Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Earlier this year I raved about Ready Player One, one of my favorite books of 2012. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore struck me in a similar way. The description of the novel - "A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore..." - immediately interested me, although it took me a few weeks to pick it up. I'm glad I finally did. 

Mr. Penumbra follows Clay Jannon, who lost his job in web design due to the recession. He ends up landing a job at an odd little bookstore, located next to a strip club. The store is oddly vertical, with three story high shelves. Clay is hired for the night shift - from 10 pm to 6 am every day - and spends his time mostly playing on his computer and assisting the occasional customer. He is told to never look at the books in what he refers to as the Wayback List, odd titles that he has never heard of. The sporadic customers usually request books from that list. It isn't long before Clay and one of his friends are temped to look at the books, which are written in odd, unreadable glyphs. The customers never buy books; they simply bring one back and take another one. 

Clay uses his technical talents to create a digital model of the bookstore where he starts to notice a pattern regarding the customers and the Wayback List. When he presents this to Mr. Penumbra, he is let in on the secret of the odd books - a secret that goes far beyond the little bookstore. Clay uses his talents and calls on those of his friends (including his girlfriend, a programmer for Google) for their assistance. The story goes from San Francisco to New York and back again, while the plot mashes up literature and technology in a fascinating way as Clay uses modern tools in an attempt to crack a literary mystery that a secret society has been working on for 500 years.  I didn't want the book to end and stretched out reading it for a while. There was an epilogue at the end that ties everything together neatly - maybe a little too neatly - but I enjoyed reading what happened to all the characters, from Neel, Clay's best friend to Kat, his girlfriend. There was even a great moment where Clay visited a warehouse similar to the one at the end of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (thanks, dad, for catching my erroneous movie title). There were also references to a nerdy sounding fantasy series that reminded me of the Dragonlance books. 

The tone and feel of the book was very similar to Ready Player One, although without the pop culture references of that book. There are a lot of mentions of current technology - Google, kindles, etc, so the book might not have longevity, but for a 21st century fairy tale/adventure, this was quite a fun read. Definitely worth picking up!

New York Times Review 1 and 2 and NPR's Review

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble

Monday, December 17, 2012

Second Shift: Order Review

The next installment of Hugh Howey's Silo series (# 7) was probably my least favorite of the series. But again, I blame most of this on my recent literary lethargy. I just haven't really been connecting to anything recently (although wait until my next review - I'm eating my current book up!)

I've reviewed the books of this series before, starting with the first chapter called Wool, then chapters 2-5 and finally First Shift: Legacy, so you can go back and read my take on the rest of the novels if you wish to. The five Wool novellas were eventually gathered into one book called The Wool Omnibus, which is being published in both hardback and paperback copies this spring, although the digital versions are currently available. Turns out the Shift trilogy is also going to be bound together this spring into one novel. I sort of wished I had waited for that to come out. Even though each chapter is under $3, the Shift will would likely be around $6.

From First Shift, I remember the story of Donald, the democratic congressman, better than I do the story of Troy, whose first shift in Silo 1 forms the basis of part of that novel. Of course in the end of that book, it was revealed that Troy and Donald were the same person. I don't quite remember what happened at the end of Troy's storyline, but in Second Shift he is unexpectedly awoken earlier than he should have been by Senator Thurman. Apparently violence is brewing in Silo 18, which I actually didn't remember was the original silo from the Wool books (Holston, Juliette and Lucas' silo), although this is before their time. Thurman and one of his partners in the whole silo plan, Erskine, are concerned by some of the silos that went dark (aka out of touch by radio). Additionally, their third partner in crime, Victor, recently shot and killed himself.

With all of this chaos going on, Thurman decides to wake Troy/Donald back up because on Victor's desk was found a report that Donald had signed on his previous shift when dealing with a rebellion in Silo 12.

Donald is taken to a floor he had never been to before where he finds the only woman in the whole silo, Anna, awake. Anna is Thurman's daughter and Donald's old girlfriend who clearly still has designs on him and who possibly rigged events at the Democratic National Convention in the previous novel to make Donald's wife, Helen, end up in the wrong silo. Anna had been secretly awakened by her father because she is an expert on radio waves and might be able to find/disrupt waves coming from the silos that went dark.

Anyway, Donald ends up working with Anna to figure out what is happening with the silos. The key is that some people remember the past enough to pass down stories, which gets other people all fired up. It really just takes one person to fan the flames of rebellion. In the meantime, the audience gets more information about the decision making process behind why Thurman and friends destroyed the world but tried to restart society under ground in the silos. We find out what happened to Donald's wife, Helen (not really a surprise), and his sister, Charlotte. And the end is a cool twist that sets up Third Shift. Who is Thurman?! Well, you'll see.

The parallel story this time around is about a young man named Mission who lives in Silo 18, before Juliette's time. He is one of a group of young people who gets mixed up in a violent rebellion against the authorities of the silo. While I thought Donald's storyline was interesting, I was a bit bored by Mission's. Other characters were briefly mentioned but not given time to develop into full on people. I just didn't find Mission that compelling of a character and his storyline seemed more to give the other perspective on what Donald and Silo 1 were fighting against than anything else.

I'm still going to keep reading the Silo series and hopefully the next one will be a bit more interesting. Judging by Howey's website, he is done the 8th book... and hopefully will have better editors this time around. I definitely caught a "it's/its" error. That really makes me mad. I think I would be an awesome copy writer and a self-published author could really use one!    

Hugh Howey's website

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Death in the Small Hours Review

I've been reading very, very slowly recently. Last year I tracked all the books I read for a total of 79 for the year, but at one point I stopped counting because it got too much to enter in the dates and then do the blog and all of that. I've also developed the bad habit of reaching for my phone in the morning over breakfast and checking facebook or reading the news rather than reading my novel. And I've been a bit distracted by the whole trying to have a baby thing... or trying to have science make us a baby, I guess. There's a lot of waiting around so you would think I've been reading a lot but I just can't seem to focus. Fortunately winter break is coming up and hopefully we will have some better news soon to help me buckle down and read some good books. I have quite a list developing on my kindle.

Anyway, A Death in the Small Hours is the sixth Charles Lenox mystery. I reviewed A Burial at Sea, the fifth one in September. I liked the plot of A Death in the Small Hours better because Charles was surrounded by his family and friends, unlike the last book where he was on a boat with strangers. Charles and Lady Jane are new parents to baby Sophia. Dallington, Lenox's apprentice shows up and both Graham and Edmund (or Edward, I am too lazy to check right now) make appearances.

In this novel, Charles is asked to make an important speech for the Parliament. As a member of the House of Commons, he wishes to address the issue of poverty in Victorian England. However, other Parliament members keep showing up to offer him advice and their own suggestions for topics, so Charles has trouble getting started. His brother, Edmund (Edward?) advises him to get out of town for a bit. Fortunately, an invitation to a beloved uncle's house in the country arrives just in time.

Charles, Jane, Sophia and their governess Miss Taylor head to Plumbley to stay in a grand old house with Lenox's uncle Frederick, an older bachelor who is preparing to turn his estate over to his heir, something that Lenox is very unhappy about. While there, Charles is again distracted by a series of vandalisms occurring in the little town. When someone is murdered in the town, he quickly tries to solve the crime.

There's a lot of back and forth in the book. The murder is sort of solved by the halfway point in the novel, but that doesn't mean it's fully over yet. There are certainly other players involved who were not caught with the initial suspect. Getting to the final whodunit was a bit tedious. But then again, I've been distracted lately and it was tough for me to focus on the book. That being said, I adore Charles Lenox. He's a sweetheart of a character, as well as an intelligent, resourceful man. I also love the time period and mysteries so really, there's nothing bad about this series. I wish more time was spent with Lady Jane, but there was a delightful cricket scene where Lenox got to show off his non-political/detecting skills... well sort of. You'll see.

