Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Boy in the Suitcase Review

Scandinavian literature has become more prominent in the US since Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy grew in popularity. So now there's been an influx of Scandinavian thrillers written and published. I didn't actually realize that The Boy in the Suitcase was one of these until I started reading it. Kaaberbol's novel features a scrawny, boyish and damaged heroine like Lisbeth Salander, but Nina Borg is very different in a lot of ways. The story, which is told from multiple perspectives, is gripping from beginning to end.

Nina works for the Red Cross and is consumed by helping people, but she can't manage to bring that devotion to her husband and their children. When her friend Karin asks her to go to a train station and retrieve a suitcase, she agrees to help, but when she discovers a little boy in the suitcase, she desperately tries to protect him and find out where he came from.

The story also follows Sigita, the little boy's mother in Lithuania, as she tries to figure out what happened to her son. The book goes through her back story to some extent, which helps to set up the twist at the end. I didn't exactly see the ending coming but everything fell together pretty quickly once I got to that point in a shocking way.

I wish I knew more about Scandinavian geography. Some of the story takes place in Lithuania and some in Denmark, which was a bit confusing. There was one point where it seemed like a character from one country to the other, although maybe I just lost track of where the characters were. It seemed like it was easy to get from place to place but I would think one would need to fly between the countries. I have no idea. It's hard sometimes reading about countries that I know so little about because I can't quite visualize everything the way I can when reading a book about American or England.

Anyway, this was a strong mystery - possibly the first in a series? It was suspenseful and an intense look at child trafficking, as well as the various issues faced in Eastern Europe. Kaaberbol did her own translation, as she teaches English, which is nice because the book did not have that sometimes stilted feel that some translated books have. Nina's back story was alluded to briefly towards the end, so it seems like she could definitely get more books out of this character. I'll be keeping my eye on the author.

This is a great read for people who like mysteries, thrillers and were also fans of Stieg Larsson's books.

Here's a good review from the Washington Post.

Buy the book:
Through amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Next up is The Scorch Trials, the sequel to The Maze Runner, although I'm also getting really busy with lots of readings for the electives I'm teaching right now. I'm reading Roald Dahl's Boy, excerpts from the Harry Potter books and several excerpts from books and articles about zombies. It's a busy time!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Maze Runner Review

I loved this book. I think I first came across it when reading about The Hunger Games.  It's the first of a trilogy by James Dashner, although there's a prequel coming out in August. So I love young adult literature. I think some of the most creative, well-written books are coming out of the young adult world now, which is awesome. My husband and I love going to bookstores now and seeing how many amazing books are out for young adults now that we would have been obsessed with as kids. 
I also love dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction. The Maze Runner fits the bill perfectly. It all starts with Thomas waking up in a mysterious elevator that delivers him to the Glade, a self-sustaining farm, which is surrounded by a maze with hundred foot high walls. There are around fifty teen-aged boys living in the Glade. They have everything provided for them, from seeds to plant to animals to butcher to clothes to hardware for building. The maze that surrounds the glade is miles long. Thomas shows up clearly confused and so we learn about this world through his eyes. The action picks up pretty quickly, especially after a comatose girl arrives and everything begins to change. There are huge stakes and it gets a little creepy and violent at times (not too much for kids to handle though). 
I read this really quickly. I think I had about 25% left yesterday and spent a two hour drive just finishing it off. I'm dying to jump into the rest of the series, but I got this from the public library, along with one other that I need to read first since I only get them for 21 days. I just started The Boy in the Suitcase but I'm already 20% in so I should get back to the Maze Runner books soon. The first one was awesome. Definitely on par with The Hunger Games. I did want a little more time in the maze itself but with the action moving so quickly, that couldn't really be done. Oh well. The rest was great.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Locke and Key

My husband read this comic written by Stephen King's son a little while ago and really wanted me to read it. I flipped through it a bit but thought it might be a bit too violent. He made me promise to read it in exchange for him reading The Unwritten, one of my favorite new graphic novels. I read this yesterday after finishing Beauty Queens. It's a quick read, as much graphic novels are, and it's really awesome.

The premise is that the Locke family's life is torn apart after the murder of their father by a deranged high school student. The mom, Nina, moves her three kids (Tyler, Kinsey and Bode) across the country from California to the family estate in Massachusetts, where their uncle Duncan lives. They move into a big, rambling old Victorian house, where little Bode stumbles upon some strange mysteries. The action jumps back and forth between the three kids, as well as the teenaged killer, so you get the story from a lot of different, unique, perspectives as the Locke family tries to rebuild their lives. The house itself is filled with mysteries - voices coming from a well and doors that do strange things to you when you go through them.

It reminded me a bit of American Horror Story: intriguing, creepy, a little gross but ultimately a story that sucks you in. For those of you who like comics or horror stories, pick this up. The series will only run for six books, which is good - limited issues make for a tighter story. Five of the six are out now.

The comic was actually adapted into a pilot that unfortunately Fox decided not to pick up. It looks pretty cool.

