Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Review of Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

I nearly gave up on this collection of stories during the first one, “1922.”  This tale of a farmer who puts his love of the land above everything else was a bit too graphic for my taste (let’s just say there are rats – lots of rats!).  His life spirals downward into despair with such unrelenting determination that I just hoped he’d die and be done with it.  The other three stories, however, were classic Stephen King. 
In “Big Driver,” a write of cozy mysteries finds that she has more strength and will than she ever thought possible.  “Fair Extension” portrays the usual “deal with the devil” concept as a man regains his health and tragedy after tragedy befalls his life-long friend.  The interesting twist to this tale is the impact this has on the character that has made the deal.  King doesn’t rely on the trite traditions of these tales.  The final story, “A Good Marriage,” was my favorite.  What happens when a wife discovers, after 27 years or marriage, that her husband is not the man she though? 
These tales may not have the same strength as some of his earlier short works, but they will keep you turning the pages.  Young adult readers who enjoy King’s work will enjoy these works too, although his novels and short stories which feature young people were always the most popular with students in my library.  For those worried about challenges, this work does not contain anything not found in previous King publications; there is violence, sex, and the supernatural, but, hey, he’s a horror writer after all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Art and Oppression: A Review of Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel by Susan Vreeland

Clara and Mr. Tiffany tells the tale of Clara Driscoll, who works for Louis Comfort Tiffany designing windows, lamps, and mosaics.  The novel gives a comprehensive view of Tiffany’s production from the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to 1908. It also allows the reader to become immersed in New York City of the same period.  It demonstrates the oppression suffered by immigrants, women, and minorities.  It also gives a view of the opulent lifestyles of the wealthy during this period.
Clara designs many of Tiffany’s most famous works, and she revels in each triumph of art and beauty.  Her personal life, however, is a series of tragedies beginning with the death of her first husband, who was less than her perfect mate, to the disappearance of her second love, and the deaths of close friends. 
The endless descriptions of glass, windows, and works of art become a bit tedious in this book, but the events of the outside world generally compensate.  Vreeland mentions a number of famous people, but Clara never has the opportunity to actually meet any of them.  She does do a nice job of describing the New York City of the time and of creating a complete picture of the lives available for women in the period.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

History, Love, and What’s Lost: A Review of The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel by Julia Stuart

I hate to gush, but I LOVED this book.  Laugh-out-loud funny, sweet, sad, and hopeful, Stuart’s novel takes us into the lives of residents of the Tower of London and the London Underground.  Balthazar Jones has lost his will to be a beefeater.  He no longer cares about the pickpockets or wants to inform the tourists of the Tower's long and colorful history.  Since the loss of his only child, Milo, all Balthazar cares about is rain.  He is cataloging rain, in a collection of Egyptian perfume bottles and has lost all interest in his career, his wife, and his life.  Out of the blue, he is contacted by the palace and asked to become the keeper of Her Majesty’s menagerie, which will be reinstalled at the Tower to increase tourism.
Meanwhile, his wife, Hebe, is also overcome with grief.  Yet, she continues to pride herself on her job of reuniting people with their lost objects in the London Underground Lost Property Office.  Added to this mix are a minister whose obsession is killing mice; a barkeeper who finds herself with an unwelcome addition to the family; a woman who falls in love with a heavily tattooed, vertically challenged Underground worker; the Ravenmaster; and a collection of historic spirits. 
This book is part fable, part love story, part comedy or errors, and all wonderful.  I would highly recommend The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise.

The Raising by Laura Kasischke: A Review

Kasischke has written a paranormal mystery that will keep you guessing even after the last page.  Beautiful, sweet, smart, Nicole Werner was killed in a tragic automobile accident, or was she.  This is the central situation of The Raising.  The impact of Nicole’s death on her boyfriend Craig, who was driving; her childhood friend, Perry; Shelly, who was first on the scene; and Mira, a professor is the focus of the novel.  Nicole’s sorority sisters are always a sinister presence interacting with the four main characters.  This gothic mystery examines how we handle death, as a society, a community, and an individual.
Some rather graphic sex scenes, including lesbian sex, make this novel appropriate only for mature readers in the school library.  However, adult readers who enjoy mystery and suspense with a twist of the supernatural will enjoy this novel.