4.5 out of 5 stars Finally, a well-written angel series! Clara's physical appearance, the wings, the flying, the "glory"--make angels sound impossibly...more4.5 out of 5 stars Finally, a well-written angel series! Clara's physical appearance, the wings, the flying, the "glory"--make angels sound impossibly beautiful. The descriptions are so well done that you can really picture and feel what it would like to be in the presence of one. The supernatural aspects are well-balanced by a solid grounding in Clara's day to day life as a teenager with excellent descriptions of school projects, relationships with her friends and her brother, and especially her conflicted relationship with her extraordinary mother.
The characters are well-developed and there's terrific courtship that is blessedly normal and crazy appealing. I appreciate the unusual choice to wait until much later in the book to get things really started on the dating front, as you've already gotten to know Clara pretty well by this point *and* it's in the right context of her life. Important and fulfilling for sure, but not the be-all and end-all of her life, as so often happens in YA books. Once it comes, however, it's very sweet and very convincing.
I did find the beginning of the book a little disjointed, and there were a few sections that could have used smoother transitions, but overall it's really terrific. It's easy to understand Clara's conflict and it's easy to like Clara, who has unearthly perfections but who is also just trying to find her way in life. An excellent start to a what should be an excellent series.
Free for Kindle right now!Download from Amazon before the deal ends. (Review edited 6/3/11 to include this freebie.)
There's something a-brew in the h...moreFree for Kindle right now!Download from Amazon before the deal ends. (Review edited 6/3/11 to include this freebie.)
There's something a-brew in the heavens, because there has been a streak of great books centered around angels lately. After disappointments like Hush, Hush, Fallen, and various other novels, it's exciting to have books like Unearthly and Mercy ...and now Angel Burn, which is the first in a trilogy previously published in the U.K. under a slightly different title.
What's unusual about this book is that it takes the whole notion of angels as kindly guardians and turns it upside down. Angels want something very badly from humans in this story, and their secret is a pretty devastating one. Willow is a clairvoyant who sees flashes of the future for anyone she touches, and is horrified by a disturbing vision she sees while doing a reading for a classmate. In the meantime, alternate chapters follow a sexy and mysterious young assassin named Alex, who first sees Willow as a nemesis, but who gradually helps her to uncover incredible secrets about her past--and about her future.
Willow and Alex are both fantastic characters on their own, making mature decisions and doing their best in an impossible situation, but they become stronger and even more appealing together. Throughout most of the book, they are on the run and alone in the car, so it's a testament to the writer that the reader remains engrossed in the mounting tension of the story as well as the slow burn of a relationship between the unlikely pair. Willow and Alex are deeply connected and funny and honest, and it's refreshing to read about a boy and a girl who are actually nice to each other, even when they have every compelling reason not to be. Angel Burn is a terrific page-turner with unforgettable characters, and readers will be on the edge of their seats waiting its sequels.
Sometimes you ask for something...and the author actually grants your wish! After reading Bite Me recently, I noted that the series would be a lot mor...moreSometimes you ask for something...and the author actually grants your wish! After reading Bite Me recently, I noted that the series would be a lot more fun if Val, who is a vampire-slaying part-succubus, actually got a decent boyfriend. I'm happy to say that in the second and third installments in the series, Val breaks up with the honorable but boring Dan and hooks up with someone much more interesting.
And that someone is Shade, a fascinating shadow demon who has transparent skin that shows the powerful energy swirling around inside him. Shade's skin only appears normal when he's grounded by touching someone else, and paired with the ability to absorb and reshape energy, this character pretty spectacular. Val is partnered with Shade to help figure out who's betraying the Demon Underground and to recover the missing Encylopedia Magicka, and later finds that he's very helpful in channeling Lola, her inner lust demon. Unfortunately, just as Val starts getting closer to her boyfriend, she's faced with a difficult choice: is love worth giving up your identity for?
As in the first installment, Val's sidekick demon hellhound Fang is still snarky and hilarious and sweet, and now has a lady companion of his own who wreaks havoc in her own inimitable way. The struggles and power plays between the demons and the vamps has been ratcheted up, with tensions mounting as both sides try to maintain a temporary truce while fighting the unrest and deception within their own factions. Val really comes into her own in these books as a strong female character who's not only a butt-kicking action hero, but who also consistently tries to do the right thing. It's also great to see a hot but mutually respectful relationship; Shade doesn't hesitate to disagree with Val when he thinks she's wrong, but their arguments don't turn nasty and controlling like they do in so many other books.
The author has already announced that she's working on Make Me, the fourth book in this series, which will be out in 2012. Fans of the Chicagoland Vampires or Vampire Academy (and kick-ass heroines in general) will definitely love this series.
This review is also available at The Midnight Garden. An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
What if you were an angel in exile...but you had no memory of why you'd fallen?
Mercy is a fallen angel who repeatedly wakes up in a new body following...moreWhat if you were an angel in exile...but you had no memory of why you'd fallen?
Mercy is a fallen angel who repeatedly wakes up in a new body following each time she's helped someone through a personal crisis. She doesn't know why she's doomed to this existence, only that she must somehow try to better that person's life while she's there.
This time, however, she wakes up as a foster child of a deeply troubled family, whose 18-year-old daughter Lauren has been missing for two years. The mystery unfolds slowly as Mercy and Ryan, the missing girl's twin brother, follow various clues and interview different people who might know more than they volunteer about Lauren's disappearance.
The blend of suspense, romance, and the supernatural come together beautifully in this first book of a quietly dazzling new series. Mercy's powers are extraordinary, but as a girl who is drawn to the human boy she's trying to help and who is struggling with her own issues, she's also an extremely relatable and likable character. Complicating matters are her dreams of her lost love, an angel who yearns for Mercy but warns her that taking action in this particular lifetime will mean that they will never again come together.
