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Below are the 6 most recent journal entries recorded in Book Reviews -- Like Oprah, But Cooler's LiveJournal:

Friday, September 19th, 2003
3:16 pm
Why Girls Are Weird
This book has received a lot of hype. Even from people on livejournal. When I was still doing book reviews in my personal journal, more than one person asked me if I had read Why Girls Are Weird by Pamela Ribon. I suppose it's a perfectly normal question -- especially when you think about the forum of those discussions.

This book is about online journalling. Well, sort of. This book is about Anna Koval and her experiences with online journalling. That's pretty simplistic, but the book is a pretty simple thing.

That's not to say it's bad. So don't jump on me for saying it's simple. Simple does not automatically equal bad, nor does anything else automatically equal good.

It didn't take long to read this book. The prose flows like conversation and the 306 pages turn very quickly. Anna is interesting, witty, and sympathetic. I'd probably read her journal, if she were on livejournal.

But there aren't any other characters of whom I could say the same. These are the people closest to Anna, but their depth is not reflected in her impressions or interactions. The result is that the book is sometimes one-dimensional when it has the chance to be very full-bodied.

There's a really profound moment with her mother, and I wanted so much more of that sort of insight into the lives of the characters. The book is at its best right after Anna's father dies -- which might be a spoiler, but not really. The way the Anna and her family deal with mourning is really evocative and the sparse storytelling suits the situation very well.

Other than that, though, everything seems to go right for Anna. She doesn't change much, not on a deep level, nor do any of the other characters. Nothing blows up in her face, nothing backfires, and when something bad does happen it's usually alright because something even better happens to take the sting away.

Reading this book is like reading livejournal. For the most part, it's harmless voyuerism. I think at the end there's supposed to be a message somewhere, something to the effect that there are some things that are just for ourselves, but it isn't clear and I could have that completely wrong.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the book. It even made me laugh out loud in a few places. It's just very light-weight reading. It hasn't stuck with me at all. Maybe that's why online journals are so addicting, come to think of it. They don't fill you up, so you have to keep coming back for more.

There are some wonderful moments in Why Girls Are Weird. There really are. I just wish there were more substance.
Wednesday, September 10th, 2003
6:57 pm
A Moment of Frivolity
I read romance novels.

The cheap Harlequin kind.

They crack me up most of the time. But sometimes they make me mad. They all fit into a few categories. There's the virgin who's just going to die if she doesn't get laid before her 28th birthday/college graduation/next promotion/whatever. There's the pregnant widow who turns to her dead husband's best friend. There's the town slut who's decided to straighten up and be a one-man woman. Things like that.

Bordering On Obsession is definitely cheesy. It's the story of an office manager to a producer/director (at least I think that's what he does.... It isn't ever perfectly clear) who decides to impersonate a French movie star and seduce her boss. It sounds way more plausible in the context of the book.

Okay, actually it doesn't. Which is why despite moments of fun, the book fails to be anything other than an hour's worth of distraction. As my old creative writing professor used to say (actually, I'm sure she still says it and she isn't old), "It has to ring true." This rings like a big old fake.

Expecting the Cowboy's Baby really only adds up to about 45 minutes worth of distraction. This one falls into the pregnant after a one-night stand but isn't able to avoid the man who eventually convinces her he loves her madly category. Should that be hyphenated? Probably. There's just nothing to it. The story could actually be interesting. For once there's a strong female who isn't a tramp and a man who's got some personality. But instead of character development we have stereotypes. Bleh. This book takes the easy way out.

Now, I know romance novels aren't supposed to be these great works of fiction that challenge and engage. But maybe they should be. I think we lack real romance in American culture. There's too much Hollywood in our intimate moments and too little reality. The reality shows (which are anything but realistic) probably don't help. I want a romance novel that has great characters and a story I want to spend more time with than I spend eating my Chinese food.
6:31 pm
The Science of Harry Potter
I really wanted to like this book. I tried really really hard.

But The Science of Harry Potter sucks.

