Friday, August 13, 2010

Still Missing

Still Missing
Author: Chevy Stevens
St. Martin's Press, 2010
352 pages

I can't remember how or where I heard about this book (just published in June), but I'm glad I did. In her debut novel, Canadian author Chevy Stevens produces a nail-biting thriller. Main character Annie is a 32-year old real estate agent whose life is pretty normal: career, dog, boyfriend, overbearing mother, etc. But all is about to change when a would-be homebuyer abducts her during an open house. Her creepy captor takes her to his hidden hideaway in the mountains, where he has created a cabin prison from which there is no escape. There Annie experiences unimaginable tortures (warning: very graphic at times - this is not a "cozy" by any means) and learns some horrifying truths about her captor's past.

We know that Annie survives, because she's telling the story. But how? Each chapter is titled with "Session" (instead of Chapter) and a number. The book is written in first person with a blend of tenses (past and present) as if Annie is recounting her experiences with a psychiatrist. It's clever, and for the most part, it works. We learn not only about Annie's time in captivity, but of events in her childhood and in her family's history.  The sum of all the parts equals a compelling story that is much more complex than I expected.

Clearly, Annie will never be the same. This is one part of Missing Persons stories that you don't often hear about -- the return home and its affect not just on the victim but on friends and family. The police  investigation that follows seems to be a little unrealistic at times -- particularly Annie's relationship with the lead investigator. I'm just not sure that a seasoned professional like Gary would have behaved that way in real life. But :::sigh::: it's fiction, and I know certain things are expected.

Despite a few slow points in the second half of the book, overall this is a very good read, and an impressive debut for a new author. The Vancouver Island setting was a nice change, and when the motive for the abduction is finally revealed, you'll probably be just as surprised as I was. I just didn't see it coming.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010
192 pages

Like most other females, I'm a fan of the Twilight series, so when I heard that Stephenie Meyer had published a novella about a character only briefly mentioned (I don't even remember, to be honest) in . . . Eclipse, I think? . . . I thought: "Hmm. That sounds sort of interesting." Here's the deal. Remember Victoria, the vampire whose boyfriend was killed in the opening book? You may recall that she raised an army of "newborns" (newly-created vampires) to go to war against the Cullens as a sort of revenge. Well, Bree Tanner is one of those newborns.

When the story opens, Bree's still getting used to vampire life. She's living in a coven of newborns led by charismatic Riley and a mysterious female leader (whom the reader assumes is Victoria, but this is not known to Bree). There's a lot of political maneuvering in the coven, but Bree doesn't really want to be a part of it. She finds herself drawn to Diego, a trusted follower of Riley who shares some vampire secrets with her. For example, the newborns all believe that vampires can't go out during the day, but Diego proves that's not exactly true.

When it becomes apparent to Diego and Bree that something's up that they don't want to be a part of, they hatch a plan to break apart from the group. But first, Diego has to do one final favor for Riley, so they plan to meet later. This is where my description of the plot stops, because I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that I knew how the story would end, but I allowed myself to get so caught up in it, that I really didn't believe it was going to end the way it did. Until the very last sentence.

I liked the concept behind The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner and I can see where this might lead to other spin-offs from the series. I was impressed that the author was able to create such a fresh new voice. I would have loved to know more about Bree's past and how she became a vampire, but who knows, maybe there's another story (short or long) just waiting to be written.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Alchemist

The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Unabridged Audio Version [Time: 4:16:33]
HarperAudio, 2001 (originally published in 1986)

Three nonfiction books in a row . . . you might think I've turned over a new leaf. Actually, I've just been on the road a lot lately, and nothing passes the time like a good audiobook when you're driving. This is my second book by Brazilian author Coelho (I reviewed The Witch of Portobello in August 2008), whose works have been translated into numerous languages and sold more copies than you can imagine. But The Alchemist is probably the most well-known, and I totally get why.

The story begins with the introduction of a Spanish shepherd known throughout the book as The Boy. The Boy has a recurring dream about finding treasure near the pyramids in Egypt. Encouraged to follow his dreams by a gypsy woman and a mysterious man who claims to be the King of Salem, The Boy sets out on his journey. First, he goes to Morocco, where he encounters a thief, a crystal merchant, and an Englishman. As he ventures further, he meets other interesting characters, including a woman of the desert who might just be the love of his life . . . and an alchemist.

