Saturday, December 31, 2011

52 Books in 52 Weeks - #12

Well guess what!! I did it! As of this moment, I have officially finished my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge!

I am so glad that I was able to meet my goal.

As there are five remaining slots to fill and seven remaining books to review, this section will be a little different than the rest. The top five books will move on in the challenge. I have to say, of all the sets for this to take place in, this is definitely a good takes the pressure off slightly.

So the remaining seven challengers are :

1. Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
3. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
5. Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses by Meredith Mileti
6. A Good American by Alex George
7. Little Bee by Chris Cleave

I know the majority of the books that will move on even without writing the reviews, but there is one slot still questionably up for grabs. Let's see what I decide...

1. Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

Finished : November 24th          Rating : 2 out of 5 stars          Award : Lowest Rating of 2011

Zoe Baxter miscarries and the strain results in the destruction of her marriage to Max. Max copes by becoming a raging alcoholic, only saved by being "saved". Zoe, turns herself inside out and becomes a whole other person, remarrying to Vanessa, the school counselor where Zoe aides a student using music therapy. Zoe and Vanessa decide to have a baby together, but their only option is to use the fertilized embryos that remain from Zoe & Max's union. This desire leads to a bitter battle between Zoe and Max.

Ugh. Okay...obviously, ouch on the rating. I really did not like this book. I actually very much struggled to finish it. I didn't like the characters. I didn't like the plot. It all seemed very contrived and forced. The only thing that saved it from being one star is that Jodi Picoult can write a book that makes sense.

I absolutely HATED the chapters narrated by Max. I wanted to just beat him upside the head. Yup, this book actually made me consider violence.

This was hands down the worst Jodi Picoult book I've ever read and the worst book I read this year. Never again.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Finished : December 10th.          Rating : 4 out of 5 stars.          Award : Most Surprising Favorite

Financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist has been sentenced to jail following a legal scandal involving alleged libel regarding a multi-million dollar CEO.  As he waits to begin his sentence, he is offered an investigative opportunity - the chance to solve a four decade old missing person's case. His unlikely eventual accomplice in this task is Lisbeth Salander, the odd and reserved girl with the dragon tattoo who came recommended by the security company that checked Mikael's background in preparation for his hire in this task.

Okay, a bit of an odd setup, I admit. But this is one of those cases where I can't say too much without revealing too much of the story. I really enjoyed this book. I had a lot of people telling me that they had heard bad things about it, so I admit that I did feel a little nervous at first. But for me, the story moved smoothly and the plot was excellent - despite my obviously lacking synopsis, please take my word.

There were some more graphic and violent scenes that may have turned off the readers who reported not liking the book, but to me they didn't outweigh the good writing.

It's hard to review a translated book and say that the writer is excellent, but I assume that the translator stayed true to form. If not, the translator needs to start writing novels! Let's put it this way...I had planned on reading a specific book after I finished this one. Instead, I next read the second book in the trilogy.

3. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Finished : December 28th          Rating : 5 out of 5 stars.          Award : Best Sequel

Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are back in the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Mikael is working with another writer and his doctoral candidate girlfriend to uncover a large sex trafficking operation. The plan is to release the writer's novel at the same time as Mikael's magazine, Millenium releases an issue with a shocking expose. The plan would result in the exposure of multiple individuals in high society as well as several government officials.

Unfortunately, the writer and his girlfriend are murdered prior to the release of the publications. Their suspected murderer based on evidence found at the scene? Lisbeth Salander.

Blomkvist is certain of Lisbeth's innocence and delves into his own investigation, hoping to save her from an unjust conviction.

This book seriously blew me out of the water. It is very rare for me to like a sequel more than the original, but this book totally did it. I was hooked from the very beginning. I couldn't take it in fast enough. Stieg Larsson was a magician with words. The plot is so well written that you'd swear he was writing based on a true story.

The detail is magnificent and the characters are phenomenal. The best thing about this book? It keeps you guessing. I love the fact that he keeps the mystery from beginning to end.

This is a book that I will read over and over.

4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

Finished : December 29th          Rating : 5 out of 5 stars          Award : Phenomenal Conclusion

The conclusion of the Millenium trilogy. I can't tell you much about the plot of this one without totally ruining the two prior. Suffice it to say that Mikael and Lisbeth continue in their attempt to clear Lisbeth's name and conclude the drama of her past.

Wow. Just wow. This entire series was amazing. This is honestly the first time I've read a series where each book continued to be better than the last. (Harry Potter was close, but seven books there has to be one semi-lame duck.)

I loved this book just as I had loved the prior two. It flowed seamlessly and the characters just continued to grow and develop. I am thoroughly disappointed that this series was published posthumously. Mr. Larsson was an incredible author and I would've really looked forward to more of his work.

5. Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses by Meredith Mileti

Finished : December 30th          Rating : 4 out of 5 stars          Award : Best Domestic Violence (trust me)

Mira Rinaldi is at the crux of disaster. She has discovered her husband in flagrante delicto with the hostess of their restaurant, Grappa. She finds herself a single mother of an infant at risk for jail time as a result of her assault on the mistress. In a final settlement she protects herself from conviction by agreeing to sell her share of the restaurant she loves and moving home to Pittsburgh. But how will she be able to leave the only thing she loves in life more than her daughter...the restaurant she built from nothing?

