Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fallen, by Karin Slaughter Review and Give Away

Welcome to Book Addict Review's first ever blog tour!  I'm excited to be a part of promoting Karin Slaughter's new book, Fallen.

I am becoming a reluctant audiobook user.  I can't bring myself to call myself an audiobook "reader", because a part of me still feels like it's cheating.  But I have found over the years that on long drives, music is no longer enough to keep my brain occupied.  It started with my favorite red-headed comedian, Kathy Griffin.  I listened to her memoir on a long drive to Michigan, and found that it made the drive much more enjoyable.  I was convinced that it was only because she's freakin' hysterical, but when the time came for my next long drive through the boring, flat landscape of the midwest, I found the longest audiobook iTunes had to offer, World Without End by Ken Follett.  So when I was approached by the publishers of Karin Slaughter's new audiobook, Fallen, I decided that I would give it a shot.  I am a fan of Slaughter's Will Trent/Faith Mitchell series, and the fact that they were sending me some give-away copies was icing on the cake.

Fallen picks up the story of GBI Agent Faith Mitchell after the birth of her daughter, Emma.  She is on her way to her mother's house to pick Emma up after a Saturday morning in-service at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.  When she arrives at her mother's house, she finds Emma locked in the shed, her mother's house in bloody disarray, and two armed men struggling in the bedroom.  Faith tries to question the men about where her mother is, but is forced to kill both men before they tell her anything.  Will Trent and her mother's best friend, Amanda Wagner, Assistant Director of the GBI, swoop in and take control of the scene.  With Faith a person of interest, and Will and Amanda not technically on the case, they have to work under the radar, and outside of standard operating procedure to find and save Faith's mother, Evelyn.  They once again call on the help of Sarah Linton, a local doctor who was drawn into a previous case and who has developed a rather strained friendship with Will.

I've decided over the course of the last few years that the reason that I like so many mystery/thriller series is because they are character driven first, and mystery-centered second.  I feel like a close personal friend of Alex Delaware, Myron Bollitar, Kay Scarpetta (more on her here), Temperance Brennan, and Pete Decker and Rina Lazarus.  But none of these characters are as interesting and well-developed as Will Trent.  An incredibly smart man with significant dyslexia, an orphan who was "raised" by the Georgia Children's Home, Will is complicated and intense and damaged and loyal and strong, and so emotionally stunted  that he has no idea how to get out of his very dysfunctional marriage and into a healthy relationship with Sarah.  The cast of characters that surround him are also memorable and complex-Faith, former cop and former teen mom; Amanda Wagner, ball-busting middle aged woman who came up through the ranks the hard way, Evelyn Mitchell, Faith's mom and former cop who may or may not have been on the take; and Angie Trent, Will's completely sociopathic wife.  In this particular book, the characters and their lives were inextricably linked to the mystery to be solved.

The story itself is compelling and well-paced.  There is enough action to be engaging, but enough character development and exposition so that things don't feel disconnected.  There were times when I would arrive at my destination and have to sit in the car waiting for a good place to stop, but really, there were no good places to stop.  Slaughter has given us another great mystery/thriller, one that will grip you and hold tight until the very end.

Thanks to AudioGo for providing me with 5 (yes, FIVE) audiobooks to give away to me readers.  If you are interested in a copy, please comment below with your email or blog address.  I will use the ol' "pull names out of a hat" trick to decide who the lucky recipients are.  No, you don't have to become a follower, or find me on Twitter, or send me a pint of blood or your first born child.  Just say hi!

Book Blog Tour-Fallen, by Karin Slaughter

I am pretty jazzed to be participating in my first ever book blog tour.  I tend not to accept too many review requests here at Book Addict Reviews (I prefer to read on my whim and schedule, I suppose), but I was thrilled to be asked to be a stop on the tour for Karin Slaughter's new audiobook, Fallen, which was released on June 17, 2011.  (For those of you who prefer the paper version, it came out June 21!)  While the audiobook is not my usual format of choice (and the review post for this book will explain why), Karin Slaughter's name was enough for me to be interested.

Fallen is a book in the Will Trent/Faith Mitchell series.  Followers of the series will know that Will has severe dyslexia, and is exploring the idea of leaving his emotionally abusive marriage to Angie and taking a chance on Sara, but he is truly feels that someone as smart as Sara could never want someone as stupid as him.  Here's what Karin Slaughter had to say about Will's dyslexia and how it relates to Will and Sara's relationship:


Q) Will is dyslexic and yet very intelligent. He even mentions in Fallen that he listens to audiobooks! What made you decide to make him dyslexic when you introduced him? He passes very well, but will we see a point where he gets official treatment or help for this problem?

