Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Widow for A Year, by John Irving

If I'm being honest I was not super impressed with Irving this time around.  When comparing A Widow for a Year to his other more controversial and edgy works like Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, it just fell short.  I realize that every book cannot be a masterpiece, and that certainly a single writer is going to have some books that just aren't as wildly popular as others, but after experiencing the best of Irving, I was really surprised by how little this book moved me.

The writing was solid, exactly what I've come to expect from Irving.  The content just wasn't as fascinating as the other books of his that I've read previously.  He managed to make his topic about as entertaining as it could possibly be, but unfortunately I didn't find the topic that interesting to begin with.  

Irving is a master at bringing several diverse "mini-stories" with a central unifying and underlying theme into one cohesive plot.  He also manages to weave the varying perspectives of multiple characters and multiple time lines seamlessly into that plot.  This is no small feat, and when you read any of his novels, you can't help but be impressed by how flawlessly he manages this.  

Irving's characters are well developed and generally unique while still be relatable enough that you can easily picture them and understand why they react the way they do within the story.  They become so realistic by the end of the story that you do feel as if you know them, as if they are real people you have encountered in your life.

I didn't care for the story much, and probably wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't been listening to it on my daily commute to and from work.  Because it was an audio book and because I didn't have anything better to listen to on my way to work each day, I finished it.  It probably wouldn't have made the cut now that my commute has been shortened to a mere 10 minutes round trip.  I can't stress enough that it wasn't the writing style or writer's ability that kept me from enjoying A Widow for a Year.  I simply wasn't interested in the storyline.  Irving writes a wide variety of novels, about many different, often controversial, themes.  If the synopsis of Widow for a Year doesn't sound like your cup of tea, I recommend that you check out all of Irving's books and pick one that does appeal to your tastes.  If you are interested in the basic premise of one of Irving's books then I can almost grantee you will not be disappointed.

Fifty Shades Freed (Book Three of Fifty Shades), by E.L. James

After the disappointment of Darker, I was so relieved to find that I thoroughly enjoyed the final book of the Fifty Shades trilogy.  I was relieved to find that the marriage had been carried out as I began book three, and that Ana and Christian finally seemed to be able to enjoy the bliss of their new relationship as a married couple.

James really surprised me with this last book.  He found the pace that had won me over in the first book, which was so painfully missing in Darker.  If Ana had begun to come into her own in Darker, she truly blossomed in Freed.  Just as the title implies, she and Christian discover so much more about one another and about themselves in Freed that they are finally able to just be.  

James also threw several curve balls in Freed that were sorely lacking in Darker.  Without giving away what unexpected things happened, suffice it to say that both Christian and Ana are pushed to their breaking points that will at times leave you wondering whether or not they will manage to keep their marriage in tact despite everything they must overcome in order to be together and to be happy.

As the final book in a trilogy, Freed was everything I could have hoped for and more.  By the end of the book each and every character had been tied up with a neat little bow and I wasn't left wondering what became of any of the characters I'd grown to love.  I also must confess that I was pleased with the outcomes for each and every one of the characters by the time I finished the book.  Some of these outcomes took me by complete surprise, but they were each perfectly thought out and well written.

As much as I was disappointed in Darker, I was conversely thrilled with Freed. If you struggled to get through Darker and weren't sure you should even bother with Freed despite how much you loved Grey, I urge you to give Freed a chance.  I don't think you'll be disappointed that you did.

Fifty Shades Darker, by E. L. James

After the emotional roller coaster ride I experienced while reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I was rather surprised with the lack of intensity I felt during Fifty Shades Darker.  I will admit that I was quite disappointed on the whole with this second book in the trilogy.  The pace that James set was much slower than the previous book, and it really seemed as if nothing really happened in the plot.   The first book spanned a shorter time period than this one, but it felt so much more fulfilling and just so much "more".  It's hard to put my finger on it.  

While Grey was full of Ana's awakening and her discoveries of her "inner goddess" and contained many sexual scenes which bordered right on the edge of what I felt comfortable reading, Darker was tame in comparison and rather dull.  The whirlwind courtship of Grey was super exciting and took me, emotionally, from one end of the spectrum of emotions, clear to the opposite end.  I experienced everything from pure elation to deepest despair, along with every emotion in between.  

