Mini-reviews: The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards; The Diviners by Libba Bray; and The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

secretsoffirekingTitle: The Secrets of a Fire King: Stories
Author: Kim Edwards
Genre: Short stories
Publisher: Penguin Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
Number of pages:
First line: My father was a man who believed history repeated itself.

I’ve had this collection of short stories sitting on my shelf for a long time, but it was the need for a “fire-related” title for the What’s in a Name? Challenge that prompted me to give it a go. I have always had a tricky relationship with short fiction; I want to love it, but it usually leaves me flat. Not so with this collection, however. Edwards is versatile and writes gorgeously, and knows how to draw the reader into the story and the lives of her characters with just a few pages. There were a couple stories that didn’t work as well for me, but the majority of them are fantastic.

divinersTitle: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: YA historical paranormal fiction
Publisher: Listening Library
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: January LaVoy
Audiobook length: 18 hours and 14 minutes
First line: In a town house at a fashionable address on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.

Goodreads blurb: Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

This is one series I don’t regret starting. The setting in the 1920s, during Prohibition, makes for a terrific historical read, but the addition of the paranormal makes it a riveting – and extremely creepy – story. January LaVoy does a terrific job with the narration, as well.

hourifirstbelievedTitle: The Hour I First Believed
Author: Wally Lamb
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: Harper Collins Audio
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: George Guidall
Audiobook length: 25 hours and 9 minutes
First line: They were both working their final shift at Blackjack Pizza that night, although nobody but the two of them realized it was that.

Goodreads blurb: When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.

While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family’s house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum’s own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.

As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary — and American.

This was so close to being a 5-star read for me! If only Lamb had edited it down just a bit more. While I found the historical story about his great-grandmother interesting, it did cause the narrative to drag in spots, and I continually found myself wanting to get back to Caelum’s story. The beautiful writing, authentic characters, and a plot that made me reflective, however, kept me listening. And George Guidall’s narration is wonderful; he’s always been a favorite of mine.

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5 Responses to Mini-reviews: The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards; The Diviners by Libba Bray; and The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

  1. Kailana says:

    I loved The Diviners! I have heard good things about Libba Bray’s books on audio. I am thinking of listening to The Beauty Queens since I haven’t read it yet. 🙂 I have The Hour I First Believed and still have not read it!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kelly – If I had read the Lamb in print, I probably would have quickly skimmed the historical storyline, but when you listen in audio, you’re stuck with the speed the person reads. It wasn’t the narrator, though, it’s just that those sections dragged a bit.

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  3. JoAnn @Lakeside Musing
    Twitter: lakesidemusing

    The Hour I First Believed was a 5 star read for me, but I agree it could have used some editing.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      JoAnn – it might not have bothered me as much in print, as I could have read those sections faster.