Monday, January 19, 2015

Year-End Book Review: Three Star Everything Else 2014

Photo by Stephen Mackenzie













Fiction: 

A Beckoning War by Matthew Murphy. Goodreads synopsis: Italy, September, 1944. As Allied armies close in on the retreating armies of the Third Reich, Captain Jim McFarlane, a Canadian infantry officer, is coming apart at the seams. He is exhausted and his identity fragments as he tries to command his combat company under fire, waiting with equally bated breath for letters from his wife Marianne and for orders to advance into the fray. Written in extraordinarily vivid prose, A Beckoning War is alternatively cerebral and visceral, unsettling and gripping, propelled by the tension between the larger perspective of the war and the private perspective of an officer teetering at the edge. This novel marks the debut of an important new author.

Reviewed on blog June 2014.

The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankel. Goodreads synopsis: Jesper Humlin is a poet of middling acclaim who is saddled by his underwhelming book sales, an exasperated girlfriend, a demanding mother, and a rapidly fading tan. His boy-wonder stockbroker has squandered Humlin’s investments, and his editor, who says he must write a crime novel to survive, begins to pitch and promote the nonexistent book despite Humlin’s emphatic refusals. Then, when he travels to Gothenburg to give a reading, he finds himself thrust into an entirely different world, where names shift, stories overlap, and histories are both deeply secret and in profound need of retelling.
Leyla from Iran, Tanya from Russia, and Tea-Bag, who is from Africa but claims to be from Kurdistan (because Kurds might receive preferential treatment as refugees)—these are the shadow girls who become Humlin’s unlikely pupils in impromptu writing workshops. Though he had imagined their stories as fodder for his own book, soon their intertwining lives require him to play a much different role.

I just don't know. The stories of the refugee girls are very powerful, but the framing device seems clunky and annoying. I wondered briefly if this was on purpose - if a more sympathetic Swedish character wouldn't have thrown the plight of the illegals into as stark a relief. Then I'd get annoyed at the gormless Humlin allowing himself to be pushed around by his mother, and his publisher, and his stock-broker some more, while dithering about whether he should help the girls or rip off their stories. It felt a little too slapstick. The author was clearly trying to write something worthwhile about an important cause. Mankel's Wallander series is amazing - this, on the whole, was promising but not quite satisfying.

Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. Goodreads synopsis: Since her first publication in 1992, celebrated novelist Ann Patchett has crafted a number of elegant novels, garnering accolades and awards along the way. Now comes a reissue of the best-selling debut novel that launched her remarkable career. St. Elizabeth's, a home for unwed mothers in Habit, Kentucky, usually harbors its residents for only a little while. Not so Rose Clinton, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed, and stays. She plans to give up her child, thinking she cannot be the mother it needs. But when Cecilia is born, Rose makes a place for herself and her daughter amid St. Elizabeth's extended family of nuns and an ever-changing collection of pregnant teenage girls. Rose's past won't be kept away, though, even by St. Elizabeth's; she cannot remain untouched by what she has left behind, even as she cannot change who she has become in the leaving.

This was the debut novel of an author I absolutely adore - Bel Canto is in my personal top ten reads of all time list. This didn't have the lofty grandeur of some of her other books, but her gift for circumscribing an utterly real world and characters is already present. (If you're only going to read one, though, read Bel Canto). 

The Glister by John Burnside. Goodreads synopsis: Since George Lister’s chemical plant closed down, Innertown has been a shadow of its former self. In the woods that once teemed with life, strange sickly plants grow. Homes that were once happy are threatened by a mysterious illness.
Here, a young boy named Leonard and his friends exist in a state of confusion and despair, as every year or so a boy from their school vanishes after venturing into the poisoned woods. Without conclusive evidence of foul play, the authorities consider the boys to be runaways. 
The town policeman suspects otherwise but, paralyzed with fear, he does nothing. And so it is up to the children who remain to take action. Their plan to stop the forces of evil that are destroying their town is at the shocking and terrifying heart of The Glister.


There were some potent and poignant passages about dying towns, and their corrupt and stultifying effect on its population, particularly its youth. Also some horrifyingly realistic scenes about the madness of crowds, especially ones made up of adolescents. The atmostphere was well done, but overall, the book didn't really seem to know what exactly it was trying to be - a scathing social commentary or a thriller.




Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay. Goodreads synopsis: In a small prairie school in 1929, Connie Flood helps a backward student, Michael Graves, learn how to read. Observing them and darkening their lives is the principal, Parley Burns, whose strange behaviour culminates in an attack so disturbing its repercussions continue to the present day.
Connie’s niece, Anne, tells the story. Impelled by curiosity about her dynamic, adventurous aunt and her more conventional mother, she revisits Connie’s past and her mother’s broken childhood. In the process, she unravels the enigma of Parley Burns and the mysterious (and unrelated) deaths of two young girls. As the novel moves deeper into their lives, the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles – aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter – until a sudden, capsizing love thrusts Anne herself into a newly independent life. 
This spellbinding tale – set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valley –crosses generations and cuts to the bone. It probes the roots of obsessive love and hate, how the hurts and desires of childhood persist and are passed on as if in the blood. It lays bare the urgency of discovering what we were never told about the past. And it celebrates the process of becoming who we are in a world full of startling connections that lie just out of sight.
Following her award-winning, #1 bestselling Late Nights on AirAlone in the Classroom is Elizabeth Hay’s most intricate, compelling, and seductive novel yet.


