Thursday, April 28, 2011

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You (I Wish)

Booking Through Thursday* asks: "If you could see one book turned into the perfect movie–one that would capture everything you love, the characters, the look, the feel, the story–what book would you choose?"

This is easy. There's been one book I've wanted to see made into a movie for years. I even started adapting it into a screenplay for Script Frenzy last year, before giving up because scriptwriting is like, way harder than novel writing. Anyway. The book, you ask? Bloody Jack.

It's no secret that my siblings and I LOVE the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It probably would not be an overestimation to say I've seen each movie about 10 times each. Bloody Jack might actually be even better, because done properly it would be Pirates of the Caribbean meets spunky female heroine: swashbuckling, funny, action-packed, thrilling, and even romantic. I dare you to come up with a better combination. I dare you.

Casting Call

Mary "Jacky" Faber:

Chloe Moretz

The perfect blend of feisty and cute. Question is: How's her British accent?

James "Jaimy" Emerson Fletcher:

Logan Lerman

He's a bit old, but can't you just see him dressed up in sailor rig, working it as the upstanding and a little naive son of a wealthy retired naval officer?

Jaimy Understudy:

Freddie Highmore

He's a little geeky to play Jaimy, in my opinion, but he's got a native British accent and a mischievous yet honest adorableness on his side.

I have a feeling that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is on its final run with the fourth installment (as much as I love it, may it RIP), and what could make a better successor to silver screen piratical escapades than Bloody Jack? I've always thought the series hasn't gotten enough attention as books, and that it has been similarly overlooked Hollywood. 

What about you? What book would you choose to be made into a movie?

*BTT is a blog that encourages book bloggers to form community by posting different prompts each day of the week, to which book bloggers reply in a post and share the link on the BTT site. I loved today's prompt, so I thought I'd give it a try!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Orchid Affair

By Lauren Willig

Three Things I Liked About The Orchid Affair:
1. Reappearance of old characters.
2. Von Trapp syndrome.
3. (Double-agents)²

The Orchid Affair gets two stars for overall quality – in comparison to, you know, the rest of literature – but three stars for improvement on the Pink Carnation installment, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, which I reviewed back in December. My previous sentiments still stand: I continue to enjoy the premises and new installments, but the series without a doubt peaked at book two and Lauren needs to learn how to retire a good thing before it goes sour. She’s really starting to grasp at straws to keep the series going. For the first time, neither one of the main characters in The Orchid Affair has made even the smallest cameo in a previous Pink Carnation novel; they’re tied to the series with tenuous threads. You have to push through the first chapter of the book on faith that the relevancy will soon be made clear. It is, but that doesn’t mean Lauren shouldn’t wrap this series up with expediency and start looking for a new topic.

Also, if this book is any indication, the Pink Carnation covers, which used to be quite elegant and pretty, are taking a turn toward mass-market paperback romance gaudiness that I really can't support.

Miss Laura Grey has been a governess for 16 years and she’s sick and tired of it. In an attempt to seek adventure before the last bloom of her youth fades into middle age, she enrolls in the Selwick Spy School (which readers will recall our original Pink Carnation heroine, Amy, founding back in the first book) and 6 months later is pronounced ready for her first mission. Much to her dismay, it requires her to go undercover as none other than a governess, a position even her new nom de spy “the Silver Orchid” does little to glamourize. In the household of André Jaouen, right-hand man to Delaroche, Bonaparte’s sinister minister of police, Laura puts her newly honed skills in subterfuge and intrigue to the test, to some far-reaching and surprising (to her) results.

The Orchid Affair doesn’t quite hold a candle to the first two Pink Carnation books, but I consider it a step up form recent installments. For one thing, there were no secret messages conveyed via Christmas pudding. The plot also had its finger back on the pulse of the political intrigue surrounding England and French relations in the aftermath of the French Revolution, which had been at the heart of the original Pink Carnation novels. Furthermore, Laura was the right blend of acerbic humor, independence, and sentimentality that Lauren Willig employed so well in crafting my two favorite Pink Carnation heroines, Amy and Henrietta. For another, André’s affection for his children, his still heart-felt loss of his first artist wife, his double-agency, and, yes, even his spectacles, gave André a sort of vulnerable and heartfelt quality that has been lacking in Lauren’s recent male leads, who’ve all been a bit too Dashing White Horse and Manly Heroics for my taste. I enjoyed their romance, too, as reminiscent of Von Trapp syndrome – governess falls for the father of her wards – which I may have a particular weakness for, having spent countless hours memorizing the script and score of The Sound of Music during my formative years. Finally, The Orchid Affair saw the first on-screen cameos of the Pink Carnation herself since Book 1, as well as appearances by other original characters such as Miss Gwen, The Purple Gentian - Lord Richard Selwick, and Whittlesby, brilliantly undercover as a vocal and atrocious poet.

