Sunday, August 12, 2007

Maximum Ride provides Minimum Pleasure

It is very rare for me to completely hate a book. I read a lot, and I'm such a lover of words that I think cereal boxes can keep me enraptured. It's sort of sad how much I love to read. But, I did not love to read Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson. This is the first book I've ever read by Patterson, who is an extremely popular and prolific writer of popular fiction. To say that I thought his writing as poor would be kind. This was not a well written book. The storyline had a lot of problems that could have been alleviated if the prose were good. But it was not.

There were problems with the voice changing. The main character, Maximum Ride, or Max as she is called by her flock, is a female with a decidedly male voice. No matter how many times I was reminded that she was female, I saw her and heard her as male. Patterson evidentally had quite a bit of trouble writing her as a female because his dialog really rang false through the book. Additionally, Max often addressed the 'audience' of readers, which was odd, since we were only addressed occasionally, as an afterthought. It was unbelievable and a good editor should have caught this.

The storyline was almost silly. It is a tale of a world gone amok by a large corporation performing genetic experiments gone awry. Max and her flock of friends are bird kids that were an early genetic experiment. They are all able to fly and have wings tucked into their bodies. It was never described in this book exactly how that worked, but I assume that the other books in the series described it in more detail. Which was yet another thing that bothered me. This book could not stand on it's own. It referred to the other books in the series for backstory, that I found annoying since I have no plans to ever read the other books. It assumed that you were going to read the series in order, something that JK Rowling never did with the Harry Potter series. I feel that Patterson should have learned from Rowling how to provide continuity within a series.

The flock of bird kids have discovered that Itek, the international evil corporation, has decided to take over the world using a combination of death for anyone sick, weak, or elderly, and using genetically altered robot-people to provide order. Max has decided that it is up to her to save the world, and she goes about it using a systematic but often flawed plan. Max's biggest problem is that she isn't quite sure whom to trust, even within her flock, and her mouth which spouts sarcasm in every instance of danger. That dialog rang so false to me that it was disconcerting to read. It was if Patterson had an idea of what a young tween should sound like, and then wrote it as even more annoying. The final scene, where Max's flock comes together to destroy the Itek corporate headquarters hidden in a castle in Germany ends with a fight including rock throwing. It was just silly, and a disappointment to any reader hoping that there would be a logical ending.

This Young Adult novel was written for tweens and teens, however it was such a lame story, with such unrealistic characters and so poorly written that there would be no way I could ever recommend it any kid in my aquaintence. I was sorry to read such a haphazard mishmash of words, especially from an author who should have known better. To me, this book sounded like it was banged out in a weekend before a deadline. That's not good enough for my or anyone else's kids.

Reviewed as part of the MotherTalk book tour.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Other Mother

Recently I was asked to review The Other Mother by Gwendolen Gross as part of the latest MotherTalk book tour. When the book arrived in the mail, I had a bunch of other book commitments and it sat in my pile for a couple of weeks but a few nights ago I started this book, and read it almost straight through, finishing it this morning. Intense would be the one word description for this book. Although I'm sure it's going to be marketed as a book about the mommy wars between work outside the home and stay at home moms, but this is so much more than that. In fact, that's almost a side feature of this book, which looks deeply inside the choices that women make once the become mothers.

This book has two narrators; Thea, the stay at home mother of three children, and Amanda, who moves in next door right before she is about to deliver her first child. Amanda works in the publishing field, and is on the path towards career success. Both mothers get to tell their side of the mommy war story, but this work is so much more than that. It delves into the fears that all mothers experience. Both mothers worry if they are good enough, if they are doing enough for their families, if they are choosing the right path as women.

Soon after Amanda's baby is born, a bad storm knocks a large tree into their new house, and Amanda's family must take refuge with her new neighbors. Thea puts up Amanda's family, but Amanda isn't the easiest houseguest. She refuses all help for the baby, she snoops through the cabinets and cupboards, she leaves a mess wherever she sits, and Thea becomes resentful. Amanda has made no plans on childcare for Malena, her infant, and after a series of disastrous tours of daycares and nanny interviews, she allows Thea to take Malena while she goes back to work.

Thea falls in love with Malena, who is an easy and delightful baby. Iris, Thea's toddler daughter is a very difficult and demanding child, and Malena fills the part of Thea that desires a baby to nurture. However, Amanda is a demanding and resentful employer. She doesn't like the way Thea is caring for her daughter, but does nothing to change the situation. Seething underneath their relationship is resentment for the choices each mother has made regarding work. Amanda isn't respectful of time, and is often very late to pick up her baby. She also is late in dropping Malena off, which makes Thea's life much more difficult. One night, Amanda does not call, is not reachable, and ends up not coming to pick up the baby until well after 9 pm. There had been an accident on the PATH train, and someone was killed on the tracks. Amanda is visibly upset, and rests her head on Thea's shoulder for comfort. The two women kiss, which destroys their relationship, as they are both unable to communicate their feelings to the other.

