The Paying Guests
By Sarah Waters
Having never read Sarah Waters before, I had no idea what I was getting into when I selected this book from the New Fiction shelves. The title was familiar, and I had heard it was good somewhere…however, YOU, dear reader, are being warned: it IS good, but once it gets going, you will not being able to put it down!
Place in time: England, 1922. This book starts off as a cozy historical novel about an upper class widow and her adult daughter Frances pulling together to survive the post-World War I economy, the men in the family having deceased in or during wartime and leaving their finances ashamble. To preserve money, and appearances, they decide to take in lodgers or “paying guests,” and while both of them are uneasy about living with strangers in their home, they cheerfully put on a brave face (or a stiff upper lip) and welcome young couple, Leonard and Lilian Barber. Soon the awkwardness of having tenants transforms into a close friendship between Frances and Lilian, and Frances’s “interesting” past becomes the conduit through which this period-piece becomes both a love story and a thriller as well.
Waters’ talents are many: creating care-worthy characters, setting a scene and building suspense. Also notable is her ability to convey the erotic without veering into the tawdry. Mystery, Masterpiece Theater, and Delta of Venus and more, consider The Paying Guests.
August 24, 2015
By Ferrett Steinmetz
When you mess with physics, there are consequences. That is the premise of Ferrett Steinmetz’s stellar debut urban fantasy Flex. Some consider the existence of magic, or ‘mancy, an affront to the laws of nature and when nature is affronted She fights back. For every improbable act of ‘mancy, there is a price to pay, a stroke of bad luck that rebounds back onto the ‘mancer’s life. The cost is equal to the act. A bit of artificial whimsy might only get you a broken nail or a flat tire. But serious ‘mancy brings on serious blow back, or “Flux”.
Paul Tsabo is an ex-cop turned insurance agent—the most unlikely mage imaginable. But one day his obsession with contracts, forms and obscure legal code turns into ‘mancy, bureaucromancy to be exact. His magic enables him to draw up top secret documents from blank pieces of paper. He can finagle rental agreements, target criminals by accessing police records; he can even send faxes back in time. What he can’t do is save his daughter, Aliyah, from painful and disfiguring burns that result from the massive flux of another magic user. The novel revolves around Paul’s mission to get his daughter the treatments she needs and also take revenge against the ‘mancer called Anathema who is flooding the city with unstable Flex, a drug made of distilled magic. It was Anathema’s Flex that caused Aliyah’s burns. Paul teams up with a spunky videogamemancer named Valentine to get the job done.
What a page turner! Somehow a book about paperwork-magic is action-packed. Steinmetz’s humor is pitch perfect for readers immersed in nerd culture. The hilarious Valentine is a much needed foil to Paul’s drama and turmoil. Best of all, there’s a sequel coming out this fall! Don’t get left behind, this series is sure to be popular.
August 17, 2015
Among the Ten Thousand Things
By Julia Pierpont
By Julia Pierpont
At just over 300 pages, Julia Pierpont’s debut novel, Among the Ten Thousand Things, is slim enough to take with you to the beach. While the subject matter (the aftermath of infidelity) is a little bleak, the author’s lyrical yet sparse prose and vibrant dialogue make it a quick read.
Jack Shanley is a respected New York artist with an ex-dancer wife, a teenage son and an eleven-year-old daughter. He loses all of this through a chain of events set off by the arrival of a cardboard box full of printed e-mails between himself and his mistress. The box is delivered to his apartment building and picked up by his daughter, Kay. The remainder of the novel explores how this event is interpreted by each character and how they change as a result.
Most fascinating to me was the impact on the youngest child. Kay can’t understand why everyone is so upset if, as her mother tells her, her father’s actions mean nothing. Is this just how the grown up world works? Families are broken because it feels good for one person? Kay’s attempts to incorporate this new information into her childish worldview make up some of the book’s most interesting scenes. While Kay struggles to understand this new adult word, her mother battles doubt and guilt. Can she really start over? Should she try to make it work? She’d known for a while that Jack was unfaithful but having the dirty evidence thrown in front of her and forced onto her children is another matter. Meanwhile the teenager, Simon, tries to experience the milestones of adolescence and struggles against the taint of his parents’ failing marriage. Finally, Jack goes on a journey which leads him to his childhood home and a confrontation with his troubled youth. Along the way he indulges in further infidelity, a proof that he perhaps never emotionally matured beyond his child years.
One troubling aspect of the book is the shadow-like figure of “the girl.” Jack’s mistress is only named once and is never allowed to speak for herself on the page (except through her message to Deb and the correspondence with Jack). As I read I couldn’t help but imagine something terrible befalling this young woman. Among the Ten Thousand Things is a captivating novel dotted with moments of humor and grace. Recommended for fans of Meg Wolitzer and Tim Perrotta.--Chelsea