Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sisters Red

Pearce, Jackson. Sisters Red. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

"Versteck euch!" Oma March whispered hoarsely, pointing urgently toward her bedroom in the back of the cottage. Hide. Hide now.
"Schatzi, my treasures, I won't let him have you!" Oma March murmured under her breath, like a prayer. She dashed for the telephone and began dialing.
"Charlie? Charlie, one is here. Outside," Oma March whispered frantically to Pa Reynolds, the woodsman who lived down the road. "Oh god, Charlie, hurry," she pleaded.
But Pa Reynolds didn't make it in time, changing the lives of Oma March's granddaughters, Rose and Scarlett, forever.

Everyone was raving about Sisters Red when it came out last year, and I, ever the cynic, figured no book could live up to that much hype. So I skipped it. Even though it's a fairytale retelling of sorts. Even though it's a fairytale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

Sometimes I'm dumb.

Luckily, I'm willing to admit my mistakes, so when I overheard someone in the bookstore telling her friend how much she loved this book, I snuck up and grabbed a copy for myself. By "myself" I mean "my library,"* but Sisters Red is a book I would gladly spend my own cash monies on. I loved it, and my gushing while reading has already prompted a holds list, which is pretty unusual for a YA novel in my academic library. Here are just a few of the things I was gushing about:
  • Scarlett is so tough. She's deadly with a hatchet and harshly truthful and fiercely loyal and secretly proud of while being secretly self-hating because of her many battle scars. She feels overwhelmingly obligated to do the work that she does, and she's good at it. She's generally kick-ass.
  • Rose is so conflicted. She wants Scarlett to trust her to hunt alone, but she also wants Scarlett to need and protect her. She wants to remain half of a pair, but she also wants to break away into a different life. She's got wicked aim with throwing knives, and she holds Scarlett together when no one else can. She's generally kick-ass.
  • Silas is quite literally the boy next door. As such, he's managed to win the crushes of both Scarlett and Rose over the years. But he is first and foremost Scarlett's partner; they are a team and they act like one. He also manages to be first and foremost Rose's support. He pushes Scarlett to trust Rose on the hunt, and he pushes Rose to break away from hunting and live her own life. And he does all of this without being two-faced or playing one sister against the other. He totally gets that no matter how much Rose might swoon over him or how much Scarlett depends on him, he will never be able to compete with the relationship Scarlett and Rose have with each other. So he doesn't try.
  • The twist that Pearce puts on werewolf mythology is great. They're still totally evil people-eaters (unlike some other werewolves you may be familiar with), but they're not the werewolves of B-rated horror films (or Harry Potter) either. How she weaves the girl in the red riding hood into this mythology made me giddy. She's created a werewolf that is, a lot of the time, victim to his own senses and sensations. In showing how Scarlett and Rose manipulate these monsters, she completely immerses the readers in a rich fantasy: the one that Scarlett and Rose (with help from Silas) nightly create. 
  • None of this compares to the twist Pearce has put on the ending of her own story. I thought I had it figured out about halfway through the book, then I lost it, then I figured it out again, but by then things were so complicated that I didn't know how Scarlett, Rose, and Silas were going to pull it off.

Seriously guys, I loved this book. The opening hook worked like a charm, and by the end, I was reading with my heart in my throat. I was so invested in these characters. Pearce's second book, Sweetly, came out last month. I will not be skipping it.

Book source: bought it for and then checked it out from work!

* And, of course, i couldn't just get one book... They'll never let me out with the library credit card again.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

National Coming Out Day!

Happy National Coming Out Day Everyone!

I love NCOD, partly because of the traditions that surrounded it at Bryn Mawr. Every year, the Rainbow Alliance would get together (along with a bunch of honorary members who would show up just for NCOD) and put bat triangles*, triangles of construction paper with writing on them, all around campus. These triangles would have all sorts of things on them from "Being a lesbian doubles your wardrobe" to "Did you ever have to come out as straight?" Walking around campus on the morning of October 11 was always an eye-opening experience as we read the thoughts and feelings of our fellow classmates. Hopefully, one day we won't need a special day when it's "okay" to come out, but I also hope that we never stop listening to each others thoughts and feelings about the coming out process.

*Lots of things at Bryn Mawr are prefaced by "bat," bat triangles and bat robes (otherwise known as graduation regalia) being the most common.

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Darwen Arkwright

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. This week's book is:

Hartley, A.J. Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact. New York: Razorbill - Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

     Darwen stood up and turned. Behind him the forest continued, but -- suspended in midair, exactly at the height he had hung it on the back of the door -- was the empty mirror frame, and through it he could see the shelves and coat hangers in his bedroom closet. For a moment, all the strangeness fell away and a single word came to mind.
     "Cool," he said into the night.
When Darwen gets to Atlanta he's far from home with no friends, a business-minded aunt, and the specter of a stuffy prestigious private school looming over his head. A magical world only he can see on the other side of his closet mirror is just what he needs. Until things start going wrong there too. Darwen just has to save that other world, even it it means he also has to make some friends in Atlanta he can trust with his secret.

Darwen immediately falls in love with the world through his mirror (as did I). It's lush and quiet and exciting, and he almost immediately makes a new friend. In short, it's nothing like Atlanta, where the weather's hot but the tea is only lukewarm, which is nothing like the small town near Manchester that Darwen used to call home. As things start to go badly in Silbrica (mirror world) and Darwen and his new friends become more involved in finding a solution, the more we find out about Darwen's past and how he ended up in Georgia. He is so very sad and doesn't want to let anyone in. I thought that his issues were just going to be left unresolved once the action in Silbrica got going, but I was happily surprised to see that Silbrica and the "real world" were much more connected than I could have imagined in that and other respects.

Darwen briefly mentions that he has one Black parent and one white, something that, in the past, made him feel like he never belonged in either group. This is not, however, an issue for him at his new school in Atlanta (his newness and lack of familiarity with American football provide more than enough fodder for the bullies). In this prestigious school for which tuition must be paid in advance, class is a much bigger divider than race. In this respect, Darwen should be good -- his aunt is a successful businesswoman, after all -- but his blue-collar Manchester accent (as opposed to a posh one from London) gets in his way. On the other hand, Darwen's friend Alexandra is avoided by everyone because she is just so annoying (so so annoying), and yet approved of by Darwen's aunt (who also finds her exhausting) because of Alexandra's mother's success and refinement. His friend Rich, who is super smart, kind, and polite, is looked down upon by classmates and Darwen's aunt alike because of his family's "white trash" farming background. All three of them feel their outsider status acutely, which is part of why they end up becoming friends even though they have little in common.

All of these real life concerns pale, both in Darwen's mind and in the reading, in comparison to Mr. Peregrine and his mirror shop of gateways to Silbrica. Though the beauty and the magic of the place does not last long for Darwen, he sees enough of it to know that the world on the other side of the mirror is special, that it is a place worth saving, and that he is a part of it. The more horrible the situation gets there and the more horrible the creatures Darwen et. al. encounter, the stronger his determination to save it (and the stronger the intensity of the story) becomes.

