Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Last Thing I Remember: Andrew Klavan

Imagine waking up one morning, not knowing where you are and overhearing the order for your death. Imagine learning that everything you know about your life, your world, and even yourself is a lie. What would it take for someone to convince you that you are not who you think you are? How hard would you fight for what you believe to be the truth?

The Last Thing I Remember is a cross between The Bourne Identity and 24. It's fast paced and action-filled, with a likable protagonist. Charlie West is a 17 year old kid who sees the world in black and white terms--good guys and bad guys. He believes in America, in God, and in being the best guy he can be. He excels in all areas of life: school, karate, family. Life, generally speaking, is good.

Life is good, that is, until he wakes up in a cement cell, chained to a chair where he has been tortured, and overhears the order for his death. From that point on, Charlie is in a race to save his own life. Things get complicated, however, when he learns that he is being pursued by not just the bad guys (Islamic terrorists), but the good guys (American Law Enforcement) as well. Everything that Charlie has always believed about himself is put into question and he is forced to examine what he knows to be true versus what he is told about himself.

The tones of Patriotism and Religion are thick in this novel, which at first made me uncomfortable. However, as the story unfolds, the importance of those themes begins to make sense as a necessary part of the plot. Charlie West seems like a somewhat overdone hero--I mean realistically, how many 17-year-olds could un-arm and outwit a group of Islamic terrorists intent on ending his life?--but he is also plausible in many ways. He gets nervous around girls, he's shy, he dislikes his older sister simply for being an annoying older sister, he stresses out about grades and college. He is simultaneously a superhero and the boy next door.

The Last Thing I Remember is the first book in the Homelander Series, and my interest is admittedly piqued. I'm interested to see how the story of Charlie West is going to unravel.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sleepless Nights: Sarah Bilston

I want to start this review with a nod to Suzanne Williams who got this brand new book to me. I hope this is only the first of many review projects for the Shreve Williams publicity firm.

Sleepless Nights is the follow up to Bilston's Bed Rest. In this novel, we pick up where Bed Rest left off, with Q and her newborn baby boy, Samuel. Bilston has accurately captured all of the anxiety and stress that new moms feel. The sleeplessness is only one facet of those early days of motherhood. Q has the unfortunate task of managing a new born baby boy who has colic, causing round-the-clock crying and screaming.

Bilston has changed up some elements of her storytelling style in this novel, by adding the additional voice of Q's sister, Jeanie. I have to admit that I don't usually like the chapter-by-chapter change of voice, but thanks to Jeanie's spunky character, I looked forward to her narratives.

There is a lot of plot in this novel, between the new motherhood of Q, the confuddled love life of Jeanie, and the small town attorney's office that Q and her husband become involved with. I was expecting this novel to be more focused on the aspects of being a first time mother with a colicky baby, but the true-to-life story addresses the fact that everyday life does not stop when a baby is a born.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brida: Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho may be one of my favorite authors. His writing is insightful and intense. He writes like a poet about the most ordinary things. In reading some of his previous novels, I have found reason to pause and contemplate. Unfortunately, Brida has given me very little reason to pause.

Brida is an Irish gal who wants to learn about the mysteries of the magical world. First of all, a reader has to suspend their notions of magic and continue with an open mind. Coelho's world of magic is not one of pointed hats, warty noses, spells, and black cats. The world of magic that Brida enters is based on the power of God and Love. Coelho writes about an accessible magic that involves tapping into intuition and the natural forces at work in the world. Readers of Coelho will understand that his writing is based in spirituality and not specific faith.

It's not the spirituality I'm avert to in this novel, but the plot. From a writer who can describe a journey as a worldwide exploration of humanity, comes this somewhat trite novel about soul mates and choices made on the path of life. Whereas I frequently read sentences in Coelho's books that I am impelled to write down and dissect, I found only two such sections in Brida. In short, I expected more enlightenment.

Of all Coelho's works, this has been my least favorite.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Testimony: Anita Shreve

At a private high school in Vermont, the lives of four teenagers are ruined when a sex scandal is made public. Testimony is just that: testimonies. Shreve has intricately woven the testimonies of various people involved in the scandal, impressively alternating the writing style to give dimension to each character.

Shreve impressed me with her novel Bodysurfing for reasons completely different from why this new novel impresses me. While Bodysurfing was intense with charged family emotions, Testimony is intense with scandal. The students involved give moving testimonies that are set against the parents' grieving accounts of the aftermath. There are a lot of characters in this novel, which is sometimes distracting, but I understand why Shreve includes them. She fills out a complicated story with rounded testimonies from all sides of the scandal.

This is not a story with a happy Hollywood ending. Ultimately, one student is dead and three others are robbed of their future prospects, all for the sake of one drunken night. It seems that Shreve directs the characters to explain motive. While blame is passed around, I'm not sure a motive is really present. Sometimes teenagers get drunk and do stupid things--who knows why?

I respect Shreve as a writer ; her skill is honed. She writes with creativity and insight, and her characters are always dimensional. She manages to take seemingly thin plot lines and infuse them with an entire world of emotions.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Exciting New Book News!

I have some very exciting book news for my lovely readers. Thanks to this lovely little hobby of a blog, I have been contacted by a publicist who will start sending me brand new books to read and review. My contact is Suzanne Williams at ShreveWilliams Public Relations.

This is a very exciting development for me on my path to a career in publishing and editing. I'm not getting paid at this point (other than all the free books I can read!), but this could very well be a step in the right direction.

You may have also noticed a change to my profile. I have decided to start writing under my literary name, Baley Petersen. It's slightly more "grown-up" than Chrissey, and I think it will hold a little more "cred".

But have no fear, readers! At the end of the day, I am still your dear Chrissey, reading whatever book comes across my path, and hoping that you're enjoying my books as much as I do.

Candy Girl: Diablo Cody

Before her Juno fame, Diablo Cody was a fairly average working class girl, living in Minneapolis, in a job she didn't much care for, writing on her own time, and generally strolling through life without much aim. And then she became a stripper.

Candy Girl is Cody's memoir of the year she spent in various nudie bars, taking off her clothes and dancing for money. The novella is subtitled "A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper". An innocuous girl in hippie clothing shows up at a seedy dive for amateur night and receives looks of doubt. She stumbles around on stage, unaware of her limbs and is ungraceful as well as uncoordinated. What would most likely end in a single night of unspoken humiliation for most, turns out to be the launch pad for Cody's new career. She fiercely admits that her strange interest in the sex industry is perverse and at one point she even goes into the depths of stripping out of pure curiosity and witnesses how dark and disgusting back room business can be. It's a fascinating journey into a dark secret of society that most of us turn blind eyes to.

Possibly the most fascinating element of this story is Cody's boyfriend. Jonny neither encourages nor discourages her new chosen career. He is steady as a rock, and becomes increasingly curious. He takes pride in his sexy girlfriend, and is there at the end of every night to snuggle her close and listen to her talk about her night at work. He is possibly the most supportive man in written history. Jonny and Diablo are now married and she claims they are the happiest people in all the U.S.A.

Diablo Cody is a fantastic writer. She is the Francesca Lia Block for grown-ups with a crude vocabulary. She is able to write both common and literately. A smart reader will instantly recognize that Cody is well read and well educated. Candy Girl is filled with all of the true-life minutiae of stripping including gross overshares of industry methods. Cody adamantly maintains that stripping was her fantasy choice. Never once does she allow the reader to feel sorry for her, because stripping was something she volunteered for. It's almost empowering, really.

I have a new hero in Diablo Cody. She is smart, witty, and extremely talented. The girl knows how to turn a phrase, that's for sure!