Few filmmakers capture the beauty and heartbreak of unrequited love like Wong Kar-wai. His innovative, emotionally charged films feature themes of longing, love, loneliness, and the nature of time and memory. These themes figure prominently in one of his best films, In the Mood for Love.
Set in 1962 Hong Kong, the film opens with new tenants moving into a crowded and lively apartment building. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) is a journalist and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) is a secretary at a shipping company. Both are married, but they are frequently left alone since their spouses work late or travel for business. Aside from their introduction when they moved into the building, their initial encounters are polite but fleeting.
While Chow and Su seem to have happy and stable marriages, they secretly suspect their spouses of infidelity. Eventually, Chow and Su determine that their spouses are having an affair with each other. Hurt and saddened by this discovery, they meet to discuss the affair. What begins as a clandestine meeting between betrayed spouses soon blossoms into friendship as Chow and Su discover a mutual love of martial arts serials. They begin collaborating on stories, but their friendship becomes the subject of gossip among their neighbors. Chow and Su do not want to be like their cheating spouses, so they keep their friendship strictly platonic; however, as time passes they slowly begin to realize their feelings run far deeper than friendship.
A lot of the action takes place off-screen, which shifts the narrative focus to the main characters’ reactions to the affair. Chow and Su’s spouses are only heard in a few brief scenes and have no scenes together, leaving Chow and Su to reconstruct the affair from a few scattered clues and how they imagined their spouses initiated the affair. These scenes are especially well-acted by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, whose performances capture the repressed longing under their characters’ desire to maintain propriety. Chow and Su rarely touch and maintain a discreet distance when they’re in public, but their connection is intensely romantic.
The film is visually stunning with a soundtrack that complements the movie’s themes and the relationship between Chow and Su. The colors pop with intensity, from the deep red of a curtain blowing in an empty room to the blues and greens of Su’s elegant cheongsams. The memorable soundtrack features classic songs from Nat King Cole and contributions from composers Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi.
Elegantly structured and beautifully filmed, In the Mood for Love is an emotionally resonant story of two lonely people discovering an unexpected connection.
In the Mood for Love is in Cantonese and Shanghainese with English subtitles.
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Recommended to me by a children’s librarian who was making a display of children’s books that adults love to read, this little book provided some unexpected moments of grace in a grumpy day.
Prolific Newbery award-winning author Cynthia Rylant has produced a book that all ages could find quirky, thought-provoking and beguiling. It may not be for everyone, since the basic premise is that God is visiting earth in various everyday situations to see what living on earth is like. Written in verse, it includes some startling moments such as when God opens a shop called “Nails by Jim,” an idea I find surprising, but oddly beautiful:
“He got into nails, of course,
Because He’d always loved
Hands were some of the best things
He’d ever done”
God Got a Dog portrays God personally with human failings and doubts:
“He knew He WAS
but he didn’t
always feel that way. Not every day).”
Like Cynthia Rylant’s other books it is idiosyncratic, unconventional and gently effervescent, and made me look at the world in a slightly different way. Reading it was a small break from the day.
These poems were previously published as part of a longer teen book called God Went to Beauty School. To appeal to a younger audience, in God Got a Dog each poem has a lovely, calm and muted illustration, with a wide viewpoint that gives a sense of large scale.
God Got a Dog will suit adult readers who are interested in children’s books and it will also appeal to anyone who is eager to explore quirky ideas about religion.
Check the WRL catalog for God Got a Dog.
Philippe Tardieu (Benoît Magimel) lives in a small French city with his mother, Christine (Aurore Clément), and younger sisters, Sophie (Solène Bouton) and Patricia (Anna Mihalcea). He’s begun a promising career as a contractor and frequently offers support and advice to his family.
As the film opens, the family is in a period of transition: Sophie is engaged and Christine is dating Gérard Courtois (Bernard Le Coq), a recently divorced businessman. Eager to make a good impression, Christine invites her children to dinner at Gérard’s home and gives him an unusual present from the family’s garden – a bust of the Roman goddess Flora. The dinner goes well, but Gérard abruptly moves away, leaving behind the statue and a heartbroken Christine. Shortly after Gérard’s departure, Philippe, who never wanted to part with the statue, returns to his house to retrieve Flora.
