2009 RESOLUTION: FAIL

Nope. I did not read two books in four days. I failed my 2009 New Year’s resolution … but you know what? I’m OK with that. With everything that happened in 2009, reading 23 books in one year isn’t too shabby. I can accept this failure.

Speaking of failures … I didn’t even complete or even attempt to start on the second half of my 2009 resolution … complete random projects (pillows, quilts, etc.). Nope, all of those projects are still in my big bin of projects. I’m such a failure.

So, here’s to 2010 … my New Year’s resolution is to participate in the team marathon with my sisters and brother-in-law in May. I have about five months to train to run 6.5 miles. And at the moment, I don’t think I can even run a mile without stopping to walk. Oooooh, I am in big trouble.  🙂

BOOK REVIEW #23: THE GUEST LIST

“The Guest List” by Fern Michaels

Where do I even begin? I had so many problems with this book … well, I shouldn’t say so many problem, but I had some issues. Let’s start with the back summary of the book, which drew me to buy it for 33 cents at the used bookstore. Without copying the back summary word for word because there’s some copyright issues … I will paraphrase as best as I can.

MY VERSION OF THE BACK SUMMARY: Abby Mitchell finally believes she has it all: a wonderful man in her life, a promising career as a writer, and an experimental surgery that promises to free her from a birthmark on her face. Not to mention, she has been reunited with her long lost sister, Mallory. They were separated when they were younger after both of their parents died in a terrible tragedy. Now that Abby and Mallory have reunited, they decide to throw a lavish party. However, someone on their guest list will do anything to keep the past buried.

From that paraphrased back summary, the book doesn’t sound that bad, right? I start reading a few chapters, and the book begins with Mallory and Abby’s parents right after their mother gave birth to Abby and their father discovers Abby has a huge port-wine stain on her face. Mother Harriet isn’t too pleased that her second child is flawed and spends all of her time and love on Mallory while Father John dotes on Abby and defends her from Harriet and Mallory’s vicious remarks and actions.

I’m fine with the backstory because I start to feel for Abby. I start to root for her … I have no problem with the backstory about Abby and Mallory and their parents. However, Fern Michaels gives the reader lovely snippets of Abby’s life growing up with Mallory and her new life with Donovan (who was married to Harriet’s sister) and Carol (his girlfriend turned wife). To be honest, I could have skipped her high school and college years. I didn’t need chapters to tell me that Abby fell in love with a guy who looked beyond her flaw and fell in love with who she is not what she looks like.

Let’s talk about another issue: How Abby and Mallory were separated. Because of Abby’s birthmark, Mallory and their mother constantly teased and were mean to Abby. Fern Michaels makes it clear that Harriet was not a nice person and that Mallory was turning into her at a very young age. After the death of their parents, Donovan and Carol take in both sisters, but due to Mallory’s vicious behavior toward them and Abby, they drop her off at instituion that reforms juvenile delinquents.

Back to my issue with the back summary, I thought I would be jumping into Abby’s life with Steve, her career, the surgery, and her blossoming relationship with Mallory after reading a little backstory. Um, no. After the tragedy, I read about Abby’s high school and college years. The huge party doesn’t really come until the END OF THE BOOK! The planning of the party or even the mere thought of hosting a party doesn’t take place until near the end of the book. Here’s what the back summary should have read:

WHAT THE BACK SUMMARY SHOULD READ: Born with a devastating birthmark on her face, Abby Mitchell knew she was different but she was also deeply loved by her father and her Uncle Donovan, who did their best to shield her from her mother and old sister’s ugly remarks and actions. Tragedy takes the lives their parents, leaving Abby in Donovan’s care and Mallory inside the walls of an institution for juvenile delinquents.

Years later, Mallory reappears in Abby’s life, claims she has changed, and apologizes for the past, but Donovan and his wife, Carol, warn Abby that Mallory may have an ulterior motive. Should Abby forgive and forget the past with Mallory and seek the loving sister relationship she always wanted? Or should she heed Donovan and Carol’s warning that some people never change?

OK, so the new version is a little long, but I think it accurately describes the book way better than what is printed on the book. My post is already too long, and I haven’t even shared my issues about the characters and some of the writing. The writing isn’t terrible, but Fern Michaels has the tendency to repeat some stuff and write scenes that I don’t feel is necessary or vital to the plot. Just my thoughts.

If all I’m doing is complaining about the book, then why am I giving three out of five stars? Because I was hooked and I wanted to finish the book. Yes, the back summary threw me off and upset me. Yes, the characters annoyed me at times. Yes, the ending was too cheesy for me and made me roll my eyes in disgust. Yes, the writing strayed a bit. But I was also hooked and wanted to know who was lurking in the dark.

