Two words. Quentin. Tarantino. He is an Oscar Award-winning screenwriter responsible for writing and directing hit movies, such as Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. His most recent project is The Hateful Eight. The film version premiered in late 2015, but readers can get their hands on the 165-page screenplay clothed in book form. If you have not seen the movie, then read the screenplay first, or vice or versa to compare the two mediums and see how they differ.
The Hateful Eight takes place post-Civil War in the middle of a winter storm in Wyoming. A bounty hunter by the name of John Ruth travels in a stagecoach to a town called Red Rock, handcuffed to his prisoner, Daisy Domergue. John Ruth wants two things. One, he wants to deliver Daisy to the Red Rock sheriff so that she can hang for her crimes. Two, he wants to collect the $10,000 fee for turning her in. However, sabotage may be looming around the corner. On his way to Red Rock, he spots a familiar face. It is Major Warren, the bounty hunter, sitting on three dead frozen bodies in the middle of a snowy road. John Ruth's stagecoach driver, O.B., pulls over. Major Warren wants a ride to Red Rock to turn in the three dead men he uses as a seat cushion. Skeptically, John Ruth obliges. O.B. takes off in the stagecoach and they come across another loner stuck in the snow storm, Chris Mannix, who claims to be the new sheriff in Red Rock. Chris adds that he needs to be present in Red Rock if the bounty hunters expect to be paid for their services. Although John Ruth finds Chris' sheriff story fabricated, he allows Chris inside his stagecoach just in case he is speaking the truth. Due to harsh weather conditions, the stagecoach detours at a very convenient place called Minnie's Haberdashery that provides food and drinks. What is odd is that Minnie, the owner, is nowhere to be found. A man called “Bob” welcomes them and mentions that he is looking after the place until Minnie gets back from her "trip." John Ruth and the others quickly discover that there are four suspicious looking strangers inside Minnie’s Haberdashery and most of them provide stories that they are heading to Red Rock when the weather settles down. Despite what they say, John Ruth believes that one or all of the strangers are there to sabotage his plan to get Daisy to Red Rock to hang. Who inside Minnie's Haberdashery aren't who they say they are? Who will make it to Red Rock when the weather clears? You'll find the answers to these questions inside Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.
For those who are not familiar with Quentin Tarantino's work, I want to inform readers that The Hateful Eight contains profanity, violence and gore. With that said, Quentin Tarantino's screenplay was easy to follow and I had no problem visualizing the story. The Hateful Eight has a nice mixture of mystery, western, drama and comedy.
The Man Who Spoke Snakish is a bildungsroman legend coming out of the often overlooked Baltic country of Estonia. It is set during an awkward and mysterious period of time in Medieval Europe — late in the age of Vikings but early in the times of Christian colonization. Author Andrus Kivirähk describes the conflicts of peace — when people are forced to navigate societies in which different languages, beliefs and ways of living intermingle and cross-pollinate. The book's narrator, Leemet, is a member of a society that has learned the tongue of serpents, and with this, gained the power to communicate and control other animal species. But that society's way of life is threatened from within as its people change their ways. Their assimilation to an agrarian lifestyle means that they are renouncing the ways of their forest home and forgetting the ancient language. Will Leemet be able to pass his knowledge of Snakish down to the next generation?
While it does resemble Jean M. Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear in some respects, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is not a story with any qualms about historical accuracy. It stands out for its wry use of anachronistic language and the ease with which it can be imagined by modern readers. In fact, many of the characters seem like stereotypes from a modern neighborhood — the hippies living on the edge of town, modish young people obsessed with the latest fads and ultraconservative religious fanatics. While the appellation “barbarian” hovers throughout the text, it never alights to describe a particular culture or character. Instead, there is an unrelenting, Darwinian conviction that change is inevitable, unrelenting and often times totally irrational. In the end, is Leemet more of a Grendel or a Beowulf?
