Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Distant Hours

Kate Morton never ceases to amaze me. Her skill as a storyteller seems to not only grow with each successive novel, but to flourish. In 2009 I wrote a brief review of Morton’s second novel, The Forgotten Garden stating:
Why is the The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton one of the best books of 2009? Well, perhaps it’s because every member of the staff who has read it loves and raves about it to anyone who asks. Or, perhaps it’s because Kate Morton is an author who capably weaves a spellbinding tale, one that moves smoothly between time periods exploring the lives of three women and their mysteriously interlocking life stories. With alternating narratives that are gripping and brilliantly told, The Forgotten Garden holds the reader’s attention in a way few novels can. Simply put, it is mesmerizing and thus my favorite novel from 2009.
I was clearly captivated then, and now, after reading Morton’s latest novel The Distant Hours (released today, 11/9/10) I have to say, that this novel is tied with Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Revolution as one of my favorite novels of 2010.

One of my co-workers, when writing about The Distant Hours, quoted the famous opening line from Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again”, but changed the memorable gothic home’s name to Milderhurst, the castle which plays such a pivotal role within this new novel. In doing so she beautifully evokes images of a large gothic home, alive and haunted by memories of the past. For Milderhurst, the castle upon which the story revolves, is a living entity, one that holds dark secrets, misplaced dreams, blazing brilliance, and lost innocence. It is the focal point as Morton weaves seamlessly between World War II and 1992 England, beautifully intertwining the different narratives so that they become one, heart-wrenching, achingly romantic story.

The Distant Hours is a novel of lost love, familial obligations and secrets, history and it’s unyielding grip on the present, mothers and daughters, and the relationships between sisters. It is wonderful and captivating, a book to be savored for it’s mastery of gothic suspense and its ability to engross the reader. Kate Morton has, with this new novel, firmly earned a place as one of the top fiction writers around.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

The Millennium Trilogy

I’m not usually one to read books that have a lot of hype. Sure, I’ve read and blogged about popular series (Twilight) or bestsellers (A Reliable Wife), but typically I’ve read advanced copies and have glommed on before the reading rampage or at least The New York Times Book Review. So it is with a wry smile at myself and my particular anathema to reading crazes (I refuse to read anything that Oprah tells me to read, thank God I had already read Beloved and East of Eden), that I finally, after much hype and an amazing amount of sales, that I picked up Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).

I can’t say much about this trilogy. I don’t quite understand the inordinate amount of hype, unless it is perhaps because of the author’s early demise. Truth be told, if I hadn’t heard about how good the second two books were, I never would have picked them up after having finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I found to be a bit slow and dry. I don’t know if it was the translation, or just Larsson’s writing style, but there were times when I was flabbergasted by the unrelenting detail of the most inane actions within this book. “She walked across the room, turned on the light. Took of her red coat. Put it on the chair.” While this is not actually text from the book, this is a very good example of Larsson’s writing. It was amazing that I actually finished the book, based on that alone. Toward the end I did begin to enjoy the plot, but I was not exactly overwhelmed.

I must admit that I did enjoy The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest much more. The writing was still dry, but not as stale as the first book. I enjoyed the character of Lisbeth Salander (more so than anyone else) and the conspiracies against her in these two books were much more appealing. Actually, I thought that if the first book would have dealt more with Salander, as opposed to Blomkvist, who I found to be an oversexed, less than desirable male, but as a character, intriguing because of his relationship with Salander, it would have been a much more interesting read.

I’m not saying much in this piece, I know, but the series has been talked to death. Basically, it wasn’t horrible, the plot as spanned between the three novels was interesting, and ended much better than it started out, but I’d rather read Tana French, someone with great characters and actual prose as opposed to the dry, somewhat boring stage directions of Larsson.

In conjunction with this rather brief blog piece I highly recommend reading this fantastic essay from The Millions. The author, Jane Potter, puts into words similar thoughts, but in a much more eloquent way. I really think she hits the nail on the head.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Blameless: A Narcissistic Reviewer’s Examination

This summer I experienced the ultimate in reader dismay, a cliffhanger ending with months to wait before the next book. In a world where every book seems to be a part of a series this isn’t that much of a surprise and really shouldn’t cause such aggravation, but in the case of Gail Carriger’s Changeless, I was so enthralled by the plot and so involved with the characters, that when the book ended I literally groaned. I so loved Changeless that I reread parts of it, hoping to find some clue as to the direction of the next booking the series. I have many a times been the subject of author abuse; where an author goes off the deep end and completely ruins the flow of his/her characters by changing circumstances or ruining relationships, and I was desperate to find within the text of Changeless, some small hint that could assuage my irrational reader fears. Needless to say, Ms. Carriger cleverly hooked me with her volatile ending and guaranteed that I would purchase the third book in her Parasol Protectorate series, Blameless.

It was with excitement and some degree of trepidation that I opened the pages of Blameless. I was thrilled to finally get my hands on the book (and earlier than the stated street date too), but I was fearful that my new favorite protagonist Lady Alexia Maccon née Tarabotti, would be led of the deep end (or placed into a situation that I as a selfish reader did not want to see her go). I’m the usual narcissistic individual who wants everything to happen in books and movies, exactly how I want them to happen, so while this is a rather ridiculous thing to expect authors to do (I’m fairly sure they can’t read my nor any other reader’s minds), I still had this neurotic fear of character destruction that hovered in the far corners of my rather scrambled brain. I also had so many theories as to what happened at the end of Changeless (I refuse to give away plot points because I very much want you all to pick up these books not because of some plot summary that I spit out, but because they are legitimately good books and should be read), that I was fearful I would be wrong in my assumptions. I really hate to be wrong.

What I found when I did sit back on the couch with Blameless clenched between my hands, was pure, unadulterated entertainment. This book took me in directions I had not fathomed, but utterly which delighted me. I can honestly say that this was my favorite of Gail Carriger’s books thus far (Heartless, book four will be out in the summer of 2011) and not only did I finish it in record time, but I nearly read it again just for the fun of it. I have not had a truly fun, inventive, and totally original read in quite a while as on top of my ARC reading, I’ve been slogging through the remarkably dry Millennium trilogy and while not suffering, really needed a good “un-put-downable” novel. Unfortunately, my mother was just as eager to read Blameless, so I had to trek to her house and share, eliminating my immediate thoughts of rereading (I think I’ll reread all three just prior to the release of Heartless).

