Monday, January 31, 2011

Review — The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig

Summary (via Goodreads): "Pride and Prejudice lives on" (USA Today) in Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series, which has been hailed for its addictive blend of history, romance, and adventure. In The Orchid Affair, Willig introduces her strongest heroine yet. Laura Grey, a veteran governess, joins the Selwick Spy School expecting to find elaborate disguises and thrilling exploits in service to the spy known as the Pink Carnation. She hardly expects her first assignment to be serving as governess for the children of Andre Jaouen, right-hand man to Bonaparte's minister of police. Jaouen and his arch rival, Gaston Delaroche, are investigating a suspected Royalist plot to unseat Bonaparte, and Laura's mission is to report any suspicious findings. 

At first the job is as lively as Latin textbooks and knitting, but Laura begins to notice strange behavior from Jaouen-secret meetings and odd comings and goings.
As Laura edges herself closer to her employer, she makes a shocking discovery and is surprised to learn that she has far more in common with Jaouen than she originally thought...

As their plots begin to unravel, Laura and Jaouen are forced on the run with the children, and with the help of the Pink Carnation they escape to the countryside, traveling as husband and wife. But Delaroche will stop at nothing to take down his nemesis. With his men hot on their trail, can Laura and Jaouen seal the fate of Europe before it's too late?

Review:  I had planned on reviewing A Visit From the Good Squad (which I have been calling Welcome to the Goon Squad for a good couple weeks now, embarrassingly enough), but I think I’m going to get the chance to hear Jennifer Egan speak this week so I thought I’d hold off and instead talk about the latest in the Pink Carnation series, The Orchid Affair, which I read in one night, as I do most of Lauren Willig’s books.

There’s something addictive in Willig’s writing. Like chocolate, caffeine and some good wine all rolled into one, I just can’t seem to stop myself from devouring each book as soon as I can get my hands on it as quickly as possible.  Maybe it’s her heroines.  No matter their place in society, there’s always something strong, but slightly tragic about each of her characters, even if they’re heiresses, royalty, or, in this case, a self-sufficient governess.  Or maybe it’s that she blends so many genres so well.  Historical fiction, romance, and chick lit all rolled into one.  She’s created the perfect blend of suspense and sentimentality (and I use that word in the best way possible).

At first I was a little put off by the idea her love interest was a widower.  Something smacked of Jane Eyre to me (which I loved, but Laura is no soft-spoken governess like Jane).  There’s also something that always rubs me the wrong way about romances with widowers, as if the heroine is second best, and he’ll never really get over the love of his life who’s gone.  However, Willig deals with this incredibly well, turning what could just be a typical romance into an adult look at love and relationships.  Out of all eight of her books, I think this might be the most mature romance.  Plus, the kids were actually kind of interesting characters instead of an annoying nuisance like they could be.  I’ve read my share of historical romances and trust me, it can go very, very wrong when kids are introduced into the picture.

And though all of her books deal with war and spies, this was the first time I really understood the gravity of the situation.  Maybe because it was set in France or the fact there was a state of paranoia throughout the country, but this was the first book where I actually feared for the characters.  I always thought of these as fun spy romps, but as Willig described a “republican marriage” (where they strip ‘traitorous’ men and women, bind them together and throw them in the river) things didn’t seem so fun anymore. It made me want to read a historical non-fiction or two to I could fully understand the political and social landscape.

My only gripe is that things wrap up a bit too quickly, which I guess is the best gripe to have.  It seems like we get to the second half of the story and Willig realized she only have 100 pages or so to finish up and glossed over certain aspects of their travels.  Things moved especially quick when it came to Laura and Andre coming clean with each other and their relationship is resolved.  Their romance is underplayed overall for the bigger political tension and spy suspense, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but, hey, I'm not ashamed to admit a big draw for me with this series is the fact that Willig writes a damn good romance without feeling like I'm reading something that should have Fabio on the cover or something.  Andre seemed to find resolution faster than I would have expected.  (Plus, I just like my romance a little tortured so I wouldn’t have minded twisting the proverbial knife a bit)

There are so many good things that outweigh my nitpicking.  Eloise’s story, which could easily get stale now that she’s “got the guy,” is taking an interesting turn.  There were some great new characters, both likable and villainous (was Delaroche in the first Pink Carnation book?  I wasn’t sure if he was a call back to Selwick’s time as a spy or not).  I really hope to see the poet Whittlesby (who could easily be the new Turnip) in future books.  Willig seems to have a lot more stories to tell with the introduction of three new young females in Mischief of the Mistletoe, her Christmas-centric installment of the series. Now I’m just going to have to deal with some Pink Carnation withdrawal until book number eight.

