11 September 2009

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Flap Copy: "Enter a world upended by the repercussions of a single impulsive action. At an exclusive New England boarding school, a sex scandal unleashes a storm of shame and recrimination. The men, women, and teenagers affected - among them the headmaster, struggling to contain the scandal before it destroys the school; a well-liked scholarship student and star basketball player, grappling with the consequences of his mistakes; his mother, confronting her own forbidden temptations; and a troubled teenage girl eager to put the past behind her - speak out to relate the events of one fateful night and its aftermath."

What a tragic yet wonderful book about the ways in which several intertwined lives can be derailed, or worse, destroyed, in one thoughtless moment. The narrative is told from several different points of view and travels back and forth through a limited period of time - this tactic might have been confusing from a lesser author, but Shreve kept each voice so clear and distinct that I had no trouble falling seamlessly into the many stories being told.

The idea of teenagers and sex isn't new, nor is it often particularly interesting - here, though, the story was less about sex and more about reason and consequence, about the fine lines between action and reaction. Four students and one night had the power to change the course of history for themselves, their parents and their school at large - a power they never considered nor ever seemed fully to realize throughout the story. Shreve captured the various characters and kept them rich and true to life, and though I had a feeling early on where the story would end, I couldn't put it down until I got there and saw for myself. I highly recommend this book - 5 stars!

08 September 2009

The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley

Flap Copy from ARC: "Peking, 1914. When the eight-year-old princess Eastern Jewel is caught spying on her father's liason with a servant girl, she is banished from the palace, sent to live with a powerful family in Japan. Renamed Yoshiko Kawashima, she quickly falls in love with her adoptive country, where she earns a scandalous reputation, taking fencing lessons, smoking opium and entertaining numerous lovers. Sent to Mongolia to become an obedient wife, Yoshiko mounts a daring escape and eventually finds her way back to Peking high society - this time with orders from the Japanese secret service."

First, I wish this book had been billed as pure fiction, rather than 'based on a true story'. I'm not sure how much truth Lindley managed to include in her story - I'm not sure that very much truth is actually known about Eastern Jewel. While her life and story would be riveting to explore, this novel seems taken entirely from Lindley's imagination and relies far too heavily on the princess and her supposed sexual exploits to fuel every plot twist.

The book is well-written and was a fast and enjoyable read, but I'm left with a definite distaste for Lindley's portrayal of life in Asia during such a tumultuous historical period. Eastern and Western characters alike are presented as stereotyped caricatures of real people, while the placement of plot points in actual history seemed disjointed - time is skewed, as 'years passed' but Eastern Jewel had only aged one year.

I give Lindley 3 stars for her vivid descriptions and smooth, easy writing style, but I wish she'd chosen pure fiction and left claims to historical accuracy for another genre.

01 September 2009

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Flap Copy from ARC: "When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents, his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is blank. But he's not alone. When the lift's doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade, a large expanse enclosed by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don't know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning, for as long as anyone can remember, the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night, for just as long, they've closed tight. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered in the lift. And no one wants to be stuck in the maze after dark.

The Gladers were expecting Thomas's arrival. But the next day, a girl is sent up - the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. The Gladers have always been convinced that if they can solve the maze that surrounds the Glade, they might find their way home ... wherever that may be. But it's looking more and more as if the maze is unsolvable.

And something about the girl's arrival is starting to make Thomas feel different. Something is telling him that he just might have some answers - if he can only find a way to retrieve the dark secrets locked within his own mind."

Kudos to Dashner for writing a fast-paced and riveting young adult novel, one that kept me questioning right along with the characters and still guessing at the end. The Maze Runner is an easy and engaging read and I highly recommend it for teens and adults alike - 4 stars.

That being said, I am extremely frustrated by the abrupt ending both to the adventure and to the book itself. I understand there's a trilogy, but I want each book to function as well as a stand-alone read, either with some resolution or with an actual ending. I was so caught up in the boys' struggle, so ready for them to solve the Maze, or at least escape it, and then suddenly we're at an epilogue, written from a different narrative point-of-view, and I'm left only with clear foreshadowing of events to come in later books. But what about this book?

I found Dashner's writing to be clear and age appropriate, and his character development was very good, especially considering that none of the kids actually have any memories of themselves before the Glade - he still created distinct and realistic personality traits and flaws. But I was disappointed at the end of my reading - I will certainly look for the next book in the series, but I wish I felt like I had truly finished this one!