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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

This book came highly recommended by a few of my friends, stating the old adage of ‘once you’ve gone past the first page, you wouldn’t want to put it down’. The synopsis at the back cover of the book didn’t reveal much, except this:

January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.

1. ‘Hook you in’ from the first page.

I must say that I had my skepticism about reading  a book that was narrated entirely of correspondence, from start to finish. It started… somewhat mellow, I must say, and lacked the punch line that made me go, “Oh my God! I have to find out what happens next!”

2. Be so riveting it keeps reeling you in, and you find it difficult to put the book down.

This is how unenthused I was about this book. I had had it for a year, managed to read the first 3-4 pages of it when I first bought it, put it down with a thought to ‘pick it up later’, and forgot all about it. When I did pick it up again, for the first few pages, I had to keep telling myself, “keep at it. Maybe it will pick up soon and surprise you.”

3. Convey a powerful message and/or educate me on topical issues.

Surprise me it did. As the book went on, it described the aftermath of the war, from a writer’s perspective living in London. It also revealed of the German occupation during World War II on Guernsey Channel Island, near France. It told in details of arrest and imprisonment of a Guernsey Channel Island resident for being caught of hiding and treating a German slave.

I have always been fascinated by anything written about World War II – in history books, reference materials, fiction, and otherwise. I’m not exactly sure why. I think it’s a combination of being interested in finding out how tough things could get during the war, making me appreciate the abundance I have in my life currently. I’m also intrigued at how people cope at the extenuating circumstance they may find themselves in; how they would behave, and act the way they normally wouldn’t had they not been caught in the middle of a war. And I’m always hoping for a ‘fairy tale’ aftermath – you know, the kind that the main character(s) doesn’t go into deep depression. Yes, they may have their trauma, their nightmares; yes, it’s definitely understandable that they refer to it from time to time, but on the whole, I do hope that they have the support of spouse/family/friends/relatives, and little by little, they can put what’s been done to them behind them and move on.

4. Produce A Great Piece of Writing.

I have to say that I now have a new appreciation of letter-writing. I had my doubts about how the characters would come across simply through letters (I mean, you know… there are only so many ‘I’s’ you can take before you’re branded self-absorbed), but through incidents, you get to see what Juliet Ashton’s like, and I find myself ‘digging’ her character wholeheartedly. Who wouldn’t throw a bloody teapot (with tea in it) at a nosy reporter trying to get you to admit to a whole bunch of false allegations? Who wouldn’t throw your fiancée out on the street for emptying your bookshelves only so that he could display his trophy?

I can so relate to her matter-of-fact cheekiness. “I do have a telephone. It’s in Oakley Street under a pile of rubble that used to be my flat.” And her sense of child-rearing is refreshing. “I knew that all children were gruesome, but I don’t know whether I’m supposed to encourage them in it. I’m afraid to ask Sophie if Dead Bride is too morbid a game for a four-year-old. If she says yes, we’ll have to stop playing, and I don’t want to stop. I love Dead Bride.”

5. Have A Well-Rounded Conclusion.

Yes, it did, but… I guess this is where a third-person narration, with details, like other normal books, would benefit. You know, I find the male main character nothing out of the ordinary; to quote, he’s “quiet, capable, trustworthy… and he has a sense of humour… let him walk into  room, and everyone in it seems to breathe a little sigh of relief.” From little snippets here and there, you realise that he’s watching Juliet from afar, secretly in love with her. But I would like, no, LOVE, to be able to get into his head more, to know what he was thinking rather than reading everyone else’s observations, to know when, exactly, did he fall in love with Juliet, and why he is so reserved and never says anything (something happened when he was five, ten, twelve? His parents didn’t show affection, ever?). These little details would have provided a better lead-up to the conclusion, I guess.

6. Leave a long-lasting impact and/or drive me to pick up again for a re-read.

Having written my point in number 5, yes, perhaps I will pick it up again for a re-read sometime in the future, if only for no other reason than to pick apart every word Dawsey Adams (the male main character) has written to Juliet and try find any hidden meaning/feelings he may convey (goodness, I feel like Mrs Marple they referred to). It’s an easy read, not as heavy and topical as others I’ve read, but it’s still an enjoyable read.

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For eighteen years the Hartes and the Golds have lived next door to each other, sharing everything from Chinese food to chicken pox to carpool duty– they’ve grown so close it seems they have always been a part of each other’s lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it’s no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily’s friendship blossoms into something more. They’ve been soul mates since they were born.

So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is ready for the appalling truth: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There’s a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris took from his father’s cabinet– a bullet that Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a local detective has doubts about the suicide pact that Chris has described.

The profound questions faced by the characters in this heart-rending novel are those we can all relate to: How well do we ever really know our children, our friends? What if…? As its chapters unfold, alternating between an idyllic past and an unthinkable present, The Pact paints an indelible portrait of families in anguish… culminating in an astonishingly suspenseful courtroom drama as Chris finds himself on trial for murder.

This was the first Jodi Picoult’s book I’ve ever read. I’ve walked past the shelf of my local book store many times,referred to the back page and read the synopsis another hundred times. It was the one book I kept coming back to out of all her books, and based on that alone, I finally grabbed it and proceeded to the front counter to buy it.

What constitutes a good book? In my opinion, they must:

1. ‘Hook you in’ from the first page.

I must say, this book didn’t disappoint. When the first, very short section simply ended with “And then there was a shot” after describing what clearly was a tender, loving moment between two teenagers, my heart stopped;  my eyes popped; the hairs on my forearms rose; and I knew that I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.

