If you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven (or virtually any other high-tech/high-energy heist film), you’re familiar with the plot of Star Wars: Scoundrels. Danny Ocean – I mean, Han Solo – enlists a crack team of a eleven people with specialized skills to steal a ridiculous amount of money. Headed up by Han, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian, this handful of ne’er-do-wells makes a bold attempt to steal 163 million credits in a make-or-break heist that could get Han out from under Jabba’s thumb for good. Or, it could get him (and all his accomplices) killed. There are two surprises at the end of this novel – one of them involving a whip and a gigantic boulder – and for those two alone, it’s worth reading. It’s also a lot of fun to re-enter the world of Star Wars and Han Solo: they’re enduring favorites for a reason, and this well-told, twisty tale does justice to that legacy.
Scoundrels takes place in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the first Death Star (aka, right after A New Hope). The general public has only sketchy information about that debacle: they know that Alderaan is a cloud of space debris, and that the Death Star is now gone, but rumors of Rebel involvement are hardly realistic – surely a scrappy ill-funded few could never stand against the might of the Empire? And that, the central theme the original Star Wars is built upon, is what makes Scoundrels a success too. Surely this band of misfits can’t beat down the impossible odds against them and come away alive, let alone successful? But instead of Palpatine’s evil Empire, it’s a high-security vault owned by a powerful criminal organization. And instead of Danny Ocean, it’s Han Solo (who absolutely, positively, shot first).
Showtime’s critically acclaimed series Homeland stars Claire Danes as CIA counterterrorism agent Carrie Mathison, who has just received startling information from one of her contacts: an American POW has been turned. Months later, US Marine Nicholas Brody (played expertly by Damian Lewis) is found alive in Afghanistan after being presumed dead for eight years. Though his return is heralded as a great victory and he is touted as a war hero, Carrie is certain that he is working for al-Qaeda. She goes behind the back of her superiors, setting up illegal surveillance equipment in Brody’s house and monitoring him at all times, doggedly pursuing the truth at any cost.
I could give you a list a mile long of adjectives describing how great this show is (compelling, thrilling, captivating, mind-blowing, etc.), but nothing I can think of really does it justice. The acting, particularly Danes in her portrayal of a very zealous woman suffering from bipolar disorder, is absolutely superb. The story will grab ahold of you and not let you go, with twists and turns that constantly keep you guessing where Brody’s allegiance lies. I finished the entire first season of this show in about two days because I couldn’t stand to not be watching it. I highly recommend picking up a copy of this series, but make sure you plot out several hours of free time to watch it. Once you start, you won’t want to stop.
Liza Klaussmann’s debut novel, Tigers in Red Weather, follows two cousins, Nick and Helena, throughout the decades after World War II and chronicles the twists and turns in their lives. The girls grew up spending much of their time together on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard and return over the years with husbands, children and family secrets galore.
Told from the point of view of five characters (with each character’s version of reality differing greatly), Tigers in Red Weather’s concludes with a stunning twist, which was just slightly evident throughout the novel. I enjoyed Tigers in Red Weather for the banter between the characters on life pre and post World War II but when I began to see the true nature of one of the characters, the book moved in an entirely different direction – a direction that is as much frightening as it is shocking.
I’m going to tread very lightly with this review, because to spoil any plot point of Gillian Flynn’s masterful suspense novel Gone Girl would be a crime against anyone planning to read it. Nick and Amy Dunne were once young and in love. But now, on the fifth anniversary of their wedding, their relationship is crumbling and neither spouse seems happy. It is on this day that Nick receives a phone call from a concerned neighbor: the Dunne’s front door is wide open, the living room is trashed, and Nick’s wife nowhere to be found. Anyone interested in the true crime genre could tell you that the husband is always the first suspect, but did Nick really do it? Told in alternating chapters of Nick’s perspective when Amy goes missing and Amy’s diary entries chronicling their relationship, the novel plays with the narrators’ unreliability to keep the reader guessing every step of the way.
I’ve heard a ton of buzz about this book all summer and trust me, it is all well-deserved. The fast pacing and many twists and turns make this book painful to put down, even for just a minute. This is no average whodunit; in addition to being a captivating mystery/thriller, this is also an intriguing character study about what happens when relationships go wrong and when your spouse isn’t quite what they seem to be at the beginning of the relationship. I finished this book three days ago after reading it in two sittings, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. I highly recommend Gone Girl to anyone looking for a unique mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
After finding out that her husband has just accepted a job in Luxembourg, Kate Moore is secretly thrilled that she can move to a foreign country and leave her deepest secret behind in the United States in Chris Pavone’s debut thriller/mystery, The Expats. After the family settles in their new home country, her husband, Dexter, throws himself into his job working long hours and taking many work related trips.
Kate begins to fill her days with children’s playgroups and lunches with other expat wives who she has met. Quickly, she makes friends with Julia, another expat and her husband, Ben who live in Luxembourg with their young children. After some time, Kate begins to have misgivings about Julia and Ben and is convinced they are not who they seem. Kate is thoroughly convinced that they know her secret and they are working to expose her.
She sleuths into Julia and Ben’s background and she discovers their true identities. At this point the plot takes so many twists and turns, it becomes confusing and hard to piece together at times. The conclusion is ambitious, creative and completely unexpected. Overall, I really enjoyed Pavone’s debut novel even though the plot didn’t always come together as I would have hoped, but I am looking forward to Pavone’s next thriller.
In Last Night in Montreal, the debut novel by Emily St. John Mandel, Lilia Albert’s entire life has been a series of appearances and disappearances since she was abducted by her father when she was a young girl. By growing up this way, it is no surprise that she continues to weave in and out of other’s lives as an adult. During a short stay in New York City, she meets Eli and swifty moves in with him. Early one morning after telling Eli she is going for coffee, she fails to return and after looking everywhere for her resigns himself to the fact that she has disappeared. Some time later, he receives a postcard stating that she is now living in Montreal and he leaves on a quest to find her which leads him on a strange and unexpected journey. St. John Mandel threads the past and present together with an ethereal quality and tells the story of Lilia and those she has left behind throughout her life. I really loved Mandel’s writing and characters, but I have to admit the ending left me with more questions than answers. St. John Mandel has proven to be a gifted writer and I have just started her second novel, The Singer’s Gun, which I hope to blog about soon.
It’s so lovely when a novel can turn a well-worn trope into a fresh, lively story. Just as she did with time travel in The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger turns cliches into something more in Her Fearful Symmetry. The story follows 21 year old twins Julia and Valentina, who inherit their aunt Elspeth’s London flat and fortune on the condition that they live in the dwelling, without their parents or any other chaperone, for one year. The catch: Elspeth, mute and invisible, has clung to her flat and haunts it – and she’s getting stronger every day. Don’t groan! It sounds horribly cliched – identical twins; an inheritance contingent upon ridiculous demands; London; ghosts – but it’s so much more than it seems. Elspeth is the estranged twin sister of Julia and Valentina’s mother, Edie; the elder sisters have a history of secrets that Niffenegger unravels throughout the tale. Even more impressive is the host of delightful secondary characters: Martin, an obsessive-compulsive neighbor who writes crossword puzzles for a living, and his estranged wife Marijke (pronounced Mah-RYE-Kuh); Robert, a cemetery historian and Elspeth’s former lover; even the white kitten the twins adopt has personality and verve. They call him “The Little Kitten of Death.”
It’s a beautiful, unusual tale that unfolds slowly and doesn’t pander to the reader. Both of Niffenegger’s novels tell the stories of ordinary, although perhaps quite unusual, people who must find a way to navigate a frightening, supernatural situation. She tells the tale at the pace she wants, rather than dropping in action sequences and extra dialog where they don’t belong. If you liked the style of The Time Traveler’s Wife, you’ll be pulled in by this ghostly, ethereal tale. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was excellent in that format; a perfect companion for rainy springtime commutes!
Long Gone, the new thriller from Alafair Burke, is a suspenseful roller coaster of a novel where everything appears one way but, in reality, is completely the opposite. Recently fired from her job at a prestigious art museum in New York, Alice Humphrey is thrilled to be approached by a complete stranger, Drew Campbell, during an art gallery opening. Drew offers her a fabulous proposition – a dream job of managing an up-and-coming art gallery funded by an anonymous, wealthy patron. After a few initial doubts, Alice accepts the offer and begins to make her mark on the art world.
After the initial flurry of a successful opening, Alice begins to enjoy her new career until one morning a few weeks later. She opens the gallery and discovers the space is completely empty and the body of Drew Campbell is on the gallery floor. Quickly, the evidence begins to mount against her and the police believe that she killed the man who she thought to be Drew Campbell, but has been identified as someone else. Knowing that she has been set up, Alice desperately sets out on a quest to clear her name and find out the truth. While searching for answers along the way, Alice discovers even more hidden secrets involving her own family’s past.
Long Gone is a page-turning mystery with an intense and intricately woven storyline. Highly recommended!
guest review by Georgann
Seizure is the second in Kathy Reichs new YA series, Virals. The background from book one, Virals: a group of four teens and their wolf-dog are contaminated with a man-made virus. It gives them special wolf-like powers. They don’t turn into werewolves; rather, they get super-enhanced senses.
I liked Virals, but Seizure is even better! Our heroes are a group of ordinary teens, verging on “nerdy” but OK with their lowly status on the high school totem pole. These are great characters. In this novel, the group tracks down a long-lost pirate treasure in an effort to save the island on which they live. You just gotta love these kids! Although they are forever off doing things their parents continually ground them for, they just keep after their goal.
I enjoyed letting my imagination soar with the kids as they get into and out of one scrape after another. They are an entertaining group to spend time with! I chuckled out loud more than once. But I also enjoyed the suspense. they get into some dangerous situations, ala Indiana Jones, and I had to keep reading. Will they get through this? Will they get caught? How will this situation turn out? Will they find the treasure and save their home?
I had a day off and read this book in one sitting! It was that fun! Now, if I can only remember what all happened by the time book 3 comes out. Look for Code in 2012.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has become one of the most buzzed-about books of the year, and with good reason. Set in the late 1800s, it is the story of a boy named Marco and a girl named Celia who are bound in a competition that they don’t truly understand, but they know that it will involve using the magical abilities that both show at a young age. They spend their young lives being trained by instructors whose methods differ greatly until the time comes for the challenge to begin. For this purpose, a venue is created: a stunning, mysterious black-and-white circus that travels constantly and only operates at night, called Les Cirque des Reves. It is like no other circus you have ever seen, complete with a fortune teller, an illusionist, acrobats, the most delicious food you can imagine, and tents filled with landscapes that will take your breath away. The two spend years using their abilities to make alterations to the circus, constantly one-upping each other as they grow more and more aware that the consequences could be dire. Especially once they realize their true feelings for one another.
The story is told through multiple points of view all while bouncing around in time to different points in the lifespan of the circus. Initially this can make it a little hard to follow exactly when and where everything is happening, but once you catch onto the flow of it, this makes the story more complete and layered. The focus of the story isn’t just on Celia and Marco, but on all the supporting circus folk as well. In fact, the part of the story I found most compelling was the story of Bailey, a boy who becomes enthralled with the circus at a young age and waits for years for it to come back. Eventually he befriends two of the circus performers and find his fate intertwined with that of the circus in a way he never expected. But my absolute favorite thing about the book is how beautifully it is written. The language is absolutely lovely and creates the most vivid and uniquely beautiful pictures in the reader’s head. I don’t even want to describe any of it to you because part of the fun of the book is discovering new parts of the circus as Celia and Marco make their alterations! Morgenstern creates a very sensory experience; you can see, hear, smell, and taste the circus as though it is going on all around you.
Making my expereince with The Night Circus even better, I listened to the audio version read by the amazing Jim Dale (narrator of the Harry Potter audio books). He really brings the characters to life, and his narration makes this already beautifully-written book even more magical. If you like magic, romance, and very vivid reading experiences, I highly recommend picking up this incredibly enchanting novel.