Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbo

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"The pebble-eyes were gleaming. And they were not staring into the house. They were looking up. Up here. Jonas drew the curtains and crept back into bed." - locations 448-56, Kindle edition

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mystery Monday - More Scandinavian Thrillers? Yes, please.

THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler: America has clearly not had enough of the Scandinavian thriller, and THE HYPNOTIST (to be published here in July) is at the top of the genre. It took me barely a day and a half to breeze through this 500+-page novel, because I simply couldn't put it down. Despite sometimes heavy-handed foreshadowing that brought the tone a bit too far into melodramatic territory, the twists and turns of the plot, the deepening understanding of the characters, are gripping enough to keep the pages flying. The novel begins as Detective Joona Linna, in desperation, calls in ex-hypnotist Erik Maria Bark to delve into the mind of the sole survivor of a brutal mass murder in order to save the last potential victim. Bark has given up hypnosis for reasons that are dribbled out throughout the novel for maximum dramatic effect. I felt this was a bit overdone, but had no trouble letting it go. The novel has very short chapters and multiple points of view, making for a choppy ride at the outset, but it's not many pages before it becomes cohesive in the reader's mind. What Bark finds out in the damaged mind of young Josef changes the course of the investigation. Meanwhile, Bark's past comes back to haunt him in a very real way, through the disappearance of his son, Benjamin. The minutes are ticking by to the next dose of the medication Benjamin must have to stay alive (if this sounds overdramatic, well, it is, but it's easily forgiven). Comparisons to Stieg Larsson are inevitable, but this is not THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Instead it's a well-researched chiller with echoes of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It's dark. I think that's the appeal of Scandinavian thrillers; they resist the cozification or politicization that has infused American thriller/mystery. Insular cultures, remote locations, snow, ice, and long, dark winter days make a strong backdrop for twisting psychological suspense.

I did think the novel was a bit long, but it still moves quickly. I can think of a couple of subplots that could have been chucked out to streamline the book, but this is a minor quibble. If it weren't so heavy, I'd speculate that it would be the beach read of 2011 in the U.S. - although I suppose that's what e-readers are for.

Source disclosure: I received an Advance Reader's Copy from Farrar, Straus and Giroux through Shelf Awareness.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Laughing Out Loud

HEADS YOU LOSE by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward: I've been trying to review this book in a more sophisticated way than my initial response ("OMG, so funny!!!" does not really constitute a proper review). Few books make me laugh out loud in a "the guy next to me on the plane keeps looking at me like I'm nuts" way, but there wasn't much breathing room between bouts of cracking up as I read HEADS YOU LOSE. The premise is brilliantly metafictional and the execution flawless. Lisa and David are supposedly former romantic partners who have decided to collaborate on a mystery novel. Since they don't get along, their method of collaboration consists of alternating chapters. In between chapters, their email exchanges are included. It's hard to decide which is funnier; the increasingly messy murder mystery as the writing turns from collaboration to competition/revenge, or the hostile e-mail jabs between the co-authors (Lisa reminds David that he wouldn't be publishing a novel without her name THAT BIG on the cover; David mocks Lisa's grammar and word choice).

The mystery begins with siblings Lacey and Paul finding a headless body on their property. Since they grow marijuana, calling the cops is not an option, so they move the body...and it comes back. The metastory begins with a polite, civilized e-mail exchange, swiftly switching to pointed criticism (ostensibly of the written work, but clearly about their relationship issues) and outright hostility. The characters and plot of the novel suffer (to hilarious effect) from the co-author bickering. During one chapter, I laughed so hard I cried. Trust me, while the whole novel is funny, you'll know when you get to this particular chapter, a response from David to Lisa's exasperation with the unnecessary big words he throws around. Recurring disagreements are brilliantly teased out as Lisa kills off David's favorite character and David refuses to provide any explanation for a plane crash early in the novel. The characters snipe at each other in eerie echoes of Lisa and David's issues, and serious disagreements on the plot make for an increasingly bizarre novel-within-a-novel.

This book is funny. Go read it. And if you just can't get enough, the metafiction continues at the book website.

Source disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof courtesy of Penguin Group through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Friday, May 27, 2011

In the mail

This arrived in my mailbox today! Yes, the publisher sent out the ARE of The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (pseudonym for a married couple) in a customized box. It certainly got my attention, but in a "How much did THAT cost?" sort of way. Since this Swedish thriller is already a bestseller in multiple countries, the US publisher must feel confident spending the extra cash. I guess I'm giving them an extra post as a result, but I'm having trouble seeing how it translates to sales figures. I'm not moving it up in the review queue because of the box...will more influential reviewers really be swayed by a fancy box? It does get one's attention, and maybe I'm naive in thinking that book reviewers are more focused on story than on marketing gimmicks.

Friday, May 20, 2011

An interesting question....children and e-readers?

Angela Flynn published an article on Technorati on Tuesday that brings up an interesting question: Should children use an e-reader?

She feels that books should never be replaced in a child's life and describes her children's early years looking at board books, visiting the library, and story times.

