Book Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Midnight, Texas is a tiny little town with very few residents.  The town’s only intersection hosts a diner, a pawn shop, a gas station, and a minuscule chapel.  People pass through, but they don’t tend to stay overly long.  The town’s residents make up an interesting lot, and they have their share of secrets.  But the unspoken rule in Midnight is that you don’t ask questions.  So when a body is found, the tiny town’s world is thrown into an investigation they never asked for.

Charlaine Harris operates firmly within her wheelhouse with this novel, the start of a new trilogy.  Full of vivid, memorable characters Harris is known for creating, this novel clips along at a good pace, full of the minutiae of small-town southern life fans of her work so crave.  Part supernatural tale (the supernatural aspects here are present but much more toned down than in her most popular Sookie Stackhouse series) and part whodunnit mystery, this is likely to gain traction with old fans as well as collect new ones.

The book starts off slightly rocky, with a present-tense narration that doesn’t seem to quite work. However, after a chapter or two, the reader settles into the narrative of the novel.  The chapters are short and alternate from the perspectives of several of Midnight’s residents.  There’s Fiji, the witch who runs a little magic shop and pines for Bobo, the owner of Midnight’s pawn shop.  Manfred is the town’s newest resident, and he operates an online psychic business from his little apartment (hardcore fans of Harris’s work will recognize him from her Harper Connelly mysteries).  All of the characters have their own pasts and their own motivations, and Harris hints at these events without judgment.

Also notable is how diversely Harris has cast her new series.  There are several people of color in Midnight, as well as a gay couple who is very well accepted into the town.  Harris weaves these details in seamlessly, and while characters have these traits, they do not define them.  It’s refreshing to see this kind of diversity without it being the central point of the novel.

Mostly fun and definitely a strong addition to the genre, this is a book that is likely to circulate well at libraries.  Recommended for fans of Harris’s work, and for fans of small-town mysteries in general.

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris.  Ace Books: 2014. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: The End Or Something Like That by Ann Dee Ellis

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The End or Something Like That by Ann Dee Ellis

Expected Release Date: May 1, 2014

Emmy’s best friend Kim had promised to visit from the afterlife after she died. But so far Kim hasn’t shown up even once. Emmy blames herself for not believing hard enough. Finally, as the one-year anniversary of Kim’s death approaches, Emmy is visited by a ghost—but it’s not Kim. It’s Emmy’s awful dead science teacher.

Emmy can’t help but think that she’s failed at being a true friend. But as more ghosts appear, she starts to realize that she’s not alone in her pain. Kim would have wanted her to move forward—and to do that, Emmy needs to start letting go.

(summary via Goodreads)

There are certainly no shortage of books with characters who see dead people, but this one looks like it’s going to be pretty sweet.  I’m all about  a well-executed novel about moving on from loss and dealing with grief, and if the magical realism is done well, I’ll be a happy camper.

What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday: Insanity by Susan Vaught

 

 

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

 

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Insanity by Susan Vaught

Expected Release Date: February 18th, 2014

Never, Kentucky is not your average scenic small town. It is a crossways, a place where the dead and the living can find no peace. Not that Forest, an 18-year-old foster kid who works the graveyard shift at Lincoln Hospital, knew this when she applied for the job. Lincoln is a huge state mental institution, a good place for Forest to make some money to pay for college. But along with hundreds of very unstable patients, it also has underground tunnels, bell towers that ring unexpectedly, and a closet that holds more than just donated clothing….When the dead husband of one of Forest’s patients makes an appearance late one night, seemingly accompanied by an agent of the Devil, Forest loses all sense of reality and all sense of time. Terrified, she knows she has a part to play, and when she does so, she finds a heritage that she never expected. 

With her deep knowledge of mental illness and mental institutions, Susan Vaught brings readers a fascinating and completely creepy new book intertwining the stories of three young people who find themselves haunted beyond imagining in the depths of Lincoln Hospital.

(summary via Goodreads)

Is there anything scarier than a mental institution?  I’m pretty sure there’s not.  I don’t know why they’ve always fascinated and terrified me, but they have.  Probably this is leftover scarring from when I watched MTV’s Fear and they had to stay overnight in that abandoned mental institution.  HORRIFYING.  At any rate, this one looks like it might be a lot of scary, good fun.

What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday: Minders by Michele Jaffe

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Minders by Michele Jaffe

Expected Release Date: January 28, 2013

Q: If the boy you love commits a crime, would you turn him in?

Sadie Ames is a type-A teenager from the wealthy suburbs. She’s been accepted to the prestigious Mind Corps Fellowship program, where she’ll spend six weeks as an observer inside the head of Ford, a troubled boy with a passion for the crumbling architecture of the inner city. There’s just one problem: Sadie’s fallen in love with him.

Q: What if the crime is murder?

Ford Winters is haunted by the murder of his older brother, James. As Sadie falls deeper into his world, dazzled by the shimmering pinpricks of color that form images in his mind, she begins to think she knows him. Then Ford does something unthinkable.

Q: What if you saw it happen from inside his mind?

Back in her own body, Sadie is faced with the ultimate dilemma. With Ford’s life in her hands, she must decide what is right and what is wrong. And how well she can really ever know someone, even someone she loves.