Mercy also contains lovely imagery of music and song, and even if readers are able to guess the identity of perpetrator towards the end, they'll still enjoy the well-written story, compelling characters, and complicated connections drawn by this talented Australian author. The book wraps up the mystery of Lauren's disappearance in a satisfying way, even as it jolts readers with the painful recognition that Mercy must now leave the boy she's beginning to care for. Fortunately, the sequel Exile is expected to come out in June of this year, with Muse to follow in 2012.
Like Unearthly and Angel , this is a book that isn't content to merely use the mythology of angels as a backdrop for shallow high school melodrama or cruel, controlling relationships; instead, it's a beautiful allegory for the power of love and faith wrapped up in a dark and engrossing mystery.
A haunted house, a forbidding lady, a master who has gone mad, and a servant girl caught up in the middle of the whole mess. If this premise appeals t...moreA haunted house, a forbidding lady, a master who has gone mad, and a servant girl caught up in the middle of the whole mess. If this premise appeals to you, there's no doubt you'll delight in this book. I'm a big fan of Victorian fiction, and the author does a superb job of making the era come alive and keeping the language and decorum pretty true to the period.
Abigail Tamper is a 14-year-old servant at Greave Hall, where she's lived all of her life. Her mother died under mysterious circumstances not long ago, and the troubled Master of the house seems to know more about her death than he will admit. Abi has few confidants among the other servants, and her only protector against the cruel Mrs. Cotten, who rules the household, is her childhood friend Samuel, who is the Master's son who is badly wounded from his service in the Crimean War. Abigail's terror and loneliness are palpable, and readers will feel for her as she tries to unravel the mystery and figure out whether there is more danger in the supernatural forces present in the house...or from the earthly ones.
This is an enjoyably creepy, atmospheric Victorian murder mystery with a strong heroine and wonderfully detailed, moody setting. The descriptions of Abigail's duties as a housemaid are particularly well done, as well as the hierarchal interplay between the servants. While experienced readers may guess the villain before he's revealed, this is a quick, enjoyable read and a terrific addition to the gothic genre, especially for the younger teens for whom it's intended. Plus there's an embroidered fabric Ouija...how fun is that?
Still heaps of fun! I love a good paranormal book as much as the next person, but sometimes they take themselves too seriously. I'm happy to report th...moreStill heaps of fun! I love a good paranormal book as much as the next person, but sometimes they take themselves too seriously. I'm happy to report that Demonglass retains the same sarcastic humor and a snappy, action-packed plot that is just as entertaining as the one in Hex Hall.
Sophie is spending some time on her father's estate to figure out whether she's going to keep her awesome but pesky powers, and she's still secretly pining for her missing demon-hunter crush, Archer Cross. Complicating matters is the revelation that cute-as-heck Cal has been betrothed to her for years (hey, they do things differently in the otherworld) and the afore-mentioned crush is part of The Eye, a group hell-bent on wiping out all of Sophie's kind. Kinda puts a damper on the relationship.
The politics and power struggles within the Prodigium (witches, shapeshifters, and fairies) and with the demon hunters is growing steadily more complicated, and Sophie and her father must develop her gifts before time runs out. It would be interesting to see more of the plotting ladies within the Prodigium and to have the tension ratcheted up with The Eye, but hopefully these will be further explored in future books.
The author does a fabulous job of moving the story along with cheeky attitude, however, while taking time out for real connections between Sophie and her BFF Jenna and between her and her dad. There are also some brief but swoon-worthy moments with her guy, and you really breeze through this thing rooting for everyone to be happy. I'm really enjoying Sophie and her smart and snappy banter, and this series has fast turned into one of my fluffy and fun favorites.
This is the story of a boy and a girl who fall in love. Lochan and Maya are best friends who have known each other their entire lives and have helped...moreThis is the story of a boy and a girl who fall in love. Lochan and Maya are best friends who have known each other their entire lives and have helped each other and fiercely loved one another through the many brutally painful experiences of growing up.
The thing is, they also happen to be brother and sister, and the unholy mess of the repercussions from their choices looms over this entire story.
No one who picks up a book like this can be unaware of the potential pitfalls. It's all too easy for an author to resort to the tasteless exploitation of sticky sentiment or breathy fumblings that heighten the excitement of a taboo relationship. What you'll find instead with Forbidden is a book written with stunning insight and incredible compassion, and two characters who will absolutely break your heart.
There is very little dialogue in this novel, and the narrative alternates in chapters between Lochan and Maya's points of view. As such, the reader gets to know both of them very well and experiences in minute detail the complicated terror of their lives at home. The two of them essentially function as the parents of three younger siblings in their household, as they have no father and their alcoholic mother neglects them for weeks at a time. The relationship between 17-year-old Lochan and 16-year-old Maya, already close since they were children, changes subtly and realistically as they gradually become aware of each other as adults.
The clarity of vision and strength and selflessness of both these characters is unparalleled in any young adult book I've ever read, and the way the author draws the reader in with their relationship is astounding. The intimacy and companionship, the joy and maturity, and the self-doubt and heavy responsibilities of these two young people drawn together in a terrible situation is described with extraordinary empathy and understanding.
Without the cruelty and selfishness of similarly challenged characters in books like Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden or the confused, casual amorality of Janet Inglis' characters in the novels Darling and its follow-up Father of Lies, Forbidden intelligently and passionately explores emotions that feel desperately genuine and impossibly tragic. As the book builds unbearably to its unforgettable and devastating conclusion, the things that Lochan and Maya will sacrifice for the ideals of love and responsibility are astounding.
This is perhaps not a perfect book, but it is one that may open up a tiny crack in your armor and flood you with unexpected feeling. Whatever your pre-conceived notions about the sensitive subject of this novel, I defy anyone with a heart to experience the vibrant, pulsing emotions in this story and remain unmoved. I wept like a child--I bet you will, too.
Have you ever stood in your house, listening to a quiet, unfamiliar noise, and felt the hair rise on the back of your neck? Cas Lowood has, and the un...moreHave you ever stood in your house, listening to a quiet, unfamiliar noise, and felt the hair rise on the back of your neck? Cas Lowood has, and the unholy hell of what he finds when he investigates will make you jump a little bit in your seat. He's a 17-year-old who kills the dead with a magic athame, just as his father did before him--and now he's faced with the task of killing Anna, a homicidal ghost who was murdered more than 60 years ago.
