Archive for the ‘Award-Winning’ Category

True Crime: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

February 20th, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Kelly, Non-Fiction, True Crime
 

The Suspicions of Mr. WhicherIn 1860, three-year-old Saville Kent disappeared from his nursery. He was found later that day in the bottom of a privy. His throat was cut. His murder horrified the English, and his case was major news for the next few years.

The public vilified various members of the Kent household, becoming armchair detectives willing to announce their opinions in public forums like the newspaper and in personal letters to the police, despite first hand knowledge of the case. (A modern comparison: comments on online news sites.)

There were only eight detectives at Scotland Yard in 1860, and one of the best was sent to investigate Saville’s murder: Inspector Jonathan Whicher. Arriving two weeks after the murder, Whicher played catch-up, looking into the personal lives of the Kent Family, much to the shock of the general public. Working class detectives like Whicher were supposed to honor their betters, not investigate their dirty laundry.

The first mystery novels, such as Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, appeared at this time and echo the real life murder of poor little Saville Kent. Kate Summerscale weaves these novels, along with letters by writers such as Charles Dickens, and newspaper accounts, into her narrative.

The impact of Saville’s murder on those around him, such as his nursery-maid, add poignancy and show how an unsolved murder effects the innocent as well as the victim. Lives were damaged if not ruined by this case, including Mr. Whicher’s career. Eventually someone confesses, vindicating Inspector Whicher and finally allowing the innocent to reclaim what they could of their lives.

 

Summerscale’s writing is strong and weaves multiples sources into a compelling and cohesive narrative. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher will make you question if justice was every fully served.

 

Title:  The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

Author: by Kate Summerscale

Source: Ebook

Read: February 2012

 

 

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Look At Me

August 5th, 2011    Posted in Award-Winning, Fiction, Kim, Literary Fiction
 

Jennifer Egan is no stranger to book awards or press, especially with her latest Pulitzer Prize win in Fiction for A Visit From the Goon Squad earlier this year. Look At Me, is yet another of her award-winning books, a literary fiction novel that garnered critical acclaim and earned Egan a National Book Award nomination in 2001. Naturally, I had high expectations.

Look At Me begins with the story of super model Charlotte Swenson. Swenson endures a car accident, that renders her unrecognizable, but luckily, still beautiful. Upon her return to New York she’s forced to deal with reintegration into a society where youth and beauty are paramount. The book goes to great lengths to examine identity and Egan emphasizes this point by weaving in other character perspectives, which include the daughter of Charlotte’s childhood friend, a private detective, and a strange new teacher, to contribute to the novel’s greater goal. The narratives change back and forth as each character deals with different veils of identity and the search for how identity is defined, both within ourselves and within society.

Not surprisingly, the novel is expertly written and Egan’s prose is flawless. I felt some of the elements surrounding the mysterious characters came to an inevitable crossroads and the first person perspective of Charlotte felt in contrast, sometimes too much so, to the third person narratives of the other characters. All in all the book is a layered and intriguing read and is more than deserving of its positive press.

Reviewed by: Kim

Title: Look At Me
Author: Jennifer Egan
Read: July 2011
Source: Powell’s Books

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Please don’t Ignore Vera Dietz

July 8th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Fiction, Kelly, Young Adult
 

VeraDietzA. S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz won a 2011 Printz award for good reason. It’s a funny, edgy, insightful. It’s dark in a real life sort of way.

Eighteen-year old Vera hates Charlie Kahn, her lifelong best friend and secret crush. She hates him even more because he’s dead. Everyone thinks Charlie did something terrible, and Vera can clear his name. If she can find a way to forgive him.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz touches on alcoholism, spousal abuse, and other problems real teens have. While the majority of the novel is told from Vera’s first person perspective, occasionally chapters are show from Vera’s dad perspective complete with flow charts (he’s a recovering alcoholic/current accountant who loves his daughter and tries to be a good parent), from Charlie, and from the Pagoda (a local structure used in the novel). The story–Charlie’s betrayal and fall from grace–emerges over the course of the novel, as relevant plot points are metered out while we show Vera’s recovery from loss and road to adulthood.

The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed critical of the ‘darkness’ in YA fiction, and this is the sort of novel that the reviewer but have been critical of. But this novel confronts the sorts of problems some teens face. Vera faces her problems, and even though she’s emerging as adult, she learns to rely on her father for help when she needs it.

Read by: Kelly

Title: Please Ignore Vera Dietz
Author: A. S. King
Source: Gift from friend
Read: July 2011

 

 

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A slice of political and day-to-day life: South Riding

June 22nd, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Fiction, Kelly, Literary Fiction
 

South RidingWinifred Holtby’s posthumously published novel South Riding is considered the best work of  her too-short career. Set in the fictional “South Riding” area of Yorkshire (but inspired by the real-life East Riding), the novel follows the lives of multiple characters as they navigate life in Yorkshire during the Great Depression.