Long story short, I'm happy to have read the latest Lenox novel and hopefully in about a year, another one will come out. As long as Charles Finch keeps writing, I'll keep reading!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reached Review

I really don't know why I read this entire trilogy. The premise of the first one was intriguing: people live in a totalitarian society where even marriage in controlled. A young girl named Cassia is paired with her childhood friend, Xander, but then an image of another local boy named Ky pops onto her computer screen, making her doubt her future. I guess I was riding high on The Hunger Games wave when I picked this up, but frankly the first was the best because it set up the world so nicely. The other two were just meh. There were some interesting ideas - uprisings against the status quo and rebuilding the world. But Suzanne Collins did it better in The Hunger Games series. These characters were not particularly lively or interesting. I never got an idea of why Cassia was so desirable or why she loved either of the guys. They all just seemed kinda blah. You know it's a problem when you change voices with each chapter, but sometimes the reader forgets who is speaking because everyone SOUNDS THE SAME!!! Describing characters as the poet, the pilot and the physic definitely does not give them personalities.

I'm guessing that if you loved the other two books in the series (Matched and Crossed) then you will probably love this too. I just wasn't interested. The covers are pretty though.

Author Website

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Prisoner of Heaven Review


I completely forgot that I bought this book over the summer until I was looking through my kindle and found it. Oops. I seriously have NO memory whatsoever of actually purchasing the novel but I checked my orders and turns out I did. Weird.

Anyway, I read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon several years ago on my dad's recommendation. There aren't too many books that we share but this was one we both loved. I only read it once so I'm a little fuzzy on the details but I remember the book involving a young man named Daniel Sempere whose father owns a bookstore in Barcelona in the 1950s. Barcelona has only recently emerged from the Spanish Civil War and Franco's dictatorship. Those details form the background of the plot, which more than anything concerns Daniel's obsession with the author Julian Carax. Daniel's father takes him to a secret library called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Those who visit the library (a select few) are allowed to take a book home which they must protect their whole lives. Daniel takes home The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. But when he can't find any other books by this author and learns that a man has been seeking out Carax's books for decades and burning them, he sets out to discover why. What he and his friend Fermin learn is a gothic love story about Julian and his doomed love for a wealthy woman named Penelope. Daniel grows up over the course of the novel and ends up married to a young woman named Bea with whom he has a son, named Julian.

A few years later, Zafon published The Angel's Game, a prequel of sorts. I remember not liking this novel as much. It was pretty convoluted but it was cool to see Isabella, who later is Daniel's mother, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and Sempere and Sons Bookstore. This book followed a writer named David Martin who is approached by a mysterious publisher who offers a book deal that comes leads to further mysteries. There was some fascinating commentary about religion in this book but overall it didn't intrigue me as much.

So this brings me to The Prisoner of Heaven. Daniel is married to Bea and is the father of Julian. He still works at the book store with his father and his friend Fermin Romero de Torres. In The Shadow of the Wind, Fermin revealed his history at having been imprisoned by spying on the Anarchists during the way. As a former government intelligence agent, Fermin was able to help Daniel a lot in the original book but was chased by Inspector Fumero who had originally put him in prison. The Prisoner of Heaven is really Fermin's book. It's mostly about how - near his wedding day - he is panicking over having no legal identity. He tells Daniel his story over most of the book. Interestingly, he is a prisoner in this castle along with David Martin, the author from the second book. I'm sure there were other characters who were featured in the other books but I just can't remember. This book seemed a bit like filler since the epilogue, set in 1960, hints at a further adventure for Daniel Sempere. Fermin's story was a means of getting Daniel involved with a character who appeared to have something to do with his mother, Isabella's death. The book also reveals tensions between Daniel and Bea.

Frankly I wish I remembered more about Fermin from the original book. He appears to be a popular character from other reviews that I read but I just don't recall much (if anything) about him. It's been way too long (eight or so years I bet) since I read the first book. What I liked about The Prisoner of Heaven was that (despite filling like a filler novel) the descriptions were lovely and the story was much more straightforward than the maddeningly confusing Angel's Game whose narrator (David Martin) was possibly crazy and therefore unreliable. This novel was much less confusing and open to interpretation. I was also surprised by how short it was (under 300 pages) compared to the previous novels. So apparently by what I've just looked up online, there will be a fourth and final book in this series. I'm sure I'll read it. The translation of the book into English is really well done but sometimes the language feels grandiose or stilted. It's hard to explain what I mean. In the end, Zafon's three novels in this series are about books - how important they are to society. How beloved they become to readers. How comforting or frightening they can be. And really, that's what I had to take from this novel, despite the few issues I had with it. I'm hoping the fourth book will tie everything together rather than just the loose narrative links that exist between each novel now.

Sorry this review is a little disjointed. I wanted to get it down before I forgot but I'm also not quite pulling everything together well enough. How very Zafonian of me...

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Website

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Twelve Clues of Christmas Review

(isn't this cover gorgeous?)

I've written about Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness series before (my internet is being super slow so I can't go back and link to any previous reviews, although I'm pretty sure the last one came out last fall). Bowen currently has two series featuring heroines from different time period who solve mysteries. The Royal Spyness series features Lady Georgiana Rannoch, great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and thirty-fifth in line for the British throne. She lives in the 1930s (so pre-Wallis Simpson and the crown prince's abdication), during the Great Depression and Hitler's rise to power. She is the daughter of a late Scottish duke. Her brother now holds the title but his miserable wife, Fig, is not very welcoming to Georgie. 

The Twelve Clues of Christmas is the sixth book in the series and it advances the overall plot of the novels well. Georgie still has no money. She still stumbles onto crime scenes easily, but she's more together than she was in the first book. Having already had her season and no suitors, at the start of the series, Georgie flees to her family's home in London where she scrapes by with very little. She always manages to land on her feet though, avoiding marriage to various European princes and jobs as a lady in waiting to an elderly great-aunt. She also often meets famous characters from her era, like Coco Chanel, Wallis Simpson and of course the king and queen of England.

At the start of this novel, Georgie is stuck in Scotland for Christmas with her insufferable sister-in-law (her brother is kind but can't protect her from his wife) whose family is about to descend with their ideas about austerity. When you live in a drafty Scottish castle, skimping on food and heat doesn't really make for a fun holiday. Georgie phones her mother, Claire Daniels, the famous actress and even more famous bolter but learns that she is heading to a tiny town in Devonshire called Tiddleton-under-Lovey with Noel Coward to work on a play and enjoy an old fashioned English Christmas. Georgie recommends that they hire Mrs. Huggins, her grandfather's neighbor, as a simple English cook and have her granddad, a former London cop join them as well. 

Georgie wishes for an invitation but as luck would have it, she sees an advertisement in the paper looking for a young woman to host a large Christmas houseparty in a small English town. The town is, of course, Tiddleton-under-Lovey. So Georgie and her awful maid, Queenie, head to Devonshire for the holiday. She learns that her hostessing job is at the manor house of the local nobility, who have also fallen on hard times and charged guests from places like America to enjoy a classic, old fashioned English Christmas, complete with all the trimmings. George is happy to help, and enjoy a warm house and delicious meals for the twelve days of her job. Having her mother and grandfather nearby is also a treat. And of course her love, Darcy, shows up conveniently (when I first read about this book, I found it ridiculous that everyone would end up together in one tiny town but it makes sense in the novel).

The first body has already turned up when Georgie arrives in the town and it's not long before other people start dropping like flies. Of course she uses her developing detecting skills to figure out what's going on in the tiny town, while hostessing the house party, where readers get to enjoy details about the food, games and events that go along with an old fashioned English Christmas. As usual, this book was a breeze - fun and adorable. Georgie has a good head on her shoulders and is a survivor despite her circumstances. The novel advances the plot of her romance with Darcy and sets her up for a potential job and home in the next book. It was also nice to see her relationship with her mother developing. 

Rhys Bowen does a great job at creating a fun mystery, interesting characters and at depicting the time period of the 1930s. This series is my favorite of the two out now (the other one focuses on Molly, an Irish immigrant living in NYC around the turn of the century, from what I remember) and I always look forward to the next one. While I had my suspicions as to who was behind the murders pretty early on, I wasn't 100% sure due to the red herrings Bowen threw in, which is all part of the fun. 