Thea's older daughter, a 13 year old who is good at cutting her parents out of her life, gets hurt on Amanda's property and is rushed to the hospital. Thea wants to blame Amanda, but realizes that this isn't really Amanda's fault, especially since Amanda's husband saved her daughter's life. Through a series of events, both women discover that they path they've chosen can be manipulated, altered, and improved, which brings them together as friends right after 9/11 almost kills one of their husbands.

This book is stressful to read. It is difficult because both women aren't particularly likable. As with any argument, they are zealots on either side, and don't really want to understand the other's point of view. But they did come together in the end, despite their differences, having both learned the art of compromise when it comes to mothering children.

I liked this book a lot. It was suspenseful, it was nerve wracking, and it had plenty of twists and turns to keep me interested right to the end. I wouldn't recommend this as a relaxing beach read, and it certainly isn't light chick lit. This is hard hitting fiction, well written and very well plotted. The characters aren't particularly likable, but isn't that true in life as well?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Becoming Jane Shines Brightly

Today I took my kids to see Becoming Jane as part of the current MotherTalk review tour. I had wanted to see this film despite my antipathy towards Anne Hathaway as an actress, never mind portraying one of my favorite authors, Jane Austin. I was interested in seeing this fictional backstory of the supposed love affair involving Jane and the dashing young Irish gentleman, Tom LeFroy. In actuality, there was never a love interest between Austin and anyone named Tom LeFroy that any biographer has sanctified, but the tale that Becoming Jane is based upon has been supposed by Austin historians and authors who have gone through her remaining letters and have pulled out this story of unrequited love.

The film was visually a feast of subtle images of English country life. The scenery was lush and green, the manor house of the wealthy patroness portrayed by the wonderful Maggie Smith was exactly how I had always pictured Lady Catherine's house in Pride and Prejudice, and the simple middle class life of Jane was so similar to my imagination's view. It was lovely to look at, a visual masterpiece of the quiet life of rural Hampshire.

Anne Hathaway, not a favorite of mine by any means, did an excellent job as Jane. Her accent was almost flawless, her manner of speech precisely how Jane presented herself in her novels, and her facial expressions and subtle mannerisms spoke volumes about her inner feelings. Hathaway was terrific as Jane Austin, delivering the sparkling dialog with just the right nuances. Although I had a lot of problems with Hathaway's classic beauty, lush lips, gorgeous shiny hair, and pure unblemished skin as Jane, I do realize that people don't want to see a very plain actress with thin pincurls, as Jane actually looked.

James McEvoy as Tom LeFroy was intimated to be the character upon whom Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice was based. His acting was even better than Hathaway's, as he portrayed the dashing but slightly tainted Irish gentlemen of little means and large family obligations.

The costumes were well done and particularly lovely for their soft, luscious tones. The production design, sets, and landscapes evoked the best of the English countryside, even though most of the film was actually filmed in Ireland. In addition, the score was particularly charming, with the phrasing of music sounding very historically accurate, and hence payed particularly homage to Austin's novels that often described balls, music, and dance.

Supporting performances by Julie Walters and James (That'll do Pig) Cromwell as Jane's parents were a definite highlight for me, as was Maggie Smith's portrayal of the wealthy but slightly sinister patroness.

Of course there were some questions that remained at the end of the film. Would Austin have passionately kissed LeFroy or agreed to elope with him, knowing that they both had no means to support themselves. Readers of Austin novels know how much emphasis she put on having a small stipend, and making a good and successful marriage. That Austin herself, as well as her sister Cassandra remained unmarried, speaks doubtfully to me that she would ever put herself in such compromising positions.

The final scene in the movie, where time has marched on, Jane is a published author and at a performance of a beautiful woman opera singer, runs into LeFroy after many years apart. He introduces her to his daughter, also named Jane, is a poignant scene with Jane coming to terms with her place as a single woman in society. In actuality, nothing like this ever happened to the real Jane Austin. Because of ill health Jane was moved to Winchester for medical treatment. She died there, from Addison's disease, Friday, July 18th, 1817 at the age of forty-one. Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral on July 24th, 1817 and mourned by all her family, including her mother and beloved sister Cassandra.

Becoming Jane captures the playful sense of Jane's sharp intellect and even sharper sense of humor. Much of the film is delightfully humorous, especially so if you're familiar with her novels. However, if you are unfamiliar with her 6 published novels (and shame on you if you are!), you can still enjoy the romantic tale of a delightfully spirited young woman stifled by society's rules and her break out to become a successful and much beloved author.

See the film trailer here.