Mini-Reviews: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson and News of the World by Paulette Jiles

They were both great!  Four stars. THE END.

Tempted as I am to stop there, I feel like I owe these books a bit more, so here I go.

15721638I mentioned the first book in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series waaaay back in 2015 in this post.  I didn’t really give it a proper review, but I did credit it with ending a mini reading slump!  I don’t know what prompted me recently to pick up the second in the series , The Madness Underneath, other than to say that I was looking for some entertainment, a lighter read that also brought some thrills.  It delivered on both counts. Paranormal YA isn’t really a genre I’ve typically read in the past, but I do enjoy this series very much.  Maureen Johnson is very funny, both on Twitter and on paper.  To catch you up, this is a series about an American teenager named Rory who, while a student at a London boarding school, almost chokes to death, and from then on has the ability to see ghosts. Oh, and there’s a Jack the Ripper copycat killer on the loose, and Rory meets a group of other young people who have similar abilities and work secretly for the British government (the Shades.)  In this installment, Rory’s parents have taken her out of school (she almost died in the whole Ripper brouhaha) but there’s another mysterious murder nearby, and her therapist inexplicably recommends that she return to school.  Rory thinks that the new killings are linked to the Ripper case, but she has to get the Shades to believe her.  There’s quite a cliff-hanger to this book, and I gather that some fans of the series didn’t like where this was leading the third book, but I found it to be compelling.  It definitely won’t be another two years before I read the third, The Shadow Cabinet!

25817493I read Paulette Jiles’s News of the World for my book group this past month.  I’m SO GLAD this one was chosen as our pick, because I probably wouldn’t have ever picked it up myself.  I only read historical fiction every now and then, and typically haven’t read much Western fiction.  But I ended up LOVING this. The writing (Laila clutches chest!) Oh my goodness, it was just elegant and moving but SO SPARE; not a word was wasted in this slim book (209 pages by my paperback edition.)  It’s a story about an older man in Reconstruction era Texas, named Captain Kidd, who goes from town to town with a set of newspapers and reads the news of the world in town halls where the illiterate and those without access to news come to hear him speak and give him their dimes.

And then he had come to think that what people needed, at bottom, as not only information but tales of the remote, the mysterious, dressed up as hard information.  And he, like a runner, immobile in his smeared printing apron bringing it to them.  Then the listeners would for a small space of time drift away into a healing place like curative waters.

In Wichita Falls, a freighter friend of his offers him a $50 gold piece to deliver a young girl to her aunt and uncle near San Antonio.  She’d been captured by the Kiowa tribe four years before (her parents were killed) and raised by them. She’d forgotten she knew any other way of life or language but theirs.  This unlikely pair travels a long and dangerous path down through Texas.  There’s an incredibly entertaining shootout scene along that way that thrilled with cinematic detail.  The two bond over the miles, and the Captain, father to two grown daughters, is revealed to have a tender heart along with his obvious intelligence and righteous conscience.  I fell in love with his character.  (In my mind I kept seeing actor Jeff Bridges playing Kidd, but I hear that Tom Hanks will play him in the forthcoming movie version.  He’s a favorite of mine so that’s okay.)  Anyway, this is just a beautifully written, compelling read about a time I really found myself wanting to know more about.  The friend who recommended it to our book group also loved Charles Portis’s True Grit.  I’ve seen that movie (probably where my imagining Jeff Bridges came in) but not read it.  I think I’m going to have to give the modern Western genre another look now.

Have you read either of these?  Have you read anything else by Paulette Jiles? I’m very curious now about her other books.  What about True Grit, the book – anyone have thoughts on that?  Are there other Western books I should take a look at?

39 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson and News of the World by Paulette Jiles

  1. I agree, News of the World is outstanding – and should make a good film. If you’re looking for other ‘Western’ stories I strongly recommend The Last Crossing by Guy Vandehaeghe. Great characters, great story, great writing. Set in Montana, written by a Canadian and deserves much more attention than it gets.

