Saturday, March 11, 2017

Two slim volumes of Fiction....

I read two slim volumes of fiction recently that were very different, but enjoyable in spite of being the types of books I don’t usually read!

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle, author of Wolf in White Van, which was a NYT bestseller and National Book Award Nominee, could be classified as a horror novel (which I never read!), but turns into something quite different by the time it’s over.

Set in a small Iowa town in the late 1990's, when video stores were still ubiquitous, it tells the strange story of people reporting cut-away images showing up on the VHS tapes they check out at the local Video Hut.  The images interrupt the regular movie and seem dark and disturbing.  Jeremy, the young man working the counter of the video rental store, comes across as an aimless, disinterested character, but as the novel progresses, we see that he and his father are quietly still coming to terms with the recent fatal car accident of the matriarch of the family.  The store owner, Sarah Jane, becomes obsessed with the strange videos and then seems to disappear on the farm where she recognizes the scenes have taken place.

The overall tone of this novel is disquieting and eerie.  It is written in three parts, and all three deal with what ultimately happened on that farm in Nevada, Iowa.  The novel has an extremely strong sense of place, with beautifully descriptive passages of the Iowa landscape, which becomes a character in itself.

This book was favorably reviewed in the NYT Book Review, but the Amazon reviews aren’t great.  I think that it’s possible people reading it had expectations that weren’t met, as the big reveal of the mysterious images on the videos is something unexpected, yet still disturbing.  I really enjoyed it for the story it told, the excellent writing and inner lives explored by some of the characters.  For me, a story well told, with interesting characters and a unique perspective is worth reading, and this short novel met those requirements for me.

Melanie Wallace’s The Girl in the Garden is also a short novel, but tells a complete, fully developed story.  I love Ms. Wallace’s writing, but it takes a little getting used to.  The sentences are long and descriptive, and I found myself getting lost in them.  The dialogue is not set out in quotations, which is a device I’ve noticed that authors are using more often.  It was so well done in this book that I didn’t even notice it at first.

A young couple with a baby arrives in New England and rents a cabin on the shore.  Shortly thereafter, the man abandons the young girl and the baby setting wide reaching ripples in the small community.  The book is written from a variety of perspectives – the young teenage mother, the cabin owner, the recluse who eventually houses the little family, her daughter and her lawyer and the sage community historian who knows the history of the town, and plays a role in helping many of the characters find peace and redemption.  It’s a beautiful book, though sad in some places – kind of like life.

Although this book has “Girl” in the title, it’s not a thriller like other “Girl” books published lately.  It’s simply a story of a variety of intertwined lives, doing the best that they can, with the hand they’ve been dealt.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Wrong Side of Goodbye ~ Michael Connelly

Connelly, Michael. 2016. The Wrong Side of Goodbye. Hachette Audio.  ASIN: B01K3EKBXS.

I took a break from the 16 book Gabriel Allon Series by Daniel Silva that I’m listening to on my commute and checked out Michael Connelly’s latest Hieronimus Bosch title, The Wrong Side of Goodbye. The author has been writing this series since the early 1990s and it started 21 books ago with Black Echo.  I’ve found, however, that you don’t necessarily need to read all the books in order. Some of them are connected, and you can tell which ones by reading the summaries.  This series has also been made into a TV show on Amazon, starring Titus Welliver.

Harry Bosch was a homicide detective for the Los Angeles police department, and was kind of a maverick: not always following the rules to get the job done, and getting on the wrong side of his superiors.  Over the years he as been transferred, demoted, retired, and re-hired, and now works part-time with the San Fernando Police Department, while also pursuing cases as a private investigator.

In this latest book, two cases are going on at the same time: a serial rapist, called the “Screen Cutter” has been targeting young women in San Fernando, and an aging billionaire hires Bosch to try to locate an heir, conceived in a liaison over 50 years previously.  Bosch juggles both cases and, as it turns out, runs into trouble trying to work both.

Bosch is a rather cynical, melancholy fellow – and who wouldn’t be after all he’s seen in his career as a law enforcement officer.  But he has a strong sense of justice and is more softhearted than you would expect, especially for the victims of crime.  He is also a veteran of the Vietnam War, and some of his experience during that war are brought to the forefront in his work on the P.I. case.  The story flows seamlessly and is hugely entertaining.  The narrator, Titus Welliver, the actor who plays Bosch in the TV series, does an excellent job, with a gravelly voice for Bosch, and enough difference in other characters to make the story flow effortlessly.

I’ve hunted down the audio-book for the first title in the series from another library; they are pretty old by now and not every library carries them all.  I’m looking forward to that one and learning how Harry got his start as a character in this best-selling series!

p.s. Michael Connelly also writes books starring Harry Bosch's half-brother, Mickey Haller, a defense attorney, the most famous of which was made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey called The Lincoln Lawyer - a very good film.....

Monday, March 6, 2017

Himself ~ Jess Kidd (Pub. Date March 14, 2017)

Kidd, Jess. 2017. Himself. New York, NY: Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1501145179. $26.00 USD.

“I See Dead People.”  Not really, but the enigmatic Mahony, protagonist in Jess Kidd’s luminous debut, has been blessed (or cursed) with that ability, and the dead have been following him around his entire life.  Abandoned as a baby at an orphanage, and left in the not-so-tender care of Irish nuns in the 1950’s Mahony has been floating through life using his wits and charm to get him what he needs.  When a priest tracks him down and hands him a post-card that was left with him at the orphanage (but hidden by a bitter nun), it opens up a whole new adventure that lands him in Mulderrig, an Irish village with a lot of secrets, and people willing to do anything to keep them buried.

