Archive for the 'Book Review' Category

Review: Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

of things gone astrayOf Things Gone Astray is a fascinating debut novel by Janina Matthewson. This is such an unusual story, an unusual method of telling it — days later, I am still thinking about it.

This is a story about loss – about the things we lose, what they mean to us, and how we replace them. The characters – Delia, Cassie, Anthony, Jake, Marcus, Mrs. Featherby, Robert – have all lost something important to them. This isn’t a book about losing your car keys or misplacing a library book. Robert has lost his job. He wasn’t fired or laid off; he went to work one morning and the building was gone. The company, the people – all of it, just disappeared. Cassie has lost her sense of direction; one morning, she headed out to the corner store and got hopelessly lost, spending hours wandering through the city where she has lived all her life. Mrs. Featherby woke up one morning to find that the front wall of her home was gone.

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 quite literally do not see each other when they are in the same house. It’s an extreme sort of estrangement, as they both deal with their grief.

The stories tangle and overlap in intriguing ways. Secrets are revealed. We find out more about the characters and what brought them to this point. Some of the stories wrap up neatly; others leave us hanging. And as I said, days later, I am still thinking about it, thinking about these characters. I love a story that lingers! I want the characters to get under my skin and stick to my brain and keep me up at night. It’s a great debut novel and although I have no idea what Matthewson might do to follow this up, I know that I’ll be interested in reading it.

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

Review: Normal by Graeme Cameron

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

normalHe lives in your community, in a nice house with a well-tended garden. He shops in your supermarket, bumping shoulders with you and apologizing with a smile. He drives beside you on the highway, politely waving you into the lane ahead of him.

What you don’t know is that he has an elaborate cage built into a secret basement under his garage. And the food that he’s carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he’s holding there against her will—one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her.

Oh, she’s knows what fate awaits her.

Normal by Graeme Cameron is an interesting twist on the sympathetic serial killer story. Our main character has no name and no physical description, and that is purposeful. He could be anyone. He’s no one you would necessarily notice, and even if you did, you couldn’t imagine the sort of person he really is. He says, in the latter part of the book, “The truth is I hurt people. It’s what I do. It’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done.”  He’s gotten quite proficient at it – he has a routine, places to dispose of the remains, a well thought-out process for satisfying these urges. Up to now, it has worked perfectly for him, allowing him to travel under the radar.

The trouble starts with a woman, of course. Erica is in the wrong place at the wrong time and she ends up in the cage under our killer’s garage. This should be simple – clearly, he has done this before, made provisions for it. The cage is sturdy, the camera affords him an excellent view of his captive, but somehow things with Erica don’t go quite the way he planned.

Then there’s the woman at the all-night grocery store. Her name tag says Caroline and she is perfect. The kind of perfect that could make a man want to change his evil ways, walk the straight and narrow. But there’s the little problem of the girl in the secret dungeon and the police who suspect him of…something. They aren’t sure what, exactly, but they are definitely suspicious. Our protagonist has some clever and very entertaining ideas about how to weasel out of this – enlisting the help of a woman he planned to murder but ending up rescuing instead – but once more, tings don’t go quite as he planned.

I really enjoyed this – I like the style, I like the bits of detail interspersed with large patches of things left up to your imagination. I like the ambiguous bits – I don’t need an author to beat me over the head with the plot. You can’t help but root for our would-be lover to sort all of this out and get his happily ever after … and then you remember how many women he’s slaughtered and wonder what you were thinking. There’s humor, there’s suspense, and enough action to keep the pages turning. If you don’t mind a little blood and guts and adore a good antihero, you should definitely check this one out.

My copy of Normal was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge. It goes on sale March 31, so pre-order your copy now.

 

 

Hot Guys with Books

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

Shirtless Benedict Cumberbatch on the beach, talking about a book.

I could probably stop posting now. What else is there?

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Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

boneshakerThis is a book I started ages ago, but I lost track of it on my Kindle (I keep forgetting that it stores galleys as documents, not books). When I managed to unearth it, I was thrilled to be back in the world of Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. It’s set in the wild and woolly Seattle of the 1880’s, with some major revisions. The city, its population swelled from the Klondike gold rush, has been devastated. The Boneshaker, a mining machine designed to dig through the Klondike ice, has malfunctioned and run wild beneath the city, collapsing buildings, creating tunnels, killing hundreds, and releasing deadly gas from deep underground. The gas, called Blight, boils up from the tunnels and clings like a thick fog. It kills plants and animals, corrodes metal, and turns the humans who breathe it into a sort of zombie, called Rotters. In an attempt to save what they could, the city was walled up, trapping the Blight and the rotters inside. The walls created a lost city, crumbling into ruin, inhabited by the walking dead and those hearty souls who have carved out a living in the basements, vaults, and any place that offers a little clean air.

