What a scary little thing. This is shaping up to be quite the year for children's horror. Look out R.L. Stine! The Thickety begins with terror, and it...moreWhat a scary little thing. This is shaping up to be quite the year for children's horror. Look out R.L. Stine! The Thickety begins with terror, and it ends in the same manner. Persecution, death, isolation and fear line the pages of this book. Think of The Thickety as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, but in this story, witches are real, people are needlessly killed and the future of the protagonist remains uncertain at the conclusion. I would say the story was almost perfect, but something about how the premise drew so heavily on the Salem Witch Trials made it feel a little derivative. Otherwise this book gets top marks for its levels of mystery, suspense and horror.
Kara's family has been shunned by her village since the death of her mother seven years ago. Kara's mother was executed for being a witch, and Kara nearly meets the same fate, but something strange happens during the test to determine this, and she is exempted from death. Then one day Kara finds herself in the Thickety, the forbidden forest at the edge of the village. Filled with danger and magic, Kara barely escapes, and she returns with a book that once belonged to her mother. This is where the story begins.
Despite its disturbing premise, I think this book is probably for 4th grade and up. We give Harry Potter to children even younger than this, but because it is so beloved we often forget that story begins with death, and all of the themes I mentioned above are found throughout the series, and they grow more and more intense in scope as the series progresses. It's hard to find age-appropriate horror, and I think this fills that void. I never read stuff like this as a kid. It was way too scary for me, and I rarely seek out the horror genre as an adult. But, for kids who delight in being scared (with a side of moral dilemma), this is a treat.(less)
This was an entertaining though rather predictable adventure story about a man charged with finding a corpse bride for his dead brother. An ancient cu...moreThis was an entertaining though rather predictable adventure story about a man charged with finding a corpse bride for his dead brother. An ancient custom in China that is still practiced by some people, when a single man dies, the man's family ensures he has a wife buried with him so they can be together in the afterlife. Sometimes this practice merely entails grave robbing or morgue robbing, but sometimes murder is involved.
Deshi must do this for his brother after the brother is killed in an accident while the two of them were arguing. Deshi initially hopes to simply rob a grave, but when the corpse provided for him by a shady character is shown to be well into the decomposition stage, Deshi decides this isn't going to be as easy as he thought.
Meanwhile, Lily Chen is facing marriage to a nasty landlord, who plans to evict her family from their home if she doesn't agree to marry him. Lily wants to escape to the city and start a new life. Deshi crosses paths with her, and they become reluctant companions. Several times throughout the story, Deshi considers killing her, but various circumstances prevent him from completing the task.
This book was delightfully morbid without getting too gross or unsavory and had a lot of black humor to go with it. However, the plot was fairly transparent, and the story lacked depth. I suppose that's a pretty common thing with pulp fiction and gothic novels, which rely heavily on the grim and outlandish and less on character development and realism. I'm not sure I'll read any more by this author, but it was entertaining enough.(less)
This was good all in all, despite a few issues. This isn't a graphic novel exactly, but it does use elements from that format. Passages of regular pro...moreThis was good all in all, despite a few issues. This isn't a graphic novel exactly, but it does use elements from that format. Passages of regular prose are interspersed with comic panels to tell the story of how two friends deal with loss. Holly's twin brother Corey is killed when she and her friend Savitri (also Corey's girlfriend) are out free-running through a bad neighborhood in Chicago. Corey is shot while trying to protect Holly, who lapses into a coma from her own injuries. Savitri witnesses the incident. At first I thought this story was a futuristic fantasy, because free-running, which is apparently just acrobatic running, confused me. Despite some of the other fantastical elements in the story, readers should know this book is rooted firmly in the real world. Savitri is understandably upset after Corey's death, but Holly spirals rapidly out of control after waking from her coma. She is obsessed with tracking down the killer and also with bringing Corey back. Savitri tries her best to support Holly, but feels helpless as she watches her slip away.
I would give this book to reluctant readers. The illustrations would appeal to graphic novel fans and perhaps cajole them into reading full novels in the future. I thought the portrayal of grief was realistic despite some otherwise iffy writing at times. Random capital letters, sentences broken apart to reflect the physicality of emotions, etc., were distracting at times, though would probably appeal to the intended audience. I found the grief aspect of the story to be the strongest, and this book might also help someone who could relate to the situation. At times the plot was outlandish, but it does mirror the often-hackneyed plot lines of comic books. This book was certainly an homage to that style, and it did work in that regard.(less)
Started off engaging enough, but became repetitive toward the middle. Little to no character development at all. Mostly relied on a pretty thin plot,...moreStarted off engaging enough, but became repetitive toward the middle. Little to no character development at all. Mostly relied on a pretty thin plot, with too many off-screen developments that readers should have been allowed to experience themselves. Supporting characters like Brooke, Soren and Cinder had interesting backgrounds that could have been built upon; they were not, which was frustrating, as Aria and Perry were likable enough but their character arcs were basically finished by book two. This series might have been able to continue in a compelling manner, had additional stories focused on the supporting characters I mentioned. I finished this quickly, but I was disappointed overall with how this wound up.(less)
I wasn't going to read this, because I found this book's predecessor to be pretty underwhelming. However, I felt like putting off reading something el...moreI wasn't going to read this, because I found this book's predecessor to be pretty underwhelming. However, I felt like putting off reading something else, and this was convenient. It took me a few hours over the course of two days, and I would say it was actually enjoyable reading. This book, like the last one, could have used a little more development, but I wouldn't say it was so underdeveloped as to be deficient. James, who was a worthless set piece in Lament, had an actual personality in this story. He went through believable changes and I think teens could probably relate to him.