Lit Snit Verdit: A

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review -- Room by Emma Donoghue

Review: If you've heard of this book at all, you probably know basically what it's about: a woman is locked in a room, raising her young son (she was impregnated by her abductor/rapist). This is not going to be a cheerful story…

The story's told from five-year-old Jack's point of view, in Jack’s language. He says “disappeared it” instead of “took it away”, and turns the objects in Room into proper nouns (dinner isn’t laid out on the table, but rather on Table) because of course in his world there is only one table, period. In Jack’s world, nothing is real outside Room*, stuff on TV is all pretend, and stores don’t really exist.

* Has anyone ever read Robert Heinlein’s "Orphans of the Sky”? A self-sustaining ship journeys through space for so many generations that people on board have forgotten the ship is not all there is to the universe. In "Room”, we see how easily that could happen. Though Jack knows something exists outside room, because Old Nick comes at night, providing them with food and clothing.

I found the first 80 pages or so to drag a bit, though they were crucial to the story: The author needed to establish exactly what it’s like in Room before any moves can be made to shake Jack’s world view. I also found Jack’s child-voice a little annoying at first, but grew used to it as the story progressed. I say this not as a criticism to the book, but to say not to give up on it.

I have to give the author credit for telling such an adult story from a child’s perspective. Jack doesn’t understand all that is going on, but faithfully dictates what he sees and hears, and so Ma’s feelings and motivations are clear to us, the readers. I think this really enriched the story. If it had been told in Ma’s voice, it would have been more her tale, rather than a shared story.

This is a well-written novel dealing with a dark side of humanity. I liked that even in Room, we still see some typical parent/child battles. (For example, when Jack sees a mouse behind the stove, it instantly becomes his best friend, though Ma reacts by shoving foil into the hole so the mouse can’t come back.) I thought the characters were all realistic, and the author handled the entire topic well.

Lit Snit Verdict: A

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday — Erin

The Tiger's Wife
by Tea Obreht
Pub date: March 8, 2011

Synopsis (via Goodreads): The time: the present. The place: a Balkan country ravaged by years of conflict. Natalia, a young doctor, is on a mission of mercy to an orphanage when she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death far from their home under circumstances shrouded in confusion. Remembering childhood stories her grandfather once told her, Natalia becomes convinced that he spent his last days searching for "the deathless man," a vagabond who claimed to be immortal. As Natalia struggles to understand why her grandfather, a deeply rational man, who go on such a farfetched journey, she stumbles across a clue that leads her to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

I heard people talking about this book a few months ago and it was nothing but praise.  For some reason the summary Tiger's Wife reminds me of Elizabeth's Kostova's The Historian, which, okay I never got around to finishing (but I still intend to), but really liked the feel of, especially it's "epic-ness" and can see this debut novel.  I can't wait to see what's in store for us in The Tiger's Wife!  

*Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by the lovely Jill over at Breaking the Spine

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review - Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Summary: (via Goodreads) Best known for her satirical depictions of the manners and mores of New York society, Edith Wharton shows her mastery of a far different milieu in this classic story of a farmer who is trapped in a loveless marriage to a tyrannical wife.