Recommendation: *** (three out of five stars)

BOOK REVIEW #22: WITH RED HANDS

“With Red Hands” by Stephen Woodworth

I read this book during my breaks at work. Once again, this book was picked off my book shelf … not too bad. But once again, I think I picked the second in a series with recurring characters. However, I didn’t feel like I was too lost without reading the first book which I believe is called “Through Violet Eyes.” When I feel up to it, I should read it because the second book wasn’t too bad … I finished it so that has to say something.

A Violet is a person who is a conduit to the dead (I’m not sure if I used the word conduit right). By using a touchstone the dead had used while they were living, a Violet can call upon the deceased person’ soul and the soul will enter the Violet to speak to the living who wanted to talk to the dead. For example, a daughter wanted to show her father that she made something out of her life and show her success … the daughter called a Violet so her father could inhabit the Violet’s mind and body and basically talk to the daughter. However, not all reunions with the dead are happy and joyous.

Natalie is a Violet who apparently quit some big organization of Violets and has some issues with her father. Natalie quit the organization because of her 5-year-old daughter, Callie (who is also a Violet), and now does freelance work. However, an old friend draws Natalie into a current trial, where the defense lawyer has called on another Violet to testify. Natalie and her friend, Inez, who is the prosecutor, believe something doesn’t add up when the Violet channels the victims.

I was kind of surprised to find myself liking the book even without reading the first book. I’m kind of drawn to the idea of living people being able to talk with the dead, and I thought Stephen Woodworth did a good job of explaining the process. I had some slight issues with the main character, Natalie. Sometimes she acted like a brat, especially when it to her father and her stepmother. But sometimes she behaved realistically, especially when it came to her daughter, Callie.

For the most part, I was able to follow along with everything and I enjoyed the book. The pacing was good, and the character descriptions were nicely detailed. I recommend it, and someday I will get around to reading the first book, “Through Violet Eyes.”

Recommendation: *** (three out of five stars)

BOOK REVIEW #21: THE BRETHREN

“The Brethren” by John Grisham

I’ve read a few books by John Grisham … I can only read a few books by him every so often. I can only handle so much lawyer jargon before I get confused and then realize I’m a dummy. In the past, I’ve read “The Firm” and “A Painted House.” I think I read “The Client” and maybe “A Time to Kill,” but I really can’t remember. I know I’ve seen the movies. I like “The Client” the movie.

Anywho, I mentioned before in a previous post, I won’t complete my new year’s resolution of reading 25 books … but in my defense, I got pretty close. I’m reading another book at work during my breaks, but I don’t think I’ll complete it before the end of the year. But to be four books away from the resolution, isn’t too bad … is it?

I picked “The Brethren” off my book shelf, because I have a ton of books by John Grisham sitting on my book shelf. I love going to this small used bookstore in town, and it has a lot of his books on sale (three for $1). Not a bad deal at all for future reading. I have a lot of books on my shelf that I haven’t read yet … so that’s why I decided to choose a few books. That and I’m too lazy to go the library.

Back to the review … three former judges work on a scam inside the walls of a very low security prison. Outside of prison, major strings are being pulled in the upcoming presidential election. An unknown congressman finds himself on the path to the White House with a little bit of help.

I was surprised to find myself enjoying the book. I’m not big into politics, and my knowledge of the government is limited. I know what I should know, and when I don’t know something, I just ask Charlie. But for the most part, I was able to follow the book, and I enjoyed it. I looked forward to reading it before I went to bed. I recommend it.  🙂

Recommendation: **** (four out of five stars)

BOOK REVIEW #20: GONE

“Gone” by Lisa Gardner

Shortest book review ever. The continuing story between former FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and Rainie Conner. A terrible crime scene shakes Rainie and her marriage to Quincy. Then Rainie disappears. At first, Quincy is a suspect for the briefest of moments but then he helps the local law enforcement find his wife. Quincy’s daughter, Kimberly, and her boyfriend, Mac, fly in to help find Rainie.

I like that Lisa Gardner’s characters continue to have flaws and problems. The “happily ever after” isn’t perfect, and that’s what I love about Gardner’s writing and characters. Unlike previous recurring characters I’ve tuned into, Gardner’s characters have yet to annoy me. So far so good. 🙂

Recommendation: *** (three out of five stars)

FOR THE RECORD

For the record, I haven’t read all of these books in December. I think I might have finished “Gone” by Lisa Gardner in early December, but I completed “Best Friends Forever” by Jennifer Weiner and “The Next Accident” by Lisa Gardner sometime in November. I just took forever to write the book reviews because I didn’t feel like writing them.