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  2. God sometimes I wish my reviews could be like that-“I liked this book, 4 stars, the end” ahaha

    I think I’ve read something by Paulette Jiles before because the name sounds so familiar but I can’t be sure…glad you found another winner tho!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, just a couple of days ago I wrote about „The News of the World“ on my blog. I also liked it very much and will definitely read more by Jiles.
    Interestingly enough I didn‘t like True Grit at all. The kind of humour didn‘t work for me. But if you want to read another superb book, also set in the 1870s and don’t know it yet I‘d recommend Butcher‘s Crossing by Williams. It is much darker and more pessimistic as far as human nature is concerned than News of the World but splendidly done.

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  4. I haven’t read either of these, but I almost took a lit class on Westerns in college. It didn’t fit with my schedule, unfortunately. I like John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn better than Bridges, but the girl in the more recent True Grit was actually a girl. In the older movie, the actress was almost 30, ugh. My brother and his wife just had a baby and named him after a John Wayne Western character, Quirt, from Angel And The Bad Man.

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  5. Oh my! I didn’t like News of the World quite as much as you did, but I am so excited to hear you are looking for modern Westerns!! I love them. You might take a look at the The Son by Phillip Meyer, which is extraordinary. Little Big Man and Lonesome Dove (Pulitzer, 1986) are both excellent modern classics of the genre (I just read Little Big Man last month). Currently, I am reading the Days Without End by Sebastian Berry (Booker long list) and very much enjoying it, too.

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  6. I also loved News of the World. In a more recent review, I said that I’d gotten some of the same feeling from Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry.
    I’ve read poems by Paulette Jiles. This is my favorite: “Paper Matches”

    My aunts washed dishes while the uncles
    squirted each other on the lawn with
    garden hoses. Why are we in here,
    I said, and they are out there?
    That’s the way it is,
    said Aunt Hetty, the shriveled-up one.
    I have the rages that small animals have,
    being small, being animal.
    Written on me was a message,
    “At Your Service,”
    like a book of paper matches.
    One by one we were taken out
    and struck.
    We come bearing supper,
    our heads on fire.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. True Grit is really wonderful. I saw the John Wayne version when I was a little girl and loved it, and I love the Coen brothers version even more. I can’t wait to read The News of the World, and I’m hoping to read more Joe R. Lansdale. Another Western I’d recommend is The Sisters Brothers. It’s so, so good (dark, but funny).

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  8. I started Enemy Women years ago and then didn’t finish it before it was due back at the library and never got back to it; otherwise, I’ve only read her poetry. (I bet there’s no hold list for Enemy Women anymore – I should try again!) I’ll add my name to the chorus for Sisters Brothers, which is quirky and darkly funny but caught me by the heart which I was definitely not expecting. And I loved Jane Smiley’s historical western too, which made my young feminist’s heart beat more quickly, but you do need time to immerse yourself in setting and style with her, as one does with her stuff in general (The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton). Looking forward to hearing more about your travels westward!

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  9. I haven’t read either of these, but News of the World sounds like something I’d like. Although I might not have thought so based on the cover. I had this out of the library not long ago, but had to send it back unread. Next time!

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  10. Hahaha: “They were both great! Four stars. THE END.”

    I mean. I wouldn’t have been unhappy if that’s how your reviews had ended! XD Seriously, though, these are lovely reviews. Both books are new to me, actually! Do you find Shades of London to be frightening at all? It sounds like the kind of book I could easily get into, but I’m a bit anxious of potential nightmares…

    That said, News of the World sounds like the PERFECT book for me! There is something about the simplistic writing of the wild west lifestyle which I really love. I feel like all the western-style books I’ve read have been that way. Well. Not proper Westerns. More like historical fiction. Okay, really, I’m just thinking of Hattie Big Sky. O_o I’m definitely adding this to my TBR. I’ve never seen True Grit, and I didn’t realize it was based on a book (I should have…) — I look forward to your eventual review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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