Review: Edith Wharton, was a woman born into great wealth who had a keen sense of how to create great fiction out of that which she saw in the social circles of the upper class. For this most part, her literary efforts worked out beautifully, endowing all generations past her time with glimpses of what once was through such classics as The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence and The Buccaneers.
            In the novella Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton steps away from that which she knows (i.e., lavishness, propriety, the upper-class) and tries to examine life from the view point of someone located closer to the bottom of the social strata: Ethan Frome is a poor New England farmer who has been dealt a difficult hand in life in terms of love and money.
From a young age, Ethan had natural ability and curiosity that made him believe he could make something of himself, but an inevitable series of ill-fortunate events find him (at age 28) the owner of a failing estate and married to the sickly and wretched Zeena. Still, Ethan’s youth and strength, as well as his budding love interest in Zenna’s cousin, Mattie, keep his dreams of a better future alive despite his pitiable circumstances. Sadly, this being the tragic tale of a man who never got what he desired or deserved, it ends on a gloomy note which find our protagonist still tied to the estate and to Zeena, but this time, deprived of his health or any hope. 
I like the contrast Wharton creates between her three main characters, and the melodramatic events that ensue as their lives are intersected. Despite living in a small and sleepy New England town, Ethan, Zeena and Mattie, live lives filled with emotion and desires. Zeena is the oldest of the three; her poor health and general misfortune make her bitter and possessive. She is a villain, but not by choice. Mattie is quite different. She is young and naive and filled with romantic notions about life. She makes us think about how Zeena could have been were it not for her ill health. Ethan falls in the middle. A marriage contract binds him to Zeena, and his desire for youth attracts him to Mattie. Being that he’s near 30 years old, making a rash decision in picking either woman comes with lasting consequences for everyone. This is the tale of three people bound by love and a great deal of misfortune.  
            I’ve read some reviews of this book which criticize Wharton’s attempt at writing outside her scope of knowledge and attempting to penetrate the mindset of a class she knew very little about. Others point to the over-use of dramatics and gloom to make up for the lack of understanding. I would have to disagree. To me, the story’s preface serves as an explanation for all this. Ethan Frome has a fictitious preface, written in the form of an author’s note, which set-up for the rest of the story.  In it, Wharton explains that the writer of the story is a female journalist spending some months in a small town in New England. While working on a news story, this journalist runs paths with a disabled older man by the name of Ethan Frome, whose stoic nature captures her attention. Since she knows so little about him and basic propriety prevent her form asking too many questions, this journalist lets her imagination fill the gaps. What she comes up with it Ethan Frome, a tale of tragedy. It is this preface that gives meaning to why the story might be seen as watered-down and overly dramatic, because in essence, what we have in Ethan Frome is nothing more than the byproduct of a momentary lament of a writer whose imaginations was briefly captured by the sad face of a stranger.
            I never hesitate to pick-up one of Edith Wharton’s works when I need reminding what good literature feels like. 

LitSnit Verdict: B+

Monday, January 24, 2011

Library or Community Center? Save Our Libraries!

This morning I was shocked and dismayed to see on WNYC that Queens library has stopped buying books at least until July.  As a frequent user of the Queens library system, this definitely affects my reading future.  I also belong to the New York Public Library, but it's a fairly far walk from work and, well, Queens is my library. 

What I don't understand is definitive end of buying books for the next few months.  I can understand only one or two copies, but to not buy ANY?  That's crazy!  I don't mind waiting for inter-library loan, in fact, I think it's a great idea, but to know that I can't get any new books unless I buy them or schlep over to the NYPL makes me incredibly frustrated.

Queens Library CEO (who knew libraries had CEOs?  I suppose it makes sense but I never thought about it before) says that libraries aren't exactly centered around books anymore.  They're more about community, a place for kids and seniors to go.  Now, this is something I get in theory, but what about the books?  I'm all for promoting community with libraries, but if we're not also promoting literacy at what point does the library become a glorified community center or internet cafe?  In a time when people seem to be reading less and less, we need a place where we can focus on reading and books.

I was recently in my local Queens library and kids were running around and teens were hanging out in the YA section (which is awesome...though I don't think any of them were reading...) and a guy asked where the quiet room was.  The librarian replied that they didn't have such a thing (she actually didn't seem to understand the concept) and the guy had to leave, rather than stay and get his studying/reading/work done.  I couldn't believe there wasn't one place in this newly renovated library where you could go and just focus on a book.  Maybe I'm just getting old and don't understand the way community needs are changing, but I would think a library would be the one thing that would remain constant for a community.

What do you think?  Are your libraries going through similar struggles?  Do you see libraries becoming less about books and more a place for people to gather?  Any librarians out there that can shed some light on the other side of this?

If anyone's feeling generous the Queens library system is running a Buy-a-Book program where you can donate $25 to the purchase of a book for an institution that is very clearly in need of some help.

Edit: It looks like Queens isn't the only library in trouble.  Texas governor Rick Perry is proposing to cut library spending in his state to just $100,000, that's practically nothing for an entire state budget!  If your a Texan, heck, even if you're not, please let them know libraries are still important!

Review — Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “I’ve left some clues for you. If you want them, turn the page. If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.” 

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. 

But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions? 

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

Review:  I was a big fan of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist so when I saw Rachel Cohn and David Levithan were collaborating on a new he said/she said YA novel to say I was excited would be putting it mildly.  Dash and Lily covers a tumultuous time in a New Yorker’s life: December 21st – January 1st.  A time when tourists descend on the city in droves, it becomes impossible to take a step without being bombarded with rampant consumerism and unflappable cheer (and, this year, lots and lots of snow).  Some love it, some become, well, snarly.

Snarly is exactly how we meet Dash does at the start of the book.  He’s not a fan of Christmas and is counting the hours until the holidays are over.  Dash’s cynicism is counterbalanced by Lily’s innocent optimism.  She loves, no, adores, Christmas.  They meet through a red notebook in Strand, the famous bookstore housing 18 miles of books.  Lily’s original message in the notebook is bold and witty, yet we learn that she didn’t write it at all, but is a creation of her brother to get her to meet a guy. 

Lily is essentially the opposite of our (and Dash’s) first impression of her and as the book goes on, I kept kind of wishing I was following the girl I’d met in the notebook rather than the slightly immature, meek girl we were supposed to be falling in love with.  She was the kind of girl who’s sweet, but I couldn’t imagine actually spending more than a couple hours with because her perky nature would drive me insane.  Similarly, Dash’s hipster ways were kind of grating after a while.  His friend Boomer seemed like he was only there to inform us that he was actually a good guy and not perpetually “snarly.”  

While I liked most of the side characters (Lily’s aunt in particular is awesome), I didn’t get Boomer at all.  Was he challenged in some way?  How can he not have simple conversations without getting confused?  He was like a five-year-old stuck in a sixteen-year-old’s body.  I found myself getting distracted by worry for the kid, running around in New York City about to get mugged at any moment or get taken advantage of in some way, rather than invested in the budding romance.  Also of a concern:  the Macy’s Santa.  There’s a moment with Dash and Santa that Cohn and Levithan brush off as “huggy” which made me recoil and want to call To Catch a Predator

I kept expecting to relate to the characters like I did Nick and Norah, but it just didn’t happen.  I didn’t dislike them, really, but I just didn’t care much if they ended up together or not.  And because I couldn’t get invested in them, I also couldn’t understand how they were getting invested in each other.  They didn’t have much chemistry to speak of.  Yet, Cohn and Levithan’s writing is snappy and witty enough to keep me turning the page, wanting (but not eager) to see what happens next.  I don't think Christmas worked as a common denominator between the two characters like music did with Nick & Norah.  There was a certain amount of love and youthful adoration for something bigger than themselves that was missing.

I do, however, love the way they use New York to their advantage, finding all the nooks and cranies (and crazies) of the city and making you feel like you belong.  I hope they do another novel like this together because the small shout outs from Nick and Norah made my day.  I feel like their creating their own New York and I want to see more.

While I enjoyed the Christmas theme (any non-cheesy holiday books are few and far between), and I wish I had read this before Christmas instead of after, I feel like more dynamic characters might have made this a bit more enjoyable.  

Lit Snit Verdict: C+
That cover, on the other hand? A+

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bloggiesta Update!

Well, this frigid weekend is coming to a close.  Books have been read, blogging has been done, and tequila has been consumed.  So how did I fair?

Write at least 2 reviews  Half check.  I unfortunately only got one done, but that was mostly because I haven't read as much as I'd like to lately.
Update the “Reviews” list  Check.  I think.  There were a lot of them missing.
Get the tags under control  We now only have one tag for reviews instead of four so I call that progress
Sign up for a challenge or two.  I've signed up for two so far.  More on that later in the week.
Network!  Check.  I've found so many awesome new blogs and helpful tips as a blogger from sites like Word Lily, My Friend Amy, Jenn's Bookshelves, and Horribly Bookish.
Finally, see my fellow bloggers.  Check!  Janelle, Daniela and I had a lovely brunch and then Daniela and I checked out Strand and spent too much money on books neither one of us has any room for.  Here's my haul (sorry for the quality, my phone's camera's pretty bad. And that To Say Nothing of the Dog was actually a lend from a friend...I forgot to take it out of the stack).  I was pretty excited to get that America's Test Kitchen Cookbook for only $20!  And I don't know if I'll be able to wait until I finish Welcome to the Goon Squad before I start Across the Universe.

To top it off, Christy helped me get some SEO things sorted out so all in all I'd say it was a productive weekend.  Thanks so much to Maw Books Blog for hosting such an awesome event.  Can't wait to do it again!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bloggiesta Weekend

Okay, I said I didn’t have time to participate in Bloggiesta via Twitter, but I’ve changed my mind. Mine will be a mini-bloggiesta! Bloggiesta is a weekend-long blogging, well, fiesta, where you fix those little bugs on your blog you’ve been meaning to get to, write all those rainy day reviews, and whatever other bloggy things that need to be done.

My goals are simple:
  • Write at least 2 reviews
  • Update the “Reviews” list (I’ve been lazy lately)
  • Get the tags under control (I think we’ve been using multiple tags that all mean the same thing)
  • Sign up for a challenge or two. I know I said I wasn’t into challenges, but I’ve seen some awesome ones out there and some purposeful reading might be a good thing.
  • Network! There are so many awesome blogs out there and I feel like I’ve been lax in my commenting, book-related twittering, and just generally getting into the community. Plus, there are a lot of great blogs that are talking about blogging organization and how to keep on top of your blog that I really want to check out.
  • Finally, see my fellow bloggers. (Sadly, sans our newest Lit Snit-er Christy who’s a few hundred miles away) It’s been far too long since Janelle, Daniela, and I have seen each other and caught up on both books and life so I’m looking forward to some good ol’ brunching this weekend. (Don’t worry, Christy, we’ll have a mimosa for you!)

So those are my Bloggiesta goals. Nothing too fancy and entirely achievable…hopefully.

Check out some of the other participants this weekend to see what they’re up to!

In other news, the always hilarious Tahereh is giving away two $100 Amazon gift cards over at her blog. Can I just say I would do horrible, horrible things to a $100 to Amazon? And by “horrible things” I mean, I would buy A LOT of book. So, mostly horrible for the dwindling shelf space in my apartment.

Now, I think my mini-bloggiesta weekend calls for a stop at the grocery store after work for some chips and salsa and some tequila! (like anyone needs an excuse for tequila)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review - Juliet by Anne Fortier

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie’s twin sister. The only thing Julie receives is a key—one carried by her mother on the day she herself died—to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy.

This key sends Julie on a journey that will change her life forever—a journey into the troubled past of her ancestor Giulietta Tolomei. more

Review: A lush adventure/romance exploring the story that inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In alternating chapters, we meet a modern woman, Julie, who is searching for her family's history (and hoping for treasure too) and meeting friends and enemies along the way, and we hear from Friar Lorenzo, Giulietta Tolomei and Romeo Marescotti as their story unfolds in 1340 AD (similar to Shakespeare’s but with some differences).

Both of these tales take place not in "fair Verona" but in the equally gorgeous Siena, Italy. Settings don’t get much better than this. Siena is a city rich with history and beauty, the sort of city you fall in love with and never want to leave. In fact, the author’s bio on the back flap of the book says she wrote the book for her mother who “considered Verona as her true home until she discovered Siena.” In this book, we tour Siena with Julie, visiting cathedrals and piazzas and concert halls. We learn about the vast underground aqueducts and the palio (a traditional medieval horse race). Gorgeous.

In this book, you never quite know who to trust (which does work against character development a bit). Feuding households and curses on both houses have spilled over from the 1340s to modern times, and Julie (who learns her birth name is actually Giulietta Tolomei) has to figure out what happened to the original Giulietta, what really happened to her parents, and who she should trust now as she uncovers the secrets of Romeo and Giulietta.

The plot's a bit clumsy at times (with convenient coincidences and characters who could have saved a lot of trouble by just explaining things in the first place), but it’s fun anyway. Though for a tale that rewrites the origin of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, I could have done with a little less consensus among the characters that our modern Julie is pretty much the Juliet simply because she is the first of the female line in 300 years to have the same name as the original Giulietta. As in, since she's “Juliet”, she must be destined for a man named Romeo who is also descended from the original Romeo. But ... didn't "Romeo & Juliet" itself say, "what's in a name?”

Bottom line: it’s a fun action/adventure/romance that retells a classic story.

Lit Snit Verdict: B+

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday...Plus a Brand New Lit Snit-er!

Lots to talk about today.   

First and foremost I want to introduce our newest Lit Snit-er, Christy!   Christy, of course, is a big reader (like us) and she’s been listening to my literary snits since college (actually, I believe the first inclination that we’d be longtime friends was that we bonded over our junior high love of L.J. Smith while waiting in line for many sorority rush parties.  Some girls were primping...we were talking YA.  Clearly we were the only ones that had our priorities straight).  She’s got an eclectic reading tastes and loves all things book-related so I know she’ll be a great addition to Lit Snit.

