Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: Sundays at Tiffany's

Sundays at Tiffany’s by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
Read by Ellen Archer

Reading level: Adult
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Romance
Audio: 5 hours, 8 minutes (paperback is 336 pages)
As a little girl, Jane has no one. Her mother Vivienne Margaux, the powerful head of a major New York theater company has no time for her. But she does have one friend--Michael--and no one can see him but her. But Michael can't stay with Jane forever, and on her ninth birthday, her imaginary friend must leave her.
When Jane is in her thirties, working for her mother's company, she is just as alone as she was as a child. Her boyfriend hardly knows she's there and is more interested in what Vivienne can do for his career. Her mother practically treats her as a slave in the office, despite the great success of Jane's first play, "Thank Heaven." Then she finds Michael – handsome, and just the same as she remembers him, only now he's not imaginary. For once in her life, Jane is happy and has someone who loves her back. But not even Michael knows the reason behind why they've really been reunited.
Sundays at Tiffany’s was actually my book club’s reading choice for January. We’ll meet the first week of February to discuss it… and oh what a discussion it ought to be. My book club met the first week of January and chose books for the first six months (yes, there will be reviews on all of them). No one had read Sundays at Tiffany’s, but one of us had seen it on a list of recommendations for book clubs. The premise sounded interesting, so we decided to read it first. In fact, knowing James Patterson from his Witch & Wizard series, I was rather excited and went home to look it up that night.

Now, I didn’t sit down and physically read this book. My state has an online library, and they had an audio copy. Knowing that I had a lot of New Year cleaning and organizing ahead of me, I decided that would be a perfect way to “read” that month’s book.

The books has two authors and I suspect that’s why it has two Points of View (POV). Chapters about Jane are told in first person by Jane. Chapters about Michael are told in third person limited omniscient POV with access to Michael’s thoughts. I don’t know how annoying this switch would be while reading, but with the continuity Ellen Archer’s reading, it didn’t bother me.

Anyone who has listened to audio books knows that the reader can enhance or destroy a novel. I was a little leery when I began, but Ellen Archer is an excellent performer. She handles the POV switch very deftly and reads with the right amount of emotion. My one problem with her reading was when some people “spoke.” Her nameless men morphed into one being, but since they were scarce, it wasn’t too much of problem. It was, however, really annoying to hear the adult Jane speak to Michael. When she did, it was in the same higher-pitched voice that she used for the eight-year-old Jane. The little feminist in me cringed that a smart, intelligent woman had to resort to a child’s voice with the man she loves, and it really threw me out of the story. Despite that, I would not mind listening to her read again.

Now for the actual book…

This is Chic Lit, plain and simple. It consists of your basic Chic Flic formula transformed into words: underappreciated girl has bad relationships, she connects with the man of her dreams, angst ensues, something (usually their own stupid behavior) drives them apart toward the end, but somehow they reconnect and we are treated to a glimpse of their happily-ever-after. This follows that to point of cliché at times. The premise is fun, but it isn’t really explored beyond that. No questions (Jane even asks the ones that most of the readers will have) are ever answered. Sadly, this makes that cool premise into a gimmick that wasn’t thoroughly thought out. Jane and Michael are the only characters who have depth (except for a short attempt at it with Vivienne at the end). Everyone else is a caricature. Granted, this is very normal in the Chic Lit/Flic genre, so it's not without precedent.

On the whole it isn’t a bad story. It’s just the sort of thing that is great for a lazy afternoon read when you want to escape and enjoy a modern fairy tale. However, I’m not going to recommend it.

Why? The same reason that I suspect that we’ll have a new rule about someone actually having READ the novels that we choose: language and sex. I’m glad that this is a book that I listened to after the children had gone to bed because the “F-bomb” was dropped on several occasions. While I have trained my brain to skip over any offensive language, it’s not so easy to skip it when it’s being yelled as you listen. Also, there is sex. I’m not a fan of sex scenes (that could be a post on its own). You can see this one coming and skip it if you want, but I didn’t feel it was necessary. A “screen wipe” would have been just as adequate. In fact, it’s like horror… each woman could have imagined a more romantic and sensual scene because it would have been tailored to her specific desires. In the end, it turned a fun, “pulp” read into trash. The rest of the book wasn’t stellar enough to combat it.

In the end it was good, but a disappointment.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Review: Tuesdays at the Castle

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Reading level: Ages 8 and up
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Hardcover: 240 pages

Tuesdays at Castle Glower are Princess Celie's favorite days. That's because on Tuesdays the castle adds a new room, a turret, or sometimes even an entire wing. No one ever knows what the castle will do next, and no one-other than Celie, that is-takes the time to map out the new additions. But when King and Queen Glower are ambushed and their fate is unknown, it's up to Celie, with her secret knowledge of the castle's never-ending twists and turns, to protect their home and save their kingdom.

I figured that I might as well begin the year with my Christmas Book (naturally, at my house there will always be books for Christmas).

I became a fan of Jessica Day George's when I picked up Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow because it was based on "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." It's always been one of my absolute favorite fairy tales, but every retelling I've found tends to turn it into a Cinderella story (which is so disappointing because this is such a great girl-power story). But here, finally, was one that was about as true to the story as any retold fairy tale is. I then moved on to her Dragon Slippers books and loved them as well. She's also written two more retold fairy tales (Princess of the Midnight Ball and Princess of Glass) that are new favorites too. It was only natural that her newest novel for middle grade girls (it has a heroine instead of a hero, hence for girls) was quickly moved to the top of my To-Read list. Happily I was not disappointed.

Tuesdays at the Castle was a delightful afternoon read (admittedly, I read FAST), and I suspect would be perfect to read aloud. Sadly my daughter is still too young to sit still long enough for a book without pictures, but when that changes, this is on my list of books to read to her.

The book is written very well. The language was mostly at a middle grade level with some great vocabulary words woven through it. Nothing was jarring or out-of-place. The children didn't use phrases that scream Suburbia Middle School. There was enough detail to establish a sense of place and get your imagination going without having to slog through tedious passages of total description.

I also love Princess Celie. In her, we have a delightful heroine who isn't nauseatingly perfect, a well-intentioned idiot, or a spoiled brat. She reads as a very real eleven-year-old girl. In fact, much like many a preteen I've known, she's in a bit of a snit when the book begins. That being said, she isn't stagnant as a character either; she manages to grow as a person over the course of the book. This isn't something that's easy to do in so short a book.

That brings me to one of my two major complaints: the length. This was too short. The ending felt very rushed and it didn't tie all the ends together in a satisfactorily manner. I suspect that this is the first book in a new series, but since book two isn't ready to read, I have to live with a vaguely dissatisfied feeling until it is released. If there is no book two, then I'm going to be very disappointed.

My other complaint is a very trivial one, but a niggling little annoyance nonetheless: ages. Now in middle grade, people's ages matter. Once you hit adult you're an adult until you're old, but for everyone under 18 their ages mean something and they are used by people under 18 to help figure out how they need to relate to that other person. Bearing that in mind, ages were something of a mystery. You don't find out the age of Celie's brother until halfway through the book (I thought him a little older), and never find out the age of her sister. There's also another character who I though was much younger than he turned out to be. It was slightly disappointing (and kinda creepy) when I realized his age.

But those two things aside (or included if you like), this is a great read that is sure to appeal to fantasy readers of all ages. I definitely recommend it. (Seriously... I lent my book to my mother-in-law. I need to get that back.)

You can buy it HERE or support your local brick-and-mortar store.