This is a really fun, adventurous read. Though it is a bit darker, I think it fits well with other secret-world-in-the-wardrobe-type books, and it will be a good book for readers ready to graduate from those books but not yet ready for the content in older YA fantasies.

I'll leave you with one last quote to seal the deal:
     "... Well, this is excellent."
     "Excellent?" Darwen repeated. "I almost got killed!"
     "Almost is such a wonderful word, don't you think?" said the shopkeeper with a wink. "So full of wiggle room and loopholes, so not-absolutely-anything. Almost killed means still very much alive, which, I'm sure you will agree, makes all the difference. So, the only remaining question is, when are you going back?"

Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact comes out next week!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

All Good Children

Austen, Catherine. All Good Children. Custer, Wash.: Orca Book Publishers, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

We've gone too far treating children like they're precious when actually there are billions of them in the world and most of them are good for nothing.
Yikes, right?

In a future not far from our own, Max is struggling to maintain his independence while everyone under the age of 18 is turning into some kind of zombie. The scary, do-what-you're-told kind, not the fun, brain-eating kind. They're being changed in the hope is that this program, called NESTing, will make sure that no child is "good for nothing." They will all be good doing what they're told.

All Good Children is a great book. The world that Austen has created really is a whole lot like ours could be in, oh, 50 years (or less). The majority of the population is desperately poor and living in cars they cannot afford to fuel. The (what we now call) middle class minority works in some capacity with the booming elder care industry. Everyone has an RIG that connects them constantly to entertainment, work, communication, whatever (ie, it's what iPad aspires to be). A chemical spill has created a whole region's worth of people born with physical deformities...that compete on a reality TV show. The cities are dangerous places, and everyone has moved to gated communities (actual communities rather than housing developments) for their own safety. That they've given up a whole host of civil liberties in exchange for that safety bothers almost none of them. They even give up the right to know what vaccinations are being administered in their children's schools and why their children suddenly have no discernible personalities. It's cool though, because they're just so darn well-behaved.

Max is not well-behaved. He never has been, and if he has anything to do with it, he never will be. He, along with his best friend Dallas, struggle to maintain their own thoughts and personalities while pretending to be perfectly "good children." Their struggle was awful, but their friendship was great.

The fact that Max's mom is Black and his father was white is not a constant issue, but it is an important one. In their own community, it is a non-issue (or it's supposed to be), but outside is another story. Without the visual aid of their father, Max's mom is always eyed with suspicion while traveling with Max and his sister Ally.

This is a really plot-driven book, which makes it hard to review; I don't want to give too much away.

Though it is published by Orca, it is not technically a hi-lo (high interest, low reading level). It's appropriate in both areas of measurement for the 12 and up set. It is, however, about a couple high school seniors and could be used as reading material for the same. I think it will be great for reluctant readers and dystopian lovers alike.

All Good Children comes out in in hardback in October!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Texas Gothic

Clement-Moore, Rosemary. Texas Gothic. New York: Delacorte Press - Random House Children's Books, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

When Amy agreed to ranch-sit for her aunt, she envisioned a quiet, normal summer relaxing and feeding the goats. Unfortunately, her sister Phin, along with all of Phin's half-magic half-physics experiments, are also spending the summer at Aunt Hyacinth's ranch. And the goats climb trees. Amy has been balancing her normal self and her white magic family her whole life, so she's not going to let Phin and some misbehaved goats ruin her summer. The ghost that's taken a liking to her from the next ranch over, on the other hand...

There are two things that Clement-Moore does fantabulously: community and swoony guys. The ranch town in which Amy and Phin are spending their summer is great. It's not the setting, really, that's great; it's the people in it. They make this small town believable. There's the crazy grandad, the close-minded town folk, the local pothead, the nerdy college students, the local "royal" family, and the brooding son of those royals. We don't get to know all of these characters well; this is not a crowded book. And yet, these are not stock characters. Altogether, they are the town. They give the town a feel and a history. They make it a place. The town bar and the community picnics are just where they hang out.

And then there's the guy. Le sigh. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I have a weakness for rugged folk who wear cowboy hats unironically. But even if that's not your thing, this guy is sooo great. Ben McCulloch, literally the guy next door, is so swoony and angsty and responsible and gentlemanly. I fell for him, and hard, long before Amy figured out why Ben made her feel both frustrated and fluttery at the same time. Mark, one of those nerdy college students, isn't so bad either. His sweet and awkward flirting with Phin is so cute! The best part about both of them, though, is that they are both completely devoid of cheese. There is no heavy-handed romance talk or gazing into one another's eyes.

So the guys and the cast of characters are what made Texas Gothic great for me. Amy and Phin's relationship, the complicated ghost story, the small town rumors and legends, and the ranching drama were all added perks for me. These aspects of the story were just as strong as the ones I loved, and they might be what makes this a great book for you.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dark Parties

Grant, Sara. Dark Parties. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Neva looks a lot like her best friend Sanna who bears a striking similarity to Neva's boyfriend Ethan who has a passing resemblence to Sanna's boyfriend Braydon who you can tell is related to just about everyone else in Homeland. When everything is shared, including the gene pool, life can be suffocating. But in the dark, no on looks the same and the possibilities are almost endless.

Dark Parties is my favorite kind of dystopian novel. The society therein is totally recognizable, and life seems almost completely normal. Only the over-abundance of hand-me-downs and the community-wide family resemblance mark Homeland as different than real life. Until ... DUN Dun dun ... Neva figures out why her life is the way it is and decides to do something about it. This set-up almost never disappoints me, and Dark Parties was no exception. I really liked this book! But as nothing in Neva's world or ours is ever perfect, I had a few issues with this book.

The first is that part of the mystery of what's really going on hinges on Neva not knowing what IVF stands for. If you don't know what IVF stands for, ignore this concern and skip to my next one. It's only mentioned briefly, but in the context of the story, it gave a lot away (Spoiler?: society desperate for healthy babies + teenage girls being taken by the government = In Vitro Fertilization fueled baby factory, obvs). That said, I doubt this will be an issue for the majority of teens reading this book.

My second issue is with Neva's relationship with Braydon. Let me rephrase: Neva's romantic relationship with her best friend's boyfriend. Kissing your best friend's boyfriend in a pitch black room where you can't see anyone could be an honest mistake. Every make-out session behind your best friend's back after that, however, is Not Okay.* Neva and Braydon's affair lasted for jsut about the entire book, and though Neva felt guilty about the inevitability of Sanna's broken heart, she continued to be the one doing the breaking. It made me not like her a bit, and apparently I am one of those people who has a hard time in an unlikable main character.

These two issues aside, Dark Parties really was a great book. It has a great dystopian setting that still has a few secrets left to reveal. I hope Grant chooses to let us explore them!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher

*Is there a girl version of "bros before hos"? There should be.

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Comfort Reading

My apologies for the radio silence, folks.

I don't want this to be the place where I spill all my troubles, so I won't go into it, but things have been, for lack of a better word, difficult lately. I just haven't been able to make myself sit down and write any reviews. I've been doing what any good raised-by-baptists girl would do. I've been making comfort food. Nothing like mac'n cheese or mashed potatoes or mini chocolate nanner muffins to make bad times better. This baptist upbringing has also instilled in me the need to provide a comfort casserole or lasagna to anyone remotely in crisis.

