Category Archives: Tsk Tsk Tsk

The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Allen & Unwin. 451 pages.

+++WARNING: BIG FAT SPOILER AHEAD+++

This is only my second Jodi Picoult read (First being the famous My Sister’s Keeper). And already, I can see a structured pattern. She takes controversial family, domestic and society issues and somehow turns them ‘relatable’ by writing how ordinary (though fictiona)l families deal with it–in the form of her novels.

The main difference is, “My Sister’s Keeper” is at least very debatable, the opposing sides of which are both equally justifiable. “The Pact”, whose title by the way goes by a second line: “A love story”, has a plot and storyline that I can only sum up in one word: Stupid.  I don’t have any other euphemism for it, nor could I think of any other synonym or a more intelligent description.

The theme is very engaging–childhood sweethearts Emily Gold. 17 and Chris Harte,18 have been soulmates since they were born. Then one night, Emily was found dead with a single bullet shot to her head.

The book’s chapters alternate between the now–Court trials , Chris’ time in prison, and the famillies’ grieving, and then–memories of Chris and Emily from the moment they were born, and how they grew up together, how the relationship escalated.

Chris tells everybody that it was a botched up double suicide. (He was found unconcious and bleeding next to Emily’s body) but no one believes him.  The rest of the story unfolds showing Emily’s issues and unstableness (yet for me it wasnt in depth enough to understand why she became suicidal).

The story builds up in a way that you think there’d be a nice twist in the end (consolation to the depressing theme at least) but noooo..
At the very end of the book, after Picoult has taken you over repetitive lines, emotions and scenes, she presents a ‘revelation’ from Chris. I could have guessed that revelation myself (not even my best guess at that).

So he helped Emily kill herself because…. (now this reason I wouldn’t have guessed at all because it’s out of this world dumb)….he loves her so much, he would do anything for her.

When he could have had the BIGGEST chance to save her life–he helps her end it. Is that love?? That’s downright stupidity.

Just as she did in “My Sister’s Keeper”, Picoult again uses a character for ‘grief relief’. Unnecessarily  opening up minor characters’ personal lives ( Chris’ defense lawyer Jordan McAfee). There are some authors and books that use this kind of ‘relief’ very well. But with Picoult, it somehow comes out unessential and time-wasting.

“The Pact” is in Angus and Robertson’s Best 100 novels list.

And basing on reviews, this book is so well-loved.

Help me understand why.

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The Toyboy Diaries: A Memoir by Wendy Salisbury

0732286905.jpgHarper Collins Publishers. 293 pages.

“I like older men but I couldn’t eat a whole one. A younger man? That’s another story.”

So claims Wendy, an over 60 year old woman with a vigor for younger (much much younger) men.

This whole..er…sex memoir (?) is like a rated-R blog that panned out in book form. I honestly can’t say very much about it. Other than its  like watching/reading a marathon run of SATC+DESPERATE GRANDMA.

Ok for one, I do admire her brazen personality, she who doesn’t care what others may think. The last words of this book were, “Fuck you very much!” (quoting Eric Idle). But at times it seems very much like harassing and exploiting younger men.

But as she explains, its just nature’s way of redressing the balance. Throughout history, it’s always been an older man + much younger woman pairing. But with more empowered women nowadays, many of them take the lead and get in control.

If you are tempted to tell her ‘Shag someone from your generation!”, here’s her reply:

“Although they’re my generation, I feel totally disconnected from them. They’ve let themselves go which is really unappealing. I know loads of attractive, sexy, vibrant older women but the men…eeuw! They think they can pull you because they’ve got money and a pulse and that any single woman is desperate for a man at any cost. Personally, I’d rather eat pizza with (younger men) than caviar with any of them.”

the very happy. author.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

historian.jpgBay Back Books, 816 pages.

I’ll be harsh as dracula. Because that’s over 800 pages of reading time of my life that I won’t get back. This book has had a lot of mixed reactions. to sum it up, you either hate it or love it. One can’t help but compare this book with the ever famous Da Vinci Code-the original, the ace of base of all historical fact/fraud sensational revelation novels.

The Da Vinci Code, despite it’s inaccuracies–will keep you engaged, hooked and drawn. It’s like fast food. It knows how to get you fast. Because it knows the flavors you want, and how you want them.

