Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

Main characters:  Teenagers Shauna, Jess, Kitty, and Anna
Location: Solomon's Folly, Massachusetts
Time period: Contemporary
Genre:  YA Fiction, Horror, Supernatural, Ghost Story
Series: Bloody Mary, bk. 1

Jess has become obsessed with the legend of Bloody Mary, and has decided to research the historical Mary. She learns enough to convince (or some might say browbeat) her friends into performing the summoning ritual.  What they don't know is that Jess doesn't just want to play the game for a few scares--she wants to set Mary free.

When Mary is able to reach through the mirror, she claims Shauna by scratching her.  Now she is able to attack Shauna and those with her through any reflective surface--not just mirrors, but bathroom fixtures, shiny picture frames, car windshields and sunglasses.  There is nowhere that she cannot reach.

I'm not necessarily a fan of current horror films--which influence this book a great deal--but there were some things I really liked about this book.  One is the way the author revealed Mary's history through letters that showed how Mary's abuse at the hands of a powerful preacher led to her mental and emotional breakdown and turned her into the vengeful ghost of legend.  This is not a restless spirit who wants to be laid to rest--in life Mary was tormented and bullied and now she wants to make others suffer the way she suffered.  In this, she reminds me of the ghost in Susan Hill's The Woman in Black.  The other thing that caught my imagination is this thought that Mary haunts a victim until she becomes fixated on another.  Once Shauna is marked, she meets Cordelia, the woman who had previously been Mary's victim and only now knows peace.  By visiting Cordelia in her house, Shauna is given a look into what her life will become--a solitary life trapped in a dark house with no light and no reflections.  Cordelia also gives her the awful news that Mary torments her victims by going after those close to them, forcing them to retreat from the comfort of friends and family. 

Shauna is a very nice, empathetic character.  Jess, however, is despicable.  She withholds information from her friends when not outright lying to them.  Her obsession with Mary blinds her to the danger that she puts her them in, and then she is cold-blooded enough to try to trick other girls into performing the ritual in order to save Shauna.  As much as I would hate to have her as a friend, she is a crucial catalyst to the story.  I can't wait to see what will happen to her in the next book.

I read Mary: The Summoning  as an e-ARC from NetGalley.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Blackhouse by Peter May

Main character: Fin McLeod, a police detective
Location: Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides
Time period: Contemporary, with flashbacks to Fin's childhood
Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Fin McLeod thinks that he's escaped his childhood home in a isolated village on the Isle of Lewis.  He went to university, and though he didn't finish he did become a cop, got married, had a son.  But now his son is dead and his life is crumbling.  And because a particularly gruesome murder back on the island matches the MO of a case he had been working on, he is sent back to his childhood home to help with the investigation.

An interesting choice by the author is to write the contemporary sections in third person, but the flashbacks to Fin's childhood in the first person.  It took a little while to get used to this, but it does mean that we don't have to depend on chapter titles with time and location listed to know what takes place in the present and what is in the past. (Peter May must know readers like me who don't always pay attention to those headings.)  It also makes sure that we don't have any information that Fin doesn't have--for this murder has more connection to Fin than just a similar MO to a crime he's been investigating.

As the book went along, I was so much wrapped up in Fin's story that I often forgot about the murder that brought him there.  The real mystery was what happened to him.  Was it his experiences with the town bully, the bane of every boy's life and the murder victim? Or the romantic triangle between him, his best friend Artair, and Marsaili?  Or maybe that one time that he joined the traditional guga cull on a small rocky island.  (The guga is a bird that can only be hunted for 2 weeks a year and is considered a particular delicacy.)  Somewhere in his past the seeds were sown that lead us to the present crime.

This is a richly drawn picture of life in a bleak and desolate place and the people who stay there.  The wind, the scent of the sea, the smells of the boats and the guga hunt--reading this was a totally immersive experience.  It drew me in and I did not want to leave.  I highly recommend this book.

I read The Black House  as an e-ARC from NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Main characters:  Melanie, a gifted 10-year-old; teacher Miss Helen Justineau; Sergeant Eddie Parks; Dr. Caroline Caldwell;  and Pvt. Gallgher
Location:  England
Time period:  sometime in the not too distant future
Genre:  Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Horror

I quite enjoy stories that take a classic horror monster--in this case, zombies--and plays with the traditional tropes.  One of my favorites of this type of story is Scott Westerfeld's Peeps, which draws a comparison between vampirism and parasites and includes details of some real-world parasites and their effects of their hosts as illustration.

In this book, a fungus has infected most of the population and turned them into canabalistic "hungries."  Certain children though, like Melanie, seem to be unaffected.  While the hungries are brain-dead and mostly immobile unless they scent prey, these children of the hungries seem almost super-normal, with high intelligence, speed, and strength.  A group of them have been captured and taken to a research facility where they are taught a traditional school curriculum but are strapped in wheelchairs or locked in cells for the protection of the scientists, soldiers, and teachers who work at the facility.

When they are overrun by hungries, Melanie, her teacher Miss Justineau, lead scientist Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks and Pvt. Gallagher are the only survivors and begin a journey south to try to join up with another facility. 

