The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

Title:  The Girl She Used to Be

Author:  David Cristofano

Published:  March 19, 2009

Page Count:  256

Genre:  Fiction

My Rating:  3/5

When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed an act of violence so brutal that it changed their lives forever. The federal government lured them into the Witness Protection Program with the promise of safety, and they went gratefully. But the program took Melody’s name, her home, her innocence, and, ultimately, her family. She’s been May Adams, Karen Smith, Anne Johnson, and countless others–everyone but the one person she longs to be: herself. So when the feds spirit her off to begin yet another new life in another town, she’s stunned when a man confronts her and calls her by her real name. Jonathan Bovaro, the mafioso sent to hunt her down, knows her, the real her, and it’s a dangerous thrill that Melody can’t resist. He’s insistent that she’s just a pawn in the government’s war against the Bovaro family. But can she trust her life and her identity to this vicious stranger whose acts of violence are legendary?

I have really mixed feelings about The Girl She Used to Be.  Generally speaking, I did enjoy the book.  I found it fast-paced and interesting, I had a difficult time putting it down, and I thought the writing was pretty good.  However, the story itself was so completely implausible that it made it very hard to actually enjoy or get involved with the story at all.  Let me try to explain further.

First, the good.  Cristofano has created an intriguing premise and carried that premise through with many plot twists and interesting situations for the characters to explore.  He also created an extremely believable main character with Melody – despite the fact that she seems to not “know who she really is” I felt like the reader got a clear impression of her from the very beginning of the book, and that only solidified throughout.  She was interesting, complex, very realistic, and totally believable.  I definitely empathized with her and hoped for things to work out for her in the end.  I didn’t love all the decisions she made, but that only made her more realistic to me – in real life, we all make stupid decisions and then have to deal with the repercussions of those decisions.

Now here’s the bad part.  The premise of the story itself is so difficult for me to believe that I could never get fully invested in the story.  I mean, okay, she’s part of the Witness Protection Program but can never keep it quiet long enough to stay put, I get that, but WHY OH WHY does she keep messing stuff up for herself?!  One of the US Marshalls told her himself that they have thousands of people in the program who live perfectly normal lives, yet Melody just couldn’t handle keeping her secret, so she never fell in love, never made friends, never had a career, just because she kept having to screw herself over by blabbing about who she really was.  So that annoyed me.  And then the Jonathan thing – no WAY this could happen in real life.  She is being guarded by a U.S. Marshall, who just happened to take a walk so Jonathan could go into her motel room and kidnap her – WHAT?  Obviously, if this were real life, someone would be guarding her at all times.  And then so much of what happened between the two of them, well I just didn’t get it.  It was just way too convenient, too many coincidences, and I was mostly annoyed by it all.  Also, there was one aspect of her story that Jonathan had questioned, as in, something is going on here, deeper than what it looks, and yet that question was never answered.  This totally irritated me – it was important, in my opinion, and I wanted to know the details.

So, overall, not a bad read, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it with the issues I had.  However, there are several other bloggers who read and enjoy this one, so check out their reviews if you’d like another opinion!

