“Yeah, so I read Ruth Ware’s new book.” Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

The Death of Mrs Westaway Photo.jpg

Ruth Ware, the author of thrillers including In a Dark, Dark Wood and, the better known, The Woman in Cabin 10, is back with a thriller spanning several generations.  Harriet, or rather, Hal, is a young woman trying to keep a step ahead of violent loan sharks by reading Tarot cards on the pier.  She learned about the cards and how to read people from her mother, but her mother’s recent death in a car accident has left her about to lose the flat they shared and possibly much, much more if she can’t figure out how to pay off her growing debt. 

Fortune, however, shines on her.  She receives a letter letting her know she is in line for an inheritance due to the passing of her grandmother.  The only catch; Hal realizes that there has been a mistake. The woman who passed isn’t really her grandmother.  Hal, however, is desperate. She is adept at reading others and figuring out what they want to hear. These skills should serve her long enough to attend the reading of a will, collect whatever money is being doled out, pay off her debts, and then live without fear of death nor a too troubled conscience. She can play quiet and demure while meeting some new Uncles and their families.  She makes a living out of putting on an act.  But things are never that easy. 

This thriller follows two stories; Hal’s and her Mother’s.  There is hidden, forbidden love, the condescending attitudes of the wealthy, murder, betrayal and buried secrets.  It has all the ingredients of a good thriller. And I won’t go so far as to say that it isn’t good, but to be more accurate, I’d say it is a proficient thriller.  If you like her other books, you’ll like this one, though probably not quite as much.  The story takes a long time to set up; in contrast, the book itself feels rushed. The resolution is not satisfying.  Ware does a good job setting up false leads and red herrings, but the truth’s unraveling is muddled.  However, by this point, you don’t care enough to go back and try to think it all through to see if it really makes sense or reaches a little far. You are just glad it is done so you can tell people, “Yeah, I read Ruth Ware’s new book.” But you won’t have a clear idea what to say after that.

In the mood for something different? The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faveron Patriau.

(Click the image to purchase the book) I took this picture in a mock-up of an alcatraz cell in a hotel in San Francisco the day before I was able to tour alcatraz.  There were a lot of tourists taking photos...They gave me plenty of room as I began staging and taking pictures of this book...lol

(Click the image to purchase the book) I took this picture in a mock-up of an alcatraz cell in a hotel in San Francisco the day before I was able to tour alcatraz.  There were a lot of tourists taking photos...They gave me plenty of room as I began staging and taking pictures of this book...lol

This is a book full of many pieces; it is a mystery and a love story; it is a surrealistic search for truth and a text on friendship; it is a story of madness, tragedy, and the bonds of sibling affection.

The narrator, a psycholinguist named Gustavo, is trying to find out what really happened with his friend and fellow bibliophile, Daniel, and the murder or murders in which his friend is involved.  The dead girls include Daniel’s fiancé; Daniel’s mistress, a prostitute he convinced to act as his maid and live with him and his fiancé; and a girl at the mental asylum (murdered by having pages torn from books carefully pressed down her throat) Daniel’s mother was able to get him in to avoid prison for the murder of said fiancé.  Also thrown in the mix is the bizarre, tragic tale of the fire that claimed Daniel’s beloved sister, Sophia. 

When Daniel goes to the asylum, Gustavo does nothing to contact his friend. It isn’t until three years later when Daniel reaches out to him with a cryptic confession and tales that are more fable and allegory than truth that Gustavo’s guilt at leaving his friend behind pushes him to pursue the truth.  The search will take Gustavo into a world of mental illness, strange policemen, and antique book dealers who may also trade in human body parts.

This book is Kafkaesque in that the lines between what is real and unreal are blurred to the point of being incorporeal. The stories Daniel tells Gustavo and the reality of his stay in the asylum, the murders, and even the officers investigating the death at the asylum all take on surreal qualities. A good example is this description of an unexpected encounter Gustavo has with a woman in a small room:

…there was a woman: branches of black hair falling over her shoulders to her stomach, her head tilting downward, and her fingers jutting out from her hands like nightsticks. She was emitting a faint reptilian groan and wiggling her body from side to side, as if she too was being rocked by the breeze, another larva in that room of half-made beings…The woman, sitting with great difficulty upon a box, her legs hanging inches from the ground, appeared like a quiet dwarf or a beastly bird barricaded into a corner of its cage in a zoo of shadows…Out of nowhere, she snapped her head forward at me, and in the grayish glow of the room I saw her featureless, amphibious face, her skin striated in parallel lines of withering flesh, her salamander smile infested with fangs and pustules of filthy cartilage.

She also lays an egg with a fortune inside which states, “Don’t believe anything.” Surreal.

What this book does well is keep the mystery intact; it keeps the readers questioning who David really is, what crimes he is capable of and the lengths to which he might go to cover them up.  It leaves you guessing about motives throughout the book, revisiting and revising what you know and what you think you know.  What it doesn’t do so well is weave the side stories the Antiquarian reads us into the narrative in a meaningful way. Also, the sub-story about selling human body parts has a purpose in the story but isn’t integrated in a manner to successfully tie it all together and make it feel like it was worth the effort.

(click the image to purchase)

(click the image to purchase)

This book foremost reminds me of another I read years ago: Artificial Respiration by Ricardo Piglia. I can’t accurately recall an adequate summary of its content, but I can say that it left a lasting impression and is an incredible book and I would recommend it over The Antiquarian if you were only going to read one of the two.  Other books that you might like if you like these kinds of books would be Kafka’s The Trial or even his short story, “The Metamorphosis.”  Bruno Schulz also wrote a book of short stories titled Street of Crocodiles which would offer you shorter travels in this vein of fiction.

Ultimately the book is a worthy read.  The unraveling of the truth as the narrative closes is engaging and held my interest, but it didn’t convince me the book was better than my initial response to it. Read Artificial Respiration first; if you like it, or any of the other books mentioned, then you’ll enjoy the offerings Gustavo Patriau is giving in The Antiquarian.

Stories are important. The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire is an often untold story.

Stories are important.  The fear many expectant fathers feel is something we don’t often talk about.  The Underwater Welder, by Jeff Lemire, is an intelligent, compelling, and visually stunning take on this under-told tale. If you are an adult, and think graphic novels are just for kids, this engaging, haunting, and piercingly human work can change your mind.

