Tuesday, October 28, 2014

'The Silkworm'

I hate J.K. Rowling.

There.  I said it, and I mean it.  But I don't hate her in a mean way.  No, no.  I hate her with a great amount of love.  Confusing?  Sure.  It's a loveish-hateish thing.

I envy her her writing talent.  I appreciate the fact that while she could easily rest on her laurels, she instead keeps plugging away, submitting to her creativity.  And she loves children.  So much, in fact, that her foundation helps children get books into their hands. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

But I think I hate her most of all because I can't stay away from her books. I've read her 'Harry Potter' series more times than I can count.  And then she gave us her 'Cormoran Strike' series, mystery stories that completely drew me in.  Couldn't put the damn things down.

As I read the 'Cormoran' books, I couldn't help but notice that a few of her 'Harry Potter' characters emerged.  If I had written a cast of incredible characters, much beloved by all readers, I wouldn't be able to abandon them after I moved on.  In Cormoran, I sensed the presence of Hagrid.  And in Robin, I sensed Hermoine.  Harry and Ron haven't emerged yet, but it wouldn't surprise me if they do in the near future. Sorry, Jo, but that's the way I see it.

'The Silkworm', her new book, once again written under the pseudonym 'Robert Galbraith', was just as interesting, if not more, than her previous book, 'The Cuckoo's Calling'. This one permeates evil, with scenes that are quite unsettling.  Full of envy, lies, and deceit, I wanted to race through the story just to find out 'who did it'.  Of course, that's the point, and some readers can't help but read ahead, but Rowling's writing demands that we keep with the program and respect the story. 

It centers around the publishing world, a place in which Rowling is very familiar.    

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife, Leonora, asks P.I. Cormoran Strike to find him.  As Quine usually takes off for days at a time, Leonora needs him to come back home.

But as Strike soon discovers, there's more to Quine's disappearance than the usual holiday from home and family.  Quine has just finished a new novel that features poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows.  If the book is published, it will ruin lives, so there are many people who might want to silence him.

The characters are memorable, although their tangled relationships are a bit hard to sort out.  But it soon becomes clear just how they are tied together, and those relationships are at times bitter, and at times, sad.  Twists and turns abound, especially when you're sure you know 'who did it'.  

J.K. Rowling, a.k.a. 'Robert Galbraith'
But the relationship that I find most interesting is the one shared by Cormoran and his intrepid assistant, Robin.  We learn more about Robin's relationship with her fiance, Matthew, and how she finally stands up to him in support of her life choice.  She's a fierce one, our Robin, and I can't wait to see her grow into her chosen profession. Strike is still attracted to her, but realizes that he can't have her, nor does he even try. He respects and values her. And that is what really keeps me reading.  Sherlock and Watson.  Hagrid and Hermoine.

Yes, I hate J.K. Rowling.

But my love of her writing and respect for her passion for reading surpasses even that.  And she's continuing to give us gifts, even her short stories centered in the Harry Potter universe.  I appreciate the fact that she is growing and branching out into something new.

But sometimes, you can't abandon your previous work.  And I thank her for that.

'The Silkworm', published by Mulholland Books, a division of Little, Brown, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-316-20687-7

Saturday, October 25, 2014

'The Boy Who Drew Monsters'

For the past week or so, my coworkers have been discussing what they will be wearing on Halloween.  As I listened, I was filled with a certain amount of dread.  I'm not a 'costume girl', yet I didn't want to be the only one not dressed up for the occasion.  "Perhaps," I thought to myself as I munched on yet another mini-candy bar (our boss has been keeping our candy bowl filled to the max because, hey, it's almost Halloween), "I could get away with wearing a silly hat?"

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that with the rich and varied stories that have filled my brain over the years, I could easily pick-and-choose any character I want. I've been zeroing in on 'Harry Potter' (who hasn't?), and our thrift shop has literally tons of costume choices.  

As I ruminated over just what character I could portray, I began reading a book that I had just picked up from the library, one that was an excellent choice for a cold, dreary, rainy day; a book that suits this spooky season.

'The Boy Who Drew Monsters', written by the always-interesting Keith Donohue, went far-and-above what I initially expected. I loved his first novel, 'The Stolen Child', the tale of a child who was taken away and replaced by a changeling, one of a group of fairies living in a secret community deep in a forest near the boy's home.  It was written with great skill and kept me turning the pages.