Anyway, I loved it and can't wait for book 7! 

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble

The Last Dragonslayer Review

I first read a Jasper Fforde book, The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next novel, in 2003 on a European vacation with my family. I loved Fforde's silly Monty Python-esque writing style. Anger Management for the protagonists of Wuthering Heights? Brilliant! Granted the series got a bit ridiculous down the line and I stopped reading that series at one point. I've read a few of his other ones over the years and particularly enjoyed Shades of Grey (um no, not the mommy porn crap). Anyway, The Last Dragonslayer was published in the UK last year and I've been waiting and waiting for it to come out here. Finally, it was published last month.

The Last Dragonslayer is written in Fforde's signature style - funny, a bit silly at times and the plot is a whirlwind. Essentially, 15 year old Jennifer Strange is the assistant manager of a home for wizards, mages and magicians. The book takes place in an alternate London (but not the same alternate London where Thursday Next or the main character from Shades of Grey lived. In this world, magic used to be  the most powerful force in the world, but it has been slowly fading out of existence, its practitioners relegated to exterminating moles from gardens or fixing plumbing. They have some moments of brilliance though. One of the pre-cogs in her building has a premonition that the last dragon will die on Sunday at noon.

The only dragon left in the world (or at least in the Ununited Kingdoms) lives in protected territory: the Dragonlands, a remnant from a human/dragon truce. When news about the dragon's demise spreads around, everyone knows that the protective spells surrounding the Dragonland will fade and that land will be free for the taking. Thousands swarm outside the protective borders, while Jennifer's kingdom and the neighboring duchy gear up for war. Also there are big spurts of magic; suddenly the various wizards can do more than they had been able to in years.

In the midst of all of this, Jennifer learns that she is destined to be the Last Dragonslayer and whether or not she wants to, she has to kill the last dragon at noon on Sunday.

It took me a little bit to get back into the familiarly odd rhythms of a Jasper Fforde book but once I did, I really enjoyed this novel. The sequel is out already in England (but not due here until next fall) and the third book is coming out in the UK soon. I do wish Fforde would write the sequel to Shades of Grey, but in the meantime this series is fun and interesting and designed for some of his younger readers. I definitely will read the sequel!

The Last Dragonslayer website

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Saturday, November 3, 2012

666 Park Avenue

I love Terry O'Quinn and Vanessa Williams from their previous ABC shows, so I was excited to watch 666 Park Avenue. It's relatively entertaining and luckily for my nerves, not as scary as American Horror Show (although I'm apparently one of the few people to like the new season of that show). Anyway, I noticed somewhat recently that the series was based on a book. I thought it might be like Rosemary's Baby, which I love, so when I found it for sale on amazon for $1.99 (the price has since gone up), I bought it.

This was another one I read during the Hurricane Sandy induced black out of lower Manhattan, although it was more interesting. It's nothing like the show at all, which is about devilish things happening in a giant apartment building. The only similarity to the book is the name and occupation of the main character, Jane Boyle, who is an architect. In the novel, Jane is a 24 year old architect who lives in Paris. She is swept off her feet by the wealthy and handsome Malcolm Doran (also the last name of Terry O'Quinn's character in the show). After her grandmother dies, she goes back to NYC with Malcolm to meet his family, who live in a NYC mansion (I'm guessing a large brownstone?) on the Upper East Side.

Jane quickly figures out that she is a witch (before she leaves France) and learns that she is marrying into another family of witches, who seem to have a sinister plan for her, especially her mother-in-law, Lynne. Jane has to learn how to cope with her soon to be in-laws and her own developing magical abilities. It's a cute book, that I learned has one sequel out now and another on the way. I'm not a huge chick lit reader but I think I've mentioned before that sometimes I just want to read something light and breezy. This fit the bill and I'm sure I'll read the rest of the series eventually.

Online, someone described this as Gossip Girl with a darker edge. Sure, I'll buy that. Like Gossip Girl, it was entertaining and an easy read. Just don't expect it to be anything like the show!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Who Could That Be at this Hour? (All the Wrong Questions) Review

I first discovered Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events in college and absolutely loved it. The 13 books covered the trials and tribulations of the Baudelaire siblings, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, as they tried to navigate a world fun of useless adults after their parents are killed in a fire. I didn't like the last book of the series, The End, but since it seemed to wrap up the Baudelaires' story, I figured that was the end of the books.

Then my mom told me that there was going to be a new Lemony Snicket series, this time featuring Lemony himself, as a young boy who just graduated from a mysterious organization (more likely than not VFD from the previous series) and is paired with a chaperone on his first mission. I was hoping this series would shed some light on what VFD actually does, but the organization that Snicket belongs to is never actually mentioned in the book.

I found this book a bit disappointing. Maybe Lemony isn't as interesting of a protagonist as the Baudelaire kids. The usual Snicket tropes are in place: idiotic adults who dismiss the intelligence of children, an emphasis on the importance of books and wordplay. There are a couple mysteries, one involving a statue, the finding of which was Snicket's first assignment. He also alludes to a mysterious personal errand. He actually chose to be partnered with the worst of all chaperones in order to have time to devote to his own errand - although this is thwarted early on. A new villain is introduced - Hangfire - and a girl who may or may not be good (but definitely has a specific agenda) who has question mark shaped eyebrows (what's up with eyebrows in these books?!).

I'll probably read the other three books in this series, but I didn't love this one. That might also have been due to my crankiness about the loss of power in lower Manhattan for four days. I wasn't in the best of moods when reading. I think that Maryrose Wood's Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series is actually outSnicketing Snicket these days in terms of interesting characters, a mystery, and humor that adults can appreciate even if the series is designed for kids.

Also, I really missed the Brett Helquist illustrations.

The book has gotten lots of positive reviews, like this one from LA Times.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Secret Keeper Review

I first started reading Kate Morton's books two years ago and they grabbed me immediately. She has four books out now: The Distant Hours, The House at Riverton and my favorite, The Forgotten Garden. She's an Australian writer who must also have ties to England as most of her novels take place there. There's a bit of a formula to her books, but that formula works.

Typically, her novels take place over two or three different time periods, one usually in the present, one often during WWI or WWII and often sometime in the middle.

The Secret Keeper is no different. The story begins in 1961 where teenager Laurel witnesses her mother, Dorothy, committing a dreadful crime. This moment shapes her life completely. In 2011, Laurel is in her 60's and is a well regarded British character actor. She travels back home to the big farmhouse where she was raised because her mother is now in her 90's and quite ill. Laurel still wishes to know what drove her mother to action when she was younger and as Dorothy lets some things slip in her old age, Laurel starts putting the pieces together.

The story also flashes back to 1941 London during the Blitz, where young Dorothy works as a companion for an older wealthy woman. She also volunteers for the war effort, is enchanted by her neighbor Vivian and is in love with a war photographer named Jimmy. Everything seems to be perfect for Dorothy until suddenly it all goes wrong.

I'm not going to give anything else about the plot away. If you liked Kate Morton's other books, you'll like this one. It has the usual twists and turns and an intriguing plot. There are multiple voices in the novel, including Dorothy and Laurel but also Vivian and Jimmy. Everything comes together in the end. To be honest, I guessed the major twist before the end of the book but to Morton's credit, I wasn't entirely sure that I was right. I think I guessed the twist behind a few of the other books too although it's been so long since I read them that I can't quite remember.