The Underwater Welder Cover Photoby  andhereads.jpg

This is the story of Jack Joseph, an underwater welder working on an offshore oil rig.  He and his wife, Susie, are expecting their first child.  Jack father’s, also a diver, was lost during a dive when he was 10.  Haunted by his disappearance, Jack prefers the solitude he finds on the ocean floor.  

The style of the writing and artwork is realistic.  The dialogue is to the point and adult, and the black and white visuals show people with wrinkles, stubble, and bags under their eyes.  I’ll mention the art again in a moment; here is a short example of the men talking shop:

     Hell, when I was your age, I’d have given anything to move outta this shit-hole. Go away to university like you. You were free, kid. Why’d you ever come back here?
     I came back for work. It’s kinda hard to raise a family off an English degree.
     Yeah, well, you need a hobby or some shit like that. Your dedication to the job ain’t healthy, man. 

The relationship between Jack and his wife is well-written.  Jack’s fears and innate ability to repeat the past coupled with his strong, understanding, but no bull-shit wife create a layered marriage that strikes a true tone.  There is a wonderfully-drawn, tender scene of them floating in the ocean on their bed that illustrates the love they have for each other. In contrast, you have several scenes with emotional dialogue such as:

     Ever since I got pregnant, it’s like you’ve been running away.
     No…look, there was this watch my dad gave me before he disappeared, and—
     Oh, of course!
     Of course this comes back to him. Your whole damn life has been about a man who died twenty years ago!
     That’s bullshit!
     Oh, really? Why do you think you dragged me back to this place with you? You say it’s for work, but I know better…you just can’t stop chasing his big mysterious disappearance. Well, I’ll tell you something, Jack, there is no mystery. He was a drunk who got pissed one night and drowned. End of story. And you know what…? I’m right here…we’re right here. But you’re too busy chasing a ghost to notice!

Its interesting how a lot of stories talk about people needing to find a way to surface again, to get out of the hole they’re in.  I like how this story deals with diving and can turn those tropes upside down.  At one point we find Jack in a small boat in a storm, stating:

     And even though I’m alone now…I know there’s hope.  So, I’m going to dive. And I’ll keep diving…until I find my way back to you.

This story will connect with many readers; it will resonate with parents, especially fathers.  Adding to the depth of the writing, the honest, authentic art gives the story greater credibility.  There are many powerfully-drawn scenes throughout the book.  Standing out are those that juxtapose two parts of the story simultaneously, often through images with water.  I hope you appreciate them as much as I have.

The Underwater Welder is one of my favorite graphic novels.  I look forward to hearing what you think about it.  However, if you find it too heavy and would rather read something a little lighter, more escapist, yet still capable of capturing a particular character dealing with honest emotions, you might check out Werewolves of Montpellier by Jason.

Paris by the Book, by Liam Callanan, is charming, but is it worth reading?

click the image to buy now or pick it up at your local library

click the image to buy now or pick it up at your local library

Paris.  There is something about that word that evokes more than just the idea of a city.  There is an air of mystery and possibility about that word, of romance and wonder; it means old art and new fashion, and food. Paris, it can make you think about the bustle of life, passion, all which is good and bad in us flowing through that city.  That’s the kind of Paris that you’ll find in this latest book by Liam Callanan. 

The book is about the Eady family.  Robert is a novelist, not particularly successful, and his wife, Leah, has put her film dreams on hold to raise their two daughters.  They do well as a family; they have a good love story between them and dote on their daughters.  Robert takes little writing getaways every so often to work on his fiction, and the family has learned how to operate as a unit.

Except that Robert doesn’t come back.  Leah realizes he hasn’t been getting much writing done lately, and there is tension between them.  He’s gone so long the family doesn’t know if they should grieve him as one dead or continue looking.  Eventually, while looking for Robert, they find plane tickets to Paris and begin a new life there as booksellers. 

Paris is not only a land of discovery for them, it is also the home to Leah’s dreams of film-making and the fulfillment of a promise Robert once made to her.  Add to that an unfinished manuscript of Robert’s set in Paris, and Leah is left wondering: Is he still alive? In Paris? Or is he long dead? And if alive, why would he have left them?  There are mysteries in this book as well as new beginnings.

Many passages of the book, and, in particular, the ending, are well-written.  There is a lot to like in this story and the setting is well-used as a backdrop to help build atmosphere.  Parts of the book are quite charming, and I did find myself wondering what had happened to Robert.  Book groups will find plenty to keep discussions lively.

However, in the end, I couldn’t accept what the reader needs to accept in order to be charmed by the whole book.  There are characters and choices in the novel which are designed to help me understand certain situations, to empathize with the reasons motivating some of our characters.  I didn’t buy it.  The quality of the writing is good, the story is often engaging, but, ultimately, I can’t recommend the book because I can’t buy into romanticizing choices which are weak and self-serving.

Last Day on Mars: Finally, a good science fiction title for YA readers.

click the image to buy now or check it out at your local library

click the image to buy now or check it out at your local library

Good science fiction for children/YA is rare, especially the kind that would satisfy a purist’s definition.  There have been some enjoyable titles written recently, including Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis and the Lunar Chronicles by Melissa Meyer, but sci-fi purists would argue against giving them the sci-fi label and would group them as fractured fairy-tales.  Last Day on Mars, the first book of the Chronicle of the Dark Star series, by Kevin Emerson, has earned its place in this rare field.

Earth has been destroyed by the sun; those who survived did so by travelling to Mars in order to have more time to build a ship capable of carrying them out of the galaxy.  As the book opens, the destruction of Mars is imminent, and our young protagonists are scheduled for the last starliner slated for departure. 

This alone is a good setup for our story; however, there is much more mystery, intrigue, and peril involved than that description delivers.  The prelude has the reader meeting an alien, very similar to a human, known as a chronologist.  She can travel across space and time, observing and recording what happens in the universe.  She is observing what is happening to those of us in the Milky Way when a figure suddenly appears.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
The voice came from behind her. The chronologist turned to discover the blurry image of a two-legged being—
A white sting of energy shot through her. She crumpled to the ground, her vision filled with dancing bolts of electricity…
“I’m just afraid you won’t understand what we’re after,” said the figure. “It’s never been your way to ponder the oldest question.”
The chronologist knew of no oldest question. The idea seemed sort of silly. And yet, maybe not that silly, because here she was dying for it.
As the final moment of her life passed, the chronologist peered at the figure.
“You want to know who I am,” he said.

