Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Modern Day Classic: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

April 24th, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Middle Grade
 

Some books just feel timeless. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is one of those books. It could have been written during World War II (the same time period it’s set), although it was published in 2011. The language has a classic, poetic feel and the story is timeless.

 

Twelve-year old September is bored with her life in Omaha. Her mother works long hours for the war effort, and her father is abroad, serving his country. The Green Wind offers to take September on an adventure, and they head to Fairyland. Luckily September has the tools to save Fairyland.

 

September is a strong character, and the friends she makes add to the story. She faces real problems and has to find courage within herself.  This is a great novel for children and young-at-heart readers who enjoy fairy tales, fantasy, and whimsical writing.

 

 

 

Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Source: Purchased an e-version

Read: March 2012

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Midsomer Murders TV Show versus Inspector Barnaby Mystery Series

April 9th, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Book adaptation, Crime, Fiction, Kelly, Mystery, TV v. Book
 

Public broadcasting currently shows Midsummer Murders, the long-running British detective show. Based on the books by Caroline Graham, the series is set in the fictional, and rather deadly, county of Midsomer.

 

The second episode of Midsomer Murders (and the first I saw) was based on the novel Written in Blood. It features DCI Barnaby and quirky cast of potential suspects.

 

The Midsomer Worthy’s Writer’s Circle invites a yearly speaker, and they usually can’t get anyone famous or successful to attend. So when best-selling author Max Jennings agrees to speak, they’re mostly excited. The circle’s secretary, Gerald Hadleigh, is furious, as he never wanted to invite Jennings in the first place.

 

When Hadleigh is found dead the morning after Jennings speaks to the writers, Barnaby is called in to investigate. Almost everyone in the group has something to to hide, whether embarrassing or sinister. He has to sift through everyone’s secrets and the past to find the murderer.

 

The TV version ups the ante a bit, adding in an additional murder. Most of the major subplots are brought to the small screen, although the book goes into most of them in more depth.  The show is satisfying, using two one-hour episodes to dig into the lives of the potential suspects.  Not surprisingly, the novel goes deeper into the lives of the characters, and the subplot with Sue is especially rewarding in the book.

 

Both the books and TV show are fun, perfect for fans of mysteries set in the English countryside. Barnaby is a likable character both on-screen and in the books. His family is important in both mediums, although his wife and daughter are less entwined in the mysteries in the novels. His sergeant, Troy, is nicer on-screen, which works well for the viewing public.

 

In addition to Written in Blood, I read several other novels in the Inspector Barnaby series: The Killings At Badger’s Drift, Faithful Until Death, A Place of Safety, and A Ghost in the Machine. All are solidly written and would make good reads for fans of cozy mysteries.

 

Title: Written in Blood

Author: Caroline Graham

Source: Public Library

Read: March 2012

 

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Timeless. Fitting end to the Parasol Protectorate series.

March 14th, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly
 

Timeless starts up about two years after the end of Heartless. Alexia and her husband are still living in Lord Akeldama’s second-best closet to allow them to participate in their daughter, Prudence’s, upbringing with her adoptive vampire father. Life is normal for everyone, well, as normal as living with a toddler able to steal the magic of others temporary turn into, for example, a toddler vampire or tiny werewolf, can be.

But trouble is brewing, and Alexia is summoned to Alexandria. Why does the most powerful vampire in the world want to see Lady Maccon? And will the Egyptians know how to properly prepare tea?

Timeless brings the Parasol Protectorate series to a satisfying close while leaving enough room in the writing-sandbox for the new YA series involving Prudence. Major plot threads, like Alexia’s father, are resolved. Prudence is a delightful addition to the story, bringing humor to the story. Some of the supporting characters, like Biffy and Floote the Butler, play bigger roles to good effect.

Title: Timeless

Author: Gail Carriger.

Source: Purchased (E-book)

Read: February 2012

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How to combat Downton Abbey withdrawal

February 24th, 2012    Posted in Classics, Fiction, Kelly, Literary Fiction, Popular Fiction
 

Going into Downton Abbey withdrawals? Here are some books to help you while away the time until season three. Since the miniseries is set at a fictional Yorkshire estate, we’ve chosen novels that feature the same region.

