Posted in 2 Stars, Book Review

Review: The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan

The Restaurant Critic's WifeThe Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sigh. I don’t think I’ve ever been this disappointed by such a well-written book.

On a technical level, The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is nearly flawless. Ms. LaBan’s style flows nicely and her descriptions, while a bit heavy-handed at times, are effective. She even does a good job at piecing various elements of the story together. Unfortunately, though, there isn’t much of a story for her to work with.

As you’ll see in the synopsis provided by the publisher, The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is about just that. Lila is married to Sam Soto, Philadelphia’s newest and most sought after food critic, and she’s having a hard time adjusting to her new life. In less than five years, she’s gone from workaholic to a reluctant stay at home mom to a toddler and a newborn, a lonely stranger in a new city. Sam, paranoid about his identity being revealed, becomes increasingly controlling as what little bit of plot there is unfolds, forbidding Lila from returning to work, making friends, or even leaving the house without him.

There are several issues that I have with this book. First off, from a storytelling perspective, it’s just downright dull. There are entirely too many minor characters that add next to nothing to the storyline. Several of the neighbor ladies could have been combined into one or two characters with no major loss. The woman who is supposedly Lila’s best friend in the world is only briefly mentioned, while people she supposedly hates who add nothing to the story are mentioned over and over again.

Second, the book could have been much, much shorter. Much of the time is spent on episodic tangents that don’t really seem to contribute to the story at large. Pages and pages are filled with the minutiae of Lila’s domestic affairs–there are about one hundred detailed accounts of her breastfeeding her son, tons of her daughter whining and wanting to change clothes, a huge chunk of a chapter devoted to her trying to get the kids in the car to go to Sam’s aunt’s house for tea. I have the feeling that Ms. LaBan wanted to convey the utter exhaustion and tedium that is the stay at home mother lifestyle, and if that hunch is correct, she definitely succeeded. While I applaud her abilities in this regard, it was more frustrating than enlightening.

Third, ninety-nine percent of the conflict in this story could be resolved with a few quick conversations and a hug or a handshake. So much of Lila’s inner dialogue goes over how frustrated she is by Sam’s asinine rules, how much she wants to return to work, how much she wants to make friends, but she hardly ever opens her mouth to have an honest conversation. Granted, Sam is incredibly childish and difficult, so the success of said attempt is questionable at best, but it would have been nice to see her try a little harder to get through to him. Also, I’m still not quite clear on why Sam didn’t just operate under a pen name for his reviews, if he was worried about restaurant employees giving him special treatment. The buzz surrounding him didn’t seem entirely believable either–I’m no expert, but I found it highly unlikely that non-foodies gave a rat’s behind what Sam thought of restaurants, anyway. Most of the places he visited seemed a little high-brow for an average American family.

Now, we get to the huge problem I have with this book: Sam.

I can’t stress this point enough: I hate Sam. Sam is a terrible, terrible human being.

For those interested in textual evidence:

“Lila, I hear you, but I don’t know if you can do it. I’m starting to think that letting you out there is like setting a wild animal free in a city–you just can’t help yourself.”

“I wish I were enough to make you…happy.”

“[Sam] would probably scold me for leaving the house at all.

Sam is despicable. He cares exactly not at all about Lila’s well-being or happiness. He moves their family across country without really caring about her opinion, he keeps her from going back to work even though that’s what she really wants to do, he forces her to isolate herself from her neighbors and pretty much everyone else she befriends because heaven forbid, someone might know someone who is somehow connected to a restaurant and everything will be ruined. He doesn’t even like her taking the kids out for lunch. This is a woman who has gone through a lot of life changes and is now caring for two children, one a nursing baby, completely on her own–a woman who is a prime candidate for postpartum depression–and he cuts her off from everyone who might be able to help her out. Honestly, I kept waiting for Lila to snap and stab him or something. Instead, she’s almost constantly frustrated at him but often forgets her feelings because she remembers how charming he was when they first met, or she sees him smiling at their children. Because, you know, that makes the emotional abuse just dandy.

Their conflict is finally “resolved” by Sam magically understanding Lila around the same time she comes around to the idea that his paranoia is justified. She actually blames herself for someone STEALING A PICTURE OF SAM FROM THEIR HOME to circulate around the local restaurants. She decides not to go back to work full-time, because he was right about that too, somehow, and instead she begins doing some maybe possibly part-time freelance work.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a thing in the world against stay at home mothers. I actually have a lot of respect for them, and wouldn’t mind having the option myself some day. But I’m not okay with a woman being strongarmed into staying home, just because her husband says so, without really talking to her or trying to understand what she wants out of life. Some women really want to work out of the home after they have children, and that deserves equal respect, especially when there are financial problems in the household. Ahem.

The Restaurant Critic’s Wife was a total disappointment, doubly so because of how well the actual writing was. The two star rating is for Ms. LaBan’s skills in that arena alone; otherwise, it’s a solid .5-1 stars. Avoid if possible. It will only break your heart.

