Posts Tagged ‘52 Books in one year’

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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One Day by David Nicholls

April 23rd, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fiction, Kelly
 

One Day focuses on the lives of Emma and Dex, checking in on them every year on July 15th. We see the characters first in 1988 as they finish University, and then watch them begin their adult lives. Emma is brilliant and political, but also without a career path in mind. Dex isn’t as smart, but handsome and charismatic. They develop lives apart from each other, but their friendship is a fundamental element of their existence.

This book didn’t really click for me until the storyline hit 2001. Up until that point I liked it and would have given it a decent review, but something flipped at that point and I became emotionally invested. It’s also the first point in which I liked several characters. This might have been the point, as the characters grow over time, as one would expect people to mature.

The writing is humorous throughout, and Emma especially comes across as witty and original. I can see why this is an international bestseller. The book shows the UK in the 1980s and 1990s, which I appreciated. I also liked the concept of seeing one day per year in the life of two people, and Nicholls pulled this off well.

Read by: Kelly

Title: One Day
Author: David Nicholls
Read: April 2011
Source: Public Library

 

 

 

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A new way to turn on, tune out, and drop out: Feed by M. T. Anderson

March 15th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Dystopian, Fiction, Kelly, Science Fiction, Young Adult
 

Imagine having your brain hardwired to stream music, TV, and advertisements. All day. Learning actual information isn’t that important: you can look it up. Instantly. In your head.

In the dark and dystopian world of M. T. Anderson’s Feed, everyone is connected, literally. “Feeds” are interwoven within brains and allow the USA’s population—well, 78% of the country—to be connected in a sort of wide reaching internet. When Titus spends spring break on the moon—and the moon “sucks”, by the way—he meets Violet, a girl unlike any he’s ever known. She’s pretty, smart, and has been homeschooled away from privileged students like Titus. When a computer hacker attacks Titus, his friends, and Violet, they get to know each other without the influence of the feed.

Lesions are starting to form on the people in the book, but this predicament has been spun to be stylish as opposed to a sign of serious environmental issues. The world is decaying, but Titus and his friends don’t notice or care. It’s not trendy.

In many ways, the lead character Titus is as shallow as the world he lives in. But he has the potential to be deeper, passionate, unexpected. Violet might be able to get Titus to think, but he’s wired to be as consumerist as everyone else. When faced with difficult questions and a heart-breaking scenario, will Titus rise above the feed?

Feed is a great novel for those interested in YA, dystopian fiction, and science fiction. It’s thought provoking and intelligent. The slang takes a few minutes to get used to—think Clockwork Orange, although more, like, contemporary, like, teen—but it’s worth it since this is an excellent novel for both teens and adults.

On a side note, Feed was a Finalist for the 2002 National Book Award, Young People’s Literature.

 

Title: Feed
Author: M. T. Anderson
Read: March 2011
Source: Barnes & Noble

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Dual Review: St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

March 6th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Dual Reviews, Fiction, Kelly, Kim, Literary Fiction, Short Stories
 

Kim: Karen Russell is somewhat of a literary celebrity in the fact that she was one of the youngest writers to be chosen for the New Yorker’s Best 20 under 40. Her most recent novel, Swamplandia! is an extension of the first story we see in her book of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, about a family that makes their living wrestling alligators in a Florida Everglade theme park. If the premise of that story is any indication, Russell is clearly an authority on the strange and weird.

One of the things I liked best about Russell was the sheer inventiveness with which she writes. The setting of her stories are often other-wordly, or towing the line, and she does an excellent job of harnessing interest while keeping within her literary merits. My three favorite stories were: Z.Z.’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers, The Star-Gazer’s Log of Summer-Time Crime, and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Within these, is some of my favorite writing: they’re stories I like to read, the sort that ooze with talent, and the kind I wish I could write myself. There were others, equally as well written, that I struggled through, or simply lost interest in, and there were a handful I skipped almost entirely. I think any reader who appreciates stories that are constructed outside of the standard literary box would love this book. It certainly has me curious and eager to pick up the already popular, Swamplandia!

Kelly: Like Kim, I also enjoyed this short story collection. I loved the quirky characters, sometimes otherworldly or magical situations, and literary quality. Amongst my favorite stories are “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” and “Haunting Olivia.”

