Don't pay too much attention to the shifty eyes in the old portrait. Same goes for the mysterious tapping down the hall of the vast family manor — and, for that matter, the secrets lurking in its attic. Don't even be fooled by the ghost.
The Hundred-Year House may be crowded with the tropes and tricks of classic horror, but make no mistake: It's not a horror story. Rebecca Makkai's style, a patchwork of ambition and aw-shucks charm, lets in just enough sunlight to scatter those things that go bump in the night.
The beloved tale of the little blue engine — who helps bring a broken-down train of toys to the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain — has been chugging along for a very long time. But despite the locomotive's optimistic refrain — I think I can, I think I can, I think I can — the story has a somewhat checkered past: In its tracks, The Little Engine has left both a legal battle and a debate over whether the little blue engine is male or female.
A 30-year-old novel has just been translated to English but keeps its Spanish name, "Muerte En Una Estrella." The author is Sergio Elizondo, and the translators are Rosaura Sanchez and Beatrice Pita. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says it crackles.
Americans put a lot of stock in being likable. Pollsters take surveys of the president's likability. Test screenings check whether we like the characters in movies. And when a literary novelist like Claire Messud mocks the notion that fictional characters should be someone we'd like to be friends with, writers of popular fiction attack her for snootiness.
I've lived a dissolute life of cowardice and regret, but that's no biggie, because I was also part of a 13-critic jury — all staffers of or contributors to the superb website-for-movie-lovers The Dissolve — who chose, via three rounds of voting, the 50 greatest summer blockbusters, circa 1975-2013.
For the next couple of weeks, I'll be writing from the Television Critics Association Press Tour, where a couple hundred critics convene in a giant hotel ballroom to question producers, writers, network executives, actors, and sometimes other folks about what's coming up on TV. It can bring out both the punchy and the grumpy in many folks you know who write about all this: Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter calls it the Death March With Cocktails. (A little later on, my NPR colleague Eric Deggans will be here, too.)
I'm deeply conflicted about how to review this book. On the one hand, I literally laughed and cried from one page to the next and devoured the whole in a brief sitting.
On the other hand, I've also read Rainbow Rowell's other books, and this one pales in comparison.
So I could review it straightforwardly and say that it's funny, clever, charming, endearing, and all that would be true — but I could also review it and say that in some ways it's the least of the books of hers I've read so far, and that would also be true.
Crime writer Ann Cleeves puts it best in her novel Dead Water:"Shetland didn't do pretty. It did wild and bleak and dramatic."
The Shetland Islands are a damp and rocky place, with endless miles of green and gray. Humanity seems to cling to the land here like a few tenacious barnacles. "I love the idea of long, low horizons with secrets hidden underneath," Cleeves says.