Posts tagged: Fiction

Book review: Carry On

By , November 10, 2015

Carry On
By Rainbow Rowell

My brain hurts. This book made my brain hurt. In 2013, author Rainbow Rowell released Fangirl, which is my favorite of her books (so far). This book followed main character, Cath, to college, where she embarked on a creative writing degree, while still writing her insanely popular fan faction for Simon Snow, created by fictional author, Gemma T Leslie. Snow is instantly recognizable as an homage to that other boy wizard, or as Rowell puts it, Snow’s “kind of an amalgam and descendant of a hundred other fictional Chosen Ones” – or mostly…you know…Harry Potter.

In an author’s note to the new book, Rowell explains that the character of Snow wouldn’t let her go, and she really wanted to tell his story. So she set off to write  - stay with me now – as an original author, creating a fictitious author writing what amounts to fan fiction, who was then borrowed by another fictitious character for more fan fiction, and then back to the original author who took the fictitious author’s character and wrote her own fan fiction. (Is it really fan fiction if you created the author that created the character in the first place?)

See why my head hurts?

But…once you get past all the nephew’s-uncle’s-cousin’s-brother’s-former roommateness of the situation, there’s actually a pretty good story underneath.  Simon Snow is, indeed, the Chosen One, but his massive amount of power is so unstable that he can’t control it. And his evil doppleganger is destroying what magic is left in the world. Will he and his arch enemy/ roommate/ potential love interest save the day? Or will they just fight with each other?

Now Rowell is no Rowling – her writing doesn’t quite have the depth of the master. And sometimes the Britishness of the story comes across as contrived (Rowell lives in Nebraska…just saying). But if you can’t get enough Harry Potter adventures, or have some dark fantasy that Harry and Ron hook up instead of Harry and Ginny, then you need to read this book. You can probably read it without reading Fangirl first, since this is it’s own story, but your experience will be better if you’ve read the original before Carrying On. I really like Rowell’s voice – no matter how many layers of fan fiction it has to go through to get to the source. And while she is technically writing for teens – anyone will appreciate these stories. If you’ll remember, the other boy wizard was initially written for children.

Keep reading and Carry On

Amanda :)

 

Book Review: Shadowshaper

By , November 3, 2015

Shadowshaper cover

Shadowshaper

by Daniel José Older

Set in Brooklyn, Shadowshaper introduces a fierce teen heroine to the Urban Fantasy literary scene. The book centers around Sierra Santiago, a budding Latino artist faced with the challenge of harnessing the power of art to save her community. I loved the urban backdrop combined with a cast of rich, diverse teen characters.

Shadowshaper opens with Sierra noticing something odd; one of the murals in her neighborhood is changing. The painting of her grandfather’s late friend, Papa Acevedo, appears to be crying and Manny, another close friend of her grandfather, keeps pushing her to complete her largest mural project to date. Fast forward to a meeting with stroke-stricken Grandpa Lazaro who tells Sierra that she must save the shadowshapers with the help of fellow artist, Robbie, but can he really be trusted? We learn that shadowshapers are visual artists who create real, living, breathing works of art with magic. Unbeknownst to her, Sierra comes from the ruling family of shadowshapers and she is tasked with saving her legacy from forces of evil with the help of her friends. Sierra loves her family and her neighborhood, but she doesn’t understand why the adults in her life choose to keep such important secrets from her.

Daniel José Older magnificently infuses magic, culture and heritage with typical elements of fantasy. This book is full of strong female characters and Sierra draws her strength from them. I highly recommend this book to fans of YA Urban Fantasy authors like Cassandra Clare and Laini Taylor.

Raemona

Book review: Don’t Look Now

By , November 2, 2015

Don't Look NowDon’t Look Now
by Daphne du Maurier

I could read Daphne du Maurier stories for the rest of my life. The title story completely terrified me, even though I’ve read it before and seen the movie! I’m putting du Maurier with Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith in the dread-filled short story hall of fame.

