Category Archives: Fiction

I Love Serial Killers

Not the real ones, of course, but I’m sure they provide a great deal of fodder to the ingenious authors who write such great nail-biters.

Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterson was published in March of 2013. It was a nominee for the Crime Writers Association (CWA) Gold Dagger Award, the International Thriller Writers (ITW) Best First Novel, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and a nominee for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel.

19169387I received an ARC of this book (thank you BookBrowse) back in December of 2012 and really liked it. I just came across the sequel, which was published in January of 2015, and I decided to re-read the first book so I could refresh my memory before buying the new one.

In some ways, this is a sort of “run of the mill” serial killer story but in other ways, mostly because of the main character, it is not as “run of the mill” as you may think.

The minute I started reading, Rage Against Dying, and learned that the main character, Brigid Quinn, was 59 years old, I was intrigued. How often do we see a 59 year old female protagonist? Especially, in the lead role as the primary investigator. I don’t mean to take anything away from Christie’s Miss Marple, or any other older female detectives who solve mysteries, but we rarely read any stories about women who served in the FBI or police departments after they’ve retired. That’s because, I’m sure, publishers (and probably movie directors as well) don’t believe anyone wants to read about an older female detective. They’re not what the the “powers that be” would consider relevant. However, I would like to see more female characters like Brigid Quinn. Whatever it was that sparked the woman to take up a career in law enforcement is probably still there, even after they’ve retired, so what happens to them then? Do they retire, stay home, and bake cookies? No! If they’re anything like Brigid, they find a way to stay in the game.

I’ve read plenty of serial killer thrillers before but this is the first one I can think of with an older, retired female, FBI agent, who isn’t an “accidental” detective or who doesn’t just trip her way into a case. Brigid Quinn is a real agent with real experience who has skeletons in her closet, the ghost of a failed mission in her past, and the realities of an unrealistic personal relationship that she has neatly set up to fail.

Quinn is forced into early retirement and finally finds the life she thinks she’s always wanted. A wonderful husband and a family of pugs all help Brigid enjoy the banalities of a “normal” life until she is called in to help close out the case that changed her life. The case that took the life of her young protégé.

Suddenly, her “normal” life takes a turn for the worse and try as she might, she cannot gain control of what she had, and worse, cannot let go of this case, even though she can see it all going to hell in a hand basket.

This is really, one of the most original serial killer thrillers I’ve read in a while. The story has solid characters who are well-rounded. The plot line is fast-moving and there is a great level of suspense throughout the read that makes this a must-read for any suspense/thriller fans out there.

Book 2 in the series is entitled, Fear The Darkness, and I’m definitely looking forward to finding out how Brigid Quinn’s life has been going since we last saw her. I’ll update with a review when I’m finished reading.

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Book Review-Sharp Objects

“I think some women aren’t meant to be mothers. And some women aren’t meant to be daughters.”~Gillian Flynn

I’ve been out of the loop on this blog for a while but I’m going to review/talk about some books that I’ve read over the last few years that I found to be good reads.

If you haven’t read any of Gillian Flynn’s books, you should. However, be forewarned, her characters are not the nicest people you’ll ever encounter.

Let me start with Sharp Objects. This was Flynn’s first book and it was a doozy. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more disturbing book. Let me clarify, Sharp Objects isn’t disturbing in the “horror” sense. It’s not overtly bloody. It’s certainly not “spooky” or otherworldly in any way. However, in a human way, Sharp Objects is just downright nasty.

Sharp-objects-book-cover

The author seems to have culled the worst traits of human beings and embodied them into her cast of characters. Fortunately for us, the readers, it works. This is first and foremost, a mystery. There are enough suspects to keep you guessing although I think that any astute reader will immediately narrow down their list of suspects rather quickly. The end may surprise you. I suspected who had done it shortly after I started reading but I did not anticipate the depravity of the conclusion. It was satisfying in a small way but I was so wrung out by the time I’d finished reading that I almost didn’t care who the killer was.

