Lately, I’ve been so busy on the Stargate front that I’ve had little time for reading, much less commeningt on what I’ve been reading. So, today, with the first drafts of my last scripts behind me, I’d like to make mention of a few of the books I read and enjoyed back in July.
The Girl in the Glass, by Jeffrey Ford
Any time I read a book by Ford, it’s pretty much a guarantee that it will be making an appearance in these monthly round-ups. And The Girl in the Glass is no exception. It makes one wish the author would tackle the long form more often. I know, I know. There are so many hours in a day and I love Ford’s short fiction, but one of the things that makes this novel so engrossing and altogether delightful is the characters. And it’s because Ford has the time to develop them, allowing us to really get to know them over the course of the story, that he succeeds so admirably on this count.
Like another of his forays into the long form, The Shadow Year, the story is less fantastical than his short stories, more grounded though possessed of just a hint of the supernatural. In The Shadow Year, the story is told from the point of view of a young boy growing up in a small town, touching on home life, friendships, and memories of summer as he strives to uncover a mystery that has gripped his tiny community. In The Girl in the Glass, it’s another young boy, Diego, who is our guide through a totally different sort of mystery near the end of The Great Depression. In contrast to the innocence of our young protagonist in The Shadow Year, Diego is surprisingly worldly for his age. And with good reason. He is part of a trio of grifters who stage phony séances, scamming high society rubes looking to commune with the beyond. Their little con is mighty sweet and they have a good thing going, until one of their sham spiritual connections becomes all too real. Suddenly, Diego and co. find themselves having to hustle their way through a winding plot involving kidnapping, murder, intrigue, and a deep, dark, ugly secret.
Ford people’s his novel with some truly wonderful characters and the story itself is tight, clever, and compulsively readable. Honestly. Once you start this book, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down.
Audrey’s Door, by Sarah Langan
Former guest author to this blog Sarah Langan was kind enough to send me an advanced copy of her latest book, Audrey’s Door, a chilling tale of a young female architect who gets more than she bargained for when she moves into The Breviary, a turn-of-the-century New York apartment building.
A loner distanced from her ailing mother, battling with OCD, struggling with the demands of a high-stress job, her recent relationship a shambles, Audrey thinks her luck has finally turned when she finds a listing for an apartment in Manhattan . The rent is a steal. Her elderly neighbors are quiet and keep to themselves. It all seems too good to be true. And, as it turns out, it is because Audrey learns her apartment has a bit of a history, a history involving its last tenants, a mother and her children who perished in a horrific murder-suicide. Despite this, Audrey elects to move in. But she soon discovers that the grisly goings-on at 14B are the least of her problems, that there are darker forces at work in the building, ancient entities who have designs on this world and require her particular skills to bring their plans to fruition.
At times reminiscent of The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby, Audrey’s Door is a good old-fashioned haunted house story set in an urban setting. Tense, at times deeply unsettling, it’s the perfect read for those horror aficionados looking for something new. And scary.
Ascent: A Novel, by Jed Mercurio
Author Jed Mercurio’s Royal Air Force background serves him well in this fascinating account of fictitious Russian cosmonaut Yefgenii Yeremin, charting his hard knock upbringing as an orphan in post-WWII Stalingrad, through his service as a MiG pilot secretly flying under the North Korean flag during the Korean War, to his eventual selection for the Russian space program.
The novel grabs you from the get-go as we are introduced to the young Yefgenni, struggling for survival following the deaths of his parents, enduring almost constant physical abuse at the hands of a group of bullies he shares residence with at a local orphanage. Faced with a bleak future, the brilliant Yefgenni acts. In a move bred of desperation, he deals with his greatest oppressor and, in so doing, secures himself a scholarship to Russia’s air academy. From there, well, not even the sky’s the limit.
Mercurio’s writing style is precise, offering a stripped down narrative that breezes along but doesn’t skimp on the necessary details. In fact, the descriptions of aerial combat are thorough, and thoroughly credible, specific yet never overly complex. It all proves as fascinating as it is spirited, especially given the stakes. Since their presence must not be revealed, the Russian pilots are under orders strict not to be captured, meaning they either down the enemy, retreat, or go down in a fiery crash. Some do. One doesn’t and pays the price.
In the end, Yefgenni sacrifices all to reach the stars and this ultimate achievement of his lifelong dream proves both stirring, sad, and, strangely enough, poignant and inspiring in the heart of tragedy.
A terrific book.