Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review: The Reincarnationist by M. J. Rose

Since I had already read The Book of Lost Fragrances and Seduction of the series, I decided to read The Reincarnationist which is the first book in the Reincarnationist series. There were surprises (good and bad), more about reincarnation, and a really good story. This is what books should be -- satisfying.

John Ryder has been having what he calls lurches for over a year. They started when he was caught in a bomb blast in Rome. The lurches put him in ancient Rome in the body of a priest named Julius who is in love with a Vestal, The Vestal, and having an intimate relationship. Since the vestals served for 30 years and were chaste or they died by being buried alive to suffocate, having both Julius and Sabina, the Vestal, were committing a capital crime. Julius would also die if he was found out to be Sabina's lover.

Coincidentally, the Phoenix Club, which has been invested in proving reincarnation, financed a dig in Rome to find an ancient memory tool of powerful significance -- the Memory Stones. Josh is on site and in the grave of what has proven to be a Vestal holding a fruitwood box that may contain the Memory Stones. One of the archaeologists is murdered and the Memory Stones stolen and Josh is the only witness. The fun is just beginning as the threads that have bound him with the other players in this drama are connected to him by threads that span centuries.

I was immediately intrigued by the story M. J. Rose spins in The Reincarnationist and was more comfortable with the switches between time periods, which were less jarring than in Seduction and quite fascinating. The details of all the times depicted are well researched and amazingly accurate (I'm a study of history and archaeology) and left me breathless with anticipation for the next occurrence.

Part of the fun of The Reincarnationist is figuring out how different people are related and which one is the mind behind the murders and the thefts. I was wrong. There were, however, some questions that remained unanswered at the end, but the ending was satisfying and fit the context of the central theme and the tone of the story that unfolded.

Some of the characters made my skin crawl and others broke my heart, but all were fully realized. I love when that happens.

On the less satisfying side were the numerous editing glitches, repeated words, and words out of context. For a major publishing house like Mira, I was definitely not happy, especially when I had to stop my headlong rush through the book to figure out what was supposed to be written. The only other incident was Josh's description of the soul, which was exactly the same as the description used in a movie about finding the reincarnated Dalai Lama. The use of the cup and the water was nearly word for word from the movie, a movie I happen to like and remember clearly. It may be that Rose is simply using the Buddhist explanation and that it's rather like repeating a funny story or an explanation of reincarnation. I can let that go, although it did stand out.

In the end, it is the story and the way the character move through their fictional universe that matters. In this, M. J. Rose does an excellent job of putting all the pieces of a very intricate puzzle together in an entertaining and thought provoking manner. The Reincarnationist is a wonderful story inhabited by believable 3-dimensional characters that shock, amaze, and fascinate from beginning to end, so much so I stayed up late a couple of nights to finish the book.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Review: Letters to Juliet

What do I do on Saturdays when catching up on sleep lost during the week? I watch movies, drifting in and out of REM sleep.

Last weekend I watched Letters to Juliet with Amanda Seyfried. I remember her as the frothy blonde daughter of Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia, which is a review for another time, and decided to watch the movie. I had nothing better to do. Right?

Sophie is a fact checker for The New Yorker magazine and she wants to write feature stories but she's afraid to ask her boss. She is also engaged to a budding restauranteur named Victor who is all about the restaurant -- even on their pre-honeymoon honeymoon in Verona, Italy where romance hungry Sophie wants to spend time with her fiance in a romantic spot while Victor just wants to check out the local ingredients and wines for his Italian restaurant. Not a good way to spend a honeymoon. Victor goes his way and Sophie ends up at the wall of Juliet Capulet's home looking at women writing letters and putting them on the wall asking Juliet for advice on their love lives.

Sophie is intrigued when she sees women pulling down the letters and taking them away in a huge basket. They are Juliet's secretaries and they answer the lovelorn and heart broken women's letters. Victor's still traveling the countryside and going to wine auctions, so Sophie is free to do as she pleases. She pleases to help the women answer the letters to Juliet, which is where the story becomes interesting. Up to this point, the plot is thin and the story pretty pedestrian. Hopeful young bride-to-be is far down her fiance's to do list and looks for something to fill her time.

When Sophie finds a letter 50 years old stuck between the bricks of Juliet's wall, that's when things get interesting, and the story moves along a bit faster.

Charlie Smith is the grandson of Claire Smith who wrote the letter to Juliet when she was 15 and longing to know if she should be with Lorenzo Bartolini or follow her family's plans for her and return to England. Claire got Sophie's answer and has come to Verona to find her Lorenzo, much to Charlie's dismay. He doesn't approve and he tells Sophie so. Claire is determined to find her Lorenzo and apologize for being such a coward. Charlie doesn't approve. Sophie loves the idea and sees their journey as the heart of a story she wants to write. And the journey is on.

Amanda Seyfried is lovely and bubbly and hopelessly romantic, but there is a bit of acid in her bite as Sophie, especially when dealing with Charlie. She is less assertive when dealing with her absent fiance or her boss at The New Yorker.