My kitchen's been busy.

But I've also been reading. In recent weeks, I've read some great books (Dark Parties, Rotters, Texas Gothic), and I'm going to try to make myself sit down and talk about them with you all soon. What's really been taking up my time, though, is the Song of Ice and Fire series (many thanks to The Lost Entwife whose non-spoilery reviews pushed me over the edge into Must Read Now). I've not been able to put them down. Part of this is because these books are great and end with just enough left unresolved that I've just HAD to rush into the next 1000+ page installment. The bigger part, I think, is that books like A Game of Thrones et al. are my reading comfort food. The fantasy part is, unsurprisingly, just the kind of thing to make me feel better, but the combination of fantasy with a medieval or feudal setting just does something for me. I blame the books leftover from my father's Arthurian fantasy phase that littered my childhood. I have one more Ice and Fire book in my possession, and there is another that I can buy after that. But I don't feel the need to read them anymore. I just want to. Which means they worked.

I'll be back to my normal book-reviewing self soon, I hope, but in the meantime, what's your favorite comfort reading?

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Almost Perfect

Katcher, Brian. Almost Perfect. New York: Delacorte Press - Random House Children's Books, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2010)
ALA Quick Picks for Young Adult Readers (2010)ALA Rainbow List (Fiction, 2010)
ALA Stonewall Book Award (Children's and Young Adult Literature, 2010)

     She turned to me. "Hi," she said. "I'm Sage Hendricks."
     Sage had a deep but sexy, feminine voice, the kind you hear on ads for 900 numbers. I waited for her to say something else.
     "Dude," whispered Tim, jabbing me with a chocolaty finger. "Your line."
As soon as she walked through the classroom door, Logan became enamored with Sage. But love is seldom without complications, and Sage's hard-to-get act is hiding a doozy of one.

Almost Perfect, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thine characters in their complexity and their completeness,
From their talk of motorboating to their genuine concern for each other
They make me think of actual teenagers rather than teen-aged "types."
I love Tammi's fierce love for her sister, masquerading as aloofness:
Most quiet need to protect and hope at the same time.
I love Logan's mother, who has done her best in trying circumstances.
I love Logan's cool and supportive older sister (who tries to help him get laid).
Logan, I love thee. Insecurities and bravery and insecurities again
In situations never expected, and with grace unmatched by peers.
I love every characters' flaws; none is the pinnacle of righteousness or political correctness.
Sage, the object of Logan's affection and mine, shines as brightly as her braces.
She lives in the belief that the world can be better and love worth the risk;
And, if God choose, she is right.*

Seriously guys, this is an amazing book, and Brian Katcher is an amazing author.** That might explain why I've been waiting for my turn to read it from the library since it was announced as the winner of the Stonewall in January. It was more than worth the wait. Everyone has talked about the Big Issue that Almost Perfect addresses, but I have yet to see someone talk about how the issues (more than one, even) are in perfect balance with the flirting and the humor and the sexiness and the teenage-guy-ness of the book as a whole.

I loved it. You probably will too.

Book source: Philly Free Library (but I'm gonna go buy my own asap)

*  To Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I extend my greatest thanks for the inspiration. And my apologies.

** And also a practical genius! The standard has been set, folks, any author's note containing lists of websites that offer support to queer or genderqueer or drug addicted or suicidal or [insert thing you don't want your parents to know about here] kids should also contain detailed instructions for how to clear your cache history.

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Lost Art of Reading

Ulin, David L. The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time. Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Sometime in the last few years -- I don't remember when, exactly -- I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read. That's a problem if you read, as I do, for a living, but it's an even bigger problem if you read as a way of life.

"I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear," Joan Didion notes in her essay "Why I Write," and it's no understatement to suggest that this is what the dynamic between a writer and a reader offers from the other side as well. Or it was, at any rate, until the moment I became aware, in an apartment full of books, that I could no longer find within myself the quiet necessary to read.

The Lost Art of Reading, which is really a long essay more than a book, chronicles Ulin's realization that he can't find the quiet to read in our plugged in, always on world. With all of the tweets and blogs and google searches and links leading to links leading to more links all with music playing the background, it's an understandable dilemma. It's also not that original. What makes Ulin's account different is the way he draws a parallel between his own inability to concentrate enough to just read and his son's inability to do the same because of classroom mandated annotations. Granted, this is not the main focus of the book, though his son's Great Gatsby assignment is what starts Ulin evaluating his own reading problems. Still, it is what really hit home for me. Two of the five articles I've linked to above are about over-"wired" kids who are so plugged into technology that they can't focus. Everything is an exercise in multitasking. When we finally sit these kids down in front of a great book like The Great Gatsby, why do we make them stop reading on a regular basis? I know, I know, it's so we can force them to analyze all of the similes and metaphors and tone and allusions. And so the kids can prove that they did the reading assignment. But really, why don't we let them just read?

Anyway, I loved this little book. It's full of readerly quotes from plenty of authors. I made a conscious effort to sit and read it in a day (it's roughly 100 pages), just to prove that I could maintain the concentration that Ulin could not. I know; I'm petty. I had no trouble turning off the TV, not checking status updates or email. I wrote down book titles I wanted to look up later on my due date card. And really, it wasn't that hard. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I do most of my reading on the train to and from work when I don't have an internet connection. At home I generally watch TV and at work, when I'm not actually working, I'm still on the computer. It was nice to know that I still have it in me to sit and read an entire book in a day. It's been a while.

Since reading this book, I have noticed that whenever I sit down at the computer to write (and review) I have all of Ulin's multitask-y symptoms. I check my email, check facebook, read articles, read all of your blogs, all with a blogger window or word document untouched in my taskbar. I'll write a sentence, read an article, format the picture for a blog post, check my email. I can't sustain the concentration to write in the way that I did in school or even the way that I do when I read (I don't know how you authors do it!). Ulin says his need to unplug when reading is part of the reason he hasn't switched to an ereader. If he could surf the web in the same device that he uses to read a book, he'd be doomed! Sometimes I feel that way about writing and reviewing. When I was an undergrad, I almost always wrote papers, or at least the backbone of papers, longhand before sitting down at a computer to type them out. I used to do that for my reviews as well, back when I was posting 2-3 a week. Instead now, I have a backlog of books to review that'll last me at least the rest of the month, and I still only manage to post one a week. If only I knew now what I knew then. :)

So, maybe I'll try to unplug a bit more often and get back to writing while Ulin unplugs and gets back to reading. How about you? Is the information superhighway impeding on your intellectual pursuits?

Book source: checked it out from work

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Threads and Flames

Friesner, Esther. Threads and Flames. New York: Viking, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Before Raisa even takes her first steps in NYC, she has managed to acquire a younger "sister," and she's managed to lose the older sister with whom she was supposed to live. Through the kindness of strangers, serendipity, and not a little bit of trial and error, she manages to get a great job that allows her to both support Brina, her younger sister, and look for Henda, her older sister. She's lucky; the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory is one of the best places a girl can work in 1911.

I think the best thing about Threads and Flames is that Friesner provides oodles of information and context without ever making me feel that I'm reading a book about the plight of immigrants or factory girls and how the injustices they faced lead to the tragedy of the Triangle fire.* I was simply reading an engaging story about Raisa's new life in America, complete with a little bit of mystery, a little bit of (the cutest without being the least bit saccharine) romance, and a whole lot of my-gumption-is-both-my-greatest-flaw-and-my-greatest-strength. And yet I finished the book knowing a lot about how the ill-treatment of immigrants in general and factory girls in particular created the perfect storm of awfulness that caused so many deaths in the fire.

While the book is undoubtedly about the Triangle fire, Raisa doesn't even start working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory until at least halfway through the book, maybe more. Usually, this delay of the "point" of the story would drive me batty, but in this instance, I didn't mind the wait. Raisa is such a fun character; she's so headstrong and determined to do what is right for her sisters, both Henda and Brina. It never occurs to her that she shouldn't take responsibility for Brina, even though she can barely take care of herself. I was rooting for her before she even got to Ellis Island. Raisa's little romance with Gavrel is also handled beautifully. When you're reading about Raisa who is on her own and working more than full time to make enough money to cover room and board for two people, it's easy to forget how young she is. Her relationship with Gavrel, however, with all of Raisa's do I or don't I feelings, constantly reminded me that she's just in her early teens. Their romance had all the little flutters of any middle grade romance, but with the added seriousness of two people, no matter how young, who work full time and both immediately start working even more when they "get serious." That's why they're both in the factory on the Saturday when it catches fire.

The fire itself is gruesome. The rush for the elevators after finding all the doors locked, the description of girls jumping from the windows rather than dying the flames, the display of unclaimed bodies that Raisa must search for Gavrel afterwards. The broken families who either found bodies to claim or were left with nothing. It's all so harsh. We see it all through Raisa who is still so determined to do what's right, who finds another job right away, and who becomes the strength and stability that Brina and Gavrel's family need in the fire's aftermath. Watching her continue on was possibly just as, if not more, heartbreaking as the fire itself. Slightly spoilery (highlight away): When the ending was happier than I would have expected, it did not feel like a cop-out on Friesner's part. I was just happy Raisa got a little bit of what she deserved. 

There was recently a request on the yalsa-bk list-serv for fiction books that teach the reader something. I wish I had finished reading this book in time to suggest it! Threads and Flames is so informative, but it's still great fiction too. I highly recommend it!

Book source: Philly Free Library

* This book reminded me very much of Annette Laing's books in that way. I kept wanting to re-read A Different Day to see how Raisa's factory experience differed (or in a lot of ways didn't) from Hannah's experience 50 years earlier and across the pond.

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Billingsley, Franny. Chime. New York: Dial Books - Penguin Books (USA) Inc., 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged.

Now, if you please.
Briony's life consists of two main pursuits. She's spent her whole life trying to hide the fact that she's a witch. Better to keep her neck out of the noose. And since her stepmother died -- correction, since Briony killed her stepmother -- she's been taking care of her twin sister Rose. But lately Briony's been a bit conflicted. When Rose gets the swamp cough, a disease that is slowly killing off the town's children, Briony has a choice: she can let Rose die or she can deliver a message on behalf of the creatures of the swamp in return for Rose's health, revealing her witchy self in the process.

It's not as though she really has a choice.

Chime is an interesting twist on the current paranormal fare. It's set in an unspecified past when England is in a kind of transitional phase. The Old Ones are still around, but they're being pushed back into disappearing wild places, such as the swamp that is being drained behind Briony's home. Her little town with its busy pub across from the gallows and Briony, the beautiful daughter of the town preacher who's being pursued by a handsome but dumb local guy, were comfortably recognizable. The addition of Eldric, the handsome AND charming son of a family friend, made me think I knew what I was in for. In a good way.

But I was wrong. I had no idea what a treat I was in for when I met Briony. She's smart and sarcastic and employs just the right kind of self-depreciating-but-everyone-else-is-annoying-too humor. For example:
Cecil teased me to reveal my worldly knowledge, and I found amusing ways to sidestep his questions, and on we went with this for quite a while until it occurred to me that this is what is called flirting.
It's a tedious exercise.
Underneath her slick veneer, Briony has some real self-hate. She is both a witch and a preacher's kid, after all. Her self-loathing competes pretty heavily with her self-preservation instinct as Briony tries to figure out how to appease the Old Ones in her swamp to save Rose (who not only has done nothing wrong but whose problems Briony also places on her own shoulders) and save her own neck at the same time.

As if a great and fun yet complex main character/narrator weren't enough, there's Eldric who really is very charming and sweet and a worthy book crush. His interactions with Briony, especially their "fraternity," were really cute and fun, though their relationship was not without some very serious complications. Issues with Briony and Rose's father added real emotional depth to the story in ways that an emotionally and physically absent father is usually not able. And, of course, there's Rose. I prefer that you read about and fall in love with her for yourself. In short, Chime is just one good thing after another; I highly recommend it!

Book source: Philly Free Library

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Falling for Hamlet

Ray, Michelle. Falling for Hamlet. New York: Poppy - Hatchette Book Group, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Not too long ago in modern-day Denmark, there was a prince. He was handsome and smart and, of course, very charming. His girlfriend, a beautiful media darling, was the daughter of a palace adviser, and together they tried to live normal happy lives while their faces smiled out from grocery store magazine racks. Then the unthinkable happened. The king, the prince's father, died. And our sweet prince lost it, falling into grief and paranoia, and leaving his beautiful girlfriend to fend for herself among the wolves, both inside the palace and out.

Let me start by saying that you should not judge this book by its cover. Or by its opening lines:
"Frailty, thy name is woman." - William Shakespeare
"Willy, thy name is sexism." - Ophelia
Don't get me wrong, both have very much to do with the story (other than Hamlet's hair color on the cover), but they really make this look like a much lighter, funnier, beach read kind of book than it really is. I mean, really, how would one make an adaption of Hamlet light? Instead, this book is everything it should be; it's brooding and dark and, at times, intense. It's also narrated by a strong Ophelia who is understandably worried (and sometimes so tired/drunk she's a bit loopy - how else could one explain the flower scene) about her boyfriend's apparent loss of sanity but who also does her best to be supportive and helpful to those around her, especially her aforementioned boyfriend and her widower father, all while trying to keep her own life together in the midst of circumstances no high school senior should have to deal with. She is so at odds with both the classic and modern versions of how we usually see the character of Ophelia. I loved it.

