Saturday, March 30, 2013

'A Friend of the Family' by Lauren Grodstein

Official Summary:

Pete Dizinoff, a skilled and successful New Jersey internist, has a loving and devoted wife, a network of close friends, an impressive house, and, most of all, a son, Alec, now nineteen, on whom he has pinned all his hopes. But Pete hadn’t expected his best friend’s troubled daughter to set her sights on his boy. When Alec falls under her spell, Pete sets out to derail the romance, never foreseeing the devastating consequences. In a riveting story of suburban tragedy, Lauren Grodstein charts a father’s fall from grace as he struggles to save his family, his reputation, and himself.


In the first few pages of A Friend of the Family a few interesting things are revealed about Dr. Pete Dizinoff. For starters, he's an upper middle aged man whose been cast out by his wife and son to live in the room above the garage. He's scared to pick up the phone to talk to his best friend. And then as if all that isn't bad enough, some crazy guy is accusing him of terrible things and throwing bottles at him at the waterfront.

Whoa, right? Heavy even. I found myself needing to find out what kind of  terrible things did this guy do. What heinous things would a person need to do to lose a best friend, a job and the love of your family in one fell swoop?

But then you know what happened? Those questions weren't  addressed in any sort of meaningful way for what felt like hundreds of pages. The story doesn't even come back around to the crazy guy throwing bottles until the last fifty or so pages and by then I didn't care. I'd spent so long reading about all the baby-killer crap* that by the time anything remotely concentrated on the really interesting plot points started it was too late.

What is amazing here, and why I think this book won all sorts of critics praises, is Lauren Grodstein has an uncanny ability to create vivid, believably flawed people. What's even more praise worthy is that if the internet is to be believed, she was a 31 year old single woman when this book about a late middle-aged family man was written and when I tell you that I needed to recheck that this was a female author about a quarter of the way through I'm not kidding - the voice is just that convincing.

The Bottom Line: The writing is stellar, the characters feel like they could step out of the page at any second, and the first few chapters compelled me to keep reading. Unfortunately, it's my humble opinion that the entire focus of the book feels unbelievable and forced at times with the added issue of an ending that feels rushed and tacked on. While I would love to recommend this title based on the quality of the prose alone, the storytelling itself must take precedent, and so this one gets a read at your own risk warning.

*Which, in it's own right, was interesting but entirely unbelievable. And just to be clear it wasn't a Sally-Jesse daytime talk show type of unbelievable... more like the 'that just wouldn't happen like that' variety

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bridal Title 3: 'A Practical Wedding' by Meg Keene

Official Summary: 

Getting engaged is exhilarating…until it sets in that a wedding costs three times what you thought, and takes five to ten times the effort it reasonably should. And then there are the expectations: from calligraphy invitations to satin chair-covers, all those things that Must Be Done or everyone will be Horribly Offended. Or will they?

A Practical Wedding helps you create the wedding you want—without going broke or crazy in the process. After all, what really matters on your wedding day, what you’ll remember ‘til you’re old and gray, is not so much how it looked as how it felt. In this refreshing guide, expert Meg Keene shares her secrets to planning a beautiful celebration that reflects your taste and your relationship.

The Review:

Sometimes I wish it was enough to say that a title was awesome - because 'A Practical Wedding' was exactly that - and move on with my day. Truthfully, reviews would go up a lot faster if I could keep it to a one word opinion* (and whats more to the point than that)? But there's no fun in a quipped, one word opinion for either of us... besides, there's a whole lot more truth to the saying "Anything worth doing is worth doing well" so, what's the deal with this month's Bridal Title?

Well, on the back flap, author Meg Keene promises this title will share:
  • The real purpose of engagement (hint: it’s not just about the planning)
  • How to pinpoint what matters most to you and your partner
  • DIY-ing your wedding: brilliant or crazy?
  • Affording a wedding without having to cut your guest list
  • How to communicate decisions with your family
  • Why that color-coded spreadsheet is actually worth it
 And I've got to say that not only does it cover these points thoroughly, but it manages to maintain a friendly, conversational tone that didn't once dip into the condescending, demeaning (and sometimes downright offensive) language found in the previous bridal titles I've reviewed. After a few months in wedding planning trenches myself this alone is a breath of fresh air!

'A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration' is brimming with valuable, must-read advice on time, prioritization and people management that you just can't find in any one place on the web (except maybe the author's own wedding blog). What you won't find are any concrete money saving tips - but really, take a deep breath and let me assure you that it's really and truly okay! Once you start reading it's easy to see how the sanity saving know-how gained here will translate into money saving later.   

