Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #38: Journal July 11, 2010

This was loaned to my by my sister a while back and I forgot about it.  I picked it up a couple of nights ago when I couldn’t sleep and ended up reading the whole thing…

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Journal:  The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason by Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson

Simon and Schuster, 2006

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This cover fits the book, but the real treasure is inside...

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Internal "scrapbook" style pages...

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Multilayered storytelling: Amy's additions are placed over the original book's content, which often has eerie connections to the journal's contents.

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

This tantalizing “found” journal of a troubled young wife and mother combines the diary of Amy Mason, correspondence, clippings from newspaper accounts and remnants of the 19th-century novel Amy used instead of a blank notebook to frame the story of her disintegrating marriage. Amy’s husband, Robert, moves to Boston to head a new cardiology institute, but Amy and her two small children remain behind in Houston, planning to follow later. As the relocation process drags on, Robert throws himself into his new responsibilities and Amy fights a deepening depression. She finds a new friend in her Houston real estate agent, Vanessa Garamond, but the beautiful Vanessa provokes Amy’s suspicions with an unannounced trip to Boston. Sisters Kristine and Joyce Atkinson only hint at the occurrence of a crime, and readers will have to draw their own conclusions from the open-ended assemblage of visual and textual clues. Traditional mystery readers may want a more definitive story, but amateur scrapbookers will find inspiration in this collage.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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This isn’t a YA title, but I’d say that teen readers might find it interesting anyway for its unusual format.

Strengths: This has a really unique format.  The premise of the story involves Amy’s decision to use an old book as her journal (called “altered books”) and she adds emails, recipes, journal entries, scrapbook clippings, etc. to it.   I was really interested as the story unfolded, since the original content of the book shows through her entries, sometimes in a really coincidental and spooky way.  You know there are details to find, and you need to read carefully and pay attention to EVERYTHING.  It’s a treasure hunt.

Potential Flaws: Nothing structural.  I will only say that these types of books just aren’t for everyone.  It’s not a really deep, convoluted mystery, but those who want to read this type of book probably aren’t looking for that, anyway.

My Rating:

A unique, clever diversion.  Not a literary masterpiece, but a fun fast scavenger hunt for clues.

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What I’m Reading #32: The Hand of the Devil July 3, 2010

To preface this post, I need to share  bit about a couple of my favorite authors:  Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

In 1995, Preston and Child released Relic, a delicious thriller built on archaeology, legend, and science.  They followed this bestseller with Reliquary and 8 other sequels, tied together with the same threads: a fantastic cast of characters, scientific/archeological realities, and various legends of strange phenomena/creatures.

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It appears, to my excitement, that I’ve found a YA equivalent to my Preston/Child obsession.

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The Hand of the Devil by Dean Vincent Carter

Bodley Head Children’s Books; First Edition edition (February 2, 2006)

(Isn’t this a deliciously wicked-looking cover?)

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Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up—As a journalist for the weird science magazine Missing Link, recent college graduate Ashley Reeves has dealt with his fair share of crackpots and phony tips, but the letter from Reginald Mather seems genuine. Mather claims to have in his possession the only known specimen of a particularly large and deadly variety of mosquito known as the Ganges Red, a legendary creature believed by some to have supernatural abilities. Ashley quickly departs for Mather’s isolated cabin on Aries Island where, of course, he is promptly cut off from civilization and finds himself in the company of a very unpleasant insect and at least one madman. (A portion of this review deleted due to spoilers.) Carter’s novel contains a fair helping of gore, but never generates much tension or atmosphere. Although large portions of the novel are devoted to people explaining various back stories to one another, none of the characters (with the possible exception of Mather) really emerges as an individual. Suspense and horror fans will probably find Lois Duncan and Darren Shan more satisfying.—Christi Voth, Parker Library, CO
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Description

When young magazine journalist Ashley Reeves receives an intriguing letter, he leaves his London office in the hope of reporting on an unusual species of insect – the Ganges Red. That evening he arrives on Aries Island and encounters the writer of the letter – Reginald Mather. At first Mather seems no more than an eccentric collector, happy to live in isolation on the island. But when Reeves unearths the horrific truth he finds himself thrown headlong into a macabre nightmare that quickly spirals out of control. His life is in danger …and Mather is not his only enemy …Both gruesome and compelling, chilling and page-turning, this much-anticipated thriller from Dean Vincent Carter will delight older readers.

