Category Archives: Knopf

#Mx3 Review: The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (September 10, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0375868771
  • Source: Publisher

The citizens of the small town of Oleander, Kansas call it the killing day: five people with seemingly no connection commit murders, killing 12 individuals, then attempt to kill themselves. In four out of five cases, they succeeded.  A year has passed but that terrifying date in history has awaken something in this small town.  Exacerbating the town’s pain and recovery, a devastating tornado hits the small town, destroying all but a small portion of the town.  The military is called in, setting up road blocks and barbed wire fences, shutting down any communication with the outside world.  Citizens who attempt to breach the quarantine are killed on the spot. Once peaceful citizens are rising up and committing horrific crimes, taking the law into their own hands.  It’s only a group of five teens – Daniel, West, Jule, Cass, and Ellie- that realize something is seriously wrong and band together to find answers.

Told from the point of view of these five teens, The Waking Dark tells each of their stories how it relates to the killing day and the aftermath.   They each harbor their own secrets, but opening up and banding together is the only way to avoid certain death. What they uncover is darker and more devastating than anyone ever could have imagined.

The characters Wasserman builds in this young adult horror novel are unique, flawed and, most of the time, not very likeable.  Personally, I found it a challenge to connect to any of them and I didn’t really care about their fate or survival.  What kept me invested in this novel was the storyline; I was desperate to uncover the source of the town’s evil.  I’m purposefully vague in the root of this evil for I feel that readers should uncover it on their own.  The execution of the reveal is one of this novel’s selling points.

While I didn’t connect with the characters, I did find the storyline compelling. It wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I though it would be, but I’d prefer a horror novel to have a strong plot than forced “terror.”  If you are looking for a unique piece of young adult horror fiction, The Waking Dark is the novel for you. Recommended.
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Review: Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (June 4, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0307962792
  • Source: Publisher

Paris is currently occupied by the Germans. New York’s Mayor La Guardia believes he can make the city the new fashion capital of the world. Mignonne Lachapelle is a twenty-two year old woman, headstrong and eager to make herself known in the world of fashion design. Her designs are unique and border on risque. After her instructor and mentor pass some of her Mignonne’s design’s off as her own, Mignonne immediately seeks retribution and ends up working as her mentor’s assistant. It is here that she is reunited with French expatriate writer/war pilot, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a man whom she tutored in the English language a year previous.

Mignonne’s quest to make a name for herself becomes a bit more complicated with this reunion, particularly when Antoine’s wife, Consuelo, becomes one of her customers. Despite flaunting her many affairs before her husband’s eyes, Consuelo is quite desperate to win back the love and attention of Antoine. The three become consumed in the most complicated of love triangles, particularly when Consuelo enlists Mignonne in her attempts to win back her husband. Antoine is emotionally needy and vulnerable, reaching for Mignonne’s adoration to aid him as he writes his novel about a young prince, lost and exiled on earth after falling during his journey through the planets. In turn, Mignonne turns Antoine’s novel, The Little Prince, into a fashion show, all in a vain attempt to prevent Antoine from leaving her and enlisting in the war.

Szado’s Studio Saint-Ex captures so eloquently the tumultuous New York of the 1940s. The country, and the world, was embarking on a completely new manner of life, war with Germany looming. Despite the chaos that is looming, the reader becomes instantly immersed in setting of New York, just as the city’s introduction and fame in the fashion world is about to take off.  Having visited the city several times myself, I can visualize the city as it is now, yet also transported to a time when the Garment District was overrun with designers, vendors and the like.

The characters Szado creates are incredibly detailed and well-portrayed. Each are completely flawed yet it is difficult not to sympathize with each and every one of them. Mignonne is desperate to make a name for herself as a fashion designer. Her passion was so real and vivid that it comes alive on the pages. After being betrayed by her mentor, her determination only grows stronger, only lessening when yet another more tangible passion presents itself. Antoine’s own desperation and loneliness comes alive in his writing. He feels abandoned and lost in a country that is not his own, his potential also diminished as long as he’s prevented from living a life he so desperately needs to lead. And Consuelo…so vain yet also so needy of her husband’s love.

A fan of Saint-Exupéry’s children’s classic The Little Prince from childhood, I found it incredibly rewarding to read about his life as he wrote it, even if it is a fictionalized account.  Add that to the rich historical account of a blossoming fashion capital and it all adds up to a incredibly captivating, wholly remarkable and well-rounded novel. Even those not familiar with the brilliant work of Saint-Exupéry’s will be rewarded with an incredibly enriching experience. Highly, highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

This week’s Frightful Friday featured book is: We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey

 

 

  • Hardcover:320 pages
  • Publisher:Knopf (July 12, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0307272516
  • Source: Publisher

Former Chicago cop, now private investigator, Michael Kelly returns with another case, this one deadlier than before.

A deadly virus is spread among the citizens of Chicago after a light bulb breaks in a subway tunnel.  The city’s big wigs don’t seem to be worried at all, insisting the virus contained within the light bulbs is inactive.

