Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

zooBook – Zinzi December finds things. It’s her Talent, the mildly useful side effect that comes along with her Sloth, a physical manifestation of her guilt over her brother’s death that also renders her unfit for work in polite society. She only finds lost things, not lost people, but when her latest client is murdered, she has to take on a missing persons case. Songweza, half of the twin teen pop sensation of the moment, has disappeared, and her manager needs her back before the new record drops.

I had a fantastic time with this book. A South African urban fantasy with a heist plot, it was very different from Beukes’s outstanding serial-killer thriller The Shining Girls, but just as excellent. This feels like it should be a movie, the better to show off the contrast between Zinzi’s lower-class lifestyle and the glitzy pop music glamor of her employer’s world. I also really liked the way Beukes recast the animal companion trope – they’re a little bit like the daemons of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy with a grittier edge. Anyone who’s a fan of Jim Butcher or Seanan McGuire should enjoy Zoo City.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

leavingBook – Thirteen-year-old Jenna Metcalf is searching for her mother, Alice, who has been missing for more than a decade. She disappeared after a tragic accident at the elephant sanctuary where she worked with Jenna’s father. Jenna’s father has been institutionalized in a mental hospital since that day and can’t provide any information. Her grandmother becomes upset whenever Jenna tries to broach the subject of her mother. Jenna is haunted by the lack of closure – did her mother abandon her or did she die? She becomes determined to learn the truth and in the process finds two allies: a disgraced psychic, Serenity Jones and a seldom sober PI, Virgil Stanhope. I learned a lot about elephants and their survival as Jenna reads through her mother’s journals and notes on her scientific study of elephants. This book is a page-turner with surprising twists and turns. Picoult has written over twenty popular novels, including My Sister’s Keeper, Handle with Care and The Tenth Circle.

The Good Neighbors by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh

kinGraphic novel - Rue Silver is just an ordinary teenage girl. She’s got a great best friends, a boyfriend who’s in a band, a college professor father and a crazy mother. Who’s missing. Oh, and sometimes she sees things that can’t be real. No big deal. Okay, so maybe she’s not that ordinary. Her mother is a faery, which means that Rue isn’t entirely human, either. And her grandfather Aubrey has a plan – a plan that will wrest her town from the grip of the humans and leave it under the rule of Faerie. What happens to the humans who live there, well, Aubrey just doesn’t care. Rue cares. As much as she can.

The Good Neighbors (in three volumes, Kin, Kith and Kind) is a wonderful, eerie story about love, duty, and humanity. Rue goes from ordinary high-schooler to fully embracing her faerie heritage, with all that implies. Rue is culturally human, she grew up as a human, but she is fey too, and she finds it all too easy to leave human things behind. The story really belongs to her. The rest of the characters are more like stock fairy tale characters. It’s not a terrible flaw, given how fast-paced the story is. And, of course, Ted Naifeh’s art is stunning. The two-page spreads of faerie and human crowds are spectacular, and while the art never distracts you from the story, it definitely rewards a closer second (and third and fourth) reading.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

miniBook – In 1686, eighteen-year-old country girl Nella arrives in Amsterdam to begin her life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. She doesn’t know him well and finds his household strange and unwelcoming. His sister, Marin, runs the household and seems to lead a pious, austere life. The servants, Otto and Cornelia, are friendly, but cautious. In addition, Johannes is often absent and when he’s home, he’s preoccupied. Then, Johannes presents Nella with an extravagant wedding gift, a miniature version of their house. Nella is confused and overwhelmed by the gift, but with little to occupy her time, decides to begin furnishing it. She hires a miniaturist through the mail, and when the contents start to arrive, she is both fascinated and terrified. The miniaturist seems to be able to not only replicate their household down to the last detail, but also seems to be able to predict the future. As events begin to unfold, Nella struggles to figure out what’s real and what is an illusion. What I found most interesting about this book was the historical detail. Events transpire to illuminate both the lifestyles and attitudes of Amsterdam during this time period. The characters were interesting and complex. This story was full of secrets and intrigues and kept me guessing until the end.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

houseBookHouse of Leaves is the scariest book I have ever read. It’s not gory or gross or even immediately frightening – there are no monsters or demons or serial killers. It’s just completely terrifying.

The story takes place in several layers. Johnny Truant is our primary narrator, telling us about this manuscript he was helping his neighbor Zampano write. Then there’s the film Zampano is writing about, a documentary made by world-famous photographer Will Navidson about the house he and his family have moved into. At first the house seems perfectly normal, and then one day they discover a hallway doesn’t seem right. They double-check the blueprints, they measure the house inside and out with a laser sight, and there’s no way around it – the house is three-quarters of an inch larger on the inside than it is on the outside.

And then it gets bigger.

I think it’s the different levels of narrative that make House of Leaves so effectively terrifying. In trying to figure out whether or not the film is real in Johnny’s world, you start to forget that Johnny’s world isn’t necessarily your own, and everything seems to bleed together around the edges. House of Leaves isn’t the kind of book you can read all at once and get it over with; even if you could get through it in one sitting, it’ll haunt you later.