(summary via Goodreads)

I mean, it’s an interesting concept, right?  A little ridiculous, but sort of cinematic and interesting, for sure.  If it’s done well, it should be an intriguing read.  It seems like it could be pretty fast-paced, which is appealing to me right now.  At any rate, I’ll definitely be checking this one out when it comes out next January.

 

What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday: Ashes to Ashes by Melissa C. Walker

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Ashes to Ashes by Melissa C. Walker

Expected Release Date: December 23, 2013

If I Stay meets the movie Ghost in this first book in a teen duology about a teenage-girl-turned-ghost who must cling to the echoes of her former life to save the people she left behind.

Ashes to Ashes is author Melissa Walker’s sweeping, romantic, and emotionally rich story about the things that torment and tempt us, even from the Great Beyond. This book is perfect for fans of Die for Me andImaginary Girls, and its breathtaking ending will leave readers anxiously awaiting the series conclusion, Dust to Dust.

When Callie’s life is cut short by a tragic accident, she expects to find nothingness, or maybe some version of heaven.

Instead, her spirit travels to the Prism, an ethereal plane populated by the ghosts she thought were fictional. Here she meets a striking and mysterious ghost named Thatcher, who is meant to guide her as she learns to haunt and bring peace to the loved ones she left behind.

However, Callie uncovers a dark secret about the spirit world: The angry souls who always populate ghost stories are real, dangerous, and willing to do whatever it takes to stay on Earth, threatening the existence of everyone she ever cared about.

As she fights to save them, Callie will learn that while it may no longer beat, her heart can still love-and break.

(summary via Goodreads)

Setting aside the kind of obnoxious comparison to two different pop culture-y things, I like Melissa Walker enough to give her new paranormal novel a chance.  I haven’t read much paranormal this year (and with the Cybils coming up, I probably won’t get to much more until the end of December), but when it’s done well, I like it well enough.

I like the idea of encountering ghosts in the afterlife, and I’m not averse to some scarier stuff, if Walker can pull it off.  It’d be a good read on a cold weekend when all you want to do is stay inside by a fire.

What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Expected Release Date: May 1, 2013

Sookie Stackhouse has one last adventure in store.

Life has taken her from a waitress in Merlotte’s Bar, Bon Temps, to part owner; from social outcast to the heart of her community; from a vampire’s girlfriend to the wife of one of the most powerful vampires in the state. She has survived earthquakes, revolutions and attempts on her life. Sookie has endured betrayal, heartbreak and grief . . . and she has emerged a little stronger, and little wiser, every time.

But with life comes new trials . . .

The question is, in the end: who will love, who will live, and who will be dead ever after?

(summary via Goodreads)

You guys.  I don’t know what it is about this series and my inability to quit it.  I’m not even caught up to the point where I can read this one–I have at least two other books in the series before I can even get to this.  But since this is supposed to be the last book in the series, I have to know how it ends.  Don’t you?  I mean, really?

I’ll definitely be picking this one up when it comes out.  There’s my motivation to move through the rest of the series.

What are you waiting on this week?

On Re-Reading a Series: Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris

In lieu of a review today, I thought I’d talk a little bit about what it’s like to re-read a series.  I think I’ve talked about re-reading before, and how your relationship to a book can change over time, but I’m speaking very specifically about a particular series right now: The Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris.

With the start of the new year came a fresh reading rut for me, and it’s one that I’m still struggling to crawl out of.  I’ve had a great deal of changes in my personal and professional life over the past several months, and reading has taken a backseat to the demands of my life (see: graduating from a master’s program, applying for jobs, moving in with boyfriend).  It doesn’t help that I’ve felt listless whenever I’ve picked up a book.

Which is why I’ve started re-reading books in search of comfort and something that holds my attention.  I’m still reading new stuff when I’m on  the treadmill, and I’m enjoying a lot of it, but there’s nothing like something you know you like to bring you that cozy feeling.

Re-reading Charlaine Harris’s Sookie series is interesting, because I’ve grown as a reader since I started reading it.  I first read Dead Until Dark years ago, way before TrueBlood became a TV show and before the vampire craze went nutso.  I liked it, but it was definitely out of my wheelhouse.  Here was a mystery featuring a plucky heroine who spends much of her narrative in the minutiae of her life.  There is so much detail about how Sookie spends her time in really unremarkable ways that it’s astounding.

That being said, there’s something comforting about reading about Sookie’s small-town life as a telepathic barmaid who sometimes has really great sex with supernatural creatures.  I’m finding that I’m enjoying the series in a different way: it’s not particularly well-written or well-paced, but there’s enough detail about small-town life and Sookie is a nice enough narrator (for a while, at least) that it’s kind of fun.

Plus, I’m determined to finish the series.  I haven’t read the last few books because they’re so bogged down in the story’s mythology that it’s kind of like drowning.  But I have to finish the series and see if I’m right.

The bonus? Sookie’s clothes, especially in the early books, are HILARIOUSLY bad.  Seriously, why hasn’t someone started a Sookie clothing blog yet?  COMEDY GOLD.