On another note, the Eloise Kelly and Colin Selwick (great grandson of Lord Richard Selwick and bearer of the Selwick archives) frame-story gets more and more far-fetched with each book. Thos time, their main conflict involved permissions to film a Shakespeare-goes-rap musical at the Selwick estate – really???? 

Books Read This Year: 37
Top 100 Progress: 42/100

The Mark of the Golden Dragon

By L.A. Meyer

Release Date: October 3rd, 2011

Three Things I Liked About The Mark of the Golden Dragon:
1. Higgins
2. Ravi 
3. The Black Highwayman

The Mark of the Golden Dragon is the 9th installment in a series I’ve been reading since I was about 11. Unofficially dubbed ‘Bloody Jack’ (after the title of the first book), the series follows Mary “Jacky” Faber, a girl who started her illustrious (and sometimes infamous) life at sea as a woebegone London orphan who, desperate for steady food and a safe place to sleep each night, disguises herself as a boy to take up as a ship’s boy on the HMS Dolphin. Since then, Jacky’s adventures have earned her numerous nicknames (Puss in Boots, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, & etc.), taken her all over the world from the Cape of Good Hope to the northern Atlantic, and required such flexibility of loyalties that they’re blurred almost beyond distinction. Over the course of 9 novels, she’s defeated pirates and dabbled in piracy, won a medal of honor at Trafalgar, attended the prestigious Lawson Peabody School for Girls in Boston (briefly), traversed the Mississippi on a river boat, swum for shipwrecked treasure in the Caribbean, served as a spy on the French lines, met both Napoleon and George III, and been the protégé of a fearsome Chinese pirate queen… just to scratch the service. Nonetheless, though her predicaments and allegiances vary by book (and sometimes even by chapter), Jacky has always endeavored to remain true to two things: Her betrothed, Jaimy, whom she met on her very first voyage and hasn’t spent a consecutive five chapters with ever since, and doing what’s right by her friends. And she’s mostly succeeded. Usually. And she fails with the best intentions.

The Mark of the Golden Dragon sees Jacky safely rescued from a lifetime sentence to the penal colony in Australia and reunited with Jaimy, only to be washed overboard with Ravi in a typhoon off the coast of Southeast Asia. Presumed dead by her crew and loved ones on board her beloved ship, the Lorelei Lee, Jacky and Ravi manage to stay afloat until they wash up onshore. After a few months of navigating the foreign world of the East Indies followed by a fortuitous rescue by trusty ‘ole Higgins (I’m not spoiling anything; readers of the series will know Jacky is ever indefatigable), Jacky hastens back to London, where she infiltrates the London ton with the goal of procuring full pardons for both she and Jaimy (who was wrongfully convicted in the previous novel and sentenced to the same penal colony as Jacky herself), as well as rescuing Jaimy from the life of madness and revenge he has descended into since her presumed death.

Speaking of Jaimy, his vendetta against the two men he holds responsible for Jacky’s putative death has earned him a place on my list of favorite things in The Mark of the Golden Dragon, as well as the nickname “The Black Highwayman” for holding up carriages in search of his quarries, robbing rich occupants Robin Hood style. With his billowing black cloak and mask, and tortured obsession with avenging his (presumed) lost love, he cuts a very dramatic and romantic figure, quite a departure from the relatively unexciting upstanding Lieutenant of the Royal Navy and – pardon my French – whipped fiancé of Bloody Jack, infamous on both sides of the Atlantic, he’s dutifully been for the last few books. It was refreshing to see him break lose.