At Sophie’s wedding, Philippe meets bridesmaid Stéphanie “Senta” Bellange (Laura Smet). Although they exchange little more than pleasantries during the ceremony, Senta follows Philippe home, where she declares her love for him and tells him that he’s her destiny. Beguiled by her intensity and her uncanny resemblance to Flora, Philippe begins an intense and passionate affair with the mysterious Senta.
In the days that follow, Philippe gets an intriguing, and occasionally unsettling, glimpse into his new girlfriend’s eccentric world. She claims to be a theatrically trained actress who’s worked in film, but Philippe is unable find a single play on her bookshelf. Her family owns an elegant mansion yet she prefers to live in the basement. She lavishes him with love and attention but she’s possessive and has a quick temper.
Senta also has a macabre fascination with death; as their relationship deepens, she suggests that they prove their love by killing a stranger. Philippe is initially horrified at the request and believes she would never actually kill someone to prove her love for him. Nevertheless, he brings her a newspaper article about an unsolved murder and tells her he’s the killer, hoping this will satisfy her. When Senta follows with a detailed account of a murder she’s committed, Philippe begins to wonder if his girlfriend is simply acting out a morbid fantasy or if she’s really a killer.
In The Bridesmaid, Phillipe and Senta’s desires and the compulsions that drive them are key elements of the plot and Chabrol teases them out slowly and methodically. The film moves at a deliberately unhurried pace, with much of the action taking place off-screen. This is a clever way of highlighting the ambiguous nature of Senta and her possible crimes; she’s eccentric and tells Philippe a number of outrageous stories, but is she a cold-blooded killer? The leads are well-cast. Benoît Magimel brings charm and sincerity to the role of Philippe while Laura Smet’s cool intensity hints at the darkness that lies underneath Senta’s declarations of love for Philippe.
The Bridesmaid was Chabrol’s second film version of a Rendell novel. In 1995, he released La Cérémonie, a chilling adaptation of her mystery A Judgment in Stone (1977). Although The Bridesmaid is a bit more understated than La Cérémonie, it is an equally effective adaptation of Rendell’s work.
The Bridesmaid is in French with English subtitles.
Check the WRL catalog for The Bridesmaid
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t long for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle: record company execs throwing cash at you, the weeks on the road, the camaraderie formed under the pressure of creativity, the worshipful fans throwing onesies onto the stage. Wait a minute—onesies?
Yep. And that’s what the Wonderkids face on their climb to the top of the charts. Fronted by Blake Lear (his stage name), Wonderkids ride his mix of poppy music and bizarre lyrics to million-selling albums, memorabilia, and fans, fans, fans. Billed as “your kid’s first rock band,” the music appeals to—or at least doesn’t drive mad—the parents, and the lyrics, which are based on Lewis Carroll’s imagery, William Blake’s innocence, and Edward Lear’s whimsy, grab childrens’ attention.
Raffi’s sincere goody-two-shoeism is not yet on the scene and parents are tired of “Octopus’s Garden” and “Yellow Submarine,” so when a record company executive’s 5-year-old son picks a demo at random and listens to it over and over again on a long drive, Dad knows he’s on to something. From a basement practice band and menial jobs, the newly-minted Wonderkids is on the road in England and soon to the United States.
Wonderkids’ real appeal is the live show, especially since Blake is happy to sit with every kid for pictures, tell jokes, talk with parents and give each person a real personal experience. It also sells tons of t-shirts and other memorabilia, which is where the Wonderkid of the title comes in. Sweet is a young teen in a foster home when he and Blake meet. Before long, he becomes the guy who takes money for the swag and keeps an eye on the promoter. Tour life is his chance to make the transition from childhood to adulthood, which he does under the tutelage of a bizarre mix of characters. When the band heads for the U.S., Sweet becomes our eyewitness to Wonderkids’ spectacular rise and the excesses it leads to.