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Ok, so I’m not in full agreement with School Library Journal.  I really thought this was a refreshing departure from typical teen thrillers.  It felt more like a YA Stephen King novel.  It’s definitely not for younger readers; I wouldn’t recommend it below 9th grade, unless the reader was particularly precocious.

It’s definitely a little more raw in content than say, Christopher Pike.  I didn’t find this to be a pale book by any stretch of the imagination; I tore through it in less than a day (and I usually don’t sit and read for HOURS at a time unless the book is REALLY fantastic).  So…

Strengths: As I’ve said, a definite change of pace from some of the tamer, more diluted teen thrillers out there.  Its similarity to Preston/Child books (if you read this and like it, I strongly suggest finding a copy of Relic) was more than enough to pull me in.  Mathers is wonderfully creepy as the villain.  The ending of the book does, IMO, build up quite a bit of tension through a series of confrontations that pile up on each other.

Potential Flaws: I did find one element to be lacking: the addition of  Reeves’ love interest.  She appears too late in the novel and without enough build-up to make Reeves’ feelings for her believable.  It’s a rather afterthought-ish way to add the romance in, which ends up being critical to the climax.   Definitely needed refining in that area.

My Rating:

Carter’s book is fast-paced, gruesome, and intense.  Thoroughly enjoyable and uniquely plotted.  Good for reading late at night.  🙂

 

What I’m Reading #14: A Reliable Wife March 8, 2010

Since I love used bookstores and Paperbackswap, I often resist paying cover price for books.  This was one of those books I had to try really hard to wait for.

I was captivated by the cover when I saw it at Borders, and even more so by the synopsis on the back.

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A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Algonquin Books, 2010

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

Set in 1907 Wisconsin, Goolrick’s fiction debut (after a memoir, The End of the World as We Know It) gets off to a slow, stylized start, but eventually generates some real suspense. When Catherine Land, who’s survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a “reliable wife,” she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she’s deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway. After the wedding, Catherine helps Ralph search for his estranged son and, despite growing misgivings, begins to poison him with small doses of arsenic. Ralph sickens but doesn’t die, and their story unfolds in ways neither they nor the reader expect. This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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I fell in love with the cover.  And, surprise surprise, it was another book that had been published elsewhere first.  I’d actually have loved the Canadian cover even more.

How gorgeous would THAT have been?

But I digress.

Strengths: I devoured this book in a day.  It has everything: love, hatred, loathing, revenge, redemption, forgiveness, murder, debauchery, sex, betrayal… It’s deliciously naughty without turning into a bodice-ripping historical romance.  It’s definitely a juicy read, and despite Publishers Weekly’s assertion of the “slow, stylized start,”  I found it hit the ground running.  It has a Gothic twist, set in…Wisconsin, of all places, which is so unexpected I love it.   Catherine is secretive, devious, and beautifully flawed.  The narrative evolves with a ghastly inevitability, so much so that you can’t tear yourself away, knowing full well where it is heading.  Why do I find arsenic poisoning so fascinating?

Potential Flaws:

Really, I wasn’t able to pick anything that weakened the story.  It’s entertaining, but not a literary masterpiece.  But honestly, that’s not what I was looking for when I picked it up, anyway.

My Rating:

A very pleasant, decadent diversion.  Great for a lazy rainy afternoon.

 

What I’m Reading #12: The Outlander February 27, 2010

There’s something great about a beautifully simplistic cover.  It’s what made me pick up Gil Adamson’s The Outlander in the first place.  More historical fiction for me.

I think I need to branch out.