James and his friend Dee have enrolled in a boarding school for music students. He spends the beginning of the book pining for his woeful best friend, who is extremely depressed following her separation from her supernatural boyfriend from the first book. Due to this, she's pretty self-involved and vacant and generally uninterested in anyone else's feelings but her own. This isn't meant to sound unsympathetic. Stiefvater actually does a pretty good job of portraying the symptoms of a suicidal person, even if the symptom of the character's depression is a little questionable. Readers of Lament will find it hard to believe why Dee was in love with her boyfriend to begin with, let alone why she might endlessly pine for him.
While James struggles to get over Dee, he is visited by a literally soul-sucking fairy, who wants him to agree to give his life to her in exchange for the means to create brilliant music. James is wise to her plan though and refuses. However, what neither James or the fairy Nuala planned on was falling for the other. I found their relationship fairly believable. Unlike Dee's foray into instant, headlong love, James and Nuala grow to like each other over time and see the value in one another through their experiences together. What a novel idea for a YA book.
Nuala was my favorite. She was sassy and angry and sad but not a whiner. I can see shades of James and Nuala in later works by Stiefvater. It's almost as if she tries out personalities and then hones them in future stories, because her characters seem to have similar arcs: issues with purpose and self-worth, suicidal thoughts, confusion about their relationships to people they think they know. I've read there's a third book coming out in this series. I'm not sure what else is left to say, and I have to say I'm skeptical. This was a good book, but it wasn't amazing.(less)
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Guessed what this might be all about (in one sense) early on and hoped I was wron...moreCheck out a full review of this book and others on my blog: Get Real.
Guessed what this might be all about (in one sense) early on and hoped I was wrong. It's unfortunate when you're right about something you don't want to be right about. This story was transparent, caricatured and underdeveloped. The narrative devices were distractingly stylized and attempted to mask the thin characterization. Bits and pieces of good writing sometimes emerged but were later obscured by melodrama. This story relied heavily on a trick, and it wasn't much of a trick anyway. Veers slightly into a kind of magic realism later and then abruptly ends. Disappointing, as E. Lockhart is a better writer than this by far. I felt a little bit like I had picked up the book equivalent of a Lifetime movie. Gets two stars instead of one because it was thoroughly engrossing in spite of itself. Just goes to show that even when you're off your game, you're still kind of on it anyway.(less)
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Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though a...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though about half the length of the first installment, Boxers, I would say Saints is the more compelling of the two. Boxers and Saints tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion, a violent uprising against white imperialists that took place in China in the late 19th Century and part of the early 20th Century. Part of what some Chinese considered to be part of this imperialism was the introduction of Christianity into the country. In the first volume, main character Little Bao believes the missionaries are an invasive and oppressive imperialist presence harming China. However, in Saints, main character Vibiana sees Christianity as a refuge from her crushing family life.
Vibiana is the fourth and only surviving daughter of a widow whose father-in-law resents girls and merely calls Vibiana by the number of her birth order "Four-Girl," the word four in Chinese also being a homonym for "death." She is ill-treated and disrespected by her family and so believes she is evil and worthless. Vibiana has heard the Christian missionaries are devils and misguidedly believes that because she is a devil herself she should fall in with this group. In the beginning she is uninterested in the religion and merely desires to fulfill the nature of the identity she has been given by her family. Her self-loathing is the most poignant aspect of the story.
Vibiana later begins to be visited by the image of Joan of Arc and hopes to emulate this warrior maiden who fought for God and the liberation of her country from invaders. Four Girl takes the name Vibiana, because of its Christian origin and eventually begins to believe that she is also a warrior maiden like Joan of Arc. Vibiana feels the Boxer rebels are butchers and opposes their cause.
While Boxers tells the story of this rebellion from the point of view of the rebels, Saints shows how a beaten-down person might find refuge in the values of the opposing side because the world she in which she has been brought up has betrayed her. One doesn't need to read both volumes to enjoy and understand the story, but the reading experience is richer if both books are read together. I was really impressed by these stories, and I look forward to reading more by this author.(less)
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This highly compelling graphic novel (along with its companion Saints) brilliantly examines the...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This highly compelling graphic novel (along with its companion Saints) brilliantly examines the nature of war and all of its associated costs. I flew through this book in no time flat, and I would rank this among the top stories of the year.
Boxers begins blithely enough, with the main character little Bao reflecting on his love of Chinese opera and fun at the fair. However, things quickly begin to cloud his previously tranquil childhood, when imperialists and missionaries upset life in his village. Friends and family members suffer in their encounters with the white foreigners who attempt to subjugate China in various ways.
As Bao grows up, he becomes the leader of a rebellion intent upon throwing out these "devils," whom he and his comrades — in many cases rightly — blame for the misfortunes that have befallen the people of China. However, Bao slowly learns that war is not black and white, and he makes a number of decisions that readers will question, namely related to his treatment of "the enemy." In the end, is Bao any better than the invaders who have ravaged his home?(less)
This was excellent and strangely flew by despite totaling 550 pages. My favorite aspect of the book, narrated by Death, was that the characters someho...moreThis was excellent and strangely flew by despite totaling 550 pages. My favorite aspect of the book, narrated by Death, was that the characters somehow remained hopeful and resilient even though they were repeatedly subjected to the horrors of not only the Holocaust, but the destruction of war itself. Perhaps one of the hardest times in human history to come to grips with, the author still managed to give readers a sense that there was a possibility for human beings to do as much good as bad in the world.
The only problem I had was with the narrative device of allowing Death to tell the story. On the one hand, this impersonal, timeless bystander could comment on human behavior without bias or involvement, but Death was in fact involved. Death seemed more like a depressed, but distant and non-interfering God than merely the means by which mortals exit this plane of existence. Death's commentary was distracting sometimes, with a voice that seemed more authorial than not.
