFA program, which is very hard to get in to (I was rejected, as I was one of 800 applicants that year, with 10 fiction writers ultimately chosen). It comes as no surprise, then, to quickly find that The Boiling Season was a very good read.

The book is complicated and has many layers, so to save some time here's the synopsis from the publisher:

"Alexandre wants more from life than the gang-controlled slums of his childhood can offer. At nineteen he finds work as valet to an important senator, and ambitiously parlays that position into one as caretaker of a derelict estate being developed by a wealthy American businesswoman. Alexandre's new home in the mountains outside the capital affords him sanctuary from the turmoil wrought by the dictatorial regime that controls the country. But, eventually, he can no longer keep the encroaching civil war at bay. Helpless when his utopia is invaded by an armed gang of the very slum-dwellers he has worked so hard to escape, he must choose between preserving his paradise and protecting his people."

Although the novel starts when Alexandre is 19, near the end of it he is entering his 40s or 50s, it's fascinating to see how much happens to him and to "his" estate during that time. I was actually thinking that the novel could be made into the movie, and then I started thinking about casting, but the author himself has already beat me to the punch: he wrote a blog post about actors he would like to see play his characters. He suggests Don Cheadle for Alexandre, but I was actually thinking more like Demian Bichir, from A Better Life, even though he is Spanish and not Haitian or African American. Hebert also suggests Anthony Mackie for Dragon Guy, one of the revolutionists in the novel, which I could definitely imagine.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions listed, however, are my own.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Do You Want To Do Before You Die?

What Do You Want To Do Before You Die?, by The Buried Life.
(Jonnie Penn, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn, and Ben Nemtin)

This book is a little more unusual than others I've reviewed here, in that it's more of a collection of pictures, with some short stories weaved in, rather than a novel.

The book is by The Buried Life, a group of young guys who have become a phenomenon. In 2007, they came up with a list of things they want to do or accomplish before dying, and set out on a road trip to try and cross some things off their list (#19 on the list, by the way, is to write a bestselling book). So far they have accomplished about 80 of the things on the list, including playing (basket)ball with President Obama and #66, walking a red carpet, in which they snuck onto the red carpet of the VMAs (Video Music Awards).

I had never heard of The Buried Life before reviewing this book, but they have an avid following, looking at their Facebook page, and they actually used the "sneak footage" of them at the VMAs to pitch a show about themselves to MTV, ironically. These guys are also big-hearted: for each "task" that they accomplished, they try to help others live their dreams as well. The book is a compilation of stories from their "bucket list" and words from others about what they would have on their lists, with illustrations accompanying it, and is definitely a good "coffee table" book, as the pages are glossy and colorful.

I read this book in about an hour, so it won't take you long to get through; you might find yourself re-reading it, however, when you want to motivate yourself or perhaps make a "bucket list" of your own.

What Do You Want To Do Before You Die? will be in stores on March 27th.

*Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book to review. The opinions listed, however, are my own.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Out of Sight, Out of Time

Out of Sight, Out of Time, by Ally Carter (Gallagher Girls book #5).

It wasn't like we talked a lot. But then again, it's not like there was all that much left to say. We'd seen things. We'd done things. And I wasn't the only one who was still waiting for me to come home from my summer vacation.

I leaned over the sink and let Bex wash and bleach my hair. Then Macey took the scissors and trimmed away my dead, uneven ends. I sat, letting my best friends work around me, watching as the person I had been last summer washed away down the drain.

When I received an email asking me to review this book, I knew it was book 5 in the series, and I had not read any of the books. I had, however, read Heist Society by Ally Carter, which was very good. I  rented the first four Gallagher Girls books from the library, and immediately got hooked. The newest installment, Out of Sight, Out of Time, is much darker than the previous ones, in that in this installment, our heroine Cammie Morgan wakes up in a convent in Austria and has no memory of her summer at all. The last thing she remembers is leaving the Gallagher Academy to go search for the Circle of Cavan, an evil group that was trying to kidnap her. She wakes up with no memory of the past four months or so, dyed hair, and dirt under her fingernails.

She calls her mother (who is also the headmistress of the school) and is brought back to the Academy, where her friends have been worried sick about her. Cammie must figure out what exactly she did over the summer, and how she ended up at the convent in Austria.

This book was so good that I read it in about two hours. Seriously. My only regret is that now I will have to wait a while for the next installment; as in all of her Gallagher Girls books, Ally Carter gives us an ending that foreshadows the next book. I will caution you that this is not really a "stand alone" book, at least if you want to understand the nuances of all of the relationships going on - definitely read the first four books before reading this one - but even if you had not read any of the other ones, the spy stuff in it alone is enough to keep a reader interested.

5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was a given a copy of this book to review. The opinions listed, however, are my own.

And the "trailer" for the novel is pretty awesome as well:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ship of Souls

Ship of Souls, by Zetta Elliott.

Right after Christmas a blizzard hit the city. This lady on our block went into labor, but the streets weren't plowed, so she couldn't get to the hospital. She tried walking through all that snow but only made it as far as our building. She has the baby right there in the lobby with the help of some of our neighbors. They called an ambulance, but it never came and the baby died. All because of a blizzard. I never told my mom. She was upstairs "dying with dignity." At least that's what Marva and the hospice lady said. To me, it looked like Mom was just too tired and weak to wake up.

Ship of Souls is about D, a bright young man whose mother has recently died. He is put in foster care but soon adopted by Mrs. Martin, an "elderly white woman" who takes good care of him. She soon adopts Mercy, though, a baby who was born addicted to crack, and soon D often becomes second priority. D starts to tutor Hakeem, one of the school "jocks," and he also meets Nyla, one of the prettiest girls in school. D soon finds a bird in Prospect Park that isn't exactly what he looks like - for one, this bird can talk - and he and his friends must help the bird on its quest without becoming harmed.