This edition also has an introduction by the wonderful Patrick McGrath, as well as the stories The Birds (very different from the Hitchcock movie based upon it) and The Blue Lenses.

May I also take this opportunity to shower praise upon the New York Review Books Classics imprint?  NYRB Classics brings forgotten treasures back into print, with introductions by perfectly matched contemporary authors, and has led to some of my favorite reading experiences of the past few years:

 

ChChockyocky 

by John Wyndham, better known for The Midwich Cuckoos and Day of the Triffids, with an introduction by Margaret Atwood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cassandra at the WeddingCassandra at the Wedding

about the weekend in which Cassie attempts to sabotage her twin sister’s wedding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wish Her Safe at HomeWish Her Safe at Home

a really, really skillful portrayal of a woman slowly going mad.

 

 

 

 

 

 


CorriganCorrigan

by Caroline Blackwood, now one of my favorite authors. Also check out her book Great Granny Webster, available through Interlibrary Loan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a review on the NYRB website says, “Once you have discovered the series it’s as if you’ve just gained an incredibly well-read friend who consistently lends you obscure yet highly enjoyable books.”

~Beth

 

Book review: The Day of the Triffids

By , October 29, 2015

Triffids-2You might not expect a novel about killer plants to be thoroughly lacking in over-the-top corniness, but John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids handily pulls it off.

William Masen awakes one morning to find that he is among the few humans in London who still possess the capacity for sight. The reason for sudden widespread blindness involves a meteoric event, and the circumstances that most of the helpless citizens find themselves in are scary enough without the addition of a more sentient threat: large, hostile plants known as “triffids”. Without specific safety precautions – the removal of a ten-foot-long stinging stem that can be wielded by the plants with amazing accuracy – the triffids are dangerous organisms, chiefly because they are both carnivorous and mobile. A city (and perhaps a country?) full of blind persons is no match for both a crumbling society and a giant deadly weed. Depressing, right?

An element of hopelessness is certainly present in Wyndham’s novel, but it’s more frequently both fascinating in its depiction of a strange concept, and gripping in its realistic narrative. Forget for a moment the fact that this story was adapted for film in 1963; while that version might be plenty entertaining in its own way, the source material compels because of its believability and the grounded nature of the story. At only 222 pages, you’ve got time to fit this SF classic from 1951 into your schedule!

- Ben

Book review: The Bourbon Kings

By , September 22, 2015

The Bourbon Kings
By J.R. Ward

I have been a fan of the Warden for a while now. When her Black Dagger Brotherhood series came out, I thought it was awesome. Now that it has a few years on it, I’m starting to get a little annoyed with the Brothers and their quirky language, true? And don’t even talk to me about her Fallen Angels series. I could do 14 separate posts on what was wrong with it. I was never so happy that something came to an end and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

My colleague, Sharra, posted about the book release a month or so ago, and I’ve been intrigued ever since. A Southern family dynasty romance? I’m so in. I have a real soft spot for Southern literature and family sagas, so to put those together was very exciting. Plus, I had a feeling that the characters wouldn’t talk like drug-dealing morons (come one BDBers, you know I’m right).

Ward sets her story in the fictional town of Charlemont – which sounds a whole lot like Louisville, Kentucky. The Bradford family is world-renown as the best producers of bourbon, and they like to show off their wealth. But like many uber-wealthy families, theirs is completely dysfunctional. It’s derby time and somehow the whole clan finds itself together again for the big race day. Will everyone survive all this wonderful family togetherness?

It’s a good thing I grew up watching soap operas, because is this ever one. For a minute I thought we were in Dallas and someone was gonna shoot JR. My only real complaint is that if you are going to write a book about a city like Louisville, at least do us the courtesy of calling it Louisville. In the BDB, she invented the city of Caldwell just outside of New York City. She could have done the same thing here just as easily. Every time they refer to Charlemont, it pulled me out of the story because I knew they really meant Louisville. It’s not like it’s trademarked or anything.