With a wonderful cast of characters, both living and dead, a chilling mystery to be solved, and an historic village worth exploring, this novel satisfies on many levels.  As one reviewer said, it needs to be read (or listened to) with an Irish accent!  Some of the vocabulary and sentence structure was challenging for this American reader, but the enchanting language and the antics of the living and dead kept me entertained and intrigued.  The book is structured with chapters written from both the past and the present, which keeps the pace leisurely.  Ultimately, it’s a book worth savoring, preferably in a comfy chair, late at night, and curled up with a cup of Irish Tea…..

Silence Fallen ~ Patricia Briggs (Pub. Date: March 7, 2017)

Silence Fallen (A Mercy Thompson Novel) by [Briggs, Patricia]

Briggs, Patricia. 2017. Silence Fallen. New York, NY: Ace Books, a division of The Berkley Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0425281277. $27.00 USD.

And…..SHE’S BACK!  I’ve been a fan of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series since the very beginning, and have read them all (more than once)!  I was a little disappointed in Fire Touched– it did not cover much new ground and, although enjoyable, it did not seem to be up to the usual standards of the series.  I have read enough to know that not all authors can hit it out of the park with every book in a series, even though fans, unrealistically, seem to expect it.  However, in Silence Fallen, Ms. Briggs breathes fresh air into the series by moving the location from Washington State to a new location – Europe.

This new title takes off at a breakneck pace, and doesn’t let up.  The alternate viewpoints of Mercy, alone and struggling to stay safe in Italy and Prague, and Adam and his cadre trying to track her down, creates a gripping reading experience – you want to keep going to see what happens (this is what a great book should do).  The author also introduces several new characters (good and evil), which makes it a more interesting read.  Some characters are left behind, but that’s OK because we know (hope!) we will see them again in future books.

The political maneuverings of the Italian Master Vampire and the other characters involved in the plot to find Mercy were sometimes hard to follow, but it’s worth hanging in there and re-reading if needed. The author’s note at the beginning of the book about paying attention to comments in the chapter headings was helpful in keeping track of the timeline, and although that type of device isn’t something I’m used to reading in a novel, I’m giving the author the grace to get away with it.  After all, “her imaginary friends” made her do it!  

After finishing Silence Fallen, I grabbed the first title of the series, Moon Called, off the shelves at work to start the series over again!  

As a side note, Urban Fantasy does not circulate well in my library, though I am a huge fan.  That being said, this particular series always has high holds, so I make sure to have enough copies.  That says a lot to me, as a reader and librarian, about the quality of Patricia Briggs writing and the unique world she has created in the Mercy Thompson series.  I was lucky enough to get to read an ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, for which I am very grateful, as I had been looking forward to it for months; and reading it made a rainy, dreary Texas weekend wonderful!  

Etched in Bone ~ Anne Bishop

Etched in Bone (A Novel of the Others) by [Bishop, Anne]

Bishop, Anne. 2017. Etched in Bone. New York, NY: Roc Books, an imprint of Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0451474490.  $27.00 USD.

I was thrilled to have an opportunity to read an Advanced Reader Copy of Anne Bishop’s latest book in The Others series, Etched in Bone, which is scheduled for publication release tomorrow!  It’s one of my favorite series,which begins with Written in Red, and I have recommended it to many of my library patrons during readers’ advisory.  I remember that after originally reading the first title in the series I researched the author to find out when the next title would be released.  I saw that there was a planned trilogy.  When the 4th book came out last year, what a bonus!  And now, with the 5th and possibly last book, it's one I savored.

The Others series is what I would call Urban Fantasy (yes, one of my favorite genres)!  In it there is a species of creatures who came before humans called "terre indigene," or earth natives.  They ruled the land and took on the shape of certain animals over time, such as wolves, bears, crows, etc. They can shift between forms, at will. There are also more fierce creatures called Elders and Elementals who are very powerful.  After humans came onto the scene, the terre indigine liked some of the inventions and products humans created, and entered into trade agreements.  But the Others own the land and all the water, and the humans only lease space on the earth from them.  In this series, the terre indigine don't have a lot of respect for the humans, whom they refer to as "monkeys," and see humans as prey most of the time (an interesting about-face).

Within each major city on earth is a Courtyard ruled by Others where "human law does not apply," and into this courtyard, in the first book, a strange human (or is she?) named Meg Corbin arrives. The Lakeside Courtyard Business Association Leader, Simon Wolfguard, runs a bookshop called "Howling Good Reads," and offers Meg a job as the human liason, and from there the series takes off. In the first 4 books, the author develops wonderful characters, both human and Other, and the plots usually involve how the two groups interact with each other.

I loved being back in the world of Meg, her human pack, and her terre indigene friends in the 5th title, Etched in Bone.  This time around, the conflict occurs when human detective Crispin Montgomery’s ne’er-do-well brother, Cyrus, shows up in the Lakeside Courtyard after fleeing the destruction wrought by the Elders and Elementals in Toland on the East Coast (all the major cities and continents in these books have interesting and differerent names than in our own world).   The community in the Lakeside Courtyard is growing, and the Elders have decided to observe the interactions between the humans and the terre indigene who live there in order to decide whether or not humans will be allowed to continue to exist (as in possible extinction).  Meg and Simon’s relationship continues to grow, and it appears as though they might get their unprecedented HEA, if they survive.

If you haven't had an opportunity to visit this wonderful world created by Anne Bishop, head to your local library or book store and check out Written in Red to get started.  I've never had a customer tell me they didn't like this intriguing and entertaining series.