This quirky, absorbing little novel is an impressive debut from Lisa O’Donnell. It is at once a coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a family saga. It starts with a bang–Scottish sisters Marnie and Nelly, ages 15 and almost 13, have just buried their ne’er-do-well junkie parents on Christmas Eve in the garden of the housing project in which they live. In order to avoid being taken away and separated by the State, the girls must keep secret what really happened to their parents. Sadly, their parents are such unreliable, neglectful drug addicts that it is somewhat believable that they would just abandon their daughters and go to Turkey, as is Marnie’s cover story.
Marnie and Nelly gradually seek shelter with Lennie, the grandfatherly man next door, whose homosexuality–and a past unfortunate experience with an under-aged male prostitute–has labeled him a sex offender. Lennie genuinely cares for the girls, however, in a way that they have never been cared for by their own family. But when the girls’ actual grandfather shows up, just as much of a deadbeat as their parents, and starts sniffing around, Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie’s web of lies becomes more and more complicated.
The Death of Bees unfolds in short, staccato chapters from three distinct perspectives–Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie. O’Donnell does a good job of distinguishing the three voices–Marnie tough, wounded and direct; Nelly intelligent, introspective and a bit odd; and Lennie warm, concerned about the girls and yearning for his lost lover. Although the book’s dark themes and characters may be off-putting to some readers, O’Donnell manages to find warmth and ultimately, redemption, in a tale that seems bleak. A good book to curl up with on a rainy, moody stretch of a weekend.
P.S. This is my last day at the library until early June; I am starting maternity leave as I eagerly await the arrival of my first-born son! I look forward to visiting this blog often to read the thought-provoking book reviews of the rest of the library staff, and I will see you in the summer!
Stevens’ debut novel has become a benchmark of the psychological suspense genre, and with good reason: she does a great many things very, very well. Annie O’Sullivan is a Realtor in her early thirties when she is abducted from an open house she is hosting. Annie is brought deep into the woods, and over a year’s time, forced to endure various atrocities at the hands of a man she comes to know as “The Freak.” The reader learns Annie’s story bit-by-bit as she reveals it to her therapist, so it’s clear from the start that Annie does eventually escape. However, Stevens’ story unfolds in such an unsettling manner that there is no shortage of twists and uncertainty.
Flynn has recently garnered much attention for this summer’s best-seller, Gone Girl. (A review of that book is forthcoming!) After reading Gone Girl in one weekend, I immediately turned Flynn’s earlier books. Dark Places does not disappoint, blending a compelling plot with the author’s signature prickly, damaged characters and powerful setting. Libby Day was only 7 years old when her entire family, except for herself and her then-15-year-old brother, Ben, was murdered in their Kansas farmhouse in the mid-eighties. Ben was flagged as the prime suspect and thrown in prison for life. After 25 years of living off donations that poured in in the wake of her family’s murder, Libby must venture out of her hermetic existence. She gets involved with a “murder club” in the hopes of selling her story to a group that debates the details of famous murder cases. Libby also discovers a contingent of people convinced that Ben is innocent–and must finally face the truth of what really happened that night. Flynn’s setting (the desolate mid-western town/farmhouse) makes her story come alive. Libby is the quintessential unreliable narrator. As a small, terrified child on the night of her family’s murder, are her memories valid, or were they coerced by law enforcement? Flynn expertly paces her novel: the plot is revealed bit-by-bit, keeping the reader’s interest, and there are some very satisfying plot twists toward the end. As the title implies, the book is dark, dark dark….characters, tone, and setting. Very worth it, though, for readers who enjoy well-crafted suspense.
Speaking of unreliable narrators, this one may actually take the cake. Christine Lucas wakes up every day with her mind erased of her memories. (Kind of like the movie Memento.) She has recently started seeing a new doctor who has encouraged her to start keeping a journal of her days, building her own history from scratch. She wakes up every morning next to a strange man, and from her journal each day learns that this man is her husband, Ben. But then she wakes up one morning and sees these words in her journal: “Don’t trust Ben.” From there, Watson takes his readers on an unpredictable journey as we discover, along with Christine, the keys her mysterious past.
Watson’s debut novel is highly anxiety-ridden, but incredibly interesting. It certainly keeps you guessing.
Fiction (Young Adult)
The end of October is the perfect time to get into the spooky spirit, so I decided to indulge in Lies Knives and Girls in Dresses by Ron Koertge. This unique collection more than sufficed my appetite for fables–these are not your average retellings!
The tales have a bite (wickedness), a kick (creativity), and a punch (humor) that will turn anyone’s version of a fairy-tale world upside down. Add in some post-modern twists and seditious undertones and you may find yourself howling at the moon when you’re finished with this one. One of my favorites of the bunch is coyly entitled, “Red Riding Hood, Home at Last, Tells her Mother What Happened.” Told in the voice of a modern day teenager, Red Riding Hood explains to her mother that she wanted to know what being swallowed whole felt like. Of course by the book’s end you may also indulge in the “Wolf”s” side of the story as well. How delectable?! Other alternative versions of well-known fairy tales consist of a strung-out match girl selling CDs to stoners, Cinderella’s stepsisters become blinded and bloodied, and a fickle Thumbelina searching for a tiny husband, only to leave bodies in her wake.