I read South Riding after watching the Masterpiece Classic adaptation, and I’m sure my opinion was colored by the experience. The TV adaptation focuses on Sarah Burton, the newly appointed Headmistress of the local girl’s school. In many ways she’s the heart of the story, but the novel spends equal time with a large cast of additional characters. While I enjoyed the series, the last hour or so felt a little rushed. The novel feels more complete. I’m glad I’ve read the novel and seen the series.

At its heart, South Riding is a political novel although it does focus on the relationship between Sarah Burton and Robert Carne. Carne is a landowner struggling to stay afloat, caught between providing quality care for a mentally-ill wife and keeping his farm from going bankrupt. His plight shows the lives of farmers and struggling landowners struggling during the depression. Carne is the counterpart to more progressive individuals who want to do more to help the poor—build council estates, new schools, etc—even though the local government doesn’t have the money to pay for it. Yet Carne is sympathetic to the poor, able to relate to them in ways that this fellow committee members can’t. Other councilmen—like Joe Astell—have grand ideas about helping the working (or unemployed) man, and discount the effect of the depression on farmers and landowners like Carne. Characters like the smart, talented, but poor Lydia Holly represent the people who need help while adding human interest to the story.

No description of South Riding is complete without mentioning the salty Alderman Mrs. Beddows (unique since she’s the first woman to sit on the council). She’s a friend to Carne, eventually forms a bond with Burton, and from a literary perspective, is a strong, well-written character throughout the novel.

South Riding is an especially interesting read today given our economic climate. The parallels between political scapegoats, how to best help our communities, etc, are paralleled and make our current situation seem like something we’ve faced before. The novel itself is strongly written, with memorable characters. The sheer number of characters can be daunting, but they help create a large portrait of Yorkshire life.

One final note: South Riding won the illustrious James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1936.

Read by: Kelly

Title: South Riding
Author: Winifred Holtby
Date Read: June 2011
Source: Public Library

 

 

 

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Speaking of Capote…

May 9th, 2011    Posted in Award-Winning, Kim, Non-Fiction
 

…and narrative nonfiction:

Okay, so last time I posted about narrative nonfiction it was in reference to The Other Wes Moore. A great book and one I think a lot of people would enjoy. However, the narrative voice he used seemed pretty jarring in comparison to his expository writing so I was trying to think of an example of successful narrative nonfiction and boom: In Cold Blood.

To do a review on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is almost a little redundant. It’s an American Classic, it’s incredibly well known, and pretty much everyone I know who has read it, loved it. It’s one of his most highly acclaimed books and simply put, it’s just fabulous. It is also a great example of narrative nonfiction done correctly. It tells a story in a way that comes across as fiction, but provides a true account of events. It’s the result of endless interviews, tireless research, and fantastic writing. Kelly pointed out to me that Harper Lee helped Capote a great deal with the research and the two were close childhood friends. (A fun little tid bit for the post.)

If you haven’t read In Cold Blood, I suggest you do. It’s the haunting story of how the Clutter family was murdered in their Kansas home. The book essentially starts with the death of the Clutters, and follows the investigation into the minds of the killers, and eventually, leads to their capture. It’s flawlessly done and very entertaining.

Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
Source: Powell’s Books
Read: May 2011

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Mini reviews: Snow Angels, Ella Enchanted, and Big Red Tequila

April 17th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Mystery, Young Adult
 

I’ve been on the fence the past few days about reviewing the three—three—books I’ve read in the past week. I enjoyed all of them, but I didn’t want to write an in-depth reviews. But then I realized a short blurb for each book meets the spirit of my 52 books in one year challenge. Plus all of these books are worth mentioning.

Snow Angels is the first in the Detective Vaara series by James Thompson. (The second novel in the series, Lucifer’s Tears was reviewed on this site earlier this year.)

The scenery and climate of Northern Finland during December, aka the darkest days of the years, is as important to the novel as the actual crimes of the novel. Adding to the complexity of the story are facets of the Laestadian religion and Finnish culture. As someone who’s lived in Finland—and has Laestadian ancestors—I appreciated this book on multiple levels, including for its insight into Finnish culture. This is a good series for mystery buffs.

After reading and reviewing Fairest, I picked up Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine from my local library. There’s not much to say other than I loved it. It’s a great retelling of Cinderella. It’s easy to root for Ella as a character, and I love the idea of gifts (like Ella’s gift of “obedience”) turning into curses.

Last of all, since I’ve read all of Rick Riordan’s middle grade novels, I decided to pick up the first in his Tres Navarre mystery series for adults. In Big Red Tequila, Tres Navarre returns to his hometown of San Antonio to rekindle a relationship with his childhood sweetheart. He left town ten years before after seeing his Sheriff father gunned down in the front yard of his home. His father’s murder was never unsolved, and now it’s time for Tres to use the private investigator/English PhD/tai chi skills he honed in San Francisco.

Big Red Tequila is a fun read, and it’s definitely meant for an adult audience. Robert Johnson, Tres’ cat, is perhaps the best drawn character in the novel. The setting—San Antonio, Texas—adds color to the novel. This is a good choice for mystery fans.

