Book Review: The World Within by Jane Eagland

the-world-withinThe World Within
A Novel of Emily Bronte
Jane Eagland
Arthur A. Levine Books, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-49295-9
Hardcover

Well, this is embarrassing.  As someone who considers herself relatively well read, I know of the Bronte sisters in only a vague, pedestal-classics-women-only-wear-dresses kind of way.  Apparently, I’m not mature enough to put that aside and just read a book.  Unfortunate and unfair when reading for review, I almost allowed my uninformed opinion of the main character to cast a shadow over the entire effort.  Absolutely asinine; I dig so much about this book.

I loved that Emily grew by leaps and bounds in some ways; staying self-limiting to the extreme in others.  The author’s adoration and admiration is clear and contagious.  Ferociously fond, Ms. Eagland is nevertheless fair and forthright.  Emily has faults that she may never notice but the author acknowledges in a skillfully sly, demonstrative way.

Clearly consumed with compassion for her siblings, Emily nevertheless continues to anticipate issues incorrectly.  Almost illustrative of something that Hank Green recently said, “I think that the longer you know someone, the easier it is to think that you know what they think all the time and that leads to really bad communication.  When you’re like, I already know how you feel about this, so I’m not even going to ask.”

Ms. Eagland does not portray Emily as a heroine, nor does she gloss over the young woman’s courageous, self-less acts.  Feisty and fierce, Emily does not always choose the best battle to fight, in spite of being considerate and thoughtful.  Wise and well-informed on the one hand, naïve and somewhat sheltered on the other; I found it interesting and intriguing to witness her acquisition of knowledge.  I loved that she changed her mind quickly, compulsively to adopt and embrace the completely opposite opinion.

Engaging and exhilarating, Emily takes center stage but the spotlight certainly shines on the charismatic cast.  Curious and considerate, interacting with different people has a ripple effect as Emily first defends, then reconsiders her stance on practically every topic from religion to women’s role in society.  As it turns out, any preconceived notions are irrelevant.  The World Within is simply an interesting story about an intriguing young lady.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2016.

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Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness and A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here
Patrick Ness
HarperTeen, October 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-240316-2
Hardcover

Surviving high school is a challenge even when you’re normal and as well adjusted as a teen can be, but what happens when you feel like you’re the least important in your circle of friends? What about when your mom is an elected official running for national office, your dad is an alcoholic afterthought and you have poorly controlled OCD? Dealing with all that might be overwhelming, you think, but what if the situation was a lot crazier and scarier than even that? Suppose your town and your school are ground zero for a cosmic battle, a repeat of one that wiped out the high school less than ten years ago? Now imagine that your best friend has powers beyond anything you could explain to a stranger and is worshiped by mountain lions. Add in the possibility that the ‘indie’ kids at school are supposed to save mankind and you have quite the situation.

This is what high school senior Mickey faces. He’s in serious like with biracial friend Henna, scared that his sister Mel, who almost died (she did briefly, but was brought back to life) from an eating disorder, will relapse and he’s distressed by the flare-up of his OCD. At the same time, he’s convinced that everyone tolerates him because, as he puts it, “I’m the least.”

As the craziness surrounding the possibility that zombies, ghosts and creatures affected by the ubiquitous blue lights may be about to defeat the ‘indie’ kids, teen readers will find the challenges Mickey, his sister Mel, Henna and best friend Jared are dealing with as graduation approaches are ones they can easily relate to. And the second layer of supernatural happenings is a nice counterpart to the sort of angst each of the main characters face as they begin to realize just how much life will change soon, no matter what else happens. This is a fun, quirky and emotional story about growing up and the insanity that accompanies that experience.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

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A Little in LoveA Little in Love
Eponine’s Story from Les Misérables
Susan Fletcher
Chicken House, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-82960-1
Trade Paperback

How do you think your life might turn out if you were born in a field, your father gambled away every cent and as a result, you were raised to hate and steal? Meet Eponine, one of the characters in Les Misérables. This is her story from the time she’s born to the day she’s lying in her own blood at age seventeen after a final selfless act. You know how the story ends because it’s in the first sentence in the book, an entry from June 5th, 1832.