The story stays pretty true to the original, with one major difference that is given away on the jacket flap: Ophelia survives. The motivations behind people's actions, however, are different. The "truth," what Ophelia is telling us the readers, is book-ended by Ophelia's tell-all appearance on fake-Danish-Oprah in the beginning of each chapter and her interrogation by the Danish police at the end. These three concurrent tellings of the same story, illustrate the fabrication of what we take for "fact" from the media and the reach of a government cover-up more explicitly than that paparazzi pic on the cover ever could. On faux-prah, Ophelia is sweet, in love, heart-broken, and kind of ditzy. She's the almost princess. While being interrogated, she is bitingly sarcastic, angry, and fiercely loyal to Horatio and Marcellus, the only other people to survive the bloodbath that is this story. She's accused of being the master-mind of a plot to overthrow the Danish monarchy. In between, she's just a girl doing her best to do what's right for herself and those she loves.

Really and truly, I loved this book. It sucked me into the story and kept me on the edge of my seat even though I knew, more or less, what was going to happen. The characters were well-rounded and real in ways that Shakespeare characters usually are not. I cried when the king died. Have you ever cared about Hamlet's dad enough to even care that he's dead? I haven't. And Hamlet himself made a bit more sense, not a lot, but a bit. Giving him a happy background with Ophelia, at least in flashbacks, made their whole relationship much more believable which made it all the more crushing when he becomes cruel. Michelle Ray has managed to take a story that I already knew well and liked, and she made it into something new and original that I love. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

Falling for Hamlet comes out July 5th!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dead Rules

Russell, Randy. Dead Rules. New York: HarperTeen - HarperCollins Publishers, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

It was the first time Jana had thought the words Dead School.
But that was it. She was dead. And she was in school. They should put the name over the door so you didn't have to guess when you first got here.
Worse than that, she's alone. Surrounded by other dead teens, sure, but she might as well be stranded alone in the desert without Michael. She's sure he feels the same way. And since she can't go back to him, he must already being trying to figure out a way to join her. And if he's not, well, she'll help him.

This book was pitched to me as a cross between Romeo and Juliet and Heathers. That was certainly enough for me, and I'm guessing it's going to be enough for a lot of you as well. If it's not, or if you're unfamiliar with the genius that is Heathers (or you're talking to a group of teens who've yet to see it), don't worry. Dead Rules is great, and familiarity with Heathers is certainly not necessary in order to understand this book. Some would say it is necessary for life in general, but I would never try to force my subversive loves on all of you (though the links above lead to some pretty great/convincing pics from the movie). ;)

Jana is absolutely heartbroken to be away from Michael in the afterlife. She is one of those girls who does not exist outside of her relationship. She even introduces herself as Jana, of Webster and Haynes (as in Jana Webster and Michael Haynes). I have to admit that I kind of hate those girls. In the beginning of this book, Jana was no exception. Luckily she pairs up with Mars Dreamcote (yes, it conveniently rhymes with dreamboat) pretty quickly. I don't know that I would have been able to stick it out through a whole book of her otherwise, and that would have been a shame. This book is more than just Jana and her longing for Michael. It's also about Jana's adjustment to the afterlife, Mars's lack of adjustment, Arva, Beatrice, Christie, Wyatt(!), the grays, and the virgins.

The social hierarchy of Dead School, like that of any high school, is complicated to outsiders, and I liked watching Jana figure out how to navigate and then ignore it. The sliders vs. risers was something that I wished was explained a little bit more, but it's clear that Jana (and we) find out everything that the students know about why most people end up in one of these two groups. Any more information would have made this a completely different book as it would have required more sleuthing and less Michael's-death planning. Getting all her information from other students definitely enhanced the story. As Jana gets to know her roommates, Mars's slider buddies, and other folks around campus, she also gets to hear their death stories, and I LOVED reading everyone's death stories. They very nicely ranged from the ridiculous to the very, very serious/tragic.

Overall, Dead Rules is a fun read! It's less romance-y than your average paranormal romance. In fact, it kind of pokes holes in the idea of blind devotion and teenage lurv that lasts for all eternity. That and the dark humor made it a great fit for me, and I think other readers who roll their eyes at flowery proclamations and super-serious feeelins will love it too (as will the average Heathers fan). Those looking for the story of a love that continues beyond the grave may not.

Dead Rules comes out today and is now available for purchase!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In which I do not fall off the face of the earth

but instead I get really busy.

So June's turning out to be a ridiculously busy month for me. I thought I could keep up and you all would be none the wiser. But let's be honest, I'm not that on top of things.

First there was the girlfriend's brother's wedding, which was lovely if not a little overly warm. There was also a party bus involved and I got to show off my mad dress bustling skills (on I-95 no less).

Then the girlfriend's other brother graduated from high school, which was also fun.

Then there was Linds' ordination, which was beautiful. It's also probably the only time in my life that I'll ever get to sign a legal document stating that someone has upstanding moral character.

Then we bought iPads at work (I know, life is hard sometimes), and as the emerging technologies librarian I've been running around like a crazy person to make them usable on our network, with office documents, etc.

Now I'm writing to you all from the back row of a conference session in Lancaster (wave to the Amish!) on my almost totally functional iPad! It doesn't let me use the compose function in blogger, though, so I can't do anything too fancy.

I'm giving myself until next week to recover, and then I'll be back with a review of Dead Rules, which is pretty great.

Happy June, folks. Who said summer was supposed to be relaxing?

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Twisted Thread

Bacon, Charlotte. The Twisted Thread. New York: Voice - Hyperion, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

When Madeline returns from her moning jog, she can tell something's wrong from across the green. Not only are her students awake at what they consider the unholy hour of 7am, but they're all on the lawn with police surrounding the dorm. Claire Harkness is dead. And that's not all.
"No, no, that's not possible. Sally, did Claire just have a baby?" Madeline said sharply, still holding the girl but lifting her chin so she could stare into the narrow face. "Where's the baby?" Madeline found that she was almost shaking Sally's bony shoulders. ...
     Sally shook her had and could not speak. "I don't know," she finally whispered. "He's gone..."

The Twisted Thread follows English teacher intern Madeline, art teacher Fred, detective Matt, and facilities handyman Jim as they each play their parts trying to unravel how the unthinkable has happened at the prestigious Armitage Academy. They start with Claire's death and the disappearance of her baby and work their way backwards through Claire's actions and motives to figure out what really happened. Following four different narrators was a bit challenging in the beginning, while I was still getting to know all of them. Though the point of view changes, the story never retraces its steps so that we see the same even through different eyes. Usually, I really appreciate that! This time, however, I do have to admit to some flipping back and forth trying to figure out why I was suddenly dumped into the head of someone I'd just met. Fred and Matt both interact with Madeline a lot, so the changing point of view, sometimes in the same scene (but different chapters!), seemed unneccesarily confusing in a few places, especially without the help of backing up the action a little bit so that the reader can get their bearings.

Of all our narrators, Madeline is the star of the show. She struggles with a lot of guilt because she didn't notice anything wrong (or preggers) with Claire, her student and resident in her dorm. She is also struggling to figure out what to do with her life. It is the emotional ringer of riding out the aftermath of Claire's death with the remaining students on campus that finally allows/makes her kind of grow up and make Real Life Decisions. The absence of any teen narrators in this high school boarding school book makes the adult hand-wringing a little more pronounced. It's not something that bothered me at all. It never veered into preachy or overly dramatic; it was all very believable. Still, I think it'll be a turn-off to some teen readers who may construe it as just more "kids these days" criticism. So while there is nothing in this book that would make me hesitate giving it to a high schooler to read, it's definitely not the book for a reader of primarily young adult literature who is looking for a good boarding school mystery.