Still, this was a great book with a mostly memorable cast. Liesel of course was inspiring and sad, and her family and friends were vital to her survival after losing her as much as she did through the years. This is a good book for any age.(less)
I should create a tag called "vacation brain freeze," because this book could easily go under such a subject heading. Don't get me wrong - it was a go...moreI should create a tag called "vacation brain freeze," because this book could easily go under such a subject heading. Don't get me wrong - it was a good, quick read. I pretty much read it in half a day due to the myriad paragraph breaks that occurred about every other sentence, thus rendering a 300-page book to about the length of a 150-page book. I've heard a lot about this story over the last few years, and finally decided to give it a shot during a week off.
Alex and Brittany attend a school divided by class and secondarily by race. The poor kids get into trouble, sneer due to the bitterness about their lots in life and act tough to survive the very real threats they face outside of school. Meanwhile, the rich kids study hard to get into college, act entitled and sheltered and ride around in the new cars their parents buy them to get them out of their way.
Alex and Brittany exemplify the above polarities but yearn to break free of them. Alex has a loving family that unfortunately still failed to keep him out of a gang. Brittany cares for her sister, a sufferer of cerebral palsy, but her parents can't deal with it and pressure Brittany to make up for what they perceive as their other daughter's failings. This story is a pretty transparent take-off of West Side Story. However, it doesn't fall flat in spite of its predictable arc. Partnered against their will in a chemistry class, they of course learn they're not so different after all and come to understand each other.
I know very little about gang life, but I felt the author portrayed this aspect of society in a realistic manner. No one was completely unsympathetic or for that matter romanticized. Brittany's family on the other hand was a little too brittle for my taste, only to be conveniently rescued at the last minute from total condemnation as terrible parents.
For the most part though I thought Alex and Brittany were fairly well done as characters. Alex in particular came off as an authentic voice. Brittany occasionally wandered into poor little rich girl territory, but never became hard to take. I like both of these characters. The author definitely allowed the dangers of gang life to hit home several times, though there never seemed to be enough of a downside on Brittany's part to taking up with Alex. Being shunned at school and getting grounded didn't seem to equate to the risk of bringing a white girl to a wedding populated by gang members.
I found this story particularly interesting as someone who went to a socially divided high school. As far as I know, nobody was in a gang, but there were clear class and racial divisions. This is a good book for kids who might be able to relate in some capacity to this kind of high school. I was a little glib above about this being a brain freeze book; it's definitely got more to give than that, but it's nothing to scratch your head over either. Nobody's going to come away from this story upset or frustrated, and that's fine. It's good for what it is.(less)
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An interesting premise that unfortunately doesn't fully pay off. It's Bunning Day, and Ruby Pepp...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
An interesting premise that unfortunately doesn't fully pay off. It's Bunning Day, and Ruby Pepperdine has been chosen to read her winning essay during the city's annual founder's day parade. While the town is abuzz with excitement, Ruby is awash with anxiety over whether a wish she has made to correct the past will come true. Chapters alternate between the events of the day and what has brought the reader to this point. Ruby has burned two bridges; one with her oldest and best friend and another with a friend she was certain she was about to make.
If her wish comes true, perhaps her final moments with her grandmother will make sense and she'll have some resolution about her death. And, maybe her friends will forgive her.
I liked Ruby's character. She had an authentic voice, and her worries about her behavior toward her friends and family (and her lack of awareness of the world around her in the wake of her grandmother's passing) will resonate with young readers. But, the narrative was flawed in several ways. First of all, I hate second-person point of view. It's ridiculous and something all creative writing students are told not to do on almost the first day of creative writing class. This was not the only way the story was told, however. Sometimes the narrative would shift to first-person, present, and other times the story would change to past tense. I couldn't keep track of what had happened in the past and what was currently happening. I thought the author's attempt to heighten Ruby's anxiety, by alternating between past and present, was highly interesting, but the author bit off more than she could chew. The story also beat readers over the head with a drawn-out doughnut metaphor that was really unnecessary. Kids are smarter than a long-winded doughnut metaphor.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I wouldn't count it as a possible award winner this year. It's sweet and possessed some profound elements, but it's not as clever as it would like to be.(less)
The best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the con...moreThe best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the continuing evolution of the relationship between Mary and James. (less)
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This was a little difficult to get through, more so than I was expecting, considering it read so...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a little difficult to get through, more so than I was expecting, considering it read so quickly when I did sit down and make a go of it. This fantasy was light and pleasant, but had a little too much going on for it to be completely engaging. The world-building wasn't fleshed out all that well, and the language was a little awkward. Additionally, the way the author chose to tell the story was distracting.
What I did like about this book was the examination of what it means to be beautiful and a good leader as well. The princess Violet is a spunky girl with unusual looks, which sometimes give her enough pause to doubt her worth as a princess. This leads to the central conflict in the story, though what started out as a fairly straightforward narrative became convoluted and poorly explained in the second half of the book.
Despite its length, I would recommend this book to children in third of fourth grade. Third-graders who are good readers would enjoy this, though it's most appropriate for fourth-graders. The illustrations are inconsequential, but their presence makes this book a bit basic in nature for students in fifth grade and beyond. This story wouldn't be at the top of my list of fantasy to recommend to fans of the genre, but it's got some unique elements that make it fresh in a genre mostly frequented by boys. (less)
A refreshing, if not perfect, book that includes a realistic central character with an authentic voice and universal problems.
Leah is in the midst of a debilitating depression following the death of her boyfriend several months ago. She rarely eats or leaves the apartment they shared and ignores her job, school and family and friends up to the point that she loses said job and nearly flunks out of school. Just as she's about to hit rock bottom, she is offered a temporary refuge by her boyfriend's aunt, who went through a similar situation when her husband died. Leah moves to a quiet town and stays in the aunt's spare house. It's this shelter, sense of anonymity and freedom from many of her obligations that allows Leah to finally get over her grief and move on.
Found about this story from a School Library Journal blog, which includes interesting commentary about the genesis of the book. Read the post here: Come See About Me.