What I love about this book and its predecessors is the completely unique world and language created by the author. Her use of words, style, and syntax is brilliant. The language of her characters is almost a character itself. Also, the environment she creates with her words is a strong character, often driving the narrative to new heights. One can literally see, hear, and smell (the Thames does come off as having a rather nasty odor) the locations and abodes within this world. Whether it’s her reimagining of Victorian England, tours through flying dirigibles, or descriptions of the Italian countryside (very orange), Carriger uses her distinctive voice to fully create these environs for her readers.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful cast of these books. The supporting figures are distinctive and rich in personality and physicality. They are not mere background characters, but driving forces behind and around the protagonist, continuously manipulating the gears of the story, affecting not just the heroine, but the world in which they reside. Alexia Maccon is one-of-a-kind, a truly dynamic character whose wit and unreserved soullessness made me smirk far more often than I usually do. She also proves that just because one doesn’t possess a soul, doesn’t mean that she can’t feel deeply and reacted emotionally. I can’t suitably describe the richness of this character; it’s something that can only be discovered by picking up this wonderful series and discovering the multitude of layers created by its author.

I realize I’ve spoken more about Gail Carriger’s series as opposed to the book Blameless itself, but in order to get the humor and intelligence of this fantastic read it is of absolute importance for readers to discover its nearly flawless predecessors. I found Blameless to be beyond thoroughly enjoyable, a wonderful treat for the mind and imagination, a gem of a book in a diamond of a series.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

When Extraordinary is Nothing More than Ordinary

Extraordinary, according to Dictionary.com, means beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established; exceptional in character, amount, extent, degree, noteworthy, remarkable. To be extraordinary something must stand out, it must be notable, beyond compare, and it must be, well… extraordinary.

Nancy Werlin’s book Impossible was an original, mesmerizing, and edgy faerie tale. It was a book that hooked me with its unique storyline and captivated me with its engaging, earnest characters. I always enjoy an edgy read, combine that with some form of the paranormal and I’m usually hooked, hence my fandom for a series like Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely. So, when handed a copy of Werlin’s soon to be released Extraordinary I was rather excited to see what inventive characters and thrilling new storyline she had come up with next.

Extraordinary it was not.

I say this with sadness because I really wanted to like this book. I loved Impossible and when I am keen on an author I always anticipate reading him/her again. I am a loyal fan, if an author has hooked me once; I tend to be a fan for life (which explains why I still read JD Robb, even though the last several books have been horrendous). So, when I say I really wanted to love Extraordinary, I really wanted to love it. Unfortunately, there was not much in this book for me to enjoy.

Let me start with what I did like about Extraordinary, before I dissect it negatively. I thought the message, which finally makes itself clear toward the end, in a rather banal way, was quite wonderful. This message is best encapsulated here in the following two quotes:

…perhaps—rare though truly extraordinary may be—there is no such thing as simply ordinary. Or perhaps there is always the capability of becoming extraordinary, buried inside any ordinary being.(pg. 373)

Is being…extraordinary—maybe it’s not about being that way all the time, every minute of life? Because that’s not really possible…But maybe it’s about learning that you have something deep inside that you can reach for when you really need it. Strength. Strength that helps you do whatever it is you need to do, when you need to do it.(pgs. 388-389)

I liked this idea that everyone has the capability of being extraordinary, the ability is there, and all you have to do is reach for it. Considering that this book was written specifically for teens and young adults, this message is rather endearing as it is during this age that many suffer from feelings of inadequacy, or as put in this book, ordinariness, when all anyone really wants to be is more than ordinary.

I also liked the main concept of this book, in which a single girl can make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save not only a loved one, but also an entire race. That she is put in that situation because of an ancient pact between an ancestor and the Queen of Faerie adds to the uniqueness, while also appealing to the paranormal fiction explosion that has taken over the world.

Here is what was wrong with this book. It’s predictable. I pretty much was able to anticipate every scene before it occurred. I don’t mind that on a small scale, after all it is usually fun to figure out who the murder is before the detective, but not when you figure out the entire plot, twists and all. The characters are generally unappealing until literally the last twenty pages, far too late for my tastes.

My main issue with Extraordinary is with Werlin’s attempt to tie-in the subject of anti-Semitism. Every so often the main character Phoebe jumps to the conclusion that some statement or action made by other characters is anti-Semitic or racist. I have no problem with this if there are genuine references to create these feelings in the character, but pages later Werlin contradicts the character’s claims through the voice of a different character. If this happened once I could push it aside, but this happens throughout the book. At one point Phoebe even attempts to draw a connection between the dying faeries and the Jews during the Holocaust. This is Werlin trying way too hard to connect this story in some way to the horrors of the past. Using the fae as an allegory for the Jewish race is an interesting idea, but Werlin does it in such a spotty way that it just seems like too far a stretch and in actuality becomes an annoyance instead of—what I assume she meant to do—enlightenment. This theme is spread so thinly across this novel, yet when it does hit the reader it hits with the finesse of a drunk and blind boxer, wobbly and way off course.

While Extraordinary is anything but, please do take the time to check out Impossible. It is worth a read and I promise it will produce far more entertainment than this sadly mediocre new book.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An Evening with the Warwick’s Booksellers

On Tuesday, August 24 Warwick’s (only the best Independent Book Store around) hosted its annual Reading Group Recommends Night. This is typically an evening where 100 or so book lovers congregate to hear all about the best reading group geared books available. The Warwick’s staff has been doing this presentation for several years, each year more successful (much larger attendance and sales) thanks to the diverse group of presenting readers with very eclectic taste. Done in a lecture format, with each bookseller presenting at a podium for 10-15 minutes, this is the perfect chance to sit back, take notes, and hear enthusiastic reviews from extraordinarily well-read booksellers. This was my fourth year as a presenter, my first as a sort of moderator/introducer. My picks are listed below with brief explanations of why these books are so good. To see a full listing of the books discussed click here. I urge you to do so as the books that are mentioned here are not only unusual to many reading group circles, but they all have the distinction of being remarkably well-written, literary pieces, that not only offer mental stimulation, but also provide some wonderful entertainment.