When the book begins, Eponine is looking back to what her mother told her about when she was born. Her father was away at the battle of Waterloo, but spent more time robbing his fellow soldiers as they were dying than fighting. She describes him thusly: “His eyes were quick like a rat’s—quick and cunning and black”. He came home rich and bought an inn that was in terrible shape. He lied about the inn, about the war and pretty much everything.

No matter how successful the inn was, he found a way to make money, food and clothing disappear, so when Eponine and her younger sister Azelma became old enough, they were trained to steal from drunken patrons and then from the townspeople.

When she’s four, a woman appears at the inn with her daughter Cosette and offers to pay for the family to care for her because the mom can’t work and take care of Cosette at the same time. Instead, the girl is treated like a slave, starved, verbally and physically abused, as well as forced to do the most demeaning chores, sometimes multiple times. While Eponine feels uncomfortable treating the new girl abusively, she has little choice.

Eight years later, a man appears and ransoms Colette for 1500 francs, informing the family that her mother had died and asked him to find and care for her daughter. Of course, Eponine’s father gambles the money away and in desperation to keep the inn, commits a terrible crime. The family, which now includes a younger brother aged six and unwanted by the parents, flees for Paris under cover of darkness. The journey is arduous and leaves everyone hardened and on the edge of starvation. When her little brother is abandoned as the family boards a barely functional rowboat, Eponine’s heart shrinks painfully.

It’s this event that starts her looking inward and wondering whether there might be a better way to live than one of constant theft and cruelty. In Paris, the family live with a gang of thieves until they steal enough to get their own place. Eponine meets Marius, a young man who rents the room next to theirs. It is this meeting that really turns her heart around and even though she doesn’t stop doing bad things right away, she is able to figure out what she needs to do to have a sense of worth and purpose. How she gets to that point is sad, but understandable.

I have not read Les Misérables nor have I seen the movie. That didn’t stop me from enjoying this book and I doubt it will diminish the level of satisfaction when teens, particularly those who like stories of tough times or historical tales, read the book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

Book Review: An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

An Officer and a SpyAn Officer and a Spy
Robert Harris
Alfred A. Knopf, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-34958-1
Hardcover

You could say that this is the story of Alfred Dreyfus who was convicted for treason in Paris in 1895. But, oh, this historical thriller is also much more than that.

The story is told from the point of view of Colonel Georges Picquart, head of counterespionage, who finds himself re-investigating the case after Dreyfus’ imprisonment. I found Picquart to be a very interesting guy. He’s been in the military most of his life, doesn’t have much of a personal life, is an ambitious man out of sync with those around him. He doesn’t buy their “If I’m told to shoot someone, I shoot” mentality. Picquart questions things. He investigates. He puts his career and even himself in great jeopardy.

You won’t need to know anything about the Dreyfus affair or 19th century France to enjoy this book. I waited to read more about the actual case until after I had finished the book so I wouldn’t know what was going to happen. Even if you tend not to like historical fiction, you may very well like this book. It could be classified in several genres: a mystery, a thriller, espionage, conspiracy. What I found most fascinating about it is that it makes sense of how a situation can evolve into a conspiracy without anyone ever planning one in the first place.

There are many characters involved here but it’s never a problem remembering them all. There’s a list of characters at the beginning of the book. And the author is very good about reminding the reader who each character is each time he brings them back into the story.

My favorite quote: “If I pull back now… I’d be obliged to spend the rest of my life with the knowledge that when the moment came, I couldn’t rise to it. It would destroy me – I’d never be able to look at a painting or read a novel or listen to music again without a creeping sense of shame.”

