Monday, December 28, 2009

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

I have very mixed feelings about this one. I was really looking forward to reading this and wanted it to be the first "I JUST LOVED IT" book of my vacation reading....
it just wasn't.

The book is engaging and exciting. But there are so many holes. More than once I felt like I was watching a bad horror movie and yelling at the TV - Don't go in there!!!

Robert Langdon, the main character from Angels and Demons and DaVinci Code, is back. The book opens as he is flying to Washington DC to give a speech for his good friend Peter Solomon. When he arrives at the Capitol Rotunda - there is no speech and no Peter...instead he finds a severed hand, and the head of the CIA. And the book is off and running.

I am usually a reader who just takes the story as it comes. I am not overly critical and completely believe that every book has potential. But, this one really annoyed me. Langdon takes all his cues from cell phone messages from Peter's assistant...never Peter. The CIA director is completely alienating him because national security is at stake, but she is on Langdon's side. And Peter's sister, the brilliant mind scientist, can't seem to remember to use her mind in any situation. There is lots of tight places perfect for Langdon's claustrophobia - which he controls beautifully.

And then there is a mysterious villian who is tattooed from head to toe in blue. Every part of him - except the very top of his head...he is waiting to find the lost word which will open all knowledge to him after he tattoos it there - and he will do that himself after killing and maiming and kidnapping and all other bad stuff.

But, the most disappointing thing about the book is the end, after the end. The basic story is a search for ancient mysteries and knowledge hidden somewhere in Washington DC and guarded by the Masons. Langdon doesn't believe there are actual physical mysteries - but more symbolic. He is wrong...or that's what Brown wants you to think.

So the story basically ends - all is well
...and the book goes on.
I've really liked this technique in some stories. It grounds the characters in a reality when you get to see who they are after the excitement of the event. This isn't that sort of action. INstead this is 20 + pages of preaching and explaining and rambling that were totally not necessary.

So...would I recommend this?

I would.

It is exciting and filled with amazing wonders of our fore fathers and Washington DC.
But, it is way to preachy and too safe. Brown takes no chances here. The threat to national security is more like a threat to national reputation and the bad guy may be horrible to look at but lacks the horror of the albino monk.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Testimony by Anita Shreve

I really didn't like this one either...I'm sort of on a roll here! And not a happy one!

This is the story of a horrible sex scandal at a small private Vermont school. The events were videotaped, posted on the internet and handed over to the headmaster. And lives are forever changed - three marriages destroyed, high school prospects evaporated and a life ended.

As one of the characters described...this is a story of doors. As the characters proceed from door to door - opening one after the other - there is no going back.

But, Shreve tells this story through 20 different narrators and not in chronological order. The opening chapter is the moment the headmaster watches the tape...from there it travels ahead two years to a researcher interviewing the main characters. The tale moves back and forth through time and through voices until the final chapters tie all the loose ends together.

>the plot is incredibly depressing - especially if you are the parent of a teenager, work with teenagers or have any connection whatsoever with teenagers. these are the supposedly good kids in the school
>the story ignores conventions of narrator and time

There are redeeming moments...through out the entire book you read about a researcher seeking information about the events. The researcher is never identified. Just like the person holding the video camera is never revealed. Instead these two pay silent testimony to the events that unfolded around them - knowing all the sides, hearing all the secret details and sharing nothing. I sort of liked that.

There is also a sweet love story between two of the main characters - Silas and Noelle. It is innocent in a way that is in stark contrast to the events that open the tale. Silas is clearly two different people and it is only in the very end that you find out exactly why...why he cracked and why he opened a door that Noelle could not go through. That is really the only why that the reader discovers though.

The story is also about all the sides of a scandal. You hear from the main characters but you also hear from the fringe players - those who floated on the edges and reacted to the events. There were so many moments when the course of the event could have been changed - so many people who could have made a difference. But, when you hear their voices you realize the inevitability of this event.

Weighing the pros and the cons...

I wouldn't recommend it very strongly. It sort of reminds me of John Green's Saving Alaska. But much darker and more depressing - hearing from the adults somehow makes it even sadder!!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult

I must be done with grad classes - because this is the second book I've finished this week! Yippee!!!

I have broken one of my most steadfast rules - I had three books going at one time.
I NEVER do that!
But - none of the books held me in such a tight grip that I couldn't put them down. Instead, I kept picking up alternatives and hoping...

I am sorry to say this was one of the three. I sort of feel that Jodi has let me down. Either that - or I've read enough of hers that they are predictable.

This is the story of a broken family - Jane is married to the amazing marine biologist - Oliver Jones - eminent scholar on humpback whales. They have one 15 year old daughter Rebecca.

The story opens with Jane commiting the sin of all sins - she slaps Oliver in the heat of the moment - and takes off in her station wagon with Rebecca. This has been brewing for their entire marriage. In fact, she left Oliver once before and fled to her parents in the East. Oliver threatened to take away Rebecca - so Jane sent her back on an airplane - that crashed - in Iowa - What Cheer, IA. Rebecca was one of a few survivors.

Sounds intriguing doesn't it - I mean What Cheer, IA!!!

Now the part of this that I really didn't like...the story is told in many voices.
I usually like adds depth and interest.
But Rebecca's story is told backwards. So the first chapter in Rebecca'a voice - is actually the last thing that happens. So you know of a horrific event from the very beginning... I HATED THAT!

Part of reading a book is anticipating - building up the plot to a culminating event. This does that - but it is such a let down after the awful event that Rebecca tells.

Not only that - but I really hate the ending. It is all wrong. It defeats the entire story. It just plain makes me mad!!!

So - I became very engrossed in the story. It has all the earmarks of Picoult's amazing story telling skills. But - I really didn't like the book.

Really didn't like the book.

Shucks!! That's not the way my vacation is supposed to go!!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I'm not sure this is the best book to break my reading haitus.
I wanted to like it.
I wanted to love it.
I wanted to see the beauty and the elegance in this.
But, instead it felt as prickly as a porcupine - not a hedgehog.

The story takes place in Paris. Renee is the dumpy, invisible conceierge in an upscale apartment building. She is also a closet snob and incredibly intelligent. Her whole theory is that she grew up as a poor, ugly woman and that is what she will matter what.

The other member in the house is Paloma - a 12 year old who has decided to commit suicide before 13. She believes that the world is a sad and unhopeful place one that she doesn't want to experience as an adult. But, she is also a very intelligent girl who decides to look for hope jsut to mae very sure that she is making the right decision.

The story follows these two women through a period of time. Then a new tenant moves in - Mr. Ozu a Japanese gentleman. Life in the building changes and the circles of these two intersect with Mr. Ozu.

The basic story is appealing and interesting - but there is so much other narrative about art and beauty and intelligence and blah blah blah...clearly I am not a part of the intelligent society.

So - I found myself skimming and scooting hoping for the story to open up and draw me in. Instead I just kept plodding along until it ended. I wanted to like it. I wanted to be in the know...but I've decided this proves that I am really not in the know!

Oh well!!!