Pierce Brown is a prodigious young author who first hit the shelves in 2013 with Red Rising, book one in a trilogy that includes the titles Golden Son and now the newly released Morning Star. The Red Rising Trilogy is a science fiction epic set after human expansion has moved past an exhausted Earth and a tightly ruled government of Colors has been instated. Those in power have designated themselves the Golds, or the ruling class, and split the people remaining into Colors to match their station — Silvers handling money, Blues working in technology, Pinks in pleasure and the lowly Reds who work the ground itself.
Darrow is a Red who lives and works in the underground mining community on Mars. Although only 17, he’s already married and at the peak of his career as a Helldiver, a role requiring incredible speed and dexterity to control a hazardous drill to mine resources deep in the crust of the planet. His main concerns are his starving family and living his simple life to the fullest, but when a personal tragedy strikes him to his core he finds himself unwillingly hurtled into the world of Golds, a deadly Academy and a revolution the span of which he only barely understands. As his absorption into Gold society extends from months to years and his contact with the rebel leaders who put him there fades away, Darrow faces the difficult reality of encountering the Golds as the flawed but human individuals they are. Despite his losses, despite the suffering of his people, Darrow comes to understand the Golds and their society, to befriend them, even — to his mingled delight and horror — to fall in love.
As he excels in every test he’s given and accomplishes every seemingly impossible challenge the Golds set him, his conundrum comes to a head. Will he be able to take the reins of the revolution against people he’s starting to consider his friends? Will he be able to survive their ruthlessness, even if he does fight? Morning Star brings the conclusion of the delectable tension Red Rising and Golden Son have built up, an intense drama to truly be swept away by.
Hair: A Human History proves the rule that even the most mundane topics become fascinating in the hands of an author who is passionate about their subject matter. A former professor of pathology and dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine and a once-director of skin biology at Johnson & Johnson, Kurt Stenn has particular expertise as a follicle man. His enthusiasm for the subject matter translates to the page in this engaging microhistory.
Hair offers what the author refers to as a “panoramic view” of the natural fiber, including whiskers, pubic hair and mammalian fur. Stenn provides readers with a modicum of simple science and lots of cocktail party-worthy facts and anecdotes worth sharing. He begins with a description of the follicle growth cycle, spending time on causes of extreme hair loss and explaining male pattern baldness. Hair follicles don’t disappear; they become smaller and smaller until they’re microscopic. Who knew that bald men really do have hair?
The author shares the reason that Abraham Lincoln grew his famous beard, and explores how tonsorial choices reflected both beauty and power throughout history. Did you know that the iconic barber pole is a vestige of the time before the 18th century when barbers performed bloodletting? Barbers of the time doubled as surgeons, since hair and body care were seen as one and the same.
Hair touches on the history of hair styling, chemical processing and even hair removal. Stenn takes a look at depictions of hair in art, and at artists that make a statement by including actual human hair in their work. He points out the sentimental and spiritual value of a lock of hair, and describes the once-common custom of wearing jewelry made from a deceased loved one’s hair — a memento mori. Dozens of illustrations add to the book’s appeal. At just 169 pages (plus a glossary and extensive notes), Hair is a fascinating, worthwhile read.
A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin audaciously challenges readers from the very beginning. Protagonist Milo Andret is a mathematical genius, a young man with an uncanny sense of direction and intrinsic awareness of geographical place. He visualizes complex problems and, to him, obvious solutions. His adult life becomes absorbed by the complex world of academic mathematical theory, in particular, topology.
What is topology, you might ask? And why would you spend your time on a novel that spans decades and devotes over 500 pages to a literary novel that seemingly centers on math? Credit the supple talent of novelist Canin for crafting a rich, relatable saga with universal themes of self-discovery, fulfillment, love, loss and the importance of family.
Although his path seemed obvious, Milo was never a good student, as he was prone to boredom. Five years after completing his undergraduate degree (he spent the interim working as an auto mechanic), he applies to graduate school at UC Berkeley. A latecomer to the field, it’s not long before Milo discovers the theorem that will define his career, the elusive young woman who will slip through his grasp and haunt him for the rest of his life, and the poet/mathematician who not only becomes his nemesis but represents the path not taken.
