Monthly Archives: January 2011

Review: Three Weeks to Say Goodbye

Three Weeks to Say GoodbyeThree Weeks to Say Goodbye by C.J. Box
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jack and Melissa McGuane experience every adoption family’s worst nightmare when just their nearly nine-month-old daughter is about to be declared legally their child, the birth father shows up and demands her back. Seems that his father, a powerful federal circuit court judge wants to teach the young man a lesson about responsibility. Or so he says upon first meeting the McGuanes and giving them a three week deadline to turn over Angelina to them. (He will, of course, compensate them for the costs of adopting the child and offers to help them find another baby to adopt).

The father is a well connected political figure in the Denver community, leaving the couple on their own quickly. Their lawyer dumps them (he doesn’t want to cross the powerful, rising star judge) and every avenue they pursue comes up empty.

But something sinister is going on. The son shows up with his gang-banger friends to watch the Broncos/Raiders game and is taking an unusual interest in Melissa. The McGuanes, with the help of Jack’s two best friends, slowly begin to delve into what the real motive for the Judge’s sudden interest in their daughter is and why he’s willing to use all his influence to make sure he gets the baby back.

The first half of C.J. Box’s "Three Weeks to Say Goodbye" reads like every adopted parent or family member’s worst nightmare. Box paints a picture of a couple desperate to be parents and who have mortgaged their present and future to adopt Angelina. Add to it the bonds created in the eight plus months they’ve been parents to Angelina and you’ve got a truly nightmarish scenario unfolding. And that’s before the couple begins to get the vibe that something else is unfolding here–something far more sinister and connected to several of the other subplots of the book.

In fact, there’s no such thing as a subplot in this book. All of the threads running through the first 50 pages all come home to roost in the final pages of the story, each with a varying degree of believability. Described by one reviewer as an elaborate "revenge story," "Three Weeks," is sort of that and sort of a suspense thriller. It’s got a lot of promise and an intriguing hook. I’m just not sure it necessarily earned its ending after the final page was turned.

As I said before, there are no loose threads here. And while some things unfolded in a different manor that I originally guessed, a lot of the revelations in the final pages didn’t necessarily come as a huge surprise.

What I was left with is mixed feelings. The first half is a fun, engaging pop-corn novel. But like many big budget Hollywood thrillers, the story tries too hard to keep piling on twist after twist, moment after moment in the second half and ends up losing a lot of the early momentum from the novel’s first half. Overall, not a terrible book but not a great one either.

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Review: The Cold Room

The Cold Room (Taylor Jackson, #4)The Cold Room by J.T. Ellison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading J.T. Ellison’s Nashville-set mystery series, I always find myself wanting to love the books more than I do when the final page is turned.

It’s not that they’re bad, per se. It’s just that the stories can be so unfocused that it makes for a frustrating reading experience.

Unfortunately, "The Cold Room" is no exception. Starting off with a serial killer who poses his victims after famous works of art is an intriguing staring point. Removing Taylor Jackson for her team and comfort zone as she tries to solve this mystery and deal with the new departmental restructuring has its moments.

What doesn’t is the second half of the story when things start to derail a bit. For one thing, the novel is far too happy to shift into the pages of a torrid romance thriller at a moment’s notice. One moment Taylor is at the scene of a horrific crime, the next she or her boyfriend are reflecting on each other. And that’s even before a third party shows up to create a bit of a love-triangle.

Add in a new departmental chief who is primarily a road-block to Taylor, the story of the serial killings and a trip to Italy and you’ve got a lot of threads. Unfortunately, the story jumps from point to point and while some threads are resolved, many are left dangling when the last page is turned.

It all adds up to a novel that should be a lot more fun than it is. Instead, it’s just frustrating. There’s a good, solid story in here. It just needs a bit more editing and polish.

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Movie Thoughts: “Grownups”

Somewhere deep inside “Grownups” is a germ of a good idea for a movie.

Five childhood friends re-unite when their old basketball coach passes away.  They begin to reconnect and see how much they may or may not have changed.

It sounds like an interesting idea and there could be some potential laughs there.

Instead, what you get is a fairly bland movie with a script no better than a bad movie of the week melodrama.   The movie tries too hard to be funny and falls flat every single time.  It’s one of those where if you’ve seen the preview, you’ve seen all the potentially funny moments there.

The characters are cliches and the story is never engaging.  The only time the movie zags rather than zigs is toward the end.  And it’s not exactly a huge and shocking character moment like the script seems to think it is.

This one is a huge waste of time.

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Booking Through Thursday — Firsts

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Suggested by Joy:

Do you remember the first book you bought for yourself? Or the first book you checked out of the library? What was it and why did you choose it?