What I most liked was the character's open, honest and unselfconscious narrative. Without ceremony or evasion, Leah describes her grief, ambivalence to her family and friends in the wake of her boyfriend's death and how she embarks on a casual relationship with a stranger following months of loneliness, numbness and boredom. I found Leah's frankness about her sexuality to be refreshing, as most women are still portrayed as either loathsome slags or saintly virgins in the best of literature. Leah personifies the real feelings and thoughts modern women have about life. While she's conflicted about many of the decisions she makes, Leah shares the details with the reader without reservation. In fact, the narrative style felt like an extended, open diary.
This narrative style certainly lent to giving Leah a realistic voice, but at times her descriptions dragged a bit. There was absolutely no stylistic nuance to this story even though it was extremely easy reading. I liked how cut and dry Leah could be, but at times I didn't know why I was receiving so many descriptions of her pet hamster or what happened between Leah and a friend the reader never actually meets on the page. I also was unsure why the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood played such a huge role.
Overlong descriptions aside, I ultimately found the book effective in portraying Leah's battle with grief and her foray into figuring out what it means to lead an adult life. I found the ending a little eye-roll-inducing, but I thought Leah dealt with most of the situations she faced with maturity. When she acted irrationally, I felt she at least behaved realistically for her age and given those situations.
Also, big thumbs up to the author for including a non-judgmental and matter-of-fact use of the morning-after pill. Leah and her partner fail to use contraception during their first encounter, and rather than just wait around hoping she isn't pregnant, she immediately seeks out a legal and effective form of birth control without catching hell from anybody about it. I suppose mention of the morning-after pill is a political statement in itself, but the author did a good job of dealing with it like Leah was taking any other medication for any other medical condition.
Final note: this book is a bit more detailed about sex than your average YA book. While the characters are adults, I don't think this story is meant for mature adults. This is for upper high school and college students. I'm long out of college and I'm not going to lie - my eyes goggled a few times while reading this. But that's not a criticism - it's just a story meant for mature readers.(less)
Oh my god. Boring. Over the top. A waste of time. In your face, look at me humor. Like a TV show. Utterly predictable. I tagged this as humor, but tha...moreOh my god. Boring. Over the top. A waste of time. In your face, look at me humor. Like a TV show. Utterly predictable. I tagged this as humor, but that's only because it's supposed to be funny. I'm not saying I didn't chuckle once in a while, but I can't deal with the kind of humor that begs you to start guffawing at every turn. Sad, whiner, slacker kid gets fatal disease and goes on a massive hallucinatory head trip adventure that amounted to very little in my opinion. Guessed what was really going on from the start, which to me ruined the point of reading. Where's the anticipation if you already know what's going to happen? Also, I get it - life is what you make it, life is worth living minute by minute, etc. Yawn.
P.S. I'm pretty sure I've seen this movie before... Just sayin'...(less)
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Reading Rose Under Fire was at times so harrowing that I had to work hard to contain my nausea....moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Reading Rose Under Fire was at times so harrowing that I had to work hard to contain my nausea. The vivid detail in which Elizabeth Wein described what the women in this book went through as prisoners of the notorious NAZI work camp Ravensbruck left little to the imagination: experiments, filth, terror, starvation and loss — the women who survived their imprisonment in this hell were irreversibly changed. That they managed to forge relationships under the constant threat of death is a testament to the will of the human spirit. That people are also as capable of treating their fellow human beings in such horrific ways leaves one with a warring sense of hope and disdain for humanity.
Rose Under Fire is a Holocaust book, which means this story is filled to the brim with accounts of how more than 11 million people were led to their deaths. Sometimes as I read I thought to myself, 'When is this going to end?' The reader learns that Ravensbruck began as a tough work camp for women that rapidly devolved into a hospital of horrors, finally succumbing to little more than a gas chamber during the final days of the war. Possibly one of the worst details I had to stomach as a reader was the fact that the prisoners built their own killing fields. I still can't think of it without becoming queasy.
The impact of the above information is far reaching. I don't think enough can be said about what happened during the Holocaust, as one of the most terrible times in human history. Wein is a great writer, and the devastation Rose experienced in captivity is portrayed poignantly and harshly. All the same, each successive episode of existence in the camp became harder and harder to take. About halfway through I began to feel machine-gunned by the story. With so much further to go before the end, I dreaded continuing.
As good as the author is at conveying the scope of human emotion and tenacity, I found aspects of this story to be highly problematic. This is a companion to Code Name Verity, a spy thriller on the surface that at its core is an examination of peoples' capacity for love and endurance. Rose Under Fire brings along two characters from its predecessor — Maddie and Jamie. While I was pleased with the progression of their story, I found their placement in this book unnecessary and pointless. As seen through Julie's eyes in Code Name Verity, Maddie (and even Jamie) were vibrant, nuanced characters. Rose doesn't share the same bond with these people that Code Name Verity's hero did, so they felt like ghosts haunting this new narrative, rather than living, breathing characters.
Additionally, the structure of Rose Under Fire was awkward. The beginning comprised an account of Rose's life as an RAF pilot, with not much to bring her character to life, aside from her eyewitness accounts of the world during wartime. In fact, she functioned as little more than a narrator of events throughout the entirety of this book. A second section gives way to letters between the rest of the cast, detailing Rose's disappearance while flying over France. This caused the narrative to drag a bit. However, perhaps the main impediment to developing the story and the characters was the heavy inclusion of Rose's original poetry. Writing was a large part of this character's identity, but readers didn't need to see so much evidence of her work littered throughout the book.
The most effective aspect of this book was the hardest to take: Rose's account of her time at Ravensbruck. It was awful and probably went on longer than a reader should reasonably be expected to deal with such a terrible thing, but the terror of that place was drawn impeccably. Perhaps Wein's biggest misstep in her writing with this book is that in her desire to tell the story of Ravensbruck, she sacrificed the development of the rest of the story elements.
