Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lighthouse Island by Paulette Jiles

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Paulette Jiles's Lighthouse Island.

In the future the city is everything and everything is the city. The old state and city names are gone as are the dates. The same goes for all of the resources. Water is scarce and most people are only allotted a small amount a day. To try to get more is a crime. 

Nadia is born into this world as Raisa but at the age of four she is abandoned. The city takes her in as an orphan renaming her Nadia Stepan - one of many Nadia Stepans apparently. Through it all, though, Nadia remembers her parents' last words to her, words that have led her to dream of the day they might once again be reunited. She's convinced that they are waiting for her and she believes she can find them at the legendary Lighthouse Island. 

There's something of a dreamlike feel to Paulette Jiles's prose in Lighthouse Island. Nadia is an orphan like many other orphans in literature. Her world is a disaster and her lot in life is worse than most as the story begins. She's abandoned, she goes blind for a short period of time, her name is changed, she's shifted around from one place to another. All the while she holds onto a dream of one day escaping to Lighthouse Island and being reunited with her parents.

Jiles, who I've only ever known for her historical fiction, builds a believable and nasty dystopian world in Lighthouse Island. It's the kind of world where your boss can have you seriously punished for the smallest infraction. Nadia is guilty of her own little rebellions, all of which result in demotions and eventually the possibility of arrest. Partway through the narrative those in charge begin turning over the idea of public executions to entertain the public.

There's a sarcasm to the story that's reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Definitely not to the extent of that of the movie, but something in Jiles's tone kept bringing me back to Gilliam's world. It was unexpected but also welcome, something I think works quite nicely to lighten the story just a tiny bit. Most of it comes through Nadia's lies, something she relies on to get by throughout the book.

I have to say, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into with Lighthouse Island. I love dystopian fiction and strong world building is always a must if the setting is to make sense. But in any story you want characters you can get behind and a plot that makes sense. I'd expect any writer worth their salt to be able to do these things regardless of the genre they're tackling but we all know sometimes it just doesn't work.

Jiles pulls it off magnificently! But the book works for me because I was able to really dive in and spend long stretches of time with the book. This is definitely one I'd recommend setting aside time for. Little nibbles of reading would never have gotten me through a book like this and likely would have left me frustrated with the story as a whole. (That dreamlike quality I mentioned above and the author's decision not to use quotation marks...)

Rating: 4.5/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors Who Take Up My Bookshelves

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: Authors we own the most books by. 

I've made a few exceptions - I'm not counting my R.L. Stine or Christopher Pike books. I'm also not including the massive stack of Anne Perry titles I inherited from my grandmother (I've not read ANY of either of her series as of yet).

1. Stephen King - 55 - This was always going to be the top one :)

2. Dean Koontz - 40 - I binge read Koontz one summer as a teen. I did continue reading him for some years after but haven't bought a new one in quite some time. 

3. Mary Higgins Clark - 31+ I do have some newer titles by Clark but haven't read her in quite a while. I had a massive collection of my own but have folded my grandmother's copies in now as well. 

4. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child - 17 + 5 Child & 3 Preston - you can't separate these two. Yeah, they do their own solo stuff and you can see I have some of those, but even barring those the cowritten titles take up a big chunk of my shelf. 

5. John Saul - 22 - I read most of these around the same time as the Koontz collection. 

6. Some ties at 23 books each - Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Douglas Clegg - I don't think I quite realized how large my Clegg collection is! I'm impressed with myself :) Sue Grafton and Janet E are pretty self explanatory - Grafton's up to "W" in her series and Janet E is up to 21 with the Stephanie Plum series. 

7. Faye Kellerman - 21 - her Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series caught my attention with Milk and Honey, which I read on my senior trip. I binged the majority of the series after that!

8. Harlan Coben - 20 - 'cause Coben rocks!

9. Another tie at 19 - Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine (14/5) and Michael Palmer - Vine/Rendell has a series and a number of standalones under her belt, all of which are perfect examples of sly British psychological suspense and masterful plotting. As for the Palmer, unfortunately his last book just came out this year. I loved his medical thrillers, though, and started reading them around the time the movie Extreme Measures was released. 

10. And tied with 18 books each - Robin Cook and Peter Robinson - Cook was part of my medical thriller obsession that started in the 90s. As for the Robinson, his newer titles caught my attention and then my grandmother offered up her whole backlist collection. Of course I wasn't going to say no!