A) First, let me say that many dyslexics are not just intelligent, but highly intelligent.  Einstein, Michelangelo.  Richard Branson isn’t the only CEO who has dyslexia.  In my experience, dyslexics tend to be driven, smart and fascinating people.  It’s as if they excel because of, not in spite of, the disorder.  Think about it this way: dyslexics use five times the brain area to perform language tasks. Five times!  Their default programming was to give up on language, yet their brains found a way to rewire the pathways so they could communicate.  This is not the work of a stupid brain.

So, to your question: Some writers use literacy as character development—so, much in the way that Hollywood shows “bad” characters smoking and wearing black hats, writers tend to paint their good characters as booklovers and all the bad ones as semi-literate Neanderthals.  With Will, I wanted the challenge of writing about someone who can’t read well.  (I should say here that he can read, it just takes him longer)  Will’s dyslexia is something that holds him back, but only because he lets it.  He won’t get help.  He won’t tell people he has it.  He is ashamed of it, like it’s something he can control.  Now, not many people know this, but when I wrote the character of Will Trent, I knew that he would eventually meet Sara Linton.  Sara looks at Will’s dyslexia the same way she looks at the color of his eyes; it’s something genetic, it’s wired into him and can’t be changed.  She’s the first person in Will’s life who’s ever looked at him this way, and that’s something of a revelation to him.  Now, as for getting occupational therapy, Sara is the exact wrong person to help him with this.  And she doesn’t want to help him, because she knows that he has to reach that point on his own.  Unlike Angie, Sara is very good at relationships, and she knows that there are lines you don’t cross.  She wants to give Will his dignity.  As for what Will ends up doing—they call it a “mystery” for a reason!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Welcome to Karin Slaughter's Book Blog Tour!

I'm excited to be taking part in my first book blog tour, and thrilled that it is for Karin Slaughter, one of my favorite mystery/thriller authors! 

Slaughter's new book, Fallen, comes out this week.  Here's the schedule for the tour, in case you want to check out all of the reviews.

6/21/2011
6/22/2011
In Reference to Murder
6/23/2011
6/28/2011
6/30/2011
7/1/2011
7/5/2011
7/6/2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

City of Shadows, by Ariana Franklin

There is something about royalty that is fascinating to many of us.  If you need any evidence of this, just take a look at the enormous amount of media coverage that the recent royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton received.  I know that I am not the only woman who spent a good part of her girlhood wishing that she had been born a princess.

The 20th century was a bad time for royalty.  Many, many monarchies either disappeared completely or were weakened to the point of figurehead status, including the kingdom of which Prince William will one day be the king.  But perhaps no one had it as bad as the Romanovs of Russia.  The repressive political system in Russia led to tyranny, ethnic cleansing, and the exacerbation of poverty.  In response, the Bolsheviks didn't just depose the royal family-they executed them, all of them, including the children.  This is probably not a new story to most of you-the tragedy of Prince Alexei and his four sisters, the grand-duchesses.  The most famous of those little girls, of course, was Anastasia.  Years after the massacre at Ekaterinburg, a woman turned up claiming to be Grand Duchess Anastasia.  She convinced many many, usually wealthy, people that she was in fact the daughter of Czar Nikolas.  It is this woman, Anna Anderson, that provides the underlying structure of Ariana Franklin's City of Shadows.

(From Amazon) "British author Franklin (the pseudonym of a veteran historical fiction writer) makes the most of an original premise in this engrossing thriller that opens in 1922 Berlin. The German government is in crisis, inflation is staggering, anti-Semitism is rife, citizens are starving and Hitler has begun his rise to power. Horribly scarred Esther Solonomova works as a secretary for fake Russian nobleman Prince Nick, the owner of several Berlin nightclubs (think Cabaret) catering to the rich, the foreign and the deviant. Nick finds an inmate in a local asylum who claims to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, sole survivor of the slaughter of Russia's royal family. Prince Nick renames the inmate Anna Anderson, installs her in an apartment with Esther and sets in motion plans to get his hands on the money and jewels that Anna will claim as the heir to the Russian throne. But a mysterious Nazi is trying to murder Anna, and those near her begin to die."

