2012

Book Review: The Pact

The PactThe Pact by Jodi Picoult

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have read a large number of Jodi Picoult novels. I am usually fairly impressed by her well planned and exceptionally researched novels. However, this was not the case with The Pact. I should have known to stay clear when I saw the cover read “Now a Lifetime Network Movie!”

This story was a painfully slow read. I will admit, I was so unmoved by this book that I remember the plot, I remember the beginning, and the ending, but the details – the names of the characters and the locations – elude me.

Most of the story focuses on an event that took place when playmates Emily and Chris were young kids. Emily winds up so traumatized by this haunting memory that she seems to cease to function after losing her virginity to Chris as teenagers. After growing more and more depressed, Emily forces Chris into a suicide pact. Surprise, surprise, Chris lives. In true Picoult style there is courtroom drama, families and friends ripped apart, and a predictable verdict. Yada, yada, yada.

Out of everything in the whole book, I remember the ending most clearly. Picoult has a way of leaving the reader guessing at the end of a novel. I will not give away the ending but I will say I was not left wondering so much as an initial “What the…” and then I didn’t care that much. The ending was so ambiguous that I put down the book even more confused that when I started. I didn’t even try to figure out what was meant.

This story had great promise. I am sure the die-hard Picoult fans will still enjoy it. I, however, found the plot to be poor executed with one-dimensional characters that I just could not connect with whatsoever. The story just got lost in the details but at the same time did not have enough details to be engaging. It was a quick (yet so slow), mindless read and once it was over it was difficult to recall even major character names and places. Read it at your own risk – or if you just like to waste time.

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The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge

So I wanted another reading challenge.  I wanted a more long-term reading challenge.  I was on Pintrest this morning and found the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.  I was never a fan of the Gilmore Girls but it’s hard to argue with a good book list.

Many blogs list 250 books mentioned in the television show but the “Official Goodreads Gilmore Girls Book Club” lists 285.  I somehow ended up with 288 on my list.  It will all work itself out in the end.

Without further ado, Rory’s List (in alphabetical order) (more…)

Book Review: The Monster of Florence

The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Castles. Murder. Money. Conspiracy. Sexual Rituals. Devil Worship.

Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi have created a book that reads like fiction but is unbelievably true. Spanning decades and affecting countless lives the Monster of Florence is well-known in Italy as their very own Jack the Ripper. Here in America, little is known about this story in spite of being the inspiration for the movie Hannibal.

As a young crime reporter at an Italian newspaper, Spezi takes over the Sunday news desk. “Nothing ever happens on a Sunday in Italy,” except, of course, the Sunday that Spezi is working. What happens next will lead Spezi on a mission lasting more than 30 years, a mission that is still unfinished to this day.

The Monster is believed to have killed 14 people, seven couples making love in the Tuscan hills. Spezi’s only job was to report the facts on the story. However, when the police investigation is botched time and again, Spezi takes it upon himself to bring the offender to justice. After having reported on all the murders, been to all the crime scenes, and interacting with all the victims’ families, Spezi knows more about the Monster than anyone. He becomes the Monstrologer.

How does Douglas Preston fit into this story? He had the unfortunate (fortunate?) luck of renting a house adjacent to one of the crime scenes. While doing research for an unrelated fiction novel set in Italy, Preston learns of the Monster. The truth is stranger than any fiction he could write, how could Preston pass up a chance like this?

After teaming up with Spezi, the book was conceived. The duo step on some toes in an effort to expose the truth and before they know it, they are characters in their own story.

The book was occasionally difficult to follow due to the ever-expanding cast of characters. There is a guide at the beginning which is “helpful” just as long as you can find who you are looking for in the first place. There are also some passages in Italian that lack an English translation. These two minor issues for the reader actually add to the overall feel of the book. One really gets a feel for the incredible number of suspects and the piles of evidence and just how overwhelming this case was for the police. One also gets a feel for how confusing this whole situation would be for an English-speaking journalist in a foreign country suddenly trapped in his own storyline.

The Monster has never officially been named therefore the story has no official ending. However, Preston and Spezi paint a very clear image of the Monster, of the man most likely behind the murders, of an investigation gone so wrong it will never right itself, and a police unit too proud to admit its mistakes. In this case the truth is not only stranger than fiction – it’s better.

