Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Crazy School by Cornelia Read

Santangelo Academy is unique - a crazy school for crazy teens and their equally crazy teachers. The students all have "behavioral problems" (like beating people) and are on medication. The teachers too have past "issues." Madeline Dare, the newest teacher, has a secret or two herself. The headmaster, guru, chief therapist, David Santangelo incorporates some rather unconventional techniques into his educational philosophy. His methods are dubious, to say the least. Two students die in an apparent joint suicide after a party (I use the term, "party," loosely, because Santangelo Academy is not a partying place) - or, as Madeline suspects, was it murder? She, too, drank the punch and became extremely ill - was it poisoned and by whom? I really like Madeline Dare. She's strong, resilient and quick with an acerbic comeback. I thoroughly enjoyed Read's snappy dialogue and her feel for the setting and context of her characters. And, for once, I didn't guess everything before the end. A fresh, new find for me. I had fun - and that's a good thing! Think I'll try her other Dare book - Field of Darkness.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris

It's a new school year at St Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, bringing with it the annual batch of new teachers, one of whom is a relentless psychopath intent on destroying this bastion of upperclass education. Roy Straitley - eccentric, intelligent, beloved Classics instructor - has been a fixture at St Oswald's for almost thirty years. Devoted to the school and to his boys, Straitley eventually is the only obstacle preventing the ultimate ruin of the school, staff and students. The story unfolds through three voices:
  • Straitley
  • the malicious, vengeful and cunning new arrival
  • Snyde, the child that the once was our villain
Gentlemen & Players underscores the class differences inherent in the British social system - differences that the young Snyde felt acutely and that produced the monster plotting the utter annihilation of St Oswald's and those who love it. Snyde's story is particularly riveting, and the mystery as to the identity of the grown-up evil-doer is maintained until the very end. Straitley's voice is truly a treat to read - he's a witty, stubborn old luddite with a soft heart. Harris' writing really brings him to life. I could hear his accent and inflections as I read the words on the page. Gentlemen is beautifully composed. Characterization is excellent, the plot is compelling and if you're not really, really attentive to detail, the end is quite surprising.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Devil's Labyrinth by John Saul

Let's see - a creepy Catholic school; a dark, winding labyrinth under said school; a secret, seriously creepy, chapel; rites of exorcism; possessed, de-possessed and re-possessed teens, both male and female; a troubled 15-year old boy; some yicky scenes with garbage, rats, and a decomposing body; a fanatical priest; an heirloom artifact; the Pope; a terrorist plot. Really over-the-top. A messy stew. My first book by John Saul - will not repeat the experience. I found it really easy to figure out who the bad guy or guys were while wading through blood and gore which made it all not just yucky, but boring - yuckily boring. Oh for Pete's sake, blow up them all up and get it over with! Horrific, but, for me, not horror at its best.