Saturday, June 29, 2013

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger (2013)

I had a total of about 45 minutes to spend at the American Library Association
annual conference exhibits (you can spend hours there), so I promised myself I would ignore all the book sellers and not even look at the list of authors signing books. But... on my way out of the exhibit hall, I saw a familiar unique name - Niffenegger. No line, she was just standing there signing a pile of books, so I went up to her. I got flustered and couldn't remember the names of her books, but knew I had read three of them. (The Time Traveler's Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry, and The Three Incestuous Sisters) So I got this, her latest book, half price, signed and all, and having met the author!

I read it on the bus ride home - a dark modern fairy tale of a postman who falls in love with a raven, and they have a little girl, who wants to fly, but can't as she has arms.  There are fantastic elements, and today's reality - as in the girl going to school and college. The story is accompanied by Niffenegger's hauntingly beautiful illustrations, which are perfect for the story. I loved the nest on the bed.
In the author's afterward she tells how she wrote this fairy tale at the request of a choreographer for the Royal Ballet of London, so this story may become a dance sometime. I can see this. The movie Black Swan comes to mind.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer (2011)

In looking for a new author to follow, I picked this one up because I saw something about libraries on
one of Meltzer's book covers, and then realized I had to start with the first one in the series. The main character Beecher White works in the National Archives and archives are becoming more fascinating to me than libraries. I love it when there is more than a fast paced story in a book- when I learn about something. This taught me more about the workings of our National Archives and gave me a further glance into their storage caves in Pennsylvania. I had heard of them, but had forgotten. I have seen the archival caves in the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, so could better imagine what these look like. The other interesting piece was about the presidency. I had barely thought about the fact that the President needs people he can really trust around him and how hard it is to get any privacy in that office. I did not know that George Washington had a secret spy group called the Culper Ring. Meltzer asks the question, what if they never disbanded?

Beecher White runs into a high school girlfriend and to show off brings her into one of the closed and secure rooms used by the president to read archival documents. I liked the image of the story's President Wallace coming to the National Archives on a regular basis to read letters and documents from his predecessors. They inadvertently find a 200 year old book holding secrets, a man dies suddenly, and we are off. We are never quite sure who is on whose side, who are the "good guys," but there are plenty of interesting characters - a barber, a doctor, a crazy man who tried to kill the president, and Clementine - the high school friend who's motives become more and more unclear as the book progresses. I will definitely read more of Meltzer's books.

Bared to You by Sylvia Day (2012)

Eva moves to New York City with her bisexual best friend and model Cary and
starts a job in an ad agency. On the first day she bumps into extremely rich and handsome Gideon Cross. There is instant attraction on both sides, and though Eva rebuffs him for a while, of course they end up together. Both have painful pasts, which actually does make them good for each other. Basic hot fluff.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (2001)

This is the first of the Thursday Next novels, and I should have read this first.
Thanks to my blog I could find that I had read Thursday Next in First Among Sequels, but my notes indicate the confusion caused by the pretty complex alternate world, which was more or less explained here. I know I was intrigued, because this series of mystery/thriller/science-fiction/fantasy is based on literature.

Thursday Next is a bright and resourceful woman working as a Special Operative in literary detection in an alternate England of 1985. Her father is a time traveler, who is wanted by some government agency, so he just pops in and out of Thursday's life for a few minutes. In this first tale, Thursday is called in to work with a higher level of Special Ops to deal with a dangerous criminal Acheron Hades, who has stolen a literary text. This is of critical importance, because if original texts are damaged, they damage all versions of the literary piece, and rewrite literature, which is of major concern in this alternate world. Big enough to create a whole government agency to police this - the Literary Division.

Fforde allows his characters to interact with literary characters, and Thrusday is one of the few people who can travel between the "real" world and literary ones. She had met Rochester of Jane Eyre as a child, and he seems to travel to her world to save her life at one point. Acheron Hades gets his hands on the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and starts changing the story. Thursday ends up going into the world and saving the story, but in the process changing the ending, which had bothered a lot of people. I had read Jane Eyre a long time ago, but it never impressed me, so I had forgotten the story, though references to Rochester and Jane appear every once in a while, so I was very happy that at one point Thursday retold the story for those of us who had forgotten it or never read it. 

There is so much to this book from the literary references (and I am not expert, so didn't get many, probably missed more) to entertaining concepts and names like the nasty Goliath Corporation and their man Jack Shit. It is one thing to read this name, but to listen to it on the audio tape over and over again, I actually found myself coming out with non-professional language at work one day.

We get much of Thursday's history, which is probably critical in understanding her in later books - her tour of duty in the Crimean War (an interesting alternate history), her brothers, her brilliant uncle, her former love. My only minor complaint was that too many things seemed to get resolved at the end of the book, but that is not enough for me to stop reading this series. Definitely want to try more.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Perfect Harmony by Nora Roberts (2011)

Two oldies, but goodies.

Unfinished Business (1992)
Vanessa was taken away from her home and on the road by her father to have a brilliant career as a pianist. When her father dies, she returns home to Maryland to figure things out, to understand why her mother broke off contact, to find what she really wants to do with the rest of her life. Brady, her high school love has returned home too, to work with and take over his father's medical practice. Obviously he woos her back and she finds where she belongs. There was a brief connection with another of Nora Roberts series set in fictional Cordinia, as Vanessa goes to play a concert there.

Local Hero (1988)
Hester and her son Radley move into an apartment where one of their neighbors is Mitch Dempsey, a writer of comic books. Radley worships him, as a comic book loving kid, and Mitch enjoys the boy's company, so becomes his main babysitter. Hester is cautious, thankful for the father figure Mitch provides, though a bit skeptical about his profession, but does not want to get involved if that will hurt her son in any way. Bit of a glimpse into the comic writing, producing and moving to movies world.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Racketeer by John Grisham (2012)

Thank goodness for this blog, as I did not recall ever reading a book by Grisham, but sure enough, I have read two of them (Playing for Pizza and Painted House), though neither is a legal thriller like this book. We have black lawyer Malcolm Bannister telling us his story from prison - how he was wrongly convicted of racketeering and how he plans to get out, because he thinks he knows who actually killed a federal judge. The story is quite convoluted and you never quite know what to believe, but it was a great tale and a good read.

At the end of the book the author has a disclaimer, that none of this is based on any facts and that he did not do any research for it. There is no prison camp, murdered federal judge or uranium mine court case, but the story reminded me of  the senselessness of our prison system. Grisham mentions a $40,000 per prisoner per year price tag. A quick Google search places that at the low end of estimates, so we are spending huge amounts to incarcerate large numbers of the populace for non-violent crimes. It ruins the lives of those individuals, as a conviction closes many doors, and creates huge stresses for the families. I would not be surprised if the divorce rates are high, as pointed out in Grisham's story. On one hand the monotony of prison life is mind numbing, on the other it gives one time to concoct elaborate plans as the one we see unfold. I also liked that Malcolm worked in the prison library and helped other prisoners with their legal problems, though rarely being able to shorten their stay in prison.  I also like a well thought out scam like on Leverage or the Ocean movies.