We all want to know who and/or what he is.  The introduction of these two characters lets the reader know there is even more plotting, scheming, and forces at work behind the scenes that the central characters know nothing about.

My one word of caution: there is a substantial, early section of this book which moves slowly and may lose the reader’s interest.  I hope it doesn’t lose your interest, reader, because the quality of this science fiction is rare among its targeted age range and engaging enough to be appreciated by readers of any age.  If you have any interest in science fiction, or know someone who might, especially a younger reader, this book is a great start to what should be a captivating new sci-fi series.

With an intriguing concept, Prisoner of Night and Fog delivers.

click the image to buy now or get it at your local library

click the image to buy now or get it at your local library

“Uncle Dolf.” It’s a creepy way to refer to Adolf Hitler and portrays him in an unfamiliar light.  Anne Blankman weaves a captivating tale about what it is like to be Hitler’s niece in Prisoner of Night and Fog. Gretchen Muller and her violent brother, Reinhard, are two of Uncle Dolf’s favorites; after their father’s questionable death saving Hitler’s life, Hitler watches over them and shapes them to be a part of his National Socialist Party.  Reinhard is happy to be the tool Hitler asks of him, but Gretchen begins to question the party’s beliefs and the “truths” she has been told.

Gretchen’s search for answers leads her to befriend a reporter named Daniel Cohen.  Daniel is brave, relentless, and handsome.  He is also a Jew.  Gretchen knows it is dangerous to be seen with Daniel, but her search for truth and growing desire for Daniel leads her into increasingly perilous situations.

Blankman’s YA novel offers readers mystery, romance, intrigue, and the constant threat of danger.  She does a nice job creating a compelling story with interesting characters in a well-known, historical setting. This book would be great for teachers to use as a captivating personal narrative alongside a study of the Nazi’s rise to power.  The book offers a satisfying conclusion while maintaining enough danger and tension that readers will be quick to pick up the sequel, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke.

Review: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

Click the picture to buy now or find a copy at your library

Click the picture to buy now or find a copy at your library

Set during World War II and the years that follow, Warlight is a coming-of-age novel by Michael Ondaajte, the author of the acclaimed book, The English Patient.  Following the stories of siblings Michael and Rachel, and to a lesser extent the shadowy collection of characters who move in and out of their lives, including their parents, the novel is also a homage to the unnamed men and women who worked in Britain’s secret service and the price they paid as a result.

Two of the most interesting characters in the book come from the assortment of people that hover around the children: the rogues known as The Moth and The Darter.  Somehow, however, The Moth doesn’t get fleshed out in the manner of The Darter, even though The Moth is the children’s primary care-giver. The Darter is the story’s most interesting character, more so than any of the book’s protagonists, and I couldn’t help thinking that these are the type of characters at which Ondaatje is best; think about Carvaggio, the thief from The English Patient.

The book has an interesting setting, but suffers from a primary protagonist, Michael, who really doesn’t make you care that much about him.  In addition, the story suffers from too many, too easy coincidences; the pace isn’t well-maintained, the narrative is poorly structured, and many readers will not finish this book.  Save yourself the trouble and skip Warlight unless you find it necessary to declare to the world that you have read all of Ondaatje’s published works. 

Astro City: The Tarnished Angel is an adult graphic novel full of Greek pathos and grit.

Click on the image to purchase from amazon or check it out from your local library

Click on the image to purchase from amazon or check it out from your local library

Astro City comics, by Kurt Busiek,  are at their best when they are telling human, not superhuman, stories.  One of the first stories to really hit home was in Volume 1, Life in the Big City.  Titled "Dreams," it featured a character named The Samaritan most would identify as a superman archetype.  He is completely self-sacrificing and never finds a moments rest while trying to stop all the world’s calamities.  However, we are given a glimpse at just how ordinary his emotions are when we find him lamenting the opportunity to have a moments peace and just enjoy flying.

Astro City: The Tarnished Angel is an even better example of a human story.  It features an ex-con, SteelJack, with plenty of muscle and bullet-proof metal skin, who has just gotten out of prison.  He is trying to go straight; all he wants is work and a simple life.  The story opens with his release, and you immediately understand how simple is going to be difficult for him.  His physical attributes make him stand out. People immediately recognize him, know his past, and are nervous around him.  In addition, he gets a visit from The Samaritan who tells SteelJack that he will be watching him.  As The Samaritan flies off, SteelJack thinks:

“An all I can do is watch him go, soaring off all graceful an’ free like he belongs in the sky, like he’s some kinda—some kinda angel. And I wonder what it would be like. Just once, to do that. To just go, like a dream, like magic, like a miracle—instead o’ being stuck here on the ground, eight hundred pounds of ugly metal nobody wants or needs.”

On top of this, he carries the weight of a mother’s disappointment and a young man’s life on his shoulders; he once shot a kid named Jose.  Out of prison, he goes to visit both of their graves, apologizing to each of them.  He always wanted to buy an angel to put atop his mother’s gravestone, but could never afford one.  He lays on the ground awhile, atop his mother’s stone which has been knocked over, but the ground is even colder for someone with metal skin.  Finally, he gets up and attempts to fix her stone:

“I prop it up, fix it as best I can, but it still looks broken—and I look around at the busted trees, and the scarred-up ground—and I think about what’s on the plate for tomorrow—and the old feelings are still there. I just want to run far and fast, and get away—but I been runnin’ all my life now—and I’m still in the same place…”

SteelJack’s desperation, his desire to escape his life, his place, everything, and start over, is a feeling everyone has had at some point. 

Eventually, SteelJack does find a job within his old neighborhood, Kiefer Square, although it means associating with known felons (a parole violation).  He is hired by the families of other felons, villains, who are being murdered.  Law enforcement really doesn’t care to help since these are known felons, but the families care. They hire SteelJack to find out who is killing them, why, and to put a stop to it. 

However, SteelJack is no Batman detective.  He fails to stop the murders, and doubts he has what it takes to ever make a difference:

“I can’t do this. I’m just muscle and bulletproof skin—there’s nothing inside. No brains, no courage, nothing. I don’t even know what questions to ask, even if people’d listen to me. I head back to Kiefer Square, planning to tell everyone I’m quitting, that I’m not up to the job they gave me. It’s not like they don’t know it already.”