Any band aimed at the children’s audience had better be squeaky clean. When those excesses (some of which aren’t even excessive) start to catch up to them, things go sour. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, the band splits, but its life doesn’t end. Which makes the last portion of the story both poignant and whimsical as anything Blake Lear ever wrote.
Check the WRL catalog for Wonderkid.
I just closed Descent and can still feel those symptoms of adrenaline: heart racing, shallow breathing, butterflies in my stomach, eyes and ears hyperalert, muscles twitching and ready for fight or flight. Of course, it could be the two pieces of birthday cake I had for dinner, but I’m convinced it’s Tim Johnston’s storytelling.
The best part is that Johnston manages to pull off two good books at the same time – an intense psychological thriller and an emotionally resonant story about the family that’s left behind when one of its members goes missing.
Caitlin Courtland is a tough competitor, a runner who demands everything of herself; her younger brother Sean is pudgy and shy, overlooked by his peers and her friends. Their parents have lived through personal trauma, undergone difficulties in their marriage, and are returning to a sense of normalcy. The family is on that last golden trip before Caitlin goes to college on a track scholarship. Then Caitlin, trailed by Sean on a bike, goes for a run; the next thing any of them know, Sean is in the hospital, leg shattered and in shock, and Caitlin is gone.
Over the course of the next two years, the Courtland family breaks apart. Sean leaves home in his dad’s truck, traveling the road, taking menial jobs for gas money, and encountering the dark underside of the American character. Angela, the mother, goes back to their home in Wisconsin but is devastated by the loss of her child and the ongoing uncertainty of her fate. Grant, the father, stays on in the little town near Caitlin’s kidnapping in some vain hope that she’ll know he’s close by. He also begins forming tentative relationships–and definite enmities–with people in the community.
We learn in small pieces what became of Caitlin, and what it cost her to save Sean’s life. We also come to admire just how tough she is, and what she could have become had a strange man not come hurtling into her life. But hers is not a happy story, and as the book approaches its ending we see just what kind of person she is.
Johnston uses the story to address not only family issues (and of families other than the Courtlands), but also of the blend of good and bad that exists in (nearly) everyone. That same kind of blending propels Descent to a powerful and emotionally affecting end.
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Dara and Nick seem like pretty typical sisters. They love each other; they hate each other. They are jealous of each other; they protect each other. Anyone who has a sister (or three, like me!) could relate to a lot of the family dynamics. Toss in the extra pressure from high school–the gossips, the parties, the hookups–and Nick finds the relationship with her sister to be especially challenging.
The story is told in terms of “before” and “after.” Before is anything that happened with Dara and Nick prior to a major car accident. Dara was popular, a little wild, a little out of control. Nick was the good girl, studious, quiet, and competent in picking up the pieces after Dara drank too much or got hurt in a relationship.
After, of course, is what happened after the accident.
Oliver weaves the Before and After parts together to reveal some surprising truths about their relationship with each other and with their best friend, Parker. I don’t want to reveal too much because one of the things I loved about the book was the unexpected plot twist.
Check the WRL catalog for Vanishing Girls
Stewart O’Nan is quite simply one of the best authors writing today. His quiet prose captures ordinary feelings and lifts them up in a light that shows them to be both specific to his characters and universal to the reader.
West of Sunset could be a departure for him; it’s an exploration of the final years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life at a time when this icon of American literature had not yet attained the immortality that came with his creation of Jay Gatsby. (In fact, he was better known for Tender is the Night–and for his outsized lifestyle–than the work most people remember him by.) Brought down by his drinking and reputation he has fallen so far that he is relying on the charitable intervention of Hollywood friends to earn a living. At the same time, his wife Zelda is institutionalized in a North Carolina sanitarium, where her youthful free spirit has metastasized into destructive mental illness. Between the cost of her treatment, their daughter Scottie’s high class Eastern education, and his own profligate ways, Fitzgerald is consumed by worries about money.
There are bright spots in his life: his friendship with Humphrey Bogart (based on a mutual love of drinking and literature–surprise!), his friends Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, and a love affair with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. But his working life, although it paid more than he was ever to earn from his books, was less rewarding.
