Saturday, April 27, 2013

Just Jennifer

Paper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom (William Morrow, May 2013)

Even in the electronic age, human beings are predisposed to using paper daily; even as our bills, our books and our newspapers go digital, there is still a piece of paper in everyone’s life that they hold near and dear: a card from an old flame, a picture drawn as a child or even the wallpaper that covers our walls.  Birth and death certificates are still issued in paper.  Even when we type on a typical word processor, the visual effect is often that we are typing on a piece of paper; our ebook reader “pages” are still numbered in the traditional sense.  Ian Sansom, who wrote a mystery trilogy featuring a bookmobile traces the history, and usefulness of paper from the obvious (toilet paper) to paper as an art form, both the most intricate Scherenschnitte (German paper cutting) to the ubiquitous paper airplane.  Sansom traces paper back to its roots in China over two thousand years ago and estimates that Americans use close to half a ton of paper (each) every year.   Sansom’s tone shifts between casual, anecdotal passages to more thoroughly researched and scholarly information and by his own admission is not by any means a comprehensive history of paper, rather an homage to something very few of us  would be able to do completely without.  A beautifully constructed book jacket brings many of Sansom's arguments full circle.  To paraphrase Mark Twain: The rumors of paper’s death have been greatly exaggerated.  

Just Jennifer

Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford (It Books, April 2013)

Kelly Oxford is a stay at home mom who achieved fame when she racked up over half-a-million followers on Twitter; she was named one of Time magazine’s top tweeters two years in a row and has gathered, and expounded upon, her 140 character missives.  One of the phenomena that social media and its accessibility has created is instant celebrity: in this case, humorous anecdotes that when stretched beyond the 140 character limit sometimes feel just that, drawn out and not as funny as the short, terse observations from her blog.  Hyperbole and self-deprecating humor may not be for everyone, but some of the stories are funny and nothing is sacred from her childhood to the embarrassing teenage stories that everyone has to growing into adulthood and parenthood, albeit she a little slower than some.  The story of how Oxford started tweeting and how she became so wildly popular is missing and would probably be an interesting one.  Gone are the days when Mom and Dad pull out a childhood photo album to embarrass a teen child’s date: now, in all likelihood, everyone has already read about it on Twitter.  Parents, especially moms, will find many of the stories familiar and funny, not to be taken seriously, which is probably the best piece of wisdom to be gleaned from the book: don’t take it all so seriously, enjoy the good times while you have them.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Just Jennifer

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler (Gallery, August 2013)

Esme Garland, a young English woman, has come to Columbia University to study Art History and finds herself pregnant by her handsome boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, who is old money and a bit of a playboy, by his own admission.  Completely lost and unsure, Esme finds herself attracted to an Upper West Side used bookstore, The Owl, and to the assortment of interesting employees and customers.  As Esme works through her relationship with Mitchell, including a holiday with his family in East Hampton, she realizes, though her friends she makes at The Owl, that she is self-reliant and is quite capable and able to make decision for herself and her unborn child.  She also finds that true friendship can be found in some unexpected places, including George the owner, the brooding guitar player Luke and the homeless men who frequent The Owl and take Sophie under their wings and protect and encourage her even in their less than ideal circumstances. 

Just Jennifer

Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie (St. Martin’s, July 2013)

Geniver Loxley’s daughter Beth was stillborn eight years ago and she has never fully recovered, even though her husband Art continues to encourage her to undergo fertility treatments in the hopes she’ll get pregnant again.  Her world is upended when a woman arrives on Gen’s doorstep claiming to be the sister of the nurse who was in the delivery room with Gen, who was bribed, along with the doctor, to help Art kidnap Beth and that Beth is most likely still alive.  Gen cannot believe that anyone, especially her husband, would have been so cruel, but certain things are not beginning to make sense; Gen, along with one of Art’s former primaries in his company, Lorcan, begins to look into this woman’s claim and soon realizes she is not crazy, but cannot believe how little she knows about her own husband and how truly evil some people can be.  Filled with twists and turns, Close My Eyes does not stop until it delivers one last gut-wrenching surprise on the last page. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Just Jennifer

Something About Sophie by Mary Kay McComas (William Morrow, March 2013)