But overall, I would say this was a pretty good book. It definitely grabs you and you don’t want to put the book down. Plus, there’s a big scene with a thunderstorm and honestly, she had me at the boom! All it needed was an evil cloned twin who was stolen by Russians at birth to be perfect.

It looks like this is going to be her new series, and I’m in to see what happens to the Bradford family. (Insert creepy soap opera music here…dun dun dahhhh!)

Happy reading…

:) Amanda

 

 

Book review: Who Do You Love?

By , September 8, 2015

Who Do You Love by Jennifer WeinerWho Do You Love
By Jennifer Weiner

Who do I love? Hmm…let’s see. I love my husband. I love my crazy kittens. I love my family. I more than like my job. I love…

Wait.

What?

Oh. Who Do You Love is the title of a book by Jennifer Weiner? And you weren’t asking me who I really loved?

That’s ok. I love Jennifer Weiner too! Ever since her first book, Good in Bed, came out in 2001 I’ve enjoyed her Chick Lit novels. If her name sounds familiar, that’s because her second book, In Her Shoes, was made into a movie staring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette. Good in Bed has always been my favorite, and after the first two, Weiner’s other books have kind of left me flat. It felt like she was working too hard and not letting the story tell itself.

Until now.

Who Do You Love, her latest book is giving Good in Bed a run for its money as my favorite Jennifer Weiner book. I wasn’t really expecting much because I’d all but given up on Weiner as a novelist, and then she comes out with something great like this.

Basic premise: Rachel has a heart defect that kept her in and out of hospitals throughout most of her childhood. During one particularly memorable visit, she stumbles across Andy sitting in the emergency room without any parents, holding a broken arm. The nurses can’t treat him until they have parental permission because he’s minor, so to help him pass the time, Rachel comes over and starts to tell him a pretty convoluted version of Hansel and Gretel. From that point, it seems like Andy and Rachel’s star are linked and they break apart and come together over the course of the story.

I enjoyed how Weiner wove the two story lines together. It wasn’t completely unexpected, but it had enough life that I stayed engaged. Both characters were well-developed and they felt real and not cliched. I’m so glad that Weiner has returned to her original, completely awesome  form. I was thisclose to breaking up with her. I’m glad I stayed the course so I could meet Andy and Rachel. They were worth the wait.

If you haven’t read Weiner yet, I definitely recommend Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and Who Do You Love. The others you read at your own risk. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t as good as these three.

Happy reading…

:) Amanda

 

 

Book Review: Armada

By , August 25, 2015

Armada
By Ernest Cline

A few years ago we all (and I mean ALL of us) geeked out over a little book called Ready Player One. It was an epic battle filled with gaming, fun 80′s stuff, and adventure. It even made our Best of 2012 Popmatic Podcast episode as one of our favorite books of the year. Thanks Crystal for bringing us so much fun and entertainment!

Then we waited. And waitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaited…sigh.

We had to wait three more years until Cline wrote a follow-up to his best seller. But have no fear my friends. It’s finally here!

In his smashing new novel, Ernest Cline brings you…THE END OF THE WORLD!!!! (Insert cymbal crash)

Wait. What?

Well, imagine that all the video games that you’ve played and movies that you’ve watched about aliens invading Earth, weren’t just Science Fiction. That’s right, Star Wars, Independence Day, Contact, Space Invaders, and the fictional game (I think) called Armada are all actually training simulations designed to educate humans and train them to defeat the aliens in the coming invasion. Zack Lightman, aka Iron Beagle, is ranked sixth in the world of Armada fighter pilots. One day he is sitting is class and when he sees the alien warships  from his game hovering over his town. Is he hallucinating? Is he going crazy, just like his dad?

The next day, Lightman is recruited to join to Earth Defense Alliance and the adventure begins. Will they be successful? Will they pull a Will Smith and totally save the day?

