Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Beautifully Sculpted Story

Kristen Heitzmann
Pub. 2011.  322 pp.
As a long-time fan of Kristen Heitzmann’s books, I could not wait to crack open my copy of INDELIBLE.  Knowing that, within its pages, Heitzmann had no doubt crafted a world of intrigue and mystery that blended beautifully with romance.  I was not disappointed.
Returning to the small mountain town of Redford, which Heitzmann introduced her readers to in INDIVISIBLE, local business owner/search and rescue worker Trevor MacDaniel races after a mountain lion and rescues a young boy from its teeth.  The whole heroic display in only the first five pages!  Little does Trevor know, however, that the rescue will end up changing his life.  The first change comes when he finds out that the boy he rescued is the nephew of his new business neighbor, Natalie Reeve, a sculptor plagued with an eidetic memory which allows her to capture the faces of those she sees in vivid sculptures.  Their lives twist together as Trevor attracts the attention of a grim admirer, who we catch glimpses of throughout the book.  Natalie and Trevor, both guarded from past life experiences, must learn to rely on, and trust, each other as they deal with Trevor’s “admirer” and the other obstacles thrown into their path.
Within the pages of INDELIBLE, Heitzmann weaves a story of redemption, acceptance, and perseverance.   I could not turn the pages fast enough.  It was as if the words themselves demanded that you speed through them in eager anticipation of what was to come.  My one complaint about the book was the abrupt ending which felt anti-climatic after the urgency of the rest of the book, and left me feeling dissatisfied.
All in all, however, Heitzmann proves her talent once again with a book that will keep readers on the edge of their seats and aching for more.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Less than Graceful Plot

The Harvest of Grace
Cindy Woodsmall
Pub. 2011.  342pp.

Set admist the Amish, The Harvest of Grace centers around Sylvia Fisher,  a young Amish woman with a skill for dairy farming, and Aaron Blank, a man not yet entered into the Amish church who struggles with alcoholism.  Sylvia leaves her family, an act which is frowned upon for single women, and goes to work on the failing Blank farm.  The Blanks take Sylvia in and treat her as their own daughter, much to the chagrin of their son who has just returned from rehab and is set on convincing his family to sell the farm.  At first clashing with each other, Sylvia and Aaron soon discover a connection that serves as the saving grace for them both.
The Harvest of Grace is the third book in a series by Cindy Woodsmall.  If you have not read the previous two books, I highly recommend doing so as the characters from them are interwoven into the plot of this story (and not skillfully).  The plot jumps are sporadic and I came away from the book feeling as if I had whiplash I was thrown from one plot to the next so abruptly.  Though the book offers a list of characters in the back, there are far too many protagonists to make this story work.  While Harvest of Grace is about Sylvia and Aaron, their story only fills about half of the book, while the other half is used to tie up the loose ends Woodsmall left in her previous two books.
The Harvest of Grace left me confused and a little annoyed with the lack of character development and the way that Woodsmall tried to weave three individual stories into one.  If Woodsmall wanted to give her readers whiplash and a feeling of frustration then she greatly succeeded.
I received a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Convenient Story for a Rainy Day

The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck
Kathleen Y’Barbo
337 pp.  Published 2011

A light and fluffy book, The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck is the perfect read for a rainy day (which is when I cracked Kathleen Y’Barbo’s novel open). 
The story follows Charlotte Beck, a Colorado debutant, as she enters society.  Beginning in London, Charlotte’s story starts off on the wrong foot when she tries to sneak out of a stuffy party and falls – quite literally – into the arms of Alex Hambly, an English lord whose family is in financial straits.  From the very beginning Charlotte and Alex, both very stubborn characters, clash.  After their first interaction, the two swear never to see each other again, but life has a way of throwing them together again and again, leading them, ultimately to the altar – under complete duress of course.  But can a marriage that started strictly as a means to an end lead to true love?
Y’Barbo’s characterization and dialogue sometimes borders on the ridiculous, but, in the end you can’t help but fall in love with the characters and their wacky ways.
The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck is the third book in a series and, while it can be read as a standalone novel, I highly recommend reading the first two books before reading this one.  I didn’t read the first two and, at times, I felt a little lost when characters would reference events from the other books.
All in all, this is a great book if you are looking for something light and easy to read.