It’s a compelling read, written in a very engaging style with a lot of intensity and passion. It certainly made me think. My favorite kind of book.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, February 2014.

Book Reviews: This House is Haunted by John Boyne and Open Source by M. M. Frick

This House is HauntedThis House is Haunted
John Boyne
Doubleday, April 2013 (UK edition)
ISBN: 9780857520920
Hardcover
Other Press, October 2013 (US edition)
ISBN 978-1-59051-679-9
Trade Paperback

Eliza Caine has never been a beauty but her father adored her and together they led a simple but contented life. But since he died unexpectedly, she is forced to uproot herself into a new life at Gaudlin Hall. Left to care for two young children by herself, she becomes increasingly convinced that she’s not the only one looking after them. Forces beyond her control are trying to get rid of her and she has to fight to survive. But just how far can a mother’s love go?

I had read John Boyne’s more well known title, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and loved it and since I’m also a fan of gothic horror, this book seemed right up my alley. It opens with the line, ‘I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father’ and so begins a very Victorian jaunt into the Norfolk countryside. Eliza foolishly answers an advertisement for a job without checking references or questioning why no one has come to meet her first. But upon arriving, she finds that she has two charges, an unsettling girl and her younger, more loveable brother. Soon after arriving, strange things start happening and Eliza becomes more and more concerned as she discovers the dark history of the house. She is up against obstacles at every turn as the villagers close rank and refuse to answer her questions.

This was essentially a good book with a good storyline and the writing was pretty authentic in terms of style and prose. The only thing that let it down for me personally was a heavy dose of sentimentality towards the end when she discovers an unlikely ally in her fight for survival. I’ll not spoil the book by revealing just what happens but I found it too cheesy-pie for my liking. I would still recommend it to others, so if you like lashings of sentimentality and gentle scares then this is the book for you. But if your bent is more towards bone chilling, sleeping-with-the-light-on thrills, then try The Woman in Black instead for that’s a woman who was born to scare.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, June 2013.

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Open SourceOpen Source  
M .M. Frick
Matthew M. Frick, July 2010
ISBN: 978-1-453-719985
Trade Paperback

Here is a fascinating premise, in this newly shaped world of aggressive social media and instant information exchanges. This review will be posted on several blogs, a few book store sites and will be seen by some number of people all over the world. Suppose, for an instant, you are a special operative for a foreign power—any foreign power. You have been assigned to monitor blogs from certain sources in order to determine certain attitudes of leaders regarding the drilling of a new oil field in, oh, Canada. Your employer wants early warnings about possible strikes that could lead to a change in oil prices on the world market. You have a search bot which employs an algorithm you have designed. The bot travels the world of the Internet matching words and collecting data.

Now let’s assume you are a bright and inquisitive citizen with an ordinary job. You live in Georgia and one of your hobbies is searching the Internet for odd events of interest. When you find such an event, you blog about it. Perhaps your interest is oil fields. You read open sources on the internet, construct a possible scenario, just for fun perhaps and then this casual activity of yours triggers the operative’s search bot. That sends ripples through shadowy organizations and suddenly evil people are questioning how you know certain things and where you get your information. You, of course, are merely a bright person raising questions based on readily available information.

But your innocent blog begins to look dangerous to people who are suspicious of everybody and everything. YOU begin to look dangerous. And soon an operative is dispatched to deal with you, an operative who knows how to kill.

My scenario, like that of author Frick, is fiction. But this world-spanning thriller is as real as it gets and might cause you, gentle reader, to think thrice about what you post.

Open Source is a clean, well-constructed thriller with only one serious deficiency, one which detracts very little from a gripping, fast-moving story. One of the characters seems to me to have some personality defects which are troubling enough that she would not have been hired into the important position she has with a private data-mining company.  However, she is in most other aspects a competent, bright and charming woman who fits nicely into the scenario constructed by Mr. Frick in his debut novel. A very interesting and challenging story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.