I will admit that I'm annoyed by my children's use of iPods (they got them for Christmas, we have restrictions for when and how long they can use them), video game players, the computer, television, etc. But I've also come to realize today is a completely different world than when I was a kid. It's just part of their culture. And while I don't condone children using electronic devices all day long, every day. They are here to stay and my motto is: Everything in moderation is okay.

Now, when it comes to an e-reader, I would actually LOVE for my kids to want to use an e-reader before picking up any of those other electronic devices. If they are reading, I don't really care what the medium is, whether it is a book, magazine, comic book, or an e-reader. I don't think, at least in our household, we would ever get to the point where anyone is solely reading on an e-reader.

I get children's e-books from our library and put them on my Nook and it makes bedtime stories new and exciting for the kids. I don't do it all the time so it's a treat for them to get to pick the book. My oldest daughter has struggled with learning to read a bit. If she asks me to use my Nook, I hand it over. And I try to keep a few books on it just for her. Anything I can do to keep her excited about reading, I'm gonna do it! :-)

I think an e-reader would be a fabulous way to get a reluctant reader excited about reading. The only thing I'm not 100% on board with is the whole "app" thing that Nook is now doing. It makes total sense for Barnes and Noble to go this way. It makes their e-reader that much more desirable and versatile. However, for children, when you add the apps to the e-reader, they are most likely going to want to play a game of Angry Birds instead of reading a book.

For this Mom, I think I'll keep my Nook mostly app-free. They have iPods to play apps on. :-)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review Snippets: Part Two

And onward with the reviews....

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
This book's description really grabbed me, mostly because I was curious what a golden girl high school student could do that was so bad that her parents disowned her, her own sister will no longer talk to her, and she was just released after spending five years in prison for what she'd done. I'm not going to give too much away other than the book starts with three young twenty-soemthings dealing with the aftermath of one girl's decisions five years earlier.

Gudenkauf does a good job of slowly revealing the truth. But the ending is quite a bombshell and a bit over the top. While this book seemed well-written, it definitely is not an "enjoyable" read just because the subject matter is rather sad. But it's not a bad read either. It's one of those "can't look away from the train wreck" kind of books that makes you want to keep reading to learn what really happened.

Allison thoroughly reviewed The Clouds Beneath the Sun awhile ago. And she rated it very highly. Welllll....maybe I had too high expectations going in. I thought it was about 100 pages too long and Natalie's inner struggle whether to testify or not began to bug me. She seemed to get almost whiny. And the ending just down right made me angry.

As a random sidenote, there's an "author's note" at the end that provides a sort of epilogue to the book. It tells us where certain "characters" ended up. And it confused the hell out of me. Were these real people? That's how the author wrote this note. It seems to suggest the characters were real people. Can anyone shed some light on this for me?

Source disclosure: I receive and e-galley from netgalley.com of These Things Hidden. And I own a copy of The Clouds Beneath the Sun.

Review Snippets: Part One

Oh so sad. I've only finished 10 books so far this year. UGH. That's what having a 16-month old (plus two other older kids) and a part-time business will do to your reading life. And reviews. Well, they are just not getting written as I would like. So I'm going to quick type up a few short reviews so at least I can document my thoughts.

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer
I was drawn to this book because its main character is an archivist at the National Archives. My background in museum and archival work made me very curious and well, I know a former co-worker who actually works at the National Archives so it made me think of her. :-) Beecher White is an archivist who gets sucked into a presidential conspiracy when he discovers a book in a hidden compartment of a chair in an isolation room at the Archives. From there, he discovers he can trust no one and he is now part of a situation involving a brotherhood known as the Culper Ring. But is it the real Culper Ring (dating back to George Washington) or just a group claiming to be?

Hmm...this book was mildly entertaining. The last third got quite unbelieveable even for a political conspiracy book. I kept thinking I was reading a book that would be made into a movie. And quite a bit of it reminded me of the already-made movie National Treasure. If you're looking for something that is an easy read, a little over the top, and a bit of a thriller, this may be a good vacation read for you. Not a total waste of time, but definitely better books out there.

The Night Season by Chelsea Cain
The fourth installment in Cain's Archie Sheridan series. She steps away from the serial killer Gretchen Lowell storyline to introduce us to a new serial killer. One that kills his victims with a small octopus! And all while Portland is flooding. I wonder if Cain wrote her "Heart" series as a trilogy and now plans to write more without Gretchen involved?

I'll be honest and say, this is a great, fresh addition to the series! I actually liked the fact that we have moved on from Gretchen. This book was much MUCH less violent than the previous books (which is a nice change of pace). And many of the other original characters are still there and seem to take on more full development now that we're not focused on the Gretchen/Archie dynamic.

I think Cain is a really good writer. She is very creative. I mean, who comes up with using a rare small octopus as a murder weapon?! Don't worry, that wasn't a major spoiler. That is revealed early on in the book. I also think she does a great job of telling the story without a lot of extraneous information. Too many authors feel like they need to add 100 more pages than necessary. Highly recommend this one!
Evil at Heart Review
Sweetheart Review
Heart Sick Review

Source Disclosure: The Inner Circle was an e-book galley copy from Netgalley.com and I borrowed The Night Season from the library.