I’m not sure I can recall the first book I purchased for myself, but it was probably either something by Beverly Cleary or something purchased through the Scholastic take-home book-order page.  (Man, how cool were those back in the day to skim through, imagining the books you could read…and then the thrill on that magical day when they finally all arrived.  I tell you, there are few things that smell better than a new book. )

As for checking out, I’m not sure the exact first, but the first I recall vividly was “Fox in Socks” from my school library.    Years ago, my mom recorded several books onto audio for me to listen to while I read along.   Several of them were Dr. Suess books (my mom is a saint, since they are tricky to do!) and I recall thinking how cool it would be to get “Fox in Socks” and read it onto cassette myself.  I checked it out, took it home and found that Dr. Suess is not the easiest book to read onto tape without making a mistake or three…well, at least when you’re a young reader.


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Review: Matched by Allie Condie

Matched (Matched #1)Matched by Ally Condie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the surface, it’s easy to see why publishers were eager to snap up Ally Condie’s new series "Matched." In many ways, its a spiritual heir to the dystopian future of the best-selling "Hunger Games" series, which is all the rage in young adult fiction at the moment. (That and those damn sparkly vampires).

Both stories feature a central heroine thrust into a position where she is forced to question a totalitarian regime. In "Games" we saw how the games made our hero into a hero and a symbol of the rebellion. With "Matched" its a bit different with our hero, Cassia thrust into a role in which she must first begin to doubt the effectiveness of the society on a more personal level.

In the world of "Matched" people have very few choices. Your career is chosen for you, your food is chosen for you as is your clothing. The Society has even taken the guess work out of deciding what your favorite artistic expression might be by narrowing down the list of artistic endeavors to 100 poems, songs, etc. The Society also wants to choose when you live and when you die (people who live to their 80th birthday are euthanized to cut down on the burden to the Society) and when and who you will marry.

In order to make the arranged marriages a little more palatable to the population, an elaborate Matching ceremony has been developed. Should members of the group choose to be matched and qualify to be matched, teenagers attend a dinner where their match is revealed. In most cases, the match is done to ensure compatibility when it comes to having children (couples can only have children between certain age). In most cases, your Match is someone you’ve never met before but will get to know before you eventually get married.

The concept of romantic love doesn’t necessarily enter into the equation, though its pointed out several times that most couples do learn to love one another.

As her banquet, Cassia is matched with her childhood friend, Xander. Both are pleased at the match and have an advantage others don’t–their history. Cassia goes home to view her datafile on her intended and instead of seeing Xander, at first she’s given a profile and picture of Ky. Turns out Ky is an outcast and not allowed to be part of the matching process due his background and the "sins of the father."

Ensured by several officials that the picture and data on Ky was slipped by an errant worker who will be punished, Cassia seems to be content to allow the glitch to pass. That is until she begins to get to know a bit more about Ky through their recreational activity of hiking together.

Add to this that Cassia’s grandfather hits his 80th birthday and gives Cassia a forbidden gift–a poem not included in the 100 selected poems. Cassia begins to question everything in her world and slowly begins to think for herself, all the while falling for Ky and becoming distant from Xander.

There’s a lot to like about "Matched," from the concept of the Society to the journey Cassia takes from faithful follower to questioning rebel. As I read, I found myself thinking about top ten lists and wondering just how and why certain things would be choose and how others would be deleted. Its a bit sad to think of a world in which there were only 100 books to choose from.

The story also asks some interesting questions about the nature of love. In every way the Society deems acceptable, she and Xander are an ideal match. But yet she falls for Ky after seeing his picture leads her to get to know more about him. The book wants to ask questions about whether loving someone is inevitable or a choice, but unfortunately it comes up a bit short on giving any solid answers or clues about the nature of love.

Where the story is a bit of letdown is the feeling that we’ve seen all of this before. It’s a classic love triangle of the good girl choosing between the good guy and the bad guy. In this case, the bad boy has some intriguing traits but in the end its still the same thing we’ve all seen before. Also, from the first time Cassia sees Ky on screen, it’s fairly obvious where all of this is headed.

The book clearly wants us to root for Ky and Cassia, to the point that it makes Xander a non-character for much of the story. Xander is far too willing to just go along with things and becomes a bit bland. The story misses a chance to really give Cassia a dilemma in who she will chose.

Of course, part of this could be that Xander is so conditioned to follow the rules set forth by the Society. Throughout the book, references are made to three pills each Society member carries with them. Society members know what two of the three do, but they are only allowed to take the red pills when told to do so by a higher authority. The book does answer the question of what the red pill is and what it does in the closing chapters. But the issue is that I’d pretty much figured out what the pill did long before we get to the big reveal. And the reveal is meant as a pivotal moment to the story and to Cassia’s journey. Clearly meant as a shock moment, instead it came across to me as something I’d already pieced together in the story.