She’ll be posting her review for Juliet by Anne Fortier tomorrow so be sure to stop by and welcome her!

In other news, we’ve been known to read our share of YA here at Lit Snit so I thought I’d take a second to mention TeenReads’ book awards.  They’re currently taking nominations for your favorite books of 2010.  I know I’m going to stop by to nominate Courtney Summers’ Some Girls Are, Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, and my latest fave Antony John’s Five Flavors of Dumb.  Be sure to nominate your favorite YAs of 2010 as well!

Last, but not least, the return of Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine!

Beauty Queens
Release date: May 24, 2011

Synopsis: From bestselling, Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, the story of a plane of beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a desert island. 

Teen beauty queens. A "Lost"-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.

I was a huge fan of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy so when you mix an awesome author like her, a "'Lost-like island,'" beauty queens gone savage, plus that incredible cover, I'm so totally in. 

Review: The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Sarah Crowe left Atlanta, and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship, to live alone in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant—a parapsychologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property. And as the gnarled tree takes root in her imagination, Sarah risks her health and her sanity to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago…

Review: Caitlin Kiernan’s novel, The Red Tree, is a fantasy thriller about the hypnotizing mysteries of an old and decrepit estate located in the backwoods of New England. Written in the form of a diary penned the estate’s newest tenant, Sarah Crowe (a published author and a bit of a recluse), it takes us through Sarah’s daily ruminations as she slowly falls under the spell of the strangeness that surrounds her.
            In the opening pages of her diary, Sarah recollects the reasons for her relocation. Having just ended a tumultuous relationship with her girlfriend, she’s drawn to the quite peacefulness of rural New England, the perfect place to finish a book she’d been commissioned to write. While trying to find inspiration for her story, Sarah begins to explore the house’s hidden corners and stumbles upon an old manuscript written by a former tenant. This manuscript is a collection of all the odd and unexplained tragic events that have occurred on the estate over the years. Despite the stories’ dark and eerie nature, Sarah’s interest in what she’s reading grows. The more spooked she gets, the greater her affinity becomes.  
            Seemingly out of nowhere, Sarah’s solitude is interrupted when another tenant moves in. Constance immediately changes the story’s dynamic and we are struck by how abnormally knowledgeable she is about the house, the old manuscript, and about Sarah herself, more knowledgeable than a mere stranger could ever possibly be. Her disruptive presence enhances the eeriness of the story.
It is around this point that Sarah’s narration also begins to change, shifting from a routine log of events into a less refined and sometimes disconnected rambling. New information surfaces about a mental health disorder. A more complete picture is formed about what happened between Sarah and her former girlfriend. The narration becomes neurotic and patchy, quickly condemning Sarah’s credibility. Soon we start to question whether what she’s telling us is still the truth and not a spin-off of the fictitious work she has been so hard pressed to finish.
            Overall, The Red Tree is very complex and suspenseful. Having a narrator that cannot be trusted was a unique reading experience. Even now, a few months after I’ve finished the book, I still don’t know what to make of the whole story. The best I can do is say that it reads like a David Lynch film: revisiting it again and again might lead to multiple interpretations, yet something about the story will forever remain elusive and misunderstood.

LitSnit Verdict: B

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review — The Maze Runner by James Dasher

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Imagine waking up one day in total darkness, unsure of where you are and unable to remember anything about yourself except your first name. You're in a bizarre place devoid of adults called the Glade. The Glade is an enclosed structure with a jail, a graveyard, a slaughterhouse, living quarters, and gardens. And no way out. Outside the Glade is the Maze, and every day some of the kids -- the Runners -- venture into the labyrinth, trying to map the ever-changing pattern of walls in an attempt to find an exit from this hellish place. So far, no one has figured it out. And not all of the Runners return from their daily exertions, victims of the maniacal Grievers, part animal, part mechanical killing machines.

Thomas is the newest arrival to the Glade in this
Truman-meets-Lord of the Flies tale. A motley crew of half a dozen kids is all he has to guide him in this strange world. As soon as he arrives, unusual things begin to happen, and the others grow suspicious of him. Though the Maze seems somehow familiar to Thomas, he's unable to make sense of the place, despite his extraordinary abilities as a Runner. What is this place, and does Thomas hold the key to finding a way out?

The Maze Runner, Dashner has crafted a creative and engaging novel that's both mysterious and thought provoking.

