Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Now a major motion picture, If I Stay by Gayle Forman is the haunting tale of a young woman faced with an impossible decision.

On a day that started like any other, Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she'll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.

@Goodreads - @Amazon

First and foremost, ignore that little statement USA Today made on the cover stating that this will appeal to fans of Twilight.  Not that it won't (it very well might), but a statement like that might make the reader think that this novel is comparable to Twilight.  It is not.  If anything, I'd compare this novel to The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, as it is written in an out-of-body perspective.  

The novel opens with a horrific, fatal car crash.  Mia, the protagonist, finds herself outside of her body, which is badly injured and lying in a ditch, thrown from the car -- brain contusions, broken bones, internal injuries, you name it.  She finds the bodies of her parents first, dead and horribly mangled.  Her little brother, Teddy, is missing from the scene, likely thrown from the car as well.  She watches as emergency medical workers clear the scene and transport her body to a local trauma center.  

Throughout the mayhem, Mia has a series of flashbacks about her life leading up to the crash.  The reader meets her family, her best friend, Kim, and her boyfriend, Adam.  Mia is an accomplished classical cellist on the road to Juilliard, with the most amazing, loving family imaginable.  Her parents are (I feel like an idiot for saying this) "hip", open-minded, tattooed, and just cool.  Her little brother, Teddy, is adorably sweet and funny.  Adam, her boyfriend, is hot and in a band.  

In between flashbacks, Mia watches over her friends and family in the hospital, also noting her progress.  She is in a coma, in critical condition.  She has grievous injuries, including some that happened post-accident, during her emergency surgery.  Mia learns from the way hospital personnel act towards her body that she may actually have a choice as to if she lives or dies.  

This was a really good, poignant novel, but I do have a few problems with it.  Firstly, it was a bit on the short side, weighing in at only a little more than 200 pages.  (Note: The Kindle version of this novel ends at 79%, which was a bit of a disappointment, because the end is naturally abrupt on its own.) Anyway, because the novel was so short, the characterization suffered a bit, and the love story between Mia and Adam felt a bit forced.   I did not believe in their love.  I did believe in Mia's immediate family, however.  I felt the loss of her parents and brother profoundly.  I felt the love from her extended family, as they visited her in the hospital after the accident.  But I did not feel anything for Adam, and I believe I was supposed to.   However, I'm old and jaded, and I know a love like theirs can turn sour on a dime.  They're teenagers.  He's in a band.  If Mia died, Adam would be getting laid on the regular in two weeks.  Meh.

This novel makes you think what you would do in Mia's situation.  I won't tell you if Mia decides to stay or go, but if I were Mia, I think I would have let go.  

(Actual rating 3.5)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Currently a New York Times bestselling novelist, Liane Moriarty, author of The Husband's Secret, spins a new tale about secrets, lies, friendship, and schoolyard scandals.
Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . .
A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what?

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads: Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?)

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.
@Goodreads - @Amazon

A murder.  Maybe.  The blurb says there might have been a murder.  Or maybe an accident?  Does someone die?  Who dies?

Well, I'm not going to tell you who dies, or if it was a murder, an accident, or just parents behaving badly.  But I will tell you that you won't know who dies until, well, they die.  At the very end of the novel.

The book opens with something happening at an elementary school.  We have no idea what happened, only that something did, and we only know that is was something major because the blurb tells us that someone dies.  It's very unclear what happens in the beginning; we are told there is a scuffle of sorts witnessed by an elderly lady with a cat named Marie Antoniette (let them eat cake) in the very beginning.  Then the novel takes us back six months and introduces us to entirely new characters.  Bye, old lady.  Hello, three 30-something ladies.

The author tells us just enough to pique our curiosity early on.  One of the characters may have a psychotic monster child.  Another may be a victim of domestic abuse.  But the question still remains -- WHO DIES?  (And should we care?)

The novel is well-written, with relatable, although slightly clich├ęd characters, but it's the schoolyard scandal (read: kindergarten politics) that killed it for me.  I lost interest about halfway through the novel, but pressed on, because, well -- WHO DIES?

The ending is actually very good -- there are some twists that you will probably see coming, but the slow build-up was worth it.  I gobbled up the last quarter of the novel greedily; once it got good, it was very good.  

This book will be well received by women ages 25-45 with elementary school children.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

From acclaimed author Rainbow Rowell comes Landline, a new novel about an estranged couple and the magic phone that reconnects them at a critical point in their relationship.  Rainbow Rowell is famous for her earlier young adult fiction, Fangirl and the greatly beloved Eleanor & Park.

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened? @Goodreads - @Amazon
Pros: Cute cover!
Cons: Everything else.

It's not that Landline was a bad read; it just wasn't great. I went into this thinking that it was going to another epic, soul-punching romance like Eleanor & Park. It wasn't. The idea of the novel was cute -- a magical telephone that connects an unhappily married couple -- but the execution left much to be desired. First and foremost, the protagonist's name: Georgie McCool. That name mcsucks. It fits the cheesy theme of the novel, however.

Georgie herself did nothing for me, nor did any other character in the book. Neal, the husband, a short, fat guy, really did nothing for me, and I found myself rooting against their marriage. In the flashbacks prior to when Neal and Georgie married, when they were supposedly in love, they had no chemistry. Their relationship just never felt right.

Georgie and Neal have kids, but they are hardly worth mentioning. Neal is a stay-at-home dad while Georgie writes for TV sitcoms -- think Liz Lemon, but without the personality. Throughout the duration of the novel, the children are with Neal visiting relatives for Christmas, and Georgie hardly ever gives them a thought.

So blah blah blah, Georgie finds a magic phone that allows her present day self to talk to Neal before they got married, when they were in a big fight. Blah blah blah, Georgie has to make a decision: Now that she knows her marriage is shit, should she break up with Neal in the past so that they never get married?!

....No mother would ever consider a choice like that if she was given the option. Neal wasn't abusive physically or emotionally; he was unhappy because Georgie worked insane hours, never got time off, and he had to raise the kids pretty much exclusively. Georgie, on the other hand, was content aside from the fact that she knew Neal was unhappy. So for her to give any thought to breaking up with Neal in the past and thus not having kids with him is far-fetched and ridiculous.

I realize this novel is about a magic phone, which is far-fetched and ridiculous in itself, but that should have been the only thing far-fetched and ridiculous in the novel.  That way the reader could connect to it somehow, someway.  In theory.

The majority of my issues with this novel were due to Georgie and her utter lack of emotion towards her children.  It wasn't realistic, and really makes me think that Rainbow Rowell has never had children, because she does not appear to understand the type of bond a mother has with her child.  Not even close.  Because of this, I felt that Landline read more like a young adult novel, because young adults would be less apt to be bothered over the lack of a mother-child bond than say... a woman that has had a child.

Do Georgie and Neal end up staying together?  Who cares.  Read Eleanor & Park instead.