Writing mostly in free verse, Koertge brings dark and contemporary wit to 23 iconic fairy tales. With much honesty and morality at stake, he creates a world in which we can consider whether or not happily-ever-after is truly that great. More so, the book is filled with delightful cut-paper illustrations by Andrea Dezso that capture the essence of Koertge’s imaginative stories. So, with Halloween approaching; we could all use a daring and bewitching nursery tale. Trick or Treat?
Fiction (Young Adult)
I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells
Not only did the title, I Hunt Killers, lure me in, but it reminded me of another book, I Am Not A Serial Killer, which I have always wanted to read. Since they both dealt with the same subject matter, serial murderers, I read them both! I Hunt Killers is by Barry Lyga, a guy I must admit has written some of my favorite novels thus far. And I Am Not a Serial Killer is the debut novel from author Dan Wells.
First let us delve into the frightening mind of Jazz from Lyga’s I Hunt Killers. Jazz (Jasper) Dent is a teenager from Lobo’s Nod. There has been a mysterious killing in town and the body was left in a field with a finger missing. The police chief, G. William Tanner, solved a serial killer case not too long ago and put Cornelius “Billy” Dent, Jazz’s father, one of the most notorious serial killers ever, away for a long time. He is hesitant to believe this body in the field is the start of another serial case, but Jazz is not at all hesitate. As the entire town is expecting Jazz to turn out just like his father, Jazz instead sets out to prove he is the opposite and helps William solve the case.
The story is complicated further by the fact that Jazz was brought up by Billy as an apprentice, with the understanding that he too would become a killer. As a result, Jazz has a desensitization and emotional detachment about crime, death, killing, bodies, blood, and more. It makes him a creepy good guy, a little like the character of Dexter from Jeff Lindsay’s book series and the popular TV show. In fact, if you like Dexter I think you will fall in love with this projected trilogy.
This crime mystery stands alone or could be supplemented by a sequel. It is a satisfying crime novel with a teenage protagonist. I recommend to mystery-lovers and CSI-lovers everywhere. There is more to this, though, than just a good mystery. There is a young man trying to make sense of himself, his parentage, and his place in society. The combination of the two is unique.
I found Dan Wells’ I Am Not A Serial Killer disturbing both in its content and because it was hard to put down. This is a book that because of its subject matter makes one feel at least a little self-conscious or maybe even a little guilty reading, let alone liking.
The premise is simple. John Wayne Cleaver is a teenage boy and a sociopath. He is unable to empathize with people the way others do. Because of this, and his obsession with serial killers, he is convinced he is destined to become one himself. Therefore, he constructs a list of rules he lives by to keep himself from going in that direction.
Yet trouble starts when a brutal murder is committed. John, who is also the son of a mortician, immediately picks up on the clues that this is not just a random crime, but the beginning of a serial killing spree. As more murders occur and more information develops, he becomes convinced that he is the only one who can save the town, even though it will mean having to break his rules and risk turning into the killer he fears.
Both books are not for the squeamish. The plots are not “slasher fiction” per se so much as psychological horror. Yes, they both deal with two men murdering people in brutal fashion, but the real horror is watching the progression of both Billy and John as they lose control of their own inner monster.
Each author has done his homework and has created fascinating characters in Billy Dent and John Cleaver, both of whom are bright self-aware men with an inability to feel normal emotion. And they stick with it: no matter how uncomfortable, even painful, it can get being inside the killers’ heads.
These novels were draining at times because of the tension, suspense, and dark places in which they walk. However, they invite you to notice your own dark places. Each story was well-written and a piece of work you can learn from. I enjoyed the opportunity to study an alien mind from a safe distance. That is one of the points of literature in the first place: to let you share in experiences you would not normally have the opportunity to. In the end, it was entertaining and intriguing to learning how killers and sociopaths think.
The title may sound…familiar. It may even seem like you can’t pick up a magazine, turn on the TV or get a good book recommendation lately without hearing about it. And with good reason. Shades of Grey is the wonderfully clever, inventive new novel from Jasper Fforde, author of the beloved “Thursday Next” literary fantasy series. I assure you, you’ve come to the right book.
In Britain more than 500 years in the future–centuries after the ominous-yet-vaguely-titled “Something That Happened”–the world has become a Colortocracy, its hierarchy based on the amount of pure color perception one has. Our narrator, Eddie Russett, is a Red. Reds happen to be the second-lowest color on the totem pole, above only Greys, who have no or very little color perception at all. Nonetheless, Eddie cheerfully accepts his lot in life, following the ridiculous Rules laid out by “Munsell” centuries before, and planning his marriage to Constance, a union that will guarantee Eddie a lifetime of cushy complacency.