 

South Riding by Winifred Holtby

Set between World War I and World War II, South Riding follows a cast of characters as they negotiate the Great Depression. The different social background and ideals of ideals of the characters sets up their conflicts, follies, and greatest strengths. The third season of Downton Abbey will most likely coincide with this time period.

Back room land deals, political and moral intrigues, the lives of the struggling, whether they’re landowners brought to the brink of financial ruin by the depression, or working class families struggling to eat, bring this novel to life. Strong characters, like the salty Alderman Mrs. Beddows, passionate headmistress Sarah Burton, and sympathetic landowner Richard Carne might not exactly be Lady Mary, or Anna-the-maid, but they’re easy to like and care for.

We reviewed South Riding on this site, and there was a PBS mini-series as well. Colby’s other novels are being re-released this spring in the United States, and check back here in May for reviews as we’re proud to be part of the blog tour.

 

 

The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison

 

World War II and the evacuation of children from London to a fictional Yorkshire estate create the background for The Very Thought of You. Eight-year old Anna Sands leaves her mother for a good education and careful, but not individual, life on the Ashton estate. Lord Ashton is wheelchair bound due to polio, and his marriage to his high-strung wife is fraying.

 

The Very Thought of You was nominated for an Orange award, and we reviewed it here.

 

 

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Shirley might not be the most popular Yorkshire-based novel by any of the Bronte sisters, but it’s always held a special place it my heart. I originally read it during the long, dark, Finnish winter and Caroline, her beau Robert, and Shirley have always seemed like friends.

 

Shirley is an interesting contrast to South Riding, as it is set  from 1811-12 during the industrial depression sparked by the Napoleonic wars and the War of 1812. Mill owner Robert struggles to run a profitable business, and the workers he lays off react violently. His cousin, Caroline, is a bright spot in his life, and he is everything to her. When a wealthy heiress, Shirley, moves to town, she quickly befriends Caroline and Robert sees Shirley as the answer to his financial woes. Shirley, meanwhile, has her own opinion on the matter of love, responsibility, and how to spend her fortune.

Have other suggestions for novels to read while combating Downton Abbey withdrawal? Please recommend them and we’ll add them to the list!

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The Redbreast: Norwegian crime fiction at its best

January 23rd, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Crime, Fiction, Kelly, Mystery
 

Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast is the first Harry Hole novel translated into English, although it’s actually the third in the series. While each Harry Hole novel stands alone, there’s a major plot thread that weaves through The Redbreast, Nemesis, and The Devil’s Star.

As someone who read both Nemesis and The Devil’s Star before reading The Redbreast, I knew how the major plot thread ends, but I didn’t know the reader sees the event happen on the page, and knows the solution the whole time even though the characters (including Hole) are in the dark. This is just one of the many reasons I love these novels.

In The Redbreast, Harry Hole has been promoted to Inspector and transfered to an out-of-the-way desk job after almost causing a diplomatic disaster when the US President visited Oslo. Hole discovers a very expensive rifle was smuggled into Norway, and he’s also assigned to keep tabs on Neo-Nazi events in Norway.

The mystery flashes back to events during World War II, following a Norwegian solider fighting for Germany against the Russians. The story lines eventually converge, but only after a ton of twists, turns, and heartache.

The Redbreast is great for fans of Stieg Larsson and Scandinavian crime fiction.

Title: The Redbreast

Author: Jo Nesbo

Source: Public Library

Read: January 2011

 

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2 of 52: The Oxford Murders

January 16th, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fiction, Kelly, Movie v. Book, Mystery
 

One evening, after searching through the movies on-demand to find something that interested both my movie-watching companion and me, we settled on the film adaptation of The Oxford Murders, starring Elijah Wood and John Hurt. While I liked the movie, I had a few quibbles with it and thought it made some jumps not based in logic or weren’t believable on screen.

It wasn’t until the end credits rolled that I realized the film is based on a novel written by Guillermo Martinez. Since my local library has the book in their collection I knew The Oxford Murders would make an excellent second book for my fifty-two books in one-year challenge.

