Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Books to check out

It's been a while since I posted any book reviews, but trust me, I have been reading constantly.  A lot of what I've been reading either isn't out yet, or isn't available in paperback, but that shouldn't stop you from taking note of it, or finding it in hardcover or ebook (no seriously, please keep buying physical books!). 
Those Across the River (on sale 9/6/11) is a mystery with a fantastical bent.  You don't have to be into werewolf books to read it, because the setting, characters, and mystery are compelling enough on their own, but that element is also present for those who like a dose of un-reality.  It is a fast read, set in Georgia in a slow-moving town in the period between world wars.  Everyone is dirt poor, very Christian, and afraid to remain in the woods across the river after dark.  It doesn't take long to figure out what they are afraid of, even if they aren't sure what it is.  Quick and entertaining, this is a fun book.

The Magician King (on sale 8/9/11) is the sequel to last year's triumphant original, The Magicians.  You absolutely do need to read the first book first, as the second picks up right where we left off, assuming you already know these characters and their history.  For those not familiar, these are magical books for a non-Harry Potter audience, which isn't to say that you can't enjoy both, as an adult (not suitable for children).  Here, the magicians curse and drink and fornicate while mastering complicated spells and using them to gain fortune and other earthly rewards.  This second book is divided between the stories of two characters: Quentin, the title character we followed through magic school in the first book, and Julia, his high school friend who I had all but forgotten by the end of the first book, and had to refresh my memory about. The story in the "present" is Quentin's, in which Julia plays a role, as the magicians travel all across Fillory, their magical kingdom ala Narnia, and beyond on a quest. The other story is that of Julia's past, what happened to her while Quentin was off at Brakebills earning a first class magical education. I found the story of her struggle to learn magic at any cost more intriguing, but that may be my taste for the sadistic side of life in literature.  Once again, the end is left open for a sequel.

On a completely different note, You Deserve Nothing (on sale 8/30/11) is a poignant and thoughtful book, told from three intertwining points of view. Set in Paris and revolving around a teacher and two students at the ISF, a school for Americans whose parents are stationed in France, you are wrapped in a feeling of being out of place. Most of the students don't speak French, and there is a Lost in Translation kind of aura to it.

Will, a divorced teacher in his early 30s, wants badly to inspire his students, though he himself is uninspired. Marie, a girl of about 17, is used to living in the shadow of her best friend and worst enemy, Ariel, and wants to be seen and loved by someone on her own merits. And Gilad wants to fit in somewhere, wants to be Parisian and to please his favorite teacher and to have the courage to stand up to his father.
As Will's class studies existentialism, all of these characters find that they have to compromise in a world unsuited to idealists and dreamers.

If you haven't already heard about A Discovery of Witches (currently available, or on sale in paperback 12/27/11), get on it!  Yes, their are witches, vampires, and daemons, but their are also wonderfully detailed descriptions, eccentric and endearing characters, and an underlying commentary on prejudice and bigotry.  I don't know one person who hasn't enjoyed this book, including those who don't tend toward fantasy.  It's a story of clashing fantastical factions, of history, and of the forbidden romance between a witch and a vampire.  I dare you not to like it.  We are all salivating for the sequel. 

The Death Instinct (available now, or in paperback 1/3/12) does not have a single magical or fantastical creature.  It is a compelling historical novel, propelled by strong characters and a central mystery. The book opens with the first terrorist attack on American soil: a bombing on Wall Street in 1920. The country is in a post-war dysphoria, heightened by prohibition, and eager to elect a new president in the first election after granting women’s suffrage. Against this backdrop, New York Police Captain Littlemore and his friend Dr. Younger attempt to piece together how this bombing was planned. But Dr. Younger has another mystery to solve: who is out to get his friend (and love interest) Collette Rousseau, a Frenchwoman he met during the war and brought back to the States, along with her mute little brother, Luc. Rubenfeld also treats us to period cameos by Freud and Marie Curie.  This book held my interest and had me trying to keep up with Littlemore’s instincts, while hoping for Younger and Collette to finally get together.  I highly recommend this one.

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