Category Archives: Realistic Fiction

On the Jellicoe Road

Marchetta, Melina. On the Jellicoe Road (2008). 432 Pages. HarperTeen.

Melina Marchetta Jellicoe RoadFrom the Author’s Website

“What do you want from me?” he asks.

What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.

More.

Taylor Markham is not a popular choice. She is erratic, has no people skills and never turns up to meetings. Not to mention the incident when she ran off in search of her mother and only got halfway there. But she’s lived at Jellicoe School most of her life and as leader of the boarders that’s her greatest asset. Especially now the cadets, led by the infamous Jonah Griggs, have arrived. The territory wars between the boarders, townies and cadets are about to recommence.

But Taylor has other things on her mind: a prayer tree, the hermit who whispered in her ear, and a vaguely familiar drawing in the local police station. Taylor wants to understand the mystery of her own past. But Hannah, the woman who found her, has suddenly disappeared, leaving nothing but an unfinished manuscript about five kids whose lives entwined twenty years ago on the Jellicoe Road.

First Lines

My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.

I counted.

It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-la. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father had said that it was about time the four of us made that journey.

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Filed under Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Mystery & Suspense, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Maids of Misfortune

Locke, M. Louisa. Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francsico Mystery (2009). 336 Pages*. $2.99**

From the Author’s Site

It’s the summer of 1879, and Annie Fuller, a young San Francisco widow, is in trouble. Annie’s husband squandered her fortune before committing suicide five years earlier, and one of his creditors is now threatening to take the boardinghouse she owns to pay off a debt.

Annie Fuller also has a secret. She supplements her income by giving domestic and business advice as Madam Sibyl, one of San Francisco’s most exclusive clairvoyants, and one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, Matthew Voss, has died. The police believe it is suicide brought upon by bankruptcy, but Annie believes Voss has been murdered and that his assets have been stolen.

Nate Dawson has a problem. As the Voss family lawyer, he would love to believe that Matthew Voss didn’t leave his grieving family destitute. But that would mean working with Annie Fuller, a woman who alternatively attracts and infuriates him as she shatters every notion he ever had of proper ladylike behavior.

Sparks fly as Anne and Nate pursue the truth about the murder of Matthew Voss in this light-hearted historical mystery set in the foggy gas-lit world of Victorian San Francisco.

First Lines

The bastard!

Annie Fuller gasped, shocked at even allowing such an unladylike expression to enter her mind. She had been enjoying her tea and toast while sorting through her mail in splendid solitude.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Historical Romance, Mystery & Suspense, Realistic Fiction

The King’s Daughter

Martel, Suzanne. The King’s Daughter (1998 ed.) 231 Pages. Groundwood Books. $14.95*

From the Cover

The year is 1672. Eighteen-year-old Jeanne Chatel has just been chosen as a “king’s daughter,” one of the hundreds of young women sent by the French government to become the brides of farmers, soldiers, and trappers in the North American wilderness.

Orphaned at age ten, Jeanne has been raised in a convent. But with her independent spirit, she doesn’t hesitate to the opportunity to go to New France, as Quebec was then known. Wildly romantic, she conjurs up a new life full of adventure.

Upon her arrival in New France, Jeanne’s romantic dreams are soon cast aside, and she learns to be practical and realistic in this wild new country where death stalks the settlers every day. Life is not easy: her new husband is not the dashing military man she has dreamed of, but a trapper with two young children who lives in a small cabin in the woods. Proud and aloof, he is still grief-stricken over the death of his first wife and a child at the hands of the Iroqu0is. Alone much of the time, Jeanne faces danger daily, but the courage and determination that brought her to this wild place never fail her, and she soon learns to be truly at home in her new land.

First Lines

“A king’s daughter! I’m a king’s daughter!”

Closing the parlour door without a sound, as she had been taught, Jeanne repeated the magic words that had just changed her life. Her heart was beating wildly. She pressed both hands to her chest as her thin face relaxed into an unguarded smile.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

A Girl, A Ghost, and the Hollywood Hills

Zindel, Lizabeth. A Girl, A Ghost, and the Hollywood Hills (2010). 302 Pages. Viking Juvenile. $16.99

Sometimes I have far too much fun exploring the newly-input lists at the local library, and I end up with my holds maxed out at 10 and more items I still wanted to get. This is one of those books. It’s a Hamlet spinoff, but it follows the interpretation which I don’t entirely agree with.

