Monday, September 30, 2013

Modern Romance, Email Style

Lately, my coworkers and I have been on a Rainbow Rowell kick. Mainly they hand me books and I read them. Well Attachments by Rainbow Rowell was a charming modern quirky romance. It’s the kind of book that is a perfect chick flick romance. You can picture the characters in your mind’s eye, and they kind of seem like your best friends that you've never actually met.

Lincoln is a 28 year old IT guy at a newspaper. Actually, his main job description is email security. He’s the guy who has to monitor company emails when certain words or phrases are detected. Think of him as big brother. Lincoln hates that he’s an email rat, spying on his coworkers, but it pays the bills. One night while he’s working, he runs across an email chain between Beth and Jennifer and everything changes. Instead of sending them a warning email, he continues reading their flagged emails. Beth and Jennifer are hilarious and help Lincoln feel a connection. Soon, however, he wants not just to spy on them, but to know them. One of them in particular.

I enjoyed this book. I felt for the characters, wanted them to meet and laughed at their exchanges. Lincoln, Beth, and Jennifer are all wondering about the next step in their lives. They’re all in their late 20s, college educated, missing something, and unsure of what to do next. Now maybe this is a theme that resonates with all age groups, but as a twenty something this story held water with me. After college, we all think life will be sweet, we’ll roll in the dough, our significant other will show up and marry us, and all those amazing plans we have will actually happen. Then things don’t go as planned or our plans aren't what we imagined. It feels like you have no idea what you’re doing. This is where Lincoln's life has ended up. Jennifer and Beth are questioning their lives and plans too. These characters are imperfect and lovely.

An interesting aspect of the book is the relationship Lincoln forms with Jennifer and Beth before ever meeting them. Isn't this the same relationship we form with characters in books? The major difference being that characters in books don’t actually exist whereas, Lincoln’s email delinquents do in his world. Just like Lincoln, we fall in love with overheard conversations, we want to meet and be a part of the lives of our favorite characters and yet there’s a barrier between our world and theirs.

I enjoyed the anticipation in this book. The audience waits for Lincoln to meet Beth and Jennifer. We look forward to him figuring out his social life, career choices, and living situation. It was an easy read. I looked forward to curling up with it and wishing that I had a guy as adorable as Lincoln to stalk my emails.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cuckoo's Calling

J.K. Rowling. That sneaky Brit. She went all covert on us and published as Robert Galbraith, and I get it Miss Rowling. Sometimes you want people to assess your work, not based on what you’ve already done. The Cuckoo’s Calling was getting great reviews before the world knew J.K. Rowling was the writer, and for good reason. Now I could make some references to Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but I’m going to respect her new book, which could turn into a series for what it is: different than her other writing.

Cormoran Strike is a down on his luck ex-military private investigator. He is struggling with debt, just got out of a relationship, living in his office, and his amputated leg is causing him pain. At the moment his sole client is a woman spying on her husband, not exactly riveting or well-paid work. Then Robin, the new secretary sent by a temp agency, shows up along with an old friend’s brother, John. Robin turns out to be an expensive blessing in disguise and soon becomes Strike’s daily human contact and a fantastic secretary. Then there’s John, a wealthy lawyer, who shows up at Strike’s office with a new case and a pocket full of money. Lula Landry, the famous super model, committed suicide not too long ago, and John, her brother, thinks there’s foul play and insists on having Strike re-investigate. What follows is a who’s who of London. Strike maneuvers his way through the bold and beautiful seeking the truth to who pushed Lula Landry over her balcony.

Rowling wrote a number of compelling characters with great back stories. Strike was a likable character with some skeletons in his closet, a messy family, and a strong work ethic. Robin is one of the first characters introduced to us. She is newly engaged, peppy, smart, and clever. Although working for Strike is supposed to be temporary, she finds herself yearning to stay on and learn the PI trade. Strike and Robin are characters I look forward to reading more about in the future.

