Review – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
Mark Haddon
Vintage Contemporaries
Mystery (Psychological)

In this intriguing, almost mystical, debut novel, Mark Haddon whisks readers into the life of autistic teen, Christopher Boone. Christopher narrates this unusual tale, revealing the intricately balanced life of a family coping with a child who is markedly different from the children of their friends and family. Encased in a life of strange likes and dislikes, horrors, and brilliance, Christopher shares the struggles of an autistic teen that lacks the ability to discern the social clues to balance his life. An avid Sherlock Holmes fan, Christopher decides to do some sleuthing of his own in search of the person who violently killed the neighbor’ dog, Wellington.

As those who investigate murders know, sleuthing often uncovers well-kept secrets that can destroy people as surely as murder. This compelling book reveals Christopher’s brilliant, deductive reasoning ability and keeps readers on the edge of the page to see if the weapon in his pocket coupled with his fugue states, which brim with anger, will engender another murder. Add to those, the frightful treks he takes, and it’s a formulary for a mesmerizing tale. Christopher’s point-of-view is masterfully created by Haddon from the first sentence in the book. “It was 7 minutes after midnight.”

In a special school for the mentally handicapped, the fifteen-year-old teen discloses the challenges faced by other students, making it clear that he is anything but stereotypical. Rather, he is a genius of exceptional proportions, a person without the ability to deal with basic social skills taught from birth, a peculiar person on a peculiar quest. Difficulty dealing with noise and crowds and the fact that he loathes anyone touching him, makes him a sympathetic character one wants to protect. His alarming periods of catatonia add tight tension to the story, as do the repetitive patterns he uses to make decisions. 

 Haddon gives us an evocative look inside a family dealing with the unusual circumstances of a child with challenges, a situation that too often breaks a family apart. Listening to others, including his parents argue about him, Christopher translates their words into literal thought (much like someone learning the idioms of a new language), which teeter on disaster. This is an exceptional literary book of exceptional depth that creates exceptional hope. Christopher would say if you have three exceptional things in a row, it is a good day.

 

Reviewed by Mahala Church for her column Barefoot Reviews for The Book Breeze

Review – Doing it at the Dixie Dew

DOING IT AT THE DIXIE DEW
Ruth Moose
Minotaur Books
Cozy Mystery

 

People are dropping like flies in the small Southern town of Littleboro. Beth McKenzie’s inaugural guest at her new bread and breakfast, Dixie Dew, is the first body. Ruth Moose clearly knows her craft and gives an intriguing look into the life of a new entrepreneur and the challenges that are heavy enough without a death in the lovely old house she inherited from Mama Alice. Distraught and confused, the protagonist, Beth, journeys from elation to questioning her decisions and back again, struggling with a possible love interest, the police, and exploration to find out who is killing people in Littleboro. A cryptic note tucked into her dresser confounds and frightens her into action.

 

Ida Plum Duckett, Beth’s right arm in all things Dixie Dew, keeps things at the B&B in line as Beth stumbles, trying to find her place in the small town and withstand the stigma of Miss Lavinia Lovingood, who shocked the town by returning and then dying her first night back. Carefully tied off sub-plots and the mystery of Miss Lovingood, involve wonderfully named characters—a little Dickensian karma—in the setting of a charismatic house. The tortured tales of those murdered makes for a good read and hopefully introduces a new series at the Dixie Dew.

 

Reviewed by Mahala Church for her column Barefoot Reviews in The Book Breeze.

Interview with Ute Carbone

UTE CARBONEConfessionsSausageQueen-EBOOK

In a letter to her readers, Ute talks about her romantic comedies as “light as air stories that float, with characters just this side of nuts.”  Her latest release, CONFESSIONS OF THE SAUSAGE QUEEN, is coming out July 7th.

Q:  What led you to write this book?
All of my books involve a bit of synchronicity, I guess, a kind of perfect storm of one or two things coming together.
Sausage Queen began long ago as a failed murder mystery. This was back in the day when I was still trying to figure out how to write a novel. I started this mystery, about a woman who summered at a private lake with her husband and went out to walk the dog and was killed. The husband finds her body and is accused of her murder. The thing was a hot mess and is probably the reason I don’t write mysteries. But out of it came a character named Mandy who had a slightly crazy grandmother. I wrote a scene where grandma goes, with Mandy, to the funeral of her paramour. It was funny and I really like it. And it was totally out of keeping with the tone of the mystery.  I couldn’t make it fit the book, which wasn’t working at any rate and was quickly abandoned.

A while later, I wrote the opening to a story, which featured a guy named Randy, who was trying to teach his not-so-bright dog to speak. Also funny, but the story wasn’t going anywhere.

Fast forward a few years. I completed a few novels and learned a whole lot more about craft. And I had these two scenes on my computer. I took the two scenes and began a brand new story,featuring Mandy, her grandmother Lila, and Randy. A whole bunch of other characters came into the mix as I wrote, including Wally, the funeral director friend who was in the original funeral scene.

Q:  You’ve got an amazing backlist of books from your romanticcomedies, to women’s fiction to historical romance. Is there a new genre on the horizon for you?
For the moment, I’m balancing the three genres I already write in (I have a project in the works in each of them, yikes!) This keeps me pretty darn busy. But I do have an idea for a book with a bit of magical realism twist. Sigh. So you never know.

 

Q:  Do you read the same genre you write?
Absolutely. I love books that can make me laugh or that pull at my heartstrings. I want to write books I’d enjoy as a reader.

Q:  You talk about writing being the perfect job for a girl
who wanted to be everything.  What books have most influenced your life?
I have a very intense book habit, reading is one of my passions, and so it’s hard to pinpoint a single story. As a little girl, I loved fairy tales and those have had a definite influence on my writing, particularly the more romantic stuff. I’ve always loved personal stories with a lot of heart. To Kill a Mockingbird is probably at the top of my best books of all time list. And I devoured A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Separate Peace when I was a teenager. I guess it’s small wonder that all of my books reflect the personal experiences of my characters
.
Q:  Have you had an interesting experience in the research of one of your books?
There does seem to be a lot of serendipity when I write, things will come to me at opportune moments. When I was writing Afterglow, for example, I wrote a few scenes where the main character, India, takes a flying lesson and has a somewhat terrifying (and funny) experience in a small aircraft. I know nothing about flying; I haven’t ever been up in a small plane. One day, I was talking to a friend about the story and the flying scene came up. “I can help you,” she said. “I have a pilot’s license.” I had no idea she knew anything about planes, as flying was something she didn’t do anymore.

Q: What is the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you?
What do you want for dinner? Seriously, I don’t know that there are any questions that haven’t been asked.  I like interviews like this one, where the questions are more specific to my work. Thanks for that. ☺

Q:  Which fictional character by any author would you like to be friends with in RL?
I think it would be fun, although also a bit dangerous, to hang out with Stephanie Plum from the Janet Evanovich series.

To learn more about Ute Carbone and her books visit:

http://www.utecarbone.com

YA reviews for July

The ShadowsTHE SHADOWS
by Megan Chance
Skyscape Publishing
June 2014 ~ 4 Stars

Review:

At seventeen, Grace Knox has more to worry about than most girls her age. Debt collectors pound on the door. Her older brother drinks away what assets the family still owns. Grace helps care for her ill, bedridden grandmother. Then, there is her mother who wants Grace to marry and save them all. Grace doesn’t know what to do and in 19th century New York, there aren’t many options for a girl of her background, class and apparently scant education. Her wealthy childhood friend, Patrick Devlin has recently returned from a trip to Ireland and expresses interest in her. He wouldn’t be an old, disgusting husband and he loves Grace. Now, she must decide if he is what she wants. Complications arise when she meets his new stable-boy, Derry aka Diarmid, an ancient, reborn Irish warrior. Add in the retelling of old Irish legends along with Patrick’s determination to save Ireland from the British and the three of them begin a dance that will affect all of their futures.

This was a beautiful story populated with well-described and well-developed characters. Kind, lovely and generous, Grace isn’t a complainer or a whiner even when she has cause, like wearing a very old dress to a fancy dinner party. She accepts that she’s a marketable commodity in her time and will do what she needs to do to hold the family together. Her older brother seems to be a typical young alcoholic but seasoned author, Megan Chance never creates stereotypical characters so be prepared for him to evolve. Diarmid has an agenda of his own and the reader quickly learns what it is, even when Grace doesn’t. And Patrick is a wonderful hero too. It’s little wonder that Grace is torn between the two of them.

Okay, so what happened? Lovely characters, a fabulous historical setting described as only Megan Chance can, the possibility of ancient Irish warriors battling for the future of their homeland, a girl who holds the key, amazing writing – – -. Again, this was a beautiful story, but nothing happened. The characters began to know each other. Adversaries were introduced. Ancient legends were retold and connected to the characters in today’s world so the reader discovers how much danger Grace faces. It all resonated and the writing, the writing, the writing.

Lyrical, lovely, wonderful – each word matters in this story, as does each scene although I don’t know how much it will appeal to the intended audience. I’m not sure that many teens will appreciate Chance’s impressive literary technique. This is the beginning, the first book in the trilogy of the Fianna, an introduction to everyone important in the series. I will add it to my “keeper” shelf of Chance’s books. However, I’ll wait until the next two books hit the stands before I read any more of the series and hope the pacing improves so the characters’ adventures can truly be shared.

RIVER OF DREAMSRiver of Dreams
by Lynn Kurland
Berkley
January 2014 ~ 5 Stars

Review:

The next book in the Nine Kingdom series, River of Dreams continues the story that began in Dreamspinner. While the heroine Aisling is a little older than some New Adult heroines, she does follow the expectation of finding herself while on a somewhat mythic journey, which makes this a real “coming of age” story. When the last book started, she was chosen or assigned to find a mercenary, an assassin to kill the king who usurped the throne of her country. Failure meant her own death and she had a very limited time to fulfill the task.

A surviving son of a black or evil mage who tried to sacrifice him, elven prince Runach is willing to help Aisling. He still can’t believe that she doesn’t have any “magick” despite her claims that she is totally normal. She worked in the Weaver’s Guild as little more than a slave before she started her quest. So far he has seen her spin air, water and earth as well as saving his life more than once by using her talents to defeat his wanta-be enemies. There is something about this girl and he finds himself falling in love with her just like the reader.

This adventure draws the reader into a fabulous world of elves, dwarves, swords, sorcery, mysterious kings and queens as well as witches and shape-shifting horses. Intelligent, resourceful, kind and determined, Aisling worries not just about herself – she never actually planned to lead anyone to his demise, but is determined to locate answers to the questions of what is going on in her homeland. These answers may lie in the libraries of different castles in the Nine Kingdoms, so she and Runach must travel from one place to another, defeating the enemies determined to thwart them, many of which are his evil half-brothers.

The cast of characters, the humor-filled dialogue (at times), the sweetness of the building relationship between Aisling and Runach should continue to enthrall readers. Kurland has built a wonderful world in the Nine Kingdoms, well-described and always consistent. The main characters grew and changed throughout the tale. Still, there are threads of unanswered questions that can only be resolved by another trip to this magical realm. However, the resolution of Aisling’s and Runach’s adventures is six months away and it is sooooo hard to wait to discover what happens next.

Aargh! Still there are seven other books to enjoy in the series. After reading this one, albeit somewhat out of order, that meant a trip to the bookstore to find the others. And I could start over from the very beginning – it’s rare to find a series where each book is better than the one before, but Kurland pulls it off with such ease – that the reader can only marvel at her ability to create such wonderful stories.

DESPERADODesperado
by Sara Barnard
5 Prince Publishing
March 2014 ~ 3.5 Stars

Review:

Desperado is a short, (at 25 pages), suspenseful ghost story of a teen who isn’t totally thrilled at the idea of spending more time with her parents and younger sister on the family camping trip. No electronics means they sit around the campfire telling ghost stories. The one that her mother shares is supposed to be an old legend from bygone days and relatives. Now, Shelby has to determine what to do with a haunted mallet or hammer that follows them everywhere.

In this quick, fun read, Shelby has a great deal to contend with, not the least of which was the “haunted mallet.” There wasn’t much character development, but from the little we learned about her, she came across as a likeable girl – how many would allow a frightened, younger sibling plagued by nightmares to share their bed on a regular basis? Shelby does with minimal complaints. Granted, she thinks it’s her fault for making the mistake of allowing that same sibling to inadvertently see part of a horror movie. In addition, Shelby does get along quite well with both of her parents.

None of the characters really annoyed the reader, not even the ghost. It would have been nice to have more backstory to learn all of the motivation and/or details of the haunting. The explanation seemed a bit simplistic, but again this was a very short story ~ novella. It could easily have been much longer and then Shelby would have grown and evolved more. We could have learned more about her life and friends. She didn’t mention them and it was odd to have a contemporary story about a teen that didn’t text or spend an evening without a cell phone glued to her hands. Still, this was a fun, fast way to spend an evening. Who doesn’t like a Texas ghost?

 

Reviews were prepared by Shannon Space for The Book Breeze