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The Outlander by Gil Adamson

Ecco; First Edtion ; First Printing edition (April 15, 2008)

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set in 1903, Adamson’s compelling debut tells the wintry tale of 19-year-old Mary Boulton ([w]idowed by her own hand) and her frantic odyssey across Idaho and Montana. The details of Boulton’s sad past—an unhappy marriage, a dead child, crippling depression—slowly emerge as she reluctantly ventures into the mountains, struggling to put distance between herself and her two vicious brothers-in-law, who track her like prey in retaliation for her killing of their kin. Boulton’s journey and ultimate liberation—made all the more captivating by the delirium that runs in the recesses of her mind—speaks to the resilience of the female spirit in the early part of the last century. Lean prose, full-bodied characterization, memorable settings and scenes of hardship all lift this book above the pack. Already established as a writer of poetry (Ashland) and short stories (Help Me, Jacques Cousteau), Adamson also shines as novelist. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Tracked by bloodhounds and pursued by brutal-looking redheaded twins, a gently reared young woman flees over the plains of western Canada and into the mountains. She hears voices and sees events that may or may not be happening, causing her and other characters in this stylistically complex novel to question her sanity. The widow (as she is called in the first eight chapters of the book) is rescued by strangers who allow her free passage on a ferry or give her sanctuary and one who starts her back toward reality and sanity. Adamson cleverly integrates techniques of the adventure-suspense novel with a refined, often poetic style. She maintains suspense while portraying the wilderness of Canada’s far west and providing fine portraits of the people who lived in and were shaped by it. The slow unfolding of story and character coupled with lyrical descriptions of the terrain, an occasional touch of bizarre humor, and a multitude of well-chosen historical details will appeal to readers of literary writing as well as historical- fiction fans. –Ellen Loughran

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First, let me say this:  I had not the first clue exactly where the book took place, and from the two reviews listed above, neither did anyone else.  The book’s flap says “flees across the west.”  Publisher’s Weekly says “Idaho and Montana.”  Booklist says “The plains of western Canada.”  There are no recognizable city names or landmarks to indicate a particular region, so where PW and Booklist got their ideas, I don’t know, unless they were connected with the author and/or I seriously missed something.

Before I discuss strengths and flaws, I have to go into Adamson’s style in this book, since I can’t really say if this particular element is a strength or a flaw.  There is a deliberate (I think) remoteness in the narrative.  You’re never sure where she is or how much time has passed.  The author also refers to Mary (the protagonist) as “the widow” so frequently you almost forget what her name really is.  Again, I think this creates a very deliberate, disconnected way of connecting with the widow’s state of mind.  In that respect, I think it was actually a clever construction on Adamson’s part.

On a reader’s level, it irritated the hell out of me.  I had a few of those “WHAT??!?!?!?” moments as I was reading and desperately trying to do some sort of mental time calendaring in my head.  However, that may have been exactly Adamson’s intention, to bring the reader to the same feeling of remote disconnection as the characters in the book.

I have no idea.  I’m discombobulated by it.

Strengths: Adamson’s descriptive powers are excellent.  She depicts the widow’s flight vividly, without becoming too ponderously detailed.  She also creates extremely vivid, memorable characters, particularly Mary’s twin brothers-in-law and McEchern the dwarf.  If you regard the aforementioned remoteness as a strength, it’s wonderful, because she remains faithful to it throughout the book.

Potential Flaws: The primary difficulty a reader may have with this text is what I mentioned before: a purposeful creation of a sense of utter LOSTNESS (sorry to make up words, but it seems to fit in this case).  I am very torn about how I feel about the technique.  Am I irritated because I was completely taken in and buffaloed by it?  Or am I irritated because it weakens the story?  I was unsettled at the end, and I’m not entirely sure whose fault that is…

My Rating:

-ISH?

I don’t know.  I guess at the heart of it all, I saw a story that was intriguing, despite stylistic choices on the author’s part and my reaction to them.  If you can appreciate a book written in a less-than-straightforward style, this may be the book for you.  Ish.