Thursday, 8 August 2013

City of Bones - Cassandra Clare


When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . .

I'd never been much interested in reading the Mortal Instruments series. Not so much because it didn't sound interesting as supernatural teenagers are usually totally my thing but because I used to be big into fan fiction (don't judge, you know you love it) and I remember the plagiarism scandal that surrounded Cassandra Clare back in 2006. When she published her first book (this book, in fact) in 2007, all I could think about was how she was that plagiarizing woman and didn't pick it up. 

However, with the movie coming out soon and a good friend who wanted to see it (and a nice employee discount at my bookstore), I picked it up for a quick read post-Rathbones.

Oh, I wanted to like it. I really did. My life would be so much easier if I did. I just couldn't do it, though. The characters were so boring, the plot line was so predictable and the whole story just felt like a lump. I think I could narrow my main problems down to two big factors, though.

Number One: Incest. There is an incest-y plot line in this book and it made me uncomfortable. I understand that that's what it's supposed to do (I guess?) and I've read other works that had uncomfortable "we're in love but oh no! we might be related!" plot lines before that dealt with them in an interesting and heartbreaking way. It added depth to the character and tragedy to the plot. This one … doesn't. It mostly just serves to make you feel creepy and icky especially as it does not get wrapped up before the end of the book. If this were just a minor plot line, it could be easily overlooked or even found to be a great addition to add a little tension. Instead, by ending the novel with them still in that uncomfortable in-between phase, it just made the reader (or at least, this reader) wonder why they spent so much time becoming invested in these characters' relationship if it was going to eventually end in inbreeding. 

Number Two: Dubious characterization. This comes from my earlier point of Cassandra Clare's fan fiction. She was famous for years before her publications for writing Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fan fiction which I do not in any way judge her for (because there may be a bit of fan fiction by myself out there on the web.) What does seem suspicious, though, is how closely some characters seem to mirror Rowling's. Let's explore:

Jace Wayland: Jace has fine wavy dark golden-blond hair and dark gold eyes. He has a slim, muscular build, and is about 5'11". His face is described as being pretty and angular, and Clary often refers to him as beautiful and leonine, with a narrow mouth. … For most of the books Jace's sarcastic, cold remarks and behavior hides his tortured and angry soul. (Description from Wikipedia)

I don't know how many of you read fan fiction but this is a classic example of fanon Draco Malfoy. Which is especially not surprising as this was a trope she created in her  fan fiction opus, The Draco Trilogy, which took her six years to complete when it ended in 2006. 

Clarissa "Clary" Fray: Clary is five feet tall with curly red hair, green eyes, pale skin, and freckles. She is said to look like her mother - who is described as beautiful and small. She is rather petite and very thin. She is described by Jace many times throughout the series as "delicate". (Description from Wikipedia)

Did I mention that in her opus that Draco ends up with Ginny? And we did notice that her name is Clarissa "Clary" Fray which sounds a lot like Cassandra Clare? Good. We're on the same page.

There are so many other little things like her best friend Simon who has messy black hair and glasses and is just not as cool as Jace and the fact that all the main character's parents were in a mysterious club that's basically the Marauders mixed with Death Eaters when they were young but it feels a bit petty going through them all. Although, I will admit, the bookish father figure werewolf seems a bit too obvious, even for me. 

Also, in doing research for this review (if you're going to badmouth something, you always need to double check), I found that she had written a fan fic in 2004 called The Mortal Instruments that was Ron/Ginny which I suppose explains the incesty things. The more I learn, the more uncomfortable I feel.

I'd like to end this review with a quote from Cassandra Clare's fan lore page because I think it sums up what I'm trying to say perfectly:

"Though Moral Instruments and the Draco Trilogy do not share a plot, some fans believe that Clary and Jace are based on fanon versions of Ginny and Draco. Additionally, one passage from Draco Veritas, which tells the story of Draco's pet falcon, appears word-for-word in City of Bones: the only differences are minor punctuation changes and the amendment of "Draco" to "the boy" (now referring to Jace).

Wank ... did occur when the published author put out her first novel, which involved both media fandom and science fiction fandom, but in general the allegations of plagiarism and bad behavior against the fan[dom] are not well known among people who interact with the published author."


So I suppose the lesson is, as long as no one knows your story was originally fan fiction, you'll sell. See: Fifty Shades of Grey.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Rathbones - Janice Clark


A literary adventure set in New England, Janice Clark's gothic debut chronicles one hundred years of a once prosperous seafaring dynasty.

Moses, the revered patriarch of the Rathbone family, possessed an otherworldly instinct for spotting the whale. But years of bad decisions by the heirs to his fortune have whittled his formerly robust family down to just one surviving member: a young girl, left to live in the broken-down ancestral mansion that at one time had glowed golden with the spoils of the hunt.

Mercy, fifteen years old, is the diminutive scion of the Rathbone clan. Her father, the last in the dynasty of New England whalers, has been lost at sea for seven years-ever since the last sperm whale was seen off the coast of Naiwayonk, Connecticut. Mercy's memories of her father and of the time before he left grow dimmer each day, and she spends most of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive Uncle Mordecai, who teaches her the secrets of Greek history and navigation through his collection of moldering books. But when a strange, violent visitor turns up one night on the widow's walk, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee the house and set sail on a journey that will bring them deep into the haunted history of the Rathbone family.

Inspired by The Odyssey and infused with beautifully detailed descriptions of the realities of coastal and ship life reminiscent of Moby Dick, Janice Clark's magnificent debut is a spellbinding literary adventure.

Last week was a sea shanty kind of week, with Melville's birthday a key factor and so I read the new The Rathbones. A stunning debut with a whole mythos behind it, I was very impressed.

The Rathbones follows Mercy Rathbone, the last of the Rathbone clan that was once the greatest whaling family in all of New England. She lives in the remains of what was once a great mansion with her mother who awaits a lost father at sea and her cousin who lives in the attic and teaches her of whales and science and life. After a strange encounter with a man on the widow's walk one night, Mercy and her cousin leave the house and begin an Odyssey-esque journey around the area where Mercy slowly begins to learn the true history of her family. 

Although it did take a chapter or two to settle into as the tone is very unique, I greatly enjoyed The Rathbones. It feels like reading a great myth, a mixture of The Odyssey, Moby Dick and various Old Testament narratives. As you start to unravel how the Rathbone clan went from a lone whaler with seemingly supernatural powers to a crumbling dynasty, you both fall more in love with Mercy while being enraptured by the tale. It's not a page turner in the typical sense but it did make me want to keep reading to uncover more secrets.

Another thing that I thought was clever in the narrative was that every time Mercy learned of a new generation, a small family tree would be updated before moving on to the next part of the journey. This both helped the reader follow along and also gave a connection to Mercy who was the one sketching the tree. 

All of the characters were unique and interesting, my personal favorite being cousin Mordecai, the basically albino brilliant relative in the attic. Despite spanning generations, each character is unique, except for the few who are supposed to seem interchangeable. 


If any of this appeals to you, I would definitely say to check out The Rathbones. It comes out today from Doubleday. Check it out!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Sisterland - Curtis Sittenfeld


Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.

As I quite liked Prep when I read it a little over a year ago, when I read the back of the new Sittenfeld novel, I was eager to read it. I love novels that deal with the paranormal and the ambiguities with the social acceptance of it. The idea of these two sisters fighting on opposite sides and dealing with their lives in their own ways sounded really interesting and with the skill that I knew Sittenfeld had, I was happy to try the book out.

The book weaves in and out of the "present" narrative (which is actually three or so years in the past) and the story of Vi and Kate as they grow in a world where they have powers other people don't. They get teased in school, they know things they shouldn't and they deal with an absent mother and a distant father. Kate just wants to be normal, the horrible teasing she goes through in middle school scarring her from embracing her gift while Violet, not great at making friends, finds a guardian spirit (whom she calls Guardian) that she trusts in and fully embraces her gift. 

Kate's family, from her relationship with her father and her sister to her family dynamic with her husband and two children, are very well drawn and feel real. I especially love the way her two year old daughter Rosie's dialogue is written. It's cute and young and innocent without sounding too much like an adult writing a child's voice. 

I was absolutely absorbed in this novel from the first and I eagerly read it before bed and at breaks during work. However, about fifty pages before the end, there was a sudden plot twist that kind of ruined the book for me. I'm a very open-minded reader (as you can tell by looking at all the genres I cover in this blog) but there is one thing that I just absolutely hate reading about and avoid in all my media. And then bam! There it is! In the middle of the book I was really enjoying.


Did this ruin the book for me forever? No, I suppose not. But it did sour the ending of it for me and knock it down a peg. I would have given this a solid four stars had it not been for that plot twist but now I give it more of a three. I loved it. I really did. I just didn't like where it took me.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Returned - Jason Mott


Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That's what all the Returned were.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time ... Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.

All over the world people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.

With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

The Returned was really being pushed at BEA this year and as I thought the concept sounded interesting, especially after having watched the French La Revenants earlier this year, I happily picked it up. I was also told that it had already been picked up as a television pilot. 

I can easily see where this would make a good television show. For one, the French have kind of already done that. Secondly, this story is huge with tons of possibilities for ways to go. When you write a novel that has such a massive scale like this, there are so many stories you can tell. In fact, that was my favorite part of the novel: the short interludes between chapters that would tell you a little bit about another person in the world who had come back. Scenes like the painter who had become famous posthumously, the Nazis that had come back but where just young boys, the parents that couldn't accept their child. I think that was my favorite part of The Returned and a tv show based around that would do well.

The main narrative of the novel, centered around the Hargrave family was both heartbreaking and kind of a lull. The idea behind it, that a son who died as a child comes back when his parents are elderly, is beautiful and painful. The actual execution of it, however, came across kind of, well, not boring but not as deep or meaningful as it could be. I found myself constantly wondering about other characters and what was going on with them. The brief flashes we got of other townspeople dealing with their grief (the pastor who's childhood love came back, the family who came back after being the sole murder of the town) were great and I wish we could have had more with them (especially the family) and a bit less of the Hargraves.

What I found hardest about the novel, though, was the ending. What happened with the returned, as they're called, makes sense and I'm alright with that. It's the other actions of the climax that, when the tension has died down, don't sit right with me. I feel like the ending didn't bring any sense of closure to the Hargraves and actually did them more harm than good, something that seems the antithesis of what the novel wanted to show.


Mott's writing is sparse and lovely, creating mood and atmosphere effortlessly. I would happily read something else by him. This novel is exceptionally well imagined; I simply wish it were better plotted. I love the world he has created, the thoughts he's evoked, the moral quandaries that he's provoked. I just wish he'd spent more time exploring this new and mysterious world.

The Returned comes out in September 2013 from Harlequin MIRA.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Burning Sky - Sherry Thomas


It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to revenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

The Burning Sky is the first in a new YA trilogy which looks to be very interesting. Iolanthe Seabourne, our herione, is feisty and powerful, just coming to realize what the scope of her powers might be. It's dangerous to be too good a mage in The Realm and when she accidentally summons a bolt of lighting, everything normal in her life comes crashing down around her.

Our other hero, Prince Titus, is refreshing in that he's completely not perfect. Although he's prepared for this his entire life, when he finds out that a girl is the promised mage and not a boy, he freaks out a bit. He'd been preparing all his life for what he thought would be his greatest friend, someone he could finally share his secrets with. A girl was completely unexpected.

The reason Iolanthe being a girl is so pointed is because of where she and the Prince have to go to hide out: non-magical Victorian Eton. I loved this plot point and I feel like it brought a lot to the story. Iolanthe has to pretend to be Fairfax, a boy Titus has manufactured for years, and live up to all the expectations the boys have come up with for him, as well as not give the game away. Beyond that, they have to keep training to be ready to fight the Bane, an evil overlord that has pretty much taken over their Realm. 

One other point I thought was particularly nice was that Iolanthe and Titus don't fall in love, at least right away. Although it's quite clear that that's going to happen eventually, Titus does a few things in the beginning that do not endear him to Iolanthe and her quiet loathing of him was a refreshing twist on the genre. It kept the plot moving and made their burgeoning friendship, once it got started, all the more poignant. 


I really enjoyed The Burning Sky and will be looking out for the next book in the trilogy hopefully next year. The characters are interesting and fresh, the plot is original and it's a great read. Check it out if you fantasy ya.

The Burning Sky comes out September 17 2013 from Balzer and Bray. You can read the first chapter on Thomas's website here.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman


Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

----

I love Neil Gaiman. He's a great man that writes interesting stories that touch hearts, make you laugh and press buttons. Ocean at the End of the Lane is not as intense as some of Gaiman's other works but its mythic qualities set it apart.

Told in retrospective, the mind of a middle aged man remembering his seven year old self, the story becomes a fable quickly in both plot and style. Emotions run high as they would for a child but the world is quick, unfathomable and immediate, ever changeable. Some moments are truly scary, such as a certain scene between the narrator and his father, while others let you remember the innocence of childhood. 

Lettie Hempstock is great character, full of wit and unplumbed depths, both protecting from and luring our narrator to a mysterious evil that can be found in the most  common of places. Her voice is new and echoes her gran's, Old Mrs. Hempstock, who speaks in a delightful rural accent while summoning great powers to herself. 


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a modern fairytale, telling a tale of survival while handing out a warning about memory. It lulls you in and doesn't let you back out until you've finished the narrow volume. At less than two hundred pages, the book goes by in a flash but remains in your mind and your memory, as all good tales do.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

My Notorious Life - Kate Manning


his sweeping, evocative, and absolutely unforgettable novel about the charismatic and passionate Axie Muldoon who changed the lives of countless women was inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City.Set in gritty New York City in the last half of the nineteenth century, My Notorious Life is a vibrant portrait of Axie Muldoon, a plucky orphan who becomes one of the most successful—and controversial—midwives of her time. Told in a magnetic voice, pulsing and vivid, Axie recounts how she is separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor and midwife, and how she later parlays the sale of a few bottles of “lunar tonic for female complaints” into a thriving midwifery practice with her husband and fellow orphan friend, Charles G. Jones. But Axie is on a collision course with one of the most zealous, censorious characters of her era: Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and it will take all of Axie’s power to outwit him and save both herself and her family from ruin. 

A love story, a family saga, and a brilliant rendering of a historical time, this is also a moving and nuanced commentary on an important topic: women’s control of their bodies. But ultimately, it is the story of one woman making her indomitable way in a difficult world; with her fierce and vibrant spirit, Axie Muldoon is an indelible heroine for the ages.

----

To be honest, I picked up this book on the character's name alone. I'm Molly Muldoon and it's not often I see my last name in print. As I like to say, Muldoon is stereotypical Irish but not common. I was pretty pumped for a heroine with my last name and settled down to read it.

It's a little hard to get into at first as it's written in a vernacular that tries to place you immediately into Axie's head. It's annoying for the first few pages but you slowly grow accustomed to it and over time, as Axie grows and learns more, the grammar and turns of phrases become more regular. After the first twenty or so pages, I was quite keen on it. It creates character through the experience of reading and I liked that.

Axie is a strong lead and you can't help but feel for her. Put in a tough situation pretty much from birth, she picks herself up by her bootstraps and becomes a wealthy woman, mostly on her own with only a bit of help from her husband. She's vivacious and strong and insecure and tough rolled up into one intense package and I loved her from page one.

All of the characters are unique and lively. From Axie's missing little sister Duchess to her friend and future husband Charlie, to the women that nurture her and teach her the medical ways to the German girl next door that becomes a best friend, all the characters are immediate and real, adding to the narrative and pulling Axie one way or another. 

The story deals a lot with the morality of abortion, not so much through arguments but through actions and characters. Comstock, Axie's rival, as she calls him, becomes a symbol of male patriarchy and misunderstanding of woman and it couldn't have felt more timely. A lot of things Axie finds herself up against are the same sort of things male politicians have been saying in the past year on the same debate. Despite the over hundred year difference, the arguments feel just as fresh and frustrating as if they came off the front page.

Oh! Did I mention this is based on a true story? Axie is fictional version of a real woman and Comsock is almost painfully real which just adds to my argument.


I tore through this book and found the twists and turns not always unexpected but definitely full of impact. Axie's struggles to provide for herself, protect her new family, find her old family and make a life for herself ring true to the reader, despite the Victorian setting. I would recommend this book to any woman who loves strong female heroines and is fed up with the current 'war on women.' It's a timely book with a good message and a kickass female lead.

My Notorious Life comes out in September 2013 from Scribner.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Last Detective - Peter Lovesey


A nude female floats dead in a large reservoir lake south of Bristol. To solve the "Lady of the Lake" mystery, and save a woman unjustly accused, Sussex Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond must find two missing letters attributed to Jane Austen, and defy his superiors.

You may remember that I have a bit of a crush on Peter Lovesey. I fell head over heels in love with The Reaper when I read it out of the blue and also quite enjoyed Upon a Dark Night which turned out to be fifth in a series. The Last Detective happens to be the first in the Peter Diamond and when I saw it at a local bookstore, I snapped it up.

The Last Detective was just as great as I wanted it to be. Diamond is already in hot water right off the bat, having been moved to Bath from London due to a scandal what was not really his fault. When a naked woman is found floating in a local lake, Diamond and his anxious team take the case. 

What I love about Lovesey is that he creates so much detail and richness in his plots that it's easy to get lost in them and even forget you're reading a mystery at times. Two whole sections are just witness testimony filled with details that aren't relevant but show a depth that you don't normally get with thrillers. All the characters are real, flawed and have clear motivations. 

The only problem I had with this novel was that the edition I was reading, the Soho Press Twentieth Anniversary Edition, was riddled with typos. I'll forgive a few but one of the subheadings of the section, a page that only has one phrase on it, was titled (instead of 'the men in white coats') the men in white goats. It was pretty embarrassing, especially as I usually really enjoy Soho Press. 


The mystery is delightful enough, though, that I made it through those blunders and found myself quite content with the solution. It wasn't perfect or pretty but it made sense and felt more real than you often find. I look forward to reading more Lovesey in the future. 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent


Life in 1830s Iceland is stark and difficult, but there is a sense of beauty and peace among those hardy enough to make a life there. This peace is disrupted by two brutal murders, news of which travels from settlement to settlement, the frenzy building as a young woman, Agnes, is accused, tried and convicted. She is sentenced to death. 

The governor decides Agnes must wait out her execution on an isolated farm. Her arrival there disrupts the quiet between the farmer, his wife and their two daughters, all of whom are horrified at the prospect of having this woman share their home, their life. Agnes herself is stoic, doing her work as best she can and only slowly letting down her guard to Toti, the young priest she has mysteriously chosen as her spiritual guide. As Toti struggles to guide Agnes towards redemption, the farmer's wife, Margaret, begins to sense that there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.

A suspenseful and riveting novel rich with vivid lyricism and page-turning suspense, Burial Rites evokes a harsh and dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the heartbreaking question: how can one woman endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others? Based on a real-life story, this is an astonishing debut that heralds the arrival of a great new talent.

Burial Rites is a debut and based on it, I think I need to read everything Hannah Kent plans on writing. It is a stunning debut that had me staying up late and reading when I should have been doing other things. 

Set in Iceland of the early 1800s, Kent takes us through the year or so leading up to Iceland's last execution. Agnes Magnusdottir has had a rough life and is in a horrible state when she is dropped off at the Kornsa farm to await her execution. She's angry at the world for abandoning her and trying to ready herself for a fate that she doesn't feel she deserves.

As she grows accustomed to life on the farm, she warms up a bit and becomes closer than anticipated with the family there. Through talking to the Reverend she has picked to be her spiritual advisor, Toti and eventually opening up to the family, the reader (and the others in the novel) get to hear the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir and not just what all the local gossips have to say about her.

This novel is meticulously researched and it shows with all of the details and impressive setting description that pulls the reader right into nineteenth century Iceland, even if they can't pronounce all the names correctly. There are chapter starters that are actually translated from real letters and documents of the period that add all the more to the story, showing just how much of this novel is created from the true story it documents.

Kent's sparse sense of prose adds to the bleakness of the landscape and of Agnes's mind, briefly colored with the rare happy memory. Each of the characters is vividly painted, from the daughter who wants absolutely nothing to do with Agnes to the Reverend who wants to be there for her even when he's too ill to ride. Despite Agnes clearly being the focus (she's the only character that gets to narrate her own story), all of the other characters are well defined and watching them slowly begin to realize Agnes's true nature adds warmth and tragedy to the narrative.

As the novel drags on to its inevitable conclusion, the reader watches in horror as things continue and reads hastily as she begins to find out the true details of what happened the night of the murders. I read the last hundred pages or so in an hour, so determined to find out what happened and to spend my last moments with Agnes.


This book reads as a love letter to Iceland and a remembrance of a remarkable woman who was perhaps too smart for her time and place. I respect Hannah Kent and look forward to what she decides to tackle in the future. I'm sure it will be magnificent. 

Burial Rites comes out September 10th from Little, Brown and Company.

Monday, 8 July 2013

I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place - Howard Norman


As with many of us, the life of acclaimed novelist Howard Norman has had its share of incidents of “arresting strangeness.” Yet few of us connect these moments, as Norman has done in this spellbinding memoir, to show how life tangles with the psyche to become art. Norman’s story begins with a portrait, both harrowing and hilarious, of a Midwest boyhood summer working in a bookmobile, in the shadow of a grifter father and under the erotic tutelage of his brother’s girlfriend. His life story continues in places as far-flung as the Arctic, where he spends part of a decade as a translator of Inuit tales—including the story of a soapstone carver turned into a goose whose migration-time lament is “I hate to leave this beautiful place”—and in his beloved Point Reyes, California, as a student of birds. In the Arctic, he receives news over the radio that “John Lennon was murdered tonight in the city of New York in the USA.” And years later, in Washington, D.C., another act of deeply felt violence occurs in the form of a murder-suicide when Norman and his wife loan their home to a poet and her young son. Norman’s story is also stitched together with moments of uncanny solace. Of life in his Vermont farmhouse Norman writes, “Everything I love most happens most every day.”

In the hands of Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and What Is Left the Daughter, life’s arresting strangeness is made into a profound, creative, and redemptive memoir.

I'm normally not a big memoir person but I think I might have to start making exceptions. I was sent this book on the recommendation of a publicist and I thought it sounded interesting enough so I started reading it right away. And then could barely put it down.

I've never read any of Howard Norman's books but I was faintly aware of them, as I had had a professor in college that was very big in the Canadian Literature field. Turns out, the man himself has lived a very interesting life. From growing up in Grand Rapids to working in the Arctic to summers in Vermont to life in Washington, the man leads a very interesting life. It's one of those things where, if you think about, almost everyone has important things happen to them and I think, if almost anyone sat down and wrote about the most interesting events that they feel happened to them, you would have a great book. Which makes this one exceptional is Norman being a gifted writer already. Combined with the personal nature of this book, this is a real treat.

What makes the narrative so strong is that it's not a typical memoir in the style of 'I was born in…' and telling a life story. Instead, Norman takes periods of his life, normally one season in one year, and writes about that. He has chosen five moments that could be seen as turning points, interesting stories and important events to him and has written about those. What could have been an awkward life story instead becomes memories of a life, fascinating events narrated by the man that lived them, reflecting back decades later but not judging his past self but embracing it. From poor decisions he made in the wake of a girlfriend's death to a summer spent battling a fever while somewhat obsessed with the Civil War, Norman shows us glimpses of his life with immediacy and reflection.

The only spot of bother I found with the book is the number of times he uses the phrase "beautiful place." It stuck out like a sore thumb every time and pulled me out of the narrative. However, considering that's really the only  things I can say to its downside is really more of a compliment.


I really enjoyed this book and read it in one day, skipping things I normally do on Sundays to sit on the couch and read. I will definitely be lending this out to friends and I think it's a book everyone would enjoy because, honestly, what about other peoples' lives isn't fascinating? If you're curious, please check it out.

I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place comes out July 9th (tomorrow!) from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thanks to Leila for the review copy!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Sleeping in Eden - Nicole Baart


She knew what he wrote . . . 

One little word that made her feel both cheated and beloved. 

One word that changed everything. 

MINE. 

On a chilly morning in the Northwest Iowa town of Blackhawk, Dr. Lucas Hudson is filling in for the vacationing coroner on a seemingly open-and-shut suicide case. His own life is crumbling around him, but when he unearths the body of a woman buried in the barn floor beneath the hanging corpse, he realizes this terrible discovery could change everything. . . . 

Years before Lucas ever set foot in Blackhawk, Meg Painter met Dylan Reid. It was the summer before high school and the two quickly became inseparable. Although Meg's older neighbor, Jess, was the safe choice, she couldn't let go of Dylan no matter how hard she tried. 

Caught in a web of jealousy and deceit that spiraled out of control, Meg's choices in the past ultimately collide with Lucas's discovery in the present, weaving together a taut story of unspoken secrets and the raw, complex passions of innocence lost.

I recently received Sleeping in Eden as a gift from a friend as thanks for helping her with her move. When I read the back, I thought it sounded super interesting and decided to start it after I finished Black Swan Green.

The device used in the novel, that of interweaving two disparate stories that eventually come together, is something I always enjoy. Not only do you get two plot lines to enjoy but you also get the pleasure of trying to figure out for yourself where the characters are going to intersect. When I first started the book, I thought I knew for sure what Meg and Lucas's connection was but within the first fifty pages, a wrench was thrown in the works and I didn't know anymore which made me so happy because I love being wrong when reading.

Both Meg and Lucas's stories were really intriguing despite how different they were. Lucas, although slightly boring as a character, had a great character to play off of in ::spoiler::. His dealings with a new person all the sudden in his house and his already complicated life is what made his story interesting. When I thought it was just going to be him watching his marriage crumble, I was a bit depressed. When some spice was thrown in, I was curious.

Meg, meanwhile, is a great lead. We watch her grow up, from a young girl to a young woman and she has such a delightful personality and is super relatable to anyone who wasn't a girly girl growing up that I found myself always going into her chapters with a smile. I didn't always approve of her choices but I loved her inner monologue and the way she came to her decisions. She was believable and that's what made her a great character.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book, however, was the moment when you realize what the novel is building up to. I always compliment a narrative, be it movie, book, or whatever, that knows that its audience is going to figure out the ending before you get there and uses that to build dramatic tension. About forty pages before the end or so, you realize what's going to happen. With that settles in a moment of dread and as you read the plot go on to its inevitable conclusion, it hits you that much harder. I found myself teary eyed as I finished the book, despite the fact that I had known for a hundred pages what the end was going to be. That's the mark of a good storyteller.


Sleeping in Eden is a sad story but it's a good one, marked with interesting characters and a well developed plot. If you don't mind a few tears, you should check it out.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Black Swan Green - David Mitchell


From award-winning writer David Mitchell comes a sinewy, meditative novel of boyhood on the cusp of adulthood and the old on the cusp of the new.

Black Swan Green tracks a single year in what is, for thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire in a dying Cold War England, 1982. But the thirteen chapters, each a short story in its own right, create an exquisitely observed world that is anything but sleepy. A world of Kissingeresque realpolitik enacted in boys’ games on a frozen lake; of “nightcreeping” through the summer backyards of strangers; of the tabloid-fueled thrills of the Falklands War and its human toll; of the cruel, luscious Dawn Madden and her power-hungry boyfriend, Ross Wilcox; of a certain Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, an elderly bohemian emigré who is both more and less than she appears; of Jason’s search to replace his dead grandfather’s irreplaceable smashed watch before the crime is discovered; of first cigarettes, first kisses, first Duran Duran LPs, and first deaths; of Margaret Thatcher’s recession; of Gypsies camping in the woods and the hysteria they inspire; and, even closer to home, of a slow-motion divorce in four seasons.

Pointed, funny, profound, left-field, elegiac, and painted with the stuff of life, Black Swan Green is David Mitchell’s subtlest and most effective achievement to date.

I love David Mitchell. It's just a fact. Every book of his I read reminds me of that with every word. I picked up Black Swan Green a few nights ago and within a paragraph I thought to myself, 'Why do I read anything by anyone else?' So if you can't tell already, this review is going to be oh so ridiculously positive.

David Mitchell is better known for Cloud Atlas, a remarkable novel fractured into pieces and told from many different points of view. The other novel I've read by him, Ghostwritten, was similar in that it was many different stories put together to form one idea. I fell in love with both of them pretty much immediately which is why it took me a bit to actually read Black Swan Green as it was so different from his two previous novels.

Black Swan Green tells the story of Jason Taylor, a thirteen year old boy growing up in small town England in the early eighties. Each chapter covers a day or two in each month, illustrating different facets in Jason's life and showing a slowly creeping narrative of families, friendships and growth. I was captivated.

Jason is our narrator and an inspired voice it is. Jason is just discovering many things but he has a poetic mind, always fronting but incredibly naive, instantly recognizable to anyone who's ever been thirteen. His voice is easy to fall into and definitely unique, calling to mind childhood and curiosity. His relationships with his friends (and enemies), his parents and just people he meets in the town drive this novel and you find yourself always rooting for him, despite some of the stupid things he does. Deep down, though, he's a great kid that just wants to do the right thing and completely lovable.

Something Mitchell does quite regularly is involve characters from his other novels into new stories. Although I experienced this in Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas, I was not expecting it in Black Swan Green. However, in one of the chapters, Jason gets some tutelage from an elderly woman who some might remember as a young girl in Cloud Atlas. I was thrilled when I put two and two together and it added a whole new dimension to that chapter. Whereas normal readers of the book would have completely enjoyed it regardless, readers who had read his earlier work would have gotten an extra layer of meaning from some of the conversations and that is why I call Mitchell a genius.

Each chapter could be a short story on its own but together they form a lovely mosaic of a young life. Personally, I think everyone should read at least one Mitchell in their lifetime (which hopefully will convince them to read more) and if you're not big on fractured narratives or science fiction, than this one is probably for you. Instantly relatable, painfully real, Black Swan Green is absolutely stupendous. Take a trip down to your local bookstore and treat yourself.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon


It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine—a young woman learning to harness her powers in a world where everything has been taken from her. It also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.

Are you ready for the next big series? Because this is going to be it. The first in a new seven book series by a young British author discovered in a creative writing class at Oxford, The Bone Season is very much the new, hot thing. Not to mention the movie rights have already been picked up.

I had no idea what The Bone Season was when I picked up an ARC at BEA but the cover intrigued me and I had kept hearing more and more about how big it was going to be. Intrigued, I started it pretty quickly and found myself drawn in, spending hours on the couch because I simply couldn't put it down.

The best thing about The Bone Season is the sheer power of imagination it took to write it. Even more so than in most of the other dystopian books that have come out in the past five years or so, Shannon has created a completely immersive world, the kind that shows instead of tells and gives you feelings more than words. She also has created an entire new vernacular, based mostly upon Victorian slang, to the point where, for a good while, you're not entirely sure what any of the characters are talking about. There's a glossary in the back for some of it but mostly you pick it up as you read. It's a bit hard to push through at first but once you begin picking it up, it stays with you.

Shannon has created an entire world of psychics which is also beyond brilliant. Although it takes a bit to figure out who's who, it's actually quite interesting to see what each different kind of voyant can do and how that affects them and the world. The idea of auras, of dream walking, of soothsaying is something that everyone is familiar with at a very basic level but this new hierarchy, complete with a rewritten history of Victorian England and onward, shows not only a interesting new world but the talent that Shannon possesses. Not only am I excited for more in this series but I'm excited for more by Shannon in general.

Paige, our heroine, is pretty refreshing mainly because she's tough as nails. One of my favorite things about her is that, even as she warms up to people, she stays true to herself. For example, even when she starts to think that Warden, her "master," might be not all that bad, she still tries to escape whenever an opportunity arises. Because, hey, of course you would. There's none of that hemming and hawing that other heroines go through. Paige puts herself first and that's what she needs to do.

Other characters are also great. Warden is perhaps a bit dry but I do admire how much he puts up with. Paige's gang back home are some very interesting side characters, from her fairly creepy boss to her friend from childhood, each of them memorable in a way that some books with multiple characters can't pull off. 

I just have to mention again how amazing Shannon's new history is. I'm always impressed by people who write alternate histories and this one works particularly well. The major changes from our world start in Victorian England, giving the present (which is our future) an odd Victorian feel to it. I also loved the references to past Irish riots (which are called the Molly Riots causing me to giggle every time) which feel completely in line with the timeline she's established.  

This book is the first in a series and I will admit that I'm not entirely sure how it's going to stretch through seven novels. It seems like a three or four book story at most. But I like Shannon and if she can pull something out in her second novel that shows me how this is going to continue forward, I'm all for it. I have a feeling she's going to do it. Watch out for this book because pretty soon, it's going to be everywhere.


The Bone Season comes out August 20th from Bloomsbury.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

It's Not Love, It's Just Paris - Patricia Engel


Patricia Engel’s collection of stories, Vida—a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award—established its author as one of our country’s best young writers. Her first novel is a vibrant and wistful narrative about an American girl abroad in Paris, who navigates the intoxicating and treacherous complexities of independence, friendship, and romance.

Lita del Cielo, the daughter of two Colombian orphans who arrived in America with nothing and made a fortune with their Latin food empire, has been granted one year to pursue her studies in Paris before returning to work in the family business. She moves into a gently crumbling Left Bank mansion known as "The House of Stars,” where a spirited but bedridden Countess Séraphine rents out rooms to young women visiting Paris to work, study, and, unofficially, to find love.

Cautious and guarded, Lita keeps a cool distance from the other girls, who seem at once boldly adult and impulsively naïve, who both intimidate and fascinate her. Then Lita meets Cato, and the contours of her world shift. Charming, enigmatic, and weak with illness, Cato is the son of a notorious right-wing politician. As Cato and Lita retreat to their own world, they soon find it difficult to keep the outside world from closing in on theirs. Ultimately Lita must decide whether to stay in France with Cato or return home to fulfill her immigrant family’s dreams for her future.

It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris is a spellbinding love story, a portrait of a Paris caught between old world grandeur and the international greenblood elite, and an exploration of one woman’s journey to distinguish honesty from artifice and lay claim to her own life.

I picked up It's Not Love, It's Just Paris at BEA after the Literary Fiction talk, a talk where I ended up picking up every book mentioned. I probably wouldn't have grabbed it on cover and title alone but the publicist gave it a good blurb and the author had some great work under her belt so I felt I'd give it a try.

You can tell right off the bat that Engel has a great voice. She speaks very clearly and it has a sparseness that conversely draws you in. Little details and quotes are inserted in just the right places to draw a pleasant picture without drowning you in unnecessary words.

The plot itself is a tad cliche: girl goes to Paris to find herself. I did find Lita quite unique, however, if only for her backstory. She constantly reflects on the family she left back home and how she loves them so intensely but also feels the burden of that love. At the beginning she is very standoffish which I understand because I would be that way but is also not great for a narrator because it takes a good while for anything to happen. She eventually gets going, though.

The secondary characters aren't very standout. They all are super interesting but there are too many of them so none of them get any time to be fleshed out. A few less girls in the house could have led to deeper characters (and foils!) but to each his own.

Cato, the love interest, is a bit bland for a longer time than perhaps necessary but there is definitely a lot there. Once again, I would have liked to hear more about him and his past but Engel only gives us so much. C'est la vie, I suppose.

Ultimately, I suppose it's the very end of the book that got to me, the bit after Lita's time in Paris, the last few pages where you realize that this was all reminiscing years after the fact. Seeing where Lita's life had gone is not surprising but it's also strangely moving in how realistic it is against the fantasy that was her life in Paris. The phone call she receives, as well, I felt was incredibly touching and even though I didn't think I was super connected to the novel, my heart broke a tiny bit. It felt real.

Engel is a gorgeous writer and I would love to read more from her. If you want to find out who you are or just love Paris, this is the book for you.


It's Not Love, It's Just Paris comes out August 2013 from Grove Press.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias - Sarah Dunant



Is there a family in history more dazzling, dangerous and notorious than the Borgias?

A powerhouse of the Italian Renaissance, their very name epitomizes the ruthless politics and sexual corruption of the Papacy.

The father, Pope Alexander VI, a consummate politician and a man with a voracious appetite both as Cardinal and Pope.

The younger Juan, womanizer and thug, and their lovely sister, Lucretia, whose very name has become a byword for poison, incest and intrigue.

But how much of the history about this remarkable family is actually true, and how much distorted, filtered through the age old mechanisms of political spin, propaganda and gossip?

What if the truth, the real history, is even more challenging? 

"Blood & Beauty: The Borgias" is an epic novel which sets out to capture the scope, the detail, the depth, the colour and the complexity of this utterly fascinating family.

I picked up Blood & Beauty at BEA and as it was coming out somewhat soon, I decided to give it a read. I have heard a lot about the Borgias, especially with the Showtime series but had never actually read anything myself so I was intrigued by the novel.

One interesting aspect in Dunant's work is how different the family seems from the typical portrayal of them. Instead of these conniving villains we have a family that, although it does do horrible things, does it for the good of each other and there's real love there. Rodrigo definitely loves his children and does almost everything for their good. Lucretia is almost a family pawn, doing everything she's told and slowly dying inside because of it. It was an interesting choice and made reading easier due to the fact that they weren't horrifically abominable.

However, it did tend to make Lucretia a bit of a wimp. To be a daughter of the Borgia is a hard job and I'm sure Lucretia gave as good as she got but in this novel, she simpers for a good three quarters until one more death puts her over the edge. That Lucretia became interesting but, alas, she only had sixty or so pages to unfold. 

The book ends abruptly and it seems as if it's asking for a continuation which would make sense as there's still plenty of Borgia history to go over. If there were a continuation, I would probably read it because I do like Dunant's style, full of lovely turns of phrase and wonderful description, but I don't know if it will happen. 

I enjoyed this book and went through it quite quickly, despite it's considerable length at roughly five hundred pages. The section divides make it a quicker read, as does the way it skips through time, even if it does make it hard to figure out how much time has passed at points. If you enjoy historical fiction or Italian history, I would say to pick it up.

Blood & Beauty comes out in July from Random House.

Monday, 10 June 2013

A Killing in the Hills - Julia Keller



In A Killing in the Hills, a powerful, intricate debut from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller, a mother and a daughter try to do right by a town and each other before it's too late.

What's happening in Acker's Gap, West Virginia? Three elderly men are gunned down over their coffee at a local diner, and seemingly half the town is there to witness the act. Still, it happened so fast, and no one seems to have gotten a good look at the shooter.  Was it random? Was it connected to the spate of drug violence plaguing poor areas of the country just like Acker's Gap? Or were Dean Streeter, Shorty McClurg, and Lee Rader targeted somehow?

One of the witnesses to the brutal incident was Carla Elkins, teenaged daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV. Carla was shocked and horrified by what she saw, but after a few days, she begins to recover enough to believe that she might be uniquely placed to help her mother do her job.

After all, what better way to repair their fragile, damaged relationship? But could Carla also end up doing more harm than good—in fact, putting her own life in danger.

I got a copy of this book at BEA and although I didn't really know much about it, I really liked the cover (the colors are gorgeous) and I'm always down for a murder mystery. Or, as a woman I passed at BEA who had also grabbed a copy put it, "What's this? Murder? I like murders. Yoink."

If there's one thing I'm going to give Keller the most points for, it's how beautiful West Virginia sounds. You can tell she's from there because the setting descriptions are written with such love and respect that you can feel the love seeping from the page and making you, just a little bit, want to plan a trip to see those mountains. I've never been to West Virginia personally but it definitely made me nostalgic for childhood summer trips to Durango, Colorado to visit grandparents. That beautiful ruggedness, mountains and nature sounds and a lack of urbanity resonated through the entire work.

The plot itself wasn't terribly original but it was well written. The idea that prescription drugs were the big baddy was somewhat novel to me and I enjoyed that. If I wasn't shocked by each twist and turn, I at least wanted to see what was happening, eagerly page turning. 

The characters, as well, are well drawn. Despite what the back of the book leads us to believe, the main character is Carla's mother Bell, the prosecuting attorney that has come back to West Virginia to try and do right by her hometown, even if she has a dark past and had left her high-powered husband to do so. I liked Bell and was intrigued by her past. I also enjoyed the local sheriff, Nick, who was another lovely character who wasn't a love interest or a best friend but more of a focal point for Bell to come back to when she was going out of control. I thought their relationship was original and new.

I liked that there were actually two stories going on in the narrative, as well. Normally a murder mystery is quite focused but in this case, the murder happens while Bell is already working a case with a child's death and she has to continue investigating while also looking into the murders. It felt true to life and I enjoyed the diversity.

I really enjoyed this book and I'm happy to see that another book in the same universe, Bitter River, is coming out in September. I will definitely seek it out.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

How to Create the Perfect Wife - Wendy Moore



Thomas Day, an 18th-century British writer and radical, knew exactly the sort of woman he wanted to marry. Pure and virginal like an English country maid yet tough and hardy like a Spartan heroine, she would live with him in an isolated cottage, completely subservient to his whims. But after being rejected by a number of spirited young women, Day concluded that the perfect partner he envisioned simply did not exist in frivolous, fashion-obsessed Georgian society. Rather than conceding defeat and giving up his search for the woman of his dreams, however, Day set out to create her.

So begins the extraordinary true story at the heart of How to Create the Perfect Wife, prize-winning historian Wendy Moore's captivating tale of one man's mission to groom his ideal mate. A few days after he turned twenty-one and inherited a large fortune, Day adopted two young orphans from the Foundling Hospital and, guided by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the principles of the Enlightenment, attempted to teach them to be model wives. After six months he discarded one girl, calling her 'invincibly stupid,' and focused his efforts on his remaining charge. He subjected her to a number of cruel trials-- including dropping hot wax on her arms and firing pistols at her skirts-- to test her resolve but the young woman, perhaps unsurprisingly, eventually rebelled against her domestic slavery. Day had hoped eventually to marry her, but his peculiar experiment inevitably backfired--though not before he had taken his theories about marriage, education, and femininity to shocking extremes.

Stranger than fiction, blending tragedy and farce, How to Create the Perfect Wife is an engrossing tale of the radicalism—and deep contradictions—at the heart of the Enlightenment.

This book was a recommendation from a friend and when you read that summary, I'm pretty sure you automatically pick it up. Doesn't it sound great? Man tries to mold perfect wife out of orphans. It's just simultaneously creepy and unbelievable which makes the fact that it's a true story all the better.

It only gets better as you read it. Day is a fascinating character that ends up having ties to a lot of well known figures in the eighteenth century. The sheer number of women he asked to marry him is also astounding. He's honestly one of those characters that you don't really understand but you feel a slight bit of pity for. He's kind of a horrible man but he has good intentions. He also does a great amount of charity work and gives a ton of money away. It's just that he has this one, strange obsession.

Each of the women that comes into Day's life is completely different and that's part of the reason this book is so fascinating. Beyond the two girls that he tries to bring up in a perfect image, there's the friend's sister, the friend's ward, the random girl he meets at a party, the woman who is somehow the perfect match for him but he just can't see it. Each chapter is named after a different woman in his life and to watch these woman interact with Day (and realize just how crazy he is) is ridiculously entertaining.

Perhaps my favorite part of this book is the ongoing sadness of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He writes a book on a theory of education that sets the world talking. Now, this book was supposed to be simply theory and shortly finds out that all these people are trying to raise their children to the letter of his novel. This is part of where Day gets his ideas. Day's best friend tries to raise his son this way. And every time you check back in with Rousseau, you can almost see him sighing in disgust that no one understood that you shouldn't treat real humans like that.

This book is as much a fun look into the way Enlightenment thought interplayed with modern social customs in the eighteenth century as it is a book on why Day is a ridiculous person. Read it for both reasons. I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it to any of my friends.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes



In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens onto other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, surveys and starts hunting him back.

Working with an ex-homicide reporter who is falling for her, Kirby has to unravel an impossible mystery. 

The Shining Girls is a masterful twist on the classic serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing woman in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

I got an arc of The Shining Girls on Wednesday at BEA and immediately knew that it was the next book I was going to read. It was sold to us as "time traveling serial killer" or "Silence of the Lambs  as written by Margaret Atwood." There was no question: this book would be amazing.

Did it live up to my expectations? Well, yeah, pretty much. I couldn't put it down for the next two days. I was drawn in by the characters and the narrative style. Each chapter skips around in point of view and time, letting you piece together what is going on in a way that is not obvious but not confusing, either. 

Our heroine, Kirby Mazrachi, is just the right mix up of spunky and messed up, making mistakes but ultimately taking control of her life. With the time traveling aspect, as well, we get to see Kirby as a child and as an adult, showing how not only the attack but the aftermath and just her mother in general shapes the person that she becomes. This book has been compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I find Kirby waaaaaaay more likable than Lisbeth. 

I also enjoy what we get to see of Harper, our serial killer. Although we mostly see him as he goes about his "work," there are brief glances back that give us hints as to why he is the way he is. There's also the life he lives in 1931, his home era and the way he fights against the house and ultimately succumbs to it. Is he an awful man? Yes, definitely. But he's not a one-dimensional character and that makes him interesting.

The different titular 'shining girls' are also a super interesting part of the narrative. Each is immensely different: different races, time periods, ages, creeds. It's only their potential to be amazing that makes them stand out. While each encounter was invariably sad, I did enjoy getting to know, however briefly, these characters. I especially liked Alice. I could have easily read a book on her alone. That says something about Beukes's ability to create characters: even the ones with two chapters stand out.

The chapters are short which makes this book a rather quick read, helped along by the fact that it's hard to put down. The book races towards the inevitable showdown, answering its own questions along the way. The post-script was a very nice touch, I thought. I'm now interested in reading more from Beukes as I've heard her other books are quite good as well. I'll search those out and you pick this up, okay? 

The Shining Girls comes out June 4th (tomorrow!) from Mulholland Books.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

BEA Day One!


Today was the first day of bea 2013 and what a day it was. My feet are sore, my shoulders ache and I can't wait to do it all over again tomorrow.

Got to the Javits Center around 8.45 and joined the massive queue. By the time the doors opened, I'd already gotten two tote bags (tote bags are big at bea: by the end of the day I'd have eight.) Not really having anything I desperately wanted to do today, I decided to just wander around.

I managed to talk to a lot of great companies, big and small and pick up a lot of really good-looking books. I also managed to sneak in a few "I'd really like to work for you here's my card"-s  which hopefully weren't too annoying. I think they were fine. ;)

Met up with Natalie (Books Are the New Black) again for lunch which was lovely. Didn't really run into any other friends from the Blogger's Conference but I know they were there. And I'm sure they had just as dead of arms as I had.

After going home to drop off my books, have dinner and walk my friends' dog, I went back into the city to catch We Are Young: Tumblr Does YA at Housing Works. It was really fun! I managed to make some new friends in the crowd (a really nice girl named Rebecca(?) and two other Mollys with whom I have decided to form a band) and finally meet Rainbow Rowell, who I've been Twitter friends with for a year or so now. The other two authors I had not heard of before but I'm definitely going to check out their stuff because they both gave great talks. Ruthie Baron was absolutely adorable and talked about falling in love with Logan Echolls and Eliot Schrefer was super fun and interesting. It was a great night.

Going early tomorrow as Bill Bryson (my hero!) is signing at 9.30 and want to make sure I catch him. So I'm going to bed so I can get up tomorrow.

Here are the books I grabbed today that I'm really excited about:

Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen and Mr. Darcy's Guide to Courtship from Shire Books
Burial Rites from Little, Brown and Company
My Life in Middlemarch from Crown Publishing
Palmerino from Bellevue Literary Press
It's Not Love, It's Just Paris from Grove Atlantic
Watch How We Walk from ECW Press
Betwixt and Between from IG Publishing
The Returned from Harlequin
My Notorious Life from Scribner

Hemlock Grove - Brian McGreevy



The body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the abandoned Godfrey Steel mill. A manhunt ensues—though the authorities aren’t sure if it’s a man they should be looking for. 