I've already started my next book, Maze Runner. It sounds a bit like The Hunger Games from a male perspective. I love dystopian books and my friend who loved Hunger Games read this at my suggestion and liked it a lot. I'm 10% in and so far, it's really cool. Stay tuned for the review!

Beauty Queens Review

Ok full disclosure... sometimes I really need to read something breezy. Usually I save that for spring break or the summer but after reading a few lengthy, heavier books, I just wanted something easy. A few years ago I read Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle Trilogy, which was ok. I'd heard Going Bovine was really funny but haven't gotten around to it yet. The cover of this book put me off for a long time. I mean look at it, it's absolutely ridiculous... but... well the concept of beauty queens in a Lord of the Flies situation was sort of appealing. Turns out the book is really funny. Yes, it's light and easy, even if it's longer than I expected it to be, but Bray also does a great of highlighting how shallow our culture can be.

The whole premise is that a plane filled with fifty Team Dream contestents crashes and the survivors have to figure out how to live on an island. There were definitely archetypes: the Texas pagent queen, the cynical Jewish journalist who just wants to expose the pagent for what it is, the ditzy blondes, the virginal southerner, the lesbian, etc. But for the story, those cliches worked.

In between chapters of the book, there are commercials for shows and products that exist in the girls' version of America: Lady Stache Off - a hair remover that can double as a bathroom cleaner (who would seriously use that?!), Girls Gone Rumspringa (a reality show about Amish girls who live with strippers) and a product called something like "Panty Pets" for making your period fun.

So our girls learn how to survive in a world without The Corporation's (the super shady business that runs entertainment, advertising and most other things in Bray's version of America) products. They discover that they can live without having to be what society expects of them. They don't have to smile or wave or look pretty or say sorry constantly in order to be happy.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hi friends,

I finished reading Julian Fellowes' Snobs last week but I was too busy to write up a review until now. Anyway, reading Snobs was like reading a modern season of Downton Abbey. The narrator is never named. He is an actor who travels between two worlds. He has some "in" to the wealthy, noble upper classes of England, but is friends also with the upper middle class world who desperately wants to be part of the higher classes. He's a gentle observer, judgmental at some points but quite wry in his observations, and also more tolerant than he could be.

The story that he narrates follows Edith Lavery, a social climber from the upper middle class. She comes into contact with the wealthy, but boring, Charles, who is going to inherit a wealthy estate when his parents die. His mother, very much like Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey definitely wants to hold onto the conventions and traditions of her class. Unfortunately this all turns into a disaster when Edith finally gets into the family and a handsome actor catches her eye.

So the book is clearly about snobbery in England. It's about social climbers. It reminded me about how the British press referred to the Middleton sisters as "Wisteria" because they were beautiful but clingy and grew their way into the higher classes from a middle class background. There were some references that were too cultural for me to get, but I enjoyed the book. If it had been written by someone like Sophie Kinsella or Jane Green, it would have been considered "chick lit" but Fellowes writes with a very literary flourish and in the gender biased world of publishing, his books were of course not considered flighty in the least. So if you like British books, especially about the upper classes, check this one out. It took me longer than I thought it would but it was entertaining overall.

I'm almost 70% into my next book so stay tuned! I should do another review this weekend.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Unwritten 4 & 5

The Unwritten Vol. 4: LeviathanThe Unwritten Vol. 5: On to Genesis

Along with being a big book reader, I also love graphic novels. My husband got me into reading comics when we started dating and I have a few series that I love. They are mostly published by Vertigo, which is part of DC comics (you know, the guys who publish Superman, etc).

I started reading The Unwritten last year and I love it. It's about a man named Tom Taylor whose father wrote the Tommy Taylor books, which are essentially Harry Potter. Tom was the inspiration for the main character, who the world obsessively loves.

The amazon description is better than anything I feel like writing right now:
Tom Taylor's life was screwed from go. His father created the Tommy Taylor fantasy series, boy-wizard novels with popularity on par with Harry Potter. The problem is Dad modeled the fictional epic so closely to Tom's real life that fans are constantly comparing him to his counterpart, turning him into the lamest variety of Z-level celebrity. In the final novel, it's even implied that the fictional Tommy will crossover into the real world, giving delusional fans more excuses to harass Tom. 

When an enormous scandal reveals that Tom might really be a boy-wizard made flesh, Tom comes into contact with a very mysterious, very deadly group that's secretly kept tabs on him all his life. Now, to protect his own life and discover the truth behind his origins, Tom will travel the world, eventually finding himself at locations all featured on a very special map -- one kept by the deadly group that charts places throughout world history where fictions have impacted and tangibly shaped reality, those stories ranging from famous literary works to folktales to pop culture. And in the process of figuring out what it all means, Tom will find himself having to figure out a huge conspiracy mystery that spans the entirety of the history of fiction.

So I read the fourth and fifth trade over the weekend. Each book has a different feel to it. The fourth book throws Tom into Moby Dick's world - they go to Arrowhead in the beginning and pass by the Hancock Shaker Village, which is near where my family lives in the Berkshires. The fifth book has a 1930/40's early pulp comic feel to it. There's still quite a lot of mystery in these grades. Tom still doesn't 100% understand his origins, but he's making progress in figuring things out. He also has his very own Ron and Hermoine but they're adults too and the trio forms a very funny little group. The scope of the comic is impressive and the story is really engaging. Even if you don't think you'll like graphic novels, this is definitely different and more "literary" than other books you might read.

