The Sinclair family owns their own private island off of Martha’s Vineyard. The entire family spends their summers on the island. The teenage narrator, Cadence, is suffering from amnesia after a terrible accident she can’t remember.
It’s hard to talk about the details of We Were Liars without ruining the surprise. Let’s just say when Cadence returns to the island, struggling with her amnesia, she deals with a dark family secret while finding out what happened to her.
E. Lockhart is, simply, a great writer. She’s already achieved acclaim and popularity with YA titles such as The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banksand The Boyfriend List, plus her novels aimed for the adult market. I enjoyed We Were Liars, especially the quality of the writing, although I figured out the plot twist within the first fifty pages. I never warmed to Cadence and struggled to see most of her family as anything more than shadowy cutouts versus strong, rounded characters. But the blurry feeling of the supporting cast adds to the Brothers Grimm and King Lear feel of the novel, making them stand-in for classic tropes.
This is a great novel for teens who love suspenseful novels with stellar writing.
Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Date Read: May 2014
Source: ARC given to me by a friend
I read recently that Charlaine Harris’ 8-book series about Aurora Teagarden has been picked up by The Hallmark Channel for a series of original movies starring Candace Cameron Bures. Since book to TV adaptations are a personal favorite, and my local library had the first novel in the series, Real Murder, available right away as an ebook, I read it.
If you’ve read the Southern Vampire/Sookie Stackhouse series, let this be your warning: Real Murders is a straight-forward cozy mystery. No fantasy elements. The romance elements are chaste; you could read this out loud to your grandmother without worrying. It features a first-person perspective similar to the Sookie Stackhouse novels, along small town setting in the South (in this case, Georgia), and Harris’ usual accessible writing style.
Aurora “Roe” Teagarden is a librarian in her late 20s. She also manages a small townhouse complex for her mother. Her biggest hobby, which sets up the rest of the novel, is an interest in true crime. She belongs to a club that talks about real life murder cases and its Roe’s turn to present.
When she arrives at the meeting, Roe’s the only person that realizes that one of the club members is missing. Roe goes to look her, and finds her body. She’s not just dead; her body has been arranged in a way that copycats the murder Roe was going to talk about. This is just the first in a string of murders that replicate famous crimes. She realizes the murderer is a member of their true crime club.
The cast of characters includes two love interests in Robin, a mystery writer who just moved next door to Roe, and a police detective, Arthur. Plus there’s a variety of club members: neighbor and his girlfriend, her mother’s boyfriend with an interest in Lizzie Borden, an elderly lady, the local dry cleaner, and few people not associated with the club.
Elements of the mystery are interesting, like replicating old crimes. But Roe’s investigation is a bit lacking and really just stumbles into the climax and resolution the story.
A few other aspects of the novel detracted from the story. The focus on what Roe wears–which is generally very boring and librarian chic–was a bit distracting and irrelevant to the story. If her jean skirts, sweater, and slacks, etc, were remotely relevant to anything that happened it would be one thing. Instead it felt like shorthand for character development instead of actually beefing up the personality, dreams, and quirks of the protagonist. As a lead character, Roe is a bit flat and boring. But there are seven more novels in this series to develop her character. This might actually be a bonus for the creative team developing this series for TV since they can add their own magic and spark to make Roe a well-rounded lead.
This series predates most if not all of the Southern Vampire books and while it checks the boxes for your usual standard cozy, it doesn’t quite have the wit and sparkle of Harris’ later work. Real Murders is a great option for cozy mystery fans, especially for people who like their fiction without paranormal flavor.
SyFy has a new werewolf show on, so I checked out the first four episodes and read the novel the show is based on: Bitten by Kelley Armstrong. Adapting novels to TV shows is fascinating to me, and as someone who likes light urban fantasy and paranormal TV shows, both seemed like a good fit for me.
Note: minimal spoilers ahead but read at your own risk.
In the novel, Elena has created a life for herself in Toronto as a journalist. She’s been on her own for a year and has a live-in boyfriend. She struggles to balance her side as a werewolf with her desire to a normal woman. Her boyfriend, Phillip, has no idea about the ‘other’ side of Elena and instead sees the sweet facade of who Elena wants to be.