In the next couple of days, you will read more book reviews … they’re pretty short reviews, but I’m keeping to my promise to post the reviews as soon as I’m done reading the books. For the record, I did read “The Brethren” by John Grisham and “With Red Hands” by Stephen Woodworth (reviews coming soon) in December. They were two books I picked off my book shelf because I was too lazy to go to the library … not to mention, I really should start reading books on my shelf.

The point of this post is explain the numerous book reviews you’ve been seeing in December plus a few more in the next couple of days. If I’m able to complete the book I’m reading now that means I’m TWO books away from completing my new year’s resolution of reading 25 books in 2009. Two books isn’t bad considering the extraordinary year that I went through. But then again … am I able to complete two books in less than a week? Hmmmmmm.

BOOK REVIEW #19: BEST FRIENDS FOREVER

“Best Friends Forever” by Jennifer Weiner

Addie and Valerie became best friends the day Valerie and her mother moved across the street from Addison’s family. Shy, lonely, and pudgy, Addie was thrilled to have a best friend. But once they entered high school, Addie felt her friendship with Val was drifting apart as Val started to socialize with other people (read: the popular group). An ugly incident at school finally destroyed their friendship. Years later, Val shows up at Addie’s front door and asks for her help.

I had a few issues with the characters and their intentions. Once you read what destroyed their friendship, I honestly would still be holding a grudge against my best friend. Seriously. Although Addie is a bit hesitant about helping old best friend, she continues to follow Val. And all Val says, “I’m sorry,” and that’s it? No major explanation on why she didn’t defend Addie? Really the explanation doesn’t really need explaining, but it would have been nice to hear Val some kind of remorse or something for stabbing her best friend in the back.

Not to mention, I really didn’t like the romantic plot either. I won’t ruin it, but I’m not a “love at first sight” kind of girl. Maybe I’m too cynic, and maybe I’m not a hopeless romantic. But I do love a good love story, and I just don’t think the romantic plot was real.

I still enjoy Jennifer Weiner’s writing. She has a gift for wit and honesty, and while I didn’t find some of the storylines real, Weiner does know how to tell a story, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to read the book.

Recommendation: *** (three out of five stars)

BOOK REVIEW #18: THE NEXT ACCIDENT

“The Next Accident” by Lisa Gardner

FBI profiler Pierce Quincy knows his daughter, Mandy, was murdered even though she was the drunk driver who spun her car out of control, killing an innocent bystander in the process. The only person who believes that his daughter was murdered is Lorraine “Rainie” Conner, who agrees to investigate the case.

Um, this is going to be the laziest book review. I think I finished this book sometime in November, and it has taken me until now to write the review. So this will be short and sweet. I liked the book. I liked the continuing saga between Quincy and Rainie. Lisa Gardner continues to amaze me with her writing talent. I think she is an extremely talented writer, and she definitely has me hooked by using recurring characters. Good book. I recommend it.

Recommendation: **** (four out of five stars)

BOOK REVIEW #17: THE NEIGHBOR

“The Neighbor” by Lisa Gardner

I don’t know if I’m going to fulfill my New Year’s resolution of reading 25 books … the end of October is nearing, and I’m writing my 17th review. Between now and the end of the December, I have to read EIGHT books! Can I do it? Just so you know, I am reading. I’m reading during my lunch breaks at work and reading whenever I do laundry because what else I am going to do during the laundry run? I’m reading and reading, but it doesn’t seem like I’m reading fast enough. Eh, if I don’t succeed … I guess I will always have next year, right?

neighborBack to my 17th review … holy cow! I’ve read 17 books this year. OK, back to the review … I hate to say this, but “The Neighbor” was by far my least favorite book by Lisa Gardner (which is also her latest book). I thought the premise sounded promising, and once again, Gardner’s ability to build characters was brilliant … but for some reason, I didn’t quite enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed her previous work.

The summary: Beautiful 23-year-old wife and mother disappears. Police immediately zero in on two suspects: her emotionally deattached husband and a 23-year-old sexual offender who lives a few houses down. Because he shows no emotion about his wife’s disappearance and seems cold and distant except with his 4-year-old daughter, Ree, Jason Jones becomes a suspect. The police don’t trust him. “What are you doing to find my wife?” “Find my wife!” are statements that Jason Jones never uttered once to the police during the investigation. Not to mention, Ree was the last person to see her mother.

As D.D. Warren and her partner, Miller (I forgot his first name) investigate the disappearance, more suspects are added to the list: The 13-year-old student madly in love with his teacher; the victim’s father who reappears after a very long absence; and a state computer tech who was helping the victim look into her husband’s past.

Was the victim afraid of her husband and ran away in the middle of the night? Why she was so afraid, then why did she leave their daughter in his care? Was their marriage on the brink of disaster? Instead of going through a messy divorce, did the husband decide to permanently end their marriage? Did the wife threaten to reveal her husband’s past and leave with their child? Is that he killed her? So many questions. Not many answers.

