So...I just finished reading Red Rising and this seemed appropriate. The review is on its way!
Twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is out of her element in this, the seventh installment, of Alan Bradley's series. The start of the novel has her on a ship, mid-way across the Atlantic, bound for Canada, where she will be starting her education at Miss Bodycote's Female Academy. She barely has time to settle into her new home when a body comes tumbling down from the chimney, wrapped in the Union Jack, with an animal scull replacing its head. Her homesickness is gone at the prospect of a mystery to solve and she gets right to work. Her investigations reveals students gone mysteriously missing from Miss Bodycote's, a secret society, and a teacher with a murderous past.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Flavia's personality was just what we've come to know and love - she's precocious, quick on her feet, and not afraid of anything. The development of the other characters - her classmates, her teachers, and even the headmistress - were all wonderful and it was very easy to distinguish one from another. Miss Bodycote's school and the surrounding city are described in wonderful detail, right down to the general store run by the woman who is entertained by Flavia's "charming" accent.
I was a bit disappointed, however, in how disjointed this book felt from the rest of the series. Without access to her attic laboratory, Flavia finds herself without the solace of chemistry for most of the book. The mystery itself sometimes seems illogical, and I'll also freely admit that I missed Buckshaw! The characters, the setting, the dependable Dogger and Gertrude...the story arcs that had been built up over the series were seemingly abandoned, and this new setting didn't feel quite like home. Things were touched upon briefly during this novel that I wish had been expanded upon, namely Harriet's time at the school and her participation in the Nides, the secret society that Flavia is there to become a part of as well. Secrets were not elaborated on, and I hope that Bradley plans on returning to those story lines for more detail.
In the end, I love this series and so I enjoyed the book. I can't wait, however, for Flavia to be back at Buckshaw, where she belongs.
(I received an advanced copy from Bantam via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Last week in book news:
Anarchy, the adaptation of the newly-discovered Shakespeare play, is due out in March and will be directed by Michael Almereyda. A modern take on Cymbeline, the story follows the fight for control of a city between corrupt police officers and a drug-dealing biker gang. The movie stars Ed Harris, Mia Jovovich, Dakota Johnson, Ethan Hawke, Penn Badgley, John Leguizamo, and Bill Pullman.
Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther) is developing a movie trilogy based off of the book Poe Must Die by Marc Olden.
Six finalists have been named for the Costa Short Story Award, given to an author of the UK or Ireland who creates "a single, previously unpublished short story of up to 4000 words written in English." A winner of the $5300 prize and two runners-up will be announced at the ceremony on January 27th. The complete list of finalists can be found here.
The winners of the 2015 Sidney Taylor Book Awards were announced, sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries, honoring "new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience."
Christmas and the 2015 book previews have done nothing to make my TBR pile any smaller. Here's what I have coming up:
I know I'm behind the ball on Red Rising by Pierce Brown, but better late than never, right? I'm not a big fan of science fiction, so I had initially passed on this one, especially since it was being touted as YA. After hearing how amazing it was, however, I decided to give it a go. My book club will be discussing this book next week, so I'll have a review soon!
I'm also reading The Carrier by Sophie Hannah, the eighth book in her Spilling CID series. In this installment, a Gaby Struthers' plane is delayed, forcing her to room for the night with a hysterical woman who claims that an innocent man is going to go to prison for a murder he didn't commit. The innocent man turns out to be none other than Tim Breary, and Gaby begins to believe this woman's presence on the plane can't be a coincidence, since this man is the love of Gaby's life. I'm looking forward to some seriously delicious plot twists and the genius of Simon Waterhouse.
I've also received a whole slew of new books from NetGalley to review. Some are recent publications, like:
The Deep by Nick Cutter: "A strange plague called the 'Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget - small things at first, like where they left their car keys...then the not-so-small-things like how to drive or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily...and there is no cure. But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Marianas Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as 'ambrosia' has been discovered - a universal healer, from initial reports. It may just be the key to a universal cure."
The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister: "The Amazing Arden is the most famous illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real-murder? When Arden's husband is found lifeless beneath the stage that night, the answer seems clear. But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless - and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding."
Others are due out soon:
Ghettoside: A Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy: "On a warm spring evening in south Los Angeles, a young man was shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of hundreds of young men slain in LA every year. His assailant ran down the street, jumped into an SUV, and vanished, hoping to join the vast majority of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case was assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shifted. Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential American murder - one young black man slaying another - and the determined crew of detectives whose creed was to pursue justice at all costs for its forgotten victims."