Damn, I could have sworn I wrote a review on Goodreads. "It probes the roots of obsessive love and hate, how the hurts and desires of childhood persist and are passed on as if in the blood" - that sums it up pretty well, from what I remember. I do recall being infuriated by some of the schoolroom scenes and being glad that children aren't so at the mercy of corrupt authority figures today (the pendulum might have swung a bit too far the other way, arguably). 

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. Goodreads synopsis: Berlin, 1939. A young, brilliant trumpet-player, Hieronymus, is arrested in a Paris cafe. The star musician was never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black.
Fifty years later, Sidney Griffiths, the only witness that day, still refuses to speak of what he saw. When Chip Jones, his friend and fellow band member, comes to visit, recounting the discovery of a strange letter, Sid begins a slow journey towards redemption.
From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris, Sid leads the reader through a fascinating, little-known world, and into the heart of his own guilty conscience.
Half-Blood Blues is an electric, heart-breaking story about music, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.


I started this many months ago right after I bought it, and loved the first part - it was slow and smoky and I could hear jazz in my mind while reading. Then I lent it to my mother, since I had multitudinous other books to read, and when she gave it back it took me a while still to pick it back up. And when I did, some of the magic seemed to have rubbed off, but I can't articulate exactly why. Somehow, the section where the remaining band members are trapped in the club waiting for a way to escape Berlin seemed to drag on forever, and it brought me out of the story to the point where I couldn't get back in. There's certainly some beautiful writing and I love the way she captures music in words. Sid is a craven, weak character, but I don't generally need a sympathetic protagonist to like a book. So I'm not sure what it was, and I'm willing to stipulate that it was possibly a time or place thing. There were some very striking scenes, but for me the whole story didn't hang together as transportingly as it did for some. Although now when I think back on it, the story arc is clear and affecting, and I feel like I should read it again. The way she captures the voice of a septuagenarian man is remarkable. 

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis. Goodreads synopsis: Set on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, a suspenseful page-turning saga of love, murder, and the true meaning of faith from the author of the acclaimedThe Liar’s Diary.
Set in the close-knit Portuguese community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, The Orphans of Race Point traces the relationship between Hallie Costa and Gus Silva, who meet as children in the wake of a terrible crime that leaves Gus parentless. Their friendship evolves into an enduring and passionate love that will ask more of them than they ever imagined.
On the night of their high school prom, a terrible tragedy devastates their relationship and profoundly alters the course of their lives. And when, a decade later, Gus—now a priest—becomes entangled with a distraught woman named Ava and her daughter Mila, troubled souls who bring back vivid memories of his own damaged past, the unthinkable happens: he is charged with murder. Can Hallie save the man she’s never stopped loving, by not only freeing him from prison but also—finally—the curse of his past?
Told in alternating voices, The Orphans of Race Point illuminates the transformative power of love and the myriad ways we find meaning in our lives.


I'd been reading short stories or skipping from book to book all summer, so it was enjoyable to just read something all the way through. I kind of hate that I'm too cynical to love this as wholeheartedly as so many other people clearly do. It's certainly a firecracker of a story, with a lovely sense of place and some nicely-written characters. But my goodness, the melodrama is thick on the ground here, and the plot elements are extremely contrived. Some of the early scenes between Hallie and Gus could have been rewritten substituting the names Edward and Bella and they would have fit into Twilight without anyone noticing. And then the twist upon twist upon twist. I enjoy being surprised, but there is a limit.

Rooms by Lauren Oliver. Goodreads synopsis: The New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Deliriumtrilogy makes her brilliant adult debut with this mesmerizing story in the tradition of The Lovely Bones, Her Fearful Symmetry, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane—a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways.
Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance. 
But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb. 
The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
Elegantly constructed and brilliantly paced, Rooms is an enticing and imaginative ghost story and a searing family drama that is as haunting as it is resonant.


I think I got interrupted reading this so many times during the first half that I had trouble maintaining interest. Then I finally picked it up and plowed through to the end, and was really glad I stuck with it. There were some lovely moments, and the story is poignant and bittersweet.

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Goodreads synopsis: Grace Reinhart Sachs is living the only life she ever wanted for herself, devoted to her husband, a pediatric oncologist at a major cancer hospital, their young son Henry, and the patients she sees in her therapy practice. Grace is also the author of You Should Have Known, a book in which she castigates women for not valuing their intuition and calls upon them to examine their first impressions of men for signs of serious trouble later on. But weeks before the book is published, a chasm opens in her own life: a violent death, a missing husband, and, in the place of a man Grace thought she knew, only a chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster and horrified by the ways in which she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child and herself.

Much like The Husband's Secret, this is more women's fiction and less thriller than I expected, but also well done enough that I wasn't bitter about it. I was, however, profoundly grateful that my kids don't go to private school in New York - navigating the social minefields of Manotick Co-op Nursery School was hard enough for me.

Non-fiction: 


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Goodreads synopsis: At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

I get why a lot of people loved this book. I get why it makes a lot of people angry. She did some stupid stuff, but it was extremely blonde, marketable, cinematic stupid stuff, and it opened some doors for her and now she's a writer with a bestseller and Reese Witherspoon is playing her in a movie. This doesn't make me angry. She has an extremely valid excuse for her Daddy Issues, and grief makes people crazy even when they're well-balanced to begin with, and she wasn't. She writes well, she doesn't really try to justify her bad choices, and she did a really, really hard thing, maybe through luck as well as tenacity, but tenacity also played a role. So this book didn't change my life, but it was a great way to spend a four-hour flight. Then again, I didn't hate Eat, Pray, Love either. If you can make having a screwed-up life and going on a wacky vacation work for you as a career choice, more power to you, sister.