If you've never read a Kate Morton book, pick up The Forgotten Garden first. It's the best, I think. As I said before, if you like her other books, you'll be a fan of this one. If you like sweeping gothic/historical mysteries, Kate Morton is a really great author, whose books I will continue enjoying!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Twelve Review

The Twelve (Book Two of The Passage Trilogy): A Novel
In July of 2010, Justin Cronin's The Passage was the bit hit of the summer. I didn't read it until October of that year. I had just recently gotten my first kindle and had spent five glorious days reading The Hunger Games trilogy. The Passage was a huge book and as I'd recently been diagnosed with tendinitis in my hand, the kindle was becoming my new best friend when it came to avoiding heavy hardcover books. At the time this came out, I was so over the whole vampire craze. Twilight, in my eyes, was for lovesick teenagers and was also really badly written and while I liked to watch True Blood, I tried the first book in the series and found it silly. I wasn't sure about reading  The Passage because it got a lot of comparisons to Stephen King novels, which are a little too gross for me, but the reviews were so good that I went for it.

I spent about five days alternately enthralled, scared, exhilarated and finally totally obsessed. This was the perfect book. The premise is that in our near distant future, a man named Dr. Lear (who I believe is mourning the loss of his wife), becomes obsessed with extending our lives. He travels to South America with a team after hearing about cancer patients who went to this place and emerged healed. Lear's theory was that people in Biblical times lived very long lives because they had enlarged thymus glands. Lear's story is primarily told in emails to a friend. It becomes clear that the trip turned disastrous and one of the soldiers, Fanning (the trip was sponsored by the US government) was infected with a virus. And the virus does something to him, something that makes the US Department of Special Weapons very intrigued. To make a very long story short, The Passage initially follows Brad Wolgast, a divorced FBI agent responsible for bringing death row patients to a secure facility in Colorado where presumably they are being used somehow by Lear and his group. The main characters in the first third of the book are Wolgast, a nun named Sister Lacey, a death row prisoner named Anthony Carter (who breaks my heart) and a little girl named Amy.

Wolgast is ordered to bring a final test subject to Colorado, the little girl named Amy, which he is of course reluctant to do. I don't remember exactly why she was picked but the plan was to give her a different version of the serum given to the original Twelve, who had turned into what we would think of as vampires - violent, batlike, super strong and fast, vulnerable to sunlight, etc. The thought with Amy is that since she still has an immature immune system, the serum will grow with her and not change her completely.

Anyway, of course all hell breaks loose. The Twelve and Patient Zero (Fanning) telepathically corrupt their guards and escape, creating an absolute bloodbath that rapidly spreads across the country. Amy and Wolgast escape and hide out in the mountains for a bit while humanity is rapidly destroyed.

The narrative breaks into the diary of a woman recalling that she was put on a train in Philadelphia as a girl and sent to California to be safe. CA had seceded from the rest of the US in an attempt to quarantine themselves and FEMA had established a protected area called First Colony, which was surrounded by bright lights and high walls. There some of the children grew up. The story then shifts to almost 100 years after the events in Colorado where the First Colony still exists, although some residents learn that their electricity is running out. A small group of them sets out to see if there are more people still alive and if they can save their own home.

Amy, the little girl from the beginning is still alive, and has barely aged. She walks safely among the virals, as the infected people are called, as she technically is one of them. She has a strange connection to the infected but also wants to help the team and have them help her figure out why she is ageless but also why she lacks the mindless hunger of the other virals. The world is a scary, scary place as the colonist travel throughout different parts of the mid-west. I don't want to spoil anything else, but let's just say that The Passage is one of my favorite books of all time. It is such an engrossing story, which came about because the author's daughter asked him to write a story about a girl who saved the world and he also wanted to combine a lot of genres. There's horror, sci fi, mystery, religion and lots of other elements thrown into this novel. I was completely obsessed. I also listened endlessly to Guster's Easy Wonderful album during this time and every time I hear it now, I'm taken back to how I felt when I was reading The Passage.

So on Tuesday, the sequel called The Twelve came out. I had been dying to read it, especially because The Passage ended on a major cliffhanger. I was really happy that the release coincided with my two weeks off work after surgery. The Twelve picks up about five years after the events of the first book, but after only a couple chapters, it shifts back to the world right after all hell broke loose. There are a few characters who were either mentioned briefly or were very minor in The Passage who emerge as important protagonists in this section of the novel. I really liked how it switched back to that time to see how other survivors made it. These new(ish) characters also set up the action nicely of this book, so I think it was an important shift. One of the reviewers below didn't agree with me, but that's ok.

Eventually, after a brief chapter that takes place about 20 or so years before the events in the first book (76 AV - after viral, I think - maybe), the action shifts back to the characters from The Passage: Peter, Michael, Amy, Greer, Alicia and a few others are point of view characters. The action goes back and forth from Texas to Iowa mostly. Again, Cronin does an impressive job of slowly building the tension to some very climatic scenes. I was kept on my toes throughout the many twists and turns in the book as everyone, despite being separated, eventually made their way to the same place for the final showdown... where some seriously crazy stuff went down.

The Twelve was less scary than The Passage. The characters were still well developed and realistic, although there were some secondary characters from the previous book that I had to go back and look up. I opened my version of the first book a few times and searched for names to remind myself who these people were. A reread might have been beneficial but I didn't really have time to do that. Cronin does a neat little recap at the start but he doesn't mention all the characters. Despite the lack of chills that I had from the first book, this was still incredibly entertaining and advanced the plot forward without feeling like a crappy second book in a trilogy that serves only to get the characters to the places they need to be in the third book. There was not a major cliffhanger. The ending was much more absolute and really lovely, but it did set up for the third book, City of Mirrors (is it 2014 yet?) nicely.

I was left with a few questions, which are very spoilery, so I am going to post them below the links to the book. Be warned, I am definitely going to spoil major elements of the plot so please do not read my questions if you plan to read this series. However, if you have read the book and have any answers for me, please comment! 

My final thoughts are oh man, I so loved this book. It was truly an excellent read and well worth the time it takes to read a longer novel.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble.


My lingering questions:
1. At the end, Wolgast's spirit was in Anthony Carter's viral body? Or was that viral just Wolgast? I was a little confused.
2. What the hell is going on with Amy and Alicia?  How can Peter and Amy ever realize their love if she is a viral? Why can she zoom off in a ray of light or whatever like she did at the end?
3. Is Anthony Carter's viral self still around? Is he stuck in limbo forever (somewhat happily) mowing the lawn and drinking iced tea?

I was really happy that Sara was still alive and that she got to reunite with Kate and Hollis. I loved seeing the connections between people of various generations - Kittridge and April to Alisha, Tifty to his daughter at the end, etc. I loved (and cried) when Amy took Brad to heaven, a place where there is a house in twilight and the people you love (Lila and Eva) are waiting for you. Such good, good stuff. I can't wait for book 3! 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Killing Time with Comics & Carrie Bradshaw

I am so so excited that Justin Cronin's sequel to The Passage, The Twelve, is coming out tomorrow, as is the newest Kate Morton novel, The Secret Keeper. It's hard to decide which one to read first, but I think it has to be The Twelve. It's the perfect time of year to read a creepy book and since I'm stuck at home for another week recovering from surgery, I really need something awesome to read.

I finished The Casual Vacancy last Thursday and after the joyless soul sucking plot (seriously, it was like the Dementors of books), I needed something light and breezy and fun to read before diving back into the hefty (but awesome) world of The Passage.

Fortunately, the sequel to The Carrie Diaries arrived in my email from the library last week, giving me something short to plow through until tomorrow.

I don't really remember much from The Carrie Diaries, but I do recall that it didn't really mesh in my head with Sex and the City, which I watched, like most women my age. Summer and the City was relatively entertaining. It covers the summer after Carrie graduated from college when she attended a writing seminar at The New School during the 1980s. She ends up living with Samantha, who flits in and out of the story. Samantha is engaged to a wealthy guy named Charlie and is up and coming in the advertising world. She is the cousin of one of Carrie's high school friends, which is how they met. Since Samantha basically lives with her fiance, Carrie is able to crash at her West Village apartment after being kicked out of the place she was originally living in.

