Thursday, July 26, 2012

REVIEW: Terror by Night by Terry Caffey

Star Rating: 4/5 (Playaway audiobook)
Genre: True Crime
Audience: Adult/Upper Level Young Adult

Summary: When his young family is murdered by his own daughter's ex-boyfriend, Terry Caffey must learn to live as the only survivor of the attack and come to grips with this tragedy.  As he strives to take up his life again, he comes to a great understanding of the grace, mercy, and purpose of God. 

Lucinda's Views: This book was recommended to me by a fellow librarian and at first I was sceptical as to whether or not I would enjoy reading it.  However, I found myself glued to my headphones and caught up in the tragedy of Terry's life.  I found myself close to tears many times in this book as Terry recounted anecdotes from his family life prior to the horrific murders. 

This book does have a Christian bent, but it comes across as an integral part of the story as opposed to being didactic.  Terry's faith is the impetuous that allows him to rebuild his life and truly forgive his family's murderers including his own daughter Erin.

If you find that you like books that tell a tale of triumph over adversity and the strength of the human spirit this is a must read for you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

REVIEW: A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Psychological Suspense/Southern Gothic
Audience: Adult

Summary: In a small North Carolina mountain town outside Asheville, evil has festered for years in the form of Pastor Carson Chambliss, an ex-con and born-again Christian who encourages his congregation to speak in tongues, handle deadly snakes and fire, and drink poison to prove their faith. Adelaide Lyle recognized the danger years ago and insisted that the congregation's children steer clear of Chambliss's raucous services and attend Sunday school with her instead. But a series of events, beginning with the snooping of a young boy, brings the evil out into the open and shatters a family forever.

First Line: "I sat there in the car with the grave dust blowing in the parking lot and saw the place for what it was, not what it was right at that moment in the hot sunlight, but for what it had been maybe twelve or fifteen years before: a real general store with folks gathered around the lunch counter, a line of people at the soda fountain, little children ordering ice cream of just about every flavor you could think of, hard candy by the quarter pound, moon pies and crackerjack and other things I hadn't thought about tasting in years."

Tracy's Thoughts:
Human weaknesses and vulnerabilities are exposed in this evocative novel about rural life, fate, and redemption. Equal parts Southern Gothic and Greek tragedy, it calls to mind the work of Flannery O'Connor. The story is narrated by a chorus of three voices: Adelaide, the town wise woman and healer, a woman who at nearly eighty tells it like she sees it; Sheriff Clem Barefield, still somewhat of an outsider, a middle-aged man haunted by his own family tragedy; and nine-year-old Jess, precocious and adventurous, a boy older than his years from looking out for his mute and most likely autistic older brother. The novel weaves back and forth through time, seamlessly revealing events of the past to elucidate the tragedy that occurs early on in the narrative. This layering of perspective and events creates a dark, quiet intensity that pulls you in, the tension gradually building up to the final, inevitable conclusion.

And debut author Wiley Cash's writing is fabulous.The dialog and idioms are spot on, perfectly capturing the flavor of the mountains and its people without introducing awkward, unreadable dialect. The lyrical prose is unpretentious, and the characters lovingly crafted.This is a must-read for anyone who enjoys the work of Tom Franklin and John Hart. This book offers plenty of food for thought and discussion; it would make an ideal book club read.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

REVIEW: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Genre: Science Fiction/Apocalyptic Fiction, Coming-of-age
Audience: Adult/Young Adult Crossover

Summary: For 11-year-old Julia, the morning that the world changed forever began just like any other Saturday in her suburban California neighborhood. But she soon learns that the Earth's rotation is slowing down and that there are CONSEQUENCES AHEAD. Her mother leaps into panic mode, while her doctor father goes to work just like any other day. As the days grow increasingly lengthy, world governments declare that citizens should abide by the 24-hour clock even though it is 40 hours or more between sunsets and midnight might come during the brightest part of the day. Fringe groups of "real-timers" spring up in opposition to the "clock-timers." Birds fall from the sky, people develop gravity sickness, crops fail. Julia herself feels a mild fear as the world around her gradually falls into turmoil, but she is also coping with the everyday disasters of adolescence: bullying at the bus stop, her parents' rocky marriage, broken friendships, and her first crush.

