Friday, July 27, 2012

The Virgin Cure

The Virgin Cure, by Ami McKay.

"I know someone who can help you make a new start," Mae said, pushing her bowl aside. "She'll put you in new clothes, give you a place to stay-"

The cut of her dress, the quality of her boots, the winning smile she'd given the oyster opener, all pointed in one direction.

Are you a whore?" I whispered, interrupting her before she could finish.

My question, blunt and awkward as it was, didn't seem to bother her in the least. Tugging at the wrists of her gloves and pulling them taut, she looked me in the eyes and replied, "Almost."

A friend of mine recommended The Virgin Cure and I was able to receive an ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) from the publisher. The story is an interesting one, that of 12-year-old NYC resident Moth, who has an unreliable mother who soon sells her to be a maid for Mrs. Wentworth, a rich lady. The year is 1871, and Moth and her mother are very, very poor; it is no surprise, then, that Moth's mother cashes in on her.

Moth finally manages to escape from Mrs. Wentworth's, and after scavaging on the streets for a few weeks she finds herself a home at a whorehouse - or a home for "near" whores, anyway, whose virginity is sold to the highest-bidding gentleman caller. Miss Everett, who owns the house and prepares the girls, is a shrewd businesswoman, and it is Dr. Sadie, the woman doctor who examines the girls, who soon becomes Moth's friend. Dr. Sadie knows that Moth needs to escape from the house, but meanwhile Moth has nowhere to go.

I had never heard of the "virgin cure" before - in the 1800s, men with syphilis thought that the blood of a "fresh maiden" would cure their disease - and Dr. Sadie is able to see firsthand how one encounter like such ruins a girl for the rest of her life. The story is told in first-person from Moth's point of view, but there are news articles and also reports from Dr. Sadie that help provide more perspective to the reader. During the story I kept forgetting that Moth was only 12 years old - she tells Miss Everett that she's 15 - and it's crazy to think about Moth "selling" herself like that, even though she did get a home of sorts in the bargain.

3.5 stars out of 5.

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

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, by Margaret Dilloway.

Most people are surprised by my rose hobby. I took more like I'd have a secret science lab in my basement, a torture chamber, perhaps, than a rose garden. Roses are frilly and soft and sweet-smelling, which I am not. If you saw me in the teacher lineup, our faces bathed in harsh light against the black height lines, would you pick me for the rose lover? No. You would pick someone like Dara, the art teacher, with her carefully messed halo of Botticelli curls. Or Mrs. Wingate, the English teacher, whose fluffy circle skirts sometimes remind me of roses in their layers and frilliness. Not plainspoken me, squinting unmercifully back at you, my eyes barely visible behind my round gray-tinted lenses. A garden gnome without the jolly expression.

Galilee, who goes by "Gal," teaches biology at a Catholic school, and has a bad kidney; she goes in for dialysis frequently. She's close with her parents but not so much with her sister, Becky, and niece, Riley - until Riley shows up at Gal's school one day, saying that Becky has taken a new job in Hong Kong and wants Riley to stay with her. At first, Gal is not okay with this, but as time passes, she begins to enjoy spending time with Riley, and being a surrogate parent / "legal guardian."

Gal also has a unique hobby: breeding roses. The beginning of this novel was a little dry because it was all about the roses and Gal's obsession with them, but once it started to delve into her personal life, it began to pick up and become more interesting. Gal wants to breed a unique rose and perhaps even win a prize for it at a rose show, but she has some stiff competition, and soon learns that people aren't always who they seem to be.

For the most part, I liked this novel. Gal has an interesting life and a quirky perspective on things, and this is able to be shown throughout since the novel is written in the first-person. She's very stubborn and expects people to follow through on their promises, which doesn't always work out in the "real world," but at the same time she's also very smart and witty. The characters in this book all seemed like they could exist in real life, and that is part of what made the novel work so well.

The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns will be in stores on August 2nd. 3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was compensated for writing this review for the BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whiplash River

Whiplash River, by Lou Berney.

Shake remembered the real Roland Ziegler. The real Roland Ziegler had been feeling pretty good about himself back in Panama City three years ago, about to walk away with both the money and the merchandise, back to his private island in the Caribbean. Next thing he knew, his hopes had gone up in smoke and he was staring at twenty years in the federal lock.

It was like poker. You might be zooming right along, a killer hand, picking up speed on the flop and the turn. But the game wasn't over yet. That last card, the river, it could jerk you around fast. Shake knew it.

I had never read any of Lou Berney's novels before this one, including Gutshot Straight, to which this is a follow-up novel, but he has been compared to Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard. I actually found him to be more of a Harlan Coben-type - writing good mystery/suspense,  but with some of Elmore Leonard's wittiness thrown in as well.

