Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are set to topline Fox 2000’s adaptation
of Markus Zusak’s best-selling novel The Book Thief.
French-Canadian actress Sophie Nelisse, who appeared in Monsieur Lahzar,
will make her English-language debut as the title character in the
World War II drama being directed by Brian Percival (Downton Abbey).
Please don't mess it up. Please don't mess it up. Pleasedontmessitup...
Ever since his mother got sick, Conor has been dreaming about a monster. The same nightmare, night after night.
And then, one night, a different monster comes to him.
While he's still awake.
The monster is going to tell Conor three stories.
And then, whether he wants to or not, Conor is going to tell the monster a fourth story. Not just any story, but the truth. His truth.
Oh, Patrick Ness. You jerk.
I don't really mean that, of course.
But I have the flu. So I already feel terrible.
And then I read A Monster Calls and it made me cry so hard that I got a bloody nose.
I knew I was in trouble when I teared up just opening it: my last Siobhan Dowd book, and only partly hers, at that.
I knew I was in trouble when I was in tears after reading the Author's Note:
I felt — and feel — as if I've been handed a baton like a particularly fine writer had given me her story and said, "Go. Run with it. Make trouble." So that's what I tried to do. Along the way, I had only a single guideline: to write a book I think Siobhan would have liked. No other criteria could really matter.
I knew I was in trouble when seeing the dedication — For Siobhan — set me off again.
But that was nothing.
Because I hadn't even hit the actual story yet.
Every line of Patrick Ness' beautiful, deceptively simple prose Tells The Truth. The truth about the isolation of grief, about the anger that comes out of loss, the truth about guilt, and about how knowledge and logic have absolutely nothing to do with emotion.
A Monster Calls isn't a fable that features Everyman Characters To Make A Point: It's a story about people. Conor isn't just a stand-in for any random person experiencing heartbreak. He's a real, three-dimensional boy, with a real, three-dimensional life. His grandmother is a real person, as is his mother and his mostly-absent father and the people at school and everyone else in the book.
And, for that matter, the monster isn't just a mechanism for passing on platitudes: It's a true Wild Thing. Inhuman and eternal, but empathetic, like Marcus Zusak's Death.
Then there are the illustrations by Jim Kay, which are... well:
15-year-old Temple keeps herself to herself. The zombies rose before she was born, and so this life -- wandering a ruined world -- is all she's ever known.
Well, almost all. Years ago, there was a man who taught her how to survive, and there was a boy she travelled with, but she's alone now. And she's content in her self-imposed exile. Or as content as it's possible for her to be.
Circumstances require that she leave her island haven, though, and while she's back in the world, she runs afoul of tracker Moses Todd:
You know what I think? she says. What do I think? She points through the hole into the dark throat of the diseased landscape. I think you're more dangerous than what's out there. Well, little girl, he says, that's a funny thing you just uttered. Because I was just now thinkin the same thing about you.
Holy cow, guys. I'd heard (you know, around the online water cooler or wherever) that The Reapers are the Angels was good, but I hadn't realized to what degree of good. It's seriously, seriously... well, it's not your average zombie novel. (And I know of what I speak, as I've read a lot of average -- as in mediocre AND/OR generic -- zombie novels.)
As I read it, I kept thinking of Flannery O'Connor. And of Faulkner. Not just because of the Southern Gothic feel, but because Alden Bell captures that same beauty-in-the-midst-of-horror and resignation-to-tragedy-beyond-our-definition-of-tragedy that I think of when I think of Faulkner and O'Connor.
The dialect is flawless, the stylistic choices feel natural and unpretentious and satisfying, and in general, it's gorgeously, impeccably written:
Inside, the house looks like something she's seen in movies--metalwork frilly like lace, the whole place kingly and oblivious.
I love that, 'kingly and oblivious'. The worldbuilding is extremely well done: it isn't an epic, sweeping sort of worldbuilding, because that isn't the focus of the book, but it's the little details that just makeit. For instance, Temple's versions of well-known old-timey songs sound like she's learned them via a game of Telephone that's gone on for years -- which, really, is exactly how she would have learned them.
Word of warning: After finishing it, I tweeted:
So there's that. It's a heartbreaker of a book -- it put a lump in my throat for a good 200 pages and made me cry buckets when I'd finished -- and it's a special one. Temple herself -- deep-thinking, angry, broken-and-unbroken at the same time -- is a character I won't forget for a long, long time. I'll leave you with her:
And sometimes, she says, sometimes you just get tired of pokin at the issue. Those are the times you just do something because you're tired of thinkin on it. And that's when the devil better get his pencil ready to tally up a score, cause the time for nuances is gone. And you think, that's it for me on this world. You think, all right then, hell is my home.
15-year-old Hanna wants Seth, and she wants him above all things. He always seems to have a girlfriend, but she hopes that sooner or later, his eye will fall on her.