Sophie Shepard receives a letter from a stranger summoning her to his deathbed in Clearfield, Virginia, the town from which her parents adopted her many years ago.  Sophie has never been interested in finding her birth parents and is reluctant to go to Virginia; Sophie waits too long and finds Arthur Cubeck has died before she arrives.  Sophie decides to stay for Arthur’s funeral and is surprised to hear from Arthur’s attorney that she needs to be present at the reading of Arthur’s will as she is mentioned in it.  Learning that she has inherited Arthur’s family home, she is beyond surprise and wonder s if she wasn’t Arthur’s daughter.  As Sophie stays to sort out Arthur’s affairs and try to make things right for his legitimate children, as well as learn if she was indeed his daughter, she finds herself drawn to Arthur’s doctor, Drew McCarren, and seems to have set off a chain of events as people start to die around her.  Not sure where events will take her, Sophie plans on renouncing her claims on Arthur’s estate and returning to her life as a first grade teacher when one final act changes everything for everyone.
More psychological thriller than anything, the twisted plot is belied by a calm cover showing a young woman wading into water.  The longer Sophie stays in Clearfield, the more entangled she becomes in the town and its past, and the more she feels compelled to set things right and possibly find her birth parents before she returns to her home.  Readers will be caught up in the plot and Sophie’s story before they realize it, rooting for Sophie the entire way.  Several unexpected twists provide for more emotional drama, not just for Sophie, but for the new friends she has met in Clearfield.  Darker than McComas’s previous novel What Happened to Hannah, Something About Sophie delves into just how far people will go to keep their own secrets.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Just Jennifer

Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth Silver (Crown, June 2013)

Noa P. Singleton is a young woman on death row in Pennsylvania for killing another young woman, Sara.  Six months before she is scheduled to die, Sara’s mother Marlene Dixon arrives at the jail with an attorney from her firm telling Noa that if Noa will tell Marlene why she shot Sara, Marlene will plead Noa’s case for clemency to the governor.  Noa doesn’t give Marlene much, telling only part of her story, the rest of which is revealed through her internal monologue, and letters Marlene writes to Sara.  As Noa’s story is told, it is clear she is not interested in saving herself, though her motives are not apparent at first; Noa comes off as cocky as times and apathetic at others, a completely unlikeable, but completely engaging character.  It becomes clear that Noa never had a shot from the time she was a child, but Sara did and events that Noa, and Marlene, set in motion, took those chances away from her.  At first, Marlene might be seen as the savior Noa is looking for, but as her story unfolds, things are revealed that make her as reprehensible and culpable, if not more than Noa.  An utterly compelling plot with many hidden secrets and characters that are difficult to like but fascinating nonetheless, make this a first novel that you won’t soon forget.

Just Jennifer

The Never List by Koethi Zan (Pamela Dorman Books, July 2013)

After best friends Sarah and Jennifer were in a car accident that killed Jennifer’s mother, the two created a “never list”; a list of things to be avoided at all costs.  The two plan everything down to the last detail, including their freshman year of college, to ensure their safety.  Sometimes, even though the girls don’t believe in it, fate intervenes, and despite their best plans, one night the girls get into a cab, a ride that changes their lives forever.  Jennifer and Sarah spend the next three years held captive a cellar with two other girls.  Their captor is obsessed with torture and how much the human body-and sprit-can withstand.  Sarah escaped and led authorities to rescue the other two girls, but to Sarah’s knowledge, Jennifer did not survive the ordeal.
Ten years of careful planning and living later, Sarah has still not dealt with the horror of her captivity and lives her life as a captive of her own making.  By mutual agreement, the three surviving women have changed their identities and have never spoken of these events to each other.  Now Jack Derber is up for parole and as much as Sarah wants to see him rot in prison, she also wants to learn what happened to Jennifer and her body; Sarah things that the letters she has been receiving from Derber may contain clues to what happened to Jennifer, but also suspects her other counterparts have been receiving the same letters which may contain different clues that together will lead her to her friend.  Back in Portland for the first time in ten years, Sarah finds herself drawn into Jack Derber’s world including the secret world of BDSM, cults and ancient torture.  As she brings Tracy and Christine back to their worst nightmare, Sarah learns that the three were not in their ordeal together and that the other two still harbor grudges against her.
Fast-paced and disturbing, this multi-layered plot slowly reveals layer upon layer as Sarah thinks she has dealt with what has happened to her, but realizes she hasn’t, that she has just been hiding as she tries to control her environment.  As Sarah searches for her friend, she confronts her fears and learns things about herself that surprise her and things she doesn’t necessarily like.  Her journey to find Jennifer becomes one of healing and self-actualization.  A couple of rescue scenes as the book progresses seem unlikely but the reunite three women in Portland where they need to be to face the horrors of their past, find the answers to give themselves the closure they need to move on with their lives.