The Book Nook
Yes, I know. January has already come and gone and, really, this post should have come at the end of December. What can I say? I am the Queen of Procrastinators. I really should have a tiara to go with that title.
Author Kim Newman has made a career as a journalist and film critic, most notably of the horror genre (he also looks like a very dedicated Sci Fi/Fantasy convention fan boy… but that’s neither here nor there.) So it’s no surprise that his works of fiction read like a mash up of historical facts & horror movie legend. Anno Dracula takes place in Victorian London during Jack the Ripper’s reign of attacks. Oh, and in this reality, Van Helsing never defeated Count Dracula (yep, that Count Dracula) and he (Dracula, not Van Helsing) decided to stick around and marry Queen Victoria and usher in a great era of British vampires living proudly out of the coffin. Seriously. With a cast of historical and fictional characters merged into one universe, it might be easy to jump to comparisons with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But don’t. Newman’s work pre-dates the comic book series by almost a decade. Anno Dracula is the first in a series of four novels and an even longer list of short stories. And, for my money, this one’s a keeper (and another impetus responsible for the further expansion of my To Read list.)
Yes. I totally picked this one up based on my penchant for Sex in the City reruns. Don’t judge. We all have our guilty pleasures. But this Carrie Bradshaw is quite different from the version to which we’ve all grown accustomed. This is a teenaged Carrie Bradshaw. And, while it was fun to get a peek at what her world was like before she took a bite out of the Big Apple, let’s be honest: it’s NYC Carrie Bradshaw we all know and love (or hate, as the case may be.) The Carrie Diaries does show early glimmers of a pre-Manhattan fashionista Carrie and a not-all-that-surprising almost guest appearance by another familiar face . But I don’t think I’ll be investing in any further adventures of our heroine as a high-schooler. If she’s not crushing on Big or Aiden, I’m really not all that interested.
In 2006 I fell in love with a bizarre and beautiful German film that, of all things, explored the life of a murderous perfumer. It was one of the most visually gorgeous movies with one of the most deliciously twisted plot lines that I’d ever seen. Needless to say, I had to add the novel on which it was based to my To Read pile. A perfume apprentice in 18th century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille enters into this world in a most horrific and vile manner. The same can be said with regard to his exit (trust me, you will NOT see this coming!) Born with no body scent of his own and a powerfully acute sense of smell – in his mind, making him not quite human – Grenouille spends his career in search of the Perfect Scent. Unfortunately, his super acute sense of smell leads him to less-than-ideal sources to collect the base elements for said scent. If you like historical novels at all, you’ll find this a fun read. If you also like dark fantasy & horror novels, then you’re going to love this!
I’ve seen Cecelia Ahern’s name bandied about for a while but have never actually picked up any of her books (nor have I seen any of their Hollywood adaptations.) And, while this book reads a bit like a classic Chick Lit/Maeve Binchy-esque tale, it does have a certain je ne sais quoi of its own. The best way I can describe The Book of Tomorrow is to call it a fairytale for grownups. Spoiled rich girl Tamara is forced to move out of her palatial city home after her father’s death and is sent to the country to live with relatives. Her only source of entertainment is the local bookmobile and its young, handsome driver. Don’t worry. It doesn’t turn Harlequin. But it does offer glimpses into Narnia. Tamara finds, among the stacks, a locked leather-bound book with no author’s name or title. And, though she’s told it’s not meant to be on loan, she pilfers the book to pry it open and see just why. There are a few fantastical twists that are a wee bit predictable. But, all in all, The Book of Tomorrow is a cute read.
If Miss Marple solved mysteries as an eleven-year-old, she’d be Flavia de Luce, a precocious science prodigy with a flair for the dramatic. And when she discovers a dead body in the field outside her window one morning, she decides to take it upon herself to uncover the mystery of just who this unfortunate stranger might have been. Armed with her trusty bike, Gladys, Flavia sets off on a course of adventures with fearless determination. I, for one, would love to see this properly (key word: properly) turned into a movie or TV series. So, if anyone from the BBC happens to be reading: could you get on this? Thanks. Oh, and this is the first in a series of Flavia de Luce mystery novels. I can see a few more in my future plans.