Though there are some good action scenes, the main thrust of the story is a character study of these five survivors.  We are already primed to like Melanie--it is mostly her POV that we experience for the first part of the book--and we like Miss Justineau because Melanie loves and trusts her.  But Sgt. Parks and Dr. Caldwell start as Melanie's enemies--Dr. Caldwell because she has dissected the children to study them (and is about to dissect Melanie's brain when the hungries attack) and Sgt. Parks because he is the guard who enforces Melanie's captivity.  As they travel together and become more acquainted, Sgt. Parks becomes more sympathetic; he and Melanie never quite trust each other but they do gain a certain amount of respect for each other.  Dr. Caldwell never becomes sympathetic, but she does become more understandable.

It did take me a while to get into this book and I had to re-start a few times before I got acclimated to this new world.  By the time the hungries attacked, I was invested and really enjoyed the journey these five characters took.  I would recommend this to zombie fans who are not averse to re-interpretation of the zombie genre.

I read this book as an e-ARC from NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I Am the Mission by Allen Zadoff

Main character:  a teenage assassin whose real name is unknown; this time he's going by Daniel
Location: New Hampshire
Time period: contemporary
Genre:  YA Fiction, Action Adventure, Thriller
Series:  The Unknown Assassin
Sequel to: I Am the Weapon

After the events of the previous book, Daniel needs to take a break.  He goes off-grid, hiding in a summer camp.  But even with all his training and precautions, the Program finds him and he is extracted.  Mother and Father are unsure whether or not he is still loyal, so they subject him to a number of tests before being sent on another mission.  (Or is this mission just another loyalty test?)

This time, his target is Eugene Moore, leader of the survivalist Camp Liberty where he is indoctrinating teenagers to perform terroristic acts with an ultimate aim to bring down the government.  Following his regular MO, Daniel will use Moore's own children to get close enough to eliminate his target.  But of course things don't go according to plan; Daniel is cut off from the Program's resources and forced to improvise.  He is able to handle Moore's son, Lee, with little trouble but the daughter, Miranda, is another story.  Daniel's training in the Program apparently did not cover teenage girls and he is totally blindsided by her actions at the climax.

Again, I am reminded of the Alex Ryder series by Anthony Horowitz, but this series is much darker and more violent.  My sympathies are mostly with Daniel, though he does some things in this book that seriously shake those sympathies.  We do learn a little bit more about the Program, and how many other assassins like Daniel there are.  As Daniel becomes more isolated and less sure of who he can trust, he turns to Howard--the high school computer geek that he met in the first book.  I was so happy to see Howard again; he is refreshingly uncomplicated and totally loyal to Daniel.  However, that loyalty also winds up putting him in danger and Daniel is forced to choose between their friendship and Howard's safety.

If Howard is a recurring character that appeals to Daniel's lighter side, fellow assassin Mike is the recurring character of Daniel's nightmares.  Mike was instrumental in recruiting and training Daniel, but what is his true role in the Program?

I will be looking out for the next book in this series.

I read I Am the Mission as an e-galley from NetGallery.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Battle of the Bridges by Frank Van Lunteren

Main characters:  The men of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
Location:  Nijmegen, Holland
Time period: World War II, 1944
Genre:  History, Nonfiction, World War II

I do realize that it is strange to say that I have affection for Operation Market Garden, but I do.  When I was a history major in college, I did my senior research paper on the battle of Arnhem which was just one part of the Operation.  I did tons of reading on the battle and even had a Dutch classmate whose parents answered some of my questions in a series of letters.

Operation Market Garden was a huge operation, conceived of by Field Marshall Montgomery, that--if successful--could have allowed the Allies to invade Germany and end the war by Christmas of 1944.  It consisted of 3 parachute zones and a tank corps that tied them all together.  Unfortunately, it was too ambitious and failed at the farthest point--the bridge at Arnhem, which became know as the "bridge too far" of Cornelius Ryan's book.

As I said, my own research paper focused on the battle of Arnhem, so I was interested to read this book with its focus on the 504th regiment of the US 82nd Airborne Division.  This was the middle of the 3 zones and is notable for the daring river crossing that allowed the paratroopers to take the Nijmegen bridge by capturing both ends at once.  I had a broad understanding of this battle, and this book filled in details.  A lot of details.

It is obvious that Van Lunteren did extensive research for this book.  Besides the written record of military reports, there are also the memories of a number of the men who participated in this battle.  In addition to his own interviews, he had access to the interviews that Ryan conducted--information that did not make it in to Ryan's book.  There is even information that shows the German side of the experience.  I found it interesting that some of the stories cited here show the same events from different points of view.  One man may talk about how he witnessed a certain officer perform heroic acts, only to be cut down by enemy gunfire.  Right after would be another man's memory of how he helped to carry that officer back to behind the lines for medical aid.  This helps to tie together what might otherwise be a fragmented narrative.

Even after the supposed end of the Operation--the retreat and escape of the British from Arnhem--these men had to continue to hold their territory they had won.  The battle may have been over and done with in September, but the occupation lingered.  Fortunately, they had a lot of assistance from the Dutch citizens, who housed and fed them, and in some cases formed relationships that lasted for years after.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I do wonder how wide its appeal will be.  I won't be recommending it for my relatively small library.  But I could see it in large public libraries, academic libraries where there is a strong history program, and libraries with a specialized military collection.

I received this book as an e-ARC from NetGalley.