There is no nice way to say that.

The blurb on the cover, from the Orlando Sentinel, says that "as one reads The Science of Harry Potter it is impossible not to become intrigued." Double negatives aside (after all, this is the Orlando Sentinel), the only thing it's impossible not to become intrigued by while reading The Science of Harry Potter is the book itself. This is dry, boring stuff. It's only marginally related to the Harry Potter books -- each chapter begins with a scenario from the world of Hogwarts, but it quickly devolves into information that is only tangentally related.

And it isn't that the science is too hard. Oh no. Indeed this is simplistic science that the 10 year old readers of the first Harry Potter book could grasp. Not that they are this book's intended audience. The subtitle is How Magic Really Works, but all this book does is tell us the magic in Harry Potter's world is impossible. Unless we suspend the laws of physics or drop some peyote that is. Roger Highfield is trying a little too hard here to make science hip.

The problem is the way the information is presented. I'm sure there were plenty of top scientists interviewed; I'm not doubting the veracity of the information provided. But the style is forced and stilted -- I'm distracted by any little happening while I read this. It's taken me two months to read a book that only has 288 pages. I had to force myself to finish it. The pace drags, the chapters seem endless, and at the end I have to question whether or not there were better things I could have been doing with my time. And then I'm unable to escape answering with a yes.

I don't like to pan books. But if anyone in a book store (or on the side of the road for that matter) asked me, I'd tell them to avoid this one. I really wanted to like it. Unfortunately, there just wasn't magic enough.
5:53 pm
In Her Shoes
Jennifer Weiner once wrote a book called Good In Bed and I read it and fell in love with it. I left it on a book shelf with a Bookcrossing i.d. and it even got registered by a woman who liked it as much as I did. Of course, I don't think she's released it, but at least one other person got read a really truly fabulous book.

When I was finished with Good In Bed I wanted to read more Jennifer Weiner. So I went to the store and looked at In Her Shoes, which was in hardcover at the time. I read the first few pages and put it back. It didn't seem worth buying in hardcover. I was disappointed.

But I was in Target one day and there it was in paperback. And 10% off. It was a sign from the universe, I decided, that I was supposed to own this book. The universe is pretty wise.

In Her Shoes is painful and funny and true. I'm an only child, so I can only guess at the honestly of the sisters' relationship but the rest.... The struggles at romance, the weight issues, the comfort to be found in a size 8 designer shoe.... That much is dead on.

There really are some ugly moments. Some parts I didn't want to have to read. I didn't like all of the characters all of the time. Maybe that's what makes them such real people. The sisters, Rose and Maggie, have a way of bringing out the absolute worst in each other and their worst is pretty bad. In the end, though, I love them for it. Or in spite of it. Or both.

This isn't a repeat of Good In Bed, though there are a few cameo appearances, my favorite of which is Nifkin, the dog. This is different. The main focus of Good In Bed was weight, while it's a minor issue here. In Her Shoes is about the difficult relationships that women have with one another. More specifically, it's about the difficult relationships women in the same family have with each other.

Rose is the "smart sister." That's been her label all her life. She's struggled to keep her weight at a level that will make her step-mother happy. She's struggled to find love that will make her happy. She's struggled with clothes and makeup and love and friendship, but mostly with her sister Maggie.

Maggie is the "pretty sister." She's never been good at school, has a learning disability that has contributed to the chip on her shoulder, and isn't above a little petty larceny in Rose's closet. She's also something of a slut. Well, okay, she IS a slut. But I think she's also the richest of the characters, with more facets and levels. She has never really liked Rose.

It's an excellent read. I was going to say that it isn't great literature, but maybe it is. I think great literature is character-driven and reveals something new each time you come back to it. This fits that bill.
5:36 pm
The Song Reader
The Song Reader, by Lisa Tucker, makes me sad.

But it's a good sad. A cathartic sad. The kind of sad that makes you smile because, really, sometimes we enjoy being sad.

