Monday, October 26, 2015

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

      Welcome to Night Vale is a recently published novel written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. It is a story set in the same setting as the #1 international hit podcast of the same name. Rather than being a novelisation of one of the story-lines that has already happened on the podcast, this novel presents an entirely new story-line that explores the origin and explanation for one of the background characters who was introduced in the early episodes of the podcast; namely: The Man in the Tan Jacket.
      If you are unacquainted with the recurring twice-monthly podcast through CommonPlace Books, the first episode aired in June 2012. Source material and inspiration for the stories that happened in the early episodes were drawn from A Commonplace Book of the Weird: The Untold Stories of H.P. Lovecraft and What It Means to be a Grown-up, both originally published by CommonPlace Books. It began slowly gathering a somewhat underground following on the internet, until almost the one year anniversary of the show, when it hit mainstream social media in a big way. With its rise in popularity, they were able to add more cast members, open a merchandise store, and begin touring the world with live shows. After the 2014 San Diego Comic Con, when the WtNV podcast did a live crossover show with the hugely popular podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour, the Night Vale podcast exploded into popular media, and in the fall of 2014 the promise of a Night Vale novel was announced.
     Done in the style of a community radio broadcast, the podcast features the public radio host of the small desert town of Night Vale, Cecil Palmer (voiced by theatre actor Cecil Baldwin). Through the announcements of Cecil, the listener is given "community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events."[x]  If this sounds odd, yet intriguing, it is also worth noting that the local weather isn't weather, but instead feature music from an ever changing selection of indie musicians. There is also a floating cat in the radio station men's bathroom.
      The novel focuses on the story and explanation of one of the characters introduced and frequently referenced but never so-far explained in the podcast--The Man in the Tan Jacket who carries a deerskin suitcase and has had many interactions with Night Vale citizens, but whom no one ever remembers once the interactions is over. Two new characters, as yet not introduced in the podcast, Jackie Fierro the pawnshop owner and Diana Crayton the head of the Night Vale PTA, set out to solve the mystery of The Man in the Tan Jacket and the mysterious papers he has been leaving all over town, which read KING CITY. With the assistance of Carlos the Scientist, John Peters the Farmer, Old Woman Josie and her angels (who are all named Erica), and many other Night Vale characters, Jackie and Diana investigate the mystery of KING CITY, all the while Cecil's radio broadcast takes place in the background of the story.
      I was lucky enough to have been given an Advanced Readers Copy of this novel back over the summer, and have been just itching to review it ever since. The book is a wonderful tie-in to the on-going podcast, but it still works as a stand-alone story, if you haven't been, or don't plan on, listening to the show. Fink's and Cranor's writing style(s) remind me a bit of the writing of Lemony Snicket, in The Series of Unfortunate Events. Having read the print book already, I am now looking forward to listening to it as an audio-book, since the audio version is narrated by Cecil Baldwin, and also features some of the voice actors who have appeared on the podcast thusfar. As of right now, the Ocean City Free Public Library only has the regular book--but keep an eye out, as the collection is always changing and expanding.
      If you're unfamiliar with the podcast, and want to stop being unfamiliar, you can check it out here to find the previous episodes, or here to see the recent Welcome to Night Vale segment on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. If you already know Night Vale, or you would rather first experience the novel unspoiled by backstory, you can put yourself on hold for Welcome to Night Vale: a novel, available soon at the Ocean City Free Public Library. Don't worry--the Ocean City librarians are much nicer than the librarians at the Night Vale Public Library. Our librarians have far fewer talons.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

