Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

From the publisher: When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She's worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It's just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway... . But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie-style "locked room" mysteries, you will want to put Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz on your "to read" list. This book within a book kept me fully engaged. Both the fictional novel written by Alan Conway and the narrative by his editor were interesting. The ending of both works is satisfactory, and the book really is an homage to the great locked room mysteries of the past. 

Once you get your hands on a copy, settle in for an engrossing read. 

Magpie Murders will be published in early June. The Galesburg Public Library will have it available in print and as an ebook. I read an advance reader copy of Magpie Murders.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown

From the Publisher: "On the family homestead by the sea where she grew up, Martha Mary saw ghosts. As a young woman, she hopes to distance herself from those spirits by escaping to an inland college town. There, she is absorbed by a budding romance, relieved by separation from an unstable sister, and disinterested in the flyers seeking information about a young woman who's disappeared - until one Indian summer afternoon when the missing woman appears beneath Martha's apartment window, wearing a down coat, her hair flecked with ice." I enjoyed reading this novel. It was an eerie psychological story. The author hooks you in the first two pages and keeps you interested during the entire novel. We are introduced to young Martha on her seventh birthday where we learn about her mystical gift. She is an awkward girl, and considering what was going on in her life we can see why. She has a sister with some issues as well and was considered insane enough to be put in a home. The story really starts when Martha gets sent off to college by her Mother, who is equally as awkward. It is during this time where we learn the truth about Martha, her sister Del and what really happened to the boy who went missing from their hometown. If you like suspenseful, psychological mysteries with a lot of surprises and great writing, then this book is for you! Read On!!

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Wow. Tooth and Claw is definitely the most original comedy of manners I have ever read. Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope meet - well, dragons. All the characters are dragons. 

Much about the dragon society made me uncomfortable. Eating dragon meat makes dragons grow and get healthy, so they share in the eating of their parents when they die. But high ranking dragons also eat the dragonets of their farmers and their servants when they get old. When a maiden dragon falls in love and agrees to marry, she changes from gold to blush pink. But a single male dragon can "crowd" a maiden uninterested in his attention and cause her to blush, which will either ruin her or force her to marry him.

But when I stop to think about it, much about Victorian society, especially in regards to women, children, and the treatment of servants, should make me just as uncomfortable, and that I think is Walton's intent. 

Walton is such a fine wordsmith that I know that when she writes, for example,

"That's amazing," Avan said, amazed. (p. 321)
she means it, and it is not because of lazy editing or unimaginative word choice.

The plot surprised me many times, and the ending is satisfyingly happy - although still with those niggling concerns about society and justness.

Recommended for lovers of Victorian novels and dragons. The Galesburg Public Library owns Tooth and Claw as a print book and as an ebook.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Here is a story of a lovely married couple, David and Adele. David is a successful psychiatrist and Adele is his loving, beautiful and perfect wife. We learn there was some "terrible necessary act" that happened back "Then" - "a thing had been done that could not be undone." Cryptic and creepy, that. But here in the present, we are introduced to Louise, who is a single Mom with no self-esteem and possibly a slight drinking problem. She is David's new secretary, and this is where this dark and disturbing tale starts to unfold. Our naive Louise has no idea what she is getting herself into when she befriends these two. The one thing she learns very quickly, and we the reader discover before she does, is that this marriage is very, very, messed up and she should cut and run far, far away. This is a well-written psychological thriller that was a quick read, but mostly because I couldn't put it down. Completely unpredictable, shocking in places and kind of insane. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Roar by Cora Carmack

From the publisher: Aurora comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora's been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people. To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. When a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage. She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.

Roar is the first in the Stormheart series. It is true to what it is trying to be - a girl power fantasy coming of age romance. It's not a standout or especially original, but the heroine is strong and likable and the world building decent. Oh, and the cover art is gorgeous! Recommended for fans of Kristin Cashore, Laini Taylor and Marie Rutkoski.