The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly: "It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have found a species of animal no one thought existed. It will amaze the world. Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing discovery within the greatest zoo ever constructed. A small group of VIPs and journalists have been brought to the zoo deep within China to see its fabulous creatures for the first time. The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that they are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong. Of course it can't..."
Time to get to reading! What's on your TBR?
All The Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven
Hardcover, 400 pages
Alfred A. Knopf, January 6, 2015
Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of their school's bell tower one fall afternoon, each wondering what it would be like to end it all, though stopping short of taking the leap after being surprised to find the other there. Finch, a self-proclaimed loner who is obsessed with death is surprised to find popular, outgoing Violet in the same situation, though initially she won't admit her reasons for being on the ledge that day. While she resists his efforts to form a friendship, he arranges for them to be partners on a class project, determined to get to know her. During their year together, the two broken teens wander their state, finding beauty and happiness in odd places.
"It's my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them"
With this book, Jennifer Niven may have changed my mind about YA fiction. Usually I find that tales of heartbroken, "damaged" teens feel forced: rife with kids who can't send a text using full words launching into melodramatic speeches (yeah, I'm looking at you, Fault in Our Stars) and parents who are a stereotype. All The Bright Places, however, manages to not only capture authentic teen voices, but also show their daily struggles (bullying, friendships, searching for identity, family dynamics, etc.) without being patronizing.
That's not to say there aren't problems with this novel. The school they attend seems woefully ill-equipped to deal with teenagers. A guidance counselor whom Finch sees regularly knows of his bell tower visit but doesn't make a concerted effort to contact Finch's parents, voice mails go home unanswered for the entire year with no follow-up, Finch regularly misses weeks of school yet there's no fall out. Also the secondary characters are not well developed and sometimes fade into the background, with the possible exception of Violet and Finch's parents, who demonstrate their dysfunction in opposing ways.
The remarkable thing about this novel, however, is how Niven realistically portrays depression and mental illness. Finch describes his dark times:
I get into these moods sometimes, and I can't shake them. Kind of black sinking moods. I can imagine it's like what being in the eye of a tornado would be like, all calm and blinding at the same time. I hate them.
Finch copes by hiding in his closet, making his world small and manageable, until he feels "awake" again and can emerge to face everything again. A school counselor suggests he may have bipolar disorder and Finch fights this suggestion, afraid that he will become even more of a "freak." Niven manages to capture Finch's desire for understanding even as he resists the label of a diagnosis.
Strangely, even though others have said that they saw the ending coming, I was so swept up in the story and my concern for these two characters that I was as blindsided by the ending as the characters were - surprised, even though in retrospect, it was probably inevitable. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys John Greene and Rainbow Rowell...but also to those who don't. This book was pitch-perfect in a field of books that otherwise strain a bit too hard to hit the right note.
The Monogram Murders
by Sophie Hannah
Hardcover, 352 pages
William Morrow, September 9, 2014
Hercule Poirot is having a quiet dinner in his favorite London coffeehouse when he encounters a young woman who confesses to him that she is terrified of being murdered but refuses his offers of assistance. Later that day Poirot hears of a series of bizarre murders at an upscale London hotel and accompanies the Scotland Yard detective staying in his boardinghouse to the scene of the crime. There they find three bodies laid out identically in three separate rooms ...each with a monogrammed cuff link left in their mouth. He can't help but think that the young woman he met earlier that night may be the murder's fourth victim...
I personally really enjoyed this book, though I know it's taken some hard hits from other reviewers and even some critics. I didn't go into this expecting the writing to mimic Christie's writing because - and she'd tell you this herself - Sophie Hannah isn't Agatha Christie! Of course the writing won't be a replica of the original Poirot works. Hannah does, however, capture Poirot's personality - his disdain over a lack of imagination in his detective partner, his excitement when he's put two clues together, and his pompous explanations at the close of the book. Hannah also successfully captures the importance of motive and psychology to the plot. She is able to show us both the morality and the darkness of the characters in her story in a way that was vitally important in all of Christie's work. The charming English village, the "locked room" setting for the murders, and the narrative voice of Catchall, Poirot's sidekick from Scotland Yard all act to set the scene for a tale told in Christie's world, if not in her voice.
In the end, the Monogram Murders should not be looked at as a "continuation" of the Poirot library, but rather a new interpretation of an old familiar character. The puzzling twists and turns of the plot, the voices of the characters, and the seeming impossibility of the mystery are all echoes of the Christie I love, with the fabulous writing of Hannah to pull it all together.
In book news last week...
