Archive | October, 2012

A Face in the Crowd by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan

9 Oct

 

Dean Evers is lonely.

Having recently lost his wife, he has moved to a Florida condo and has been filling his time with meaningless tasks, cooking meals for himself, books and baseball. The baseball games on television help to fill his nights when he is missing his dead wife the most.

One night, while watching the Rays duke it out against the Mariners, the game takes on a whole new meaning for him when he sees someone who couldn’t possibly be at the game. Sitting in the third row, right above the umpire, is his old dentist Dr. Young.

Dean thinks this is impossible, absolutely impossible, but he can’t look away, even though Dr. Young must have passed away fifty years ago. However, there is no mistaking the coke bottle glasses, the pack of Lucky Strikes in the pocket of his shirt.

The next night, there is another game on. Dean tries to avoid watching by enjoying a Harlan Coben novel but his hand reaches for the remote anyway and turns the television to the game to see who else from his past might appear to him…

To say anything else would be to give away more of the plot and this is a novella that you have to experience rather than read. I thought I had the story pegged out plot wise, but King and O’Nan had me fooled. This is not your average day at the ballpark.

Whatever you think is going to happen doesn’t happen and the result will leave you breathless. I finished this novella in practically one sitting and it’s an amazing read. Not only is it incredibly well written, there are plot twists you won’t see coming a mile away.

King and O’Nan write seamlessly together, so it’s never clear who wrote what. That doesn’t matter, though. What matters is the story is good. It’s better than that; it’s flat out amazing and King and O’Nan have written a home run of a novella.

What surprised me most, for such a short read were two things:

First, the depth of character. We spend the entire novella with Dean Evers and, at the end of its fifty pages, we know him. We know what makes up his character, internal and otherwise and I found myself aching for him and the choices he made throughout his life. Pulling off that kind of depth in such a short span of pages is an incredible feat and King hasn’t always been so successful in his eBook originals (I’m thinking of the enjoyable but lackluster Mile 81 here).

However, King and O’Nan succeed incredibly well with A Face in the Crowd. You are drawn into Dean’s world and it is an eerie, haunting work that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

Which brings me to the second thing that surprised me most: how genuinely frightening the novella was. As I’ve said, the plot twists keep you on the edge of your seat and, by the novels end, you have absolutely no idea what is coming. And what comes is nothing short than one of the best endings I have ever read in a novella, mostly because it came right out of left field.

King and O’Nan could have gone over the top horror or gross out horror, but instead, they went with honest to goodness psychological terror; because they have written such a great character in Dean Evers, and we are drawn so well into his world, we feel his fear. It is our own.

By the novels dénouement, nothing about baseball will ever be the same for Dean Evers. In fact, nothing will ever be the same for him again.

I was absolutely thrilled with every aspect of this book. It’s well told with a compelling protagonist and brilliantly drawn secondary characters, a plot you won’t see coming a mile away and an ending that will leave you breathless with shock. Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan hit it out of the Park with A Face in the Crowd.

So take me out to the ball game, buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I ever come back…

A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink

9 Oct

 

Helen Cartwright’s world is about to change, but not necessarily for the better.

When her mother comes to her bedroom one evening, Helen is distraught. Downstairs, she can hear voices raised in anger and what sounds like a dangerous fight. Her mother quickly packs a valise for Helen and gives her some chilling advice: “Do what I tell you and stay hidden. Otherwise, they will kill you and all will be for nothing.”

Helen’s mother opens a hidden door in her bedroom wall and shoves her daughter inside, giving her a piece of paper with instructions on how to get out of the house unseen and where she must go. She must find Griffin and Darius and they will take her to Galizur.

With these mysterious words, Helen’s mother shuts the wall and blocks the hidden entrance. It is the last time she sees her parents alive. She hears voices on the other side of the wall but they can’t find her. What they decide to do, however, is set her house on fire.

Following her mother’s instructions in order to flee her burning house, Helen finds herself at Griffin and Darius’ house. Stepping across the threshold, Helen enters into a strange world that she is already entwined in.

Unbeknownst to her, she has been trained her whole life as a Keeper, one of the Dictata, an organization that must protect the Earth and keep the balance of good and evil in check. As if that isn’t strange enough, Helen is told that she is from a line of people descended from angels and that she must help protect the world.

Helen will have to rely on everything she has learned, and the help of Griffin who stirs a desire inside of her, if they are all to save the world with their souls and their hearts intact.

After all, why should life be simple, even for an angel?

In A Temptation of Angels, Michelle Zink has written an apocalyptic tale set in a Victorian steampunk world that succeeds on every level. Not only is the story one that keeps you flipping the pages madly to find out what happens next, she has created characters that seem so alive, it’s as if I know them in real life itself.