Bodies begin filling up hospitals, turning them into morgues.  The L train is used as a rolling hearse, transporting contaminated bodies off site for cremation. Chicago is transformed into a quarantine zone, referred to as Camp Chicago.  Fences went up, preventing anyone from entering the quarantine zone. Fires start in the quarantine areas, seemingly to destroy the infected bodies, but is it unknowingly spreading the virus and/or destroying evidence?

CDA labs, a team of highly skilled scientists contracted by the Department of Defense to provide tools to protect and prevent chemical and biological warfare, is brought in to determine the “identity” of the strain of virus spreading through the city. At the insistence of the mayor, Kelly is permitted to have access to CDA’s investigation.  He learns of “black biology” labs, s groups who use DNA technology to create new pathogens enhance existing ones.

 Is it coincidence that Kelly discovers boxes containing 10,000 body bags in the basement of a man known to support local drug dealers? At the same time, suspicious no bid contracts for medical supplies is unveiled.  Can it all be connected? Kelly’s efforts are thwarted when those agencies who should be aiding him are instead trying to hunt him down to arrest him.   Can Kelly uncover the identity of the individual responsible for releasing the deadly virus before he is detained, or worse, killed?

Can I just say We All Fall Down absolutely terrified me?  Perhaps Harvey’s most chilling thriller so far, mainly due to the reality that such an attack could take place.  We’ve all heard on the news of ways terrorists could kill large numbers of people using biological warfare; We All Fall Down gives readers a glimpse of the reality of the situation.

As in Harvey’s previous books in this series, Chicago political corruption runs rampant in this book. Harvey doesn’t shy away from showcasing both the high points and low points of his city. Michael Kelly continues to be one of my favorite crime fiction/thriller characters: his tough, gritty, and rough around the edges. He’ll stop at nothing, risking it all, to protect the city he loves.

Additionally, We All Fall Down is isn’t one of those mindless thrillers that solves itself before your eyes. The reader is forced to think, really examine the facts as they reveal themselves.

As We All Fall Down is part of a series, I do recommend you start at the beginning to truly capture the essense of the characters.  Once you start, I guarantee you won’t be able to stop! Highly recommended.

 

 

 

Review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

 

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (June 14, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0307595129
  • Source: Personal Copy

The Kelleher women are an extremely strong-minded set of women.  Alice is the matriarch; she spends all her time at Mass or enjoying a cigarette and a manhattan on her sun porch.  Kathleen, Alice’s daughter, now resides in California where she runs a worm farm.  She won’t admit it, but she moved clear across the country to avoid her family, namely her mother.  Kathleen’s daughter is Maggie, a young New Yorker, a writer, and pregnant.  Her trip to Maine is supposed to serve as a place for her to write and contemplate her future. Ann Marie, Alice’s daughter-in-law, is an avid (obsessive?) doll house designer & collector.  Her soul purpose in life seems to be to keep the tumultuous Kelleher family in order.

Each summer, the family enjoys making the trek to their summer home in Maine. Oh, they don’t enjoy it together, each branch of the family is allowed a month to visit the home. They do not realize it, but this is their last summer in their beautiful, memory-ridden oasis. 

The three generations of women wind up at the family home simultaneously.  Normally, this would be the recipe for chaos, and in a sense it was. The women, both jointly and individually, face their worst fears: Alice must come to terms with a horrible family tragedy; Maggie must decide which direction her future will take, and who she will be sharing it with; Kathleen has to finally confront her mother; and Ann Marie must face the fact that her perfect family facade is fading. Each of the characters tells the story from their own point of view, allowing the reader to get a unique, and perhaps more honest, view of the family dynamics. When the family learns that their cherished Maine home might not in fact be theirs any longer, a battle begins to simmer.

Never before have I read a book that captures my soul like Maine has.  Frankly, I read so many glowing reviews of this book I was skeptical; could it really be THAT good? In short, YES!

The characters in Maine remind the reader of everyday people in their lives, or perhaps in a sense, themselves.  These women were genuine, full of flaws therefore one can’t help but love them. Despite these flaws, there wasn’t a single character I didn’t enjoy or appreciate.  I wanted to drop everything, hop in my car, and join them, spending my summer alongside them.

What really drew me to this book is the fact the author touches on topics faced by many families: unwed mothers, alcoholism, depression.  She does it in an honest way, nothing is shielded or guarded.  I appreciate authors who aren’t afraid to do this; I don’t want a sugar-coated life, I want the real thing. That said, despite other reviews, I did not find this book to be dark or depressing, but rather uplifting.  It reminded me to keep in sight what is important in life, never to abandon my dreams, to cherish my family and friends around me.

I’ve been recommending this book as the perfect beach read; you won’t want to get up from your spot under the warm sun after reading this terrifically engaging tale.  So be sure to put on a lot of sun screen before starting this book for I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down. Highly, highly, recommended, one of my favorite books of the summer!