Variety is reporting that David Oyelowo (Selma, Interstellar) is signed on to play opposite Lipita Nyong'o in the movie adaptation of Americanah, a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This novel, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, follows two young Nigerian immigrants as they navigate race, relationships, and their futures in America. The movie, produced by Brad Pitt's company, Plan B, has no director or production or start date as of yet.
Australia's highest book award, the Prime Minister's Literary Award, was handed out on Monday night, though a last-minute announcement by P.M. Tony Abbott caused quite a shake up. The panel of judges had unanimously chosen Steven Carroll's A World of Other People, to win the prize. The Prime Minister, however, announced on the night of the book awards, that the prize was to be split between Carroll and his selection, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. This angered one judge, who told the press that the judges found Flanagan's novel to be "superficial, showy, and pretentious."
Hillary Mantel is facing renewed criticism over her latest book, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. The BBC recently announced its intention to broadcast the short story of the same name on Book at Bedtime in January. Former Cabinet Minister Lord Tebbitt has criticized the decision, has condemned the story as "perverted" and "hateful," and accuses the BBC of being deliberately provocative and showing bias against the Tories.
Knopf Publishing announced today that Judy Blume's next novel, In The Unlikely Event, will be published on June 2, 2015. The novel is a general family novel, based on Blume's own experience witnessing several plane crashes around New Jersey as a teenager in 1951 and 1952. The novel will follow people as they cope with the devastation of loss after these horrific events. This will be Blume's first novel aimed at adult readers since Summer Sisters, published in 1998.
Any one else's TBR pile getting out of control? This week I've added several new books to my pile, and at this point I'm just hoping to get to them all!
First is A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan. So far this novel has been one heck of a creepy read. William Heming is a voyeur (an understatement if there ever was one) and is determined to keep his quiet English village safe from unsavory types...no matter what the cost. This novel is a great addition to the "unreliable narrator" category of suspense thrillers, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit.
I've also received an advanced copy of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley. What can I say?...I love Flavia de Luce! I was skeptical when I first started the series, but now I'm a devoted fan. This installment has Flavia at her new school in Canada investigating the discovery of a body in a chimney.
Finally, I've received a copy of All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. These sorts of angsty YA novels aren't usually my thing, but I was intrigued by the premise of this one. Besides...I'll try any book once.
What's new on your pile this week?
Dark Screams: Volume 1
ebook, 98 pages
Cemetery Dance Publications
Brian Freeman's horror short-story collection contains five short stories, written by Stephen King, Kelly Armstrong, Bill Pronzini, Simon Clark, and Ramsey Campbell. This is to be the first of several, and if this is the case, he's off to a strong start.
This book was incredibly short - less than 100 pages - and was a very quick read. I easily clocked less than an hour of reading time with this one. The Stephen King story "Weeds" (also known as "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill") was one he wrote in the 70s and was featured in the second Creepshow film. It tells the tale of Jordy, a farmer who believes the meteor that lands in his backyard will bring him some fast cash, but sadly causes him more trouble than he anticipates. It was an almost humorous story, as Jordy continues to make things worse for himself until the sad end.
Most of the stories were good, but I have to confess that I believed the story by King to be the best (no surprise to me there). I was actually disappointed that Bill Pronzini's story, Magic Eyes, was a short story. After reading it, I wished it had been a whole novel, it was so enjoyable. The fourth story, Murder in Chains, felt as though it were a scene from the middle of a story and was a little too scattered in terms of plot for my liking, though it was more action-packed than the others. The fifth story, The Watched, was my least favorite. It had a good premise, but the execution just wasn't there.
All in all, this was an enjoyable read that I would recommend to fans of the genre, people who enjoy short story collections, or anyone interested in giving these authors a try for the first time without the commitment of reading a novel.
(I received a copy of this book from Cemetery Dance Publications, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
In book news over the weekend...
Warner Brothers is reaching out to Christopher Nolan to direct the studio's upcoming adaptation of Ready Player One. This sci-fi adventure film has been a huge literary hit, so having a heavyweight like Nolan directing would be sure to make this a box office success.
J.K. Rowling is promising 12 Days of Harry Potter on her site, Pottermore. Beginning on Friday, December 12th, the site will feature "brand new writing by J.K. Rowling and even a new potion or two," according to the newsletter. The Telegraph is reporting that one of these stories will feature Harry Potters nemesis, Draco Malfoy.
Cary Fukunaga, the director of the hit HBO series True Detective, has been confirmed as on board the new production of Stephen King's It, expected out 2015. Producer Dan Lin (Sherlock Holmes, Terminator) says the book was too big for one movie, so the plan is to split it into two separate films. Lin says they've also gotten King's blessing on the script, saying he told Fukunaga "Go with God, please! This is the version the studio should make." With that kind of endorsement, I'm excited!
