Category Archives: Viking

Review: Broken Harbor by Tana French

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (July 24, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0670023655
  • Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

In a half-developed neighborhood of McMansions, the bodies of Patrick Spain, his wife Jenny, and their two children are found. Patrick and the children are beyond resuscitation, but Jenny barely clings to life. Veteran Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy and his rookie partner, Richie, are called in to solve a case that, on the surface, seems pretty cut and dry.  It isn’t until they enter the home, discover the strange holes in the walls with baby monitors pointing into them that the two begin to understand that this case may be more than what it seems.

A secondary story line is Scorcher’s own issues with his past. The murder takes place in a town he remembers from his childhood, back when his life was still normal, before his mother’s tragic death.  His memories of that day come rushing back; his sister Dina has never recovered mentally from her experiences.  Viewing the case on the news sends Dina into one of her emotional tirades. Scorcher is torn between his job and solving this case and the responsibility he has for Dina, and the guilt from not being able to protect her all those years ago.

In the fourth novel in the Dublin murder squad series, French returns with her trademark combination of police procedural and psychological thriller. As with previous books, French succeeds at convincing the reader he/she has solved the case, then completely upending everything to reveal a completely unexpected twist. She does this skillfully and at a measured pace, only revealing as much as necessary to keep the rhythm of the story going. The reader learns a great deal about Scorcher’s own mental stability, proving him to be a completely sympathetic and vulnerable character, despite his strong facade. Set in the middle of  the Irish economic decline, the overall feel of this novel is a sense of despair and depression.

The sheer level of vulnerability expressed in this novel, mostly on the part of Scorcher but also the secondary characters, really made this novel come alive for me. Knowing how tough Scorcher appears on the outside, it was truly rewarding to see a glimpse of his sensitive interior. All these things, plus those mentioned above, come together into a novel that very well be my favorite in the series.

If you are looking for a psychological thriller that leaves you contemplating the human condition, our motives and emotions, our strengths and our failures, this is the novel for you. Highly recommended.

Review: The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (June 19, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0670023647
  • Source: Publisher

It’s the seventeenth century in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (present day Manhattan).  Orphans are disappearing, only to be found later severely mutilated. The colonists, a melting pot of cultures, blame the witika, a legendary creature that roams the forest, eating human flesh.

Blandine van Couvering, a former orphan herself, believes differently.  Blandine has made quite a life for herself, now a headstrong trader at the age of twenty-two. She has enough klout in the community that she is able to get together a small group to investigate these abductions, along with the aid of the handsome English spy, Edward Drummond.  This unlikely group becomes dangerously close to the case at hand, one of their members becoming “possessed” by a demon after seeing the witikia.  Despite all the evidence indicating this supernatural being is the culprit, Blandine and Drummond work hard to prove their own case before more children are abducted.

The Orphanmaster is an incredibly well researched novel overflowing with historical details.  Zimmerman’s knowledge and experience are quite evident in the level of detail provided. As the reader learns of the orphans’ tragic abductions, he/she is also schooled in the culture of the Dutch colony and the social customs of the time.  This is a dense novel in the strongest sense of the word. It cannot be skimmed or read quickly, but instead read at a pace that allows the reader to truly absorb the level of detail given.

While the identity of the killer was apparent pretty early on, Zimmerman doesn’t stop attempting to convince you that your predictions are incorrect, not giving in until the very last pages. The journey is not in identifying the suspect, but the path the investigation takes to prove the case.

I did have a few issues with the book. First, as mentioned above the historical detail Zimmerman provides is incredibly strong and pronounced. Almost too much so, in my opinion. Oftentimes, I forgot I was reading a work of fiction, instead feeling like I was reading passages out of a textbook or a historical document. Now, I have nothing against this personally, but I feel this level of detail may put off those readers simply looking for a lighter historical fiction.

Additionally, the legend of the witika seems almost last minute, like it was added to add a different tone to the novel. It started off strong and then sort of puttered out. I felt that it should have either been fleshed out more or removed entirely for this novel was strong on its own, not requiring this touch of the supernatural.