A lot of suspects are put on the chopping block throughout the investigation. Strike keeps his cards close, so I was never sure who the killer was. Rowling kept her audience guessing by presenting new evidence, rehashing old evidence, and interviewing witnesses and friends. I enjoyed hearing about Strike stalking around London to seek out testimony. The book deals a lot with the idea of celebrity and the problems Lula had to deal with as a super model. Trusting people was hard because even her “friends” sold her secrets. Then there is the paparazzi who stalk her, fans who think they know her, and a dysfunctional family. Rowling must know a lot about this world and it was interesting to get a small peak inside a life of luxury and the costs it comes at.

I’m not a detective mystery reader, but I enjoyed this novel. The two things I have to say against it are too much detail, and too stuck in the past. The author had paragraphs that made me think “I would just cut this out if I were her editor. That’s completely unnecessary”. I’d skip over sentences and just keep moving. Now since I don’t usually read detective mysteries like this, I don’t know what is typical. This novel was stuck in the past a lot. Strike’s investigating a potential murder meaning he dredges up the past through people’s evidence as to what happened when Lula Landry died. On top of that, however, he reminisced about his newly ended relationship, he thought about the war and his time in the military. Although it was making progress forward, I kept hoping for new events to keep the book from back sliding.

Altogether, I found the book engaging and I very much wanted to hear more about Strike and figure out who the killer was. If you’re a fan of this book or want more like it, try these novels:
  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. A British PI investigates three separate cold cases and discovers tangled family histories and startling connections.
  • The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler. Philip Marlowe’s beautiful new client gets him caught up in the dangerous world of Hollywood.
  • Tonight I Said Goodbye by  Michael Koryta. The wife and daughter of an alleged suicide victim go missing. Now PI Lincoln Perry and Joe Pritchard must pursue the truth and hope to find the family.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Monster Calls

 “’You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.´” A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a story about truth, power, and life. Conor begins getting nightly visits from a monster who insists on telling him three tales. Where regular children might be afraid of a giant monster at their window, Conor has another nightmare that haunts him. A nightmare he fears more than anything else, because it speaks the truth. During the day, Conor must face a reality he hates. His mother has cancer and everyone treats him differently. His teachers pity him, his classmates can’t look at him, and the only person treating Conor like a real kid is his bully. His nightly visitor becomes normal, but this monster is demanding from him something he’s not willing to face. The truth.

Patrick Ness wrote a beautiful book. A book that speaks the truth: the ugly, wicked, honest truth. This is a children’s book and addresses life and illness unlike any children’s book I’ve encountered. It isn’t smiles and pats on the back, it’s real life. Fear, anxiety, anger. Real feelings. One message of the book, speaking truth, applies to all of us. Speak the truth to children and this book does that. Illness is a part of life and it’s good that there is a book that kids who may be surrounded by it can turn to.

Conor is a great character. He is not a polished boy who finds a way to be good, but a kid who is going through a tough situation and acting out because of it. He does some terrible things, he feels hurt, angry, and sad and takes it out on those around him. Haven’t we all done that? I didn't particularly like him, but i
t was nice to read a fictional character who acts like a real person.

My favorite part of the book was the ink drawings. They are creepy and sinister looking and paired so perfectly with the text. It added a different element to the story. The drawings also make this a more appealing book to reluctant readers.

I highly suggest this to adults and kids alike. It’s a beautiful story that encompasses storytelling elements and difficult subjects in an accessible way.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Top Picks for Fall

There's a lot of good stuff coming out this fall. Once the weather starts getting crisp and the temperature drops, I get excited to snuggle up with a book and some hot apple cider. Here are my top ten picks for books to read that are coming out this fall.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa, oh Jhumpa. You write lovely modern classics from The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies. I can’t wait to read your next novel.

After Dead by Charlaine Harris
You thought she was dead with the Sookie Stackhouse series, eh? Well technically she is, but in Harris’s new book, she outlines what happens to the characters we loved, hated, and need to hear more about.