Frightful Friday: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

This week’s Frightful Friday featured book is The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan:

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (July 12, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0307595080
  • Source: Purchased from Book Depository

Jake is the last werewolf on earth.  In the two hundred years he’s existed, he has been through a great deal.  The fact he’s the sole survivor of his species depresses him to no end. He’s contemplated suicide; what sort of future does he have? He can’t procreate sexually (werewolves are sterile) and the werewolf curse is no longer passed through bites.

Jake spends his time sleeping with women he doesn’t love.  The concept of love is a word foreign to him; since he literally devoured the love of his life shortly after he became a werewolf, Jake actually pursues women he dislikes. There is safety in this; he will never fall for a woman again.

Jake is prepared to face his own mortality, ready to turn himself over to WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena). However, circumstances change and Jake left wanting to preserve his life, able to finally accept the monster he has become.

Told in a journal format, The Last Werewolf is not your average werewolf tale. It’s beyond a monster story, instead it truly captures one man’s evaluation of his soul, his life, his purpose for living. Jake goes through a dramatic transformation throughout the book, not just physical. He starts off as a monster who continues to punish himself for an action that occured centuries in the past. In the end, he’s a man, who just happens to be a monster, who wants to preserve his species.

Definitely more on the literary side of the spectrum, Duncan provides readers with a completely unique and innovative attempt at the werewolf tale. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone looking for your average werewolf story; Duncan’s attempt is much more of a contemplative, introspective look at a werewolf’s life.  Above all, despite previous marketing, I would not promote this as the “Twilight for adults.”

Bottom line: The Last Werewolf is more than just your typical werewolf story; it’s more an examination of  identity and ofaccepting what one has become.

Warning: violence, scenes of a sexual nature.

Tales of a (Formerly) Reluctant Reader: The Mistaken Masterpiece by Michael D. Beil

Tales of a (Formerly) Reluctant Reader is a feature in which my eleven-year-old son, John, reviews books as a formerly reluctant reader. He gives his opinion of the book, detailing why he thinks this book would be good for reluctant readers.

  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (June 14, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0375867406
  • Source: Publisher
  • In the third book in the Red Blazer Girls series, Catholic school girls Sophie, Margaret, Becca, and Leigh Ann are on an investigation of another mystery.

    The book starts off with a swim practice.  Sophie is sharing a lane with her arch-nemesis, Livvy. When Livvvy “accidentally” hits Sophie in the nose, breaking it, Sophie can’t get over the idea she did it on purpose.  As if that isn’t bad enough, Sophie & the other girls are supposed to meet Nate Ethan, their movie star crush, actor in a vampire movie called No Reflections.

    The meeting goes over well, Nate is so impressed by Sophie that he asks her to watch his dog, Tillie, while he travels. Sophie has always wanted a dog…plus how could she say no to Nate? Meanwhile, Father Julian has asked them to help authenticate a painting that has been in his family for years. Problem is, the painting in his possession might be a fake; it is up to the Red Blazer Girls to determine if it is real.

    So, while trying to keep under control a dog that has a sudden change in behavior, a jealous not-really boyfriend, oh, and a broken nose, the girls must find a way to proof the painting is real. Oh, and let’s not forget the secret odd packages Sophie begins to receive. Who is sending these random packages and what do they represent?

    John’s Review: Ok, I admit, when my mom asked me to read and review this book with her I wasn’t too thrilled about it.  Really? A book about a bunch of school girls who solve mysteries?  I wasn’t convinced…at first.  But then they started talking about baseball, and other things I found pretty interesting and I was won over! I started to forget that the characters were girls. Ok, not really forget but it wasn’t that big a deal.  Oh, and the vampire movie actor? That almost turned me off to this book, too.  However, in the end, I became very excited about the mystery the girls were investigating and decided the other things didn’t matter.  In my opinion, this book would be perfect for both boys & girls in 4-6th grade. I enjoyed it!  My mom got copies of the two previous books on CD and I can’t wait to listen to them! These girls get in a lot of messes, but seem to be able to find their way out of them!

    Jenn’s Review: Yes, I too was skeptical when I asked John to review this book with me.  As a child, I grew up reading Nancy Drew and other female-led mystery books.  I can confess to wanting to relive my childhood, right? In any case, I was really impressed with this book & it’s ability to keep John’s attention, despite the female characters.  He really enjoyed the main character, Sophie, a no-nonsense girl.

    The pacing was spot-on, the storyline kept John’s attention throughout.  We had some great discussions about art, baseball history, etc. I’m happy he wants to continue the series becaus I do as well!

    While this is the third book in the series, in our opinion it is possible to pick up the series with this book, without reading the prior two.  The author gives substantial character history and back story so the reader becomes familiar with the characters right away.

    If you are looking for a middle-grade book with strong female lead characters, this is the book for you! Highly recommended.

    Check back tomorrow for a guest post (and giveaway) by the author, Michael Beil!