In The Oxford Murders, a twenty-two year old Argentinean (American in the film) receives a scholarship to study moths at Oxford. His academic advisor recommends he take a room with the widow of her former academic advisor, and so he does.  His landlady, a former Enigma code breaker, lives in Oxford with her granddaughter. She’s obsessed with Scrabble and makes him feel welcome. The granddaughter, Beth, and the narrator are attracted to each other but this is never acted upon.

The narrator slowly builds a life in Oxford, working with his advisor and making a few friends through tennis. Then he comes home one day after hitting up the bank so he can pay rent. Professor Seldom, a well-known mathematician and long-time friend of the household, is also arriving at the house. They find the landlady murdered.

Seldom tells police he received a note earlier in the day that read “the first of the series”, and gave him the address of his friend (but no name). There was a circle drawn on the bottom of the note.

More notes appeared, all attached to murders and containing the next symbol in the series. Can Seldom and the narrator decipher the series in time to stop the killer?

Reading a book after seeing is such a strange endeavor since a filmmaker’s view of the story can differ so much any given reader’s interpretation. In this particular case, I knew the end solution, which definitely ratcheted down the suspense. However, it allowed me to appreciate how closely the film mirrored the events of the book while also being more logical. Some of the things I didn’t find believable on screen, like any sort of sexual longing Beth and the protagonist, felt natural in the book. The main character also isn’t obsessed with Professor Seldom, which felt a little too stalkerish and obsessive in the film. While disturbing, the narrator’s whole life isn’t thrown asunder by the murders in the novel, and he continues his education.

The mathematical elements were a nice addition to the story, although sometimes these elements were explained for the sake of the reader and this bogged the story down. In real life, two mathematicians aren’t going to take the time to explain basic mathematical concepts to each other. Rather, they’d talk in mathematical shorthand unique to their field.  As a reader I was willing to overlook this because I appreciated the originality of the story and appreciated using mathematics and higher thought to create a serial killer.

 

 

Title: The Oxford Murders

Author: Guillermo Martinez

Source: Public Library

Read: January 2011

 

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First of 2012: American Gods

January 8th, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly
 

American Gods kicks off with the protagonist, Shadow, finishing his last few days in jail. He practices coin tricks, and thinks about how much he loves his wife, Laura. He’s getting out of jail in a few days with a job waiting, and of course Laura.

So when the prison warden calls Shadow into his office to tell him that Laura died in a car accident, Shadow’s world shatters. Released from prison early to attend the funeral, Shadow meets a man, Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday offers Shadow a job, which he eventually convinces Shadow to take.  Now Shadow is the errand boy for a god in the middle of a war between the old gods (think Norse mythology, Egyptian gods, and traditional stories) and new gods (like Media, and what gods could be created based on what our current society values).

As a fan of stories that transplant traditional folk tales and legends into modern settings, this is a natural book for me to read and appreciate. What we as a society believe and worship (whether in an organized fashion or through other means, like what we spend our free time or money consuming) is a fascinating, and multi-faceted, subject. American Gods touches on these concepts while also telling an engaging story.

Note: HBO is adapting this novel into a TV series.

 

Title: American Gods

Author: Neil Gaiman

Source: Local Bookstore

Date read: January 2011

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Dog Reviews’ First Annual Gift Guide

December 11th, 2011    Posted in Dystopian, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Literary Fiction, Middle Grade, Mystery, Non-Fiction, Other Genre, Pop Culture, Popular Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
 

Looking for gift ideas this Christmas? How about giving a book? Here’s some gift recommendations based on books or series we read during 2011.

Literary Fiction
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
About: Effortless novel from one of our favorites.
Best for: Fans of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex; people who enjoy character studies; Fans of Jane Austen, and also of Victorian writers.
Also consider: Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

 

Short Story Collection
20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
About: Sampling of the hottest short-story authors under 40 years old. Great way to find your favorite new literary author.
Great for: fans of short stories, literary fiction.
Also consider: St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.

 

Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
About: Game of Thrones is a layered high-fantasy novel with high stakes.
Great for: fans of high fantasy, people who like epic sagas.
Also consider: Greywalker by Cat Richardson

 

Southern Gothic
Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite.
Why: Five different female narrators tell the story of Nellie’s unfortunate marriage to Hobbs Pritchard.
Great for: fans of Southern gothic novels, literary ghost stories.
Also consider: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

 

Beach Read
Soulless by Gail Carriger
About: Victorian steampunk with supernatural creatures. Mixes romance and humor with a mystery. Absolutely brillant fun read.
Best for: readers with a sense of humor.
Also consider: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

 

Young Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Feed by M. T. Anderson
About: Ecological and technology issues, sci-fi, and dystopian blend in this YA novel perfect for boys and girls. Also has one of the best first lines ever: “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
Best for: fans of dystopian or sci-fi.
Also consider: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor, and Witchlanders by Lena Coakley.

 

Young Adult, Contemporary
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
About: Vera’s journey as grieving high school student with broken family has heart, and her journey rings true.
Best for: YA contemporary fiction.
Also consider: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

 

Pop culture
Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
About: excellent analysis and insight into the “girly-girl” culture invading US society. Go check out the pink toy aisle at your local Target if you don’t believe me.
Good for: parents of daughters, people who deal with children, anyone concerned with the way girls are taught to value themselves.
Also Consider: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

 

For Writers

On Writing by Stephen King
About: Great advice and insight into King’s journey.
Best for: writers.
Also consider: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

 

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Getting Sideways’ Birthday . . .

December 11th, 2011    Posted in Book Announcement, Fiction, Kelly, Young Adult
 

A friend is publishing her series of YA novels, and BDR thought it’d be nice to add a post about the second book in the series, released today.

Getting Sideways: Book 2 in the Full Throttle Series

Getting shipped off to live with his uncle Race was the best thing that ever happened to fifteen-year-old Cody. Then a wreck at the speedway nearly ruined everything. Cody’s making every effort to get his life back on track—writing for the school paper, searching for the perfect girlfriend, and counting the days until he gets his drivers’ license—but there’s no escaping the nightmares that haunt him.

A chance to build his own car seems like the perfect distraction. Until Cody realizes he’ll have to live up to Race’s legendary status. But that’s the least of his worries, considering he doesn’t have his dad’s permission. All he has to do is the impossible: keep Race from discovering his lie until he can convince his dad that racing’s safe.

Yeah, sure. That’ll be easy.

Haven’t read the first book? Running Wide Open is on sale now for 99 cents.

Running Wide Open: Book 1 in the Full Throttle Series

Cody Everett has a temper as hot as the flashpoint of racing fuel, and it’s landed him at his uncle’s trailer, a last-chance home before military school. But how can he take the guy seriously when he calls himself Race, eats Twinkies for breakfast, and pals around with rednecks who drive in circles every Saturday night?

What Cody doesn’t expect is for the arrangement to work. Or for Race to become the friend and mentor he’s been looking for all his life. But just as Cody begins to settle in and get a handle on his supercharged temper, a crisis sends his life spinning out of control. Everything he’s come to care about is threatened, and he has to choose between falling back on his old, familiar anger or stepping up to prove his loyalty to the only person he’s ever dared to trust.

Praise for Running Wide Open:

“It doesn’t matter if you are a racing fan or not, Running Wide Open will captivate you and capture your heart.” – Cari J, Amazon reviewer

“The roar of engines practically explodes off the page in this compelling, heart-thumping debut. Cody Everett is a straight-shooter with attitude, smarts, and whip-cracking wit; he doesn’t pull any punches, and neither does author Lisa Nowak. The collision of Cody and the world of stock car racing makes for a great story, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Running Wide Open is a book not to be missed.” – Christine Fletcher, author of Tallulah Falls and Ten Cents a Dance

“The racing is easy to understand and does not get in the way of a rattling good story. I still couldn’t put it down on a re-read.” – Elisabeth Miles, Amazon reviewer

“We race stock cars during the summer and even though this is a recommended read for Young Adults, we are seniors and enjoyed every page. We can hardly wait for the sequel to come out. MUST READING!” – Maxci Jermann, Barnes and Noble reviewer

“I say read this book, it’s fun, it’s beautiful, it’s a very cool read that will give you a feel-good state of mind. Awesome read.” – L.E.Olteano, Butterfly-o-meter Books

Author Bio:

In addition to being a YA author, Lisa Nowak is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are. She enjoys dark chocolate and stout beer and constantly works toward employing wei wu wei in her life, all the while realizing that the struggle itself is an oxymoron.