O’Nan takes this period and delves into the frustration and pain of a man faced with more troubles than he can surmount. Far from being sheltered by his status (and by an income that exceeded that of nearly all Americans at the time), he knows he is as close to ruin as any Depression-era assembly-line working stiff. But he also finds respite in his own work, and in his desire to be the man Sheilah wants him to be. In essence, O’Nan is still attracted to those ordinary feelings, and with West of Sunset he once again lifts them up to us through the life of a very public man.
Find West of Sunset in the WRL catalog
I wrote about the Western Into the Savage Country, which explores the idea of a man going West to prove himself worthy of his father and of a woman he wanted. Today’s book, Crossing Purgatory, explores a different reason for a man to go West: to escape a ruined life back East. It’s also set later in the 19th century, during a time when immigrants, would-be traders, and farmers seeking tracts of their own land set out into dangerous territory with little idea what to expect.
Thompson Grey is a successful farmer in the dark and deep soil of Indiana, but without the capital to expand his holdings. Returning from a trip to raise funds, he discovers that a tragedy has taken his entire family. Grey blames himself, and goes into exile. Along the trail and at the place he breaks his journey, he constantly drives himself with physical labor to blot out his terrible memories.
Almost by accident he attaches himself to a small party, each member of which has suffered tragedy or thwarted hope. Grey holds himself apart, but still becomes an accidental pillar of a group of homesteaders. Through his encounters we come to see the arbitrary nature of death, and the consequences of failure in the early West.
Although the Purgatory is a real river and a significant setting of the story, the river itself is only a stand-in for the searing examination of one man’s conscience and the torments he inflicts upon himself out of guilt. As we accompany Grey on his desperate journey of expiation, we come to hope that his self-loathing will give way to some form of acceptance and peace. But Gary Schanbacher’s storytelling and characters make that journey a difficult and ultimately rewarding one for us.
Check the WRL catalog for Crossing Purgatory
Ah, jeez – as with so much else we know, it ain’t so. If Horace Greeley ever said, “Go West, young man,” it was in the context of quoting someone else who said, “Go West, young man,” and that may even have been an attempt to create a Greeley-sounding quote. Whatever the case, for some it was advice many young men had already taken on their own. Among them were the trappers and traders who pushed into the Rocky Mountains to forge relationships or fight with the Native Americans over the lucrative fur business.
In 1820, William Wyeth is determined that he is going to make his fortune in the West and prove to his father that he is a man of worth. He signs on with a trapping company in the frontier town of Saint Louis and heads out under the guidance of an experienced captain. Thus begins his adventure, and it is a wild one.
Wyeth is also coming up against the consequences of the fur trade. The companies he works for are pushing the boundaries of American influence against the settled Spanish and the British and French trappers who have long considered the West theirs for exploitation. With each tense encounter, the possible causes of war increase, and some of Wyeth’s companions would not necessarily mind the consequences. And the success of the trade means that more trappers and traders want to get in on it, so resources are disappearing even as conflicts are building.
Burke takes the tropes of the American Western and turns them into a literary jewel. His beautiful depictions of the landscape, exciting details of hunting, trapping, racing, and close observations of both the white men and the natives he encounters become opportunities for Wyeth’s self-examination on the meaning of manhood. There’s also a satisfying love story, a complex antagonist who helps Wyeth determine his own course, and men who open Wyeth’s eyes to the complexity of the native cultures. Into the Savage Country offers an old-fashioned Western feel and a wonderful coming of age story.
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Most of us run a little wild at times as teenagers, but Joshua Gaylord’s When We Were Animals takes us to a town where this idea is not just a figure of speech but a literal truth: the teenagers, for a time that varies for each, but usually just a year or so, spend a few nights each month running naked and wild through the streets of their small town and surrounding countryside. They commit acts of sex and violence, following primal urges while adults and young children stay inside and keep the secret from the outside world.