Have you ever read these books?  What do you think?  How do you feel about re-reading series from start to finish?

Waiting on Wednesday: Transparent by Natalie Whipple

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Transparent by Natalie Whipple

Expected Release Date: May 1, 2013

Plenty of teenagers feel invisible. Fiona McClean actually is.

An invisible girl is a priceless weapon. Fiona’s own father has been forcing her to do his dirty work for years—everything from spying on people to stealing cars to breaking into bank vaults.

After sixteen years, Fiona’s had enough. She and her mother flee to a small town, and for the first time in her life, Fiona feels like a normal life is within reach. But Fiona’s father isn’t giving up that easily.

Of course, he should know better than anyone: never underestimate an invisible girl.

(summary via Goodreads)

This one looks like a totally fun paranormal YA fiction title for the spring.  It’s not necessarily in my most-read genre, but it looks like something that’s grounded enough in reality that I’ll enjoy it.  I can’t figure out why Whipple’s name is so familiar, as this is her first YA novel, but it is.  I’m really looking forward to this one.  It looks like it’s going to be the kind of frothy fun YA novel I love to read in the spring and summer.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

When Maggie starts at a public high school after years of homeschooling with her mother and older brothers, she’s startled by how different the outside world is.  The mysteries of the outside world are Maggie’s to be solved, but first she’s got to figure out why she’s still being followed by the morose, silent ghost she’s known since she was little.  This might mean Maggie has to branch way out of her comfort zone–and maybe even make some friends that aren’t her brothers.

This sweet graphic novel should work well for more advanced middle grade readers as well as high school readers.  Although it has elements of the paranormal in it, it’s firmly grounded in reality, with vivid secondary characters and a complex story that readers won’t want to put down.  The family dynamics, as well as the budding friendships Maggie forms with a couple of social outcasts, help to make this novel a standout.

Hicks’s illustrations fill panels with a monochrome-and-wash style that’s memorable and aesthetically pleasing.  Especially notable is how expressive Hicks makes her character’s faces.  Hicks is able to convey so much in her characters’ body language and silent glances makes the text all that much richer.  This is a text that is easy to read but one that is layered and complex.  There’s a lot of humor and heart here.

A quiet graphic novel that deserves all the praise it’s gotten.  This is one to push on reluctant and rabid readers alike–it’s that much fun.  Highly recommended.

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks.  First Second: 2012.  Library copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nervous, home-schooled by her absent and much-missed mom and saddled with three adored older brothers—and a ghost—Maggie starts high school.

Largely but not entirely left by her doting upper-grade sibs (who had “first days” of their own) to sink or swim, Maggie starts off in lonely isolation but quickly finds two great friends in Mohawk-wearing, multiply pierced, exuberantly logorrheic classmate Lucy and her quieter (but also Mohawk-topped) brother Alistair. Simmering complications soon reach a boil as Maggie discovers that Alistair and her own oldest brother Daniel have some sort of bad history, and on a more eldritch note, a woman’s ghost that Maggie had occasionally seen in the nearby graveyard takes to floating into her house and right up to her face. Filling monochrome ink-and-wash panels with wonderfully mobile faces, expressively posed bodies, wordless conversations in meaningful glances, funny banter and easy-to-read visual sequences ranging from hilarious to violent, Hicks crafts an upbeat, uncommonly engaging tale rich in humor, suspense, and smart, complex characters.

Readers will definitely want to have, know or be Maggie’s brothers—but she herself proves to be no slouch when it comes to coping with change and taking on challenges.

Book Review: Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy

When 12-year-old Lilah Bloom is struck by lightning at her mom’s wedding, she discovers she has a new skill: she can hear dead people.  They are everywhere, and they are verbose.  Her Bubby is one of the most opinionated ghosts, and she wants Lilah to help her get Lilah’s dad dating again.  All of this means Lilah must navigate the stress of seventh grade while also dealing with chatty ghosts–and somehow, she’ll have to try to work up the courage to talk to her crush, Andrew Finkel.

Joanne Levy’s debut middle grade novel takes a premise that could be sort of frightening–being surrounding by the voices of ghosts all the time–and subverts it by making light and a little silly.  Lilah’s frank voice feels authentic and is frequently very funny.  The supporting characters are vivid, and there’s just a touch of romance that will appeal to readers but won’t put parents on the offense.

While it could easily fall into the trap of being too silly or too slapstick, Levy walks the line carefully and successfully.  She creates a strong narrator in Lilah and allows her cultural identity and strong family ties to enhance the story, giving it a great deal of heart along with the (very real, very funny) humor.

Although it falls into the paranormal genre based on its premise alone, Levy’s book transcends its fantastical plot elements and offers some very real commentary on middle school.  Lilah has to navigate all the things that a normal seventh grader has to, and she has to do it while attempting to ignore the advice and commentary of invisible ghosts.  Readers will be able to relate to the real stuff happening in Lilah’s life while being entertained by the ghostly stuff, too.

This is a quick read that will work for reluctant readers. Levy never panders to her audience.  A definite stand-out in the paranormal middle grade market, this is an author to watch.

Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy. Bloomsbury: 2012. Library copy.