The Home Place by Carrie La Seur

Hello, all! Today I'm kicking off the TLC book tour for Carrie La Seur's debut, The Home Place.

It's the kind of phone call no one ever wants to receive: Alma's sister, Vicky, is dead. It's been five years since Alma last saw Vicky. Five years since she was last home in Billings, Montana. Vicky's life hasn't been easy - the three siblings (Pete, Alma, and Vicky) - lost their parents when Vicky was just twelve. Pete was a military man with a drinking problem and Alma, at seventeen, couldn't handle taking care of the family. It fell to their aunt and uncle to raise Vicky. When she got pregnant at sixteen she left their home to live with her boyfriend and has struggled ever since. Drugs, alcohol, money problems... but when the police suggest her death might not be an accident after all, Alma begins to wonder what else Vicky might have gotten herself into after all this time. 

From the very beginning I have to say that Carrie La Seur evokes a very distinct and impressive sense of place. The people, their history and heritage, their lifestyles, all of this is laid out smoothly in Alma's narration. We learn early on about her family's ties to the land, how they got to Montana and what the home place means to them.

We also see the struggles these families face. Lots of drinking, worries about living off the land, coping with the changing times... Alma is at once admired and looked down on for leaving her family behind, breaking out of Montana and making a life for herself. Her own guilt is something that weighs heavy on her.

Much of the story is focused on Alma learning the truth about Vicky's death but this isn't really a mystery. Instead the mystery is an element in a larger story about family. The Home Place is a really fabulous book - an amazing debut, to be quite honest. La Seur writes with an assurance that's unusual for a first novel. This is definitely one I'd highly recommend - and one I'd suggest savoring rather than speeding through.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here

For more on Carrie La Seur you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco

For centuries, Okiku has traveled the world avenging the untimely deaths of children. Okiku is a spirit whose own death was both violent and untimely, but her anger and malevolence has waned and is now under her control. Rather than wreaking unseen havoc and terror, she has a focus and a goal; her vengeance means the release of the young souls she fights to redress. One afternoon, though, Okiku crosses path with a teenager who is still very much alive. His name is Tark and though he still walks among the living, there is something about him that Okiku cannot ignore. 

The Girl From the Well is told from the perspective of a ghost. Okiku's tale - the same ghost who inspired so much J Horror not so very long ago - is a very real ghost story in Japanese folklore. While I always suspected that, for some reason I never looked into it until now. Her story does feature as part of Chupeco's book, however, so I'll leave that for you to discover in the reading.

I liked the narrative style here. Okiku is very detached and unemotional until she meets Tark. Her actual narration evolves to reflect this, moving from very impersonal (referring to Tark and others simply as "the boy" and such) to more personal (Tark as Tark!). Her story is actually just a small part of the overall plot, too. Surprisingly the first third of the book features a kind of astounding amount of action causing me to pretty much barrel through the book in just a few hours. The pacing is quite fast but the introduction of so much intense action early on left me with an undeniable curiosity about where the book would go next. I don't think you could have pried the book from my hands until I was able to see it through to the end! Fortunately it's a bit on the short side and thankfully I didn't start it at midnight.

The Girl From the Well is creepy as all get out. I found it to be way darker than I would have expected for a teen read. Actually, if I'd come across this one as a teen I probably would have been thoroughly freaked and pleased as punch about it, too.

This is, in my opinion, quite an accomplished debut for Rin Chupeco. While not being an overall perfect read, any issues are easy to move past simply because of the unique aspects of the story. It's packed with Japanese folklore the likes of which I personally have never been exposed to before now. It's really fascinating and couched in the context of the book gives the story a depth that would otherwise be sorely missing. And apparently this isn't the last we'll see of Okiku. Chupeco's works in progress page lists a second title in the series as well!