But like the real life mathematician John Nash, portrayed in the book and movie A Beautiful Mind, Milo’s brilliance comes at a price. His brain never quiets, and he lacks the coping mechanisms to relax and simply be happy — he’s constantly striving. He loves the company of women, but lacks interpersonal skills that allow for connection beyond the bedroom. Self-medication helps; Maker’s Mark bourbon bottles literally pile up. Milo reaches the zenith of his professional life early and manages to make a number of enemies along the way. He marries to escape, and his career falters as his frustration mounts.
Canin makes a smart choice by giving the narration to Milo’s son. Hans is brilliant in his own way but damaged by a childhood dominated by a mercurial, distant father and a loving, devoted yet unfulfilled mother. His sister, also a prodigy, is scarred by their father’s failure to recognize her. Hans makes a fortune by using his own mathematical skills in the financial markets. Wildly successful, he also self-medicates from his time as a young teen — first with the recreational drug MDA, later with cocaine. Hans and his wife keep their own children far from their grandfather.
Canin is a master storyteller, creating interesting, flawed characters that struggle to feel comfortable in their own skin; characters that long to connect in meaningful ways and leave their mark on the world. A Doubter’s Almanac draws you deeply into the lives of the Andrets in ways that stay with you long after you’ve finished this smart, intensely moving novel. This is literary fiction at its best, challenging and rewarding. A Doubter’s Almanac is the best novel I’ve read this year, deserving of the many accolades that are sure to come its way.
A war is raging over magic’s presence in the world. Exorcists and priests are pursuing witches and demons, purging them from the world until there is only one place left where the connection to magic remains strong — Ireland. In Mark Tompkins’s debut novel The Last Days of Magic, human and fairy politics collide as the war over magic comes to Ireland’s shores, and it's not always obvious who can be trusted — on either side.
Tompkins’s worldbuilding is detailed and well-researched, blending mythology, mysticism and historical fact together to craft a historical fantasy retelling of the 1390s. His cast includes people straight out of history, from Richard II to Saints Patrick and Brigid, and out of mythology, such as the Morrigna and the Sidhe. And Tompkins threads these together with facts and speculations from Vatican history, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and witch trials.
You might think that having all of these elements in play would lead to a convoluted or overworked plot, but Tompkins balances the historical and the fantastical to create characters that are flawed and intriguing and a plot filled with political intrigue. It leaves the reader wondering where historical fact actually ends and the myths begin. Fans of Morgan Llywelyn or Juliet Marillier might want to check this book out.
What happens when a little girl goes missing but doesn't know she's lost? Welsh writer Kate Hamer chronicles one such story in her debut novel The Girl in the Red Coat. Told with compassion and sensitivity, this riveting and thought-provoking mystery about a missing child will you keep you under its spell long after the last page. And if you’re concerned about the subject matter, don’t worry, because Hamer has produced an uplifting story filled with hope and optimism.
Beth is a single mother living in rural England. Divorced and estranged from her parents, her world is her daughter Carmel, a vivacious 8-year-old with curly hair and a penchant for drifting off into space. It's the two of them against the world — until the day Carmel disappears into the fog. Who took her? Why? Beth’s guilt and grief jump off the page and into your heart. How did she lose her daughter? Will she find her? Will her guilt ever subside?
But what happened to Carmel? Believing her family no longer wants her, she is living with a man she calls “Gramps” and his family. Carmel does not know she's lost. But who is this man called “Gramps”? Why must she go by the name Mercy? Why do they live in a big truck and not a proper house?
Told alternatively from both Beth and Carmel’s viewpoints, Hamer delivers a page-turner focusing on the strength of the human spirit. Beth and Carmel will captivate you with their determination and strength while keeping you reading into the wee hours of the night. Readers participating in BCPL’s 2016 Reading Challenge should note that The Girl in the Red Coat satisfies the challenge of reading a book with a color in the title.