What if those stories about the Cathedral of the Holy Blood Altar in Rothenburg, Germany having a capsule containing Jesus Christ’s blood were actually true? What if some crazy-ass religious zealots got their hands on said capsule and decided to clone themselves a Second Coming of Christ? Not a bad premise for a novel, right? The downside, though, is that this self-published novel hasn’t seen an editing desk so you will have to weed through some pretty poor story progressions. The concept alone, however, is so compelling that you’ll be willing to plough through to the end.
I really should have paid more attention to the fact that this novel was subtitled A Paranormal Romance. What can I say? I got sucked in with a promise of time travel. I got hosed and was delivered schmaltz.
Reading a little bit like Terminator meets Serendipity, Kindred Spirits is a bit of a challenge to get through. But if you can wade through all the extraneous information (seriously FAR too much minutiae), there is a pretty fun story underneath it all. Unfortunately it doesn’t reveal itself until about the halfway point. And, I’m guessing most folks will have given up by then. I soldiered through. But only because I felt I had to.
I played a bit of literary Russian Roulette during the months of July, August and September. My To Read pile grew exponentially without a whole lot of investigation into what was being added. I know. Risky, right? As a result, I wound up with a few choices outside my usual realm of interest: some I’m happy about, some… not so much. But I think not sticking to any one specific genre and sometimes diving in blind is a fantastic way to discover some pretty random and fun escapes. Of course, it also helps to uncover some appallingly wretched bits of dreck. But, as we all know, those judgements are all quite subjective. Nevertheless, I do like to judge.
I recently discovered an AMAZING online book retailer (BookCloseOuts.ca) that deals exclusively in discounted and so-called “scratch & dent” items. Imagine my delight when I also discovered that they have a warehouse that ships from right here, in Ontario! One of my finds was this fun little bit of chick lit. Nola (our frumpy protagonist) is an editor at a gossip magazine who longs for something more. So, when she’s denied the opportunity to helm a new column, she creates a new alter-ego, Belinda, who – naturally – lands the gig. Thin, gorgeous and fabulous (everything our heroine thinks she isn’t), her new alter-ego becomes the toast of the town… while Nola scrambles to keep the truth about ‘Belinda’ from being leaked. Side plots involving BFFs whose perfect lives aren’t nearly as perfect as they seem and a charming-yet-mysterious new potential love interest (it is chick lit, after all) help this add up to a great Sunday afternoon read.
At first glance, one would assume that the titular condition is that of Gwen McKotch (who is diagnosed with Turner’s syndrome – a chromosomal irregularity that prevents her from ever physically maturing), the only daughter in a dysfunctional New England family. As it turns out, however, it really is so much more than that. Each and every character introduced suffers with their own personal condition in a way that is unique to them and, at the same time, so universally human. Ordinarily my work and life schedules preclude me from finishing most novels very quickly (usually a week and a half, at best.) This one, though, I devoured in two nights. It’s author Haigh’s third novel and you can bet I’ve added the first two to my To Read pile… and I’ll be keeping an eye out for any subsequent releases.
I won’t lie – I totally got sucked in by the über-cute cover art and the comically creepy premise of a dead girl/ghost hiring a detective to find out what her dead-beat, murdering boyfriend did with her body after snuffing out her life. Neither were enough to detract from a poor writing style, unfortunately. Oh well. My own fault for falling into the old cliche: I should have known better than to judge a book – in this case the first novella in a series – by its cover.
Two words: Christian. Romance. I’m neither Christian nor a fan of romance novels. You do the math.
If Stephen King wrote YA novels, this is what they’d be like. I actually didn’t realize this was a YA novel, when I grabbed it for my Kobo. And, honestly, I didn’t really care once I started reading. The classic Good versus Evil plot is definitely firmly in place here. And it’s joined by all of the juicy over-the-top Sci-Fi/Fantasy nuggets (disappearing radio announcers, shape-shifting middle-aged women, giant town-destroying fire ants, secret codes, super powers) one would expect of a story geared toward the attention deficit disorder set. Honestly? I hope this becomes a series. I’d keep reading.
