21 April 2008

Book Review: Johnny Be Good by Paige Toon

If your boss was the hottest rock star on the planet, would you mix business with pleasure? I'm Meg Stiles. This is my leaving party. And that song we're making a mockery of? That's written by one of the biggest rock stars in the world. And I'm moving in with him tomorrow. Seriously! I am not even joking. Well, maybe I'm misleading you a little bit. You see, I haven't actually met him yet ...No, I'm not a stalker. I'm his new PA. His Personal Assistant. And I am off to La-La Land. Los Angeles. The City of Angels - whatever you want to call it - and I can't bloody believe it! Celebrity PA to wild boy of rock Johnny Jefferson, Meg's glam new life in sun-drenched LA is a whirlwind of showbiz parties and backstage passes. Cool, calm Christian, in town to write his famous friend's biography, helps keep Meg's feet firmly on the ground. But with Johnny's piercing green eyes and a body Brad Pitt would kill for, how long will it be before she's swept right off them again? 

 Toon has really written another super novel here, with fantastic characters who are so all well written and brilliant, you want to read on and find out more about them! The book is written in the first person in Meg's narrative. This works well within the book, because we are seeing LA from an English person's perspective, so you immediately feel at ease with her and can easily follow her story. Toon has a great writing style which is fantastic for first person, and the natural flow of Meg's story makes a great reading experience, and draws you in to Meg's character and consequently the story.

The character of Johnny was completely over the top and outrageous, but because he is supposedly a "rock-god", this really does work! He's clearly a bad boy, and you can see Meg's attraction to him right from the start, but he is actually a more complicated character than initially appears. His story continues alongside Meg's throughout the book, and the contrast between the two characters makes for a great chemistry and therefore I really enjoyed reading it! Johnny is extremely mad, but he is a fantastic character, and definitely one you love to hate. Christian is the other main character in the book, a fellow English character for Meg (although Johnny is English, he comes across as more American than Meg or Christian), and the most likeable of the group. He is Johnny's best friend from childhood and his happy demeanour and naivety endear you very much to him, and his softness compared to Johnny's brashness throughout the book was picked up on throughout by myself.

The story was really good, and I very much enjoyed the way that the book went all around the world with characters, giving us a really good look at what the life of a PA is like. I liked the way that Paige makes the character of Meg very real and likeable, showing that she is struggling with the job, and hasn't made her too much of a supergirl, able to do it all. Toon has really explored all levels of Meg and Johnny's relationship, and I just wanted to keep reading all the time to see how things were going to change, as they did pretty much every chapter! I also enjoyed the cleverly sly reference to the main characters (Lucy and Nathan)from Toon's debut novel Lucy in the Sky in this book, a very clever tie in for those who notice, and a good sneaky update!

Toon has really tapped into the chick-lit market with gusto once again, and has come up trumps with her second novel, which I can say I thoroughly enjoyed, perhaps a tad more than her debut even! She has an easy to read writing style, a great set of likeable characters in some outrageous circumstances, and a story with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing right up until the end. The only thing I didn't like about the book was the open ending - I would have liked it all wrapped up nicely with a definite ending but Toon has left it quite open and unfinished. Hopefully we'll get a reference to them in Toon's next novel as she did for Lucy in the Sky in this book! I'd still strongly recommend the book to anyone who loves a bit of fun chick-lit, because it's great and so enjoyable!

Rating: 5/5

17 April 2008

Book Review: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

"Shay Bourne becomes the first person in decades to be sentenced to death in New Hampshire, when he is found guilty of the cold-blooded killing of a policeman and his step-daughter. After eleven years on Death Row, the end is coming for Shay.

Until he sees a news piece about a young girl who urgently needs a heart transplant.

June's husband and daughter died at Shay Bourne's hands, and she thought her greatest desire was to see him killed. Then her remaining daughter is hospitalised, and she realises that there is something she wants even more: for Claire to live. Shay Bourne is offering June's daughter a miracle - a second chance. But at what cost?"

Like all of Picoult's book, this one has a controversial main storyline and a court case, so nothing new there. Even though they all follow the same format, they make for wonderful reading and every page absorbs me, I just have to keep reading to find out more. This particular book tackles the issue of the Death Penalty in the United States, and at the same time, the issue of Organ Donation. You wouldn't have thought both topics could evolve in the same storyline but amazingly they do, to great effect.

As you can see, the plot is pretty full-on and its certainly not a book you want to dive into lightly. You have to sit and concentrate on every word, and the book really tests your own thoughts on the issues within; the death penalty, organ donation and also religion. As well as the main themes, religion plays a major part in the book because Shay seems to be performing miracles from within the prison. Can a murderer really be Jesus reincarnated? There are just so many questions in the book, and my head was spinning after finishing some chapters, and I just couldn't stop thinking about the things that Picoult was writing about, which is a real talent.

Interestingly, although the story evolves around Shay Bourne completely, we never actually hear from the character himself. The book is written from several points of view, all in the first person, which makes for interesting and varied reading. Firstly, we hear occasionally from June, the one most affected by Shay's actions. She is clearly bitter and we get a real insight into her personal battles with herself over whether or not she should let her daughter have the heart of a convicted double-murderer. The fact June's chapters occur rarely make them more powerful when you read them, and the short length of them also add something to them. She is concise, and often makes you turn around any sorry feelings you might develop towards Shay, so in turn, the author is making you question every feeling you have for Shay!