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout. Goodreads synopsis: As a child, Amanda Lindhout escaped a violent household by paging through issues of National Geographic and imagining herself in its exotic locales. At the age of nineteen, working as a cocktail waitress in Calgary, Alberta, she began saving her tips so she could travel the globe. Aspiring to understand the world and live a significant life, she backpacked through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, and India, and emboldened by each adventure, went on to Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan. In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a television reporter. And then, in August 2008, she traveled to Somalia—“the most dangerous place on earth.” On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road.
Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda converts to Islam as a survival tactic, receives “wife lessons” from one of her captors, and risks a daring escape. Moved between a series of abandoned houses in the desert, she survives on memory—every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity—and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the woman kept in chains, in the dark, being tortured.
Vivid and suspenseful, as artfully written as the finest novel, A House in the Sky is the searingly intimate story of an intrepid young woman and her search for compassion in the face of unimaginable adversity.


I don't see any way to review this other than glowingly and not sound like an asshole. Much like Cheryl Strayed, Amanda Lindhout grew up without great role models, and some of her more questionable choices are understandable. She's not a hero, or a criminal. She's just a person that something shitty happened to, and I'm glad she survived. I didn't find the book awe-inspiring, just interesting. 

Mystery: 

What to Do when Someone Dies by Nicci French. Goodreads synopsis: 'This is not my world. Something is wrong, askew. . . I am Ellie Falkner, thirty-four years old and married to Greg Manning. Although two police officers have just come to my door and told me he is dead . . . '
It's devastating to hear that your husband has died in a horrific car accident. But to learn that he died with a mystery woman as his passenger is torment. Was Greg having an affair?
Drowning in grief, Ellie clings to Greg's innocence, and her determination to prove it to the world at large means she must find out who Milena Livingstone was and what she was doing in Greg's car. But in the process those around her begin to question her sanity and motive. And the louder she shouts that Greg must have been murdered, the more suspicion falls on Ellie herself.
Sometimes it's safer to keep silent when someone dies.


Not bad. My favourite by these authors (Nicci French is a pseudonym) is Land of the Living, with Beneath the Skin a close second. 

Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez. Goodreads synopsis: Lucie Henebelle, single mother and beleaguered detective, has just about enough on her plate when she receives a panicked phone call from an ex-lover who has developed a rare disorder after watching an obscure film from the 1950s. With help from the brooding Inspector Franck Sharko, who is exploring the movie’s connection to five unearthed corpses at a construction site, Lucie begins to strip away the layers of what may be the most disturbing film ever made. With more lives on the line, Sharko and Lucie struggle to solve this terrifying mystery before it’s too late. In a high-stakes, adrenaline-fueled hunt that jumps from France to Canada, Egypt to Rwanda, and beyond, this astonishing page-turner, with cinematic echoes from The Manchurian Candidate and the Bourne series, will keep you guessing until the very end. 

I loved the characters, and the translation was very good, which probably means the writing is very good. The actual mystery was the tiniest bit disappointing in the end, but I think that was more my problem than the book's. I would read more of this series if it became available in English.

And She Was by Alison Gaylin. Goodreads synopsis: On a summer afternoon in 1998, six-year-old Iris Neff walked away from a barbecue in her small suburban town . . . and vanished.
Missing persons investigator Brenna Spector has a rare neurological disorder that enables her to recall every detail of every day of her life. A blessing and a curse, it began in childhood, when her older sister stepped into a strange car never to be seen again, and it’s proven invaluable in her work. But it hasn’t helped her solve the mystery that haunts her above all others—and it didn’t lead her to little Iris. When a local woman, Carol Wentz, disappears eleven years later, Brenna uncovers bizarre connections between the missing woman, the long-gone little girl . . . and herself.

It sounds like this was the basis for the tv show Unforgettable, but apparently it's not - the show is based on a short story. This was good - a little different, good characters, and I was intrigued by how the author gave complete backstories to even minor characters. I understand that being able to remember everything would be at least as much a curse as a blessing but at this point in my life where it's a struggle to remember a three-item grocery list without an annotated written document, it sounds pretty sweet. 

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth. Goodreads synopsis: Weirdo is an atmospheric thriller about a teenage girl convicted of murder in a 1980s seaside town and the private investigator who reopens the case to discover that she may not have acted alone . . . Corinne Woodrow was 15 when she was convicted of murdering one of her classmates on a summer’s evening in 1984, a year when the teenagers of Ernemouth ran wild, dressing in black and staying out all night, listening to music that terrified their parents. Twenty years later, new forensic evidence suggests that Corinne didn’t act alone. Private investigator Sean Ward — whose promising career as a detective with the Metropolitan Police was cut short by a teenage gangster with a gun — reopens the case. He discovers a town full of secrets and a community that has always looked after its own.

At first I found this a little disappointing because everything seemed kind of glaringly obvious. Then I started to empathize with the characters and got more engaged with the story, which was really more sad and anger-prompting than mysterious or scary. There's no doubt that people on the fringes of society are often used as scapegoats, especially when the authorities are corrupt and self-interested.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh. Goodreads synopsis: The Dane family's roots tangle deep in the Ozark Mountain town of Henbane, but that doesn't keep sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane from being treated like an outsider. Folks still whisper about her mother, a bewitching young stranger who inspired local myths when she vanished years ago. When one of Lucy's few friends, slow-minded Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost girls-the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn't protect. Everything changes when Lucy stumbles across Cheri's necklace in an abandoned trailer and finds herself drawn into a search for answers. What Lucy discovers makes it impossible to ignore the suspicion cast on her own kin. More alarming, she suspects Cheri's death could be linked to her mother's disappearance, and the connection between the two puts Lucy at risk of losing everything. In a place where the bonds of blood weigh heavy, Lucy must decide where her allegiances lie.

