Sunday, April 26, 2015


If I could, I'd read ghost stories every day.   

Every.  Damn.  Day.

Especially if it's a good one.  Not too scary, yet not absolutely terror-free.  

And it has to have a gothic flavor, even in a modern setting.  A twist ending is nice, too, but I'm asking for a lot as it is.

My fellow book blogger friend (and artist, I might add), Michelle, loaned me a copy of Lauren Oliver's new adult novel, 'Rooms', and I couldn't put it down.  

It wasn't a 'chilling' story, but it did have some suspenseful moments.  The ghosts weren't supernatural terrors (I rather missed that element); they were situated in a home in which they once lived and died.  They were stuck, with no way out.  Both ghosts were very introspective, and their histories made them somewhat tragic figures.

Estranged patriarch Richard Walker has died, leaving behind a country house with many rooms filled with the detritus of a lifetime.  His alienated family--hard drinking, bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna--have arrived for their inheritance.

But they are not alone.  Alice and Sandra, two long-dead and restless ghosts, linger within the house's claustrophobic walls, bound forever to the structure. They observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscing about their past lives.

The living and the dead are haunted by painful truths that surface with explosive force. But when a new ghost appears and Trenton begins to communicate with it, the spirit and human worlds collide.

Author Lauren Oliver
Oliver is the author of Young Adult and Independent Reader novels (the 'Delirium' trilogy, and 'Liesl & Po', to name a few), and she has a talent for fleshing out characters that could easily be one-dimensional.  Despite their little faults (and nasty habit of keeping secrets from one another), I felt sympathy for each one. Caroline with her drinking, Trenton with his lack of friends, and Minna with her need for constant sexual intimacy. They are all seeking a way to escape, yet, at the same time, craving a sense of family.  The only character that's free of baggage is Amy, Minna's little daughter.  If given the chance, she would have provided great comic relief, something that the story really needed.  

We can't have everything, can we?  It isn't scary.  It didn't make me want to hide under the covers.

But it was a well-written, interesting story.  It flowed, and, as I said before, I honestly couldn't put it down; I was very upset that my coffee breaks only lasted fifteen minutes.

I will keep an eye on Oliver and see what she does next.  She has potential.

A great deal of potential.

'Rooms', written by Lauren Oliver, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-06-222319-7

Sunday, April 19, 2015

'The Incarnations'

It seems that the older I get, the longer my illnesses last.  Well, at least it feels that way.

I've had a horrible cold for almost a week, and it is just now tapering off.  I still have a scratchy throat and a ton of mucus, but the worst thing of all is that I can't taste anything. Or smell anything.  No chocolate.  No potatoes or chicken. No beer/wine.  No anything.  I feel no joy in eating just enough to keep my engine running.

At least I still have books.   

There are gifted authors who make me think about my past and past pasts in a way that doesn't contain a new age vibe.  I believe in reincarnation and it's evil stepchild, karma, so that's why Susan Barker's newest novel, 'The Incarnations', hit the spot and made me forget all about my big, bad, nasty cold.

The first letter falls into Driver Wang's lap as he flips down the visor in his taxi on Worker's Stadium road in Beijing, a polluted, congested city preparing for the 2008 Olympics.

Who are you? you must be wondering. I am your soulmate, your old friend, and I have come back to this city of sixteen million in search of you.

More letters follow, telling Wang more stories about his previous lives with this past soulmate.  Driver Wang suspects that someone is watching him, and with each letter, he feels the watcher grow ever closer.

I was spellbound from the very first page.  Who is this mysterious 'watcher'? And why is this person suddenly making an appearance in Wang's life?  I never guessed the answer; never came close.  And that's why this story is so, so satisfying.

Barker's powerful voice pulls you into present-day Beijing, and across pivotal points of Chinese history.  It is brutal and heartbreaking and each letter evokes a time of utmost desperation.  

Author Susan Barker
As for her characters, there's a thin line between love and hate.  Wang's father is a brutal, domineering man who has a pathetic karma.  And his second wife is not the easiest character to like, although I found her refreshing, to some extent.  Wang's wife and daughter suffer the pangs of living near the edge of poverty.  You fear for this little family, but, most of all, you fear for the emotional health of Wang, a man stalked by someone he thinks he knows.

It is a story full of love and longing, hatred and revenge.  

This is a novel that is very hard to set down...  

...and hard to forget.

'The Incarnations', by Susan Barker, will be published by Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster, in August 2015.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August'

Time travel books suck me in.  

Sure, they are hard to follow at first (as in 'The Time Traveler's Wife'), but once you get with the program (and make a diagram; I've done it, so don't laugh!), the rest of the story is easy to understand.

And so it was with 'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August', by Claire North (a pseudonym!  It was really written by Catherine Webb!  Pseudonyms, like bow ties, are cool).

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry August always returns to where he began--a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before.  Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside and says, "I nearly missed you, Doctor August!  I need to send a message!"

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

As I started reading this story, I have to admit that I wasn't sure I wanted to write a review about it.  I honestly couldn't follow it well enough to form an honest opinion.  Harry's back story is a real bear, and you have to relive it several times.  

But things changed about halfway through it.  When the antagonist is introduced, the story takes off and you almost cheer Harry as he dies again and again, hoping to stay ahead of his enemy and vanquish him.

The writing is gorgeous, and very clever.  Very literary, actually.  You can almost taste every era, and you so want to embrace those who share a place in the Chronos Club.

But the antagonist is clever; just when you think he will finally show his basic decency, he fails us and Harry.

If you read this, please stay with it.  As I've said, it takes a while to 'get into it', but it's well worth the effort.  Claire North, a.k.a. Catherine Webb, is such a fine writer, and very dedicated to her craft.  Books like this are rare.

Give it a try.  Give it a chance.  You'll be so pissed off, but very rewarded.

'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August', by Claire North, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore. ISBN 9780316399616