Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summer Reading: THE HEIST By: Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg

I'd never read Evanovich or Goldberg prior to reading The Heist.  I know that Evanovich has some of the most loyal and enthusiastic fans in existence and Goldberg is responsible for one of the best shows in TV history, Monk.  I always got the impression that Evanovich wrote a very fluffy, on the surface kind of fiction and after reading this it turns our I was right.

Kate O'Hare is a fierce FBI agent and Nick Fox is the world's most wanted thief- naturally they are both hotties who are inexplicably drawn to each other.  What this novel lacks in depth it makes up for in splashy Ocean's 11 style fun.  A jewel heist in San Francisco, a Mexican dug lord's (not quite real) empire, and the private island home of a criminal investment banker- the characters are hollow and fun, but the stars of this novel are all the exotic locales.

I may not be picking up one of Evanovich's other novels first thing, but I'll definitely read book two of this new series.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Legacy of GATSBY

When I was sixteen, I read The Great Gatsby for the first time in 11th grade English.  Most people (for some reason I still can't decipher) said that Of Mice and Men was their favorite assigned book that year.  But for me Gatsby's characters, themes, and glitz were the only thing good about the school day.

For those who haven't had the chance to read (or see) Gatsby please stop reading now.  

The Great Gatsby is a story of reinvention.
During summer in 1922, Nick Carroway rents a guest cottage next to the gargantuan mansion of a mysterious man named Gatsby on West Egg Long Island.  Nick and his cousin Daisy (and her husband Tom) are all old money, seasoned with years of privilege and entitlement.  Gatsby, we learn, came from nothing and piece by piece built himself into Jay Gatsby (formerly James Gatz).  Through some questionable (perhaps unsavory...) practices he became a self-made millionaire with all the trappings of new money.  Gatsby's lavish, decadent parties are often the first thing one thinks of when they think of The Great Gatsby.  Across the bay from his love from many years earlier (Daisy), Gatsby throws open-door parties constantly, all the while hoping that (the now married) Daisy will wander in and see all that he has built for her.  Sadly, Daisy could not be less deserving of this great love as she turns out to have little backbone (if any) and lets Gatsby throw himself under the bus on her behalf.  This ultimately leads to Gatsby's death and Daisy leaves New York (it seems) with little consideration of his sacrifice or for his memory.

The American Dream at it's best can be encouragement for those without hope to go on to do great things, at it's worst it's a toxic idea that creates a desire for "things" while letting the real value of life become an afterthought.  I grew up in a generation where our parents told us, we could be anything we wanted to be.  As I grew older I found this idea less and less likely.  A person with a terrible voice is unlikely to be a respected, Grammy-winning vocalist.  A person who's bad at math is unlikely to be a Mathematician, no matter how much they might want it.  Of course there are exceptions to this idea, but  in my most cynical moments I thought, "So many parents tell their kids they are special and they'll go on to do great things, but there are MILLIONS of people in this world.  We can't all actually turn out to be special, right?"  It's this kind of cynicism that Gatsby breaks through and actually makes him one in a million.  As a reader, I found myself caring very little about how Gatsby got where he was only that he actually kicked life's ass and did it.  It may be implied that Gatsby is a criminal, but his determination and perseverance makes him my favorite literary role model of the past century.

Cut to 1974 where Robert Redford and Mia Farrow star in The Great Gatsby.  I may not have been alive in 1974, but this is the first film adaptation I saw and I wanted to bang my head against the wall.  I don't want to harp on what I found to be a bad film, but ultimately my thought was that they didn't get it.  They didn't get the tone, they didn't get the themes- they just didn't get it.  A glitzy, edgy story became a mopey, soapy snooze fest.  BLEGH.

That brings us to 2013. Baz Luhrman brings us Gatsby's story of excess with a splashy, big budget, 3D spectacle.   Every one's reactions to the Oscar-worthy trailer were that of either awe or eye rolling.  Many literary types watched the hype with trepidation while a new generation looked at Gatsby for the first time and actually got excited.  Kids were walking into bookstores and buying the book without it even being assigned.

This new Gatsby is unprecedented with its modern soundtrack including everything from Lana Del Rey to Jay-Z.  But you know what?  Criticisms aside, this is the perfect adaptation to keep The Great Gatsby alive and kicking (and most importantly, cool) for a generation that values all things big, expensive, and public.  Furthermore, despite the visual decadence running the risk of the plot being lost (which I personally believe it wasn't), this film version captured the story's tone of opulence and recklessness that the 1974 film lacked.

That's not to say I didn't have the occasional qualm with the film; I was split 50/50 on Nick telling the story from a sanitarium and was more than a little annoyed that the final shot of Gatsby's body was pretty much an exact copycat of 1950's Sunset Boulevard's opening and closing scenes. But when all is said and done- it's still the best film adaptation we have of this luminous book that I have no doubt will continue to live on regardless of whether or not it remains required school reading for the masses.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Summer Reading- STARSTRUCK By: Rachel Shukert

It's hard to imagine a time when movie stars didn't have all the power.  However, in the golden age of Hollywood actors were nothing more than commodities owned and controlled by the studio system.

Set against the backdrop of 1930s Los Angeles, seventeen year old Margaret (later Margo) leaves her conservative, elitist Pasadena family for a shot at the big time- and when Olympus Studios' biggest star goes missing, Margo steps into the role of a lifetime.

On the run from her her past (including an abusive stepfather and some experience as a paid escort) voluptuous contract player Amanda Farraday falls for a politically radical screenwriter all the while hoping that her past won't catch up with her.