That’s not to say I didn’t want to keep reading once I’d started. The frailty of the human being is shoved into our faces and we’re forced to watch as the main character attempts to maintain a fragile grasp on her sanity as the parade of human atrocities assault her, and in turn us.

I can’t say it was an enjoyable read but it was an engrossing read. Regardless of how engrossing it was I don’t think I’ll ever read this one again.


“Where’s Papa Going With That Ax?”

“In a poll of librarians, teachers, publishers and authors, the trade magazine Publisher’s Weekly asked for a list of the best children’s books ever published in the United States. Hands down, the No. 1 book was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.”~~From NPR’s Fresh Air and a review by Maureen Corrigan of “How E.B. White Spun ‘Charlotte’s Web‘”.

After I heard this review and read the excerpt from Michael Sims’ book, “The Story of Charlotte’s Web”, I had a better understanding of what motivated E.B. White to write this classic story. The story of Charlotte’s Web is tantamount to a handbook of sorts for children growing up in this beautiful, yet sometimes heartbreaking, world. And even though Charlotte’s Web was published in 1952, life in 2012 really isn’t that different. We don’t like to see the most vulnerable in our society hurt. We all want to be accepted for who we are. We all want loyal friends that will stick with us until the bitter end. And we all want to be remembered for doing something meaningful in our lives, no matter how seemingly insignificant, even after we’re gone. These are big, big concepts for a small child but E.B. White managed to make them all, and more, bite-sized and easily digestible for the child reader.

Here’s what we know about E.B. White: He was born in New York in 1899. He served in the army before attending university. After he graduated from Cornell University, he worked as a reporter for a while, and was a writer for The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine. His wife, Katherine White, was the fiction editor for The New Yorker and regularly reviewed children’s literature. Even though Mr. White was already quite accomplished and well known in the industry, it was at his wife’s prodding that he began to set his children’s stories to paper. And for the record, there was a barn, there was a Charlotte, there was a pig on a farm, there was a rope swing, there were hundreds of tiny spiders born of a spider’s egg sac. All of these things influenced one of the greatest stories for children of all times.

I have to thank my third grade teacher again. Miss Pruski. I mentioned her in one of my prior posts about Roald Dahl, for enticing us to read by reading a few chapters of a book out loud, then stopping and making us check the book out of the library to find out how the book ended.

Charlotte’s Web was one of those books. From the opening line of the book (probably, one of the best opening lines ever):

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

We are drawn into a story that immediately sets us on edge and makes us worry until Fern is able to stop the horrible deed from occurring. We feel her love for little Wilbur as she takes responsibility for something so vulnerable. I can still remember how the illustrations of the book made me feel. I wanted a baby pig so badly!! The pictures of Wilbur being cradled and bottle-fed by Fern and the one of Wilbur in a doll carriage almost made me want to go out and buy a baby carriage (and I wasn’t that type of kid) and later, pictures of Charlotte and her famous webs, and all the animals who inhabit the farm stay with me to this day. The illustrations were created by famous children’s book illustrator Garth Williams and set a gorgeous tone that allowed us all to actually see the farm and all of the animals that lived there. The illustrations are worth their own blog post, they are so beautiful and so telling.

I’m not going to re-tell the story of Charlotte’s Web here but I will say if you haven’t read this book, you need to read it as soon as you can make the time to do so. I don’t care how old you are, the issues in this book have relevance that will resonate in you for the rest of your life because in this book, you will find that heroes can exist in all shapes and sizes, irregardless of age or gender. You will be reminded that you can’t judge someone by the way they look. You will understand that although we can’t always help our nature, we can still do good things and be loyal to the people who love us. You will remember that everyone needs someone to think we’re “terrific”, “humble”, or just plain good.

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing…after all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die…By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Charlotte’s Web isn’t E.B. White’s only children’s book. He also wrote Stuart Little, which was published in 1945, and the Trumpet of the Swan, which was published in 1970.

A  first edition copy of Charlotte’s Web in hardcover, in good or better condition without a dust jacket, can be found selling for several hundred dollars and up. A copy with a dust jacket in good or better condition, and the initials IB on the copyright page to signify a true first edition, can be found for sale for several hundred dollars all the way up to several thousand dollars. Because E.B. White did not usually sign any of his books, there are very few signed books currently on the market but the few that are signed are selling for about $4,000 and a copy inscribed from Mr. White to his daughters is currently on the market for over $20,000.00.

This was a significant book in my life. I won’t say the most significant because I was such an avid reader I had many significant reads, but I will say that Charlotte’s Web forever changed the way I looked at animals and their daily lives. It helped me define what a best friend should be and what loyalty meant. It also taught me that life moves in cycles. Most of it joyous and life affirming. I also think this was my first encounter, as a child, with the death of a prominent character and even though it made me cry, I learned that life goes on.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.


The Strange Adventure of Stuart Horten

I’ve been so busy these last couple of months, I’ve neglected my blog quite a bit and I’m sorry about that.

My intention was to do a review of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, another of my favorite childhood books, but I came across another book I enjoyed so much, I’m letting it cut in line and take over for a bit.

Originally titled, Small Change for Stuart in the 2011 U.K. publication, the U.S. version, published in 2012, kept the cover but re-titled the book, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms. The author is Lissa Evans and she has published books for adults and younger children but this is her first foray into children’s lit.

Stuart is a 10 year old boy who is, not only small for his age, but if you take his name, Stuart Horten, and use the first initial of his first name in conjunction with his last name, you get S. Horten…shorten…something Stuart is not too fond of. In addition to his short stature, his parents are tall, intelligent, and keen on moving to a small village after his mother gets a new job hundreds of miles from where Stuart and his family currently live. It just so happens that the village of Beeton, where Stuart’s mom will be working, is the village where Stuart’s dad was born.

Stuart really doesn’t want to move but he has no choice, as it so often happens to 10 year olds, so he has to make the best of it. But it’s not easy. The town of Breeton is dreary and his next door neighbors are girls and not just any girls, they’re TRIPLETS and they’re nosy to boot. Things start sliding downhill from there until Stuart learns that his great uncle Tony used to be a famous magician and that great uncle Tony left Stuart’s dad a mysterious gift and a message for Stuart’s dad:

“To my nephew,

I have to go away, and I may not be able to get back. If I don’t return, then my workshop, and all it contains, is yours if you can find it…

Affectionately,

Your Uncle Tony”

Stuart’s strange adventure is about to begin and I think your children, ages 8-11, would love to go with him. Parents might enjoy the trip too. The book is a quick read and an easy one that could be read aloud before bedtime with no fear of bad dreams.

It sort of reminded me of Encyclopedia Brown, which I loved. It’s the type of kid mystery that got my imagination revved up and determined to solve mysteries. I think everyone in your family will quickly become fans of Stuart and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book ended up on the big screen sometime in the near future.

Currently, a copy of the book on the left, Small Change for Horten, published by Doubleday in 2011, first edition, first printing, hardcover with fine dust jacket is fine condition is selling for $75.00 and up. I did see some copies up for bid on E-bay with a starting bid of about $20.00 but I think they’re going to go pretty fast due to the fact that the original U.K. publication is getting more difficult to find. The most expensive price I saw for this version was $127.00. I estimate if the movie rights are sold, this particular edition will easily go up in value.

A copy of the U.S., 2012, publication by Sterling, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanism, is selling right now for $5.00 up to about $13.00 from a variety of book stores, including my bookstore, The Literary Heart.

The author, Lissa Evans, is currently writing a follow-up entitled Horten’s Incredible Illusions and it’s due out in September 2012. It is available for pre-order in the U.S. and the U.K. on a variety of sites.


Magic, Mystery, and A Very Strange Adventure

“The telephone cord was hanging from the receiver, wires sticking out of the broken, dangling end.

Time to go, Stuart thought. And then the phone rang.”


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