Still Missing
By Chevy Stevens
Centered around an escaped kidnap victim and detailing her capture, incarceration, escape, and ongoing recovery, Still Missing is an engrossing read. It possesses wit that engages, suspense that thrills, and a twist, which will rock readers.

Deeply psychological, it has an interesting introspective feel to it thanks to a first person narrative. This stylization helps to bring the reader more fully and emotionally into the story creating a unique bond between the reader and the character. I highly recommend this novel to fans of Gillian Flynn, Chelsea Cain, and Lisa Unger, or for anyone who loves a well-written psychological study, that also happens to be a thriller.

By Anne Fortier
(Released today, August 24)
Juliet is the story of Julie Jacobs, a young woman who is drawn into the mysterious and very real world of Shakespeare’s most famous warring families. Yes, I’m talking about the actual tale of Romeo and Juliet, or as this novel poses it, Romeo and Giulietta, who lived and died in medieval Siena (not Verona) and were the unfortunate pawns of power-hungry families.

This was a fast-paced, intriguing story, which brought to mind other fabulous tales that intertwined two time periods and stories to make for one excellent novel, namely The Thirteenth Tale, The Eight, and Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth. I liked the complexity of the characters, the clever plot, and the wonderful historical research that Fortier put into her story. Juliet is a delightful and engaging new book perfect for reading groups who like to juxtapose two texts or with an interest in classic books (or plays in this case). I highly recommend reacquainting oneself with Shakespeare’s version first though, as it helps to fill-in the background of this creative tale, making just that much better.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
By Beth Hoffman
(paperback ed. Out 10/26/10)
This wonderfully delightful novel absolutely grabbed me. The author, Beth Hoffman, has this smooth prose that captures the idiosyncrasies and nuances of southern life and style. The cast of characters is vivid in personality, feminine intelligence, and southern charm. Hoffman also manages to convey a hard core of strength and determination beneath her sweetly loving and exuberant female characters. This seemingly simple story of a newly motherless girl taken in by her great aunt is truly superb. It is both laugh out loud, and cry in the dark, a multi-dimensional story wrapped in the façade of a light and easy read. This is one of those books that you put down, and then pick right back up because you must find someone else to read it and enjoy it with you.

Special Mention:

By Jennifer Donnelly
Release Date: October 12, 2010
Revolution is one of those books that sucks you in emotionally and rivets with its dramatic prose and utterly fantastic plot. The narrative switches between Andi, a modern day teen and the voice of Alexandrine Paradis, a young performer and companion to young Prince Louis XVII Charles, smoothly building just enough intrigue to capture the reader’s interest and keep it locked in for the entire novel. The characters are brilliantly depicted and the research that went into describing the atmosphere and the horrors of the French Revolution is thorough and impressive. I cannot praise this novel enough. After I finished it I was loathe to read anything else, wanting to relish the superb storytelling and character development of Donnelly. What an amazing read for both adults and older teens.

If you would like to hear a podcast of the evening click here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It’s a Book Jackass

In an age where people read things on their cell phones, ipads, Kindles, and computers it is not so amazing that someone might see a book and ask the question “What is that?”. Lane Smith tackles this concept in his new picture book, aptly titled It’s a Book.

This brilliant satirical book is simple in its presentation (after all, it is a book), yet oddly deep in nature as it cleverly tackles the ebook debate without ever criticizing ebooks or other technological breakthroughs (or hindrances, depending on your take).

While the book is in picture book format, suggesting at first glance that it is meant for children, this book is a far better read for adults. Please don’t discount the younger set though, I may be giving small children more perception than they have, but I think many little kids (maybe 5 & up) will actually get the premise, especially as children as young as kindergarten are using computers or handheld devises (maybe this is just the kids I know?). My only suggestion, and this actually gives me twinges, is to censor the last sentence of the book “It’s a BOOK Jackass”, unless you don’t mind your little ones calling each other jackass (and they will).

Simply put It’s a Book is the Book of the year and if you don’t check it out you’re probably an illiterate, or just not in touch with you intellect. Remember, books don’t get plugged in, charged, lit up, or scroll, they simply, and brilliantly open up a world of knowledge and imagination, if what you’re reading doesn’t do that, well then, it’s not a book jackass.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ice Cold

The latest in Tess Gerritsen’s series featuring Detective Jane Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Maura Isles starts off like a spine tingling horror film. Complete with an eerily abandoned town aptly named Kingdom Come, a snowstorm, and a group of people seeking shelter after their vehicle has gotten stuck in a ditch, Gerritsen creates an amazingly tense and often frightening atmosphere. I had mental visions of the film Silent Hill through this first part, and have to admit to feeling a bit white knuckled. The uncertainty of Maura’s survival and the introduction of a brainwashed, polygamous, and pedophilic cult keep the reader engaged, but sadly the second half fizzles and seems oddly incongruent with the horror-movie style of the first hundred or so pages. Despite the second-half lag, Ice Cold was still entertaining and worth a go, but if you’re new to Gerritsen my recommendation would be to take a look at some of the earlier books in this series, such as The Surgeon, The Sinner, or my personal favorite Vanish. I actually was introduced to the series with Vanish and it made me an instant Gerritsen fan. Dealing with the horrors of human trafficking, and placing Jane Rizzoli in the position of hostage (a hostage in labor to be exact), Vanish is full of psychological twists that are absolutely enthralling. The combination of intriguing characters, impossible and horrific situations, and brilliant plot makes for one hell of a good mystery read (which is why it was nominated for an Edgar Award).

On a connected note, TNT has adapted Gerritsen’s characters into a television series, Rizzoli & Isles which will begin airing on Monday, July 12 at 10:00 pm. It stars Angie Harmon (Law & Order) as Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander (NCIS) as Isles. TNT has produced some pretty well written and cast programs; let us hope that the station runs true to form with this series. I’ll give it a go and report back.

Just an asside, but if you read Vanish and are slightly twisted (like I am) and wanted to read another really good thriller that deals with the subject of human trafficking read Lost Girls by George Shuman, it made me never want to travel alone again. Or watch Taken starring Liam Neeson.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Art is Dead

Dystopic novels are all the rage now. From Hunger Games and The Passage to Matched, more and more books featuring pent-up, artless, soulless societies are being churned out. Why? Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but I think it’s because authors are recognizing this turn in our own ever-changing society and readers being more sub-consciously perceptive than has been supposed are seeking relief from the politics of life or answers through fiction. All I know is that as we move further into the depths of this digital-visual age the concepts of these books seem to slink their way into our lives.