Being so preoccupied with her heartache, she hasn't been spending much time with her adopted grandparents. Who aren't getting any younger. And who have dealt with -- and are still dealing with -- their own head and heartaches. Grandma Helen, especially, knows that there are things she needs to tell Hanna, and she needs to do it while she still can.
How It Ends is made up of Hanna and Helen's alternating narratives, as well as a transcription of the audiobook they listen to together. It's a coming of age story and a romance -- multiple romances, really -- a story about family, about aging, loss, death and dying, about obsessive love, and about strength, hardship and about how the connections we make with other people can carry us through fire*. With, you know, bonus Gothic elements.
It's one that won't be for everyone -- many adult readers, especially, will have a hard time with Hanna's bad choices and inability to see much of anything beyond her own situation, and some might feel that the beginning of the book is slow-going -- but it'll hit some people hard.
Hoo boy. I haven't cried so hard since I read The Subtle Knife. We're not talking Book Thief tears pouring down the face. We're talking red-faced-mouth-open-can't-breathe-no-holds-barred crying so hard that I was worried Mrs. Across The Street would hear me and come nosing around because she was "concerned".
I do think that my response was, in part, intensely personal: How It Ends deals with some of my greatest fears, and there are many parallels between Helen's lifestyle and my own. So it resonated. But setting my personal reaction aside, I think it's an extremely strong book on its own -- Hanna's behavior, while maddening to those of us with more life experience, is quite realistic, and the slow beginning is necessary to allow the reader to actually get to know and care about the characters BEFORE the big payoff.
It's one, I think, that could benefit from cross-promoting -- definitely, definitely a good pick for adult readers of the YA.
*Sorry if I got a little overly dramatic there. I'm still fighting back tears about this one (even though I finished it days ago), and also we re-watched Babylon 5 recently, so I currently have Jeff Conaway's voice on loop in my head: "It was the YEAR of fire..." Plus, you know Delenn or Sheridan probably said something or other about carrying one another through fire. I mean, it SOUNDS like something one of them would say. Okay. I've distracted myself away from another crying jag. Back to it.
I'm part of the Amazon Affiliate program. Which I'd assume would be apparent by the ad in the sidebar, but assuming that you're bright enough to understand that is not enough for the FTC. So, I will spell it out: if you click through to Amazon and buy something, I get money.
I've been meaning to read Wild Girlssince it came out -- I remember that People I Trust loved it, and that there was a minor kerfuffle about a mediocre review somewhere and I remember putting it on my list. Then my library never bought it and I promptly forgot about it. (The dangers of a much-too-long TBR list.)
Yesterday, as I was checking an ILL in, I realized that I held it in my hands. It was already overdue, but the ILL delivery had already gone out, so the earliest it could go back would be on Tuesday, so OBVIOUSLY it was meant to be.
None of that has anything to do with the book. But Wild Girls kind of messed me up, so I'm postponing what I suspect will be a big ramble by, um, rambling.
It's about two girls. It begins:
I met the Queen of the Foxes in 1972, when my family moved from Connecticut to California.
The narrator is Joan. The Queen of the Foxes is Sarah, or as she calls herself, Fox. It's set in 1972, as you may have deduced, and while there aren't a bunch of unnecessary details To Let The Reader Know It's The 70s, it feels very seventies. Which is cool.
For some reason, I can't really do the synopsis thing here. I think it's because, as I said, it messed me up. In terms of actual plot, actual happenings, it's a very simple story, and Pat Murphy uses very clear and simple language to tell it.
Beyond and beneath that simple plot, it's also a story about families falling apart, about families tearing themselves apart, about people losing themselves and finding themselves again, about finding ways of figuring life out and creating family. It's about, as Joan would say, the subtext. And it's about writing. And the whole book rings clear and true. Regardless of whether it's fiction or not, it's one that rings so true that I'm getting all choked up again. I believed in the girls, and I believed in the parents, and while Joan and Fox were the focus, the adult characters were so real that this book could have been about them instead.
Pretty cover, right? It looks almost like it could be a Feiwel & Friends cover, and that's high praise indeed.
The storyline is simple: A girl, Andrea Anderson, who describes herself as "plainish, boring, nervous", takes a job helping a neighbor. From that first connection, she begins to form others, and in doing so, she begins to actually become a participant in life, rather than just an observer.
I study my message for a long time. It seems pretty strange to write something like this on a bathroom wall. It seems pretty strange to cringe every time someone looks my way. It's definitely strange to have an imaginary dog you call on your walks in the woods, then leech onto the dogs of neighbors for companionship.
Strange is so arbitrary, yet so vital to a person's existence. What made me suddenly strange, or was a strange from the beginning and just not aware?
The bell rings a short time later and the bathroom door almost immediately swings open. Three goody girls planning a movie and a sleepover. I flush the toilet and leave the stall, wondering why it feels like high school will never end.
I enjoyed Andrea's voice, that she was lonely and often sad, but never dramatically angst-ridden, that she was bright but never overly sarcastic or snarky. I thought that the contrasts between her life at home with her mother and her solitary walks in the woods and her time with Honora Menapace were well done. I loved seeing people reach out to her again and again, and finally seeing her begin to reach back.
