Graphic novel – Set in Chicago in the 60s, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is the semi-autobiographical story of Karen, a ten-year-old girl who pictures (and draws) herself as a werewolf. After her upstairs neighbor dies mysteriously, her death officially labeled a suicide, Karen takes it on herself to investigate, learning about her lovely neighbor’s history as a Holocaust survivor, her older brother Deeze’s many and varied relationships with women, and just exactly how far her monster mask will take her. Meanwhile, her mother is dying of cancer, Martin Luther King, Jr. has just been killed, and Karen is probably in love with her best friend.
This is an incredible story, richly layered, full of wonderful, fully-realized characters. Despite the youth of the narrator, there are a lot of heavy themes, but they are rendered with their full complexity intact. And the art is astounding – printed on paper lined like a spiral notebook, the sketchy pencil drawings are absolutely gorgeous, whether Ferris is rendering Deeze’s many weary ex-girlfriends or Karen’s favorite works from the Art Institute. The only unfortunate thing? It ends on a cliffhanger, and Book Two doesn’t come out until next year.
Book – I have a fundamental problem with the term ‘cozy mystery’. I agree that it’s a useful term to distinguish the darker, faster-paced, harder-edged tone of a thriller like Gone Girl from an all-ages mystery puzzler like the marvelously re-readable Westing Game. It seems patronizing, however, to imply that there is anything remotely ‘cozy’ about the slow-burn psychological horror of stories featuring protagonists trapped in increasing danger, like Christie’s terrifying And Then There Were None or J. Jefferson Farjeon’s pleasingly creepy Mystery in White.
For the same reason, I would hesitate to label The Crime at the Black Dudley–the first book in Margery Allingham’s classic Campion series–as a ‘cozy’. Yes, it’s written by one of the Queens of mystery’s Golden Age, and yes, it features an eccentric amateur sleuth in an English country house. But it’s also a story about a group of innocents, and one unknown murderer, locked in a remote house by a gang of international thugs, in the company of their dead host, facing increasing and violent pressure to hand over a document which one of the party has already destroyed. It’s a nightmarish (if over the top) scenario, and Allingham skillfully milks the claustrophobia of the situation for all it’s worth. The story is wonderfully told in other respects as well, like the fact that the narrator, an undercover policeman, turns out not to be the one who saves the day; Allingham intended him to be the star of her series, but Peter Wimsey caricature Albert Campion unexpectedly stole the show instead.
The Crime at the Black Dudley was a great find hidden away in our stacks, a reminder of the manifold delights of cozy mysteries–or whatever you might want to call them.
Books – Something Unfortunate has arrived.
Young adult readers who followed A Series of Unfortunate Events when it was released (more than a decade ago!), and the parents and other then-adult readers who devoured the books along with them, may already know that the smash-hit series is slated for a new small-screen adaptation to debut on Netflix next year. That means that right now is a great time to re-visit Snicket’s (aka Daniel Handler‘s) playfully grim universe–especially because that universe has just expanded.
All the Wrong Questions is an recently-completed Unfortunate Events spin-off series, consisting of four main books (1: Who Could That Be At This Hour? 2: When Did You See Her Last? 3: Shouldn’t You Be in School? 4: Why is This Night Different From All Other Nights?) and one volume of related short stories (File Under– 13 Suspicious Incidents). Set a generation before ASoUE, AtWQ chronicles an exciting period in the life of young Lemony Snicket, the narrator/”author” of ASoUE, during his time as an apprentice investigator in a forlorn and mostly-abandoned village called Stain’d-by-the-Sea.
ASoUE and AtWQ definitely belong in the same universe. They share the same melancholy-yet-hopeful tone, the same focus on heroic individuals struggling often unsuccessfully against a world of selfishness and corruption, and the same conviction that the surest way of telling the bad guys from the good guys is usually that the good guys love to read. In other ways, however, the two series have significant tonal differences. Where ASoUE is about as Gothic as a story can be, AtWQ chooses a different downbeat genre and skews heavily noir–if Humphrey Bogart doesn’t actually manage to climb through the pages, it’s not for lack of trying. Another big difference is that, while ASoUE’s three protagonists are siblings who can depend on one another from page one, Lemony in AtWQ starts out alone and builds himself a found family in the course of the books. Young readers who have just finished ASoUE should also know that AtWQ is a slightly more difficult read, written for an audience a few years older.
