Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Lace Reader by Bruonia Barry

The initial draw of this book, for me, was that it takes place in locations I'm personally familiar with - San Diego, CA and Boston/Salem, MA. It's always nice to already have a sense of location when reading a novel; it allows you to focus on the characters. And, focusing on the characters of The Lace Reader is key because it gets confusing since they're all pretty complex.

Lace reading is an old family ability performed in Eva Whitney's tearoom right up until her mysterious death. The future is seen and interpreted through the patterns in individual pieces of lace. All the women in the family have the skill, but only Eva actively reads. The rest of the women struggle with their own demons, internally and externally, too violently to focus on reading the lace for others.

About halfway into the story of the troubled Whitney family dealing with the sudden death of their matriarch, you get the feeling that this novel is going to end with some psychological twist. This inkling greatly diminishes the shock value I'm sure the author meant to have at the book's climax. You don't know what's coming, but you see something unexpected on the horizon. I also cared more about the characters mid-story than at the novel's conclusion. I liked the unsolved pieces to their personalities and would have rather been left guessing than had everything wrapped up for me by the author.

The narrative voice also shifts periodically between Towner Whitney - the most troubled female of the family - and the detective working Eva's case. The purpose of this narrative switch eludes me. All the key information for the plot is really revealed through Towner's own voice. All you get access to through Rafferty, the detective, is old police files that involve members of the Whitney family. Even those don't give you a full explanation as to why the family is so troubled.

Simply put, I liked the book. The plot was interesting enough although I do feel like so much was packed in to the story that prime events and details lost their luster. I also feel like use of the big psychological twist in a story has been overdone by now and done better elsewhere. Go watch Fight Club or read My Sweet Audrina by VC Andrews if you want your characters truly dirty and royally messed up.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Next by Michael Crichton

It took a while for me to figure out exactly what Next was all about due to the large amount of characters introduced early on, but once I got all the people (and talking animals) straight, I was off and running. Using dynamic characters from every side and every situation relevant to the study of genetics, Next explores all the angles of genetic research, testing, patenting, theft, and espionage.

A fast-paced narrative takes you through a relatively brief period of time where there is never a dull moment. One man is suing for the right to "own" a gene within his own body that a corporation has patented. A mother and son are running from a bounty hunter who's after them for "stealing" genetic material that's a part of their bodies. Dave, a chimp whose genes were mixed with a scientist's is trying to survive elementary school. A bio-tech company is testing what they call the maturity gene to prove it has positive effects on human behavior. This list just scratches the surface of activity - I told you there was a lot happening in this book.

True to form, the action never dulls, the characters never cease to intrigue, and the relevance to issues of today never fall by the wayside in the story. Crichton paints the study/testing of genetics as a scary, unregulated mismash of shady research, large profits, and confusing ownership. He's asking big questions like, "If my tissue leaves my body, is it still mine?" and grappling with all the potential answers since the "right" one hasn't been found yet.

Fictionalized scientific novels are a tricky genre to read. You can't help but be influenced by them even though nothing occurring within them is really real. At the very least, while being highly entertained, Next will empower you to seek out a little more truth about a very relevant topic and get you thinking.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

I recently posted about my irritation at having to read three more books to get to the conclusion of The Wheel of Time series. I started reading The Gathering Storm fully expecting another long podding book where the main characters do nothing but plan and ponder, with a few bits of moderate excitement placed throughout. I re-read that old post before I started this one, and I am quite happy to eat each one of those words. The book is fantastic, exciting, eventful, dramatic and intense!

Sanderson's pacing in this book is great, it reminds me of some of my favorite early books in the series like "The Shadow Rising" and "Lord of Chaos." In The Gathering Storm, Sanderson lays the groundwork for the main story lines early, sprinkles in a few exciting side-character stories(Matt and Perrin) to keep the main stories from dragging while he sets them up. He then builds to a fantastic confluence of events that made me a little sad that the series is actually going to be over soon.

The book has two lead story lines. The first follows The Dragon Reborn, Rand al'Thor, and it's refreshing to get so many chapters devoted to him. Tasked with uniting the fractured nations, making peace with the invading Senchan, and destroying the Forsaken; Rand has decided that the only way he can handle what he must do is to cage himself off from his emotions and feel nothing. He's turned into a completely different person as he hardens himself for the final showdown with The Dark One. But before he can get there, he has to come to terms with who he is, and who he needs to be.

The second lead storyline focuses on Egwene and is probably the most exciting story involving The White Tower in the entire series. Egwene is trapped as a novice in the White Tower and is undermining the Amyrlin's authority in an attempt to reunite the tower and make preparations for the impending battle with the Dark One. Egwene's storyline ends with a fantastically exciting event that changes the entire direction of the final two books, and I can't wait for the next book to see what happens.

Robert Jordan's death after writing the 11th book in the series was devastating to many of his fans. Most fans, myself included, were very worried that whoever was picked to finish the series would never be able to capture the feel and tone of Jordan's series. I'm quite happy to say that Sanderson exceeded all my expectations as a writer for The Wheel of Time, and his voice has not only help carry on Jordan's vision, but enriched it.