After finishing those, I started Julian Fellowes' Snobs. Fellowes wrote the movie Gosford Park and my favorite show Downton Abbey. So I had to check out one of his novels. So far, I'm enjoying it. Stay tuned for the review!

Pilgrim of the Sky Review

I finished Pilgrim of the Sky yesterday. It's actually the second time I've read the book. Let me backtrack. In my junior year of college I met Natania Barron in a fiction writing class. Over the next two years, we took a couple classes together. She was an English major and I was a History major but we both took a lot of writing and medieval classes so we crossed paths a lot. My roommate and I "kidnapped" her one night and spent hours locked in our room just chatting. After college we lost touch, but periodically, when my roommate and I got together we wondered what had happened to Natania. So as you do, we googled her. We ended up finding her husband's blog and sent him a message for Natania with our info. Long story short, he eventually passed it on, she emailed back or found me on facebook and we've been friends ever since, even though we haven't seen each other in person since 2003 (ah!).

Anyway, when we got back in touch, Natania was a full time writer and a stay at home mom. Being interested in the fantasy genre myself, we talked a lot about writing and her works in progress. She started Pilgrim of the Sky for NaNoWriMo one year and when it was done, she let me read it. I found out only recently that I was the first person she showed the book to. I'm so happy she did. Since then I've read a few of her books and am excited for more (especially an Edwardian story about two sisters that sounds right up my alley!).

Natania is into steampunk. I didn't even know what that meant until I started reading her books. I'd never heard the term, but I love how she weaves cool gadgets and tech into Victorian and medieval worlds. She has a real gift for description. Every scene is absolutely drenched with color and detail. You really get a feel for the world and the characters as you read.

What I found incredible is that some scenes had been so indelibly etched into my brain that despite the time lapse between reads, I vividly recalled certain scenes before stumbling on them in the book. My friend has a serious gift for writing.

So onto the plot. This is the description from amazon: Just when Maddie Angler thinks she's over the death of her longtime boyfriend, Alvin, she discovers that he's not only alive, but he may just be part god. And a killer. Now it's up to her to unite Eight Worlds she didn't even know existed in the first place, before chaos reigns. 

Ok so there are eight worlds, all of which are connected. Some people can travel between worlds. There are characters who have versions of themselves on other worlds too, who all seems to be connected to gods. I don't want to delve too deeply into this for fear of giving something away, but overall the book deals with the concept of a multiverse and the Joseph Campbell idea that all myths (and therefore all deities) are really the same. The Romans used to think like this too - Egypt has a sun god? So do the Greeks and so do the Romans! All cultures have certain archetypal gods and Natania does a good job of weaving those together.

The best parts of the book take place in Second World, a lush Victorian-esque Boston where tea is laced with opium and mansions are built on top of what I picture as giant air balloons. It's a gorgeously realized place and Maddie - who gets sucked into this world - is as intrigued by the ride as I was. Second World Boston feels old fashioned and wonderfully modern at the same time. It's surrounded by a wild frontier, and is therefore the last bastion of society in the area. The various characters that Maddie meets are interesting and I would have liked to spend more time with some of them, particularly those connected to Alvin, like a blind woman, whose name I can't recall off the top of my head. We get a glimpse of her and then we don't see her again. I thought she was in the book more but I guess I remembered that incorrectly. The last third of the book takes us into First World where Maddie has to face off against various deities and go through tests.   That part had a slightly different feel from the rest of the book, but I still enjoyed it, especially one scene that mimics Botticelli's Birth of Venus. That was really well done.

My two gripes (well not really gripes, rather two things that struck me as off when reading): 1. There was a character named Miriam mentioned a couple times that I wanted to know more about. It seemed as though her character would be important but we never actually met her. Sequel? I'm up for it if Natania is! :-)  2. There were several errors in the kindle edition of the book. I'm sort of a grammar/writing nazi and I pick up on errors easily. Now I haven't compared the digital edition to the trade yet (it's at my parents' house) but I was surprised by the mistakes. I don't know whether they were due to the conversion from print to digital or whether they were copy editor errors. Sometimes I think I should have been a copy editor. I know e-book readers have complained about errors in digital books a lot, especially older books that were quickly transferred without a good read through, but I really feel that publishers and copy editors need to take the time to carefully comb through books. Have more than one eye look the book over. Or hire me and I'll do it.  That's a general note about all books, not just this one! :-)

In general, I find Natania to be wonderfully talented. She's a gifted storyteller and she constantly makes me want to start writing again. She has several other books in the works that I hope get picked up by a publishing company so they can be shared as well. In the meantime, do yourself a favor, and pick up Pilgrim of the Sky. It's a great debut from someone who definitely is just getting started!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sorry I've been quiet over the last couple days. Work has been really busy so my reading pace has slowed down a lot as I've been tired at night. I should finish Pilgrim of the Sky tonight. In the meantime, check out this lovely short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.