From the Cover

Something is twisted in the state of Cali

It’s winter break, and Holly has come home from boarding school to face her dad’s new girlfriend, Claudia– who also happens to be her mom’s sister. Gross. Holly’s mom died less than a year ago, and already Claudia has taken over her movie production company, her house, and now her husband.

Then the ghost of Holly’s mother appears, claiming that Claudia murdered her. Holly vows to avenge her mom’s death no matter what it takes, but as the stakes get higher, she starts to wonder: What does this ghost really want from her, and why?

Throw in an adorable college guy named Oliver, an all-night house party with a pack of Australian surfers, and a shopping disaster on Rodeo Drive, and you wind up with a Hamlet-inspired ghost story unlike any other.

First Lines

It was ridiculously early as I sat on the steps of Reed Hill waiting for the cab to take me to the airport. I was bundled in my favorite red peacoat and warm hat with earflaps that looked like some nice grandma had knitted it.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Five Flavors of Dumb

John, Antony. Five Flavors of Dumb (2010). 338 Pages. Dial Books. $16.99

When I read Erin’s review over at LitSnit, she made this book sound super interesting, so I looked for it at my library to no avail. But a few weeks later, I noticed it in the “newly input” list, and I jumped right on that. Hooray for librarians who track search terms!

From the Cover

Eighteen-year-old Piper has gotten herself into a mess. Because of her big mouth, she has one month to get a paying gig for her high school’s hottest new rock band, called Dumb. In Piper’s mind, the band couldn’t have a more perfect name. Just look at the members: one egomaniacal pretty boy, one silent rocker, one talentless piece of eye candy, one angry girl, and one nerd-boy drummer– five discordant personalities who, when put together, seem ready to self-destruct at any moment. Getting them an actual gig seems impossible. Add to that the fact that piper doesn’t know if their music is good or not, because, well, she’s deaf.

But Piper is determined to get the band a gig to show her classmates that being deaf doesn’t mean she’s invisible. And as she gets to know the five flavors of Dumb, some hidden talents, secret crushes, and crazy rock music emerge. She doesn’t need to hear the music to sell it, but Piper wants the chance to feel the music too. Does she have what it takes to manage Dumb and discover her own inner rock star?

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Filed under Book Review, General Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Ship Breaker

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker (2010). 323 Pages. Hachette Book Group. $17.99

I feel like I’ve inadvertently written an essay about this book, but if you’re interested in reading more, by all means, click through.

Synopsis

Mankind has caused the ice caps (or at least most of them) to melt and raise the water levels, in most cases, far more than was ever predicted. As a result, many cities were lost, and much technology is gone. There are two groups remaining; the rich and the poor. The rich are ultra-rich, living on clipper-ships (which are like yachts, but nicer) and controlling the fate of the poor, whether or not they are aware of it. The poor, meanwhile struggle to get by, working at whatever jobs they can find, and dreaming of a better life.

On the beaches of a greatly-expanded Gulf Coast, Nailer works as part of a scavenge crew, breaking down ancient oil tankers for scrap. Specifically, Nailer works on light-crew; the group of youths who are small enough to fit into the ducts and reclaim copper wire*. It is dangerous, dirty work with a high mortality rate, and every time Nailer crawls into the ducts, he hopes it won’t be his last. He dreams of a bit of luck, and hopes for a day when he won’t have to work on the ships to survive.

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Filed under Book Review, Realistic Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Rot & Ruin

Maberry, Jonathan. Rot & Ruin (2010). 458 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $17.99

Don’t let the cover put you off. It’s a creepy book, at times, but not as creepy as the eyeball seems to suggest.

Synopsis

Benny Imura has only vague memories of the night his parents died. What he does remember paints a bleak picture; his father was a zombie, his mother facing imminent death, and his brother was the coward who took him and ran, leaving their parents behind. Despite what everyone seems to think about Tom Imura, Benny knows the truth; his brother is a coward.

On Benny’s fifteenth birthday, he becomes an “adult,” and has six weeks to find a job, or his rations will be cut in half. With hunger looming, and the best jobs long gone, Benny turns to his brother, Tom the Bounty Hunter– zombie killer for hire– to ask for a job. He doesn’t want to join the “family business” but doesn’t see any alternatives.

What he learns about the world outside his town’s fences– the Rot & Ruin– and about his brother will change Benny’s life forever.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, Horror, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

The Summoner

Green, Layton. The Summoner (2010). Digital only. GryphonWorks. $2.99*

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I started poking at this book; it seemed interesting enough, but not my usual read. It’s fairly apparent from my choice of books that I like young adult and romance novels– both genres known for being rather easy reads**. But I figured “why not” and found myself quickly engaged.

