Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Review: Heist Society [2010]

If you are looking for a cute and fluffy summer read in the style of Ocean's Eleven, look no further than Ally Carter's Heist Society. Fifteen year-old Katarina Bishop is determined to leave her life of crime behind until she discovers that her father has been framed for an art theft he didn't perpetrate (this time). The powerful, sinister man from which five priceless paintings have been stolen, Arturo Taccone, is determined to make Kat's father pay. She decides that it's her responsibility to save him from certain death by returning the paintings--artifacts separated from their rightful owners by the Holocaust--by Taccone's deadline, a seemingly impossible two weeks. To assist her in tracking down and stealing back the paintings, Kat enlists several teenage members of her crime family, including the wealthy and dashing Hale, her buxom cousin Gabrielle, the irrepressible Bagshaw brothers, and technogeek Simon. But when the team learns that the paintings will have to be re-stolen from a museum with the tightest security money can buy, against the wishes of the head of their family and the rest of the criminal underworld, they know it will be the most difficult and dangerous heist of their young lives.

Grade: B/B-

Despite the engaging characters and the action-packed world traveling and the witty banter and the intriguing hints of a deeper mystery that involved the Holocaust and an unknown master thief working to right old wrongs, the book didn't hang together completely for me. It felt unfinished, like the first of a series (which it is, judging by recent Twitter updates) in which characters are introduced and the foundation for future action is built. At the same time, there wasn't a huge amount of character development. Several plot points seemed rather conveniently resolved. Nevertheless, the book was very entertaining and definitely a promising beginning for future adventures.

Dead Mother: Yes
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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sports I Love: Tennis

The French Open has reminded me that I need to keep working on this series of sporting posts, so let's go ahead and do tennis while the subject is on everyone's mind. I knew pretty much zero about tennis before I started working for this non-profit company in Boston, despite a few feeble attempts to pick up a racket (a shiny aluminum garage sale racket, in my case) and play with my dad as a child, and a deep and abiding love for badminton (which I will save for another post). But when you're working for an organization whose motto ("Game. Set. LIFE.") speaks earnestly to the transformative power of tennis, it helps to know something about the game.

So I started to watch tennis on television, and ask my more knowledgeable partner questions about the scoring, and (as frequently happens with me) I started to actually like it. I'm not saying that I wanted to go out and play for fun or anything, but I started to enjoy picking out the skills involved, getting to know the key players and some of the history, and the fact that "love" (score of zero) possibly originated from the French for egg, or "oeuf," since it looks like a zero. That's a disputed word origin, but that doesn't stop me from thinking it every time I watch a match.

I like the different surfaces at the majors (in fact, I just read an awesome article about the layer of brick on the French Open courts), and the fact that rain plays havoc with scheduling, and the way that some players dress so provocatively and some are so covered with corporate sponsors. Or their own personal logo (cough) Roger Federer. I think it's interesting that players aren't allowed to communicate with your coaches during play.

There is little evidence of my enduring love for tennis, other than the fact that I still care enough to watch it, even though I am not required to think about it every day in my new occupation as librarian. And that I occasionally watch it on the computer if I'm stuck at work and can't see a match I want to watch. Trust me, watching tennis on the computer is a desperate measure that only love could prompt.

Meditation Index

Book Review: Catching Fire [2009]

My consumption of Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins, has been so long delayed that most of the people who read this review will probably be surprised that I hadn't managed to read it until now. I did, in fact, possess an Advance Reader's Copy of the book before its publication in 2009, but it was sadly lost somewhere in transit between Amherst and Springfield (luckily before that happened I had the chance to share it with others). Somehow this meant that I just . . . didn't get around to reading it, even after it was published, even after everyone raved about it, and even after the name and cover of the third volume in the trilogy was released. [cue dramatic music] Until now.

As the middle volume of the series, Catching Fire nevertheless manages to hold its own against the high standard set by The Hunger Games. The story picks just before Katniss and Peeta depart on their Victory Tour as winners of the last Hunger Games. A threatening visit from President Snow leaves Katniss with the firm belief that she must make her "relationship" with Peeta as real as possible for the cameras, or her entire family (and love interest, Gale) will be at risk. As they make their way through the districts and try to resume quiet lives at home, signs of political unrest continue to appear, often associated with the symbol of the mockingjay that Katniss wore during the Hunger Games. As President Snow reveals a brutal twist to this year's games, Katniss and Peeta find themselves embroiled once again in a fight for their lives, this time against The Capitol itself. Collins revisits a lot of favorite characters and also introduces a bevy of new ones for us to root for as she moves Katniss inevitably closer to open rebellion.

Grade: A-

The book is a little slow in the beginning, setting up the fast-paced cliffhanger conclusion and, presumably, the gripping series finale. I listened to it on audio CD, and the narrator was above average, although it was difficult at first to reconcile an older woman's voice with my mental image of the character. I am not sure which side of the love triangle I prefer, but I definitely appreciate that, unlike in the Twilight series, there is still some mystery as to which one Katniss will end up with (assuming they aren't all dead by the end of the third book). Another thing I appreciate about Collins' writing is the fact that some or all of the major characters could feasibly die in Mockingjay, given the sheer volume of character death and/or dismemberment in the first two books.

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Dead Mother: [Spoiler alert?] No

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: The Scorpion [2009]

I am a big fan of the romance novel, and in particular the lesbian romance novel, and Gerri Hill is usually one of my go-to authors. However, I don't usually like her "action" stories as much as her generic romances, and unfortunately The Scorpion falls squarely into that category.

The plot involves a reporter who digs a little too far into a cold case in Brownsville, Texas, and the local cop (shunned by her own department for being an outsider) who ends up on the run with her after it seems like the police might be a little too involved. Their names are Marty and Kristen, and I've definitely heard worse in terms of lesbian romance protagonists, but the story requires more suspension of disbelief (as the two go "under" to investigate the identity of the mysterious Scorpion) than I was prepared to give. I also didn't love the high body count, although I did think that the whole frigidity issue (Marty is an orphan and thus has never learned to trust anyone) was an intriguing one to tackle. (Spoiler alert!) Marty finds that she can actually desire physical intimacy, with the right person. It is a romance novel, after all.

Grade: C

Dead Mother: Yes (Bonus: TWO DEAD MOTHERS!)
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