Review: Janeology

 Title:  Janeology

Author:  Karen Harrington

Published:  April 1, 2008

Page Count:  256

Genre:  Fiction

My Rating:  3/5

Jane, a loving mother of two, has drowned her toddler son and is charged with his murder in this powerful examination of love, loss, and family legacy. When a prosecutor decides Jane’s husband Tom is partially to blame for the death and charges him with “failure to protect,” Tom’s attorney proposes a radical defense. He plans to create reasonable doubt about his client’s alleged guilt by showing that Jane’s genealogy is the cause of her violence, and that she inherited her latent violence in the same way she might inherit a talent for music or a predisposition to disease. He argues that no one could predict or prevent the tragedy, and that Tom cannot be held responsible. With the help of a woman gifted with the power of retrocognition—the ability to see past events through objects once owned by the deceased—the defense theory of dark biology takes form. An unforgettable journey through the troubled minds and souls of Jane’s ancestors, spanning decades and continents, this debut novel deftly illustrates the ways nature and nurture weave the fabric of one woman’s life, and renders a portrait of one man left in its tragic wake.
I’ve been meaning to read Janeology for a LONG time now.  Back when the book was first published, a bunch of book bloggers toured the book and I was very intrigued by the premise and interested to see how it actually played out in the book.  I’m glad my local library finally had a copy so that I could finally see for myself what all the fuss was about.
I liked Janeology, I did not love it.  The premise itself is the most interesting thing about this book, but unfortunately I didn’t feel what I was expecting to feel while reading the book.  I really thought that I’d feel intense compassion, sympathy, and other emotions for Tom and even Jane herself but I didn’t feel very connected to these characters at all.  In a book dealing with such a sensitive topic as the murdering of ones’ own children, I assumed there would be a lot of emotions in the mix – which there were, from the characters themselves, but for some reason those emotions did not transfer appropriately to me while I was reading the novel.
What I did like about the book was how thought-provoking it was.  I always take such interest in these types of stories when they are in the headlines, and it is always my natural assumption to think that there has to be some reason why somebody would do something SO awful as kill somebody that they love (whether it be children, parents, siblings, etc.).  A mother killing her own children is so above and beyond anything a “normal” person could imagine doing that it makes us think, as a society, even harder about how such a thing could happen.  My natural inclination is to believe that no sane person would do something like that – there has to be something in that woman’s background that would make her so abnormal, so messed up to have such a huge break from reality and do something so awful to her own flesh and blood.  So Janeology was very interesting to me as Harrington really explored this concept in detail.  
Much of the book focused on Jane’s experiences growing up, on the factors throughout her life that could have possibly been the build-up for her committing such an atrocious crime.  What is fascinating to me is that the types of experiences Jane had were terrible, of course, yet I know thousands of people suffered the same kinds of things as children – yet they did not kill their own kids and Jane did.  Keep in mind this is a work of fiction, but I think it draws stunning parallels to real life.  Women DO kill their own children, and as a society we desperately try to figure out why.  This book gives some ideas but by no means does Harrington try to explain this horrific thing that some women have done.
Overall, Janeology is an incredibly interesting and thought-provoking read that I think many fiction readers will really enjoy.  Although I did have a few minor issues with the book, I did like it and would recommend the novel.
More reviews -

Review: Testimony

Title:  Testimony

Author:  Anita Shreve

Published:  October 21, 2008

Page Count:  320

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

My Rating:  3.5/5

At a New England boarding school, a sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape. A Pandora’s box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voices–those of the men, women, teenagers, and parents involved in the scandal–that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment.

I chose to go with a very short description for Testimony because I think most of you have heard a lot about this novel and already know what it’s about (if not, the title links to Amazon, where you can read several other detailed descriptions).  And actually, I’m feeling pretty stuck with this review because the book has been reviewed SO many times by so many fantastic bloggers that I don’t feel that I have anything particularly new or exciting to add.  I will say that I have read several of Anita Shreve’s books, and Testimony is by far the most fast-paced and exciting of the ones I’ve read.  While I was reading the book, I was completely caught up in the story, quickly turning pages because I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.  But now that it’s been a week or so since I’ve finished the book, I’m feeling kind of “meh” about it.  None of the characters are overly memorable and even the story itself… it was good.  Nothing amazing.  I don’t know, I guess I was hoping for more.  A lot of the reviews I’ve linked to below share the same(ish) sentiment: I liked it, didn’t love it.  

I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about where Shreve took the plot.  Obviously I can’t say too much about that, given that I typically do spoiler-free reviews.  But there were several aspects of the book about which I’m just not sure how I feel.  Especially relating to the girl at the center of the story.  I don’t think I like how Shreve portrayed her – the girl had practically no personality, and what personality she did have made her seem to be exactly the way the boys said she was – like “she asked for it”, as they said.  I’m just not sure how comfortable I am with an author (a female author, especially) portraying a fourteen-year-old girl the way this girl was portrayed.  I don’t know.  I guess she was trying to be “edgy” or something, making the reader feel so much compassion for these boys while not allowing the reader to get to know the girl… but something about it was super uncomfortable for me.

I did like the ending.  Not what I expected, that’s for sure.  Overall, like I said – a good book.  Just nothing incredible and as I type this, I’m having a difficult time thinking of details that stand out in my mind.  So I’ll just go ahead and end the review here, and encourage you to read some of the fabulous reviews I have listed below.  

More reviews -

Review: Living Dead Girl

living-dead-girlTitle:  Living Dead Girl

Author:  Elizabeth Scott

Published:  September 2, 2008

# of Pages:  176

ISBN:  978-1416960591

Rating:  5/5

“Alice” was abducted by Ray when she was ten years old.  She is now fifteen, and he has held her captive ever since.  He starves her so that she’ll remain small, skinny, and child-like, he rapes her on at least a daily basis, he physically abuses her any time she doesn’t do exactly as he wants – to the point of unconsciousness, and  he promises to kill her entire family if she tells anyone or leaves him.  “Alice” lives her entire life in a state of utter misery – put simply, she has no hope of getting out and is just waiting for death.