The Song Reader is a first person narrative, the voice of Leeann Norris, 16 year old denizen of a small southern town. She and her incredibly dysfunctional family create a portrait of caged lives that try to be normal but just can't quite make it.

Leeann's sister Mary Beth is a song reader. That means she gets people to list the song lyrics that have been circling around in their head, stuck there, and she interprets them. If you hum the song that you've been whistling in the shower all morning, Mary Beth can tell you that you're feeling stifled by your husband and yes, he really is cheating on you.

But the song reading is only the gimmick to get you into their lives. These people have deep, beautiful cracks running through them and once I got past the surface shine it was the flaws that made this story lyrical (no pun intended).

The writing flows, the story is well-paced, very steady. Leeann's world unravels until even she realizes that things haven't been right for a very long time. Her mother is dead, her father is.... Well, slightly left of center might be the nicest way to put it. His obsessive-compulsive tics are strangely charming. Her sister adopted the unwanted child of a client. Her life is filled with keeping charts for her sister, keeping the secrets of half the people in town.

And she has normal problems as well. The boys all stare at her breasts and her female friends don't understand her life at all. And when things go horribly wrong for Mary Beth, Leeann just keeps getting up in the morning, just keeps handling things.

There are funny moments for sure. But the overall feeling of momentum that can't outrun suffering tempers even the laughs. This is a book to read in quiet moments, an afternoon when no one is home to tell you you're silly for getting so emotional over a book.

Sometimes sad is good.
Thursday, July 17th, 2003
12:16 pm
Sleep No More
And so we begin!

Sleep No More is the latest paperback from Greg Iles, author of thrillers like Dead Sleep and WWII intrigues like Spandau Phoenix. The copy on the back cover doesn't give readers a clue about what's in store for them. If I weren't a Greg Iles fan, I doubt I'd have bought the book.

But I did. And I'm glad. Sleep No More is a departure for Iles, a foray into the supernatural that costumes itself with eroticism and suspense. This is not, however, just another Stephen King rip-off. Iles has proven himself to be adept at stringing out the tension in a story, without letting it snap. He balances his characters along their breaking point and proves that they are stronger than they know.

Of course, if you're looking for something with some obvious moral, some proclamation of redeeming social value, you might want to go back to reading The Pilgrim's Progress. Sleep No More never preaches about humanity or what we are capable of. That's simply not Iles's style. But if your tastes run to sympathetic characters, complex plots, and well-written prose, you might want to pick this book up.

John Waters is our focus. He's a geologist who's been fairly successful at locating oil in the Mississippi River Delta area. He lives in Natchez (a familiar setting for Iles fans) with his wife and daughter. Other than some potential problems with the EPA, Waters's life could be considered idyllic. Which is always a signal for impending disaster. Waters's disaster comes in the form of Eve Sumner. Eve is a woman with a resemblance to someone from Waters's past, someone he's never been able to forget and leave behind. Things grow progressively stranger and Waters's world begins to crumble. His wife and daughter are now at risk, as well as his freedom and sanity.

This book makes us question the nature of identity. It makes us look at our own ties to the past, to memory. If your long lost love reappeared, what would you do to regain the paradise you remember inhabiting? Even if that paradise had elements of hell.... And what would you do to protect the family you loved from the demons of your past?

I enjoy thrillers for the same reason I enjoy rollercoasters. They make my heartbeat accelerate and my hands shake just a little. Sleep No More isn't the most engrossing of Iles's work (that title goes to Dead Sleep), but it's exciting to read. It's a fairly hefty book (464 pages), but the pacing is excellent. It flows smoothly, transitioning from one scene to the next seamlessly enough that you might have been reading for longer than you realized.

I read quickly. This book only took me about four hours to get through. But those four hours disappeared. I sat in parking lots, intending to go places, and never made it out of my car because I thought I'd sneak in just one more page. To say one can't put a book down is too cliched for me, but I will say that this book didn't let go of my imagination until long after I had finished it.

Go, find it and read it!
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