You’ll have to read it to find out. In comparison to Ready Player One, this one doesn’t quite beat it. BUT, since I think that RPO was just about the best book written since Gone with the Wind or Harry Potter, that still means that Armada is a pretty decent book. (If you’ve not read any of these books, I still love you, but you need to come into my office for a little chat.) Also, I’ve never been the biggest fan of aliens, so that might be part of the reason that I didn’t super love it. At this point, though, I’ll pretty much read anything Ernest Cline will write, and this will make a great movie someday (hopefully…hint hint).

Speaking of movies, it looks like Steven Spielberg will be directing the big screen version of Ready Player One which is set to come out sometime in 2017. And if you’ll excuse me, I now need to go get in line at the movie theater…

Happy gaming…

:) Amanda

Back to School with Jack D. Ferraiolo

By , August 11, 2015

The Big Splash
By Jack D. Ferraiolo

I kinda hated school. I know a lot of people think that high school is the “time of your life” or it’s “the glory days.” To you I say, “Bah. Humbug” and then I shake my cane. But even middle school wasn’t that great for me. My mom taught 8th grade math in my school, so she was always there with me. This meant I could do nothing wrong ever because everyone (and I do mean everyone – even other teachers) would run to my mom to tattle.

And yet…

And yet, it still seems like my school experience wasn’t as bad as that of Matt Stevens. Matt goes to Franklin Middle School, aka The Frank, and he is the local PI for hire. Unfortunately, kids at his school are ending up in The Outs – usually with a squirt gun to the pants. Big Boss (and former teasee), Vincent Bigglio, aka Vinnie Biggs is running the show, dictating whose pants get soaked and when.

In Ferraiolo’s first book, The Big Splash, Vinnie’s number one assassin, Nicky Fingers is sent to The Outs and Vinnie hires Matt to find out why. Matt’s also trying to figure out what’s going on with his single mom and her two jobs.

In the sequel, The Quick Fix, Ferraiolo explores the dangerous world of pixy stick addiction. The Outs are still going strong, only this time, Matt has a feeling he’ll be joining them soon. Someone’s gunning for the star basketball player and it doesn’t look good. Plus what is up with his Mom?

These books have been described as Middle School noir and they are really more Maltese Falcon than Veronica Mars. Ferraiolo takes the gritty underworld of the detective and sends him to middle school where his problems are pixy sticks and Super Soakers, instead of drugs and Tommy guns. It’s really very cleverly done – almost to the point of stupefaction. Some of the analogies were almost laughable in the book, but it really works to tell a good story.

I think I most enjoyed how the ending of the second book set up the potential for an Outs rebellion. I don’t want to say more: SPOILER ALERT! But so far I have seen no sign that the author is getting ready to publish a third book. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though.

These books were funny and enjoyable and relatively quick reads. They are officially listed as Juvenile Fiction, but adults would definitely enjoy them. And if you are a fan of any kind of noir, you need to check these out just for comparison. So I hope that your back to school adventure doesn’t land you in the dreaded Outs, but honestly, I’m pretty happy not to have to join you.

Happy Reading (and Writing and Arithmetic)…

:) Amanda

Book review: The Price of Salt

By , August 3, 2015

The Price of SaltThe Price of Salt: Or Carol
by Patricia Highsmith

The new movie Carol, based on this 1952 novel, premiered to a standing ovation at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.  As a huge Patricia Highsmith fan, I couldn’t wait to read the semi-autobiographical source material.  Highsmith’s writing style, in general, lends itself well to film adaptations because of her close attention to detail.  With this book in particular, I felt like I could visualize exactly how Todd Haynes would portray the clothing, settings, and other period details (think Far From Heaven and Mildred Pierce), and also exactly how Cate Blanchett would play the role of Carol.  This actually enhanced the reading experience rather than detracting from it, particularly in picturing the New York City scenes and the road trip out West.

As you would expect from a Highsmith novel, the action turns suspenseful later in the book.  As you would definitely not expect, the romance is tenderly and emotionally depicted.  The last few pages, especially, pack a big wallop.

