Book Review: Day Shift by Charlaine Harris

The tiny little town of Midnight, Texas is a strange one, which suits its few residents just fine.  The people who live in the one-stoplight town like to keep to themselves and don’t take well to outsiders.  So when a bunch of trucks roll up one day and start renovating the long-closed Midnight Hotel, residents are worried.  Things get worse.  When psychic Manfred Bernado sees neighbor Olivia Charity miles from home while on a business trip, he thinks it’s a strange coincidence.  When the couple Olivia was visiting with show up dead the next day, he gets suspicious.  But then Manfred’s wealthy client dies in the middle of his reading, things get comically worse.  With a frenzy of press on their tails and the new hotel opening up, Olivia and Manfred have to work together to bring Midnight back to normal.

Part of what is so wonderful about Charlaine Harris’s novels is her attention to detail.  She crafts a homey feeling to her stories and blends it with the fantastical, making all the supernatural elements easier for even the staunchest skeptic to swallow.  This is on full display in her follow-up to Midnight Crossroad, a faster-paced and more complex sequel that will have fans tearing through the book.

Unlike Harris’s other mystery series, the books set in Midnight, Texas don’t have a single narrator.  She allows all of the town’s characters to have their turn to tell their stories, and the result is a rich, satisfying look at a super weird little southern town.  The mystery at the center of this novel is a mysterious death, and the surrounding little mysteries are just as interesting.  It’s smart, clever, and totally worth reading in a single setting.

Credit should be given to Harris for crafting a world full of diversity not only when it comes to supernatural creatures but also one in which a variety of people from different backgrounds and life experiences are recommended.  It’s intentional, but it doesn’t ever feel manipulated or heavy-handed.  It’s just natural, making it all the more satisfying.

A must-read for Harris fans, and even stronger than the first book in the series.  Recommended.

Day Shift by Charlaine Harris.  Ace Books: 2015. Library copy.


Book Review: Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

Newlyweds Deb and Chip are enjoying their honeymoon at a Caribbean island resort.  Although Deb is opinionated and largely skeptical of basically everything, her happy-go-lucky husband helps counterbalance her cynicism.  When the two meet a marine biologist who claims to have seen actual mermaids at a nearby coral reef, the two embark on an adventure–and potential tragedy–they never saw coming.

Lydia Millet’s biting satire is a gem of a novel, and it’s also one that grew on me even after I finished it and continued to think about the characters and their plight.  Millet is known for her laser-focused satire, and it’s on full display here, with her wise, witty narrator Deb.  The novel packs a punch and manages to be both funny and thrilling as well as quite contemplative.

Deb’s narration is part of why the book works as well as it does.  Her comic, often disbelieving tone helps to set up the novel’s general premise as well as making the more unbelievable aspects much more palatable.  In fact, Deb’s cheerful snark is the perfect balance to the book’s fantastical reveal of mermaids, and it makes the plot stronger as a result.

Also noteworthy is the fact that while the novel is clearly satirical, it’s also a thriller of sorts.  The pacing is tight, and adventure and tension packs the novel’s second half.  The satire works in tandem with the book’s more thrilling moments, examining a culture that wants to simultaneously categorize and commodify everything.  The novel has sharp teeth, but it also has an earnestness to it: there’s an actual exploration of belief here, and there’s also an examination of irony and what it means in today’s society.

The novel’s ending is very likely to divide readers, but it fits with the book’s overall theme.  It’s one of the most unsettling conclusions to a book I’ve read in quite some time.  It’s also pitch-perfect and emotionally resonant.  This is a must-have book for library shelves.

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet. W.W. Norton & Company: 2014. Library copy.

Book Review: Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers

Rhys and Sloane are on their way to a safe haven when they end up separated after a particularly bad zombie attack.  Although he’s determined to find Sloane–alive–Rhys finds another group of people, and he realizes that he might need them as much as they do him.  Determined to survive and with a newfound hope that he just might make it, Rhys continues to navigate a world where the dead are alive.

Summers’s novella takes place immediately after This is Not a Test, so reading the first book is a necessity for readers picking this one up.  But fans of the first novel will also find that Summers applies the same mastery and enormous respect for the genre here, crafting a genuinely horrifying, moving novel about the zombie apocalypse.  This is a fast read that can (and will) be devoured in one sitting.

Much of what works in this story is the same stuff that worked in the previous book: the balance between truly heart-stopping action sequences and quieter, more emotional moments.  Summers is a well-documented zombie-fan, and it shows here.  She knows her stuff, respects the greats, and still manages to create a world that is uniquely her own.  But she also loves her characters, and the detailed, fully-realized characters who inhabit this world are compelling.

This time, the story is narrated by Rhys, and though readers still get plenty of page time with Sloane, having a new narration offers a fresh perspective.  Rhys’s experiences offer a different take on what has happened and what’s to come, and his fierce devotion to Sloane is palpable.  Summers takes care to build the interpersonal relationships between the characters, which makes it all the more horrifying when they’re in dire situations.

Highly recommended.  This is an ebook only, but it’s well worth the (cheap) price.  This is a great, quick read that should work for horror fans young and old.  It will also leave them clamoring for more.

Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers. St. Martin’s Griffin: 2015. Purchased copy.


Book Review: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

Okiku walks the streets, hunting murderers of children.  She finds these murderers and sees the children they have murdered tied to them, and she feels compelled to act.  It has been this way for hundreds of years.  When she meets a strange boy with even stranger tattoos, she discovers that he is not alone, and he is in very real danger.  But can she save him when it’s not what she’s on earth to do?

Rin Chupeco’s novel is a near perfect blend of contemporary YA and supernatural storytelling.  Billed as a mix of The Grudge and The Ring, this is definitely a perfect novel for fans of J-horror. This is a fresh take on horror for teens (and adults), and it’s a standout of a debut.

Much of the novel’s success lies in the narrator’s unique, haunting voice.  Chupeco makes Okiku’s voice very formal and very detached, and the result is compelling.  Her ghostly telling of the story’s events offer readers just enough to understand what’s happening but also encourages the reader to figure out what lies beneath the surface.  As Okiku becomes more embroiled in the life of Tarquin, her voice becomes stronger.  It’s brilliantly done.

An unsettling story, this novel deftly blends many creepy elements: ghosts, spirits, old legends, and super, super creepy dolls.  Readers interested in legends, ghosts, and the like will eat this one up.  It’s bloody without being overly so, and the novel’s suspense is perfectly paced.  It’s a page-turner, and one that horror fans should eat up.  Highly recommended.

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco. Sourcebooks Fire: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.

Waiting on Wednesday: Rooms by Lauren Oliver

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:

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Expected Release Date: September 23, 2014

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.

Elegantly constructed and brilliantly paced, Rooms is an enticing and imaginative ghost story and a searing family drama that is as haunting as it is resonant.

(summary via Goodreads)

The buzz on this one has been largely positive.  Even though I haven’t exactly loved everything Oliver has written, she’s definitely an author to watch.  This foray into adult fiction has been written about since the book deal was announced.  Since I can’t resist a good buzzed-about book, you know I’m all over this.

I love a good ghost story, too.  So that doesn’t hurt.

What are you waiting on this week?

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?