First Line: "We didn't notice right away."

Tracy's Thoughts:
This book is written as a retrospective, where a now-adult Julia looks back on the time that her world—both her private world and the world at large—changed. As a narrator, Julia frequently provides insights that the 11-year-old Julia could not know ("It was the last time I ever tasted a grape."). Sometimes these were effective, but at other times I felt that they were unnecessary and even a bit annoying. But Julia's story is a compelling one. The changes on Earth are profound, and the daily changes to Julia's everyday life as she adapts to her changing environment and goes through the ordinary growing pains are equally riveting.

Karen Thompson Walker's writing is simple and vividly evocative. It is nuanced and descriptive without becoming cluttered or overdone. Take the following passage:
When we finally understood what was happening that morning, Hanna and I rushed outside to check the sky for evidence. But the sky was just the sky—an average, cloudless, blue. The sun shone unchanged. A familiar breeze was blowing from the direction of the sea, and the air smelled the way it always did back then, like cut grass and honeysuckle and chlorine. The eucalyptus trees were fluttering like sea anemones in the wind, and my mother's jug of sun tea looked nearly dark enough to drink. In the distance beyond our back fence, the freeway echoed and hummed. The power lines continued to buzz. Had we tossed a soccer ball into the air, we might not have even noticed that it fell a little faster to the earth, that it hit the ground a little harder than before. I was eleven years old in the suburbs. My best friend was standing beside me. I could spot not a single object out of place or amiss.
I read this book in one sitting. It is a fast, easy read and a timely one. Despite the fast pace, this is a quiet read—not violently dramatic like so many of the other apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novels glutting the market. The dramas here are mostly small, everyday ones, but they are numerous and poignant. Although I questioned some of the science and would have liked a bit more fullness to the story and characters, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a pleasant change from the average "world gone wrong" novel, and the premise was top-notch. I look forward to the next offering from this first-time author.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

REVIEW: Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adult/Young Adult Crossover

Summary: Laura comes from a world similar to our own except for one difference: it is next to the Place, an unfathomable land that fosters dreams of every kind and is inaccessible to all but a select few, the Dreamhunters. These are individuals with special gifts: the ability to catch larger-than-life dreams and relay them to audiences in the magnificent dream palace, the Rainbow Opera. People travel from all around to experience the benefits of the hunters’ unique visions. Now fifteen-year-old Laura and her cousin Rose, daughters of Dreamhunters, are eligible to test themselves at the Place and find out whether they qualify for the passage. But nothing can prepare them for what they are about to discover. For within the Place lies a horrific secret kept hidden by corrupt members of the government. And when Laura’s father, the man who discovered the Place, disappears, she realizes that this secret has the power to destroy everyone she loves . . .

Lucinda's Views:
This book is a well-written jaunt into an alternate Australia set in the Edwardian era. The difference is that in this Australia, there are people that can capture dreams and share them with others. They are called Dreamhunters, and the best are well-paid celebrities, so that almost every person desires to join their ranks. Laura and Rose are no exception.

This alternate world is well-imagined and keeps developing as the plot progresses in a believable manner. The ending does not provide any sort of resolution to the reader, but it is clearly stated on the cover that it is part of a duet, and other than that one caveat, the plot is well-paced, develops in an absorbing manner, and the cliff-hanger at the end of the novel leaves the reader eager for more.

Laura and Rose are likable and the mysterious disappearance of Laura's father just serves to bolster the reader's affinity for them. If you like to read fantasy and are looking for a new world, with well-developed characters to explore this is the book for you.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

REVIEW: Home by Toni Morrison

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Literary Fiction/Historical
Audience: Adult

Summary: Following his return to the States after serving in the Korean War, Frank Money finds coping with "normal life" a challenge. He is haunted by what he has witnessed and by what he has done. Furthermore, he experiences panic attacks and occasional violent spells he has no memory of later. Recently escaped from a mental institution after an "episode," Frank finds his purpose in a mission to rescue his younger sister from a dangerous situation. But to help Cee, he has no choice but to return to the Georgia hometown he detests.