Cas is a fantastically strong and appealing protagonist, but it's really Anna who takes center stage. Imagine the visual of a pale girl with inky hair floating in a dark house, her beautiful white dress slowly drip-drip-dripping with blood. She's deadly dangerous and full of vengeful fury, however, because of the way she was killed. When you find out what really happened to Anna, it's hard not to feel terrible pity for her--and to understand why Cas has such a hard time killing her.
If you've been looking for a great YA horror novel, look no further. Anna Dressed in Blood is a stunning novel, full of atmospheric spookiness and unthinkable horrors. I cringed reading about ghosts with stones where their eyes should be, I yelped when Cas goes down into a basement full of...dreadful things, and my eyes got as big as saucers when the walls starting bleeding. But although the descriptions are full of vivid imagery and there's plenty of brutal action, what happens isn't at all gross. If anything, there's a dark beauty in the descriptions and an elegance in the writing that makes every scene a true pleasure to read. My reading status updates will give you a peek at some of the lines and scenes that particularly made me shiver, but I really had to restrain myself from posting one every couple of pages, as there's so much to savor, even in simple but humorous lines such as "She's wearing the same smile as her cat." I found just as much to love in the writing as I did the fantastic story, and the cheeky humor made me laugh even in dire and inappropriate circumstances.
This is the darker, more grown-up version of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and it's much more violent and much more polished. Anna offers an unforgettable thrill of a ride--and it catapulted instantly to my favorites list for the year. I am so excited about this author and I can't wait for the sequel, Girl of Nightmares, to come out in 2012. Read it, read it, read it! I promise it will make you shudder, in the very best of ways.
3.5 stars Any book that arrives heavily hyped usually has a ton of marketing power behind it. Sure, there are critical reviews to consider, but these...more3.5 stars Any book that arrives heavily hyped usually has a ton of marketing power behind it. Sure, there are critical reviews to consider, but these days consumers are more aware than ever of the dollars at stake behind book and film negotiations. Which means that there's a lot of pressure riding on any book to live up to its promise, particularly one that comes from a 23-year-old author who has already landed a 3-book deal and signed away the movie rights.
After so many big dollar and wearisome projects such as Halo or Matched, it's a pleasure to find that every once in awhile, there's a good reason behind the fanfare. Divergent is the fast-paced, action-packed story of 16-year-old Tris, who comes from one of the five factions in a dystopian Chicago. She must choose one of the factions--Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peacefulness), or Erudite (intelligence)--to live in and serve for the remainder of her life. Tris makes the decision to leave her old faction, Abenegation, in favor of Dauntless, and the majority of the book focuses on the dangerous trials that the new initiates must endure in order to find out whether they qualify to stay. Failure means living a factionless life--or death.
The very concept of the novel, however, asks that readers accept a fairly rigid framework for the story. This idea that human beings would sublimate their natural instincts to live in a society where a single virtue is promoted is pretty farfetched; it reminds me of various Star Trek alien races known for a single prevailing characteristic, but at least they are also usually presented along with certain instincts and behaviors that made sense. The division between the factions here doesn't really serve much of a purpose, and is simply explained away as people who chose a lifestyle based on differences in philosophy. Even within the factions, the doctrines don't really hold up under scrutiny--members of Dauntless, for example, are forever indulging in reckless, pointless exercises that are more about posturing than about testing their mettle.
But the thing is, the book is really fun to read. Most of the trials are pretty well thought-out, with scene after scene of nerve-wracking physical and mental tests. I liked the interplay between Tris' fellow initiates, who cautiously bond with each other but also have to look on each other as rivals, and I liked the mysterious and attractive Four, as well as the way her family members' characters eventually revealed themselves.
Tris herself I had a harder time connecting to, as she's physically very capable but mentally and emotionally it's more difficult to say whether she belongs on my "butt-kicking heroines" shelf. Some of her actions also ended up being more self-centered than I expected, mostly because I think the author was trying to show the change in Tris' morphing from Abegnation to Dauntless. But she and Four also make a huge tactical error at a crucial scene late in the book, which negates both Dauntless' philosophy and their training. I'm also not sure that several of the deaths later in the book had the appropriate emotional impact, though there were several other scenes that made me yelp. Let's just say that I gave my knife some pretty fishy looks at the dinner table last night. (view spoiler)[The eye! The eye! Oww. :-O And poor Will, of course. (hide spoiler)]
Still, I had a really good time reading this book, and there's a lot to be said for books that are just plain entertaining. Many of my fellow readers have major issues with the world-building and the plot holes, and I can't say that I disagree with most of the criticisms I've seen. It's certainly not in the same category as The Hunger Games; it's closer to light entertainers such as Blood Red Road or Legend, but I think we often do ourselves a disservice when we endlessly make those kinds of comparisons. It's always important to read with a critical eye--and it's true that with more attention to detail, this book might have been even better--but I don't feel that getting hung up on criticism or comparisons should get in the way of enjoying a book when so many of the other elements do work well. For me, the positives of this adventure outweigh the negatives and in the end, Divergent is still loads of fun to read. I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes next!
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
*Spoiler-Free* Don't worry, Chicagoland fans. *pat pat* Everything will be okay.
4.5 starsIt's been two months since the nail-biting events of Hard Bit...more*Spoiler-Free* Don't worry, Chicagoland fans. *pat pat* Everything will be okay.
4.5 starsIt's been two months since the nail-biting events of Hard Bitten, and Merit is still dealing with the fall-out from what occurred. As Cadogan House is investigated for mismanagement and blood rations keep everyone on edge, there's also trouble when Lake Michigan suddenly turns black and fingers are pointed at the vamps. Merit must work together with Jonah, the attractive captain of the guards at Grey House, to find out who's really responsible, even as she's haunted by dreams that she doesn't understand.