I honestly have NO idea what this book is about because, by the third chapter, the only things that had been revealed were enough typos and spelling/grammar mistakes (mismatched tenses? really?) to make an English professor prematurely gray. Confusing and illogical plot progressions didn’t help, either. But what really stood out in this book were the blatantly misused words; it makes me wonder, actually (without the slightest bit of facetiousness), if English might not be a language recently learned by the author.
This was another accidental YA selection. My how things have changed since the days of Sweet Valley High and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Then again, teenagers aren’t exactly the sheltered creatures they were back when I trod amongst them. I tried to put myself into the head space of a teenager while I read this – and, honestly, I quite enjoyed it. Annabelle is a 16-year-old girl who feels the need to always clean up after her bi-polar, older brother’s debacles. Her constant need to fight his battles for him keeps her from seeing that sometimes people need to be allowed their mistakes in order to move on and grow up. While a bit predictable, it’s definitely something I’d share with any teenagers looking for something to read.
I’m pretty sure this novel was, once-upon-a-time, a pivotal Melrose Place (the original; not that 2.0 nonsense) story arc. And, if not, it certainly could have been. A female news anchor (Natalie), in the super-competitive news world of Los Angeles, finds herself at the mercy of a cut-throat news director looking to replace her with a young and ruthlessly-ambitious former Playboy playmate who now fancies herself a reporter. Also – Natalie’s marriage to a wildly successful sitcom writer has fallen to pieces while something seems to be a-brewin’ with her happens-to-be-drop-dead-gorgeous-with-a-to-die-for-Aussie-accent agent. Scratch that: this wasn’t a Melrose Place story arc. It was a Harlequin made-for-TV movie of the week.
Faith gets itchy toes when good things are about to befall her. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the extent of her so-called psychic ability. Which is too bad as, I’m sure, she would have liked a bit of a heads up with regard to her boyfriend’s impending heave-ho. But, as she picks up the ruins of her life, she muddles through the motions of rebuilding friendships, learning to accept siblings and, generally, accepting her world for what it is – rather than trying to change things that don’t necessarily need changing. This is a cute take-it-to-the-cottage read. I don’t have a cottage. But if I did, this is the sort of novel I’d bring along for the weekend. It’s not amazing. It’s not horrible. It is, however, a great accompaniment to a sunny deck and a glass of chilled Chardonnay.
I’m a sucker for any fiction set during World War II. I don’t know why; I just am. And this novel grabbed me because it enlightened me with regard to an atrocity to which I’d previously been unaware: Briefaktion (Operation Mail) wherein concentration camp victims were required to write postcards or letters to home indicating that all was well with their ‘resettlement.’ Pretty grim. So that alone should have been premise enough for a piece of fiction to have been set. Unfortunately, the author felt it necessary to expand upon this grisly bit of history by creating a fantastical underground world (an abandoned bunker, to be precise) where select prisoners were able to escape the horrors of the internment camps as they were able to help assuage the fears/superstitions held by high ranking officers who believed that letters to the dead needed to be answered (playing upon the Nazi preoccupation with the occult and the aforementioned Briefaktion.) It just seems to me that so much of what went on during this time was already so unimaginable that creating an even more over-the-top scenario in which to set your human drama… just doesn’t make sense. That said, I didn’t hate this book. I just didn’t find the fantasy aspect all that necessary.
If you’re a fan of mysteries or crime fiction (which – I’ll be honest – I’m not, for the most part) then you’ll appreciate this whodunnit. Retired gumshoe Moe Prager gets dragged back into his former line of work when his estranged daughter comes to him for help; the eleven-year-old art prodigy daughter of her childhood friend has been abducted and is presumed dead. Naturally, he unearths all sorts of seedy, sordid details and dark secrets a number of unsavoury characters would rather were kept hush hush. And, while there were certain plot points that weren’t entirely surprising, the story’s climax did not disappoint.
This is a must-read for fans of Simon Pegg, Star Wars, or underdogs of any sort. Subtitled A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid, Nerd Do Well takes us from Pegg’s obsession with Star Wars (which started in childhood and, as with all true nerds, exists to this day – despite what George Lucas continues to do with the franchise) right up to his blockbuster successes with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and, most recently, Paul. This book made me giggle out loud. Repeatedly. It also made me want to re-watch Spaced in its entirety. Hmm… it might be time for another Amazon order.
Take The Witches of Eastwick, throw in a little Norse mythology and pepper it all with a few nighttime soap opera-esque antics and you end up with a tasty little treat to get you through the daily drudgery of your public transit commute. It turns out this is the first in a planned series, as well. Which is good. Traffic & the TTC seems to be getting worse every day. I’ll need something to distract me from its painfulness.
Back in March, I had every intention in the world to spend my summer lazing about, filling my free time with stacks of fabulous books & bottles of delicious vintages. And, like most people, it always seems to slip my mind that I still work for a living and that free time is at a premium (read: it hardly exists); factor in spotty weather & long weekend gridlock and you end up with an incredibly messy calendar with very little white space.
Alas, those hours lazing about with a glass of Merlot & a good read don’t seem to be happening so far, this year. Or, at least, they’re not happening as often as I’d like.
I must admit that when it comes to Jen Lancaster, I have more than a bit of a fan-girl crush. I mean, out of her five memoirs, I’ve read three… and, considering I don’t even read celebrity memoirs (never mind non-celebrity ones), that’s pretty telling. What can I say, though? I really do admire her indefatigable snark. That, and her penchant for all things ’80s (particularly her love for the late, great John Hughes. ) Either way, I feel an affinity for her work. And I knew, as soon as it was announced that she was working on a novel, I’d be lined up to grab my copy as soon as it hit shelves. If You Were Here (taken from the Thompson Twins song of the same name that plays during that oh-so awesome scene at the end of Sixteen Candles; you know the one: Molly Ringwald, Michael Schoeffling, angsty teen smoochies over a birthday cake) is funny, acerbic & smart-assy. And, if I didn’t know it was a piece of fiction, I could easily imagine the author and her husband as the two main characters. Flaws & all, they make blundering into (shudder) Suburbia entertaining. This is as good a piece of chick lit (yes, I know the PC term is now Women’s Fiction) as you’re bound to run into this summer. So do yourself a favour and just let it happen. Yep. My fan-girl crush still stands. The funny thing is, had we met during the 80s, Jen Lancaster & I would have been on polar opposite sides of the school cafeteria. Now? Now I want to drink wine with her and mock others’ unfortunate fashion decisions.
I happened upon this book quite by accident one day while browsing around Amazon.ca (incidentally, is it too late to buy shares in this company? Given the frequency with which I send them money, I’m pretty sure I must already own a few.) Other than the jacket blurb, I knew absolutely nothing about this novel. It simply sounded like an interesting read, so I tossed it in the ol’ virtual shopping cart. I’m SO glad I did. This is, officially, my newest favourite and I’m telling everyone who’ll listen to grab a copy and start reading; I’ve even forced my own copy onto unsuspecting friends. Truly Plaice is a young girl born in the early ’50s with Acromegaly (a disorder of the pituitary gland that produces excess growth hormone & causes symptoms associated with – for lack of a better term – gigantism) who is dubbed “a giant” by a bitter & unthinking teacher. With an older, beautiful, princess-like sister to whom she is continuously compared, the novel follows Truly’s tragedies & triumphs as she struggles to fit in, both literally & figuratively. But Tiffany Baker hasn’t just given us a hero to laud because we feel sorry for her. Quite the contrary – we have a hero because she’s so very human. No one person is ever entirely ugly. No one person is ever entirely beautiful. We all have moments of both – inside & out.
I really love that there is a community of impassioned writers out there willing to risk it all, self-publish & then offer up their work to the public for free. And I had really high hopes for this novel. I really did. With a futuristic storyline drawing influence from the likes of Philip K. Dick and Margaret Atwood, I wanted to like it. I really did. And maybe, with an editor, this might have been a fabulous read. Unfortunately, it appears that the services of an editor were never involved. At least, I certainly hope they weren’t.
