Monday, June 11, 2012

Three New Books and a Great Local Quote

"At home here in Washington State, I continue to relish the Seattle Arts
and Lecture series inside the same grand Benaroya Hall where the
symphony performs and Pearl Jam cut a live album. For me, it really
doesn't even matter who the author is. What inspires me is the crowd,
that up to 2,000 people come out to hear prominent and promising
authors. There are some belly laughs and standing ovations, but mostly
there's the gentle hum and murmur of the stimulated minds of intense
readers coming together to listen to and think about words. In these
days of electronic mania and shrinking attention spans, just being there
can make you feel like you are part of some intelligent and subversive

--Jim Lynch,
whose latest book is Truth Like the Sun, writing for the National Post's
Afterword blog

The above is true of this wonderful state I live in...people here support books and reading, which makes this a bibliophiles paradise!

This past week I read "Need" by Carrie Jones, "The House at Tyneford" by Natasha Solomons and "The Haunting of Maddy Clare" by Simone St James, (*which strikes me as a rather flimsy pen name).

"Need" is a YA paranormal romance that is somewhat similar to the Twilight series in structure, replacing evil pixies and shape shifters for vampires and werewolves, and trading a young girl's journey to Maine for a young girls journey to Washington state. Fortunately, that's where the similarities end, for the most part, as our teen heroine Zara isn't as dull, stupid and wimpy as Bella, and the prose is quite readable, while the zippy plot seems almost plausible.
Zara, who has just lost her beloved stepfather, feels so numb and out of it that she can hardly muster enough ire to protest when her mother sends her away to her grandmother's house in Northern Maine.  While there, Zara meets Devyn, a kid in a wheelchair, and Issie, a goofy hyper-active girl who manages to worm her way into Zara's heart. She also meets Nick, a handsome guy whose touch thrills her, and Ian, another handsome teen who competes for her attentions with Nick. There seems to be a strange man who keeps shadowing Zara, though, and she hears his voice whenever she's outside, begging her to "come to me" and generally creeping her out. Soon the trio of Devyn, Issie and Zara discover that the mysterious man is an evil pixie who leaves gold dust in his wake, and who is seeking his "queen," without whom he is forced to abduct teenage boys and suck the life out of them to fulfill his 'need.' Unsurprisingly, Nick turns out to be a werewolf, yet Zara's grandmother is a were-tiger and the school secretary is a were-bear (Devyn is the oddest of the bunch as a were-eagle). The group must fight off the evil pixies and Zara must face her destiny before the end of the story, which has three sequels. I found this first book in the series to be a pleasant enough read, not too full of cliches and bad prose to want to toss it, yet not really rising far enough above the Twilight stereotype to warrant lavish praise or longevity in the YA paranormal romance genre. That said, I plan on reading the next two books in the series, just to see how tough little Zara fairs. I'd recommend this as a good alternative to Twilight, (it is certainly better written) and I'd give it a solid B.

"The House at Tyneford" was a delicious novel for those of us enamored and yes, somewhat obsessed, with "Downton Abbey." It is the story of Elise Landau, a spoiled Viennese Jewish girl who is sent to the English countryside at the beginning of World War 2. Though she has had no training and has never had to work before, she's employed at an English mansion, Tyneford, as a maid. While there she encounters the perfectionist butler, the stiff chatelaine or house manager, and the Lord of the manor, Mr Rivers and his handsome son, Kit. Of course, Kit being the rebellious son, falls for Elise and though they plan on marriage, the war gets in the way, and when Kit is killed, Elise has to deal with her grief over not only his death, but the death of her beloved parents in a Jewish ghetto. Though Elise, now called "Alice" triumphs in the end, I found it heartbreaking that the beautiful English manor was requisitioned by the British military and never returned to its rightful owners, something that apparently happened all too often in the real English countryside during WWII. Still, a fascinating and engrossing tale that I'd recommend to all Downton Abbey fans and to readers of historical romance. The House at Tyneford deserves an A-.

Finally, "The Haunting of Maddy Clare" was a page-turning thriller/mystery/paranormal romance that I wasn't expecting to love as much as I did. The prose is mesmerizing and the plot flows like silk in the breeze, so swift and yet gentle that you don't realize you're completely engrossed until you look up at the clock and find that hours have slipped by.
Sarah Piper is a lonely young woman barely making ends meet in 1920's, post WWI England, when she accepts work (she is listed with a temp agency) for a young charismatic man named Alistair Gellis, who happens to be an author and a ghost hunter. There's the ghost of a young maid who hanged herself in the barn in a small hamlet in the English countryside who is haunting a couple of little old ladies. Apparently these ladies took in the maid when she appeared at their doorstep traumatized and covered in mud. Gellis, whose assistant Matthew Ryder, is away visiting his sister during labor, needs a woman to "talk" to the maid's ghost, who is said to hate men and refuses to talk to them or do anything but drive them violently away. Sarah, who is somewhat "sensitive" to paranormal phenominon, actually hears the ghost speaking to her and has visions of what happened to the maid, Maddy Clare, who seeks revenge for her rape and murder. During the course of the novel, we see Sarah grow as a person, and fall in love with Matthew, as well as taking on the task of finding justice for Maddy. This is the kind of novel I like to read to take my mind off of something dull or unpleasant, because it is so riveting you forget your surroundings, your pain and anything else that stands between you and finding out what happens to Sarah and Maddy's ghost. I recommend this book to historical mystery lovers and to those who find a paranormal romance with mystery woven throughout fascinating. I'd give the novel an A, and I hope to encounter Ms St James' other works.

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