Monday, August 24

"Nineteen Minutes" - Jodi Picoult

"Sterling is a small, ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens - until a student enters the local high school with an arsenal of guns and starts shooting, changing the lives of everyone, inside and out.
The daughter of the judge sitting on the case should be the state's best witness - but with her boyfriend dead and her childhood friend charged with murder, she's struggling to remember what happened in front of her own eyes....
Number one bestselling author Jodi Picoult brings us her hardest-hitting and most involving novel yet. NINETEEN MINUTES asks what it means to be different in our society, who has the right to judge someone else - and whether a person is ever whom they seem to be..."

If you want a truly uplifting, joyous, warm, inspiring read - do not read Nineteen Minutes.
I borrowed it from the library on a whim, mainly to see why everyone was raving about Jodi Picoult. And once I started reading it, I found out why. To me, it was utterly engrossing, and as 'un-put-downable' as any thriller. It was also very, very moving and emotionally powerful. However I don't think I'll be reading any more books by Picoult after this.
Why? Because it was so profoundly sad.
Nineteen Minutes is incredibly depressing, but I think that's because it seems so real. You can imagine, with great clarity, every single one of the scenes in this book. You can imagine how each of the characters feel, how they act, how they think, what they look like. In fact Picoult paints characters so real, so vivid, that I found myself thinking about them long after I'd actually put down the book on any given day.
Occasionally, it did veer a little too widely into slightly sappy sentimental territory, and at times it felt as though the author was putting in all these clever metaphors just for the sake of writing something that had a 'deep' hidden meaning to it, just because she could. "The rain came down so they couldn't see each other clearly". Oh, and it's like a reflection of their relationship too! Wow. That's profound.
On the whole, it was one of those books that just stays with you for ages, making you think, and it does call you to question who the real victims are in various situations.

RATING: Riveting. Depressing. And haunting. 4 STARS

Sunday, August 9

"Size 12 Is Not Fat" - Meg Cabot

Or, at least, she did. That was before she left the pop-idol life behind after she gained a dress size or two—and lost a boyfriend, a recording contract, and her life savings (when Mom took the money and ran off to Argentina). Now that the glamour and glory days of endless mall appearances are in the past, Heather's perfectly happy with her new size 12 shape (the average for the American woman!) and her new job as an assistant dorm director at one of New York's top colleges. That is, until the dead body of a female student from Heather's residence hall is discovered at the bottom of an elevator shaft. The cops and the college president are ready to chalk the death off as an accident, the result of reckless youthful mischief. But Heather knows teenage girls . . . and girls do not elevator surf. Yet no one wants to listen—not the police, her colleagues, or the P.I. who owns the brownstone where she lives—even when more students start turning up dead in equally ordinary and subtly sinister ways. So Heather makes the decision to take on yet another new career: as spunky girl detective! But her new job comes with few benefits, no cheering crowds, and lots of liabilities, some of them potentially fatal. And nothing ticks off a killer more than a portly ex-pop star who's sticking her nose where it doesn't belong . . . "

After being a dedicated Meg Cabot fan through my teens, and then being less-than-impressed by her short story in Prom Nights from Hell, I decided this adult chick-lit offering was her last chance to win me back. Her last chance to impress.
Well, I didn't completely hate it - but I definitely didn't love it. In fact, 'Size 12 Is Not Fat' ended up being annoying more than anything else.
The protagonist, Heather, really started to grate after a few chapters. Despite the book's implication that she is, in fact, smarter than she thinks, I didn't buy it. I mean, she's ditzy. She's completely obsessed about her size. She makes an enormous deal about minor occurences ("she looks like a showerer, not a bather". Who gives a damn, honestly?). She's just...ugh. Rather than warming to the stereotypical chick-lit-heroine-with-whom-women-can-identify, I found her incredibly frustrating and just wanted to slap her by the end of the book.
What is it with the size obsession, anyway? I realise the title of the book is a slight giveaway as to what the contents will feature, but I found it unbelievably annoying to be reading about sizing throughout the book. Why does Heather constantly obsess about being size twelve? If she's obsessing about body image, why isn't she obsessing about the fact that she perceives herself to be fat? Why is it all about the numbers? And the constant bleating about "size twelve is the size of the average American woman" definitely started wearing thin (HA! PUN!) after it was repeated the first fifty or so times. OK, Ms Cabot, we get it. You're trying to write a book that deals with body image concerns. But don't you think you overdid it just a bit? And don't you think the end message - girls who aren't stick thin can still prevail - was more than a little trite?
The only thing keeping me reading was the crime/mystery plot, which, once it got going, chugged along quite nicely underneath the thick veneer of shallow chick-lit slathered copiously over the top. Once a mystery makes itself known to me, I feel compelled to find out who did it. It did provide some interesting scenes for our size twelve amateur investigator to get caught up in, and while the end result (and the motive for the crime) proved to be completely ludicrous, I didn't feel entirely cheated. I mean, after all, it is chick lit.
Needless to say, the book did not make me laugh once. Not that I was expecting as much. I don't think I'll be reading Cabot again.