Jacky has personality and charisma in spades, which enthralls readers and fellow characters alike, and is one of the many reasons I’ve stuck with her for 8 years, in spite of the fact that the recipe for the books grows a bit more stale and contrived with each installment. Yes, the constant cat and mouse game between Jacky and her betrothed, Jaimy, is getting a little tiresome, as are her incorrigible flirtations during their periods of separation. Not to mention her necessary but increasingly implausible resilience and ability to worm her way out of the most dire of circumstances. But on the whole, these are flaws I put up with the way you ignore or tolerate the quirks of an old friend – because you love them, because you’ve known them forever, because their good qualities more than make up for the less so.

Read this book, I say. But first, start at the beginning. (It’s a very good place to start…*)

Conversation Starter:
Which Jacky installment has been your favorite, and what do you think of how the series has developed? How many books do you think she has left in her?

* Forgive me, I watched The Sound of Music on a daily basis as a child.

Books Read This Year: 36
Top 100 Progress: 42/100

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Last Little Blue Envelope

By Maureen Johnson

Release Date: April 26th, 2011*

Two Things I Liked About The Last Little Blue Envelope:
1. Rainy New Year’s in Dublin.
2. English uncle.

Another sequel review, I’m afraid. I’m in the mood to keep it short and sweet, though. So bear with me.

The Last Little Blue Envelope is the sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes, which came out several years ago. Ginny’s aunt Peg, an eccentric artist, traipsed off to Europe two years ago, and hadn’t been heard from since. That is, until a letter arrives unannounced from the recently deceased Peg, informing Ginny of her secret battle with brain cancer and her final wish that Ginny follow the instructions in the 13 envelopes enclosed with the letter, as well as a few rules: no cell phone, laptop, company, or plan. Never one for adventure, Ginny nonetheless embarks on a European tour directed by clues in the 13 envelopes. The letters lead her from England to Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Greece, and help Ginny forge a farewell connection with her beloved aunt as the letters paint a picture of Peg’s final years and introduce Ginny to many of Peg’s friends and loved ones scattered across the continent. Unfortunately, Ginny’s backpack gets stolen in Greece before she can read the last letter, and so her trip comes to a premature end. But before she goes home, she stops off in London to discover and sell a collection of her aunt’s paintings left behind as Ginny’s inheritance.

The Last Little Blue Envelope picks up a few months after 13 Little Blue Envelopes. It’s December of Ginny’s senior year, and she’s wondering how to turn her summer experiences into a college essay, why her summer romantic interest – Keith, a harmless bad-boy poseur artiste she met in London – isn’t communicating as much as he used to, and what ever happened to her 13th letter and her key to closure. A couple weeks before Christmas break, she gets an email from someone in England, informing her that they have her letter and want to meet up with her. So, on a whim, she flies to London to spend the holidays with her British uncle (who married Peg before she died) – only to be faced with a couple of back-to-back setbacks: 1] Her romantic interest has a new romantic interest, and 2] Oliver, the devastatingly handsome bearer of her letter, isn’t about to just hand it over. The letter contains instructions to obtain the parts to a final piece of Peg’s art for Ginny to sell, and Oliver wants a finder’s fee of half the proceeds. Instead of spending the holidays cuddled up with Keith with mugs of tea in front of a cozy English fireplace (or something), Ginny finds herself crammed into the backseat of Keith’s dilapidated automobile with Keith, his new girlfriend, and Oliver, driving across Europe to complete Peg’s final project.

The Last Little Blue Envelope wasn’t terrible, and it had its moments – I especially got a kick out of a scene where Keith’s girlfriend, used to driving on the opposite side of the road, has to navigate the infamous Arc du Triumph traffic circle – but overall it had that stale sequel aesthetic, as if perhaps Maureen spent a little too much time away from the characters before going back to tie up the loose ends from the first novel. Oliver’s bad boy standoffishness as a mask for financial and emotional insecurity was a little too predictable, as was Ginny’s transition of romantic interest from one bad-boy to another, without enough swoon-factor to compensate, and the story in general was a little too much more of the same of the first 12 letters. Maureen said she only decided to write this sequel after getting a multitude of requests for one, and it shows – The Last Little Blue Envelope reads like an afterthought, not a planned finale.

Books Read This Year: 34
Top 100 Progress: 42/100

* I received an advance copy of The Last Little Blue Envelope through

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Where She Went

By Gayle Forman

Two Things I Liked About Where She Went:
1. All-night private tour of NYC.
2. Intense impromptu cello/guitar duet.

