Month: June 2008

Aberrations by Penelope Przekop

Date of Publication: 2008, Emerald Book Company

Number of Pages: 241

Synopsis (from back cover): Twenty-one-year-old narcoleptic Angel Duet knows her father harbors secrets. he loves and protects her, but his suspicious refusal to discuss her mother’s death drives Angel to worship as image created from the little history she does have: her father’s sketchy stories and her mother’s treasured photography, studies of clouds that have hung in their foyer for more than twenty years.

When her father’s girlfriend moves in, the photographs come down, and Angel’s search for truth becomes an obsession. As she struggles to uncover the past and gain control over the narcolepsy that often fogs her world, Angel descends into a dizzying realm of drugs, adultery, and confused desire that further obscures reality.

When Angel exposes a history that she could never have imagined, she discovers her entire life has been anchored in lies. Accepting the truth, once found, is the key to understanding herself, her family, and her life. To truly awaken, Angel must realize that sometimes the gifts we receive are not what we want – and only with time do we see the truth.

Review: I have read quite a few books this year already, but this has to be the best to date. I was immediately pulled into the story, from the very first page, and was completely engaged until the end. The characters are fully developed and quite original, as is the idea behind the story. Not knowing much about narcolepsy, I found the treatment of this condition in the story very satisfying. There’s no medical jargon to deal with, and everything is dealt with on an emotional level. Angel seems to channel Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood in her torment and she is surrounded by friends who either aid her or hamper her in her quest to find the truth about her mother.

Przekop manages to seamlessly weave two stories together: her relationship with her father as she searches for her mother, and her relationships with others as she struggles to deal with her narcolepsy. As a bridge between these two stories, Carla, Angel’s father’s girlfriend, is the great mover of the story as she forces Angel to see truths about herself which motivate her to keep going. Although their relationship is strained, Angel and Carla are really the two seekers.

In the end, I found this book to be extremely satisfying. Przekop is an immensely talented storyteller with the ability to create unforgettable characters. As a first book, Aberrations is an amazing accomplishment, and I can’t wait to see more from Przekop.

Rating: 10/10

A Place of Safety: A Chief Inspector Barnaby Mystery by Caroline Graham

Date of Publication: 1999, St. Martin’s/Minotaur

Number of Pages: 275

Synopsis (from back cover): When sour Charlie Leathers and his dog disappear into thin air, his neighbors in the small, sleepy English village of Ferne Basset are more concerned about the dog than they are about Charlie. Everyone assumes that Charlie will show up…sooner or later. But nobody expects it when he shows up dead.

With one mad dead and a mysterious young woman missing, Chief Inspector Barnaby must race to uncover the secrets of love and greed hidden beneath a cozy village veneer. Now it seems that this safe little town is anything but – and that one if its quirky inhabitants possesses the motive and the means to murder…

Review: I was a little disappointed with some aspects of this book, namely the way the mystery was solved. I don’t want to give too much away, but the perpetrator of the crimes involved felt way too obvious. On the other hand, there was a very satisfying ending with a wodnerful twist, something that, in my opinion, is essential for a good mystery. Another thing I liked about this book was the characters. I found myself wishing I had a neighbor like Evadne Pleat, with her eccentric outfits and many dogs. Also, the two main female characters, Louise Fainlight and Ann Lawrence, are beautifully developed and wonderfully complex. In the end, the book is an entertaining read, but based upon other books in this series, is nothing very special. However, I would still recommend it to any fan of mysteries and thrillers.

Rating: 8/10

Booking Through Thursday: Definition of “Reader”

What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is?  … Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote? [Posted on 6/26/08]

My answer: In my opinion, a “reader” is someone who reads for pleasure, mainly books. It doesn’t matter if they read fiction or non-fiction, Harry Potter or Charles Dickens, just as long as they’re reading. Perusing the newspaper every morning doesn’t really count for me. To be a reader, you must commit yourself, body and mind, to your book: the characters, the setting, the plot. The story must become a part of your life. That is part of reading for pleasure.

When reading non-fiction, I believe their must be a passion about the subject, an enthusiasm for history, culture, science, whatever it is you’re reading about. Otherwise, it just becomes like the stale, boring reading we all did as students.

Being a reader is choosing to read something you love, or even something you might love.

Faithful unto Death: A Chief Inspector Barnaby Mystery by Caroline Graham

Date of Publication: 1996, St. Martin’s/Minotaur

Number of Pages: 387

Synopsis (from back cover): When bored young housewife Simone Hollingsworth misses bell-ringing practice – her latest effort to find something to do – no one is surprised. In fact, if old Mrs. Molfrey, her neighbor, didn’t report is to Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, Simone’s disappearance might have gone unrecorded in Fawcett Green. But even Barnaby isn’t concerned – until a body is found.