I was thinking that a lot of the narrative tension would be drained by revealing some secrets early on. It gave an interesting perspective on the whole intergenerational story, though. The writing is good, and the rendering of the stifling small-town atmosphere is letter-perfect. The characters were complex, flawed and compelling, and there are some deep truths about family - how messy and sprawling and deep a damaging secret can be, how you can be unable to stop loving someone who proves monstrous in the eyes of others, how hard it is to cut yourself off from family members, no matter how harmful the association. I'm usually sort of annoyed by the femme fatale character, the sense that something about her drives men mad so they're not responsible for their own actions, but it was handled pretty well here.

The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier. Goodreads synopsis: A rash of grisly serial murders plagued Seattle until the infamous "Beacon Hill Butcher" was finally hunted down and killed by police chief Edward Shank in 1985. Now, some thirty years later, Shank, retired and widowed, is giving up his large rambling Victorian house to his grandson Matt, whom he helped raise.
Settling back into his childhood home and doing some renovations in the backyard to make the house feel like his own, Matt, a young up-and-coming chef and restaurateur, stumbles upon a locked crate he’s never seen before. Curious, he picks the padlock and makes a discovery so gruesome it will forever haunt him… Faced with this deep dark family secret, Matt must decide whether to keep what he knows buried in the past, go to the police, or take matters into his own hands.
Meanwhile Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, has always suspected that her mother was murdered by the Beacon Hill Butcher—two years after the supposed Butcher was gunned down. As she pursues leads that will prove her right, Sam heads right into the path of Matt’s terrible secret.
A thriller with taut, fast-paced suspense, and twists around every corner, The Butcher will keep you guessing until the bitter, bloody end.


Columbo-like mystery where the secret is revealed early on (so yes, the given synopsis is quite inaccurate) and then the story focuses on the fallout. Interesting treatment of the figure of the heroic police detective and the revisiting of past events from a much different perspective. Fairly chilling.

The Fever by Megan Abbott. Goodreads synopsis: The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.
The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.
As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.
A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire,The Fever affirms Megan Abbot's reputation as "one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation" (Laura Lippman).


This was fairly interesting, and a little different, and with a little more direction would have been stellar. As it was, it was just a little too unformed for me to love it. There were all these really compelling strands and sources of anxiety and pressure and intensity - burgeoning teenage sexuality, the labyrinthine minefield of adolescent female friendships, environmental concerns, mob mentality, and adult relationships. It was all too much without a firmer hand to pull it all together, although there were moments of brilliance.

The Boy in the Woods by Carter Wilson. Goodreads synopsis: In 1981, three fourteen-year-old boys witness a horrific murder in the Oregon woods near their homes. Sucked into becoming accomplices to the subsequent cover-up, they swear never to talk about what happened.
Thirty years later, Tommy Devereaux has become a bestselling author, using writing as his therapy. Finally, he is ready to tell the world what happened, even if he disguises the killing as fiction. But his life is set to unravel when he is approached by a woman who asks for his autograph, leaving behind a note which reads: 'You didn't even change my name.' Tommy's worst nightmare has come true. A figure from his past has returned, threatening to divulge his darkest secret unless he agrees to do everything she asks of him. Thus begins a deadly cat-and-mouse game that can only end with one or both of their destructions.

There are echoes of Stephen King's The Dark Half here, but this is a straightforward mystery (the plot synopsis made me suspect there would be an element of the supernatural). The story is fairly original, with some nice plot twists; the main character is quite sympathetic and suspense builds well as he becomes progressively trapped by the lies necessitated by his unwilling complicity in the long-ago crime. 

Fantasy/Science Fiction:

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. Goodreads synopsis: SOME STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME.
Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.
No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.
Until now. 
As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. "I nearly missed you, Doctor August," she says. "I need to send a message."
This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.


This was just really clever and fun. 


Red Cells by Jeffrey Thomas. Goodreads synopsis: Private detective and mutant shapeshifter Jeremy Stake (hero of the novels Deadstock and Blue War) has fallen on hard times in the far-future city of Punktown. When he is offered an opportunity to masquerade as another man to do his prison sentence for him, Stake agrees, but this is a new type of penitentiary—existing in its own pocket universe.
In this isolated prison, a series of gruesome murders have occurred, and the inmates soon force Stake to investigate. Can Stake catch a killer that might not even be human, without becoming just another victim?

So Punktown is a thing. This is my first experience with it. It's cool - different and interesting. I will probably read more. 

Kindred by Tammar Stein. Goodreads synopsis: The first time I meet an angel, it is Raphael and I am eighteen.

Miriam is an unassuming college freshman stuck on campus after her spring break plans fall through. She's not a religious girl--when pressed she admits reluctantly to believing in a higher power. Truth be told, she's about as comfortable speaking about her faith as she is about her love life, which is to say, not at all. And then the archangel Raphael pays Miriam a visit, and she finds herself on a desperate mission to save two of her contemporaries. To top it all off, her twin brother, Mo, has also had a visitation, but from the opposite end of the good-evil spectrum, which leaves Miriam to wonder--has she been blessed and her brother cursed orvice versa? And what is the real purpose behind her mission?