Our heroine is Lumen Fowler, who recalls her youth from the vantage of middle age. As a girl, Lumen was a devoted daddy’s girl and late bloomer, well-behaved, fiercely intelligent, and overachieving, she was determined not to “breach” as other teens in her town did. She’s surrounded by a believable cast of other teens who one-by-one give into the strange call–a best friend who turns into a rival, a “mean girl” type who tries to dominate the other, a charmer of a boy who all the girls have crushes on, and a rough poor kid whose raw behavior frightens them all. Through it all, Lumen stays determined to follow in the footsteps of her deceased mother, who Lumen has been told never succumbed to the wild behavior.
This blend of Gothic horror and coming-of-age story can be enjoyed on the literal level of its exciting story or as an extended metaphor about the teenage years and the pull of darker instincts. The tone is haunting, but beautiful, and the sympathetic heroine as luminous as her name suggests. One can see the direction where the story is going, but it doesn’t make the conclusion any less powerful.
If you enjoy this as much as I did, Gaylord has written other books under the pseudonym Alden Bell, most notably The Reapers Are the Angels.
Check the WRL catalog for When We Were Animals.
In south and east Asia in the nineteenth century, opium was everything, not just a drug that had a social impact on society, but the basis of a large economy and the source of fortune for colonial empire builders. That’s the world where Amitav Ghosh sets his epic historical trilogy that begins with Sea of Poppies.
One has to enjoy being immersed in a new and complicated setting to enjoy these books. As the story opens, we quickly meet many characters: a young wife whose ex-soldier husband is so addicted that he can no longer work his job in the opium factory, their low-caste neighbor who is a gigantic ox-cart driver, a mulatto American seaman making a surprising rise in the world, an orphaned Frenchwoman, a somewhat pampered raja whose riches and position have become precarious, and many others. As these characters come from many social levels, ethnic backgrounds, and occupations, even their language is a riot of different styles, jargon, and levels of formality. It’s a rich story that engages all of the senses and hurls the readers headlong into a very different time and place.
My advice? Enjoy the swim. Use the glossary to solve your worst confusions and let the novel flow forward. It eventually coalesces, as all of our major characters find their way to the Ibis, a ship crossing the sea to China where some go as criminals, some as coolie workers, and others as soldiers to fight in the Opium Wars. On the ship, their stories come together into a more central strand. Ghosh has begun a masterwork, an epic tale about an epic subject that most readers won’t find familiar, featuring character types they haven’t before encountered. It works because it is an involving story and its hard not to sympathize with the plights of the characters. The language is lush and finishes the trick: transporting the reader successfully away.
Check the WRL catalog for Sea of Poppies
Or try it as an audiobook on compact disc
What if you had worked your whole life, based on the hope of a better world for your children, and then discovered that the better world already existed, and that you weren’t allowed in? And what if that better world was built on the captive labor of you and thousands of others like you?
That’s the premise of Red Rising, the first novel in a trilogy by debut author Pierce Brown. Young Darrow, a member of a social class called the Reds, has toiled for his entire life on the bleak interior of Mars, mining raw materials that are to be used to terraform the surface someday. But after a string of events that turn his life upside down (I don’t want to give away too many plot points), he is brought to the surface and discovers that the terraforming is already done, and that the Golds, the top class in a society where different colors have different places, live there in godlike luxury.
The trouble is that the Golds also have godlike bodies and minds, leaving the rest of society without the tools to revolt against them. But the Sons of Ares, the secret organization that has brought Darrow to the surface, have the surgical skills to build him into someone who can pass as a Gold. Darrow is to infiltrate the company of other young Golds and try to rise to a powerful position in their society, a position from which he might be able to foment a civil war. To reach that point, Darrow will have to compete in a contest of savage war games with shifting rules between houses of young Golds, many of them with almost godlike physical and mental powers.
This is science fiction, but it reads like epic fantasy. If you’ve been looking for a book that blended the worlds of The Hunger Games and an epic fantasy like Game of Thrones, you’ll love it. Brown builds his world in a way that seems effortless but is completely satisfying. His characters are diverse and intriguing. Unlike many epic works, the story here takes off quickly, and readers will be pleased to find that they don’t have to wade through hundreds of pages before they start getting the payoff. Best of all, whenever it starts to look like the story will get predictable, Brown finds a major twist to raise the stakes for Darrow. One warning, Brown has created a violent world, and if you don’t care for that, make another reading choice.