The Historian, on the other hand– “is like sipping fine wine.”–this is what most reviewers compare it to. Compared to the Coca-Cola hit that is the Da Vinci Code, The Historian definitely will be called wine. With all its grandeur and steady narration. Guaranteed, you will never be at the end of your seat. And to me, it’s like wine indeed–but diluted with 70% water.

I came across a review of this book that Completely encompasses my thoughts about the book. Forgive me, but I will copy paste it here:

Long on prose poems, short on character, plot, logic and sense., September 20, 2005

Reviewer:  Craig Kenneth Bryant

If you’ve got the remotest affection for Europe, for medieval ruins, for the romance of travel and history, it’s easy to fall right in love with _The Historian_. Whatever her shortcomings, Ms. Kostova has a genuine knack for evoking the way the light at sunset hits the crumbling stone towers of the monastery just _so_ as the farmers are bringing in their animals and the smoke from the cooking stoves goes wafting by. This, and the glimmer of an interesting idea–someone secretly distributing antique books to university historians, entirely blank but for a single woodcut image of a dragon and the word “DRAKULYA”–were enough to get me at least a hundred pages into the book before I started to realize that there just wasn’t any meat to the story.

Dracula, it seems, has kidnapped a kindly old professor–the recipient of one of those old books–and so a student of his sets off to search for the tomb in which Dracula was buried some 500 years ago, because even though he has moved freely across continents and oceans for centuries, that is where he just _has_ to be.

So the travelogue begins, city to city, castle to monastery, library to mosque, confusing movement with progress– England, France, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary…and perhaps we should be thankful that, with all the sightseeing, the plot scarcely ever has a chance to make an appearance, because it seems mostly to consist of contrivances and chance meetings that even a Victorian like Bram Stoker would have blushed at. That woman checking out Stoker’s _Dracula_ in the library just as the professor’s student is starting his research? The professor’s long-lost daughter, of course. The Turkish fellow sitting down to dinner at the next table? A lifelong Dracula fanatic and amateur historian, of course. And his English is excellent on account of his day job as a professor of English Lit. The English historian at a random academic conference in Budapest that our heroes attend as a cover-story to score visas to Hungary? The proud recipient of yet another of those antique dragon-books. And so it goes, random meeting after chance discovery after remarkable happenstance. Nothing in the plot is organic, nothing evolves according to any kind of logic or necessity: we are only going down a list of bullet points in the author’s notebook, one after another, because that is how the plot _needs_ to go in order to take us next to that incredible castle in the mountains where the wind whistles just _so_ through the mossy cracks in the stonework…

…until after about 600 pages of this nonsense, we finally pry apart the gravestones (duly pausing to note how the dust of the centuries has settled just _so_ on the fading inscriptions of the musty crypt) and learn the terrible truth of Dracula’s horrible plan for the professor, to–Dun-Dun-DUUUUNNN!–CATLOG HIS LIBRARY! (As Dave Barry would say, I swear I am not making this up.) As it turns out, the Prince of the Undead is a bit of a bookworm. Who knew?

But of course, we should have been able to guess. _Everyone_ in this novel is a bookworm, for the same reason that everyone acts the same, thinks the same, and talks the same: because everyone in this novel is essentially one character, the author herself. Romanian peasant, Turkish professor, expat teenager–read a line of dialogue at random, and you’d never be able to guess who is who. When you pick up the book, it is often a bit confusing to figure out where you are, not because there are so many narrators, but because there are so few _voices_. One imagines the author perhaps putting on now a pair of Groucho glasses, now a fez, now tying a kerchief around her hair, as she evokes one character or another, but the writing never changes. Neither do the characters themselves–the protagonists are all secular, rational people, who, when they find themselves in a vampire story, simply shrug and reach for a crucifix and a silver bullet. What they are experiencing–what they are _doing_, in picking up that crucifix–and what it might mean to their deepest senses of what the world is and how it works…these are subjects that are never touched upon. Heaven knows, an author with a certain curiosity about character and psychology, to say nothing about metaphysics, might have spun a wonderful novel out of this material. But psychology and character didn’t seem to make it on to those shopping lists of cities to visit and people to meet that define the plodding bulk of this book.

Even Dracula’s little hobby of distributing those dragon books to young historians to rouse their curiosity, then trying to kill them if they actually start to do research on them, might have become a window into a vain and endlessly bored mind, giving himself a little thrill to while away the centuries. Here, it’s just another illogical plot contrivance, vanishing into the swarming multitudes of its fellows.