Everything changes when Elena is called back to Stonehaven, the gothic home of her Pack master. A “mutt” (unaffiliated werewolf) is in town, and killing humans. The pack master, Jeremy, calls the whole pack home to deal with the problem. Elena hesitates, and not just because she wants to deny her werewolf duality: she also wants to avoid Clayton, the brooding, intense enforcer of her pack. Clayton isn’t just Elena’s former lover. He’s also the person who turned Elena without her knowledge or permission, making her the only female werewolf in existence.
Elena and her pack quickly realize they have more than just a rogue mutt to deal with, but rather a conspiracy by unaffiliated werewolves, some of whom were terrible humans to start with (rapists and killers), and both dangerous and uncontrolled werewolves. Some of the mutts wants revenge on the pack . . . but one wants Elena.
The novels enjoyable and sets up a consistent, believable urban fantasy world with its own unique details and twists on werewolf lore. Note: I’ve only read the first in the series (“Women of the Otherworld”) so I can’t say how the rest of the series stacks up. Told in first person, we see everything from Elena’s perspective, even the emotions she’s oblivious too. It’s enjoyable in the way the early Sookie Stackhouse novels are, or the Would-Be Witch series. Fun, sexy, bits of danger. Elena is a strong woman able to hold her own with the men in her pack. She’s no damsel-in-distress in need of rescuing, but is a strong fighter in her own right. She sometimes makes questionable/stupid decisions and feels a little young, but it works.
The first four episodes of the TV show stick fairly close to the book in terms of the major details. Minor details are changed: Elena is photographer, her boyfriend is in marketing instead of working as a lawyer. Philip has a sister who’s Elena’s new best friend. We see events outside of Elena’s perspective–like the mutt finding his victim in a bar, or watching Jeremy interact with the local sheriff when the first body is found–which is refreshing since all of that happens off-screen in the novel.
Logan is a bigger character in the show, which I appreciate. In the novel, Elena says Logan is her best friend but we only ‘see’ him in a telephone call. Giving him a place in Elena’s Toronto life has helped show her struggle with balancing her werewolf side with her desire to be “normal”, especially since he’s balancing similar issues.
Some of the dialogue in the show feels overly expository, but I’ve given the writers a little slack since they’re developing a unique world. For example, Peter’s scenes with Elena do a more subtle job world building than the more heavy-handed dialogue with Jeremy.
Hopefully Elena will stop complaining about wanting to go back to Toronto in the next few episodes. If she wants to be human and embrace humanity, and innocent people are dying, she needs to step up without complaining about it since she’s one of the few people able to stop the mutts.
I can see the plot arc of the novel translating well to a 13-episode season. Fingers crossed the show hits its stride and becomes the fun TV show it has the potential to be. That being said, I enjoyed the first four episodes.
When Tammy Jo’s locket is stolen during a robbery at a Halloween party, its more than just the loss of a necklace. The ghost of her aunt, Edie, is tied to the locket. If she can’t get the necklace back soon, her aunt’s ghost will be lost forever.
She also runs into the mysterious (and handsome) Bryn Lyons at the party, and she knows she shouldn’t talk to him. The Lyons on the list of magical families she’s absolutely never to associate with.
But Tammy Jo’s latent magic ability finally emerges, and she needs to use it to find the locket and save Edie. Plus there’s an accidental zombie raising for her to deal with, and lots of werewolves. So what’s a girl to do but turn to the powerful Bryn Lyons? Even if Zach, her ex-husband, current boyfriend, and local police officer, would prefer she only turn to him with her problems. Even if he doesn’t believe in magic or Edie.
If you’re looking for something breezy and fun, consider picking up the Southern Witches series by Kimberly Frost. Start with Would-Be Witch. It’s great for fans of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire series. The main character can be frustrating (especially her relationship with men), but she stands up for herself more and more as the series goes on. Plus she’s quirky. She feels real, like the friend you love even though she occasionally exasperates you. Plus, Tammy Jo has one of the best animal sidekicks ever.
Twenty years ago in Fjallbacka, two young women disappeared. A local man was questioned, but committed suicide. The case was never closed.
Modern day: a six-year-old boy discovers the body of a young woman. Police find two skeletons with the girl, and all show the same pattern of injuries. Detective Patrik Hedstrom is on the case, and the stakes are raised when another 17-year-old girl disappears. He knows the killer tortures his victims before killing them, so he might be able to find the missing girl while she’s still alive. Meanwhile, Hedstrom’s romantic partner is expecting their first child.