Bottom Line: If you're getting married and more than half a dozen people are going to be there to witness your big day you'll want to read this title. Heck - have your husband to be, mother in law, parents and maid of honor read it too - it really is that helpful.

*So there's an idea! Start looking out for 'Awesome', 'Meh', and 'betterthannothing' in addition to the 'Must' & 'DNR' categories in the post labels. Look at it this way: it's my gift to you - coupled with the traffic light indicator the labels should give you a good picture of what to expect without even reading whatever gibberish I've concocted.  

Like what you see? Don't miss a beat by subscribing using the links to the right or click here!

Monday, March 25, 2013

'Beautiful Creatures' by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Official Summary:
Ethan Wate is haunted by dreams of a girl he’s never met. When Lena Duchannes moves into his small southern town of Gatlin County, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her. And he is determined to uncover the strange connection between them, even if it means uncovering the one secret that could change everything.

A few months ago, on a blistery Sunday afternoon, I would have been found zoning out in front of the TV contemplating the lint in my belly button. It was on that day when I first saw the movie trailer for Beautiful Creatures. Honestly my first thought was something along the lines of complete and utter disinterest but then I had a second thought: I wondered if it was based on a book. Lo and behold my Scooby sense was right on target and after downloading to my Kindle, I promptly resumed the TV droolfest and didn't give the title another thought until recently.

But months of sitting on a title can be a dangerous thing. You see, the longer I wait on a certain title the more likely I am to stumble onto a pile of reviews and I can't help myself. I start making the rounds: What did fellow bloggers think? How did my friends on Goodreads like it? Anything interesting in the Amazon reviews? Before I know it I've got a head full of notions that aren't mine - and that happened a lot with this title. It seemed every blogger, reviewer or casual reader I knew of had something to say about 'Beautiful Creatures' by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

By the time I'd gotten around to reading it I'd had my head filled with critiques and praises of equal measure. Some reviewers feeling as though the title was too long and the book should have been edited down to speed up the books flow and sharpen it's focus. Others chimed in saying that this was another case of 'insta-love' and the realism of the love story was compromised. Then there were people who stodgily defended the title, believing the characters and the setting were set out in amazing detail. Still more people were seemingly enraged by the portrayal of the closed minded, small town folk.

But you want my opinion? Sure, the book might have benefited from a little trimming, but while the pacing would have improved slightly I believe the story would have suffered. And to those feeling as though the teenage love affair sprung up too quickly, might I refer you to any high school in the country where relationships can go from non-existent to blazing in a matter of days, and when the elements that make Ethan and Lena's strange attraction are taken into account, the speediness at which they progress may not make a lot of sense to the adults in the room, but didn't strike me as being too far off the mark. Then there's the business of the closed minded towns people. Yeah, Ethan might have a superiority complex - but, hey, I'm glad that he was written that way. If he was sympathetic to some of the crap coming out of their mouths then I'd have been pretty likely to throw this title into the garbage.

Bottom Line: While the movie doesn't look particularly interesting, the book is engaging and showcases a believable breadth of characters that is usually lacking in this genre. If you're looking for a quick, one night read with in your face drama this one isn't for you. On the other hand, if you're interested in reading something that has a slightly more relaxed pace, with an intricately solid series groundwork being unfolded right in front of you, then this one is, most definitely, worth the read.

Monday, March 11, 2013

'The Witch's Daughter' by Paula Brackston

Official Book Summary:

In the spring of 1628, the Witchfinder of Wessex finds himself a true Witch. As Bess Hawksmith watches her mother swing from the Hanging Tree she knows that only one man can save her from the same fate: the Warlock Gideon Masters. Secluded at his cottage, Gideon instructs Bess, awakening formidable powers she didn’t know she had. She couldn’t have foreseen that even now, centuries later, he would be hunting her across time, determined to claim payment for saving her life.

In present-day England, Elizabeth has built a quiet life. She has spent the centuries in solitude, moving from place to place, surviving plagues, wars, and the heartbreak that comes with immortality. Her loneliness comes to an abrupt end when she is befriended by a teenage girl called Tegan. Against her better judgment, Elizabeth opens her heart to Tegan and begins teaching her the ways of the Hedge Witch. But will she be able to stand against Gideon—who will stop at nothing to reclaim her soul—in order to protect the girl who has become the daughter she never had?