It's with a heavy heart that I write this review, because I loved Code Name Verity with a capital L. That book was so perfect in so many ways, and to segue into this only tangentially related and flawed side trip was disheartening. I would recommend this book to those seeking to enrich their knowledge about the Holocaust, and it's a great book for teachers to use as supplemental material in a lesson on the Holocaust. It's highly effective in illuminating life at Ravensbruck. But, as a piece of literature, Rose Under Fire misses a few marks.(less)
This was good. A little shaky in the beginning, primarily related to setting up the elements of the mystery. Once you get into the third chapter or so...moreThis was good. A little shaky in the beginning, primarily related to setting up the elements of the mystery. Once you get into the third chapter or so you finally start piecing everything together and it becomes really fun.
Celie from the Lumatere Chronicles is the main character in this short story, which is a pretty typical mystery. No genre-bending here, though it's very good for the style. A creepy castle on a remote island and a bunch of suspicious characters, along with Celie serving as a spy for her homeland, make for the major plot elements. Sent to spy on a neighboring kingdom, Celie also gets caught up in a murder that takes place in the castle where she's staying.
Meanwhile, she has to solve the mystery alongside the castle's distant and prickly steward. Their back and forth is pretty run of the mill, but still entertaining. This story could have worked even better if it was longer I think, but the author seemed set on writing a quickie. I recently read on her Web site that another Celie adventure is coming down the pike though, so that should be interesting. I wouldn't mind reading about Celie's spy adventures in an episodic format. She was a likable character, with just enough nuance to keep you interested.
Those wondering how much of this story will play into Quintana of Charyn will probably be disappointed. While the action in Ferragost does affect the outcome of that novel, it's nothing to get excited about. This is an isolated work for the most part. You won't see Celie for more than a minute or two in Quintana, and the inhabitants of Ferragost don't make an appearance. Still, very quick reading that works for its intended purpose. It won't blow you away, but it was worth reading.(less)
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First contemporary story I've read in a very long time (possibly ever) that was a real jolt to r...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
First contemporary story I've read in a very long time (possibly ever) that was a real jolt to read. This book was brilliant. I loved the characters, the cadence of the writing, the sentence-level quality of how the story was structured, word by word. At times, I felt smacked in the face from one sentence to the next. This is a story told from multiple points of view about life during a certain time in a particular sector of London - NW. The story focuses primarily on the friendship between Leah Hanwell and Natalie Blake - two girls who have been linked since childhood due to "a dramatic event." Their lives have taken divergent paths, but they have remained friends in spite of it for better or worse.
There is a third point of view that seems unrelated, and it is in a sense, but everything in this book comes together - sometimes at random and sometimes step by step. Zadie Smith portrayed the lives of these people in a fairly experimental style that strongly resembled stream of consciousness. There were gaps in the storytelling, and seemingly pointless details later returned with great meaning and effect. Other things had little bearing on the whole of the story (on the surface level anyway). At first glance, this book seems like it's about nothing, or it's at least a story with no point. Leah and Natalie also come off as extremely self-involved, short-sighted people of very negligible character. However, I loved them both for all of their faults and their more positive traits.
Hard to explain this story. It's very serious and yet very funny. It's also got a recitative quality about it - at times poetic and other times like a rapid-fire machine gun. This is the kind of writing that echoes the past and yet manages to break new ground. Brilliant.(less)
This was so convoluted and odd. There was hardly any action, and this was an action show back in its day. This was mostly a history of how the villain...moreThis was so convoluted and odd. There was hardly any action, and this was an action show back in its day. This was mostly a history of how the villain got to be a villain. I remember the Voltron series making little sense, and this set of six issues made little sense too. The narrative was revealed in flashbacks, but the flashbacks were hard to deal with. The placement of the dialogue bubbles was also awkward. It was also always difficult to keep track of who the characters were because their space suits never matched the colors of the lions they piloted. I had a lot of trouble figuring out who was talking. There was nothing about the Voltron crew as kids would have known it on TV, and I have to say I find that very odd; the show wasn't about the villain. Boring and messy.(less)
This was alright. Formulaic and tedious despite the fact that I did find some moments to be genuinely funny. However, I'm not going to lie - the funny...moreThis was alright. Formulaic and tedious despite the fact that I did find some moments to be genuinely funny. However, I'm not going to lie - the funny moments weren't exactly laugh out loud ones. The main problem with this book is that even though it read very quickly it was very dry. The narrative was far too winking and tried too hard to be witty and insightful. It had a kind of "See? That's me being funny right there" kind of tone. Some plot elements went nowhere, and I was particularly disappointed in what I saw as a lack of interesting development in the story of the original Will Halpin. The doppelganger aspect could have been unusual and psychologically layered. It just sort of came to a flat, predictable conclusion. The Scooby-Doo stuff (in this case Hardy Boys) was annoying after a while. I don't like Scooby-Doo elements in stories unless they're subverted in some way. Otherwise, it's just a matter of time until someone utters the phrase: "And I would've gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids." That aspect all came together far too easily. Clue after clue in the mystery of who killed Hamburger Halpin's classmate just fell into the laps of Halpin and his friends. I also found myself responding to Halpin in a fairly neutral manner. He just didn't grab me. I could have stopped that story at any point and felt OK with not knowing the ending. And what's the deal with the weird cover for the hardback edition? (less)
What a creepy, strange, dark little book. Reading this felt like wielding a blunt instrument. The writing veered this way and that sometimes with litt...moreWhat a creepy, strange, dark little book. Reading this felt like wielding a blunt instrument. The writing veered this way and that sometimes with little connection between scenes and characters. Told from several points of view, this book is a grim tale of prejudice, human stupidity, cowardice, loneliness and a kind of blundering savagery. Laurel Shelton has spent her life in what the people of her town consider to be a cursed cove. Her brother Hank has just returned from World War I without a hand. Their mother died long ago, and their father only died within the last year. Laurel spent about a year in what the author repeatedly refers to as this gloamy cove - an experience she all but vows not to relive. The Shelton farm has been neglected, and the house itself lacks a calendar and a working clock. Laurel sees no reason to replace these things - preferring to orient herself to the days of the week based upon when the family's only friend - an old man name Slidell - shows up periodically with supplies and information. The people in town have always avoided the cove, saying it brings ill fortune to its inhabitants. And Laurel is shunned as a witch because of a birthmark she has on her arm.
