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The Uninvited by Cat Winters

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

William Morrow Paperbacks 2015

Here’s a well-researched and well-drawn historical novel. I received an ARC from the publisher. Set during the 1918 flu epidemic, a twenty-something woman leaves her family after her father and brother commit a horrific act of violence…and revel in the blood. They claim to be patriots, and have murdered a member of a German immigrant family during WWI.

When she leaves her family behind, she stays in town, striking out on her own for the first time in her life. She falls for the brother of the murdered man, and begins driving an ambulance for victims of the flu. She has survived her own bout with the illness and so is safe. The work takes her into every social and economic strata of her town, allowing readers a detailed look at life during this time.

Oh, and she sees ghosts, the “uninvited” of the title.

While the book provides readers of historical fiction with what they crave, the prose is a bit pedantic…not dense so much as precise to the point of stripping out the deeper elements of voice and tone. This affects the book’s atmosphere and makes for a surprisingly dry read. However, since this is an artistic choice (because it’s related to the author’s voice), it can be chalked up to something that strikes me personally rather than as a flaw that might put other readers off.

Overall, the work is well written and the story is interesting. If you like historical novels, check out this book and the author’s other works. She’s written extensively across many time periods, so it’s likely that one or more of her books will resonate with you.

4 stars

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Book Review: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver #review #novel

I feel cheated.
There was a feeling all along that this novel was written in too-journalistic a way. That is, it felt more like nonfiction, a memoir, than fiction. There were moments when Shriver hit her usual stride with the prose and I kept reading in part hoping there would be more of that.
I would have given this book 3 stars if that was the only issue. There was quite a bit of unique, thought-provoking material she mentioned in here…the twisted relationship between siblings that can come when they live together as adults, the desire to leave a marriage yet not divorce, and other subtle threads. But she left most of those undeveloped.
I wonder if she left them undeveloped because of how she handled the time when the two lived together. The fact that SPOILER ALERT the middle portion never happened would explain some of this style choice. But in the end, when it turned out that the middle part never happened, I was more than disappointed. I felt cheated out of the time I’d spent reading. It feels like an easy way out for the story.
I wanted to like this book because I was so impressed with Kevin. But this one fell flat in a very disappointing way.
2 stars.

Book Review: Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia #review #novel

Available March, 2015 (ARC received from publisher)
Very interesting concept: a man dead for some time has built a career in the underworld preserving the flesh and bones of other deceased individuals. When Jacob learns that a Living Man has passed the borders between the living and dead worlds, he begins a quest to find the Living Man and learn how to return to the land of the living…as a corpse, yes, but one with a mission.
The world of the dead is interestingly illustrated but isn’t the primary draw with this work. Instead, it’s about how Jacob handles his quest and, of course, the personal reasons he has for it, which he will not reveal to his companions: a boy who can control the bones of the dead and a foppish criminal. The interweaving of these elements truly sets this work apart.
However, the narrative elements and choices the author have made work against those elements. Generally, whenever Jacob needs to learn something, he is told a story. In dialog. Long dialog that, while it holds true to individual speakers’ voices, is a weak way to convey such large chunks of information. It makes you wonder if he’s trying to mirror the oral origins of the underworld quest used for this narrative. If so, the author could have done so with far fewer dialog dumps and instead utilized stronger narrative tools.
3 stars.

Book Review: Blacklands by Belinda Bauer #review #novel

Young Steven’s life is marked by loss. When his mother divorced her husband, Steven lost his father. When his mother moves back to live with Steven’s grandmother, he loses his original home. And because the loss is generational, compounded by his mother’s loss of her brother to a serial killer, Steven’s life has been spent in a darkness that always seems to grow.
Desperate to fix the fractures in his family, he spends his afternoons digging random holes in the moors, or blacklands, where the brother is likely buried. His obsession is so complete he implements his own loss by alienating his friends. When he realizes the foolhardiness of his mission, he doesn’t turn away. Instead, he turns to the serial killer.
He begins writing to the imprisoned killer. Avery enjoys the correspondence as a way to spend the last two years of his incarceration…until he realizes Steven is a child. Then he becomes determined to break out and take advantage of the control he has over one last innocent. Steven’s redemption and his life seem surely to be lost when the killer walks free. A gripping, intense ride that holds the family at its heart.
5 stars!
Two other novels blend the intensity of crimes against the innocent with compelling personal journeys. Message Stick, winner of two national awards, is a gripping psychological thriller that follows a man’s journey through the personal history he has too long denied. He Drinks Poison is an erotically tinged thriller that traces a woman’s acceptance of her own dark power as she faces down a serial killer.
For a novel that delves into childhood pain and eventual redemption, try Cosette’s Tribe.

Book Review: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff #review #novel

At times, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this novel. I enjoyed it a great deal, especially the parallel stories told from historic times and how they lined up with the present narrative. I wasn’t always sure how the two connected, though…I wanted a bit more meaningful commentary from the protagonist on what she was learning about those past lives and how they resonated in her present.
Overall, though, it was a very, very enjoyable read. Funny at times with a depth that really draws me.
4 stars!
For another novel that interweaves past stories with the present, try the two-time award-winner, Message Stick.

Book Review: Gathering Blue, Book 2 of the Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry #review #novel

Set in a very different type of society than The Giver, Gathering Blue takes readers to a world in which unknown events (or events hidden from the masses) have left a previously advanced society in a primitive state. Although the village is set up cooperatively, little cooperation truly exists among these people. They argue constantly, children are neglected at best and unthinkingly abused at worst, and a Council of Guardians protects their own rule as much as the population.
Kira, a young girl born crippled in one leg, would have been exposed to the environment and left to die had her mother not utilized her tenuous political connections to preserve her life. When her mother dies, the fatherless girl is again faced with being expelled from the community.
It seems, however, that her talent is uncommon. She is selected by the Council for special treatment, and is taken into the Council Edifice where the quality of her life is exceptionally better. But the work that she performs, caring for the robe of the Singer who preserves the village’s history, is dictated by the Council’s demands rather than her artistry.
When her mentor hints that the world is not exactly as the Council claims, the old woman dies suddenly. Kira begins to question the death of her father by terrible beasts—none of which have actually been seen in the woods surrounding the village—and then her mother’s passing.
The story is compelling because Lowry makes us care about Kira and her friends. But the plotline gives out at the end. Everything clearly is leading up to her discovery about Council secrets; instead, the book ends when Kira discovers the way to create the color blue.
Now, that in and of itself is important. Blue is a lost art, and is accessible only when she breaches the walls of secrecy and risks her life to discover the truth. But the truth is not fully drawn in this book. Instead, she comes to the edge of the truth, and readers are left to hover. Satisfying in some ways, dissatisfying in others.
4 stars.