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What the Servants Know

What the Servants Know

posted by:
October 22, 2012 - 7:55am

The St. Zita SocietyFans of Ruth Rendell will be delighted to read her new psychological thriller, The St. Zita Society. In this novel we meet the householders and staff of Hexam Place, a posh neighborhood where nothing is as it seems on the surface. June Caldwell, professional companion and caregiver to Princess Susan Hapsburg, has taken it upon herself to bring fellow staff together to discuss problems and offer up solutions. They meet in the corner bar, and have named themselves the St. Zita Society. 

 

Rendell introduces the reader to an interesting group of characters, including handsome chauffer Henry who has an eye for the ladies, the mysterious gardener Dex, and Rabia, the young widowed nanny who has lost children of her own and seems to be overly attached to her young charge. We also meet some of the wealthy homeowners, like the Still family who are surviving a difficult and loveless marriage, and Roland and Damian, a couple who rent out flats in their home to the insufferable Thea and the aging Miss Grieves. As any reader of Rendell will know, something is bound to go terribly wrong and plunge several characters into a situation that will be difficult if not impossible to escape from. In the St. Zita Society, a faulty bannister, an unfaithful wife and a nosy elderly neighbor will become the recipe for disaster.

 

Rendell, well known for the Inspector Wexford novels, often writes stand-alone thrillers that explore the psyches of several main characters. Many of her novels have become successful movies on the BBC, and most recently her novel 13 Steps Down has been adapted for television. The St. Zita Society will satisfy any fan of Rendell’s work, but will also appeal to new readers who would like a sinister snapshot of life on a wealthy London street.

 

Doug

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Don't Read at Night

Don't Read at Night

posted by:
October 19, 2012 - 8:11am

The TurningJust in time for Halloween, The Turning by Francine Prose will wind up your anxiety level and tighten you in the grasp of fear. This teen novel is a retelling of the classic Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw. The setting has been updated to take place in the present day, and is told through a series of letters exchanged between a teenage boy named Jack and his girlfriend Sophie. Sophie’s father has procured a summer job for Jack, babysitting two children for a considerable wage on a remote island. The couple realizes her father’s motivation is an attempt to end their romance, but in order for Jack to attend college with Sophie in the fall he has no choice but to take the position. When he is informed that there will be no phone service, television, or internet connection available he almost changes his mind. Through their correspondence, the reader experiences Jack’s loneliness and initial misgivings as they progress to outright distress.

 

During the boat voyage to the island, some elderly passengers recount the story of a tragic drowning death of a couple attempting to elope from the island years before. They also allude to some mysterious happenings in the more recent past, painting Jack’s destination in shadowy details. On his arrival to the children’s home, feelings of dread and foreboding emanate from the creepy gothic mansion painted funeral black. It is full of confusing darkened hallways and unused or locked rooms. The children themselves are unusual, formally polite, dressed in old-fashioned attire, and frequently exchange furtive glances alluding to secret confidences.

 

Ghostly apparitions begin haunting Jack: a tall menacing man watches him through the library window; a beautiful woman stares from across a field. No one else in the household seems aware of these spirits. Sophie grows increasingly alarmed as Jack’s letters reflect how the stress of the situation is taking a toll. This is a frightening tale, which pays homage to the original, and exposes a new generation of readers to some real creepy fun.

Jeanne

 
 

Secrets and Lies

Secrets and Lies

posted by:
October 19, 2012 - 7:05am

The Secret KeeperReaders know that Australian author Kate Morton can be counted on to bring them a fascinating story. Her new novel The Secret Keeper examines the idea that we don’t always know the ones we love as well as we believe we do. In the summer of 1961, 16-year-old Laurel had left a family party to daydream in the tree house. She saw a man come to her house and speak with her mother Dorothy. Suddenly, she witnessed her mother stabbing the man to death. The police ruled that it was an act of self-defense, but Laurel knew there was more to the story. The family never spoke about it again, and Laurel’s siblings were never told what happened. That day changed Laurel’s world and her family forever.

 

Fifty years later, Dorothy’s life is near its end. The family gathers to celebrate her 90th birthday, and Laurel returns to her childhood home where she begins piecing together clues about Dorothy’s life before she met and married Laurel’s father. The story of Dorothy’s past takes the reader to wartime London and into the lives of Dorothy, Jimmy, and Vivien. Laurel finally learns the truth about Dorothy’s life in London and the evening in 1941 that resulted in a secret that Dorothy kept for the rest of her life.The story is filled with twists and turns, leaving the reader as intrigued by Dorothy’s past as Laurel is. In The Secret Keeper, Morton intertwines past and present to create a riveting story that will stay with the reader long after the last page is finished.

Beth

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Magical Music and Cambridge Spires

The Bellwether RevivalsBenjamin Wood’s debut novel The Bellwether Revivals begins with a mystery: a crime scene with two people dead and a third barely alive. But what happened prior? The rest of the book is about the events leading up to that moment. Oscar Lowe is a working-class twenty-something who makes a living as a care assistant at a nursing home. Eden and Iris Bellwether are ambitious siblings from a privileged background who both study at Cambridge. A chance meeting brings Oscar into their elite circle, which he soon finds is convoluted and laden with social traps. Oscar begins a relationship with Iris but finds that threatened by the increasing eccentricities of Eden, who believes himself capable of healing through hypnosis and the power of his music. Eden is also the clear leader of their group of friends, which begins to take on cult-like characteristics as Eden’s delusions become more grandiose. When Eden starts to feel he’s losing control of Iris and his parents, real tragedy ensues.

 

A classic story in one sense of the clash between the haves and have nots of society, this is also a gothic tale which delves into diverse topics such as mental illness, social isolation and music theory. Moreover, it is an intergenerational story, where those who were once young and charting the pathway to new innovations are now dependent upon and look up to the younger generation of today. Similar to The Talented Mr. Ripley or School Ties, Wood paints a picture that shows that being wealthy isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Fans of British novels and psychological drama will enjoy this story of complex relationships and intrigue. 

Melanie

 
 

After the Flash

After the Flash

posted by:
October 18, 2012 - 8:11am

Poison PrincessKresley Cole opens her new Arcana Chronicles series for older teens with Poison Princess. Evie Greene is a sixteen-year-old cheerleader from a privileged upbringing whose life changed last year when she began having apocalyptic hallucinations. She begins her junior year of high school desperate to fit in and get her life back, but the terrible hallucinations begin again. This time, other strange things start happening to her. Evie knows that telling anyone about what she sees would definitely cause her mother to send her back to the Children’s Learning Center, a mental institution for disturbed children where she spent the summer “recovering” from her visions.

 

Then, the Flash happens, and everything that Evie saw comes true. The blinding light and heat kills most people, leaving behind only ash. All plant-life dies, and the Bagmen, zombie-like creatures desperate for water, now roam the world that was left behind killing the survivors to drink their blood. Evie meets up with another survivor, Jackson Deveaux, the gorgeous Cajun bad boy who tormented her during her last week of school. Evie is now suffering auditory hallucinations and debilitating visions where she sees the evil Poison Princess and hears voices telling her that the Major Arcana, other people with talents based on the most powerful cards in the tarot deck, are hunting her down. When Evie was a child, her grandmother called her Empress and told her that one day the Arcana would come for her. Jackson and Evie set out for North Carolina to try to find Evie’s grandmother who Evie believes can explain what is happening.

 

Readers who know Cole’s Immortals After Dark series for adults are familiar with her remarkable talent for world-building. The world that she creates for this new series, along with the complex tarot card-based mythology, builds slowly throughout the book. It does take some time for the reader to understand where the series is going, but the payoff is huge. Readers will be clamoring for the next story in the series to find out what happens to Evie when she finally understands and accepts her fate.

Beth

 
 

Dreamboat Ann - and Nancy

Kicking and DreamingHeart has been around for decades, breaking into the largely male world of rock music earlier than most female performers. In Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll, Ann and Nancy Wilson alternately describe their extraordinary lives in the music industry. Picking up stories that the other starts, the format reads smoothly, and indicates the strong ties these sisters have shared all these years. Beginning with the childhoods they experienced as daughters of a major in the Marines, Ann, Nancy, their older sister Lynn and their mother moved constantly, finding it hard to put down roots. Because of this, their family (known as “The Big Five”) focused inwardly. Ann, a classic middle child, dealt with body image and stuttering problems that vanished when she found her voice. Later, Nancy, the youngest, found comfort in relationships with her band mates.

 

The story of the band’s genesis and first big break is vividly recounted, along with the bumps along the way. Their first hit “Magic Man” was released while they were briefly living in Vancouver, and they became stars in Canada before in their native country. This period brought success after classics like “Dog and Butterfly” and “Barracuda” became showstoppers. After some rough times and disappointing album sales in the cocaine-fueled early 80s, Heart’s second-act rebirth came with hits like “What About Love”, “These Dreams” and “Alone”. Included, too, is the interesting story of how Ann, to this day, refuses to sing their controversial 1989 hit “All I Want to Do is Make Love to You”. Full of tidbits about musicians the women have come to know over the years, including Stevie Nicks, Elton John, John Mellencamp, and many in the Seattle rock scene, this is a strong memoir about a life on the road, but also the story of two sisters who broke through a glass ceiling and came out on top.

Todd

 
 

Six Degrees of Celebrity

Hello Goodbye HelloCraig Brown tackles the world of celebrities and their fascinating encounters with one another in Hello Goodbye Hello: a Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings. Brilliant in conception, with each vignette comprised of exactly 1,001 words, Brown entertains the reader with amusing anecdotes of how the celebrated and gifted interacted. Some of the meetings are unlikely and many are just plain weird.

 

From an opening story in which Adolf Hitler is knocked down by a careless English driver in 1931, to the Duchess of Windsor’s meeting with the Fuhrer over tea, and throughout the ninety-nine tales in between, this book is proof that truth is stranger than fiction. Brown employs a chain-link structure to his narrative so one encounter smoothly leads directly into the next one. Some meet-ups are delightfully pleasant as between mutual admirers Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain. Less successful encounters include Groucho Marx trying to impress T.S. Eliot by quoting his poetry, and Eliot commenting that he was familiar with his own work and didn’t need a recitation. And a last group of meetings are miserable failures, including one between literary pair James Joyce and Marcel Proust, who barely spoke to one another. Brown, a BBC Radio host and Daily Mail columnist, delivers an absorbing, humorous collection of snapshots in the lives of famed personalities.  For readers unfamiliar with some of the characters at play in this circle, Brown provides brief biographies. His snarky asides and enlightening footnotes add to the stories of these often incongruous, sometimes poignant, but always entertaining meetings.  

Maureen

 
 

Silent Killer

Breathing RoomInvincible MicrobeTuberculosis has been called the greatest serial killer of all time, and remains a crisis in many countries. Two new books for children tackle this scourge and shed light on the incredible pain suffered by its victims and the horrors of treatment.

 

In 1940, thirteen year old Evelyn (“Evvy") Hoffmeister is sent to Loon Lake Sanatorium, a treatment facility for tuberculosis patients in Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles. Evvy is frightened by her new surroundings and must learn to adapt to the harsh rules – no talking, no visitors, strict bed rest. Evvy soon finds her place and makes friends with the other girls in her ward. Hayles provides a fascinating glimpse into the medical technology of the day, such as the pneumothorax which blew air into the chest, or thoracoplasty, the surgical removal of a rib which would supposedly allow a lung to collapse and heal. Period photographs add depth to the story and an author’s note provides additional information. Evvy’s voice captures the resentment, fear, determination, and hope of a young patient fighting an insidious disease with no real cure.