Review:  This is one of those books that it’s hard for me to not to associate with another book.  The first time I heard about The Maze Runner it was along with someone saying “if you liked Hunger Games you’ll love it.”  So, maybe I was expecting too much when I excitedly dove into this one.  It’s not a bad book, by any means.  It was just one of those ones that wasn’t for me.

I don’t think it helped that I had trouble envisioning this maze in my mind.  There seemed to be a lot of conflicting descriptions, but I have a tendency to read fast and miss details so that just might be on me.  Same with the Grievers.  So, they’re Swiss-army slugs?  What?!

It also didn’t help that there was just so much stuff to explain that I went a bit crossed-eyed for a few pages and just stopped caring.  Characters seemed to revolve around Thomas, just telling him what was going on, what had been happening, and to just STOP ASKING QUESTIONS.  That started to irritate me a lot.  This sentiment seemed to be said over and over again, and you’re constantly expecting the payoff of, “uh, no, asking questions is what’s going to save your ass.”  And it did, kind of, but was really more stumbled upon than the result of Thomas’ curiosity.

While I did stay up late because the pacing picked up toward the end and I just wanted to finish, the plot seemed to truck along with the steady pace of “action, exposition, action, action, exposition, more exposition, really, there’s a lot of exposition we need to tell you about, crazy action, cliffhanger.”  I felt like this book had a lot of “tell” in terms of the world and the rules of it all and not a whole lot of “show” (and definitely not a whole lot of character development).  Dashner also created his own language to get around those pesky kids swearing all the time, but it seemed so forced and never really had much context so it eventually ended up distracting me more than anything.

My main issue, and what I have to say The Maze Runner lacked, compared to the Hunger Games trilogy (sorry, can’t help it, I’m comparing), was heart.  I just didn’t find myself caring for any of the characters much.  We saw them do a whole lot of cool stuff, but I didn’t feel like I really knew them, so when characters you should care about is in mortal danger, I just sort of shrugged and turned the page.  That being said, there was a nice cliffhanger that has me leaning towards picking up the next in the series and the overall conspiracy and reasons behind the maze are interesting and could be really cool.

Lit Snit Verdict: C

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cover Reveal: Trial by Fire

As you may or may not know I was a big fan of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ werewolf tale, Raised by Wolves so I was super excited to see today that the cover for the sequel Trial by Fire has been revealed.  What do you think of the cover?  I don't love it as much as I loved Raised by Wolves, but it's something a little different in a genre where covers all seem to blend together.

Now if the June release date weren't so far away...

And speaking of forthcoming books, only 6 more days until the new installment in the Lauren Willig series, The Orchid Affair.  I’m a huge fan of this series and was pleasantly surprised by her Christmas installment, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, which followed the bumbling Turnip, a character who I never had given much thought to in the series.  After reading Mistletoe, I re-read the first few in the series and saw him in a whole new light.  Plus, there’s an appearance by Jane Austen that at first made me groan, but was delightfully tongue in cheek (much like Jane herself).  Knowing Willig, Orchid Affair will be equally fun and definitely a page-turner.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happy New Year!

I’m no good at lists.  Oh, sure I like making them at work or when I go to the grocery store, but in terms of looking back at 2010?  Trying to sum up an entire year in reading, TV, movies, or whatever, it makes my head hurt.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love reading everyone else’s lists.  Write Meg! has a great top five list and The Perpetual Page-Turner has a great End of 2010 Survey that makes me wish December hadn’t been such an incredibly crazy month work- and life-wise so I could have participated myself and given it the time and attention it deserved, but, alas, it’s time to look ahead to 2011. 

I’m not big on challenges (mostly because the idea of picking a book for a challenge requires way to much forethought), but Goodreads has a great, sort of "make your own" type challenge that even I can handle…I think. 

I’ve committed to read 100 books in 2011.  It's a fairly daunting number, but I had hoped to reach 100 in 2010.  Sadly, I fell just 18 books short of my goal, so here’s hoping I can hit the triple digits in this new year!

Mostly though, I’m resolved to recommit myself to blogging and posting more than just straight reviews because the best thing about book blogs, as I’ve been discovering as I’ve gotten familiar with the book blog community, is getting to know the blogger, discover new books, and get a little insight into the book world.

What about you?  Any reading goals for 2011?  Any "bookish" resolutions?  Anything you loved/hated from 2010?