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Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

Review: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

FirstsFirsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

True rating: 3.5 stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. Going by the description alone, I honestly would have written it off, but the other reviews made it seem so compelling, I thought I would try it out.

First off, despite the subject matter, this is not a graphic book. Mercedes, the main character, does have sex several times during the course of the story, but those scenes do not really go into detail about what is happening physically. The discussions about sex are a little vulgar at times, but it’s realistic. I would say this is appropriate for someone sixteen or older, if you’re worried about your high schooler reading it.

I loved that this book humanizes people who make choices that most people would be inclined to judge. What Mercedes does–have sex with other people’s boyfriends–is appalling, and nothing changes that. But when you get farther into the story, you begin to understand why she’s so drawn to the idea. As much as she says its for other girls, so they will have a better first time than she did, it’s really for herself. She’s chasing after a phantom first time that she will never be able to get back. Mercedes is a victim of every single person who matters in her life, in some way or another, and she’s trying to hide from the reality of that and the help she needs with the one thing she knows will make her feel better.

Ms. Flynn did an excellent job of conveying the point that while we shouldn’t exert judgment on a person’s soul based on their sexual activity, there is a definite right and wrong way to use sex. I don’t think that we’re ever supposed to think Mercedes is doing the right thing. Honestly, for most of the book, I just pitied her. I also appreciated the respectful tones aimed toward Mercedes’ best friend Angela, who is saving herself for marriage. Abstinence, especially when imposed for religious reasons, is rarely regarded as a legitimate choice in secular YA lit, so I was impressed by that.

The 1.5 stars deducted here are mainly because I grew so sick of everyone in this book blaming someone else for their own wrongdoings. Obviously, as in Mercedes’ case, that assertion can be true to a point. But the bad things that happened to her in the past didn’t force her to start her campaign with the virgins. The bad things that happened to Kim in the past didn’t force her to be a negligent mother. There comes a point where you are responsible for the choices you make, and while I think Mercedes comes to understand that at the end, the process from the reader’s perspective was laborious.

(SPOILER) Also, I didn’t really buy Charlie morphing into some kind of evil psychopath. I’m not sure that many eighteen year old boys would go through the pretense of a false engagement just to convince a girl to sleep with him. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t just break up with her and find someone else who was interested in being physical. (SPOILER)

Overall, this was a well-written, fast-paced read that kept me interested and prompted some introspective moments. I wish the role of the antagonist had been handled differently, though. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more from Ms. Flynn in the future.

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Posted in 5 Stars, Book Review

Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles, #4)Winter by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whew. File this one under “Rollercoaster, Emotional.”

Winter is much, much longer than the other books in this series. Thank goodness, because when I flipped the last digital page of Cress, the first thing that I said was, “Marissa has a lot of loose ends to tie up. She better deliver.”

Rest assured, she does. I tell you this now because if you haven’t finished Winter yet, or even picked it up, I want you to know there’s a happy ending. Well, a bittersweet one, perhaps, but satisfactory, nonetheless. There are several points within its pages which will make you question the truthfulness of this statement, but I promise, happiness is coming.

Winter is our delightful spacey interpretation of the beloved Snow White. She is mentioned only a handful of times and only introduced at the very end of Cress, but as you might be able to guess, she plays a large role in the overarching story. Winter is Queen Levana’s stepdaughter and largely lives as she pleases in the palace at Artemisia, but Levana is cruel to her as she is to everyone, and Winter has the scars to prove it. Even so, she is still easily the most beautiful Lunar of them all.

When Scarlet first meets Winter, she is stunned to learn that Winter’s beauty is not a product of her Lunar glamouring powers–in fact, Winter has not used her glamour at all since she was twelve years old, when she realized that it was evil to trick and manipulate others with her gift.

If you’ve read the other books in this series, you won’t be surprised to learn that this withholding makes Winter a little . . . well, crazy. She combats it as best she can, but slowly and surely, her madness grows until it defines her almost as much as her beauty.

I don’t want to say much more about the content of the book for fear of spoiling things for you, but trust me, it’s the conclusion you’ve been hoping for. There are such positive messages here about individual autonomy, the sanctity of life, human exceptionalism, personal responsibility, the nature of love, and systems of government that are fair and just. Cinder’s decisions toward the end of the novel make her what Katniss Everdeen should have been. In fact, it makes me that much more angry about how the concluding events of Mockingjay went down.

In short: Buy these books. Read these books. Message me so we can squeal about them together. In an age where subpar YA literature hogs most of the mainstream shelf space, The Lunar Chronicles stands out as a prime example of what the genre should and can be. I can’t wait to see what Marissa Meyer does next.

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Posted in 5 Stars, Book Review

Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)Cress by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And my obsession with The Lunar Chronicles continues.

About halfway through Cress, I realized it would be my favorite of the series. Having come out on the other side of Winter, I can definitively say that initial impression is correct.