That said, it is dead high school senior Claire, or at least her presence/memory, that brings depth to the stories in ways that I can't share without spoiling it for you. Just trust me when I say that the mystery goes far beyond how beautiful, intelligent, priviedged, and ultimately more complicated than anyone dared guess Claire Harkness died.

The Twisted Thread will be out and available for purchase June 14th!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

48 Hour Book Challenge!

It's here! I can't believe that I didn't remember this morning. That really doesn't bode well for my weekend.

Speaking of which, I pretty much know that I won't be able to cram in 12 hours of reading this weekend, especially since my morning commute happens too early to count (depressing in so many ways). Also, I have a (wonderful!) houseguest all weekend and a family wedding to go to tomorrow. But I'll be reading with you all in spirit!

If you haven't signed up yet, you should!

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Midnight Palace

Zafón, Carlos Ruiz. The Midnight Palace. Trans. Lucia Graves. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

On a dark night in 1916, a man ran through the streets of Calcutta in fear for his life. And in fear for the lives of the infant twins he carried. Sixteen years later, Ben meets Sheere, an intense girl exactly his age, and starts seeing ghost trains in the night. Together with a group of Ben's friends, they seek out the source of Ben's visions and their own history, which leads them back to a dark night in 1916...

If you are a fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's adult novels (which I am, go read Shadow of the Wind right now!), this may not be the book for you. It lacks some of the magic of his adult work. However, if you are the kind of reader who likes to see the evolution of a writer's work as he hones his skill (guilty again), this is most definitely the book for you. Written before his adult works but translated into English later, The Midnight Palace shows the beginning of CRZ's talent for layering stories, juggling a large cast of characters (though none are very well rounded in this one), and placing the unbelievable in the middle of a believable  place and time. Unfortunately, his ability to turn a place into a character in its own right is not on display here, which is a shame because Calcutta would have been a good one. Here, it is incidental rather than integral to the story. If you're not already a fan or CRZ, really, go read Shadow of the Wind. Also, the rest of this review is for you.

The Midnight Palace is not the kind of book I usually read. It's an action/horror/paranormal-type hybrid that leans toward the scary/creepy end of things, and it is not at all character-driven. No one really grows or changes because of what happens. It has both a prologue (not my fave) and a where-are-they-now epilogue (one of my pet peeves). And yet, I really enjoyed reading it. While I was reading, I was scared and jumpy right along with the rest of Ben's gang. I was concerned for everyone's safety because they were so concerned for each other. I was nodding along with Sheere when she longed to be part of a group like theirs. It looked like fun (until it looked like a house of horrors), and I wish CRZ had let me, the reader, a bit more into the group. I never felt like I got to know any of the characters, Ben and Sheere included. Frankly, almost as soon as I finished reading, they were gone from my mind. What they went through and what they did, though, that stayed with me.

Looking back, there were holes and a few things that could have used an explanation, but I didn't notice at the time. I was too caught up in the bowels of a burnt-out train station with the rest of the gang. There was plenty going on to keep my attention. In addition to the ghost train there is a pool of blood that never dries, a grandma who operates strictly on a need-to-know basis and fails to realize that Ben and Sheere Need to Know it all, court records in vast archives, an architect's dream house, and a guy whose hand burst into flame on a disturbingly regular basis. The action is quick, the consequences are severe, and the reasons behind it all are shrouded in mystery.

In short this is a quick, fun read. It's certainly not light and fluffy summer reading, but it's the dark and stormy night equivalent.

The Midnight Palace is out and available for purchase now!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.
Series note: Goodreads has this book listed as the second in a series with Prince of the Mist as the first. However, nothing in the book indicated that this is not a stand-alone novel.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie

Stiefvater, Maggie. Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie. Woodbury, Minn.: Flux - Llewellyn Publications, 2009. Print. A Gathering of Faerie 2.
[Book cover credit:]

This review contains no spoilers for Lament, and the book really doesn't either. And yet, this isn't quite a stand-alone book. There are a few things, especially in the stressful climax of the action, that will be a bit confusing if you don't at least have a vague idea of the first book.

When people said "musician," they never seemed to mean "bagpiper." If I heard the phrase "folk musician" one more time, I was going to hit someone.
James and Dee, both fully recovered from their summer shenanigans (at least physically), have been recruited by a prestigious music school, miles away from the faeries they're hoping to leave behind. It should be a wonderfully enjoyable, life-changing experience, right? Except it's not. They're both still reeling from the love-proclamation-that-never-was, and neither of them plays the "right" kind of music for their prestigious school. And the faeries have followed them.

You'd think two people as experienced in the practical consequences of faerie lore as James and Dee would have known they'd be surrounded by faeries at a school named Thornking Ash.

I love James. In fact, I capital "L" Love him. He's funny and snarky and smart and oh-so-flawed. He's also hopelessly stuck in the friend-zone, and the story he tells from way over there is both hilarious and tragic. That's right. This book is all about James. Even the parts of the story that are told from other points of view are all about James. It's great. He deserves it.

Ballad contains some serious faerie shizz. There's a wack-job wielding an iron crowbar, mysterious singing accompanied by a guy with horns growing out of his head (possibly king of something ;) ), teachers who wear iron jewelry, and the return of Eleanor, Lament's faerie queen, but what this book is really about is how James finally figures out that girls like him. At the opening of this book, his heart is continuing to break over Dee. Still, he finally allows himself to revel in the attention of another woman (and though it gets steamy in a few places, it's totally an intellectual romance). He also finally gets to have some guy friends, even if his closest buds consist of Paul, his oboe playing roommate, and Sullivan, his English teacher/dorm parent. Even at Thornking Ash and without Dee (who contributes with text messages never sent between chapters), James figures out how to be happy.

And this is a Stiefvater book. As you can see, this woman knows how to put words on a page. Her characters are all fully-fleshed people, many of whom I would die to eat Chinese take-out with on a Saturday night. They're funny and smart and a little nerdy. This would be a great book for John Green fans who want to ease into fantasy, or vice-versa.

So far, there's no word of another book in this series, but I still want to throw this out there: Stiefvater, if you're listening, the world could use more James.

Book source: Philly Free Library
Book 1: Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spinning Out

Stahler, David. Spinning Out. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Gilliam High's annual musical is kind of a big deal. The kind that's looked forward to by the whole town. That's why Frenchy thinks Stewart has got to be joking when he suggests they audition. The audition will be marginally fun, wholly embarrassing, and the biggest jewel in their pranking crown. Or so Frenchy thinks. It turns out, flubbing the audition for laughs is not part of Stewart's plan. That's how Frenchy and Stewart snag the leads in "Man of La Mancha," as Sancho and Don Quixote respectively. For Frenchy, it's all a little surreal. When Stewart starts immersing himself in the role just a little too much, things really start to get weird.