Briar Wilkes has gone back to using her maiden name, because being the widow of Leviticus Blue does not endear her to her neighbors; Leviticus Blue invented the Boneshaker, after all, and many still hold him responsible for the devastation in the city. She has tried to shield her son, Zeke, from his awful history, but the curiosity of a teenage boy is a powerful force. Zeke has decided to sneak into the walled city, find his mother’s home, and bring back evidence that his father was innocent. When she realizes what he’s done, Briar has no choice but to go in after him.

Their adventures in the city make for a great read. There are pirates and villains, the Chinamen who built and maintain the machinery that keeps the underground inhabitable. There is a good-hearted woman, Lucy O’Gunning, with her strange mechanical arm, and a mysterious villain named Dr. Minnericht, who hints at an even more villainous past. It’s about a mother’s love for her son – all that she’s done, all that she’s tried to do, and all that she is still willing to do to protect him, even if he hates her for it. It’s about how you keep going after tragedy strikes and find a way to live with yourself. And all through the book there are great stories of underground palaces, murderous rotters and shifting alliances – enough to keep you turning pages well past the time you should blow out the candles and turn in for the night. The ending was great (and I’ve had too many disappointing endings lately) and makes me want to pick up the next book right away. It was a great story and my only regret is that I didn’t finish it sooner. The bonus is that the sequels are all lined up for me!

For more on the wondrous alternate universe of Boneshaker,  check out The Clockwork Century and Cherie’s homepage. My copy of Boneshaker by Cherie Priest was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Hot Guys with Books

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

I saved this one for Valentine’s Day! What could be better than a hot guy reading a book? How about two hot guys kissing over a book? Oh yeah! Thanks to James Franco and Zachary Quinto for starting V-Day off right.

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Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

triggerOh, I can’t tell you how excited I was to get a copy of Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances for review! My love affair with Neil Gaiman’s writing has been a troubled one – some things I love, some things I don’t – but I love short stories when they are well-written and this collection was a treasure. That doesn’t mean I loved every one of them, that almost never happens, but there are some that were so good, so compelling, that I was sorry to see them end.

The book starts with a fairly long introduction, which makes great reading if you’re interested in a writer’s process and how they think about their work. It even contains a little bonus story about The Shadder – I love little hidden gems like this. (Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts had a similar bonus story.) There is also a prize beyond measure: a recap of each of the stories and how they came to be. What a fabulous way to start the book! Not only do I get a preview of what’s coming, I get a little insight into the story behind the story.

I was torn about whether I should read these intros before I read the story, or afterwards. I opted for before (I don’t mind spoilers), but still found that by the time I read each story, I wanted to go back and read the introduction again, see if I remembered correctly, see what I thought about the origins, now that I’d read the story. It added a great deal to the book, and people who skim over it are really missing out.

As I was reading, I kept thinking, “Oh, this will be the story that I say was my favorite” – thought that at least 4 or 5 times and meant it every time. There is a good variety of stories here, not all frightening, not all funny, but clearly all the product of a wondrous imagination. There were stories that startled me, stories that worried me, and one story, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury”, that made me bring up my local library website and check out some more short stories. It brought back some marvelous memories.

I loved “The Thing About Cassandra”, the story about a shy young man and his imaginary girlfriend – all well and good, until 20 years later she shows up on Facebook, asking about him. I loved two of the stories in “The Calendar of Tales.” In October Tale, we wonder what happens when a happy and contented young woman finds a genie in a bottle and has nothing to wish for. In November Tale, a critically ill woman buys a brazier at a garage sale, planning to burn away old papers…and maybe much more.

My favorites by far were the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Who stories. In “The Case of Death and Honey,” Sherlock solves the greatest mystery of all. I love the way his story is interwoven with that of the beekeeper, and the idea makes perfect sense to me: what on earth would Sherlock Holmes, the man who prefers serial killers to boredom, do when he retired? And “Nothing O’Clock” brings the new Doctor and Amy Pond an even greater and more dangerous enemy than the Daleks: The Kin. I am not a Dr. Who fan; I always think it’s exactly the sort of thing I should love, but I don’t. This story, however, really captures the spirit of the show, with enough background that even a non-viewer will enjoy it.

And I could go on. And on. There was “Click-Clack the Rattlebag.” There was “Witch Work.” There was “Adventure Story.” So much good storytelling, pared down into bite-size morsels, to be enjoyed in a sitting and smiled over the rest of the day. God, I love short stories – and I think you’ll enjoy this collection, as well.

My copy of Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

HOLLOW-CITY-COVERIt’s been almost three years since my review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I recall being a bit mesmerized by the book at that time – the photographs were remarkable and the idea that they were real, found photos made them ever more fascinating. Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children) picks up where Miss Peregrine’s leaves off, and I do mean right where it leaves off. That’s a big part of the problem I had with the book. We are thrown right back into the story of Jacob, Emma, Bronwyn, Olive and the other Peculiars, rowing their little boats toward the coast of Wales…and I honestly could not remember why they were there. There was no recapping of the story so far, even though the books were published 3 years apart. There were no re-introductions to the characters, no little clues when the characters referred to wights and hollowgasts and ymbrynes. There are some small photos at the beginning of the book but, to be honest, I didn’t stop and read them before jumping into the story. Luckily, the first nook was still on my Kindle, so I could go back and refresh my memory before digging into the book at hand. Not a good start, to be sure.

The story itself is much like the first book – entertaining and fairly fast-paced. The children are still on the run from wights who have invaded the “loop” where they’ve lived for decades. The loop is a bit of stopped time, well-protected from those who would harm the Peculiars. The hollowgast are the sad remnants of an experiment gone wrong, with tentacles for mouths and a hunger for Peculiar children. They are invisible to most Peculiars, which is what makes Jacob so valuable: his Peculiar skill is that he can sense and see and kill hollowgast. Wights are evolved hollowgast – they evolve by consuming the souls of Peculiar children. In Hollow City, they are after more than the children’s souls.

Jacob and his friends are traveling to London, the capital city of Peculiars, in the hopes of finding help for Miss Peregrine, who has become trapped in her bird form. They encounter a number of other Peculiars along the way, and learn much about the history of Peculiars. The children don’t have much time to save Miss Peregrine and to derail a terrible plot that would devastate Peculiars everywhere. In the midst of it all, Jacob must make some difficult choices, about leaving his friends, about being apart from his family, about falling in love and just what it is he wants to do with his life.

This was a quick read (shorter than a flight from Cleveland to Atlanta). Although I was frustrated by the lack of recapping and annoyed that I had to basically re-read the first book to continue the series, I still enjoyed the story and the characters. Although I admit that I am heartily sick of trilogies, this book was better than most second books, in that there was a lot of action and new development, which kept it from being more than just a set-up for the next installment.

As before, the highlight of the book, for me, was the photos. These are more real, found photos, showing all sorts of unusual people, and they bring so much to the story.

My copy of Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children) came from my personal library.
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Review: The Deep by Nick Cutter

Monday, January 19th, 2015

the deepNick Cutter’s The Deep starts out with a very promising premise: a strange plague is afflicting humanity on a global scale. Scientists have stumbled upon a possible cure — at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. In a desperate race to save the human race, governments have come together to build a research station at the bottom of the ocean, eight miles underwater. The Trieste may be man’s last hope, but there is something lurking there, and the cure they are researching might not be benign.

I loved the beginning of the novel. The plague itself is horrifying: those suffering with The ‘Gets slowly begin to forget everything. At first, it’s small things, like where they left their car keys. Later, it’s their name, how to feed themselves, even how to breathe. The situation is dire enough to imagine this sort of multinational cooperation and expenditure. Luke Nelson has been called to the site of this amazing research station to try and retrieve his brother, Clayton. Clayton is difficult and unpleasant, probably a bit of a sociopath, but he is also a genius, a brilliant researcher and he is currently at the bottom of the ocean and he has stopped communicating with the researchers on the surface. They hope his brother can draw him out, but that means sending his brother on that long, cold, dark journey to the ocean floor.

It’s a great build up. I was reading the novel while on a business trip, in a hotel room far from home. The descriptions of the research station were strangely in tune with the hotel: the strange shadows and unexpected noises, the feeling of isolation combined with the weird watched feeling you get when you’re surrounded by strangers – it was the perfect atmosphere for reading something like this. It really gave me the creeps. The story itself was pretty engaging, especially when you start learning the backstories of the various characters. Luke and Clayton had a pretty rough childhood and they have never been close. The other scientists have their own tragic pasts and early on, you begin to wonder if that is a coincidence. There is definitely something happening on the Trieste, and it’s not something good.

