midwinterbloodI’ve been making the drive back and forth to our Cincinnati office the last two weeks (about 3.5 hours in good traffic) and audiobooks are the perfect entertainment. I can catch up on my reading while I drive and some books are just better on audio. This week, I managed to pick up two books with similar themes, although told in very different ways. The first, and definitely the better of the two, is Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick.

This isn’t my usual reading fair – there’s more romance than I normally go for – but the premise is interesting. Seven interwoven stories, seven different time periods, three names that turn up again and again. Eric, Merle, and Tor appear over and over in these stories: Eric is a journalist in the near future, writing an investigative article on a mysterious island in the far north where residents seem to live forever. Tor and Merle are a married couple who rescue a wartime aviator who crashes on their property. Merle and Eric are brother and sister, living among the Vikings, and Tor is their uncle. The relationships change, the situations change, but these characters inhabit every story. As we move back in time, back to the beginning of their story, they are constantly reaching out to each other, circling around each other.

This reminded me a bit of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, one of my all-time favorite novels. It’s not in that class, but they cover some of the same territory: the idea that we are surrounded by people we know and love, throughout many lives and incarnations. In the ebb and flow of time and reincarnation, these people always come to the same place. They are always connected to one another.

I think what I enjoyed about this is the way that the stories differ. It is not as though these characters lead the same lives, fall in love in the same way, or even relate to each other the same way, time after time. Merle and Eric might be lovers, or they might be mother and son. It made the stories more interesting, as you watched the various connections unfold. I also liked watching for the small details that tied the stories together — the bit of wood in the grave, the painting, the hare. They give the reader something to discover, something to watch for in each story, and you get to wonder and speculate on how the details in each story will manifest as you move through the centuries.

Midwinterblood made for a very entertaining ride. The second novel I spoke of, which I hope to finish and review next week, isn’t faring nearly as well. This audiobook came to me through the Kent Free Libary.

New on the Shelves…

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By Lisa | Filed in New Books | One comment

hanysaI am still trying to catch up on the backlog of new books I haven’t told you about! Today, it’s A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara:

Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its publisher.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.

Quotables

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By Lisa | Filed in Quotables | No comments yet.

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages

– Welsh poet Dylan Thomas

Hot Guys with Books

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By Lisa | Filed in Hot Guys with Books | No comments yet.

McDreamy in leather, with a book.

patrick dempsey

ghostsThis was an odd one. I knew it would be odd as I sat trying to sort out the cover of the novel, a photo of a hallway turned sideways; it’s a great way to set the tone for the rest of the book. A Head Full of Ghostsby Paul Tremblay is the story of the Barrett family – Mom, Dad, and two daughters, Marjorie and Meredith. They were the subject of an early reality TV show, one that ended tragically; now, years later, Meredith is finally telling her story to an author for a memoir. Interspersed with her conversations with her ghostwriter are excerpts from a blog that recounts the TV episodes in great detail.

The Barretts were sadly typical. John Barrett lost his job at a local factory. Sarah Barrett was trying to keep the family afloat on bank teller salary. The girls appear oblivious, until fourteen year old Marjorie begins showing signs of schizophrenia. The doctors they consult are unable to help. Her sister, Merry, is terrified – Marjorie has stopped being her constant friend, her story-teller, her idol, and become someone entirely new and very frightening.

I told her to get out, to leave my room, to go away.

Skeleton-white hands came out from under the blanket and wrapped around her neck. They pulled the blanket down over her face, skin tight, and the blanket formed a shroud with dark valleys for eyes and mouth, her nose flattened against the unyielding cloth. Her mouth moved and choking growls came out. Those hands squeezed so the blanket pulled tighter and she shook her head, thrashed it around violently, and she gasped and pleaded with someone to stop or maybe she said she was trying to stop. Her hands were still closed around her own neck, and I’m sure it was some sort of optical illusion or a trick or kink of memory because her neck couldn’t have gotten as thin as I remember it getting…

Scary stuff for an eight year old. Is Marjorie going crazy? Or is it something more disturbing?

Eventually, John Barrett turns to his priest for help and advice. He is the only member of the family that is religious (his wife is openly scornful) and he and the priest decide that this might very well be a case of demonic possession. And somehow, the decision is made to turn the family’s struggles and Marjorie’s exorcism into a reality TV show, although Merry was too young to know the details. The show will certainly help the family’s financial problems. Sarah is clearly uncertain about turning the whole thing into a spectacle, but John convinces her. I can’t imagine that it was what any mother would have wanted for her family.

More sad for me than Marjorie’s illness was Merry’s friendship with Ken, one of the show’s writers. She seems so desperate for attention, so lost in the drama of her sister’s illness and the way her family is crumbling around her. The idea that she has latched on to this man who is part of a team of people who are profiting from her family’s horrible situation was just heartbreaking.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the ending – a nice way to finish a mystery. You know it’s going to be bad, everything is leading up to a terrible conclusion, but you’re not sure what kind of bad it will be. Will Marjorie turn out to be faking it all, exposed on national TV, leaving the family the laughingstock of their small town? Is that worse than finding out she’s possessed by demons or that their house is haunted? Or is something else stirring in that house? Could one of these girls be an evil genius? Marjorie seems lucid much of the time, and seems to be plotting something with Meredith, but is that the demon talking?  Right up to the end, even after you know how Marjorie’s story ended, there are hints that maybe, just maybe, there is more to the story. I love that – I want a book to keep me guessing, to let me sort out alternative endings on my own.