My meager plot summary doesn’t even come close to describing how epic and amazing this novel is. Anything you think you know about the young adult genre is thrown out the window and the reader is treated to a tale unlike any other I’ve ever read. Full of passion, thrilling adventure and amazing plot twists that will leave you in shock, A Temptation of Angels is her best novel yet.

More than anything though, it’s a very intense study of what is good and what is evil. It’s a story of a young woman who must grow up quickly in order for her to claim her birthright and find her place in a hidden world to which she belongs. It also takes all the young adult novels about angels and adds something fresh, new and different in an already crowded genre.

Not content to follow the norms with young adult novels featuring angels, Zink’s world and character building are top notch as she takes us deeper into a dark world where nothing is what it seems and everything, even life itself, is at stake. I’m used to being impressed with Michelle Zink’s novels, but A Temptation of Angels blew me out of the water. I read it twice in eBook format and then read the hardcover for a third go around.

Perhaps the most amazing element of this novel is the fact that, even after I finished the novel, the characters stayed with me, haunting me in the daytime, their story embedded in my memory. The mark of great fiction is a story that stays with you.

If that is the case, then A Temptation of Angels is certainly a story for the ages. To read A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink is to witness a master at her craft and I for one couldn’t be happier to let Zink enthrall me, enchant me and leave me wanting more.

The Iron Legends by Julie Kagawa

9 Oct

 

I absolutely love The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa. Which is my lack of excitement at the release of The Iron Legends was perplexing to me.

The Iron Legends consists of three novellas and a guide to the Nevernever. Two of them, Winters Passage and Summers Crossing, were released as eBooks and the third, Irons Prophecy, is new to the collection and will be released as a standalone eBook in September.

I thought: So what’s the point? I’ve already read the other two novellas; the guide to the Nevernerver included at the end of The Iron Knight and could wait until Iron’s Prophecy is released as an eBook. However, because I’m a completest with my books and have all the other Iron Fey novels in paperback and eBook, I decided to get The Iron Legends in paperback as well.

Am I ever glad I did.

Here’s the thing: Yes, Winters Passage and Summers Crossing were both released in eBook format, but this is the first time that they have been released in print. Before I delved into Iron’s Prophecy, I read Winters Passage and Summers Crossing again. I enjoyed them even more in print than I did in eBook format. There’s just something about The Iron Fey series that cries out to be read in paperback, to hold such a tangible object in your hands when the world it contains is anything but tangible.

Reading those two novellas again helped me to remember everything I loved about the series as a whole and, since Winters Passage comes between The Iron King and The Iron Daughter and Summers Crossing comes between The Iron Queen and The Iron Knight, I wanted to go back and experience the whole series all over again.

To top it off, Iron’s Prophecy and the new expanded Guide to the Nevernever are worth the price of the book alone. Irons Prophecy takes place after the events of The Iron Knight and is the last story with Meaghan and Ash as the protagonists. It was thrilling to be with them again as their lives take a turn for the worse that threatens their happily ever after.

Here’s a bit about the novellas in brief:

In Winters Passage, Ash is taking Meaghan back to the Winter Court so that she can uphold a bargain she made with the Winter Prince. What she didn’t count on was falling deeper in love with him.

In Summers Crossing, Puck owes Leansidhe a favour and she’s come to collect. Unfortunately, Puck will need Ash’s help in order to complete his task and discover the means to what Ash wants: a soul so that he can remain with Meaghan in the Iron Realm.

In Iron’s Prophecy, Meaghan and Ash are going to their first Elyssium with Meaghan as the Queen of the Iron Fey. Only, things don’t go so well. The Oracle appears and makes a deadly prophecy that might change the fates of all the Fey if it were to come true.

Iron’s Prophecy is the longest of the three novellas and the best by far as it works as a bridge book to the first novel in the new Iron Fey series Call of the Forgotten: The Lost Prince. That series features Meaghan’s brother Ethan and the prophecies of the Oracle might affect him.

As if all that awesomeness isn’t enough, the new expanded Guide to the Nevernever is huge and takes up almost a quarter of the anthology. It is THE reference for all things Iron Fey and any fan of the series. It contains information on all the locales, characters and back stories of the series as well as a glossary. To compare, the Guide to the Nevernever at the back of The Iron Knight was only about five or six pages. This new expanded Guide is around thirty or forty pages, packed full with all kinds of information to make any fan of the Iron Fey series happy for months!

Even cooler, interspersed between the three novellas are Julie Kagawa’s chibi illustrations of Ash, Puck and Grimalkin. And if that isn’t awesome, I don’t know what is.

My lack of excitement was most certainly unfounded. The Iron Legends is an essential must have for any fan of the series as its full of the characters we have grown to love and then some. One small word of caution though: if you haven’t read any books in the Iron Fey series, you’re going to be lost. Read the books in order and you’ll be fine.

Ultimately, The Iron Legends feels like a gift from Julie Kagawa to the fans of the series. And I for one couldn’t be happier to have opened it.

The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa

9 Oct

 

Ethan Chase is sick of the Fey. He knows the first rule of dealing with the Fey: Don’t look at Them. Never let Them know you can see Them. The only problem is, They can see Ethan…

Years ago, when he was four, he was kidnapped and brought into the Nevernever in order to lure his sister Meaghan, half daughter of Oberon, into the world of the Fey. Now the Iron Queen, Ethan hasn’t seen his sister in years and, at seventeen years old, hates the Fey even more.

The only problem is that, once you can see the Fey, they won’t leave you alone.

Trying to avoid them, he puts on a tough guy persona and keeps everyone away from him. He already lost his sister to the world of the Fey and he doesn’t want to endanger anyone else by bringing them into contact with the Fey who can either be malicious or cruel.

Things don’t always go as planned, however.

When Ethan meets Todd, a half human, half Phouka, at school, he warns Todd to stay away from him. But Todd is in danger, more danger than he knows. A new breed of Fey, ghostly white and almost transparent, kidnap Todd and kill a pixie. The ghost Fey warn Ethan to stay out of matters that don’t concern him. However, Ethan can’t stop thinking about Todd and knows that it’s up to him to rescue the half Phouka.

After a brutal attack from the ghost Fey, Ethan and high school reporter Mackenzie St. James are dragged right into the Nevernever. Ethan knows that he has to warn his sister, Queen of the Iron Realm, and the Summer and Winter courts as well, before more exiles and half breeds go missing. Their world is at stake and it’s up to Ethan and Mac

But this is the world of the Fey and things are never what they seem to be.

I was incredibly saddened when The Iron Knight came out. It was the last book in The Iron Fey series and I really didn’t want to let that world go. The whole Iron Fey series (composing six books in all) is one of my favourite series of all time. So imagine how thrilled I was to hear of a new spin off series titled The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten.

I wasn’t sure how Ethan Chase, all grown up now, would work as a narrator. All the other books had been told from Meghan’s point of view. Would a new series, with a new narrator, work just as well? Thankfully the answer is a genuine and resounding yes!

Ethan is a beautifully flawed character. He’s lonely but frightened of letting anyone else get close to him. He loves his sister but hates the fact that her role as the Iron Queen has taken her away from their family. He hates the Fey and what they have done to his life, but takes on the responsibility of entering their world when he has no other choice. He is also a born fighter and, despite his bad boy persona, has a well balanced heart.

I also loved Mackenzie. She’s the perfect love interest for Ethan, a girl with secrets of her own and a past she tries to hide. However, whereas Ethan’s tough as nail’s personality is all an act, Mackenzie is a girl who can hold her own in any battle and the chemistry between her and Ethan crackles off the page.

What’s great about The Lost Prince: Call of the Forgotten is that it doesn’t feel like an extension of the original series. Yes, we see Puck, Ash, Grimalkin and Meghan within its pages, but Ethan is a man now and must make his own decisions. This is his book through and through. It might be the same world but the danger is real and the stakes are higher than ever before.

Can it be read on its own for those who are unfamiliar with the world of the Iron Fey? Yes it can, as Kagawa does a brilliant job of filling her readers in as much as possible. However, those not familiar with the previous six books will be missing the depth the secondary characters have. But if you wanted to pick up The Lost Prince and jump right in, you’re pretty much good to go.

Kagawa’s world building is amazing and her characters live and breathe on the page. Her trademark humour is here in spades, but this is a much darker novel than the previous series. Ethan has more issues he must deal with if he is to become a true Prince of the Iron Realm.

An incredible, lightning paced, thrilling read, The Lost Prince is everything you could want and then some. It’s Kagawa’s best book to date and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

 

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

9 Oct

 

Welcome to Pagford.

It is a picture perfect little town: rolling hills, ancient abbey, cobbled streets, charming houses and colourful inhabitants. However, like everything that looks perfect, secrets run rampant through Pagford’s streets, waiting for the moment to be set free.

That moment arrives in the death of Barry Fairbrother. After suffering an aneurism on the night of his wedding anniversary, the town of Pagford becomes torn. With Barry’s death, a Casual Vacancy arises, a seat left vacant on the Parish Council due to death.

There are a few hopefuls vying for the coveted seat: Howard Mollison wants his son Miles to take the seat so that Miles can help Howard rid Pagford of The Fields, a rundown part of town home to a methadone clinic. Howard is thrilled at Barry’s death as Howard may finally rid Pagford of an eyesore. Miles’ wife Samantha, however, is less than thrilled and begins to fantasize about much younger boys.

Collin Wall, Deputy Head minister of the local high school, also wants to run for the vacant seat. As Barry’s former best friend, Collin thinks Barry would have wanted him to carry on his work, bringing The Fields and Pagford together, instead of tearing them apart.