Merit has always been a strong, smart, and funny heroine, but her loyalty and her honor really come through in this particular book. We also get more kickass fight scenes, interesting political developments as a pending paranormal registration act causes tempers to flare, complicated problems with Merit's best friend Mallory, skies that turn ruby red, and tense run-ins with faeries and lake sirens. I also liked that Malik has stepped up in a stronger role at Cadogan, and how respect and trust and allegiance are, as always, big themes in this series.
But never mind all that--you want to know about Ethan! The sexy, green-eyed Master is never far from Merit's mind, and he casts a long shadow over all of the turmoil at Cadogan House. After the sucker punch dealt to fans in the last book, many of us worried about the direction that the series was taking. But most readers are going to be very, very satisfied with the way Merit deals with her feelings for Ethan as well as her reluctant attraction to Jonah. I am really happy that she finds the strength to come to terms with this very tricky situation, and every development in this story arc feels completely right and emotionally true.
I continue to be impressed by how Chloe Neill juggles a sizable cast of characters and all kinds of interesting subplots while moving Merit's personal story forward. There's no doubt at all that this series will continue to deliver the great stories and quality entertainment we've come to expect. And yeah, I gave an urban fantasy book 5 stars--what of it? Chicagoland has always been the cream of the crop for this genre, and Drink Deep is by far the best book in the series to date.
Have you ever pictured yourself wandering among the tombs at Westminster Abbey, marveling at the sheer wonder of being among the greatest literary fig...moreHave you ever pictured yourself wandering among the tombs at Westminster Abbey, marveling at the sheer wonder of being among the greatest literary figures in history? Sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray is taken to Poets' Corner by someone who understands exactly what such an experience will mean to her, and this lovely little moment in the sequel to Clockwork Angel perfectly encapsulates everything I love about the Infernal Devices series. Tessa is a shapeshifting Shadowhunter who is becoming accustomed to her powers, but in the middle of all the magic and mystery in Victorian England, the relationships between Tessa, the enigmatic Will, and the thoughtful, sensitive Jem remain the very heart of the story.
Following a rather, ahem, provocative prologue, the story really begins as the London Institute of Shadowhunters is given two weeks to find the evil Magister, who is still determined to gain control of Tessa’s powers and bring down the Enclave. Tessa and the Shadowhunters must battle dreadful clockwork creatures, demons, and even treachery within their own ranks before everything around them is forever altered. Readers who agonized over the last book will be happy to know that we see the beginnings of the ties between the Lightwood and Herondale families, find out what the initials "JTS" mean, and spend more time getting to know all the characters, including Magnus, Jessamine, Henry, Charlotte, and Sophie.
Here are the other important elements that I loved from this story:
Tessa, Will, and Jem
Tessa becomes more sure of her unique position and powers, and her relationships with both the boys in her life deepen in a life-changing way. Jem unexpectedly reveals an incredibly alluring side to him that we’ve never seen before, and we finally discover the devastating secret in handsome Will’s tragic past. This is one of the most well-written love triangles I’ve ever read, with a strong girl torn between two very attractive and honorable boys; there are good reasons for Tessa to love them both, but also excellent reasons for her to give her heart to neither. It is nothing short of torture to feel Tessa’s deep pull towards Jem and Will, both of whom have swooningly romantic and wildly sensual moments with our heroine. Believe me, the infamous Dirty Sexy Balcony Scene more than lives up to its promise, and I clutched my pearls more than once while reading this book!
What Tessa never forgets, however, is that as confused as she is about her feelings for Jem and Will, there is also a lifelong friendship between them that she must honor. Jem’s illness, Will’s love for and dependence upon him, and her own need for self-respect all contribute to an intensely difficult situation, and one that made me hurt for everyone involved.
The Victorian details in this novel make me quite ill with pleasure. That's right, ill with pleasure. I'm not even speaking solely of catnip such as the clothes and carriages and the like, but of a finer, deeper authenticity that has to do with a way of truly immersive thinking, rather than just trifling details. It seems to be so difficult for many YA historical fiction authors to refrain from projecting anachronistic modern attitudes onto period characters, but Tessa Gray stands out as a true Victorian heroine. She shows courage and spirit, but it's within the appropriate behaviors and thinking patterns for a girl living in the 19th century; if she breaks tradition, she thinks about it (and we know it's unusual) before she does so.
Even while she's being trained for self-defense by other Shadowhunters, Tessa spends a great deal of her time struggling to reconcile her magical powers and responsibilities with her upbringing and social decorum. The role of women in oppressive circumstances has always interested me, and Tessa’s internal dialogue and conduct (along with Sophie’s) are notably in keeping with all the other spot-on period details, which are meticulously researched and beautifully woven into the story. Before she began writing this series, the author rather famously moved to England for six months and read nothing but books written or set in the Victorian era, and even walked all the streets that her characters might have traveled. There is a certain mood and style that is decidedly steeped in the foundations of this research, and the dexterous language and witty dialogue feel pretty nearly perfect and true to the time—with allowances for fantasy and magic, of course. Tessa transcends the thinking of the time and uses clever magic and thinking to outwit her adversaries at every turn.
A Love of Literature
Another thing I also adore about this series is how much appreciation all the characters have for literature. I still remember the awe I felt the first time I went to Westminster Abbey, and it struck a chord to hear Tessa say, “I can’t explain it. It’s like being among friends, being among these names.” Upon traveling to the countryside for the first time, she also says, "I feel as though I have seen it before. In books. I keep imagining I’ll see Thornfield Hall rising up beyond the trees, or Wuthering Heights perched on a stony crag.“ It is nearly impossible for any lover of books, particularly those with an unruly bit of romance in her soul, to fail to thrill when reading words like this. Tessa is a kindred spirit for me, and I think she would be for many other thinking, dreaming readers as well.