SteelJack with find himself on the wrong side of the law, battling both heroes and villians, and facing more time in prison as a result of his detective job.  He’ll ask for help from both sides of the law, even appealing to the superheroes, angels as he calls them.  Finally, SteelJack comes to understand one thing about the whole situation:

“The angels failed me. Kiefer Square’s got only one chance left. And it ain’t much of one, Lord knows. But I’m all they got. And I’m hundreds of miles away, and it’s all going down tonight. So I better get moving.”

On top of a great story, the art is very well-done in this graphic novel.  SteelJack is drawn so well; the facial expressions are outstanding and weariness around his eyes speaks volumes.  The entire art staff should be proud of this one.  Astro City: The Tarnished Angel is a great read about a former villain, an aging tough, who is trying to do one thing right in a city where all he’s ever done is wrong.

Gods of Howl Mountain is a robust and rowdy read.

Gods of Howl Mountain Cover Picture by andhereads.jpg

Gritty, hot-blooded characters dominate this story and the North Carolina mountains on which they live.  It is a tale to quicken your pulse and have you hoping that a little backwoods justice will be dealt to the deserving. 

Rory Docherty has returned from the Korean War with a wooden leg and a desire to know who attacked his mother and killed her young lover all those years ago, leaving her unable to speak and in an institution.  Rory runs whiskey in his 1940 Ford, Maybelline, powered by an ambulance engine.  Granny May, a former prostitute, is the local folk healer, a wood witch trying to raise her grandson, Rory, and ensure he doesn't succumb to the darkness he saw during the war which still gives him nightmares. 

The book is well-written; the prose is vivid and leaves intense impressions.  Occasionally, you'll bump into a sentence that tries too hard, that may have one too many descriptors or use a word in a way that is just a little too clever, but everyone who has tried to write descriptively has done the same.  

My one word of caution: if the opening chapter is off-putting, ignore the feeling and keep reading.  This chapter isn't indicative of the rest of the narrative; the chapter feels overworked, and the insistent references to Rory's car as "the machine" serves as an example of a section which tries to be too clever and becomes annoying.  

The rest of the book displays Taylor Brown's skill in exposition.  There are many examples of how he uses language to really paint a picture and bring the story to life; one which stands out describes the butchering of a pig.  Brown handles the scene deftly, using just the right language to make something somewhat gruesome verge on, if not quite beautiful, the poetic:

...They dragged the fatted animal across the yard, each holding a leg. They spread the hind-legs and pierced the ankle tendons on the outer hooks of a singletree, then threw a rope over a low-hanging branch and hauled the animal off the ground like they would an engine.
     Granny stepped forward with her razor and sliced the big vein in the neck, just back of the jawbone. She set out a stone jug to catch the streak of blood, life-bright in the gray dawn. She used it for making blood sausage. Once it was bled, they lowered the animal into the near-boiling water of the pot, going to work on the bristles as they heaved it streaming from the water. They dunked it again and again this way, scraping down the hide.
     ...The sun found the bare skin glistening over the wash pot, pink-scalded and ready for the knife. Granny made the cut, a long red vent from nethers to chin, careful not to puncture the organs. She cut the entrails out, letting them fall glistening and ropy in the tub at her feet...They salted the meat white, their red-stained hands leaving little prints on the icelike shapes and hunks...They talked little as they worked, and Granny didn't know if it was the nature of the work or something else.
Click the image to buy now or get it at your local library or bookstore

Click the image to buy now or get it at your local library or bookstore

This is a book twisting with tension.  The action scenes could easily be taken right off the big screen, and will likely be there someday soon (I'd be surprised if this wasn't made into a move; I just hope they get the nuances right).  Something about Rory brings to mind Cool Hand Luke, and the vengeance that burns inside him seems to hint at old-school Charles Bronson violence.

Gods of Howl Mountain is Taylor Brown's third novel, but the first book of his I have read.  Now, I'll need to find his first two books.

A character-driven, historical fiction, Manhattan Beach proves Jennifer Egan can write a traditional novel.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan Cover.jpg

Jennifer Egan is a writer at the top.  Her work appears in prestigious magazines like The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and Granata. Her novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, won the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  Her newest, Manhattan Beach, is a work of historical fiction set in WWII era New York with a strong female protagonist, a missing father, and gangsters.  It is a good read and well-written; it will also require patience as it is a bit of a slow-burn.

Three characters dominate this book, Anna Kerrigan, her father, Eddie, and Dexter Styles.  In fact, the book opens with Anna and her father in the car on their way to meet Dexter Styles at Dexter's house on the beach.  Anna is eleven at this time, and the two men are meeting about a business matter.  Anna is a great character; bold, astute, and ambitious.  This paragraph, on the second page of the book, describes an interaction between Anna and her father; it is a great summary of Anna:

She thought he might slap her. He’d done it once before, after she’d let fly a string of curses she’d heard on the docks, his hand finding her cheek invisibly as a whip. The specter of that slap still haunted Anna, with the odd effect of heightening her boldness, in defiance of it.

Anna and her father adore each other.  He takes her on his "business" trips often, but when the book opens we learn that he believes it is time to stop this practice mostly because Anna is so perceptive and getting older.  Also, her father is having to find other means to make money in order to buy a special chair for his other daughter, Lydia. Eddie's story is as interesting as Anna's own.  He worries sometimes if his family isn't happier when he isn't home. He also worries about his relationship with Lydia. Knowing how he thinks, what he intends, and and what he goes through for his family, endears him to the reader.  The following is a good description of the Eddie and where he is in his life at the start of the book. Interestingly enough, you'll hear echoes of this paragraph from Anna as she becomes an adult:

He was aware of having reached an end. He shut his eyes and remembered today: the beach, the cold, the excellent lunch. A white tablecloth. Brandy. He thought of the chair. But it wasn’t just the chair that had driven him to Dexter Styles: it was a restless, desperate wish for something to change. Anything. Even if the change brought a certain danger. He’d take danger over sorrow every time.

Add to this the gentlemanly, smooth-moved Dexter Styles, and you've got a good story.

Manhattan Beach Cover.jpg

Talking about the characters' stories brings me to the one problem with this book.  There is a stretch of more than a hundred pages where the book develops slowly. One of the characters is dropped for a large portion of the book (in Egan's defense, it is done for a reason...I won't say more as it could be a spoiler, but it is that same frustration you get when your favorite character isn't even mentioned in a particular book in a series like A Song of Ice and Fire, which Game of Thrones is based on).   Anna does develop during this portion, but even her story seems to crawl a bit. Maybe this is designed to build tension, because you know in your gut that something big is going to happen: it is just delayed longer than you want to wait.

And something big does happen. The payoff is worth the wait, if you are a patient reader. Those readers who only like thrillers because they burn through pages like lit matches nipping at fingertips will find themselves growing impatient and, likely, put the book down. If you don't mind a little longer exposition, then you'll forget about your impatience as you ravenously finish the story. it is a satisfying book and will be considered one of the bests of this publication year.

Guest Review: Jennifer Mathieu's Moxie by Dave Brown

Get it from your library or click the button to buy now

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Moxie takes place in the small Texas town of East Rockport.  Vivian Carter is a junior at East Rockport High and is fed up.  Fed up with the blatant, and apparently staff approved, misogyny and double-standards that seem to dominate those hallowed halls, Vivian takes inspiration from her mother's "misspent youth" and starts a movement.  See, Viv's mom was a Riot Grrrl and thanks to a box of memories filled with pictures, fliers, and zines and the frantic sounds of Bikini Kill, she decides that the only way to make a change is to do it herself and thus Moxie is born. 

Jennifer Mathieu's latest book Moxie is not only a great piece of social commentary but an excellent story.  Following the trials of a normal girl just trying to get through the ridiculous bullshit of a small-town high school is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring.  This story also touches me in a couple of different ways.  First off there's the fact that I'm a parent with kids in high school who was heavily involved in punk rock in high school (and still to this day).  Second is the fact that a major part of this story deals with Moxie itself.  Moxie is a zine (I love the fact that pretty much everyone at the school calls it a newsletter because let's be honest, who born after 1999 is going to know what a zine is, other than Vivian whose mom is awesome).  Vivian creates an honest to god, cut and paste (old school style not the right-click, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V action) zine in her bedroom, making photocopies of it at the local copy shop!  That is some stuff straight out of 1994 and I love it!  Why?  Because back in the late '90s, I produced a zine called Caught Off Guard (which you can read more about here) so needless to say, I loved this.  But beyond all of that, this is an excellent, at times frustrating, and ultimately moving story.  I happen to work in a smaller town in Oklahoma, so the situations and places that Mathieu describes in Moxie ring so very and sadly true. 

While there's been some criticism of the book for being too overtly feminist and others for being too white and straight, I see it as a story that speaks pretty clearly to its environment and the background of the author (speaking of, I was already a fan by the end of the book but then Mathieu referred to Sassy magazine in the Notes from the Author sections and it was all over).  In this day and age, you simply can't please everyone.  You make something or take a stand and you open yourself up to all sorts of criticism from every imaginable side.  Some will scream that you've gone too far while others yell that you haven't gone far enough.  The way I see it, if you're making that many people, from all of those different sides, angry then you're probably doing something right.  And Moxie isn't just right, it's excellent. 

Dave Brown 12-16-17.jpg

Title:  Moxie (Official,  Google PlayGoodreads)
Author:  Jennifer Mathieu (OfficialFacebookTwitterInstagramTumblrBlogGoodreads)

-- Dave Brown

Thanks Dave for the great review. Be sure to check out his music blog by clicking the link below.


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Dangerous Curves Ahead: The Woman in the Window is the thriller you want.

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The Woman in the Window is the thriller you’ve been wanting for this year’s exciting reads list.  This is an extremely quick read, with short chapters and just enough scene description to keep the story rooted in a specific place.  The agoraphobia adds a good twist, with the protagonist’s psychologist profession giving the story an added layer.  Add in an affair, a car accident, alcohol, multiple prescriptions, the neighbor’s secrets, and a handsome tenant in the basement, and you have the recipe for a …well, you know where this is headed.

The writing is comprised of short, quick sentences; in fact, there are few real paragraphs.  This propels the book at great speed.  Also, the author, AJ Finn, uses the language of time a lot.  For fun, I flipped through about a dozen pages and saw multiple descriptions of a minute passing, a moment, half an hour, a reference to a certain time, etc…  When you put that together with the terse sentences, you become acutely aware of the mechanics behind how Finn makes the book work.  Here is one example based on the chiming of a grandfather clock:

    As he does, I watch his face. The grandfather clock starts to toll ten o’clock. I’m holding my breath.
    For a moment, nothing. He’s impassive. “Our street. At sunrise,” he says. “Or—wait, that’s west. So it’s sunse—
    He stops.
    There it is.
    A moment passes.
    He lifts his wide eyes to me.
    Six tolls, seven.
    He opens his mouth.
    Eight. Nine.
    “What—” he begins.
    “I think it’s time for the truth,” I tell him.

And then, three page turns later, we have the clock fill the silence right after a revelation, the sound adding more tension to a weighted silence:

    “And then?”
    “She left.”
    “She went back to her hotel?”
    Another shake of the head, slower.
    “Where did she go?”
    “Well, I don’t know then.”
    My stomach twinges. “Where did she go?”
    Again he lifts his eyes to me. “She went here.”
    The tick of the clock.
    “What do you mean?”

It’s quite well done, really, Finn’s use of the seemingly banal, unassuming tick of a clock, that one tick out of them all, which becomes so loaded.

In many ways, this book felt like a reflection of The Girl on the Train.  In one sense, disappointingly so; still, there are enough differences that you’ll mostly forgive the similarities and enjoy the ride.  There are twists you should see coming, and twists you may not.  I guessed the crux of the main plot long before it happened, but I was totally surprised by a twist I would normally see chapters ahead.  The pace of the narrative is so quick you sometimes don’t have time to think it out.  In addition, I had a real hard time accepting one action by the antagonist during the denouement, but otherwise enjoyed the book and it’s “dangerous curves ahead” plot line.  This book will land on the best thrillers of 2018 list and may be the book people start saying about their next thriller, “it’s like The Woman in the Window.”

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The Great Alone: 2018's First Book of the Year Nominee

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Kristin Hannah has written numerous bestselling books.  Her 2015 release, The Nightingale, reached even new literary heights, and the movie is set to be released this August. If you haven’t read The Nightingale, you need to read it as soon as you can; new books from this year can wait.

This February (on my birthday, in fact, the 6th) her new novel, The Great Alone, will be released. I just finished an advanced readers edition and want to tell you why you should not miss this book; in fact, this book will be in discussion for book of the year eleven months from now (I won’t reveal any spoilers). 