We also hear from Lucius, Shay's next-door inmate, also in prison for murder. He has AIDs and is suffering bad health, and the two form some sort of friendship within the prison. Lucius seems to believe in the miracles Shay seems to be performing, but doesn't have religious beliefs himself. Lucius' chapters were really good to read, as they offered an insight into prison life and were incredibly well written, with deep insights into all sorts of things. Maggie Bloom is Shay's attorney who is going to help him die in a way which enables him to donate his heart. Maggie isn't confident, but is passionate about her work as a lawyer, and is determined to help Shay. Her father is a Rabbi, but despite this she doesnt have strong religious beliefs in any form. You can see Maggie's feelings towards Shay at the end changing a lot, and it is interesting the way Picoult does this gradually, and also affects your own feelings also.

The final character we get told the story by is Father Michael, a priest who becomes Shay's spiritual advisor. However, Father Michael has a secret to hide from Shay, because he knows if it comes out, Shay won't want to know him. Still Michael carries on as his advisor, and the two become close, with Shay trusting his deepest thoughts to the priest. However, I did find some of the priests chapters hard-going because of all the religious text describing various things to do with the Bible, the Gnostic gospels and also even delving a bit into the Jewish faith. Hard-going but definitely interesting.

The use of the first person writing in the book, despite it being narrated by multiple characters was incredibly interesting, and is one of the key features in any of Jodi Picoult's books. It works well though, because of the controversial topics used, it is so interesting to see many points of views, and Picoult seems to be able to switch from one person to another seamlessly without its feeling stunted or that it doesn't flow properly.

For me, Picoult's talent lies in creating a very powerful book which for days after, you are still contemplating the issues of and you know it has left a mark on you. I was incredibly moved by My Sister's Keeper, the first of Picoult's novels I read, and this has coninued through every novel I have read from her. This one in particular however, was especially powerful, with a really controversial theme at its heart. tH Death Penalty is certainly a tough one to debate, especially as we don't have it in this country, and to be honest, this book made me glad we don't have the ability in this country to sentence someone to death. There are too many issues surrounding the whole thing, and Picoult is careful to bring each one of these to light in her novel.

This is truly an amazing book to read, and you must give it a try, even if you haven't read any of Jodi Picoult's previous work. This isn't her best book, but comes extremely close. I read this in just a few days, despite being a real chunk of a book, it is incredibly absorbing and I just couldn't put it down. The human emotion in the books draws you in, causing your feelings to change from one chapter to the next, and by the end, you're left questioning everything you had thought from the start. Even as write this now, I can't put my finger on my own views on this, I flit from one viewpoint to another, and for me, this is where Picoult's talent lies...making her reader feel the emotions of the book, and able to pull their own conclusions from it. A truly wondeufl piece of literature, simply superb. 

Rating: 5/5

8 April 2008

Book Review: Take A Look At Me Now by Anita Notaro

"Most of us can remember a defining moment in our lives. A split second when time stood still and our lives changed forever. For Lily Ormond, that moment came late one night when she answered a knock on the door and discovered that while she'd been smashing garlic and rosemary and watching the soaps, her sister Alison had drowned.

Coming to terms with losing her only sibling and best friend was devastating, becoming a mother overnight to Ali's three-year-old son Charlie was mind-boggling, but discovering that her identical twin had been leading a secret life for years was almost Lily's undoing...

And so begins a journey linked with four men who'd been part of a life she hadn't even known existed. A journey that forces Lily to come to terms with a father who'd never really cared for her, a child who needs her too much and a sister who wasn't what she seemed."

What made this book so interesting for me was the way it was written. Each chapter has the name of a character at the top which indicates who that chapter focuses on. Chapters for Lily are written in the first person, and chapters for all of the other characters are written in the third person, making it easy to distinguish which type of story we are reading about.

The other characters are William and Beth, a middle-aged couple who have 2 children. William used to be a client of Alison's and now decided he wants Lily as well. James and Tamsin (James is another former client) are going through a struggle to have a baby and Alison's death means major changes for them. Richard (yes, another former client) and his model fiance Daisy are soon to be married but will Alison's death change Richard's perspective? And Dave and Marie seem to live separate lives, will Dave stay faithful to his wife after Alison's death?

As you can see, there are quite a few characters in the book, but don't let this fact make you think that the book might be hard to read. Notaro introduces all of the characters very well, making them all very different people from different walks of life who all visited Alison for different reasons. Each one of the characters weaves into the story very easily, and it is clever how Lily forms different relationships with them all, seemingly unaware about the link that the men had with her sister.

One thing I disliked about this book was the relationship between Lily and Charlie, her sister's son. Charlie doesn't live with Lily after Alison's death, but all she does is speak about how badly she misses him and wants him. Yet the scenes with the 2 of them are few and far between, and in my mind Lily doesn't seem to be doing enough to get Charlie with her, especially as he is the last link she has left to her sister. It seemed to me as I was reading that perhaps Notaro finds it easier to write about the relationships between adults, and not so much between children and adults, which is a shame. In my opinion this is what brings the book down from 5 stars to 4, because I simply couldn't away from my thoughts about this particular area of the book.

Other than that flaw, I found the book was a wonderful read. You were really transported into Wicklow and Lily's life, and her struggle to follow her dreams after the loss of her sister. The multi-character story-telling made for a good reading experience, and allowed the story to flow well, as well as allowing us a detailed look at each character in turn. I really enjoyed the book, and I think it is definitely my favourite Anita Notaro read so far. 

Rating: 4/5