Yes, your prize-whore was tripping all over herself to get down to the library the very day the 2014 Printz Award winner was announced and thank goodness I'm fast because Midwinterblood was still buried there on the YA shelves, safe and sound and just waiting for me to snatch it up.
Marcus Sedgwick's fantasy novel is comprised of seven interlocking stories each set in a different time with different characters, each the reincarnation of the same two souls seeking to reunite with each other over the course of ten centuries. From an ancient pagan King and Queen to a mother and son to an artist and a child, each reincarnation leads you in a giant circle back to it's creepy beginning, set in the year 2073 where a journalist arrives on a remote island where inhabitants are rumored to live forever.
The premise is engaging. The execution is mediocre. The first problem I ran into was Sedgwick's tendency to try so hard to create mysteriously creepy that he ended up creating a lot of what the hell instead. There became so many unanswered loose ends that mysterious turned into annoying.
My second problem was that the overarching love story - the souls that were struggling over ten centuries to be reunited - never really rang true. None of the stories were long enough to develop that kind of deep, believable love. Not the kind of love that repeatedly calls for suicide pacts. It simply didn't ring true for me.
Which leads me to my final problem with the novel. I'm unsure of who categorized this book as Young Adult. I didn't read anything in this novel to indicate that it necessarily belonged on the Young Adult shelves versus the Adult fiction. I'm still scratching my head over this.
I didn't think this a bad novel by any means. In fact, I still love the premise. I simply think it could have been better written. Fleshing out the stories to make motivations believable and tying up all the loose ends for the readers would have made this mediocre novel - for me - an absolutely fantastic novel.
It's a good thing I'm not handing out Printz Awards, isn't it?
It is a big week for book releases, my friends. Hide your credit cards and don't even think about stopping by your favorite bookstore if you still want to afford, oh I don't know, say foodstuffs by the week's end. Because for some insane reason, the publishers all got together and decided to release some of their very best books the first week of March. I'm certain it is a conspiracy that goes all the way to the very top. And I'll be broke by the time it's all over. Thankfully, I have two young children I might be willing to sell to finance my habit.
Here are just a few of the most notable......
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead, March 6, 2014). This book has been named one of 2014 Most Anticipated Novels by numerous publications, including Time Magazine and The Huffington Post. Everyone, it seems, is waiting with baited breath for Oyeyemi's re-telling of the Snow White fairy tale set in 1953 Massachusetts. And I am one of them.
Redeployment by Phil Klay (Penguin Press, March 4, 2014). A brilliant, but necessarily cutting and dark, collection of stories all forcing the reader to understand what happened to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan...not only on the front lines, but also what happened to them after they came home. The New York Times raves over this debut which has already earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. I think this is one collection we'll want to pay attention to.
A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman (Putnam, March 4, 2014). The sequel to Penman's wildly successful story of England's King Richard II, Lionheart, A King's Ransom picks up the story with the return of the English king from the crusades in the Holy Land and vividly recounts his abduction by the Holy Roman Emperor and his years held captive. Penman does not disappoint her fans as she concludes her series on the Plantagenet dynasty of England and the novel is nothing short of brilliant. If you haven't read Lionheart, be sure to start there, then move on to this stunning sequel. Richard the Lionheart will never again be just a name in a history book. Highly recommended!
The Black Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black (Henry Holt and Co., March 4, 2014). There probably aren't enough words to appropriately express how much I covet this book. Yes, I want it because it features that Philip Marlowe (as in Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe) and I love retro crime noir. But more than anything I covet this book because it is written by Benjamin Black. Which is a nom de plume for author John Banville. Oh yes, you read that sentence correctly. And if you love John Banville as much as I do, you're tripping over the keyboard right now to order this novel. Last one to read it is a rotten egg....ready....set.....go!
The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones (Reprint; Europa Editions, March 4, 2013). This reprint edition is being released in the wake of the successful film version of Jones' humorous story of the young Welsh undertaker Wilfred Price who unthinkingly proposes to a lady without really thinking it through and then feels obligated to see it through. Things get even more interesting when Wilfred meets another young lady he really and truly does wish to marry. All of this wouldn't be near as charming and quaint if the entire story wasn't set in the 1920s in the countryside of Wales. I wouldn't normally consider a reprint edition a new release, but this one is simply too delicious to pass by.