Most of The Great Alone takes place in the nineteen-seventies. The book is the story of the Allbright family.  The family consists of Leni and her parents, Cora and Ernt. We meet Leni on the first page, along with the central tension of the novel:

     Leni felt edgy, too.  She was the new girl at school, just a face in the crowd; a girl with long hair, parted in the middle, who had no friends and walked to school alone.
     Now she sat on her bed, with her skinny legs drawn up to her flat chest, a dog-eared copy of Watership Down open beside her. Through the thin walls of the rambler, she heard her mother say, Ernt, baby, please don’t. Listen…and her father’s angry leave me the hell alone.
     They were at it again. Arguing. Shouting.
     Soon there would be crying.
     Weather like this brought out the darkness in her father.

With simple language, the author has deftly laid out the story right there on page one.  Two pages later, she completes the underlying story that will carry the reader through this complicated, emotional, and conflicted novel:

     It hadn’t always been this way. At least that’s what Mama said. Before the war, they’d been happy, back when they’d lived in a trailer park in Kent and Dad had had a good job as a mechanic and Mama had laughed all of the time and danced to “Piece of My Heart” while she made dinner. (Mama dancing was really all Leni remembered of those years.)
     Then Dad got drafted and went off to Vietnam and got shot down and captured. Without him, Mama fell apart; that was when Leni first understood her mother’s fragility…
     When Dad had finally come home, Leni barely recognized him. The handsome, laughing man of her memory had become moody, quick to anger, and distant. He hated everything about the commune, it seemed, and so they moved. Then they moved again. And again. Nothing ever worked out the way he wanted.

So now you understand the family dynamic. All we need is a location for the story to unfold. The Allbrights will receive that through a letter from a man whose son Ernt served with in Vietnam: Alaska.  It is there, in that wide, wild land full of darkness and danger, community and isolation, that this story of love and survival will take hold of you.

Kristin Hannah does a remarkable job creating an Alaska vast and deadly and still full of wonder and beauty. The supporting characters in the book can be as large as the land itself; the Allbright’s neighbors, the Walker family, are well-written, and their story is complex and nimbly interwoven with the Allbright’s; Large Marge is nothing less than a force of nature and will be a reader favorite; and the off-the-gridders, the conspiracy-theorist group, add an element of entanglement and realism that mirrors sectors of our modern lives.

The Allbrights do find a home in Alaska.  Ernt Allbright finds people who are like-minded and listen to him as well as a largeness of space which lets him feel less trapped.  Leni learns hunting from her father and self-reliance from necessity which gives her the confidence and strength she had been lacking.  And Cora, Cora learns how weak love can make you, and the strength it can give you to do anything to protect it.  

The family finds a routine in Alaska.  They learn how to survive there and make a place for themselves.  But underneath it all, the cancer of domestic violence is spreading.  All the dark, the isolation, the constant fight for survival, takes its toll:

     The sudden wildness in his eyes, the showing of the whites, scared Leni. She took a step backward…
     “It’s the weather,” Mama said, lighting a cigarette, watching him drive away. Her beautiful skin looked sallow in the headlight’s glow, almost waxen.
     “It’s going to get worse,” Leni said. “Every day is darker and colder.”
     “Yeah,” Mama said, looking as scared as Leni suddenly felt. “I know.”
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There is a certain chilling beauty to that passage, both in the description of the mother and the connection of the father’s temperament to the weather.  In places, the reflection of the violence and fury in the natural world in the Allbright father reminds me of Wuthering Heights.  I haven’t read that book in decades, but I remember the natural world being a mirror to the character’s internal struggles in that book as well as in this one. 

This book will grab you and twist your insides.  You will get angry; you’ll feel frustration, pity, and love.  I was surprised at how tangled my emotions were toward the mother, Cora.  I got so mad at her and wanted to wake her up, and yet there were times I just wanted to hug and soothe her.  The toll love takes in her life is tremendous.  Leni you’ll cheer for, but there is a sadness within her that will always give you pause.

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Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale is a five-star book.  The only thing that bugged me about that book was the neatly-tied, pretty ribbon at the story’s conclusion.  It and Anthony Doer’s All the Light We Cannot See were side-by-side stellar historical fiction about the WWII period: I preferred how Doer let his story have its own ending rather than making sure it ended in a way to appease readers.  (I also think I may be in the minority with that preference.) The Great Alone had a little of that same issue for me, as well as one twist toward the end which caught me by surprise, but then unraveled too easily.  It made the final twist feel unnecessary and a little like a late addition to the novel.

Still, this will be one of the books of the year.  It is a wonderful book. Most writers will spend their life trying to write one book this good and fail.  Thank you, Kristin Hannah, for giving up law and turning to writing.  Readers, enjoy.

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Little Fires Everywhere is a very good book; here are three reasons why Celeste Ng’s previous novel is better.

Landing on most of the best of 2017 reading lists is Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.  It deserves to be on those lists.  It is a good family drama and will satisfy many readers.  However, her lesser-known, 2014 release, Everything I Never Told You, is an even better book.  Without spoiling either story, let me detail three reasons why the earlier book is superior.

First, the interracial issues that are a part of each book are handled with more depth, impact, and precision in Everything I Never Told You.  In Little Fires Everywhere, the racial drama concerning the adoption of a Chinese baby, and the decision about which woman has more right to raise that baby, feels less intense and genuine than the manner similar issues were dealt with in her previous book. In this latest novel, the issues feel like a plot device to move the story along and juxtapose the views of the characters, specifically Elena Richardson and Mia Warren.  However, the previous novel presents the interracial issue with many more layers; we see its impact on the Lee family throughout the entire book.  It shows how some issues, including race, popularity, and opportunity, never really go away. It shows the depth of these feelings and how they must be considered throughout a lifetime.  It reminds us how easily old hurts can resurface years after first appearing.

Also, the character depth and development in the earlier novel is more robust.  Little Fires Everywhere does have Mia and Izzy, both vibrant, interesting characters.  However, the Richardson father and, in many ways, the older son, Trip, are both rather flat.  Even Elena Richardson, one of the principle characters of the novel, feels a bit type-cast.  In contrast, Everything I Never Told You has an entire family, and a neighbor, with complex, well-rounded personalities.  Throughout the novel, the characters are dynamic; they change and grow. The skill and subtlety of the author drawing these characters and having them live their story is more artfully displayed.