Can we just start with a collective “ugh!” for the cover? UGH! Who approved this? It’s an eyesore! I really despise when publishers put actual human faces on covers. Drawings: okay. Profiles: if you must. Faces: abort!

Where She Went is the sequel to a novel that came out last spring and made waves on the young adult circuit, called If I Stay. If I Stay is part love story (romantic, of course, but also familial and musical) and part tragedy. In the aftermath of a car crash that kills her parents and younger brother, Mia – comatose and barely stable in the ICU, while her spirit somehow (it’s fiction, after all) roams the hospital, observing the chaos of grief for her family and fierce hope for herself amongst her remaining loved ones, including her boyfriend, Adam – is faced with the ultimate decision: should she let go, or should she stay? The story is wrenching, but it is also beautiful and moving. I read it in one sitting, tucked into the backseat of a car speeding along the autobahn in the dark, with the melancholy melodies of classical music (fitting, as music is a powerful theme in If I Stay, Mia being a Juilliard-bound cellist) sealing me into my own little bubble of story and sound, which only made it all the easier to be swept up by the emotional currents of the novel.

Not so Where She Went. I will allow that the fact that I couldn’t read it in one sitting may have impeded some of the story’s emotional momentum, but I don’t think that can be held wholly, or even mostly, responsible. Where If I Stay was a deeply felt tale of love, loss, and the ties that bid (to each other, to life), with a cast of characters, a plot, and a point of view that were refreshingly and captivating original in a genre prone to cliché, Where She Went made up for that originality in spades by conforming to clichés of the genre, the characters becoming nearly unrecognizable for the generic corruption wreaked on them. If If I Stay was as piercing and individual as a personal experience of loss, as hauntingly beautiful and melancholy as a cello solo, then Where She Went is the Hallmark card you receive from your coworker a week after the funeral.

Where She Went shifts from Mia’s point of view to her boyfriend – now ex-boyfriend – Adam’s. If I Stay explored the onset of Mia’s loss, and Where She Went explores the ongoing burden of Adam’s. Not only did he also lose Mia’s family – who had accepted into their fold – but a few months later, he lost Mia as well, when she left for Juilliard and inexplicably stopped communicating. He turned his compounded hurt and confusion into music, writing an entire album in 2 weeks, an album that gets him and his band, Shooting Star, signed and chart topping in a matter of a few whirlwind months. Now, 3 years later, he’s a bona fide rock-star with a celebrity girlfriend, constant attention from the paparazzi, a world tour – and a new smoking habit, anxiety meds, and a falling out with his band mates to show for it. He may have millions in the bank and thousands in the audience, but he’s a sad, lonely, and strung-out soul who can’t remember what he loves about the only thing he used to care about as much as Mia.

Then the night before Adam flies to London to kick off a 67-show world tour, when his manager gives him a night off to pull himself back together (he’s on the verge of a mental and ideological breakdown), he stumbles on a poster outside Carnegie Hall, advertising a concert that evening for a promising young cellist – who is, of course, none other than Mia. After the concert, Mia has him called backstage, and thus begins a night spent touring Mia’s New York and tending to old flames – to be extinguished or rekindled, depending on what the night brings.

I had a few deal-breaking issues with this book. The biggest is that I really wish Gayle hadn’t made Adam and Mia such rock-stars. This book would have been exponentially better if Shooting Star had retained its relatively anonymous indie status, and Mia was just an above average but not headlining Juilliard student. One of the fabulous things about If I Stay was the normality of the characters and their lives. The story was so affective because the characters involved weren’t so much different than you. The moment Gayle decided to make Adam a rock-star and Mia a renowned cellist, she axed that accessibility. I just couldn’t really relate as well to them anymore, especially to Adam, who spent a significant chunk of the novel hiding and running from fans, whining about his impending world tour and clingy celebrity girlfriend, and losing his temper with paparazzi.

Other qualms: The lyrics at the start of each chapter, supposedly from Adam’s career-launching record, were melodramatic and cheesy; I wish more of the novel had been spent in the present, rather than switching back and forth every other chapter to the past; Mia needed a stronger presence, because even though the novel was told from Adam’s point of view, it felt entirely too Adam-centric, compared to If I Stay, which gave a rounded portrayal of Adam even though it was told through Mia’s lens.