This book is very short, and you do experience a sense of place while reading, though the sense of place is perhaps not as evocative as the author would like. The writing had a lot of gaps and lacked nuance. The characters were thinly drawn, and it was hard to get at anyone but Laurel, though she herself was more an animate incarnation of numbed loneliness, combined with a naive dreaminess about the future.
One day Laurel comes upon a man in the woods playing a flute. After he is nearly stung to death by bees, she brings him back to the cove and revives him. Purporting to be an illiterate mute, Walter agrees to help Laurel's brother repair the farm. Laurel meanwhile has designs on Walter, who seems to immediately reciprocate the instant Laurel turns her gaze upon him. Their relationship had little development or detail. It merely happens and seems to develop primarily because they both happen to be in the same place at the same time. Walter has a secret that the author seems to want to readers to guess right away because of the note he provides right before the first page. This secret brings doom, gloom (or should I say gloam?) and disaster upon everyone.
The villain of the story had an unnecessary level of time given to his narrative arc. Chauncey Feith is a cowardly army recruiter who preferred to stay at home rather than fight overseas. He is a lifelong fool who was bullied as a child and continues to experience bullying as an adult. His personality is hollow, foolish and without consequence. To give so much time to his story was worthless, because the author seemed to envision this villain as a stock character. His actions were obvious, and his character had no depth. His end was probably the only appropriate thing about him.
Regarding the end, without totally giving it away, it was abrupt and brutal. The last 30 pages were a race to a dead end. I'm not sure what the larger picture was with this book. The characters had little to say, made few connections or observations and were more or less stereotypes. And what individuality they possessed wasn't expanded upon to any kind of satisfying degree. I won't be reading anything else by this author.(less)
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A funny mystery that utilizes the conventions of gothic novels while still managing to subvert t...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A funny mystery that utilizes the conventions of gothic novels while still managing to subvert them. Kami is an outsider in the village of Sorry-In-The-Vale for several reasons - the main one being that she's never been shy about telling people that she has spent her entire life talking to a boy named Jared who exists only in her head. This has given her some grief growing up as you could imagine, but she's perfectly content to be herself and doesn't especially question why she's been hearing this guy's voice in her head since she was born. In fact, Kami is strangely confident in herself for the most part and has taken it upon herself to head the small English village version of the Scooby-Doo gang.
Kami runs her school paper, and her first assignment is to find out why the town's mysterious founders the Lynburns have suddenly returned after a 20-odd-year absence. The perfect sources for this investigation show up immediately, when cousins Ash and Jared Lynburn turn up as students at her school. Naturally, the Jared mentioned above eerily resembles the one she has heard in her head. What the two of them will do now that they are forced to confront the real existence of the other is simultaneously hilarious and yet also awkward and sad. Sara Rees Brennan takes what amounts to a fairly simple paranormal setup and gives it some depth worth discussing. The social awkwardness of teen relationships is magnified here by the happiness and excitement juxtaposed with the oddity and claustrophobia of having someone know what you're thinking and how you're feeling all the time. Rather than jumping past the uncertainty of wondering what another person is thinking, having Jared and Kami unable to escape each other just seems to make figuring out their new relationship to each other more difficult. I thought that was great.
The gothic part of the story comes into play with a string of mysterious murders with a Satanic bent that start popping up after the first few chapters. Everyone in this small town is a suspect, and even Kami's own mother is hiding something from her. The Lynburns' creepy old castle and the woods that seem to engulf people at the drop of a hat add nice touches to the side of this story that is a sendup of gothic tropes. It's also a nice touch having a new part of the book begin with a quote from 18th- and 19th-Century literary celebrities like Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Frost.
What I liked about this story is that Jared and Kami spend the first book in this series literally at arms length. Their newfound realness is fascinating and yet also horrifying to both of them. Most YA books would and have gone the route of creating a ridiculous, co-dependent, instantaneous relationship between the two of them. Kami and Jared are certainly very close, but they had no choice. Now having met, Kami begins to see the negative side of having someone pretty much know your every move whether you want it that way or not. Jared meanwhile does a good job of playing the part of a Byronic hero, moody and sneering and co-dependent. However, he has his funny side too, and he's not alienating.
Definitely looking forward to seeing how this story takes shape over the next book. The mystery was engaging as well, and for the most part I felt everything came together logically. This isn't a deep, mind-altering read, but it was pleasant and done well.(less)
A slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literature...moreA slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literature written all over it in the vein of stories like My Brother Sam Is Dead, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Johnny Tremain. Avi mixes hefty amounts of period vocabulary and language with real historical figures to successful effect. Sophia Calderwood becomes a spy in the home of British General Clinton in hopes of avenging her brother's death at the onset of the war. It is there that she learns of a plot between a British officer who boarded in her family's home when she was 12 and a famous Continental general. Torn between duty to her country and her brother's memory and her lingering childhood feelings for the charming enemy officer who once lodged in her home, Sophia must decide which side she is on as the time draws near for the plot to be executed.