Carrie spends much of the summer wrestling with writer's block. She also wanders around the city and meets a lot of random people, including Miranda (!), who she becomes fast friends with. Carrie is naive in a lot of ways, especially as she gets into a relationship with an older playwright named Bernard. She also interacts with two guys from her seminar: Ryan and Capote. The relationships between these people are all pretty obvious but again, it was a light and easy read. I wasn't looking for much and after rolling my eyes a bit at the beginning, I got into the story. By the end, Carrie will have met her best friends for life and is off to college at Brown. I'm not sure if Bushnell is going to continue the series (I'll have to read the interview I posted below) but I know the CW is making a show out of The Carrie Diaries that is premiering this January, I think. I probably won't watch it but I'm sure they'll do a decent job leading up to Carrie's life in the city as an adult.

Candace Bushnell interview with EW

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Broken (Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 1) (v. 1)

Unfortunately I finished Summer and the City on Sunday and then had two days to kill with nothing to read. Geoff made me promise to read a comic of his choice, so he picked out Broken, the first of Star Wars: Legacy, a series that takes place 137 years after the first Star Wars movie, featuring Luke's great-grandson, Cade Skywalker. While the timeline seemed a little suspect to me (Luke is obviously dead but if he's a jedi, shouldn't the people in his family be longer lived? I can't believe that Ben - Luke's son - is dead too. Does that mean Han and Leia's daughter is also dead? Probably... I just think more time should have passed to make this more "realistic". Anyway, I really only intended to read one of these but we have the first three and as our cousin Sean says, "Star Wars is like crack to the Sassos". I ended up reading all three. While I still find it stupid that the same lines are passed around through generations of SW characters (from the horrific prequels to these comic sequels), it was still pretty well done. If you like Star Wars, you'll probably be a fan of these.

Then I moved on to the 14th Walking Dead comic, No Way Out. I haven't read the whole series in a long, long time, so I had a little trouble remembering what was going on. The main characters I knew well, like Michonne and Rick and stupid Carl, but there were a few newer characters introduced around book 12 that I didn't really remember. As usual, it was fast paced and intense and things do not look good for the characters at the end. I didn't pick up 15 yet, but I'll get to it eventually.
The Walking Dead, Vol. 14: No Way Out
Did anyone see the premiere of season 3 on TV last week? I watched it last night and FINALLY, something interesting happened. It was more in tune with the tone of the comics, which I appreciated. And everyone was useful, including Carol, Lori and Carl. How'd that happen? Keep it up, writers.

After that I entertained myself with two short stories featuring two of my favorite detectives. The longer one was a new Lady Georgie (Royal Spyness) book by Rhys Bowen called Masked Ball at Broxley Manor (a Dorothy title if there ever was one).
Masked Ball at Broxley Manor
This cute short story takes place four years before Georgie becomes a spy. She is still living with her brother and his awful wife in London at the end of her season and she quickly begins to suspect that she is being thrown together with a Prussian prince to possibly marry. But if you've read any of these books, you'd know that Lady Georgie will never get married unless it's for love. She attends a masked ball, doesn't solve a mystery as it's before her spy days but does have a brief encounter with a favorite from the series. I'm not spoiling who, although it's perfectly obvious from the second this person shows up, even if they are in a mask!

An East End Murder
An East End Murder is an even shorter mini mystery featuring Charles Lenox, who investigates a murder of a man who lived in the Dials, a poor area of London. The whole story was super short and was solved rather abruptly, but still it was a nice lead in to the next Lenox mystery, even if it didn't feature any familiar characters besides the detective himself.

Both short stories are previews of the new books coming out by Rhys Bowen and Charles Finch. If you've read this blog for a while, you probably know that I love Bowen's Royal Spyness series. I recommended the books in the blog post that I wrote for Glamour magazine last year, which kicked off this blog (It's been almost a full year!). Her newest, The Twelve Clues of Christmas comes out November 6. Clearly it's a Christmas book (Masked Ball was a Halloween story). Poor Lady Georgie is stuck up in Scotland celebrating the holidays with her brother and his wife but being the intrepid girl that she is, she ends up hosting a holiday party in a little village where her mother (the bolter) is spending Christmas. Of course, she stumbles on a murder (this poor woman has seen SO many murders since the book started) that needs to be solved and the gorgeous Darcy eventually shows up to probably be infuriating and adorable at the same time.  I'll probably tear through that one pretty quickly.

The next week, on November 13, the newest Charles Lenox, A Death in the Small Hours, comes out. While I read the last Royal Spyness book (Naughty in Nice) immediately when it came out last year, I had just started the last Charles Lenox when my kindle was stolen from the gym so I literally just read it last month and it was excellent. In this book, Charles is a new father and continuing to rise in Parliament, but of course he gets dragged into a mystery that he has to solve with John Dallington, the young man that he has been training as a detective. I really enjoyed the last book, although my biggest complaint was that since Charles was traveling for the British government, most of the regular characters were barely in it, like Lady Jane. I hope she's more of a presence in this book since Charles now has a daughter with her.

Anyway, lots to look forward to. But now I have to focus on The Twelve, the sequel to Justin Cronin's The Passage, one of the best books I've ever read. I'm SO excited to keep reading it!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Casual Vacancy Review

Imagine you're JK Rowling, international best selling author and creator of the beloved Harry Potter series. You're a multi-billionaire. You want to write an adult book. How can you distance yourself from your popular children's book and still sell books? Here's how I imagined she approached The Casual Vacancy.

JK Rowling's Rules for Writing an Adult Book (by me)
1. Realize that you are very good at creating unlikable characters (personally, Umbridge is still one of the most horrifying characters that I've ever read about) and make up an entire town full of mostly unlikable people.
2. Come up with a plot more muddled than the Elder Wand situation with a far less satisfying conclusion.
3. Throw in a lot of cursing, sex (my mind kept wondering what would happen if Ron and Hermoine got up to the stuff the teens do in this book), drugs, suicide, etc.

Long story short, I did not really enjoy The Casual Vacancy. I thought I would love it. It sounded like a novel about a small, quirky British town. I thought it would be like Major Pettigrew's Last Stand or The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise: funny and charming and entertaining.

Not so much. The premise is that Barry Fairbrother, a relatively young council member of Pagford's local government, dies suddenly, leaving a casual vacancy in the council. The very Dursley-esque Howard Mollison, first citizen more or less of the town, wants his son to take Barry's place. You see, Howard and Barry were on opposite sides of the issue of the Fields. The Fields is a rather run down neighborhood where a lot of degenerates live and where the local addiction clinic is. Due to a zoning issue, the Fields is under the jurisdiction of Pagford, but the Pagfordians want it out of their hands and passed on to the control of the local city. Barry had been a passionate supporter of the Fields, since he had grown up there and had made something of himself through education despite his impoverished background. Howard wants the Fields gone completely.

Throughout the book you meet a plethora of townspeople, so many that sometimes I couldn't remember who was who - which is not something I usually have a problem with. I'm pretty good with even the minor characters in Game of Thrones, but I felt like I just didn't care enough about these people to keep them all straight. Everyone was pretty awful from the nosy housewives to the awful teenagers to the meth addicted residents of the Fields. I laughed at bit at Miles Mollison and his father Howard, because I kept picturing them as Dudley and Vernon Dursley from Harry Potter but then they just got awful and not in an amusing Harry Potterish way. Also there was literally no one to root for. No plucky orphan kid destined to rid the world of evil or whatever. Yeah, I knew not to expect that but honestly there was just no one good. It was like reading two books on Jamie from Game of Thrones and realizing that he is totally awesome when he gets his first point of view but then when Cersei gets her point of view, you find out that there is absolutely nothing redeemable about her. That's like most of the characters from this book.

I didn't know if I would even finish it at one point but I just had surgery and spent much of yesterday at home in bed so I just pushed through and finished it. And it had a pretty crappy, sad ending.

The book was well written and the characters were fairly well developed, however, I didn't care about any of them. It was a little too gritty British for me (not enough tea and scones and amusing people... more like Skins on the BBC, which I found irritating). So now we know, JK Rowling can write an adult book. Sadly the woman that brought so much joy to people all over the world has now sucked that joy right back out. I don't need her to revisit Harry Potter's world (although clearly I would be first in line to buy a book if she did) but I also wish this was a better read. Blah.