Synopsis

Dominic Grey is world-worn and jaded,  stuck in a dead-end government job in Zimbabwe. When a diplomat– and friend of the Ambassador– goes missing in the middle of nowhere during a Juju ceremony, Dominic is told to investigate. He won’t be alone, however; Nya Mashumba– local government official– will be escorting him and keeping an eye on his progress, and Viktor Radek– cult expert– will be helping out.

Things aren’t as straightforward as anyone hoped, and Grey is in deeper trouble than he could have imagined. Someone has sent him a message– back off– and he needs to find out who before anyone else disappears.

First Lines

The only thing Dominic Grey knew for certain about the disappearance of William Addison was that it was the strangest case to which he had ever been assigned.

Thoughts

It’s not often that I read a book cold, without knowing anything about it. I often pick books up because I know the author, or I liked the cover/blurb or I saw a good review. I usually have some idea what I’m getting into before I decide “sure, why not?” but in this case, at least, the results weren’t bad.

I found myself pleasantly surprised, for the most part. Dominic Grey is an interesting protagonist with an imperfect past. He’s really good at a couple things, and has a few character flaws which keep him interesting. He apparently speaks three languages– which are never listed– and is very well traveled. He’s a fairly accepting character, who doesn’t make snap-judgements. On the whole, while not an every-man, he is a bit of an ideal-man.

The writing is good, if not spectacular; descriptions were vivid, and most of the dialog was relatively natural. There were moments where characters were overly-expository in their speech, but with a topic/setting most people don’t know a lot about, it’s a damned-if-you-do/don’t balancing act. I feel like for the most part it is alright, though it does get a little bogged down in the second chapter.

The plot is really what makes this book interesting; there is an evil Juju man sacrificing humans to an evil spirit, and Grey, Nya, and Viktor are entangled in the puzzle. There are parts that are surprising, and parts that are not, but on the whole it’s intriguing enough to keep you reading (and good enough that I actually enjoyed reading it; I didn’t want to put it down.) It manages to move along quickly enough that you don’t get bored, without rushing along so fast that you get lost, either. At no point did I have to go “wait, what just happened?,” which is a good sign.

With good writing, solid pacing, an interesting plot, and good characters, this book is worth reading. It gets a 3.5/5*** — I liked it, but I didn’t love it. (Though I wouldn’t have felt upset at having paid $2.99 for it, either.) If it survives and becomes a series, I’ll probably check out the next book.

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* Disclosure; I received a free copy of the book for review.

** There are always exceptions to the “easy reads,” The Hunger Games, for example, is not “easy” in any way. (But it’s well worth it.)

*** I am not the sort to read mystery/thrillers often, and I do not enjoy them as much as I enjoy sci-fi/fantasy/romance plots. I think if I were more of a mystery/thriller type this could easily have been a 4/5 or higher.

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Filed under Book Review, General Fiction, Mystery & Suspense, Realistic Fiction

Jane Austen in Scarsdale

Cohen, Paula Marantz. Jane Austen in Scarsdale or, Love, Death, and the SATs (2006). 275 Pages. St Martin’s Press. $23.95

From the Cover

Anne Ehrlich is a dedicated guidance counselor steering her high-school charges through the perils of college admission. Thirteen years ago, when she was graduating from Colombia University, her wealthy family– especially her dear grandmother Winnie– persuaded her to give up the love of her life, Ben Cutler, a penniless boy from Queens College. Anne has never married and hasn’t seen Ben since– until his nephew turns up in her high school and starts applying to college.

Now Ben is a successful writer, a world traveler, and a soon-to-be married man, and Winnie’s health is beginning to fail. These changes have Anne beginning to wonder… Can old love be rekindled, or are past mistakes too painful to forget?

First Lines

“Great speaker last night, right?” Vince Flockhart, Fenimore’s principal, looked hopefully down at Anne Ehrlich, head of guidance, as she ate her grilled cheese sandwich in the faculty cafeteria. Report had it that the parents had been impressed by the speaker– though half had left in tears and the other half had been digging in the bottom of their bags for Valium.