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (HarperCollins, March 4, 2014). This debut effort has been lauded by Publishers Weekly and Library Journal as both spellbinding and gut-wrenching for its re-imagining of death row by an inmate who chooses to see his surroundings completely different from what they really are. Writing his own fantastical mental stories about the people he encounters and the place he is forced to endure reveals a coping mechanism of magical realism that has been called haunting and lyrical. This is going to be one of those books you either fall in love with or cannot stand. I fell into the latter category unfortunately, as it proved to be simply too lyrical for my tastes, but for those who love this kind of prose it is going to be a winner.
Gemini by Carol Cassella (Simon & Schuster, March 4, 2014). Cassella's latest novel takes place in the Pacific Northwest where a Seattle intensive care doctor treating a Jane Doe in a coma wrestles with ethical decisions over her patients care while simultaneously becoming more and more vested in her case. The doctor-patient line becomes more and more blurred as Cassella raises a myriad of questions surrounding medical ethics. Another starred review from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, Booklist has also chimed in, highly recommending this one. I couldn't resist.
Which ones did I miss?
With only 28 days in February, I feel a bit cheated. And admittedly, I sacrificed quite a bit of reading time this month as I worked on some technological trickery behind the scenes around this joint. Some of the books I read were 2013 releases. The Returned was Jason Mott's debut novel last year and was picked up by A&E as a television series to be called "The Resurrected," although I've heard that the series deviates greatly from the plot of the novel. Which might be a good thing since I wasn't all that thrilled with the novel, which revolves around the long-dead suddenly just reappearing. No, not in zombie form. Just reappearing. As in, Hello, I'm back. It's a great premise - and one that has already been used successfully with a French television series - but Mott really went nowhere with it. It just stalled out. While I was pleased that he didn't go with the zombie thing, he didn't go anywhere and the whole thing just flopped for me. Skip it and watch A&E's version - maybe that will be better.
Speaking of last year's books, I finally got around to reading JoJo Moyes' hit book, Me Before You. And if you keep up with my reading adventures on Facebook (and you really should because that's where all the good book talk happens) then you watched me go through a whole box of Kleenex. Which, as I mentioned at the time, was completely out of character for me since I never even batted an eye at last year's other famous tear-jerker, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, a book I found highly contrived. But Moyes? I started crying around page 210 and never stopped. I felt utterly ridiculous and yet loved every minute of it. I have a library hold on every book on her backlist now. And if any literary snobs out there care to make a smart ass comment about that, I'll smack you with a copy of a Franzen book.
Okay, moving right along. Did you see Annihilation up there? Did you? Oh dear gawd. Okay, if you haven't heard of this one yet, let me fill you in. It was just released this month, the first book in the really hyped Southern Reach Trilogy. Here's the blurb:
The Detainee is a debut novel of speculative fiction (dytopia) by Peter Liney due out later in March. I've got a review that will fill you in on all the details but this was really unique dystopia in that it offered some hope at the end of the story and you don't often see that. I loved it.
Speaking of a good new trilogy, author Sara Green is about to have a hit on her hands with Half Bad. But you'll have to wait for the full review on that one....I actually enjoyed it enough to write a review on that one. So that's saying something right there.
You'll also be seeing a full review of Matt Haig's The Humans, a book both funny and philosophical. It's a 2013 release, but it's up for an Edgar Award this year so as we get closer to the May 1 awards ceremony I will be featuring a review of each book nominated for Best Novel. Another full review coming this week is recent 2014 Printz Award Winner, Midwinterblood, a novel that I thought was an interesting choice for this prestigious award. Hmmmmm.
And the final novel for February is the classic Jack London book Call of the Wild, which my eight year old son has been begging me to read to him for the past six months or so. We took advantage of a break between Percy Jackson books and sneaked this one in. It had been literally decades since I last read it. I specifically remember this novel having a direct influence on me as a child, especially on my development of empathy towards animals. London's story of the Alaska gold-rush from a dog's perspective is heart-breaking and hopeful in turn as Buck the German Shepherd-turned sled dog experiences a series of owners, some incompetent and cruel, others kind and able. While I think my son is still a bit young to understand the more subtle themes of the novel, I'm hoping he will be like me and return to the book again and again throughout my teen years.