Finally, the point of view shifted quite dramatically, making it quite difficult to keep up with the viewpoint. On several occasions I had to go back several lines to retrace the shift. Not a huge issue, again, but one that I felt important to point out.

All of this said, I did enjoy this book. Not for the suspense or the mystery, or the supernatural characters. Instead, I appreciated it more as a lesson in our nation’s early history. I do recommend this book for devout fans of historical fiction, especially those who appreciate a high level of historical detail.

 

 

Review: Mice by Gordon Reece

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (August 18, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0670022845
  • Source: Publisher

Shelley has been forced to deal with more than the average teen should: her parents’ humiliating divorce and a near-deadly bullying attack. Shelley and her mother now seek reprieve in the remote Honeysuckle Cottage in the country.

Shelley’s mother refers to herself and Shelley as mice, not seeking a home but a place to hide. Like mice, they are timid, shy, and prefer to simply be left to their own devices.

“Mice are never assertive” 

Shelley is now schooled by tutors, living a peaceful and quiet life in the country.  Until, that is, an intruder changes their life forever, on the eve of Shelley’s sixteenth birthday, no less. The attack forces the mother & daughter duo to once again make huge changes in their lives, but also awakening something within Shelley previously kept hidden.  Shelley and her mother are forced to do things they never imagined in an attempt to return their quiet country life to normal.

Shelley’s character is a completely sympathetic one; the torture she is forced to go through on a daily basis is heartbreaking.  She keeps the bullying to herself until her life is quite literally in danger. Reece’s portrayal of youth bullying is accurate and real, a pain that many youth have to face on a regular basis. The bullying is traumatic enough, but the horror she and her mother have to face that was supposed to be their salvation is quite terrifying.

Obvious, due to the subject matter, Mice is not a light book.  The two main characters are forced to take part in actions normally not even considered, all for the sake of their own safety. Ultimately, however, a sense of growth and recovery is experienced by both Shelley and her mother.  Due to the age of the main character, Shelley, I can see this as a book read by young adults, given they are warned of the subject matter. I think it’s important for youth to read books detailing real-life situations, not sugar coating or hiding the impact. Mice is a book I wholeheartedly recommend.

Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

  • Hardcover:416 pages
  • Publisher:Viking Adult (August 9, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0670022314
  • Source: Publisher

 Immediately following the series of events that takes place in The Magicians, Quentin, Eliot, Janet, and Julia are now the High Kings and Queens of Fillory.  Quentin isn’t impressed with the amount of work he has to do as king, so he decides to go out on a mission of sorts, to the Outer Island, a small, remote island on the edge of his kingdom. Julia joins him on this journey, one that isn’t as “low key” as Quentin may have expected.  The island is reported to have “the key that winds up the world.” 

The key drops Quentin & Julia where they least expect, back to Earth and the depressing world of Chesterton, Massachusetts.  As they attempt to return to Fillory, they discover that Neitherlands, the “junction” point to other worlds, is nearing it’s demise.  The key they hold ins one of many; all of the keys must be found in order to prevent a magical apocalypse.

Quentin & Julia must rely on all sorts of magical and mysterious creatures, including a league of underground magicians, a sloth, and more, to gain access to all the keys and prevent the Neitherlands from being destroyed.

Interspersed in the main storyline are flashbacks Julia takes to a time before she was reunited with Quentin. It is during this time that she partakes in some pretty dark magical behaviors.  The result of these practices, and the forces they summoned, force Julia and her friends into quite the destructive and dangerous magical battle.  Julia & Quentin are forever changed as a result, not necessarily for the positive.

The writing in The Magician King is just as breathtaking and beautiful as in the previous book.  I found myself marking passages I adored; soon the book was full of marked passages.  The reader continues to learn more about the characters they loved an adored from The Magicians, but it is Julia’s character that I felt I learned more about in this particular book. Julia’s character was never really “right”…we get to see a completely different side to her in this book.