All of that said, I think that every Unfortunate Events fan should give All the Wrong Questions a try. It’s a quick and enjoyable read with a great sense of humor–and the perfect way to tide yourself over until January 13!
Book – Imagine this: you are sitting in your pre-calc class and suddenly, without warning, your classmate a couple rows ahead of you spontaneously combusts. Blood and guts are everywhere. For a second, nobody moves, still in shock over the event. Then panic. Police are called, questions are asked. A funeral is held, everyone cries and mourns the loss of young life. Then everyone turns to moving on, healing. But then someone else blows up during a group therapy session. Then another a few weeks later. Nobody has an answer. All anyone seems to know is that it for some reason its only seniors from this small suburb of New Jersey that are spontaneously combusting.
Now you may be thinking: ‘Why in the world should I read this book? That story line sounds dark and depressing. I do not want to read about teens dying!’ I’ll tell why, cause its one of those books that you will stay up till 2 o’clock in the morning in order to finish. The narrator Mara draws you into the story of the worst year of her life. You WANT and NEED to find out what is going on with the teens. Yes, the story line is dark and kinda of depressing, but it really touches on death and living each day. Spontaneous is a book that you will soon not forget.
Movie – The zombie apocalypse has come! Or is it an alien invasion? A terrorist attack that wiped out the US government? Either way something bad has happened to the country and civilization is descending into anarchy! Or is it?
In 10 Cloverfield Lane, Howard (John Goodman) has prepared for the worst. He has a bunker and everything he needs to survive an event of catastrophic proportions. While out Howard finds Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on the side of a road. She has been in a car accident. He takes her to his bunker to save her life. Michelle wakes up to find she is chained to a wall in a bare room and has injured her leg in the accident. Howard explains what happened and that an apocalyptic event has made the world up top uninhabitable. Michelle is unsure and does not want to believe him. Howard unchains Michelle and allows her into the common area. There she meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Emmett reassures Michelle that everything Howard has told her happened. Emmett is also hurt like Michelle. As the movie progresses Michelle discovers something which points her to think Howard lying and begins to doubt his story once again.
The film has a slow pace at the beginning and viewers with little patience might give up. But if you stick with it, it picks up quickly and the ending is something worth seeing. When the film first came out many speculated whether it was a sequel to Cloverfield (2008). All I will reveal is that I don’t know if it is or not. Viewers who like movies with a short character list, a good soundtrack, and suspense will enjoy this one. Patience is a must, though.
Book – Lo Blacklock, a journalist, lands a plum assignment to travel and report on the maiden voyage of the boutique, luxury cruise liner, the Aurora. Two days before her scheduled departure for the trip around the Norwegian fjords, Lo’s apartment is robbed while she is home asleep after an evening of drinking. The event triggers her anxiety and panic attacks, for which she has been formerly diagnosed and treated. Nonetheless, she is determined to take advantage of the opportunity the cruise offers in the hopes of getting a promotion. When Lo boards the boat, she discovers their are 10 cabins and a crew devoted to the passengers’ comfort. However, as she soon finds out, the guests may not be who them seem to be and it’s hard to get help when you are out at sea. One night, after dinner and drinks, she returns to her cabin and thinks she hears a body fall into the water. She reports the incident, but no one believes her and everyone seems to be accounted for. Lo’s panic, drinking and confusion kept me guessing about the outcome of this suspenseful tale. I’m certainly not in any hurry to take a cruise on a small ship after reading this book! Ware also wrote In a Dark, Dark Wood.
Book-–It was a dark and foggy night. Gretchen Müller was in the car with her brother and friends when a Jew was seen walking across the street not too far ahead. Without warning, Kurt decides it speed up in order to hit the Jewish man. When that attempt failed, the boys left car with the sole purpose of beating the man to death. Why? Because to Gretchen and her friends, Jews were evil people. That is what Adolf Hitler told them and ‘Uncle’ Dolf would never lead them astray. Hitler was the man who took Gretchen and her family in after her father was killed saving Hitler’s life. They owed him everything.
