Thursday, June 23, 2011

Eyes Wide Open by Andrew Gross

Book:  Eyes Wide Open 

Author:  Andrew Gross 

Grade:  C+ 

Recommended To:  People who like thrillers but who don't mind the plot giveaways half way through. 

I think Andrew Gross might be a new author.  I'm just guessing.  I didn't even google him to find out - but I think that because I won this book on LibraryThing and I've never heard of him.

This book was right up my genre-alley because it is billed as a thriller with lots of murder and crime solving - perfect.

Some parts of this book were good.  The writing was pretty well done.  It flowed well and the plot was pretty original, but needed a good editor.

Here's what I didn't like:

First, the dialogue.  This was fine sometimes, and terrible other times.  There was a LOT of dialogue, even during the parts where someone was fighting for their life.  I can't imagine holding a conversation if I'm trying to defend myself.  But, apparently Gross thinks that's how it would happen.  

Second, the reinteration of the spooky parts.  There's one part where this women kills a bunch of chickens and in two separate parts different characters come to the conclusion that "she's never going back home, because the chickens were her only friends."  Okay, great.  This doesn't have to be spelled out for the reader like that.  Just say she killed the chickens.  We already know that she considers them her only friends.  Give your readers some credit, man.  We aren't idiots, and this isn't a super important part of the story anyway, so let me jump to some conclusions by my self.

Third, the plot was original, but it was a stretch.  I don't want to give too much away, but mostly a few current murders are linked to a cult from 30 years ago.  But, most of the people are at least middle aged, if not old, and also in jail.  So, please, tell me how a cult leader can orchestrate murders from a super max security prison?  No.  You can't tell me that, because it wouldn't happen.  These bits were unbelievable.

This was generally a story that held my interest though  and for me these days (to be posting on a thursday!) it was a really fast read.  I've started Cleopatra, A Life by Stacy Schiff and it is totally awesome so far.  So, look forward to that review in the coming week!

Happy Reading!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Festen by David Eldridge

** This is a review of a play I saw last night at the Steep Theater Company here in Chicago.

Play:  Festen 

Script Writer:  David Eldridge  
Director: Jonathan Berry

Grade:  A
Jon got me tickets to see Festen for my birthday. I really like experience gifts, and he did a fantastic job finding these tickets and reading all of the reviews.  Getting there was a bit of a hassle, because the Steep Theater Company is located right under the Berwyn L stop on the Redline.  So, of course, we parked in the wrong place, got stuck in mega traffic, and were nearly late for the show. If you do get tickets, the seating is first come first served - so you should get there earlier than we did if you want to sit together.

Luckily, there were two seats left (not together) and we snatched them up.

The play is about a family, gathering to celebrate the father's 60th birthday.  You find out early on that one of the children, Linda has recently passed away and this is the first time the whole family has been together in a while. There are some very serious revelations during the toasts and this keeps the play going.  Many of the revelations were shocking and I probably sat there with my mouth wide open for 1/2 of the play.

The play begins with a lot of tension and that feeling doesn't let up for the entire show. There were moments of extreme awkwardness - the kind that leaves you feeling like you just witnessed something you weren't supposed to.  It is also the kind that makes you want to leave the room so you don't feel worse!

I was also very impressed with the stage directing.  The entire play takes place on a tiny stage around a dinner table.  At one point there were three scenes being acted all at once and the genius of the stage-directing and writing really shone during that scene.

This play was an easy A.  It was the best I've ever seen and evidently much of Chicago's theater community also loved it because the show keeps getting extended for further dates.  I recommend this to anyone who wants to spend an evening being shocked by excellent acting and the storyline of the play.

Happy Watching!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Book:  K2 - Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain

Author:  Ed Viesturs with David Roberts 

Grade:  C- 

Recommended To:  Mountain lovers who can over look poor writing. 

I love reading books about mountain climbing.  Just like I love reading books about polygamists.  But, sometimes, in those two categories, you pick up a real miss.  K2 is one of those books.  I bought this at Borders for 1.50 when it was going out of business and I remember being so excited that I found this book for that cheap.  Really, thank God it was so cheap.  I would have rated this book even lower if I had paid more.

