How to Survive Two Weeks Without TV or Internet When You Uproot Your Life to Move to a New City for a Job Opportunity…

Step 1. Pick up a book.

Step 2. Read the book.

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Book Review: Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

pretty-baby-mary-kubicaBook Description:

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head… 


Have you ever read a book that just completely ruined your life? You never asked for it. You just wanted something to occupy the time when work was slow, or when boyfriend still hadn’t called you back. You didn’t expect to get swept into this twisted realm of lies, sexual abuse, kidnapping, and murder, to the point that once you finally got to the end, you had a mental break just like the characters.

While many novels that I’ve read lately lollygag for the first two or three chapters before finally getting to the plot, Mary Kubica’s Pretty Baby opens right into the action.

Heidi Wood, a charitable woman who works for a nonprofit organization helping illiterate refugees and other unfortunate souls, spots the wretched Willow Greer with her infant daughter standing in the pouring rain—apparently invisible to the rest of the commuters on the train platform—and can’t resist the urge to help her. Eventually, she invites Willow and baby Ruby back to her home, much to the dismay of her never home investment banker husband, Chris, and her temperamental 12-year-old, Zoe.

As the novel progresses and you learn more about Heidi and her past, you start to wonder if maybe it wasn’t Willow she wanted to save, if maybe her motivations for bringing Willow and Ruby into her home were more perverse than we might have thought. Eventually the question becomes not whether Willow will pose a threat, but is she or any of the other characters safe, alone in that house with Heidi? Once you reach the climax of the novel, everything happens so quickly, you’re forced to go back and read it again to identify the exact place in the novel where it all suddenly went south.

Overall, Pretty Baby is a great read. There were some parts where the plot dragged, but I’m glad I stuck it out. I wouldn’t quite classify it as a psychological thriller. In a psychological thriller, I want my head to spin, and unfortunately, Kubica’s plot twists didn’t surprise me as much as I wanted them too. However, there were some surprises that I didn’t see coming, and while I figured out the ending early on, the quickness of how everything deteriorated was definitely a shock.

Unfortunately, I do have two major issues that almost got this book shelved. First, am I the only one who thinks that telling a story from three or four different points-of-view is extremely overdone? Personally, I think it disrupts the flow of the story, especially if the next character’s chapter doesn’t pick up where the last character left off. For example, the end of one of Chris’ chapters had me dying to know what happened next. Unfortunately, I had to go through six or seven Willow and Heidi chapters to get there. It didn’t help that all of Willow’s chapters were set in her past (by the way, the novel is written in present tense—something excitingly different). By the time I got back to Chris, the novel had jumped to the next day, and all that tension from his previous chapter was gone.

Secondly, I absolutely hated Willow’s foster father, Joseph. Not because he was an unlikeable character, because anyone who reads my writing knows I live for unlikeable characters. Joseph, however, was obnoxiously unlikeable, and his character was so stereotypical that I was left wondering if Kubica put any imagination into his profile at all. Why is it that every literary antagonist that is a devout Christian is so despicable that his very existence would cause Jesus to swallow his own vomit? I’ve seen this type of character in too many novels. Note to writers, if you’re thinking about making your novel’s main antagonist a hypocritical Christian, stop right there! I promise you, it’s been done before, in every genre. There is no way you will ever be able to make that kind of character original. Avoid the melodrama and take another route.

Thankfully, Willow’s chapters were usually short, so I didn’t have to deal with that disgusting pig for long.

Other than those two cons, I really enjoyed Pretty Baby, and for that, I give it (drum roll, please) . . .

3/5 stars!
3-5

A lot of Amazon reviewers said that her debut novel, The Good Girl was much better. I’ll be the judge of that. I’ve already downloaded the free sample, and if I like it, I’ll buy the book and finish reading, but first . . .

 

Why I Didn’t Finish It: The Ophelia Cut by John Lescroart

ophelia-cut-john-lescroatBook Description:

When a brutal rapist is murdered, a loving father stands accused of the crime. Defense attorney Dismas Hardy must defend his brother-in-law and old friend Moses McGuire in a thrilling case that hits far too close to home.


So, I’m thinking about starting a new book review series title, “Why I Didn’t Finish It.” I know it’s strongly advised that authors don’t give bad reviews, but as some of you may know, I didn’t find my pot of gold at the end of the reading rainbow in 2015. I read a dismal five books! While I attempted to read plenty more, I found myself giving up on a lot of novels for a variety of reasons—editing, dull plot, unbelievable characters, etc. So, in case that drought continues in 2016, I just want to explain to you how it is absolutely possible for an avid reader such as myself to only finish five books in a year.

It took me three months to read Pretty Baby, and it took me that long because I was really trying to give The Ophelia Cut a chance. Co-workers would see the book on my desk collecting dust and say, “Oh, I love his books! I can never put them down!” Well, I couldn’t even pick this one up. I literally fell asleep on the last chapter I read, and for most of the novel, I had no idea what was going on. Finally, a co-worker said to me, “It’s ok to let it go, Nortina.” So I did.

My mistake might have been choosing a book that was 14th in a series. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, and when I found out, I was under the impression that it could stand alone. It couldn’t. From the beginning, I was lost. There were way too many characters to keep up with, and because I’d never read the previous books, I couldn’t connect with any of them. They also kept referring back to an event that happened in the last novel, and I felt Lescroart didn’t provide enough background on what happened or why it happened so that I’d understand how it would eventually connect to the events of this novel. Add on top of that, the main conflict of the story, the thing that hooked me into choosing the book in the first place, the above quoted description, didn’t even happen until well after I’d given up.

I might give John Lescroart another chance, preferably with a stand alone novel, but I’m on a mission to read more than five books this year, and I cannot be held back.