What I liked about the book … the victim sharing her past and memories and the husband’s trains of thought during the investigation. I thought Gardner did a fabulous of job building the characters, making them believable and their marriage happy but distant and yet lonely. And the small gems of humor and wit in a suspense novel. Loved it.

What I didn’t like about the book. … Gardner became a bit repititious with the characters’ line of thought. Yes, I get that the wife and husband were distant with each other but presented a united front for their daughter. I get that they respected each other but yet they still felt alone in their marriage. The victim got what she wanted, but she was still lonely.

I kept turning the page because like all good mysteries I needed to find out how the mystery ended. Unfortunately, this was not one of my favorite books by Gardner. And that makes me a little sad and little hesitant about reading her next release.

Recommendation: *** (three out of five stars)

BOOK REVIEW #16: SUNDAYS AT TIFFANYS

“Sundays at Tiffany’s” by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

Eight-year-old girl has imaginary friend who she loves and adores. But on her ninth birthday, her imaginary friend leaves her. When the imaginary friend leaves, he says that she will forget about him the next day … except that she doesn’t. She remembers everything about her relationship with him and even writes a successful play about a girl and her imaginary friend. Now in her early thirties, Jane still thinks about her imaginary friend, Michael.

Eight-year-old Jane needed an imaginary friend because her mother was a successful and popular Broadway producer. The only time Vivienne carved out of her busy schedule was Sunday, when she and Jane spent their time at Tiffany’s, looking at and trying on all the pretty diamonds. When Vivienne was flying all over the world for business purposes, Michael was there to help Jane and, most importantly, be her friend and a person she could count on.

tiffanyNow in her thirties, Jane’s life hasn’t changed much. She works for her mother and still seeks her approval. She yearns for her mother to accept and love her just the way she is. Jane has a no-good boyfriend who is an actor and is using her to become more famous. Jane is still nice to everyone she mets and works with. She still has a heart of gold. And she’s surprised by the success of her play that revolved around her friendship with Michael when she was a little girl.

One day, Michael and Jane meet again. Michael can’t believe that Jane didn’t forget about him … because that was one of those rules about being an imaginary friend. Once an imaginary friend was no longer needed or when the kid turned 9, they forget about their friend. And Jane can’t believe that Michael can be seen by other … not just her. He is an imaginary friend? Is he an angel? Is he on a mission? Why, after all of these years apart, do Michael and Jane find each other again?

When I read the summary of the book, it sounded like a very sweet story. But then I started reading it. Sweet turned into creepy. So many complaints … so little time. First, let’s start off with the font size of the book. Hello, large print. Second, hello very simple sentences that my 9-year-old nephew could read and understand. Seriously, I think my nephew, Ethan, could read and understand the book … although, a couple of chapters would be highly inappropriate for him.

Third, where’s the character development? The reader clearly knows who the villians and heroes are in the book. Mom is painted as bossy, controlling, domineering, unloving. Boyfriend is a loser with good looks but somehow manages to charm Jane with a smile. I wanted to root for Jane, but at times, she seemed like a doormat for people … well, at least she knew it. And Michael, well, I don’t have much to say about him because I don’t think I ever really got to know him (if that makes any sense).

Four, the creepy factor. After finding each other again, Michael and Jane fall in love after spending really cheesey days together. They walk through a park. They rollerblade. They have lunch and dinner. He brings her a gardenia because it’s her favorite flower. They talk about everything and anything. Their kisses are perfect. And they fall for each other. Uh, hello! This is ageless Michael (in his early thirties) and Jane who he’s known since she was a child! Hello, creepy factor.

Five, the unresolved mysteries. *SPOILER ALERT* Who Michael is and how the imaginary friend thing works is never really explained. And why he and Jane are reunited is never really explained. We’re led to believe that Jane is dying and that’s the reason why Michael and Jane find each other. Throughout the book, Jane has symptoms of feeling ill … in the end, it’s not Jane but then her illness or her symptoms were never explained.

Six, the really super cheesy ending. Blah. I’m all for a good happy ending. I truly am. The ending of the movie, “Sleepless in Seattle,” was fantastic. Loved it. The main characters in “Here to Stay” (please see book review #12) was predictable, but it was also sweet and charming. Happy endings can be done without adding an layer of cheese. I read the ending, and I rolled my eyes. And I made myself a promise.

I promise to never read another Jame Patterson book unless it’s “The Women’s Murder Club,” and even that series is dancing on thin ice with me (check out my review … I wasn’t kind). But authors who use recurring characters have me hooked, and I’m too dumb to stop reading. So score one for James Patterson.

Recommendation: * (one out of five stars)