February’s usually a pretty dreary month around here, perfect for curling up with a book. Not this month. We had another major cold snap (highs below freezing) combined with bright sunshine and a Super Bowl win (and the day of the parade was cold). But I wasn’t about to let that keep me from my books.
My slog through the world of literary fiction continued with The Kept, by James Scott. Midwife Elspeth Howell comes home to find her family murdered, save her son Caleb, who shoots her when he mistakes her for the murderers, returned to finish him off. Caleb’s determined to kill the men who took his family from him. After tending to his mother’s wounds, the pair set out to find the killers.
I got about halfway through and had to stop. It’s slow, but most literary fiction is slow. The biggest problem is the characters; while Elspeth is interesting at times, Caleb is not. Elspeth comes by her children in an unusual manner, and we learn about Jorah, her husband, through her memories. In fact, he’s probably the most interesting character so far, and when the book opens, he’s already dead. Caleb strikes me as fragile and younger than his age (he’s twelve) yet is determined to grow up and make up for what he sees as his father’s failure to protect the family. But he doesn’t have the necessary spark or grit to jump off the page and hold your attention. Though the narrative shifts between Caleb and Elspeth, this is Caleb’s story – he was the one who pushed to go after the killers. He just feels…false. Like he’s only pretending to be a boy forced to become a hardened man at a young age, like it’s a cloak he can throw off at any time. Mind you, this is not a terrible book. It’s possible I’ll go back and finish this at some point. Maybe. After I’ve finished about a dozen other books.
I had no problems finishing Anne Bishop’s Written in Red. This book was voted by VBC readers as their favorite of 2013, and that, plus a number of friends telling me I needed to read this, finally pushed me to it. Meg’s on the run, and she stumbles on a clever way to hide: she applies to be the Human Liaison for the Lakeside Courtyard. Hiding among the Others, she feels safe from her pursuers. But she’s a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, and her keepers want her back – and they’re willing to take on the Others to do it.
I cannot get enough of this book. Meg is such a great character; she might be an adult, but she retains a child-like innocence that frustrates and baffles the Others of the Courtyard, particularly Simon, the Wolf who gives her the job. The growth he goes through is fun to see and sometimes touching – he starts out thinking of Meg as little more than what the Others think of all humans (prey, or “clever meat”) and slowly, with much confusion, accepts her as one of his own. The worldbuilding is fantastic. This was definitely a “one more chapter” book, and when it was over, I almost howled at the unfairness of it all. Then I passed it along to a friend I work with, and when I went into work the next day, she’d already finished half of it and spent most of the morning hunched over the book instead of working. Yes, it’s that kind of book. The one good thing about having put off reading Written in Red for so long is I don’t have long to wait for the next book to come out; A Murder of Crows releases next Tuesday, March 4th. So you have plenty of time to read this one first!
I wish I could be as effusive about The Fever by Megan Abbott. Deenie’s best friend, Lise, has a seizure in the middle of first period, and everything gets blown to hell shortly after that. One by one, other girls start dropping, with the same mysterious symptoms – agitation, inexplicable vomiting, uncontrollable tics and movements. Is it the lake? Is there poison under the football fields? Or is it a really big distraction from the rumors flying around school, about Lise and a boy behind the bushes?
This is kind of a middling book. It’s enjoyable, and well-paced. The community’s need to find out what’s happening to their daughters is a big driving point in the story. Deenie’s an interesting character, and it’s easy to identify with her. She’s at that age where she wants to do everything her friends are doing, not just so she’ll fit in, but so she can continue to feel close to them. But they’re still pulling away from her, and she doesn’t know why. My biggest complaint was Eli’s (her brother) point of view. It seemed the only reason it was there to begin with was so we could see his reaction to the climax, because the mystery surrounding the sick girls all centers on him, in a way. Parts of Fever were good. Parts of it were meh. In the end, it’s a good book, worth checking out of the library, but one that will likely fall by the wayside of books I remember in years to come.
And now, I leave you with my current obsession. They’re Greek brothers from South Africa, and together they form Kongo.
Copies of The Kept and The Fever provided by the publisher(s) in exchange for an honest review.