Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jenny Valentine - Finding Violet Park

Quirky little book, this one is. First impressions? It smacks a little of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time from the quirky and unusual lead character to the side detective story when Lucas embarks on a quest to find Violet Park. Nevertheless, Finding Violet Park is a clever and original story in its own right, which really is not so much about finding Violet Park, but Lucas's own journey to break free from his abandonment issues and trauma after his father vanished without a trace and to accept his family as it is. Valentine weaves in an improbable connection between a dead lady whose ashes are stashed in a minicab office and Lucas's father, but somehow, the tale works, resulting in a funny and moving story with fabulous, well-observed characters. I purchased this book on a whim because of its interesting cover and I'm really glad I did so. This is an unusual but enjoyable read that I would highly recommend to readers of all ages.

John Elder Robison - Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's

This is a fascinating read about Robison growing up with Asperger's syndrome at a time when the diagnosis didn't yet exist and realising that he was "different" from other people and learning on his own how to adapt. It wasn't until he was forty that he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome by a therapist friend of his. Robison describes his childhood days and his difficulty in making friends in a frank and mostly lighthearted tone, but the heartbreak and loneliness of those days are not lost on readers. It must have been an immense struggle to be misunderstood all the time or to be called a sociopath, bringing about doubt about oneself. I enjoyed the chapters that featured John and Snort/Varmint, especially in the early years, and also those with him and his son, 'Cubby'. I would have liked to know a little bit more about Robison's current life -- how he met his second wife, 'Unit Two'; his relationship with Augusten; and just other bits and pieces to give a little more insight. I also would have liked to read the essay that Robison wrote about his father, but unfortunately, this is no longer on Augusten's website. Regardless, I am glad to have had the opportunity to read this and take a glimpse into a life that I otherwise wouldn't have understood.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Jodi Picoult - Wonder Woman: Love and Murder

I picked this up from the library as I thought this was a standalone graphic novel by Jodi Picoult featuring Wonder Woman. What I didn't expect was that this was actually part of a series, picking up from a previous storyline and the comic book itself ended on a cliffhanger. Nothing about it particularly stood out for me, and it was actually a frustrating story because I had no idea about prior events and a story without a resolution was certainly not what I was looking for. I definitely won't be chasing down the next issue to find out what happens next -- I guess I will just stick to Picoult's regular novels.

Gillian Flynn - Sharp Objects

This sure was an impressive debut effort from Gillian Flynn, albeit a very dark and twisted one. Flynn crafted a psychological thriller that was extremely intense and there was no let-up from the intensity at anytime; it was uncomfortable, creepy and bone-chilling at times. Camille, the protagonist in the novel, was a damaged soul from her childhood and emerged broken, still unable to shake off her demons. The author built a palpable suspense in revealing the horrors that Camille went through, and what she unveiled in her investigation of the two murders in her hometown. I was kinda expecting the ending but Flynn had me hook, line and sinker for the mother, so I was still horrified when I read it and it blew me away. This was a page-turning thriller that had me hooked on every page and I look forward to more of Gillian Flynn's work.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Christopher Moore - Bloodsucking Fiends

Hmmm... I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. I thought I would absolutely love this one as I really enjoyed reading Moore's Practical Demonkeeping. Bloodsucking Fiends started really abruptly for me and from there, I felt it never quite fell into a groove. The plot came across sudden and choppy with no real natural flow. There was no proper explanation why the vampire decided to turn Jody, or why Jody was able to survive when others before her hadn't. Tommy and his motley crew were a really odd bunch, which normally I would find quirky and endearing but they were just plain strange. I kept waiting for the story to settle but it never did for me. The ending is just as abrupt as its beginning, which made for a fairly unsatisfactory conclusion. The book wasn't without its moments with some funny dialogue and great one-liners, but ultimately, quite disappointing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Michael Crichton - A Case of Need

I am a fan of medical thrillers but A Case of Need by Michael Crichton isn't very good. Firstly, the medical footnotes annoyed the hell out of me. I get that they are useful in explaining the medical jargon, but I think it was used way too much in the book that it lost its effectiveness. Even then, it wasn't consistent! He explained some obvious terms but then did not for 'D & C', which was used regularly throughout the book. It felt like Crichton was trying too hard to impress -- hey, look at me, I know all these fancy medical terms -- and just peppered everything with all the medical jargon he had ever picked up. This was overkill, a subtle touch would have been better. Secondly, I don't think the suspense of the plot was built well at all. Discoveries that I deemed as major plot developments just vanished or turned out to be inconsequential. A prime example was the possibility that Karen Randall might not have been pregnant at all. It felt like the protagonist was pursuing this truth relentlessly but when a certain point in the book was reached, it was completely unimportant. To a reader, this was a huge letdown and ruined the tension. I guess considering that this was Crichton's debut effort I shouldn't be so critical, but I think if this was the first time we were introduced to Michael Crichton, this book would not have done well at all. I think for future medical thriller fixes, I will stick to Tess Gerritsen's novels!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Jodi Picoult - Change of Heart

Jodi Picoult is like a machine, churning out book after book. While there have been some misses, her books are always high-quality reads, even those that don't quite make the mark. With Change of Heart, Picoult has produced yet another gripping read. I started reading this on my flight back to Melbourne from Hobart and I simply couldn't put it down until I finished it. That said, the book is not without its flaws.

The part about Shay as the miracle healer is too similar to The Green Mile for my liking. At least Picoult makes reference to it with one of the inmates calling him that in the book, but there still isn't enough variation from the original. Maggie is a bit of a cliché as an insecure plus-sized woman who has a difficult relationship with her exacting mother, down to the relationship she develops with the gorgeous British doctor who loves her the way she is: good appetite, curves and all. Surprisingly, the chapters on June and Claire are fairly slim, and as a reader, I would have liked more on them. The twist about Kurt was predictable right from the very beginning so it wasn't really a huge shock. The way Picoult ended the book also annoyed me a little. The items that Shay passed to Michael appeared to debunk the notion of Shay possessing any supernatural abilities, but in the epilogue with Claire, it was then suggested otherwise. Only a slight issue, but I'm the type of reader that likes things definite and I'm usually not a fan of the maybe-maybe not situations.

Even with these shortcomings, I still think this is a remarkable read and Picoult is truly a brilliant storyteller, weaving together a tale from the different viewpoints of all the characters. She covers difficult issues in this book, from religion to capital punishment, and while she may not have pulled it off perfectly, I think she handled them with a delicate touch and was successful in the end. Picoult has certainly provided food for thought with these challenging issues, and I'm sure there will be healthy discussions among readers at book club gatherings out there. It may not be the best that Picoult has ever written (My Sister's Keeper still retains that honour for me) but it's still an impressive effort and sits among my favourites by Jodi Picoult.

Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None

Strangely enough, I have never read any novels by Agatha Christie despite my mother being a fan of her work and myself an avid reader of the mystery genre. I sought out this book to read as a video game based on this particular novel was recently released and I wanted to read it before playing the game. Unfortunately, in trying to find out more about the video game, the cat was let out of the bag and I stumbled upon the true identity of the killer. This dampened my reading experience slightly since there was no guessing on my part to try to figure out who the killer was, but still, the suspense and tension that Agatha Christie built is remarkable, and I can see how a reader without any prior knowledge would find this book very exciting to read and extremely difficult to pick the killer. I did find the old-fashioned writing a little odd at times but this was truly a great mystery novel, and I'm glad I made the decision to get a copy of this book to read. I do have another Agatha Christie novel in my possession; let's see if that one will be just as good!

Khaled Hosseini - A Thousand Splendid Suns

Just one day into my holiday in Tasmania and I turned into a sobbing mess. Nope, nothing to do with Tasmania -- which had been very lovely -- but this heart-wrenching read that affected me so much. I finished this while resting in our hotel room before heading out for dinner, which wasn't such a great idea since I went out with a puffy face! Anyway, back to the book, this was beautifully written and really struck a chord with me, even though I could never begin to comprehend such a nightmarish world. My heart went out to the two courageous women in this book and I wept for them for all the horrors that they had to endure, especially towards the end when Mariam had to make a terrible choice and sacrifice. This is a great account of the changing landscape of Afghanistan in the last 20 or so years, and despite all the hardships, how Laila still holds hope for the future and wants to contribute to a better life for all in Kabul. A really fantastic read that I highly recommend to all.