Monday, January 20, 2014

Books Read in 2013 Superpost

Books 2013 - Final Total and Two-Star Books

Here we go! Books I read in 2013 (that I remembered to record on Goodreads - otherwise they're quite possibly lost to the ether forever). 111 seems to be the grand total, compared with -- *clicks around madly looking for last year's post* -- geez, 144 last year. I've been positively slacking. I blame baseball.

I always pause and reflect on whether it's worth posting about the one-and-two-star books - if people are reading these posts for recommendations, it seems kind of silly. But then I looked at the Goodreads reviews for a book I downloaded to my ipad on a whim on New Year's Eve Eve and then stayed up way too late reading, and it really illustrated how different people can have completely different reactions to the same book, and it doesn't denote a lack of intelligence or one person being more right than another (unless we're talking about, say, this, or maybe this - so many people, so, so wrong). So I post these inviting and welcoming disagreement.


Swimming Home by Deborah Levy: Goodreads synopsis: Swimming Home is a subversive page-turner, a merciless gaze at the insidious harm that depression can have on apparently stable, well-turned-out people. Set in a summer villa, the story is tautly structured, taking place over a single week in which a group of beautiful, flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seams. Deborah Levy's writing combines linguistic virtuosity, technical brilliance and a strong sense of what it means to be alive. Swimming Home represents a new direction for a major writer. In this book, the wildness and the danger are all the more powerful for resting just beneath the surface. With its deep psychology, biting humour and deceptively light surface, it wears its darkness lightly.

Damn. I was hoping I'd written something down on Goodreads, but other than categorizing it under both "fiction" and "hellacious waste of time", there's nothing. It was sent to me by Trish Osuch from House of Anansi, and I think it's the only book she's ever sent me that I didn't like. I just remember that it was a dismal mess - a bunch of unlikable people trying to sound profound and instead sounding self-obsessed and ridiculous. It had what seemed to me to be a kind of seventies vibe - a lot of drinking, self-destructive behaviour and adultery in full view of any children who happened to be around, under the guise of narcissistic adults needing the freedom to 'find themselves'. I gave it one star, which I rarely do.

The Quarry by Johan Theorin: My review on Goodreads: It's called 'The Quarry' in English, but that version doesn't seem to be on here. I found this deeply disappointing compared to the first two books I read by this author, which were well-written, character-driven, satisfyingly dark and labyrinthine with a great sense of place. The characterization here seemed weak (I know people react differently to the same situations, but Per's behaviour, considering his daughter was in the hospital with a serious illness, seemed extremely odd), the twists were more like mild kinks and the whole thing just seemed kind of flat.

The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid: Goodreads synopsis: One of the finest crime writers we have, Val McDermid’s heart-stopping thrillers have won her international renown and a devoted following of readers worldwide. In The Vanishing Point, she kicks off a terrifying thriller with a nightmare scenario: a parent who loses her child in a bustling international airport.
Young Jimmy Higgins is snatched from an airport security checkpoint while his guardian watches helplessly from the glass inspection box. But this is no ordinary abduction, as Jimmy is no ordinary child. His mother was Scarlett, a reality TV star who, dying of cancer and alienated from her unreliable family, entrusted the boy to the person she believed best able to give him a happy, stable life: her ghost writer, Stephanie Harker. Assisting the FBI in their attempt to recover the missing boy, Stephanie reaches into the past to uncover the motive for the abduction. Has Jimmy been taken by his own relatives? Is Stephanie’s obsessive ex-lover trying to teach her a lesson? Has one of Scarlett’s stalkers come back to haunt them all?
A powerful, grippingly-plotted thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the end, The Vanishing Point showcases McDermid at the height of her talent.


My review on Goodreads: I find her to be a wildly uneven writer. Her best work is really good, tight and controlled and with some depth and insight, and her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series contains brilliant characterization. This is one of the 'what the heck' entries in my book - it starts out interestingly enough, but becomes increasingly hollow and unlikely. Mildly diverting at best.


Criminal by Karin Slaughter: Goodreads synopsis: Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom Amanda’s motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before, when his father was imprisoned for murder, this was Will’s home. It appears that the case that launched Amanda’s career forty years ago has suddenly come back to life—and it involves the long-held mystery of Will’s birth and parentage. Now these two dauntless investigators will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed.

I had read a few of Karin Slaughter's Grant County series and found them passable, if forgettable. The first book in her Will Trent series seemed to me like it was written by an entirely different author - it was darker, much deeper and more complex. Then she brought a character from the old series into the new - Sara Linton, the not-quite-simpering but slightly-too-good-to-be-true doctor -  and suddenly the quality seems to have fallen off again. Maybe I just liked Will Trent better when he was tortured and messed-up instead of being soppily in love, but it seems to drag down the whole book rather than just the romantic passages. It's perplexing. 

One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf: Goodreads synopsis: In her most emotionally charged novel to date, New York Timesbestselling author Heather Gudenkauf explores the unspoken events that shape a community, the ties between parents and their children and how the fragile normalcy of our everyday life is so easily shattered.
In the midst of a sudden spring snowstorm, an unknown man armed with a gun walks into an elementary school classroom. Outside the school, the town of Broken Branch watches and waits.
Officer Meg Barrett holds the responsibility for the town's children in her hands. Will Thwaite, reluctantly entrusted with the care of his two grandchildren by the daughter who left home years earlier, stands by helplessly and wonders if he has failed his child again. Trapped in her classroom, Evelyn Oliver watches for an opportunity to rescue the children in her care. And thirteen-year-old Augie Baker, already struggling with the aftermath of a terrible accident that has brought her to Broken Branch, will risk her own safety to protect her little brother.
As tension mounts with each passing minute, the hidden fears and grudges of the small town are revealed as the people of Broken Branch race to uncover the identity of the stranger who holds their children hostage.

My review on Goodreads:  Can't think how to frame exactly what I think. I was bothered by the lack of convincing explanation for Holly's estrangement from her parents - it kind of seemed like they were pretty good people and she was just kind of a bitch, but we're supposed to consider her a sympathetic character. Also, the demeanour of the gunman before we know who he is doesn't at all match up with his behaviour afterwards. I liked the schoolteacher but overall everything was just a little too pat. It seemed a little "movie of the week". Or maybe I'm just a bitch.


Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill: Goodreads synopsis: A brilliantly crafted modern tale from acclaimed film critic and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill—part Neil Gaiman, part Guillermo Del Toro, part William S. Burroughs—that charts the lives of two boys from their star-crossed childhood in the realm of magic and mystery to their anguished adulthoods.
There is another world than our own—one no closer than a kiss and one no further than our nightmares—where all the stuff of which dreams are made is real and magic is just a step away. But once you see that world, you will never be the same.
Dreams and Shadows takes us beyond this veil. Once bold explorers and youthful denizens of this magical realm, Ewan is now an Austin musician who just met his dream girl, and Colby, meanwhile, cannot escape the consequences of an innocent wish. But while Ewan and Colby left the Limestone Kingdom as children, it has never forgotten them. And in a world where angels relax on rooftops, whiskey-swilling genies argue metaphysics with foul-mouthed wizards, and monsters in the shadows feed on fear, you can never outrun your fate.
Dreams and Shadows is a stunning and evocative debut about the magic and monsters in our world and in our self.

My review on Goodreads: First of all, what is with people who feel the need to use a first initial and middle name? If you don't like your first name, just use your damned middle name and jettison the first one altogether. Do you expect people to call you "C Robert" in conversation? No, because THAT WOULD BE DOUCHEY! Okay, the book:  "Failure to launch" is the phrase that keeps coming to mind. I started this a while ago, put it down, and finished most of it yesterday - I should admit that I have a pinched nerve in my neck so I was in severe pain for most of the time I was reading, in case that had an effect on my mood. It seems like the requisite elements are all in place, but instead of achieving any kind of smooth dynamic they just grind together uncomfortably. The beginning is interesting, if horribly sad, but then everything is broken into chunks by the 'scholarly' descriptions of fey folk and it all feels disjointed. It's hard to care about the characters because the depth just isn't there.

The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill: Goodreads synopsis: Freak weather and flash floods all over southern England. Half of Lafferton is afloat. A landslip on the Moor has closed the bypass and, as the rain slowly drains away, a shallow grave - and a skeleton - are exposed. The remains are identified as those of missing teenager, Harriet Lowther, last seen 16 years ago.

My review on Goodreads: Profoundly disappointing entry in a series I usually really admire. It all seemed incredibly contrived, and wholly lacking in the usually deft characterization and complex plotting. The euthanasia/dementia subplot was heavyhanded. The ending was abrupt and unsatisfying.
I was surprised to see that I had given a Susan Hill novel a two-star rating when I was composing this post. Now I remember why I did. 

The Bone Bed by Patricia Cornwell: Goodreads synopsis: In Alberta, Canada, an eminent paleontologist disappears from a dinosaur dig site, and at the Cambridge Forensic Center, Kay Scarpetta receives a grisly communication that gives her a dreadful reason to suspect this may become her next case. Then, with shocking speed, events begin to unfold.
A body recovered from Boston Harbor reveals bizarre trace evidence hinting of a link to other unsolved cases that seem to have nothing in common. Who is behind all this? And whom can Scarpetta trust? Her lead investigator, Pete Marino, and FBI agent husband, Benton Wesley, are both unhappy with her because of personnel changes at the CFC, and her niece Lucy has become even more secretive than usual. Scarpetta fears she just may be on her own this time against an enormously powerful and cunning enemy who seems impossible to defeat.

Why do I ever go back to Patricia Cornwell? Her first few books were really good. Now I just wish some editor would stop her. There is no personal growth in any of the characters, there is an increasing and desperate-seeming need to make Scarpetta sexually attractive to any nearby male, Marino is just a hopeless mess, and worst of all, the mysteries are tepid and the writing is indifferent. 

Revolution 19 by Gregg Rosenblum: Goodreads synopsis: Twenty years ago, the robots designed to fight our wars abandoned the battlefields. Then they turned their weapons on us.
Only a few escaped the robot revolution of 2071. Kevin, Nick, and Cass are lucky —they live with their parents in a secret human community in the woods. Then their village is detected and wiped out. Hopeful that other survivors have been captured by bots, the teens risk everything to save the only people they have left in the world—by infiltrating a city controlled by their greatest enemies.
Revolution 19 is a cinematic thriller unlike anything else. With a dynamic cast of characters, this surefire blockbuster has everything teen readers want—action, drama, mystery, and romance. Written by debut novelist Gregg Rosenblum, this gripping story shouldn’t be missed.

I thought this was only an e-book, which might have excused some of the terrible writing, cheesy dialogue and the plot lacking in anything resembling credibility. But it wasn't. You know what that means? That means THERE IS NO EXCUSE.

13 1/2 by Nevada Barr: Goodreads synopsis: In 1971, the state of Minnesota was rocked by the "Butcher Boy" incident, as coverage of a family brutally murdered by one of their own swept across newspapers and television screens nationwide.
Now, in present-day New Orleans, Polly Deschamps finds herself at yet another lonely crossroads in her life. No stranger to tragedy, Polly was a runaway at the age of fifteen, escaping a nightmarish Mississippi childhood.
Lonely, that is, until she encounters architect Marshall Marchand. Polly is immediately smitten. She finds him attractive, charming, and intelligent. Marshall, a lifelong bachelor, spends most of his time with his brother Danny. When Polly’s two young daughters from her previous marriage are likewise taken with Marshall, she marries him. However, as Polly begins to settle into her new life, she becomes uneasy about her husband’s increasing dark moods, fearing that Danny may be influencing Marshall in ways she cannot understand.
But what of the ominous prediction by a New Orleans tarot card reader, who proclaims that Polly will murder her husband? What, if any, is the Marchands' connection to the infamous "Butcher Boy" multiple homicide? And could Marshall and his eccentric brother be keeping a dark secret from Polly, one that will shatter the happiness she has forever prayed for?

My review on Goodreads: Starts out fairly interestingly, then quickly devolves into a lazy, silly, shallow, embarrassing mess. What are clearly meant to be deep, dark secrets are glaringly obvious to anyone with half a brain. Far inferior to the Anna Pigeon series.


