Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: Anew by Chelsea Fine

Title: Anew
Author: Chelsea Fine
Publisher: Firefall Publishing
Series: Archers of Avalon #1
Source: Barnes and Noble
Young Adult; Fantasy/Romance

So I hadn't used my Nook in well over a year, and I finally decided to charge it and update it so I could see what the new OverDrive app looked like. Much to my surprise, I had three or four YA titles I'd purchased on sale some time ago and I figured I should read them since I'd apparently thought they were interesting at some point. The first of these that I read was Anew by Chelsea Fine.

Anew is the first in the Archers of Avalon trilogy that follows the story of seventeen year old Scarlet Jacobs and twin brothers Gabriel and Tristan Archer. We meet Scarlet when she wakes up in the woods outside of Avalon, Georgia. She's fifteen and she knows her name, but nothing else. Not how she got there or where she came from. Skip ahead two years and Scarlet's been taken in by her guardian, Laura and goes to high school with her best friend Heather like any other teen girl. She meets the smart, handsome, funny, endearing, mysterious etc Gabriel at Avalon's annual Kissing Festival (!) and the two strike up a relationship. Gabriel has secrets, though, including a twin brother that might hold the key to Scarlet's missing memories and her life before Avalon. However, the closer she gets to Gabriel and Tristan and the closer she gets to unlocking her memories, she finds herself in more and more danger with less and less time.

There are aspects of this book that I genuinely enjoyed and other aspects left me looking for a bridge from which to suspend my disbelief.

That sound you hear is the bridge creaking.

I know that the whole amnesia thing is not exactly breaking new ground, but the mythos that Fine constructs is really interesting. Without giving too much away, Scarlet is the victim of a curse gone wrong, a curse that affects not only her but both of the Archer brothers. Her fate has been bound to the twins for a long, long time. What one brother needs destroys the other; what the other brother wants destroys them all. As far as angsty, dramatic set ups go, it's a doozy.

Fine also has some really snappy dialogue, especially from green-eyed brother Tristan. For example:
Gabriel glanced down. “Seriously, Tristan? You drive around with a trunk full of weapons?”
“Of course.”
“Because I’m the family bad guy.”
And also very poignant lines like this:
“Knowing death is nearby gives you a chance to live...deliberately." 
On the flip side of that, there's a lot of ridiculousness from Scarlet's best friend Heather who literally speaks in text lingo. Now, I'm guilty of occasionally dropping a "jsyk" or "brb" into a conversation, but this character's sentences are full of "O-M-G" and "Scarlet, W-T-H?" which made me want to strangle her juuust about every page. Scarlet picks this up at some point during the book, making statements like "Worst. Date. Ever."
L-O-L one more time.

Heather's character is a little over the top in the crazy fashion obsessed sense but she's fun and oddly perceptive and I feel like the text lingo is a disservice to her character. While she is over the top, she's also smart, honest, and willing to defend her friend no matter what. I liked her, but my willingness to get behind her as a character was thwarted by her charming quirk.

Oddly enough, I also liked the love triangle aspect of this story. I know, I know. Hold your tomatoes. Because of the intricacies of the curse, it puts a different spin on it. It had the potential to be really heart rending. Yup, I said had potential. One of the more frustrating aspects of the story was also the love triangle. It's fairly obvious early on which brother she's "supposed" to be with, and because of that the other brother doesn't get as fully developed of a personality.

A moment to address how Scarlet first meets Gabriel. At a town-wide Kissing Festival, a two day event in which everyone (parents and kids) in the town of Avalon randomly kisses their neighbors, the postman, the dentist... There are also events like the Kissing Sock Hop and Kissing Booths...I just...can't... A Valentine Festival with a kissing booth is one thing. An entire multi day event where one might be accosted and kissed by anyone in your community is weird. Maybe that's just me. 

I also wanted better development of the brother's relationship. There's denial and secrecy between siblings, sure, but Tristan and Gabriel seemed almost clueless about each other at points. Their main focus is Scarlet, but they've also been brothers for a long, long time. (No, they are not vampires. Or werewolves.)

The story is good and the characters are for the most part interesting. It seemed inconsistent, because there are a lot of great scenes and dialogue moments but there are enough eye roll moments that it detracted from the experience. I did finish the book wanting to know what happens next for these guys, but I'm not compelled to make the second in the series, Awry, my next read.

No movie news on this one, but you can watch a book trailer on the author's Goodreads page.

If you'd like a quick fantasy read with a bit of a little twist, you might enjoy Anew. Or, this might be a good recommendation for a reluctant young teen reader who enjoys triangles and text lingo.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Review: Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough

Title: Archie Meets Nero Wolfe
Author: Robert Goldsborough
Publisher: Mysterious Press
Series: Nero Wolfe - prequel
Source: Library
Adult Mystery 

Let me try to explain the depths of my joy when I spotted this on the bookshelf at the library I work at:

No, really. I startled a passing librarian with my shriek and dance of joy. I had a much better reaction from one of our other co-workers, who also was quite excited about this find.

Archie Goodwin is one of my top five favorite men of mystery, if you will. I don't actually remember how I stumbled upon the Nero Wolfe series, just that someone put the second of Rex Stout's novels in my hands (The League of Frightened Men) when I was a teenager and told me to read. So read I did, and I fell in love in with Fritz and Wolfe and Archie. But mostly Archie.

