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Melinda Ott has commented on (169) products.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue
The Boy Who Drew Monsters

Melinda Ott, April 17, 2015

Horror is not a genre I normally read. I have read it and I have enjoyed it, but it just isn't the section of the bookstore I tend to go to. The truth is, I have a sort of strange relationship with it. I am one of those people who is scared very, very easily. I can't watch horror movies or listen to ghost stories. Heck, I can't even go into haunted houses. Yet, I'm very rarely scared when I read. In fact, I've only been frightened by 2 books (The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Salem's Lot, the first AND LAST horror novel by Stephen King I've read). I think that is why I've stayed away from horror--I felt like it wasn't working for me as it didn't scare me. In time, I realized that getting a creepy or eerie feeling was probably okay and, let's face it, I shouldn't bemoan the absence of nightmares.

So, when I come out and say that I didn't find this book frightening, it should not be taken as a commentary on the work. I did find it eerie, and definitely a little creepy, so that is a win in my book. However, I can't say if reader who are--and want to be--scared by such books would be. I think those of you who fall into that category will have to rely on other reviews to see if this book is spine-tingling.

All that being said, I did find this a solid novel. I don't know if you can much creepier than a creepy kid and, in that department, this book delivers. Jack Peter has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, although it is clear very quickly to the reader that there is more to the boy than that diagnosis. One of his more major issues is his agoraphobia--a fear of the outdoors. He has not left the house in 3 years, except for necessary trips to the doctor. Instead, he surveys the Maine Coast from the windows in his parents' "dream house."

Jack Peter seems to have 2 outlets--drawing and his friend, Nick. His parents encourage both, but Nick is not so sure about Nick. The two boys have a complex relationship and one that Donohue fleshes out well. The truth is that both boys need each other on one level and resent each other on another. And Nick is not so sure about all the drawings Jack Peter makes with an almost fevered urgency.

That is the canvas on which this story is painted. From here we have ghosts and monsters, family secrets and a mysterious woman. I really don't want to get too far into the plot because I'm not sure how to do so without employing spoilers. I will say this, though...this was a good horror novel for a reader like me, who doesn't read horror very often.
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The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
The Bookseller

Melinda Ott, April 13, 2015

I'm not proud to admit this, but I went into this book thinking I would know exactly how things would go. I'm not saying that I thought it would be trite or predictable, but rather that it fell firmly into a trope of a life that is and a life that could have been. And, to be sure, that is what The Bookseller is, but not in the way I thought it would be.

I'm going to be especially careful writing the rest of this review as I think this is an unusually easy book to spoil and I really, really don't want to do that--I want you all to read it!

Let me start with Kitty/Katharyn, who I call K from here on out. I felt she was a strongly constructed character and robust enough to really carry this book. She has to switch between two settings, sometimes with only a partial knowledge of her current world, but she is written such that she stays just one character. The other characters in the novel are more one-dimensional, which normally is a drawback for me, but is actually necessary in this case (no, I'm no going to tell you why....read the book!).

Setting in this book is paramount. Both lives that K experiences is set in Denver, but in different worlds in the same city. If my memory is correct, I've only been to Denver twice and both times I was stuck in the airport. So, I have no way of knowing if the portraits of Denver Swanson draws are accurate--but they are definitely evocative (for the record, it seemed like a hybrid between Portland and Tucson, which probably isn't too far off). I felt like I was right there in Denver of the early-60s. And, speaking of the time period, Swanson also uses current (to the time) events to set things up, something which I appreciated as a reader. In a book where reality is questioned, it was nice to have an"anchor."

If I had a complaint about this book it would be that the moment when the situation becomes clear is a little muted. I don't mean that I felt that there should have been more "action," bu I do wish it had been a bit more of an "a-ha moment."

In the end, though, this was a dazzling debut and one that I'd recommend to pretty much anyone...but I will give this warning; you'll probably start paying more attention to your dreams after reading this!
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The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
The Bookseller

Melinda Ott, April 13, 2015

I'm not proud to admit this, but I went into this book thinking I would know exactly how things would go. I'm not saying that I thought it would be trite or predictable, but rather that it fell firmly into a trope of a life that is and a life that could have been. And, to be sure, that is what The Bookseller is, but not in the way I thought it would be.

I'm going to be especially careful writing the rest of this review as I think this is an unusually easy book to spoil and I really, really don't want to do that--I want you all to read it!

Let me start with Kitty/Katharyn, who I call K from here on out. I felt she was a strongly constructed character and robust enough to really carry this book. She has to switch between two settings, sometimes with only a partial knowledge of her current world, but she is written such that she stays just one character. The other characters in the novel are more one-dimensional, which normally is a drawback for me, but is actually necessary in this case (no, I'm no going to tell you why....read the book!).

Setting in this book is paramount. Both lives that K experiences is set in Denver, but in different worlds in the same city. If my memory is correct, I've only been to Denver twice and both times I was stuck in the airport. So, I have no way of knowing if the portraits of Denver Swanson draws are accurate--but they are definitely evocative (for the record, it seemed like a hybrid between Portland and Tucson, which probably isn't too far off). I felt like I was right there in Denver of the early-60s. And, speaking of the time period, Swanson also uses current (to the time) events to set things up, something which I appreciated as a reader. In a book where reality is questioned, it was nice to have an"anchor."

If I had a complaint about this book it would be that the moment when the situation becomes clear is a little muted. I don't mean that I felt that there should have been more "action," bu I do wish it had been a bit more of an "a-ha moment."