 —-

 

Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler)

Elizabeth Kostova (author)

yours truly (frustrated reader)

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

memorybook.jpgPenguin Books. 513 pages.

A young doctor is forced to deliver his own twins on a winter night in 1964. One is a healthy boy, the other, a girl-has down syndrome. While his wife is groggy, he makes a decision to give away his daughter to ab institute. He tells his wife that the baby girl died. The nurse he has tasked to do this, however, feels horrible and decides to take the baby girl as her own.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is where the good stuff/good plot ends. The rest of the book chronicle the twins, Paul and Phoebe, as they grow up. (1964-1989). Their father, Dr. David Henry, attributes every misfortune and sorrow in his life as a consequence from the secret he has kept from his wife, even until his death.

Mainly using photographs as metaphors, this book excellently shows the growth and decline of the family. It also explores each character’s memory and how their personal history has shaped their present thinking/attitude. Highly acclaimed by book reviews and female authors (of the same genre, I believe–Jodi Picoult, Sue Monk Kidd, Luanne Rice)Too much feelings. Too many pages. It’s a book that screams “I am written by a woman!”

My sister bought me this book and I wish I had just borrowed it from the library.  I am highly UN-mesmerized.

Tales From a Broad: An Unreliable Memoir by Fran Lebowitz

fran.jpgBantam (2004)

At some point in our lives, we meet her. She talks loud enough for you to wince everytime she speaks, and she yaks at a rate of 600 words per minute. Yes, she loves to talk–about me, me, me (herself), and complain about everything. She has a temper that makes a matador’s bull demure, and most of all, she is your friend.

This whole book is like an unedited one-sided conversation with a loud friend who doesnt know how to use the comma or period. She also thinks that the world revolves only around her.

So this American woman, Fran Lebowitz, a famous (or so she claims) literary agent in New York, whines to her husband (a music copyright lawyer) about being burnt out. So the dutiful husband takes her and their 2 kids along to Singapore, when he gets sent there by his boss for a long business trip.

Lebowitz now focuses her radar on the people of Singapore, locals and fellow expat wives alike. This lady bitches just about everything, its irritating. She is right in a lot of ways though–like very candidly advises “don’t forget the ‘LAH!'” when communicating with Singaporeans, and how these people are so square and move through their lives like a robot under command. Example: she went down to her condominium’s tennis court, and was greeted by a “No reservations, cannot play ,lah” So she offered to make a reservation now, on the spot. “Madam, cannot, lah” Losing her temper, she asks how to make a reservation then, and the receptionist tells her, through a phone call. So Lebowitz flips out her mobile phone on the spot, calls the guy who is in front of her, makes the reservation, and gets the court.

Then her husband announces that the boss decided to station him in Singapore for three more years, hence Lebowitz grudgingly becomes an expat’s wife. Her adventure ranges from looking for a Filipino maid, and the headaches that go with it, and living the life of a frat student–partying with other expats almost everyday. Reading the book is like going through the thoughts of a 13 year old school girl who has yet to overcome the perils of adolescence. (Mood swings and pure grade A bitchiness)

No nationality is spared from her sonar, imitating her Canadian friend, “Will you give me that baig please?”, checking out her Swede friend’s grand breasts and butt, and introducing an Irish friend “She has 3 daughters whose names are Caoughin, Byrehrn, and Siebheidn, but of course, they are pronounced as Lisa, Kim, and Ann, respectively” Ok, the last one I found funny, but there’s more criticisms of her surroundings (both places and people) than storyline. The only thing that is appreciated is the food.
And she’s in Singapore, for crying out loud. I can’t imagine how many verses of whinings she will have if she goes to the neighboring countries. She did go to Malaysia, and her accounts are predictably like a high school composition. (“I can’t believe we’re eating this icky food and feeding it to my children”)

The story ends (thankfully!) with her joining a triathlon, and placing fourth. At last, something productive from her runnung/excercise addiction. The husband also announces that the boss is cutting their 3 year placement short, and to her surprise, she is reluctant to leave Singapore afterall.

I don’t believe that all expats are fat pampered pumpkins, but this ‘memoir’ is a bratty and ungrateful diary that just about fortifies the generalization that expats are indeed, spoiled.

One shouldn’t take this book seriously, and its not hard to do that with a cover And a title as such. The problem is, even if you do take it lightly, it will still weave its way into your nerves.