Living Dead Girl is a very short novel, written in sparse prose, that will absolutely haunt you long after completing it.  I could not put this book down, but I badly wanted to because the content was so upsetting.  The book made me feel so many different things – shock, anger,  sadness, disappointment, nausea – yet I could not turn away, I read it in one sitting.  Elizabeth Scott did such a terrific job making such a horrific subject into a compelling and interesting novel, and the writing was fantastic.  It was raw, gritty, and graphic but not overly or unnecessarily so.  I especially liked the style of writing – I really felt like I was in Alice’s head, understanding her, feeling what she was feeling, etc.  It was so hard to read but truly amazing at the same time.

SO, I have two questions.  First, for those of you who’ve read Living Dead Girl – I am DYING to discuss the ending.  So please, comment away, what did you think of the ending? For everyone else – how do you feel about reading a book that causes extreme discomfort? Would you bother reading something that you know will be disturbing – even if you are pretty curious and/or interested in the subject matter?

More reviews -

Review: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families

wish-to-informTitle:  We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Famlies: Stories from Rwanda

Author:  Philip Gourevitch

# of Pages:  353

Published:  September 1998

ISBN:  978-0374286972

My Rating:  4/5

In April of 1994, the government of Rwanda called on everyone in the Hutu majority to kill everyone in the Tutsi minority.  Over the next three months 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in the most unambiguous case of genocide since Hitler’s war against the Jews.  Philip Gourevitch’s haunting work is an anatomy of the killings in Rwanda, a vivid history of the genocide’s background, and an unforgettable account of what it means to survive in its aftermath.

Wow.  This is an extremely powerful book.  I had read some about the genocide in Rwanda before, I knew the basic story and the most general aspects of what happened, but I had nowhere NEAR the amount of knowledge about it that is packed into this book.  This is a fantastic book to read for people who enjoy history and/or politics, as well as world events in general.  There is so much information in these pages that truthfully I feel like I should read it again because I know it didn’t all sink in.  I’m not going to lie to you guys, We Wish to Inform You… is not an easy read.  Not even close.  It took me quite a while to get through it, just because of the sheer depth of information presented here – I had to read much more slowly than I normally do to make sure everything sunk in.  But I think it’s an important read… this does happen.  This did happen, and something similar is happening in Darfur as well.

One thing that makes this book different from many others in the same genre is that it specifically points out all the opportunities the world, the United States in particular, had to intervene in the genocide and stop it from happening, and every time nothing was done.  It is difficult to fully grasp the fact that not only did the world know this was happening, the major world powers did everything they could to deny that it was an actual genocide and to point blame at everyone but their own governments for not helping.  This information is not easy to read about, but at the same time, very important to know about.  The book also goes into extensive detail regarding the aftermath of the genocide, when Hutu killers were living in “refugee” camps and receiving foreign aid, and when surviving Tutsis had to go back to their homes, and carry on their lives living next door to the murderers of their parents, spouses, and children.  Can you imagine – having to look EVERY DAY at the face of the person who murdered every single person you love?  It is absolutely unbelievable.  Yet very few of the killers were put to justice, and the book covers a lot about the broken country of Rwanda after the genocide was “over” (I am putting “over” in quotation marks because there were plenty of killings for a long time after the genocide was thought to be over by the world).

Gourevitch is an amazing journalist – the way he brought this time to life for the reader is stunning.  He did a great job mixing politics with stories of genocide survivors – although there is a LOT of politics in this book.  His language is fantastic and kept me interested even when I wanted to put the book down because of how sad I was feeling.  I am very interested to see what else he has done, or what else he is currently working on.

Highly recommended.  We Wish to Inform You is not a peaceful, easy read by any means, but one that is absolutely worth your time.

More reviews -

TSS/Review: Oblivious

Oblivious – Cyndia Depre

Oblivious Cover

From the back cover -

Eccentric Olivia Chatham has found her life’s calling.  Crime Buster.  

Tucker Monroe, the small Wisconsin town’s mysterious new resident, discovers he, too, has a mission.  Keeping up with her.