Thoughts

I do not know much about Persuasion, as I’ve never actually read it, and I don’t recall watching a film version. From what I know, the main point is that Anne Elliot is from a good family, and falls in love with a handsome naval officer named Wentworth. Because her father, elder sister, and mentor disapprove of the match, Anne breaks it off. Several years later– when she is beyond “marriageable” age– Anne again encounters Wentworth, only now he is a successful, rich Captain. Things happen, and Anne ends up marrying Wentworth*.

If Jane Austen in Scarsdale were merely being judged on its ability to follow the general plot of Persuasion, I might have been more impressed. It does a decent job re-telling the story in modern New York. There are difficulties– as there always are when “updating” a classic– and it is hard to explain why a smart young woman would let her grandmother’s snobbery prevent her happiness.

However, it got very bogged down with the guidance counselor aspect. Several chapters were dealt dealing with “the parents,” who were all certifiable, and obnoxious. Additionally, the children were as crazed and driven as their parents, but whinier.** It didn’t really add to the story in any meaningful way, rather, it seemed to slow it down and distract from the main plot– which was supposed to relate to Persuasion. As either a retelling of Persuasion or a romance about a guidance counselor, this would have done very well, but it seemed to be suffering from an identity crisis at times.

The story still managed to be entertaining, and others may (and clearly have, judging by amazon’s rating) disagree with me, but I don’t think I particularly enjoyed it.  It scores a 2.5/5, for managing to be funny, at times, but still not good enough for me to really like it.

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* It’s been around for nearly 200 years, so I’m not concerned about spoilers.

** Good Lord. It drove me crazy to read about this. I went to one of those schools where it wasn’t “Are you going to college?” but rather, “Which college are you going to?” and I still wasn’t that crazed. I had reasonable expectations, and had worked hard enough to be near the top of my class without trying to get a 4.02. I didn’t even involve my mother very much, and she didn’t worry, because she had confidence in me, which mattered more than whatever the hell the parents in this novel seem to be doing. It felt like a little too much hyperbole, and it may have benefited from being a little less crazed.

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Filed under Book Review, Chick-Lit, Contemporary Romance, General Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

King, A.S. Please Ignore Vera Dietz (2010). 323 Pages. Random House. $16.99

From the Cover

Is it okay to hate a dead kid?

Even if I loved him once?

Even if he was my best friend?

Is it okay to hate him for being dead?

Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone– the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

First Lines

The Funeral

The pastor is saying something about how Charlie was a free spirit. He was and he wasn’t. He was free because on the inside he was tied up in knots. He lived hard because inside he was dying. Charlie made inner conflict look delicious.

Thoughts

There’s a lot going on in this book, yet it works so well together that it’s not overwhelming. There are flashbacks, point-of-view shifts, moments of contemplation, or difficult conversations. This book is a tragedy to its core; it begins with a funeral, continues with difficult introspection and self-exploration, and concludes on a note which is only slightly higher than the beginning.

Vera Dietz has spent most of her life trying to fly under the radar, to avoid notice, and avoid her destiny. She doesn’t have close relationships, after both her mother and Charlie betrayed her, she’s not looking to be close to anyone. She just wants to move on, to hold onto her job and keep her grades up so she can afford to take some community college classes when she graduates high school. Unfortunately for Vera, she has a lot to come to terms with before she can move on. She still hasn’t faced her mother’s departure, she never really accepted Charlie’s betrayal, and his death is real to her, but so is his ghost. She’s hiding behind vodka, and losing herself in work.

There are chapters from the point of view of the Pagoda, or Charlie, and sometimes Vera’s father. (His chapters are made all the more excellent by his flow-charts).They are beautifully balanced, and all of them add a little more depth to the story, building upon what has just happened, or what is still coming, and creating this utterly perfect, utterly sad story.

Once I started reading, I didn’t want to put it down. I felt like Vera’s voice was perfect, and I couldn’t stand waiting to find out what had happened to Charlie, and how she knew about it, and why she hadn’t yet gone to the police with her knowledge, and why the police were involved at all, and what was going to happen with Vera and her Father, or work, or school, or any number of other things. Even at the end, everything is not tied up in one neat little conclusion, but it’s the sort of ending which is still somehow satisfying despite not being a neat closure. There is no happily-ever-after or anything, but it does end on a hopeful– if still a bit bleak– note.

It’s tough to read a book about death, especially one which is so very realistic. There are no flights of fancy, this is contemporary, real-world YA, and that makes it more tragic, and real. It gets a 5/5 for being just about as perfect as it could possibly have been.

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Filed under Book Review, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult Fiction