Review: Songs of the Humpback Whale (and a giveaway!)

Songs of the Humpback Whale – Jodi Picoult

published 1992 – 346 pages

From the back cover -

Jodi Picoult’s powerful novel portrays an emotionally charged marriage that changes course in one explosive moment… For years, Jane Jones has lived in the shadow of her husband, renowned San Diego oceanographer Oliver Jones.  But during an escalating argument, Jane turns on him with an alarming volatility.  In anger and fear, Jane leaves with their teenage daughter, Rebecca, for a cross-country odyssey charted by letters from her brother Joley, guiding them to his Massachusetts apple farm, where surprising self-discoveries await.  Now Oliver, an expert at tracking humpback whales across vast oceans, will search for his wife across a continent – and find a new way to see the world, his family, and himself: through her eyes.

My thoughts -

So this is Jodi Picoult’s very first novel (and reading this means I’ve read ALL of her books finally), and you can definitely see how her writing has progressed a LOT since this novel was written.  To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot that I enjoyed about this book.  It actually seemed very chick-lit formulaic to me – wife has mid-life crisis, leaves her husband, “ruins” her kid’s life, has an affair, then realizes she has all she ever wanted at home, isn’t really in love with her new man, and comes running back to the arms of her forgiving husband… booorrrinnnggg.  Besides that, there just seemed to be several elements to this story that didn’t fit – for example, the relationship between Jane and her brother Joley struck me as SUPER weird… I can’t really put my finger on it, but it just wasn’t normal.  And the ending… my goodness, did I detest the ending.  Let’s just say there was a tragedy that was completely unnecessary and added absolutely nothing to the story, and I have no idea why she decided to write the ending like she did. 

I will say this though – this woman really knows how to write well-developed characters.  I kept turning the pages because I was very concerned about how their lives were going to turn out.  If it weren’t for these characters, the novel would have been pretty bad in my book – but the well-written characters brought this book up to the level of ok for me.

Since Natasha was sweet enough to send me this book after I had mentioned that I really wanted to read it, I am going to pass the favor along.  I’ll be giving this copy away to one lucky Picoult fan!  Leave a comment here to win – to get two entries, mention the giveaway on your blog (if you do this, please send me the link to your post so that I don’t have to go hunting, thanks!).  I’ll be drawing the winner on Monday, September 1st (that’s one week from today) so make sure to enter by Sunday the 31st to be considered.  And make sure to leave me an email address where you can be reached. :) Good luck!

Review: 1st to Die

1st to Die – James Patterson

Click image to view full cover

published 2001 – 424 pages

From the back cover -

Enjoy the riveting debut of The Women’s Murder Club – James Patterson’s most exciting series ever.  In San Francisco newlyweds are being stalked – and slaughtered.  Enter four unforgettable women, all friends… Lindsay, a homicide inspector in the city’s police department, Claire, a medical examiner, Jill, an assistant D.A., and Cindy, a reporter who has just started working the crime deck of the San Francisco Chronicle.  Joining forces, pooling their talents, courage, and brains, they have one goal: to find, trap, and outwit the most diabolical and terrifying killer ever imagined.

My thoughts -

I picked this book up because I’ve been having a bit of a reading slump lately, and I thought that an easy, fast-paced book like this would sort of help kick me into gear.  While I can’t say that I’m completely recovered from my slump, 1st to Diewas exactly what I anticipated, and exactly what I needed.  I haven’t read a Patterson book in forever – I read all of his in high school, and I especially loved the Alex Cross series – but I really haven’t been as into these types of books the last 4-5 years.  Patterson writes what I typically think of as “mind candy” … books that are pretty enjoyable, you can wolf down really quickly, but don’t require much energy or thought to get through them.  I haven’t really read a lot of “mind candy” books lately, but this one totally hit the spot.  In fact, I enjoyed the story and these characters so much that I think I’ll continue with the rest of the series whenever I feel the need for a quick and easy read.  I think that although some of these books tend to be a little cliche, the characters in this one were pretty well developed (especially for a book that is the first in a long series) and the story was a decent one, with unpredicted twists.  I’m glad I picked it up and I’ll be grabbing the next one at the library sometime in the near future.