That was probably the shortest summary I have EVER seen on a book jacket.  To be a little more helpful, I’ll attempt to summarize a bit more.  Basically, Olivia is this super-sweet, much-adored rich girl in her small town.  Everyone knows her, and everyone loves her because of her generous, loving ways.  Oh, and even though she’s been divorced three times, she’s still incredibly innocent and doesn’t “get” the most obvious social cues – hence the title “Oblivious”.  One night, she meets Tucker, newly settled in her town, who is at a party her parents are hosting with a very well-known, beautiful and smart woman who lives in town, Cheryl Mecklenberg.  Later that evening, Cheryl is found dead in her home.  Olivia’s first instinct is to comfort Tucker to help him through his loss, but it turns out Tucker had just met Cheryl and wasn’t personally acquainted with her – so once Olivia gets it through her head that Tucker’s not grieving, she enlists him to help her and her best friend, Josie, solve the mystery of who murdered Cheryl.  

The above summary is why I usually just borrow from book jackets – as you can see, I’m not very good at writing my own summaries.

Anyway.  Most of you probably remember when I was supposed to post a review of Oblivious, a few weeks ago, but unfortunately it got lost in the mail so I just did a guest post by Ms. Depre instead.  Well, it finally came and I’m glad I got the opportunity to read this book because I enjoyed it a lot.  I found Olivia to be so funny and charming – I loved reading about the adventures she got herself into and the random way she went about “solving” the mystery.  I enjoyed how the people in her life were so protective of her since she was so innocent and trusting and had a hard time understanding when someone was being hurtful toward her.  It was fun to read how the relationship between Olivia and Tucker developed so slowly, and how much he really liked her but tried so hard to respect her dating “rules” and not move too quickly.  And of course, the mystery.  I liked the way it wrapped itself up, and the ending, to me, was not at all obvious.  I didn’t guess who the culprit was and I liked that I was surprised by the ending.  One aspect of the ending was a little too sticky-sweet, in my opinion, but I’ll let that slide because it was kind of cute, I suppose. 

Anyway, I really enjoyed Oblivious.  It was a fun and light read, certainly not great literature, but very entertaining.  I’ve seen this book compared to the Janet Evanovich books, but as I’ve never read them, I can’t agree or disagree with that, I can only suppose those people know what they’re talking about. :)  Oblivious is good though, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a fun read with likable characters and a plot that moves along pretty well.

Also reviewed by:

Review: Songs for the Missing

Songs for the Missing – Stewart O’Nan

songs

From the back cover -

“It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow.”  It was also the summer when, without warning, popular high school student Kim Larsen disappeared from her small Midwestern town.  Her loving parents, her introverted sister, her friends and boyfriend must now do everything they can to find her.  As desperate search parties give way to pleading television appearances, and private investigations yield to personal revelations, we see one town’s intimate struggle to maintain hope and finally, to live with the unknown.

Stewart O’Nan’s new novel begins with the suspense and pacing of a thriller and soon deepens into an affecting family drama of loss.  On the heels of his critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling Last Night at the Lobster, Songs for the Missing is an honest, heartfelt account of one family’s attempt to find their child.  With a soulful empathy for these ordinary heroes, O’Nan draws us into the world of this small Midwestern town and allows us to feel a part of this family.

My thoughts -

I have a hard time saying that I “enjoyed” this book because it was very… somber.  And sad.  And kind of hopeless, actually, which is not an easy emotion to feel while reading a book.  But it was very well-written and engrossing and I definitely flew through this novel, never wanting to put it down for any length of time.  Also, the characters were incredibly real.  I especially liked Lindsay, Kim’s sister, and I enjoyed reading about both her mourning for Kim and later her transformation into a young adult, dealing with the idea of live without her sister, and finding herself through all the chaos.  The other characters were also interesting and I liked most of them, but some of them were a tad one-dimensional, in my opinion (most notably, Kim’s parents).  While I am so glad I read this book, and I think O’Nan is a fabulous writer, it was honestly a very sad story and it wasn’t the easiest to read.  Because truthfully, very little in the book is hopeful in any way.  Other books I have read about disappearing or missing children or adults, such as The Year of Fog, have a positive quality to them – no matter what, the expectation throughout the book is that the missing person will be found (regardless of the actual outcome of the book), and that idea is what propels the majority of the story.  In this case… well, not so much.  It’s just much more bleak.  Not that anyone gives up on Kim, it’s just that the general feeling of the novel is one of despair.  I can’t describe it very well, but just don’t be surprised if the book depresses you somewhat.  I DO recommend it, it’s a very well-written book that will keep you turning the pages, but it’s not the easiest read.

Songs for the Missing was also reviewed by: