Monday, October 20, 2014

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Reviewed by Meygan Cox

Nick and Amy Dunne appear to have the perfect marriage. Both are writers living in New York City, and Amy has quite the trust fund set back for her and Nick’s future. However, their perfect marriage begins to crumble when they both lose their jobs, Amy gives most of her savings to keep her parents from going bankrupt, and Nick is asked to move back to his home state Missouri so he can take care of his ill mother. I believe anyone would agree that all of these reasons would take a toll on almost any marriage. Nick and Amy begin to argue a lot, using both words and silence to state their case, and although they are both miserable, neither one of them wants to make the first step to getting a divorce.

On their five year wedding anniversary, Nick receives a phone call from his neighbor telling him that Nick’s front door is wide open. Nick finds this unusual, so he goes home. There he finds messed up furniture and broken glass—the indication of a struggle. Nick calls the police and the police file a missing person report. Where has Amy Dunne gone? 

I couldn’t set this book down without feeling I was betraying the author. I just knew that the story would be more engrossing, more enticing with each chapter I read. I read this book before I went to bed, on my lunch breaks, and every other second of time I was given to spare. I found myself waking up thinking about the book. Where DID Amy go? Who took her? Did Nick kill her? They HAD been arguing right before she disappeared… 

The last few chapters were mind blowing. I finished Gone Girl a couple of days ago and I am still thinking about what I read. To me, that is what makes a good book a good book—you think about the story long after reading it.  I craved more Gone Girl and I knew that I just had to see the movie.
With a movie adaptation, you never know what to expect. Will the writers of the movie stick to the novel? Will the movie be a completely different story and the only thing in common is the title? I was nervous. I didn’t want to be disappointed. I am happy to say that although there were a few changes in the movie, most of the changes was minor. The ending was changed just a bit, and I found the movie ending less thrilling.  Still, the people I was with hadn’t read Gone Girl and they liked the ending, even though they found it confusing. (I had to explain a part to them because the movie didn’t elaborate on a certain point as much as the book did, causing it to be easily missed in the movie.) The actors and actresses were cast to a tee. I was a bit surprised at first to find that Ben Affleck would be playing Nick (I’m not exactly his biggest fan), but he did a great job. I sympathized with movie Nick more than I did book Nick, I will say that, but Ben did a good job nonetheless. 

The ending of the book provokes more questions, but I believe it answers more questions than the movie did. My husband, who does read sometimes but said no thanks to reading Gone Girl told me that he wished he had read the novel before seeing the movie. You are truly missing out if you don’t read the book before you see the movie. If you see the movie without reading Gone Girl, well, I’m not sure if you will truly understand Nick and Amy Dunne.

 There are already rumors floating around that there will be a Gone Girl 2. What do you all think?  

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Reviewed by  Meygan

From my own reading experience, I would say that there are two types of “good” books. The first category consists of books that you take your time reading because you want the story to last forever. Then there’s the second category. This category is comprised of books that you read within 24 hours, taking the risk of falling asleep at work or school the next day because your love for the book has become almost an addiction and you can’t function without knowing what happen next. This, my friends, is the category where the YA novel The Maze Runner by James Dashner belongs. I was hooked within the first two chapters. By the time I reached the half point of the book, I realized that World War III could have happened outside and it still wouldn’t have pulled my attention away from The Maze Runner

As the book opens, a young man named Thomas wakes up alone in a crate. He is startled, to say the least.  He also realizes that his memory has been erased. He is lifted up through a concrete-looking tunnel, only to be greeted by the sun and a group of guys he does not know peeking down at him. The guys poke fun at Thomas, calling him “Greenie” (a term for the “new guy on the block”), but they do at least help him out of the crate. When lifted out of the crate, Thomas notices something is peculiar about the forest setting he stands in—the entire area is surrounded by stone-like walls. When he questions what the walls are for, one of the guys inform Thomas that the walls are a maze which open and close. They go on to explain that during the day, the walls to the maze open, allowing enough time for the “runners” (a group of the fastest runners that are voted in by the others) to try and find a way to escape the maze. Thomas is full of question: why are they in the maze? Who put them there? How can they escape? 

Unfortunately, no one has the answers to those questions However, Thomas is warned to never walk outside of the maze’s walls. Only the runners are allowed to leave during the day, and if they aren’t back by a night then the walls will close, leaving them to face the “grievers” (a semi-mechanical monster) that lurk the walls of the maze. Thomas is told that no one has ever stayed a night outside of the maze and survived. 

Do the anyone survive the maze? If so, how? If not, who will pick up the pieces and try to find a way out of the maze? Also, even though everyone’s memory has been erased, some of the guys do have recollections of their past. One boy in particular recalls that his life before the maze isn’t something he wishes to return to, leaving him to wonder if he should leave with the others or stay in the maze. There is a catch to remaining in the maze though—eventually the grievers will pick the boys off one by one if they stay. Do any of the guys choose to remain in the maze and take their chances with the grievers? Or will they fight the grievers and escape? Is escape even possible? Who has put them there and why? All these questions should keep you turning pages. 

I cannot finish a book if I don’t like or can’t relate to any of the characters. I’m sure I have passed on great reading opportunities because I just couldn’t set aside my hatred for the characters. Luckily I did not have this experience while reading The Maze Runner. Thomas, the main character, is very likeable and there were parts where I literally cheered for him. For example, Thomas forgets the rule of not leaving the maze when two of the guys are on the outside of the maze—one limping from an injury and the other trying to carry his partner. The boys know they will never get through the walls in time, but the one guy refuses to leave his injured friend’s side.  Thomas, despite the boys’ pleading, begins to run, barely making it through the maze in time. (This is the part where I cheered out loud while sitting, thankfully alone, in the staff lounge, shouting cries of, “Yes!”, “Hurry! Run!” and other words that I do not wish to mention.) Although Thomas isn’t the “leader” per se, I would have to say that he certainly becomes the leader when the others give up. 

What I enjoyed the most about this book was the characters. The setting was cool, too. I couldn’t help but to think of The Maze Runner as being a modern version of The Lord of the Flies. If I had three thumbs, I would give The Maze Runner three thumbs up. I hope to finish the complete series in the near future. Maybe then all my questions will be answered as well!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nevermore: Capital, Bonapartes, We Are Not Ourselves, and Hidden Child

Nevermore started out with a heavy-weight book first:  Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty.   The book is just a tad intimidating:  it’s a 685 page treatise on economics translated from the original French.  As if a 600+ page book with a long range view of economics (and by “long range,” think centuries) wasn’t intimidating enough, this book is a translation from the original French.  Jud said the book was surprisingly easy reading, both informative and entertaining, so the translator must really be a gifted person.  Piketty tries to present both recent and historical data from a variety of countries in his survey, though admittedly data on person income in, say, the 1700s is a bit sketchy.  He finds that, as population expansion slows in developed countries, wealth is concentrated into small groups and that much of this wealth is inherited.  Piketty has said that his goal was to write a book for non-specialists and he seems to have succeeded, as Jud said that the book reads “surprisingly well for a book about economics.”

France also figured in the next book, or rather a family connected with France did.  The Bonapartes  by  David Stacton tells the story of some of Napoleon’s less illustrious family members who tended to be, well, screw-ups—at least according to this book. For example,   Napoleon liked to appoint relatives to kingships.   Joseph Bonaparte was made King of Spain where he was so disliked that he suggested his own abdication.  He then spent time in the United States where he added another mistress and more illegitimate children in addition to the ones acquired in Europe. Our reader is finding this book to be both enlightening and entertaining, praising it for its “wonderful, witty style.”  She loved the way the author writes, but says the names can be a bit confusing.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas is the story of Eileen Tumulty, the only child of alcoholic parents who is determined to better herself.  She marries Ed, a neuroscientist, in hopes that this will lead to a more upscale life.  Unfortunately for her, Ed is more interested in research than in material gain, so Eileen sets out to on a career of her own in order to give their son a better place in life.  Our reader found it well done, showing Eileen’s determination and strength of character.  He also praised the cover, which is quite ingenious and reflects some of the novel’s themes.

Finally, Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg was recommended by another member as a strong entry in the “Nordic Noir” category.  Swedish detective Patrik Hedstrom is on paternity leave when he is drawn into a case of murder whose origins may stretch back to World War II.  Our reader enjoyed it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lowcountry Boil by Susan M. Boyer

Reviewed by Jeanne

In her first adventure, Lowcountry Boil, private investigator Liz Talbot had returned to her childhood home of Stella Maris after the death of her grandmother.  The second book picks up with Liz accepting a case from a newcomer to town, a woman who is the doppelganger of Marilyn Monroe and the "Bombshell" of the title.  That’s not where the resemblance ends, either.  Calista was born fifty years to the day after Marilyn was born; she was baptized with the same birth name, Norma Jean Baker.  She married at sixteen just as Marilyn had, and to a man with the same name.  This isn’t coincidence:  Calista’s mother and adopted aunt are convinced she’s Marilyn’s reincarnation and helped arrange some of these events.  Finally Calista had enough and fled to make a life for herself—one that started with changing her name from Norma Jean to Calista.

Now the anniversary of Marilyn’s death is fast approaching, and Calista believes someone is out to see that she goes to an early grave too—especially after a friend of Calista’s is murdered and sleeping pills appear on Calilsta’s nightstand.

Is someone really out to do Calista in?  Or is this some sort of ploy? 

I hadn’t read Lowcountry Boil, but that didn’t deter me from the second book. Author Susan M. Boyer has done a good job with creating a lively series with a good sense of place and entertaining characters. Liz is a feisty fashionista and germaphobic  Southern Belle who knows her fashion designers as well as her firearms.  Coming back to Stella Maris has been good for her, as she tries to recover after the break-up of a bad marriage. Trouble is, she’s attracted to her former brother in law, Nate, and the feeling is mutual.  In fact, Nate has turned up to help with her investigations, much to the dismay of Michael, Liz’s high school crush.  Michael has gone through a break-up of his own, and he’s ready to settle down with Liz and raise a family. Michael also takes a dim view of Liz’s dangerous profession.

Others are much more supportive.  In addition to Nate, Liz has help from her brother who works in law enforcement, and a godmother with a touch of second sight. 

Then there’s Colleen, a former classmate of Liz’s who became former not by graduation but by suicide.  Now she’s become a sort of guardian spirit for Stella Maris, watching over the town and paying Liz an occasional visit.

 I hesitated about mentioning the supernatural elements for fear it would make people think this was a just escapade in which Our Heroine only solves the case via unearthly means.  On the contrary, most of the detecting is good old fashioned research with some slightly shady surveillance (okay, more than slightly shady, but they do it so well!) thrown in. The psychic hints are vague enough that they’re easy to ignore.  Ghostly Colleen is in the background for most of the book, but comes through twice for Liz although neither intervention was obvious to me at first.  However, I have to say that I find her to be one of the most intriguing characters.  On one level, she’s still the old high school friend but on another she’s a spirit with a mission—someone who is seeing a bigger picture than the humans around her.

Add to the mixture Liz’s parents, especially her father who knows just what buttons to push to get his little girl to come by and see him, the mandatory friendly diner and waitress, and a few other colorful characters make this a fun book that doesn’t stoop to slapstick.  There are a few steamy romantic moments, some nice lines I want to try to remember to use (“She has too many pots on the stove” instead of “too many irons in the fire”), and an interesting plot. I was also impressed by the references to various Marilyn Monroe biographies that Liz refers to as she tries to unravel the mystery.  In fact, she made the biographies sound enticing, so I may want to read those, too.  Kudos also to Boyer for a love triangle which is a good deal less contrived than some.

In short, Lowcountry Bombshell is an enjoyable mystery with an interesting premise and solid characters.  

Full Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book in hopes I would review it.  This did not influence my review.

Win a copy of Lowcountry Bombshell!  If you would like to win, please leave a comment at the end of the review. The deadline is 30, with a winner selected on Halloween! US entries only, please; I’m sorry to say the library budget doesn’t extend to international shipping.