Tuesday, July 21, 2009

North of Montana

All over my paperback copy of April Smith’s North of Montana, there are reviews mentioning how “breathless” the novel is, how it “zips along”, and how it’s a “page-turner”.

What did I think?

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Ana Grey is an FBI agent dealing with a sexist boss. She makes a great bust, but the aforementioned boss curtails her much-deserved promotion. She ends up having to prove herself on a high-profile case about an iconic actress claiming she became addicted on prescription drugs because of a deviant doctor. (Quite the hot topic lately, isn’t it?)

But while investigating the case and trying to please all parties involved, Ana is faced with sudden questions of her childhood. Long faded memories begin to surface, and a woman claims that a recent shooting victim was her cousin. A woman she’s never met. A woman she is apparently supposed to be grieving. Juggling the two proves to make both more difficult.

Thing is, I can’t say I agree with the super-positive snippets all over the front and back cover.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually liked the book. The last page won me over with Ana’s character and her personal identity issues.

But was it a thrilling whodunit? Was it a fast-paced mystery? Was I breathless to turn the next pages?

None of those words really express, to me, what North of Montana was.

This was a character-driven story, very well done and thought out. Ana was made to be three-dimensional and certainly not perfect. Her family life and almost child-like need for approval from her grandfather was compelling, and her resurfacing recollections were sometimes disturbing, and always magnetic.

But her investigation felt like an afterthought to me. It was uninteresting and seemed almost like filler to me. I’m sure there are many people that found it gripping and a page-turner, but I didn’t. The parts focusing on her job and her case crept along at a slow pace, and I couldn’t help but begin to skim over those paragraphs and get to what I considered the “good parts”. Which was, in my opinion, a patiently plotted, slow reveal of Ana’s personal life.

Something those reviews didn’t really allude to, which could have possibly led me to wrong expectations. Who knows?

So, I’m left feeling mixed feelings. Ana is a compelling character, likable and smart, and where she was left in the novel was certainly alluring. But her work life? Yeah, I could go without. Except for very few exceptions, I found it tedious and far too monotonous.

Since at the top of the front cover it says “The First Ana Grey Mystery”, I can’t help but be interested in what comes next. However, I can’t help but hope that either there is no “mystery” in the traditional FBI sense, or it is written in a much faster paced, suspenseful manner – despite the reviews declaring this novel was written so!

But there ya go. We all have different opinions, don’t we?

Which is why I encourage you to read North of Montana for yourself!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Eyes Like Stars

Eyes Like Stars in the first book by Lisa Mantchev in the Theatre Illuminata trilogy.

Bertie lives on a stage. Her friends are fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her crush is Nate, a pirate from The Little Mermaid. And her childhood friend and now frenemie is Ariel, a hunky spirit from The Tempest.

That’s right. On the stage Bertie lives on, all those characters from all those plays? They’re alive and bursting with drama. And not just the characters from Shakespeare. Every single play that has ever been written is represented in The Book. The Book that makes all of this possible. The Book that creates the magic.

But Bertie isn’t one of these characters; the theatre has taken her in, with a rather murky explanation as to why. It is her home. The only place she knows.

However, Bertie isn’t the most gracious of guests. She can’t seem to help making messes and getting into mischief. And when she is threatened with banishment – she has to find a way to make herself invaluable to the Theatre in order to stay. But while she works hard at doing just that, things start to fall apart. The very existence she is trying to maintain for herself is disappearing in front of her eyes.

Mixing drama with whimsical fantasy, humor with magical depth, Eyes Like Stars manages to be extremely hypnotic in it’s telling. Bertie is somehow very relatable, yet completely immersed in this world that is so unlike our own. She’s interesting and talented without being a goody-two-shoes. All of the incredible characters from all the plays are mesmerizing and stunningly entertaining.

And the plot weaves itself into more than it first seems. There are twists I can assure you, you won’t see coming! At least, I didn’t.

It’s not just a book for Shakespeare lovers, though I’m sure they’d enjoy the characters being lively and full of personality. I, myself, only have a read a couple of the plays and have only a basic idea of the others, and it was in no way an impediment to my delight in Eyes Like Stars.

Somehow, by the last page I found myself spellbound in this exceptionally unique, dreamlike YA novel and breathless for the next installment. The character depth and wit manages to grab a hold of your emotions in a way that you wouldn’t expect for such a quirky novel. But there seems to be more under the surface.

And ALL of it is excellent.

I think you all should find it when it comes out this month and decide for yourselves: Do you wish you had your own Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed (the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)? My answer is an emphatic: yes.

I’d be shocked if you disagreed.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Quickie

A stand-alone suspense novel, The Quickie, is co-written by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge.

Lauren's whole world shatters when she sees her husband, her best friend, with another woman. Instead of being honest about it, her horror leads her to "innocently" question her husband. He lies.

This makes it all too easy to succumb to the charm of a handsome, longtime admiring coworker. Before she knows it, she's made things even. But when her newfound lover slips out to get some ingredients to cook for her, Lauren witnesses a crime.

In an instant, what had started out as a heartbroken, accidental night becomes a race to make sense of what she's seen. The lies begin to pile up as she tries desperately to save her marriage, hear astounding information about the man she spent the night with without betraying her shock, and somehow not risk everything she lives for in the meantime.

The Quickie didn't convince me in the first few pages, I'll admit. I can be hot and cold with James Patterson. I loved the first two Maximum Ride books (didn't adore the third, haven't gotten to the next ones) but wasn't real thrilled with Hide & Seek.

However, after a few pages (okay, more like 25) I couldn't help but get caught up with it. The action springs up on you fast and you can't help but get tangled up (in a good way) in the web of lies. The suspense successfully makes everyone a suspect, yet leaves everybody seemingly innocent.

Though Lauren came across as stale and unconvincing in her profession at first, I came to feel for her and worried about her choices.

The Quickie did it's job well - I was turning pages swiftly and was very interested in finding out how it'd all turn out.

Would I put it high on my list of "Must Read Again ASAP"? No, not really. But it was fun and entertaining - definitely an enjoyable and fast-paced read for those of you are looking for one of those (and from time to time, aren't we all?).