Frenchy's had a hell of a year, and now he just wants to coast through his senior year. But Stewart wants to get involved and, as his best friend, Frenchy backs him up. Their relationship, mirrored in the master-servant/leader-follower relationship of Sancho and the Don, is the driving force of this book. And it's a serious and challenging relationship. Still, Spinning Out is mostly hilarious. It's not laugh-out-loud funny; it's more subtle than that. If this book were literary fiction instead of YA, it would be called "intelligent humor." The banter between Frenchy and Stewart is always snarky, and when you throw Ralph, their pot dealer/Frenchy's mom's boyfriend, into the mix, it's gets a little out of control. In a good way. That's why, when Stewart starts to act a, Frenchy doesn't think too much of it.

Stewart falls further and further into the role of Don Quixote; it's great for the play, but hard on Frenchy. It's also hard on his budding relationship with stage manager Kaela (who is awesome-sauce). So he steps away, just a little bit. Finally able to claim a little bit of his own limelight in the role of Sancho, Frenchy separates himself just the tiniest bit from Stewart. They're still best friends (and just like Norah, Frenchy is a Great Friend), they're just no longer practically surgically attached.

During all of this changing and growing and relationship stuff, there is still a show to put on! Long rehearsals, music practices, hot chicks with power tools building sets, it's all there. Theater geeks and show choir enthusiasts (and fans of books like My Invented Life) will love this aspect. All readers will be treated to a meaty story in the meantime.

Spinning Out will be available for purchase May 25th!

Supers, Super Spoiler only for people who want to know the "issue," or what's really going on, or the ending: (highlight to read)
Stewart has undiagnosed schizophrenia. During his descent into the disease, he clings to Don Quixote, convinced that the Don is the real him. The fact that Stewart is obsessed with/plagued by the wind turbines on the edge of town helps push him over the edge. Now, I'm not an expert in mental illness, but I thought the schizophrenia was handled very well. Though the school bullies call Stewart crazy, Frenchy never does. The whole thing is handled with respect. It's also really scary, and Stahler doesn't shy away from that fear, Stewart's or Frenchy's. I also thought that the reactions of the adults in Stewart's life were, sadly, probably pretty realistic. Stahler doesn't shy away from the consequences of those reactions either. Still, at no point did this feel like an "issue book." It was not preachy and there was no info dump. All the necessary information was worked seamlessly into the story. This is a great book for readers interested in mental illness in general and schizophrenia in particular.

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Boy from Ilysies

North, Pearl. The Boy from Ilysies. New York: Tor Teen, 2010. Print. Libyrinth 2.
[Book cover credit:]

Both Libyrinth and The Boy from Ilysies could be read as stand-alone books, in my opinion. There is nothing mind-blowing in this second book that will ruin the first for you, but if you're planning on reading Libyrinth (and I suggest that you do), you should probably skip this review.

Culturally, the Libyrinth is a utopia. Libyrarians and Singers, Ilysians and Ayorites all get along and work together. But they're still starving, and there are still growing pains. Po, the only Ilysian male, is feeling the latter acutely. He misses the green, fertile land of his youth, but more than that he misses living in a society where he knows what is expected of him.

I guess when I read Libyrinth I missed something key about Ilysies. I knew it was a matriarchal society, but I failed to notice that men are greatly outnumbered and treated as second class citizens. Things like that happen, I guess, when you're worrying about the torture of one protag and the budding romance between the other two. It is this second class status that has Po all mixed up in The Boy from Ilysies. Not only is he having problems thinking of Princess, I mean, Libyrarian Selene as just one of the girls and no more than anyone else, but he's also having trouble seeing himself as no less than. He's used to serving women like Selene, not working alongside them, and he's used to being emotionally taken care of, in return, by a matriarchal figure. All of this equality has left him feeling very alone and unsupported.

Much of the book is spent on this dilemma. It's interesting and important and turns gender stereotypes on their heads, but it wasn't what I was looking for in a sequel to the action-packed, literature-rich, POC and LGBTQ-featuring Libyrinth. I wanted more action than intrigue, more of Clauda's brashness and less of Po's confusion, more of the books' wisdom and less erections as feelings, more of the look-how-I've-grown Selene and less of the back-to-the-beginning Selene, more Nod(s), more Haly, and for the love, more Clauda AND Selene. When Po finally left on a quest, along with former Censor Siblea, Selene*, and a few others, I was so happy. I just wish that moment had come before I was halfway through the book.

But that second half of the book was totally worth it for me. The above group sets out for the former Singer headquarters to look for a tool from the legends of every major cultures' folklore that will hopefully make the land around the libyrinth fertile enough to support the community living there. Of course, when they get there, things do not go as planned, but in the course of the search and the fighting, we find out more about the foundations of the Singers' society. Their (former) reasoning behind the fear and demonization of the written word isn't exactly spelled out, but it makes a lot more sense now. Their still present culture of abuse and neglect of women also butts up against Po's sensibilities in a way that makes him take action rather than wallow in confusion and self-pity. The trip is also filled with danger, suspense, a cute but damaged girl for Po, and a cliff-hanger of an ending. I'm re-sucked in to this trilogy (or series?) an eagerly awaiting the as yet untitled Book 3. 

Book source: Philly Free Library

*without Clauda! Have they really never gotten together? Were they together and have since broken up? Are they together but trying to keep things hush-hush? WHO KNOWS? We get to hear (a tiny bit) about Haly and her boyfriend from the first book. Why no follow-up on Clauda and Selene's relationship, North?

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Under the Green Hill - for Tween Tuesday

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. This week's book is:

Sullivan, Laura. Under the Green Hill. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

     "It's like in The Lion, the Witch and the Whachamacallit," Silly said, opening the door.
     "Wardrobe," Meg said.
     "Yup, that's it. Look, it's full of furs, too, just like the one in the book. I wonder if there's a passageway to a secret world."
     "We have enough to do here with the fairies without finding another world full of trouble," Meg said testily.
When a dangerous fever breaks out in the States, the Morgan children: Rowan, Meg, Silly, and James, are sent to England to stay with relatives for the summer. And haughty Finn and allergy-stricken Dickie are going with them. As they head to the Rookery, their great-aunt and -uncle's house, the Morgan children expect to spend a long summer in the company of tiresome elderly people. Finn's more concerned about the lack of electricity and Dickie's worried about all the pollen in those famous English gardens. Needless to say, none of them are excited. But when they get to the Rookery, they find a house of busy people getting ready for a midnight festival and themselves packed off to bed, forbidden to leave the grounds. Nothing is more exiting than that which is forbidden, so the Morgans, Finn, and Dickie sneak out to join the festivities, and what they find will change the course of the summer and possibly their lives.

As you may have guessed from this blog's title and header, I'm a bit partial to kids in unfamiliar old houses who stumble upon magical worlds. Extra points if that old house is in the English countryside. Extra, extra points if the kids get caught up in an epic war requiring brave heroics. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would love Under the Green Hill.