But that night, instead of reveling in the idea of taking out the cancer of Germany, Gretchen found herself really looking at the Jewish man. His eyes were full of terror as he was about to be attacked by two members of the Nazi party. Going against everything she was taught by her parents and Hitler, Gretchen ran after the boys in order to stop them.
That night was the first small step on a journey of self-discovery that Gretchen goes on throughout this book. She takes her next step when a young Jew tells Gretchen that her father did not die to save Hitler’s life, he was murdered. In her pursuit of the truth, Gretchen learns some startling facts about Hitler and his party. Now she has to decide if her loyalties truly lie with Hitler and her family or Daniel, the Jew.
You can find Prisoner of Night and Fog on the Lincoln Award Shelf and on the Lincoln Award Kindle. Once you read it, check out the sequel Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke.
Book – Nina Borg has a kind heart and is passionate about her work as a Red Cross nurse and social worker that tries to assist refugees. She lives in Copenhagen with her husband and two children. One day Nina receives a call from her friend Karin begging her for a favor. At first Nina is reluctant, but the friend sounds desperate. So Nina goes to the train station and retrieves a suitcase from a locker. What she finds inside is a naked 3 year old boy who has been drugged. As she decides to tell the police, she notices a man kicking the empty locker in rage glaring directly at her, so fearing for her own and the boy’s safety she panics and runs. Nina tries to get a hold of Karin for an explanation, but discovers that she has been murdered.
Nina is a likable character, but her need to help others surpasses her family and personal obligations. But you have to admire her protectiveness of the boy, because soon it is apparent that there are three parties seeking the child – the mother, the kidnappers, and the man who paid for the boy to be abducted. The boy can reveal very little, because of his age and he only speaks Lithuanian. This fast paced thriller gradually reveals the motivation behind the abduction and it’s probably not what you think.
This is the first book in the “Nina Borg Mystery” series, followed by Invisible Murder, Death of a Nightingale, and The Considerate Killer.
Book – Twelve-year-old Jenny Kramer was the victim of rape, a brutal, and violent assault, but she has no memory of the attack. That’s because Jenny’s parents made the decision to have doctors give Jenny a controversial new drug meant to erase all memory of the attack. This novel deals with the aftermath of that decision, and Wendy Walker weaves in the effect that Jenny’s attack has on her parents, Charlotte and Tom Kramer, Inspector Parsons, and the mysterious unreliable narrator. I felt that Wendy Walker managed to introduce and delve into the backstories for countless characters without bogging the story down. If anything it made the story even richer.
I also loved the unreliable narrator and his place within the story. When I say I love the narrator, I mean how the character is written, the depth in which we are able to delve into who he is and his involvement in the story of Jenny Kramer. He is at times likable, other times despised, but I feel that all readers can at least agree that he elicits a strong reaction and has a unique existence within the book.
This is a dark and disturbing, yet completely immersing read that had me still pondering over it hours are reading. I would warn potential readers that the description and details of Jenny’s rape are extremely graphic; it is a difficult read.
Book – With a title like When Bunnies Go Bad, author Clea Simon had me hooked on her newest mystery novel immediately. The brown, furry rabbit on the cover didn’t hurt. I pictured a story of a once friendly and adorable creature wreaking havoc on an poor, unsuspecting town.
Instead, this novel follows Pru, a woman with secrets to hide, mainly her identity as an animal psychic. In her small hometown, people know only that Pru seems to have a way with animals. From pests to pets, Pru is friend and trainer to all creatures. When Pru discovers the body of a rich vacationer, she can’t stand by and let the feds handle the case. With her special skills, Pru manages to get inside information on the murder, specifically from the deceased’s beautiful young girlfriend and her tiny pup.
I enjoyed learning about Pru’s backstory, and the origins of her gift. I liked the concept of this animal psychic crime solver, but I found the story to be a little jumbled, and confusing. However, as a whole I enjoyed this cute “cozy” mystery.
When Bunnies Go Bad is part of the “Pru Marlowe Pet Noir mystery series,” which also includes other fun titles such as Kittens Can Kill, and Parrots Prove Deadly. What’s not to love?