Thursday, June 26, 2008

LDS Book Reviews (Summer Book Trek), Part 2

And here it next round of reviews. (Wild applause in the background, and whoa! An air horn.) If you missed the first batch and that makes you feel sad, check here. Otherwise, read on.

Makeover by Shannon Guymon is another cute entry in the chick lit genre. Sophie, the main character, is dumped by her returning missionary boyfriend at the airport and introduced to his new fiancee. She decides the best way to get over him is to move on and make him sorry he dropped her. Thus, the makeover. The beauty part doesn't sound too drastic; she mainly starts leaving her hair curly and slapping a little make up on. But she makes a big change internally and begins to grow. This, of course, involves a new love interest in the almost cocky Sam who comes with his own baggage (crazy ex-girlfriend. really crazy) and dealing with the fallout of her break up with Blake.

It's a cute story, and a light breezy read. This is the second book by Guymon that I've read and her writing is definitely stronger in this book. I like all the cute, girly details of Sophie's "hair magic" as a stylist in her mom's chic salon. I like the supporting characters who were all sympathetic (her mom and best friend, Jacie). I liked the funny situations that Sophie gets herself into as well (busted for prowling, turning grandma blue). One of the things I liked best is also one of my reservations about the book. Guymon gives Sophie a dysfunctional family dynamic and her relationship with her estranged father's family is painful. They are mean, petty people. Sophie stands up for herself which always makes me cheer (shrinking violets are little better than weeds) and even gets a little revenge. It's interesting to see an LDS novel where not everyone is portrayed as being all sweetness and light because that's reality. However, I thought Sophie's family was a little extreme and her mother comes off as a bit of a saint instead of having some "real people" grit about her. I also think the reconciliation with her dad's family is a little too tidy.

All in all, it's not a book that overreaches. It's written as pure entertainment and that's exactly what it is. It's a heroine you can cheer for, a handsome and crush-worthy hero, and that little zip of zaniness requisite in a chick lit novel. This is a solid, satisfying, and fun bit of escapism.

I don't read fantasy unless my brother sticks it in my hand and tells me I have to (with the exception of YA stuff which I'll read all on my own). But that's what he did with Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. I expected not to like it and at first I didn't. I had to adjust to the conventions of the genre that I'd forgotten, like everyone's name having 16 vowels in row (and it's always a, e, and o. Can't u or i get some love?). And it starts darkly, which I also don't really like. But fifty pages in, I was hooked. This is a really well told story and although the fallen city of Elantris is initially a dark setting and the outlook for many things in the plot is grim, it all gets better when the princess, Sarene, shows up. She arrives for a marriage that never happens because her betrothed has died (except he didn't) and she becomes embroiled in the city politics and a struggle to keep it free from the zealous crusade of a violent and unforgiving religion.

This is a great book. It gets dark without ever becoming too despairing. The hero is worthy of respect and Sarene is spunky and resourceful. In a weird way, it's like crossing a classic Regency romance with a fantasy tale. It sounds bad, but it really works. Brandon Sanderson did a great job of writing Sarene's character, which is kind of weird for a male fantasy author, in my experience. The women usually all turn out as brittle warrior types, or helpless pawns. Sarene's the one moving the pieces in this story and she does it with grace and humor.

Of course, fantasy is more about plot, and this one holds together well. I just happen to be drawn more to characters and in a good book, that's what sticks in my mind. This story does have a lot of action without a lot of cheesy magic and overdone drama. The whole magic structure and conflict that drives the story as well as the ultimate solution feel...kind of innovative. I don't know if your average non-fantasy buff would be converted by this book but for someone who is open-minded about fantasy, this was a good read. A dang good read, actually.

Rules of Engagement has some really good things going for it. For anyone who's ever gone to a Church school, they're totally going to get this. Stephanie Fowers really captures a lot of the silliness that goes on. "Kick the hook" is a new classic. It brought back tons of memories of ward prayers and ridiculous (in a good way) FHE activities. There are some laugh-out-loud moments that I loved and the guys sound hot.

But...reading this made me feel like maybe I had A.D.D. The characters change tacts so fast I felt like I had whiplash. Which is bad considering that there is a surfeit of characters. It's hard to follow who's into who, which is not the worst problem a book can have. I also think the protagonist, Samantha, needs to be rounded out a little more. Overall, though, I think this author has a lot of potential and I would for sure pick up any books of hers in the future. She has a great ear for dialogue and an excellent sense of humor. It definitely took me back to the best parts of college. The whole running gag of a dating district modeled after a mission district is straight up clever and I got big laughs out of that. Her writing grew in her next novel, Meet Your Match, and I think she's got a lot more funny to share.


LDS Publisher said...

Great reviews. Thanks for participating.

Jennie said...

Excellent reviews. I liked Makeover, but was disappointed when the mother was so nice she was almost wimpy. I couldn't finish Rules of Engagement. It was just too silly. And I haven't read the other one.

Wendy said...

Thanks for the insightful reviews. I'm going to have to look into the Sanderson one. Sounds promising.