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

girlsBook - Lorrie Ann and Mia have been friends since they were young girls. Lorrie Ann seems perfect, the “good girl” from a bohemian and loving family. In contrast, Mia struggles to deal with her mother, who’s often drunk, haphazardly babysits her younger brothers and describes herself as having a “little black stone for a heart.” Despite their differences, the girls share everything and know everything about each other. Then, tragedy strikes Lorrie Ann’s family and events begin to spiral. As the story unfolds over the next fifteen years, Mia is forced to examine her beliefs about her friend, motherhood, families and about what it really means to be “good.” I found this debut novel to be thought-provoking and the characters were interesting. I reflected on the reliability of our memories and how the years and maturity can alter them. This book was realistic in that situations weren’t always resolved in the nicest or easiest way and different characters offered viewpoints, giving varying angles and “truths.”

Hater by David Moody

haterBook – David Moody’s Hater isn’t really a zombie novel, but it’s got a lot of similar trappings: friends and strangers turning on one another, individual survival becoming much more important than the trappings of modern life. It’s firmly in the “survival horror” genre, of which zombie novels are only the most popular form. The point of a survival horror story has nothing to do with what the monster is or why it’s dangerous, only whether or not the main characters are going to survive.

Moody’s concept is original and interesting. Instead of turning into zombies, people just become murderously violent, for no reason at all. We eventually find out that the “Haters,” as they’ve been dubbed by the media, aren’t driven by hate at all but by fear – a sudden, crippling fear that they’re going to be attacked and they have to defend themselves first. “Haters” can’t deal with normal people, but when they get into a group of their own they’re perfectly fine, because they know they’re among their own kind. It makes more sense than zombies, to be perfectly honest, and has the added benefit that the Haters are intelligent and can be interesting point of view characters.

I can’t uncritically recommend Hater. I thought the writing was stilted and the characters predictable. If you are looking for something to indulge a survival horror buzz, though – for instance, if you’re going into withdrawl from The Walking DeadHater will keep it going for you.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

vacationersBook – The Posts are going to Mallorca for a two-week vacation. Franny and Jim are celebrating their 35th Anniversary, but recent issues are casting doubt that they’ll celebrate their 36th. Their daughter, Sylvia, is happy to escape Manhattan for the summer to join them before she heads off to college. Bobby, her older brother, arrives with his girlfriend, Carmen, a fitness instructor who annoys the family. The guest list rounds off with Franny’s best friend, Charles and his husband Lawrence. When the guests are assembled in the luxurious villa, they begin to realize that their hopes and troubles have followed them to their holiday paradise. As the vacationers relax and explore the island, they discover truths about themselves and their relationships. I didn’t think I was going to like these characters as much as I did. Straub’s humor manages to be pointed, yet kind.Straub is also the author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Beekeeper's AppBook – Even if you are not a Sherlock Holmes fan, you can’t help but be delightfully drawn into the adventures of the newly formed sleuthing team of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. They are an unlikely pair. Mary is only 15 years old, a recently orphaned American who is a fiercely independent feminist. Holmes is mostly retired from detective work and lives a quiet existence keeping bees in the country. Mary impresses him with her intelligence, and Holmes slowly teaches her the art of detection.  As his apprentice, she quickly catches on and makes her own valuable contributions in solving cases. She evolves into taking on a more active role in his investigations and Holmes is inspired into coming out of retirement. However, their exposure and enthusiasm brings some bad guys out of the woodwork and Mary and Holmes find themselves confronted by perils and threats of death that they never anticipated.  Heartwarming and witty, the mysteries that this pair solves will keep readers wanting for more.  Fortunately, this is only the first book in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. The Library has all the books in the series for readers to enjoy.

 

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

big littleBook – Big Little Lies, by the author of the bestseller The Husband’s Secret, tells the story of the events leading up to a shocking death at an elementary school fundraiser. The tale revolves around a trio of women whose children are starting kindergarten at Pirriwee Public School in Australia. On orientation day we are introduced to Madeline, who is bold, humorous, and maternal. “Oh Calamity!” The husband who walked out on her and their newborn daughter years ago has moved to Pirriwee Penisula with a new wife, and their daughter will be attending kindergarten with Madeline’s youngest child. Then we meet Jane, a young single mother whose vulnerability stimulates Madeline’s protective instincts. Lastly Celeste is introduced. She is beautiful and wealthy but somehow disengaged from life.

The friendship of these three women is galvanized when a kindergarten incident fractures the school community. The story is infused with delightful humor about all the little absurdities of parental life and school society. In addition, the author is artful in her presentation of serious social issues such as domestic abuse. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Caroline Lee. Her lively Australian accent boosted the humor and helped me to visualize the characters and their life in an ocean-side locale. Big Little Lies is likely to be a movie as well, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon have picked up the screen rights.