I read and enjoyed Ariana Franklin's historical mystery series about Adelia, a Salerno-trained doctor solving crimes during the reign of Henry II of England, so I had high hopes for this novel, and it delivered.  Rich characters were a big part of its appeal-Esther is a woman with a painful past, the detective who investigates the murders, Seigfried Schmidt, is decent and driven by the horrors he witnessed during the war.  But what really made the book for me was the evocative way that Franklin wrote about Germany between the big wars.  Reading about the rise of Hitler was a little bit like seeing a horrific accident happen and being unable to stop it.  You really get the sense of how an entire country was taken in by this charismatic leader who played on their fears and promised to get the country out from under the yoke of the "Jewish bankers" who were ruining the lives of good, hard-working Germans.  The "is she or isn't she?" subplot worked well as a framework for this story, and Franklin did something that not too many mystery writers are able to do anymore-she completely surprised me with the ending.  All in all I'd say that if you are looking for a mystery with a little more substance than is usual in today's world of books, then you would enjoy this one.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

Dear Kay Scarpetta (aka Patricia Cornwell),

It is with great sadness that I write this.  You and I have been friends for a long time, since the beginning of your literary career, in fact.  I was there through all of the terrifying cases, through the death of your boyfriend Mark in the London tube bombing, through all the ups and downs with Benton Wesley.  Like you I mourned when he "died", and was confused, angry, and eventually joyful when he returned from the dead.  I worried along with you about your niece Lucy-so much anger and cunning in one so young, but we both know she has a good heart.  And Pete Marino-there is perhaps no one else that you (and I) have gone through so much with.  I would have thought that you two (three) would be there for each other until the very end.  I still can't believe that he tried to rape you...

Wait a minute-I really can't believe that he tried to rape you.  I mean, can't believe it as in "that is completely inconsistent with his character up to this point in a very long book series".  Looking back, I realize that this was the beginning of the end for us, Kay.  After that, too many things changed in your life and the arc of the books, and I just can't keep up.  Changing cities, changing jobs, Pete's dismissal to the periphery.  Not even making Lucy a more central character (I continue to love her, BTW-maybe she can get her own series?!?) is making me enjoy our relationship any longer.  When I tried to reconnect last week by reading The Scarpetta Factor, I couldn't even make it through the first 100 pages.

So, after 20 years, I'm breaking up with you.  I will always remember the good times we've shared, collecting clues and catching bad guys.  But it seems we've grown apart, want different things now.  Good luck in your new job in New York City, or wherever else your author sends you.  I'd like to say that I'll keep in touch, but I think we both know that would be a lie.

Love always,
Heather

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Literary Blog Hop-Reading in a Bubble

This week's topic for the Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookcase, is this:

What outside influences affect your reading experience? Do you think these influences enhance or detract from the experience?

 I have to admit that at first I wasn't entirely sure what this meant.  Are we talking physical surroundings?  Environmental noise?  People who are clearly not readers interrupting you to ask you what you are reading (because if they were readers they would never interrupt you!)?

But reading Meghan's answer, I see now that the question pertains to something more subtle and less concrete than that. Meghan's story about seeing a Hallmark adaptation of a book that colored her future reading of the book illustrates that our life experiences with one book in particular or a subject in general can change the way that we perceive a text.  In reading theory, we call that the transactional theory of reading.  The idea that each of us brings different experiences, behaviors, and feelings to a piece of writing, and therefore we each go away from the text with something different.  There may be many places where people's perceptions or feelings about the books overlap-after all, any freshman English teacher can tell you the major themes of Lord of the Flies or To Kill a Mockingbird-but no two people will read and understand a book in exactly the same way.  This is especially true for literary works, where authors' use of symbolism, metaphor, and allegory can lead readers down many paths of understanding based on their own knowledge and experiences.  Non-Christians not living in the US may read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and have no clue that a lot of it is Christian symbolism.  Reading can never be context independent.

So, understanding reading as a transactional process, then my answer to the question of which outside influences affect the reading experience is ALL OF THEM.   Like Meghan could not divorce her mind from the different ending of the movie version of the book she was reading, none of us can put our own knowledge, experiences, and feelings aside when reading.  What to me was a very sexist book about the relationships of husbands and wives (I'm looking at you, On Strike for Christmas) was to my friend a charming story about wifely assertiveness.  A story about an Africa refugee from Nigeria might read very differently to someone of African descent than someone of Asian or European descent.     Our common understanding of theme and mood come from discussion, from sharing each person's own take on the book, from analyzing it from academic as well as personal perspectives.   As a reader, I can often see why an author chose a certain style, and appreciate it for it's artistic merit, but in the end how I respond to a book has more to do with me than with the author.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

