Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Rook Takes Bishop...

 As a librarian, people suggest books to me almost constantly.  Most suggestions are well-intended, but I usually do not heed them; I have very particular tastes in books and most of the suggestions do not make the cut.  However, when a coworker suggested The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, I considered and then put it on hold.

Oh. My. Gosh.  What a book.  A 2012 debut (a DEBUT!!!!) novel from O'Malley, an Australian author, The Rook begins with a woman in a park, at dark, surrounded by dead people wearing latex gloves, and no memory.  Long story short, Myfanwy Thomas is a member of the Checquy, a secret government organization dedicated to fighting the supernatural.  The Checquy, as Thomas discovers, is a hierarchical government agency that deals not only with supernatural events, but also with the everyday humdrum boring monotony of government work.  That is all I am going to give away about the plot.  This is the type of book that needs to slowly unfold as you read it; it is best to approach this book without any preconceived notions or ideas.  There is definitely magical and supernatural elements at work in this novel; there is also startlingly human elements at play, emotions, plans, and a search for self that pushes the plot forward and helps the reader more readily relate to the characters.

The Rook has been described as an "adult Harry Potter", which is offensive to both series.  This is far different from Harry Potter, which transports the reader to another world and encourages them to explore their feelings and imagination.  The Rook takes real life and adds a spin to it; albeit, the spin is complex, but not a stretch to the point where the reader doubts the validity.  Anyone can see themselves as the bedraggled government worker who is burned out on their job and the politics of the job to the point where an militia of ghouls, an infestation of zombies, or a dragon hatching is just another mound of paperwork.  What O'Malley manages to do with this book is create a mystery in a setting that is perceived as everyday and boring to the people in the book.  However, by having a protagonist with no memory, O'Malley still manages to tell a story and immerse the reader in a new world at the same time.  There is constantly a thin line between fantasy and real life throughout the novel and the reader finds themselves weaving in and out of the past and the present and questioning what is normal and what is not.  Flashbacks in books are frequently poorly handled, but O'Malley finds a clever way to catch the reader up on the past and on the vast array of information and characters presented.

Author Daniel O'Malley
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is the characters that O'Malley creates.  Most of the Checquy's members are recruited because they posses supernatural powers.  These powers range from small to nuclear (literally) and are the sword arm of the Chequy's power. O'Malley creates characters with personalities to fit their powers and these people are what make this book exciting, intriguing, funny, and dangerous.  There is an vast array of different personalities and these differences shine through in use of their powers and in the witty, clever dialogue that peppers the story.  Even the characters who are meant to be boring government pencil pushers are interesting and well-done.  Without O'Malley's talent for creating characters, The Rook would be lackluster.  It is truly the human element that triumphs the supernatural, making for both an exhilarating climatic end and a hunger for more.

I cannot fangirl enough about this book.  I cannot believe I went four years without knowing this book existed.  It is the best of mystery, the best of fantasy, and the best of mild horror all wrapped into one book.  If you read anything in 2017, please read The Rook.  It is suspenseful, funny, intellectual, and intriguing while remaining fast-paced and exciting.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Getting Cozy with Jenn McKinlay

There are times in our lives where the latest Pulitzer Prize winner is staring at you, the New York Times bestseller in nonfiction is whispering to you, and that awesome 2017 reading challenge that you have yet to start is making you feel guilty... and all you want is a fun, quick read that isn't romance. If this is you right now, never fear, Jenn McKinlay is here. McKinlay is an American author who specializes in cozy mysteries, which are mysteries that are short, fun, filled with quirky characters, usually a quaint town with lots of secrets, and a dead body. McKinlay has five series, three under her name and two under different pen names: Library Lover's Mysteries; Cupcake Bakery Mysteries; London Hat Shop Mysteries; Good Buy Girls Mysteries (writing as Josie Belle); Decoupage Mysteries (writing as Lucy Lawrence.) 

Although her pen name series are fun, they were short-lived.  It is the three series under her own name which are McKinlay's draw.  McKinlay uses a basic outline to establish her series, which makes her writing like a old comfortable friend; you know there are some surprises, but you also know that her books are not going to disappoint and that you will be left with a satisfied sense of happiness upon reading.  However, the mysteries are anything but formulaic. Her murders are often grisly and McKinlay makes a point to always highlight the senselessness of violence.  What makes McKinlay's work a slight departure from the normal cozy mystery is that McKinlay does a wonderful job of lightly touching upon the sometimes evil nature of man. McKinlay never makes murder or crime seem glamorous or exciting; she is quick to remind that death hurts many people and that crime can destroy a community.  Her villians are sometimes seemingly justified, sometimes not; either way, McKinlay makes sure that justice is served and healing begins in the community.  That being said, McKinlay also manages to maintain a light mood in the book with fun, exciting side characters (try a rival who dances in the streets dressed as a cupcakes and stalks the protagonist's bakery!) who add to the protagonist's life, in both good ways and in bad!  McKinlay is a female-centric writer; her protagonists are women who are strong, independent, and
smart.  They dabble in romance (with strong, handsome hunks, of course!) and know when to rely on their friends and family who love them.  The Library Lover's series is a great series to start with; Lindsey is a library director in a small, seaside community, which has its secrets to reveal throughout the series.  She is smart, funny, savvy, and is accompanied by a cast of characters who leave the reader laughing out loud.  As a librarian, I believe that McKinlay definitely got the feel, drama, gossip, triumphs, and failures of library life correct, which makes these even more enjoyable.

All in all, these are not hard boiled crime novels and you will not be left with burning questions of man's morality and the future of humanity. However, this is the draw of cozy mysteries! You get to be a part of a world where life has a slightly rosier tinge and you get to play detective. Cozies are a great, temporary getaway from life, and all of McKinlay's series provide the chance to take a break, read a book, and have a bit of fun.