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts
Now I’m not a Nora Roberts person, though I’ve never read anything by her, but I was excited when I saw this title. It’s about a girl going home to her ancestral roots in Ireland, where the ground she lives on is full of magic and legend.
Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Garriger
The second book in the Finishing School series about a young woman sent away to be made into a lady. Little did her parents know this was a finishing school and a school to train spies. We’re excited for the second part of this humorous, adventurous YA novel.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
This has a great cover and Black, The Spiderwick Chronicles, creates a bleak world in which monsters and humans intermingle within the walls of Coldtowns. Then something goes wrong…

Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
A little royal intrigue! Here’s another historical fiction about the Tudor’s, this one from the perspective of the queen who outlived Henry VIII. This is an intriguing court drama in the vein of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne Valente
This is the third book in Valente’s series, and these books are witty, fantastical, clever, and so fun to read! Imagine Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz having a baby and this series is what you get. Although it’s meant for children/young adults, this is a series that is easily transferable to adults.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Rowell wrote Eleanor and Park, a YA novel that was excellent, so I can’t wait to read the next work she has coming out.
Longbourn by Jo Baker
Longbourn is from the perspective of the maids, during the circumstances of Pride and Prejudice, and is not only a fascinating look at the behind the scenes life of the Bennets, but a captivating look at the life of servants in the Regency era, especially that of young Sarah, who dreams of a different life.

Canary by Rachele Alpine
Alpine is a local author and her book has received advanced praise. It’s about a young woman trying to find herself and then dealing with being assaulted. There’s a lot of poetry and creativity in these pages and I can’t wait for it to hit shelves.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Traveling with Jane

I love travel. It makes me nervous and anxious, but then you get someplace new and get to be lost, deliciously lost. Now I don’t mean directionally, though that often happens. There’s just something lovely about not knowing a place, being new, and trying different things. All of a sudden I become outgoing and ready to try anything, I’ll talk to strangers (yes mother I disobeyed that age old rule), go out on my own, and have an unrestrained good time. What is usually frightening in my everyday life becomes part of the adventure. Amy Elizabeth Smith’s book All Roads Lead to Austen was a reminder of the thrills of travel, but with a twist.

Smith set off to spend a year in six Latin American countries (Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina). Her quest? To see how Jane Austen’s characters, writing, and stories translated to the natives of said cultures. Her findings? Love, friendship, bookstores, discussion, and a fabulous story.

I adored this story. I wanted to jet off to South America and stay for a year just like Smith. This was mainly what I loved about the story, Amy’s life in Spanish and her struggles and triumphs making friends and living in another country. She was easy to read and I enjoyed reading about the people she met and the book clubs she formed. In each country, Smith put together a small book club to read either Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, or Emma. One of the traits she wanted to see was whether her Latin American friends would think of Austen’s books in terms of their own lives and experiences. Would they identify with characters the way Austen cults in the US do? Could they see these stories happening in their country? It was fascinating to read about the different perspectives and topics each group brought to the floor. I found the later chapters’ discussions of the books more fulfilling than early chapters.

Travel fiction and Jane Austen make me quite content. Smith’s writing was comfortable and welcoming. I easily seeped into the pages and was lost in the story of one woman bringing her assumptions and trepidation to six other cultures while also bringing those cultures a beloved part of her own world.

Give this a read if you are a fan of Jane Austen and travel nonfiction. If you aren't familiar with the three Austen works listed above, you may be a little lost, nothing a sit down with the movies can’t cure, however!

Here are some read alikes for All Roads Lead to Austen:
  • A Jane Austen Education: How six novels taught me about love, friendship, and the things that really matter by William Deresiewicz
  • Have Mother Will Travel by Claire Fontaine and Mia Fontaine
  • A Walk with Jane Austen: a journey into adventure, love, and faith by Lori Smith