12 April 2012

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon

Flap Copy from ARC: "Maybe it was my droopy eyelids. Maybe it was because I was about to turn the same age my mother was when I lost her. Maybe it was because after almost twenty years of marriage my husband and I seemed to be running out of things to say to each other. But when the anonymous online study called "Marriage in the 21st Century" showed up in my inbox, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life. It wasn't long before I was assigned both a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101). And, just like that, I found myself answering questions ....

7. Sometimes I tell him he's snoring when he's not snoring so he'll sleep in the guest room and I can have the bed all to myself.

61. He was cutting peppers for the salad. I looked at those hands and thought, I am going to have this man's children.

32. That if we weren't careful, it was possible to forget one another.

Before the study, my life was an endless blur of school lunches and doctor's appointments, family dinners and budgets. I was Alice Buckle: spouse of William and mother to Zoe and Peter, drama teacher and Facebook chatter, downloader of memories and Googler of solutions. But these days, I'm also Wife 22. And somehow, my anonymous correspondence with Researcher 101 has taken an unexpected turn. Soon, I'll have to make a decision - one that will affect my family, my marriage, my whole life. But at the moment, I'm too busy answering questions. As it turns out, confession can be a very powerful aphrodisiac."

I really enjoyed this take on a modern marriage in the throes of middle-aged angst. Alice Buckle is a loving wife, mom and elementary school drama teacher whose insecurities and minor internet obsessions make her a very believable character. Her role in the novel is bolstered by a great supporting cast, including her maybe-gay adolescent son Peter, whose assistance and judgement Alice seeks for all fashion-related decisions; Zoe, her teenage daughter/mini-me who may or may not suffer from an eating disorder; and Nedra, Alice's gay lawyer best friend whose happy and sex-filled relationship torments Alice in this time of midlife crisis.

When Alice is approached to participate in an anonymous online survey about love and marriage, she jumps at the chance. She is soon connected to 'Researcher 101' and, in her role as 'Wife 22', shares intimate details, fears and stories with ease. Her responses to the seemingly random array of questions paint a vivid picture of Alice's early love and romance, and subsequently what she feels is lacking in her current relationship with her husband of 20 years. Alice soon comes to rely heavily on her internet relationship with Researcher 101, craving his communication to the point that she begins to feel the relationship has taken an illicit turn, and even considers relinquishing her anonymity to meet him in person.

How do we keep love and romance alive over time? How do we reconnect with loved ones from whom we've grown distant? How do we balance our kids, our jobs and our sex lives? These are Alice's personal dilemmas, ones with which I imagine many readers can relate. Melanie Gideon's prose is witty, her sense of humor self-deprecating but never cruel - I highly recommend this book as a fun and engaging summer read. I give it 4 1/2 stars, and look forward to reading more from this author.

10 April 2012

Kiss, Crush, Collide by Christina Meredith

Flap Copy from ARC: "The golden girl who as it all. The irresistible boy from the wrong side of the tracks. She wants out. Kiss. He wants her. Crush. They collide."

I enjoy reading YA fiction and expect it to be as smart and interesting in its way as adult fiction. Unfortunately this book was neither smart nor interesting. The characters are 1-dimensional and a little inconceivable - I understand that Leah wants more from her life than what she's been handed on a silver platter, and more from her family and friends than they're capable of giving her, but she is as passive and as boring as a robot. The only thing she manages to accomplish in this last summer of high school is to cheat on her boyfriend, and even that she doesn't handle very well. I just wanted to scream at her, 'do something! say something! grow up!'

I was looking forward to a little romance, a few steamy moments, and some sort of satisfying resolution to the tried-and-true "girl meets boy from the wrong side of the tracks" plot. It could have been cliched, I was expecting that. What I was not expecting was such a flat and boring non-story. I give this book only 1 star, I recommend other readers go looking for teen romance somewhere else.

09 April 2012

The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

Flap Copy from ARC: "Fat and ostracized as a kid, Edgar Kellogg has always yearned to be popular. When he's offered the post of foreign correspondent in a Portugese backwater that has sprouted a homegrown terrorist movement, Edgar recognizes the disappeared larger-than-life reporter he's been sent to replace, Barrington Saddler, as exactly the outsize character he longs to emulate. Infuriatingly, all his fellow journalists cannot stop talking about the beloved 'Bear', who is no longer lighting up their work lives.

Yet all is not as it appears. 'The Daring Soldiers of Barba' have been blowing up the rest of the world for years in order to win independence for a province so dismal, backward, and windblown that you couldn't give the rat hole away. So why, with Barrington vanished, do terrorist incidents suddenly dry up?"

When I read "We Need to Talk About Kevin' several years ago, I couldn't put it down and I couldn't stop talking about it. I passed it along to friends and family, I recommended it to a book club, I wanted everyone to read and experience Shriver's unbelievably moving prose. Her characters and their emotions were truly alive, and I was engaged. When the opportunity for an advance copy of this 'old but new' book, 'The New Republic', I jumped, I couldn't wait to read another riveting Shriver tale. How sad to be so disappointed.

The premise behind the book is an interesting and relevant one: the real nature of journalism, and the power of the media to manipulate a story for its own purposes. Add to the mix a fictional, miserable corner of Portugal and the local terrorist group seeking independence for the people of Barba, and you have the potential for a humorous tale. Edgar Kellogg is our main character, a lawyer-turned-journalist and former fat kid whose inability to connect with other humans has left him floundering in his mid-thirties, still yearning for popularity and the approval of his peers. With a stroke of luck, Edgar lands a job as a stringer for a national paper and is sent to Barba to cover the terrorist activity and the disappearance of a revered journalist - once there, Edgar begins to see that all is not as it appears.

I just couldn't enjoy this book, I don't need to relate to characters, it's ok with me if they're not likable, but these weren't even interesting. I thought the first half of the book could have been cut in half again, which might have helped move along the fairly light plot, and perhaps made the mild twists a little more shocking. As it was, I felt bogged down in the characters' pretentious speak, and unable to engage with the story.

Shriver is a gifted and clever writer, and I look forward to reading something else from her - this just was not the book for me.