In reading these novels one main thread can be seen repeatedly. Whether it’s Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 from 1953, or the upcoming 2010 novel Matched by Ally Condie, there is one prevalent item that is banned, limited, or controlled with an iron grip, Art. Now, when I say I art, I don’t just mean Seurat, Caravaggio, and Da Vinci, I mean art, as it encompasses everything and anything that requires talent and imagination to produce; literature, music, film, theater, the things that years later define are particular generational culture. These authors have all predicted the abolishment of art and culture (for those of you who lack these, books fall into these categories, and yes I have had that conversation, which is why I’ve included this note). Now, we start to see how prophetic these imagineers are.

For years arts programs have bee cut from schools, much to the detriment to our students as many studies have now shown (California Arts Council). Arts programs have led to stronger reading and verbal skills, music and math intermingle repeatedly, and according to the Center for Arts Education, New York “research has also shown that arts education has had a measurable impact on at-risk youth in deterring delinquent behavior and truancy problems while also increasing overall academic performance” (Center for Arts Education.)In his book A Whole New Mind New York Times bestselling author and lecturer Daniel Pink recognized the influence of arts and goes further to state that people with strong arts backgrounds are the future in terms of business, financial, and personal success. As far as I’m concerned Arts are the backbone of our society.

So, why am I writing what seems to be an intro to a Masters Thesis? I’m writing out of frustration and disappointment. In this city we have one major newspaper, it’s not great, but outside of a series of community newspapers (some surprisingly good, some sadly horrific), it’s all we have. Over the past few years we have seen a once thorough review of arts and culture begin to dwindle, so that it is now only a few pages on Sundays. Now we have been informed of a complete reformatting of the Arts section, namely one where books have been ousted from the community of arts and culture. My dismay is great. Not just because books will be significantly absent from this coverage, but by the ignorance of the paper’s new Editor in Chief. A man who apparently does not recognize literature as either an art or as a part of our culture. Seeing as how the New York Times Book Review section on Sundays is a staple for many ardent and even not so ardent readers, it amazes me that another major metropolitan newspaper would diminish such a section. Also, at a time when book readership is growing thanks to the popularity of ebooks and ereaders (not a fan, but I understand the appeal), it would seem that now is the time to open the eyes of these newer readers to breakout fiction and non-fiction that they would not have heard of without the newspaper’s coverage (New York Times). I’m not the only one distressed by this, it appears as though the community in general is appalled and in order to better understand the newspaper’s decision a Arts and Culture Forum will be taking place at July 9 at Warwick’s, 7812 Girard Ave, La Jolla, Ca from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Moderated by Author, Lecturer, Psychologist Richard Farson and featuring a panel of notable community members, including the new Editor of the San Diego Union Tribune, this should be a unique opportunity to understand how a major city boasting an array of amazing museums, concert venues, independent book stores, and award-winning theaters, could possibly delete these important cultural and tourist drawing (let’s face is we do survive on tourism in America’s Finest City) from our newspaper. Yes, printed news as we know it is changing, but it is not dying, it is evolving, calling for it’s producers to tap into local interests, non-profits, and businesses in order to maintain it’s readership.

So Art is dead. At least according to this city’s newspaper. Let us hope that the citizenship vehemently disagrees. And let us hope that our future is not the one imagined by Bradbury and his cohorts.

More more information on the forum please visit: http://www.warwicks.indiebound.com/event/arts-forum

Works Cited

California Arts Council. Web. 02 July 2010. http://www.cac.ca.gov/artsinfo/research.php
The Center for Arts Education of New York | Arts Powered Learning. Web. 02 July 2010. http://caenyc.org/arts-education-report/executive_summary.
"E-Book Fans Keep Format in Spotlight." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 20 Oct. 2009. Web. 02 July 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/technology/21books.html.
Pink, Daniel H. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead, 2006. Print.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Literary Fiction or Smut: What Do You Think?

It’s interesting when something new comes out and you only hear very good or very bad reviews. I’m fascinated by the lack of middle ground and this so very definite view of materials. I frequently find myself quoting the “love it or hate it” maxim when discussing new films and books and yet what does it really mean?

Recently, I found this to be particularly true about a much-touted novel, A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. For the past year I have heard much about this novel. It was an Indie Pick and has been the center of many book club discussions, particularly after its January 2010 release in paperback. Several co-workers have also read, reviewed, and discussed the merits of this novel. Having looked at the premise seen here courtesy of the publisher (Algonquin Books) I found myself intrigued.

He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for "a reliable wife." She responded, saying that she was "a simple, honest woman." She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only simple thing about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him, slowly and carefully, leaving her a wealthy widow, able to take care of the one she truly loved. What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own. And what neither anticipated was that they would fall so completely in love.

I always enjoy a good angst-filled love story and the thought of one with some literary merit was rather exciting. So, I picked it up one day and began reading…and reading…and reading. Now, this is not the sort of continuous reading that one might do when totally engrossed in the story, for instance how many of us read the final Harry Potter, unable to move from the couch because we were torn between never wanting the book to end and yet desperately needing to see how the series would end? No, this was more like the feeling you get when you pass a truly horrific accident, police, fire, paramedics, swarming the scene, flairs flickering brightly illuminating the shards of glass and blood spread across the black asphalt in an eerie design of power, pain, and death. In other words, a train wreck.

What had been touted as literary was actually to my eyes and mind a novel of such degradation, sexual escapades, and unreal, ridiculously over the top unbelievable and unlikable characters, that I had to literally question the sanity and tastes of my fellow readers. I am by no means a prude when it comes to my reading material; I have more trashy romance novels on my shelf than I would usually like to admit to, but the lengths to which this novel goes, while not more imaginative than many erotic romances, seemed to be far worse primarily because it was trying (and not unsuccessfully) to pass itself off as literary. This in itself is obscene. Remember the Gertrude Stein quote “a rose is a rose is a rose”? Well in this case we are much more in line with Hemingway’s “a rose is a rose is an onion” and this novel is most definitely an onion.

