Sunday, January 19, 2014

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 Koryta: Goodreads 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 stuffLike 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.

Reviewed on blog

Fantasy:

Fuse by Julianna Baggott: Goodreads 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 Hardinge: Goodreads 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).

6 comments:

Steph Lovelady said...

Have you read Dr. Sleep yet? Or was that in 2014? I enjoyed it while reading it but then I was done with it. I don't think it will linger in my mind the way the Shining has for decades.

Nicole said...

oooooh, you reminded me that I wanted to get that tweens/teens book. Thanks!

Maggie said...

Bad Monkeys was so good and I'd totally forgotten about it!

Damn it, I just started Fuse believing it to be the last in the series and managing to get past my issue with trilogies. Considering returning to the library before I get into it out of spite. Bah.

Bibliomama said...

Steph - yes, I read it at the beginning of January. I actually adored it - I think it's representative of King's very best.

Maggie - cool! You're the only other person I know who's read Bad Monkeys!

Ms. G said...

I don't know how you do it. I could never keep up with the volume you read. But then I just went reading dry for almost a month before I realized I needed to dig up some old stuff and get a change.

Sarah said...

And here I thought I read a lot.