2. Be so riveting it keeps reeling you in, and you find it difficult to put the book down.

See above – need I say more? The next section after that described, a little bit, about Gus and James Harte and Melanie and Michael Gold, parents of Chris and Emily respectively, having their regular Friday night dinner; it gave us a glimpse of the dynamics of marriage between the two couples. And whilst you gobbled the words down, a little bit too quickly perhaps, knowing that the start of every book should always elaborate about the ‘main players’ in the first few sections or chapters, your mind kept thinking “what about that gunshot?” I had found myself staying up on a Friday night, properly propped in bed, ignoring my husband who was tinkering around in another part of the house, thinking to myself, ‘I’ll just read until the end of this section’ and ended up reading the whole thing until the early hours of Saturday morning.

3. Convey a powerful message and/or educate me on topical issues.

In one book, Jodi Picoult managed to touch on most of the issues facing teenagers, even today. There was the notion of innocent, first real love between two fifteen-year-olds whom had been best friends to one another literally since the day they were born they believed it was a natural progression to be dating. She covered the main points about succumbing to peer pressure; about teenage sex and teenage pregnancy; about the first conclusion teenagers come to when faced with such life-changing, dramatic circumstance. It explained why Emily Gold shrivelled and pulled away from Chris Harte every time he made advances he believed any normal fifteen-year-old  boy who loved a girl with all his heart would have done; how, by completing a dare, Emily was sexually molested in McDonald’s men’s restroom when she was still flat-chested, and how that incident impacted on her life years later. And she dissected, in great detail, about suicide; how for some, it was the only conclusion to their lives in the name of preserving the purity of present before it get belly-up, unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel or past the confines of high school.

This book also gave me first exposure to courtroom drama. I must admit that perhaps, this was the major factor that made me return the book to the shelf until that day I finally did bring it to the front counter and hand my money to purchase this book. Up until this moment, I was more interested in fictions dealing with romance, with the complex nature of human relationships, with star-crossed lovers in a war-torn countries. I had never once paused in front of any of John Grisham’s books and turned the page. Legal fiction had never interested me.

I have to say that my apprehension about this book being heavily burdened with legal jargon beyond my comprehension was unfounded, credit to Jodi’s style of writing. Yes, it obviously had words like ‘objection’ and ‘sustained’ and ‘overruled’ , just like you’ve heard if you were watching TV series like ‘Law and Order’. But that was the extent of the legal jargon used. The rest still dealt with the main issue at hand, the trial of Chris Harte, accused of murdering Emily Gold. It gave a more realistic view of the situation than if he hadn’t been arrested for suspected murder, wallowing with regret and self-pity whilst going about his usual business at home. It certainly added to the gripping suspense, and kept you at the edge of your seat.

4. Produce A Great Piece of Writing

With sentences like “She liked opening her mouth against Chris’ and having him fill it with his tongue, as if he was slipping her secrets”; “She liked his moan roll, candy-round and warm”; and “… he tried to pretend that he did not feel the weight of her grief, lying between them like a fitful child…”, Jodi Picoult opened further possibilities on the use of metaphors; she enriched my knowledge and understanding about attempting similes.

5. Have A Well-Rounded Conclusion

I remember clearly reading the very last page and turning it over and over, believing that the copy I’ve purchased had missed a few more pages. Up until I read this, I had never read another book in which the ending was left so… hanging; so open for your own interpretation. Take… ‘The Famous Five’ by Enid Blyton, for example; a series of novels featuring the adventures of a group of young children – Julian, Dick, Anne and Georgina (George) – and their dog Timmy. Each book described a single adventure some, or all of the main characters found themselves in; it had a set of obstacles they had to overcome; it depicted one, or a group of villains they had to outsmart and alert the authorities of. But at the end of each book, they did get out of these troubles relatively unscathed, they regrouped and reminisced about how they always found themselves in compromising situation, perhaps over coffee by the fireplace. It was an ending in which all loose ends were neatly tied up and thoroughly dealt with.

For weeks afterwards, I was thoroughly dumbfounded to find her book finished with something I personally wouldn’t call an ending, unless it was an ending of a section. I kept looking for that ‘Epilogue’, describing Chris Harte’s future ten, or twenty years later, with the memory of spending time in jail never straying far from his mind. Having read, and agreed with the sentiment the character ‘Selena’ conveyed when she said “the chances of him getting close to someone again are very slim”, I wanted to know very badly whether Chris Harte has managed to ruin every single romantic relationships he tried to build, or whether he has finally managed to find a more-grounded, more mature, wonderful relationship.

6. Leave a long-lasting impact and/or drive me to pick up again for a re-read

Having recovered from the shock of a non-conclusive ending, I have read this book once more in its entirety and not let the ‘loose’ ending bothered me as much. Reading it the second time around, I was able to analyse each character’s actions more fully, believing that Emily, as hard as it had been, should have sought some help, either personally or professionally, to heal the scar left from the sexual molestation incident. Reading about Chris’ love for Emily, even if he naively believed at the time that loving someone meant granting that person’s every wish, no matter how twisted, it left me with a ray of hope that even in this day and age, thoroughly gentlemen-like, decent teenage boys exist. And as the author had perhaps strongly hinted, reading this book had also left me wondering about how well you would ever know one’s own children; how prepared you have to be at the possibility of them veering off to the wrong paths, or paths less travelled; how important open, honest communication between parent and child should be, no matter how uncomfortable the topics might be.

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