Oh, Oscar, how I love thee and the magical things you do with words (I mean, how can you not love a man responsible for gems like: “The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history” or “Nothing makes one so vain as being told one is a sinner.” ) Hooray for another wonderful It-Came-Free-With-My-Kobo read! I’d originally discovered this, for the first time, back in high school. It started a life-long adoration for almost any sentence strung together by Oscar Wilde. Now, 25+ years later (good CHRIST, how did that happen?!), I still love this story. We all know the tale: a beautiful young man playfully wishes that he forever remain young & unmarred, while the painting that captured said visage begins to age & wither with each new morally corrupt act he perpetrates. But which came first: did he begin to explore the life of the debauched hedonist because he realized the painting would bear the marks of his sin? Or did the painting begin exhibiting his corrupt soul after his descent had already begun? Be careful what you wish for.
Anyone else wish they could spend more summer hours reading?
I seem to be posting these closer and closer to the middle of each following month. C’est la vie, I suppose. But it doesn’t speak highly to my organizational skills, that’s for certain. In any event, there are few more in the Read pile now. For some reason, though, the To Read pile never seems to shrink. In fact, it seems to be growing… exponentially. Hrm. Interesting.
I can certainly understand why this novel is considered to be such a masterpiece. It’s an absolutely beautifully written, lushly descriptive story. But, seriously? Emma Bovary is a dick. A truly spoiled, deceptive, manipulative bitch. She cheats on her long-suffering husband (who, previous to his wife, was pretty much his mother’s lap dog) and spends money they don’t have (then lies about it!) in order to (in her mind) escape from her boring and banal existence. Whatever. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for her. But she’s really not where the beauty in this novel lies. Interestingly, Flaubert was actually charged with obscenity when the book was first published. I suppose the subject matter of extramarital affairs and the blatant flouting of religion was considered to be pretty racy stuff in 1856. The Madame aside, I’m glad I decided to finally take advantage of the stash of classics that came pre-loaded on my Kobo. The intricacies & realism in Flaubert’s storytelling is nothing short of incredible. And, given that this was a translation, I can only imagine how beautiful the language must be in its original French.
I’ve long been fascinated with the stories of Elizabeth Bathory. So, when I stumbled upon this fictional account of her life, I jumped at the chance to give it a read. We all know the story of the Countess Erzsébet Báthory – who, in 1611, was actually walled up in a tower prison for crimes so gruesome she’s actually been called the first (and worst) female serial killer. But, what author Johns has done is create a fictional world where, perhaps Bathory isn’t quite as guilty as history would have her. Perhaps she’s simply been falsely accused by those more interested in absconding with a poor widow’s land and fortune. Perhaps. Told from Bathory’s point of view as she writes to her youngest son – who’s been kept in the dark with regard to the sinister tales surrounding her imprisonment – in an attempt to tell her version of events, the novel paints a different picture of the so-called Blood Countess. But, despite this sanitized version of events (“the dozens of missing girls and the bodies piling up in shallow, unconsecrated graves? Meh. Totally the maid’s fault. She didn’t take care of them properly after I rightfully beat them within an inch of their lives.”), the subtle viciousness shown is actually quite a chilling interpretation of how the Countess evolved from a sweet, innocent child into a brutal, murderous monster.
Apparently people in Sweden eat a lot of sandwiches & drink a lot of coffee. Or so Stieg Larsson would have us believe. I know it’s a weird thing to point out but I also know I’m not alone in having noticed. Odd & reoccurring culinary choices aside, The Girl Who Played with Fire is so, so fun. This, the second tale in his Millennium Trilogy, is even more twisty and turny than the first. Murder, mayhem, criminal bikers, sex trafficking, delinquent fathers and some seriously sweet computer hacking are part and parcel for this adventure. This time our hero/journalist Mikael Blomkvist has to help clear our bad-ass heroine/hacker Lisbeth Salander’s name when her fingerprints are found on a smoking gun (literally.) I’ve said it already, but it bears repeating that I would totally want to be friends with Salander, were she more than just a fictional character. Mind you, I’d pay particular mind to never piss her off. Because I’m pretty sure that, despite her diminutive stature, she could kick my ass. Do yourself a favour and pick up all three of these books – you’ll smoke through them in no time, but they’re a highly entertaining (not to mention an easy) read.