Skin Deep deals with a lot of issues, but it never feels issue-y, and while the ending is predictable, it feels right. It's a quiet book, introspective, melancholy, thoughtful and full of heart. I'll be watching for E. M. Crane's next book.
Though she's loath to admit it, Judith Audley, wife of the Earl of Worth, would like to match her brother-in-law, Colonel Charles Audley, up with her young friend, Miss Lucy Devenish:
The Earl put up his quizzing-glass. "Ah! May I inquire, my love, whether you are making plans for Charles's future welfare?"
Down went the embroidery; her ladyship raised an indignant rueful pair of eyes to his face. "You are the most odious man that I have ever met!" she declared. "Of course I don't make plans for Charles! It sounds like some horrid, match-making Mama. How in the world did you guess?"
But her plans are upset when Charles has no interest in the quiet, sweet, proper Miss Devenish -- no, it's the ravishing, fascinating and somewhat scandalous widow, Lady Barbara Childe, who gets his attention. Almost immediately, he proposes -- and to her surprise, almost immediately, she accepts. Oh, but if it were only so easy! Lady Barbara wants to be sure that Charles knows exactly who and what he'll be marrying, so she sets out to prove just how awful she can be.
An Infamous Army is set in and around Brussels in the time leading up to and during the Battle of Waterloo. The young Alastairs -- Lord Vidal*, Barbara, George and Harry, the grandchildren of Dominic, The Devil's Cub-- all have their parts to play, but Barbara is the one to watch. She's a firecracker.
After reading the first two Alastair books, I thought I'd be in for another light, somewhat silly romp. I was wrong. The tone of the book was so different that I struggled a bit with the first half -- there's quite a lot about Wellington's preparations for his inevitable battle with Napoleon, and that's just not my cuppa.
This is much more of a historical novel than a romance novel -- the second half of the book includes a description of the Battle of Waterloo that had me sobbing. Sobbing. And yet, on occasion, it still made me laugh:
"Oh, we don't give a button for the cavalry!" replied Mercer. "The worst is this infernal cannonading. It plays the devil with us. We've been pestered by skirmishers, too, which is a damned nuisance. Only way I can stop my fellows wasting their charges on them is to parade up and down the bank in from of my guns. That's nervous work, if you like!"
Even though it totally wrecked me, the second half was what did it for me. Her description of the battle was a pretty amazing piece of writing. I do think that the first half will improve on me upon a second reading -- after actually reading about Waterloo, the preparations and lead up will be much more interesting. But it wasn't just the war element that made this a darker read -- the romance itself was distinctly non-frothy. It's very different than the romance in the first two books. I honestly didn't know if it would work out between Charles and Babs. And at times, I didn't know if I wanted it to.
This story doesn't end in glittery rainbowed sparkly vampire kittens -- it's much more muted, bittersweet and real. But as much as I loved the first two books in the trilogy, this is the one that will stay with me the longest.
According to Wikipedia, this book is a crossover with Regency Buck -- so rather than moving on to the Inspector Hannasyde books, which was my original plan, I'm going to hunt that one down instead. I'm actually really excited to read it, because I adored the Audleys so I'm looking forward to reading about their courtship.
Ben Wolf goes in for a routine physical at the beginning of his senior year. He walks out with a year to live and some big decisions to make:
I walked away understanding I have a rare form of whatever the hell it is and without treatment my chances sucked, but with it they still sucked and somehow I knew my chances aren't about living, they're about living well. I wouldn't recommend this for anyone else, but I'm not going out bald and puking. I don't have anything to teach anyone about life, and I'm not brave, but I'd rather be a flash than a slowly cooling ember, so I'll eat healthy food, take supplements, sleep good, and take what the universe gives me.
And I'm turning out for football.
Not only does he decide to forgo treatment -- he decides that he wants his last year to be as normal as possible. So he doesn't tell anyone. His parents, his brother, his coach -- no one.
He sets out to do a lifetime's worth of living in a year. He wants to learn as much as he can, understand as much as he can, get up the nerve to talk to Dallas Suzuki and, yes, go out for football.
Oh, hell. I'm getting all choked up again.
In non-weepy news, Chris Crutcher has left the No Swearing Realm of The Sledding Hill behind.
Crutcher fans will recognize a lot of the themes and issues from previous books (child abuse, racism, our education system, censorship), and they'll recognize some character types (the Coach/Mentor, the Tough Sporty Girl, the Kid Who Regurgitates Everything Her Father Says), but A) just because it's been explored doesn't mean there's nothing left to say, and B) for me, those themes and character types are part of the appeal. I like what Chris Crutcher has to say, and I like how he says it.
I'm getting off-track. Sorry. I get like this when I'm weepy.
Really, more than any of the other stuff I rattled off up there, Deadline is about truth-with-a-capital-T.