Finally, Everything I Never Told You is just a more enjoyable book with greater emotional impact.  Not only does it hook you with the opening lines, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet,” but it also keeps you hooked with the question of what really happened to Lydia and why did this happen.  You will remember the characters and the story longer and feel more invested in the lives of the characters.  You’ll understand their failures and triumphs more fully, and you’ll hope for a better future for them all. Even the conclusion of the book is more thoughtful and skillfully wrought than in her latest novel. With Little Fires Everywhere, you will root for a couple characters, but you won’t think of them as much nor give their future’s but a moment’s thought as you close the last pages. 

I recommend that you read both these books. Little Fires Everywhere is a very good read: Everything I Never Told You is just a better read.

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Snow & Rose offers a wonderful reading experience.

Snow & Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin, is nothing short of a pleasure.  It is the kind of book you will be proud to give as a gift; a book you secretly hope someone slides off your bookshelf to admire.  The production of this book, especially considering the book market today and that the book is published by a large publishing company, Random House, is absolutely fantastic, and nearly exquisite.

This is a beautiful book.  Emily Martin does a wonderful job with her illustrations.  They have a classic fairy tale look to them; however, they also offer a bit of modern whimsy you may miss and won’t notice until you return to them, which you will, and inspect them more carefully.  Also, the details stand out.  The page numbers have a little flair of their own; the chapters begin and end artfully. Gold foil lettering stands out on the cover and spine, and you’ll enjoy the interior, introductory panels that open the book and the eye-catching illustrations that help pull you into the story while also pulling you away from it by their demand to be appreciated.  Finally, the clean, clear font choices, the lettering of the chapter headings, and the weight of the paper all say this is a book of which to be proud. 

“And the ending of that story is the beginning of this story. Snow and Rose didn’t know they were living in a fairy tale—people never do.” 

The book opens with a simple exposition ending with this quote.  It is an effective setup; because of what we know about these girls, we can’t help but wonder where the author will take our characters.  While thinking about how to start talking about this story, it really strikes me how real their mother’s grief is, and how that creates the lack of supervision which allows the girls the freedom to experience their story.

As the story unfolds and the cast of characters find their places, one thing that works well is the conflict between the Huntsman and the forest animals.  As the questions and suspicions arise about the real nature of the monstrous forest creatures and the threats they pose, the threat of violence takes on a more immediate concern due to how it could impact the families involved.  Keeping in mind that this is a children’s book, I still feel this is an area whose dramatic effect could have been even more pronounced if it was explored a little more.

The librarian, and more specifically, the library, was a great component of the story.  The library of things, and the stories yet to be told that the things represent, gave a magical element to the story that keeps your attention and makes you guess what wondrous events might soon take place.  I enjoyed seeing these stories find their place in the larger narrative and wanted even more of this part.

As an antagonist, and the character who most resembles his counterpart in the old Grimm’s version of the fairy tale, the dwarf works.    He isn’t the most memorable character because he seems a little flat, but the unveiling of his true character throughout the story is well-paced and moves the plot in an engaging way. 

Overall, Snow & Rose is a beautifully published book and offers a well-told story you and your young readers will enjoy.  Reading this story aloud and appreciating the art’s quality together is an experience you’ll long remember even if you won’t recall all the specifics.  This would be a great class read and a thoughtful gift.

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Love, Secrets, and Absolution by K. L. Lovely

Love, Secrets, and Absolution is K. L. Lovely’s second novel, and it is her first book published by Globeflower Books, an imprint of The Globeflower Agency, LTD.  Love, Secrets, and Absolution is the story of Grace, her husband, Paul, and their son, Alfie.  The story follows the family through Alfie’s birth, Paul’s affair, which causes an immediate split, and the trials and triumphs Grace and Alfie experience as Alfie grows up and lives life through the filter of a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Before I discuss the content of the book, I must mention the copyediting.  I am not known for my meticulous attention to correct grammar.  I’ve always been more concerned with content; I can easily miss, or consciously overlook and forgive, errors in the mechanics of writing.  However, the poor editing in this book distracted from the story and did a disservice to the author.  The many run-on sentences and missing or misused commas made the text frustrating to read.  Also problematic were some issues with subject/verb agreement, poorly used exclamation points, cumbersome adjective use, and generally stiff, awkward sentences.  As an example, in this excerpt there are numerous obvious errors:

“Paul looked on proudly as he watched his newborn son cradled in his wife’s arms, they were a vision of health and loveliness. Grace and Alfie appeared content and within the moment, it was as if no one else in the world mattered to either one of them. They were one, as though the umbilical cord had never been cut. He knew for certain it had, for the midwife asked if he wanted the honours. Paul didn’t hesitate at the significant event of cutting the cord which supplied his son with nutrition from the blood of Grace. However, he predicted that the bond between them might never break, and an invisible umbilical cord would forever remain. Paul could not take his eyes off them, he looked at Grace, his eyes full of love and joy.”

In defense of the editing, I am reviewing an ARC, and some of this may very well be addressed in the final copy.  However, with errors so prevalent, and it being so close to publication when the ARC was received, it is unlikely many of these mistakes will be corrected. 

Regarding content, I believe the author was attached to her story and tried to make it as gripping and emotionally powerful for the readers as she could.  There are many well-written children’s and adult books available to readers looking for character-driven stories, especially if they are interested in characters with neurodiversity.  A few I can think of off-hand include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig.  Each of these books handle their stories and characters brilliantly.  Love, Secrets, and Absolution has a much more limited appeal than the books mentioned.  The writing in this book will put off most readers; it simply isn’t that good. 

Many chapters of the book are written from Alfie’s point of view.  The first of these begins with his birth.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to write a birth scene from the baby’s point of view. However, I couldn’t help but laugh during Alfie’s description of his birth.  Though unintentional, that same comic feeling is repeated over the first few years of Alfie’s life during his narrated chapters.  The randomness of the vocabulary he uses in contrast to the words he doesn’t know follows no logic.  Moreover, his basic descriptions of what he sees and experiences, which appear to be written to inspire wonder and show a child’s view of the world, come across as funny, misguided, and ultimately irrelevant.

In addition, if you are going to read this, you will be repeatedly pummeled with the notion that Grace is an angel sacrificing her very life and physical well-being for her child (to an extent, this is what all decent parents do).  In contrast, I don’t think you can find one good man in any feature role in the entire book.  I won’t even discuss the gaudy ribbon used to neatly tie up all the character’s problems in the conclusion and close the book on a final note of absolution.

Typically, I wouldn’t finish a book like this, nor take the time to review it.  However, I agreed with the publishing agency that I would do so and cannot give anything other than my honest opinion.  It isn’t easy to review a book you don’t enjoy.  I can understand and appreciate all the hard work that went into this book, especially by the author.  I do value the time she spent working on her story, and I believe that she will find some readers who enjoy this book.