Cress is a lovely, edgy sci-fi version of the classic Rapunzel. Taken from her parents at birth due to her lack of the Lunar gift, Cress was eventually enslaved by Levana’s head thaumaturge Sybil Mira and forced into cyber espionage against the Earthen Union. She’s spent seven years on a satellite completely, totally alone. As in, aside from Sybil’s occasional check-ins, she has no contact with anyone. Ever. When we meet her at the beginning of the story, she’s actually having a lively conversation with Little Sister, a computer program she created at the age of ten to keep her company.

Enter Cinder and the gang. Through a direct communication chip link, they manage to message Cress. Finally, her wildest dreams are coming true–she’s going to be rescued. She’s going to be around people other than her dreaded captor. And by none other than Carswell Thorne, the dashing convicted felon/fugitive who’s been aiding Cinder on her quest. Have we mentioned that Cress has done some serious net stalking and developed a mild crush serious obsession. But the rescue attempt couldn’t possibly go more wrong, and suddenly Cress and Thorne are stranded in the middle of nowhere in a pretty hopeless situation.

On its face, the story is that of the classic damsel in distress. In fact, I’m almost 99% sure that Cress actually uses that phrase more than once to describe herself. The brilliance here is that Meyer, in her typical style, twists the trope to make it more meaningful and original.

For one thing, Cress might be in distress, but she sure isn’t helpless. Her skills with computers and complicated problem-solving border on the genius, and there are several times in the series that everything would have been lost without her expertise. Even during her journey with Thorne, she has to become the de facto leader while he is incapacitated. She’s more than capable of taking care of herself, and yet she longs for Thorne to step up and take care of her, anyway.

Thorne’s development in this installment is quite possibly one of my favorite things about this series as a whole. I mentioned in my review of Scarlet that I delight in inherently evil creatures who desperately want to overcome their own nature. My delight in carefree cads slowly becoming thoughtful, considerate, compassionate men is equally fervent. We see Thorne transform from a caricature of the philandering criminal to a selfless, caring person. His character deepens and enriches. Honestly, my heart aches just thinking about how far he’s come.

(Yes, I know he’s fictional. And that is relevant how?)

On to the less gooey parts of the story. Meyer does a wonderful job conveying the horror of Levana’s kingdom and the seriousness of their predicament without being overly gross or gory. There are definitely some disturbing things that happen here, but nothing that make it inappropriate for the intended YA audience.

If you’re reading this review but you haven’t finished Winter–what are you waiting for?? Chop chop, little onion.

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Posted in 5 Stars, Book Review

Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet.jpg

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, Fairy Tale Adaptations
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

Summary:

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of Marissa Meyer’s bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. 

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚 📚

When it comes to The Lunar Chronicles, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I keep waiting for Marissa Meyer to join the long line of contemporary YA authors who have Disappointed Me Greatly.

There have been a couple of times when I thought it was about to happen and I steeled myself for a repeat of the Great Mockingjay Book Hurling of 2012, but every time, Ms. Meyer has managed to turn it around. I’m about three-fourths of the way through the third book in the series now, so we’ll see if that holds out.

I’ve caught myself describing The Lunar Chronicles to my husband as “Star Wars for girls,” and while I’m not sure how the author would feel about that, I’m fairly certain that’s an accurate assessment. I don’t mean it in a detrimental way at all–after all, I’m a girl, and like many other girls, I enjoy Star WarsTLC has elements that remind me of George Lucas’s franchise, but the story, and methods the author uses to tell it, seem crafted with the female perspective in mind. That being said, I think male readers would enjoy this series as well. There is a dash of romance–not much, just enough to keep the story moving along. For every kiss and swoon, there are at least ten swashbuckling space action scenes.

While it is my least favorite installment so far (I’ve already moved on and devoured most of book three, Cress), but Scarlet is essential to the overarching story. The reader learns a lot more about the current state of the Earthen Union and more about Linh Cinder’s past. A lot. So much that a less skilled writer might have fallen into the classic info dump trap. Ms. Meyer shows her finesse as she tempers elements of mystery, adventure, and romance, all within a well-crafted, believable world.

Plus, it contains one of my favorite literary devices in the world–an inherently evil creature who desperately wants to overcome their own nature. People have negatively compared this book to Twilight for that reason, but I actually think this theme is one of the few commendable features of Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga. I must say, though, that Marissa Meyer conveyed the idea better overall.

One final word: I was expecting the fairy tale inspiration to be presented with a heavy hand, but it’s handled really well throughout the story. There are moments where I picture the author winking and nodding to one of her own favorite tales, but the story, and the world in which it is set, are completely unique. I can’t wait to finish!


Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer is a fangirl at heart, with a closet full of customers, a Harry Potter wand on her desk, and a Tuxedo Mask doll hanging from her rear view mirror. Han and Leia are still her OTP. She may or may not be a cyborg.

Marissa writes books for teens, including the NYT bestselling series, The Lunar Chronicles.

Follow her blog or sign up for her newsletter athttp://www.marissameyer.com/