If you were dying for this second installment in the Infernal Devices series, rest assured that it has been more than worth the wait. It's full of great action scenes, a clever use of magic, and the hilarious dialogue that we've come to expect from these characters. It is, however, also an intensely emotional read for those invested in the characters, so be prepared with tissues—I cried several times near the heartbreaking end and it's going to be so hard to wait another whole year for Clockwork Princess. Was the book satisfying? Yes. Was it agonizing? A thousand times, yes. But it was painful in the most exquisite and emotionally truthful of ways.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
*Happy happy dance.* For fans the Soul Screamers series, this book will either be everything you want...or everything you feared most. I fall firmly i...more*Happy happy dance.* For fans the Soul Screamers series, this book will either be everything you want...or everything you feared most. I fall firmly into the "incoherently happy" camp after reading it.
Soul Screamers as a whole is kind of a funny animal. The mythology is pretty unusual and I really like the unique world that Rachel Vincent creates with her banshees, maras, grim reapers, and demon breath. The stories are admittedly fairly straightforward (think Morganville rather than Chicagoland or Vampire Academy) and Kaylee Cavanaugh sometimes seemed very young in the beginning. But as Kaylee's problems became bigger and her relationships with her best friend and her family and her boyfriend became more involved, this somehow became a series that I really, really enjoy. She makes plenty of mistakes, particularly in that last agonizing book My Soul to Steal, but they are ones that you completely understand and sympathize with.
If I Die presents Kaylee with the biggest challenges she's ever faced in her life--she suspects that attractive new math teacher may not be everything he appears to be, she's still fighting her complicated feelings for her possibly irredeemable boyfriend Nash, and to top it off, she receives world-changing news that gives her only a matter of days to put everything right.
I really love Kaylee after this book. One of the things that surprised me is that she meets all of her problems with admirable maturity and sensitivity. There are a number of really difficult situations she has to resolve before time runs out, but instead of being self-pitying or railing against fate, she immediately takes action to help the people around her, all the while remaining true to her emotional self; that's no small feat under the best of circumstances. I'm impressed by the author's frank handling of teen sexuality, which is very um, enthusiastically present in this book but written with exactly the right amount of excitement and humor and gravity. Most importantly, it's also included in the right context of Kaylee's life.
I'm also really happy with the way the author handled the tricky situation with Kaylee's relationship with her boyfriend. Nash was previously hooked on demon breath and his ex-girlfriend the evil Sabine complicated things further. Nash's behavior, particularly (view spoiler)[how he dealt with his ex and the terrible, terrible thing he did to compel Kaylee (hide spoiler)], changed Kaylee's perception of him irrevocably, and the author does a terrific job of showing how agonizing and sad it is when feelings and priorities change with time. Anyone who read the excellent Soul Screamers short Reaper also knows the complicated story behind what Nash's brother Tod has done for him and will be thrilled to see Tod finally being present in the book in a big way. Fangirl moment: (view spoiler)[Yaaaay! At last at last at last. I'm so happy with where this story went. :D (hide spoiler)]
If you haven't read the series, it's one that is extremely entertaining and matures in surprising ways with its protagonist. And if you're already a fan of the series, well...this latest installment hooks you from the very first chapter. It's important to read this as quickly as possible so that major plot developments aren't accidentally spoiled for you, since this is a game-changing book--so don't wait too long! You're in for an awesome ride.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Eerily beautiful and incredibly disturbing, Imaginary Girls is a novel unlike any other I've ever read. As the story begins, Chloe is coaxed into swim...moreEerily beautiful and incredibly disturbing, Imaginary Girls is a novel unlike any other I've ever read. As the story begins, Chloe is coaxed into swimming across a reservoir at night by her magnetic and beautiful older sister, Ruby. A dangerous and illegal activity, made all the more frightening because Chloe would be swimming over the lost town of Olive, which was flooded to make room for the reservoir. The idea of swimming over a ghost towns in the dark of night, with the possibility of "cold, webbed hands" reaching out for your ankles, is incredibly evocative and scary, and it created a distinct feeling of unease that never left me.
If that wasn't enough, Chloe finds herself face to face with a dead body at the end of her swim. In terrible shock, she leaves town for awhile to live with her father. Upon her return, however, she finds that while everything still seems to go Ruby's way, absolutely nothing is exactly what it seems--and something terrible lurks beneath the surface of the charmed world that her sister has created.
This is a fascinating story about a compelling and uncomfortable relationship between a mesmerizing older sister and her profound influence on her younger sibling. Chloe refers to herself as an "echo" of Ruby, and the imbalance in their interactions becomes more and more troubling. What rings very true, especially for anyone who might have an older sister herself, is that Ruby mostly does not control those around her with threats or extremely negative behavior, but confidently captivates them with the beguiling persuasiveness of her personality. And it's the poison you love that usually does the most damage. The interesting thing is, as one of my fellow reviewers pointed out, I wouldn't necessarily call Ruby the villain of the piece, however. The situation is much more complicated than that.
Throughout the book, I wasn't entirely sure what was going on--is it supernatural? is it not?--and I think its dreamy, distant mood was perfect for a story that creates a lot of puzzling scenarios but doesn't necessarily provide clear cut answers. I think some readers may have an issue with some of the unresolved questions, but for me, its Twilight Zone quality was part of its appeal.
This is an extremely compelling and layered book, with gorgeous, haunting imagery and quietly frightening scenarios. It takes a gifted writer to make something as innocent as a bunch of balloons into a reason to make you worried and afraid. The shivers I felt upon reading that scene still haven't quite left me, and the disquieting mood of this strangely beautiful book certainly never will.
The Town of Olive:
There's a fascinating story behind the author's inspiration for this novel. The lost town of Olive was inspired by and loosely based on the communities in the Hudson Valley that were torn down to build the Ashokan Reservoir in 1917. The author also answers some other frequently asked questions on her website.