Soon Barnaby is uncovering the passionate entanglements beneath the placid surface of Fawcett Green – and perhaps jeopardizing his career. Now, if he misconstrues the clue buried in Simone’s garden – and a subtlety of human behavior his experienced eye should spot – a brutal killer may go free…

Review: This is, I believe Caroline Graham’s fourth Chief Inspector Barnaby story (my review of her first can be found here), and I definitely think she has improved with time. The characters of Inspector Barnaby and his ultra-macho sidekick, Detective Sergeant Troy, are much better developed (if not a tad less likable) and the story has a much smoother flow. I knew how the story ended, having seen the Midsomer Murders adaptation multiple times, or so I thought. This book is full of subtleties, not only of human behavior, but also in the way the characters think and in the way the action is described. This is definitely a book that “shows” rather than “tells”. It was a great joy to read, and being a huge fan of the Midsomer Murders series, I am relieved to finally find a Chief Inspector Barnaby story that I enjoy.

Both Barnaby and Troy are complex men, each in their own ways. Barnaby is a rule-breaker, an experienced detective who wears a million hats, from “favorite uncle” to the man no one wants to cross, all the while not caring one bit what people think of him. Troy, an alpha-male who thinks nothing of trying to get it on with any attractive woman who isn’t his wife, believes that tact is one thing that doesn’t belong anywhere near a crime scene. He is the character who is the hardest for me to like, especially given that I adore the Gavin Troy portrayed by Daniel Casey on Midsomer Murders. But being now privy to the inside machinations of his mind, I can also feel sympathy for him. They are a unique team, without whom, no crime in Midsomer County would ever be fully solved. I am definitely going to read the rest of the series!

Rating: 9/10

Booking Through Thursday: Flavor

Think about your favorite authors, your favorite books . . . what is it about them that makes you love them above all the other authors you’ve read? The stories? The characters? The way they appear to relish the taste of words on the tongue? The way they’re unafraid to show the nitty-gritty of life? How they sweep you off to a new, distant place? What is it about those books and authors that makes them resonate with you in ways that other, perfectly good books and authors do not? [Posted on 6/19/08]

My answer: There are many authors I love, and I love them for different reasons. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and as with many things, it’s all down to personal taste. Here are some of my favorite authors, and the reasons why I love reading their books:

Jane Austen: She’s probably the funniest writer ever! I constantly laugh out loud when I read any of her books, and no one is better at writing ridiculous characters. I also find myself hanging on to every word, finding myself breathless at her pace – even when it seems like nothing’s happening, there always is!

Stephen King: It’s his ability to make the unbelievable believable that I love. I never question the supernatural events and beings in his books…they become a part of the story, just like anything else.

Charles Dickens: I don’t really know why, but I feel more intelligent and enriched when I read a Dickens. His gritty portrayal of life in Victorian England is both frightening and humorous, and I reserve his books for special occasions.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Probably my very favorite writer. His books absolutely sweep me away to another time and another land. How can you not love an author who so obviously loved his work?

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child: The best writing team out there! Their Pendergast series is fast-paced, well-researched, and feature a detective more brilliant than Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot put together.

The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles) by Jean Cocteau

Date of Publication: 1929, New Directions

Translated by Rosamond Lehman (1955)

Number of Pages: 183

With original illustrations by Jean Cocteau

Synopsis (from back cover): Miss Lehman was able to capture the essence of Cocteau’s strange, necromantic imagination and to bring fully to life in English his story of a brother and sister, orphaned in adolescence, who built themselves a private world out of one shared room and their own unbridled fantasies. What started in games and laughter became for Paul and Elisabeth a drug too magical to resist. The crime which finally destroyed them has the inevitability of Greek tragedy.

Review: Having never even read Jean Cocteau’s poetry, I was completely unprepared for this disturbing story. It starts out innocently enough, with a childhood snowball fight, but the reader is soon enveloped in the fantasy world created by Paul and his sister Elisabeth. But as they grow older, and their competing magnetic personalities enslave their friends, they find themselves almost completely removed from reality and heading toward disaster. Paul and Elisabeth and neither likable or unlikable…they seem to be completely above our likes and dislikes.

This book is a fairly quick and easy read, but it’s still rich in its language and with unforgettable characters. It should also appeal to a wide range of readers. Anyone who enjoys French literature, psychological drama, Shakespearean tragedies, or fantasy fiction will really enjoy this book.

Rating: 9/10

Booking Through Thursday: Book Clubs

June 12, 2008 – Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (or, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?

Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

My answer: I belong to an amazing and very friendly online book club, The Book Club Forum. We have a new reading circle every month, and the book is chosen through a very democratic process. Early in the previous month, we are allowed to nominate and second the books we want to read for the next month. The three books that received the most seconds are placed in a poll, and members vote on which they want. The winning books (or books, in the case of a tie) are given their own thread, where members post their reactions to the book. We have a great admin, Kell, who leads the discussions and gets us thinking more deeply about the book.

I have participated in a few of these reading circles, but I tend to enjoy books that I myself chose. The great thing about the forum, though, is that the threads stay up, which means that when I do get around to reading the book, I can add my thoughts to the circle’s discussion, and read what others have felt about the book. No member is under any pressure to participate, but I believe that the reading circles add greatly to the forum’s general book discussions.

However, I don’t think I would really enjoy participating in a face-to-face book club if it meant I had to read the chosen book, especially if I had had no input on its choosing. Even though I’m a book lover, I tend to resist reading books that I have to read. This explains some rather questionable grades in my high school English classes (why should I read The Grapes of Wrath? It’s boring and I don’t want to read it.).