After finishing this novel, my eyes rolling dramatically in my head, a look I perfected as a teenager and laughed to find myself reverting to, I had to ask my co-workers what they really thought about this book. I was given two primary responses. The first being along the lines of “The prose was haunting and beautiful, the characters original, the writing strong, masterful, even.”

The other responses were immediate. “What trash! I couldn’t suspend belief enough to care about either the plot or the characters.” “It was pretty smutty. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t stop reading it. I just had to see how far this author would go.”

Love it. Hate it. No one I spoke with was in the middle. I had to agree with the haters. I thought the novel was pure drivel wrapped in illicit sex and a large vocabulary. I continued to read because I was curious about how much worse kit could get and because I kept getting an image in my head of little old ladies in a book group (yes I know most book groups are filled with members more between the ages of 30-50, than 75, but the older ones created the image in my head) sitting around a coffee table, wine or coffee in hand discussing the use of arsenic as a cure for erectile dysfunction as well as a way to get rid of an unwanted spouse. Hey why not kill two birds with one stone, you get your jollies and get rid of the old man at the same time.

Not a pleasant image. Not a pleasant book. Yet, there seems to be much appeal for readers across the nation. Personally, I think these ladies just want the erotic thrill of a smutty book nicely wrapped in the guise of “serious fiction”. I call it intellectual porn.

Come on ladies, fess up; you know it’s true.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

Another book by Stephenie Meyer. You would think that crowds of Twihards would be rushing to the store to pick up the latest from the reigning queen of vampires, but sadly this is not the case. Now, while I don’t want to classify myself as a Twihard (way too obsessive for me) I am a fan of the Twilight saga, have sat through the two disappointing films, and am one of the few who has actually purchased this new Eclipse-based novella. Why aren’t these books selling? Well, it could be that it is a mere 192 pages, and anyone who has read the series knows the ending. Actually, even if you haven’t read the series you know the ending, gasp… Bree dies. Don’t get mad at me if you haven’t figured that out yet, I mean hello, it’s in the title. Really, it’s most likely because the author has posted the book for free at http://breetannerbook.libredigital.com. Now don’t get too excited, the book is only available online until July 5th, you can’t download it, and you cannot print it. That’s nice, but not exactly what I as a Twilight saga fan want to hear and certainly not what I want to hear as a representative of an independent bookstore. No, I want a copy for my library. You know, to complete my shelf of Stephenie Meyer. You can’t do that with a digital version that you can’t even save to disk. So why aren’t fans picking up on this?

For starters The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is such a small piece of the Twilight puzzle that setting it up on it’s own doesn’t really work. It would have been much better to include in some compendium or a large and extravagant Twilight encyclopedia. This would give it more meat and put the story within context of the series. Instead, this story seems to have arrived from nowhere and is quickly floating off into the distant world of “who cares” and “why bother”.

This is unfortunate because the story is interesting, providing a whole new way to see the characters of Twilight. While it’s a quick and easy read, it provided a little bit of new insight to what was actually my least favorite books of the series and it got me a bit more excited for the movie (yes, even though the first two films were abysmal, I will go see Eclipse, let’s hope the third time is the charm). I thought I was done with the series, but Bree Tanner reminded me (just a little) why I enjoyed it in the first place. Now, whenever it is that I decide to reread the series (and I will) I am happy to have this little nugget on the shelf adding to my reading enjoyment. And if you just read it for free online you miss that.

So, will sales pick-up? Yes, I think so. I think fans are reading it online right now, but after July 5th (just a few days past the film release) these fans are going to remember that The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is a book, not just a web-post, and then they will come-and they will buy.

Just a note, one dollar from each book purchased goes to The Red Cross, so not only are you expanded your Twilight palette, but also contributing to a worthy organization.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Penguin Five: The Eternal Ones

The Eternal Ones
By Kirsten Miller
Release Date: August 10, 2010

I’ve delayed on writing this review for a week. I needed to sit back and let the story, the characters, the concept, the writing-all of it, sink in before I could adequately explain my thoughts on this novel. It’s hard to read a book that has its entirety based upon on a concept you don’t believe in. I’m not talking about fantasy or science fiction, within the depths of those novels it is easy to become lost because it is not real, and all, but perhaps a few people who are way too into Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, realize that and thus it is possible to suspend disbelief. Yet, reincarnation, which is the backbone of this new novel, is believed to be real by many people and is a major part of quite a few non-Christian based religions. I won’t go into why I disagree wholeheartedly with this concept, this isn’t that type of blog, but suffice it to say I do not believe in reincarnation.

So, here I am with a book whose main premise is two souls, two lovers fated to meet each other in life after life and doomed to early demise. In order to thoughtfully and unbiasedly review this book I needed to put my personal feelings and beliefs aside and read The Eternal Ones as though I were a blank, thoughtless vessel ready to be entertained. I believe I succeeded. I looked at the book as a love story, one where its characters are thrown into situations of unreality and despair, much like archetype ill-fated lovers Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, and Antony and Cleopatra. I soaked in the atmosphere, the dialogue, and the characters and opened myself up to enjoyment. I found some too. I found the story to be engrossing enough that I continued to read. I wanted to know the ending and discover the journey to that end. One hurdle was accomplished; I was hooked to the story. Sadly, that was all that happened. While I was intrigued, I was not particularly drawn to the characters, they appeared rather idiotic, brash, and not remarkably likeable. The story, while engaging, was littered with holes, some which were vaguely filled by either the author or astuteness as a reader, others so wide and dull, that not even the largest of cement trucks could fill them in. There was also a great deal of predictability. Even before a certain character was introduced I knew that he would appear, who he would be, and how his manipulations would drive the story. I don’t mind figuring out the plot, I do it frequently when reading mysteries, but some degree of finesse is always a must-have and here it was greatly lacking.

Some might enjoy this haunting little tale, but readers with any sort of cognition will be disappointed. Let us hope that the last book from the Penguin Five, Sapphique by Catherine Fisher is more satisfying.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

If you don’t know what play the previous words are from I’m fairly certain you are illiterate or at least culturally obtuse. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, a title that sparks a twinkle in the eyes of Shakespeare lovers, a grimace from high school students, and a sigh from young romantics. The one play that just about everyone has to read in school and had been made into more movies than ever necessary. And I hate it.

