Sunday, December 29, 2013

3 Biased Book Reviews and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Over the Christmas holiday, we went down to Tennessee to visit family. One of the many benefits of travel is that it allows you to read a lot. I wolfed down three books in six days. Since I'm a writer, I can't help but read books as a writer and look for things to incorporate in my own writing. Here are my short biased book reviews and what I learned from each book. 

On Christmas Eve, I read The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. My friend Emily recommended I read it because she thought I'd like the narrator's tone of voice. I did. The book was about a teenage girl who moves to a London boarding school (which I found to be similar to Hogwarts.) Next to their school, a series of murders have taken place, a la Jack the Ripper style. Halfway through the book, the girl finds out she is part of this underground team of ghosts who all had a near death experience (our protagonist choked on some food) so now they can see dead people (Sixth sense anyone?). This ghost police force goes around zapping other ghosts who are a nuisance. The Jack the Ripper guy reaches out to the ghost police team and they realize he too is a ghost. Jack and the ghost police meet in an abandoned underground tube stop where they learn that Jack used to be one of the ghost police, like them but he murdered the rest of his team. Jack likes the fear he causes people as Jack the Ripper and wants the ghost police's zapping tool so that he will no longer have to fear death. We also learn that the title of the book comes from the name that The Star newspaper gave to the murder who committed the Jack the Ripper murders back then. After an exciting climax, ghost Jack the Ripper gets zapped by a fellow ghost and our protagonist falls in love with one of her male friends from school. And they all lived happily ever after.
I liked the first half of this book. The second half, I was thinking, "Really? Ghosts? Wtf?" If I had written this, I would've kept everyone as normal humans. As a writer, I appreciated how the author clearly described what was going on. I could picture what was happening. I also liked how exciting the book was. It was a page turner and I read it in one day. I found myself pretty scared at some parts. However, I do not plan on reading the sequel or any other books in the series. I'm done with ghosts for a while.

On Christmas Day, I was worried that I'd be SOL and without a book to read. But lo and behold, my grandmother had my uncle's latest book lying around. I meant to read it over Thanksgiving break but watched TV instead. Space in the Heart by Rodney Walther is written from three different third-person limited perspectives: Danica Cortez, Garrison (protagonist) and his 14 year old daughter Zoey. I can only hope that I wasn't as bratty when I was 14 as Zoey was. I didn't sympathize or relate to her at all because I was never in a wheelchair, I wasn't bullied in school and I wasn't that mean to my parents. I related more to Danica Cortez and her journalistic quest to tell the truth about who was really on this plane crash that she coincidentally happened to witness. She saw this dead girl before she rescued the Senator and it turned out to be his mistress. Busted. Garrison is still sad about the loss of his wife from 11 years ago. She was shot by a guy at a Burger King. (Another reason why America should make guns illegal.) Spoiler alert: the shooter was a guy that Danica helped release from prison by reporting about some corrupt judge. That was a good plot twist. I loved the scene when Garrison realized Danica knew the guy who murdered his wife and Danica was about to interview Garrison on TV. What an uncomfortable but great scene. The novel takes a lot of twists and turns. Stuff is always going wrong for these poor characters, but that makes it exciting to read. As a writer, that's the main thing I took away from this book: don't make life easy for your characters. Throw shit their way. I also liked the cliffhangers that ended each chapter. While there is no space in my heart currently for this book, maybe I'm not the target audience and maybe if I reread it I will like it more. If you do read Space in the Heart, Rodney would like you to leave a review on Amazon. I left a very positive review and you should too.

Waiting to see Saving Mr. Banks (a movie about why Disney does not serve alcohol at their theme parks. Just kidding. But it does scarily depict an alcoholic father) I cracked open Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg. I forget why I added this to my Goodreads To-Read list, but I'm glad I did. I loved it! (except for the one Antartica story which I didn't feel like finishing.) As a writer, I learned to not be afraid to make your characters weird, put them in weird places, have them do weird things, and write weird. I never would think to have a character eat sand or be fake private investigators. The first story is about a woman unhappy with her marriage. She's on a trip with her husband in an attempt to fix things. The second one is about two women who call themselves private investigators. I didn't expect to sympathize with such ruthless law breaking characters. But the author makes me care about people I usually would look down upon. The third story is about these kids who rob banks. The ending is pretty heartbreaking. The next one is about a woman who follows these acrobats in Paris after her husband leaves her. That was probably my favorite. I didn't get into the Antarctica story like the others so I only read the first half. Oh well. The second to last story is about a mother daughter magician team. The daughter steals money from people while the mother dreams of something more. The last story is about a sister who trades places with her twin. But things don't go according to plan. Overall, I loved these characters and the uber interesting settings, conflicts and situations. Nothing was mundane or boring. I'd read these again.  

A partridge in a pear tree

Thanks for reading about me reading.