The Preacher balances character development with action and plot. The question of how the ghosts of the past comes back to haunt the present is well-done.
I’ll definitely check out more of Lackberg’s work!
Title: The Preacher
Author: Camila Lackberg
Read: September 2013
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller begins after a super-flu has wiped out nearly all of the world’s population. The novel follows Hig and his dog Jasper, who have taken refuge in a small airport hanger in the mountains, and Bangley, an army-type survivalist who has set up camp with enough weapons and ammunition to stave off bands of wanderers. Hig and Jasper fly the perimeter of camp in a 1956 Cessna, providing Heller with the perfect vessel for describing a world that is both lonely and scenic. When Hig receives a strange transmission over the plane’s radio, it triggers the possibility of hope, ultimately sending Hig on a flight past the point of no return.
I could not put this book down. It’s restrained, beautiful, heartfelt, and simply fantastic. It speaks to the human condition on a number of levels, examining survival, hope, love, and friendship with a deftness that is expertly applied. The prose of the book is terse, but fluid, and mimics the world Hig finds himself in: one that is starkly populated but beautifully wild. Outdoorsmen will find a great deal to appreciate in this book, as Heller’s background as a journalist for Outside magazine and National Geographic weaves in a true sense of adventure.
The beauty of Dog Stars resonates in a number of ways, but none more profoundly than the extreme care in which it was written and in the fantastic journey it offers readers.
Highly recommended! Perfect for fall.
Born in Ireland in 1828, Fitz-James O’Brien moved to the United States in 1852 after running through most of his inherited fortune. Once in the USA, he made a living writing for a variety of publications, like the New Yorker and Harper’s. He also wrote short fiction, and Hesperus Press Limited recently rereleased a collection of his work.
The Diamond Lens and Other Stories contains three creepy gems: the eponymously named Diamond Lens, featuring a scientist’s obsession with a microcosmic world, originally published in 1858; The Wondersmith, a revenge story with soulless mannequins and interesting romantic message, first published 1859; and last of all What Was It, an invisible monster story that predates The Invisible Man and other stories with similar concepts, as it was published in 1859.
If you like Edgar Allen Poe, and macabre stories, this is a collection for you. Early science fiction and fantasy is fascinating both for the sheer creativity but also the worldview it gives to the time period it was published.
On a side note, O’Brien joined the New York National Guard in 1961, after the Civil War broke out. He was wounded in action in February 1962, and died from his wounds later that year.
Title: The Diamond Lens and Other Stories
Author: Fitz-James O’Brien
Read: September 2012
I picked up In Service to the Horse by Susan Nesser because I read about it on a horse blog. There you have it. My confession. I am a horse girl. However, I’m posting it here for several reasons. The first being that I tend to drift away from nonfiction. I can’t say why, and the reason isn’t rooted in any particulars, I just simply love fiction. So, when I find a truly great nonfiction read, it’s as eye-opening as it is enjoyable, and I feel myself growing as a reader… just a little bit. The second reason I decided to review this book is because it’s a fantastic glimpse into the lives of horsemen regardless of your opinions toward horses. This review also felt aptly timed. The London Olympics are just around the corner and equestrian sports are the only Olympic games where men and women compete on an equal playing field. There’s your fun fact for the day, kids. Additionally, we’ve been on the heels of some pretty interesting Triple Crown potentials in the last few years, and horsemen and sportsmen alike will agree that horse racing is one of the most timeless icons of American sport.
In Service to the Horse follows both an eventing team and a highly regarded breeding stable in Kentucky. It shines an incredible light on the lives of the grooms and horse owners as it takes place behind the scenes. I am convinced, sadly, that I will never have enough gumption or love for getting up at 4am to become a professional horseman, but the bond and love these grooms have for the horses they care for is, to put it simply, staggering. If light and fluffy isn’t for you, there is an incredible look at the history of horses and how paramount their presence was to the existence of ancient cultures. I’ll go on to say that if thrills are your game, the bravery involved within professional eventing sets an incredible standard to be met, and it’s described within this text in a beautiful way. My palms grew sweaty more than once. And lastly, if you’re in the market for a good conspiracy, show jumping and horse racing are among the top players. The book outlines one of the largest horse conspiracies of our time, an event that was well documented in Ken Englade’s true-crime book, Hot Blood, an issue that rocked the horse world and has since been cemented in history. Do you want to know why there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner in 25 years? Well, Susan Nesser takes a pretty good crack at explaining why. What I’m saying is, people, there is something for everyone in this book.