The Girl From the Well actually hits shelves next Tuesday, August 5. If you're a horror fiend I definitely recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

New Releases 7/29/14

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The Home Place by Carrie La Seur

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

The Art of Adapting by Cassandra Dunn

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya

The Remaining by D.J. Molles

The Wolf by Lorenzo Carcaterra

Back Channel by Stephen L. Carter

This is the Water by Yannick Murphy

The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman

Skin of the Wolf by Sam Cabot (7/31)

Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little (7/31)

The Young World by Chris Weitz

Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

New on DVD:
The Other Woman

New reviews at
Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes

Friday, July 25, 2014

Happenings and Samplers

Morning, everyone! I tell you, this week has been nuts. Hubs was in San Diego - sadly not for SDCC, though if he'd been there without me there would've been a problem. His office also sprung a leak, which has hopefully been fixed now. That involved a whole bunch of book moving, cutting into the ceiling, and patching a pipe. And one of the kitties has to have a tooth pulled. Um, that part of the week has sucked the most. Force feeding a cat meds is an almost impossible chore. For mine, it involved tricking her each time a new dose was due. Tricking her in a different way, mind you, because she figured out the other tricks meant meds!

Anywho, I'm working on some reviews that'll have fun giveaways to go alongside them. Watch for those next week. In the meantime, I wanted to tell you about a few free samplers floating around.

First and foremost is the (drum roll!!!) Simon 451 sampler that's new out this month! Guys, I am super excited about the launch of this line and not only because Gillian Anderson makes her writing debut, but because Simon 451 looks to be releasing some really awesome first titles.

Their lineup (and the titles included in the sampler) are:

A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin
The Undying by Ethan Reid
Orbs by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
Orbs II: Stranded by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
The Protectors by Trey Dowell
Styx by Bavo Dhooge

The other two samplers I wanted to share with you today are both from Hachette. They've got a fiction sampler showcasing titles like the two recently Colbert featured titles, California by Edan Lepucki and Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark, Megan Abbott's The Fever, M.R. Carey's The Girl With all the Gifts and a ton of others. They've got a non fiction sampler, too, if that's more your style.

All three samplers are (ebooks) free.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Susan Spann's latest in her Shinobi Mysteries series, The Blade of the Samurai.

The shogun's cousin has been murdered in his office and Hiro and Father Mateo have been asked to investigate. They agree, reluctantly, but have hidden the fact that they are both already aware of the murder. In the wee hours of the morning, and just before the body is discovered, Hiro's fellow shinobi Kazu arrived at Father Mateo's residence begging for Hiro's help. The dead man had been murdered with Kazu's own blade! Kazu swore his innocence but Hiro isn't so certain - a shinobi like himself would be trained to lie after all. The shogun gives Hiro and Father Mateo just three days to find the killer. When those three days are up, someone will be punished for the crime whether they've been proven guilty or not. 

This second in Spann's series is my introduction to the story. And while that's mostly fine - the mystery stands alone - the character set up is something I've missed out on.

First, shinobi according to Spann's provided glossary means:

literally "shadowed person." Shinobi is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters that many Westerners pronounce "ninja." ("Ninja" is based on a Chinese pronunciation.)

Second, Hiro's (and Kazu's) real purpose in Kyoto is secret. No one knows they are shinobi. They are there under cover - Hiro is supposed to protect Father Mateo and does so under the guise of being his translator. I do imagine that much of this as well as the development of Hiro and Father Mateo's relationship plays a great part in the plot of Claws of the Cat. In this second outing, though, it's clear that Father Mateo knows Hiro is shinobi and that the two of them have developed a rapport and trust based around his skills and their shared secret. And yet Hiro doesn't know why he's been hired to protect Father Mateo in particular.

Spann spends a good amount of time setting the scene both culturally and historically in the book, but it is fluid and blends naturally into the story rather than sounding like a classroom lecture interspersed in the narrative. Sixteenth century Japan has some quite different rules about class, law, and respect. Most interesting, and a key part of the plot here, is the fact that if Hiro and Father Mateo fail in uncovering the murderer's identity to the shogun's satisfaction, they could actually be held responsible in the killer's stead! At the same time, there's a political based secondary plot that involves the arrival of a neighboring lord and a possible plot against the shogun.

I quite enjoyed my introduction to Hiro and Father Mateo. Spann's setting is unique and the overall tone is somewhat light. I really appreciated the fact that Spann was able to so smoothly incorporate the historical aspects, giving the reader a real understanding of Kyoto in the 1500s. Readers looking for something beyond the usual mystery fare will certainly find the Shinobi Mysteries appealing.

Rating: 4/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Susan Spann and her work, you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.