I was not prepared.  When I decided to read Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, I did so as a way to give the author a second try.  I have tried to read The Remains of the Day back in college, and I found the tight, closely-controlled writing difficult, and not in a good way.  When I saw the movie they made from the book, I realized why it was written the way that it was.  But I couldn't get through it.  When I started to see Never Let Me Go all over the blogosphere, I had to work myself up for another try.  I try not to read too many reviews of the books I'm going to read before I read them-I don't want someone else's opinion to blur my own-so I really didn't know much about the book except that I had tried to read this author before and failed.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this book is about as far away from the content of The Remains of the Day as it is possible to get and still be the same form of media.  Never Let Me Go is the story of Kath, Tommy, and Ruth, three students at a boarding school in England, which you very quickly realize is not your typical boarding school.  The students are clones, created specifically to become organ donors.  Their teachers try to shield them as best they can from the inevitability of their fate, but each in their turn goes off to be a carer-someone who helps donors recover-until it is their turn to be cut up for parts. 

Given the subject matter, you might assume that this book is a treatise on medical ethics or social justice, but Ishiguro uses this rather interesting setting to tell a coming-of-age story.  The story is told with Kath as narrator, and it opens with her getting ready to retire from being a carer.  The story is told as memory, in Hansel and Gretl fashion-Ishiguor leaves a trail of crumbs, hints of what is really going on behind the placid boarding school setting, tidbits that make it impossible to stop reading until you figure out what is going on.  Everything is just slightly askew in this book-it's like the real world slipped sideways just a bit.

Ishiguro begins with Kath explaining her retirement from being a carer, though at the time you have no idea what that actually means.  What this narrative structure does is allow the reader to spend the bulk of the novel  pondering the relationships the characters have to each other, rather than waiting for them to escape from their predicament.  While the fact of their creation and eventual destruction is always below the surface, there are many things in Ruth, Kath, and Tommy that are familiar.  First love, jealousy, betrayal, insecurity-all pretty universal elements of a classic coming-of-age story.  By the time Ishiguro finally gets around to giving you enough information about the donation program to figure out what's been going on, it's practically the end of the book.  Only then do you realize that what you have been reading is not just your ordinary teenage love story, but a story about what it means to be human.  If clones can love and hurt and feel anger and fear, then what separates them from the "natural" people who created them?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Sleep Toward Heaven

While I try not to get too political on this blog, I will state now that I am against the death penalty.  I don't see how the use of state-sanctioned killing makes us any safer or improves us as a society or a race.  I would like to think that if the worst happened and one of my loved ones was murdered, I would be able to stand up for what I believe is right and not give in to the anger or the need for revenge.  Why do I bring this up, you ask?  Because the death penalty and what it means to the condemned and the families of the victims plays a major role in Sleep Toward Heaven, by Amanda Eyre Ward.

Sleep Toward Heaven is the story of three women-Karen, convicted serial killer; Franny, prison doctor; and Celia, the widow of Karen's final victim.  Karen resists human connection, wanting nothing holding her in a world she desperately wants to leave.  Her life, from miserable beginning with a drug addicted, abusive mother to horrifying end, has been nothing but fear and pain and hopelessness.  Franny, recovering from the loss of a beloved patient and the uncle who raised her, is also afraid of making human connection.  Feeling that every human deserves comfort, how can she comfort Karen, knowing she can not save her?  Celia desperately wants human connection-but only with the husband that she can never be with.  She is stuck in place, unable to move on with her life.  It seems that forgiveness is what each is seeking-Karen, forgiveness for her crimes; and Franny, forgiveness for not being able to save her patients.  Celia's need is not for forgiveness for herself, but for the courage and strength to forgive Karen, who took so much from her. 

The women in this book are fairly well-drawn characters, and I found myself connecting to each of them in different ways.  Ward does an excellent job setting the mood with her descriptions of the prison, or the sweltering Texas summer, which adds to the overall feeling of oppression that exists in the book.  Each woman is being held back by something-guilt, illness, fear, anger-and their inability to move forward mimics the lethargy of a hot, humid afternoon, when you just want to be still because every movement is such an effort.

The one thing that bothered me about the book, which is pretty well paced and engaging, was the sub-plot of Karen from before she was in prison.  She was abused as a child, started prostituting herself at a young age, met a woman who she fell in love with.  They lived in a motel, and Karen would pick up johns at rest areas and truck stops to support them.  When she started killing, it was partly self-defense and partly to get things for her lover.  Does that sound familiar to anyone?  If you've seen the movie Monster, about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, then it should.  So many of the details were the same it felt a little less like mirroring contemporary culture and a little more like fictionalizing someone's life without so much as a passing reference.  Overall I would say this is a decent easy read.