book beginnings on Friday: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

dark towerCan you believe it? I’m finally getting around to book 7! I’m so excited! It’s hard to fathom, I know, but I recently came to a break in my reading-for-review schedule and found the time to pick up this behemoth, at 800+ pages, which will finish the Dark Tower series. It begins:

Pere Don Callahan had once been the Catholic priest of a town, ‘Salem’s Lot had been its name, that no longer existed on any map. He didn’t much care. Concepts such as reality had ceased to matter to him.

And let me tell you, it begins with a bang. These next few pages are action-packed. Hooray for King! I’m glad to be back…

And for those of you who recognized the King self-reference there (no hard thing, as Salem’s Lot is the title of another of his books), you might be interested to note this one just a few pages later.

[A certain item] tumbled to the red rug, bounced beneath one of the tables, and there (like a certain paper boat some of you may remember) passes out of this tale forever.

Yep, I’m in the club on this one now!

Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

Two historical storylines, great evil, and an abiding mystery combine into one sinister and memorable fairy tale for the stout of heart.

gretel

As the title Gretel and the Dark suggests, Eliza Granville’s debut novel is a grim, spooky fairy tale. But keeping with the nature of any good fairy tale, there is another layer: it is also a meditation on historical good and evil, set both in Nazi Germany and fin de si├Ęcle Austria.

In 1899, a shockingly beautiful young woman is rescued off the street and delivered to the home of celebrated Viennese psychoanalyst Josef Breuer. She claims to have no identity, so the besotted Josef calls her Lilie, a name that will come to have greater significance than he originally intended. She is emaciated, bruised and beaten, hair shorn, with numbers inked on her arm. The story she tells is simply not possible: when questioned, Lilie tells Josef that she is not human but a machine, sent to kill a monster, whom she must find before he grows too large. She frightens him with her dreamy fantasies of how she’ll do it–”it doesn’t take long to kick someone to death”–but she casts an irresistible spell, and Josef (and his equally smitten gardener) is driven to puzzle out the truth of her history and the abuses she has experienced.

In the parallel plot, told in alternate chapters set several decades later, a little girl named Krysta pouts as the world around her changes. Her father works in a “zoo” during the days and can’t stop washing his hands at night; she is surrounded by unfriendly people, and retreats into her imagination to avoid the hazards and hatred she can’t understand. As her personal situation deteriorates and her circle of trusted acquaintances shrinks, Krysta hopes to save herself using the fairy tales on which she was raised–even, or especially, the nasty ones, with wolves, witches, beheadings and gore.

In precise balance and crafted in lovely, lyrical language, Gretel and the Dark is a masterpiece of fantasy, horror, childhood innocence and the evils of both our innermost imaginings and our shared history. Deliciously chilling and both fantastical and gravely real, with momentum building throughout, Granville’s extraordinary debut holds its crucial secrets to the last, adding suspense to its virtues. The connection between the not-entirely-likeable little Krysta and the enigmatic Lilie remains an open question until the final pages, and the power of imagination and storytelling is a prominent theme. This chilling, fantastical tale will simultaneously entertain and provoke serious contemplation on the depths of human depravity.


This review originally ran in the October 7, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 10 cherries.

Teaser Tuesdays: Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

gretel

This is a delightful blend of dark, gloomy fairy tale, historical fiction, and horror. I don’t want to say anything more about it at this point, but I think I’ve found a real winner.

For now, enjoy these lines, which are a fine example of the emphasis placed on the importance of storytelling.

“When I make up stories I’ll write them down so they won’t disappear or be changed.”

Greet shrugs. “Then they won’t be proper stories, will they?”

Also, who doesn’t love a little girl who thinks this:

When I grow up I shall be a famous author like Carol Lewis or Elle Franken Baum, but the girls in my books will be explorers, they’ll fly planes and fight battles, not play down holes with white rabbits or dance along brick roads with a silly scarecrow and a man made out of metal.

Stay tuned. Gretel and the Dark looks like a star.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle (audio)

swiftly tiltingThis is book 3 in a series, following A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door.

In this episode of the Murrys’ lives, Meg is an adult, recently married to Calvin and pregnant. This makes for a change: no one is really a child any more (well, Charles Wallace is 15. But he’s an odd one, isn’t he). However, the voice of the characters is not noticeably more mature. (She uses rather big words! But simple sentences.) On the one hand, this means that L’Engle’s novels remain accessible to the youthful population she intended. On the other, it does feel like children’s or young adult lit. Just a note. I’m still enjoying.

Where A Wrinkle in Time dealt with hard science and Meg’s social awkwardness, and A Wind in the Door emphasized the importance of all the parts of the world, large and small, A Swiftly Tilting Planet expands on that concept of interconnectedness and applies it to international politics and the possibility of nuclear war. An added element of fun and fascination is provided by time travel: Charles Wallace has a unicorn friend named Gaudior this time as his guide, and they travel through time to visit Calvin O’Keefe’s forebears throughout history. The unicorn, and the different historical settings, were excellently done, in my opinion; I was almost sorry when we returned to the present. But not to worry: the Murrys’ present makes up a smallish minority of this book’s focus; we spend most of our time immersed in history, from ancient times through the early New England settlers and the US Civil War.

