Monthly Archives: April 2013

Review: Gone by Michael Grant

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GoneGone by Michael Grant (Egmont, 2009).

 

Blurb: In the blink of an eye. Everyone disappears. GONE.

 

Except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not one single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what’s happened.

 

Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day.

 

It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else…

 

I came into this series very late—I hadn’t even heard of it but saw the books in a shop and was immediately drawn to the neon-and-black covers. The edges of the pages are the same color as the book title, so these are gorgeous all set up together in a shop display. The praise page included a quote from Stephen King, so I bought the five books that were then available.

 

The premise of the book intrigued me. I’ve always enjoyed “the adults are gone now what” stories, starting with Lord of the Flies. While this book has some similarities, it’s also very different. Having supernatural elements—special powers, the way in which the adults vanished—distinguishes it immediately and allows a whole other dimension of relationships and power inequalities to the kids’ society.

 

Sam is a good primary character. I’ve always liked reluctant heroes, especially when there’s a good villain for him to go up against—and in this book, there definitely is. Caine is the leader of the students from the exclusive private school on the hill, who immediately set themselves up as challengers to Sam and his “townie” classmates. Astrid, as Sam’s friend and confidante, manages to be wonderful and intelligent without being superior or annoying. In fact, I liked almost all of the characters, and I liked that they had distinct personalities and reacted in different ways to the events around them. Sometimes I was frustrated with them, but much of that is due to my being out of the target demographic. I would have loved these characters when I was a teenager.

 

The action moves quickly, and it’s well-paced. The book is some 500 pages, but the tension crackles from beginning to end and I didn’t think it ever got bogged down in detail or description or explanation. I finished the book and was very happy to have the next one—I wanted to find out what happened!

 

My rating: 4 stars

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Review: The Corpse in the Koryo by James Church

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CorpseintheKoryoThe Corpse in the Koryo by James Church (Minotaur, 2006)

Blurb: Against the backdrop of a totalitarian North Korea , one man unwillingly uncovers the truth behind series of murders, and wagers his life in the process.

Sit on a quiet hillside at dawn among the wildflowers; take a picture of a car coming up a deserted highway from the south. Simple orders for Inspector O, until he realizes they have led him far, far off his department’s turf and into a maelstrom of betrayal and death. North Korea’s leaders are desperate to hunt down and eliminate anyone who knows too much about a series of decades-old kidnappings and murders—and Inspector O discovers too late he has been sent into the chaos.

This is a world where nothing works as it should, where the crimes of the past haunt the present, and where even the shadows are real. A corpse in Pyongyang’s main hotel—the Koryo—pulls Inspector O into a confrontation of bad choices between the devils he knows and those he doesn’t want to meet. A blue button on the floor of a hotel closet, an ice blue Finnish lake, and desperate efforts by the North Korean leadership set Inspector O on a journey to the edge of a reality he almost can’t survive.

This is a wonderful book. The author was an intelligence officer, and his characterization of North Korea is amazing. His Inspector O takes the shortages and paranoia in stride–although he does long for a cup of tea–and combines them with a deep love of North Korean culture. The lines of poetry at the start of each section are beautiful.

The mystery that Inspector O is called upon to solve is not really the story here, which is as it should be. As Inspector O mentions, “what you see is what you get” has no meaning in North Korea. There’s an entire hidden dimension to every interaction, no matter how seemingly ordinary, and even the simplest task is complicated by political and social implications. “Justice” as we know it is an illusion.

I definitely want to keep reading this series.

My rating: 4 stars

The Night Season by Chelsea Cain

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NightSeasonThe Night Season by Chelsea Cain (Minotaur, 2011)

Blurb: With the Beauty Killer Gretchen Lowell locked away behind bars once again, Archie Sheridan—a Portland police detective and nearly one of her victims—can finally rest a little easier. Meanwhile, the rest of the city of Portland is in crisis. Heavy rains have flooded the Willamette River, and several people have drowned in the quickly rising waters. Or at least that’s what they thought until the medical examiner discovers that the latest victim didn’t drown: She was poisoned before she went into the water. Soon after, three of those drownings are also proven to be murders. Portland has a new serial killer on its hands, and Archie and his task force have a new case. 

Reporter Susan Ward is chasing this story of a new serial killer with gusto, but she’s also got another lead to follow for an entirely separate mystery: The flooding has unearthed a skeleton, a man who might have died more than sixty years ago, the last time Portland flooded this badly, when the water washed away an entire neighborhood and killed at least fifteen people.

I think this is my favorite book in this series. As much as I enjoyed the interplay between Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell in the previous books, it was starting to feel forced and I didn’t think the author could sustain a series based purely on their relationship. This book moves away from that, focusing instead on the relationship between Archie and reporter Susan Ward. The tension in this story just crackles from start to finish–it’s wonderfully paced and manages to weave in some history of the city of Portland, where the series takes place. It’s interesting to me that the weakest part of Cain’s books tends to be the crimes under investigation, but the characters and the pacing are so well handled that it’s not as big a drawback as you’d think. I’m looking forward to the next book in this series.