I read an advance reader copy of Roar. It will be published in June 2017. It will be available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and as an ebook.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

From the publisher: The bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

In Beartown, the latest from Swedish publishing sensation Fredrik Backman, the residents of a small community, struggling economically, have one bright spot in their lives - the junior hockey team. This puts immense pressure on the teenaged members of that team and the adults around them.

Beartown is a slow-moving novel of great feeling that builds to big moments, then backs away and gets thoughtful. It's about sports, friendship, rape, societal expectations, right vs. wrong, female strength, and community. It features some fascinating, multi-faceted characters that felt like real people.  I loved it.

Beartown was not always easy to read, but I had trouble stepping away from it. The plot isn’t original: Something Happens before the big game that threatens the team’s success and pits the townspeople against one another. I guessed much of what was coming all along the way. The backgrounds of the characters aren’t particularly original – the bad boy whose father killed himself when he was a boy, the recent immigrant and his cleaning woman mother, the hometown hero returned in middle age to work for his old team. But Backman works those standard character descriptions into something More. The strength of the characters and the narrative make up for any deficiencies in plot. This is the kind of book where you get to know the characters so well you find yourself wondering about them long after you've finished the book.

I loved Backman’s first book, A Man Called Ove, but wasn’t too impressed with his third, Britt-Marie Was Here. While I enjoyed Ove more, Beartown is the better book. It really shows how much Backman has matured as a writer. Backman has a very specific writing style, slow, repetitive, and deliberate, and I’m sure it puts some people off. But I felt much of the writing in Beartown was masterful. Beartown reminds me in good ways of J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. Both are hard to read, and both showcase well developed characters that you come to care about and shine a spotlight on societal issues. (And Beartown is a lot shorter than The Casual Vacancy!)

I would give Beartown 4.5 stars instead of 5, mostly for the comfortable ending (although the ending satisfied me as a reader). I think this would make a great book discussion title. I recommend it for fans of Backman and of thoughtful fiction featuring developed characters.

Beartown comes out on April 25 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in multiple formats.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

From the publisher: 

She's a soldier. Noemi Vidal is 17 and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything - including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel. He's a machine. Abandoned for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he's an abomination. 

They are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but not without sacrifice. The more time they spend together, the more they're forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.

Defy the Stars had me from page 1. The plot plunges right into action, with interesting characters and world building. I’m not a huge fan of the robot (or whatever) who wants to become “real,” but the author does a good job with this particular plot device and I bought into it.

Earth is approaching collapse after years of environmental destruction. The people of Earth have created “gates” that allow them to visit other solar systems, and they have chosen four planets as replacements for Earth. However, the people still living on Earth have learned nothing about good stewardship. The settlers on the planet Genesis have taken the mistakes made on Earth to heart and are trying to keep their planet healthy. They are fighting to keep the people of Earth from ruining Genesis as well.

Noemi is a Genesis soldier. She has volunteered to go on a suicide mission with other volunteers. I would have preferred that Noemi be a little older – maybe 21 or 22 rather than 17 - but this book is aimed at young adults and so she is a teenager.

Noemi and Abel, the “mech” (aka robot) that she finds on an abandoned Earth ship, are both strong but flawed. I liked them both and enjoyed the alternating points of view. Noemi and Abel embark on a mission Noemi hopes will end the war between Genesis and Earth. This takes them to each of the other planets and to Earth. The best part of the book by far for me was the descriptions of the four colonized planets, all very different and with very different inhabitants. Some of the people they meet get caught up in their plans and have their own moments to shine. (Oddly, one character is mentioned multiple times throughout the book but never actually appears. Perhaps he will appear in the sequel.)

Let’s face it, the plot is not particularly original, but I enjoyed the ride all the same. There is a fair amount about faith and God, which surprised me, but I didn’t find it heavy handed. I look forward to reading the sequel some day.

Defy the Stars will appeal to fans of the Starbound series by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. I read an advance reader copy of Defy the Stars. It is scheduled to be published in April 2017 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.