Gael Garcia Bernal as Victor is enthusiastic and completely unaware of Sophie during their pre-honeymoon honeymoon, although he does urge her to talk to her editor at the magazine and tell him she wants to write not just check facts.

Christopher Egan is gorgeous and blond and very definitely an angry and put out Charlie defending his aging grandmother's feelings. He is equally convincing arguing with Sophie as he is falling for Sophies prickly charms.

The real gem of Letters to Juliet is the very real love story of Vanessa Redgrave (Claire) and Franco Nero (Lorenzo Bartolini). So real is their first sight of each other that no mere theatricality could compare.

Vanessa and Franco were lovers following the filming of Camelot where she played Guinevere and he played Lancelot du Lac, the complication in King Arthur's idyllic reign. Vanessa and Franco parted and met again a few decades later only to fall in love again and have remained together. Their real life romance was the perfect complement to the feel good quality of this predictable romantic movie (that's chick flick to the guys). Franco Nero riding into the vineyard on a horse and Vanessa Redgrave pale with fear becaise she is no longer 15 years old and Lorenzo won't recognize her is the stuff of dreams. The sparks and the romance colaesce into a beautiful romantic dream that makes Letters to Juliet so much better.

Letters to Juliet is predictable and a bit formulaic with moments of pure romance that make this movie a winner. Definitely two thumbs up. Now I have to get the book and read it.

One Person's Opinion

Good, bad, indifferent, and sometimes just plain nasty. Book reviews come in all flavors and how authors deal with them is important -- and sometimes crucial -- to how the author is viewed. I'd like to say there are rules, but there aren't. It would be nice if readers and authors could agree to disagree, but that isn't going to happen often enough to make a difference. It certainly isn't going to boost the author's reputation to engage in a battle of words publicly since that bit of histrionic theatricality will likely result in a few moments of rancor and name-calling between reader and writer and the writer will end up branded as a nut at best.

Who can forget Anne Rice's meltdown when she tried to defend her writing and her work on Amazon? I still have the original meltdown saved in case I ever forget how not to act.

And there was the author of an indie romance novel with a bad title who took on a whole group of writers defending her bad grammar and poor quality editing. That was a comment battle that went on for pages -- and a few days.

I know how it feels when a reader "just can't get into" my book or another reader who didn't read more than the first few pages and tossed the book aside (or deleted it from their eReader) and wrote a scathing review that seemed to have been about someone else's book. I have had my books rated with 1 star because of private and personal differences and because the reader just didn't get my book. Readers come in all shapes and sizes, and not all are polite or cannot keep their opinions to themselves. Unfortunately, the latter type of reader feels the need to spread their negativity and scorn all over the internet. I try to ignore them no matter how high my blood pressure rises or how much I'd like to sit down and quiz them on what they read to prove they hadn't read my book at all.

The fact is that there will be bad reviews no matter how much the critics or the public like your book. Get used to the idea because being a writer isn't for wimps. Writers with thin skin had better get thicker skin and writers with hair trigger tempers should avoid reading reviews at all.

Reviews are on my mind this morning because I decided to check whether or not anyone had recently reviewed my last novel, Among Women. I didn't expect any movement since I'm not writing about dragons or fairies or mortals in love with vampires and werewolves. I'm not a celebrated literary writer nor am I a celebrity a publisher hired to write a book about my expereinces on reality TV so I can pretend I'm a writer. I'm the kind of writer who slogs through a 5-foot stack of books to be reviewed and then has to write about the 10 things you should know about what to buy Mom on Mothers Day or what not to get Dad for Fathers Day.

This morning I got a nice surprise. Three reviews had been added since I last checked a couple of months ago and all three readers got what I was writing about. They really read my book and they understood what I was writing. They didn't think Pearl was boring or that she was a hero, just an individual caught in a criminal justice system where there is no justice at the mercy of her own prejudices and fears. They felt what Pearl went through and saw the world through Pearl's eyes. Those are the reviews I live for and the readers I want to reach. The rest are not important, and that is what I remind myself every time some reader looking for titillation and cheap thrills reads a few pages and writes a bad review with a plethora of spelling errors and a complete lack of knowledge of grammar and sentence structure while chiding me about mistakes in editing.

I could be obsessive and go through the book one more time to catch all those errors or I could just let the book stand and move on to the next book.

Unlike authors getting  $3000 a day sales and multi-million dollar multi-book contracts from a big name publisher, I'm a midlist writer (for now) putting one word after another on the page between working 2 full time jobs while I avoid checking sales and review statistics just one more time today.

I remind myself that one opinion will not make or break my book, not even the good ones, and that if I want to make a career out of writing, I must keep writing, must keep putting word after word on the page every day. It's an uphill battle, but the alternative is silence and I've never been good at that.

Roger Ebert said that a review is one person's opinion. I keep that in mind when I review books -- or read a review on one of my books. It's just one opinion.