Then I started reading it.  I have to admit up front that I didn't finish it.  You've all seen my to read pile, and I just can't afford to keep reading something that I'm annoyed with.  I have too many other deliciously good books waiting for me. 

The first chapter is about Ed's own attempt to climb K2.  I loved Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air so I thought this book was going to be like that - but I was wrong.  Ed mostly just prints excerpts from his own journal and then either criticizes himself for thinking that at the time, OR uses those excerpts to bolster his criticism of how other people in his party handled the mountain. 

This guy comes off sounding like a total jackass.  Sure, he was the first American climber to climb all of the 8000ers (those are mountains that are higher than 8000 meters).  But, instead of sounding like a wizened and seasoned climber, he instead sounds like a whiny teenage girl, bitching about how others could have made his life and his climb easier.  Ugh. 

The rest of the book is about the various expeditions that have attempted K2 over the last 100 years or so.  Ed, thankfully, doesn't incorporate much of his journal, but the research seems half-assed.  It is as though he found a few letters from each time period, read the books that are already in mass print, and then sifted though for the drama.  This book could belong on MTV. 

I'm bored with Ed.  I'm bored with his writing style, his story, and his extremely pompous attitude.  Do yourself a favor and read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer if you want a good book about mountain climbing. 

Happy Reading!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Book:  Cutting for Stone 

Author:  Abraham Verghese 

Grade:  B

Recommended To:  Everyone who thinks a book is great even with a mediocre ending. 

 Cutting for Stone was out of this world incredible until I got to about the last 50 pages or so.  The book is about twins who are born to a nun who dies in child birth and who are fathered by a very accomplished surgeon. 

The twins are born in Ethiopia and are adopted by the resident gynecologist at the hospital where the twins are born.  To be honest, I wasn't sure in the first 100 pages or so where the story was going and the book seemed to take a very long time for the actual story to start.   The first 100 pages are consumed with the birth of the twins, and Verghese spends a lot of time on the background of each and every character.  It gets tedious. 

The middle of the book is by far the best.  The book is full of amazing imagery - and beautifully crafted language.  Unlike the Sweet Valley Confidential book, I never had to re-read a sentence to figure out what was going on.  The book just flowed.  The chapter breaks didn't even feel like breaks because of how well crafted the story and sentence structure was.  I appreciate books like this. 

The end of the book was much too quick for the amount of time spent leading up to the end.  I won't give anything away, but the end is a bit shocking - and in my opinion, the book was wrapped up too quickly.  It turns out that the story is about Marion's (one of the twins) entire life.  It was a lot to fit into 660 pages.  And seriously, 660 is a LONG book. 

I mostly gave this book a B because of the beginning and the end.    This is a must read for someone looking for beautifully crafted story.  The book is long, but it doesn't feel long.  You will like this book if you pick it up,  I nearly guarantee it.

Happy Reading!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sweet Valley Confidential - Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal

Book:  Sweet Valley Confidential - Ten Years Later 

Author:  Francine Pascal

Grade:  D+ 

Recommended To:  Sweet Valley High Fans will think they had terrible taste as a pre-teen reader. 

Okay, I don't have a problem admitting that I read almost every single Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley Middle School book that Francine Pascal thought up.  I even read the weird Christmas special ones where Elizabeth ran away from home and met the ghosts of past, present and future.  I loved these books - and when I found out that Pascal was writing a catch up book "Ten Years Later,"  I immediately put it on my birthday list.  

Thank God I didn't pay for it myself.  (Sorry, Mom!)  I'm not sure if I just didn't have any discretionary taste as a 13 year old or if the books had a much higher writing quality.  Somehow, I think it is the former. 

The writing in this book - blew.  That's to put it simply and accurately.  The sentences were often weird, misshapen blocks of words that I had to read more than once to even figure out what was going on or who was speaking.  Okay, I consider myself a prolific reader and fairly smart, so if I can't even figure out what is going on after reading a passage twice - then I want to use the book as firewood. 