The Debutante Divorcee by Plum Sykes

Miramax; 2006, 256 pages

The justifiable reason why girls indulge in “chick lit” (chic literature if there is such a thing), is that they are at least funny, shallow and light, and have characters one can identify with.
This book does not offer even one of those perks. Its not witty at all, the characters–pffft, I can identify more with an Orc from LOTR. No witty lines or dialogue, not even an exciting plot to follow. So apparently, according to the book, the latest hot thing in NYC now is a divorce (marriage is so last season) and the divorcee gets to throw a debut/party of some sort, announcing her back to singlehood status to society. The narrator, who doesnt have enough character content for the reader to sympathize with, is trying to salvage her newly wed life, amidst friends who are screaming that she should join the bandwagon.
These kinds of books are supposed to be shallow, yes. But they have to be at least entertaining in some way right?  Take an author who looks like a supermodel (who also writes for Vogue and Vanity Fair) and you’ve got a showcase of brand names, latest clothing styles, and places to be . This “book” is just an excuse.

When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home by Erma Bombeck

HarperTorch; Reissue edition (November 15, 1992), 288 pages

I never seem to learn my lesson. A catchy title almost always guarantees a flop read. I only read books like these “on the side”, to cleanse an overly “serious-themed” riddled brain ( I just read Lord of the Flies). For the past 2 days Ive been deliberating wether or not I should post a review about this book. I thought it can be a sound warning to those who, like me, are drawn to cheesy and catchy titles. I skimmed through online reviews about this book and they were ALL positive. “Hilarious!” “I never stopped laughing from first to last page”. To give credit where its due, I did find a few pages funny, but reading past the first 3 chapters, I felt like I was reading a stand-up comedian’s script about travelling. There’s a Harper Audio edition of this, and I think that would have been more enjoying. There are just some things that are better heard and not read.
So this is about a typical American couple from Ohio who has “more kids than they have backseat windows”. Sick and tired of being the perpetual house and pet sitter when their neighbors go off on vacations, Bombeck decided that they should start travelling as well:

“From here on in, we are going to be one of those families who feast at the banquet table of life. We’re going to drink in the beauty of majestic mountains, nibble at historical shrines, and stuff ourselves on beaches drenched in solitutde. The Bombecks are going to hit the road!!! By all that is holy, I will never host the Semples again!”
The family’s eyes were frozen on my clenched fist raised above my head. I was clutching the pregnant gerbil.

Sorry but I just had to roll my eyes at that. How much more slapstick can you get? The next chapters are all pretty much of the same pattern: I hate to generalize but its American humor at one of its worst: exagerrated and self-deprecating. Since this book is supposed to be humorous, the author just HAD to find something “funny” in every place they go to, even pathetically describing Papuan New Guineans as “little people who go around talking earnestly to belt buckles”.

The worst attempt to be humorous:

“In September 1987, I was asked to introduce His Holiness Pope John Paul II, who was to preside over a papal Mass in Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona.
I was humbled by the honor and wanted desperately to do something special. I decided to welcome him in Polish, his native tongue.
The only Pole I knew was a seamstress who did alterations for me from time to time, so I said to her, ‘Tell me how to welcome the Pope in his own language.”
On the night before his arrival, I rehearsed the speech before a couple of priests in charge of the event. I took a deep breath before my big finish. ‘ Arizona vita otisa sven-tego yana pavwa druuuugeggo.”
One of the priests said to me, ‘Why would you want to tell the Pope his luggage is lost?’
I am not good with language.”

Sure its funny, but the UN-Funny part is..Don’t ask me how I did it, but that Polish phrase actually translated to “Arizona welcomes his holiness (saintly) Father John Paul II.”
A for effort in bending the truth for the sake of comedy.

There’s also a part when they went to Indonesia and watched a cultural/mythical play and while their guide was interpreting it, they fell asleep. I admire the honesty but I also found it to be a bit rude, in describing how scary the driving skills of cab drivers are in Jakarta, that she had to pray to the patron saint of all Indonesian passengers: Our Lady of Valium.

Good points of this book: how she described travelling in a tour group can be a pain and confining and the descriptions of the types of people who usually join tour groups.

I can’t help but feel that people who enjoy this book are the kind who travel to other places to remind them how good they have it ‘back home’.

Title: Trap
Cover:Bad
Humor: Worse
Rating: Never mind.