Ex-con Charlie "Shake" Bouchon lives in Belize and operates a small restaurant. He still never got over his ex, Gina, and he owes a few dangerous people a lot of money, including the gangster Baby Jesus, who is now threatening to kill him if Shake doesn't pay up. When Harrison Quinn shows up at his restaurant to dine one evening and is almost killed by a masked gunman, Shake starts to get nervous; when his restaurant is blown up by the same people shortly after, and Shake now can't pay Baby Jesus, Shake decides it's time to run. Mr. Quinn decides to help him, but it later turns out that there are other people besides Baby Jesus after Shake too.

This novel will definitely keep your attention, although it's not the type I usually read so it did take me a while to get through it. The ending had more than one twist to it, and was very good, as was the writing and the one-liners sprinkled throughout it. I may read Gutshot Straight now when I get a chance, just to read about Shake and Gina's backstory, but this novel can definitely stand on its own; I didn't know until about midway through that Berney's previous novel was about the same core characters. I recommend this book if you're looking for a fast-paced travel and robbery story similar to the Ocean's Eleven movie series or if you're looking for an overall entertaining read.

3.5 stars out of 5.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Chaperone

The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty.

"Alan. Do you know Leonard Brooks?"

She waited for his nod, though she already knew the answer. Alan knew all of the other lawyers in town.

"Well," she said, "his eldest daughter got into a dance school in New York. He and his wife would like a married woman to chaperone her. For the month of July, and some of August." She rubbed her lips together. "I think I'll go."

She glanced at him only briefly, seeing his surprise, before she turned back to her window.

Louise Brooks was an actual silent film star of the 1920s and '30s, though I had not heard of her until reading this novel. There's a quote from her at the beginning of the book which tipped me off that she was real, and I Googled her and read a bit about her after I finished the novel. She was known for having a "lively" private life, so to say, and eventually her drinking and carousing ended up negatively impacting her film career. She wrote an autobiography called Lulu in Hollywood that was very well received, though, and was said to have a quick wit and was sharp in her writing.

The Chaperone focuses on Louise in the summer of 1922, or more specifically, the chaperone, Mrs. Cora Carlisle, that accompanied her to New York City that summer when she took classes with the Denishawn dance company. Cora has her own reasons for going to New York - she was an orphan there and was shipped to Kansas on a train, where a nice family adopted her, and she wants to see if she can find any information about her birth mother. Her husband, Alan, knows this is why she wants to go to New York, but no one else knows she was originally from there. Louise's goal is to eventually join the dance company at the end of the summer, but since she is only 15 her parents insist a chaperone go to New York with her. Cora ends up finding more about her past than she would have liked, and Louise does eventually earn a coveted spot in the Denishawn dance group; after that, the book follows them all the way into Cora's elderly years.

This book was very well-written. In an interview of the author by fellow author Curtis Sittenfeld on the Amazon page for the book, Moriarty says that she's always been intrigued by Louise Brooks, and that the story of her first going to NYC with a 36-year-old chaperone was a true one. This novel, though in the third-person, sets out to tell the story of that chaperone. On the outside, Cora looks like a very traditional housewife; we soon learn that her home situation isn't exactly what it appears to be, and although Louise sees her as a "stick-in-the-mud" type persona, she has some secrets she's keeping from her.

The characters were all very relatable in this book too, regarding their motivations, and it may just inspire you to watch one of Louise's movies from the black and white era after you finish it.

4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was compensated and given a copy of this novel to write this review for the BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shatter Me

Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi.

He opens my door with immense difficulty and I realize someone's hurt him where I can't see it. Warner's words come back to me and I recognize his airy good-bye as a warning. A warning that severs every nerve ending in my body.

Adam will be punished for my mistakes. For my disobedience.

I want to bury my tears in a bucket of regret.
"The purple dress," he says, his voice broken and a little breathy like it hurts to inhale. I have to wring my hands to keep from running to him. "Wear the purple dress." He coughs. "Juliette."

I will be the perfect mannequin.

It's no secret that I love dystopian lit, and this is one of the best examples of it I've seen in quite some time. Ever since Juliette was little, she's found that when people touch her they die - at least if she holds them long enough. Her parents were ashamed of her, and after an accident in a grocery store when she kills a little boy, they send her away. She eventually ends up in the mental institution, where she lives in isolation for about 3/4 of a year, until they give her a roommate: Adam. Juliette knows Adam - they went to grade school together - but she thinks that he doesn't remember her.

Soon, though, they are taken from their cell, and Juliette finds out it was all a set-up. Warner, a leader in The Reestablishment, has been obsessed with Juliette forever, and he wants to use her for evil - to make her torture their enemies. Adam is a soldier for The Reestablishment but he's not entirely what he appears to be; for some reason, Juliette is able to touch him with no consequences. Adam and Juliette make plans to escape, but first they have to get past Warner and out of his locked-down fortress.