I received this book as my first ever Goodreads win. (That's can get free stuff!!) I admit that I was skeptical at first, reading a book by a first time author, but I have to say that I am glad to be able to add it to my collection.

The book is well-written in a simple, yet seemingly effortless manner. I loved Mira from beginning to end and the journey of the book is easy - a very good rainy afternoon read. Though this is her first novel, Mileti writes as though she has been producing published works for years. Her writing is comfortable and friendly.

I particularly enjoy that she knows her field. I would've been sorely disappointed to have a book about a chef and restaurateur written by someone who is only guessing at the details. It is clear in her writing that she is a lover of food and the care that goes into preparing it. She also referenced my favorite chefs - which made the book more endearing to me. I am looking forward to reading more of her books down the line.

6. A Good American by Alex George

Finished : December 31st          Rating : 4 out of 5 stars          Award : Worst Choice of Character Name

The book follows the story of a German immigrant family through three generations. The book is narrated by James Meisenheimer, grandson of Frederick and Jette, who emigrated in 1903. Frederick and Jette wound up auspiciously in the town of Beatrice, Missouri where Frederick is admant about becoming the best American he can be. Subsequent generations come to determine in their own ways what this means.

Ok. Warning. This is probably my longest review of the year.

Let me start by saying that it took me quite some time to decide how I wanted to rate this book. In the end, I waffled between 3 and 4 and would've truly given it a 3.5 had the option existed.

I was given the opportunity to read it in advance of its official release through a giveaway from Goodreads. I am grateful that I had this chance.

The plot of this book is nothing short of amazing and it is written with an easy flow. The detail is well-written without being overbearing. I read the book quite quickly and enjoyed, in a sense, "tagging along" with the Meisenheimer family.

With as much as I enjoyed the book and as much praise as I would love to give it, there were however three main issues that prevented me from giving it five stars.

The first problem nearly caused me to stop reading the book altogether. I place a lot of stock in an author's integrity. In this case, I found it somewhat lacking. This all came about through Alex George's use of a character named Rankin Fitch. As I came across this name, something turned a switch in my head. I knew I had seen it before. Rankin Fitch is not a very common name. In fact, as it turns out, not only is Rankin Fitch and attorney in A Good American, he is also an attorney is John Grisham's Runaway Jury. Another odd point, both John Grisham and Alex George are attorneys turned authors. Though the similarities with the character end there, I was so incensed by the obvious theft of the name that I nearly quit reading what had the potential to be an amazing novel.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I searched for an indication that the use of the name was perhaps an homage. There was no such mention. The idea that the author would try to "pull one over" on the reader by having the laziness not to come up with an original name was frankly insulting.  I am hoping that the author was wise enough to alter the name of this character prior to sending the book for it's final printing. If not, I hope that it does not cause other readers to give up hope as I nearly did.

The other two issues were less problematic, but still prevented the story to attaining that five star mark. The other issues? An overused thesaurus and a heavy handed use of allusion.

For the most part, the book's wording flows easily. However, there are occasional bits that are overloaded with ten dollar words, in a way that detracts from the simple storytelling and may make the reader lose interest momentarily. George also has a tendency to end chapters with a sentence that will all too heavily indicate what is to occur later on in the book, a sentence meant to highlight "hey, you should pay attention to this for later". It's as if he doesn't have enough confidence in the reader's ability to link events or identify ironic situations.  He should have more faith in his audience. The writing of these sections can stand alone and really doesn't need the additional assistance. In fact, the book would flow more smoothly without them. They detract from the overall easy progression of the novel.

I would have really liked to have been able to give this book five stars. It certainly had the potential. And in all honesty, had the character of Rankin Fitch been named anything else, the chances of that happening probably would have been very high.

7. Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Finished : December 31st          Rating : 4 out of 5 stars          Award : Most Unfortunate Open Ending

Little Bee is a refugee from Nigeria. She has been detained for two years and has just been released, although illegally, into Britain. She tracks down the only people she knows there, Andrew and Sarah O'Rourke, and begins her journey to them. The three are linked by an unfortunate event that has haunted all three of them for the last two years.

This book was an amazingly fast read. The narration is witty and the use of a two-pronged narration (alternating chapters from Little Bee and Sarah) is brilliant. The story line is engaging and the character of Little Bee is very well developed. The other characters could have done with additional body, but still aided the story rather than detracting from it in the absence of more detail.

I very much enjoyed the novel and only wished that it had continued on from the ending point. I dislike when an author leaves an open ended plot, unless it is clear that a sequel is intended. So far as I can tell, no follow up to this novel is indicated. obviously Sing You Home won't be making the final cut. The other six though held pretty close together. I am sad to say that Alex George's unfortunate use of the character Rankin Fitch ultimately did him in. The winner for this round :

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

The four wild card winners :

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Aftertaste : A Novel in Five Courses by Meredith Mileti


Little Bee by Chris Cleave

And with that...the bracket is full...

The official winner of The Best Book of 2011 will be announced on Monday, January 2nd.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read ANY of these books, surprisingly. Off to fill up my library queue...


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