Review: Anatomy of a Boyfriend

Anatomy of a Boyfriend – Daria Snadowsky

 published 2007 – 259 pages

From the book jacket -

Before all this happened, the closest I’d ever come to getting physical with a guy was playing the board game Operation.  Okay, so maybe that sounds pathetic, but it’s not like there were any guys in my high school who I cared to share more than three words with, let alone my body.

Then I met Wes, a track-star senior from across town.  Maybe it was his beautiful blue eyes, or maybe my hormones just started raging.  Either way, I was hooked.  And after a while, he was too.  I couldn’t believe how intense my feelings became, or the fact that I was seeing – and touching – parts of the body I’d only read about in my Gray’s Anatomy textbook.  You could say Wes and I experienced a lot of firsts together that spring.  It was scary.  It was fun.  It was love.

And then came the fall.

Daria Snadowsky’s unflinching dissection of seventeen-year-old Dominique’s first relationship reveals the ecstasy and the agony of love, and everything in between.

My thoughts -

When Daria Snadowsky contacted me and so graciously offered to send me a copy (autographed, no less!) of her first novel to review, of course I jumped at the chance.  I have to say that although this isn’t the type of book I would typically pick up on my own, I did really enjoy reading it.  What Dom and Wes go through in their first real relationship is so familiar to me, as I experienced a lot of the same thoughts and emotions when I was in high school, with my first “real” boyfriend.  I think that many teens will find this novel comforting, as it is strikingly similar to what I believe are many peoples’ (especially teens’) experiences with relationships.  Also, I felt that Snadowsky did an excellent job of allowing the reader to get to know and love the characters – especially Dominique – in a relatively short amount of time (250ish pages).  Because of this, I truly felt for Dom when the inevitable eventually does happen (they go off to separate colleges, etc…), and I was rooting for her to figure things out, to mature out of the relationship, and to continue on with the amazing opportunities that were in store for her at college and beyond. 

Some other bloggers have mentioned the amount of sex in this book and questioned its appropriateness for younger teens.  I have to agree with them in a way.  While I will readily admit that I read books just as graphic as this one at age 14, I’m not quite sure that I’d encourage my 14 year old to do the same (if I had children, which currently I do not).  I’d recommend holding off on this one until age 16 or so, or at least – for all you parents of teenagers – skimming through the book to determine its appropriateness for your particular teen.  I think all kids are different – as a teen, I could have easily flown through this book without “getting any ideas”, but I know that other teens probably handle things differently than I did.  So, just a word of caution for all the parents out there and/or younger teens.

Overall, a solid YA book with great characters and a very decent plot that I think many will find enjoyable and even comforting.

Also reviewed by: Holly at On My Bookshelf and Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews.

Review: Rain Song

Rain Song – Alice J. Wisler

Rain Song

scheduled for publication October 2008, 192 pages in my ARC

From the back cover -

Nicole Michelin avoids airplanes, motorcycles, and most of all, Japan, where her parents once were missionaries.  Something happened in  Japan… something that sent Nicole and her father back to America alone.  Something of which Nicole knows only bits and pieces.  But she is content with life in little Mount Olive, North Carolina, with her quirky relatives, tank of lively fish, and plenty of homemade pineapple chutney.

Through her online column for the Pretty Fishy website, Nicole meets Harrison Michaels, who, much to her dismay, lives in Japan.  She attempts to avoid him, but his e-mails tug at her heart. 

Then Harrison reveals that he knew her as a child in Japan.  In fact, he knows more about her childhood than she does!  Will Nicole face her fears in order to discover her past and take a chance on love?

My thoughts -

I received this book from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program – the first book I have got since I joined the program.  I have been dreading writing this review because, unfortunately, I really did not much enjoy this book.  I wanted to like it.  Even though it is short, if I hadn’t committed to reviewing it, I probably wouldn’t have finished it… but I slogged through, trying SO hard to enjoy it the entire time. 