This review does not contain spoilers for either FEED or DEADLINE. One year has passed since Shaun and Georgia Mason found more than they bargained fo...moreThis review does not contain spoilers for either FEED or DEADLINE. One year has passed since Shaun and Georgia Mason found more than they bargained for as they investigated the truth behind the Kellis-Amberlee virus, a mutated cure for human disease that led to the uprising of the dead. The events that transpired then have an enormous impact now as the high-profile bloggers from After the End of Times uncover a conspiracy that is even bigger than they ever imagined. A CDC researcher fakes her own death in a spectacular fashion and shows up at their headquarters, and soon the whole team is battling zombies, mutant dogs, and the ever-present ghosts of their past.
When I finished this book late last night, my thoughts were "I have not a single criticism to offer. Not a single one." And this still holds true. Without exception, every question and doubt I raised with Feed is answered here. The action is incredibly intense, the story is densely and intricately plotted, and the book is exceptionally well-paced and exciting. Readers who are leery of zombies still shouldn't have much of a problem, because although there are more tense encounters with the undead, the violence is relatively contained and there are no gross or gratuitous scenes. Most of the terror comes from heart-pounding action and chase sequences, as well as the knowledge of the overwhelming consequences if the team fails in its quest for truth and justice.
Shaun, Georgia, and Buffy all loom large in this sequel, but we also get to know the other staffers better, including the elegant Mahir, the fiercely determined Becks, the quietly steady Alaric, and the sad, tragic Maggie. Most significantly, however, the narrator has shifted to Shaun, whose personality comes through loud and clear in his bitterly funny words, his decisive handling of his team, and his desperately emotional struggle to hang onto what he loves most. Mira Grant met and exceeded every expectation I had for this book, particularly in the devastating truth that comes to light about what might have been. I knew from Feed to expect an emotional reaction, but I could not have prepared myself for the terrible knowledge that these characters have to face. I was literally whimpering from the pain, and tears were streaming so hard that I couldn't see the page.
This is my third 5 star review for a 2011 book, and it is given with no reservations or qualifications. This is a searingly intelligent novel, with hard questions about medical ethics, government responsibility, and the nobility and folly of human nature. And just when you think the author has delivered everything she possibly could, there is a HUGE twist at the end that made me bolt upright and scream in the middle of the night. This twist has far-reaching consequences for both the characters and for society as a whole, and it also answered questions I had about the future in a crazy and unthinkable way.
It will be another year before the third book in this trilogy will be released, and I'll spend much of that time waiting in agony to find out what happens to the characters I've come to care about so much. But oh my stars, what a pleasure it is to be so incredibly excited and thrilled and moved by an author's work.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
REMINDER: DO NOT read the synopsis for this book anywhere if you haven't already read FEED, as it contains potential spoilers for the first book. And please do be careful of reviews that may spoil this one.(less)
4.5 stars This book defies every just about every red flag that pops up in YA literature. Are you cautious when trying out a brand new author? Do you...more4.5 stars This book defies every just about every red flag that pops up in YA literature. Are you cautious when trying out a brand new author? Do you sometimes wince when girls behave in classic "mean girl" fashion towards each other? Do you get sick of brand names being dropped into casual conversation? Well, you'll find all of that and more in Shirley Marr's debut novel. And the funny thing is, because it's in the hands of a gifted author, it all works. Beautifully.
Within minutes of meeting Eliza Boans, you quickly realize that she's a spoiled, murderous brat. She's a privileged teenager living in the exclusive community of East Rivermoor, and she's just confessed to a heinous crime in an interrogation room--but exhibits not a single shred of remorse. She's far more concerned about returning to her pampered life in which she rules the roost of girls at her school, and where her absent mother indulges her with every luxury item she could possibly think of. Eliza is someone who could easily get away with murder...except that the story isn't quite that simple.
Told in darkly humorous flashbacks as Eliza alternately charms her interrogator and frustrates him with evasions and half-truths, Fury is a fast-moving mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you try to figure out why a young girl, even one with such an outwardly confident attitude, would defiantly take on such a serious charge. Fury is also a brilliant character study of a girl who has everything going for her on the surface, but whose arch, careless demeanor and sarcastic observations hide an enormously complicated history and hidden emotion.
I loved the fierce friendships--as well as the fierce rivalry--between Eliza and her friends. I loved the crack in Eliza's armor when it comes to her friend Nick. I loved the many, many nods to Jane Austen. And above all, I loved the incomparable Eliza, who makes no apologies for her life or her attitude. Even when you discover the secrets seething beneath the glamorous surface of her life, she wastes no time on pity for herself. Nor for anyone else who doesn't deserve it.
This is a smart, superbly well-written book that strikes the perfect tone in balancing serious subjects with dark humor and a near-perfect teen narrative. It's a much better interpretation of the myth of the Greek Furies than Elizabeth Miles' Fury, which also featured teenagers being punished for bad behavior, but that book doesn't even come close to this one in terms of plotting, character development, humor, and emotion. It proves the point that a well-plotted story with depth can surpass all misgivings and shine brightly among all the other paranormal YA books with a beauty all its own.
I do wish there was a little more time with the characters after everything had been revealed, though you could chalk up some of that to the fact that I just didn't want this book to end. It's rare that a debut novel can knock your socks off like this--but anyone who spends time with Eliza will never forget her.
Fury is currently only available in Australia, but overseas publishers really need to snap up this author for other audiences. If you can't wait, please visit an Austrialian bookseller such as Fishpond online.
There's something about rhythm of summer that slows down time and makes every moment especially delicious. Summer's fleeting season means that its mom...moreThere's something about rhythm of summer that slows down time and makes every moment especially delicious. Summer's fleeting season means that its moments are also bittersweet, however, and no one knows this better than beach-town girl Anna Patrick. She's falling head over heels in love with Will...but knows that he'll soon have to go back to New York where he belongs.
I'm not much of a contemporary YA romance person, but found myself thoroughly charmed by this book, which is the perfect lighthearted beach read but is also filled with unexpected layers. After reading so many paranormal or dystopian novels with complicated set-ups or books that put you through the emotional wringer, it's so nice to relax with a book that doesn't have a typical love triangle, bad boy posturing, or some sort of looming imminent danger. It's also a pleasure to read about teens who are actually nice to each other and do normal things like going on cute dates and talking on the phone, and who have good relationships with the adults in their lives.