InterWorld by Neil Gaiman: Goodreads synopsis: Joey Harker isn't a hero.
In fact, he's the kind of guy who gets lost in his own house.But then one day, Joey gets really lost. He walks straight out of his world and into another dimension.Joey's walk between the worlds makes him prey to two terrible forces, armies of magic and science who will do anything to harness his power to travel between dimensions.When he sees the evil those forces are capable of, Joey makes the only possible choice: to join an army of his own, an army of versions of himself from different dimensions who all share his amazing power and who are all determined to fight to save the worlds.
Master storyteller Neil Gaiman and Emmy Award-winning science-fiction writer Michael Reaves team up to create a dazzling tale of magic, science, honor, and the destiny of one very special boy and all the others like him.
My review on Goodreads: It was meant to be a tv script, and reads that way. The Gaiman imagination is here, but it's very simplistic and seems aimed at a very young audience.
Promised by Caragh O'Brien: Goodreads synopsis: After defying the ruthless Enclave, surviving the wasteland, and upending the rigid matriarchy of Sylum, Gaia Stone now faces her biggest challenge ever.  She must lead the people of Sylum back to the Enclave and persuade the Protectorat to grant them refuge from the wasteland.  In Gaia's absence, the Enclave has grown more cruel, more desperate to experiment on mothers from outside the wall, and now the stakes of cooperating or rebelling have never been higher.  Is Gaia ready, as a leader, to sacrifice what--or whom--she loves most?

This just seemed really rushed and neither the plot nor the dialogue really stood up under close scrutiny. Gaia constantly put herself in danger, which of course necessitated other people having to put themselves in danger to rescue her, without due thought or reasoning. Her jealousy about one of her cast-off suitors becoming involved with someone else seemed silly also - not that she would feel it, but that she wouldn't recognize it as unfair and also somewhat unimportant, given that she had a few other things to think about as the leader of a people who were in danger of being completely wiped out. This didn't at all bear out the promise of the first book in the trilogy, and even the second held more interest. I understand that it can be difficult to craft an appropriate ending, but in my opinion the author should have kept on trying. 

Three Star Books 2013: Part One

When I was brushing my teeth before bed at around 2 a.m. on January 1st, it occurred to me that I should recall which book I last read in 2013. It was Hyperbole and a Half (I gave it to my sister and Matt's uncle for Christmas: my brother-in-law gave it to me), which I sat down with for half an hour before I started cooking stuff to receive company. Seems like a pretty good book to end the year with. On January 1st, I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which could not have been more perfect for a first read of the year.

Forty-six three-star reads this year.



Merciless by Richard Montanari: Goodreads synopsis: On a frigid December night, Karen sits at the edge of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, dressed in a flowing gown, like a visitor from the distant past. A beautiful and shining young woman, she gazes up at a bone-white winter moon like a fairy-tale princess frozen in time. At first glance, one might not even notice that she is dead, coated in a glistening patina of ice.
Homicide cops Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano take the lead on the case, uncovering a plethora of eerie clues–each more warped and spine-chilling than the last. Yet the identity of Karen’s pitiless killer remains a mystery. Then the next victim is found upriver at an abandoned waterworks, posed with an unlikely object in her clasped hands. Struggling to link the victims and make sense of the madman’s agenda, Byrne and Balzano follow his twisted trail, which stretches into a past of dark crimes forgotten by all but a few. 
Now the past roars back into the present with a vengeance as the ingenious killer unleashes a torrent of rage upon the streets of Philadelphia. As Byrne and Balzano sift through suspects and clues, they unearth a shocking secret history: a legacy of malevolence and cold-blooded retribution dating back twenty years. And the farther they make their way up the body-strewn banks of the Schuylkill River, the closer they get to a villain from their worst nightmare, an evil as patient as it is merciless. 
Lightning fast and razor sharp, this jolting thriller from acclaimed author Richard Montanari coils back in time to deliver a fiendish mystery, a shattering revelation, and one hell of a wild ride. Lock your doors and turn up the lights. Montanari’s terrifying bedtime story will keep you up all night.

I remember that I liked the characters, but nothing about the mystery. Oops. 

Defending Jacob by William Landay: Goodreads synopsis: Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.
Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.
Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

My review from Goodreads: Another good-ish book that could have been great, with a little more time or skill or editing or something. It's a slightly dated style of storytelling, to my mind, and early on there is some incisive musing about human nature. But the dialogue, particularly between the husband and wife regarding the son, and between the main character and his father, is just sort of shallow and repetitive, and could really have used more thought. The author may have been going for uncertainty as to Jacob's character, but instead he just seems insufficiently fleshed out. The ending was surprising but could have been devastating in more careful or skilled hands.

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory: Goodreads synopsis: It is a world like our own in every respect . . . save one. In the 1950s, random acts of possession begin to occur. Ordinary men, women, and children are the targets of entities that seem to spring from the depths of the collective unconscious, pop-cultural avatars some call demons. There’s the Truth, implacable avenger of falsehood. The Captain, brave and self-sacrificing soldier. The Little Angel, whose kiss brings death, whether desired or not. And a string of others, ranging from the bizarre to the benign to the horrific.
As a boy, Del Pierce is possessed by the Hellion, an entity whose mischief-making can be deadly. With the help of Del’s family and a caring psychiatrist, the demon is exorcised . . . or is it? Years later, following a car accident, the Hellion is back, trapped inside Del’s head and clamoring to get out.
Del’s quest for help leads him to Valis, an entity possessing the science fiction writer formerly known as Philip K. Dick; to Mother Mariette, a nun who inspires decidedly unchaste feelings; and to the Human League, a secret society devoted to the extermination of demons. All believe that Del holds the key to the plague of possession–and its solution. But for Del, the cure may be worse than the disease.


My review from GoodreadsI was eager to read this, and then had trouble getting into it. I'm not sure why - the characters are likable and the family dynamic is completely realistic, but the events of the first third of the book or so seemed confusing to me, as if the author was having some trouble bending the events to fit the premise. The rest of the book picks up momentum, and the ending is quite affecting.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford:Goodreads synopsis: In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship - and innocent love - that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.
Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice - words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.
Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Sweet. Almost too sweet, maybe a bit toothless. Might have done better as a YA novel. Wait, is it a YA novel? As a YA novel it's very good. Captures the flavour of the Japanese internment, but not much of the horror. Renders the miscommunication between generations, but wraps it up a touch too neatly. Lovely story, though, and good history lesson.

Crewel by Gennifer Albin: Goodreads synopsis: Incapable. Awkward. Artless. 

That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: She wants to fail.
Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen to work the looms is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to manipulate the very fabric of reality. But if controlling what people eat, where they live, and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.
Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and used her hidden talent for a moment. Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her dad’s jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.
Because tonight, they’ll come for her.

My review from Goodreads: In many ways it follows the formula of all the other trilogies of this ilk - heroine with unsuspected special talent, repressive regime, hints of subversiveness and coming revolution - but the weaving device is original and works well, and the heroine is very enjoyable, gutsy and wise-cracking and strong. I don't know why I'm such an idiot that I pick these up and don't realize until I'm halfway through that I'm headed for an 'end of Book One' type of ending. Sigh.

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves by Sarah Monette: Goodreads synopsis: The first non-themed collection of critically acclaimed author Sarah Monette''s best short fiction. To paraphrase Hugo-award winner Elizabeth Bear's introduction: "Monette's prose is lapidary, her ideas are fantastical and chilling. She has studied the craft of fantastic fiction from the pens of masters and mistresses of the genre. She is a poet of the awkward and the uncertain, exalter of the outcast, the outre, and the downright weird. There is nothing else quite like Sarah Monette's fiction.

My review from Goodreads: Wildly uneven. Some are mere vignettes, which bothers me when they are included in a short story collection, because they should be stories, dammit. I felt like I was being led down the garden path by someone who wanted to dazzle me with her labyrinthine prose for the first few entries, but then I read one that I actually liked, so I decided not to give up. The ones that I liked, I really liked. I'd be interested in some of her longer fiction.

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb: Goodreads synopsis: Like Brick Lane and The Kite Runner, Camilla Gibb's widely praised new novel is a poignant and intensely atmospheric look beyond the stereotypes of Islam. After her hippie British parents are murdered, Lilly is raised at a Sufi shrine in Morocco. As a young woman she goes on pilgrimage to Harar, Ethiopia, where she teaches Qur'an to children and falls in love with an idealistic doctor. But even swathed in a traditional headscarf, Lilly can't escape being marked as a foreigner. Forced to flee Ethiopia for England, she must once again confront the riddle of who she is and where she belongs.

My review from Goodreads: It's interesting that Clara Callan is recommended on the Goodreads page for people who like this book, because they do strike me as very similar - a nicely-told story that richly evokes a specific time and place. The prose doesn't scream 'look at me' and there are no bells and whistles, but the characters are fully fleshed out and the setting is impeccable.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain: Goodreads synopsis: At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.
Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.
Perhaps most inspiring, she introduces us to successful introverts--from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Finally, she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a "pretend extrovert."
This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.

I didn't like this quite as much as I expected to. There were certainly some interesting observations and persuasive insights, but the author herself was a little bit annoying, and the tenor of the book was too much "introverts rule, extroverts are too dumb and loud and golden-retriever-leaping-about to recognize it" and not enough "we need both". 

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare: Goodreads synopsis: In a time when Shadowhunters are barely winning the fight against the forces of darkness, one battle will change the course of history forever. Welcome to the Infernal Devices trilogy, a stunning and dangerous prequel to the New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments series.
The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them.

Meh. Yeah. I dunno. The time and place and steampunk elements are cool. The clockwork army is neat. I like the Shadowhunters device. But the tortured love triangle is SO rote and formula - well, okay, the friendship between Will and Jem makes it a little different, but the whole fact of Will being cruel to Tessa because he loves her but some deep dark secret means he can't be with her was positively vomitorious. 

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: Goodreads synopsis: In magical Victorian London, orphan Tessa found safety with the Shadowhunters, until traitors betray her to the Magister. He wants to marry her, but so do self-destructive Will and fiercely devoted Jem. Mage Magnus Bane returns to help them. Secrets to her parentage lie with the mist-shrouded Yorkshire Institute's aged manager Alyosius Starkweather.

Why yes, yes I did read this one too. More of the same. The deep dark secret was - well, okay, legitimately deep and dark. The love triangle has reached ludicrous proportions. Still kept my attention. 

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianna Malone: Goodreads synopsis: Almost everybody who has grown up in Chicago knows about the Thorne Rooms. Housed in the Children’s Galleries of the Chicago Art Institute, they are a collection of 68 exquisitely crafted miniature rooms made in the 1930s by Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Each of the 68 rooms is designed in the style of a different historic period, and every detail is perfect, from the knobs on the doors to the candles in the candlesticks. Some might even say, the rooms are magic.
Imagine—what if you discovered a key that allowed you to shrink so that you were small enough to sneak inside and explore the rooms’ secrets? What if you discovered that others had done so before you? And that someone had left something important behind?
Fans of Chasing Vermeer, The Doll People, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will be swept up in the magic of this exciting art adventure!

My review from Goodreads: Two and a half stars. Sweet, slight. (I think maybe I was a little hard on this. It's classed for eight and up. What did I expect, exactly? Or maybe I shouldn't second-guess myself. If I remember correctly, the writing was simply NOT as good as E.L. Konigsburg's, even though the plot was cute. So THERE).


Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien: Goodreads synopsis: Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?

My review from Goodreads: Interesting move, creating a whole new setting from the first book's. Isn't Gaia Stone a fantastic name? Suffers a bit from Insurgent Syndrome, i.e. independent sympathetic heroine becoming a bit annoying and doing inexplicably dumb stuff. And the romantic square, because a triangle wasn't complicated and contrived enough? And the wildly improbably conceit of a small number of women completely dominating a large number of men? 

Seriously, WHY does everything have to be a trilogy?


Dexter is Delicious by Jeff Lindsay: Goodreads synopsis: Dexter Morgan's happy homicidal life is undergoing some major changes. He's always live by a single golden rule - he kills only people who deserve it. But the Miami blood-spatter analyst has recently become a daddy - to an eight-pound curiosity named Lily Anne - and strangely, Dex's dark urges seem to have left him. Is he ready to become an overprotective father? To pick up soft teddy bears instead of his trusty knife, duct tape, and fishing wire? What's a serial killer to do?
Then Dexter is summoned to investigate the disappearance of an eighteen-year-old girl who seems to have been abducted by a bizarre group...who just may be vampires...and - possibly - cannibals. Nothing like the familiar hum of his day job to get Dexter's creative dark juices flowing again. Assisting his bull-in-a-china-shop detective sister, Deborah, Dex wades into an investigation that gets more disturbing by the moment. And to compound the complication of Dexter's ever-more-complicated life, a person from his past suddenly reappears...moving dangerously close to his home turf and threatening to destroy the one thing tat has maintained Dexter's pretend human cover and kept him out of the electric chair: his new family.
From an uncharacteristically racy encounter in the Florida Everglades to the most bizarre fringe nightclub in the anything-goes Miami scene,Dexter Is Delicious is an ingenious journey through the dark recesses of Dexter's lovably cold soul. Jeff Lindsay is once again at the top of his game, with this new novel that will thrill fans of his bestselling series.

I pick one of these up periodically, just to savour the delicious weirdness of a mystery series wherein the tv show is actually better - more nuanced, more profound, more substantial - than the books. Oh, the books are diverting, amusing, fun enough. But if you were going to consume one or the other, I'd steer you towards the show. Actually, SPOILER ALERT

I like the way the books handled Dexter's sister finding out about his pastime a little better than how the show did it. But I hate how dumb Rita is in the books. I loved her in the show, and in the books she comes across as borderline mentally challenged. Rita's kids being as sociopathic and murderous as their stepfather is amusing in the books, but wouldn't translate well to television.

Off the Grid by P.J. Tracy: Goodreads synopsis: PJ Tracy, author of top 10 bestsellers "Play to Kill", "Snow Blind" and "Dead Run", returns with "Two Evils", a brand new, nerve-shredding Gino and Magozzi thriller that will keep you up well in to the night. When a missing teenage girl is found dead in a parking lot, her throat slashed, it's only the beginning. The discovery leads police directly to the bodies of two young immigrants killed in their run down apartment. The next morning three more men are found dead in the street nearby. Welcome to summer in the city. None of it makes any sense. But as Minneapolis Police Department homicide detectives Gino and Magozzi struggle to establish what's happened, they realise that the deaths may not be as random as they first appear. Nor, it seems, were they simply an isolated, freak twenty-four hours of violence in the Twin Cities. As the killings continue, Gino and Magozzi turn to maverick computer analyst Grace McBride for help. But Grace's contribution to the investigation depends on her staying alive long enough to provide it. And as the evidence mounts, piece by piece, it reveals terrifying intent. Ultimately, it forces the two detectives to make a dreadful choice: down which path does the lesser of two evils lie..."Two Evils" offers all the knife-edge plotting, rich characterisation and crackling dialogue PJ Tracy fans have come to expect from a thriller writer at the top of their game.

My review on Goodreads: None of the later books have captured the energy and excitement of the first three for me, but this one was better than the last one or two. (Strangely enough, this mother/daughter writing team seem to me to have STARTED the series at the top of their game. Their first book was outstanding, their second I remember as one of the best mysteries I've ever read, and the third (the first one I read) was great. Since then I just get the feeling that they're kind of phoning it in. They don't seem to know what to do with Grace and Leo, although they were doing fine early on. The books aren't bad, they're just sort of pale imitations when compared with the early ones).

Walls Within Walls by Maureen Sherry: Goodreads synopsis: After their father, a video-game inventor, strikes it rich, the Smithfork kids find they hate their new life. They move from their cozy Brooklyn neighborhood to a swanky apartment on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. They have no friends, a nanny who takes the place of their parents, and a school year looming ahead that promises to be miserable.
And then, one day, Brid, CJ, and Patrick discover an astonishing secret about their apartment: The original owner, the deceased multimillionaire Mr. Post, long ago turned the apartment itself into a giant puzzle containing a mysterious book and hidden panels—a puzzle that, with some luck, courage, and brainpower, will lead to discovering the Post family fortune. Unraveling the mystery causes them to race through today's New York City—and to uncover some long-hidden secrets of the past.
Maureen Sherry's page-turning debut novel is filled with adventure, intrigue, and heart.

Cute and fun, with some history and an obvious affection for New York City. A solid three stars, maybe three and a half. I'll make Eve read it if she ever gets done with Percy Jackson books. 

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler: Goodreads synopsis: Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

My review from Goodreads: I started it, then put it down for a while because it wasn't living up to the other books of hers I had read. It seemed like more of a thought experiment about what it would be like to be a contemporary black woman transported back to the days of slavery than a true novel. But then I picked it up again, and I think I read in the meantime that she was quite young when she wrote it as a workshop project, and in this light I am more impressed by it. It is quite fascinating to contemplate whether it would be worse to be a slave with no knowledge of anything else and no hope that things would change, or to be forced to act subservient out of self-defense when it isn't your reality (although racism still exists). The complexity of Rufus's character, and Dana's feelings about him, is quite maturely done, although it sometimes stretched the bonds of credulity that she could still forgive him for increasingly inhuman behaviour. Or maybe it was just human weakness. Clearly, the book did make me think, so that's a good thing.(If you're interested in reading Butler, I would recommend Parable of the Sower or Fledgling before this: her short stories are also excellent). 

Mind's Eye by Hakan Nesser: Goodreads synopsis: The highly anticipated first novel in the Inspector Van Veeteren series in now available in English. At last, American readers will be able to enjoy, from its very beginnings, this addictive series by one of Europe’s most beloved and best-selling crime writers.
Chief Inspector Van Veeteren knew that murder cases were never as open-and-shut as this one: Janek Mitter woke one morning with a brutal hangover and discovered his wife of three months lying facedown in the bathtub, dead. With only the flimsiest excuse as his defense, he is found guilty of a drunken crime of passion and imprisoned in a mental institution.
But Van Veeteren’s suspicions about the identity of the killer are borne out when Mitter also becomes a murder victim. Now the chief inspector launches a full-scale investigation of the two slayings. But it may only be the unspoken secrets of the dead–revealed in a mysterious letter that Mitter wrote shortly before his death–that will finally allow Van Veeteren to unmask the killer and expose the shocking root of this sordid violence.

My review from Goodreads: I think I read the second or third in this series first, and this wasn't nearly as good. Van Veeteren was intelligent and insightful in the one I read - in this one he comes across as more cartoonishly grumpy. It was still well plotted and interestingly offbeat - I will probably read the others in the series. But the first one I read was more reminiscent of Fred Vargas's Adamsberg books, which I adore. If I had read this one first, I probably wouldn't have continued. 

The Shining Girls by Lauren BeukesGoodreads synopsis: THE GIRL WHO WOULDN'T DIE HUNTS THE KILLER WHO SHOULDN'T EXIST.
The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own." 
Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.
Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times. 
At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He's the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.
Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins theChicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . . 
THE SHINING GIRLS is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

My review from Goodreads: Three and a half, I guess. Interesting plotline, I loved Kirby, and I loved the way all the shining girls were completely fleshed out and given whole, deep stories even though they were about to be killed. I wanted more about the house, though, rather than just 'this is the way it is', and Harper could have been a more complex character who struggled more with the demands of the house. (This was a little disappointing purely because when I read the reviews and the synopsis it sounded SO COOL and the reality fell just ever-so-slightly short. It reminded me of the tv miniseries The Lost Room, which I really enjoyed). 


Zoo City by Lauren Beukes: Goodreads synopsis: Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons.
Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow.
Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own.

Three and a half stars would be more precise. You know how when you read a lot of books, a lot of them kind of blend together in an amorphous mass? Kind of like if you travel a lot to similar places? This book made me feel like I was reading a DIFFERENT book, the same way going to Morocco made me feel like I was visiting a DIFFERENT country from mine. There are long sections where I suddenly realized that nothing had happened that was really germane to the plot, and yet it all was strongly evocative of Zinzi's life and reality, and I kind of loved her. The whole concept of the penance animals was really well-done too - reminded me of the daemons from The Golden Compass, but in an analogous cool way, not a derivative one. The Shining Girls might have been her breakout book, but I think I actually liked this one a little more. 

Three-Star Books 2013 Part Two



Doll Bones by Holly Black: Goodreads synopsis: Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.

My review from Goodreads: Pitched a little younger than I realized. Pretty good, although some long stretches where not much happens. Fairly effective rendering of the inside of an imaginative 12 year old boy's head. The way the kids overcame obstacles on their trip was also quite realistic and interesting to follow. I have a strange relationship with Holly Black's writing - I first read Tithe and was quite underwhelmed, but everything I've read since - mostly short stories, I think, - has been brilliant. Oh, uh, there's an obvious conclusion to be drawn there, huh? I should try another book, though. 

The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card: Goodreads synopsis: Danny North knew from early childhood that his family was different, and that he was different from them.  While his cousins were learning how to create the things that commoners called fairies, ghosts, golems, trolls, werewolves, and other such miracles that were the heritage of the North family, Danny worried that he would never show a talent, never form an outself.
He grew up in the rambling old house, filled with dozens of cousins, and aunts and uncles, all ruled by his father.  Their home was isolated in the mountains of western Virginia, far from town, far from schools, far from other people.
There are many secrets in the House, and many rules that Danny must follow.   There is a secret library  with only a few dozen books, and none of them in English — but Danny and his cousins are expected to become fluent in the language of the books.  While Danny’s cousins are free to create magic whenever they like, they must never do it where outsiders might see.
Unfortunately, there are some secrets kept from Danny  as well.  And that will lead to disaster for the North family.

I read this again because all the OSC books that weren't Ender's Game were starting to blend together in my head, and I realized I was confusing The Lost Gate with this book. This was interesting, of course, with the customary emphasis on complicated relationships between people and a doubled plot that took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out. I think I'll stop reading OSC series books until all the books are out though - it's too hard to keep them straight and remember enough to read the next book.

Nemesis by Jo NesboGoodreads synopsis: How do you catch a killer when you're the number one suspect? A man is caught on CCTV, shooting dead a cashier at a bank. Detective Harry Hole begins his investigation, but after dinner with an old flame wakes up with no memory of the past 12 hours. Then the girl is found dead in mysterious circumstances and he beings to receive threatening emails: is someone trying to frame him for her death? As Harry fights to clear his name, the bank robberies continue with unparalleled savagery.

My review from Goodreads: Pretty good entry in a solid series, although there were three or four 'surprise' endings, which sort of made it feel like it was ending....and ending...and ending...

The Space Between Us by Thrity UmrigarGoodreads synopsis: Poignant, evocative, and unforgettable, The Space Between Us is an intimate portrait of a distant yet familiar world. Set in modern-day India, it is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years. A powerful and perceptive literary masterwork, author Thrity Umrigar's extraordinary novel demonstrates how the lives of the rich and poor are intrinsically connected yet vastly removed from each other, and how the strong bonds of womanhood are eternally opposed by the divisions of class and culture.

The plot device on which the novel hangs is quite contrived, but the rendering of the differences in life experience of people in different castes is incredibly vivid, pity-and-rage-inducing. 

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. Goodreads synopsis: NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.
Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.
Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

 Reviewed on blog. I recently caught myself thinking about this as if it was a Stephen King book. Clearly, my first impression of it was bang on. 

American Morons by Glen HirshbergGoodreads synopsis: From the author of the acclaimed novel THE SNOWMAN'S CHILDREN and the award-winning collection THE TWO SAMS comes American Morons, a new collection of dazzling and haunting tales...
Two traveling college students confront their disintegrating relationship and the new American reality in a breakdown lane along the Italian Superstrade. A woman chases the ghost of her neglectful father to a vanished amusement park at the end of the Long Beach pier. Two recently retired teachers learn just how much Los Angeles has taken from them.
In these atmospheric, wide-ranging, surprisingly playful, and deeply mournful stories, grandkids and widows, ice cream-truck drivers and judges, travelers and invalids all discover -- and sometimes even survive -- the everyday losses from which the most vengeful ghosts so often spring.

I borrowed this collection because I read a searingly memorable short story by the author in a mixed-author collection. At least I thought I did, but I just looked up the story and it turns out Glen Hirshberg DIDN'T WRITE IT! How embarrassing for me! Well, happy accident then, because this collection was really cool. But geez man. I'm losing it. (The author of the short story I was thinking of is Steve Duffy, in case you're dying of curiosity. The story was called "Certain Death for a Known Person". Excuse me while I check the library catalogue for something else by Steve Duffy.)

Pure by Julianna BaggottGoodreads synopsis: We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . . 
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.
Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . . 
There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it's his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her. 
When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again.


My review from Goodreads: Really quite good - a bit of a fresh take on the pseudo-apocalypse, if that's even possible. The characters are well drawn and the fused people are a rich trope - grotesque, but somehow whimsical. But when I was about halfway through I was possessed by a sudden cold suspicion, and flipped to the last page to find....*shock and dismay*.... END OF BOOK ONE. And this is NOT a teen novel. By all that is holy, why does everything keep turning out to be a trilogy? And there should be a hard and fast rule that if it is a trilogy, "Book one of (whateverthefucktrilogy)" should have to be printed on the book cover. So over all, I'm a little bitter about the whole experience. (Note: it turns out there was only one sequel, so it was actually only a .... duo? diptych? diology? Hey! Maybe they're all trilogies because there's no good word for a literary twosome. More likely there is one and my beer-battered brain is not retrieving it at the moment. Anyway, the second book is in the four-and-five-star post, so I'm less bitter about the experience now.)

A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones: Goodreads synopsis: Time City - built far in the future on a patch of space outside time - holds the formidable task of overseeing history, yet it's starting to decay, crumble .... What does that say for the future of the world ... for the past ... for the present? Two Time City boys, determined to save it all, think they have the answer in Vivian Smith, a young Twenty Century girl whom they pluck from a British train station at the start of World War II. But not only have they broken every rule in the book by traveling back in time - they have the wrong person! Unable to return safely, Vivian's only choice is to help the boys restore Time City or risk being stuck outside time forever.

A little lightweight, even for her, but good fun.

Music Makers by Kate Wilhelm: Goodreads synopsis: Music Makers is a collection of five stories.
Music Makers - Jake is sent to Memphis to do a puff article about an old, recently-deceased jazz pianist. There he learns about the true power of music, especially the “other music” that permeates an old southern mansion.
Shadows On The Wall Of The Cave - Joey was six when he vanished in the limestone cave in Kentucky, and he was six when he reappeared years later.
Mockingbird - Outwardly identical twins, inwardly two distinct individual women, Yin and Yang, day and night, right brain and left brain. If only one can win, will the other survive?
The Late Night Train - In the bitter cold of winter, the train whistle sounded as if it were coming closer and closer. Mother, father and adult daughter live together in a paralyzing impasse, but the late night train offers a way out.
An Ordinary Day With Jason - The strange thing about Jason is that a mysterious staircase might suddenly appear when he is innocently playing with his toys. Neither he nor anyone else should ascend the stairs, at least not yet.


Sigh. I discovered Kate Wilhelm years ago, with one incendiary short story collection (The Infinity Box) and the Charlie and Constance series, which seemed infinitely rich and strange, their relationship a lovely dance and the plots always admitting the possibility of strangeness. Then she started writing the Barbara Holloway series, which seemed lamentably pedestrian by comparison. Then I discovered this collection and a couple of new (or new-to-me) Charlie and Constance entries in the Kindle store. But I'm too old now, or something - the magic has worn thin. So, while these are perfectly charming stories, something seemed to be missing. 

Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley:Goodreads synopsis: Nick Naylor likes his job. In the neo-puritanical nineties, it's a challenge to defend the rights of smokers and a privilege to promote their liberty. Sure, it hurts a little when you're compared to Nazi war criminals, but Nick says he's just doing what it takes to pay the mortgage and put his son through Washington's elite private school St. Euthanasius. He can handle the pressure from the antismoking zealots, but he is less certain about his new boss, BR, who questions whether Nick is worth $150,000 a year to fight a losing war. Under pressure to produce results, Nick goes on a PR offensive. But his heightened notoriety makes him a target for someone who wants to prove just how hazardous smoking can be. If Nick isn't careful, he's going to be stubbed out.

My review from Goodreads: I enjoyed this more than I expected to: I had to read it for book club and I'm not a big lover of satire, especially extended over an entire novel. It does sometimes become almost unforgivably silly, and it's very formulaic, but there are some hilarious moments, some touching ones, and the writing style is skillful.

This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It by David Wong: Goodreads synopsis: From the writer of the cult sensation John Dies at the End comes another terrifying and hilarious tale of almost Armageddon at the hands of two hopeless heroes.
WARNING: You may have a huge, invisible spider living in your skull. THIS IS NOT A METAPHOR.
You will dismiss this as ridiculous fearmongering. Dismissing things as ridiculous fearmongering is, in fact, the first symptom of parasitic spider infection-the creature secretes a chemical into the brain to stimulate skepticism, in order to prevent you from seeking a cure. That's just as well, since the "cure" involves learning what a chain saw tastes like.
You can't feel the spider, because it controls your nerve endings. You can't see it, because it decides what you see. You won't even feel it when it breeds. And it will breed. So what happens when your family, friends, and neighbors get mind-controlling skull spiders? We're all about to find out.
Just stay calm, and remember that telling you about the spider situation is not the same as having caused it. I'm just the messenger. Even if I did sort of cause it.
Either way, I won't hold it against you if you're upset. I know that's just the spider talking.

Good crazy profane hysterical fun with some thoughtful bits thrown in. I reviewed the first book in the series here

Bad Wolf by Nele NeuhausGoodreads synopsis: On a hot June day the body of a sixteen-year-old girl washes up on a river bank outside of Frankfurt. She has been brutally murdered, but no one comes forward with any information as to her identity. Even weeks later, the local police have not been able to find out who she is. Then a new case comes in: A popular TV reporter is attacked, raped, and locked in the trunk of her own car. She survives, barely, and is able to supply certain hints to the police, having to do with her recent investigations into a child welfare organization and the potential uncovering of a child pornography ring with members from the highest echelon of society. As the two cases collide, Inspectors Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein dig deep into the past and underneath the veneer of bourgeois society to come up against a terrible secret that is about to impact their personal lives as well. In Nele Neuhaus's second U.S. publication of her enormously popular series, tensions run high and a complex and unpredictable plot propels her characters forward at breakneck speed.

My review from Goodreads: As a police procedural, this works well. The author does a good job of introducing the different characters and narrative shards and then piecing them all together. I enjoy books where several stories begin and then intersect in sometimes surprising ways.
There are some issues with writing and dialogue which might be due to translation, and a couple of passages where characters seem to undergo shifts in perspective or behaviour that aren't credible; there are a couple of incredibly clunky passages, such as when the main policewoman character is cozying up to her husband and their dialogue is "are you thinking what I'm thinking?" "I don't know. What are you thinking?" "I'm thinking of....sex." ARGH. Please tell me that was something witty in German that simply wouldn't translate. Hanna's relationship with her daughter is actually quite realistic and affecting, but then the daughter has a sudden moment of clarity and self-reflection that seems highly unlikely.
On the whole though, this is a good mystery. 


Sunshine by Robin McKinley: Goodreads synopsis: There hadn't been any trouble out at the lake for years, and Sunshine just needed a spot where she could be alone with her thoughts.
Vampires never entered her mind. Until they found her.

This wasn't even on my pile. I bought it at some point and stuck it on a shelf in the living room. Last week I was taking my daughter to the walk-in clinic and she had a book and I needed one, and my shoes were already on, so I grabbed it from the nearest shelf. I always feel a little caught off-guard when I slam a book into the rotation like this, and it's November, so who knows if I can review it fairly?
There are certain authors who I think of positively, and then when I examine the assumption more closely I realize I haven't read much, if any, of their work. I think Robin McKinley might be one of them. This started out really well - loved the character of Rae/Sunshine, loved the world-making, loved the atmosphere of Charlie's coffee house and the cast of characters. The plot set-up was nicely tantalizing too.
Then..... then.... I don't know, things just kind of go limp. In a very nice kind of way, but still fairly limp. There are things Sunshine wants to know about the mysterious vampire who chose not to eat her - why do the other vampires hate him? Why is he old and yet able to withstand sunlight unlike other vampires? Why is she sexually attracted to him when she has a lovely boyfriend, and vampires and humans are never attracted to each other because vampires are nasty beings who EAT HUMANS? - but she keeps saying things like "there were so many questions I didn't want answers to". Except, for chrissakes, THE READER DOES WANT ANSWERS TO THOSE QUESTIONS, and McKinley doesn't give them to us either, and not in a 'non-closure, figure-it-out-for-yourself' kind of way, just in a 'didn't bother' kind of way. The set-up for the final confrontation is interminable, and then the confrontation is over in a couple of pages. 
The writing is kind of circuitous and conversational, with multiple tangents and meandering sentences, which I went back and forth on being cool with and being annoyed by. On the whole, I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would at the beginning, and I think it could have been much better. 


Under the Dome by Stephen King: Goodreads synopsis: On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester's Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener's hand is severed as "the dome" comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when -- or if -- it will go away. Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens -- town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician's assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing -- even murder -- to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn't just short. It's running out.

My review from Goodreads: Not quite sure how I feel. Didn't hate it, didn't love it. It was long. It was really, really long. There were some good parts, but nothing really popped. It still kicked the shit out of the tv series. (Note: Having recently reread The Shining and read Doctor Sleep, I'm even more assured in my assessment of this book as a bit of a clunker in the King oeuvre). 

Sisterland by Curtis SittenfeldGoodreads synopsis: Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of American Wifeand 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.

I'm kind of wondering now why I didn't give this four stars. It was well-written, non-formulaic, memorable and imaginative. I thought the relationship between the sisters was exceptionally well-rendered. It was a great story. 

Breed by Chase NovakGoodreads synopsis: Alex and Leslie Twisden told each other they would do anything to have children. The price didn’t matter. But the experimental procedure they found had costs they couldn’t foresee.
Adam and Alice Twisden’s lives seem perfectly normal. Except that, every night, without fail, their parents lock them into their rooms.
And the twins know that the sounds they can hear are not just their imagination. They’re real. And they’re getting louder...
From a new name in horror, Breed is a stunning thriller in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby, brilliantly written, daring, and unforgettable.


My review from Goodreads: Call it three and a half. The writing is good enough to make the characters more fully realized than they often are in genre fiction. Like the best horror tends to be, much of it is wrenchingly sad.

Help for the Haunted by John SearlesGoodreads synopsis: It begins with a call in the middle of snowy February evening. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation, helping "haunted souls" find peace. And yet, something in Sylvie senses that this call is different than the rest, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church's red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep only to wake to the sound of gunfire.
Nearly a year later, we meet Sylvie again struggling with the loss of her parents, and living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened the previous winter.
As the story moves back and forth in time, through the years leading up to the crime and the months following, the ever inquisitive and tender-hearted Sylvie pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night, as she comes to terms with her family's past and uncovers secrets that have haunted them for years.

It wasn't bad. But it wasn't what I wanted it to be. I don't know how to say anything else without being spoilery, but it's really quite a good story. Just really not what I was expecting, and I really wanted what I was expecting. 


Being Henry David by Cal ArmisteadGoodreads synopsis: Seventeen-year-old "Hank" has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything --who he is, where he came from, why he's running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or "Hank" and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of--Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead's remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.

My review from Goodreads: CRAP, I didn't WRITE a review on Goodreads. Every year I tell myself to write more reviews on Goodreads so I won't be stuck doing this post trying to remember stuff about every book and come up with something intelligent to say. This wasn't an out-of-the-park home run but it was a nice solid hit for a young age group. I liked the Thoreau references and I'm a sucker for an amnesia tale, wildly improbable as they inevitably are.

Shards and Ashes by Melissa MarrGoodreads synopsis: Gripping original stories of dystopian worlds from nine New York Times bestselling authors, edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong.
The world is gone, destroyed by human, ecological, or supernatural causes. Survivors dodge chemical warfare and cruel gods; they travel the reaches of space and inhabit underground caverns. Their enemies are disease, corrupt corporations, and one another; their resources are few, and their courage is tested.
Powerful original dystopian tales from nine bestselling authors offer bleak insight, prophetic visions, and precious glimmers of light among the shards and ashes of a ruined world.


I'm also a sucker for dystopian worlds and apocalyptic scenarios, when they're well done. I really enjoyed this collection.

The Rules of Survival by Nancy WerlinGoodreads synopsis: For Matt and his sisters, life with their cruel, physically abusive mother is a day-to-day struggle for survival. But then Matt witnesses a man named Murdoch coming to a child’s rescue in a convenience store; and for the first time, he feels a glimmer of hope. Then, amazingly, Murdoch begins dating Matt’s mother. Life is suddenly almost good. But the relief lasts only a short time. When Murdoch inevitable breaks up with their mother, Matt knows that he’ll need to take some action. Can he call upon Murdoch to be his hero? Or will Matt have to take measures into his own hands?

This was very well done, but so different from the two other books I've read by this author (this one and this one) that I kept being slightly annoyed by the non-appearance of curses or otherworldly nefarious creatures.  Nothing but relentless realism here, though. Vivid, realistic and upsetting.

Outlander by Diana GabaldonGoodreads synopsis: The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach--an "outlander"--in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life...and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

I'm going to try really hard to be honest here, even though I find it humiliating when I avoid a series like this for years and then somehow slip and wake up with my face on the finished book. I'm not going to pretend I didn't like it, or that I could stop reading it, or that I'm not waiting impatiently for the next one to show up on my holds list at the library. But wow, uncomfortably rape-y bits? And people keep saying it's not really a romance, but geez, it's totally a romance, with some unrepentant Harlequin-like elements - someone said that Jamie was such a wonderful, flawed, real character - WHAT FUCKING FLAWS? Also, Claire is a pretty great character, and I liked that the author didn't conveniently make it a bad marriage that she leaves behind, but does she not make a pretty quick peace with being married and incredibly connubial with another man? And is that not some pretty self-serving pseudo-religious claptrap Brother Whoever serves her at the end to make it all more palatable? And the Redcoats showing up every time things settle down made me feel like I was watching a Star Trek episode - you start settling into a nice little story about life on an Irish farm and getting some insight into childbirth and medical wisdom in the eighteenth century, and then there's space goo leaking around the barn door or something. I'm saying this badly. Whatever. 
Bottom line - Gabaldon is a genius. What is it about these books that leave me with the exhilaration of a well-told tale, yet feeling a little dirty inside? I guess that's the thing about guilty pleasures?

Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald: Goodreads synopsis: Everett Singh has escaped with the Infundibulum from the clutches of Charlotte Villiers and the Order, but at a terrible price. His father is missing, banished to one of the billions of parallel universes of the Panoply of All World, and Everett and the crew of the airship Everness have taken a wild, random Heisenberg Jump to a random parallel plane. Everett is smart and resourceful and from a frozen earth far beyond the Plenitude plans to rescue his family. But the villainous Charlotte Villiers is one step ahead of him.

Bit of a fail grab from the library shelves. I'm not sure I didn't have a small seizure and grasp it reflexively - what the hell would possess me to try reading something with "random Heisenberg jumps" in it? I don't LIKE my science fiction hard. Also, hello moron, it's the second in the series. Still, kind of different and interesting. Although when I cracked it open for the first time and read the jacket copy, I said "WHAT?" out loud. Mystified. Truly.

When We Wake by Karen HealeyGoodreads synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl living in 2027—she's happiest when playing the guitar, she's falling in love for the first time, and she's joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world: environmental collapse, social discrimination, and political injustice.
But on what should have been the best day of Tegan's life, she dies—and wakes up a hundred years later, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened.
The future isn't all she had hoped it would be, and when appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: Does she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better world?
Award-winning author Karen Healey has created a haunting, cautionary tale of an inspiring protagonist living in a not-so-distant future that could easily be our own.

Pretty fresh take on the displaced-in-time trope. Good voice, believable rendering of a teenager waking up a hundred years past her time. The friendships are endearing, and the romance isn't too formula. Also, praise the gods, it's not the first in a trilogy. (Except, JOKE'S ON ME, It TOTALLY IS the first in a trilogy! It says #1 RIGHT AFTER THE TITLE on Goodreads! People, I've gone into active, self-deluding denial about the trilogy phenomenon!)

Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan: Goodreads synopsis: Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.

Good fun. And there's a curse! I love curses! Yeah, it's to be continued. I've totally capitulated. 

Legion by William Peter Blatty: Amazon synopsis (It's midnight, I'm tired and my allergies are kicking up and Goodreads is fucking with me NOW? On the VERY LAST BOOK?! REALLY?!): Just in time for the 40th anniversary of The Exorcist -- Legion, a classic tale of horror, is back in print!
A young boy is found horribly murdered in a mock crucifixion. Is the murderer the elderly woman who witnessed the crime? A neurologist who can no longer bear the pain life inflicts on its victims? A psychiatrist with a macabre sense of humor and a guilty secret? A mysterious mental patient, locked in silent isolation?
Lieutenant Kinderman follows a bewildering trail that links all these people, confronting a new enigma at every turn even as more murders surface. Why does each victim suffer the same dreadful mutilations? Why are two of the victims priests? Is there a connection between these crimes and another series of murders that took place twelve years ago—and supposedly ended with the death of the killer?
Legion is a novel of breathtaking energy and suspense. But more than this, it is an extraordinary journey into the uncharted depths of the human mind and the most agonizing questions of the human condition.
The answers are revealed in a climax so stunning that it could only have been written by the author of The Exorcist—William Peter Blatty.

My review from Goodreads: Weird. Deliciously creepy. A little cheesy. Mostly saved by the delightful Columbo-type philosophical detective.


Four and Five Star Books 2013 Part One: The Short Stories



53 four-and-five star books this year - one for every week plus one, which feels kind of like a win. Oh, except there were 69 last year, which is a higher number AND appealingly dirty. Oh, but 53 the year before that, so symmetry, and also, weirdness. Whatever, none of it is statistically relevant. I usually organize this post into categories to create the fiction that I have some kind of system. 

Apparently I like short stories - mostly genre short stories - even more than I thought. When I rate a short story collection I go on overall impression - I don't rate each individual story and then average it out.

Short stories:

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman: Goodreads synopsis: Stories to delight, enchant, and surprise you.
Bestselling author and master storyteller Neil Gaiman here presents a breathtaking collection of tales that may chill or amuse readers - but always embrace the unexpected. Collection includes:
"The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds," 
"Troll Bridge," 
"Don't Ask Jack," 
"How to Sell the Ponti Bridge," 
"October in the Chair," 
"Chivalry," 
"The Price," 
"How to Talk to Girls at Parties," 
"Sunbird," 
"The Witch's Headstone," 
"Instructions"

I wrote on Goodreads: Turns out I've read most of these already, which is not unfairly surprising or hidden or anything, I just wasn't paying attention. Not opposed to the opportunity to read them again. (This seems to be classed as Young Adult, which seems weird to me. "Troll Bridge" in particular has a bittersweet melancholy that it seems to be would be entirely wasted on young readers. Gaiman is a writer, anyway, who I think should just be given to children in their cradles and read over and over at every new stage of life). 

Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories by Karen Russell: Goodreads synopsis: From the author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—a magical new collection of stories that showcases Karen Russell’s gifts at their inimitable best.
A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood.
Karen Russell is one of today’s most celebrated and vital writers—honored in The New Yorker’s list of the twenty best writers under the age of forty, Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists, and the National Book Foundation’s five best writers under the age of thirty-five.  Her wondrous new work displays a young writer of superlative originality and invention coming into the full range and scale of her powers.  

I just loved this collection so much. The stories seemed to be both wild and beautiful imaginings AND incisively wise insights about people, life, the universe and everything. I got it from the library and kept it as long as I could without going bankrupt. Then I ordered a copy for my brother-in-law and his wife (my heart-sister), but I accidentally sent the order to myself. So I readdressed the box and sent it to them again, but this book had been backordered, so it came to me afterwards. So I had to keep it. Sometimes I sleep with it under my pillow. (Not really. But I feel like maybe I should). 


The Girl Who Loved Animals and other stories by Bruce McAllisterGoodreads synopsis: Bruce McAllister's long-awaited short fiction collection showcasing the author's five decades of writing, including his first professional sale. Introduction by science fiction great Harry Harrison, afterword by the John W. Campbell Memorial Award-winner Barry N. Malzberg, and wraparound cover art by World Fantasy Award-winner John Picacio. 

I got this collection from the library because Susan Palwick mentioned McAllister's latest book on Facebook. I ordered the novel but haven't read it yet. I didn't take notes, and now I can't remember much detail about the stories; I remember a general impression that this was older science fiction, with a dark and yet oddly hopeful and innocent resonance. Some of them reminded me of Tiptree. 

Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand: Goodreads synopsis: Widely praised and widely read, Elizabeth Hand is regarded as one of America's leading literary fantasists. This new collection (an expansion of the limited-release Bibliomancy, which won the World Fantasy Award in 2005) showcases a wildly inventive author at the height of her powers. Included in this collection are "The Least Trumps," in which a lonely women reaches out to the world through symbols, tattooing, and the Tarot, and "Pavane for a Prince of the Air," where neo-pagan rituals bring a recently departed soul to something very different than eternal rest. Written in the author's characteristic poetic prose and rich with the details of traumatic lives that are luminously transformed, Saffron and Brimstone is a worthy addition to an outstanding career.

My review from Goodreads: Beautiful writing. A couple of the stories suffer a bit from privileging the beautiful writing over any kind of satisfying closure (this strange thing happened, this strange thing happened, the end). The concluding story cycle is fascinating and elegant.

The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 4, edited by Ellen DatlowGoodreads synopsis: The first three volumes of The Best Horror of the Year have been widely praised for their quality, variety, and comprehensiveness.

I believe I detailed my love affair with Ellen Datlow anthologies in this post. I always feel a delicous shiver of anticipation on cracking open one of these. 

Sleight of Hand by Peter S. Beagle: Goodreads synopsis: Abundant with tales of quiet heroism, life-changing decisions, and determined searches for deep answers, this extraordinary collection of contemporary fantasy explores the realms between this world and the next. From the top of the Berlin Wall to the depths of the darkest seas, gods and monsters battle their enemies and innermost fears, yet mere mortals make the truly difficult choices. A slightly regretful author and a vengeful-but-dilapidated dragon square off over an abandoned narrative; the children of the Shark God demand painful truths from their chronically absent father; and a bereaved women sacrifices herself to change one terrible moment, effortlessly reversed by a shuffle of the deck. Whether melancholic, comedic, or deeply tragic, each new tale is suffused with misdirection and discovery, expressed in the rich and mesmerizing voice of a masterful storyteller.

This, along with his other collection, We Never Talk About My Brother, which I still have to get back from Collette because I gave it to her just as she became obsessed with her smartphone and stopped reading books, burns brightly in my mind as one of the best short story collections I've ever read. They seem to be about things happening and people existing which are utterly new and surprising and yet so right that you can't believe they weren't always happening and existing. I feel like if I could somehow attach these stories to my very being I would have achieved all the wisdom, compassion, joy and serene acceptance for which I strive every day. 


Hellgoing: Stories by Lynn CoadyGoodreads synopsis: Winner of the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Selected as an Amazon.ca Best Book and for The Globe's Top 10 Books of 2013.
With astonishing range and depth, Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Lynn Coady gives us nine unforgettable new stories, each one of them grabbing our attention from the first line and resonating long after the last.
A young nun charged with talking an anorexic out of her religious fanaticism toys with the thin distance between practicality and blasphemy. A strange bond between a teacher and a schoolgirl takes on ever deeper, and stranger, shapes as the years progress. A bride-to-be with a penchant for nocturnal bondage can’t seem to stop bashing herself up in the light of day.
Equally adept at capturing the foibles and obsessions of men and of women, compassionate in her humour yet never missing an opportunity to make her characters squirm, fascinated as much by faithlessness as by faith, Lynn Coady is quite possibly the writer who best captures what it is to be human at this particular moment in our history.

A lot of people on Goodreads were dissatisfied with this. Maybe I'm just Lynn Coady's bitch. I found the stories completely satisfying, each one seeming like a perfect, detailed, radiant moment in a character's life, providing a lifetime's worth of baggage and weight in a few pages. The first story, particularly, unfurled like a vividly coloured map in my mind. Some of the images are still seared into my imagination. It was different from reading one of her novels, but I was equally compelled and enamoured. 

Sympathy for the Devil edited by Tim Pratt: Goodreads synopsis: The Devil is known by many names: Serpent, Tempter, Beast, Adversary, Wanderer, Dragon, Rebel. His traps and machinations are the stuff of legends. His faces are legion. No matter what face the devil wears, Sympathy for the Devil has them all. Edited by Tim Pratt, Sympathy for the Devil collects the best Satanic short stories by Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Stephen King, Kage Baker, Charles Stross, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Kelly Link, China Mieville, Michael Chabon, and many others, revealing His Grand Infernal Majesty, in all his forms. Thirty-five stories, from classics to the cutting edge, exploring the many sides of Satan, Lucifer, the Lord of the Flies, the Father of Lies, the Prince of the Powers of the Air and Darkness, the First of the Fallen... and a Man of Wealth and Taste. Sit down and spend a little time with the Devil.

I ordered this for five bucks from Indigo during a Black Friday sale. The stories are imaginative, varied, and hugely enjoyable. This device for an anthology worked exceedingly well.

Tenth of December by George Saunders: Goodreads synopsis: A new story collection, the first in six years, from one of our greatest living writers, MacArthur "genius grant" recipient and New Yorker contributor George Saunders.
George Saunders, one of our most important writers, is back with a masterful, deeply felt collection that takes his literary powers to a new level. In a recent interview, when asked how he saw the role of the writer, Saunders said: "To me, the writer's main job is to make the story unscroll in such a way that the reader is snared-she's right there, seeing things happen and caring about them. And if you dedicate yourself to this job, the meanings more or less take care of themselves." In Tenth of December, the reader is always right there, and the meanings are beautiful and profound and abundant. The title story is an exquisite, moving account of the intersection, at a frozen lake in the woods, of a young misfit and a middle-aged cancer patient who goes there to commit suicide, only to end up saving the boy's life. "Home" is the often funny, often poignant account of a soldier returning from the war. And "Victory Lap" is a taut, inventive story about the attempted abduction of a teenage girl. In all, Tenth of December is George Saunders at his absolute best, a collection of stories and characters that add up to something deep, irreducible, and uniquely American.

I wrote on Goodreads, "Odd. Funny. Sharp. Sad. Sneaky." I confess that I'm somewhat perplexed by the hype over this book, which has been on several "Best Books of the Year" lists and one "50 Books to Make You a Better Person" post. Not that I didn't love it - I did love it. How do I explain this? The stories are dark, bright, sometimes blackly hilarious, and several veer very close to genre. This is the kind of thing that, in my mind, usually gets books relegated to the 'escapist' category. I applaud the literary establishment for recognizing the brilliance here, but I wish they would extend that courtesy to more less-strictly-classifiable literature. 

Godless but Loyal to Heaven by Richard Van Camp: Some stuff from Indigo since Goodreads had no synopsis: Review: "Powerful! An original voice from the true north strong and free." — Tomson Highway

"Gripping, graphic and insightful, Godless but Loyal to Heaven opens up the human heart and lets the reader watch it pumping. Van Camp slips in and out of characters like a shapeshifter, introducing poetry and the fantastic into a brutal landscape." — Eden Robinson, author of Monkey Beach
"Godless but Loyal to Heaven is a fierce look at all the dehumanized aspects of our world as it is, written courageously, poignantly and beautifully." — Lee Maracle
"Prepare to be shocked and seared, moved at times to tears when you read Van Camp’s work. You’ll be taken on a series of journeys that you will not forget." — Joseph Bruchac, author of Our Stories Remember
"Richard Van Camp successfully melds aborigninal traditions with a fictional contemporary North in his new short story collection." — Winnipeg Free Press
"Hard—nosed but thin—skinned, sturdy yet totally off the wall, Richard Van Camp’s Godless but Loyal to Heaven is such a vibrant story collection that I’m kicking myself for only getting around to it now" — Edmonton Journal
From the Back CoverIn Richard Van Camp’s fictionalized north anything can happen and yet each story is rooted in a vivid contemporary reality. The stories offer a potent mix tape of tropes from science fiction, horror, Western and Aboriginal traditions. The title story pits Torchy against the Smith Squad, fighting for love and family in a bloody, cathartic, and ultimately hopeful narrative. Van Camp’s characters repeatedly confront the bleakness of sexual assault, substance addiction and violence with the joy and humour of inspired storytelling.
I wrote on Goodreads: I got this for Christmas and knew nothing about it. I don't think I have the vocabulary to express how much it moved me. (But I'll try, because I recognize that that is one lazy-ass review. This is a mosaic of stories - loosely interlinked characters and settings. I hate to say "the aboriginal experience", and yet these stories gave me more of a visceral impression of some realities of what I can only think of as The Aboriginal Experience than anything else I have ever read. They are starkly sorrowful, skewed, strange, funny and wonderful. 

Four and Five Star Books 2013 Part Two: Fiction





Fiction:

Mending the Moon by Susan Palwick: Goodreads synopsis: Melinda Soto, aged sixty-four, vacationing in Mexico, is murdered by a fellow American tourist. 
Back in her hometown of Reno, Nevada, she leaves behind her adopted son, Jeremy, whom she rescued from war-torn Guatamala when he was a toddler—just one of her many causes over the years. And she leaves behind a circle of friends: Veronique, the academic stuck in a teaching job from which she can't retire; Rosemary, who's losing her husband to Alzheimer's and who's trying to lose herself in volunteer work; Henrietta, the priest at Rosemary's and Melinda's church.
Jeremy already had a fraught relationship with his charismatic mother and the people in her orbit. Now her death is tearing him apart, and he can barely stand the rituals of remembrance that ensue among his mother’s friends. Then the police reveal who killed Melinda: a Seattle teenager who flew home to his parents and drowned himself just days later.
It's too much. Jeremy's not the only one who can't deal. Friendships fray. But the unexpected happens: an invitation to them all, from the murderer's mother, to come to Seattle for his memorial. It's ridiculous. And yet, somehow, each of them begins to see in it a chance to heal. Aided, in peculiar ways, by Jeremy's years-long obsession with the comic-book hero Comrade Cosmos, and the immense cult of online commentary it's spawned.
Shot through with feeling and inventiveness, Susan Palwick's Mending the Moon is a novel of the odd paths that lead to home.

Reviewed on blog. (This is one of my favouritest writers ever).

The Imperfectionists by Tom RachmanGoodreads synopsis: Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, Tom Rachman’s wry, vibrant debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper as they struggle to keep it—and themselves—afloat.
Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff’s personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. Kathleen, the imperious editor in chief, is smarting from a betrayal in her open marriage; Arthur, the lazy obituary writer, is transformed by a personal tragedy; Abby, the embattled financial officer, discovers that her job cuts and her love life are intertwined in a most unexpected way. Out in the field, a veteran Paris freelancer goes to desperate lengths for his next byline, while the new Cairo stringer is mercilessly manipulated by an outrageous war correspondent with an outsize ego. And in the shadows is the isolated young publisher who pays more attention to his prized basset hound, Schopenhauer, than to the fate of his family’s quirky newspaper.
As the era of print news gives way to the Internet age and this imperfect crew stumbles toward an uncertain future, the paper’s rich history is revealed, including the surprising truth about its founder’s intentions.
Spirited, moving, and highly original, The Imperfectionists will establish Tom Rachman as one of our most perceptive, assured literary talents.


I wish I'd taken better notes while reading this book, because I remember when my friend put it on the book club list I thought it sounded fun and interesting, then I remember reading a few pages and feeling a tremendous disinclination to read further, but I can't for the life of me remember why. I did continue, of course, because I almost always do, and then I quite liked it. My friends who are actually in journalism are divided over whether it really captures print journalism - for me it did, quibbles about absolute verisimilitude aside. I could believe, also, that these were the types of characters who would inhabit this sort of expat, exile even, position. It seemed sort of deceptively light and easy to read, with some heavier undertones, and a couple of the stories were extremely affecting precisely because of that light touch. 

Under the Volcano by Malcolm LowryGoodreads synopsis: Geoffrey Firmin, a former British consul, has come to Quauhnahuac, Mexico. Here the consul's debilitating malaise is drinking, and activity that has overshadowed his life. Under the Volcano is set during the most fateful day of the consul's life - the Day of the Dead, 1938. His wife, Yvonne, arrives in Quauhnahuac to rescue him and their failing marriage, inspired by a vision of life together away from Mexico and the circumstances that have driven their relationship to the brink of collapse. Yvonne's mission is to save the consul is further complicated by the presence of Hugh, the consul's half-brother, and Jacques, a childhood friend. The events of this one day unfold against a backdrop unforgettable for its evocation of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical. Under the Volcano remains one of the most powerful and lyrical statements on the human condition and one man's constant struggle against the elemental forces that threaten to destroy him.

Every once in a while I feel the need to dive into a dense, tortuous, practically impenetrable thicket of a classic novel. Sometimes I lie down and this need goes away, and I turn back to sparer, more modern prose. Sometimes I read a classic of my own volition. Sometimes a friend puts Under the Volcano on the book club list, and I spend the entire meeting after reading it going "SHUT UP! That was a FLASHBACK?" and "wait, that happened WHEN?" and "Seriously? That wasn't just an alcoholic delusion, it really happened?" And the friend says things like "yes, but don't worry, I didn't realize it until my third time through. This book was a riotous fever dream. You should really go to Goodreads and read the reviews. Phrases like 'modernist soup of interior monologue', 'lush evocative language in imitation of the riot of exotic vegetation', "in addition to alcoholism, the consul suffers from acedia, spiritual despair", and "bombastic lyricism" capture it better than I can. I found the reading experience quite enjoyable, even though the sentences meandered on forever and I sometimes couldn't figure out who was talking and there seemed to be a boozy film hanging over the entire thing. I was more sympathetic to the booze-addled, self-destructive, weary, sad central figure than some of my friends - I wondered if this was because I haven't had to deal with addiction in any of my real-life friends or family. I found his constant striving to put a few more minutes between now and the next drink, coupled with his tremendous need and frailty and inevitable failure, incredibly moving. I will probably read the book again, although I really should tackle Trollope first. Ha. Trollope. 

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon: Goodreads synopsis: Written with love and expertise by the mother of an autistic teenager, "The Speed of Dark" is a riveting exploration into the mind of an autistic man as he struggles with the question of whether he should risk a medical procedure that could make him "normal."

My review from GoodreadsI couldn't put this down. I have no way of knowing for a fact if this is an accurate portrayal of an autistic person's inner life, but I am utterly convinced anyway. The parts that are ever so slightly clumsy, such as the evil Big Boss Man who borders on caricature, are forgivable to me on the strength of the characters and the plot. This is the very best kind of speculative fiction.

Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz: Goodreads synopsis: Winner of the Quebec Writers' Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction.
Beena and Sadhana are sisters who share a bond that could only have been shaped by the most unusual of childhoods -- and by shared tragedy. Orphaned as teenagers, they have grown up under the exasperated watch of their Sikh uncle, who runs a bagel shop in Montreal's Hasidic community of Mile End. Together, they try to make sense of the rich, confusing brew of values, rituals, and beliefs that form their inheritance. Yet as they grow towards adulthood, their paths begin to diverge. Beena catches the attention of one of the "bagel boys" and finds herself pregnant at sixteen, while Sadhana drives herself to perfectionism and anorexia.
When we first meet the adult Beena, she is grappling with a fresh grief: Sadhana has died suddenly and strangely, her body lying undiscovered for a week before anyone realizes what has happened. Beena is left with a burden of guilt and an unsettled feeling about the circumstances of her sister's death, which she sets about to uncover. Her search stirs memories and opens wounds, threatening to undo the safe, orderly existence she has painstakingly created for herself and her son.
Heralded across Canada for the power and promise of her debut collection, Mother Superior, Nawaz proves with Bone and Bread that she is one of our most talented and unique storytellers.

Reviewed on blog

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria SempleGoodreads synopsis: Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

My review from Goodreads: It really shows that it's written by a television writer - I could totally picture it unfolding cinematically. Early on, I was a little put out by the fact that I couldn't figure out if characters were supposed to be likable or not, which is different from being put out because a character is NOT likable. Then I liked that, in fact, everyone was kind of a schmuck, with opportunities for redemption - the one slight exception being Elgin, who I didn't find wholly internally consistent. Overall, it was a delicious confection that I devoured in a single late-night gulp.

A Matter of Life and Death or Something by Ben Stephenson: Goodreads synopsis: Even though he?s only ten years old, there are lots of things Arthur Williams knows for sure. He knows all about trilobites, and bridge, and that he doesn't want to be Victoria Brown's boyfriend, and that tapping maple trees causes them excruciating pain. He knows his real dad is probably flying a hot-air balloon across the Pacific, or paving a city with moss. And he knows that Simon, the guy who pretends to be his dad, does absolutely nothing interesting.
But when Arthur finds a weather-worn notebook in the woods behind his house, all he has are questions. Why was its author, Phil, so sad, and why does it end on Page 43? Suddenly, there are other questions too: Why do people abandon people? Why do they abandon themselves?
Arthur embarks on a top-secret investigation to find out who Phil is, or was. But getting straight answers from grown-ups is impossible - and before long, the only thing he knows for sure is that everything he thought he knew about life is probably wrong, and that what he has to do is ten times bigger than what he can do.
Told through a trio of voices: the wildly imaginative and perpetually awkward Arthur, Phil?s manic journal, and the forest which watches them both, Ben Stephenson?s debut novel is a heartbreaking story of love, death, and the unspeakable pain of being small.
A Matter of Life and Death Or Something marks the exciting debut of an inventive and gifted storyteller.


Strangely, I remember that I didn't like this QUITE as much as I thought I would. But obviously I still really liked it. 
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver:Goodreads synopsis: The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry. Eva never really wanted to be a mother and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.
Reviewed on blog
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: Goodreads synopsis: The beloved American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness -- in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

My review from Goodreads: I feel like I should research this book before I review it, because against years of scholarship I'll probably sound like a dork. But that seems wrong, so I'm not doing it. I was utterly transported. I can't believe I lived this long without reading this book - it was like discovering music, or the taste of peaches. This was the clearest, tenderest rendering of a time and place, and the people in it are both representative of all the people in that time and place and utterly themselves and special and different. (I lent it to my mother after I read it, and I told her that if she didn't like it then I would have to regretfully terminate our relationship). 

Ragged Company by Richard WagameseGoodreads synopsis: Four chronically homeless people–Amelia One Sky, Timber, Double Dick and Digger–seek refuge in a warm movie theatre when a severe Arctic Front descends on the city. During what is supposed to be a one-time event, this temporary refuge transfixes them. They fall in love with this new world, and once the weather clears, continue their trips to the cinema. On one of these outings they meet Granite, a jaded and lonely journalist who has turned his back on writing “the same story over and over again” in favour of the escapist qualities of film, and an unlikely friendship is struck. 
A found cigarette package (contents: some unsmoked cigarettes, three $20 bills, and a lottery ticket) changes the fortune of this struggling set. The ragged company discovers they have won $13.5 million, but none of them can claim the money for lack proper identification. Enlisting the help of Granite, their lives, and fortunes, become forever changed.
Ragged Company is a journey into both the future and the past. Richard Wagamese deftly explores the nature of the comforts these friends find in their ideas of “home,” as he reconnects them to their histories.


My review from Goodreads: Really, really good. If I have any complaint, it would be that sometimes it edges slightly over into that territory where being homeless and poor automatically confers an oracular wisdom on you, which strikes me as a dangerous romanticizing of the condition. But on the whole, beautiful story, wonderful characters, each with a clear and unique voice, fantastic writing filled with so much sadness and kindness and the magic of extraordinary connections. (The first few pages undid me completely). 



State of Wonder by Ann PatchettGoodreads synopsis: Award-winning "New York Times"-bestselling author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, The Magician's Assistant) returns with a provocative novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest--a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.
In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.
As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest's jeweled canopy.


My review from Goodreads: I got halfway through this book and suddenly realized to my chagrin that I wasn't loving it the way I typically love Ann Patchett books. Then I got a little further and suddenly I was in that transported, delirious-with-delight stage again. And because it's an Ann Patchett book I am completely willing to believe that that is the way she meant for me to experience it. (In case it's not clear, there is no doubt that I am Ann Patchett's bitch). 

The Antagonist by Lynn CoadyGoodreads synopsis: Against his will and his nature, the hulking Gordon Rankin ("Rank") is cast as an enforcer, a goon -- by his classmates, his hockey coaches, and especially his own "tiny, angry" father, Gordon Senior.
Rank gamely lives up to his role -- until tragedy strikes, using Rank as its blunt instrument. Escaping the only way he can, Rank disappears. But almost twenty years later he discovers that an old, trusted friend -- the only person to whom he has ever confessed his sins -- has published a novel mirroring Rank's life. The betrayal cuts to the deepest heart of him, and Rank will finally have to confront the tragic true story from which he's spent his whole life running away.
With the deep compassion, deft touch, and irreverent humour that have made her one of Canada's best-loved novelists, Lynn Coady delves deeply into the ways we sanction and stoke male violence, giving us a large-hearted, often hilarious portrait of a man tearing himself apart in order to put himself back together.


My review from Goodreads: A year with a Lynn Coady novel AND a book of short stories - what an embarrassment of riches. Somehow the plot description of this book didn't make me eager to plunge into it. When I finally read it, I wrote on Facebook "every time I start reading a Lynn Coady book I remember how in love I am with reading a Lynn Coady book". Why do I even bother to READ the plot synopsis? Mean Boy was the first of her books that I read, and although I loved all the others, I think this one really took me back to the delirious joy of discovering a Canadian voice that was deceptively light, delightfully skewed, and amazingly similar to my favourites of the ones in my head. 


Four-and-Five-Star Books 2013 Part Three: Everything Else









Mystery:

An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas: Goodreads synopsis: Adamsberg travels to London, where a routine conference draws him into a disturbing investigation.
Commissaire Adamsberg leaves Paris for a three-day conference in London. With him are a young sergeant, Estalère, and Commandant Danglard, who is terrified at the idea of travelling beneath the Channel. It is the break they all need, until a macabre and brutal case comes to the attention of their colleague Radstock from New Scotland Yard.
Just outside the baroque and romantic old Highgate cemetery a pile of shoes is found. Not so strange in itself, but the shoes contain severed feet. As Scotland Yard's investigation begins, Adamsberg and his colleagues return home and are confronted with a massacre in a suburban home. Adamsberg and Danglard are drawn in to a trail of vampires and vampire-hunters that leads them all the way to Serbia, a place where the old certainties no longer apply.

My review from Goodreads: Not my favourite of this series, but then it's January, and nothing is my favourite anything right now. Still very good. Still think that Adamsberg is an absolutely enchanting fictional character who I would have to murder if I knew in real life. Still love the supporting characters, and the lovely, meandering, insightful and disarming writing style.


The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas: Goodreads synopsis: A # 1 French and Italian bestseller from the three-time winner of the CWA’s International Dagger Award.
More than ten million copies of Fred Vargas’s Commissaire Adamsberg mysteries have been sold worldwide. Now, American readers are getting hooked on the internationally bestselling author’s unsettling blend of crime and the supernatural. As the chief of police in Paris’s seventh arrondissement, Commissaire Adamsberg has no jurisdiction in Ordebec. Yet, he cannot ignore a widow’s plea. Her daughter Lina has seen a vision of the Ghost Riders with four nefarious men. According to the thousand-year-old legend, the vision means that the men will soon die a grisly death. When one of them disappears, Adamsberg races to Ordebec, where he becomes entranced by the gorgeous Lina—and embroiled in the small Normandy town’s ancient feud.

There are only so many times I can rave about this series while still generating new adjectives. If you haven't read her and still refuse to, you're an idiot. Wise up already!

The Prophet by Michael KorytaGoodreads synopsis: Adam Austin hasn't spoken to his brother in years. When they were teenagers, their sister was abducted and murdered, and their devastated family never recovered. Now Adam keeps to himself, scraping by as a bail bondsman, working so close to the town's criminal fringes that he sometimes seems a part of them. Kent Austin is the beloved coach of the local high school football team, a religious man and hero in the community. After years of near misses, Kent's team has a shot at the state championship, a welcome point of pride in a town that has had its share of hardships. Just before playoffs begin, the town and the team are thrown into shock when horrifically, impossibly, another teenage girl is found murdered. As details emerge that connect the crime to the Austin brothers, the two must confront their buried rage and grief-and unite to stop a killer. Michael Koryta, widely hailed as one of the most exciting young thriller authors at work today, has written his greatest novel ever-an emotionally harrowing, unstoppably suspenseful novel that Donald Ray Pollock has called "one of the sharpest and superbly plotted crime novels I've read in my life.

Friday Night Lights meets Criminal Minds! 

Harry Hole #1 (The Bat) by Jo Nesbo: Goodreads synopsis: Before Harry took on the neo-Nazi gangs of Oslo, before he met Rakel, before The Snowman tried to take everything he held dear, he went to Australia. Harry Hole is sent to Sydney to investigate the murder of Inger Holter, a young Norwegian girl, who was working in a bar. Initially sidelined as an outsider, Harry becomes central to the Australian police investigation when they start to notice a number of unsolved rape and murder cases around the country. The victims were usually young blondes. Inger had a number of admirers, each with his own share of secrets, but there is no obvious suspect, and the pattern of the other crimes seems impossible to crack. Then a circus performer is brutally murdered followed by yet another young woman. Harry is in a race against time to stop highly intelligent killer, who is bent on total destruction.

My review from Goodreads: Say 3.5 stars. The first half seemed sort of disconnected and meandering and I wasn't sure if I was just in a bad mood or if it was a bad translation. Then things really picked up, and got horribly depressing but in an insightful and surprising and legitimate mystery-novel way.

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton: Goodreads synopsis: When a rash of suicides tears through Cambridge University, DI Mark Joesbury recruits DC Lacey Flint to go undercover as a student to investigate. Although each student’s death appears to be a suicide, the psychological histories, social networks, and online activities of the students involved share remarkable similarities, and the London police are not convinced that the victims acted alone. They believe that someone might be preying on lonely and insecure students and either encouraging them to take their own lives or actually luring them to their deaths. As long as Lacey can play the role of a vulnerable young woman, she may be able to stop these deaths, but is it just a role for her? With her fragile past, is she drawing out the killers, or is she herself being drawn into a deadly game where she’s a perfect victim? 
Dark and compelling, S. J. Bolton’s latest thriller—a follow-up to the acclaimed Now You See Me—is another work of brilliant psychological suspense that plumbs the most sinister depths.

This is one where I prefer her standalones to the series. I had some pretty serious issues with the first book in this one. But I like the author, and these ones still pull me in. 

The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby: Goodreads synopsis: Mark Nelson is a young police officer, newly assigned to the team of John Mackey--a highly-decorated and successful detective, and author of a bestselling true crime book based on his years of experience catching killers. Mackey is a legend in the force and it's a huge opportunity for Mark, who has dedicated his life to his job ever since the death of his girlfriend years before. 
When a man is found burned to death in his own home, Mackey's team is thrown into an investigation that grows darker and more complex at every turn. The evidence points to a man known as the Fifty-Fifty Killer. His targets are young couples, who he stalks and subjects to a single night of torture and manipulation, testing and destroying the love between them.
Only one of them ever survives until dawn. Soon afterwards, a young man walks into a police station badly tortured and with his memory in tatters. He knows only that his girlfriend is still being held captive in the woods he's escaped from. But the team know that by fleeing, the man has sealed his girlfriend's fate. If they can't piece together his experience by daybreak then she will die in his place. However, all is not what it seems.

I have to read this again. I remember it was good, a bit twisted, and surprising. Everything was, like, not what it seemed. (Sorry. I'll show myself out). 

Non-fiction:

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War by Joe Bageant: Goodreads synopsis: After thirty years spent scratching together a middle-class life out of a “dirt-poor” childhood, Joe Bageant moved back to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, where he realized that his family and neighbors were the very people who carried George W. Bush to victory. That was ironic, because Winchester, like countless American small towns, is fast becoming the bedrock of a permanent underclass. Two in five of the people in his old neighborhood do not have high school diplomas. Nearly everyone over fifty has serious health problems, and many have no health care. Credit ratings are low or nonexistent, and alcohol, overeating, and Jesus are the preferred avenues of escape.
A raucous mix of storytelling and political commentary, Deer Hunting with Jesus is Bageant’s report on what he learned by coming home. He writes of his childhood friends who work at factory jobs that are constantly on the verge of being outsourced; the mortgage and credit card rackets that saddle the working poor with debt, i.e., “white trashonomics”; the ubiquitous gun culture—and why the left doesn’t get it; Scots Irish culture and how it played out in the young life of Lynddie England; and the blinkered “magical thinking” of the Christian right. (Bageant’s brother is a Baptist pastor who casts out demons.) What it adds up to, he asserts, is an unacknowledged class war. By turns brutal, tender, incendiary, and seriously funny, this book is a call to arms for fellow progressives with little real understanding of “the great beery, NASCAR-loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in a Starbucks.” 
Deer Hunting with Jesus is a potent antidote to what Bageant dubs “the American hologram”—the televised, corporatized virtual reality that distracts us from the insidious realities of American life.

My review from Goodreads: Incisive. Insightful. Incendiary. Going away to ponder.


My friend Carolyn's review from Goodreads, (which is a little less alliterative and actually says stuff): Like Joe Bageant, I come from a partly Scots Irish early-settler North American religious and hunting culture. So a lot of this book was painfully close to reality for me. Published in 2005 during Bush and before Obama, this book explores many aspects of the emergent neoconservative voting bloc. But it is personal rather than sociological, as Bageant is from a long-time Virginia family of dogmatic Protestant preachers, working class stiffs, and notably hunters. He loves his people, but having seen the liberal socialist light, he despairs of the self-defeating anti-union, anti-medicare, xenophobic propaganda they have swallowed like so many catfish in the fishin' hole. I wish he had referenced many of the statistics and factoids he cites, as I was dubious of some of them. Bageant is such a laugh-out-loud witty writer that it is easy to get seduced by his arguments, despite weaknesses in some; for example, at one point he argues for a difference between employed "rednecks" and unemployed "white trash" but then says whether they are employed is immaterial. His central thesis, though, is supported: that there is a class war in the US and that the burgeoning religious, gun-toting, illiterate, chronically ill working class is ignored at the peril of politicians. Until Democrats help these desperate people and start talking directly to them where they live about bread-and-butter issues, they won't get far.

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala: Goodreads synopsis: On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since. She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her.

Can I get a blanket pass for any stupid stuff I say in this review? It's so hard to review a book like this without saying stupid stuff, don't you find? First of all, I have an indefensible impulse, when reading grief memoirs, to classify (only in my own mind) whether or not the person is 'doing grief right'. Sometimes this means they're grieving similarly to how I imagine I would; sometimes it means they're grieving BETTER than I imagine I would. And yes, I know that assigning 'rightness' to grief is stupid - it's something that happens almost unconsciously. Anyway, I wholeheartedly (as well as meaninglessly) approved of how Sonali Deraniyagala grieved: belligerently, profanely, madly. I also sometimes wonder (guiltily) whether, in a case like this, when the loss is so towering and extensive, there's a certain freedom to the grieving process - you don't have to keep it together for your remaining family members when there are none left. When Deraniyagala described her almost enchanted life with her husband and children - days shopping at early-morning fish markets, living the best parts of two cultures, idyllic days working and talking with her husband - I was both deeply happy that she had had these experiences and also fleetingly wondered if she had used up too much happiness too early in her life. All this to say, this book made me think and feel more than simple sorrow or pity. It was remarkable. Which is such a strange thing to think about a work that any humane person would wish profoundly had never had cause to be written.

Wise-Minded Parenting: 7 Essentials for Raising Successful Tweens and Teens by Laura S. Kastner and Kristen Russell: Goodreads synopsis: Raising a happy and successful teenager is a challenge for any parent, even the most patient and wisest among us. Parenting adolescents requires all sorts of skills that most of us don’t naturally possess. In this down-to-earth, practical guide, you’ll learn how to tap your “wise mind” to calmly navigate even the stormiest of parenting moments. You'll learn how to preserve your loving relationship while encouraging progress towards the 7 essentials of happy, healthy teens:
Secure attachment to parents Self-control Academic success Social thriving Emotional flourishing Strong character Physical health With humor, wisdom and a deep understanding of the teenaged brain, Dr. Kastner, author of Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens, and Russell provide clear and useful tools for parents, giving them effective new ways to manage their own emotions in the heat of the moment  with their teen while maintaining — and even gaining — closeness.


Fantasy:

Fuse by Julianna BaggottGoodreads synopsis: We want our son returned. This girl is proof that we can save you all. If you ignore our plea, we will kill our hostages one at a time.
To be a Pure is to be perfect, untouched by Detonations that scarred the earth and sheltered inside the paradise that is the Dome. But Partridge escaped to the outside world, where Wretches struggle to survive amid smoke and ash. Now, at the command of Partridge’s father, the Dome is unleashing nightmare after nightmare upon the Wretches in an effort to get him back.
At Partridge’s side is a small band of those united against the Dome: Lyda, the warrior; Bradwell, the revolutionary; El Capitan, the guard; and Pressia, the young woman whose mysterious past ties her to Partridge in way she never could have imagined. Long ago a plan was hatched that could mean the earth’s ultimate doom. Now only Partridge and Pressia can set things right.
To save millions of innocent lives, Partridge must risk his own by returning to the Dome and facing his most terrifying challenge. And Pressia, armed only with a mysterious Black Box, containing a set of cryptic clues, must travel to the very ends of the earth, to a place where no map can guide her. If they succeed, the world will be saved. But should they fail, humankind will pay a terrible price.

It was quite good. And there's no book three. Which is even better. 

OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE. I just looked, and there's a book three. WILL MY TORMENT NEVER CEASE? 

Horror/Re-read:

The Shining by Stephen King: Goodreads synopsis: Danny was only five years old but in the words of old Mr Halloran he was a 'shiner', aglow with psychic voltage. When his father became caretaker of the Overlook Hotel his visions grew frighteningly out of control. 
As winter closed in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seemed to develop a life of its own. It was meant to be empty, but who was the lady in Room 217, and who were the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why did the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive? 
Somewhere, somehow there was an evil force in the hotel - and that too had begun to shine.

Reviewed on blog. Sorta. 

Zombies:

Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory: Goodreads synopsis: In 1968, after the first zombie outbreak, Wanda Mayhall and her three young daughters discover the body of a teenage mother during a snowstorm. Wrapped in the woman’s arms is a baby, stone-cold, not breathing, and without a pulse. But then his eyes open and look up at Wanda — and he begins to move.
The family hides the child — whom they name Stony — rather than turn him over to authorities that would destroy him. Against all scientific reason, the undead boy begins to grow. For years his adoptive mother and sisters manage to keep his existence a secret — until one terrifying night when Stony is forced to run and he learns that he is not the only living dead boy left in the world.

My review from Goodreads: Very thoughtful and thought-provoking. The tone and setting differ quite strongly from the beginning to the end, but the transition is smooth and believable. Some really great, strongly drawn characters and relationships. A really fresh twist on the zombie motif, with a strong 'what makes us human?' thread. 

Whatever these are:

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff: Goodreads synopsis: Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder.
She tells police that she is a member of a secret organization devoted to fighting evil; her division is called the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons—"Bad Monkeys" for short.
This confession earns Jane a trip to the jail's psychiatric wing, where a doctor attempts to determine whether she is lying, crazy—or playing a different game altogether. What follows is one of the most clever and gripping novels you'll ever read.


My review from Goodreads: I started reading this, turned off the light, tried to go to sleep, turned the light back on and read the rest of it. It was a hell of a fun ride. You always get something a little different from this author.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett: Goodreads synopsis: According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch(the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.
So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

My review from Goodreads: People told me I'd either love it or not, and I should put it down if I wasn't laughing out loud by the end of the first page. I was smiling by the end of the first page, so I kept reading. I didn't feel the need to blaze through it, and sometimes I felt slightly lost, and then last night as I was reading the last part, I realized I did love it after all. Sometimes it's funny in a snort-out-loud kind of way, and overall it's funny in a sweet, heartwarming, hopeful kind of way.

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances HardingeGoodreads synopsis: On an island of sandy beaches, dense jungles, and slumbering volcanoes, colonists seek to apply archaic laws to a new land, bounty hunters stalk the living for the ashes of their funerary pyres, and a smiling tribe is despised by all as traitorous murderers. It is here, in the midst of ancient tensions and new calamity, that two sisters are caught in a deadly web of deceits.
Arilou is proclaimed a beautiful prophetess—one of the island's precious oracles: a Lost. Hathin, her junior, is her nearly invisible attendant. But neither Arilou nor Hathin is exactly what she seems, and they live a lie that is carefully constructed and jealously guarded.
When the sisters are unknowingly drawn into a sinister, island-wide conspiracy, quiet, unobtrusive Hathin must journey beyond all she has ever known of her world—and of herself—in a desperate attempt to save them both. As the stakes mount and falsehoods unravel, she discovers that the only thing more dangerous than the secret she hides is the truth she must uncover.

My review from Goodreads: I can't remember why I requested this book from the library (I REALLY need to start keeping track of that) and I was sort of confused and annoyed for the first third of it or so. I tend to read more urban fantasy than sword-and-sorcery stuff, and I couldn't get a firm hold on the worldmaking and the tribes - there were Lost, and there were Lace, but there was a Lace Lost and WHAT? and I still think the title is kind of ill-chosen. But then things sort of snapped into place, and the conspiracy - the feared and misunderstood Lace being scapegoated - and the characters and the story were suddenly very clear and fascinating. There were also good relationships, and good dialogue, and tragedy and heroic sacrifice and triumph of a sort. I'm unsure why this author isn't more well-known.


Books About Teenage Girls Who Wake Up With Amnesia and Wander Around Trying Kind of Ineptly to Figure out What's Going On Which Should be Inexpressibly Annoying and Yet I Found Bizarrely Enjoyable and Compelling:

As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott: Goodreads synopsis: Ava is welcomed home from the hospital by a doting mother, lively friends, and a crush finally beginning to show interest. There's only one problem: Ava can't remember any of them - and can't shake the eerie feeling that she's not who they say she is.
Ava struggles to break through her amnesiac haze as she goes through the motions of high-school life, but the memories that surface take place in a very different world, where Ava and familiar-faced friends are under constant scrutiny and no one can be trusted. Ava doesn't know what to make of these visions, or of the boy who is at the center of them all, until he reappears in her life and offers answers . . . but only in exchange for her trust.

I read this a year or so ago, forgot to record it, remembered it vaguely a few days ago and became obsessed with finding it. Some of the details had become muddled in my mind, but it's actually an ingeniously plotted story and has some keen insights about how expectations placed on people can shape and direct their growth, for better or worse. A clever and noteworthy entry in the dystopic/amnesia/star-crossed lovers/YA category.


Six Months Later by Natalie Richards: Goodreads synopsis: She has everything she's ever wanted. But not her memory...
When Chloe fell asleep in study hall, it was the middle of May. When she wakes up, snow is on the ground and she can't remember the last six months of her life. 
Before, she'd been a mediocre student. Now, she's on track for valedictorian and being recruited by Ivy League schools. Before, she never had a chance with super jock Blake. Now he's her boyfriend. Before, she and Maggie were inseparable. Now her best friend won't speak to her.
What happened to her? Remembering the truth could be more dangerous than she knows..

Almost the last book I read, on my ipad, late at night in bed over the Christmas holidays, so it would have had to be really bad to not make me happy. And it wasn't. There was amnesia, and witty banter, and an appealingly unconventional heroine and an ALMOST-formulaic and yet believable romance, and a mystery I couldn't figure out (although that MIGHT have been all the vodka).

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