A vaudeville veteran at sixteen, Gabby Preston is blessed with a musical gift and cursed with a money-hungry mother and the critical eye of the studio constantly trying to change her.  Struggling with the studio's attempt to control her personal life, her weight, and her roles, Gabby proves to be an observant ally/enemy in spite of what may be her inevitable crash and burn.

This book is the perfect read for anyone who loves a little drama (hello Vally of the Dolls) and it's an especially good read for those who have an appreciation for classic films.  The setting was rich with a clear picture not only of the studio system but also of the pre WWII political landscape (a scene with Margo's father going on a racist rant with a grating sympathy for Hitler was particularly compelling).

With it's historical backbone and adult plot lines the only thing that makes this a "teen" book is the fact that they mention some of the characters are in their late teens.  In a time where schooling wasn't nearly as valued (or mandatory) there was nothing about this book that felt exclusively teen.  Everyone, pick it up!  It's a truly fabulous read.  While the satisfying ending still left sequel potential open, I found myself wanting to re-read this book the moment it ended.


Saturday, May 11, 2013


Even though Mr. Hosseini is a worldwide literary phenomenon with over 38 million in book sales this is the first book of his I've read in it's entirety (when I was in college I tried to read The Kite Runner when I was going through a depressed phase and it did not work out well).  Now I am banging my head against a wall wondering what I've been missing out on all this time, though it's difficult to imagine that he could have previously written a book better than this.

Though And the Mountains Echoed is ultimately a series of rich vignettes with interwoven characters spanning distance and time, the book manages to come full circle.  This book accomplishes everything the dust jacket promises: a perusal of relationships while the reader is able to travel the world from Kabul to Paris to Tinos and beyond.

Exploring (it seems) every kind of human relationship, the one that resonated the most was that of a rich young man in Kabul and the lifelong kinship with his chauffeur.  There was not a weak story in the bunch, but this one in particular became transcendent.  While the last story- clearly intended to tie up the main conflict of the book- lost steam toward the end due to the lack of reader satisfaction when one of the essential characters loses his memory, the book overall is a firm win.


*Book of the Times- NY Times

And the Mountains Echoed will be released on Tuesday, May 21st.  Please take the time to visit/call your local bookstore and pre-order it.  You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book # 60: BEAUTY QUEENS By: Libba Bray

A plane carrying teenage beauty queens crashes on a remote desert island. With a baker's dozen surviving, these young ladies must figure out how to survive 1.) each other and 2.) without the luxuries that we in the U.S. have learned to think of as commonplace.

This Lord of the Flies-style satire is setup beautifully.  There is narrative of day to day island life with perfectly place scripted commercial breaks and product placement footnotes as though you're watching reality TV.  Beauty Queens has a plethora of unique characters that explore relevant issues- race, self-image, transgender teens, abandonment, sexual awakening- all of it's there.

But of course, this isn't just Survivor with with a beauty pageant.  After some starvation, scary snakes, and "I hate my mother"-style confessions we slowly learn that the island is a secret hotspot for the illegal weapon-activity of "the corporation".  Drama bubbles to the surface thanks to some reality TV shipwrecked pirates and the story takes on a kick-ass ending and epilogue.

While this story is drenched in laugh-out-loud humor, the real triumph isn't it's painfully honest portrait of today's society- it's that with all this reflection of a superficial, corporation-controlled country Beauty Queens still manages to be a story about young women becoming who they really are when no one's looking.


**Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2011
**Library Journal Best YA Books for Adults 2011

Monday, April 29, 2013


When seventeen-year-old Paige dies from a fall off the roof of her high school, her ghost haunts the grounds only to find that her fellow students don't believe her death was an accident.  When Paige figures out a way to inhabit the bodies of the living she attempts to right the wrongs she's left behind.

One of the first things that struck me is that while this book is a rather slim one it manages to feel complete and full of characters that are so very real.  Paige's fellow ghosts of the school- Evan and Brooke- are rich characters alive as can be with their authentic and diverse reflections on life and death.  All three are an achingly real example of the time in our lives when we're just getting started but the reality of death becomes real whether you're a ghost or not.

Paige had the murkiest identity of the three, but I felt that it helped the book as you could put yourself in the narorrator's shoes easily.  Just as colorful and heartfelt are the friends and peers Paige left behind.  Particularly the burner- Wes- who Paige never noticed, but definitely noticed her.  

The most important thing about this book for me is that it is the most genuine depiction of High School I've seen in ages.  Evan's struggle for self-acceptance, Brooke's anger, and Paige's confusion- all of it- I felt so deeply.  This is a must read for all fans of teen books and/or ghost stories as well as those of us who continue to harbor conflicted feelings about our adolesence no matter how many years go by.


Absent will be released MAY 21st!!!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Fifteen year old Emily Dickinson meets a charming stranger only to be tormented soon after by the mystery of how he ended up dead in her family's pond days later...

In this charming and concise mystery Michaela gives us the story of Emily Dickinson before/on the verge of becoming the death-obsessed fragile creature that history has painted her as.  The book was more novella than novel, but that didn't get in the way of enjoying it.  Full of rich characters and free from subplots this book gets to the point and shows the ingenuity and flaws of being a "free-thinking" woman back in the day of churning butter and hang-drying laundry.

It took a while for me to get out of the fantasy/adventure mode I've been in as of late, but as soon as the murder mystery took off, I was set.  I appreciated the loyalty to Emily Dickinson's poetry and the historical accuracy of Emily's early life and family (look to the end of the book where you'll find a note from the author with awesome details regarding Emily's life and further reading).

While I have  a feeling that people the people who will most enjoy this book most are fans of Ms. Dickinson's poetry as opposed to the average teenager I enjoyed it nonetheless.

NOBODY'S SECRET will be released April 30th, 2013!