Ok, so what in particular did I not like about this book… well, first of all, there was one thing that I DID like, and that was the character of Nicole.  She seemed very real and likeable to me.  That’s about it, though.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the story - I felt that it moved along too slowly, and not enough happened to keep my attention throughout the book.  Also, this whole Japan thing – the book centered around the question of will she go or won’t she go, and if she goes, what will happen when she gets there?  Well, I’m going to spoil it for you right now – she goes.  However, Nicole being in Japan was only about the last seven pages of the book.  I’m not kidding.  So, so, so anticlimactic.  I wanted to know SO much more about her time in Japan, about her past, about Harrison, but nothing.  You get a few answers to questions about Nicole’s past, and boom, the book is over.  This, for me, was very disappointing, because I kept reading the book in order to find out what would happen once she got there… and I should have just stopped early into it because there wasn’t anywhere close to enough Japan story for me.

I will say this – if you like Southern fiction, you may want to give this a try.  There’s “Southern wisdom” type stuff about every other page.  I’ve never been into those types of books, but I hear that it’s a pretty popular genre, so maybe that is the audience of this book… if so, give it a try.  Most likely, I just didn’t click with this book and others would still enjoy it.

I feel bad not liking the book, but what else can I say?  It simply wasn’t for me.

Review: The Girls

The Girls – Lori Lansens

The Girls Cover

published 2005, 343 pages

From the book jacket -

Since their birth, twin sisters Rose and Ruby Darlen have been known simply as “The Girls”.  Raised by Aunt Lovey, the nurse who took them in after their mother abandoned them, they have lived all their lives in the small town of Leaford, in an old farmhouse bordered by cornfields.  This is the story of their shared life, two sisters who are ordinary in most respects but who have a relationship of profound and unmatched intimacy.  For Rose and Ruby are conjoined twins, connected inseparably, facing the world side by side.  The Girls is the affecting chronicle of their incomparable life journey, a heartrending story of love between sisters.

Now nearing thirty, Rose and Ruby are soon to be history’s oldest conjoined twins, and Rose decides it is time to write the story of her short but extraordinary life with Ruby.  From their awkward first steps – Ruby’s arm curled around Rose’s neck, her foreshortened legs wrapped around Rose’s hips – this is an unmatched story of the most intense love imaginable.  As Ruby watches Rose write her memoirs, she decides she wants to tell her part too; for though they are as close as two people can be, their lives and voices are wonderfully, powerfully distinct.  Every experience of growing up comes rushing through in their telling – their first loves, their painful choices, losses, and triumphs – but every experience is doubled, sometimes joyfully and sometimes painfully.

The Girlscharts the depths of a miraculous friendship, unsettling and beautiful in its closeness.  As the two stories parallel, diverge, and intertwine, building to an unforgettable conclusion, Lansens aims at the heart of human experience and the fundamental joy of connection.

My thoughts -

This was definitely an enjoyable book for me.  When I first started reading it, I wasn’t sure what I was going to think about the book because something about Rose’s voice, her story, didn’t click with me.  I think my initial problem was that she was telling SO many stories from their childhood when I really just wanted to get to know the two of them as they were in the present – how they lived their day to day lives as 29 year old conjoined twins.  But once Ruby joined in, the story really started to pick up and go back and forth between their past and present, and I began to get involved with the characters and care about them.  Once that happened, I fell in love with these two extraordinary women and their story.  Lansens did such an amazing job writing their two voices so distinctly different from one another, and I actually came to enjoy one twin more than the other, which was kind of interesting.  There weren’t a lot of secondary characters in this novel (besides their “parents”, Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash), but the ones that were there played an important part in the book and helped tie everything together. 

I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long now, and I’m very glad that I finally got to it.  I can’t say it’s the best book I’ve read or anything, but it is a very sweet and heartwarming story with wonderful characters as well.  I would definitely recommend picking this one up.

My first Sunday Salon

I have never before participated in The Sunday Salon, mainly because I simply don’t have a lot of time to read on Sundays.  But I really feel like sometimes I need a day to post randomly, about my progress or stuff I’ve received in the mail or whatever, without it having to be a review.  So I’ve decided to join.