*I received this book for free from  WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Story Well Sewn

Kristen Heitzmann
325 pp.  Published 2010

As a long time fan of Kristen Heitzmann, I was anxious to see what awaited me within the pages of Indivisible.  For anyone who has read Heitzmann’s earlier work be prepared.  This is not your typical Heitzmann novel.
Set in the small mountain town of Redford, Colorado, Indivisible’s story focuses on string of gruesome crimes (animals that have been surgically joined together) and the secrets that mingle in the town.  Chief of police Jonah Westfall has suffered more than his fair share of heartache and the horrific animal mutilations – along with his shared history with local shop keeper Tia Manning – begins to consume him.  Add in a mysterious new vet, a perky baker, a germ-a-phobic millionaire, a cantankerous and retired army sergeant, and housebroken coyote and you have a cast of characters that – while they sometimes fall flat – endear themselves to the reader.
Heitzmann’s storytelling kept me glued to the page, eager to find out the answer to the mystery.  Though it got frustrating at times that I felt I was walking in at the middle of a conversation –
Tia leaned out far enough to see the person approaching….he looked as ragged as a night spent with Johnny Walker, thought she didn’t smell it on him, had not, in fact, for years….His features were edged, and in an instant she realized what day it was. (p. 5)
All in all, Heitzmann’s produced yet another classic that will keep readers interested until the very last word.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Delectable Story

Meg Cabot
451 pp.  Published 2010

Best known for her series “The Princess Diaries”, Meg Cabot has turned her sights from the Genovian government to the political world of vampires. 
Meena Harper, a dialogue writer for daytime soap opera Insatiable, loves her job and tolerates her co-workers.  A fan of Insatiable since she was a little girl, Meena strives to make the show the best on air.  But things turn ugly quickly when she is instructed to add vampires to the show.   Sick of the wave of vampires – or “monster misogynists” as Meena calls them – that have flooded popular culture, Meena balks at ruining her precious soap opera with the bloodsucking creatures.  
What Meena doesn’t know, however, is vampires are very real and she’s dating the Prince of Darkness himself.  Perhaps this explains why her ability to know when and how people are going to die (did I forget to mention that part?) doesn’t work with her already dead boyfriend.
Add in a vampire hunter, a jealous undead brother, and a royal assassination attempt and you have a riveting novel on your hands.
Part parody, part romance, part mystery, and part thriller Cabot weaves a delectable tale that you will really want to sink your teeth into (pun intended).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Far From a Captivating Story

Out of a Far Country
Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan
204 pp. Published 2011

When I first picked up this book I was hesitant.  The tagline on the frontcover read: “A gay son’s journey to God.  A broken mother’s search for hope” and this gave me pause.  Did I really want to read a book about a gay man and his mother?  I almost put the book down as soon as I picked it up, believing that this book would be boring and irrelevant.

My instincts were correct.

Angela Yuan struggles with accepting her son’s sexuality while, at the same time, tries to strengthen her marriage with her detatched husband, Leon.  Meanwhile, Christopher deals with a drug addiction and, later on, prison life.  While this memoir is heartouching at points it also lacks any depth.

Both authors skirt around the deeper issues of what brought them to Christ. 

Christopher’s recollections of his life prior to becoming a Christian are delivered in a simplistic and repetative manner: “…I became popular in the gay club scene….I started bartending for fun – and was quite successful at it.  My outgoing personality and good physqiue made a difference in that seetting, where bartenders often worked shirtless to show off their bodies” (11).  Christohpher continually mentions his excellent physique and how outgoing he is and the acceptence he received from the gay community.   After hearing this for the next twenty pages I was ready to shake the author and say “So what!  We get it already, move on!” 

As Christopher’s life progreses, his ability to write candidly does not.  While I’m sure that Christopher truly experienced God’s love, I don’t get any sense of that through his writing.  The writing is such that one day he is arguging with his parents about God and Christianity: “’I don’t want your stupid Bible.  I don’t even want you to think I might read it!’ Christopher yelled.  ‘I don’t want your religion….And if you ever, ever bring up God or the Bible, you will never see me again’” (109).  Then, next thing you know, Christopher is reading the Bible himself: “I bent over and picked up a Gideon’s New Testament.  It was brandnew and not even opened.  I carried it back to my cell and thought, I’ve got a ton of time on my hands.  I might as well have something to do” (129). 

In much the same way, Angela’s story does not delve into the deeper issues.  While I understand that this book is about her struggles to accept her son’s sexuality and her journey to help him to Christ, I would have appreciated to hear more of her own story.   Angela continually laments the fact that both her sons rebelled.  “When both my sons rebelled against their upbringing and the things our family valued most, it was hard not to wonder whether Leon and I had failed them” (54).  And, until she and her husband reconcile, Angela continually reflects on the fact that Leon is distant and unemotional: “No doubt Leon was headed to bed.  He didn’t seem to care that I was still sitting in the car.  He’d be fast asleep before long” (41).  I’m sure what she was going through was difficult and extremely trying for a woman new to her faith, but it was getting extremely tedious to hear the same words over and over again.

While I am sure some readers might find Out of a Far Country to be a good book and one that really resinates with their own lifes, I found it to be tedious and, at times, very boring.  There is an age-old adage in the writing world – “Show, don’t tell.”  Unfortunately, Angela and Christopher Yuan have not learned this adage.  Their story is riddled with telling and no showing.

The upside to this book, in my opinon, was the short and easily skimmed chapters.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Lessons from the Kidd

                Chip Kidd.
        258 pp. Published 2008.

There is a saying that goes: “don’t judge a book by the cover.”  For many books, this is true, but Chip Kidd’s latest novel, The Learners, is an exception to the rule.  Kidd, a graphic artist by trade, has put his own unique style into every aspect of his second novel, especially the cover.  Eyes wide with fright stare back at you from above a cover jacket that is the same color as blood from a B-list horror film.  The sweat-dotted brow and haunted eyes are enough to make you wonder what terrors reside within the pages. 
            In a sequel to Kidd’s first novel, The Cheese Monkeys, Happy has now graduated college and is eager to make his mark on the world of graphic design.  He begins working at an advertising agency in New Haven, Connecticut, the same place his favorite professor, Winter, got his start.  Spear, Rakoff, and Ware is an eccentric mom-and-pop shop whose “mom” is the queen bee of eccentricity.  Mimi Rakoff is more in love with her dog, a giant Mastiff named Hamlet whose cranium was “covered with dozens of Mimi’s lipstick stains,” than her late husband who was one of the agency’s owners.  Mimi is joined by a small staff which includes artist Milburne “Sketchy” Spears – a man who was a “most astonishing contradiction of components”; copywriter Tip Skikne, who is sardonic and loves word association games; and Preston Ware, who cofounded the agency and has been nothing more than a source of body heat for the past few decades.
Seeing life through rose colored glasses, Happy views his existence as a “life-long assignment that must be constantly analyzed, clarified, figured out, and responded to appropriately.”  Little does he realize what life has in store for him.  Kidd presents Happy with the ultimate assignment, and it is up to the young graduate to figure out if he will pass or fail. 
            In 1961, Professor Stanley Milgram at Yale University held a series of “obedience experiments.”  Using “teachers” and “learners,” Milgram attempted to prove that people will go so far as to inflict physical harm on another person all in the name of obedience.  It is into this experiment that Kidd throws Happy. 
            After designing the ad for the experiment, Happy is prompted to join the experiment by Himillsy, an old girlfriend he never truly got over despite her obvious need to control every situation.  He wants to see why Himillsy finds brains so fascinating: “Brains are just amazing.  I’m crazy for them.”  And so Happy enters into Professor Milgram’s experiment.  But he does not know what he is getting into.  As a “teacher” in the experiment, Happy must administer a memory test to the “learner,” and if the “learner” gets a question wrong, he must give them an electric shock.  What Happy does not know, though, is that he is the one being studied and that the “learner” is a scientist involved in the experiment.  The purpose?  To see if Happy will continue to administer the electric shocks despite the knowledge – or rather belief – that his learner is being physically harmed.    
Kidd deals well with the conflict between Form and Content: “The form of your experiment – the memory test.  It completely camouflages the content.”  Creating cover art is no problem for Kidd, but designing an emotional landscape that does not bore the reader with its repetitive and cliché lines is where Kidd falls short.   As Happy deals with the ramifications of the experiment, his emotions tend to mirror those of an emo teenager’s diary: “The world, the whole world needed to sit here in this tiny room with the two-way mirrors and get a good, raw look at itself.”  What started out as a soul-searching experience has become a social rant: “Humanity deserved to see itself explained….When it received orders from On High it would automatically proceed to savage and slaughter human beings it had no connection to, not even for a cause it believed in, but because that’s what was on the official instruction sheet.”
Despite its tendency to go into random diatribes about the evils of society and the flatness of its cast of characters, The Learners is a shining example of Kidd’s ability to show precise detail.  It is in the visuals, the comedy of everyday office interactions, and the observations of life that Kidd shows his talent.  It is the Form of The Learners that first catches the reader, and it is the Content that keeps them turning the pages.