 

Evvy could very well be one of the young ladies pictured in the dramatic cover photograph of Jim Murphy’s Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never Ending Search for a Cure. This is an impeccably researched narrative nonfiction title complete with photographs, prints, and source notes. Murphy starts with the history of this deadly germ and offers evidence of tuberculosis in a 500,000 year old fossilized skull. Murphy also details the many ineffectual treatments in ancient Egypt and Greece before following the course of the dread disease through Europe and America. Finally, readers learn of the social history and impact of tuberculosis. Examples include chapters describing the warped nineteenth-century romantic view of the disease, and the difficulties encountered by African-Americans and immigrants in their search for treatment. The research, photographs, notes and easy narrative flow make this biography of a disease a fascinating read.

Maureen

 
 

Body Snatcher

Body Snatcher

posted by:
October 17, 2012 - 8:11am

Every DayWhat makes us who we are? Our parents tell us it is what’s on the inside that counts, and not how we look. David Levithan turns this old adage on its ear with his newest book Every Day. The reader follows A, the main character, through the changing days of life—literally. Every morning, A wakes up in a different body. Always approximately the same age, always in the same geographical area, but never the same body twice. A can access the body’s knowledge and memories, but A remains a separate person existing inside of someone else.

 

This nomadic life is all A has ever known, and it is usually fine, until one morning A meets Rhiannon, the girlfriend of the body A is inhabiting for that day. An instant spark ignites, and suddenly A does not want to leave her. A begins “kidnapping” people in order to be near Rhiannon. Should A share the secret with her, and would she believe it? Is there any way for them to have a future together?

 

Author/Collaborator/Editor Levithan has created a fascinating character in A, who is neither male nor female, thin nor fat, tall nor short, white nor non-white. As the reader plunges in, seemingly endless questions arise. Does A live the perfect life, forever experiencing a new day, or is it a perfect trap? How much do we really touch other people’s lives every day? Do we really exist if no one else knows or loves us? Every Day makes the reader think about the intangibility of life and love, as well as what makes us each unique.

Sam

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Some Say the World Will End in Fire

AfterEven after the smoke clears, technology fails, science runs amuck, society as we know it collapses and the power-drunk take over, there is still a glimmer of hope for mankind. After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia presents tales that take place after of the end of the world as we knew it. Editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling commissioned work from some of the most popular and critically acclaimed authors for young adults. The resulting stories are both disturbing and thought-provoking, leaving readers pondering the what-ifs.

 

Carrie Ryan explores the zombie territory that made her name as a writer in “After the Cure,” where the teen protagonist has been “rehabilitated” from her former life as a member of a pack of the bloodthirsty undead. The zombie plague began as a diet drug gone wrong; the girl’s secret--her taste for flesh has merely been sublimated. Science again spins out of control in “Fake Plastic Trees” by fantasy author Caitín R. Kiernan, where a replicating “goo” intended to provide food for an ever-expanding population goes rogue. The nano-assemblers creating the substance begin rapidly transforming “just about anything” into plastic. Narrator Cody tells her story after The Event, but the threat of mutating strains of nanos persists.

 

Echoes of Nazi and Khmer Rouge soldiers brutalizing families under a dictator’s orders make Susan Beth Pfeffer’s “Reunion” one of the most chilling stories of the lot. Set entirely in an office where the walls and even the lone window have been painted a dull brown, the leader of a totalitarian government in a nameless location has fallen. Isabella’s mother seeks her oldest daughter, who had been taken away years ago by soldiers and given to a childless colonel and his wife. How will they know for certain which of the brainwashed young women is really Maria?

 

An afterword by the editors chronicles a brief history of teen interest in the dystopian genre, which has its roots in often-assigned adult classics written by authors such as H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury and William Golding. The stories of After make worthy thematic companions.

Paula G.