Tessa Wall, who is the school guidance counselor, is more concerned over the antics of their son Stuart “Fats” and his association with Krystal Weedon and the mental state of her husband if he actually wins the seat; Collin hides a secret that could ruin him if exposed.

Simon Price also wants to run, despite having isolated himself from the community. His wife, Ruth, approves of him running because she is used to agreeing. It is the only way to keep him from getting angry. Often abusive to his two sons, Andrew “Arf” and Paul, taking in stolen goods and stealing from his place of work, Andrew wonders what would happen to his father if his secrets got out.

Even those not hoping to fill the casual vacancy are affected by Barry Fairbrother’s death: Parminder, who harbors secret feelings of her own, lavishes attention on one daughter while degrading her other daughter Sukhvinder who cuts herself to release the pain. Kay, a social worker who has just been assigned to help Terri Weedon and her children Krystal and Robbie as their mother struggles with heroin addiction.

There’s also Gaia, Kay’s daughter, who is bereft at leaving London because her mother followed her noncommittal boyfriend Gavin Wall to Pagford. Gavin, who knows he never should have let his relationship with Kay go so far is only concerned with ending the relationship and the love he holds close for another woman. Let’s not forget Shirley Mollison, Howard’s wife, who has her own secret agenda or Maureen, Howard’s business partner, who does whatever Howard says; Or what about Mary Fairbrother who had grown to dislike her husband and his growing attachment to Krystal Weedon?

Pagford is a picture perfect little town. Like anything that looks perfect, there is shadow underneath. What would happen if that shadow were exposed? What if the secrets of those in town were exposed, out in public? Would Pagford hold itself together, or would cracks begin to appear in its postcard image?

Before the Casual Vacancy is filled, the town of Pagford will find out and no one will be the same…

I wasn’t expecting to like The Casual Vacancy, much less love it. This has nothing to do with the fact that it’s not the next Harry Potter book. I knew going into The Casual Vacancy to have no expectations because it was decidedly not Harry Potter. Rowling’s first book for adults couldn’t be more different than that other fictional world she created, but a small town political novel just didn’t sound thrilling to me.

There was also the fact that, from the first page, I knew that The Casual Vacancy wasn’t going to be a quick read. The tone of the writing is completely different and I knew it would not feature the wicked fast plot of the Harry Potter novels. However, I read on anyways, knowing that Rowling is a good writer and hoping for a good story.

Well, I was wrong. J K Rowling is an incredible writer and in The Casual Vacancy she had penned an amazing novel with an amazing story. The Casual Vacancy actually has very little to do with the politics surrounding the title. Instead, it is really a study of the people who live in Pagford and the whims of human nature.

I suspect that the title of J K Rowling’s new novel is really a play on words. A Casual Vacancy is a situation in which a political assembly’s seat is declared vacant through resignation, disqualification or death. However, due to the nature of all of Pagford being involved and the possibility of an election that has split the town and those that want the vacant seat for their own ends, there is nothing casual about this vacancy.

As I read, I was reminded of many different authors. If I had to compare it to anything (although Rowling has written it so well that The Casual Vacancy is really incomparable), I would say it’s a mix of Charles Dickens, Maeve Binchy, Minette Walters and Meg Rosoff. The Casual Vacancy is bleak, gut wrenching, horrifying, frightening but also joyful and surprisingly funny. It’s a book that defies genres and boundaries.

Rowling’s strength as a writer has never been more noticeable than with The Casual Vacancy. Her characters are so well drawn that you identify with each and every one of them and the further you read, the more you become involved in their lives. Multiple storylines criss cross and meet up with each other and it takes a writer of the highest caliber to keep all of the intersecting characters and storylines straight and still tell an amazing story.

Surprisingly, the young adult characters in this novel (Andrew, Stuart, Gaia, Shukvinder, Krystal) play a larger role than I thought possible in a “political novel”. Rowling’s adult characters are just as well drawn and as you watch all of their lives intersect, you wonder how Rowling can possibly tie everything together in the end. Thankfully, she does it with grace and style and an ending I never, ever saw coming.

Make no mistake, though, this is an adult novel. In the pages of The Casual Vacancy, you’ll find drugs and drug use, sex, racism, prejudice, rape, theft, poverty, cutting and self-abuse. However, you will also find laughter, humour, joy, determination and hope. It is a novel less about politics than it is about the people who make up a community.

The Casual Vacancy is beautifully written and incredibly told. It is not a novel for the faint of heart, but is also a novel so full of heart that the characters within it will stay with me for the rest of my life. It made me laugh out loud, made me cry in public, had me rooting for some characters and loving to hate others.

It is a book you do not merely read; instead, you live inside of it until the last turn of the page and beyond.