Yes, I’ve read it. Yes, I’ve seen the movies (all of them, even Romeo Must Die, but purely out of boredom). I’ve even performed scenes from it. Still loathe it. I’m sorry, I always though the two main characters were idiotic children and their co-conspirators inept messengers and friends who ultimately lead the dynamically woeful duo to their early and overdramatic demise. I’m not sorry. I love most Shakespeare. I can quote lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Taming of the Shrew, Henry IV, King Lear, and my personal favorite Titus Andronicus (of which I have full passages memorized), but every time I flip through my copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare and see this epitome of star-crossed love, I cringe and then roll my eyes. Hey, I have the same reaction when I come across James Cameron’s Titanic on cable. Don’t judge me, most of you do the same thing.

So, Juliet by Anne Fortier; it clearly has ties to one of my least favorite plays, yet I read it, loved it, and passed it on. Who What Where When Why How could I enjoy such a book?

Juliet is the story of Julie Jacobs, a young woman who is drawn into the mysterious world of Siena, Italy and into the very real world of Shakespeare’s warring families. Yes, the actual tale of Romeo and Juliet, or as this novel poses it Romeo and Giulietta, who lived and died in medieval Siena (not Verona) and were the unfortunate pawns of power-hungry families. Their story, however did not end with their demise, but with a curse, one that was fated too affect their ancestors for ages to come. As Julie is drawn to the story of Giulietta (an ancestor) and to her own dangerous and perhaps treacherous Romeo, her life begins to mirror the tragedy and mystery of her namesake.

This was a fast-paced, intriguing story, which brought to mind other fabulous tales that intertwined two time periods and stories to make for one excellent novel, namely Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, Katherine Neville’s The Eight, and Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth. I liked the complexity of the characters and the wonderful historical research that Fortier put into her story. The plot was clever, the characters usually managing to rise above the idiocy*of Shakespeare’s lovebirds. This was a good read. I finished it in a day and almost wanted to reread Romeo and Juliet. I’m sure many will after finishing this delightful and engaging new book. I was happy to pass a copy on to friends (I had two, my copy will stay on my bookshelf as it is definitely one I will reread) and am looking forward to its release, when other readers will be introduced to this wonderful new novel.

By Anne Fortier
Release Date: August 24, 2010

* Please note, I’m not saying Shakespeare’s writing produced idiots, I’m saying his writing was so good that I truly felt like I was reading about two spoiled teenagers and I just don’t care for the plot.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Penguin Five: Nightshade

By Andrea Cremer
Release Date: October 19, 2010

I am so tired of picking up a book and finding out it’s the first of a series only when I get to the very end. I’ve already ranted about this in a previous entry, but I strongly feel the need to point it out once again. Yes, I know that trilogies and what not are all the rage right now, especially when authors can sell the books as a package which will guarantee that they will have more than one book published, but come on! I would love to pick up a good book and not be left hanging for the next year while the author pens the sequel. I’m already playing that game as we go into season finales for our favorite television shows, must I now have to do it for nearly every YA book I pick up? This is entirely too irksome!

Well with that preface you probably are wondering if I even enjoyed Nightshade. I did. I thought that Nightshade was a fast-paced, original, and entertaining new novel. I loved the concept of the Guardians (wolf shape-shifters), whose job is to protect a mysterious and rather dangerous group of “people” called Keepers. The notion of arranged marriages arises much as it did in Matched, but here the characters defiance is violent, hot, and potentially fatal. There is a very thin veneer of civility within these creatures, violence and for many of the characters, a vile cruelty lurks under the shadows, cracking and finally destroying any concept of humanity. There were a few moments that were irrelevant and irritated me, but they were mostly personal preference and had no bearing on the plot (which is probably why they irritated me). The book does leave you hanging, which drives me nuts, especially as it ends after an endorphin inducing battle of which there is no resolution. I do have to give Cremer credit though, because there is not a doubt in my mind that I will eagerly read the next book in the series.

Stay tuned for the fourth book in The Penguin Five: The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Penguin Five: The Replacement

The Replacement
By Brenna Yovanoff
Release Date: September 21, 2010

A soft horror tale about Gentry, a town that sits over a paranormal underground hive of dead girls, creatures, and horror, that regularly turns its figurative head when these beings steal their children for sacrifice and “replace” them with their own sickened in-human children. Mackie Doyle is a replacement. Somehow he has survived to the age of 16, despite an allergy to blood, iron, and consecrated ground (his father is a pastor), but now he is slowly dying. Trying to fit into a world that he wasn’t meant to survive and avoiding the world of his birth, he struggles on a day to day basis to fade quietly in the background, but when the baby sister of one of his friends goes missing he is drawn into the horrors of Gentry’s past and it’s eerie dependence on its underground society.

Here’s why I loved this book. First, the cover is so utterly fantastic that one couldn’t help, but take a second look. Second, while the story can be grim and frightening at times, it never goes too far. Third, this can appeal to either sex. While the main character is a boy, the emotions and story are relevant and enjoyable no matter which sex you are. Finally, this is well-written, intriguing, one of those books you hate to put down.

So, 2 down, 3 to go in the Penguin Five. Thus far 4 out of 4 stars for this box-set.

Next up is Nightshade by Andrea Cremer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Past Posts

Hey. I've had a few people ask about some of my past posts (from a previous blog), they are listed under the Past Posts section on the right-side of this blog (or just visit http://siftingthroughthepile.blogspot.com/p/past-posts.html). They are all listed by date, with the earliest posts first. Thanks for asking!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Penguin Five: Matched

By Ally Condie
Release Date: November 30, 2010

The first of the Penguin Five, Matched by Ally Condie is a definite hit. This is a clever dystopic novel where the “Society” matches it’s members with their mates at 17, determines when people die (80), chooses people’s food, limits art, history, poetry & songs to a selected 100 (the others were destroyed), and controls the population with the very real threat of marking rebels with the term Aberration and denying them basic human rights. Reading this novel brought to mind Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. The quietly functioning Society, which at first glance seems like a well-ordered Utopia, slowly unravels as Cassia; its narrator discovers and peels away its web-like layers. It’s easy as a reader to become lost within the toxic manipulations of the Society’s Officials, individuals who dress in blinding white and slink themselves into situations much like the serpent with Eve. I loved the emotions I felt while following Cassia on her journey, elation, fear, love, rebellion, hope, decimation, and alone. For Condie to bring her readers to the edge repeatedly, using these emotions as a guidepost is a truly notable fete for a young adult author. High marks for this wonderfully written, truly dystopic novel.