First Line: "They rose up like men."

Tracy's Thoughts:
Why haven't I read more Toni Morrison? I loved Beloved, but haven't brought myself to pick up any of her other works until now. Perhaps I am wary of the gut-wrenching, emotional devastation that I associate with her stories? There is certainly plenty of sadness and disillusion to be found in this slim novel, yet there is also redemption. In less than 150 pages, Morrison takes on PSTD, family dysfunction, and the rampant racism of 1950s America. But the heart of this novel is the relationship between brother and sister and their separate journeys to make peace with themselves, the past, and their lives now.

The novel skillfully interweaves the past and present and also offers up the barest hint of magical realism. Morrison's prose is lyrical, restrained yet startling in its power, the rhythms of her words and sentences resonating like poetry. Her language is clear and accessible, yet still manages to feel lush. This novel is told mostly in third person omniscient tense, occasionally focusing on characters other than Frank, most notably his sister Cee. However, some of the most powerful moments are when Frank "interrupts" the storyteller to provide his own first-person account, which further illuminates and sometimes even corrects the story we have been told thus far. This novel is deceptively simple and could perhaps benefit from a bit more fleshing out, but the spareness has an undeniable power if its own.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

REVIEW: Among Others by Jo Walton

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: (Really light) Fantasy, Coming-of-age
Audience: Adult/Young Adult Crossover

Summary: Fantasy and a realistic coming-of-age story merge in this tale of a young outcast who finds meaning in the books she loves. When a magical battle with her insane mother leaves Mori crippled and results in her twin's death, Mori flees to her heretofore absent father in England. Once there, Mori is quickly shuffled off to a boarding school that is a far cry from the fairy-filled valleys of Wales. There 15-year-old Mori struggles to find friends and dabbles in a bit of magic on her own before the inevitable showdown with her mother.

First Lines: "The Phurnacite factory in Abercwmboi killed all the trees for two miles around.... My sister and I called it Mordor..."

Tracy's Thoughts:
On the surface, this sounds like a typical genre novel: outsider teenager discovers magical powers, etc, etc. And yet in Among Others, much of the "action" takes place offstage before the novel begins. Instead, the focus is on Mori's struggle to find a place and a purpose after losing her sister. Her innermost thoughts and fears on everything from getting breasts to the latest Zelazny novel are related through a series of diary entries. The fantasy elements are very much in the background, but bits of magic slip though the cracks. Mori sees fairies that look more like plants than the sparkly winged creatures of lore, and her magic doesn't work like the magic in her beloved books, though she sometimes wishes it did. Instead of grand, sweeping magic, the magic here is ambiguous and inextricably part of the "real" world. It is something that must be taken on faith:
You can almost always find chains of coincidence to disprove magic. That’s because it doesn’t happen the way it does in books. It makes those chains of coincidence. That’s what it is. It’s like if you snapped your fingers and produced a rose but it was because someone on an aeroplane had dropped a rose at just the right time for it to land in your hand. There was a real person and a real aeroplane and a real rose, but that doesn’t mean the reason you have the rose in your hand isn’t because you did the magic.
I love this concept. Mori's belief in magic of this sort makes so much sense even as I questioned whether Mori's stories are merely the product of her book-fueled imagination.

In many ways, Among Others it is a love letter to libraries and to books, particularly the science fiction novels of the 1970s. And although I am not a big reader of sci-fi or fantasy, I have a special love for books about books and those who read them. (Case in point: this excellent book, and this book that *might* qualify as my absolute favorite read of 2011.)  Mori's enthusiasm for the books of Ursula Le Guin and other giants of the sci-fi/fantasy genres made me want to hole up for a week (or two) just so I can devour all of the classics she loves. (Lucky for me, Jo Walton has Mori's reading list posted on her blog.) Among Others is a wonderful book, with a fascinating and engaging lead character, simple yet elegant writing, and thought-provoking ideas. I recommend it for anyone who has been an outsider, for anyone who has lost someone they loved, and most of all for anyone who loves books even a tenth as much as Mori does.

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