RATING: The crime/mystery plot was good. Everything else was not. 3 STARS

Tuesday, August 4

"The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers" - Lilian Jackson Braun


"Times are changing in Pickax: a new senior centre is in the works and a production of CATS is set to delight Moose County residents; Polly Duncan is off to Paris, leaving Qwill without a companion for his apple barn concerts; and The Librarians Who Lunch are showing their Art Hats to help unite Pickax with their Lockmaster County neighbours.
Not to mention the conversion of the late Nathan Ledfield's mansion into a charitable museum! With Mr Ledfield's treasures being sold off to benefit needy children, the town is abuzz with excitement - that is, until a mysterious death from a bee sting leaves everyone but Cool Koko in a state of confusion.
Is it because Koko has sixty whiskers as Qwill suspects, or because Koko knows that the mysterious death was no accident?"


I picked this up at random from the library, and I must admit, I just couldn't get into this one. Perhaps it's time I read and reviewed a book I didn't enjoy - there's a lot of 4 star and 5 star ratings here. While I enjoyed the descriptions of the two cats in the book, the rest of the novel (it's more of a novella than a novel, though) seemed rather dull. Constant descriptions of a cast of characters I was completely unfamiliar with, and descriptions of the places they lived, was a bit tedious for a first-time reader of this series. To me, the writing style wasn't quite engaging enough to properly complement the "quirky and cute" elements in the story. In fact, by chapter six, it was still downright boring, so I gave it a quick flick though, searching for the mystery it promised - but nothing grabbed me. Nothing intrigued me. I almost stuck with it for the sake of reading about the antics of Koko and Yum Yum (they're two Siamese cats), but unfortunately...nope.

RATING: The cats were cute, but the story was still boring one-third of the way through the book, and it just didn't appeal. 2 STARS

Sunday, August 2

"The Eyre Affair" - Jasper Fforde

"Meet Thursday Next, literary detective without equal, fear or boyfriend.
There is another 1985, where London's criminal gangs have moved into the lucrative literary market, and Thursday Next is on the trail of the new crime wave's Mr Big.
Acheron Hades has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre is gone. Missing.
Thursday sets out to find a way into the book to repair the damage. But solving crimes against literature isn't easy when you also have to find time to halt the Crimean War, persuade the man you love to marry you, and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare's plays.
Perhaps today just isn't going to be Thursday's day. Join her on a truly breathtaking adventure, and find out for yourself. Fiction will never be the same again..."

I got tonsillitis while reading this book. I don't think this was actually caused by the book though, so don't worry, you'll probably be able to read it without becoming ill. However sitting up in bed for an entire day with a crazy fever allowed me to get through quite a sizeable chunk of this book in a short amount of time, which turned out to be a good thing.
This is one of the most bizarre books I have ever read, and trying to describe it without sounding completely delirious is quite a challenge. I mean, how would the ordinary person respond to a book description like this:
"Well, it's like a futuristic story...but set in 1985, in Britain...and people have pet dodos and stuff. And there's this big hierarchial law enforcement system that's divided into groups, according to what they deal with, like terrorism and stuff...and the main character in this book is a LiteraTec, meaning she works with any kind of literary crime, like people messing with important literary works etc. Oh, and her name is Thursday Next. They all have weird names in this book. There's another character called Jack Schitt. Anyway, some people can travel in time too, and the big villain of the story is trying to alter the original manuscripts of some important works, so that by altering the originals, all the copies of that work in the rest of the world get affected too...and Thursday Next has to try and stop him...and...yeah. It's kind of strange."
I swear, the author must be either a creative genius or a raving lunatic to have come up with most of the ideas in The Eyre Affair. It's just so 'out-there' and original, and with a deep undercurrent of absurdist whimsical humour throughout (the descriptions of the pet dodos made me smile, in particular). I can see how it's one of those books that would really divide people's opinions - you either love it or hate it. I belong to the former category.
However, there were a couple of things that I didn't like quite so much. First, the title implies that the book is based on (or at least makes a lot of references to) Jane Eyre, which is why I read this straight after reading Jane Eyre. However, references to Bronte's most famous work make up just a small (albeit significant) part of the story, and it doesn't even get to the 'Jane Eyre has been kidnapped' part until the last few chapters, so it doesn't fully live up to the implications its title. Also, there seemed to be a lot of different characters, and for a while I had a bit of trouble remembering who was who and what they did, etc. The weird names didn't help in this matter, occasionally detracting from the flow of the story (eg, you'd meet another weird name, and then you'd be thinking "Huh. 'Filbert Snood'? What kind of a name is FILBERT SNOOD?" for a while, rather than concentrating on the story.)
Or maybe that's because I was feverish.
At least this book provided something interesting to do!

RATING: On the whole, it was a very enjoyable, quirky read - and certainly very unique. However, despite its charm, I don't think I'd feel like reading it again, so I'm giving it a comfortable 3 STARS