Entertainment Weekly Review 

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Last Policeman Review

There was so much of this book that I really, really enjoyed. Ben H. Winters, the author, wrote the Jane Austen mashup Sense and Sensability and Sea Monsters, which I did not read, although I did like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, not written by Winters.

Anyway, there are so many post-apocalyptic, dystopian books out there but this book took a different tack. In six months from the present date of the book, a massive asteroid is going to collide with the earth. No one knows where yet but the world has been living with the knowledge of the asteroid, known as Maia, for almost a year.

Subsequently, many people are killing themselves across the globe. In Concord, NH, the preferred method of suicide is hanging, so much so that people call the city "Hanger Town". The book opens with what looks like a typical suicide - an accountant is found dead in a McDonalds, having used his belt to kill himself. Detective Henry (Hank) Palace is at the scene of the crime. He is relatively young, in his mid-20s, and hasn't even been a detective for 3 months. His promotion was a result of someone leaving the department either due to suicide or a bucket list. A lot of people in this world do Bucket List, as Winters refers to it.

Palace is a bit of an anomaly. On one hand, he is fully aware of the potentially apocalyptic future that his world holds. But on the other, he's just a guy with an awesome work ethic, trying to keep some normalcy in his every day life. It's pretty funny how most of the other detectives tend to blow off their work - as most people in the world do (pot has become legal, but much of the rest of the US has become a bit of a police state - no driving, restrictions on weapons, etc) by drinking or indulging in other vices. Detective Palace just goes about his business in a very focused manner.

He starts to suspect that the suicide of Peter Zell, the accountant, is actually a murder. But really, no one cares. People are dying all over the place and this looked like a suicide so others in his department dismiss his suspicions. But Palace sticks with it, navigating the pre-apocalyptic world to try solving the crime. But of course, it takes a while to find out if it really was a murder.

Along the way we meet several colorful people - Hank's younger sister Nico, a bald woman named Naomi, various members of the police force, etc. Winters has created a very interesting premise here, and apparently this is going to be the first of a series (or at least a trilogy), so I'm really interested to see what happens next. I really liked Hank. I highlighted a lot of passages  about him along the way. Other characters dismiss him or admire him for his continuing work ethic even in such a dangerous time.

The one thing I didn't like was towards the end when Hank puts all the pieces of the puzzle together. He does so without revealing the suspect to the audience, although I figured it out around the same time that he did. It's a little irritating that he runs around putting a plan together to reveal the suspect. Winters seems like he's trying a bit too hard there to make the ending shocking. As I said, I figured it out and I thought the suspect was a good one and that the plot made sense but it just felt like Winters was trying to do a whole 1940s noir thing that wasn't quite working for me.

Overall I liked the detective a lot. There was also some lovely, poignant writing in here, like this excerpt from the Slate article (link below):

In this dire, doomed world, what the city of Concord needs—what we all need—is a guy who just wants to do his job. Late in the book, a frustrated Palace grouses to his favorite diner waitress—a kindred spirit who slings hash every day and still tries to expand Palace’s palate even though, seriously, who the hell cares—“I feel like I wasn’t made for these times.”
“I don’t know, kid,” the waitress responds. “I think maybe you’re the only person who was.”

That being said, I really enjoyed the book as a whole. It's interesting to see how society devolves in the face of catastrophe and I think that it was a different take on the whole apocalypse mania going on today. I will definitely be reading the others in the series!

The book's website


Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures Review

I love old movies. I could watch black and white films all day. Give me Cary Grant in a tux over even Ryan Gosling any day. I love movies in general, but there's nothing like old movies. There might not be amazing special effects but the stories and acting are fantastic, even when they are the sillier screwball comedies like Bringing up Baby or My Man Godfrey. So of course I thought this book was going to be awesome. The plot description was about Elsa Emerson, a young girl from Wisconsin in the 1920's who leaves home to pursue a career in Hollywood.

Despite her marriage to a fellow actor, Gordon Pitts, Elsa is charmed by Irving Green, one of the owners of Gardner Brothers Studio. He suggests that she change her name to Laura Lamont (although I think Elsa Emerson was just as nicely alliterative; Elsa Pitts not so much) and dye her hair dark. After the birth of her second daughter, Elsa - now Laura - starts acting more seriously in movies. Irving helps her move into serious films, which garners her an oscar. She also falls in love with Irving and after leaving her husband, marries him and moves her two daughters into his home. The book spans many years, from Laura's first arrival in Hollywood to what she does in her sixties. Her career has ups and downs, as does her family life.

So here was my issue. The novel was called Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures but really, there were not a lot of actual movies in the book. I was expecting much more detail about the movies themselves and maybe appearances from some actual stars who would have been  Laura's contemporaries. There was literally only a handful of actual film experiences mentioned. The majority of the plot was about Laura's family and how she struggles to maintain a family and her career. It wasn't that different from a classic family drama. A few reviewers on amazon called the book boring. I didn't think it was boring. It was a solid story, but it wasn't what I was expecting and that was a bit disappointing. Overall, it was a solid book but not amazing.

Entertainment Weekly Review

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Monday, September 17, 2012

Breed Review

Confession time. I've wanted to be a mother my whole life. I always felt like having and raising children was what I was meant to do. I was ready to have kids as soon as I was married, over three years ago, but my husband wanted to wait a bit. We had been friends for a very long time before we got together and when we finally started dating everything happened really fast. So he wanted time for just the two of us. I'm really grateful he insisted on that and I wouldn't change the last three years for anything in the world. But I was really excited when we were finally ready to try to get pregnant last October. However, it became clear pretty quickly for reasons that I don't need to get into that something was wrong. I trusted my GYN, though, because I had been with her for years and just kept trying, charting my fertility, taking progesterone supplements, etc. That is, until she made some errors when putting me on Clomid for the first time last May. Then I switched to another doctor in her practice, who was fine, but it wasn't until I finally saw a fertility specialist at the end of July that I learned that getting pregnant wasn't just taking a while, it actually wouldn't happen at all without going through assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Anyway, super long story short, I know what it's like to desperately want children, to be heartbroken month after month when it doesn't happen and to do anything to have one, from going gluten free to acupuncture to quitting spin class to going through test after test and finally scheduling an upcoming surgery. All this is even before we get to ICSE, the method we are going to use to hopefully get pregnant. Post-surgery, I will have my eggs stimulated and removed, fertilized and frozen for three months while I get shots of lupron to shut down and reboot my entire reproductive system in the hopes that I will be able to conceive and carry a baby (or two) sometime next year.

You might be wondering why I'm writing about my fertility, or lack thereof, in a book blog. I haven't been open about this struggle on facebook (although since I link this blog to FB, some people might end up reading it, which is fine), but haven't hidden it from my close friends or family either. I have avoided a lot of books about children recently because I simply couldn't take it. I needed distractions from the whole kid thing as I watched so many of my friends and people I know on facebook having children. My sweet brother even bought me a book called The Possibility of You for my birthday but I haven't been able to bring myself to read a book about giving children up for adoption when I can't even have one on my own.

Last week I spotted the review for Breed in Entertainment Weekly and it immediately caught my interest. Breed is the story of Alex and Leslie, an upper east side couple who have tried to get pregnant for three years using every possible method without success. That is until they fly to Slovenia and meet with a doctor who gives each of them three shots and make them drink an odd liquid that seems to boost their sex life. Immediately after they have crazy, violent sex and Leslie is sure that she is pregnant. But her pregnancy is odd. She sprouts hair all over her body (more than normal for pregnancy) and both she and Alex face strange, intense mood swings and an increasing desire for red meat.

At five months, she goes into labor and delivers two seemingly healthy (and one barely alive, misformed child that is quickly disposed of by the hospital without the parents knowing... although I had suspicions about that immediately) children: Adam and Alice. The story then shoots forward ten years and focuses on Adam, who is terrified by the things he overhears from his parents. He and his sister are locked in their rooms every night, but Adam uses a baby monitor to spy on his parents who have violent tendencies, continue to sprout hair, and who whisper in the dark about wanting to eat their children. They have neglected their formally successful careers and their gorgeous Manhattan townhouse is falling apart. Plus the family pets keep disappearing.