First of all, I finally finished Lori Lansens’ The Girls, which I’ve been reading for almost a week now.  I really enjoyed it, and will probably post a review later on today.  Upon completing that, I promptly got started on Alice Wisler’s Rain Song, an ARC I received from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.  It’s a pretty short book, so I’m hoping to have it finished sometime today or tonight.

I also plan on spending some time working on my blog today – Trish was amazing enough to email me step by step instructions on how to play around with pictures and links and such, and I’m really excited to see if I am smart enough to figure out said instructions (chances are, I will have lots of trouble, but I will certainly try).

Last, I’d love to share with all of you the four books I received in the mail this week from Bookmooch.  I got two by Sarah Dessen (a newly discovered author to me), The Truth About Forever and That Summer, as well as Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild and Jeff Guinn’s The Autobiography of Santa Claus (recommended to me by my District Manager at work).  Add these to my already staggeringly full TBR shelves (I counted today – 142 – I am embarassed yet thrilled at the same time), and I have way more books than I can get to anytime soon.  But it certainly won’t stop me from trying. :)

Review: Swallow the Ocean

Swallow the Ocean – Laura M. Flynn

published 2008 – 277 pages

From the book jacket -

As a little girl, Laura Flynn thought her mother could do no wrong.  A strong, free spirit, Sally Flynn sparked her daughter’s imagination with games and stories of her youth – when she’d set off for Paris in 1960, met Laura’s father, and criss-crossed Europe.  The couple settled in San Francisco and had three daughters, embarking on what might have been the most charmed of family lives.

Instead, by the time Laura was eight, Sally’s hold on reality began to slip.  She turned to her dreams for messages and portents, set strict rules for what her daughters could eat and wear, and came to believe her husband was the devil himself – or at least that he was under the devil’s power – that he had “crossed the line”.  After Laura’s parents divorced, her father struggled to gain custody, while Sally waged a pitched battle for her daughter’s souls.  Forced to make impossible choices, the three girls retreated to books, stories, and elaborate games, creating a powerfully protective world of imagination.

Set in 1970s San Francisco, Swallow the Ocean is the beautifully written true story of what it’s like to experience a parent’s schizophrenia through the lens of a child who has no language for mental illness.  Most of all, this stunning memoir is a tribute to the ingenuity of children in the face of catastrophic events.

My thoughts -

First of all, this is a memoir but it’s written like a novel.  Honestly, Flynn’s writing is just so beautiful – she captures each moment with just the right words and stunning phrases, I really look forward to whatever she writes next, whether it be fiction or not.  So for those of you not such big fans of memoirs, this may be a good one to pick up simply for the novel-esque quality about it.

Second of all, I was especially intrigued by this book because I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and mental illness is something that I’ve studied and that I’m very interested in.  I also spent two years in college volunteering at a crisis/suicide hotline, where in addition to receiving calls from suicide victims, we also spoke with several “regulars” who were sufferers of different types of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.  The behaviors Flynn described her mother doing were very similar to what I saw in the people that I had worked with who suffered from schizophrenia.  It was heartbreaking (yet also interesting) to read about this disease from a child’s perspective, and to see the utter destruction it caused in these three girls’ lives.  It made me sad to read about the first time Flynn’s father attempted to gain custody, when her mother put on such a good show that the courts threw his case right out – keep in mind, this was in a time when the mother ALWAYS got custody, so it was of course a long shot to begin with.  But all the same, how sad to be a child in this terrifying situation, when even your own father cannot rescue you?

The ending of this book is ultimately triumphant, although sad at the same time.  I feel for Flynn, being a thirtysomething woman and not having a mother to talk to – personally, my mother is one of the most important people in my life.  But it seems as though she has truly come to terms with her mother’s condition – she spoke of the closeness she now has with her sisters, father, and stepmother, and it didn’t seem like Flynn really felt she was missing out on much in her life.  This book really shows how growing up in an adverse situation can truly create your personality – Flynn and her sisters’ lives were shaped by their mother’s schizophrenia, and this book is a wonderful testament to what we can make of our circumstances, even the most awful ones.