On Thanksgiving, Calvin’s mother and therefore Meg’s new mother-in-law, Mrs. O’Keefe, is present when the family receives word from the President (Mr. Murry is an important man) that nuclear war is imminent. The normally antisocial Mrs. O’Keefe pipes up to charge Charles Wallace with preventing it, and this is when he meets Gaudior and they travel through the centuries. L’Engle employs the classic time traveler’s hope, to change the present and future by going back and changing some detail of the past. (The butterfly effect is entirely ignored.) During these travels, Charles Wallace has to learn to deemphasize his intellect, not rely on his IQ, but go with the flow. This is an interesting lesson for our boy genius.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet is a departure from the first two books, which concentrated on science (and science starring a young girl!); this one is more social science, you might say, or the nature and effects of relationships (familial and otherwise) and the bonds of society. Readers looking for the science might be disappointed. But I found the fantasy of time travel via flying unicorn, and the chance to meet individual characters in history (a fictional, but realistic, history), very engaging and entertaining.

I missed L’Engle’s narration of this audiobook, as I’d enjoyed the author’s own voice in the first two in this series; but I must say that Jennifer Ehle’s reading was quite similar. (She is a little less gruff.) If we have to change narrators mid-series, at least let them be like enough that I don’t feel jolted; so well done on that count. And Ehle’s narration was fine in itself. I will be listening to the final two books in turn – already have them loaded. I still recommend L’Engle’s work.


Rating: 7 letters.

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

cormorantThis is the third in a series, preceded by Blackbirds and Mockingbird, which I enjoyed.

Miriam Black is back, in disjointed chronology, still battling her demons and the curse of her “gift” of seeing how and when people die. She has moved on from stealing from the dead, and trying to prevent deaths through various means, to the only way she’s found that works: she can prevent deaths only when she kills the killer. She has broken with Lou, good old Lou from books 1 and 2, and has been on something of a mission. When the book opens, she’s being held in a room by two… possible FBI agents, but possibly something else. The split chronology takes us backward in time, explaining how she got there. I’ll use the present tense for this past, as the book does.

Miriam receives an offer: $5000 to tell a guy how he dies. She has tried to sell this talent before, but this is the biggest number she’s seen, and comes just as she’s evicted from a bad living situation; so Miriam buys a cheap car and heads for Florida. She carries three phone numbers with her there: that of the man hiring her, Lou’s, and her mother’s. These are the three folks she knows (so to speak) in Florida.

But when she appears at the man’s house and touches him, the death scene she sees involves her – is a message for her, in fact. A threat from her past resurfaces; and suddenly everyone she’s come in contact with is in danger, and Miriam is set on a path again.

Miriam is still a great character: foul-mouthed and tough, yet vulnerable and even, occasionally, compassionate. I love her personality; and she has another …maybe love interest is the wrong term, but she has another encounter in this book which keeps things interesting. I like the bird theme, too; look out for the powers of the gannet as well as the cormorant here.

Wendig’s unique writing style continues to amuse. He’s almost over-the-top with his odd metaphors:

Those things taste like cough syrup that’s been fermenting in the mouth of a dead goat, but shit, they work.

Eventually, her bladder is like a yippy terrier that wants to go out.

But I like it. Remember you can always get your daily fix (more or less) at his blog, too.

The nice people in Wendig’s books are a nice touch, and a realistic one. You can sense his descriptions approaching a world that is all evil – but he holds back, and I applaud him for it. The evil bits are all the more poignant when we get to see that there are good people in Miriam’s world, too. Sometimes she’s even one of them.

I continue to look out for the next Miriam Black novel, which is to be titled Thunderbird. Still recommended.


Rating: 7 gold watches.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

cormorant

Warning: slight raunchiness follows.

I wanted to share these lines because they are so perfectly Miriam (and/or Wendig). I realize they tell you nothing about the plot of this story, but that’s okay. I’ll tell you that other stuff later; for now, check out the style.

“…I always wondered if maybe you had a thing for the bearded taco.”

“For the record,” Miriam says, “I’m a supremely vulgar human being and even I think bearded taco is a disgusting term. My vagina is a beautiful flower, thank you very much, not a pube-shellacked burrito. Ugh.”

Well done, Miriam.

Also, aren’t the covers on these books amazing? Go here for a large version – which still doesn’t let you see additional detail on the back cover. Good stuff. Keep up the good work, Author Wendig and Cover Designer Joey Hi-Fi.

book beginnings on Friday: The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

cormorant

Following on Blackbirds and Mockingbird, Chuck Wendig returns us to the strange and darkly wonderful world of Miriam Black with The Cormorant. I like cormorants (we have them in the bayous ’round here) and I like Wendig’s weird sense of humor. First, the dedication: “To all the foul-mouthed miscreants and deviants who are fans of Miriam, and who make this book possible.” Thank you, sir.

It begins:

“And the Lord said, let there be light.”

A flutter of black fabric, and the hood is gone.

Miriam winces.

Right on schedule.

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