Well that's February for you. What was your best read of February? Feel free to leave comments here or over on my Facebook page if that's easier for you (I know it is for me!). Stay tuned on that front, by the way. I've got some small changes in that arena coming later in March that I'm hoping will make book discussions a lot easier for all of us. Yay.
Dedicated fiction bibliophiles often shy away reading non-fiction. And who can blame them? The most lauded non-fiction tomes are often by their very nature laden with academic sources, thousands of footnotes or endnotes, and some of the longest sentences ever committed to paper. If you suffer from insomnia, last year's National Book Award winner is generally a guaranteed cure.
Thankfully, not all non-fiction reads like C-Span Television. Here are five non-fiction books that read better than most novels. Even if you never become a non-fiction aficionado, don't cheat yourself out of these riveting reads.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966). This is the book that created the "non-fiction novel." It is a classic. And I'm warning you right here and now: it is disturbing. This is the story of the brutal murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas which took place in 1959. Before the killers were captured, Capote and his best friend author Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) traveled to Kansas in order to interview both police and neighbors. After Perry Smith and Dick Hickock were arrested for the crime, Capote returned and interviewed both men at length. Eventually he spent six years writing this masterpiece of true crime, although critics would later charge Capote with certain fabrications. Regardless, the book is still considered a non-fiction classic and once you start reading it is easy to see why. 343 pages.
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by John Krakauer (2003). Krakauer first hit the non-fiction best seller lists with Into Thin Air, his account of the disastrous 1996 Everest expeditions that ended in eight deaths. That non-fiction book could have been substituted on this list, but Under the Banner of Heaven was really the more relevant book. It contains two stories entwined together: the riveting history of the Mormon (Latter Day Saints) Church and the 1984 double murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter by her two fundamentalist Mormon brothers-in-law. Krakauer is so incredibly brilliant at weaving these two narratives together that it is difficult to set this book down even for a moment. 432 pages.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson (2011). Larson is another prolific non-fiction author. Pick any one of his books and they could easily be substituted in this list (and after reading In the Garden of Beasts you're probably going to want to run out and get all of his books). But In the Garden of Beasts is especially relevant. Here Larson relates the eye-popping story of William Dodd, the American Ambassador to Germany during the years Hitler was rising to power, and his family. Using Dodd and his family's personal correspondence and papers, Larson reconstructs what would be a fascinating story in and of itself given the extreme changes going on in Germany at the time. But what really makes this one a whopper is that Dodd saw what was coming with Hitler, was warning the U.S. State Department and all other powers-that-be at home, and they were poo-poohing him! Why? Well, you'll just have to read the book to find out. It is worth all 480 pages.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (1994). If you've only seen the Kevin Spacey movie version of this, you're missing out because this is one case where the book is ever-so-much better. John Berendt's non-fiction Southern Gothic masterpiece spent an amazing 216 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list, a record that has yet to be beaten. Like Truman Capote's book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is considered a non-fiction novel. It tells the story of Jim Williams, a Savannah antiques dealer who was tried four separate times for the murder of a male prostitute. All sorts of eccentric locals make an appearance in the book which went a long way towards boosting Savannah's tourism and putting that small Southern town on the map. And it's easy to see why. Read the book and you'll want to book your next vacation down in Savannah. 400 pages.
Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris by Eric Jager (2014). Jager's work is as compelling as Erik Larson's but with a historical focus. His newest release, Blood Royal, is the story of what might be the very first recorded police investigation of a murder and a royal murder to boot. In 1407, the city of Paris was burdened with a king who randomly slipped in and out of madness (he occasionally fancied himself made out of glass, but hey, don't we all from time to time?) leaving a power vacuum that powerful nobles were all to keen to fight over. When one of those nobles, the king's own brother, is murdered in the streets of Paris the chief law enforcement officer of the city is charged with finding the murderer. What his investigation uncovers brings the entire country to the brink of civil war. It sounds like the plot of a novel and the book reads like one, too. History buffs will love Jager's work. 336 pages.
So there you have five of the best non-fiction books for fiction readers. Give them a try. You might find that you are more of a non-fiction reader than you originally thought.