I’ve finished the second book of the series, Golden Son, and it’s every bit as exciting as the first. I’m not always quick to read series, but I’ll be in the line when they release Morning Star in 2016.
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The news is full of stories about cybercrime, but how does it really work, and who are the thieves turning online information into ill-gotten gains? It’s a complicated matter, and difficult to explain in terms that those without a technical background can understand, but in Kingpin, Poulsen not only succeeds in telling the story, but he manages to make keyboard crime exciting as well.
This is the story of Max “Vision” Butler, a Montana native whose hot head and illegal computer skills landed him in trouble early. He recovered and found some success working for Internet startup companies, offering his skills as a “white hat,” a hacker who discovered the loopholes exploited by criminals and made them public. In doing so, he secretly played both sides of the law, and eventually landed in trouble.
In prison he met people who could turn stolen credit card numbers and other information into hard goods, and upon release they joined forces, with Max doing the hacking. His skills grow, and eventually he is outmaneuvering other “carders,” taking over the bulletin boards where they do business, and exposing both rival criminals to law enforcement and law enforcement moles to the criminals when it suits his needs.
Poulsen tells the story of Butler’s rise and fall well, eventually detailing how a sometimes lucky, sometimes intrepid FBI brought him to justice. I left this book with a sense of surprise at how disorganized this area of “organized” crime is, or at least how chaotic it was in the years described. It makes one shudder to think at what we might be in for as these criminals become more disciplined or when their turf battles become more violent. If you have even a basic understanding of how the Internet works, you should be able to follow Poulsen’s suspenseful story to your own interesting conclusions.
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The assassination of the Romanovs is re-worked into an exciting period thriller in this series opener by Sam Eastland. The Eye of the Red Tsar is both the title of the book and the nickname for the lead character, a Finn named Pekkala. The novel opens in 1929, eleven years after the death of the Tsar. Pekkala, once Nicholas II’s right-hand man in matters of secrecy and security, has been held in a work camp, kept available to Stalin should the right opportunity present itself. As the book opens, it has: New evidence about that night has come up, and only Pekkala has the inside information to confirm or deny it.
To complicate matters, the man sent to fetch Pekkala from imprisonment is his own estranged brother, a ne’er-do-well now risen in the Soviet bureaucracy. With great reluctance Pekkala is lured to the case, partly by curiosity, partly through the possibility that one of the Romanovs may have survived. But is he just being used to lead Stalin to the Tsar’s never recovered treasure?
It’s a fascinating premise, and Eastland re-creates the atmosphere of the early Stalinist period believably. He alternates between a journey across a strange Russian landscape (one of my favorite bits involved a show town, built to show off the successes of socialism to visitors) and flashbacks to the story of how Pekkala fell out with his brother, came to Tsar Nicholas II’s attention, and then followed him until the fateful night.
Eastland has continued his series through five books to date, following Pekkala’s charmed but difficult life up to WWII times so far. It’s a consistently enjoyable exploration of a time and place in history where one didn’t have to look far for suspenseful twists of fate.
Check the WRL catalog for Eye of the Red Tsar
Or try it as an audiobook on CD
Charlaine Harris is the author of several popular adult fiction series (Sookie Stackhouse, Aurora Teagarden, and the recent Midnight, Texas series). In this adult graphic novel, Cemetery Girl, she teams up with author Christopher Golden, who has written both adult and teen fiction (Secret Journeys of Jack London), and illustrator Don Kramer, who is known for numerous projects at Marvel and DC Comics. The team has created an engaging and dark story about a girl who calls herself Calexa Rose Dunhill.
The story opens with the girl being dumped in the cemetery — presumed dead. When she wakes up a few panels later, she only has fragmented memories of her previous life. It is enough for her to realize someone wanted her dead. She is scared to call the police or even leave the cemetery because she doesn’t know who was after her or why.