So what do you think? Have you read Pretty Baby or The Ophelia Cut ? How did you like them? I’m crossing my fingers that “Why I Didn’t Finish It” will be a one and done. I hate giving up on books.

My next novel to read is Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Hopefully it won’t be June before I write a review!

#BlaPoWriMo: Reading Lesson (poem)

African . . .

American . . .

Elsewhere . . .

We drive by American Furniture Warehouse and my son—
leaning over his car seat, pressing his face into the glass window—
clicks his tongue, purses his lips,
scrounges his brain for the sound to match the letter,
enunciates each syllable as he attempts to read
the words displayed across the front of the building.

I want to applaud him;
pronouncing the word A-MER-I-CAN
at three when he’s only just learned the alphabet
deserves ice cream, chocolate chip cookies,
a kiss on the forehead from mommy.
My little protégé, grandson of W.E.B. Du Bois,
a talented tenth to raise his people from the pits of darkness.

But I fear how he discovered the other two . . .

African . . .
Elsewhere . . .

as if he believes his heritage to be disposable.

And I worry.

Do I not read enough tales of Anansi, the cunning spider
before he falls asleep? Does my forgetful husband
allow him to watch mind-numbing cartoons
of cross-eyed doofuses, and drooling talking sponges
instead of the Gullah Gullah Island reruns
I record and set aside for him?
Does he still play with his action figures—
John Stewart’s Green Lantern?
Falcon soaring above the Marvel Universe?

I did it, mommy. I read the sign!

I look at him through the rearview mirror,
smile weakly at my baby boy’s reflection.
Does he know who he is? Can he see himself in
the myths and fables, the educational programming,
the animated superheroes?
I want to pull over,  sweep him up in my warm, Black embrace.
There’s nothing elsewhere about being African,
I wish I could say with an undeceiving heart.

—Nortina


Written for today’s #BlaPoWriMo prompt: write a poem for your sons. This is a revision to an older poem I wrote last year. Click here to read the original.

Where Are the Good Books? Reading into 2016

New Year’s Eve, 2014. As the ball slowly descended onto Time Square, counting down the seconds to midnight, I recited my list of resolutions I wanted to accomplish in 2015: Lose weight, eat healthier, make better choices in boyfriends, write a novel, read at least 100 books.

Confetti flies around the ball and countdown clock in Times Square on New Year's Eve in New York January 1, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY) - RTR4JSGR
Confetti flies around the ball and countdown clock in Times Square on New Year’s Eve in New York January 1, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES – Tags: SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY) – RTR4JSGR

365 days later. Did I meet any of my goals? Well, I lost a few pounds…and gained several more. I ate healthy…sporadically…for a few weeks. I don’t have a boyfriend. I’ve started on my novel (two, actually), and while I haven’t posted any updates on said novels for several weeks now, I am still fervently writing. As for the 100 books? Um, no. Not even close.

I might have read five—count ’em, 5—books in their entirety this year. Three I’ve posted reviews on (Fifty Shades of Grey, Mrs. Poe, and White Oleander). Between the other two, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean, I enjoyed the latter more. The Deep End of the Ocean is an amazing story of family drama, love, pain, suspense, mystery, self-discovery and coming-of-age, and much more. Out of the five—count ’em, 5—books I’ve read this year, The Deep End of the Ocean is the one I recommend you all to read if you haven’t already (White Oleander comes in a close second). Gone Girl was good, but I didn’t much care for the second half of the novel. It got predictable, and for lack of a better word, cheesy. And I just hated that god-awful ending. Talk about anticlimactic!

Gone-Girl_Rosamund-Pike

So why is it that I’ve only read five—count ’em, 5—books in 2015? Well, it has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve just been a picky reader this year. I’ve picked up (insert downloaded) many books this year, but by chapter six, I lose interest, and in some cases, even sooner than that. Either the books were complete snooze fests—pages and pages of boring and useless descriptions that did nothing to propel the plot—or they had no plot at all—complete chapters with nothing but dialogue, short paragraphs of summary and more unnecessary dialogue, flat characters, cringe-worthy repetition, a wandering narrator…

This Christmas, I spent nearly two hours on Amazon.com looking for a good book to have sent to my mom’s kindle on Christmas Day. After reading countless previews and finding nothing that piqued my interest, I finally settled on James Patterson’s latest Alex Cross novel. Couldn’t go wrong with that, right? I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t reading James Patterson and his iconic character, Alex Cross. However, the whole point of spending my entire lunch hour and more surfing Amazon was to find a great book and a new author she’d get hooked on and read for years to come, like James Paterson.

51TCoOGHAiL__SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

The problem I have with Amazon is that it has so many books that just aren’t good. I would find a book with a four or five star average rating, but after reading the preview, I’d wonder, how on earth did this even get published? Often I find myself reading the negative reviews first. Unless it’s a controversial author, the negative reviews are usually the most honest and less bias. If they don’t sound too bad, then maybe I’ll consider making the purchase. For some books, however, I don’t even get past the back cover for the very confusing synopsis. If the synopsis is that bad, the book has to be horrible!

Most of the novels I’ve purchased from Amazon lately are in desperate need for an editor. I don’t mean to say that they are poorly written. On the contrary, many authors are excellent wordsmiths. Unfortunately, 300 pages of pretty words do not always make a good story, and that is the problem I’ve been consistently running into.

Maybe in 2016 I’ll have better luck finding good books to read. I won’t aim quite so high, though. My resolution is to read (cover to cover) six books next year—that’s one more than this year. Hopefully, I’ll far exceed my expectations.

stack_of_books

Did you struggle to find a good book to read this year? What novels do you recommend I read to get out of this funk? If you’re an author, post in the comments a link to your novel! I’ll add that to my list of books to read in 2016. I can’t promise a review, though. I’m too much of a procrastinator for that. 😉