And then the story suffers a bit from a quick ending to a cliffhanger. The last third of the story feels rushed and works too hard to get Cassia to her cliffhanger. A lot about the Society is revealed in the final chapters and most of it is interesting enough to make me want to come back for book two. But where the first two thirds of the book are allowed to develop, breath and allow the reader time to consider the implications of various things, the final third of the story doesn’t lend itself as well to that.

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Review: CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold

CryoBurn (Vorkosigan Saga, #14)CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to our favorite series and characters, we always want more. Never mind that the series in question may have run its natural length or that the author may want to branch out and try new things. No, we want that favorite series or character on a regular basis for as long as possible.

At least, that is, until things turn sour. Then we’ll turn on you and the series so fast it will make your head spin.

When it comes to the on-going saga of Miles Verkosigan, I’m a fan. I’d happily see Lois McMaster Bujold put out a new Miles book every year like clockwork. But I do understand that she wants to stretch her wings a big and let things simmer a bit when it comes to her most popular and famous character. In some ways, I’d resigned myself to the fact that we might not ever see another Miles novel and I was, for the most part, OK with that. Better to leave fans wanting more and the series is good shape rather than keep on beating a dead horse and churning out a new novel each year just to fulfill a contract or to ensure a spot on the best-seller list.

So, when I heard that "CyroBurn" was coming and that it was the long rumored next Miles installment, I was both excited and apprehensive. Excited because it’s a new Miles book. Apprehensive because I’m not sure the book could live up to the seven years of waiting and hoping I’d had in my mind. (Also, can a new book compete with my memories of reading the older ones?)

Thankfully, Bujold is up to the task, slipping back into Miles’ universe with ease. For the first 300 or so pages, it would be easy to categorize the "CyroBurn" on the same level as "Komarr" or "Cetaganda"–a fun story about Miles that offers us some interesting insight into his character and an intriguing mystery to solve, but overall fairly non-essential to the entire arc of the series.

Then you get to the last several pages and Bujold hits you between the eyes with one of the most pivotal moments in the Verkosigan universe since we met Miles’ clone Mark and you’re left hoping and praying the next installment won’t take seven years to hit shelves.

First up, the main story. Miles is sent by Gregor to New Hope II to investigate several companies who specialize in cryo-freezing people. The companies are hoping to make inroads onto Komarr and there are whispers of things not being exactly on the up and up. During a conference, Miles and several other delegation members are attacked and kidnapped. Unknown to the kidnappers, Miles is allergic to the sedative used and instead of knocking him out, it makes him hyper. The story begins with Miles in the cryo-tombs, trying to recover and find his way out.

He’s met by Jin, a young boy whose mother was frozen supposedly because of an illness. Jin lives high above the city with his pets and is supposed to be looked after by his aunt and uncle. This isn’t necessarily the case.

Meanwhile, Roic has been kidnapped and works to escape.

"CryoBurn" varies its viewpoint between Miles, Roic and Jin with considerable ease and impact. Seeing Miles through the eyes of the younger Jin is a treat, esp. now that Miles is getting closer to 40. Watching as Miles maneuvers and schemes from both inside his brain and outside of him is fascinating and fun.

For most of the book, "CryoBurn" feels like a comfortable visit with an old friend. The story references events from previous books and Mark shows up late in the game to help push things along toward the eventual resolution and denouncement.

And just as you’re ready to wrap things up and turn the final page, Bujold hits you with a pivotal moment in the life of Miles and the Verkosigan saga.

OK, so here’s where the huge SPOILERS begin…and trust me you don’t want this ruined. If you’re going to read the book, stop reading this review now. Go read it and then come back. Trust me.

You have been warned.

The final paragraphs see Miles and Mark learn of the death of Miles father, Count Verkosigan. At this point, Bujold then challenges herself and the readers by offering up 100 word stories that show various people’s reactions to the week of the Count’s funeral. The news hits you in the gut and then the separate stories each drive home what’s happened. It’s a fascinating end to the story and it opens up a lot of interesting potential for the next installment, assuming we get one.

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Booking Through Thursday — Resolutions

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Any New Year’s reading resolutions?

I’m going to try and read as many or more books than I did last year. I read around 200 books last year, so that could be a mighty lofty goal, but I figure it’s worth a shot.

Each year, I resolve I’m going to work on my huge pile of TBR books..and each year it seems to grow. My problem is there are so many good book blogs out there as well as the social networking sites for books that I always find at least three or four books a week I want to read. Of course, since my theory of immortality is that there is no way I can pass on until I’ve read at least half of my TBR pile, I figure I’m in for a long, happy life….:)


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