Outlaw by Mark Sullivan
(Minotaur Books, 2013, 336 pages)
Robin Monarch, former CIA operative and master thief, is hired by the President of the United States to locate the kidnapped U.S. Secretary of State and the foreign ministers of China and India. He travels to the Orient to stop the plot of the mysterious extremist group called the Sons of Prophesy. The Secretary of State agrees to create a ransom video for her captors and sends a morse code message signaling that someone close to the White House is behind the conspiracy. Near the end of this second book in the Monarch series, the reader finds out that the someone close to the Secretary of State is complicit in her kidnapping. Monarch works alongside agents from China and India in a joint effort to rescue the diplomats from their execution. However, Monarch finds that the kidnapping is a cover-up for larger and more diabolical plans. Outlaw follows the first book in the series, Rouge. This action-packed mystery will keep the reader engaged until the end and ready to read the next book in the series.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
(Candlewick, 2011, 224 pages)
I recently read somewhere that new editions of the Harry Potter books were in the works with new illustrations by Jim Kay. This got me curious, so I decided to check out some of Kay’s earlier work, leading me to A Monster Calls. The illustrations are really remarkable, and they are integrated seamlessly with the story.
The story takes place in England and centers around thirteen year old Conor, who is visited at night by a monster who mysteriously transforms from a yew tree outside Conor’s house. As frightening as the monster is, Conor is facing something even more frightening as his mother undergoes chemotherapy treatment. As his mother’s condition worsens, Conor is sure that the monster’s visits and the confounding parables the creature imparts to him are somehow entwined with his mother’s condition.
Ness tells his story well, maintaining a sense of mystery and anticipation throughout the novel. The monster is both terrifying and benevolent in its elemental fierceness. Again, Kay’s illustrations perfectly capture these elements, and the monster is so effectively portrayed that it is hard to imagine what image might be evoked in a reader’s mind without Kay’s depiction. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, though I’m not sure that the ending was as effective as the rest of the narrative. The strongest part of the novel was the interaction between the text and the images, and this book definitely increases my anticipation for Kay’s interpretation of Harry Potter’s world.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
(Scholastic, 2010, 390 pages)
“Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this [is the] thrilling final installment…” – Amazon.com
After I saw the “Catching Fire” movie over Thanksgiving break I had to re-read Mockingjay because I needed a refresher on how the series ended. As with all the Hunger Games titles this was a book I got through quickly. You can’t help but fly through it. I’ll be curious to see the film version of this final book.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
(Scholastic, 2009, 374 pages)
I read this for the Between the Covers book club. I’d read it before and enjoyed it. It’s a quick read and I’d recommend checking it out if you’ve only seen the films. A few other people have blogged about this book, so you can read the reviews from Angie and Julia for more of a plot summary. And given that we all liked it you can take that as a sign that the odds are good you’ll like the book.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
(Harper, 2010, 470 pages)
I enjoyed Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series and I’d had Before I Fall on my “to-read” list for a while so when I saw the audiobook at the library I had to pick it up.
Sam Kingston is what you might call a “mean girl.” She and her three best friends are popular seniors who know they can basically get away with anything. But the Friday before Valentine’s Day (also known as Cupid Day when people send each other roses) turns out to be Sam’s last. She then relives this exact same day 6 more times giving her the chance to try and figure things out, change the way she treats people, explore her real emotions, and try to save herself… and others.
I really liked this book and the audiobook was narrated by Sarah Drew (who plays April Kepner on “Grey’s Anatomy”) who I thought did a really good job. If you like reading YA lit I think you’ll enjoy this title. I did.
The Father Christmas Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien
(George Allen & Unwin, 1976, 48 pages)
For fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this is the perfect book to help usher in the Christmas season. J. R. R. Tolkien composed these letters, addressed from Father Christmas to the Tolkien children, starting in the mid-1920s and continuing through the early 1940s. The first few letters are fairly short, as Father Christmas describes the difficulties he has encountered that year in preparing for Christmas. These trials always include the antics of the North Polar Bear, a clumsy and accident prone creature who is Father Christmas’ chief helper. As the years go by, the stories expand in length and breadth of scope. Father Christmas recounts the yearly struggles with goblins who tunnel under the mountains and into the storehouses of Father Christmas’ home in the North Pole. These stories show many of the themes and ideas that Tolkien would later work into his more famous books.
Each letter includes beautiful color illustration, showing that Tolkien was not only a great author but a capable artist as well. While the text of the letters themselves are reproduced in a standard type, there are numerous reproductions throughout the book of the elaborate and shaky handwriting that Tolkien adopted for the character of Father Christmas. As these letters tell their funny and inventive stories of Father Christmas’ yearly preparations, they also give a small glimpse into the life of the Tolkien family and the times they lived in. One interesting example is from the final letter, written at the outset of World War II. Father Christmas sadly notes that fewer and fewer children have been writing to him: “I expect it is because of this horrible war… at present so terribly many people have lost their homes, or have left them; half the world seems in the wrong place.” The letter ends on a poignant note, observing that though this might be the last Christmas that the children hang up their stockings, Father Christmas will not forget them: “We always keep the names of our old friends, and their letters; and later on we hope to come back when they are grown up and have houses of their own and children…”
The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler
(Gallery Books, 2013, 336 pages)
Esme Garland moved to New York from England to pursue her PhD in Art History from Columbia. While she embraces her new life she falls in love with Mitchell van Leuven an incredibly wealthy, attractive and sexual man. The problem lies in the emotional connection. Esme has one and he doesn’t, so when Esme gets dumped on the same day she planned on telling Mitchell she was pregnant she realizes she’s going to need to look out for herself.
While wandering the city shortly after she’d arrived Esme found a small gem of a bookstore named The Owl so she heads here to find solace. George, the owner, agrees to hire Esme and pay her under the table. There’s a unique cast of characters that comes in and out of the shop, and also that work there. There’s something between Esme and one of her coworkers, Luke, but they’re both resistant to the idea – especially given the circumstances. This book takes us through Esme’s journey of finding peace with herself as she unexpectedly finds herself on the path to motherhood.
I wanted to like this book, but I had issues with the character development. Esme, a woman getting her PhD is *so* naive I got irritated pretty quickly – it just didn’t match up. Also, I felt like Meyler was playing off the 50 Shades of Grey bandwagon when creating the relationship between Esme and Mitchell. The book isn’t steamy or descriptive, but his sexual experience and being emotionally remote paired with Esme’s wide-eyed innocence was a little too similar to Anastasia and Christian in E. L. James’s trilogy. The book wasn’t bad… it just wasn’t for me.