Stay tuned for a review of the next member of The Penguin Five: The Replacement.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Penguin Five

Recently our children’s rep from Penguin Publishing sent the usual advanced reading copies (ARC’s) for the store’s fall buy. Like always, I was eager for a few titles I had already heard about, and even more eager to find new titles that looked fun. What I did not in any way expect was what came out of the box: The Penguin Five. This truly brilliant marketing stunt provided 5 must read books from the genres of fantasy, romance, dystopia, paranormal, and horror all in a single, beautifully laid out, box-set. Never before have I seen ARC’s bundled in such a way. It immediately caught my eye, and after a brief period of begging (not too much, our Children’s Buyer quickly recognized that the contents were exactly to my taste, and therefore would actually be read) I was able to take them home. Much like one might enthusiastically open a present while still protecting the beautiful wrapping paper, I gently handled the box as it was transported to my humble abodes, and then drove at breakneck speeds to finally get home and crack this plastic wrapped bundle open (okay, I didn’t really speed home just to read these…I always speed).

The books:
Matched by Ally Condie
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller
Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

I’ll try to read them in this order. Finishing with Sapphique only because it is the sequel to Incarceron, which I have yet to read. So, stay tuned and I will review each and every one of these Penguin Five. Let’s see if these 5 new young adult novels are truly worth the money spent on this canny new marketing campaign.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Still Missing

You know when you pick up a book thinking that you want to read it, but something about it makes you keep pushing it to the bottom of the pile? That’s how I felt about Still Missing, a debut novel by Chevy Stevens. Centered around an escaped kidnap victim and detailing her capture, incarceration, escape, and ongoing recovery, Still Missing promised to expose those dark horrifying elements that so often appeal to me, but for some reason (probably the thought of reading about something that is all to relevant in today’s times, most particularly here in San Diego) I just couldn’t bring myself to delve into it. This is very unlike me. Usually, the darker the better, I mean who else raves about the beauty of Gillian Flynn’s prose as her character Camille cuts majestic, harsh, and haunting words into her own skin? Maybe there was something wrong with me, who knows, but finally, last week I brought it to bed with me. Not exactly the kind of book you snuggle up with, the imagery is apt to cause a distinct lack of sleep, but I did it anyway. And yes, I did lose sleep, but not for the reasons you think. The lack of sleep was directly related to the fact that I just did not want to stop reading.

Chevy Stevens manages to make a horrific subject matter digestible. Her character, Annie, shows a remarkable dark humor, which she uses to maneuver around a world that is no longer and might not ever be safe. While her captivity could be described in a visceral manner, it is not, rather she (Annie) is upfront with the reader (the book is written in first person as told to her psychiatrist) about her experience; her feelings after her abduction, how she survived mentally during it, and how she now stumbles through life, spending her nights sleeping on a closet in order to feel secure. She manages to convey a delightfully sarcastic, occasionally dark sense of humor that not only endears her to the reader, but also allows us to see how she managed to survive so long in such a horrendous situation, while maintaining most of her sanity. The true genius of this novel is that never was I so appalled that I had to put it down. The transitions between time periods are smooth, and although the acts of violence are described, never are they too detailed or too shocking. When dealing with this type of subject matter it is easy to get engrossed in the brutality, but Stevens manages to convey the acts, while not overwhelming the reader with the vicious details.

This was an engrossing read. It also possesses whit that engages, suspense that thrills, and a twist, which will rock readers. I highly recommend Still Missing to fans of Gillian Flynn, Chelsea Cain, and Lisa Unger, or for anyone who loves a good psychological thriller.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Curse of the Sequel

Ugh, the dreaded sequel. Yes, we yearn for them. How could we not? Readers, movie watchers-people always want “the rest of the story”. Yet how often do we sit in that theater or pick up that book in eager anticipation, only to slink away in disgust and irritation? In an age where everything is a series we too often find ourselves in this predicament. As we head into a summer of mega-sequel films, i.e. Eclipse, Iron Man 2, Sex and the City 2, and a slew of other blockbusters cashing in on previous popularity we must ask ourselves: Is it worth it? This same question could be asked regarding upcoming sequels in the book world. Will Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest be as gritty and captivating as his first two books? What about Scott Turow’s long-awaited sequel to Presumed Innocent or the latest (and final, I believe) book in the Lisa Lutz’s Spellman Files series, will these hold-up to expectations or just make us wish that we never started reading in the first place? Who knows? Well actually, I can attest that new Lisa Lutz, The Spellmans Strike Again is a worthy read, but the jury is still out on the others.

So, what’s my point? Is this a short rant about authors and moviemakers who can’t come up with an original idea so they recycle their characters until you want them to be killed off already? Please, that’s a book in itself. Actually I have a different bone to pick with sequels, namely WTF, don’t leave me hanging! I actually had the pleasure of reading a couple of fantastic sequels and now I am stuck, hanging over that ridiculous precipice, while I have to wait several months, possibly a year in one case to find out what happens next. It’s like watching your favorite drama and getting a To Be Continued… but instead of picking it up the following week when the plot is still fresh in your mind, you have to wait a year or more. By the time the next book comes out you’ve completely forgotten half of the characters, and forget about any subtleties in the plot, those went out the mental door weeks after you finished the last book. So, here I am, I’ve read Linger by Maggie Stiefvater and Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink, and I am left hanging literally dangling over the edge of the cliffs, nails bitten to the quick because I don’t even know when third books in these series will be released, oh and did I mention, these two books have not even been released yet! I read advanced copies. Oh curse you writers who have to write a series instead of just putting it all in a 1,000-page book (yes I’d prefer the ridiculously long text to having it handed out in small parcels, patience is not a quality I possess). Wait, Justin Cronin did do that, except of course when I got to the end of those 1,000 pages I came to the frustrating realization that The Passage was going to be a series. Seriously?! Now I’m sitting in sequel purgatory. I’ve read Gail Carriger’s Changeless, another fantastic read from someone who is quickly earning a place on my favorite author list, if not for her wonderful storytelling, but for the fact that she’s not making me wait forever for the next book, Blameless (although I am crying for it now) because glory oh glory, the pub date is in September.