The simple yet deep allegorical tale of The Boy's quest for his "personal legend" reminds us of some simple truths, the main one (for me) being that we must always follow our dreams. If we don't, we'll always regret it.

I highly recommend the audiobook. A plus for me is that it was read by English actor Jeremy Irons. I could probably listen to him all day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Girl Named Zippy

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana
Author: Haven Kimmel
Broadway Books, 2001
282 pages

I'm leaving Indiana soon after living there for just over 14 years, and I hadn't read A Girl Named Zippy yet, so I figured there was no time like the present. Boy, was I missing out. This quirky memoir, written by an author who is about my age, had me laughing out loud. Everything about this well-written book is, well, quirky.

Anyone who's ever lived in a small town - or spent much time in one - will be able to relate to some of the people and events in this book. Crazy neighbors, mean boys and girls, weird teachers, and even occasional total strangers make this book come to life. Sometimes it feels like you're reading fiction. I mean, some of this couldn't be real, could it? Well, there are some things you just can't make up, as you'll see when you read A Girl Named Zippy.

I loved it. I loved how she wrote so lovingly about her parents, and how her family was so accepting of each other's, um, quirks. I loved her humor, which could be snarky at times, but only when deserved. I loved the story about her being adopted from a band of gypsies and how her parents played along with her sister's suggestion . . . and when her Dad took her to his church in the woods . . . and her very vivid description of the time she ate a whole bag of carrots and . . . well, you'll have to read it.  Even the sad stories grabbed at my heart, like the one about the pet chicken . . . and so many about kids from her school.  I wanted to smack a couple of people up, and I couldn't help but wonder: was she using real names? How does that memoir thing work, anyway?!!

I read this on a recent visit to my parents' farm, and I laughed out loud so much that my Mom asked for me to leave the book when I finished so she could read it. Actually, I think she was just enamored with the cover photo. It is captivating.

Anyway, if you like memoirs, and you like quirky, then you should definitely add this one to your list. You'll probably want to add her follow-up memoir, She Got Up Off The Couch, also.

This makes two nonfiction books in a row. Did you notice?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Women Food and God

Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path To Almost Everything
Author: Geneen Roth
Unabridged Audio Version (Time: 5:30:45)
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2010

This seems to be required reading for North American women this summer, and although I'm definitely not a sheep when it comes to the books that choose me, for some reason I was intrigued. I listened to the unabridged audio version in one sitting during a long car trip. It gave me a lot to think about.

The author has had plenty of her own issues with food. She shares her personal experiences with weight gain, diets, and binge eating and says that she has gained and lost over 1000 pounds. Three decades ago, she made a sort of spiritual connection with food that helped her lose weight and keep it off. Now she conducts seminars on body image, apparently mostly with women.

She quotes Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron: "Never underestimate the inclination to bolt." Roth says you can't just bolt whenever you feel like it. Instead, you have to let yourself feel your emotions. Many people with eating issues don't want to feel their emotions. This discussion made me realize that there have been many times in my life when I've bolted in order to avoid unpleasantness when maybe what I really did was miss out on a growth experience. Another point she makes is: if you don't like yourself as you are now, you won't like yourself after you've lost weight (or after your eyelift . . . or after your liposuction . . . or whatever). You have to learn to love yourself and stop listening to the inner voice that tells you you're not good enough. (OK, you're probably humming Kum Ba Yah now, so I'll move along.)

Some of the stories had me laughing, while others brought tears to my eyes. Particularly memorable are the stories of Mookie the cat . . . and the "successful" CEO who admitted that she's wanted to die since she was about 10 years old because she never felt like she fit in anywhere.

There are some eating rules (guidelines?) . . . the first one is: eat only when you're hungry. May seem like a big "Duh!" -- but if you really think about it, how many of us truly do that? You'll have to read the book (or listen to it) to get the other guidelines.

If I have any "issue" with Women Food and God, it's the title. I know several men who could benefit from reading it, but with that title, the book might as well be wrapped in a pink cover. I'm just sayin' . . .