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.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guardian of the Dead

Healey, Karen. Guardian of the Dead. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults (2011)
William C. Morris YA Debut Finalist (2011)

Ellie can't seem to get control of her life lately. She's let her best friend Kevin "convince" her to drink on school nights and even to let him sleep in her room. She's made a fool of herself in front of the guy of her dreams, Mark (did she somehow mistake her secret fantasy that he actually wanted to interact with her for real life?). She's even starting to get along with Iris, Kevin's other best friend. And, as if that wasn't bad enough, she has a nagging feeling that the Eyelasher killings that have been terrorizing the North Island have something to do with her. This feeling goes way beyond the connection that everyone who's lived on the North Island feels to the murders, and that feeling might have something to do with Mark. Unless that's just her fantasy life invading reality again.

There is a lot to love about Guardian of the Dead. Here's the shortlist:
  • a smart, kind of nerdy heroine
  • the freedom/restrictions of boarding school
  • use and explanation of Maori myth (by a white author who has the balls to point out in the text the colonial nature, possible inaccuracies, and just plain wrongness of Maori myth written down by white people)
  • high school use of a university library, because serious shizz calls for serious research
  • patupaiarehe (fairy-type creatures), one of whom is Titiana in Iris's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream -- because I'm not the only one who likes art to imitate life
  • casual treatment of varying sexualities*
  • a hottie who is half-Maori, half-...well, something else
and I could go on. But do you want to know what I loved the absolute most about this book? The ending. I won't go into detail (or talk about the "action" ending) because I don't want to ruin it for you (cause oh-my-gosh is it cool), but I can still tell you why I love this ending.

Things go crazy, Ellie falls in lurv which may become love in the future, and Ellie and love-interest have to save the world. It's life-changing, obviously, but Ellie doesn't let it derail her life completely. She doesn't possibly blow off her art school application or get married right out of high school or ditch her best friend in the face of tru lurv and harsh circumstances or even, and this is the big one, drop out of school in order to save the world which apparently cuts off the possibility of being a brilliant academic and instead becomes a mostly silent side-character.**

Instead, Ellie keeps going, gets excited about going to college and majoring in Classics, and tells love-interest that she'll visit him when she's on break. She simply takes all that she's learned from these life-changing events with her, because that's what smart girls do.

So, if you want to read an urban fantasy (a little light on the urban grit) or paranormal romance (a little light on the romance) that's headed by a smart girl, this is your book. It's also your book if you want to read the Maori Percy Jackson equivalent, a good boarding school romp, a murder mystery, a different kind of fairy book...

Book source: Philly Free Library

*How often do you see YA books with a teen character who is asexual? Not often. I'm not going to lie and say it's not a big deal at any point, but it is not THE big deal. And it is not a problem ever, except to the people crushing on the character. :)

**Was this anyone else's take-away message from Hermione's whole 1 or 2 lines in that horrible epilogue?!? I know Ginnie's important and everything, especially cause she's the mother of Harry's children, but why does she get all the speaking parts? Since when does Hermione let everyone around her do all the talking?

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Lost Saint

Depain, Bree. The Lost Saint. New York: Egmont USA, 2011. Print. A Dark Divine Novel 2.
[Book cover credit:]

Not only will this not make much sense if you haven't read The Dark Divine, but it will spoil the crap out of the last chapter for you. You've been warned!

     "Oh. My. Gosh." April shouted so loud I slammed on the breaks, thinking we were about to hit a dog or something. But April bounced in her seat with the craziest smile on her face, like she'd just thought of the best idea since nail polish. "...I have to ask: if you're gonna be a superhero, can I be your sidekick?"
Now that Grace is the one with superhuman abilities, Daniel is trying (mostly in vain) to get her to keep her powers and emotions in check so that the wolf doesn't take control. But calm and controlled is not what Grace wants. She wants to be out fighting the evils of the world, rescuing damsels in distress, thwarting demons and saving Jude. And if she has to embrace the power the wolf gives her in order to do that, she will. The fact that the hot new guy in town is willing to train her in ways that Daniel is not has nothing to do with it. Right?

I'm going to start out by saying that, while I loved the first book, I was not DYING to read The Lost Saint. I was interested, looking forward to it, and knew I would love it, but the first book did not leave me with that unquenchable need (as a result of a too-late-in-the-story twist or cliff-hanger) to pick up the next book in the series. I knew that nothing horrible would happen to Grace, Daniel, or even Jude before I met them again.

Well, I'm clawing my eyes out now waiting for the still untitled third book in the series. I tore through the last chapter and was half a paragraph into the acknowledgements before it hit me: I have to wait until December to find out what happens next. Oh, the agony!