But Donohue's newest story goes much deeper.  Although it is still as psychologically challenging as his debut novel, we have no secret community; no deep, magical forest. We are presented with real life, and it is terrifying.

Three years ago, young Jack Peter Keenan and his friend, Nick, nearly drowned in the ocean, and the experience left Jack terrified of leaving his home in a small coastal town in Maine. Instead, Jack draws monsters which take on a life of their own, and no one is safe from them. Jack's mother, Holly, begins to hear strange noises, and his father, Tim, sees images that appear to be real, yet disappear when he gets near them.  When Holly goes to a local priest for help, he and his housekeeper tell her stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. Nick is drawn into the eerie power of the drawings.  While those around Jack are haunted by the images they think they see, only he knows the truth of the terrors that lurk in the outside world.

The story drips with dreariness; cold, snow, darkness, terror, confusion.  It's contemporary setting takes you out of your 'comfort zone' and plops you right down into the mind of a confused, mentally-disabled ten-year old boy.  You become a partner with the parents who are confused and frightened.  But, most of all, you want to stand next to Nick and help him battle the demons that are haunting each and every character in this well-written story.

Author Keith Donohue

But the most brilliant touch of all is the ending, with a twist I did not see coming.  It placed the story well above the 'monsters-in-your-dreams' level.  It made me gasp and shiver.

It was perfect.

I'm still considering a costume, but I'm edging ever closer to a knight in shining armor, someone who would help children break out of the darkness and step into the light.

'The Boy Who Drew Monsters', published by Picador, a division of St. Martin's Press, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore. ISBN 976-1-250-05715-0

Thursday, October 16, 2014

'Windigo Island'

Within all of us is darkness and light; which one we let into our lives determines what type of human being we are, known only to ourselves. Everything influences our choice: Family, friends, experiences, school, jobs. But in order to choose wisely, we have to practice patience.

Patience is one of the major themes of William Kent Krueger's 'Windigo Island', the newest novel in his popular 'Cork O'Connor' series.  All of the O'Connor books carry the usual themes of family, loss, love and regret, but this new one goes much deeper and the theme is definitely darker.

I cannot say enough about this book, this book that begged for my patience. While I could have easily tried to finish it in one day, I read a bit at a time, wrapping myself in the darkness and growing angrier and angrier as I finished each chapter.

Anger did not come to me because of sloppy writing or thin characterizations; Krueger is a superb writer, a master at building suspense and investigating his characters' motives.  It was the other theme that pissed me off, and it will do that to you, as well.

Exploitation of teenage girls.  Doesn't the very thought of that make you angry?  It is darkness, peopled by characters who thrive in that realm.  Men who don't care about anything but themselves and the money they can make. Men who feel powerful without earning it in an honest, sincere way.  Men who lure young girls into their world with empty promises and then, abuse.  Then the girls are sold. Prostituted.  And they find themselves in a world of hurt and terror with no chance at escape.

When the body of a teenage Ojibwe girl washes up on the shore of an island in Lake Superior, the residents of the nearby Bad Bluff reservation whisper that it was the work of a deadly mythical beast, the Windigo, or a vengeful spirit called Michi Peshu.  The tales told don't explain how the girl and her friend, Mariah Arceneaux, disappeared a year ago.

At the request of Mariah's family, Cork O'Connor, a former sheriff turned private investigator, takes on the case.  Although most of the residents won't talk to him, he puts together enough information that leads him to Duluth, a modern-day center for sex trafficking of vulnerable young women, many of whom are young Native Americans.

As the danger deepens, Cork holds tight to his higher purpose, his vow to find Mariah. With the help of his daughter, Jenny, and some good friends (including the wise man, Henry), he prepares to walk into the darkness and find the person who is responsible for the endless tragedies.

Author William Kent Krueger
Krueger has a gift for portraying the O'Connor's as a close-knit family as he explores their every inner concern and love for each other.  He brings a great deal of sensitivity to this story (as he did with his Edgar Award-winning novel, 'Ordinary Grace'), yet doesn't skimp on the fact that one of them could be seduced by the darkness.  

