Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Tin Box by Holly Kennedy~★★

Author: Holly Kennedy
The Tin Box
Release Date:
September 22nd, 2005
Forge Books

Book Jacket: "Growing up, Kenly Lowen endured a life shaped by a widowed alcoholic father who made it clear that he never wanted her in the first place. She emerged from childhood determined to find happiness. Today, at thirty-one, Kenly has a husband and a son who mean the world to her; it's the kind of life she's always dreamed of having.
When her closest childhood friend dies, Kenly is given an old tin box they once shared---a tin box they hid on the roof of a tree house fourteen years earlier. Inside is a secret she has kept for years. Revealing it could end her marriage and shatter her world, but can she continue to shoulder the weight of years of silence?
Kenly's is a story of heartbreak, tragedy, and hope. In a small town filled with hidden treasures, young Kenly discovers people who change her life. From terminally ill Tommy, who loves her, to old Max, who shows her that a fire pit is sometimes the best medicine, to edgy Lexie, who believes life should be lived, The Tin Box will take Kenly on an unforgettable journey. The decision she finally makes will test the ties that bind people together against a wound that could tear them apart.
The Tin Box is an achingly beautiful novel of one woman's desire to save all that she loves while honoring the past that made her the woman she is."
Taryn's Review: This book was incredibly predictable and predictable books are not fun for me to read. Very early on one can figure out what was happening and how the story was going to play out during the course of the book, thus causing the book to lose much of its appeal for me.

The main character, Kenly, was also the brattiest, most selfish person when it came to the handling of her pregnancy. Not only did she take it upon herself to not tell the father of the baby that she was pregnant, she fully let another man take responsibility for the child. Her reasoning for not telling him that he wasn't the father? "He already told his family," was the excuse Kenly used later in the book. Throughout the book, Kenly was also still in contact with the baby's father, always telling him how much she loved him. How much can Kenly honestly love him to keep that kind of secret from him, especially since the man was terminally sick?

My other rant about the book was when Tommy, the baby's actual father, passed away years later. He made a video for Kenly before his death letting her know that he was aware that the child was his. Yet Tommy didn't berate her, didn't yell, didn't really do anything other than leave advice for his son. He claimed to still love Kenly despite her actions. So sickly sweet and unreal.

At this point, Kenly decided she must tell her husband, the man who believed he was the child's father, that he was not. This was the man that had raised the child for 14 years as his own son and never deserved to be hurt in that way. Kenly had already kept this secret for so long, why tell him now? There really was no clear reason for Kenly to go and do that (especially since Tommy was dead now...he obviously wasn't going to tell), but she does. She had the guts to ruin their lives, but couldn't do it 14 years earlier when Ross, her husband, could have easily walked away or at least made the choice on his own to stay. Ridiculous.

And of course, the book wouldn't be complete without a stupid twist of sorts. After Ross left to think things over, Kenly was in a car accident. At the hospital she found out that she was miraculously pregnant! Ross was told years ago that he had low sperm count and probably couldn't father a child (yet he never questioned the child as his own), so how perfect was it that Kenly would get pregnant right when Ross was debating to leave her?

Kenly was portrayed throughout the book as the victim, but after she made her poor decisions, she was nothing but selfish in her actions. Kenly had no idea what love was, or for that matter, how to be a decent human being. I would never call this a "feel-good" book as the cover screamed. Kennedy is an average writer, but there was nothing spectacular about her style. Pass on this one for your own sake.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Brimstone by Robert B. Parker~★★★1/2

Author: Robert B. Parker
Title: Brimstone
Release Date: May 5th, 2009
Publisher: Putnam Adult; read by Titus Welliver
Genre: Fiction

Back of CD Case: "When we last saw Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole, they had just made things right in the Old West town of Resolution. It's now a year later, and Virgil has only one thing on his mind: Allie French, the woman who stole his heart during their days in Appaloosa.
The pair finally locate Allie in a small-town brothel, her body and spirit crushed. Together the three head north to Brimstone. But things are no longer the same between Virgil and Allie, and Virgil can't face what Allie did to get by during the year they were apart. Allie vows to change, and seeks redemption through the local church and its charasmatic leader, Brother Percival. Allie is not alone in her devotion to the hellfire-and-damnation spouting minister, whose sermons have enthralled the townspeople. Percival is quick with the collection plate---and quick to want Allie for his own. Everett and Virgil easily secure positions as the town's deputies thanks to their gun-for-hire reputations, but their authority is immediately challenged when Brother Percival stirs up trouble at local saloons. Violence escalates into murder as Virgil and Everett struggle to keep the peace---and keep Allie from harm's way."

Taryn's Review: I had a long, lonely car trip ahead of myself and decided there was no better way than to entertain myself than with a book on CD. I headed to the library and for some reason an Old Western story caught my attention. It isn't normally my style, but I decided to give it a try.