Lisa has no spare time, but if she did she’d use it to tend to her expansive perennial garden, watch medical dramas, take long walks after dark, and teach her cats to play poker. For those of you who might be wondering, she is not, and has never been, a diaper-wearing astronaut. She lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her husband, four feline companions, and two giant sequoias.

Connect with Lisa online:

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More Teen Books Turned into TV Shows

December 4th, 2011    Posted in Book adaptation, Fiction, Kelly, TV v. Book, Young Adult
 

When I read a New York Times article about Leslie Morgenstein and Alloy Entertainment’s packaged book series being turned into TV shows, I decided to pick up two books mentioned in the article: The first book in the Lying Game series and the Nine Lives of Chloe King. Earlier, we reviewed the Secret Circle on this blog, as the dormant title was recently adapted into a TV show starring Britt Robertson.

 

The Lying Game

The Lying Game the novel starts with a teenage girl, Emma. Abandoned by her mother, Emma now lives in a decent foster home and she’s focused working her part-time job and doing well in school. Her foster brother undermines her, and ends up showing her a snuff-like video featuring whom he assumes is Emma.

It’s not.

Emma does research and discovers the actual star of the video: Sutton Mercer. They look exactly alike and have the same birthday. She contacts Sutton, and gets a reply inviting her to Tuscan.

When Emma shows up, excited to meet her twin, she’s manipulated into playing Sutton. The real Sutton has been murdered, and no one believes Emma when she tells the truth. Now Emma’s life is at stake as she has to pretend to be her sister while staying ahead of the unknown person who murdered her sister and won’t hesitate to kill again.

Oh, and the novel is partially narrated by Sutton from beyond the grave.

The Lying Game is a fun read, both entertaining and compelling. It’s easy to fly through the pages, seeing what’s going to happen to Emma next. As a character, Emma is easy to like because she’s essentially a nice person. Her twin, Sutton, is an interesting contrast because she’s clearly troubled despite her affluent childhood with loving adoptive parents.

The novel is clearly part of a series, and leaves a lot of plot points hanging so the reader will want to read the next in the four-book series.

 

The Nine Lives of Chloe King

The Nine Lives of Chloe King is a trilogy of three novels. Teenage Chloe lives with her mother in San Francisco. She’s carved out a high school niche for herself as a good student with two close friends. She’s not popular, but she’s not an outcast. She works in a vintage clothing store, gets along decently with her adopted mother, and all-in-all, she lives a normal existence… until she develops cat-like superpowers. Now she’s thrust into the middle of a conflict between humans who want Chloe’s race, the Mai, eliminated, and her own people.

When I picked up The Nine Lives of Chloe King, I didn’t realize I’d picked up a compilation of all three novels in the trilogy and so I read the entire series. Chloe is a likable character, and the book relies enough on Egyptian mythology to craft a strong premise without going overboard. Like the Lying Game, this was a fun, easy read and Chloe’s personal journey and sacrifices are well done. The values behind the series are strong. Chloe is honest and while she isn’t perfect and makes a few bad decisions, she also learns from her mistakes. She learns to value her adoptive mother and isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right.

TV Shows

I can see why both shows were made into TV shows. (Note: I haven’t watched either.) The Lying Game makes good frothy TV for teens although I know the premise was changed because the creators weren’t sure a dead teen narrator would be acceptable to most TV watchers. This definitely changes the story line, since a big part of the first novel is Emma’s fumbling journey as Sutton, made especially hard by Sutton’s mean-girl lifestyle.

The Nine Lives of Chloe King ticks the currently popular paranormal box, and it has a mix of forbidden romance, teen discovering she has super powers and is destined to save her people, and a sense of humor. The TV show didn’t it make it past one season, and I could see the three novels making a decent movie or mini-series.

 

 

 

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