I’m definitely curious about Swamplandia!

Title: St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves
Author: Karen Russell
Read: February 2011
Source: Powell’s Bookstore / Annie Bloom’s Books

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Slaughterhouse-Five, Or the Children’s Crusade

February 28th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fiction, Kelly, Science Fiction
 

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is a fascinating combination of science fiction and World War II that’s based on Vonnegut’s own experience of the bombing of Dresden. Protagonist Billy Pilgrim is “unstuck” in time the reader sees his life out of order, as he travels from different points of his life, creating an interesting juxtaposition of moments.

The science fiction and speculative elements of the novel give Vonnegut the leeway to make political and antiwar commentary, like the senselessness of executing a man for a petty theft while digging up hundreds of bodies. Pilgrim is an interesting main character, as he’s awkward, bumbling, and essentially goes along with the flow of his life without making strong decisions. He serves as a sort of puppet in the novel, buoyed along by forces outside of his control.

The occasional interruption of the narrator was an interesting device. I had essentially forgotten about the narrator until he popped up, sick, when Pilgrim and fellow captured soldiers arrived in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

On a side note, Slaughterhouse-Five was the 67th most challenged book from 1990-1999 and the 46th most challenged book from 2000 to 2009.

So it goes.

Title: Slaughterhouse-Five, Or the Children’s Crusade
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

 

 

 

 

 

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Return to Camp Half-Blood in The Lost Hero

February 26th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Middle Grade
 

I opened up The Lost Hero curious to discover whether Riordan could replicate the success, humor, and suspense of his first series revolving around Camp Half-Blood. The original series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, ended with a new prophecy for the demigods to fulfill, but that prophecy could come to pass anytime in the future.

The Lost Hero opens from new character Jason’s point of view as he finds himself on a school bus holding hands with a girl, yet with no memories of who he is, and how he ended up on the bus. As he visits the Grand Canyon, storm spirits attacks them. Neither Jason nor his two new friends, Piper and Leo, know they’re demigods. After fighting the storm spirits, they’re whisked away to Camp Half-Blood by Annabeth and another demigod. The new story begins not long after the events of the original series.

As the story progresses, the narrative is also told from the perspectives of Piper, daughter of Aphrodite, and Leo, son of Hephaestus. Occasionally the reader sees the same scene from multiple viewpoints. All three narrators have a similar voice even though the characters have their own sets of challenges, problems, and heartaches. As Jason, Leo, and Piper embark on a quest to save Hera, who has been captured, Annabeth leaves on her own journey to find her boyfriend, Percy Jackson, who is missing. Annabeth’s journey is not shown, although it will come into play in the later books, as Percy’s disappearance is bound up with Jason’s appearance.

Jason is very much in the Percy Jackson/Harry Potter mold; he’s a natural leader who does what he needs to do, even if it involves putting himself into danger to save his friends. Riordan gives his characters a mix of cultural backgrounds (Leo’s mother was Mexican-American, Piper’s father is Cherokee), and the diversity is appreciated.

There’s a similar mix of action and age-appropriate romance to this series as the first. Yet the story is unique enough and Riordan subtly (and logically) changes the rules of the world of the books to entice fans of the original to enjoy this series.

The second book in the series, The Son of Neptune, comes out in the fall of 2011.

Read by: Kelly

Title: The Lost Hero, Heroes of Olympus Book One
Author: Rick Riordan
Date read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

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Double review: Changeless and Blameless by Gail Carriger

February 11th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Mystery
 

ChangelessFor years, I would have said the Sookie Stackhouse series were my guilty-pleasure reads, but I’d know I’d say the Parasol Protectorate/Alexia Tarabotti series has taken the Southern Vampire series place on my bookshelf. These novels are simply fun: witty, entertaining. The novels are full of eccentric characters, and the supporting cast around Alexia makes the novels. Plus the series is a (gentle) parody of historical novels . . . with steampunk elements. And werewolves. And vampires. What’s not to like?

As I said in my review of Soulless, I can’t let myself contemplate some of the ins and outs of Alexia being “soulless”, as logically it doesn’t always hold up. The world of these books, however, generally holds up.

The storyline of Blameless is dependent upon Changeless, and so in some ways the books have one long story arc although a smaller mystery is resolved in each novel. Carriger clearly laid the groundwork for more novels and it will interesting to see how the series plays out.

BlamelessRead by: Kelly

Title: Blameless
Title: Changeless
Author: Gail Carriger
Date Read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

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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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1983 and Red Riding Quartet Wrap-up

January 23rd, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Crime, Fiction
 

David Peace's1983It’s impossible to talk about David Peace’s 1983 without putting into context as the final installment of the Red Riding Quartet. The first three novels in the quartet (1974, 1977, and 1980) tell the stories of both the Yorkshire Ripper and a child rapist/murderer. Each novel is told from different viewpoints from the novels before. In 1983, the story is told through three viewpoints: Maurice Jobson, high ranking police officer, John Piggott, Lawyer, and BJ, male prostitute. These three have the perspective to shed partial light on the mysteries that permeate the novels.

Some of the shadowy characters from the first three books are pulled somewhat into focus in the final installment, such as Reverend Laws, whom I assume is an unrecognized serial killer who preys on the weak. The police in this series aren’t much better, physically abusing suspects to force confessions so they can pin crimes on the innocent. Arguably the only people in the series who are innocent—the children—are victimized by the lack of true justice, as it allows abusers to walk free and the wrongfully accused to molder in jail.

The quartet shows a murky and unclear world with flawed, unlikable, and corrupt people. People who are somewhat decent and try to get to the center of the corruption or decay end up ruined.

Peace is purposefully repetitive, with whole passages repeated verbatim between both novels and within a single passage. This creates a mood and ambiance within the novel, even if it doesn’t always push the plot forward. But that’s okay, since atmosphere is at least as important as the plot in this dense and dark series. He also uses run-on sentences, sometimes lasting over a page, in interesting ways.

1983 didn’t bring about a full resolution of the various plotlines, although key elements, such as the identity (or identities) of the child rapist/murderer were resolved. There are lots of loose ends in this series, and I assume this by authorial intent. For example:

I assume Eddie Dunford died at the end of 1974, but it’s never confirmed in the text. Several people are clearly haunted by his memory, but if it’s because he died or went crazy, disappeared, etc is never shown.  Dunford drives a Viva throughout 1974, and there’s a mysterious old Viva in 1983. Does it belong to Leonard Marsh, son of a boogeyman, or is the Viva meant to imply Dunford is still there?  Is it an echo and/or ghost from the past?

The Red Riding Quartet was adapted into a film trilogy, and I’ll have to see how the filmmakers interpreted some of Peace’s more ambivalent plot lines, and how they summed up the stories. I’ll be interested in whether or not they left plot lines dangling, or if they tied the series up neatly with a little bow. The Red Riding Quartet isn’t unlike real life. For example, look at the Kyron Harmon case in Oregon. A young child disappears from school, and nine months or so later, has yet to be found. No arrests have been made. Someone out there knows the truth, but the story isn’t resolved, and might never be.

I’d definitely recommend this series to people that enjoy crime noir and atmospheric novels, with the caveat that it’s a dark, brutal, and violent series with an open ended conclusion. It’s not going to leave you happy at the end, but it will make you think.

Reviewed by: Kelly

Title: 1983
Author: David Peace
Read: January 2011
Source: Public Library

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Fantasy/Steampunk: Soulless, by Gail Carriger

January 8th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly
 

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless is a fun mix of fantasy and steam punk. Alexia Tarrabotti is a spinster in Victorian England. She’s also soulless, the opposite of werewolves and vampires, who have too much soul.  The story gets off to a brisk start, as a vampire at a ball attacks Alexia, and she accidently kills him with her hair pin and brass parasol. The vampire should have known it was a mistake to attack Alexia—after all, she neutralizes his powers—and this event sets up the rest of the novel.

I enjoyed the humor, and appreciated how Soulless gently satires historical novels.  I tried not to think too deeply about some of the issues around being soulless. For example, the author says, “Alexia. . . always dresses in the height of fashion because her soulless state seems to mean that she doesn’t have her own taste.”  Alexia clearly has preferences and the romantic aspect of this novel doesn’t work without them.

If you enjoy the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris, I’d recommend Soulless.

Reviewed by: Kelly

Novel: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Read: January 2011
Source: Public Library

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