This novel - more of a novella, since it's only 120 pages long - features interesting characters, including Nuru, the talking bird; however, I'm not a huge fan of "sci-fi," so it probably wouldn't be a book I would normally pick up. The cover, too, is a bit menacing: it has a picture of hands holding a bird with blood-red eyes, and almost reminded me of something voodoo-esque. For YA readers who like sci-fi, though, this book will definitely appeal, and the writing in the novel was overall very good.

2.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review. The opinions listed, however, are my own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Inception: The Shooting Script

I was given copies of three movie-based books to review: Inception: The Shooting Script, Red Riding Hood, and Cowboys and Aliens. What I thought the books were going to be was a novel adaptation of the films, all of which I have seen; what I got, however, was entirely different, but also pretty cool.

Inception is a crazy movie to begin with, so to read the script was a little confusing; I would recommend seeing the movie first. By now most of you know the plot, but basically it has to do with planting an idea inside one's mind - i.e., the idea of "inception." Leo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and more star in the movie, and it was one of the more interesting films of 2010 (see my review here).

I would say the book is geared towards those who are huge fans of the movie. It has a lot of drawings and initial ideas that were used for the movie, which I thought was interesting since I've already seen the film. If I had not seen the movie, I probably would have been a bit confused, since Inception is a hard movie to understand just from reading the script. Because I have already seen the film, though, I was able to link what I was reading on the page with the scenes from it.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Keepsake, by Kristina Riggle.

The sun was climbing higher. I reckoned it was probably sixty degrees or so. The women and girls coming from the church wore pastel dresses and pretty delicate shoes. The men wore suits, or at least natty ties and dress shirts. I wondered how many of them went home to a hoard of objects, or some other dreaded secret. A husband who might hit them when he drank. A wife addicted to pills. A son surfing porn. Why did everyone have to look so perfect all the time and make you think your life was terrible? Couldn't the screwed up people look the part at least so the rest of us wouldn't feel alone?

Kristina Riggle is a Michigan author who lives on the west side of the state (Grand Rapids area, I believe), and she was kind enough to send me an ARC of her novel, which will be out on June 26th. She is the author of three other books, all of which are written very well, and Keepsake is no exception. The novel tells the story of Trish, a hoarder, whose mother was a hoarder as well - an in fact died in a fire in her home, because she had stacked so many papers against the walls she was unable to escape. Trish knows she is a hoarder but she doesn't hoard old food and have animal droppings everywhere like her mother did, and so she reasons that she is not quite as bad as her mother was.

That is, until her young son Jack has a fall and gets covered in papers, breaking his arm. Social Services is called, and Trish is ordered to clean up her messy house; if she does not, Jack will be taken away from her and placed with her ex, his father. Her other son, the teenager Drew, has moved out of the house to live with his girlfriend, not being able to stand the mess anymore, and she hasn't seen her sister Mary for more than a decade. All of these people plus her father, however, come together to help Trish in her time of need, and they end up discovering more about each other and their family's past than they previously knew.

I've never watched any of those TV shows about hoarders, but I found this book to be very interesting. Usually a traumatic event can cause a person to start hoarding, and it turned out that both Trish and her mother each had one in their lives that could have been the catalyst for them. Mary, Trish's sister, is the exact opposite of her - if she doesn't have OCD, she has something close to it - and she freaks out whenever anyone even tracks dirt into her house. Trish gets upset when people move or throw out her stuff, but she must overcome this in order to be able to keep her child living with her in her house.

The novel also has a "love story" of sorts as a "B" plotline, as well as the backstory of the sisters and their family.

Keepsake will be in stores on June 26th. 3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclaimer: I received an ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) of this novel to review. The opinions listed, however, are my own.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lone Wolf

If you had told me when I was eighteen that I would be back in Beresford, I would have laughed in your face. Back then, all I knew was that I had to get away from here as fast as possible. As a teenager, I never realized that the thing I was running from would still be here, waiting, no matter how far I ran.

Mistakes are like memories you hide in an attic: old love letters from relationships that tanked, photos of dead relatives, toys from a childhood you miss. Out of sight is out of mind, but somewhere deep inside you know they still exist. And you also know that you're avoiding them.

I'm a huge Jodi Picoult fan, so I was glad when I was given a copy of Lone Wolf to review. I also know from her past novels that she likes to kill off her characters in the end, especially one or two that her readers have become attached to, so I read "with caution." Lone Wolf, however, had a different type of story to it, and like most of her books, the chapters were told in alternating voices, which end up strengthening the novel overall.

The Warren family has been estranged for some time. Cara lives with her father, Luke, a famous naturalist who became famous when we went to live with a wolf pack in Canada for two years. Edward lives in Thailand, where has been living for the past six years since he turned eighteen, after an argument with his father. Their mother, Georgie, has a new family now, and lives with her husband and their twin children. When Luke and Cara get into a car accident and Luke essentially is thrown into a coma, however, they must come together and decide if they want him to live - in a vegetative state - or die.

Jodi Picoult always researches thoroughly for her novels, and this one was no exception. The father, Luke, still has a voice in some of the chapters, and he speaks of the wolf world and how it relates to that of the human one. The chapters are also told through Cara, Georgie, Edward, Joe (Georgie's new husband), and other minor characters, and we get to see what everyone is thinking about the situation and how they think the family should deal with it.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel for review purposes. The opinions listed, however, are my own.

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