Sunday, February 27, 2011

House Rules by Jodi Picoult - Book 6

You can probably tell I like Jodi Picoult's novels - after all I'm only on book 6 and this is the second one I've read. House Rules turned up as a birthday present and after Danielle McGaw's great review, I rushed to read it. The book tells the story of a young man, Jacob, with Asperger's Syndrome (which affects the whole family) who finds himself accused of murder.

Here's Amazon's description:
Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject--in his case, forensic analysis. He's always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do...and he's usually right. But then his town is rocked by a terrible murder and, for a change, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's--not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, flat affect--can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family, who only want to fit in, feel the spotlight shining directly on them. For his mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication of why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?

I've had a couple of students with Asperger's and it was fascinating to get further insight into some of the hallmarks of the syndrome. The story is told from multiple viewpoints (Jacob's, his mother's, his brother's, his lawyer's and that of the cop who arrests him). It is riveting and the characters are richly drawn. As usual, Jodi Picoult sucks you into her world - and it's a thrilling ride. I could not put the book down, blasting through it in less than two days. I worked out the sequence of events half way through, but that didn't spoil the book - it was just as interesting waiting to see how the other characters would find out. I loved it!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Venetian Judgement by David Stone - Book 5 (plus 1)

My fifth book was the Venetian Judgment by David Stone. I'd previously read the Orpheus Deception, so I expected an action-packed Robert Ludlum style thriller. Here's Amazon's description:

CIA cleaner Micah Dalton has taken his revenge against the Serbian gang who shot his lover. Then he receives a mysterious jade box containing a stainless steel glasscutter. Someone is sending him a very serious message, a message that will force him back into action against a foe out to unleash chaos upon the world...
This book was a good read, though in my opinion not in the class of the Bourne series by Ludlum. What also makes it strange is the intermittent presence of a dead guy who gives the hero advice. This is explained away by the lingering effects of some substance he was tortured with, but it doesn't quite ring true.  If you like thrillers, you'll probably enjoy this anyway - I give it 3 out 5 stars (because I'm feeling generous).

So, what about the half, you ask? I've also read Clive Cussler's The Wrecker, set in the early 1900s when the US railroad was being built. I count it as a half because I started it before the challenge, though I only read 10 pages.

Here's what Amazon says:
Van Dorn Detective Agency operative Isaac Bell returns, this time to track down a clever saboteur who’s been dubbed the Wrecker. Seems the Wrecker has it in for the Southern Pacific Company, and he will stop at nothing, including murder, to keep the company from putting through a new railway line between San Francisco and northern California.

I found this a good read, though slow to start, The hero, his fiancee and the other main characters are very personable and once you get past the first third, the story moves at a good pace.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book 4: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind, is an unusual book. This wasn't on my original list of books I planned to read, but a friend lent it to me and said it was a good read. She was right - but it's also very strange. Set in 18th century France, the story describes the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan with an outstanding sense of smell which allows him to train (via a circuitous route) as a master perfumer. That doesn't make him happy, and he feels nothing but contempt for humankind. There is one smell that he prizes above all others - and it emanates from unmarried teenaged girls. His attempts to capture and distill the scent lead to a murderous rampage through Grasse.

Fans of 18th century French literature will feel right at home with the descriptions of people and surroundings which help to make this such a vivid story. There's a lot of fascinating information about the science of making perfume and of course the main character is a hero (anti-hero?) like no other. Although I never liked Jean Baptiste Grenouille, I found his sheer repellence compelling and the beautifully written book was hard to put down. More than 300 reviewers on Amazon agree with me, so give it a try.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book 3: William Walker's First Year of Marriage

Marriage is all about trust and what with William Walker's psycho ex-girlfriend and his wife Isabel's best male friend Alex (who has a hidden agenda) there's not a lot of it to go around in this piece of British lad lit. William Walker's First Year of Marriage: A Horror Story by Matt Rudd isn't laugh out loud funny, but it is entertaining and would make a great beach or holiday read. I liked the chapter headings, which are unusually descriptive, and the endless lists made by the main character. The wedding ratings are hilarious, too. If you're looking for a light read where you don't have to turn your brain on, then check this out.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book 2 - The Pact - Jodi Picoult

Was it murder or was it suicide? This is one of the central questions in Jodi Picoult's The Pact. Here's how Booklist describes it:

The Hartes and the Golds, professional folk living next door in an affluent New Hampshire town, are close friends, and their children, the Hartes' son, Chris, and Emily Gold, were born just weeks apart. Inseparable all through childhood, they slipped from the haven of intimate friendship into the tempestuous realm of love in high school, a transition their parents fully expected and welcomed. But Emily is secretly appalled by the incestuous nature of her relationship with Chris, and when she discovers that she is pregnant, she can imagine only one solution: suicide. Chris is with her when she dies and is consequently charged with her murder.

I thought this story was strongest when describing the feelings of Chris Harte and Emily's mother, and the finale of the trial is gripping. However some of the parents' actions and reactions (I won't spoil it by saying more) don't ring true. If I were giving a star rating, I'd probably give 3.5 out of 5, making it a good read, though not Jodi Picoult's best. If you've read it, I'd love to know what you think.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Book Review - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen turned out to be a big disappointment, though many will disagree with me. Franzen is an award-winning novelist, having enjoyed great success with The Corrections, but this novel failed to live up to the hype. It's about the decline, fall and rebirth of a Midwestern American family. The trouble is that it's hard to believe that any of the characters would really take the actions they do. In between the interesting bits - because there are some - there are pages and pages of interminable monologues on different issues such as environmentalism. Somehow, it just doesn't work. It's an unfortunate start to my 101 books, but there are still 100 to go, so I'm hopeful that things will improve.