Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: Fire and Hemlock

When I first picked up Fire and Hemlock, a novel by the "queen of the fantastic" Diana Wynne Jones, I expected something very similar to Howl's Moving Castle, the only other Diana Wynne Jones book I have read. I ended getting something quite different--in fact, something unlike any other book I have read--and I liked it. A lot.  
Fire and Hemlock, a retelling of the ballads Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer,  follows Polly Whittacker, 19 years old and a little confused. You see, Polly has two memories. In one, her life is fairly normal and uneventful. In the other, she mistakenly wanders into a funeral and meets the peculiar, mild-mannered cellist Thomas Lynn. 
Fire and Hemlock is largely a coming of age story. It details the course of Polly's strange, often heartbreaking life from the age of ten to 19. Polly is relatable from the very beginning, and she is no useless crybaby protagonist--she is brave and smart, an ideal hero-trainee.* The other characters in Fire and Hemlock are equally interesting. Not a single one feels underdeveloped (though I would have liked to see Tom's quartet get more screen time) and all are more then they appear to be on the surface.
The atmosphere of this book is amazing. Fire and Hemlock is extremely mysterious, so mysterious that for the first three quarters of the book I had no idea why such strange things were happening. While the book is set in 1980's England, and feels similar to modern day, a subtle but a potent magical atmosphere clings to its pages.  Also, as to be expected with Diana Wynne Jones, this book is both witty and humorous. A real winner.
My only complaint is that this book is rather confusing. There are so many details and layers that it becomes a little overwhelming, and I know for sure I didn't catch everything. I think that this is a book you'd have to read several times to truly understand.
To conclude, Fire and Hemlock is a unique, thought-provoking fantasy that has a most mysterious quality in that it exists HERE NOW, NOW HERE, and NOWHERE.**


*Why don't you just read the book?
**I'm not going to repeat myself. READ IT!

Friday, April 27, 2012


    There is no real need for Odysseus to worry about the underwater ladies in Tricia Rayburn's novel, Siren, as long as he keeps his ear buds in and his i-pod turned up... at least that is how it seemed to work for the savvy teens of this paranormal story set on the coast of Maine.
    With her own sister and numerous men washing up dead at the popular summer resort, Vanessa, the heroine of Siren, must look beyond the waves if she wants to discover the truth of the mystery that is enveloping her town.
    She is not alone in her quest, of course, for who lives next door but a handsome college student, ready to catch her when she falls and help her as she follows an uncertain path of discovery. Formulaic? Yes! Fun, anyway? Sure. Stellar? Absolutely not. Painful? Not at all.
    Siren is a quick, fun, and harmless read... good to pack with the beach towel... just remember to take your i-pod and don't go in the water.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review--Dark Eden

    What a bizarre book this one was.... Patrick Carman's Dark Eden had a premise with potential, which, in my opinion, never materialized. The idea that a person's most deeply-held fears could be cured through some strange mind control is a fascinating one, I suppose, but the framework of Carman's book was so loosely-held it made the acceptance of the concept impossible. And that is the most important task an author has in a fantasy/science fiction narrative--making the impossible seem possible and believable.
    In the case of Dark Eden, reality seemed so skewed, even the normal aspects of the world didn't fit. Relationships were shallow, dialogue was unrealistic, and the characters were poorly developed... even that of the main character, who we are supposed to care about the most. I found myself not caring at all: was not concerned when the kids'  worst fears were faced, because at the end things just didn't make sense. And the ending! Don't get me started. What a cop out.
    I walked away from this one most gladly... but not until discovering one very important thing: one of my greatest fears is having to face another book as poorly-written as Dark Eden.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review--Caleb's Crossing