My real problem with the book is the ending. After a great build-up, great stories hinting at something evil, something strategic and inhuman, the ending really fell flat. I found some of the conclusions just too much to swallow – the idea that whatever this lifeform might be, it had the sort of influence they suggested was too implausible. The last scene was even more disappointing to me. I don’t require that a book wrap up every storyline in a ribbon and present it to the reader all neat and tidy – in fact, I would prefer that it did not – but this felt like taking the easy way out. I still have another book by Nick Cutter on the shelf – The Troop – and I plan to give it a try. The Deep had so much potential, but a really flat finish.

My copy of The Deep was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: A Bowl of Olives by Sara Midda

Friday, January 16th, 2015

bowl of olivesA Bowl of Olives: On Food and Memory is a lovely little book, beautifully illustrated with tiny watercolor paintings of olives and figs and rabbits and vegetables and wine bottles. The emphasis is on the word little – on some pages, the writing is so small that it is almost impossible to read. The pages are full of tiny watercolors, small-scale photographs, leaves and flowers and fruits in a wonderful color palette. The paper is heavy and more textured than an average book, and the font is chosen to mimic handwriting. I spent a long flight studying the tiny charts on how to cut cheese correctly, miniature photos of bamboo implements, drawings of dogs and stone walls. 

It is a food-lover’s journal of places visited, meals eaten, tastes remembered, There are recipes and recommendations: what to eat in Morocco, perfect foods for summer days and nights, the best way to prepare parsnips. I loved the pages on choosing the perfect mug, food memories, and the chapter on the history of olives and olive oil.

It’s really a beautiful book, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with it, now that I have enjoyed the first reading. It’s not the sort of thing I’m likely to read again (at least not after I try that recipe for Onions Monegasque). It would have been the perfect stocking stuffer for food-loving friends; I know a number of people who will enjoy reading the tiny print and smiling over the tiny pictures. Whether they will use it to suggest table settings or ideas for onion tarts, I can’t say for certain, but it will be a lovely addition to their shelves and certain to bring a smile.

My copy of A Bowl of Olives: On Food and Memory was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

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Review: Man v. Nature by Diane Cook

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

man v natureMan V. Nature: Storiesby Diane Cook is a fascinating book of short stories – the kind that keep you thinking long after you finish reading. The stories present impossible situations — truly impossible situations that you can’t imagine happening in real life. In “The Not-Needed Forest, a 10 year old boy is told he is “not needed” and is sent off for incineration. Huh? What parents would allow this? Why is it only 10 year old boys who are deemed “not needed”? Why not girls or 12 year old boys? It’s a completely improbable situation, but he waits on the front lawn for the bus and off he goes – how could that possibly happen? The way the characters navigate these strange circumstances makes for really intriguing reading.

In “Moving On” my first thought was that this was an impossible situation that some people might really be drawn to. Our main character is a recent widow, and after a very brief period of mourning, she is sent off to a sort of boot camp for widows and widowers. (Her home and all the belongings she shared with her husband are sold and the proceeds become part of her dowry.) She gets counseling to help her get over the loss of her husband as quickly as possible. She is encouraged to get in shape, learn new hobbies, make new friends, all with an eye towards attracting a new spouse. Her spouse will choose her (and her dowry) from among a batch of profiles and she gets no choice in the matter.

In another favorite, “Somebody’s Baby,” a woman comes home from the hospital with her new baby to find a man lurking in the yard — a man who plans to steal the baby. This is a perfectly normal occurrence; some families lose two, even three babies before the man moves on to other families, but when the new mother suggests protecting their children and fighting back, she is ridiculed and shunned by her neighbors.

I find myself thinking about these stories, even as time passes. What would I do if clothes and trinkets began turning up in my washing machine? Why would a woman become fixated on a perfectly ordinary weatherman? What mother wouldn’t want to retrieve her stolen children? I think  that’s really the measure of a book like this — how long do the stories stay with you? How often do you find yourself thinking about them? What new insights have come, weeks down the road? If a book can keep me thinking and questioning, I will definitely be recommending it to my friends, and I will certainly be recommending this one.

My copy of Man V. Nature: Stories was an advanced reader copy, provided free of charge.