Some suspect an escapee from the White Tower, a foreboding biotech facility owned by the Godfrey family—their personal fortune and the local economy having moved on from Pittsburgh steel—where, if rumors are true, biological experiments of the most unethical kind take place. Others turn to Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy trailer-trash kid who has told impressionable high school classmates that he’s a werewolf. Or perhaps it’s Roman, the son of the late JR Godfrey, who rules the adolescent social scene with the casual arrogance of a cold-blooded aristocrat, his superior status unquestioned despite his decidedly freakish sister, Shelley, whose monstrous medical conditions belie a sweet intelligence, and his otherworldly control freak of a mother, Olivia.

At once a riveting mystery and a fascinating revelation of the grotesque and the darkness in us all, Hemlock Grove has the architecture and energy to become a classic in its own right—and Brian McGreevy the talent and ambition to enthrall us for years to come.

I really wanted to like Hemlock Grove and in some ways, I did. I love gothic novels and this looked to reinvent them so that they fit better into modern times, something I could really get behind. I wanted to fall in love with Peter and Roman and Shelley (okay, maybe I did fall in love with Shelley) and I wanted this to completely work. It didn't.

Hemlock Grove's problem seems to be that it has too much on its plate. It sets up a ridiculous amount of plotlines that you keep expecting to meet somewhere in the middle and then they never do. So many things are brought up and then completely discarded to the point where you don't know why they even happened in the first place.

There were some things I liked about the novel, though. For one, I really enjoyed the narrative voice. You thought for the longest time that it was third person omniscient and then, out of nowhere, there's an "I" and it throws your whole world for a loop. I was especially thrilled at the end of the first part where the narrator revealed who they were. I thought that was an underscored brilliance.

Hemlock Grove is a great attempt that doesn't realize its full potential. I think Brian McGreevy is very talented and I am looking forward to whatever he writes next. He creates interesting characters and writes some very fascinating scenes; he just needs to figure out how to structure plots better.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

BEA Bloggers 2013!


I attended the BEA Bloggers 2013 Convention today and it was a ton of fun! Since I'll be going to the next few days of BEA as well, I thought it would be fun to recap the awesome things that happen each day and link to some of the cool people that I meet. Here's today's recap!

Got up at the ungodly hour of 6.30 this morning to make it into Manhattan for the conference. Luckily, I don't have to transfer trains and, although the walk was a bit longer than anticipated, it was easy to find. I got my badge, got my swag bag and went into the hall for the opening keynote and some breakfast.

I ate breakfast with some delightful ladies. Mary (BookHounds) is lovely, Pilar (Ordinary Servant) is really nice and Liberty (Taking Libertys) is really awesome. We had some great chats before the keynote started.

The keynote speaker was Will Schwalbe, who gave a really interesting, funny and well thought out speech about his experience with bloggers and just all around book enjoyers and what different kinds of success are. I really enjoyed his speech and it was a great start to the day.

At this point, the morning sessions began and I started the day at the Adult Editor Insider Panel, where we heard from people from Mulholland, Tor and Harlequin about exciting books that were coming out in the near future. I'm pretty excited about The Shining Girls from Mulholland (which I managed to snag a galley of!) which looks amazing and a mysterious book by J.J. Abrams (also from Mulholland) called S. Tor got me excited about a book of essays by Jo Walton on rereading classic books and The Incrementalists which I could not describe to you but they are super hyping. Harlequin is excited about The Returned which actually sounds quite good, if not very much like a French tv show I watched last year.

Also met during this session Natalie (Books Are the New Black) who has an amazing blog where she matches book covers to outfits and Marty (Every Day Writer) who does a little bit of everything. The three of us had planned the same schedule for the day so I ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the conference which was really fun. It's always great to make new friends.

The next panel was the Adult Book Blogging Pros panel, which was fun if not super helpful. All the panelists were great (Mandi from Smexy Books, Rebecca from Book Riot and Sarah from Smart Bitches) and the moderator, Jim Hines (JimCHines.com) was great. It was a fun panel.

Lunch was lunch. I think we were all pretty hungry. Natalie, Marty and I explored what we could see of the rest of the expo. Very excited for tomorrow!

After lunch, I went to Taking Your Online Presence Offline that turned out to mostly be about supporting your local indie bookstore, something I think a lot of us already do. Oh well.

After that was Extending the Reach of Your Blog Online which was actually quite good, bringing up different ways of getting a new audience. I enjoyed that one.

I wasn't sure what to think about Randi Zuckerberg being the closing keynote but her keynote was actually really interesting! She spoke about trends in social media and ways to use (and abuse) it. Even if things were a bit off topic for book blogger, it was still a very interesting and engaging talk that was probably one of the highlights of the day.

After that was happy hour where I had a Coke and chatted with a bunch of different people who's business cards I did not get and thus have sadly forgotten. I do look forward to running into them over the next few days, especially as I did not have business cards today and am going to be armed with them tomorrow.

It was a great first day, filled with meeting tons of interesting people and I'm even more excited for the rest of BEA. Should be great!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Montaro Caine - Sidney Poitier



An inspirational first novel that blends elements of mystery, science fiction, and metaphysics by the beloved, legendary, and bestselling actor Sidney Poitier.

When a coin is found in a baby's hand, the doctor who finds it sends it up to a lab at MIT, where Montaro Caine, a student, does a work-up on it and discovers it to be made of materials not known on Earth. Caine never learns the owner's identity, but two decades later, as Caine, now CEO of Fitzer Corp in New York City, is facing the possibility of a hostile corporate takeover and experiencing family troubles, a man and woman appear in his office bearing the coin. The find sets off a battle of intrigue and suspense, as scientists, collectors, and financiers all vie to get their hands on it. But the coin, and a second coin that appears, is of more value than mere monetary worth. In this ambitious, page-turning novel, the beloved actor Sidney Poitier takes us from New York to Europe to the Caribbean in an exploration of race, faith, and, beyond all else, the meaning of our lives on earth.

Sidney Poitier wrote a book. That is not the reason I picked this up, though. I had read the snippet on the back of the book and thought it sounded interesting before I even realized who had written it. With that as an added incentive, I picked the book up right away.

There is a lot going on in this book and the first forty or so pages introduce everything in small snippets which seemed very promising. I was waiting for the small snippets to slowly work into each other to create the larger plot but alas, that wasn't to be. Once everything has been introduced, almost 75% of it is put on the back burner as we're stuck following Montaro Caine, our very boring protagonist.

There are tons of characters that are mentioned so briefly that when they reappear, you have no idea who they are. There are plots that seem needless to the plot (why have the side story with his daughter and that Nick guy?) and things that seem important that ultimately are not. There are two characters that you would think would be integral that are hidden away for almost the entire book. There is very little action and a lot of talking. All in all, this book is horribly boring.

I kept pushing through because I thought, at the end, at least there would be a good payoff because I did, ultimately, want to know what the meaning of the coins were. However, even the ending was a let down, becoming preachy and too happy, to the point where it felt like a Disney movie, every character getting a redemption moment.

This book had promise but completely failed to live up to it. It was boring and pointless. Sidney Poitier is a great actor but I don't think I would pick up another book of his.