In Second House from the Corner, Sadeqa Johnson introduces us to Felicia Lyons, a stay-at-home mom with three kids under 6 and a hard-working but somewhat imperious husband. While she loves her family, there are moments when the relentless drudgery of keeping house and dealing with screaming children are overwhelming, and Felicia wonders what life would be like without the responsibilities of kids and the demands on her time.
But be careful what you wish for! One night Felicia receives a phone call that turns her world upside down. The phone call is from Martin, the significantly older man who seduced her as a teenager and left her emotionally battered. When her husband learns of her illicit past, he is devastated and feels completely betrayed. Felicia is at sea, concerned for the future of her marriage and family, but also intrigued by Martin’s call and the reignited feelings she thought were doused so long ago. She returns to her childhood home in Philadelphia to face her past in an effort to secure her family’s future. But one bad decision leads to another, and everything she has worked so hard for is in peril.
Felicia is a strong, relatable woman with a compelling history. Part chick lit, part domestic drama, Johnson utilizes short chapters to quicken the pace of the narrative and keep the reader riveted. Felicia is not a perfect woman, which makes her all the more likeable in spite of her flaws and questionable choices. Johnson does not tiptoe around challenging topics giving a raw, realistic edge to Felicia’s life-changing journey.
Soloman and Jimmy are half-brothers and have been friends with Aleks since childhood. Having grown up imprisoned by a land made of asphalt and cement, the three men struggle and support one another in a vanguard against the inertia of suburban life. Each one is on a quest: Soloman seeks a purpose after his basketball career is destroyed by an injury, Jimmy tries to find someone to love and Aleks strives to give his family as much as he can. They are guided by music, “b-boy” (hip-hop) idols and graffiti. Here Come the Dogs is the first novel by Omar Musa, an award-winning Australian poet and rapper.
Musa has filled his book with mischievous wordsmithing, alternating between narrative poetry and lyrical prose. Heavily immersed in the Australian hip-hop scene, Musa references musicians on almost every page but readers do not need to be familiar with Australian rap to be moved by the passion with which Musa describes it. The stories within will appeal to anyone who enjoys dramatic fiction contextualized with larger themes, including fans of The Wire and Breaking Bad.
One focus in Musa's writing is the diverse makeup of Australian neighborhoods. He has written characters that are both within and outside of their society. Aleks, Jimmy and Soloman all have the ability to cross cultural borders, but each faces unique struggles that prevent them from ever feeling wholly integrated in their communities. While Australia's recipe for a melting pot varies from that of the U.S., the struggles of a post-colonial society are far from alien, and the undercurrent of race riots flowing throughout the novel is particularly significant here in the Baltimore area.
A ramshackle building in the heart of London houses the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a division of the London police force established during World War II to solve crimes that could have a detrimental impact on public morale. Author Christopher Fowler proves there is no shortage of peculiar crimes in his latest mystery Bryant & May and the Burning Man.
It takes unusual detectives to delve into the minds of unique killers, and none are more unusual than this pair. Bryant is brilliant, unconventional and possesses a biting sense humor. May is erudite, refined and equally gifted. This pair has been together since the war, cultivating a reputation for unconventional means and defying police procedure. They are just as likely to consult a clairvoyant as a forensic pathologist.
In the wake of an insider-trading scandal, thousands of rioters have turned London’s financial district into a war zone. A vengeful pyromaniac decides to cleanse the world of greedy graspers who prey on the working stiffs. Under the cover of the chaos, he stalks the victims, using their personal habits to exact revenge. Bryant insists the murders are linked to the financial scandal, but he is unable to convince the brass, who are convinced that Bryant has finally gone ‘round the bend.
Fowler brilliantly intersperses the history of the city throughout his work, providing the background for Guy Fawkes Day while simultaneously heightening the tension. The humor is smart, incisive and wry. While this is the 12th Bryant & May entry, these books are not designed to be read in order. Each book is a standalone delight. The relationship between the two detectives is poignant without being maudlin. We are left hoping that someday, like Bryant and May, we will not go gently into that good night.