Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The One I Left Behind (Jennifer McMahon)

I first discovered the genius that is Jennifer McMahon back in 2009 when I was browsing my local bookstore for something to read on vacation.  I came across a book called Island of the Lost Girls with a haunting picture of a little girl on the cover.  So engrossed was I in this book that I literally did not want to go sightseeing with my husband JUST so I get continue to read the darn thing!  Here's my review of that one:  Since then, I've been hooked, and you'll find reviews of other McMahon novels in this blog.

In her newest, The One I Left Behind, she shows why she is one of the most preeminent mystery writers of our day.  What happens when someone you thought was long dead shows up very much alive?  Reggie is a gifted architect who has tried to rebuild her life after her actress mother, Vera, was thought to be the last known victim of the serial killer Neptune.  Vera's body was never found, but her hand was left on the steps of the police station.  When Vera is found alive but disoriented years later, Reggie must come back to her childhood home to try to piece together what the police cannot.

With a slew of interesting characters and an ultra-suspenseful plot, the reader is always left breathless and wanting more.  McMahon seamlessly weaves together chapters narrated by Reggie's 13-year-old self, her adult self, and pages from a crime novel written about the case.  In less capable hands, this becomes a dangerous way to tell the story, as things can become discombobulated.  But McMahon does it masterfully, and it only enhances her storytelling.  I can't recommend The One I Left Behind strongly enough.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Priest, the Witch, & the Poltergeist (Barbara Wade Rose)

The Priest, the Witch, & the Poltergeist by Barbara Wade Rose has one of the most interesting reasons for existence I’ve ever heard.  One routine day at the dentist, Rose picked up a book on the paranormal to take her mind off her upcoming procedure.  She began to read about an 1851 trial in Cideville, France, and was inspired, through a ton of future research, to turn the events into a novel.  What results is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in awhile about something I knew nothing about.

A suspected poltergeist is causing havoc in the Cideville parsonage and rattling Father Lariat and the rest of the inhabitants.  After a failed exorcism and séance, Lariat is convinced that the poltergeist is the doing of a local witch, Thorel Felix.  Felix and the rest of his coven are desperately trying to get their leader released from jail, but Lariat had a huge part in putting him there.  After an altercation between Lariat and Felix, the person who is brought to trial isn't whom you would expect.  

This book is filled with interesting characters, and you’ll probably feel sympathy for those who, in ordinary society, aren't usually considered “sympathetic”.  Much to my surprise given the title, The Priest, the Witch, & the Poltergeist, I was not particularly filled with much suspense as I read (In other words, if you're looking to be scared, you should probably go elsewhere.).  Even so, the events of 1851 are interesting enough in and of themselves to become the basis of a great work of historical fiction.  So be glad Barbara Wade Rose had a dentist appointment that day!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan)

Clay, fresh out of design school and recently laid off from his job at the bagel shop, desperately needs employment.  Walking through the city one day, he sees a "Help Wanted" sign on a bookstore owned by an old man named Mr. Penumbra.  In a flash, he’s hired, only to find out that this is no ordinary indie bookstore.  For one, customers are few and far between, and the day’s grosses rarely go above the single digits.  Most importantly, however, there seems to be some sort of “secret society” related to the store, whose goal it is to break a code.  Will Clay, with the help of two friends and a girlfriend have something to do with this codebreaking?  Scooby Doo!  Where are you?

If the first paragraph sounded a little tongue-in-cheek and juvenile, that’s what I felt reading Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  The only way the reader would ever be able to tell this is an adult book and not a science fiction/fantasy teen novel is that it features adult characters.  Sloan received pretty good reviews for this debut novel, possibly because readers can identify with the numerous technology references used in the book.  Google, e-readers, the iPad and a book about Steve Jobs all make appearances, so bibliophiles in 2013 can rejoice!

While this would probably make a great short story, it just didn’t work for me as a novel.  I found myself just wanting to "get through it" rather than getting "lost in it", which to me is the hallmark of a wonderful book.  Sloan gets props for book-jacket creativity, however.  At first glance, it looks like a very plain cover, but then…


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

52 Little Lessons from It's a Wonderful Life (Bob Welch)

Ask anyone what movie they most associate with the holidays, and many will say the 1947 classic It’s a Wonderful Life.  I know the calendar has now turned to January, but I was just sent a copy of 52 Little Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life by Bob Welch.  Just like the treasured film it’s inspired by, this hardcover book is a treasure in and of itself.

As we begin another new year, resolutions will most likely have been made.  If you’re like me, you make them and then break them within a few weeks (days?).  For this reason, Welch’s book is just perfect for this time of year.  He takes 52 things he’s learned from George and Mary Bailey, Clarence the Angel, and yes, even the evil Mr. Potter, and relates them in simple ways to our everyday lives.

To me, Christmas Eve isn’t complete without getting home in time to see George at the bridge finally wanting to live again.  One of the most important things I realized from Welch’s book is that absolutely nothing has changed at this point in terms of George’s problems.  He still lost $8,000, he was still probably going to jail, the Building and Loan was probably going to close, and the staircase in his “drafty old house" was still broken.  The changes were all inside his heart…enough to run through Bedford Falls yelling “Merry Christmas”…yes, even to Mr. Potter.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Murder at Rosamund's Gate (Susanna Calkins)

A Murder at Rosamund's Gate is Susanna Calkins's absorbing debut novel.  Just a warning that time WILL easily slip away as you become engrossed in this historical fiction mystery.  I was pleasantly surprised that this is deemed Book 1 of the Lucy Campion Mysteries; if there's a Book 1, there has to be a Book 2, right?  So I look forward to reading Calkins's future tales.

It's set in the mid-1600s right around the beginning of the plague's entrance into London.  Lucy is a young servant girl living in the kind magistrate's household.  A series of murders, including of someone very close to Lucy, soon makes the area a dangerous place to be.  Calkins expertly combines not only a "whodunit" but also great suspense as the plague creeps ever closer.

With this novel, Susanna Calkins proves herself to be a literary talent and her protagonist is interesting enough to star in future books. Calkins is off to a rip-roaring start with A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.


NOTE:  This book will be released on April 23, 2013.