A Kansas District Court has ruled that the original case files and field notes from the quadruple murder made famous in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood are to be released. The case files, kept by the investigating detective, are now in the hands of his son, Ronald Nye, and will be published in a book co-authored by Gary McAvoy. Nye says the case files contain discrepancies that cast doubt on the accuracy of Capote's original story.
The Girls of August
Hardcover, 240 pages
Grand Central Publishing, 8 July 2014
Four friends gather for an annual beach vacation, each year renting a house in a new location. This began as a way to get away while their husbands were all in medical school together, and has become a way to reconnect with one another, calling each other the Girls of August. When one of them dies tragically, their vacations are brought to a halt and their friendships gradually dwindle away. When the widower remarries, the three women agree to a vacation to meet the new wife, a much younger woman who doesn't quite fit into the group. Their vacation on the South Carolina coast will reveal the changes the women have undergone since their last time together.
I'm not entirely sure where to start with this review, because I almost didn't finish the book. At 240 pages it was a quick read, which was an incredibly good thing. Had it taken more than two or three hours to read this book, I would have put it down. I was looking forward to a sweet, touching book about women supporting each other through their friendships, and instead I got a ridiculous, scrambled book about women acting like mean middle school girls.
The characters were flat, cardboard people that Siddons apparently couldn't be bothered to develop. Until one of the characters began acting erratic and a major life event was revealed about halfway through the book, I honestly kept confusing two of the characters because there was so little depth to either of their characters. What Siddons did reveal about their personalities through their behaviors was so hateful and mean that I couldn't imagine she was writing about characters she liked. Grown women were catty, sarcastic, and downright cruel and bullying to one another. Apparently this was because some of them were "going through things." I didn't find this in the least bit believable.
The writing was painfully simple and uninspired. These women were vacationing on a beautiful semi-private island off the coast of South Carolina and Siddons spent more time describing the decor of the house and the details of their food than the supposedly beautiful locale. The story itself was jumbled and made no sense. The women spend most of their trip bitching, sniping, and being generally unfriendly to the new wife and eventually even to each other. Accusations of assault, sabotage, and affairs abound, and in the end...well, the ending came out of no where and made absolutely no sense. When the bomb was dropped regarding a major event in the life of one of the women...I hardly paused in my reading. There was so little build up to the announcement that I couldn't bring myself to care. That, to me, is the sign of an unsuccessful book.
(I received a copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)
Hardcover, 416 pages
Bantam, 1 July 2014
Jonah Kirk is the nine-year-old grandson of a top-notch piano player, the son of a extraordinarily talented lounge singer and an absentee father, and a musical prodigy in his own right. He's just beginning to explore his musical gifts, when an accidental meeting with a group of very dangerous people has disastrous consequences. Jonah is a young man coming of age in a remarkable family during a time when his city was coming of age as well.
Jonah Kirk, now in his late-50's, is telling the gripping story of a very important time in his young life. Koontz is in his element here, weaving a story that is lyrical to read, though it takes some time to wade through. The plot moves slowly, almost luxuriously so, because Koontz is so descriptive, taking his time to make sure you can visualize every bit of Jonah's city. The city almost becomes a character itself due to Koontz vivid descriptions of its people, it's art, and it's architecture. Koontz explores the idea of a city having a soul, as personified by "Pearl", the mysterious woman who teaches Jonah to interpret his dreams.
This novel was as much a character study as it was the coming-of-age of Jonah. The character development of the "good guy" characters - Kirk's family and friends - was rich and expansive. Disappointingly, however, the "bad guy" characters felt one-dimensional and a bit stereotypical. The characters sometimes felt as though they were being used to explore themes and not carry the story themselves. Jonah's relationship (or lack of one) with his father, his dedication to his mother, his friendship with the quietly formidable Mr. Yoshioka, and his love of Amelia Pomerantz all felt as though they were just as important to the story as the plot itself. When Koontz allowed the characters to shine on the page, the story was wonderful to read. Unfortunately, sometimes too much space passed between these glimpses of brilliance.
My problem with this novel was perhaps in my expectations. I am a long-time fan of Koontz's novels because they're usually such page turners. An interesting main character, an intriguing premise, a whole lot of suspense, and a thrilling conclusion. While The City definitely had an interesting main character, it was missing everything else. It was by far a more philosophical novel than I'm used to from Koontz, and as a result it sometimes felt like work to read. In the end, The City was a good book I just couldn't get into.
(I received a copy of this book from Bantam Books in exchange for an honest review.)