Thursday 25 February 2016

Futurist Violence and Fancy Suits

By David Wong

There are so many internet connected devices available.  I have the usual devices: smartphone, gaming consoles, a connected TV, a tablet, a regular computer.  I haven’t got a smartwatch yet and virtual reality googles are still a bit too expensive, but I expect I will get them eventually.  All this technology is going to mean that I’ll be connected to everyone else all the time.  The consequences of this may be… interesting.   This is where David Wong’s action comedy novel Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits comes in.

Set in a near future where global citizens’ public and private actions are publicly broadcast over the internet daily and criminals commit crimes on demand to get high view counts on entertainment feeds, Zoey Ashe is forced by circumstance to flee her comfortable trailer park life. She finds herself in the new city of Tabula Rasa, the ultimate corporate town, totally free of government interference, where money rules the day and even murder is a regular business transaction. Zoey discovers upon her arrival that she is tied to the city much more closely than she could have expected and that she has enemies quite eager to see her dead as soon as possible. With everyone streaming her whole ordeal live Zoey can’t find a moment of peace or a place to hide.  How will she manage to keep her potential killers off her back, even as the whole world watches nearly every move she makes?

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits is exactly what the title promises.  You can expect fancy technology, weird weapons, and fashionable hitmen.  It’s far from an intellectual piece, though it does work as a goof on modern internet culture.   After all, it’s an action comedy with lots of crude humor and cultural references, a bit like a version of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One that doesn’t rely as much on nostalgia.  Think of it as a modern-day Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as written by an American editor of, the successor to the magazine that was the competitor of MAD magazine (because it was: David Wong is that editor).

Saturday 20 February 2016

The Memory of Light
The Memory of Light
By Francisco X. Stork

I just finished reading an advanced copy of this book. I know that it is a YA book but I wanted to recommend it for parents and adults as well. Francisco Stork has tackled the world of mental illness in a very real and sensitive way. I would recommend this to teens and parents alike. The Memory of Light gives insight into the minds of teens dealing with mental illness. In a world where mental illness is not always taken seriously Stork has written a novel that delves into the reality of depression, schizophrenia and substance abuse in teen life. Friends brought together during their stay at a hospital learn ways to cope and strategize in order to make it through each day. Our main character, Vicky, seems to have it all and according to the outside world she has no reason to be depressed or suicidal. Stork shines a light on the fact that depression is an illness like diabetes and may need treatment and medication, it should not be ignored or belittled. There are also some helpful tips and hotlines for readers to contact if they need. The Memory of Light is available as an audio book on Hoopla and I have ordered a copy of the book for our shelves.

Friday 19 February 2016

Crooked Heart

Crooked Heart

Lissa Evans’ “Crooked Heart” is a startlingly funny odd-couple story set against the backdrop of World War II London. It follows Noel Bostock, a ten-year-old orphan being raised by his anti-authoritarian suffragette godmother, Mattie. She isn’t a particularly affectionate woman, but she does adore him and maintains his education from home. As the novel begins, Mattie is suffering from dementia’s rapid disintegration and refuses to acknowledge the steady arrival of war.

Noel is incapable of relating to his peers, having spent most of his life in the company of a bookishly independent woman. He is a solemn little boy, with a gimpy leg and a tendency toward spending his time alone with books or writing about his peers in a self-made code.  As Mattie’s condition worsens and the war grows closer to home, he is evacuated to a small city north-northwest of London, and is taken in by a poor thirty-six year old widow, Vee Sedge. Vee lives with a silent mother and unappreciative son, both of whom are completely oblivious to how much effort she has put into sustaining them. She moves from a get-rich-quick scheme to factory work with no real luck, and for her money has always been elusive and difficult to keep. She is considered too and lacking the finesse her latest scheme requires.

Noel invites himself along on one of her cross-London schemes and Vee realizes how much help the clever, organized young boy can actually be. But Blitz-era London can be a very dangerous place, and Noel’s imagination and lack of life experience lead him and Vee on a strange and occasionally violent journey.

This book combines a brilliantly dark wit with memorable, endearing characters and by the end I found myself rooting for the two of them despite (or perhaps because of) their various, well-developed flaws. The burgeoning friendship between Noel and Vee never feels forced or trite, instead Evans allows it to flourish in a way that makes sense for each character. The humour throughout is steady and constant, never over the top but serving instead as a heartbeat that twines itself through the ridiculousness of their circumstances.

The pleasures of this novel sneak up on you, but they linger.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder

Hanging Hill
Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder

There are few things that I love more than being curled up under a blanket on a rainy day enjoying a large cup of tea and a good mystery. However, lately I haven’t had much luck finding a compelling who-dun-it until I stumbled upon Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder. This engrossing British mystery details the lives of two estranged sisters brought together by the horrific murder of a teenage girl.

Sally and Zoë Benedict couldn't be more different. Sally is a recently divorced housewife trying to make ends meet. She has always been a bit of a dreamer, soft spoken and used to letting others direct her life. Zoë, on the other hand, is a hard-as-nails police detective. Fiercely independent, with a sarcastic biting wit, Zoë has convinced herself that she needs nothing and no one in her life. I enjoy reading about characters that are flawed, and Sally and Zoë certainly fit the bill. They go through life like most of us do; just trying to do their best with the cards they have been dealt.

When Sally`s teenage daughter gets into trouble, Sally finds herself short of cash and time. With no one to turn to, Sally takes an offer against her own better judgement. It`s a decision that will have unimaginable and disturbing consequences in everyone`s lives. In the meantime, Zoë investigation into the murder of a teenage girl brings back ghosts from her past that promise disaster for her future.

This is the first Mo Hayder book I`ve read, and so far, I`m quite impressed. Hayder has the rare talent of setting up a scene in such a way that the reader can not only visualize the scene but become immersed into it. Warning, this mystery is not for the faint of heart. Although Hayder is not filling pages with gore, she doesn`t shrink from gruesome details when the moment calls for it. This book had me cringing, but also laughing at parts, biting my nails and even shedding a tear or two. And the ending made my jaw hit the floor. I recommend this book to fans of gripping mysteries and dark thrillers filled with memorable characters.

Along the Infinite Sea

Along the Inifinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Whenever I read one of Beatriz Williams’ books, it is like catching up on family. Along the Infinite Sea is another installment in the lives of the Schuyler sisters, a trio of society daughters whose lives I have been compelled to follow, since I first read 100 Summers. This latest novel follows the trials of Pepper Schuyler, unexpectedly pregnant and running away from her Washington DC life. We last saw Pepper restoring an old Mercedes in Tiny Little Thing, which introduced us to Pepper’s sister, Tiny.
The old Mercedes is the catalyst that brings Pepper and Annabelle together when Annabelle buys the car from Pepper for a large sum of money. Pepper hopes that the money will ensure her security and can support her and her child, but when the indomitable Annabelle intercepts with her own plan for Pepper’s well-being, the pair undertake a new journey together. The chapters alternate between the present and the past, intertwining the tale of Annabelle’s tumultuous coming of age in pre-war Germany with Pepper’s present 1960’s troubles, ultimately uniting the pair to face their pasts together. Annabelle’s connection to the old car is slowly revealed and we learn how a sudden and desperate escape leads her, and the car, to the Cape Cod shed where Pepper uncovered it. Meanwhile, Pepper faces her own sudden escape from life’s complications, and as each of the women’s secrets of the past come to light, they help each other move into the present.
I really enjoyed this final chapter in the lives of the Schuylers, and I will miss them now they are gone. The real history that Williams effectively writes into the backdrop of her stories enhances the reader’s understanding of the past and gives the characters an authenticity that draws us in to empathize with their plight.

Friday 12 February 2016

City On Fire

City on Fire
City On Fire

By Garth Risk Hallberg

Let me start by saying that City on Fire requires a bit of a commitment.  At over 900 pages, some have argued that it’s far too long.  But if you’re up to the task, this novel is worth it.

Set in the crime-ridden, dirty and corrupt New York City of 1976/77, City on Fire is populated by an eclectic cast of New Yorkers: the rich Hamilton-Sweeney clan; Mercer Goodman, an innocent, gay, black southerner who has moved to the city; Sam Cicciaro and Charlie Weisberger, two kids from Long Island who feel the pull of the punk scene and immerse themselves in the city; and Sam’s father, Carmine, whose expertise with fireworks has been discarded by the city in favour of big conglomerate fireworks.  His story makes up several “interludes” in which we learn about the history of fireworks in America.  

There are many, many more characters in the novel, all of whom are connected in some way, although most of them don’t know it.  When one of the main characters is shot in Central Park on New Year’s Eve, it seems possible that almost any one of them could have been the culprit.

City on Fire is part mystery, certainly.  But it’s also an homage to the lonely people that populate New York – the way they are interconnected even as they languish alone.  And New York itself figures prominently in the book.  Streets, intersections, boroughs and landmarks create its ever-present backdrop.  The seedy undercurrents of the city, the arts scene, the filthy-rich developers, and suburban culture all feed into the story.

The book culminates in the famous blackout of 1977 and each character must endure a long difficult night of chaos on the streets.  Like the roaming bands of rioters determined to “take back the city”, they come to terms with their lives and relationships as they face the darkness, both physical and emotional.

I loved the grittiness of this novel, and I became lost in the story.  The characters, the mystery and the strong sense of place make City on Fire more of an experience than a linear narrative.  I highly recommend it!