Anna and Will's summer is filled with ice cream and curly fries and bike rides and barbecues and long walks in the moonlight...and kissing. Lots of kissing. Anna is a relatable, likable girl who has normal insecurities but doesn't let them spin out of control--and she takes the time to be a good friend even as she's learning what it's like to be a girlfriend for the first time. It's easy to see why Will falls for Anna and for this comfortable and amazing town, which is almost like a character of its very own, because I'd sure like to visit! You can practically feel the sand between your toes and the warmth of the sun on your arms and the coldness of Anna's Pineapple Ginger Ale ice cream melting in your mouth. There are also lovely moments with luxurious swims, encounters with crabs on the beach at night, a bittersweet baby sea turtle rescue, and a beautiful early morning moment that Anna shares with Will that I won't spoil with details, but will be familiar to anyone who's ever lived near a beach.
I'm mostly glad, however, that although this is a romance book and it's all about Anna's relationship with Will, she lives a rich and bustling life outside of him. He enriches her interactions with her friends and her family and her job and her pursuits, but he doesn't define them. Even as summer draws to a close, Anna agonizes over the upcoming heartache of their separation, since she knows that losing her first love will hurt badly. But she's smart enough enough to know that no matter what happens, she is strong enough to handle it--which is a great message for women everywhere, no matter what her age.
I loved being so consumed by Will. Adored it. But I kind of hated it too, because I felt like a huge part of myself had been wrested from my control. I mean, sometimes you just want to make a peanut butter sandwich without being overcome by your own passion, you know?
I don't normally gush over books like this, but I found this book to be full of sweet, sweet moments, believable conflicts, smart, funny characters, and a surprisingly nuanced narrative underneath its romantic YA surface. It's a perfect summer read that will take you back to those heady days of falling in love for the first time...with the added bonus of leaving you with a big goofy smile on your face.
How was it fair that I had to conduct a murder investigation and do trig?
If Nancy Drew had a cheeky sense of humor, she would be Hartley Featherstone....moreHow was it fair that I had to conduct a murder investigation and do trig?
If Nancy Drew had a cheeky sense of humor, she would be Hartley Featherstone. Hartley's boyfriend Josh has been cheating on her, and even worse, the girl turns up dead and Josh is now the prime suspect in Courtney's murder. What's a girl to do except band together with her best friend Sam and the good-looking Chase to try and solve the crime?
Reading Deadly Cool is like eating a bowl of ice cream. It's a refreshing treat following the afterburn of reading so many mopey and middling young adult novels, and it's one that goes down smoothly and will leave you craving more more more! I didn't expect for a murder mystery to keep me laughing throughout the entire story, but this one totally did. Hartley's observations are hilarious, and so are her interactions with everyone around her. At one point, an anonymous note demands a meeting with her on the football field at midnight, and she rolls her eyes and says,
"Seriously? Am I living in an episode of CSI: Silicon Valley?"
And when Josh tells her he's created a new account to chat with her, she says,
"My Space? No one is on that anymore."
"Exactly. What better way to hide out?"
This book feels very current and modern in a way that I'm not sure I've seen in any other YA novel, but the contemporary details are seamlessly interwoven and feel like a natural part of the story. There are also tons of funny pop culture references (sympathetic head tilts, etc.), Hartley's believably exasperated but loving relationship with her health-nut mom, and adults who aren't just props and actually try to help her...even if one of them does smell like Fancy Feast. I also appreciated that Hartley absolutely confirms that Josh has been cheating on her and dumps him (see the way she dresses him down in my status updates), but she decides immediately that she will help him anyway. Besides, how can you not love a girl who hides Ben & Jerry's in the back of the freezer, says "eff you" to her crappy mood by putting on sparkly flats, and admits to eating two slices of lasagna in one sitting? It's gluten-free tofu lasagna, but still.
The mystery is also pretty entertaining, with a good amount of plausible detailing, but it doesn't go overboard on the technical details. Even if you guess who the murderer is, it isn't going to spoil the experience of reading the book since the narrative voice is so bouncy and cute. The investigation, by the way, leads to a really funny scene where Hartley is trapped under a hot guy's bed who's unaware that she's there and he starts to undress. There are a number of scenarios like that might normally raise my eyebrows if they're tastelessly done, but Gemma Halliday writes with such wit and charm that they don't seem at all forced or tacky. Instead, you feel every bit of Hartley's embarrassment and anxiety, as well as her, um, inability to look away.
This book put me in such a good mood, and has a similar vibe to fresh and funny books such as Hex Hall and Flying Blind. Hartley is a lot like a cross between Sophie Mercer and Nancy Drew, actually, and she also quickly became one of my favorite YA characters. I had such a good time with this book, and I'm really looking forward to the sequel Social Suicide, which will be out soon in Spring 2012. If you enjoy non-angsty YA, Deadly Cool is a book you'll definitely want to take for a spin.
P.S. I thought it was funny that one of the secondary character's names was Cody Banks, which made me think of the movie from awhile back. The name "Hartley" reminded me of Beverly Cleary's The Luckiest Girl, however, which was a big bonus in my book. :)(less)
What makes us human? Is it merely a collection of living flesh and tissue and bone, or is it also consciousness and memory and feeling? R, the young z...moreWhat makes us human? Is it merely a collection of living flesh and tissue and bone, or is it also consciousness and memory and feeling? R, the young zombie who narrates this novel, isn't really sure. But after meeting Julie, a human girl he impulsively saves and hides away in an abandoned plane, he begins to experience thoughts and feelings that he'd forgotten he'd ever had.
Warm Bodies is a wistful love story that is creepy, sad, sweet, and disturbing in equal measure. The notion that it is possible to write a philosophical zombie novel seems quite unbelievable, but the author has accomplished this feat with astonishing ease. Being in R's head is a revelatory experience; he is matter-of-fact, pensive, humorous, and troubled at various different times. After his shockingly violent introduction to Julie, he also becomes animated and severely conflicted and full of yearning. A story like this obviously requires that readers suspend a fair amount of disbelief, but the focus here isn't on the technical aspects of survival anyway, but more on the idea that the desire for dignity and tenderness have just as much to do with humanity as does a collection of blood and muscles and cells.
