Friday, June 24, 2011

THE ONE THAT I WANT by Allison Winn Scotch



The One That I Want by Allison Winn Scotch
Women's Fiction
Shaye Areheart Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-46450-7
First edition, hardcover
Source: library


This is the second of Allison's novels I've read (click HERE for my review of Time of My Life), and of the two, I think I enjoyed this one a tad bit more. I loved TOML, but TOTIW had more depth to it. More depth to the characters and more depth to the story.

When we meet Tilly Farmer she is living in a bubble of self-denial. She thinks her life is perfect. She thinks her life plan is perfect. She is married to her high school sweetheart. She works as a guidance counselor for the local high school. She is helping to put together this year's prom and the musical-- fun fun fun! And she is trying for her first baby.

It was clear to me from the start that all of these things she considered "perfect" were no doubt going to blow up in her face at some point. And I was right. Plus a few other things along the way.

In the title, The One That I Want, "one" refers to "life." Tilly's journey makes her question what life she truly wants to live. The one she thinks is already perfect (but clearly not, as she soon discovers)? Or the one she's been too afraid to try?

And who of us hasn't questioned that at some point, in some manner or another?

This story is mainly about relationships. We focus on Tilly and her high-school-sweetheart-husband, Tilly and her alcoholic father, Tilly and her dead mother, Tilly and her two (very different) sisters, Tilly and the baby she wants to have, Tilly and the charming new art teacher, Tilly and her best friend, Tilly and her ex-best-friend-turned-fortune-teller....

It's that final one that pushes Tilly into the events that change her life. After unintentionally finding Ashley in a fortune-teller's tent, Tilly is blessed/cursed with "clarity." She starts having weird visions of the future, visions that portray events involving the people closest to her. Sometimes these are clearly bad things, and sometimes she isn't sure whether it's bad or good.

Although these visions are crucial to the plot, this is not a fantasy story. This is magic realism at it's finest. The story is not about her seeing things in the future. There is no scary voodoo or incantations or anything like that. She simply sees glimpses of things that force her into decision-making.

The thing that kept me turning pages at an accelerated rate was the mystery of what these visions meant, how they all tied together, and ultimately, what Tilly was going to do once she figured it all out. I also really enjoyed her reflections on life and the parallels made between Tilly and the other characters, such as CJ, one of the senior students who frequents her office.

As with Time of My Life, Allison's signature writing style in The One That I Want is pleasantly fluid, easy to digest, and the cover art is equally awesome (so much so that the two almost look like companion novels, but don't be fooled-- these are completely different stories about completely different characters). Highly recommended for adults, especially women. 5 of 5 stars.


Extras:

Author blog - Ask Allison


Preview of Allison's upcoming novel, The Song Remains the Same

The One That I Want will be available in paperback on June 28.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan


Where I got the book: ARC from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Its publication date is 6/28/11 according to Amazon.

In 1920s Ireland, Ellie's husband has been injured fighting for his country's freedom. Ellie makes the tough decision to take a job in New York in order to send back enough money for his operation. The new life she makes for herself in the US changes her, and puts her future life in Ireland in doubt.

I'm trying very hard here not to put in any spoilers, as I think it's pretty unfair to do that for an as-yet-to-be-published novel, so you'll excuse the brief description. The cover suggests that Kate Kerrigan is a new author on the American scene, and she was also new to me.

Ellis Island was a most enjoyable read. Kerrigan is very skilled at describing place and time with a light touch that hides her research, and there are several lyrical moments in this novel that definitely place it a cut above the average.

We see the story from Ellie's point of view, and what struck me was that her voice is Irish, but not overly so. None of the Frank McCourt street Irish here: we're talking about a girl from a good family with a superior education, and I thought Kerrigan got this exactly right in Ellie's voice. The American parts of the story were pretty convincing too, although the idea that Ellie would fall so quickly into such high society strained my imagination just a little. But--again, trying to avoid spoilers here--the resolution of the story was credibly underplayed. I really wasn't too sure which decision Ellie would take, which is unusual as I generally see plot twists coming a mile off.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a dose of romance but a good grounding in reality. Kerrigan is a fine writer, and I'll be looking out for subsequent books.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lisa Brackman/ ROCK PAPER TIGER

First off, at The Book Book I usually write my review very soon (often immediately) after reading the book, so you get my knee-jerk reaction. This time, a couple weeks have passed, so you'll be getting my impression over time, what stuck with me and what didn't.

