Thursday, September 29, 2011

Those Across the River (Christopher Buehlman)

I find myself reading a plethora of debut novels lately...S.J. Watson's wonderful Before I Go to Sleep, Rosamund Lupton's Sister, and now Christopher Buehlman's Those Across the River. These novels all have an element of suspense and mystery to them, but Buehlman's is just plain a good way. For this is not a mystery novel in every sense of the word. This is truly a horror story.

Frank Nichols, great grandson of Lucian Savoyard, and his wife, Eudora, move to the town of Whitbrow, Georgia after World War I. Frank, a notable historian, wants to write a book about Savoyard, an evil, cruel plantation owner, who tortured his slaves. Whitbrow seems to be an ideal town at first, with Eudora teaching school, and Frank settling in to write. However, things begin to get sinister quickly when Frank accidentally meets someone from "across the river". Questions begin to pile up until the ultimate showdown between Frank and those wanting revenge.

I was chilled to the bone reading Those Across the River (and it was 80 degrees out). Buehlman is a master at foreshadowing, making the reader scared to death to turn the page, but unable to stop doing so. He is graphic in a shockingly matter-of-fact way, like this happens everyday in Whitbrow. If you are on pins and needles waiting for the premier of Season 2 of The Walking Dead, read this to get ready.


Monday, September 26, 2011

The Story of Charlotte's Web (Michael Sims)

I would bet that there is not a person alive who has not read, or at least heard of, Charlotte's Web. It is consistently ranked as the bestselling children's book of all time. Let those words sink in...OF ALL TIME. I remember reading it back when schools divided their reading groups into the "Bluebird" group, and the "Red Robin" group. There is a reason that the story of Charlotte, Wilbur, Templeton, and Fern is so popular with both children and adults is timeless.

Even though the title of Sims' book is The Story of Charlotte's Web, it is not just about that. It is the story of author E.B. White's life, born Elwyn White. The White family lived in Mount Vernon, New York, but spent many a summer in Maine. From the beginning of his life, White was very uneasy around people, especially girls, and loved nothing better than to be with animals. I take exception to Sims' subtitle, E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic. I am not sure that I would define him as eccentric just because he preferred nature to everyday life. I think that he was able to find himself this way, and fortunately for us, he did. Otherwise, would we have a Stuart Little, Trumpet of the Swan, or Charlotte's Web? Probably not.

The most fascinating part of this book is reading the research that went into writing Charlotte's Web. Even though White was writing about fictional animals (but sometimes basing them on real-life counterparts), he wanted to be as accurate as possible (in Charlotte's egg-laying, for example). Just as fascinating is when legendary illustrator, Garth Williams, joins the team. Sims states that Williams' original drawing for the cover fetched $155,000 at auction.

The setting of Charlotte's Web is based on the White farm, still a running farm in Maine. White chose to live in a bucolic setting, most comfortable in his appreciation of the animals. If that is "eccentric", then lucky for us, that's what he was.


This review can also be found on

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sister (Rosamund Lupton)

Deciding what book to read next (out of the millions out there) is a task in and of itself. In addition to 1776books, I also review for Bookloons and review books related to education for the Summit Series for Families website. At any given time, I am reading 4-5 books, usually of different genres so I don't confuse myself. For 1776books, I rely on a few trusted publications for suggestions. Sister got monster reviews from most of the "big guys", with author Alafair Burke saying that "Sister is an absolutely stunning debut. The ending will leave you reeling." Not really, Ms. Burke.

Having just read SJ Watson's truly stunning debut, Before I Go to Sleep, I jumped right in to this one. Beatrice is a woman living the "high life" in the States, with a boyfriend, designer clothes, and a great job. One day, she receives a nightmare call that her sister, Tess, is missing in London. Lupton tells the story of what truly happened to Tess in a highly creative way, setting much of the novel in the future, and having Beatrice relive the events in her testimony to a lawyer.

For the first three-fourths of Sister, I could not put it down. However, then I found myself putting it down more and more. By the last chapter, I was anxious to read this "ending" that Burke speaks of. Unfortunately, rather than have the effect that Lupton probably wanted, I was let down.

For a truly great book about sisters, read The Thirteenth Tale.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep (S.J. Watson)

Imagine this "Cinderella" story (although Watson is a male)...You want to be a writer, and apply for a very selective program. You are asked to do a creative writing assignment. You do so, and your book not only gets published, but becomes an international bestseller. Authors such as Anita Shreve and Lionel Shrive write blurbs of praise for the back of your book. Tess Gerritsen, author of the Rizzoli & Isles series, writes "Quite simply the best debut I've ever read." Seem impossible? Not only is this story completely true, but I couldn't agree with Gerritson more.

The premise of Before I Go to Sleep is a nightmare. Imagine waking up every single day, and not knowing who you are, who your family is, and where you live. There is a man sleeping next to you, and you have no idea who he is. You panic, and rush into the bathroom. On the mirror are pictures pointing out that the man in the other room is your husband. Every day, you live your life knowing that when you go to sleep, you will forget everything that has happened that day. Imagine going through life with no memories and nothing connected.

This is the reality of the narrator, Christine, an amnesia patient. She is a prisoner in her own body. She needs the same things explained to her every day. Her doctor, who she is seeing secretly, behind her husband's back, suggests that she begin to keep a journal. Every night, she should write in the journal, and every morning, she should reread it. We learn about Christine's story at the very same time she does, which is what makes this book so fresh.

Before I Go to Sleep is one giant puzzle with sometimes an unbearable level of suspense. The reader knows that Christine is in danger, but Watson keeps us guessing about the bad guys. This is Hitchcock brought into 2011. I cannot recommend this debut novel highly enough, and I can't wait to read more from this promising new author.