Monday, April 20, 2015

Where They Found Her

Where They Found Her
by Kimberly McCreight

Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Published:  4/14/15 by Harper Collins
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover

My rating:
3.75 out of 5 stars

I'm debating between 3.5 and 4 stars on this one.  It was an easy and entertaining read.  Perhaps more predictable than some mystery thrillers, but still I enjoyed reading the story and trying to figure out where it was going.

Journalist Molly Sanderson is still grieving over a recent miscarriage when she is called to report on a case.  The case centers around a baby found dead near a creek bed.  The case brings up not only old issues for Molly and her grief, but also reveals an old death case that happened at the exact same location and raises new questions.

I found this one to be similar in style and story to McCreight's first novel, Reconstructing Amelia.  There are newspaper stories (written by Molly Sanderson) and online response comments interspersed throughout the narrative.  I loved reading the comments in response to the newspaper articles.  They were ridiculous, but that is exactly what the comments sections are like in real life. 

There are quite a few characters in this novel, and they were all a little too conveniently connected to each other.  It didn't feel completely plausible.  But I'm not really in the mood to pick apart all of its flaws.  I thought it was a fun book to read, and I would recommend it if you are in the mood for a quick and light mystery.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Inside the O'Briens

Inside the O'Briens
by Lisa Genova

Genre: Fiction
Published: 4/7/15 by Gallery Books
Pages:  352
Format: Hardcover

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars

I have read all of Lisa Genova's novels, with Still Alice being my favorite by far.  Genova has a talent for shedding light on brain diseases and conditions through fictional stories.  While her writing is not the most beautiful or prolific, she is always able to bring a human side to the science behind the disease.

In Inside the O'Briens, Joe O'Brien is a Boston cop who receives the devastating news that he has Huntington's Disease.  Huntington's is a genetic disease with no cure and no treatment and a guaranteed death sentence.  Each of Joe's grown children have a 50/50 chance of having the disease themselves.  This story explores how Joe and his wife deal with the disease as it progresses, as well as how his children deal with their dad's disease and the possibility that they may face the same fate.

I recently read another novel about Huntington's disease, Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer.  In my review of Five Days Left, I commented that the main character Mara reminded me a lot of Alice from Lisa Genova's Still Alice.  So it was kind of ironic to read this book written by Lisa Genova and also about Huntington's disease.  Because I had read the other book, I was familiar with the symptoms of the disease.  So Inside the O'Briens was not quite as enlightening as some of Genova's other novels.

Inside the O'Briens is told from the perspective of Joe and his daughter Katie.  While I appreciated hearing from the daughter's perspective, I really didn't think Katie was a great character.  I definitely enjoyed Joe's portions of the story more.  It was interesting to see how the physical symptoms played such a big role in his occupation and identity as a tough city cop.

 There were times when the story felt more like a research lecture than a novel.  I think that is one issue I have with Genova's style.  It seems like she finds a disease and then comes up with a story and characters that will help to teach about the disease.  While I do enjoy being able to learn more through her stories, I feel like the actual plot and characters suffer from feeling a little contrived.  

In summary, I would recommend this book to most people.  While not my favorite novel by Genova, it is an interesting look at a fascinating and terrifying disease and how it affects one family.

Friday, April 3, 2015

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places
By Jennifer Niven

Genre:  Young Adult
Published:  1/6/15 by Random House
Pages:  400
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars

The book summary for All the Bright Places begins with "The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park..."   I'm always annoyed when new books are compared to books that I loved, because I think it sets up unfair expectations for the new book.  However, in this case, I'd say that a cross between those books is a fair comparison.  All The Bright Places does have a lot in common with the plots of Fault in our Stars and Eleanor and Park (and a little bit of Papertowns by John Green too), and it is written with the same wit and sharp dialogue found in the writing of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.  Like Eleanor and Park, Finch and Violet don't quite fit in with the rest of the kids at their school.  Like Gus and Hazel, Finch and Violet both are plagued by a similar affliction.  In The Fault in our Stars it is cancer; in All the Bright Places it is mental illness/suicide.

There are definitely similarities between these stories, but even though it may not be wholly original, I still loved the story found in All the Bright Places.  I read the entire book in almost one setting, even with a horrible migraine.  I could barely keep my eyes open but I did not want to stop until the story was over.  Jennifer Niven said in the notes at the end of the book that she wanted to write a story that was edgy, tough and sad but still funny.  And I think she succeeded.  She also said that this story was based on an experience she had in real life, which I think makes it more touching and real.

The story begins when Finch and Violet first meet.  Both are standing on the ledge of the school bell tower, and both are considering whether or not to jump and end their life.  Finch talks Violet off the ledge (literally) spouting off witty, sharp dialogue that is unexpected given the seriousness of the situation.  Immediately it had my attention.  I am such a sucker for fun, smart dialogue.  Even if teens don't talk this way in real life, I just love reading about them in fiction.  (Reason #1 why I am such a big John Green fan).  I've read other reviews (of both this novel and John Green) that call this pretentious, but I find it fun to read.

Violet is grieving over the death of her sister, feeling responsible for her sister's death and unable to move on with life.  Finch is forever an outcast, plagued by mood swings that range from high to low and obsessed with death and the possibility of taking his own life.  When these two meet, Violet finds a reason for living again while Finch continues to struggle.

I feel like maybe I should include a spoiler alert for the rest of this review.   Although I think it is pretty obvious what is going to happen just from reading the summary on the back cover of this book.  So I'm not sure that I am really spoiling anything that anyone doesn't already know, but if you want to go into this story blind, then stop reading now!

I was not sure what to think about Finch at first.  He is a bit over the top and all over the place.  However, as the story progressed, I grew more sympathetic towards him.  And by the end, I wanted to scream, "Why doesn't someone help this kid??!!"  It was frustrating to read about the people in Finch's life who seemed either ignorant or unwilling to help him...his family, his guidance counselor, even Violet. But at the same time, I think it's probably realistic too.  For many people, especially family, it is probably easier to ignore the problem and just hope it goes away than to deal with it head on.  I felt like the guidance counselor was more interested in protecting himself legally than in truly helping Finn.  In the case of Violet, she is a 17 year old girl with problems of her own and also "in love" with a confusing boy.  It makes sense that she wasn't fully able to understand the seriousness of what was going on with Finn.

While sad and hard to read, Finn's struggle was intriguing to me.  His attempts to stay "here", his refusal to seek help or be labelled, his continued thoughts of death even after meeting Violet, who made him so happy.  I appreciated seeing things from his perspective even though I was so very sad for him and the loneliness of his struggle.  I wanted Violet to be able to "fix" him but his struggles here were far deeper than the ability to be solved by simply falling in love with a girl.