The storyline was also incredibly disappointing.  There are going to be SPOILERS so stop reading now if you don't want to know what happens.   Or just skip the bullets - whatever.

  • Jessica has stolen Todd from Elizabeth after only sleeping with him once in a drunken one-night stand. That one night stand fueled 5 years of tension and love between them, even though they never slept together again and Jessica got married a few times. They are engaged.
  • Elizabeth has fled in a fit of rage to New York where she lives in a shitty apartment and eats take out. 
  • Elizabeth is FULL OF RAGE, people.  She does things like throw her purse on a chair to get relief. 
  • Jessica is a townie who has stayed in SV to be with her friends (who mostly think she's a big ole slut) and her PR job where she throws parties for pay. 
  • Elizabeth is obviously a writer, but it is for a crappy "throwaway" magazine that does play reviews. 
  • Oh, and the brother?  He's married but having a affair with a gay dude that I don't remember AT ALL from the books.  But, don't worry, at the end when Francine wraps it all up she wishes "that the Wakefields will soon have three son's in law because of a change in the gay marriage laws in California."  Oh boy.
God, are you bored yet?  I am.  If Jessica was such a slut and has been married three times - then wouldn't she have a few kids by now?  I want those "perfect size 6" bodies to change a little bit, add some flab here and there, live on food stamps for a while, don't get your perfect job at 27 right out of college.  

The worst part is that the characters haven't actually matured a bit.  They all act like they are still in high school.  The parts narrated by Jessica have a bunch of extraneous "likes" and "Sos" thrown in just to keep up that valley girl appearance.  Francine, you can't possibly expect me to believe that she has gotten ANYWHERE in life or at her job talking like that.  No, its like so not possible.  I don't care if she works in makeup. 

Elizabeth, always the more mature sister - hasn't changed - she is still ridiculously, annoyingly perfect, except now she is also angry.  Oh, and she sleeps around too.  It is as if Francine just added some swear words, let the twins have sex, and live on their own and then boom!  magically they are adults.  No.  That's not how life works.  They still act, speak, and think like teenagers.   Also, there's no way that Elizabeth could pay Midtown Manhattan rent with a job at a blog - AND eat take out?  I don't think so. 

I am so deeply disappointed.  I might write some fan fiction and send it to Francine just to show her where she went oh so very wrong in writing this monstrosity.  This book felt like my childhood had been ripped to shreds - thank God no one has ever done this to the Boxcar Children.  

I hope you enjoyed this post - I would love to hear what you think of SVC - Ten Years Later.  Here's what the good people at Goodreads thought.

Happy Reading!!

Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre

Book:  Agent Zigzag

Author:  Ben Macintyre

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To:  Non-fiction fans who love a story that could be fiction.  

This book was outstanding.  If I didn't have to work so much, and if I wasn't so tired when I get home from work, then I would have finished this book a lot sooner, but alas, I have bills to pay and a job to perform. 

This book is about a British citizen, Eddie Chapman, who is a petty thief and criminal in Britain before WW2. He is finally arrested for a few of those crimes and is jailed on the Channel Islands when the Nazis invade and occupy the islands.  This is reminiscent of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which was also about the occupation of the Channel Islands.  Anyway, Chapman uses his savvy to inform the Germans that he wants to become a spy for them.   Evidiently he does an excellent job of convincing the Nazis of his credibility because they expend enormous effort and money to train him as a spy, ship him into Britain and set up communications with Chapman there.

Things go awry for the Germans almost immediately and the book spirals into the world of Double Cross, the British plan to turn all German spies and feed false information to the Nazis.  This is an absolutely fascinating account of a real life spy who played a huge role in the War, but certainly isn't a character taught in an average history class. 

Macintyre had a big job when he took on this project because it seems that huge amounts of paperwork, including letters, reports, statements, documents survived the war.  There seemed to be very few gaps in the author's research which made this story even more compelling. 

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a incredible real life account of a spy who was able to fool the Germans, the English and come out far ahead after the war ended. 

Happy Reading!!