Sadly, this book isn’t currently in print, another reason I wanted to give it a shout out. It’s only available in hardback on Amazon and I’d love to see it garner some support. This read will teach you things about an industry you will never otherwise know. I found the writing wonderfully well rounded and heart felt. If John Krakauer wrote a horse book, it would look a helluva lot like this one.
If you have an inkling for horse books, I implore you to pick this one up. It will not disappoint.
The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, follows the Fang family through their quirky history. It begins with Annie and Buster (Children A and B) as adults struggling to find their place in the world. Annie, an actress who was once nominated for an Oscar, faces a celebrity scandal, and Buster, a novelist, is coping with a series of low-paying freelance jobs and the fact that his books have a rather narrow audience. Early in the novel Buster is disfigured by a potato gun incident and has no choice (or money) but to return home to heal. Annie attempts to solve her problems by running away, also returning home to help her brother, and hoping that in the interim, Hollywood will forget her recent transgressions.
With the family back together Annie and Buster attempt to understand their upbringing, when their parents used them as pawns in performance art pieces, which brought the family notoriety, but also did a solid job of messing up any chance Annie and Buster had at a normal childhood. Chapters in the book oscillate between Annie and Buster as adults and vignettes of their childhood, each portrait being a different performance piece they were forced to take place in. Now, with the children home, Annie and Buster’s parents, Caleb and Camille Fang, realize that their progeny have no desire to pursue the family “art” they were once so dedicated to. What ensues is (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) the mysterious disappearance of Caleb and Camille, where Annie and Buster are left wondering if they should accept their parents’ deaths, or if their absence is another ‘performance’ in the name of art.
The premise behind this novel is wonderfully creative and it’s an enjoyable read throughout. The format of the varying chapters begins to tire, perhaps because Caleb and Camille’s devotion toward art is difficult to understand and thus their varying performances become tiresome as well. At times the book lacks depth and its themes tend to run a little shallow, but overall it’s a great book to keep on your bedside table and is a perfect summertime read. For fans of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tennenbaums, it’s a wonderful supplement to his eccentric style and loveable, yet flawed families.
Reviewed by: Kim
Author: Kevin Wilson
Read: March 2012
Following last week’s review of Anderby Wold, here’s the next in our Winifred Holtby series: The Land of Green Ginger.
Joanna dreams of the world beyond Yorkshire, the mystique of faraway places, and is in love with the idea of adventure. At eighteen she meets Teddy Leigh, and he sweeps her off her feet and into a quick marriage before heading to the trenches of World War I.
Teddy returns from the war, but the world isn’t as the magical fairyland Joanna hoped for. Teddy suffers from tuberculosis, and she has to care for him in addition to their two daughters and struggling farm. She’s overwhelmed by her responsibilities, but she can still dream of the world she wants to see.
When Joanna is asked to take in a lodger it seems like the perfect solution to their financial woes. The lodger, a Hungarian named Paul, has seen the world, and is a healthy man. But Yorkshire in the aftermath of World War I isn’t welcoming to foreign labor, and the neighbors are suspicious of Joanna’s feelings. Will her family survive?
The Land of Green Ginger brings insight into Britain just after World War I while also illuminating the lives of women. Like South Riding and Ander by Wold, the sense of time and place is amazing.
The tuberculosis aspect of the novel is fascinating; it wasn’t until the 1940s that scientists were able to create an antibiotic to cure the disease. (Researchers are still batting TB, as the newer multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis, usually referred to as MDR-TB, has a strong foothold in parts of the world.) During the time period of the novel, patients with TB would go into sanitariums and be exposed to lots of fresh air and proper nutrition. If their immune system could fight the bacterial infection, they might go into remission with the infection dormant, but present. Teddy’s fight and fear of being stuck in a sanitarium is understandable, even if his relationship with his wife is troubling.
Next up: Poor Caroline, the third and final installment in our Holtby Series.
Title: The Land of Green Ginger
Author: Winifred Holtby
Read: March 2012
Source: ARC from Publisher