In the end, though, this was a dazzling debut and one that I'd recommend to pretty much anyone...but I will give this warning; you'll probably start paying more attention to your dreams after reading this!
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Paper Towns by John Green
Paper Towns

Melinda Ott, April 9, 2015

It is no secret that John Green has a bit of a cult following--and it is easy to see why. He's a talented writer and he is tuned in to what young adults feel. He's not afraid to tackle tougher topics, but he also doesn't dumb things down for his audience. For that, I have great respect for him.

My first encounter with John Green came when I read The Fault In Our Stars, a book I greatly enjoyed. Since the movie version of Paper Towns is soon to be released, I decided that I would make this my 2nd Green read--so I can only compare it to The Fault In Our Stars.

I say this because, based on these two books, I get the feeling that John Green is a formulaic writer. Both books feature characters at a crossroads, which admittedly is not uncommon in Young Adult Fiction. They also feature scenes of property damage sprees and unbelievably understanding parents. Okay, that last part isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The fact that there is a framework may not bother many people. Let's face it, if it were a universal sin to be a formulaic writer, Dan Brown wouldn't have a prayer. Unfortunately, it does bother me. John Green is a very talented writer, but I really wish that he would get out of the box of his own making--at least I hope he does. I will most likely read more of his books in the future so, you know, it could happen. Heck, it may have already happened for all I know. But the fact that this book was so similar to the other one of his books that I read did negatively impact what I felt about this book.

However, let me address what I did like. I liked Quentin as a main character. I found him to be a believable narrator. He's an essentially good kid--a young man who is trusted by his parents, gets good grades, and has a good social circle. I enjoyed reading his interactions with his friends, who were the sort of people I knew in high school. Yet, putting him next to Margo highlights what a troubled young woman she is.

As I said, I am a fan of Green's writing--he is eloquent without being dramatically poetic. I think this is what makes him so appealing to young adults. Let's just say there is no shortage of quotable passages in this book. Yet, he is still able to capture the vernacular of high school students and weave it seamlessly into his prose.

Now, to my main problem with this book--and I have to admit that my own experiences greatly affected my feelings here--which is Margo Roth Spiegelman. You see, I knew a Margo when I was in high school--granted my Margo wasn't as clever as Green's Margo and she never led us on a cross country hunt (probably because it never occurred to her), but I know first hand how damaging someone like this can be. In many ways, Green romanticizes Margo and that just left a bad taste in my mouth. Margo is a very, very troubled person and that is never truly addressed. Quentin actually sacrifices quite a bit for her, yet he never really sees the cost of what he's done for her. In this respect, I found the book unsatisfying.

So, I'm torn on this. Was this a successful book for me? No. Would I recommend it to others? I don't know. I do think that the younger the reader, the more likely they are to enjoy this book. Yet, the farther the reader is from their own youth, the more likely they are to see the consequences of the characters' actions and behaviors and, as a result, the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with this story.
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The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Children's Crusade

Melinda Ott, April 7, 2015

Phew! You know all those jokes about having to get drunk or behave in some other such activity after spending too much time with your family? Well, that is how I felt after spending time with the Blair family. This is not to say that this is a bad book--there is actually much to recommend it--but I, personally, did not enjoy it. Admittedly, I'm not a reader who needs to enjoy a book in order to appreciate a book and, for the most part, I did appreciate this one.

The best way I can think of to describe this book to someone is to think of an unfunny and dramatic version of Parenthood--the movie, not the TV show. Four adult children come together to deal with their childhoods under the shadow of their ever-present (but deceased) father and their absent mother. As is common with families, each child had a role--the oldest, the responsible and only girl, the treasured one, and the"bad" one and, as adults, they are all dealing with these roles.

The drama in this book is very realistic and, because of that, very painful. I am sure that readers who enjoy family dramas will have more success with this title than I did. Each of the children are explored, both as kids and as adults, and that results in 4 thorough character studies. I found the oldest two children, Robert and Rebecca, the easiest to relate to. The youngest, James, was at least understandable by the end of the book. Ryan, however, never really gelled as a real character for me. My guess is that Packer was trying to play with the idea of gender with him--he is heterosexual, but very feminine. While I don't think there is anything wrong with that, I don't feel it was done in a way that was effective and I'm not sure why that is. It wasn't that he was or wasn't likable, he just seemed like a lot was put on him, but he didn't have the depth as a character to pull it off.

The two people who were very problematic for me were the parents, Bill and Penny. We never really get to know Penny--there are a few passages that were told from her point of view, but mostly she was removed from the rest of the family. On the whole, I understand why Packer did this--the fact that Penny was not involved in her children's lives is an important element of the development of the children's characters. However, I wish Packer had committed to either telling more of the story from Penny's eyes or opted not to tell anything from her eyes.

Then we have Bill. Honestly, Bill makes Cliff Huxtable look like Al Bundy on a bad day. Really, this guy is just too good to be true. And the fact that he didn't seem true to me was a big issue for me as it seemed to undermine the entire book. I kept wishing that there would be some kind of character flaw in this guy to make him human.

I am the first to admit that family dramas can be hard for me as I find them intrinsically stressful. I know that there are many, many readers who are more interested in this than I am and I think that, if family drama is in your wheelhouse, this may be a good book for you. I also think that this would be an excellent book club selection as families always provide much fodder for conversation. However, if you prefer your family drama to be a bit--I don't know--lighter, you may want to approach this book with caution.
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