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?

In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

I’ve now read both of Ruth Ware’s novels, and I’m here to say that I’m down to try anything else she publishes.  I read The Woman in Cabin 10 late last year, and was entertained all to heck by it.  In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ware’s first novel, is another four-star reading experience for me.  Both are twisty, secret-filled, suspenseful page-turners.  Both are a bit campy and improbable at times.  Yet I couldn’t stop reading either – the kind of books where you don’t want anyone to talk to you while you’re reading, you just want to cram the words into your brain as quickly as possible.

9781501112317_custom-b94a64187bf3180e71db57fd0feedeb786ff5a89-s300-c85The bulk of the novel takes place over a weekend at a “hen do” (a bachelorette party to Americans.  I quite like the term “hen do.”)  Our heroine, a young writer named Leonora, has been invited to the festivities by an old high school friend, Clare, whom she hasn’t been in contact with for ten years.  Curiously, she hasn’t been invited to the actual wedding.  (Alarm bells should probably have been going off internally, am I right?)  But for some reason (remembered fondness?  curiosity?  boredom?) she agrees to go, along with a mutual friend, Nina.  There end up being six people staying at the house in the middle of nowhere England, in the winter.  Oh, and it’s a glass house.  A creepy, glass house belonging to the aunt of the hen do’s host, Flo.  Flo and Clare are college pals, and as the action unfolds, we see that she is mentally… fragile?  Unbalanced?  She is desperate for the weekend to go perfectly on Clare’s behalf.

However, from the start we know that something has gone terribly wrong, because the first chapter opens with Leonora (Nora as she now wishes to be called) in the hospital, in pain, and a nurse telling her where she is, that she’s had a head injury, and that she’s going for a scan.  So the reader alternates between the events of the weekend and Nora’s time in the hospital, desperately trying to remember what happened to put her there.

517zkkkjmxl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Secrets abound in this thriller.  Why did Clare and Nora have a falling out?  Why has she been invited to the bachelorette but not the wedding?  Who is the groom?  Why is Flo so strange?  What has happened to Nora, and why can’t she remember?  I admit that I didn’t discover the answers to these mysteries as quickly as I should have, and was thrown by more than one red herring.

It is just as I’m drifting off to sleep than an image comes to me: a shotgun hanging on a wall.  

And suddenly I know.

The bruise is a recoil bruise.  At some point in the recent past, I have fired a gun.  

If you’re interested and want to try one of Ware’s books, I would start with this one.  The sense of dread in this one built much more convincingly, and the heroine wasn’t quite as annoying as the one in The Woman in Cabin 10.  Don’t say that I didn’t warn you that at times you may be frustrated with the main characters and find yourself thinking things like, “What are you doing?” or “Take your damn phone with you, woman!”  But if you want to be entertained and feel a need to escape, you could do much worse than these two books.

Do you enjoy thrillers or suspense?  Just what is the difference between those two terms anyway?  Have you read this one?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and other “Light Reads”

IMG_2138I’m probably the last person in the world to read it, but I finished The Rosie Project night before last – what a treat!  It’s a delicious confection of a book – made with quality ingredients, leaving a sweet aftertaste.  I think it’s truly challenging to write a “light read” that isn’t cloying or stupid.  I have read some real bombs in my quest for lighter, fun reading.  I seek that balance between heavier reading fare and escapist lit, but I want my escapism to be well-written!  Graeme Simsion has succeeded in writing a fun read that is charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence.

For the three people who haven’t yet read it, genetics professor Don Tillman, who, as the reader discovers, obviously has some form of Asperger’s Syndrome, embarks on a quest to find the perfect woman.  His “Wife Project,” complete with in-depth questionnaire, soon takes a back seat to his new friend Rosie’s “Father Project,” her quest to ascertain the identity of her real father.  As they investigate the different dad candidates, their budding friendship unfolds pretty realistically in my opinion, and they share a great natural chemistry.  There’s a scene at a faculty ball (which they both attend with different people) that is particularly cinematic and delightful.  This is an entertaining, feel-good read with characters to root for.  I’m definitely going to read the sequel, The Rosie Effect, but not just yet.  I’ve got lots of books lined up right now (of course!)

I’m always on the hunt for some light reading that’s smartly done.  In the past I’ve really enjoyed authors Elinor Lipman (Then She Found Me, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift,) Sarah Addison Allen (Garden Spells, Lost Lake,) and Alexander McCall Smith (44 Scotland Street series) when I’ve been wanting something lighter.  But I need some new authors – I’d love some suggestions!