~Beth

 

Book List: Genre-Bending Authors

By , July 25, 2015

We all have our favorite type of fiction – for example, I tend to read science fiction and fantasy more than anything else. We also tend to have our favorite authors that are our go-to reads in those genres. So what do we do when our favorite science fiction author puts out a romantic comedy novel set in current times? Or our favorite historical fiction writer suddenly gets the idea to write a science fiction thriller?

 

The Bourbon Kings, J. R. Ward1.First on our list is J.R. Ward. Her Black Dagger Brotherhood series features vampires, romance, and horror – good combinations for those guilty-pleasure reads that have a little bit more…ahem…bite to them. People typically group J.R. Ward with authors like Sherrilyn Kenyon and Charlaine Harris, and her books have a huge following. However, her latest novel moves away from the vampire-loving crowd, and into the exploits of a rich Southern family at the heart of the bourbon empire in a novel called The Bourbon Kings. There is a distinct class division in this – the upper-crust family and their hired help. When lines are crossed between the two, chaos and heartbreak ensues. Changes are coming, in the return of the prodigal son of the family. This novel presents a shift for J.R. Ward and her fans. The novel comes out on July 28th of this year, and coincidentally, she will be at the Nashville Public Library to promote it as part of the Salon @ 615 series! For more information (and tickets) please check out the link here.

 

Cry to Heaven, Anne Rice2. The next author on the list is Anne Rice. Many people know her for the Vampire Chronicles featuring the adventures of the vampire Lestat, as well as the Mayfair Witches books. She also wrote the book Cry to Heaven which is a historical fiction novel based on the lives of 18th century Italian castrati (male sopranos who were both revered and loathed in Italian society). Under another name, A. N. Roquelaure, she wrote a trilogy of erotica novels (simply called the Beauty series) that rivals 50 Shades of Grey. Under the name of Anne Rampling, she wrote two more novels, Belinda and Exit to Eden. Belinda is strongly reminiscent of the novel Lolita, with a bit more dimension in the characters. Exit to Eden seems to be yet another erotica, but this one takes place in the Caribbean, at a very exclusive club. There was a movie made out of it (starring Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O’Donnell) that came out in 1994.

 

The Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling3. Anyone who has access to books in the past decade or so has probably run across the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The series about the Boy Who Lived was one many people grew up with. Each book that came out showed Harry and his friends a year older, a year wiser (sometimes), and facing new challenges in their wizardry careers. After the final book in the series, J.K. Rowling wrote an adult novel called The Casual Vacancy. It was a dark novel,  following the aftermath of the death of a member of a parish council, and the ensuing war for his place. Conflict seems to be at the center of this novel – husband against wife, teenager against parent, rich against poor, and the ending is far more depressing than anything seen from her previously. J.K. Rowling also wrote mystery novels under the name Robert Gilbraith. When the first one came out (before she was revealed as the author), demand for the books exploded. The Cormoran Strike series is expecting a new addition (Career of Evil) sometime this year.

 

Naked In Death, J. D. Robb4. Speaking yet again of authors and pseudonyms, Nora Roberts typically writes contemporary romance novels, that sometimes have a hint of the paranormal to them. Several of her novels have an Irish angle to them – either in the characters or location. Her novels regularly have a long hold list on them at the library – but so do her science fiction hardcore cop dramas (called the In Death series) written under the name of J.D. Robb. In these novels, Detective Dallas is a hardcore detective in the homicide department, in New York City. It is the future, and guns have (for the most part) disappeared.  Homicides take place in interesting ways, and the novels are spent with Detective Dallas and (later) her husband Roarke, as they solve them.

 

On, Off by Colleen McCullough5. Last on our list is Colleen McCullough. Although she typically wrote historical fiction (she has series entitled Masters of Rome which chronicles the life and times of various important figures and wars in Roman history), she also had a series of five books that were murder mysteries (called the Carmine Delmonico series), focusing on forensic science and suspense. These books were a bit more sensational – with murders, sexuality, and detailed descriptions of forensic science. Looking at other people’s reviews of this book, it is obvious to see people who were surprised to see someone who wrote such detailed historical fiction diving into the murder mystery genre.

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