My rating: 4 stars

The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George

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EdgeofNowhereThe Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George (Viking Juvenile, 2012)

Blurb: Whidbey Island may be only a ferry ride from Seattle, but it’s a world apart. When Becca King arrives there, she doesn’t suspect the island will become her home for the next four years. Put at risk by her ability to hear “whispers”–the thoughts of others–Becca is on the run from her stepfather, whose criminal activities she has discovered. Stranded and alone, Becca is soon befriended by Derric, a Ugandon orphan adopted by a local family; Seth, a kindhearted musician and high school dropout; Debbie, a recovering alcoholic who takes her in; and Diana, with whom Becca shares a mysterious psychic connection.

This compelling coming-of-age story, the first of an ongoing sequence of books set on Whidbey Island, has elements of mystery, the paranormal, and romance. Elizabeth George, bestselling author of the Inspector Lynley crime novels, brings her elegant style, intricate plotting, incisive characterization, and top-notch storytelling to her first book for teens.

This book was so disappointing. I was excited to read it because I have enjoyed Elizabeth George’s adult mysteries. But this one doesn’t even begin to measure up.

The single biggest problem with this book is the lack of a story. The author seems to be so busy setting up the island as a character in its own right that everything else falls by the wayside–characters, plotting, pacing, conflict. The premise, while intriguing (young girl who can hear other people’s thoughts realizes her stepfather has murdered his business partner, and is forced to flee and establish a new identity) is completely undeveloped. She arrives in a new place where she knows nobody. The author uses her ability to read minds to drop all manner of intriguing tidbits, but not one of them is ever developed beyond that.

This could have been a book with a simple plot populated by characters with intriguing back stories and an island with its own mysterious secrets. Instead, it’s a plodding, slow-moving book that is obviously intended to set up a series. The problem is, in doing so, it fails as a stand-alone book. The only action comes on the penultimate page, obviously setting up the sequel, but having plowed my way through more than 400 pages of broken promises, I’m not really interested in seeing what happens next.

My rating: 1 star

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

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GodsofGothamThe Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2012)

Blurb: 1845. New York City forms its first police force. The great potato famine hits Ireland. These two seemingly disparate events will change New York City. Forever.

Timothy Wilde tends bar near the Exchange, saving every dollar and shilling in hopes of winning the girl of his dreams. But when his dreams literally incinerate in a fire devastating downtown Manhattan, he finds himself disfigured, unemployed, and homeless. His older brother obtains Timothy a job in the newly minted NYPD, but he is highly skeptical of this untested “police force.” And he is less than thrilled that his new beat is the notoriously down-and-out Sixth Ward-at the border of Five Points, the world’s most notorious slum.

One night while returning from his rounds, heartsick and defeated, Timothy runs into a little slip of a girl—a girl not more than ten years old—dashing through the dark in her nightshift . . . covered head to toe in blood.

Timothy knows he should take the girl to the House of Refuge, yet he can’t bring himself to abandon her. Instead, he takes her home, where she spins wild stories, claiming that dozens of bodies are buried in the forest north of 23rd Street. Timothy isn’t sure whether to believe her or not, but, as the truth unfolds, the reluctant copper star finds himself engaged in a battle for justice that nearly costs him his brother, his romantic obsession, and his own life.

This is a fantastic book. Set in mid-nineteenth-century New York City, this is a book that engages all the reader’s senses–and coming from a reader who is not visual, that’s saying something.

The level of historical detail is perfect: not so much that you feel you’re reading someone’s research notes, but enough to fully immerse you in the setting. The characters are real and fully formed, and the plot is compelling. The character relationships are intriguing; there’s a part of me that would love for this book to become a series, although obviously it more than stands on its own.

My rating: 5 stars

Vanished by Liza Marklund

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VanishedVanished by Liza Marklund (Corgi, 2012)

Blurb: At a derelict port in Stockholm, two brutally murdered men are found by a security guard. In the same area a young woman, Aida, is on the run from a deranged gunman.

Meanwhile, journalist Annika Bengtzon is approached by a woman wanting her story published in the Evening Post. She claims to have founded an organization to erase people’s pasts – giving vulnerable individuals a completely new identity. 

Annika helps Aida to get in touch with the foundation. But as she begins to investigate this woman’s story, more bodies turn up and she finds herself getting dangerously close to the truth – that all is not as it seems…

Sometimes, when I hear about the plot of a book or movie or TV program, I think, “wow, I wonder if they’re going to . . .” and I head off on a possible story arc. Sometimes that parallels what the book/movie/TV show does; sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of this book, it didn’t–and as much as I liked this book, unfortunately I felt it could have been a bit better “if only . . .”

This is the second book in the Annika Bengtzon series if you’re reading them in story order (so the story events are chronological). The lead character is well developed by now, and she’s dealing with the aftermath of the events of the first book. This character, and her interactions with other characters, are the book’s strength; she’s an empathetic character and I find her easy to like.

That being said, at 500 pages, the book takes on a lot and doesn’t adequately address it all. There’s the nominal plot, which concerns the Yugoslav mafia in Sweden; but there’s also a new relationship for Annika, which is complicated; the politics of the newspaper she works for; fundamental questions about the role of the welfare state; and questions about the role of a newspaper vis a vis law enforcement. This all kind of dropped off toward the end of the book, and I didn’t find the conclusion to be particularly satisfying. To be fair, though, this is a book about a crime reporter, not someone who’s involved in law enforcement, so the book’s ending is realistic in that regard.

My rating: 3 stars