When I read The Magicians, I appreciated the characters and the writing style, but I didn’t love the book. The same goes for The Magician King. It’s a fantastic book for fans of fantasy, adults looking for a book to help them get over their depression over the Harry Potter series ending.  It is quite the impressive read, just not the one for me. While I enjoyed this book more than the previous, I wasn’t able to become invested in the storyline or the characters. This is no fault of the book or the author; this series just isn’t for me.

Despite my personal feelings, I do still recommend The Magician King for fans of fantasty.  As indicated, the writing is breathtaking, a style one doesn’t often uncover.  The characters are severely flawed, making them even more realistic and believable. They are quite witty and sarcastic, guaranteeing a few laughs. Others liken the series to an adult version of the Harry Potter and Narnia series. I will leave that to you to decide.

Review: War and Watermelon by Rich Wallace

Reading level: Ages 9-12 (Jenn’s opinion: 12 & up)
Hardcover: 184 pages
Publisher: Viking Juvenile; 1 edition (June 9, 2011)
Source: Publisher

It’s the summer of 1969 (yes, Bryan Adam’s song definitely comes to mind). Twelve year old Brody is spending the summer before starting junior high as most kids did at that age: swimming at the local pool, listening to music on the radio and hoping for more playing time on the football team.  Around him, however, the world is changing. We’ve just landed on the moon, the Mets start their trek to the World Series.

But most importantly, the Vietnam War is raging on. His older brother, Ryan, is just weeks away from reaching eighteen years old and at risk for being drafted to go to war.  Ryan battles with their father on a pretty continuous basis: he doesn’t want to be forced to go to college in order to avoid being drafted, but he also doesn’t believe in the war, as many did during this time period.

 It’d be different if the war was over here,” Ryan says.  “If they were tyring to kill Mom or Brody or Jenny.  I’d be the first in line then.  But I ain’t about to get ambushed over in that swamp…get bayonet stabbed between my ribs.  Why in the hell are we even over there?”

When Brody joins Ryan on a trip to upstate New York for this amazing live concert called Woodstock, he suddenly becomes aware of the real world around him.  People are dying in a war they don’t believe in, a war that could take his older brother away.  Brody is already at a pretty difficult and trying age for a young boy and being forced to deal with the potential reality of losing his older brother to war is pretty frightening.  Through Brody’s voice, the reader relives the summer and fall of 1969, a truly challenging time in America’s history.

Brody writes to to detail & express his feelings:

Woodstock Flock
Marching
Not to battle
Marching
All night long
Marching
Past barns and cattle
Marching
To hear a song

Marching
With my brother
Marching
With thousands more
Marching
To hear another
Marching
Against the War

When I heard about this book, I was drawn to it for some reason. I didn’t grow up in the late sixties, I wasn’t born until nearly a decade later.  What drew me to this book was Brody’s story.  I feel compelled to read coming-of-age stories, especially those involving young boys.  I myself have two young boys, one nearing Brody’s age.

It was my intent on reading this book along with my oldest son, John.  The publisher lists the age range from 8-12 years but I tend to disagree.  The subject matter, in my humble opinion, is more appropriate for 12 and above.  There is mild language, talk of beer and smoking pot, and while my son & I have open discussions about these topics, I just didn’t find it appropriate for the age range for which it is ”advertised.” Therefore, I believe this book would be more suited for the higher end of the middle grade age range or the lower part of the YA age range, around the 12-15 age range.

That said, I do think this is a book that should be read by young adults, and adults as well, frankly.  It is a completely honest and engaging look at a critical part of our nation’s history.  Don’t let the subject matter cause you to believe this is a dark and depressing book; since we are experiencing it through a teen boy there is a great deal of levity and humor.  Bottom line: Recommended.

Thank you TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Learn more about this book and the author & check out the other blogs on this tour on the book’s blog tour page.