Archive for the ‘ 5 Star Reviews ’ Category

REVIEW: “The Vintner’s Luck” by Elizabeth Knox

The Vintner’s Luck

Elizabeth Knox
Victoria University Press, 1998

CHALLENGE(S): GLBT Challenge, Read the Movie Challenge, Year of the Historical Challenge

Finished 2 Feb 2010

Judging by the polarity of the reviews on this novel, either you love it or you hate it. Fortunately for me, I was in the “love” camp. More than love – I adore this book. I’ve never read another quite like it.

I want to start out by saying that it is possibly best to come to it with no expectations (so if you think the premise sounds interesting, I recommend you go and read it before reading any reviews). I got a copy from the library with no synopsis whatsoever, so I went into it almost completely blind: all I knew was that it was about this guy and an angel who fall in love.

But Luck is so, so much more than that. So much more.

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REVIEW: “Child of My Right Hand” by Eric Goodman

Child of My Right Hand

Eric Goodman
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2004

CHALLENGE(S): GLBT Challenge

Finished 4 Jan 2010

I’ve had a lazy few days and haven’t actually finished anything new for a while (I was on such a roll, too – damn!) but I thought I should update anyway, since I already had this review written and all.

I read Child of My Right Hand before I’d even heard of the GLBT challenge, and I was very excited to get started. I kept peeking at pages over the last week of December, and what I saw only heightened my anticipation. When I finally started reading on January 1, I was not disappointed.

The premise is not exactly unique: family of four moves to Small Town America from the Big City, only to find the locals less than welcoming due to the fact that one of the kids (in this case, Simon Barish, 17) is gay. In fact, the book I read immediately after this one, The God Box, takes an almost identical premise with a slightly different spin and comes to much the same conclusion. Incidentally, I was interested to note that there really is an incredible difference between Young Adult fiction and mature fiction in this respect; not just regarding the treatment of sex, which you would expect, but in the facility of writing and depth of understanding. I am firmly of the opinion that just because a book is for a younger audience does not mean that the writing should not be as good (you can imagine how difficult it was for me to find good books when I was young), but that’s another rant altogether. Suffice it to say that the magnitude of the difference struck me here for the first time.

What makes Child a wholly independent book is not the plot line but the characters. Each has their own complex inner life, desires and motivations. Simon, the centerpiece, is buffeted by the cruelties of high school society as he attempts to remain true to himself and pursue potential boyfriends; his sister, the forgotten child, flits in and out of the background, seen mostly through the eyes of others, more mature than her elder brother but still struggling to find her place; Genna, rocked by her husband’s affair, attempts to find a sense of belonging by locating her biological father (who turns out to be gay); and Jack, at a dead end with his professional research into Nazi genetic experiments, wrestles with his own sexual nature while embarking on a project to understand the role of biology in homosexuality, a subtle but fascinating counterpoint to the issues the novel raises. They are all vividly rendered and I found myself thoroughly rooting for each of them throughout their different but interrelated challenges.

What struck me most about this book, though, was the love with which it was written. The narrator (mainly Jack) came through with great clarity, and it was obvious how much he cared about his family, which, in turn, made it easy for me to care too. But more than that, it seemed to me that the author felt an extreme compassion for his characters, even the antagonists, and made no move to pass judgment on their thoughts or actions, which I personally appreciated. Make no mistake: this is definitely a very raw novel, with an extremely blunt approach to topics like adultery, masturbation, underage sex and prostitution, but I think its strength lies in the fact that it refuses to pull any punches. It goes right for the jugular and hangs on until the very end, you could say. Here are three people laid out and peeled open, and their thoughts ring true in a way that I have seldom found in fiction. While difficult to read at times (some things you don’t really want to know!), the sheer honesty and compassion of the narrative carries it through. My one complaint is that the ending felt a little rushed to me – it could have used a little more length to balance it out – but otherwise a full five stars.  Definitely a great start to the year!

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REVIEW: “Undercover” by Beth Kephart

Undercover

Beth Kephart
HarperTeen 2005

CHALLENGE(S): Beth Kephart Challenge

Finished 8 Jan 2010

After Nothing But Ghosts, I have to say I wasn’t expecting miracles from this one. I’ve found that an author’s earlier books tend to be overshadowed by the later, and since I’d only given Ghosts three stars, it seemed unlikely that this would merit a higher rating.

Boy, was I wrong.

Elisa ghost-writes love notes and poetry for the boys in her school, not unlike a modern Cyrano de Bergerac. Amongst those boys is Theo Moses, whom Elisa thinks is kind of cute, if you look close enough. In the course of helping him woo Lila, a beautiful, popular girl he has his eye on, Elisa and Theo become friends, and maybe a little more than friends – but Lila is the jealous type, and is soon bent on destroying their relationship.

Meanwhile, things at home are becoming difficult for Elisa. The only member of her family she feels truly understands her – her father – has left on an extended business trip which is causing friction between him and her mother. Retreating into her own world like the undercover agent she believes she has become, Elisa discovers herself through poetry – and secret ice skating sessions on the frozen pond out in the woods, which will later become the vehicle through which her different realities will collide.

Kephart has a beautiful, lyrical writing style which is unusual in a Young Adult author. In Undercover, the vivid imagery and striking characters were grounded by the past-tense narrative in a way that Ghosts was not, which to me added a strength to this novel that the later one lacks.

From the get-go I was enthralled by the tapestry of colours and plots, the delicacy of the language and the engaging complexity of the storyline. Kephart takes what can only be called cliches – the shy, un-pretty girl with a talent for words, the boy caught up by the popular girl, the transformation from invisible ghost writer to ice-skating princess – and makes them her own, breathing new life into what (on the surface, at least) appears to be a tired old story. My only complaint was that the ending seemed a little too abrupt, but that could just be because I never wanted it to end.

A thoroughly enjoyable book. Highly recommended.

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