Adam and Alice decide to flee from home one night. The majority of the book concerns their attempts to run from their parents and their parents' attempts to bring them home. Their journey pulls in Adam's teacher, Michael, his boyfriend and the twins' aunt. They travel back and forth across the upper east and west sides, meeting other children who have similar stories to theirs.

The book was described as being a sort of Rosemary's Baby, a movie that I love, and it was to an extent. It was definitely creepy, especially as Leslie and Alex devolve into being more and more like animals. You really feel for the kids caught between loving their parents and fearing for their lives. It was definitely a bit of a cautionary tale for those of us who are reproductively challenged, but frankly, even as much as I want kids, I will draw the line at going to Slovenia and having a sketchy doctor shoot me with needles. The biggest thing I've learned from my own experience is to trust your gut. It took me a little too long to listen to my doubts and see a specialist and if I had to do anything over again, I'd go see a specialist earlier. In Breed, Leslie definitely has misgivings but in the end, goes against her instinct and it doesn't turn out well.

My one complain is the abrupt ending. Nothing was really resolved (*Note, I just read that the author is planning a sequel called Brood, which makes me feel better about the ending). I would have liked an epilogue of some sort but up until the ending, it was a very entertaining read. It freaked me out a little bit but also made me laugh at the irony of their situation. It definitely made me also feel better about my own issues, and that's the important part, right?!

Reviews: NY Times and NPR

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Other Half of Me Review

I bought this book because the description reminded me a bit of The Thirteenth Tale, one of my all time favorite books. With the weather finally cooling down, I've been in the mood for something gothic. The Other Half of Me seemed to have all of the elements that I had been looking for: a big old English mansion, neglected children, mysterious scandals, etc. However, it wasn't the book I was expecting.

The Other Half of Me is the story of Jonathan and his sister Theo, who live in a house called Evendon in Wales. They live with their neglectful, alcoholic mother and a nanny, who barely pays attention to them. All they know about their father was that he died in Australia. They live in relative isolation and are permitted to do anything they want, really, since no one seems to care what they do. Jonathan is smart and serious, while Theo is flighty.

Their lives change when their mother is hospitalized and when she returns, their grandmother, Eve moves in with them. Eve Anthony is the daughter of a famous archaeologist named George Bennett. She was widowed in her early thirties when her politician husband died in a boating accident. After that, she took his job in the government and was a politician during the Kennedy and Nixon years. Finally, she left DC, married a studio owner in Hollywood and eventually became a famous businesswoman.

Eve changes the children's lives, encouraging Jonathan to pursue his interest in architecture since he seems to fit the role of her heir. Theo is more difficult. She can't stay in school or hold a job and frustrates Eve. Alicia, the children's mother, continues to drink her days away. Their often missing uncle, Alex, simmers with anger towards Eve but rarely enters the picture.

The book is narrated by Jonathan, who is happy to be Eve's heir, but wishes his sister would pull herself together. He lacks patience and understanding when it comes to her flightiness. Slowly their world spins into disaster as Theo begins to lose it.

So the book wasn't really the gothic story I was looking for but I still enjoyed it. Towards the end tragedy occurs and secrets are revealed but it was too little too late. Most of the book revolves around Jonathan and Theo growing up under Eve's watchful eye. Jonathan falls for a girl named Maria, who is always just out of reach, and succeeds in his career, while Theo flounders. The last 15% or so took me a while to get through as it dragged a bit, but ultimately the ending was satisfactory. This was no Jane Eyre, but was still an enjoyable story.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Burial at Sea Review

I had just started A Burial at Sea last November before my kindle was stolen from the gym and it took me until the summer to start it again. This was the fifth book in the Charles Lenox series and was just as good as the previous novels, even if the cast was almost entirely new, except for Charles, of course.

I first met Charles Lenox in A Beautiful Blue Death and have read all of the other books that he is featured in. Lenox is a Victorian gentleman. He lives in London and spends most of his time relaxing in his armchair, in front of a fire, drinking tea, reading and planning trips. However, he has the reputation of being a brilliant amateur detective. His adventures takes him from the slums of London to Parliament. The mysteries are also interesting and suspenseful and there is also a wealth of historical detail which never becomes boring.

A Burial at Sea removes Charles from his normal surroundings. As a junior member of Parliament, he is being sent to Egypt for a partially diplomatic, partially spy related mission. His wife (former dear friend and neighbor), Lady Jane, is left behind for obvious reasons as is Graham, Charles' former butler and now secretary. He was greatly missing in this novel, as were Charles' close friends Thomas and Toto.

But Charles is still a great character and can stand on his own. He is barely at sea 24 hours when a crewman turns up dead. He begins investigating the murder, while learning about the British navy during the Victorian period. The detail is fascinating for someone like me who doesn't know a lot about naval stuff (outside of pirates. I'm great with pirates). And the mystery is suspenseful because Charles is stuck on a ship and someone is clearly the murderer.

My one complaint is that the murder is solved around 80% into the book and then Charles goes onto Egypt for his mission. I thought that part was a bit unnecessary. It seemed obvious that the killer would return. I guess it was a good look at the role Egypt and the Suez Canal played in the tense relationship between England and France, but I thought it dragged a bit.

Anyway Charles eventually makes it home in the last page or so of the book and the author, Charles Finch, sets up the domestic adventures that Lenox will face in the next book, A Death in the Small Hours. If you've read other Charles Lenox books, this is just as good as the previous ones. And if you haven't but you like mysteries or historical novels, this is an excellent series to jump into, starting with A Beautiful Blue Death.

Buy it at amazon or Barnes and Noble

The Kill Order Review

I read this right before Where'd You Go, Bernadette and didn't love it. Last winter or spring I read The Maze Runner trilogy. I definitely reviewed all three books but I'm feeling a little too lazy to link to them right now.

This was not exactly the book I was expecting. At the end of The Death Cure (SPOILERS AHEAD), we learned that the surviving governments of the world ordered the Flare virus to be released into the general public because there were too many people and too few resources. And of course the virus went rogue and people went crazy but eventually Thomas and his fellow immune friends survived.

I thought The Kill Order would be about the scientists who made the virus or the government who gave the order. But instead the book followed Mark, a sixteen year old survivor of the original sun flares who was present when a government ship landed in his mountain settlement and started shooting people with darts carrying the virus.

He and his companions decide to head for a facility nearby where they assume they will get answers. Along the way they meet people who have already been affected by the Flare virus and who are crazy, like the Cranks from The Scorch Trial and The Death Cure. He is separated from the women of the group at one point. He sticks with Alec, a fifty something former military guy and his girlfriend Trina is left with Lana, a military woman and a young girl named DeeDee, who appears to be immune to the Flare. She is probably one of the earliest kids whose killzone was mapped to find a cure.

Mark also flashes back to where he was when the sun flares happened and how he and Trina, his neighbor, survived. The novel is intense and never slows down, but there's something juvenile about James Dashner's style of writing that puts me off. Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger and eventually that just isn't interesting anymore. Mark was a little too similar to Thomas for me and none of the other characters were well developed in my opinion.

If you liked The Maze Runner, you'll probably enjoy this, but it wasn't one of my favorites.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Review

This book caught my eye at some point over the summer but since I knew it was an epistolary, I wasn't super excited about reading it. I was turned off of epistolary novels as a kid when I read Dear Mr. Henshaw. Not a favorite. Then again, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of my all time favorite books and that's also epistolary. I guess I just approach these sort of books with reservation.

I've read a few other books before this one but clearly I'm a bit behind on reviewing. There will be more coming soon, I promise. I had to jump into this because I loved it so much. I downloaded a sample and very quickly bought the book... and then finished it within two days.