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The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

“Once upon a time—for that is how all stories should begin—there was a boy who lost his mother,” opens this intriguing book, The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly.  It is an interesting opening sentence especially due to how much it reveals about the book.  David, the protagonist of the book, is a pre-teen who is the “boy who lost his mother.”  He is a quiet kid who loves his mother and the stories they read together.  When he loses her and his family life is dramatically changed, it is to stories that David looks for comfort.

Stories are at the heart of this book; more specifically, as the first four words indicate, fairy tales are at its center.  David, who is prone to seizures and exhibits obsessive-compulsive behavior, finds that he can hear books whispering to each other and speaking to him.  As the story progresses, he literally steps from his World War II home in the English county-side into a world of fairytales.  However, these are not the brightly-colored fairytales you plaster cheerful pictures of on the walls of your baby’s nursery; these are the tales from the dark woods behind your grandmother’s house that you were afraid to enter. 

As in most fairytales, David has to undergo a journey and learn a few things about his self and his place in his now altered family picture.  David is confronted by real dangers and faces decisions that could mean life or death not only in the world he finds himself in, but also in the world he left behind.  This book should be considered a fairytale for adults.  It isn’t a perfect book, or even a great book, but if you delight in story itself and are looking for something a bit unexpected, then this book is a very good read.  

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Guest Review: TroubleBoys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr

Title:  TroubleBoys: The True Story of The Replacements (Official, Goodreads)

Author:  Bob Mehr (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)

Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements is nothing short of spectacular.  The book follows the life and times of the Minneapolis, MN punk, college, rock ‘n’ roll pioneers TheReplacements, a story that has long needed telling but as much as this story needed to be told, it needed Bob Mehr to tell it.  Mehr, a professional music journalist who has worked for the likes of MOJO and Spin, dedicated nearly a decade of his life to writing and researching Trouble Boys and, boy, does it show.  The book painstakingly details the lives of Paul Westerberg, Bob and Tommy Stinson, and Chris Mars (The Replacements’ original lineup), their family history, what brought them into music and the band, and what happened to them afterwards.  But that’s not all.  The book also covers the life of Bob ‘Slim’ Dunlap and Steve Foley (the replacements in The Replacements) along with family members, significant others, managers, producers, and the unofficial fifth Replacement Peter Jesperson.  If these names mean nothing to you, then you’re probably unfamiliar with the band, their music, and their history, and that’s okay.  The Replacements never had any mainstream success.  They were either too raw when the people wanted polished or too polished when the people wanted raw.  They were misfits, miscreants, and overall fuck ups to the nth degree, often sabotaging themselves and their potential success.  Besides, some things just aren’t meant for the masses.  They are either too good or too quirky or just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The Replacements were all of those things and more. 

What makes Trouble Boys so incredibly good is its brutal honesty.  The Replacements were, and still are, a complicated group of individuals, and this book does not shy away from that fact.  This band, and their story, is completely laid bare by Mehr, drunken warts and all, providing stunning clarity into what made them so incredibly special and why their music still touches people to this day.  This is the book by which all other rock biographies should be judged, is a must for fans of the band, and a must for students of the history of rock ‘n’ roll. 

-- Dave Brown


Thanks Dave for the great review. Be sure to check out his music blog by clicking the link above.

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What do you get for a boy named Bat? A skunk named Thor, of course!

Last year I read a book titled Rain Reign, by Ann Martin, which was selected for the 2017 Oklahoma Children's Sequoyah list. It was the story of Rose, her father (struggling on his own to understand and raise Rose), a stray dog, a hurricane, and Rose's uncle. It was a very well-written book and dealt with some difficult topics that had the book hovering between an upper elementary read and a YA selection. I highly recommend it to 5th-7th grade readers.

However, this left me wondering: what can I recommend as a good book with a neurodiverse character for those younger elementary-aged readers? Now I have one; A Boy Called Bat, by Elena K. Arnold. This book is charming. You will love how all the characters in this book are dynamic; there are no cookie-cutter characters with standard, stereotypical traits. The book is so good because of this. In addition, its simple, though surprisingly, elegant language makes it accessible to readers as early as 2nd grade. This book is going to be great as a class set to get those younger grades talking and thinking about what they read.

Bat's mom is a veterinarian and she has brought home an orphaned baby skunk. She tells Bat they are only keeping it for a month so it can get strong enough to be released. Bat has other plans. He decides to prove to his mother that he is the skunk's best option for a good future, and that a skunk will make a great pet. Along the way, he also has to deal with his exasperated older sister and the back-and-forth of alternating weekends with Dad, an experience relatable to many children.

You'll fall in love with Bat and his family; you will also get frustrated along with them as they deal with the same lessons all families deal with. This is a great book about learning to respect each other's differences. It also shows how every family has struggles, and no matter how ordinary the struggles, what's extraordinary is the amount of love, respect and understanding each family finds to hold itself together.  

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, is clearly written by a polished master storyteller; the characters seem live, feel, and work in a world as real as our own. The tale spins and pulls and ponders in just the right way with impeccable timing. The moments of choice and danger are terse with tension and consequence. And to top it all off, this is the author's first book. It's not fair to other authors that he is this good already, but for reader's, this is a great book to remind you of the joy of reading.

It is somewhat misleading to label this book as fantasy, and disappointing in that many will pass it over because of the genre label, but it falls in that genre nonetheless. However, anyone who enjoys a great tale should enjoy this story. It is hard to believe that a "fantasy" story can move with so much intensity without being intensely action-based. There is action here, but it is where it needs to be to further the story, not thrown in to cover up a weak narrative. And magic? Yes, magic is present, but not in your typical fashion. Magic is more of a mystery, a wonder in this book than something that is tossed about as carelessly as kids playing catch.  Yes, there is definitely magic here, but the majority of the magic is in the storytelling.

So, what is it about? It is a story within a story. It is the beginning of the tale of Kvothe, an orphan, a minstrel, a student, an arcanist, an innkeeper who has been convinced to tell his tale to a chronicler. It is a story of loss, love, hope, survival, fortune and misfortune. It is a wondrous and insightful look at how a boy can become a hero and an outcast, and it is a story that will hook you and leave you pleading, when is the next book arriving? Turns out, book two is available for you right now. Get The Wise Man's Fear here or at your local library.

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