Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Quiet Dark (EA Cunningham)

When fiction writer EA Cunningham graciously gave me a copy of her book The Quiet Dark, I was immediately intrigued with the premise.  I had to put it to the side for a few weeks until I could give it my undivided attention, but it was well worth the wait.  Fantasy is not my favorite genre, and written with the wrong hands, it can sometimes be disastrous.  I’m happy to say that Cunningham’s novel is a multi-layered, well-thought-out book that will appeal to both young adults and their parents alike.

Fia Crombie is an ordinary teenager living a humdrum life with her mom, dad, and younger brother.  Her best friend, Jason, is constantly getting her into trouble (unwittingly) and letting her down with his unreliable ways.  At this point, the only way the reader knows that anything may be a little out of sorts is that Fia keeps having the same recurring nightmare. 

When Jason tells Fia that he’s discovered a temple in the woods, they go to investigate further.  Fia suddenly awakens in a completely different world, one where she has a strong sense of déjà vu and magical powers that are new to her. Fia wonders if Jason crossed over with her, and after she is kidnapped by a group trying to overthrow her new city, she needs him more than ever.  Will Fia ever get back to her old life, and more importantly, will she even want to?

With characters you grow to care about and an ending that wisely leaves the door open for a sequel, Cunningham has crafted a wonderful novel that I would recommend to anyone.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult)

I look forward to the yearly release of Jodi Picoult's books the way some people look forward to Christmas.  To me, getting her new novel fresh off the presses is more exciting than opening up a nicely wrapped gift.  I literally jumped up and down when The Storyteller arrived on my doorstep (I know...seriously).  Rarely does a Picoult book not make you think because she is not afraid in the least to tackle controversial issues.  Just as rarely does the Picoult book come along that I don't like (Unfortunately, I'm looking at you Sing You Home!).  Usually, I know I am looking at an automatic rating of 5 because Picoult does not just tell her stories...she involves the reader in ways that I've never before seen in a novelist.  I am not afraid to make a statement right here that The Storyteller is an instant classic and one that I am still thinking about in ways I never imagined.

The trademark of Picoult's novels is that her stories are told by various narrators, all of whom have an integral part in the book.  In her latest, we begin with the story of Sage, a baker so self-conscious because of facial scarring that she works overnight and has few friends.  One day, a 90-year-old-man, Josef, arrives in the bakery, and despite Sage's tendency to be antisocial, she and the man begin a friendship.  Josef is beloved in their small town, but he shocks Sage by showing her a picture of him as a young man in an SS uniform.  He asks her to help him die, but Sage reports him to the federal government instead.  At the same time, Sage's grandmother, Minka, finally tells her story of being held at Auschwitz so many years ago.  Josef's and Minka's stories inevitably come together like an unstoppable racing train.

Jodi Picoult did not in any way take writing The Storyteller lightly.  She conducted extensive research, including interviews with survivors and guidance by historians.  This book stays with you like few others, making you think twice when you're getting ready to complain about something frivolous in your life.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Dual Inheritance (Joanna Hershon)

Because I read and write for various mediums, I tend to have 5-6 books waiting for me in the "queue."  I usually need to read 2-3 at a time just to keep up, so when it was time for A Dual Inheritance, I booted up my Kindle and began.  As I started Joanna Hershon's story, I found myself not wanting to change to one of the other books I was reading.  This novel is layered beautifully, covers multiple generations, and begs to answer the question "Why do we let perceived slights keep us from holding onto relationships we were meant to have?".

Ed Cantowicz and Hugh Shipley are two schoolmates from opposite sides of the track who quickly become friends.  When Hugh's ex-girlfriend, Helen, re-enters the picture, Ed understandably is the third wheel; that feeling quickly dissipates, however, and the three become practically inseparable.  As the reader is introduced to the main characters' families, she learns that Ed and Hugh have widely different goals in life.  Hershon then moves onto Ed and Hugh's wives and children, skillfully showing that the connection between these two men will never end, whether they want it to or not.

While at times a little slow, A Dual Inheritance is at its best when it focuses on Ed and Hugh.  Even while they are apart (even living on separate continents), the reader knows that they (and their secrets) will eventually meet up again.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Comfort of Lies (Randy Susan Meyers)

If you're looking for a novel for your book club, Randy Susan Meyers's The Comfort of Lies is one that will offer fascinating discussions.  It revolves around four flawed and oh-so-real adults (Caroline, Tia, Juliette, Nathan) and one innocent little girl.

Nathan (who is married to Juliette) have an affair that results in a child.  Once Nathan finds out about the pregnancy, he wants nothing to do with Tia or the child, and resolves to tell Juliette about his infidelity.  After Tia gives birth, Caroline and her husband, Peter, adopt the child, and Tia tries to pick up the pieces of her life after her obsession with Nathan.  Juliette obviously has serious trust issues after learning the news of Nathan's affair and only finds out about the baby five years later, after Tia sends Nathan pictures of the child.  This is the catalyst for a chain of complex events that have consequences unforeseen to anyone.

The Comfort of Lies is definitely a pageturner and one you'll be thinking about long after you've read it.  While I found a few of the characters unlikable and questioned and shook my head at many of their choices, this book is so centered in reality that I can't fault Meyers for that.  If the reader was put in any of the characters' shoes, how does she know she wouldn't make the same decisions that they did?