The one thing I truly did enjoy from Darker was the way James began to show how Christian became who he was.  Throughout this second book, James takes us deeper and deeper into the mind of Christian and you really begin to see how damaged he was by his past, and just who was to blame for his worst domineering characteristics.  We also begin to understand why he is the way he is, as he begins to understand who Ana is and why she cannot "fall in line".  

Ana really grew in her independence and in her confidence in Darker.  She "came into her own", so to speak.  The only real problem I had with her blossoming is that it seemed rushed.  She went from this inexperienced virgin to virtual sex goddess seemingly overnight.  I thought that was rather unrealistic.  Generally it takes women some time to grow confident in their sexuality, even with a partner they've had for a long time before sexual relations, they need time to become truly comfortable in their new role.  

The other bright spot in this dragging middle book was the growth Christian showed.  He began to make changes in how he dealt with the world, changes for the better, because of Ana's influence.  This was a delight to see.  I am still hoping the final book in the trilogy will save the series.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Masquerade (Blue Bloods #2) by Melissa de la Cruz

A brain with no heart and no reasoning ... well, nothing is more meaningless.” Masquerade (Blue Bloods #2) by Melissa de la Cruz

I'm still not completely won over on this series yet. I'm somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, I think the story is a little rushed and doesn't go into detail enough about the basic plot. A lot of stuff is just skimmed over without ever getting very deep. I think that Cruz could have replaced a lot of the "gossip girl" fashion and society tid bits with a deeper plot and the book would have been a lot more appealing to my tastes. It's not that these details make the story bad, they just don't make it any better, in my opinion. Besides, gossip girl has its own books, if I want to read about Manhattan socialite society. I can see why this particular type of book is in demand though, and there may be a large audience who prefers the books light and overflowing with descriptions of the latest trends and how the elite interact with the world.

Cruz did manage to slip in a few twists and turns to the plot, but nothing super exciting yet. Perhaps the future books will show Cruz grow as a writer, like the Cast's did in the House of Night novels, each book getting a little bit better than the one before.

I am curious enough to keep reading the series to see what happens next, and hoping that future books are more intriguing.

City of Lost Souls (Mortal Instruments #5) by Cassandra Clare

“I don't care," Clary said. "He'd do it for me. Tell me he wouldn't. If I were missing-"
"He'd burn the whole world down till he could dig you out of the ashes. I know," Alec said.”
-- City of Lost Souls, Mortal Instruments #5, by Cassandra Clare

In the latest saga of the Mortal Instruments series, Clary and Jace must face a whole new slew of obstacles even more dangerous than their previous adventures have been. Clary always seems to inspire loyalty among her counterparts, and to bring those together working towards a common goal, who would otherwise be opposed to one another if not outright enemies. Clary manages to transcend those lines that her predecessors have so carefully drawn to separate Downworlders from The Clave, angels and demons, the young and the old, etc.

The Mortal Instruments is also first and foremost a love story that just doesn't get old. I keep coming back, time and again, hoping that this will be the book where Jace and Clary finally manage to be together, to make it through to the other side in one piece. It's that typical star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet theme, that always leaves you hoping that maybe, this time, they will get their chance.

Clare is a great writer, and her latest book is no exception. Her characters become more real to you with each book she writes, and while I wouldn't call them predictable, I would say that they respond to the situations they are faced with in a way that is true to their character. Clare has outdone herself again!

The unpredictability of the series is something that is still astonishing to me. That, even after five books, Clare still manages to surprise me time and again. She is a creative genius when it comes to plot twists and keeping the audience captive. I always read her books so incredibly quickly because, so much like Suzanne Collins, the writer of the Hunger Games, her timing and pacing is incredibly astute.

I cannot believe I will have to wait until March 2014 before I can get a copy of the next book. It's going to be a long year! I think I may end up tackling her other newer series that begins with Clockwork Angel, I believe. Perhaps it will help while the time away until the next of the Mortal Instruments is complete.