Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Yessiree...another YA book so, if you're shopping for any teenagers this holiday season, or you just want a really good book to read, keep reading this review:) Wolitzer's (The Interestings)first foray into young adult has been a huge hit, particularly with high school girls. She has created an intriguing premise around which her characters evolve. The main character, Jam (short for Jamaica), narrates the tale of her life, beginning with the present as she begins her new high school life in a boarding school for 'fragile, damaged, traumatized' children. When Jam receives her schedule, she has been placed, with four other students, into an English class titled "Special Topics." Mrs. Q, in her last semester before she retires, has chosen to read only Sylvia Plath this year, hence the title of the book "Belzhar," ie. Plath's semi-autobiographical novel titled "Bell Jar." As the story unfolds, we see the magic of the journals given to them by Mrs. Q, as each student relates the reason why they have come to this school. We also see the way each teenager works their way through personal trauma, and finds their way back to life. As a former English literature teacher, I love the connection with Sylvia Plath and the ways literature can change and shape one's life. It is a gripping story that will keep anyone turning the pages until the very end.
Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson
The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro
For anyone who read The Art Forger back in 2012, Shapiro is back with her second book and it is just as enticing as the first. Perhaps it is my own personal desire to better understand the world of art in which my youngest daughter is engulfed, as she pursues a graduate degree in museum studies. In Shapiro's latest novel, she continues to teach me about the American abstract art movement, involving big guns like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Lee Krasner. Through a dual narrative, focusing on Alizee Benoit, a fictional young artist in 1939 New York, and her grand-niece, Dani, who is researching provenance of a painting in 2015, Shapiro plays out a mystery of passion for both art and humanity, danger, and a country on the brink of war. Alizee and her soon-to-be-famous artist friends are forging new ideas in art. At the same time, Alizee has family trapped in France as Hitler invades, and we watch as Alizee fights the government to get visas and to allow more refugees into our country. We see the rampant anti-semitism, reminiscent of what is happening today towards refugees of the current wars in the Middle East. Yes, I am being political and showing my personal feelings...but Shapiro deftly displays the history of this ongoing issue and shows the desperation and emotions surrounding the plight of the pre-WWII refugees. I could not stop reading this book, obsessed with seeing how this mysterious and fascinating story played out.
The Harvest Man by Alex Grecian
In case you think I've gone 'soft,' don't worry - I still read dark, creepy murder mysteries. And in case you have forgotten our friend Alex Grecian whose first novel, The Yard, was a gothic, scary tale of Jack, as in 'the Ripper,' and the murder squad of Scotland yard, his latest effort is outstanding. His second book, The Dark Country, was meh...as in so-so. His third book, The Devil's Workshop, was getting back to the brilliance of his first. Now, The Harvest Man? Grecian has hit a grand slam with his fourth book, easily the best of the bunch. The intriguing characters continue to be fleshed out by Grecian: Detective Day, whose obsession with finding Jack is juxtaposed with his fears for his family's safety; Nevil Hammersmith, a now shield-less private eye whose dogged curiosity serves him well; Dr. Kingsley, the pathologist who is a pioneer in forensics; and of course, the Harvest Man, who keeps carving up innocent young couples in London. Is he mentally deranged or is it a play for Jack's admiration? As the detectives of Scotland Yard hunt down this vicious killer, their past comes back to haunt them. This is a gripping mystery, well-written and engrossing through the final chapter. If you read Grecian's first, it is time to go back to the well - it is worth it. If you have not read any, pick one up on a dreary, rainy PNW afternoon, make yourself a nice cup of tea, and travel to Victorian England for some entertainment.