A little heavy on historical detail at times, but overall the reader can learn a lot about the period without growing so bored as to put the book down. Sophia is an admirable and realistic heroine, who behaves fairly authentically for a girl her age; she ages from 12 to 15 by the end of the story. The ending was a little dramatic, and I had trouble believing in the depth of some of Sophia's feelings, but on the whole, this was a riveting tale of espionage. And, the spy is a girl - a great hook to use during a book talk!(less)
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A fascinating story that sheds light on a turbulent time in Irish history, as well as the phenom...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A fascinating story that sheds light on a turbulent time in Irish history, as well as the phenomenon of bog bodies. Fergus McCann's brother Joe is doing time in a Northern Irish prison for collaborating with terrorists during the Troubles - a brutal period in Irish history that culminated in violent deaths on the sides of Republicans and Unionists alike. Joe and the other prisoners in his bloc are undergoing a hunger strike as part of a protest, and this decision not only puts strain on Joe, but also his family.
Fergus doesn't have hardcore political affiliations. He believes in a united Ireland, but he believes more in getting out of a war-torn world and becoming a doctor, as long as he can pass his graduation exams.
From the outset of the story, the mood is gloomy, depressed and tense. Fergus and his uncle Tally begin the story illegally harvesting peat, so they can sell it to people as fuel for heating homes. During their illicit endeavor they happen upon the long-dead but well-preserved body of a girl. The story of how the girl came to be in the bog merges well with the draining goings-on of Fergus' family issues and the political strife of the times. The writing and the atmosphere were great. The story felt timeless, but still managed to include elements from the era (the early 1980s) without seeming dated. Everything felt very remote - a consequence of the mood of the book - and yet the story evoked the right emotions when necessary.
One complaint I had involved the lack of detail in some instances - particularly in reference to the character Cora, who I thought got a bit of a raw deal in the end as far as her portrayal went. Sometimes things passed by with characters, but not enough time was lent to the characters' motivations. However, the surreal nature of the story more than made up for this flaw, and I enjoyed the book from beginning to end. Strangely, this seemed like a story that would resonate more with adults even though I found the tone and style appropriate for teens. I would recommend this book to both audiences. (less)
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This was an affecting story about the real-life Kindertransports that evacuated Jewish children...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was an affecting story about the real-life Kindertransports that evacuated Jewish children to England from Germany during the Holocaust. Franziska Mangold and her family are practicing Christians but according to the Nazis her Jewish ancestry is enough for her family to be considered Jewish now.
After Franziska's father is imprisoned, her mother makes the difficult decision to send her to England as part of a refugee program that pairs German Jewish children with English Jewish families. Not particularly close to her mother prior to her evacuation, it is in England that Franziska finally experiences the comfort of having a mother and brother. Despite an initially rocky start, Franziska learns about Jewish culture, what it means to be a family and more.
This story had a strange cadence to the narrative, which was never easy to adjust to right up to the end. The tone was simultaneously distant and yet immediate. The same goes for the descriptions and interactions of the characters. At times I felt like I had a clear picture in mind of who these people were, but in others it seemed vague. The tone was definitely appropriate for the subject though, and while the story was sad at times, it wasn't horribly hard to take.
While not inappropriate for upper elementary, it's perhaps too mature and dense for that age group to grasp. This book is better suited to middle-graders, who can more readily understand the horror of the Holocaust. Younger students may not be able to take or understand the rupture Franziska's German family experiences because of the war. Still, a unique topic among the stories of the Holocaust and worth looking at in this interesting book.(less)
Super affecting and super uplifting story of the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. This resistance came in several forms, including combative, b...moreSuper affecting and super uplifting story of the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. This resistance came in several forms, including combative, but also through distributing leaflets, protesting, smuggling and through armed uprisings in camps. This book is very sad but also a story of hope and courage. Each chapter discusses a specific incident or individual story, and the author provides resolution at the end of each situation. You know how things turned out for these people for good or ill. The photographs that go with some of these incidents alternate between hopeful and horrific. When first-hand accounts are provided they really amplify the text, though I would say this is one element that could have been included more than it was. Sometimes though describing the incident itself is enough to illustrate its severity. The courage of these people is unparalleled.(less)
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True to its word, the latest installment in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater is about dreams...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
True to its word, the latest installment in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater is about dreams and the things we take from them. However, not all dreams come with sleep, and in this story dreams are more often akin to nightmares. The Dream Thieves is a surreal and complex book about the nature of secrets, desire, fear, obsession, self-loathing, love and malice. It is also a story rife with anxiety. I dreaded reading this book. My discomfort however did not stem from the presence of a supernatural threat, or a fear that a character might meet an untimely end. My sense of dread in The Dream Thieves, appropriately, grew out of the author's examination of the characters' troubled and troubling psyches.
Adam, who is perhaps the most troubled member of the cast, succinctly reveals the nature of this story early on when asking himself what he wants: "To feel awake when my eyes are open." This line conveys the struggle all the characters face throughout — the disconnect between what they want and what's actually before them.
The Dream Thieves continues the characters' quest to find the ancient Welsh king Glendower, who is possibly lying buried in a rural town in Virginia. Picking up from the ominous conclusion of The Raven Boys, this book brings a different focus to the search. There is less to do with the search itself and more to do with the searchers. The quest for Glendower took a bit of a back seat to the psychological plundering everyone did in this book, and I have to say that turned out for the best. Maggie Stiefvater is a descriptive writer able to create a sense of atmosphere so palpable at times one feels transported to the scenes she draws. Even at her most middling, Stiefvater knows how to set the mood. She also knows teens. The struggles the kids in this story face make real-world sense despite their supernatural trappings, and the characters' voices are authentic.