Where The Dark Divine had mystery and the unknown (and one of my favorite romances in the paranormal genre) to move it forward, this has an overall feeling of doom and dread to push the story along (and a rift in my favorite romance). Despain does not fall into the paranormal trap of making either Grace (the girl) or Daniel (the love interest of the paranormal) helpless or unable to read the hints right in front of them, but there were still plenty of moments where I just knew that Grace was Going the Wrong Way, and just like while watching a horror movie, I could do nothing but yell at her through the pages and watch her go. Her little tiffs with Daniel that turned into petty I'm-not-speaking-to-you problems that turned into secrets kept were believable and painful. They also made her vulnerable, and that vulnerability made her trust people she shouldn't have. And that, of course, gets everyone in trouble.

The upside to all of this is the return of April. And, well, she's just awesome. From her superhero aspirations to her wink-wink-nudge-nudge secret keeping to her inability to not see the upside of everything Grace is going through, she made this book for me. This is what I absolutely love about Despain's writing and why I will keep reading anything she puts out. There is so much about these books and others like them that is serious and stressful (in a good way), but she so far she has managed to put in something to balance it, and it is not a serious and dramatic love story where no one smiles but instead gazes. In the first book, it was the happy flashbacks to Grace and Daniel's childhood together and the fluttery first love between them. In this book, it is April's excitability and the rekindling of Grace's friendship with her. These additions help to pace the story and help to create well-rounded characters (did I mention that April is designing Grace a superhero outfit as part of her art school application?). The world does not fall away in the face of the Despain's werewolves; they exist in it.

And I can't wait to see what they do next!!!

Book source: Philly Free Library

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Happy National Library Week!

Is your library doing anything exciting to celebrate?

My public library definitely is, and we're even hosting a few events here at work (which hopefully won't be thwarted by pre-Easter, end of the year assignments).

Even if your library isn't having or is unable to have any special NLW programming this week, there are other ways to celebrate such as by writing a twaiku or by sharing the YA love with complete strangers (I know that many of you do this a lot of the time anyway, but click through for the readergirlz annual Teen Book Drop info and bookplate).

However you choose to celebrate, this is a great week to do something bookish!

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, April 4, 2011

Scribbling Women - for Nonfiction Monday

This week's Nonfiction Monday round-up will be at L.L.Owens!

Jocelyn, Marthe. "Scribbling Women": True Tales from Astonishing Lives. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

In this slim volume, Jocelyn looks at the writing of 11 women throughout history and around the world. Some of them were famous in their own times and have names that are still recognizable today. Some of them meant for their writing to be read by thousands, some meant for it to be read by only a few. They differ in nationality, economic status, opportunity and experience. What they do have in common is the need and the will to write down the incredible stories of their lives.

Starting with Sei Shonagon in Heian Japan and working her way chronologically to Doris Pilkington Garimara in modern day Australia,* Jocelyn manages to look at the writing of a wide variety of women. She admits in her introduction that she was limited to work written in or translated into English, which explains the predominance of North American and British women in these pages. Still, this is not a book filled with the polite letters of Victorian ladies.

Of the eleven women in these pages, five are women of color and five (not the same five) spend a better part of their lives as decidedly lower class. Their stories really do cover a broad spectrum of the female experience; no two are alike. Whether you are looking for action or introspection, gumption or the strong will to make do, there is woman represented here for you. Following closely on the heals of the rather offensive to our modern sensibilities writing of a barely pre-Victorian wife of a wealthy captain (Mary Hayden Russell), we are treated to the writing of a slave who remained hidden in her mother's attic for years (Harriet Ann Jacobs). Daisy Ashford, the eight year old author of the still in print The Young Visiters, is followed by Ada Blackjack, the sole survivor of an expedition to the Arctic. A surgeon during the Vietnam War (Dang Thuy Tram), an undercover reporter (Nellie Bly) and one of the first female felons to be shipped to Australia (Margaret Catchpole) are also represented here.

My only problem with this book was that I wanted to know more about each of the women. In some cases, there is just not that much more that is known. In others, I'm going to have to go looking for information about these women or others like them on my own. There is a bibliography in the back of the book, but it's arranged in alphabetical order (like bibliographies should be) rather than organized by subject or chapter, and it's pretty long. I would have much preferred short biblios at the end of each chapter even if it would have broken up the narrative a bit. Also, though this book has the subject heading of "biography," the information contained in Scribbling Women is based almost entirely on the writing of the women themselves. I love this, but it will make this book a hard sell for report writers as some common details are often not included (birth and death dates, however, are present). Still, this is an interesting book about an interesting mix of women that nonfiction readers and budding young writers will enjoy.

Scribbling Women came out last week!

Book source: Review copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

*Upon whose book (about the life of her mother) the movie Rabbit Proof Fence is based. This movie is heart-breaking and horrible at the same time that it is inspiring. I highly recommend it!

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