Monday, August 31, 2015

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Reviewed by Ambrea

Richard Mayhew is an ordinary young man with an ordinary job, a girl friend, and an ordinary life, but, when he stops to help a mysterious girl he finds wounded on a sidewalk in London, his life changes forever.  Suddenly thrust into a world he never knew existed, a London Below that mirrors London Above, he becomes embroiled in a strange and terrifying mystery—and he must learn to survive in a new world where monsters, saints, murderers and angels are the norm.

When I first dived into Neverwhere, I really wasn’t sure what to make of it.  Door is an endearing and (most of the time) sweet character, if only a little scary.  De Carabas is unusual, possibly dangerous, but always interesting.  And Richard Mayhew—well, I simply felt sorry for the poor guy who manages to get mixed up in all the madness.  Together, they have a very intriguing dynamic and an interesting story to weave, which, much like London Below, doesn’t always make sense.

Laced with urban legends, myth, human history, horror, and religious detritus, Neverwhere is an intriguing blend of many different things.  Although I distinctively noticed a familiar “good versus evil” trope, Neverwhere managed to make it an epic struggle for survival, life versus complete oblivion, which felt fresh and new.  However, it is a story that has no clear resolution.  The conclusion feels abrupt, leaving certain narrative threads dangling.

Likewise, I should point out that there is death involved, which is gruesome and disheartening on its own, but, coupled with Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, it’s downright bloody—and one might even say, macabre.  Moreover, I found the world under London to be incredibly frightening as I read along.  There’s something inherently terrifying about the notion of an invisible world existing beneath everything, of getting sucked into it and being completely, utterly forgotten.

Total obscurity is a frightening thing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fall's Bounty of Books!

Survey by Jeanne

Elly Griffiths, author of the mystery series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, is starting a new series.  The premise is that there was a special ops unit in WWII composed of magicians and illusionists who used their skills to confound and confuse the enemy.  Now the war is over, but there’s a killer who seems to be using some of their old tricks.  Look for The Zig Zag Girl  in September.

Fans of Stieg Larsson may want to check out The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz.  It's a continuation of Larsson's Millennium series, authorized by his father and brother.  The early descriptions promise international intrigue, computer hacking, the NSA, and the return of Lisbeth Salander.

Also due out in September is Catherine Coulter’s new book in her Brit in the FBI series.  Entitled End Game, it’s co-authored by J.T. Ellison, and has Drummond and Caine investigating a radical environmental group which is planning a violent attack.  The reviews promise plot twists, thrills, and perhaps some romantic complications.

Local favorite Adriana Trigiani has written several fiction books based on family stories.  Now she’s written the story of movie star Loretta Young using the same blend of fact and fiction.  Young was much in demand as an actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age and weathered both success and scandal.  She worked and socialized with Clark Gable, Cary Grant, John Wayne, David Niven, and many more.  This should be a fascinating, entertaining book!  The title is All the Stars in the Heavens.

Homer Hickam is another local favorite, best known for Rocket Boys (aka October Sky) and  The Coalwood Way. His stories of growing up in a small coal mining town in West Virginia where his father was  a miner struck a chord with readers here. His new novel is Carrying Albert Home:  The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator.  I’m not quite sure what it is about, but the title alone makes me want to read it. (Actually, on his website Mr. Hickam says it's about love and is a sort of prequel to Rocket Boys, since it's based on an event in his parents' lives. I stand by my earlier statement, however:  the title alone is enough to make me want to read it!)

When the first mystery by Robert Galbraith appeared, it rather slipped under the radar—until it was revealed that J.K. Rowling was the author.  Then sales soared and critics either loved or hated the book with equal passion.  Now Rowling—er, Galbraith—has brought private detective Cormoran Strike back in a third novel, The Career of Evil.  When Strike’s assistant receives a package containing a woman’s severed leg, the search is on for someone from the detective’s past with a penchant for violence and brutality.  It’s due out October 20.

Nicholas Sparks fans, October 13 is going to be your lucky day!  Sparks’ new book, See Me, should be out that day.  The plot revolves around a young man who falls in love with the daughter of Mexican immigrants.  Then a danger from her past threatens their relationship and perhaps their lives.

When Vince Flynn passed away in 2013, he was working on the 14th Mitch Rapp book.  His estate and his long time editor engaged the services of thriller writer Kyle Mills to complete The Survivor, which will be out in October.  Mills will write two more Mitch Rapp books.

John Grisham has made quite the career writing about the legal profession.  His latest is Rogue Lawyer, due out October 20.  Sebastian Rudd defends those that no other attorney wants to touch: drug lords, child molesters, a man who shot at a SWAT team.  He has a mobile office in a van complete with bullet-proof glass, a bar, and a hidden gun compartment.  He believes in very little—except that everyone is entitled to a fair trial.  

Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sargeant Barbara Havers are back in Elizabeth George’s new novel, A Banquet of Consequences. What do a suicide in Dorset and a murder in Cambridge have in common? That’s just what Lynley and Havers are trying to unravel in this new mystery. Early reviews suggest that this is a return to form for George, and should be welcome news to those fans who have been a bit disappointed with her recent novels. Everyone should be able to judge come October.

In November, David Baldacci fans can look forward to the return of Will Robie, whom we first met in The Innocent.  Will and his father have been estranged since Will left his home in Mississippi right after high school.  Now his father has been arrested for murder, and Will is determined to find out exactly what happened in The Guilty.

Another view of Albert
And here's one of the actual descriptions of the book: 

CARRYING ALBERT HOME is the story of a love triangle. Homer loves Elsie.  Elsie loves Albert. It's classic. Except there's a difference to this ménage à trois, a rather large, scaly one. Albert is an alligator.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nevermore: Psychopaths, China, Unruly Places, Critical Care, and Strangler Vine

 Reported by Don and Ambrea

This week at Nevermore, our readers revisited psychopaths with a new book, The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson.  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson continued to enthrall our readers, receiving  high ratings for another week.  Readers also did some geographical exploring with A Day in the Life of China, Unruly Places, and The Strangler Vine which premiered earlier this year.

First on the list, our Nevermore readers looked at Critical Care:  A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between by Theresa Brown.  Brown, an oncology nurse, shares in her memoir the experiences of her first year in nursing.  She sheds light on the trials and tribulations, the issues of ethics and morality that come up within the nursing profession, and the difficulties and triumphs that all nurses face at some time in their career.  According to our reader, it was more of a “niche title,” probably appealing to readers most interested and/or working in the field of nursing, but it was an interesting book to read and, overall, our reader was pleased.

Next, one of our readers brought The Psychopath Test:  A Journey through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson.  Ronson, who is the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats and Them:  Adventures with Extremists, decided to investigate the world of psychology and psychiatry, specifically the “madness industry.”  After meeting an influential psychologist and uncovering many of the characteristics of high-functioning psychopaths, Ronson explores the world of madness from diagnosing psychopathy to exploring the roots of advanced therapy to understanding serial killers.  Our reader preferred The Men Who Stare at Goats, but The Psychopath Test proved to be an unexpected treat, being both funny and engaging.

A Day in the Life of China followed next, kicking off our geographic exploration.  After purchasing A Day in the Life of China at a local book fair on a whim, our Nevermore reader discovered a real gem.  90 of the world’s leading photojournalists fanned out across China on April 15, 1989, with one goal:  explore and document Chinese life for one full day, taking extraordinary pictures of ordinary events.  Although there is very little text in this book, our reader definitely enjoyed A Day in the Life of China with its excellent and enlightening pictures.

Our readers also explored Unruly Places:  Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett.   Bonnett “goes to some of the most unexpected, offbeat places in the world to reinspire our geographical imagination.”  In his book, Bonnett investigates and writes about a variety of places, such as Sandy Island, which didn’t exist two years ago, or Sealand, an abandoned gun platform off the coast of England which a British citizen has claimed as his own sovereign nation, or Baarle, a town where walking in the supermarket means crossing international borders.  According to our Nevermore reader, it was a great collection of short essays on interesting locations throughout the world.  Bonnett shows how geography changes—and how the world still has some of the most extraordinary places to explore.

Last, one of our Nevermore readers volunteered The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter, the first book in the ambitious Blake and Avery series.  In 1837, William Avery  is a young British soldier in colonial India and Jeremiah Blake is a political agent who has become disenchanted with British rule; both become entangled in a wild goose chase, only to become sucked into a much more dangerous—and deadly—mystery than they ever believed possible.  For our Nevermore reader, it was a fairly interesting novel with its references to the East India Company, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock, and Indian culture of the 1830s.  (The Infidel Stain, published earlier this year, continues the story of Jeremiah Blake and William Avery in London.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Austenland by Shannon Hale

 Reviewed by Ambrea

Austenland by Shannon Hale, like all good novels involving Jane Austen and her famed Pride and Prejudice, begins with a familiar (if altered) refrain:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have very little to distress her.  There was no husband, but those weren’t necessary anymore.  There were boyfriends, and if they came and went in a regular stream of mutual dissatisfaction—well, that was the way of things, wasn’t it?”

Jane is a young woman living in New York who can never seem to meet Mr. Right—mostly because she is secretly obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and can’t seem to find a man who stands up to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy.  But when a wealthy relative leaves Jane a special trip to Austenland, an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed ladies, Jane hopes that total immersion into regency-era England will help her kick her Austen habit for good.

But when she meets Martin for the first time—an actor turned gardener for a paycheck—and Mr. Nobley, she realizes that her decision to go to Austenland might not turn out the way she initially anticipated.  Will she find her Mr. Darcy, or will she nix her obsession for good?

I liked that Jane—of course her name is Jane—is an average, relatable heroine.  She’s smart, rather charming and quirky, but she’s also dynamic and self-sufficient and hopelessly confused about romance.  (She’s also a ninja, but that’s neither here nor there.)  And Hale does an excellent job bringing her character to life, writing in a style that seems to harken back to Austen without making it inaccessible or boring.

Austenland is a genuinely funny novel, and Jane is an endearing heroine.  The characters are enjoyable, worth loving or hating alternately, and the story is captivating by turns.  It’s easy to become embroiled in Jane’s story, wondering whether she’s going to find the man of her dreams or discover something worth knowing about herself.

Although I enjoyed Austenland, I won’t say that it’s my favorite novel.  Hale is an excellent author and I would definitely recommend reading some of her work; however, I found that I lost interested in this novel at different times.  Sometimes, the pace smoothed out and I was captivated, but, other times, I found myself wishes I was reading something else.  Overall, I think it’s worth reading, but I could have probably lived with just seeing the movie instead.

As an aside, I will say that Austenland has one of the best dedications I’ve ever seen in a book.  I probably laughed more than I should have about it.