Second, Moonrat previously reviewed ROCK PAPER TIGER for this blog, thereby saving me the need to write an in-depth plot summary. You can read that and her thoughts here.

Now, let's begin.

This book follows Ellie Cooper, a 26-year-old American Iraqi war vet, as she grows up. Yes, grows up. Ellie may be smart (she's learning Chinese quickly) and tough (or is it numb?) from her time in the military, but when we meet her she's a woman who rarely takes action in her life--she merely reacts, if she does anything at all.

This inertia contrasts with her wry observations and likable personality. She's fun to be around, when she's not struggling with her PTSD. And while she may not realize it, she's a strong person. When she tells one character he's "an asshole" you will want to reach through the book and give her a high five.

Ellie finds herself stumbling and limping through China, pursued by various guys in dark suits. Some are from the government while others work for independent organizations and those are often scarier. Despite her best efforts to disappear, she's suddenly getting a lot of attention. The pace quickens, and everything builds towards what I expected to be a crazy, government-conspiracy type climax.

But that is not quite what you get. And, honestly, it was disappointing. I think as long as you go in knowing that, however, then you can still really enjoy this book. Just remember that (in my opinion, anyway), this book is about Ellie's internal journey, more so than it's about her external journey through China. She is not a badass heroinne in this book. She's got potential, but she's also got PTSD and a tendency to mix beer with percocet. The end of this book is only the beginning for Ellie. In fact, I would welcome a sequel!

Bonus factor: China. You've heard it before, I'm sure: China China China. But, it's true. As corny as it sounds, I really felt like I'd been to China for days after I read this book. A tough, sometimes fragile China that's a work in progress.

Much like Ellie.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

BUT I LOVE HIM by Amanda Grace

 But I Love Him by Amanda Grace
Young Adult Contemporary
Flux, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7387-2594-9
Source: library


This book surprised me. In a good way.

From the back cover:

Sometimes at night, I wake up and stare at the heart for hours. I think of how I collected each piece from the beach, how I glued it all together into one big sculpture. I wonder if Connor realizes what it means, that he'll always have a piece of me no matter what happens. Each piece of glass is another piece of myself that I gave to him.


It's too bad I didn't keep any pieces for myself.

This is not your typical "abusive relationship" story, although it very well could have been, had the author not decided to tell it backwards.

That's right. Backwards. The entire novel is a string of flashbacks. Unfortunately, this is the very same reason why I struggled through the first 50 or so pages. The timeline takes some getting used to. But I'm so glad I stuck with it.

We start with Ann in a very bad place, made clear by the very first sentence: I lie in pieces on the floor. Then we are shown the events that led up to this pivotal moment. Every so often, the story jumps back (ahead?) to the opening scene.

Which, in my opinion, is crucial. If we hadn't kept going back/forward to that moment, the character arc would have collapsed by the end. Because the end is really the beginning, so by that point we already know everything that happened/is going to happen. In any good story, the main character has to make a tough decision at the end. Ann does just that in the final flash forward.

And that was the scene in which I completely lost all my composure, followed quickly after by the final-final scene, the day Ann and Connor meet, and, being already in a state of sobbery from the scene before it, it was just too much to take--all the innocence of that first meeting coupled with the knowledge of the downward spiral that follows...

I pretty much died at the end of this book. It's that good.

But let's go back to the heart of glass in the blurb and on the cover for a minute. I love when stories have an object of value (to the main character) tying everything together. Every time this heart was mentioned in a scene I felt a little closer to Ann, understood her a little more. It starts out broken, as does her figurative heart, and then as we travel backwards through time we see how she put it all together while Connor progressively crushed her heart.

It's an amazing parallel to the story of Ann and Connor's relationship. So fragile, yet sharp-edged like broken glass. And at one time, it was beautiful. But now it's shattered.

The thing I liked even more than the parallel of the glass heart and the brilliance of telling the story backwards, however, was the presentation of the characters. In a book like this it's easy to make the abuser flat. One dimensional. But Connor isn't, and that's one of the main things that kept me turning pages. It's also easy to make the victim unsympathetic. You get to a certain point in a story like this, and you just want to shake her, saying, "Get away from him! Why don't you just leave already?!"

Ann gives the simply-stated-yet-not-simply-understood answer in the title: But I Love Him. A situation like this is never black and white.

If this is subject matter you normally shy away from because you feel the story has already been told in every possible way, then I highly recommend reading this book. It might just surprise you in the good way it did me. 5 of 5 stars, and a contender for my Best Read of 2011.

~Lydia