Alright, I’m about done. I must say I’m not ranting in anger, more like saying “these books are so good I must keep on reading to find out what happens next”. I think these authors are wonderful storytellers, I wouldn’t mention them, or sell them for that matter, if I didn’t think so. If anything, I would take the time to blast them for incompetence, because let’s face it, I love to do that. Now, what did we learn from this post? Authors, stop with the series’, unless you can pop them out quickly and if you don’t, beware, I will single you out and the next time it won’t be pretty.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Dublin Murder Squad

Hordes of people, Guinness, millions of cabs, a university where the tour guides are plucky intellectuals with a keen, if somewhat hokey sense of humor, Guinness, and music, oh, so much music (though predominantly Johnny Cash), so much that you can feel the vibrations from the Temple Bar as you stumble by; this is how I remember Dublin. Did I mention Guinness?

Dark corners, edgy women peering out slyly from behind their shutters, closed doors hiding the thinly veiled secrets of the inhabitants. Man against man, families against themselves, cop against everyone. Streets empty with the vastness of failure, and dysfunction that seeps and crawls its way between homes and through the lips of anyone who speaks. This is the image of Dublin that Tana French creates.

French, the author of In the Woods, which won the 2008 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, will be releasing her third novel revolving around the members of the Dublin Murder Squad in July. French is an amazingly talented writer with the unique aptitude of producing intense character studies within well-plotted, emotionally moving, novels of psychological suspense. As readers wait for the July 13th release of Faithful Place, I feel it necessary to bring her talent for writing to the attention of those who have not yet had the fortune of delving into her murky world.

In the Woods is the first of the novels detailing the emotionally wrecking and highly personal cases of Dublin’s finest. It brings to mind the blurred lines and gray areas of right and wrong that pepper the works of notable authors like Dennis Lehane. Following Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox as they delve into the murder of a 12-year-old girl, a case eerily similar to events from Ryan’s shadowed past; In the Woods is a thrilling mystery that absolutely sucks you into it’s depths. The Likeness takes place six months later and details the psychological fallout and resulting career challenges of Detective Cassie Maddox. My favorite of the two, The Likeness is gripping in its intensity as the readers follow Cassie into an undercover assignment that’s cult-like atmosphere begins to deconstruct Cassie’s thinly veiled mental composure. Both are written with beautiful, often-poetic prose interposed with a jagged, seeping edge of violence that slices through the texts brilliantly.

So, Faithful Place, does it live up to these two bestselling thrillers? Yes! By far the most complex, as it deals with the murky and constantly unstable world or families, Faithful Place follows Detective Frank Mackey, leader of Dublin’s undercover unit, as he investigates a decades old murder that had long-lasting repercussions for both Frank and his family. True to form (as presented by French), Mackey lives on the edge of right and wrong, leaping through various shades of gray as he stealthily moves through the Dublin slums picking apart all of the inhabitants in his search, even if the answers lead him closer to the damaged home and family he escaped twenty years before. According to many of my co-workers, this is it, French’s best work to date and I have to agree, she just keeps getting better.

Now, if you haven’t done so yet, read In the Woods and The Likeness. You have time, until July to be exact. Then, once you’ve reveled in the complex world of Tana French for a while you will be fully prepared for the brilliance that is Faithful Place.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Out of this World Spring and Summer Reads

Zombies, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, fairies and dystopic societies, they have all been markedly present in my reading material as of late. Perhaps it’s because these topics seem to be so prevalent in current popular culture or maybe it’s just that I have been making an effort to catch up on my paranormal reading because my desk was starting to overflow with reading copies. I’ve read countless paranormal novels over the last several months, some that are currently out and others, which will be released between now and this summer. As I’ve waded my way the through lackluster, uninspired ridiculousness I greatly feared that I would never come across a recommend worthy new novel. Who knew there could be that many horrid writers being published? Fortunately, after much toil, boredom, and hair pulling, I finally came across a few notable new novels in the genre.

Soulless by Gail Carriger, has been out since October, but since it’s sequel, Changeless just came out this month, it would be remiss of me not to mention it. This is that book that you pick-up, start to read, and then just can’t put down. It’s that novel that causes a smirk to cross your lips and your chest to tighten with a mixture of anticipation and downright enjoyment. Soulless, the first in a new series by Gail Carriger is that book. The perfect blend of paranormal, romance, comedy, alternative history, and steam punk, Soulless manages to reach beyond the genres with it’s wonderful prose, witty dialogue, and unforgettable characters.

Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, which will be released at the end this month, is a tremendously dystopic novel that faintly echoes themes from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. This is a teen novel, but one that’s premise will be appreciated by adults. The writer, a high school English teacher, does an incredible job of creating characters full of complexities and an environment that is both fantastic and harshly real in its depiction.

The Passage by Justin Cronin is a highly anticipated and much touted new novel out of Random House. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen so much hype for a science fiction novel. Usually, I’m turned off by excessive amounts of plugging because the novels rarely live up to the praise, but this is one book that paid off. The Passage is one of those books that is completely intimidating at first sight because of it's immense size, but once you've read the first few pages you discover an immersing story that sucks you in and refuses to let go. A perfect mixture of classic Michael Crichton meets Resident Evil, this is a novel capable of appealing to science fiction and more mainstream fiction readers, while still maintaining a uniqueness of it’s own. A perfect summer blockbuster that frustrated me to no ends because after nearly 1,000 pages I was loathe to see the end, and am now yearning for a sequel, even though this first book has yet to be released (June 8, 2010).

I would like to end this by taking the time to acknowledge a few of the sequels that are currently or about to be released. Darklight by Lesley Livingston (Wondrous Strange) and Hourglass by Claudia Gray (Evernight) are available now. Linger by Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver); The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth), and Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink (Prophecy of the Sisters) are all out this summer. I have read each of these titles and they are all fantastic, but pay close attention to Guardian of the Gate, which is by far the best of the group.