My copy of A Head Full of Ghosts was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

New on the Shelves

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By Lisa | Filed in New Books | No comments yet.

And here’s an exciting new ARC from the folks at Tor/ForgeCollision by William S. Cohen:

collisionFormer Secretary of State William S. Cohen provides a Washington insider point of view in this new political thriller, Collision.

Sean Falcone, former National Security Adviser to the president of the United States, attacks a gunman during a mass killing at an elite Washington law firm. A second shooter flees with a laptop containing vital information about an asteroid being mined by an American billionaire and his secret Russian partner. The incident plunges Falcone into a Washington mystery involving the White House, NASA, corrupt Senators, an international crime lord . . . and the possible destruction of all humankind.

What? Do they restrict the sales of them in brick-and-mortar stores to late-night hours? This strikes me as really, really silly.

Adult eBooks can only be sold after 10 pm, Germany rules

The 10pm to 6am window was originally instituted in a 2002 law — Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag, or Youth Media Protection Act —  that was intended to restrict adult cinemas from showing films in the day. But many have pointed out that applying the rule on the internet, where products can be bought at all hours of the day, is impractical.

Impractical? Ya think? Can’t wait to see how they intend to enforce this.

New on the Shelves

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By Lisa | Filed in New Books | No comments yet.

There are so many new books for me to tell you about! I’m going to try and get caught up on the new books I’ve received and hope to review for you…

looniesLoonies by Gregory Bastianello:

Smokey Hollow is a quiet town, but all that changes when Brian Keays moves in and discovers a locked steamer trunk in the attic of his home.

A suspicious fire destroys a mental asylum, but there is no sign of any of its inhabitants. Victims are found dead with a pillowcase over their heads, the same method used in an unsolved series of murders, committed over fifty years ago.

Brian tries to piece together the connection to the trunk and its grisly contents, his investigation aided by anonymous notes. He follows the trail from a ventriloquist firefighter whose dummy knows more than its puppeteer, to a Somnambulist whose pockets contain clues, and to a Knackerman who disposes of animal carcasses but keeps a container with its own mysterious contents.

Death is everywhere, but answers are hard to come by.

of things gone astray
“On a seemingly normal morning in London, a group of people wake to find something important to them missing, something dear but peculiar: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work.”

Can you imagine? You get up, shower, dress, have some coffee and head to the office. When you get there, the building is gone. Not demolished, not boarded up with a For Sale sign, just vanished, as if it was never there. What would you do? I would assume that I had gone insane. Who would you ask? You couldn’t very well start stopping people and saying, “Are you from the neighborhood? Didn’t there used to be a building there?” Would you call your colleagues? Sure, but – and I would be worried about this – what if they don’t answer? What if the phone number that has always worked for the office goes to some other company? Possibly even worse: what if they DO answer? What if they say they are in the building that isn’t there? What if they don’t know who you are?

Janina Matthewson doesn’t answer all of these questions in Of Things Gone Astrayshe seems more concerned with the impact it has on Robert when his business – his job and office and colleagues – are all suddenly gone. The characters in this book have all lost something very important to them, and it impacts them in unexpected ways.

The story is told round-robin style, with short chapters, many less than a page long. Each chapter is from the point of view of a single character, and they tell the story in a roundabout way.

Each character has lost something, but not in the usual way we think of it. One character has lost her sense of direction; one morning, she starts to walk to the corner store and she ends up wandering for hours, hopelessly lost in the neighborhood where she has lived all her life. Mrs. Featherby has lost the front of her house. She wakes up one morning and the entire front wall is gone, with her home exposed to the street and the open air.

Over the chapters, we come to understand what these things mean to the characters. Mrs. Featherby is a very private person, very proper and dignified, and being observed from the street, having people stop and look at her house and even speak to her – it’s horrifying. Delia begins to realize that she hasn’t just lost her sense of direction on the streets, she’s lost it in her life. She’s lost her drive and her life has become kind of aimless. She meets Anthony, a widower who is losing touch with his son, Jake. They now don’t even see each other when they are in the same house – literally, it is as if they are invisible to each other. It’s an extreme sort of estrangement, as they both deal with their grief over the loss of Jake’s mother.

The stories are interesting in a tangled way. They overlap, with characters meeting each other. Some resolve themselves, but others don’t wrap up neatly. Some of them are heartbreaking (the flight attendant stopped to ask me about the book because I was crying on the flight). A rather amazing first novel.

My copy of Of Things Gone Astray was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Quotables

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By Lisa | Filed in Quotables | No comments yet.

“I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket.”

– Ray Bradbury