While she’s working out how to find food and stay safe, she witnesses a group of young people performing a black magic ritual in the cemetery. In their efforts to bring a friend back from the dead, they kill the friend’s sister as a blood offering. Calexa has to figure out how to tell the girl’s family what happened without putting herself in danger.
The plot moves quickly and is well-illustrated to add a sense of danger to the story. I particularly enjoyed the disjointed images from Calexa’s memories. There is a frustration in not having everything clearly seen that made me feel connected to what Calexa must be feeling.
This is the first in a trilogy. Looks like Book 2 will be available in October 2015. I can’t wait!
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Violet Ambrose has been hearing sounds, or seeing colors, or smelling smells that others can’t for as long as she can remember. She calls them “echoes,” and they come from dead things. Vi’s cat, Carl, helped her figure out that the echo is a unique signature of the thing that died. That same echo clings to the one that did the killing. Poor Carl got kicked out of the house many times because Vi couldn’t stand the smell attached to the cat after it killed a mouse or a bird.
Violet, for the most part, has become used to the extra sensory information. There was only one time, when she was younger, that the echoes compelled her seek out the source and she found the remains of a young girl. That changes when a serial killer appears to be hunting in her hometown and Violet finds the hidden remains of another teenager. She decides to test her abilities to identify the killer — which puts her in danger.
If that’s not enough to complicate a teen’s life, Vi has suddenly noticed her best friend, Jay, in a new way. The awareness speeds up her heart rate and makes her stomach do flips. She’s not sure what changed over the summer, but it’s hard now to just be casual best friends. It’s also tough because other girls have noticed him, too.
The “real life” aspect of school, friendships, first love, and family provide an appealing contrast to Violet’s special abilities. She’s a normal teen with normal problems, who also senses echoes of dead people. Part of the story is told through the point of view of the killer, which is appropriately creepy, particularly as Violet gets closer to uncovering his identity.
This is the first in the Body Finders series.
Check the WRL catalog for The Body Finder
I picked up this Young Adult book for the new themed book discussion we have going at the library. April’s topic was Elizabethan England. The English invasion of Ireland, and Ireland’s support by Spain provide important plot points for the book.
Maeve is the daughter of a fisherman. One night while walking home, she sees a lady in white who gives her two potions – one to protect her mother and the other to protect herself. An unfortunate encounter with the town bully breaks the bottle with her mother’s potion. Without the potion to protect her, Maeve’s mother eventually falls into a coma-like state. When her sister succumbs to the same condition, Maeve must go on a quest to save them.
Maeve’s quest to free her mother and sister is intertwined with an ancient conflict between the goddess Danu and the Valkyrie warrior Uria. The story was made richer by these elements of Irish folklore.
The book has a lot going on. Her brothers join the resistance fighting English solders; a Spanish ship is wrecked off the coast, and Maeve nurses one of the sailors back to health. On top of it all she keeps firm her belief that her mother will get well. All the little details and descriptions made the story more enjoyable for me. And I liked the way the myths and Maeve’s current day mixed and influenced one another.
Looking for books with quests, princesses, or mythology? You may also enjoy:
Check the WRL catalog for The Fire Opal
When I’m in the mood for a good story that will make me laugh as well as cry, I check to see if Cathy Lamb has written anything new. After finding this 2014 publication that I had missed somehow, I eagerly settled in for an escapist read.
Grenadine Scotch Wild decided to disappear from her old life. She left her husband, her house, her job, and her high society lifestyle after she was arrested for aiding her husband in questionable business investments.
She picked a small town in Central Oregon to start over. It didn’t take long for her to find a job as a bartender and make a few friends.
It did take some time and a bit of luck to earn enough money to afford to live somewhere besides in her car. But once that was settled, her talent for design and outgoing personality took her to a new level of success. If only that court case, made worse by her husband’s demands to move back home, wasn’t hanging over her head…
I liked the supporting characters of the book — from the quirky bar patrons to the hunky boss to the unscrupulous husband to the creepy killer. This outstanding cast complemented the page-turning story.
