Sunday, November 17, 2013

'Doctor Sleep'

The minute I get a Stephen King book in my hands, I stop what I'm doing and begin to read...and read...and read.  It's been that way with almost every book 'Little Stevie King' has written (there are a few exceptions, but they were still good).

'11/22/63' was the second to the last King book I read, and it was thrilling, despite the fact that some of his characters tend to go on  But that's okay. He has the right. He is 'The Master', and as long as he continues to publish his work, I'm with him all the way.

You see, it's a very rare writer who can grab my attention with such a commanding pull.

It was that way with one his early masterpieces, 'The Shining', one of the best ghost stories I've ever read, alongside Shirley Jackson's work.  That story scared the crap out of me, and there were many times when I went into the bathroom and checked behind the shower curtain before I did what I came in there to do.  It's crazy how a well-written work of paranormal fiction can jolt us out of our comfort zone, isn't it?

So, all these years later, King has written a follow-up to 'The Shining'.  And it is good. Really, really good.

It begins years after the incident at the Overlook Hotel, the place where little Danny Torrance and his mother were almost murdered by Jack Torrance, the alcoholic father and husband, a weak man gradually possessed by the hotel's malevolent spirits.

Dan is now nearing middle-age, and he has inherited his father's disease of alcoholism.  He is haunted by the spirits of the Overlook and blunts the memories with booze.  Drifting for decades, he finally lands in a small New Hampshire town, where he is accepted, given a job, and joins Alcoholics Anonymous.  Although it is still hard for him to avoid the 'siren song' of booze, he perseveres, thanks to the support of new-found friends. He gets a job at a hospice, where his 'shining' blooms anew, and he provides the crucial final comfort for those who are dying.  It is there that he earns the title 'Doctor Sleep'.

When he is contacted by a twelve year-old girl named Abra Stone, he learns that she has the brightest, strongest 'shining' talent he has ever encountered.  But the True Knot, a quasi-immortal band of RV travelers who live off the steam that children with the 'shining' produce when they are slowly tortured to death, discovers the talented Abra and are determined to find her.

They don't know about Dan.  But he knows more than enough about them.

'Doctor Sleep' is a totally satisfying read (and full of fantastic surprises), and while I was tempted to finish it in one sitting, I held back out of respect for the story. Chapter by chapter, page by page.  Slowly, but surely, I accompanied Dan and Abra until they finally met the epitome of evil:  Rose the Hat.  I get shivers down my back every time I see that name.  And so will you.

Thank you, Stephen, for a great sequel.  And if it is ever turned into a film, protect the story with all your might.  PLEASE have the right to choose the director.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

'The Harem Midwife'

Back in December 2011, I reviewed 'The Midwife of Venice', a book that I really enjoyed. Full of historical accuracy and great writing, I still think that reading groups will like it.

And I wanted a sequel.  I wanted to know what happened to Hannah and Isaac.

Now I know, and Roberta Rich's follow-up is just as good as her first book.

'The Harem Midwife' takes up where 'The Midwife of Venice' ends...  

Hannah and Isaac Levi have settled into a new life in Constantinople, where Isaac has a established a silk workshop, and Hannah is a midwife to the harem of Sultan Murat III. One night, Hannah is summoned to the palace, where she is confronted by the Sultan's newest 'acquisition'; a poor Jewish peasant girl.  Although the Sultan wants the girl for his next conquest, the girl wants to return home.  The Sultan's mother is determined that the girl take precedence over the Sultan's current favorite and produce the son they sorely need. Hannah finds herself thrust in the middle, wondering if she should risk her life to help the young girl...or lie to win the Sultan's favor.  And in the middle of it all, a beautiful woman knocks on Isaac and Hannah's door and turns their world upside-down.

Rich has really done her research, and it shows.  I learned so many things about the inner life of a harem, and many of the characters are historically accurate.  But it is Hannah and Levi who most interest me; will they survive the upheaval in their lives?  Will they lose their adopted son?

And will they ever have a child of their own?

Sensitively written, yet full of delicious tension and treachery, 'The Harem Midwife' was a thoroughly satisfying read.

But now, I'm anxious for the third....

'The Harem Midwife' will be published on February 25, 2014, by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.  It will be available at your favorite independent bookstore and local library.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

'The Museum of Extraordinary Things'

I know, I know...

It's been a while since I last posted a book recommend, and for that, I'm sorry.  But my job now includes listing items on Ebay, and that's been taking up a lot of my time.  I've also had to deal with two sick kitties, and that's no picnic in Book Hog's world.  

One of the cats has recovered and is back to his crazy little self.  But my best furry friend, Molly, is still having a difficult time.  

So, when a wonderful box of advance reading copies arrived at my door, I tore it open, squealed with delight, grabbed Molly, and together we cuddled and started reading Alice Hoffman's newest book, 'The Museum of Extraordinary Things'.

I've been a Hoffman fan for many years, and was absolutely stunned by her last novel, 'The Dovekeepers'.  Brilliant, well-paced, and tragic.  Gorgeous story penned by an author who has magic in her fingertips.

And that magic has once again brought us another wonderful story.

1911, the year of two tragic fires: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the Dreamland Amusement Park in Coney Island.  A year when anything was possible in the new century, even the proliferation of museums offering public viewings of 'freaks'.  Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario of 'The Museum of Extraordinary Things', and where she is a Mermaid in an exhibit, alongside performers like The Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred year-old turtle.  One night, after an evening swim in the Hudson River, Coralie stumbles upon Eddie Cohen, a handsome young man who is photographing moonlit trees in the nearby woods.  While one is a prisoner, the other chose freedom.  

Eddie has run away from his father's Lower East Side Orthodox community.  After taking on jobs of a criminal nature, he meets the man who will fire his love of photography. While photographing the devastation following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes involved in the mystery behind a young woman's disappearance.

It was not hard to get involved in a story that was at once horrific, yet hopeful.  And while I felt nothing but contempt for the callous villains (of which there were many), I felt heartbreak and remorse for the tragic situations of the innocents.  

The feel of the era was plump on every page.  Hoffman has an incredible power of observation and her research once again shines through.  It is an honest story and doesn't spare any details.  The story of Coralie and Eddie skip back and forth, each as hard-hitting as the next.

And, yes, there is magic of a sort.  The magic of love and tenderness in the midst of hard scrabble lives.  There is karma (oh, yes, there IS karma!).  There are second chances.  And there is a lot of heartbreak.

But it was Hoffman's attention to the so-called freaks that grabbed me.  She portrays them in a very real way; they had lives outside the exhibition cages.  They fell in love.  They exploited their differences in order to survive.  But, most of all, they were people.  I was prepared for all she wrote about these most impressive folks; I had seen the Todd Browning film, 'Freaks' long ago.  So while Coralie, a seemingly 'normal' girl, was a prisoner in her own home, the freaks left at the end of the season to lead the real lives they had kept on hiatus, despite the fact that most of them had to keep their appearances hidden to some extent.

Yes, there is magic in Alice Hoffman's fingertips.

I wouldn't expect anything less.  And neither would Molly.

'The Museum of Extraordinary Things' will be published in February 2014 by Scribner.  Book Hog gives this story a big 'thumbs up' for reading groups.