Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Reviews by Gina

I have been reading Gina's book reviews for a while now and I love them!
What makes her unique is, she gives Parental Advisories at the end of each review so you know exactly what you're getting into. Because her reviews have introduced me to so many great books, I couldn't wait to share some of them with you!

After you read her reviews, check out her
Fantasy Casting blog for even more fun!

The List
Melanie Jacobson
Gina's Rating: (4/5 stars)

If you are real-life friends with me, I highly recommend you read this book, ASAP. The reason for this ringing endorsement is a little creepy, but I'm gonna go ahead and put it out there anyway. You ready? Melanie Jacobson and I are pretty much the same person*. So, if you like me, you'll like her.

*This statement is based entirely on two things: my interactions with her on Twitter (most of which occurred WITHOUT me knowing that she was an author) and this book. Don't sue me, Mel. Thanks.

Seriously, though, same sense of humor, same idea of what constitutes "normal" and an apparent shared distaste for time-travel stories based on the fact that they are inherently incongruous. Same person. More or less.

I saw this book being promoted over and over on all the cool Mormon Mommy Blogs, and I thought, "Meh." I'm not big on contemporary fiction. I'm not big on romances. I just figured it wasn't my thing. But when I realized that "Melanie Jacobson" was actually "WriteStuffMel" I knew I just HAD to read it. Because "WriteStuffMel" is hilarious and awesome, so why wouldn't "Melanie Jacobson" be, too?

And she did not disappoint.

This book is basically the literary equivalent of the best romantic comedy movies out there. Is it a tad predictable? Sure. But, really, do you ever question that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are going to wind up together? No. Of course not. You aren't really concerned with the outcome so much as with the journey. And this journey is completely adorable and hilarious.

The characters are real and never feel cliched or formulaic at all. The female lead, in particular, was refreshing. She's smart, funny and independent. She's pretty, and while she knows it, she doesn't let it define her. I can't tell you how sick I am of the following:
"I don't know why all the boys fall all over themselves to meet me! I'm not pretty at all!" *bats eyelashes and pouts seductively*
"I'm hot. I know it. Any guy who doesn't bow down and start worshiping at my feet must be either gay or a big, fat jerk."
To have a pretty main character whose prettiness is completely incidental to her character is refreshing.

And that's the word I want to use in describing this book more than any other: refreshing. Where there easily could have been cliched characters and stereotypical storylines, we instead have a cute and realistic little love story that we all wish we had dreamed up.

I feel compelled to mention that this is an LDS romance, but unlike other LDS niche fiction, you do not have to be LDS to read this and understand it. The characters are LDS, and their lives include church and BYU, but other than that, it really doesn't matter. Their religion defines them the way a shared workplace or alma mater would define the characters in any other story: it's a setting, a way for the characters to meet and a way to keep bringing them together and share experiences. You definitely do NOT need to be LDS to read and enjoy this book.

Sex 1/5: Some kissing, lots of flirting and a few mild double-entendres.

Violence 0/5: None

Language 0/5: None

Substance Abuses 0/5: None

The Overton Window
Glenn Beck
Gina's Rating: (4/5 stars)

I really debated about how many stars to give this one. It came down, for me, somewhere between three and four stars, and I gave it the higher rating simply because it was so engaging. The writing was good, not great, but I just couldn't put this book down, so it gets the extra star.

This is a fairly straightforward, simply written book, so long as you're fairly up to snuff on your politics and mind games. It falls short of Bourne in the action department, and short of The Pelican Brief and Manchurian Candidate in suspense, though a combination of the three is certainly the intended feel of this book. It's quick and suspenseful without being too complex; the story is intended to be food for thought, not a "Mission: Impossible" style head-scratcher, and I think it accomplishes its goals.

The story follows Noah, a typical privileged white male, heir to a PR company- and it's accompanying fortune- in Manhattan. He meets a cute, right-wing activist girl and is pulled headlong into a whirlwind of conspiracies, cover ups and intrigue of all kinds. There's just the right amount of double-crossing "gotcha" moments, and the ultimate message of "you never know who you can really trust" is drilled in right to the end.

While the conversations are a little amateurish, and some of the coincidences/conspiracies required to drive the plot forward are a little too contrived for my taste, there are definitely some very strong redeeming qualities. For instance, Beck isn't afraid to kill off good characters (yes, this is a good thing). He recognizes that he wrote a story about a war, and casualties abound in war. He doesn't just kill off bad guys to get rid of them, or kill secondary characters to tug at your heartstrings, he kills at least one character that I would consider a main protagonist in a very dramatic fashion. Here's the best part: it all feeds the story. It fits, and it forwards the work. Very well played.

The humor is all Beck, and if you're a fan, you'll love this book. If you're not a fan, you'll probably still like it, but it would be closer to the three star mark than the four star mark. The politics are conservative, though he blasts Republicans and conservatives a lot, too. The overall political message is one of anti-corruption, and Beck makes no pretense that only one party is corrupt: the characters uncover corruption and selfishness and flat out evil in every party and on every level of the government, from city beat cops all the way up to Heads of State. No rock is left unturned, and no party is safe.

Beck intended this work of fiction to be thought provoking, and it is. It's chilling to think that any of this would be possible, and while I don't think we're anywhere near this level of government intrusion, it is certainly worth thinking about and paying attention to.

Parental Advisories:

Language 1/5: A few, sparse and well-placed "damns" or "hells"

Sex 1/5: A girl is referred to as being sexy or doing sexy things several times, a male character described in a his sexual history very demure way, one man congratulates another on "getting laid" (though the one being congratulated had not, in fact, been laid)

Violence 2/5: A fist fight, two poisonings, a gun fight and a bomb. We see the fist fight and the gun fight, though it's described in a quick manner and without the gory details. The poisonings are talked about, and the bomb happens off in the distance and we see nothing of the aftermath.

Substance Abuses 2/5: A political rally takes place at a bar and everybody is drinking or smoking. One main character gets very, very drunk. A doctor jokes to a friend about being addicted to prescription meds, and makes a reference to meth. Pro-marijuana campaigns are referenced, though not really talked about.

Not My Type
Melanie Jacobson
Gina's Rating: (4/5 stars)

Melanie Jacobson does it again. Another funny, sweet, LDS romance that you definitely do not need to be LDS to read and love.

This time, we leave behind the confident, charismatic characters of "The List" and are introduced to the shy, the awkward and the self-conscious. Which, frankly, I am sure most of us can relate with better, anyway. Broken engagements, emotional baggage, insecurities and flaws abound, but still leave us with lovable characters that you just want to cheer for. Or give a big hug to. One of the two.

I love that the "villain" can be redeemed without the story feeling cheesy.
I love that people can grow and change and still be true to the original character.
I love that she can so perfectly nail that feeling of "when will my life begin" we all feel during our twenties.
I love that she can capture the funny pieces of our LDS culture without feeling like she's mocking and/or apologizing for it. We are what we are, and she embraces that and makes it a part of the story without it being preachy or alienating.

Sex 1/5: Some kissing, some off-screen makeout sessions. Vague reference to how the non-LDS world "dates"

Violence 0/5: Sibling wrestling. But that doesn't count.

Language 0/5: Totally clean.

Substance Abuses 0/5: Totally clean

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