All things considered, I’m not sure I would even recommend Where She Went to fans of If I Stay. I felt more satisfied by the open end of If I Stay than I did by the resolution of Where She Went.

Books Read This Year: 34
Top 100 Progress: 42/100

Jitterbug Perfume

By Tom Robbins

Four Things I Liked About Jitterbug Perfume:
1. Beets.
2. Magical realism.
3. Convergence of four narratives.
4. Sheer span and scope of the story - time, place, and content.

This book came highly recommended, but I wasn’t sure if it lived up to the hype until just about the last page. And even then, I wasn’t sure how I really felt about it. On the one hand, I’ve never read anything quite like it before, and I loved the way the last 20 pages coalesced the whole narrative into a final, momentous throb of significance. On the other hand, I was never fully enveloped into the story until those last 20 pages or so, and there was a lot about Robbins’ style I wasn’t sure he was pulling off. But maybe that’s part of the book’s greatness – that it is so wholly unique you don’t even know what to make of it. It certainly had me thinking the entire time, whether I was trying to draw connections between the apparently incongruous narrative threads, trying to construct meaning from a seemingly random assortment of themes and motifs, or savoring the smattering of perfect passages like melted chocolate on my tongue. In any case, I was never passively flipping pages, living only in the current scene while letting the previous one slip unnoticed out of my mind like the memory of last Monday’s breakfast. Instead I was collecting them one by one like cards in hand, on alert for the royal flush.

The novel begins with this line: “The beet is the most intense of vegetables.” And somehow, in the course of 388 pages and a couple thousand years, it evolves from rumination on the passionate qualities of the beet into an elaborate and philosophical tale of love, immortality, divinity, the sacrifices we make to modern life, and the intangible spark that keeps the human condition aflame.

The Prologue begins with a beet, then moves to Seattle, Paris, and New Orleans, before settling on ancient Bohemia, where the real action begins. In three parts, the novel primarily follows Alobar, a former king and his – for lack of a better word – wife, Kudra, who individually cheat death, cross paths, and unite to seek the path to immortality, with the help of the dying pagan god of basic human instincts, Pan. Yet while the majority of the novel is devoted to Alobar’s ongoing quest through the past, each section concludes with shorter chapters set in contemporary Seattle, Paris, and New Orleans, which follow three unlikely perfumers: a waitress by evening who tracks down an elusive formula trapped in the dregs of an old blue perfume bottle by night, the elite LeFever brothers who possess perfumery’s most infallible nose, and an enormous, fills-the-room-with-her-sheer-size-of-body-and-personality woman in charge of a rundown family business nonetheless devoted to the craft. The four separate narratives seem disconnected until the last 100 some odd pages, when Alobar’s time catches up to real time and converges with Seattle, Paris, and New Orleans.

The real power in Robbins’s writing (at least as I’ve experienced it) is in choreographing the ending. All the various threads of plots, characters, themes, and motifs were all smoothly and satisfyingly braided together into a snug and beautiful pattern worthy of an “Ooh” or “Ah.” For a book that starts with a beet, Jitterbug Perfume makes you think an awful lot about life: what it means, why its worth living, what comes afterward, who’s in control.

That being said, it is not a perfect novel. The language is outlandish, metaphors sometimes so much so that they could have been pulled from a bad metaphor list. I get that the extravagancy of Robbins’s style goes hand in hand with the extravagancy of his story, but I waffle as to whether not he pulls it off. And yet there are passages – sometimes single lines – of such acuity that they stop my eyes still on the page and arrest my attention. In lieu of a smooth conclusion, I think I shall simply live you with a couple of my favorite examples and let them speak of themselves:

“If the earth needs night as well as day, wouldn’t it follow that the soul require endarkenment to balance enlightenment?”

“Our individuality is all, all that we have. There are those who barter it for security, those who repress it for what they believe is the betterment of the whole society, but blessed in the twinkle of the morning star is the one who nurtures it and rides it, in grace and love and wit, from peculiar station to peculiar station along life’s bittersweet route.”

“People used to die from germs. Now they died from bad habits. That was what Dr. Dannyboy said. Heart disease was caused by bad personal habits, cancer was caused by bad industrial habits, war was caused by bad political habits. Dannyboy believed that even old age was a habit. And habits could be broken.”

Books Read This Year: 33
Top 100 Progress: 42/100