Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino.

Review based on ARC.

wow. I barely know where to begin. I can see why the book has won Japan's equivalent of the National Book Award and why it was made into a move (that I hope to see soon!!).

First. Get past the first 20 pages. Mystery readers who are used to the flash-intro may find this novel begins a bit slowly - starting with a "beginning" but not with some huge shock-and-awe scene. That, combined with the unfamiliar names, can make the book just a tad harder to access from the start. But, as I said, give it 20 pages. At page 18, I lost track of the page numbers and the previously unheard names (Ishigami was easy, but Yasuko versus Yukawa was a little trickier at first) were already familiar.

Second. I wouldn't actually call it a murder "mystery." Typically, that brings to mind a book in which the murderer and often the murder implement is unknown. In this book, you know from the beginning what has happened. Instead, I would categorize it as a cat-and-mouse intellectual thriller. Who will "win"? The brilliant guy on side A or the brilliant guy on side B?

On top of that, there aren't any "bad guys" to hate (aside from one, but he does not really bother us) ... and hardly a "good guy" to cheer. Instead, the characters are complex, realistic, vivid, and endearing.

I could not possibly divulge too much of a plot for fear of ruining what will be a thrilling ride for readers of this book. So instead, I say: read it. Give yourself enough time to get into the book; give yourself enough mental energy to wrap your head around the complexities of the narrative; give yourself a little space to process what happened once you are finished.

I would say the only "bad" thing about the novel is that there were just a couple little trips in the translation... but I was reading an advance readers' edition, so I imagine they are no longer present. In other words, absolutely excellent.

Highly recommend.

FIVE of five stars.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

Review based on ARC.

The past several months of my life were crazy, and I was looking to a book to allow me full "escape" privileges. Because this book did not quite allow that (I will explain), I was harder on it when first reading it than is fair. In the end, it completely redeemed itself, even to my judgmental eyes.

The book has been criticized as being unrelatable because the characters are "poor little rich girls" living lives that normal teens do not share. I actually do not agree (though I did at first). And I say this as someone who did not grow up around wealth.

The book is broken into 4 sections. One appears at the beginning and end, and is the essential narration establishing the reason behind the other three sections, which are confessions written by/from the perspective of the three eldest girls in a family of 6 children, all grandchildren to the Almighty Lou. Almighty has threatened to disinherit the family because a member of the family has deeply "offended her." The family (the 6 kids & their 2 parents) determine that the three eldest girls are the most likely culprits, and they set out to write their confessions.

The first confession is by Norrie, the eldest girl. This is the part that I can see most people criticizing as "poor little rich girl." This is the weakest part of the book, but a lot of necessary background information comes out in this section, setting up the rest of the book for the more interesting narrations. Norrie is the well-behaved daughter until she meets a boy in graduate school in an evening speed-reading class and falls for him, throwing all caution to the wind, including her family's reputation. This is the part of the book that, while I was going through my own difficulties in life, which were significantly more overwhelming than meeting some guy and not knowing what to do about it, made me annoyed and frustrated that I had to read a book with a vapid protagonist. However, the writing was good enough that the reading was quick and easy and I got through Norrie's tale in due time.

And Jane's story, the second eldest daughter, is much more interesting than Norrie's. If other readers are annoyed by Norrie's story, I recommend at least giving Jane a chance. This is where the story begins to have some interest. Not only is Jane more relatable, but she is interesting and is a dynamic character. Where Norrie's story had the tone of a defensive teenager who just wanted to convince her Almighty Grandmother that her path was the right path, Jane explains her reasoning, but the reader actually sees movement in her character and personality. Much more enjoyable. Even if Jane is not relatable, she is at least interesting!

The worst part of the remainder of the book is that, by the end of Jane's story, I already knew what Sassy's confession would be. So I assumed the remainder of the book would be completely predictable. However, while I was right about her essential confession, I was pleased with the story and the development of her character and others in the book. I was particularly impressed with Standiford's representation of Cassandra (Sassy's tuttee) & their relationship.

And the end, which encompassed the final few pages of Almighty receiving the confessions and her reaction to them, was satisfying and even moving.

My opinion of the book completely changed by the end. When I receive books directed at a high school audience through the early reviewer program, I read the book w/ an awareness of the intended audience. That being said, I would highly recommend the book to junior high & high school girls. I would also recommend the book to older women who are looking for a little escape and perhaps a little reminiscence of their own high school days.

FOUR of five stars.