Lamb skillfully weaves back story with current story to complete a tapestry of Grenady’s life. This is more than one woman’s search for career success, it’s her search for answers and justice. I liked Grenady, and rooted for her all the way to the last page.
Check the WRL catalog for What I Remember Most
This urban fantasy/science fiction novel started as a free serial on the Ilona Andrews web site. The authors — Ilona Andrews is the pen name of a husband and wife writing team — wanted readers to have a chance to comment on the story as it developed. They published the weekly entries as a book in 2013.
Dina Demille runs a bed and breakfast in a small Texas town. When she pulled out her broom to fight off an intruder, I assumed she was a witch. But the story surprised me. The Inn is lodging for otherworldly visitors, and Dina is an Innkeeper, someone whose duty is to provide sanctuary.
When something evil begins killing family pets, Dina encourages her new neighbor (whom she suspects is a werewolf, another alien lifeform) to take care of his territory. The arrogant (and handsome) man pretends he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so Dina takes it upon herself to get involved even though it means risking her neutrality. She can’t sit by and let a vicious killer hurt her human neighbors.
Dina discovers that the enemy forces are too powerful for one person to handle. She ends up forming an alliance with her werewolf neighbor and a vampire soldier to kill the intruders and find out who sent them to Earth.
This was a quick read with lots of fast-paced action and witty banter. The unexpected alien aspect of the story was engaging. Part of me wanted to keep reading just to figure out how all this galactic stuff fit together. And part of me kept reading just because Dina was such a “normal” character in extraordinary circumstances.
The second book of the Innkeeper Chronicles is being developed on the web site, but catch up on the story by reading Clean Sweep first.
Check the WRL catalog for Clean Sweep
The brilliant teacher is Lou Volpe, a forty year veteran of the teaching wars, nearing the end of his career, a man who took over a drama program even though he had no experience as an actor or in teaching acting. He simply loved the theater, and taught himself how to mount major productions. By the time of his career on which the book focuses, he is so accomplished that major Broadway producers like Cameron Mackintosh ask him to test edgy or complicated shows to see if they can be licensed to high schools and small theaters.
The struggling town is Levittown, Pennsylvania, a former steel town struggling to maintain its economy and population. It’s a surprising place to find a great drama program. Usually that elite status is reached only by private schools with lots of wealthy and talented parents who can pay for expensive production elements and donate their time to teach top level skills. But Volpe’s students aren’t the typical drama kids, the edgy and emotional types, and they certainly aren’t affluent. They’re working class kids who make choices like whether or not to continue with a sports team or underdogs who struggle to be in a show while they keep a part time job that helps out the family. This gives them an affinity for some characters that wealthy, artsy kids can’t always find. They’re also the kind of students Volpe has and knows, and he makes the best of them. He’s built a program so good that many of his students find their way to scholarships and professional careers.
The magic of theater is displayed through the productions that Volpe stages during the year in which author Sokolove is a regular presence in the classroom. Where most high schools are still performing the same twenty shows that schools were performing in the sixties or seventies, Truman High is tackling contemporary theater. In particular, there’s Spring Awakening, a musical with a historical setting but very modern teen morals, and Good Boys and True, an edgy drama that Volpe’s students hope to perform well enough to take to national competition. (I won’t spoil the story and tell you whether or not they make it.) Rising to the occasion of performing well in emotion-laden, high-quality productions puts a lot of pressure on the kids, but most of them grow and even flourish with the challenge. If there’s one weakness to this kind of book, it’s that it will leave you wishing you could see for yourself the productions that Sokolove describes.
There’s also a “can you go home again?” appeal to this story. Sokolove was a student of Volpe’s long ago, in days when Volpe was a young, charismatic and influential English teacher, not yet a drama teacher. He remembers when Volpe was married to a likable woman (that status has also changed, but again, I won’t spoil the story) and motivating students like himself to journalistic careers. Volpe’s subject has changed, and Levittown has declined since Sokolove’s youth, and his own attempts to come to grips with the changes are part of the drama.
If you like theater, or underdog stories, or inspirational tales of any kind, you’ll find something to like in Drama High.
Check the WRL catalog for Drama High