Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson

Flap copy from ARC:
To Carley Wells, words are the enemy: the countless SAT lists from her tutor, the "fifty-seven-pounds-overweight" assessment from her personal trainer, and most of all, the "confidential" Getting to Know You assignment from her insane English teacher. When he reports to her parents that she has answered "What is your favorite book?" with "Never met one I liked," they resolve to fix what he calls her "intellectual impovrishment." They will commission a book to be written for Carley that she'll have to love- one that will impress her teacher and the whole town of Fox Glen with their family's devotion to the arts. They will buy their daughter The Love of Reading.

Impossible though it is for Carley to imagine loving books, she is in love with a young bibliophile who cares about them more than anything. Anything, that is, but a good bottle of scotch. Hunter Cay, Carley’s best friend and Fox Glen’s resident golden boy, is becoming a stranger to her lately as he drowns himself in F. Scott Fitzgerald, booze, and Vicodin.

When the Wellses move writer Bree McEnroy—author of a failed meta-novel about Odysseus’ failed journey home through the Internet—into their mansion to write Carley’s book, Carley’s sole interest in the project is to distract Hunter from drinking and give them something to share. But as Hunter’s behavior becomes erratic and dangerous, she finds herself increasingly drawn into the fictional world Bree has created, and begins to understand for the first time the power of stories—those we read, those we want to believe in, and most of all, those we tell ourselves about ourselves. Stories powerful enough to destroy a person. Or save her.

I really enjoyed this book despite what I think is fairly deceptive flap copy. I expected a much more tongue-in-cheek narrative that this book offers- the satire is fairly light in my opinion. Despite that, the story itself is compelling, and Carley (who I disliked in the beginning) develops into a character with wonderful depth. Her struggle to survive while trying to save her best friend is unexpectedly poignant, and I enjoyed watching Carley slowly come to recognize her own worth outside of Hunter's reflected glory.

There was plenty of scope for wry laughter once Bree (and her painful novel) make an appearance. Bree's level of narrative deconstruction will entertain anyone who's ever endured a college writing class. Her efforts to find a narrative truth are unexpectedly assisted by Carley's hatred of books and refusal to accept Bree's idea of storytelling.

Gibson perfectly captures the feelings of isolation and confusion that all teenagers experience (no matter their parents' socio-economic situation), and ably crafts a realistic (though rather surreal) story. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sir John Hargrave's Mischief Maker's Manual by Sir John Hargrave

Flap copy from the ARC:
"There's ordinary mischief, and there's magnificent mischief. Any fool can create ordinary mischief, but only by reading the Mischief Maker's Manual can you create magnificent mischief. Never cruel, but always funny and creative, the mischief in this book will change the art of pranking forever."

This book was a fun read, and is sure to delight pranksters everywhere. With a stress on the need for pranksters to do no harm, this manual for mischief makers made this non-prankster laugh. Though I'm not sure I would give this book to my own teenager, it's the perfect gift for other people's kids, or for someone who still feeds the kid inside. Definitely a fun (and funny) reference book.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Towering World of Jimmy Choo by Lauren Goldstein Crowe & Sagra Maceira DeRosen

Flap copy from ARC:
The Towering World of Jimmy Choo examines the world’s seemingly insatiable appetite for luxury goods by telling the behind-the-scenes tale of one of the most talked-about brands of our age. Jimmy Choo was a London shoemaker with a few famous clients when Tamara Yeardye, a London society girl, convinced him to launch a factory-produced luxury shoe line. Twelve years later, Jimmy Choo is a household name, and Tamara still presides over what is now one of the most successful luxury brands in the world, worth some $350 million. But along the way she was tested at every turn. The story of how the Jimmy Choo brand got to where it is today is one of love, hate, sex, fashion, finance, drugs, celebrity, power, intrigue, and ambition. And every word of it is true. Compelling to followers of both fashion and business, The Towering World of Jimmy Choo takes readers into a complex and rarified world.

This book was an interesting read about business and (more importantly) shoes. I am not a business person, but this book was obviously written to appeal to lay-readers like me so the business elements were well-explained and, I suspect, fairly rudimentary. I picked up the book because it was about Jimmy Choo shoes, and it did deliver an interesting look at the early development of the brand. Unfortunately, the writing got repetitive and rather gossipy; I was much less interested in the details of Tamara's divorce that in the details of Jimmy's ouster from the company, but the book is much more about Tamara and her life than about Jimmy Choo and his. All in all, an enjoyable read despite the lack of substance.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling

Set in a Paris darkened by World War II, Sara Houghteling’s debut novel tells the story of a son’s quest to recover his family’s lost masterpieces, looted by the Nazis during the occupation.

Born to an art dealer and his pianist wife, Max Berenzon is forbidden from entering the family business for reasons he cannot understand. He reluctantly attends medical school, reserving his true passion for his father’s beautiful and brilliant gallery assistant, Rose ClĂ©ment. When Paris falls to the Nazis, the Berenzons survive in hiding. They return in 1944 to find that their priceless collection has vanished: gone are the Matisses, the Picassos, and a singular Manet of mysterious importance. Madly driven to recover his father’s paintings, Max navigates a torn city of corrupt art dealers, black marketers, RĂ©sistants, and collaborators. His quest will reveal the tragic disappearance of his closest friend, the heroism of his lost love, and the truth behind a devastating family secret.

This debut novel was a wonderfully written story about love and art and loss that somehow failed to make an emotional connection. Though I was pulled into the narrative, I found myself caring more about the art than the personal lives of the characters. Perhaps the author was trying to convey the coldness of war, but I found myself feeling isolated from the characters. There was great potential in this novel, and the writing was exquisite, but in the end I just wasn't invested enough in it to consider it a must-read.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

King of the Screwups by K.L. Going

Flap copy from ARC:
Liam Geller is Mr. Popularity. Everybody loves him. He excels at sports; he know exactly what clothes to wear; he always ends up with the most beautiful girls at school. But he's got an uncanny ability to screw up in the ways that piss off his father the most.

When he's finally kicked out of the house, his father's brother- a gay glam-rocker DJ- takes him in. Living in a trailer in upstate New York is not at all what Liam had planned for his senior year, but then he realizes it's his perfect chance. In a new school, he can remake himself into a total nerd and be everything his father wants him to be. But "Aunt" Pete sees him for who he really is, and now Liam has to decide which is better.

Based on the flap copy, I thought this book would be funny and poignant- a great light read. Though it was in fact funny and poignant, it was also a painfully raw look parental mental abuse at its worst. I was shocked and appalled that Liam's mother stood by as his father attempted to crush every spark of life and humanity from his son, pandering to his egotistical need to recreate his son in his own image.

I read this book from start to finish in one evening- it is just that powerful a novel. This book was moving and raw and at times absurd- just like the life of an average teenager. Highly recommended!