Title: The Runaway Jury

Author: John Grisham

Year published: 1997

Genre: Fiction » Drama, Legal

First line: “The face of Nicholas Easter was slightly hidden by a display rack filled with slim cordless phones, and he was looking not directly at the hidden camera but somewhere off to the left, perhaps at a customer, or perhaps at a counter where a group of kids hovered over the latest electronic games from Asia.”

Synopsis: In Biloxi, Mississippi, a landmark trial begins. There are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake and soon it swerves mysteriously off course. The jury is behaving strangely, and at least one juror is convinced he’s being watched. Soon they have to be sequestered. Then a tip from an anonymous young woman suggests she is able to predict the jurors’ increasingly odd behaviour. Is the jury somehow being manipulated, or even controlled? If so, by whom? And, more importantly, why? (SOURCE)

Thoughts: This was one of my first Grisham experiences, and it wasn’t a hugely positive one. The premise of the story is good, but it’s slow burning and… dare I say, boring. As an Australian law student, it was quite good fun to read about the intricacies of American jury selection, but it took me about a week to get through. Fine, but nothing special. I’d much rather stick to The Testament-style Grisham.

Rating: 2.5/5

Title: Sister Wife

Author: Shelley Hrdlitschka

Year published: 2008

Genre: Fiction »YA

First lines: “I am consumed with impure thoughts. My head is swirling with stories that would give the Prophet heart failure if he knew of them. I fear that I am destined for eternal damnation.”

Synopsis: “In the isolated rural community of Unity, the people of The Movement live a simple life guided by a set of religious principles and laws that are unique to them. Polygamy is the norm, strict obedience is expected and it is customary for young girls to be assigned to much older husbands. Celeste was born and raised in Unity, yet she struggles to fit in … At fifteen she is repulsed at the thought of being assigned to an older man and becoming a sister wife, and she knows for certain she is not cut out to raise children. She wants something more for herself, yet feels powerless to change her destiny because rebelling would bring shame upon her family. How will Celeste find her way out of Unity?” (abridged; SOURCE)

Thoughts: I’m fascinated by the psychology behind cults and polygamy. That might sound like a strange thing to say, but it’s just so interesting. So I was quite excited to read this book. It was… fine, I suppose. There was honestly nothing particularly exciting about it, nor anything particularly scandalous. It had some nice moments, but it felt like Hrdlitschka was treading very lightly around this confronting topic and so I didn’t feel that she did anything interesting with the subject matter. It’s a shame, really.

Rating: 2/5

Title: The Fault In Our Stars

Author: John Green

Year published: 2012

Genre: Fiction » YA, Romance

First line: “Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.”

Synopsis: Despite the tumour-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. (SOURCE)

Thoughts: I read this after months of peer pressure from my sister, and I’m glad she persisted. I’ve never experienced any John Green before, and I don’t know if I’m his biggest fan, but I’ll admit that it’s a great story. The book isn’t perfect; there are moments of stilted dialogue and odd metaphor, but author interviews imply that this was characterisation, not poor technique. In Green’s defence, I finished this book and immediately began it again. It’s certainly intriguing. And more than a bit sad.

Rating: 3.5/5

Title: The Vogue Factor

Author: Kirstie Clements

Year published: 2013

Genre: Non-Fiction » Memoir

First lines: “It was 10 am on a Wednesday. I had a scheduled meeting with Nicole Sheffield, the newly appointed CEO of NewsLifeMedia, the company owned by Rupert Murdoch that had held the license for Vogue in Australia since 2007. We had only met once before, a quick and pleasant chat in her office in March a few weeks after she had started.”

Synopsis: The Vogue Factor is her candid account of life at the heart of the fashion industry, from photo shoots and celebrity interviews to the ugly truth behind the glamour - infighting, back-stabbing and the dangerous pursuit of beauty. This is the behind-the-scenes story of an illustrious career in fashion, from receptionist to the editor’s chair. It’s a life of dazzling parties, outrageous fashion and exotic travel that most people can only dream of. But behind the glossy photos is a hidden world of chaos and pressure, where girls as young as twelve starve themselves to fit into a sample size.” SOURCE

Thoughts: One of the reasons that I started this blog was my love of the first sentence. A good first sentence should draw you into the piece that you’re reading; grab your attention and make you desperate to know more. It should raise questions, the resolution of which you anxiously await. Alas, the first sentence of The Vogue Factor is an omen of things to come. I will always be simultaneously proud that I stuck at this book, and confused at why I didn’t just go with my gut and return it to the library.

Shoddily written, predominately anecdotal and inherently boring, this memoir did not need writing. My media background has meant that I devour any and all memoirs of important people in the field. I do, therefore, have a bit of experience with good media memoirs. This one is clumsily written, totally illogical and has no real story. If only it were chronological. Or had some more concrete theme than Anecdotes About Times I Met Famous People. It would have been fascinating to get a better look at the publication process of a huge magazine, the lives of the starving models, the office politics of working in an international environment or the impact that this work had on Clements’ personal life. Ah well.

Rating: 1.5/5

Title: Like Water for Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate)

Author: Laura Esquivel

Year published: 1989

Genre: Fiction » Romance, Magical Realism

First lines: “Take care to chop the onion fine. To keep from crying when you chop it (which is so annoying!), I suggest you place a little bit on your head. The trouble with crying over an onion is that once the chopping gets you started and the tears begin to well up, the next thing you know you just can’t stop. I don’t know whether that’s ever happened to you, but I have to confess it’s happened to me, many times. Mama used to say it was because I was especially sensitive to onions, like my great-aunt, Tita.”

Synopsis: A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds. (SOURCE)

Thoughts: This one was a suggestion from my mum, who generally has excellent taste in books; a friend had also been recommending it for years. I finally bit the bullet when I had an eight-hour stopover in Singapore Airport, and very little idea of what I was going to do with all that time. I devoured it over about two hours; with a Starbucks muffin and an iced tea at my side, I sat laughing and crying in public.

This book is written in a fascinating way: each chapter begins with a recipe, and the narrative of the chapter is then woven around making the recipe. For foodies with a love of romance, this book may well be perfect for you! I understand that this book, and the magical realism at its core, might not be for everyone. When I watched the film a few days later, it felt a bit melodramatic and farfetched to me but, at the time, it feels totally right.  

Rating: 4/5