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Enter the matrix with Neuromancer

February 27th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Fiction, Science Fiction
 

Neuromancer is considered the seminal work of cyperpunk literature. The novel starts out as former consul cowboy (i.e. hacker) Case survives in the black market of Chiba City, Japan. After stealing from his former partners, they dosed him with mycotoxin and he’s burned out. Literally. He can’t link up with cyberspace, and he’s desperate to find a cure.

Enter a sexy “razorgirl” Molly Millions and her mysterious boss Armitage. They repair Case’s nervous system in exchange for him agreeing to work for them . . . and to ensure he does, they implanted sacs of mycotoxin within his body. If he completes his work on schedule, Armitage will remove the sacs of poison. If Case doesn’t, the sacs will burst, crippling him. So off he goes with Armitage and Molly and the main action of the novel begins.

It’s important to view the novel in context, as it was published in 1984. Gibson coined the term cyberspace in his writing, and it’s easy to see how Neuromancer would have been cutting edge when published. I had issues getting into the novel, finding the language and terminology to be jarring. But I can definitely appreciate how momentous this novel is, and the impact it had on science fiction.

Necromancer won the “triple crown”: Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award.

Read by: Kelly

Title: Neuromancer
Author: William Gibson
Date read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

 

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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

February 7th, 2011    Posted in Award-Winning, Fiction, Kim, Popular Fiction
 

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, is David Wroblewski’s debut novel and one that took him a long time to write. In his interviews on the book, Wroblewski sites working on it all through his MFA, just to end up rewriting large portions of the book later. This book hit stands in 2008 to critical acclaim, giving Wroblewski all the validation in the world for the time he spent on constructing this marvel of a novel.

The story has been labeled a modern-day Hamlet of sorts, following Edgar, a mute, through is childhood and adolescence on his family’s farm, where they raise dogs. The dogs, a few specifically, are as much of a main character as any of the humans in the book and animal lovers—dog lovers especially—will feel a strong connection to large portions of the book.

The book is structured like a five-act play, with impeccable prose and heart wrenching storytelling throughout. Wroblewski offers readers so many poignant passages and incredible observations it’s impossible not to fall in love. One of Wroblewski’s best story-telling techniques is in using chapters told from the perspective of the dogs. This could easily become campy or tacky, but in this case, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I think it was his writing in these chapters specifically, aside from the intricate plot and layers of perspective in the story, that really won me over. Any and all people should be happy to have such an experience with a book. Five bones from me! And until you hear otherwise, I probably won’t stop talking about it anytime soon.

Read by: Kim

Title: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Author: David Wroblewski
Read: February 2011
Source: Powlles Books

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Åsa Larsson’s Sun Storm

February 5th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Crime, Fiction
 

Sun StormReading Swedish crime fiction makes me wonder: is Sweden really so full of murder and evilness? Or do the dark, cold winter days and nights encourage sinister novels focused on the dark area of the human psyche?

Sun Storm, winner of Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel Award, deals with religion, hypocrisy, abuse, mental illness, and perhaps redemption over the course of the story. It’s setting of Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden, is important. Its remoteness and isolation are integral to the story.

The story starts off when charismatic religious figure Viktor Strandgard is brutally murdered in the revivalist church he created, The Source of All Our Strength. Rebecca Martinsson returns to Kiruna, her hometown, to support Viktor’s sister. The reader slowly learns Rebecca’s past as she unravels the truth and protects Sanna’s children from multiple forms of evil. Pregnant inspector Anna-Maria, her counterpart Sven-Erik, and a blow-hard Assistant Chief Prosecutor round out the cast.

Fans of Henning Mankell or Stieg Larsson’s The Millennium Trilogy will appreciate Sun Storm.

Read by: Kelly

Title: Sun Storm (published as The Savage Alter in the UK)
Author: Åsa Larsson
Read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

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2010 NBA Winner: Mockingbird

January 30th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Fiction, Middle Grade
 
Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird

I’m always curious about books that earn major awards as hype and quality don’t always overlap. With Mockingbird, I  immediately saw why it won the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The novel tackles several difficult subjects—Asperger’s Syndrome, school shootings—and blends them into a moving story. Writing about these subjects in a way appropriate for middle grade readers is impressive. The ending is fairly pat, but it makes sense for the intended audience and honestly: who doesn’t like a reassuring (if not happy) ending?

I’ve read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon and, inevitably, I thought of it while reading Mockingbird. Both books are told from a narrator unable to relate to the people around them, and both authors use a disability as a way to shine light on delicate emotional situations.

Caitlin grows throughout Mockingbird, learning words like “closure” and “empathy” as she tries to relate to the people around her. While this can be a tad heavy-handed, it works. This would be an excellent book to use to teach the concept of metaphors to younger readers. For example, Caitlin prefers to draw in black and white, since colors muddle the world. Yet by the end of the story she starts using colors since she understands the world is nuanced and she can’t hide her head under couch cushions when facing problems.

Read by: Kelly

Title: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Read: January 2011
Source: Public Library

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