Crombie, Deborah. Garden of Lamentations.

NY: William Morrow, 2017.

This is the seventeenth entry (over nearly a quarter-century) in what has been a pretty good semi-cozy though literate police procedural series set mostly in London — especially considering the author is a native Texan living near Dallas. The protagonists are Duncan Kincaid, a Detective Superintendent with the Met, and Gemma James, who was originally his sergeant, became his girlfriend, and then his wife, and is now a Detective Inspector herself.

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Tomine, Adrian. Killing and Dying.

NY: Drawn & Quarterly, 2015.

I’ve become quite a fan of Tomine, one of the best graphic novelists around, although what he produces are actually graphic short stories. Graphic fiction has to be successful both literarily and visually — otherwise there’s no point — and while Tomine’s art is first-rate, his storytelling skills are even better. His stories are entirely realistic, exploring the lives of the people next door. The quality of the writing is such that I don’t doubt he could leave out the drawing altogether and sell most of the six in this volume to New Yorker. What I especially like is that he doesn’t just tell you everything. You have to look and listen and fill in those often subtle gaps for yourself.

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Dessen, Sarah. That Summer.

NY: MacRae Books, 1996.

I discovered Dessen’s Young Adult novels awhile back and was taken with her abilities as a storyteller. She’s done about fifteen of them now, all of them very popular, and I had been reading them pretty much at random. I decided it was time to go back to her first published effort to see how her work had evolved.

Haven McPhail is fifteen, a high school sophomore somewhere in the southeast U.S., and she’s very tall. It’s now late summer and she’s grown four inches just since April, putting her a hair under six feet. This is one of the three main facts of her life.

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Published in: on 8 August 2017 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friedman, Aimee & Christine Norrie. Breaking Up.

NY: Scholastic, 2007.

This is a graphic novel about high school kids, undoubtedly aimed at high school kids, which is fine. But it doesn’t quite work. The focus is on four third-year girls at an arts magnet, each one of whom is (naturally) completely different from the other three. One is essentially a slut and the dominant personality, one is the shy hugger-peacemaker, one is being driven crazy by straitlaced parents, and the fourth, the narrator, is interested in a guy no one else approves of.

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Published in: on 5 August 2017 at 7:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind.

NY: DAW, 2007.

I’ve been hearing good things about this author’s first fantasy novel, the first third of a trilogy, but I was delaying until the whole thing had been published so I wouldn’t have to wait between volumes to see what happens next. But the third volume has been very slow to appear, so I finally gave up and jumped in, and I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing book for any author, but even more so for a first book.

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Scheer, Kodi. Midair.

NY: Little A, 2016.

The author teaches writing at the University of Michigan, and this may or may not be her first published novel, but it’s not a bad effort. It’s also quite short — barely 200 pages — but she packs a lot into it. It’s the summer of 1999 and Vanessa Baxter is eighteen, a recent high school graduate from a semi-rural Chicago suburb, and she has just arrived in Paris with three of her classmates. Her single-parent family, unlikely those of her friends, has no money to speak of, but the girls managed to find sponsors for the trip and now they’re settling into a tiny short-term apartment on the Île de la Cité. Nessie is the brainy one, and also one of the class rejects.

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Stone, Juliana. Boys Like You.

Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2014.

Stone has published a few earlier novels of the adult romance variety but this appears to be her first attempt at a YA story, and it’s not bad. In fact, its frequent emotional intensity will undoubtedly appeal to many younger readers. Monroe Blackwell is a sixteen-year-old New York girl, but she has Louisiana roots on her father’s side, and she’s spending the summer on the plantation her grandmother owns, now converted to a B&B. She was at least partly to blame in the recent death of someone very close to her (we don’t find out who that was for some time) and she’s having a very hard time dealing with the guilt.

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Tamaki, Mariko & Jillian. This One Summer.

NY: First Second, 2014.

The Tamaki sisters, one writing the story and the other doing the art, made a splash a few years ago with Skim, about a rather geeky and overweight teenager in a private school. I really liked the true-to-life writing, though I had some reservations about the slightly strange artwork. This one again follows a young girl through a very ordinary piece of growing up, though it seems much more complicated to her.

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Dessen, Sarah. Lock and Key.

NY: Viking, 2008.

“Young Adults” is a marketing ghetto I tend to ignore as being self-limiting. A book is either well-written or it isn’t. And Dessen writes very good books. All of them, naturally, focus on teenagers with problems, either personal or societal, but this one is a bit darker than most. Ruby Cooper’s problem is nothing so mundane as just not finding the right boyfriend. Her father left when she was eight and her sister, Cora, was eighteen, leaving just them and their not very stable mother. Then Cora went off to college on a self-earned scholarship and apparently cut off contact, and Ruby had to deal with their mom by herself.

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Published in: on 21 July 2017 at 6:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Baker, Mishell. Borderline.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

I’ve been a heavy reader of all sorts of science fiction all my life but I’m much pickier about fantasy. Tolkien, for instance, doesn’t do a thing for me. I do like a lot of “urban fantasy” though, and Baker, whose first novel this is, is a welcome new addition to that sub-genre. Here she tells the story of Millicent Roper, who is barely getting along a year after a badly failed attempt at suicide when she was a film student at UCLA. Millie went off a seven-story building and survived (unintentionally) by crashing through a tree, but the fall cost her all of one leg and half the other one, and now she has to deal with prosthetics and a cane and a wheelchair. On top of the that, she has Borderline Personality Disorder, and some days she can barely hang on. And she’s in a private therapeutic facility but the money’s running out.

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