I read on the author's website that this film is being optioned by 20th Century Fox (see below for my cast picks), and it would make an awesome movie. It's going to be a trilogy, too: the next mini-book, Destroy Me, will be released on October 16, 2012 as an e-book, and will be told from Warner's perspective, as he's still obsessed with getting Juliette back.

The way this novel was written was almost poetry - filled with metaphors - and I loved it up until the very end, when it kind of veers in an X-Men direction, though that part is still interesting. I am very interested to read the next book, and also the second full book in the series, Unravel Me, which will be out on February 5, 2013, and the last book, which is unnamed and will be released fall 2013.

5 stars out of 5.

*Cast picks for the movie version:
Adam: Soldier. Very muscular, intense blue eyes, blonde. Age 17 or 18.
My pick: Liam Hemsworth.
Liam was last seen in The Hunger Games, and he's who I was picturing as Adam when I was reading the novel. He's 22 but could definitely play 17/18.

Juliette: very small and fragile. Long dark hair, very pretty. Age 17.
My pick: Either Aubrey Plaza, Amanda Seyfried, or Ellen Page.
This was hard to "cast." All of these actresses are talented, but I'm not sure they would make a good Juliette ... I mostly cast them based on their looks.

Warner: Age 17. Refers to himself as "a perfect specimen" at one point in the novel. Obsessed with Juliette and with power.
My pick: either Alex Pettyfer - but he would have to bulk up for the role - or Sebastian Stan, though Stan is almost 29 so probably too old for the part. I could see Pettyfer playing an evil role, and I've seen Sebastian Stan in evil roles before, and he'd be great as Warner.

Kenji: Age 17 or 18. Another soldier in The Reestablishment who we later find out is a mole. Friend to Adam who later helps him and Juliette immensely.
My pick: Leonardo Nam ... but he's probably too old. He's exactly who I picture as Kenji. Currently almost 33 years old, though.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Girl Below

The Girl Below, by Bianca Zander.

Mistaking me for Hillary meant Peggy didn't know, or had forgotten, that my mother was no longer alive. When people forgot I often couldn't bring myself to correct them. Sometimes they started reminiscing about Hillary's beauty, the way she'd lit up a room with her grace, or her legendary abilities to sew and cook, and by the time they asked the appalling but inevitable question, "How is she, your dear mother, Hillary?" the weight of their admiration bore down upon me so hard I told them what they wanted to hear. "She moved to Scotland to look after Grandma," I'd explained to one old acquaintance, telling another that she'd gone to India in the midnineties to find herself and was still there on an ashram. Lousy fibs but much kinder on us all. Everyone had loved my mother - no one more so than I - and if I never said out loud that she'd died, then I sometimes believed that she hadn't.

Suki is a complicated narrator, and this novel was incredibly detailed; therefore, don't expect it to be a quick read. She's also an unreliable narrator, or so we think - she's either going crazy or really seeing apparitions and is able to time travel. Yet, the novel doesn't fully revolve around that, and it makes up a small part of what is the story of Suki's life.

Suki Piper fled to New Zealand from London ten years ago, in 1993, after her mother died from cancer. Her father had started a new family with another woman many years before, and he happens to live in New Zealand. Now, in 2003, she has decided to return to London, only to find that the friends she has left there aren't really her friends anymore, and the city as a whole has changed drastically. She goes to her old apartment building to visit Peggy, an older lady who used to live upstairs from them, and Peggy is in declining health. Her daughter Pippa offers Suki a job to stay in the apartment and care for Peggy, and since Suki has no other living options she accepts. This re-starts Suki's relationship with the family, as well as with Pippa's family - her husband Ari and 16-year-old son Caleb - and she soon finds herself more attached than she thought she would be.

The novel jumps back and forth between 2003 London and Suki's history, starting in 1981 London and continuing through her move to New Zealand. Suki remembers an epic party that her parents threw in 1981, and it is that party that she visualizes when she finds herself in the garden as it was then, late one night. There was a bunker there that night that her father decided they should investigate, and she almost died there, which was a traumatic experience for her. It is this night that Suki is able to "time travel" to, even when she travels with Pippa's family to Greece as Peggy becomes unwell.

Suki's story is definitely interesting; one of the other characters comments at one point that Suki has had a "hard life" but should now try living more for the present. Because the novel is so incredibly detailed, it took me a while to get through it, but overall the novel is worth reading because of this. In the Q&A with the author in the back of the book, the author was asked if she could see this being a movie, and I think it would definitely be a great movie - it spans many years, so a lot of actors and sets would be involved, but if the script stuck to the book it could be something spectacular.

3.5 stars out of 5.

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

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