Book Review: Amazing Gracie

Amazing Gracie: A Dog's TaleAmazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale by Dan Dye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An impossibly cute tale about a tail that jump started the famed Three Dog Bakery. Author and owner of Three Dog Bakery Dan Dye recounts the story of Great Dane Gracie and how she found him and he found his calling.

Small (at first) and ungraceful (always), Gracie enters Dan’s life during a period of discord. Out of college, working a job he hates, Dan doesn’t know what to do or where to go in life. Cue Gracie, a ridiculously cute, all white, blue-eyed, deaf, runt of the litter Great Dane. Gracie turns Dan’s life upside-down. As she begins to grow from awkward puppy into full-blown Dane, Gracie curiously stops gaining weight. Finally, Gracie refuses to eat at all. Dan is beside himself and does the only thing he doesn’t know how to do – he cooks for her.

Low and behold, Gracie eats. Not only does she eat, she adores Dan’s cooking. As he tries new and more exotic recipes, Gracie carefully approves each one until Dan has a small cookbook of doggie approved snacks. With that, Three Dog Bakery was born.

The book, complete with adorable cartoons of implausibly hilarious situations described by Dan, is a heartwarming story. We follow Dan as he adopts Gracie, disastrously learns to cook, and finally creates a tangible business from a dream and a bone shaped cookie cutter.

We also watch Gracie go from being an unwanted puppy to a muse with a gentle spirit, and finally a guiding presence after she is gone. While I laughed way more than I cried, oh how did I cry when Dan had to make the decision that every pet owner dreads. I had grown to know and love this amazing dog over those 200-odd pages. When her time came, I felt as if I lost a dear pet, too.

This book is a must read for any animal lover. Here, the underdog does win – and she takes her owner with her. Three Dog Bakery is still going strong. Even though there are three new dog’s at the bakery’s meet and greets, Gracie is never far from Dan’s mind. She is never far from my mind after reading her story. I will never forget amazing Gracie; the enormous, deaf, gentle, blue-eyed, white Great Dane smiling in her tutu as she welcomes visitors to her bakery.

She was a truly amazing dog and this is an incredibly inspiring story.

It’s No Big Deal

On October 20th, my amazing grandma turned 95 years old.  I was 500 miles away from her, missing her birthday for the first time in either of our lives since I came into this world.  It wouldn’t have mattered even if I had been there, Grandmommy refused to celebrate this birthday telling everyone, “It’s no big deal.”

No big deal my ass.

Granted, we are used to hearing “it’s no big deal” from my grandma, but her idea of “no big deal” is a little skewed.  This is the woman who called my mother the night I was allowed to eat spaghetti on my own for the first time to tell my mom know, “I’m having a heart attack.  It’s no big deal.”  After vehemently refusing to take an ambulance to the hospital, (she would take a taxi, it’s no big deal) my grandma passed out in the lobby of the apartment building.  No big deal, I’m sure.

But I digress.  This year her birthday was a big deal.  This year alone my grandma has undergone three major heart surgeries.  Having been diagnosed with congestive heart failure three years ago, my grandma completely changed her lifestyle.  She was determined to beat the disease that was threatening her life.  Even so, her heart valves were failing and they were failing fast.  I figured that Christmas 2011 was my last one with my grandma.  I had a gut feeling that she would hold on long enough to see me graduate and then she would let go.  I prayed I was wrong but unfortunately I was not.

The night of my graduation my grandma went into the hospital.  May 12, 2012.  My mom told me later that Grandma had known for a while that things were not working out for her body.  She was so miserable.  Grandma knew she needed to fix things or let go.  So at 94 years old she decided to undergo a new procedure, just approved by the FDA in June, that would replace the valve in her heart without the need to open her up completely.  There were no guarantees but she let us know that “it’s no big deal.”

Three surgeries, months in rehab, and one new heart valve later I no longer recognize Grandma.  She has a new lease on life at 95 and she is living it to the fullest.  She inspires me each and every day.  At her rehab facility she pushes people in their 70s to try harder in physical therapy classes.  She takes care of those who cannot take care of themselves any longer.  She might be 95 but that isn’t going to stop the “old dogs” from asking her on a BINGO date.  Just a few months ago I thought I was going to lose her forever and now she is gallivanting around like a woman half her age.

But, you know…it’s no big deal.