This might have been better as a novella, since the author explores some interesting questions but doesn't really take them far enough or provide a satisfactory conclusion for them to make the novel seem worthwhile. The whole notion of angelic visitation being connected to physical consequences - and the sort of bold decision to put in so much stuff about bowel function side-by-side with religious doubt and philosophical musings - could have been put to much more effective use.

Horror: 

Bird Box by Joshua Malerman. Goodreads synopsis: Most people ignored the outrageous reports on the news. But they became too frequent, they became too real. And soon, they began happening down the street. Then the Internet died. The television and radio went silent. The phones stopped ringing. And we couldn't look outside anymore. Malorie raises the children the only way she can; indoors. The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows. They are out there. She might let them in. The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall. Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them. Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything. 

I can't seem to articulate why I liked this, admired it, but didn't love it. He seems to do everything right. It's an extremely frightening idea, and the kind of horror I like does exactly this - takes a frightening idea and shows its effects on ordinary people. Throw in the fact that ordinary actions now often have to be done without sight, and a couple of impending births, along with a woman raising two children in the aftermath of it all, and it should have been an infallible recipe. And yet..... I couldn't connect with it emotionally at all. The thought of the two children growing up like they did, the lead-up to Malorie ending up alone - it should have been gut-wrenching, but it didn't wrench me at all. I don't know if that was the book's failing or my own. It should have been brilliant. It was just good. 

Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie. Goodreads synopsis: From an acclaimed horror writer, a chilling tale of blood-hungry children who rise from the dead in this innovative spin on apocalyptic vampire fiction.
Suffer the Children presents a terrifying tale of apocalyptic fiction, as readers are introduced to Herod's Syndrome, a devastating illness that suddenly and swiftly kills all young children across the globe. Soon, they return from the grave…and ask for blood. And with blood, they stop being dead. They continue to remain the children they once were...but only for a short time, as they need more blood to live. The average human body holds ten pints of blood, so the inevitable question for parents everywhere becomes: How far would you go to bring your child back?

Good, solid horror. The prose is more workmanlike than sparkling, but it's not clunky - the scenes describing the mass deaths of the children gave me actual chills . The various characters are credible, as is their escalating desperate and drastic behaviour. The way this is twisted neatly into a sort of combination vampire/zombie tale, braided together with the visceral parental fear of losing a child, is nicely done.

The Sleep Room by F.R. Tallis. Goodreads synopsis: When promising young psychiatrist James Richardson is offered the job opportunity of a lifetime by the charismatic Dr. Hugh Maitland, he is thrilled. Setting off to take up his post at Wyldehope Hall in deepest Suffolk, Richardson doesn’t look back. One of his tasks is to manage Maitland’s most controversial project—a pioneering therapy in which extremely disturbed patients are kept asleep for months. If this radical and potentially dangerous procedure is successful, it could mean professional glory for both doctors. 
As Richardson settles into his new life, he begins to sense something uncanny about the sleeping patients—six women, forsaken by society. Why is Maitland unwilling to discuss their past lives? Why is the trainee nurse so on edge when she spends nights alone with them? And what can it mean when all the sleepers start dreaming at the same time? In this atmospheric reinvention of the ghost story, Richardson finds himself questioning everything he knows about the human mind, as he attempts to uncover the shocking secrets of The Sleep Room.


Good, eerie, old-fashioned horror. 

The Odd Fellows by Guillermo Luna. Goodreads synopsis: Joaquin Moreno and Mark Crowden have an ambiguous relationship because their disputes with each other are undermining their vows of friendship, love, and truth—the three links and the chief tenets of the Odd Fellows, a secret society formed in 1819. 
Along with their friend, Theodora, and Joaquin’s dog, Mister Dangerous, these two odd fellows drive to San Felipe, Mexico, to open a bed and breakfast in a rundown Victorian mansion on the Gulf of California.
Upon their arrival, they meet a real estate agent, Felix De la Santos, and a traveling British citizen, Lord Leighton, who become their first guests. Over a span of eight days, all their plans go awry and they must confront an evil force intent on killing them—with only friendship, love, and truth as their weapons.


This reads like a quaint, old-fashioned story of exploration and discovery - H. Rider Haggard, Indiana Jones, that type of thing. The story alternates three points-of-view from chapter to chapter; Mark and Theodora's voices are appealingly bitchy, while Joaquin is a placating influence but not quite a doormat. The 'terrifying creature' part of the plot is a little thin and could have used more depth, but the rendering of the friendship between three people who are otherwise quite alone in the world is nicely done.

Snowblind by Christopher Golden. Goodreads synopsis: In Christopher Golden’s first horror novel in more than a decade--a work reminiscent of early Stephen King--Snowblindupdates the ghost story for the modern age.
The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards...but never one like this. Icy figures danced in the wind and gazed through children's windows with soul-chilling eyes. People wandered into the whiteout and were never seen again. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same.
Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. Photographer Jake Schapiro mourns his little brother, Isaac, even as---tonight---another little boy is missing. Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning's life has been forever scarred by the mysterious death of his wife, Cherie, and now he’s starting over with another woman and more ambitious crimes. Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy . . . and the boy’s father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone call . . . from a man who died twelve years ago.
As old ghosts trickle back, this new storm will prove to be even more terrifying than the last.
 


Another good old-fashioned Scary Story. I liked the drawing of the small town and the intersection of the various characters. The way the "ghosts" come back is a bit of an unusual twist and works well. The explanation for the entire phenomenon was not entirely satisfying, although I suppose overexplaining would have been just as bad. The whole notion of something deadly stalking people through the frozen wastes of winter is particularly convincing at the moment. Overall, a good way to spend a winter evening. 

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Goodreads synopsis: Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth... but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire, and they are hungry for Neville's blood.
By day he is the hunter, stalking the undead through the ruins of civilisation. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn.
How long can one man survive like this?


This was a reread of a classic. Excellent study of the human mind in isolation, and a cracking good vampire story to boot. 

I Am the New God by Nicole Cushing. Goodreads synopsis: Only a few in the world know the real truth about what happened more than two decades ago. While religions continue to covet their chosen deities, the gods we once worshipped were destroyed in the fall of 1989. 
In their place, a troubled teenager named Greg Bryce assumed control—and he's been presiding over and judging humanity ever since. 
This is the tale of what happened before the world as we knew it came to an end, how Greg was driven by truth and lies, divinity and insanity, punishment and mercy, resurrection and murder, to assume his rightful place as The New God. 
"Audacious, original and gleefully offensive, a broadside against the entire notion of divinity, with an ending you'll never see coming. Nicole Cushing is somebody to watch." —Jack Ketchum


Really quite original. A nicely different and eerie spin on the "quiet adolescent snaps" trope. Recommended for anyone who likes literate, cerebral horror. 

When We Fall by Peter Giglio. Goodreads synopsis: In the summer of 1985, thirteen-year-old Ben Brendel, still grieving the loss of his best friend, forms an unlikely friendship with the seventeen-year-old girl across the street. Aubrey Rose shares his love for film and soon helps him rekindle his passion for filmmaking.
But shortly after their first film is sent to the developing lab, Ben finds himself haunted by bizarre visions and nightmares. And when he brings the film home, nothing can prepare him for the dark secret it will reveal, bending the fragile bonds of family and friendship past the breaking point, and testing the courage and strength of a boy on the cusp of manhood.
WHEN WE FALL is a dark coming-of-age tale you won’t soon forget.


Sweet, sad, coming-of-age-through-tragic-events story with a couple of nicely pulled-off twists. The best horror is always more sad than gross or scary. 

Ghost Song by Sarah Rayne. Goodreads synopsis: The old Tarleton music hall is the subject of a mysterious building restriction that has kept it closed for more than 90 years. When Robert Fallon is asked to survey the structure, he finds clues indicating that its long twilight sleep may contain a sinister secret. Joining forces with researcher Hilary Bryant, Robert discovers the legend of the Tarleton's ghost, a mysterious figure that was first glimpsed during the era of Toby Chance, a charismatic performer who vanished suddenly and inexplicably in the early 1900s. After almost a century the Tarleton's dark silence is about to end, but there are those who find its reopening a threatening prospect. As Robert and Hilary delve into the macabre history, they both become menaced by the secrets of the past.

I've read a few books by this author, and she really has a knack for a particular kind of deliciously creepy goodness. The evocation of the old music hall in the past is flawless, I loved it - you can practically hear honky tonk music and smell cigarette smoke-drenched velvet curtains - and the present mystery is done well too. 

House of Doors by Chaz Brenchley. Goodreads synopsis: War widow Ruth Taylor arrives at RAF Morwood, the great house formerly known as D’Esperance, hoping that nursing badly wounded airmen will distract her from her sorrows. But almost as soon as she enters the house, she experiences strange visions and fainting spells, and the almost overwhelming sensation of her late husband’s ghostly presence. For D’Esperance is a place of shadows and secrets – and as the strange occurrences become increasingly menacing and violent, Ruth is forced to confront a terrible possibility: that her dead husband might be the cause.

Anyone who says this doesn't qualify as horror (several Goodreads reviewers, for example) has a quite narrow definition of horror, in my opinion. This story is soaked in the horrors of war and personal grief and loss - it's evocative and mournful more than in-your-face shocking, but no less frightening for that. 

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. Goodreads synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Lauren Beukes returns with her next smash crossover thriller.
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies, but this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half-boy, half-deer, somehow fused. The cops nickname him "Bambi," but as stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
If you're Detective Versado's over-achieving teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you are the disgraced journalist, Jonno, you do whatever it takes to investigate what may become the most heinous crime story in memory. If you're Thomas Keen, you'll do what you can to keep clean, keep your head down, and try to help the broken and possibly visionary artist obsessed with setting loose The Dream, tearing reality, assembling the city anew.
If Lauren Beukes's internationally best-selling The Shining Girls was a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is the genre-redefining thriller about the horror of our city's future.


Weird reading experience, probably mostly due to my dark mid-October mood. I still prefer her earlier work, and I can't figure out why - it seems like this one and The Shining Girls should be right up my alley, and yet I liked them but did not love them. Sometimes when a writer hits their 'breakout book' I find that some of the power goes out of their writing, maybe because they've felt the need to go more mainstream out of self-preservation. I don't begrudge them that, but there it is. I felt like her earlier Zoo City was better than both more recent books I've read. 

Short stories:

The Bible Repairman and Other Stories by Tim Powers. Goodreads synopsis: Gathering darkly fantastic short fiction previously available only in limited editions, this collection explores the mysteries of souls—whether they are sacrificed on the pinnacle of Mount Parnassus or lodged in a television cable box. In a Kabbalistic tale of transformation, the executor of an old friend’s will is almost duped into housing his soul. In a tale of time travel between 2015 and 1975, a tragedy sparked by an angel falling onto a pizza shop is reenacted—and the event is barely, but fatally, altered. The cornerstone of the collection is a postscript to the harrowing novel of the haunting of the Romantic poets, The Stress of Her Regard. Once Byron and Shelley break free of the succubus that claimed them, their associate, Trelawny, forges an alliance with Greek rebels to reestablish the deadly connection between man and the nephilim. Fans of Powers’s renowned secret histories will delight as he deftly weaves an array of fantastical creatures into richly layered narratives of the past.

A couple of the stories (the title one especially) are searingly wonderful. The others left me feeling like he hadn't quite gone far enough or put enough effort in to make them satisfying.

The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2009 edited by Rich Horton. Goodreads synopsis: The first volume of The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy features over a quarter million words of fiction by some of the genre's greatest authors, including Peter S. Beagle, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Ian McDonald, Sarah Monette, Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Robert Reed, Patrick Rothfuss, and many more, as selected by Rich Horton, a well-known and well-received contributor to many of the field's most respected magazines.

Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors, by Livia Llewellyn.

I bought this collection because I had read a story in an anthology that I liked, but I think the stories probably benefit from some time between reading one and the next; the Lovecraftian influence and transgressive sexual elements are effective in small doses, but I have a tendency to think I'm just going to read one story and then devour them all in a great gulping rush, and the cumulative sense was one of oversatiation on vaguely icky sex and tentacled sea monsters (sometimes both at the same time). I still find her to be a talented writer - I just think she's better off in mixed anthologies, or for readers who have more self-control.

Young Adult/Children's:

T-Backs, T-Shirts, Coat and Suit by E.L. Konigsburg. Goodreads synopsis: Give the unexpected a chance. That's the advice Chloe gets from her stepfather before she heads off to Florida to spend the summer with her aunt Bernadette. It turns out to be excellent advice, because everything about Bernadette is unexpected: her job driving a food service wagon, her big, slobbery dog, her Rollerblading skill, her unorthodox way of teaching Chloe to swim. But nothing is as unexpected as the war that erupts when the other drivers start wearing T-back swimsuits to work, and some community leaders mount a protest against the skimpy suits. Bernadette is caught in the middle of the controversy...and what starts as an innocent game for Chloe may just make things worse.

Really good rendering of what it's like as a child to spend time with an intelligent, unorthodox adult who doesn't treat children like children. A little dated, but doesn't suffer much for it. T-backs, to clear up any understandable confusion, are thongs. 

Out of Time by John Marsden. Goodreads synopsis: James often finds himself gazing out the window at night, wondering about other worlds, and what it might be like to live somewhere else. But it is all just a dream--until the memorable night he slips into the laboratory of his friend, Mr. Woodforde. Brilliant but eccentric, the elderly physicist lets James in on a secret. For years, he has been working on a secret project: a time machine 
Welcome aboard, James. Next stop: the Past. Or…the Future….

I read about this somewhere and found it on a used book site. It  was very nearly fantastic, but I felt like the disparate chapters needed a bit more linking together - intriguing situations kept being set up and then abandoned. The story of James and his sister, which is broken into pieces along the timeline, is effective, and the theme of people being lost or separated from their families is deeply felt. But anyone can write a bunch of beautiful, gem-like little set pieces -  in just leaving some of them unexplained he may have been trying to seem clever or averse to neat closure, but just seemed lazy. 

Adaptation by Malinda Lo. Goodreads synopsis: Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now.
Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.
Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won’t tell them what happened, where they are—or how they’ve been miraculously healed.
Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction—and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.
 


This was interesting, and better than a few of the YA efforts I've read recently. The narrative energy suffers somewhat from a coming-of-age/coming-out plot supplanting the science-fiction/fantasy plot; the first is, of course, entirely admirable, but sucks up a lot of literary real estate and slows things down a little. It's still refreshing, though, to see gay characters introduced fairly matter-of-factly. Reese is an engaging non-stereotypical character, and the plot has some original elements.

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco. Goodreads synopsis: You may think me biased, being murdered myself. But my state of being has nothing to do with the curiosity toward my own species, if we can be called such. We do not go gentle, as your poet encourages, into that good night. 
A dead girl walks the streets.
She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.
And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.
Because the boy has a terrifying secret - one that would just kill to get out. 
The Girl from the Well is A YA Horror novel pitched as "Dexter" meets "The Grudge", based on a well-loved Japanese ghost story.


Solid YA horror. Some lovely writing, good grounding in Japanese myth and history (seems so anyway - what the hell do I know?), seemed a little too melodramatic early on but then righted itself. And the cover is gorgeous. Not as scary as The Ring, but nothing will ever be as scary as The Ring, ever, the end. 

Inland by Kat Rosenfield. Goodreads synopsis: The psychological labyrinth of a young woman’s insidious connection to the sea, from the Edgar Award nominated author of Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone. 
Callie Morgan has long lived choked by the failure of her own lungs, the result of an elusive pulmonary illness that has plagued her since childhood. A childhood marked early by the drowning death of her mother—a death to which Callie was the sole witness. Her father has moved them inland, away from the memories of the California coast her mother loved so much and toward promises of recovery—and the escape of denial—in arid, landlocked air. 
But after years of running away, the promise of a life-changing job for her father brings Callie and him back to the coast, to Florida, where Callie’s symptoms miraculously disappear. For once, life seems delightfully normal. But the ocean’s edge offers more than healing air … it holds a magnetic pull, drawing Callie closer and closer to the chilly, watery embrace that claimed her mother. Returned to the ocean, Callie comes of age and comes into a family destiny that holds generations of secrets and very few happy endings.


Two and a half stars. I'm all for subtlety, and I liked that the main character and her relationships were very much not YA formula, but I think she erred on the side of cryptic too much, which became annoying. 

Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel. Goodreads synopsis: A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete's nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she's falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up--and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

I can never resist a Peter Pan re-telling. This wasn't the best one I've ever read, but it was by far not the worst. The surfing setting and the dreamy beach-party vibe work remarkably well for a re-imagined setting, and the story is as bittersweet as the original.

The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee. Goodreads synopsis: Quiet misfit Rose doesn't expect to fall in love with the sleepy beach town of Leonora. Nor does she expect to become fast friends with beautiful, vivacious Pearl Kelly, organizer of the high school float at the annual Harvest Festival parade. It's better not to get too attached when Rose and her father live on the road, driving their caravan from one place to the next whenever her dad gets itchy feet. But Rose can't resist the mysterious charms of the town or the popular girl, try as she might.
Pearl convinces Rose to visit Edie Baker, once a renowned dressmaker, now a rumored witch. Together Rose and Edie hand-stitch an unforgettable dress of midnight blue for Rose to wear at the Harvest Festival—a dress that will have long-lasting consequences on life in Leonora, a dress that will seal the fate of one of the girls. Karen Foxlee's breathtaking novel weaves friendship, magic, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and distinctly original.


I read this because it's by the author of the wonderful Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy. It isn't quite as magical (really, I didn't expect it to be, it's hard for anyone to strike that kind of gold twice) but it's quite lovely. It seems like we have access to more literature from Australia than in the past, and it's always nice to read something where the setting is a little different, especially when the landscape plays an important role in the story. I love Rose's relationship with Edie Baker, the outcast/witch figure, and the stories from the past. Three and a half stars. 

Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff. Goodreads synopsis: Clementine DeVore spent ten years trapped in a cellar, pinned down by willow roots, silenced and forgotten. 
Now she’s out and determined to uncover who put her in that cellar and why.  
When Clementine was a child, dangerous and inexplicable things started happening in New South Bend. The townsfolk blamed the fiendish people out in the Willows and burned their homes to the ground. But magic kept Clementine alive, walled up in the cellar for ten years, until a boy named Fisher sets her free. Back in the world, Clementine sets out to discover what happened all those years ago. But the truth gets muddled in her dangerous attraction to Fisher, the politics of New South Bend, and the Hollow, a fickle and terrifying place that seems increasingly temperamental ever since Clementine reemerged.


I still love the way she writes but the plotting didn't seem up to her usual standard. The ending is sort of a mushy, 'love-yourself' muddle, and the protagonist says things like "I've always thought" or "I've always done" whatever, when she was locked in a basement by magic when she was seven and then the rest of the action takes part in a few weeks after she's released as a teen-ager, so there isn't really any time for her to have "always" thought or done anything. The scene-setting is still great, and I will still happily read whatever else she puts out, but this just felt ever-so-slightly - I don't know, rushed to meet a deadline or something.

Blood Orange Soda by James Michael Larranaga. Goodreads synopsis: Darius Hunter is a bullied high school freshman. When he drinks Blood Orange Soda to transform into a Vampire and earn respect, he soon learns life as a Vampire has its own challenges.
Set in the future on the rural landscape of St. Cloud, Minnesota where pre-Vampire teens are required by the government to take a daily Red pill to prevent their urge to bite, Blood Orange Soda is a coming of age story of love, life and death. 

The world-building is quite good here, and this is an interesting blend of a coming-of-age story with vampire elements. The actual execution lacks somewhat - I often felt like there was too much exposition without enough emotion, too much telling instead of showing. This is decent YA, but without the spark that lifts some YA above its genre.

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn. Goodreads synopsis: A stunning debut novel about a girl who is half dragon, half human, and wholly herself.
As the only heir to the throne, Marni should have been surrounded by wealth and privilege, not living in exile-but now the time has come when she must choose between claiming her birthright as princess of a realm whose king wants her dead, and life with the father she has never known: a wild dragon who is sending his magical woods to capture her.
Fans of Bitterblue and Seraphina will be captured by A Creature of Moonlight, with its richly layered storytelling and the powerful choices its strong heroine must make.


Thinking back on this now, I really think I owe it a reread - I've thought about it quite a few times, not being able to remember which book I was remembering. The main character is very well-drawn, and her path and relationships are quite interesting. It has the depth and darkness of the best fairy tales. 

4 comments:

Steph Lovelady said...

My mom really wants me to see Wild, but apparently more because it was filmed partially in the town where she lives than because of artistic merit, so that hasn't been too motivating.

Nicole said...

I love these reviews. You are like my own personal book-recommendation-machine.

Alison said...

Wow, this must have been so much work! Thanks again for doing these.

Sasha said...

I almost added Bel Canto to my GoodReads, only to discover it's already there. I refer you to my earlier comment about my to-reads list. I'm pondering a book bingo, honestly, I should just make one up with 24 squares of "a book from your to-read list" and a free-space in the middle.

I'm trying to remember what I thought of Late Nights On Air, I do remember trying to read the movie-book (Garbo Laughed?) and being so lost (I didn't know ANY of the movies) that I just put it back down. The synopsis sounds intriguing, but I suspect I would experience the same fury you describe.