Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review of Murder at the Book Group, The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits, and Teardrop by Lauren Kate

This review is from Shelf Awareness, and is about a book that I think my own Tuesday  Night Book Group would enjoy. 

Review: Murder at the Book Group

You can't judge a book by its cover any more than you can judge a book
club by its members. Maggie King entertainingly darkens the common
perception of book clubs (a benign assembly of readers who've come
together to discuss books) in her quirky debut, Murder at the Book
Group. The story begins when normally even-keeled, vain Carlene
Arness--a 50-year-old member of a small Richmond, Va., book group--hurls
the cozy mystery under discussion into a fireplace. "This book sucks,"
she exclaims. "There should be a law protecting the reading public from
such trash!" The shocked members try to placate irate Carlene, who is
also a mystery novelist, then rationally discuss and analyze the plot,
which has to do with cyanide slipped into the teacup of an unsuspecting

When the group breaks for refreshments, Carlene suddenly drops dead.
Remarkably, her death is deemed the result of cyanide poisoning. When a
note is discovered, Carlene's death appears to be a suicide. Many in the
group, however, suspect someone killed her and forged the note--or is
this kind of thinking the result of having read too many mystery novels?
The quest for both who done it and why unearths a host of insidious
rivalries and romantic entanglements.

The narrator, Hazel Rose, is a computer programmer turned aspiring
romance novelist who cofounded the book club with Carlene. Four times
married and financially secure, Hazel is a commitment-phobic transplant
from Los Angeles who lives a quiet, unassuming life with her cat and her
widowed cousin, Lucy--and has an on-again, off-again relationship with a
retired homicide detective who writes true-crime stories. Carlene's
death gives Hazel's banal existence a much-needed jolt. Her amateur,
high-minded sleuthing is driven by a thirst for justice and is also
inspired--and similarly complicated--by the fact that Carlene was
married to Hazel's first ex-husband.

Hazel's search for a would-be killer is riddled with snags when
Carlene's friends, family and acquaintances offer compelling details of
Carlene's multiple identities, surprising secrets and sordid love
affairs. Coupled with the deceased's recent estrangement from her
husband, this evidence points to a host of possible motives for her
demise. "The shock and drama of Carlene's death explained our tears, not
any real affection for her," Hazel admits.

The amateur sleuth's pseudo-investigative skills and her interactions
with a cast of well-drawn, small-town characters reveal a deception that
ultimately coalesces into a study of human nature and the limits of
perception. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at

The Vanishers by Hiedi Julavits was another of the "page turners" that was recommended 
by one of the book websites that I frequent on Facebook. 

It's a bizarre and disjointed tale of a woman named Julia who believes that she is under psychic attack from a mentor in college who is envious of her rising psychic powers, while the mentors are on the wane. Here's the blurb: 
Is the bond between mother and daughter unbreakable, even by death?

Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother's suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns, and Julia gains power, Madame Ackermann launches a desperate psychic attack that leaves Julia the victim of a crippling ailment.

Julia retreats to a faceless job in Manhattan. But others have noted Julia's emerging gifts, and soon she's recruited to track down an elusive missing person—a controversial artist who might have a connection to her mother. As Julia sifts through ghosts and astral clues, everything she thought she knew of her mother is called into question, and she discovers that her ability to know the minds of others—including her own—goes far deeper than she ever imagined.

As powerful and gripping as all of Julavits's acclaimed novels, The Vanishers is a stunning meditation on grief, female rivalry, and the furious power of a daughter's love.
I didn't find this to be as powerful and gripping as I did pathetic and grueling. Julia never seems to know where she is in her investigation, and she has these visions at random, while also trying to find legends of her mother, who worked for the artist she's trying to track down in sick and twisted porn films. She doubts herself at every turn, she hates every environment she's in, and she eventually comes to terms with herself only by accepting her cruelty and by giving up on caring about her mother. I was also underwhelmed by the prose, which was as foggy and dense as the protagonist's mind. The plot jumped around and had many false trails, until by the end, I had been so confused by false conclusions that I didn't really care if Julia found out about her mother and the artist at all. I'd give this book a C-, and I am being generous, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wants a page-turning, fascinating read, because this novel isn't one. 

Teardrop by Lauren Kate is a YA fantasy that was supposedly similar to Carrie Jones and Maria Snyder's "Glass" series. Unfortunately, it was a very watered-down version of YA fantasy that hit all the tropes popular in horribly mangled works like Twilight. There's the girl who is "aloof" and different from her classmates, but is still beautiful.There's the hot "otherworld" guy who mysteriously appears to rescue her, yet can't seem to tell her what the heck is going on until she's in deep trouble toward the end of the book, (and of course he has otherworldly powers, and she's instantly drawn to him) and there is the best guy friend who becomes embroiled in the whole thing because he's secretly carried a torch for the protagonist since they were children, but of course has never acted on it until strange things start to happen to her. Add in the obligatory best girlfriend who is wild and crazy and funny and all the things a sidekick must be, and you have this tedious novel. Here's the blurb:
An epic saga of heart-stopping romance, devastating secrets, and dark magic . . . a world where everything you love can be washed away. The first book in the new series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fallen series

Everywhere Eureka goes he is there: Ander, a mysterious blond boy who tells her she’s in danger. Ander knows things about Eureka she doesn’t yet know herself, but not her darkest secret: ever since her mother drowned in a freak accident, Eureka wishes she were dead, too. She has little left that she cares about, just her friend, Brooks, and some heirlooms—a locket, a letter, a mysterious stone, and an ancient book about a girl who got her heart broken and cried an entire continent into the sea.
The haunting tale is more than a story. It’s real.
And Eureka’s life has far more evil undercurrents than she ever could have imagined.
Seriously, if you have read Twilight and Jone's Pixies series, you will know exactly where this novel is going. There is no "heart-stopping" romance, and even the "dark magic" is pretty lame until we reach the end of the book, where Eureka finally uses her mother's gifts to her to save her family (with the exception of the mean stepmother, whom you know is going to die after the first chapter). There's even a girl at Eureka's high school whose hair "smells like strawberries" just like Bella in Twilight (a series I found to be loathsome). Of course, like Bella, Eureka isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and she spends an inordinate amount of time acting like someone who has never seen a fantasy movie or read a fantasy novel, or even encountered someone who has read the myths and legends that most of us have heard of by the time we leave grade school. I mean really, who hasn't heard of the legend of Atlantis? And just because she's a teenager, does that automatically mean that our heroine has to be a complete b*tch to her parents? Especially her father, who has done nothing but remarry and try to rebuild his life. But of course our love's young dream girl finds all that to be a betrayal, and even though she claims to love her little stepbrother and stepsister, she's more than willing to hate on their mother and watch her die because the stepmother insisted on Eureka getting counseling/therapy after she tried to kill herself in the wake of her mother's death in a car accident.  How horrible of the stepmother to care. And who didn't see Brooks, the best friend, becoming a possessed and possessive nightmare by the third chapter? It was all too obvious, as if the author was following a "How to write a YA novel similar to Twilight" pamphlet. I'd give this novel a C-, and again I feel that is a generous grade, due to the low quality of the work, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone seeking surprising or page-turning YA fiction. I certainly won't be reading the next book in the series.

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