If you're unfamiliar with the Nero Wolfe series, it is set in New York and starts in the early 1930's (although carries through several decades after) and follows the cases of Nero Wolfe, a private investigator. Nero Wolfe has several extreme eccentricites, including the fact that he very, very rarely leaves his brownstone home, follows a regimented schedule every day that cannot be broken, he eats very lavish meals prepared by a live-in chef (that would be Fritz), and grows orchids in a rooftop hothouse. Wolfe does not tolerate the iterruption of his schedule, his authority being questioned, his privacy being invaded, most women, most men, stupidity, business talk over dinner, and a great myriad of other situations.What he does tolerate (with or without grace) is Archie Goodwin.

Archie is Nero Wolfe's presence outside the brownstone. He serves as legs and ears and eyes while interviewing witnesses, trailing suspects, and chasing perpetrators. Archie also serves as a thorn in Wolfe's side -it's offically part of his job- to motivate his boss into taking cases so they can get paid. He's a charmer and a smooth talker; a ladies man and always a gentleman. He's savvy and street smart and he quits as many times as Wolfe fires him, but it's always an idle threat. When Rex Stout's series starts, Archie's been working for Wolfe for several years.

Rex Stout passed away in 1975, and eleven years later Robert Goldsborough had his first Nero Wolfe novel published, Murder in C Minor. With the blessing of the Stout estate, he wrote several more Wolfe and Archie mysteries. Now, he hasn't written a Wolfe book since 1994 (which for you non-instant math people like me is 19 years ago) and what better way to return to the scene than with the fan's dream: an origin story. A prequel. Hallelujah.

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe opens with Archie, fresh from Ohio, working a job as a night watchman on the docks. He's nineteen and looking for his big opportunity in the city - and winds up killing two men in self defense. He's let go from the watchman position, but impresses P.I. Del Bascom and gets taken on in the private detective's office. Archie's big opportunity comes with the Big Case. Tommie Williamson, son of a very wealthy businessman, is kidnapped and his father taps Nero Wolfe to take the case. Wolfe calls in the best detectives he knows, including Bascom who brings Archie to the table. The race is on to find the boy and find the kidnappers and to secure Archie's place in literary history.

As a longtime Archie fan, I loved this book. It was a fun trip through 1920's New York with a young, sharp Archie who relayed details to the reader with great panache and flare. As a long time mystery reader, it left something to be desired. The story moves quickly, from the small introductory mysteries that set up Archie's skills into the bigger mystery of Tommie Williamson's disappearance. There's some legitimate detective legwork, and you do get a sense for Archie unfolding the process of how he'll operate as a detective for the first time. We're also shown Orrie Cather and Saul Panzer (who are very important supporting characters in most of the Rex Stout novels) meeting Archie and how they work both with and independently of Wolfe.

Speaking of Wolfe, he's not a prevalent in the book as I was expecting, but when he was he was utterly and perfectly Wolfe. Short fuse, fabulous vocabulary, and an all seeing eye to rival Sherlock Holmes himself all wonderfully played out. It was just wasn't enough! Part of the joy of the Goodwin/Wolfe read is their exchanges and interactions and I suppose I was expecting more of them having some of those first conflicts and concessions.
Wolfe is not amused by your shenanigans.

For the most part, Goldsborough does a good job with Archie's voice. Archie is a very distinctive first person narrator. Some of the story felt like it was being told by a nineteen year old Archie and some of the story felt like it was being told by the Archie who matured over the course of several decades. However, and this might be more important, Archie is completely charming throughout. And I think that's what it is. If you're approaching this book with the intent of sinking your teeth into a meaty mystery, you may come away wanting. If you're approaching this book as a handshake, as polite introduction to one of the mystery genre's greatest men, you'll be pleasantly delighted.

So, if you like 1920's New York, cozy mysteries, classic private investigators, or already love Archie and Wolfe, you should definitely pick up Archie Meets Nero Wolfe. If you've not been to the world of Stout as of yet, I don't think I would recommend you start here. Start with The League of Frightened Men or Champagne for One and then consider hitting the prequel.

Usually I try to find out if any movie rights are associated with a book, and in this case there are not. However, Archie Goodwin was brought to life by Timothy Hutton in the A&E Nero Wolfe series which ran for two seasons 2000-2001. Timothy Hutton and Maury Chakin are Goodwin and Wolfe, respectively, and neither one of them could be more perfect for the roles. It's a great mystery series with fantastic costuming and dialogue. It's available on DVD.
Perfect Archie Goodwin is perfect.

If you speak Italian, YouTube also has episodes of the newer Italian version of Nero Wolfe. While Timothy Hutton is perfection as Archie, the Archie in those episodes is also quite wonderful.

No, I don't speak Italian.

Italian Archie is also good looking.

Yes, I'm learning Italian.
I recommend the Wolfe/Goodwin series to pretty much everyone, no matter whether you start with the original Stout or pick up Goldsborough's prequel. They're great characters you should definitely get to know.

Hope you all enjoy the upcoming St. Patrick's Day!

Don't drive spifflicated!