   Caleb's Crossing, an historical novel by Geraldine Brooks, was very interesting, as it covered an often-neglected aspect of American History. In the early years of the colonies, when the Puritans were actively seeking to convert the Native Americans from what they deemed to be pagan beliefs, there were Indians taken into the "fold", so to speak, and educated in the European fashion. This meant having a firm grasp of Latin, Greek, the classics, and of course, the Bible.
    Based on the true story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, Caleb's Crossing is a lovely story of friendship, learning, and tradition. Told from the point of view of a young Puritan girl, the daughter of a minister seeking to convert the natives, the narrative is tender and innocent, as Bethia watches the world change before her eyes and the native peoples struggling to find their places in it. Some bend and find their niches, in order to survive, while others fight and curse, never destined to assimilate into the culture that eventually annihilates theirs.
    The book is sensitive to the early plights of the Indians, who struggled to hold on to their traditions and beliefs in the face of the relentless flood of newcomers from over the waters. The narrative reminded me just how insensitive the early settlers were to those who were here before them, reminding me that this country has some dark histories that are often ignored.
    For a fascinating reminder of that turbulent period of this nation's history, this book is worth your time. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
~ Karina

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review--The Strain

    Calling all vampire lovers! Or haters, more appropriately... The Strain is no Twilight. The first in a trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth fame), The Strain was creepy, dark, violent, and fast-paced, as well as very cinematic, of course. Manhattan is in the grip of an epidemic never imagined, after an airplane, laden with dead passengers goes dark on the tarmac. Something evil is unleashed, and in true Hollywood fashion, a doomsday scenario must be averted by an average citizen who finds himself at the head of an unlikely group of people who recognize what is really at stake.
   The book is a quick read and not for those feint of heart, and it reads a bit predictably, but it was fun, nonetheless.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Review-Before I Go to Sleep

   Before I Go to Sleep, a gripping psychological thriller by S.J. Watson, grabbed me from the first page, and had me hooked all the way to the end... just as a good book should. Very cinematic throughout, this fast-paced narrative kept reminding me of movies like Dead Again, Secret Window, and oddly enough, Groundhog Day, though without the laughter.
   Imagine waking up each morning not knowing who you are, having only the hours of that day to figure it all out before you go to sleep, just to start over from square one again the next day. Cleverly crafted and haunting, this book had me puzzling through the mysteries that arose from the fascinating premise.
   Don't miss this one!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review--The Kitchen House

    The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom, was a very moving story about just what it means to be a family. Set in the South during the 18th and 19th Centuries, it chronicles the life of Lavinia, an Irish orphan who is indentured as a young child to a slave owner in Virginia. Color-blind, as youngsters were, even then, Lavinia is raised by the plantation's slaves, and they become her family, easily filling the gaping holes in her heart.
   Profound and tragic, The Kitchen House explores the complex nature of the lives of blacks and whites during that time, highlighting the various relationships, whether it was through blood-relation, violence, simple circumstance, or honest commitment. The characters are fully formed and they command the reader's attention, as their flaws unfurl, revealing their true natures, both good and bad.
   One of the best books I've read recently. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Review--Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

    Helen Simonson's debut novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, was utterly charming and extremely British in feel. Leisurely paced and in turns witty and moving, this non-traditional love story was simply delightful. Though subtle in its social commentary, achieved more by showing rather than telling, the main thrust of the narrative is the timelessness of true love, no matter at what age.
    Major Pettigrew strikes one as quintessentially British, and his small village suits his character to a tee. Despite the fact that change seems difficult for this new widower, he has no qualms about commencing an unconventional and sweet romance with Mrs. Ali, also recently widowed. The two must navigate the prejudices and conventions of an insular and established community, as they strive to make their sunset romance thrive.
    For a nicely-paced, calm read, this one is well worth for time. Now, tally-ho!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review--Arctic Rising

   Arctic Rising, by Tobias S. Buckell is a fast-paced ride through a warming arctic, where the world order has shifted and nefarious factions are determined to inflict their solutions for rising and warming seas upon a helpless world. Despite the timely and fascinating premise, this book failed to impress. It read too much like a B-movie treatment, and the characters felt half-baked and left me ambivalent about their fates, and frankly about the fate of the planet.
    Occasionally, deep ethical issues were raised and discussed, but they seemed hollow when enveloped in a narrative that felt trite and unformed.
    Unless you have unlimited time for books of all sorts, don't bother.