The book was apparently the third in a trilogy, but honestly, I was able to understand and follow along very easily without having read the backstory. Everett told the story and the two men quickly found Allie living as a prostitute. They took Allie (guns toting, no less) and move on to Brimstone, where they tried and make a new life.

I would argue that story was not only about Brother Percival and the two men, but also about Pike, a local saloon owner who was up to no good. I think he had a bit more stake in the book than Brother Percival did.

The book was entertaining and definitely was a typical Old West good-guys-vs.-bad-guys story. Parker is a good writer, but he tends to use the word "said" frequently when people are speaking. Instead of phrases like, "he mumbled, she whispered, he bellowed, she cried, he boomed," Parker mostly uses, "Virgil said, Everett said, Allie said, he said, and she said." The book would have really been taken up a notch had Parker used that kind of detail. I understand the men were cowboys in Parker's world, but again, I doubt they always said everything in the same tone.

Allie is a very unlikeable character and the reader/listener had to wonder why in the world Virgil is keeping up with her. She was quick to give her body to any man who wanted it and she showed no remorse for it. My other disappointment with the book was that the whole Brother Percival storyline ended in what I would believe to be a very unlikely ending on Brother Percival's part. It was out of character and seemed it was the route taken so the author could wrap the story up easily.

Titus Welliver did a very good job reading the novel. He had a wide array of voice dialects and tones and it was always easy to tell who was speaking. He had a pleasant voice, too, so the novel really was enjoyable to listen to.

I liked this as a fictional Old West story. It's not politcally correct, but just playing off the myths of the past. It was a nice change from my normal books. Parker is a very good writer, albeit not the best, but he was able to carry a good story and keep you wondering what would happen next, guns a-blazing!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards~★★★

Author: Kim Edwards
Title: The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Release Date: May 30th, 2006
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Fiction

Book Cover: "This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down's syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child as her own. Compulsively readable and deeply moving, The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a brilliantly crafted story of parallel lives, familial secrets, and the redemptive power of love."

Taryn's Review: The book is hard to connect to, at least for me, because you cannot understand Dr. David Henry's decision to basically "get rid" of his own daughter. Dr. Henry deceptively carried out his plan by convincing his wife that the baby died at birth. At first, his argument was that he is protecting his son since as a child Dr. Henry had a sister who was ill and she received most of the attention because of it. But Dr. Henry also saw his mother mourn from the loss of losing a child, so I cannot figure out why he assumed his wife would simply bounce back from the supposed death of her own child without questioning it.

This incident strained Dr. Henry and his wife so badly they never rekindled themselves into the couple they were before the birth. It was evident that strain was there and later, Norah cracked and began to have affairs with men while Dr. Henry became preoccupied with his photography, leaving their son Paul to handle the pressures of teen years alone.

Caroline did a good job of raising Phoebe to the best of her abilities, but she was just as guilty as Dr. Henry in allowing the situation to happen and later realized this. However, the amount of years that pass before Caroline decided to tell Norah the truth is astounding, especially since Caroline knew first hand the pain and heartache that Norah suffered through.

A completely odd section of the story was when Dr. Henry brought home a pregnant teen from his hometown, abandoned his wife Norah, and helped raise the teen girl and her child. I have no idea while Edwards added this. The book would have been better to just leave it out. I don't know if it was meant to be Dr. Henry's "substitute" daughter? Food for thought, I guess.

Edwards is a strong writer and while the story is good, it almost is doesn't always feel believable. Dr. Henry's coldness in giving his daughter away and letting letting his wife suffer is unimaginable. Caroline, in essence, stole someone's child, but throughout the novel, showed little remorse in what she's done regarding inflicting pain on Norah Henry. I liked it enough, but wouldn't read it again.

Hidden by Paul Jaskunas~★★★★

Author: Paul Jaskunas
Title: Hidden
Release Date: June 29th, 2004
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "As unnerving as it is mesmerizing, Hidden is an evocative, emotionally charged domestic drama---a willful and traumatized woman's painful search for the truth about the man who assaulted her one summer night.
Six years after the attack, Maggie Wilson receives a call from the prosecutor who helped put her husband in jail after Maggie identified him as the man who nearly killed her. Told that another inmate has confessed to the crime and that her ex-husband will be freed, the shock plunges Maggie into memories of her stomy marriage to Nate Duke, the ambitious heir to a real estate company. Secluded in an old farmhouse that was her marital home, Maggie relives her marriage to Nate and his abusive treatment of her. But in her present, a very different man is haunting her---the born-again convict who has confessed to the crime. As his story competes with hers, Maggie pores through trial transcripts, old journals, and photo albums, trying fruitlessly to remember exactly what happened.
Written in spare, elegant prose, Paul Jaskunas's novel reads like a waking dream as Maggie is torn by the question---was it Nate? Or was it this stranger who seems to know intimate details? And what will it cost her to discover the truth? A work of searing suspense written in the heroine's brave voice, Hidden is ultimately about a woman confronting the betrayal of her body and the ambiguity of her mind."