I'm sorry to say it, but the very thing about 'The Witch's Daughter' synopsis that drew me into this book is the very same thing that pushed me away from really enjoying this title: the simultaneous telling a two halves of a supernatural story linked by the passing of time. But it seemed like whenever I'd get into what was going on in one story line I'd be pushed into the other. In a way it was a lot like 'Mariana' by Susanna Kearsley - an historical fiction, told from the perspective of a questionably strong female perspective... but so very, very torpid.

As much as these summaries make it seem like I'd love this book (Immortality? Witches? Girls names Tegan?!) they aren't. But man are these descriptions are deceptive! Having me thinking that it'll lean harder on the supernatural elements... silly, naive me.  I think I've just got to learn that this type of fiction isn't for me - at all.

Bottom Line: To reiterate to future me when my interest is peeked by the next historical fiction masquerading as supernatural romance: This stuff is not, I repeat, not one tiny little iota written for people like me. If you liked 'Mariana' though, or other titles like it, this one should be added to you stack of TBR's.

Love what you see here? Don't miss the weekly book reviews, monthly reading suggestions and free book title giveaways by subscribing here or by following me on Twitter @TheJessle!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

'Domesic Violets (P.S)' by Matthew Norman

Official Book Summary (now included - go democracy!):

Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day. 

The reality, though, is far different. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And he’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious archnemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite coworker. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety.

Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way.

A title like 'Domestic Violets' is a rare find: timely, pointedly funny, and told from a perspective ringing so close to home I feel like I might have been reading the journal of an old friend. Rich and engaging characters and scenes brimming with such an uncanny realism it begs the question of how much of this is an author's memoir and how much is fiction (a question Matthew Norman actually takes time to address in the afterwards). To think that it's sat on my Kindle unread for so long is an embarrassment.

Bottom Line: This one is perfect for those of us who have ever had a desk job, dreamed to be different, or found ourselves acting like our parent but you might consider steering clear if don't like Jennifer Aniston movies*. 

*For some I couldn't help but picture Tom Violet as Vince Vaughn from 'The Break-Up' and I'd never read anything like this book, hence the best parallel being a silly, kinda sappy, romantic comedy. (Sorry 'bout that) 

Love what you see here? Don't miss the weekly book reviews, monthly reading suggestions and free book title giveaways by subscribing here or by following me on Twitter @TheJessle

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Waiting List - March Edition

February has been long, cold, and it dumped an historically high pile of snow that's somehow managing to maintain an icy grip on the surrounding landscape. All I can say is that I'm glad that we're out of the worst of it and I'm looking forward to March's promise of slightly warmer temps as spring starts to eek out a hold on this little corner of New England. 

Besides killing my motivation, February's casualties also included two titles that were slated for review this month: 'Domestic Violets' by Matthew Norman & 'The Witch's Daughter' by Paula Brackston. In past months there's usually a reason for this type of oversight, but this time it comes down to just not having enough time over the weekends (thank you Nemo for the 3 day power outage) to get the reviews written. Simple as that. In other words, expect these two title reviews posted up sometime in the following week... assuming another natural disaster doesn't whip through unexpectedly and rip out some more of my town's already deteriorated infrastructure.  

Two more pieces of news and then onto the regularly scheduled March reading list. The first is a warm welcome to all the new subscribers! And to all the regulars, I'm honored and excited that you've stuck with me. Your patience will soon be rewarded. We have some big things happening in the next few months here on T.T.P. that I can't really talk about in detail yet. So to all the lurkers, if you haven't subscribed yet I promise that you don't want to miss out on some of the stuff coming down the pipe. Remember, you can always subscribe by email here, or by using any of the links in the right-hand sidebar.

The second piece is remember to vote in this months poll. I'm always looking for ways to improve and what's good for me might not be the best for you - so tell me this: Do you want T.T.P to post the official book summaries before the reviews or not? We're currently at a tie and voting ends in about a week so you know what to do.

Now, for the best part. The books planned for March have me really excited:
Last, but certainly not least, this month's Bridal Title segment will be a review of 'A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable and Meaningful Celebration' by Meg Keene. It was recommended to me by a few people that I've spoken with, so I'm sure I've already got unrealistically high expectations.  

Love what you see? Subscribe here and leave comments. Want to stalk me? Follow me on Twitter @TheJessle.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Should TTP Add Book Summaries to Review Posts?

Good morning TTP! I'm not usually into blog polls but I needed to know - would you like to see the official book summary as the lead in to my usual reviews? I see everyone else doing it so now I'm getting self conscious, heh. Personally speaking, I left them out because by the time I get to looking over reviews I've already read the summary at least once. But these reviews aren't for me - they're for you.

And so, I need to know:
Should To The Point start putting the official book summary at the top of each review?