I want to be so very grown-up and objective and say that what I found so attractive in this book was its own sense of place in and reverence to the tradition of books about kids in unfamiliar old houses, so on and so forth. Or that I loved the allusions to other fairy/faerie stories that I caught but will probably fly over the heads of young readers. Or that I was excited about a middle grade book featuring a position of power passed down through the maternal line, with almost inconsequential (but loved!) husbands marrying into the family to help produce the all important female heir and spare. Or even that I was enchanted by Sullivan's use of language. For example:
Dickie could tell it was extraordinary just from the smell. An odor of knowledge permeated the air, ghosts of arcane secrets wafted about by the breeze the children made when they opened the door. Here were books more rare than any first editions. ... The air seemed stale, as though no one had visited that room in decades. But, oddly, though there was dust on all visible surfaces, the library didn't make Dickie sneeze. Books have their own peculiar kind of dustiness, which didn't catch in his nose the same way cat's hair or thistle pollen might.
I could say all of that, and it would all be true (especially that last one). But what really made me fall in love with Under the Green Hill was the story, pure and simple. I'm a sucker for a good fantasy adventure, and this one is full of that goodness: a beautiful setting that is recognizable but still full of fantastical elements, betrayal, swamp monsters, life and death stakes, war-training, a wise benefactress who one can only hope will make everything okay, an enemy that isn't so evil that anyone really wants to kill him, a sensible sister who tries to be the voice of reason, and a brother hell-bent on grand acts of heroism. Plus an added bonus (that I'm also a sucker for): a selkie!

So Finn, Dickie, and even youngest brother James are a bit underdeveloped. That's okay; they each serve their purpose in the story, hindering or helping the rest of the Morgans along. There's also a little ambiguity in the beginning about when this story is set. It feels like it should be set in the past, between World Wars perhaps, what with the incurable fever ravaging America's children and names like Finn, Rowan and Dickie, but Finn despairs about the DVDs and video games he brought with him to England but can't use since the Rookery has no electricity. It's also possible that I projected a former time on a book whose time period should be last week. Regardless, time period ceased to matter once all the children reached the Rookery and the real story started.

In case you missed it the first two times I said it, I loved this book and I think you all should read it! More professionally, I think other fantasy adventure readers are sure to enjoy it, and it will be an immediate hit with readers looking for something to read once they've run out of Narnia books.

Under the Green Hill is available now, and its sequel Guardian of the Green Hill will be available this fall!

Book source: Review copy provided by the publisher.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Open Wounds

Lunievicz, Joseph. Open Wounds. Lodi, NJ: Westside Books, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

"The bells of hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me"

I met my cousin on the street. Sister Bernadette closed the front door behind me, her parting words echoing in my ears. "Mr. Leftingsham is your guardian by law of the state and by law of the Lord, Cedric. You are ours no longer. May the Lord be with you."
Cid has always been the kid nobody wants. His mother died when he was born, leaving him with a father who could never forgive him for his fatal birth and a grandmother who could never forgive him for his Jewish mother. When he inevitably gets left at an orphanage, he thinks he'll be there forever. A man like Lefty, a cousin he never knew existed, is the last person he'd expect to claim him.

Cid's already lived a rough life by the time Lefty takes him from the orphanage. He's spent most of his childhood as his father and grandmother's punching bag, watched most of his neighbors be evicted from their homes, watched his grandmother kill herself to avoid the same, been taken in to a loving home and then left behind. And that's all before he really even hits teenage-hood (and before we hit the 100 page mark). But that's not to say that it's all bad. Cid has two great best friends, Siggy and Tomik, and he goes to the movies, "church," with his grandmother every Saturday. And out of that comes Cid's dream of becoming a fencer.

The bright and the horrible are wonderfully balanced in these opening pages. You never quite forget one while you're reading about the other. And they set things up perfectly for Lefty's grand entrance. The Great War left him horribly disfigured, crippled, and cranky, but life with him gives Cid opportunities he never would have had otherwise. Together they form a little family (aawww - but not that obvious. Lefty and Cid are both way too tough for all that), but more importantly, Lefty sets Cid up with daily fencing lessons with the crazy, drunk  Russian on the roof. Once Nikolai gets involved, Open Wounds quickly becomes a sports book. There's training and fighting and sore muscles and exhausted bodies. But there's also stage-fighting with a Shakespeare company, a cute girl, a reunion with Siggy and Tomik, and the reappearance of their childhood bullies. Again, the beautiful balance. There wasn't so much plot that the fencing stopped being important, but at the same time, I never felt lost in a book centered around the practice of a sport I've only seen in movies.

Now, I don't read a lot of fencing books (though I'm considerably more interested in them now), but I do read a lot of ballet books. I always try to comment on the accuracy of the dancing or the attitudes towards it. I can't do that here, but Richie can (sorry, his site doesn't do direct links). If he says Open Wounds is good, you can bet that it is and that the swordplay therein is up to par (and he does). This will be a hit with readers who are looking for sports books, but historical fiction and hard-knock-life fans will love it as well.

Open Wounds comes out May 25!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.

*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Instruments of Darkness

Robertson, Imogen. Instruments of Darkness: A Novel. New York: Pamela Dorman Books - Viking, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

This book opens with a body and a murder. In that order.

When Harriet Westerman finds a body on her property in the country, she rudely wakes up Crowther at some ungodly hour of the morning to help her investigate. News has spread that Crowther conducts research on human remains; he's convinced that the way a person lives and dies leaves marks on their body. In addition to the gash across its throat, this body has a ring bearing the crest of Harriet's neighbor in its vest pocket.

Meanwhile in London, Susan hears her father lamenting the loss of a ring that Jonathon, Susan's younger brother, liked to play with. The ring falls from her mind when she and Jonathon are witnesses to their father's murder in his music shop. Before dying, their father tells Susan to find a very important box hidden in the shop and asks Mr. Graves, a young family friend with hardly the means to support himself, to care for the children.

Instruments of Darkness is full missing heirs, hidden wills, unhinged trophy wives, absent husbands, headstrong women, shamed men, and more bodies to go with more murders. It's a fun and engrossing historical mystery that really has no dull moments. Even scenes away from the "action" had something to entertain: comedy in one story, grief and uncertainty in the other, drama and intrigue in both.

Ms. Robertson makes good use of the Georgian period in which she places her cast, using the Gordon riots heavily in one storyline and making the real John Hunter a connecting point between the two. For the most part, characters speak in that generic historical fiction kind of way that is unique to no period but "the past." This is good since real Georgian English would be a bit hard to follow, but I was a bit disappointed that there were a few phrases that stood out a modern. They weren't enough to pull me out of the story for long, but they stood out enough that I remember them. Additionally, though I loved Harriet, some of her boldness and forwardness seemed a bit too progressive for the time in which she lived. I don't know that I would have noticed, but put beside Susan, Miss Chase, and Harriet's own sister, Harriet is definitely a bit fiery.

Though this is an adult book, there is nothing in Instruments of Darkness to make it inappropriate for teen readers, though it is a bit light on the romance and heavy on the murder/mystery compared to comparable YA titles. Still, it is sure to be enjoyed by historical fiction and mystery readers and adored by those who revel in the combination of the two.

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through the goodreads first reads program.

Links to may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.