Taryn's Review: Once in a psychology class I took, I was idly taking notes when five people burst through the doors into the forum while screaming and holding water guns (this was pre-Virginia Tech). They ran up and down the stairs of the forum, yelled something, shot a couple people with water, and ran out. Right afterward, our professor told us that was her son and a few of his friends that were helping her conduct an experiment. She told us to get out a piece of paper and proceeded to ask us questions about the incident such as, "What color shirt was the tall one wearing?" and "What doors did the group enter through?" and the most difficult question to answer: "What happened?"

All of students' answers varied. I felt betrayed by my own mind when I missed a few of the answers. Hadn't I been there? Didn't I just witness this? Apparently, it is common among victims of attacks to not remember exactly what happened. Maggie Wilson was a victim who thought she perfectly remembered the night her husband almost killed her, but evidence began to show that perhaps Maggie was mistaken.

Maggie's story bounced back and forth from 1996 to 2002 as she recalled life with her ex-husband and the issues that led to the night when Maggie was savagely beaten and raped in her own home. She suffered horrific brain damage and afterward had to deal with epileptic seizures. After an inmate confessed that he was the one who hurt Maggie, she found herself in a destructive downward spiral desperately trying to prove what she saw while the idea that her mind may have betrayed her is looming. Maggie accused her husband of  being her attacker...was she wrong? 

I actually was shocked when I realized a man wrote this book. Paul Jaskunas did a fantastic job telling the story from a female perspective and I really felt Maggie's frustrations in the story. The story is dark, yet I found it engaging.

The reason for 4 stars is that I didn't really recognize there was such a discontent between Maggie and her husband Nate until she cheated on him. The story really doesn't show how strained the relationship must be for Maggie to cheat unless she cheated just for the heck of it, but that feeling just wasn't there, either. It was just very hazy.

Overall, I really liked the book. Maggie wants to know what really happened, as does the reader, but the question lingers; can we ever really know? I also have a little hometown pride in the book, but until I picked it up, I had no idea it was set in my neck of the woods! 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells~★★

Author: Rebecca Wells
Title: The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder
Release Date: July 7th, 2009
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Southern Fiction

Book Jacket: "The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder is the sweet, sexy, funny journey of Calla Lily's life set in Wells' expanding fictional Louisiana landscape. In the small river town of La Luna, Calla bursts into being, a force of nature as luminous as the flower she is named for. Under the loving light of the Moon Lady, the feminine force that will guide and protect her throughout her life, Calla enjoys a blissful childhood---until it is cut short. Her mother, M'Dear, a woman of rapture and love, teaches Calla compassion, and passes on to her the art of healing through the humble womanly art of "fixing hair." At her mother's side, Calla further learns that this same touch of hands on the human body can quiet her own soul. It is also on the banks of the La Luna River that Calla encounters sweet, succulent first love, with a boy named Tuck.
But when Tuck leaves Calla with a broken heart, she transforms hurt into inspiration and heads for the wild and colorful city of New Orleans to study at L'Academie de Beaute de Crescent. In that extravagant big river city, she finds her destiny---and comes to understand fully the power of her "healing hands" to change lives and soothe pain, including her own. When Tuck reappears years later, he presents her with an offer that is colored by the memories of lost love. But who knows how Cally Lily, a 'daughter of the Moon Lady,' will respond?
A tale of family and friendship, tragedy and triumph, loss and love, The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder features the warmth, humor, soul, and wonder that have made Wells one of today's most cherished writers, and gives us an unforgettable new heroine to treasure. "

Taryn's Review: I first read The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Wells as a young girl and I loved the magic that Wells was able to produce in her words. You could smell the humidity in the air and feel the hot glare from Vivi, the main character, as her fiery temper went off. Sadly, Calla Lily doesn't carry that same magic.

I think Wells' first mistake was in this book she used the first-person point-of-view and had Calla Lily telling the story. I don't think this is Wells' strong suit. Secondly, I could not stand the narration from the Moon Lady. Why is Calla Lily so special that a God-motherly figure kept an especially close eye on her? And the Moon Lady was over-dramatic in her little speeches.

I liked the beginning of the story until Tuck went away to college; the story then became increasingly predictable. Along the way I was re-entranced by the story, but then I would catch wind of what was about to happen and I'd fall back out of interest with the book's story.

The ending was truly so sickly sweet and so utterly predictable that I couldn't hardly stand it. It was similar to  The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. 

I liked the story at times, but Wells simply didn't write a great book compared to her previous works. Also, devout readers of Wells will spot the parallels of some of her Ya-Ya characters in Calla Lily. I know Wells's suffers from Lyme Disease and I don't know if it has an impact on her writing. I admire the story Wells tried to create, but sadly, it was by no means up to the caliber of writing that Divine Secrets was when it captivated the hearts and minds of so many.