This is a sophisticated series that still manages to remain suited for the intended audience. Some of the author's narrative choices however may frustrate readers who want immediate answers to the many mysteries in these books. Additionally, character revelations are often brought to light through the observations of others, thus preventing readers from fully examining character motivations. This is a fairly complex technique that at first would seem shoddy. It's not; Stiefvater by doing this is fully getting at the nature of perception and relationships. The Dream Thieves is about the most unknown corners of existence — our own minds. Therefore, there will be gaps in the narrative at times. I will admit that more needs to be said about certain occurrences, but with two more books to go in this series, I'm expecting more development later. At its heart, I consider the Raven Cycle to be more of a mystery than anything else. There are quite a few twists and turns throughout, and The Dream Thieves in particular possesses a conclusion that delightedly leaves the reader on tenter hooks.(less)
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This book was scary! It got so scary that I didn't even like reading it during the daytime. And...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This book was scary! It got so scary that I didn't even like reading it during the daytime. And yet, at the same time, I found myself bored at certain parts. To say the stars align in the Diviners is true from all angles - the fates of every kind of 1920s New Yorker converge in this story, and it's not ultimately for the better. When Evie O'Neill is exiled to New York for divining the secrets of a well-to-do young man at a party in her hometown in Ohio, she is ecstatic. New York is just the right size for a larger-than-life flapper, but when Evie arrives to stay with her uncle (who is curator of the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies), she gets a lot more than she bargained for. I have to hand it to Libba Bray that the more than Evie bargained for is not sex, drugs and rock and roll, so to speak. She comes into her power and winds up working on a murder case with her uncle, who is called in to consult on why the victim has strange occult symbols on her body.
Evie meets so many characters, and the reader meets so many more. Keeping track of everyone and all of their related plot points was exhausting. I loved Bray's writing, though it often mirrored F. Scott Fitzgerald a little too much for my taste. I just couldn't become invested in any one character because the author kept jumping around. I read over 350 pages of setup. The last leg of the plot started to race, but I almost put the book down several times. Also, I'm not sure what the overarching message of this book was. These kids were all outsiders, but I didn't get any commentary about what any of it all meant. What was the author trying to say about bringing together the teen versions of Langston Hughes, The Greay Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan, Lurch from the Addams Family and so many other characters who should have been so much more interesting than they were.
The only character I really wound up connecting with was Theta. She seemed as bored with the story as I was in parts. Her backstory is complicated and had teeth. The rest of the characters either had cliched histories or I never learned enough about them to care much. I also became confused about who had super powers and which kinds. I loved the atmosphere in the story too, but it was so hard to care about a lot of what was going on. Just the same, I'm intrigued enough to give the sequel a shot, but I hope Bray dispenses with the setup and the character leapfrogging and just writes a story. (less)
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What a weird little book. That was the first thought that came into my mind after I finally fini...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
What a weird little book. That was the first thought that came into my mind after I finally finished this story. The writing in parts was good, and sometimes I found myself caught up in this hard tale about two orphans trying to make ends meet in Victorian London. However, the plot lines never fully gelled for me, even when they finally intersected, and I couldn't get invested in the story. Honestly, Schlitz did a good job replicating a Dickensian style, in all its wordiness, broken dialect and cast of strange characters that ultimately have no real bearing on the story despite how they connect the plot threads. It took a long time and a lot of self-enforced reading to get through this story, which didn't become gripping until the final third.
Schlitz worked hard at constructing a realistic world, and I could see every detail in my mind. You could see how she won the Newbery Award for her non-fiction book about Medieval Times - she does her research and has a keen attention to detail. I just couldn't get fully into this story. It was hard to connect with the characters for a long time, and something about the story felt a little stock. I'm not sure this will find much of an audience. I almost dropped this book several times out of boredom, but I felt guilty about not finishing.
There were some fairytale elements to this story, though I liked that part of the story the least. At one point, a child is turned into a puppet, and later on you learn the villains are more than they appear to be. That aspect just didn't add much to the story for me. An interesting commentary on dealing with grief was outlined throughout the story, but none of the very separate elements in this book came together. Oh well...(less)
This was a strange book, which you might expect from the author of Tender Morsels. Much like that book, The Brides of Rollrock Island is captivating a...moreThis was a strange book, which you might expect from the author of Tender Morsels. Much like that book, The Brides of Rollrock Island is captivating and yet disturbing, hard to read and yet a valuable book to experience. This story is based on an Irish legend about women being born from the hearts of seals. An ill-treated and vengeful witch named Misskaella can draw women from the seals of Rollrock and does so for the island's men for a price, but the price the men pay is of course much larger and far-reaching than they bargained for. This book is hard to take but not so hard to take that you question whether to finish it. Much like Tender Morsels there is light at the end of the tunnel. The seal women of Rollrock are beautiful, nurturing and strange. They are also not meant for the land; they are detached and sad and always longing for the sea.
This is a book about thoughtlessness, cruelty, selfishness and selflessness at the same time. It's very cynical at first glance - would all men just forsake their wives, sisters and mothers for the chance to have an enthralling, fantastical seal wife who will wrap them up in a limitless cocoon of devotion? This longing for a seal wife is more than a desire for fantasy fulfillment though. I couldn't help but sympathize somewhat with one of the characters when he asked for a seal wife even though he knew he shouldn't. There's a sense of safety and communion involved with this. Don't get me wrong though - there's abject cruelty involved in taking a seal wife. Readers will see how many layers there are to human longing and suffering in this story.
Just the same, it was hard to read. Margo Lanagan writes in a way that makes you think she's out to paint portraits of senseless misery. It's a hard trek to the light at the end of the tunnel. One flaw with this book is that I didn't really enjoy the vignetted nature of the narrative. While each of the stories was connected, I think I would have preferred if Lanagan worked with a narrower set of viewpoints. I also wanted a stronger viewpoint from the seal wives. They came off too much like a conglomerate of sad, hollow-eyed women without singular identities.
This is worth checking out, but read carefully and set out to work hard. Lanagan is a strange author but a rewarding one. A final observation, Lanagan is marketed as a YA author, but I think her books are too complex, too harsh and too layered to be considered teen novels. She asks her audience to make adult observations. That's not to say teens can't do that, but she's not a YA novelist.(less)