Krueger's research runs deep, and although we are a somewhat jaded society, we are still stunned by what he's uncovered.

He respects Native American traditions and has embraced their values, and he uses his knowledge and empathy to great advantage.  He brings us into their world and we come out better people.  

I am grateful for that wonderful bit of light.

'Windigo Island', published by Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-1-4767-4923-5  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

'Paw and Order'

Most of you know by now that I'm a big fan of the the 'Chet and Bernie' series written by Spencer Quinn, a.k.a. 'Peter Abrahams'.  I've read a few of Abraham's other mystery books, and found them very interesting, but his 'Chet and Bernie' series really grabbed me. Perhaps it was because every book is narrated by Chet...a dog.  I still sincerely believe that Quinn must be part dog because he perfectly captures every nuance, every scratch, every snack desire (especially 'Slim Jims') that any dog would experience.

I just finished reading 'Paw and Order', the new book in the series, and although I rated it 4 stars on Goodreads, I still liked it.  But not as much as the others in the series.

Chet's natural setting is in the desert, the place where he feels most comfortable, where his best friend, Ziggy, lives, and where smart survival tactics have saved his and his favorite human's life. Chet is in a new environment, one very strange and very urban:  Washington, D.C., home of some terrifying (human) predators.

On the way back home from Louisiana, setting of their last case ('The Sound and the Furry'), Bernie has a desire to visit his girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, and up-and-coming journalist now living in Washington, D.C.  Suzie is working on a very secretive story, and when her source, a mysterious Brit with possible intelligence connections, ends up in the worst trouble possible, Bernie finds himself under arrest.

Author Spencer Quinn

In the meantime, Chet gets to know a powerful DC operative who may or may not have the goods on an ambitious politician.  And unknown to everyone but Chet, a red-eyed bird has captured his attention, and the curious canine tries desperately to alert Bernie to its existence.

This addition to the wonderful series seemed a bit 'off' to me, perhaps because I'm so used to the usual setting. But I love Chet so much and would forgive Mr. Quinn anything.

As long as this smart, sweet dog and his brave human friend exist, I'll still keep pestering Spence to continue writing about them.

But please take them back to the southwest.  I'm rather curious about that puppy...

'Paw and Order', the newest in the 'Chet and Bernie' series (written by Spencer Quinn), is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-1-4767-0339-8

Monday, October 6, 2014


It never fails:  I get a cold every year at the beginning of Autumn.  I did manage to get a day off in order to recover, and the only way I could feel better was to settle on the sofa, drink some hot tea...and read a book.  I was held captive.  The horror!

But it was worth it.  My book of choice was 'Jackaby', a new novel written by Oregon author William Ritter.

The flap notes state, "Doctor Who meets Sherlock...", but it was really more Sherlockian, with quite a bit of the paranormal added into the mix.  It doesn't have a TARDIS, but it does have a great companion.  Add a fun premise with serious undertones, and you'll spend your day forgetting all about a nasty cold and stuffy nose.

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England in 1892, Abigail Rook is in search of adventure...and a job.  Not long into her journey, she meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator with an eye for the paranormal. Although Jackaby is a bit hesitant to employ Abigail, she proves her worth with her common sense and eye for detail.  On her first day, she finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case:  A serial killer is on the loose. The police, with the exception of handsome junior detective Charlie Cane, are convinced that their killer is an ordinary person, but Jackaby knows better.  Jackaby is certain that the killings are the work of an inhuman being, and despite the fact that the police stall him at almost every turn, he and Abigail are determined to bring the creature to justice.

Although I figured out 'who (or what) did it' early on, I still kept reading. Ritter's unusual and well-written story begged me to continue.  And I couldn't disappoint him.

The book is geared toward young adults, but adults will enjoy it just as much. It takes skill to write memorable characters and place them in strange situations, and Ritter has the gift. In fact, his description of Jackaby placed Benedict Cumberbatch firmly in my mind.  

Author William Ritter

Although I constantly scream at the BBC to bring us new episodes of 'Sherlock', at least I'm happy that William Ritter has given us the next best thing.

My foot is tapping, Mr. Ritter.  I hope that sequel arrives very soon!

A woman with a cold is a very, very dangerous creature.

'Jackaby', written by Oregon author William Ritter, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-1-61620-353-5