The novel follows the nutty life of Bernadette Fox, as seen through emails, letters and other documents, as well as through her daughter Bee's life. Bee is 15 and adores her mother. They live in a huge, ramshackle house in Seattle where her father works at Microsoft. Bernadette seems to love their eccentric lifestyle but is scornful of the bigger community. She calls the other mothers at Bee's school gnats and generally avoids them at all costs. It quickly becomes clear that she is deeply agoraphobic, but Bee just worships her, even if she knows little about her.

At some point in the past, Bernadette was a famous up and coming architect. Why she stopped her work and moved to Seattle to live in a decaying house is part of the mystery that unfolds throughout the book. We read emails that she sends and received from Munjala, her virtual Indian assistant, who essentially does everything for her. We read prose sections from Bee's perspective. We see letters between Bernadette's husband and a doctor, between an architectural professor and his student, and the funniest, emails between two mothers at Bee's school, women who Bernadette loathes.

Bernadette is definitely a fascinating character. By the end, it is clear why she is the way that she is and there is certainly hope that things will improve for their family. There's a trip to Antarctica, a mudslide and a fascinating house called the Twenty Mile House. I'm not saying any more because I don't want to give anything else away. Long story short, I adored this book and highly recommend it. Was it a little absurdest at times? Sure, but it was also great fun.

Here's some reviews if you don't want to take my word for it:

Washington Post
Denver Post

Buy it at amazon or Barnes & Noble 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Adults Review

It's been a while since I've been really into a book. Recently I downloaded a bunch of samples from amazon. I do this when I'm not sure what to read next, so I peruse a few beginnings and pick the one that grabbed me the most.

The Adults started off really well. Emily, the fourteen year old protagonist, observes her parents and their friends at her father's 50th birthday party in Connecticut. She is a funny and wry and a fairly typical young teenager but her world shifts quickly as she observes her father kissing their neighbor and later, the neighbor's husband hangs himself outside their house and Emily is the only witness. Her parents' marriage is falling apart, her father is moving to Prague and the widowed neighbor is suddenly pregnant.

In the midst of all this, Emily embarks on a sexual relationship with her 24 year old teacher that lasts from the time she is fifteen until she goes off to college. That part of the book was really interesting. Unfortunately, the story picked up again after she is out of school and living in Prague with her father, his girlfriend and her half-sister. She reconnects with her old English teacher, although now they are on more equal footing. He has his own secrets. Unfortunately, the young and witty tone that I enjoyed in the first half of the book disappeared in the second part. Emily is still lost in the world but it's not as cute as it was when she was fourteen. It's actually kind of annoying. After the the book dragged a bit for me.

It comes full circle with another "adult" party at the end, which I enjoyed, but it took too long to get there and the conclusion seemed inevitable, which was a bit boring. I can't highly recommend this book because it dragged a little too much in the second half but it was intriguing in the beginning. I'm sure other people will like it more than I did.

NY Times Review 

Buy it at amazon or Barnes & Noble 

The Sweet Life Review

Um... yeah, so I read these... I know, I know. You're probably shaking your head in horror... or grinning nostalgically. I think I felt a little of both when reading this.

Ok full disclosure. I devoured the Sweet Valley books as a kid. I was probably way too young to be reading about the 16 year old Wakefield twins and all their dramas, but I don't think my parents knew what I was reading and there was usually a new one at the library so I read a decent amount of them. I was never a serious collector, but when I had my own babysitting money, I definitely bought a lot of the later ones in order. I still remember where I was when I read the cliff hanger to A Night to Remember. I was probably in Middle School and reading much more advanced books but something kept me coming back to good old Sweet Valley. I think this was a precursor to working at Soap Opera Digest and all the ridiculous drama that goes into soaps. Obviously I stopped reading the books at some point. I got through the Margo and the evil twins stuff and a little bit of their college years but never beyond that. Every once in a while I'd google the books and see what was going on but as I grew up, I got over the whole thing.

Anyway, last year I was ridiculously excited to read Sweet Valley Confidential, which takes place ten years after the twins were juniors in high school (they were juniors for about 200 years). I read it in a day, traveling back and forth from the Berkshires to Boston. And it was awful. Really awful. Jessica, like, talked like a valley girl. She was never the smart twin but she was always savvy and didn't talk like a moron. Elizabeth cried during orgasms (it was kind of uncomfortable to read sex scenes). Jessica stole Todd (really, are there no other guys in the world?), leading to Elizabeth running to NYC to work at a crappy theater magazine. It was all so so bad. I loved it, I hated it.

I heard at one point that a sequel called Sweet Valley Heights was going to be released but then never heard anything else about it until earlier in the summer when I got an email from St. Martins Press announcing six e-book novellas, coming out once a week. Of course I immediately pre-ordered all six (a collected novel will be coming out in November, I think, and in print) and spent several Sundays this summer charging through.

On the plus side, this series was much, much better than Confidential. (SPOILERS TO FOLLOW). Jessica and Todd are still married with a two year old son, but their marriage is strained because she is a successful PR person for a green makeup company and he is super old fashioned and wants her to be home cooking for him or something. Fortunately she dropped her annoying valley girl talking habits and is old likable Jessica again. Elizabeth, on the other hand... well three years after Confidential, she is still with Bruce Patman (uh yeah, that happened in the last book), who is a hugely wealthy CEO. She's a reporter for the LA Tribune and has a popular blog. She doesn't seem to actually work too much in these books though. The twins are super close again, which is also better than the last book, but the main drama in this series is a little ridiculous (to be expected). No Margo though, sadly.

Ok so the basic plot besides Jessica's married woes is that Bruce is accused of sexually assaulting an intern at his company. Jessica rallies behind him, but Elizabeth doubts her supposed soul mate. In a nice nod to continuity, Elizabeth thinks back to that time she came out of a coma and Bruce tried to assault her. Or rape her. It was a bit vague in Dear Sister and was eventually pretty much forgotten. Anyway, she starts to doubt Bruce's side of the story, especially when she befriends the victim.

Several other major characters play a role or have their own storylines. The infamous Lila Fowler shows up, still married to NFL star Ken Matthews, and is desperate to get on Sweet Valley Housewives. So Lila is back to being flighty and obnoxious despite the growth she showed in earlier books. Oh well. She goes to some pretty desperate lengths in the series to get attention, from auditioning for the reality show to faking a pregnancy and miscarriage. Her storyline wraps up rather well, though.

Steven is now married to Aaron and they have a baby named Emma who they conceived using a surrogate. In one novella, the baby gets kidnapped (it's pretty obvious who does it) and after that Steven and Aaron's story pretty much ends. Aaron pops up again to help Elizabeth out late, though. Disturbingly baby Emma, who is about three months or something like that, has her own quasi-point of view who it's apparent that she has inherited some Jessica-like traits.

Annie Whitman plays a big role as Bruce's defense attorney and former hook up from high school. Enid Rollins pops up as the town's OBGYN. Ned and Alice barely make an appearance.

While I tore through the novellas and will definitely read other ones, they were by no means perfect. There were tons of stupid errors that a good copy editor should have caught. Jessica got off the kitchen school? Really? I caught a few others ones like that.

Also plot lines were wrapped up too tidily or dropped weirdly. Jessica and Elizabeth were annoyingly poor communicators in their relationships. Jessica gets involved with this actor named Liam who was introduced in Confidential and she basically uses him to make herself feel good when her work and personal life goes downhill. He's clearly unbalanced but she doesn't see the danger until it's too late. And Elizabeth, really? Ms. Intrepid Journalist doesn't trust her own boyfriend to be a good guy and basically ruins their whole relationship for no real reason. So that was annoying.

There were definitely other moments where I rolled my eyes. Quite a few, I think, although it's been almost two weeks since I finished part six and I can't remember everything I was thinking as I read. The series ended on a cliffhanger so I'm assuming there will be another series to pick up the pieces sooner or later.

If you were a Sweet Valley fan back in the day looking for a little light reading, this is perfect for you, especially if you can take it with a grain of salt. If you weren't a fan, you probably stopped reading this review ages ago!

NY Times coverage of Confidential and The Sweet Life 

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble.