Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book vs. Movie: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

The Host, the Book:

Publisher's Description:

Our world has been invaded by an unseen enemy that takes over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. But Wanderer, the invading "soul" who occupies Melanie's body, finds its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind. As Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she's never met. Soon Wanderer and Melanie-reluctant allies-set off to search for the man they both love. Featuring one of the most unusual love triangles in literature, THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel about the persistence of love and the essence of what it means to be human.

The Host, the Movie:

What I liked: Let’s start with the positives first since there is actually very little I liked
  • The plot stays true to the novel (considering the thing I liked the best about The Host, the novel was the story, as opposed to say… the writing, I’m glad this remained the same). 
  • The plot remains the same pacing when it comes to major plot events. Remember how there are like three separate climaxes to the story? They’re all in the movie too. 
  • Parts of the movie are laugh out loud funny. Some of the lines are delivered tongue-in-cheek, as if even the actors can’t believe they have to say them. 
  • Jeb is excellently cast. Just fantastic. He almost makes up for all the other terrible actors. 
  • The desert scenes look fantastic… until they get into the caves and you realize you’re staring at a plaster set reminiscent of bad displays at Disney’s Epcot. 
  • The eyes of humans with a Host are awesome. 
What I didn't like: Where to start… where to start. Oh right, the biggest problem: the actors are horrendous. I’m pretty sure Meyer and co. pick actors based on physical resemblance to characters alone and completely ignore acting capabilities. Also:
  • The entire beginning of the movie is overly clinical to the point where it just looks super fake The super shiny silver modes of transportation that the Seekers use which look CGI’ed 
  • The voiceovers where Mel is resisting her host. They alternatively made me want to shudder or laugh… they’re just so bad. Not enough sincerity. 
  • Mel’s occasional southern accent
  • The movie had serious pacing issues. Because it doesn’t move as fast as the books read a lot of the franticness of the situation is completely lost on screen. Instead the entire plot becomes very slow and overly dramatic/sentimental 
  • Have I mentioned how bad the actors are? 
Overall: Redbox it if you want a good laugh. I went with two friends, one who had never read the book and another who had. The one who read the book has self-admitted “very low expectations” and liked it. The one who hadn’t read the book couldn’t fathom how that movie made it to the screen. So take it for what it’s worth, my recommendation is spend your $10 on buying the e-book rather than a movie ticket. It’s a fast read.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Publisher’s Description:

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.
Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.



I don’t have a problem reading legal thrillers. I usually really enjoy them. Give me a good John Grisham any day. But there were so many legal issues I just could not get past in Defending Jacob. First and foremost, Landay spends a good chunk of the novel throwing around the idea of a crime “gene” or what recent studies have identified as the MAOA gene.

I have to admit that I’m more than a little biased in my review. To the extent that law students can have “specializations” the way that med students do, this book hits right on mine. I’ve spent my very, very short legal career studying the impact of genetics and the law, specifically in the context of criminal prosecution. I’ve taken a number of classes and working as a research assistant for a genetics law professor, spent a year working with a juvenile justice center that focuses on criminal psychology. These sound like “fluffy” topics, but they are incredibly complex subjects based in science, and just like any scientific endeavor, our knowledge is based on replicable, controlled scientific studies. Even with this experience, my working knowledge of genetics is VERY limited. 

But even I know how dangerous Landay’s presumptuous and incorrect use of the MAOA gene is, especially in a criminal justice setting.

Briefly, MAOA is an enzyme involved in the breaking down of neurotransmitters, such as naturally occurring serotonin and dopamine. It is a variation of this gene that the book refers to. Low MAOA levels, combined with significant levels of abuse have been correlated with an increased rate of aggression and violent crime in men. It is important to note that is a correlation not causation and an increased rate. The total percentage still hovers between 20-40%. Understand that this means even if you have low MAOA levels and significant childhood abuse, there is still less than a 50% chance that that person has increased levels of aggression.

In addition, there are virtually unnumbered other factors that affect this interaction: high testosterone levels, mothers smoking during pregnancy, low IQ, social exclusion.

The latest case to use such genetic evidence as mitigating evidence resulted in the defendant receiving a death penalty sentence. These days it is widely regarded as a dangerous tactic and in fact, could be considered ineffective assistance of counsel and grounds for a mistrial.

The fact that Landay simply skips over this incredibly complex scientific idea, submits to fear-mongering and uses it to build suspense in his novel is beyond frustrating. The idea that a person could be convicted on the basis of having a family with a criminal past is revolting. Perhaps if the book was set in another day and age, another country or without purporting to be a legal thriller, I might be okay with the fabrication. Here it is fundamental to the story and fundamentally inappropriately used.

If you’ve read the novel you might dismiss this all because well, it doesn’t matter in the end (I won’t spoil it for you here). Which brings me to part two of my least favorite things.

Landay hands us the biggest cop-out ending of all time.

Not once.

But twice.

Which leaves me where at least half of the readers of Defending Jacob are. Staring at the last page going Really!? Not okay. You can’t just take the easy way out of your own book.

Would I recommend this book to a fellow law student? Absolutely NOT.

Would I recommend this book to a fellow thriller lover? Absolutely NOT.

Would I recommend this book to a general reader? Absolutely NOT because of the terrible and unbelievable characters. (Oh wait, did I not mention that before? Brief summary: prosecutor suddenly decides its okay to break all the laws, loving mother suddenly becomes a monster, etc. Every damn character did a 180 for no reason at all.)

Good riddance.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I HAD to Buy... But are Still Sitting on My Shelf Unread

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is fantastic: the top ten books I HAD to buy... but are still sitting on my shelf unread. I'm ashamed to say this week's TTT was much easier than it should be. Sometimes I think I'm a shameful book lover for casting aside books, but sometimes it's just an accident. Here are some that have been sitting, collecting dust for a while:

1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I read and absolutely loved The Time Traveler's Wife, it's probably my favorite novel of all time. So of course, as soon as I knew Niffenegger had authored another book, I just had to have it. I read the first chapter or so, got bored and put it down. Since then I've only heard mediocre things about it so I haven't been incentivized to pick it back up again.

2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

I still really want to read this one. Unfortunately because the copy I have is a beautiful hardbound version, it's huge! Since the book is so long, it makes it difficult to lug back and forth to and from school with me, so it's been collecting dust on my shelf at home.

3. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Unfortunately 1Q84 met the same fate as 11/22/63 - it's just too big and long to be convenient to carry around so I haven't actually gotten to reading it yet. I think it may be a summer or winter vacation read.

4. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

I couldn't even tell you what The Tiger's Wife is even about anymore, it's been that long since I bought it. I think it was at the top of a bunch of awards lists and when I saw it I knew I had to read it to see what it was about. Whoops.

5. Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

I read all of the Sookie Stackhouse novels in one big binge read over winter break a few years ago. Since then I've found it difficult to keep up with and get into the new books in the series that come out every year. I'm always forgetting what happened in the last book.

6. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This was all over the internet last spring and summer. As soon as I bought it though, I pushed it to the side in favor of by the pool chick lit. Since then, it's kind of faded and I never hear anyone suggest it so it's been bumped way down on my to be read list.

7. Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Confession time! I adore this cover. I bought the book because of the cover. It helps that it was a bestseller too - but I'm not even really sure if it would be a book that I otherwise would have picked up. I still love picking it up and looking at it, even if it's making a nice decoration.

8. The Racketeer by John Grisham

This was another victim of my binge reading habits. When I finally got into John Grisham I binge-read a whole slew of his novels, ending with buying this one. Unfortunately, like all my binges, my interest in Grisham came to an abrupt end and I couldn't even think of reading it. I'll get to it someday I suppose.

9. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

I'm the only one in the whole world that hasn't read this one right? I really have no excuse. I was so happy to buy my own copy because it was always checked out at the library. Then I realized how long it was... but unlike 11/22/63 and 1Q84, I even have it in an e-version. See? No excuse.

10.  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I think I felt like I had to buy this one because it's one of those books you're either supposed to read, or had to read for class. I still haven't made it to actually reading it, but it's another one I like to have sitting on my bookshelf so people think I read classier books than I really do. (I'm joking of course... mostly.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Coffee and Company (2)

Sunday Coffee and Company:

Online Reads:

What Books Make You Feel Nostalgic? by Jason Boog via Media Bistro - The author goes through fifteen books from his childhood bookshelves that make him feel nostalgic.

101 Books to Read this Summer Instead of 50 Shades of Grey by Rebecca Eisenberg via Upworthy - Follow this elaborate flow chart through just over a hundred books you should pick up before 50 Shades of Grey... books for all tastes.

Game of Cats by Zena Wozinak via - Ever notice how Game of Thrones characters look like felines? Well they do. Here's the definitive proof.

American Society of Journalists and Authors Annual Awards via - The ASJA Awards Committee has announced its winners for 2013.


The Immortal, Shattered Cells of Henrietta Lacks byRebecca J. Rosen via TheAtlantic - Scientists have sequenced a line of HeLa cells, and found them to be "a mess."

Why Twenty-Somethings Aren't Doomed to be Poor (but Thirty-Somethings Might Be) by Jordan Weissmann - A quick look at, and a critique of a recent New York Times article dooming twenty-somethings to be poor.

How I Lost $ 500,000 for Love by Aryn Kyle via - A writer looks back on her costly mistakes—blowing a generous book advance while pursuing a relationship with a married man

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (1)

Stacking the Shelves is hosted every week by Tynga's Reviews and encourages all kinds of book bloggers to show off their week's book haul. 

This week is my very first Stacking the Shelves, and I am so excited to show off my swag. I took last week's TTT to heart and made some serious efforts to acquire some of those series so I could get crackin'. Check 'em out below:




Beautiful Darkness  |  Beautiful Chaos  |  Graceling  |  Fire  |  Bitterblue

What was your favorite acquisition this week?

Effortless by S.C. Stephens

Publisher's Description:

After being caught in the middle of a love triangle which led to a devastating betrayal, Kiera pledged to learn from the mistakes she’d made. She was determined to never again inflict that kind of pain on anyone, especially the soulful, talented man who held her heart. But life offers new challenges for every relationship, and when Kiera’s love is put to the ultimate test, will it survive? Love is easy . . . trust is hard.


I was mostly disappointed in this book because it seemed like an unnecessary extension of the first book. It's an almost 500 page epilogue, really.

As I mentioned in my previous review of Thoughtless, one of the things I like best about Stephens is her character development. Unfortunately I also thought it was what was most missing in the sequel. Some of the secondary characters make a few steps forward in their lives. Kiera's sister, for one, and Denny for the other. On the whole though, they stay relatively stagnant even thought their worlds are exploding and expanding around them. The guy's band takes off for a nationwide tour, and it brings all of the drama you'd expect, but without any of the growth.

I did like that that Denny made an appearance in this book as well. Not immediately and not without scars, but he was probably the character that developed the most through the second novel. It would have been very easy for Stephens just to send him back to Australia, throw him out as a character and we would never seen him again. I think she tackles a very difficult plot point by bringing him back into the fold. Admittedly, I'm not sure how realistic it is, but I respect her choice.

Unlike the first book, there were large portions of this book that just felt entirely unnecessary. Stephens jumped forward through months at a time, quickly covering the entire year that the band was on tour and jumping ahead to the dramatic plot points. The sex scenes also seemed more frequent and almost gratuitous. I enjoyed Kiera's trip back to Ohio and her family home, but it was short lived. I was disappointed that Stephens (so great at character development) didn't take the opportunity to let us get to know Kiera better through her parents.

I didn't like Effortless nearly as much as Thoughtless… but I'll probably finish the series just to see how Stephens brings the drama to an end.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Thoughtless by S.C. Stephens

Publisher's Description:

For almost two years now, Kiera's boyfriend, Denny, has been everything she's ever wanted: loving, tender and endlessly devoted to her. When they head off to a new city to start their lives together, Denny at his dream job and Kiera at a top-notch university, everything seems perfect. Then an unforeseen obligation forces the happy couple apart.

Feeling lonely, confused, and in need of comfort, Kiera turns to an unexpected source—a local rock star named Kellan Kyle. At first, he's purely a friend that she can lean on, but as her loneliness grows, so does their relationship. And then one night everything changes...and none of them will ever be the same.



I want to address a major point of the novel first. I don't usually take issue with love triangle stories per se, especially where the author has thoughtfully constructed delicate but powerful relationships. Unfortunately, love triangles are all too often a part of real life, and if art mimics life, love triangles are bound to appear in novels. (Especially YA because we all know what being a teenager can be like sometimes.)

I do have a very hard time stomaching cheating or adultery however. (It made me very uncomfortable through Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed and it was probably my least favorite part of Gone with the Wind.)

I had to dock Thoughtless a few stars for the way my stomach turned during pivotal plot points. The bottom line is this is a love triangle that takes place during a relationship. The main female character, Kiera cheats on her boyfriend, Denny with his best friend Kellan while she is still with Denny. She's with him both emotionally and physically and I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse. (She can't makeup her mind because she loves them both? Or she has so little respect for them both?)

Luckily I really liked Kiera as a character. I identified with her although we have little in common. I came to understand where she was coming from, even if I didn't agree with it and I appreciated the realistic guilt the author had her suffer. (Not over-dramatic, but deep and cutting.) If you are less bothered than I am by cheating then this might not be as much of an issue for you.

I also really appreciated the unique setting and the older age of the characters and Stephen's ability to write them as adults and not as teenagers who just happen to be in their mid-20s. They actually act their age. They have their own goals, ambitions and weaknesses. Character development is definitely one of Stephen's strengths and her secondary characters are as likable, if not more likable, than her main characters. They have their own personalities and don't just mesh into one giant blob in the background.

Oh, and some of the scenes will leave you heart thuddingly breathless. If you read Thoughtless, you know I'm talking about the rain scene. Stephens writes tension - both good and bad - masterfully. She does a great job of balancing anticipation and gratification so the reader doesn't spend the entire book waiting for action and so there isn't too much of it that it gets old.

I only gave it three stars because of the explicit cheating, the kind of cliched plot-idea (A rockstar? Really?) and because the writing isn't going to change your life. The plot moves briskly but there are parts that drag when they shouldn't or breeze past when they should be slower and more developed.

All in all, 3 out of 5 stars ain't bad and I liked it enough to read the sequel.