      Career of Evil is the latest book published by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, and continues to follow the story of private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott. This book is vastly different from the preceding two novels in the series, The Cuckoo's Calling  and The Silkworm, as the nature of the crimes and investigation is different.
      In the first two books in this series, the crimes are highly sensationalised and highlighted by the media, pulling a heavy focus on the public side of crime investigation. In Career of Evil the investigation is given much more of a personal element, as the killer is directly targeting Cormoran and Robin. In addition to this, we are given a much more in-depth backstory of Robin Ellacott and her relationship with her fiance, Matt.
      For the most part, I enjoyed Career of Evil, because while both main characters are present and investigating, the story primarily focuses on Robin's investigation and how she balances it with her personal life. It almost mirrors the first book in which the reader got to see how Strike was doing the same thing. There book was well written (no surprise, given who is behind the pseudonym), and there was a very decent suspenseful build throughout the story. Which is why I felt that the final five chapters were such a slap in the face. Without giving away any of the plot or spoilers, I can say that the final climax and resolution felt somehow...rushed, given how the suspense built up to the that point. I very much hope that this series will continue, so that the ending of this book will be justified. All-in-all, it was a good book, a good continuation of a series, and a good set-up for future stories about Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.
There are 3 books so far in the Cormoran Strike series, and you can find all of them at the Ocean City Free Public Library:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

      Go Set a Watchman is the recently published novel by Harper Lee that follows her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. In this novel, the reader sees a grown-up Jean Louise (Scout) Finch visiting her hometown and discovering that her father, whom she idolised in the previous novel, is not as heroic as she grew up believing.
      There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the publication of this book--namely the time elapsed between Mockingbird and Watchman and the probability that it was not Lee's desire to publish this book, (Joe Nocera writes a good article for the New York Times about this controversy)--however, setting that controversy aside for a moment, let's focus on the literary merit of the story itself. What follows is purely the opinion of the librarian writing this post.
      Was it a good book?
      It was a well written book. It brought up controversial issues, it revisited ideas Scout held in childhood that fail to stand-up to the rigors of adult-hood, it highlighted racial tensions in a pre-Civil Rights Movement America. However, there is also a fair amount of problems that come out while reading this book. The biggest problem probably being that Go Set a Watchman is completely backwards from and completely negates most of the progressive and forward thinking of To Kill a Mockingbird. My biggest issue was with the ending when[SPOILER ALERT] after Jean Louise spends the entire book trying to bring progressive thinking to her home town, she is slapped in the face by her uncle so violently that her mouth bleeds. After this, she suddenly and unhesitatingly decides that she should never again disagree with white men in positions of power. [END SPOILER ALERT] It was, in my opinion, a highly disappointing ending to a book that failed to live up to its hype. Couple this with the controversy surrounding the nature of its publication, namely the idea that it was published against the will of Lee herself, and I was ultimately disappointed by this book.
      However! This is just my opinion, and you might have a different one about this book. To find out, you'll have to read it. Go Set a Watchman is available at the Ocean City Free Public Library, and you can put yourself on hold for it here. We want to hear what you think!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

      The Girl in the Spider's Web is the fourth book in the Millennium series originally created and written by Stieg Larsson. As Larsson himself passed away in 2004, the popular trilogy, chronicling the adventures of computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, was originally published posthumously. However, there is still a large time gap between the publication of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest in 2007, and the decision to continue the series under a different author. The announcement that there would be a fourth (and eventual fifth and sixth) book was not even announced until early 2015.
      This time delay is only logical, as the process of continuing a series of this caliber is a daunting one. Getting the consent and permission from the Larsson's estate alone would have taken much legal negotiating. Even tougher still would be finding an author who could capture and recreate the images and voices of Larsson's characters. An author's writing style is like a painter's brushstrokes--it is possible to recreate something similar to the original work, but the result will always be different from the original. 
      I think that David Lagercrantz did an admirable job continuing the story of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider's Web. He brings the characters to life and brings his own writing style into the narration, while keeping the reader aware of Larsson's style throughout the story. I am very eager to see if the following novels Lagercrantz adds to the Millennium series will hold as true to Larsson's vision as The Girl in the Spider's Web does.
      Each book in the Millennium series is available at the Ocean City Free Public Library: