Monday, February 24, 2014

The Moon Sisters (Therese Walsh)

Thanks to NetGalley for this e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Make way for a weird, delicious book that is like your dreams but written down by someone else. Therese Walsh has produced a beautiful little novel and it is about a lot of things and it will bleed inside of you.

The Moon Sisters is, most simply, about the Moon sisters: Jazz, the older, is a stubborn, hardened realist, and Olivia, the younger, lives a real-life fairy tale because of her synesthesia, a mental "wiring" condition in which senses overlap and names have flavors, for example. At the beginning of the novel, Jazz and Olivia's mother has died a few months ago, suffocated in the kitchen by the gas stove, which Olivia believes to be an accident and Jazz believes to be suicide.

Their mother suffered from what sounds a lot like depression, having strong, long-lasting mood swings and chronic exhaustion. She spent her entire married life laboring over a novel she never could bring herself to finish, and she believed that seeing the will-o'-the-wisps in a local park would inspire her. After her death, Olivia blinds herself by staring into the sun and Jazz gets hired at the local funeral home, preparing to settle into a boring life in Tramp, the West Virginia town the Moon family has always known.

Olivia impulsively decides that she and Jazz ought to go looking for the will-o'-the-wisps, and Jazz hesitantly agrees. Their car breaks down and Olivia hops onto a train in a desperate attempt to fulfill her mother's dream. There, she meets Hobbs, a guy with face tattoos who is trying to run away from his life, and he agrees to lead her on her quest. Jazz, ever dedicated to rationality and level-headedness, angrily pursues them.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle (Andrew Smith)

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Reading a book like Grasshopper Jungle is the sort of rare thing that you only get to do once or twice a year, if you're lucky. It's the kind of story that stains your eyeballs and floods your heart chambers and marks you up and weighs you down for a long time. It's delicious.

Austin and Robby are best friends in the tiny town of Ealing, Iowa. Austin has a girlfriend, Shann, whom he loves very much, a dog named Ingrid who can't bark, two parents and a brother fighting in Afghanistan. His moral dilemma at the beginning of the story? He's very much in love with Shann, but he is also very much in love with Robby. What's he to do?

The obvious answer is to end the world. Robby and Austin accidentally trigger apocalypse by unleashing an Unstoppable Virus that hatches massive praying mantises inside human bodies, giant insects that only want to eat and breed and are, well, unstoppable. The two boys find themselves wrapped up in the controversial McKeon Industries' scientific experiments (owned and operated by Shann's stepdad's deceased older brother!) and only they can save the world.

This is a book with many different levels: there's the Armageddon layer of the novel, where giant praying mantis warriors are ravaging the Earth. I'll evaluate that first. It rocks. In a world overrun with horrible zombie literature, it was refreshing to read a novel in which the end of the world is brought on by something as wacky as big, killer insects. McKeon Industries is a fascinating villain because, by the time the story kicks off, it has been nonexistent for about 40 years. The chief scientist, Grady, is a horror of a psycho, and watching his terror unfold decades after he is gone is maybe even scarier than if he were alive and orchestrating it himself.

It's a meditation on the weaving, paths-crossing, cyclical nature of history. I'm a sucker for this theme, something I know of I've spoken of before. Austin has this fascinating way of unfolding his story, going back in time to trace his ancestor's journey from Poland to America and his offspring's journey to Ealing, Iowa in a way that expands out into the whole universe. Everything is part of Austin's life and Austin's life is part of everything.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Deep Winter (Samuel W. Gailey)

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

I don't know what exactly compelled me to request an advance copy of Deep Winter from NetGalley. I guess the blurb is what did it: it makes the book sound like this fascinating murder mystery that is high on intrigue and soapy drama (which I iterate repeatedly is my guilty pleasure). As it turns out, that's not the case, not even slightly.

So what is the novel? Well, it's a portrait of a small town, Wyalusing, the sort that I'd describe as a black hole in that there seems to be no escaping from it. It's populated by all sorts of people who never managed to leave and who are very unhappy with their lives at age 40. There's Danny, who fell through a frozen lake and suffered extreme brain damage that has arrested his mental development; Mindy, the only person who has ever shown Danny kindness; Sokowski, the police deputy with a drug-and-alcohol problem and an interest in hurting Danny and using Mindy; and Carl, Sokowski's sidekick, along with a variety of other, more marginal characters.

The book opens with Mindy dead in her trailer, brutally injured. Danny is there and he is panicking about what has happened. This is supposed to be the mystery of the book, and the blurb definitely makes it sound like we're supposed to be unsure of Danny's guilt in the murder. The only problem, then, is that the book rewinds to before Mindy's murder.

We see who does kill her, and I'm not sure if it's really a spoiler, but I won't identify the character. It's fairly obvious that that's what's going to happen, and then we witness it ourselves. Any element of "did Danny do it?" disappears because we know for certain that he doesn't. Deep Winter then tries to clean up the bloody mess in the trailer by means of false accusations, a poorly-handled investigation, and a blizzard.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Flight of the Silvers (Daniel Price)

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book. In exchange for an ARC copy, I am here providing my honest review.

The Flight of the Silvers is one of those books that's difficult to blurb, and because of it, I was misled about the nature of the story, I think. I don't like the word "misled" because it makes it sound like intentional misdirection, but really I just had no idea what the story was or where it would go before I started reading. It's difficult to explain because so much of the basic plot information unfolds slowly--to describe the plot here would spoil a lot of it. So I'll try my best.

One day, our world melts down. It disappears completely. Everything is destroyed and all that remains is a void. But 6 of us are saved: Amanda and Hannah, two sisters who have never gotten along; Mia, a young girl; David, a young boy; Theo, an alcoholic former child prodigy; and Zack, a comic book artist.

Strange, almost-human-but-not-quite people put bracelets on their wrists right before the apocalypse and they are spared, transported to an alternate reality. There, they are rounded up and kept in a facility where they learn that they have special gifts--they can control a force called tempis, something readily available in the universe they found themselves in that doesn't exist in ours. It's to my best understanding that tempis is similar to time, and controlling it allows you to manipulate an object's age or position in time (more or less).

The new universe is full of machines that can control tempis, but people who can do so are considerably rarer and believed not to exist. And so the six Silvers fall into a conspiracy in which they are trying to be killed because they are believed to be the catalysts for the destruction of this alternate reality they now belong to. They have to escape the facility (in California) and head for New York to meet with a mysterious figure named Peter who is supposed to help them.