But then Eddie and his father are unexpectedly sent to the Outer Fringes, ostensibly to conduct a “chair census,” and Eddie meets a feisty, disagreeable Grey named Jane. Eddie is instantly smitten. Jane, less so. Soon, Eddie finds his worldviews challenged and his eyes opened to a vibrant underground network of Grey dissidents and other like-minded radicals. Eddie finds himself in love with Jane, although she attempts to kill him, multiple times, and even ends up pitching him into the mouth-hole of a carnivorous tree. How does that turn out for Eddie? You’ll have to read on to find out.
This book blew my mind. It’s the only book I have ever felt compelled to read twice in a row, in two different formats. First, I listened to the audiobook version–it’s a treat on audio, voiced with acerbic perfection by John Lee, a renowned British voice actor. I enjoyed the audio immensely but felt like I was missing something, and immediately obtained the print version after the audio was over. I’m so glad I did. The audiobook whet my appetite, but this is a book that can really be savored in print–Fforde adds so many absurdist touches and clever details that I got so much more out of it the second time. Also, some may fear dystopian novels like Shades of Grey to be too dreary or heavy-handed—but then, they haven’t read Fforde. Shades of Grey manages to be satirical, absurd, serious, insightful and extremely funny all at once.
So go on, pick up Shades of Grey, and see what everyone’s talking about. And then tell all your friends–you’ll be glad you did.
Although it was published nearly 4 years ago, Suzanne Collins’ young adult dystopian bestseller, The Hunger Games, and its subsequent sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, remain as popular as ever. Due in part to the release of the cinematic version of The Hunger Games earlier this year, The Hunger Games Trilogy is the hottest series of the year. What to do if you’re on the waiting list for the books, but they haven’t come in for you yet? What about if you’ve read the books and are looking for the next great action-packed series with similar themes? Never fear, we have compiled a list of read-alikes for Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster series. Enjoy!
P.S…..Don’t forget to check out our Dystopian Reads display this month!
First, Becky recommends….
The Books of Ember are my go-to series to recommend for middle-schoolers or above. Like The Hunger Games, the Books of Ember (The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold) deal with a dystopian world where residents live underground and have never seen natural light. If you like fast-paced and compelling science fiction, check out this series suitable for age 11 to adult.
Imagine your Facebook newsfeed literally wired to your brain, floating inside your line of vision all the time. Teenage Titus lives in a future world where tiny computer chips release feeds of constantly updating news, information and advertising directly into peoples’ brains. Then Titus meets Violet, an intelligent home-schooled girl without a feed who thinks for herself. Bitterly brilliant, cutting and right on the money, M.T. Anderson’s Feed is one of those books that almost hits too close to home, predicting a not-too-distant future that seems disturbingly possible.
L’Engle’s classic sci-fi tale is one of my favorite books of all time. Meg Murray, a smart but unhappy misfit who feels she doesn’t measure up to her brilliant scientist parents, must travel to a distant world to save her long-lost father. L’Engle’s characters are unforgettable, and fans of Katniss will appreciate the similarly strong-willed Meg.
More Hunger Games Trilogy Readalikes (compiled from NoveList)
Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld
Reason: Fans of vividly imagined, dystopian future societies, ugly secrets, and high-octane action will be well pleased with either of these hugely popular science-fiction series. – Ellen Foreman, NoveList
Seven Kingdoms trilogy by Kristin Cashore
Reason: While the Seven Kingdoms trilogy is fantasy and the Hunger Games books are science fiction, readers who love independent heroines, political intrigue, romantic tension, and compelling writing will devour either of these stirring series full of action and adventure. — Ellen Foreman, NoveList
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Reason: Strong female heroines must literally fight to survive in these gritty, action-packed, and fast-paced dystopian stories, both of which make room for romance and other complicated relationships amid the ratcheting violence and suspense. — Jennifer Stubben Hatch, NoveList
Fiction (Young Adult)
With hopeful warmer weather months and outdoor rock concerts approaching, I was immediately intrigued by the content of this book. It is a story about two Brooklyn summers filled with fires, music, loss, and eventually love. This novel was not the type of story that could be labeled quickly or easily, but it turned out to be both charming and enigmatic.
Kid is a teenage runaway who spends most nights sleeping in the basement of a bar in Hipster Central, a.k.a. Greepoint, Brooklyn. It is unclear whether Kid is a boy or a girl, gay or straight, but one thing is for sure: Kid is no longer welcome at home. Instead, Kid finds a kindred spirit in Scout, a fellow runaway who shows up one morning at the bar ready to form a band.
As Kid and Scout’s friendship blossoms, Kid flashes back to Felix, a former love that lived in an abandoned warehouse which mysteriously burned down. Nursing a broken heart, Kid searches for healing through Scout, family, and finally revealing the truth about the warehouse fire.
This book is a fascinating look at life on the outskirts of society and it makes you feel like you’re really “there.” Brezenoff writes in a straight-up style with extremely believable dialogue and stabs of emotion. The development of Kid’s past through his flashbacks is both complex and identifiable. Based partially on the true events surrounding the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse fire of 2006, Brooklyn Burning is ultimately a lyrical love song.