The gentle sentiment in this story took me completely by surprise, especially as it contrasts so sharply with the visceral feedings that keep the zombies alive. The nourishment comes not only from the nutritional content that is necessary for survival, but also from the associated memories and emotions that each morsel of brain matter contains. This startlingly original idea creates an incredible amount of anguish and guilt and longing for R, and as he becomes more and more deeply attached to Julie, it's impossible to remain unmoved by his plight.
I keep saying I'm not a zombie person, but some of the best books I've read recently have featured them in prominent roles. After being blown away by Feed, Deadline, and The Reapers Are the Angels, I wasn't really sure whether there was still another great zombie story I'd be excited about, but Warm Bodies is a brilliant addition to the non-typical horror, intelligent zombie novel canon. I think that the reason these stories have struck such a chord with me is that they're attempting to explore ideas that are bigger than the issues that are actually on the page. Whether the books are delving into the right to information or the value of life or the struggle to keep the human spirit alive, the presence of the zombies is almost incidental. It's the fundamental questions these novels raise about the nature of humans and humanity that make them such great --and moving--works of literature.
Oh! This is so cool.That was my reaction late last night when I finished this book and the feeling hasn't worn off. Ultraviolet is one of those sneaky...moreOh! This is so cool.That was my reaction late last night when I finished this book and the feeling hasn't worn off. Ultraviolet is one of those sneaky books that makes you think you're reading one thing and then all the sudden, whoosh, you're off on a different adventure. I think many of us who spend a lot of time in the paranormal genre have come to expect a certain story structure from these types of books, but this one has no problem bending all the rules and leaping out to explore other dimensions. Be careful as reviews start to come in, however, because the less you know about this story, the more you'll enjoy it.
The book starts off with a bang: Alison has been institutionalized in a teen mental facility because she's confessed to killing Tori, a girl from school. The problem is, Ali watched her classmate disintegrate in front of her...and the body has disappeared. Since Ali's also seeing colors and tasting lies, she doesn't know whether she's really going crazy or not. She is isolated from her friends and family, she can't relate to the other kids in the facility, and she's being pressured by the police and her psychiatrist to give up information she knows will hurt her. The only one she can turn to is the handsome Dr. Faraday, who helps her understand her synesthesia, an unusual neurological condition in which she processes certain letters as colors, sees symbols where they don't exist, etc.
The author spends a lot of time carefully easing us into a familiarity with Alison's condition and making us feel for her situation, and for the longest time I wasn't even sure if she was ever going to make it out of the institution since her mother keeps finding excuses to not to see her. It took me a little while to adjust to her condition as well, but once I settled in I really enjoyed seeing the world through Ali's sensations, even though I wasn't sure where the story was going.
And then...just as you're getting comfortable, the author turns everything on its head. Shortly before it happened, I guessed what was going on--but the reveal is so simply and beautifully done that my little heart still fluttered. From that point on, the story kicks into high gear as Alison tries to solve the mystery of what happened to her classmate and to prove--and to believe--that she isn't insane at all.
There is a wondrous moment near the end that made me catch my breath that invokes the same sort of feelings I get from lying in a meadow under a giant nightscape of stars and sky--that awesome, bigger-than-life emotion of gazing up into a beauty and mystery that we will never fully understand. It's hard to go into detail here about what made this book so fantastic for me without spoiling it, but as I was reading this scene, I flashed back to the very best work of Madeleine L'Engle and Ray Bradbury. I've often wondered if those two masters of speculative fiction are as beloved by teens today as they were back in the day, because like Ultraviolet, their work trusted their readers enough to peel back their many layers slowly and patiently.
I'm not sure how this book will be viewed by modern mass audiences, but I do believe (and hope) that it's going to be critically very well received. It's intelligently written fiction with ideas that stimulate the imagination and move you with what's unspoken...as well as the infinite possibilities of a future yet to come.
If you gently shook a snow globe, you might find that the snowflakes come down on an enchanting story much like this one. Hazel’s best friend Jack has...moreIf you gently shook a snow globe, you might find that the snowflakes come down on an enchanting story much like this one. Hazel’s best friend Jack has disappeared, and the quiet, scrappy fifth grader must overcome her fears—not to mention a mysterious witch and numerous other challenges—in order to save him.
This lovely story, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, unfolds slowly and beautifully. As an adult who still reads or rereads a lot of children’s books and an avid lover of fairy tales, I was very much looking forward to reading this novel. Hazel turns out to be a brave, imaginative heroine whose love of books and quiet wonder at the world made me overjoyed to find such a kindred spirit. My heart also ached in sympathy for Hazel’s puzzlement and pain over the real life problems she faces, including her adoptive parents’ divorce, her sense of being an outsider as a child of Indian descent, and Jack’s sudden coldness to her before he goes away.
The strongest and most compelling part of this book for me was how the author so seamlessly modernized this classic story. It is extremely difficult to retain the fairy tale elements of timelessness and mystery and magic while working in unforced contemporary references, but the author managed to do so with a great deal of ease and charm. Above all, the rift between Jack and Hazel, which is explained away by a cold shard of magical glass that got into his eye, works exceptionally well as a metaphor for growing up, much as it worked for the children of Narnia. The writing is just gorgeous, with wonderful descriptiveness and moments of true beauty. You can practically feel the sting of ice and the flurry of snow on your face as you read this story, and you can definitely feel Hazel’s wistfulness and longing to simply…belong. And to matter, to someone, somehow.
I am a little puzzled by the audience for whom this book is intended, however. The jacket copy lists ages 8 – 12, but the narrative really sounds more like it’s a bedtime story for adults—or perhaps one that’s meant to be read aloud to children. It doesn’t really get into Hazel’s head so much as explain to you what she’s thinking or what it might mean, as there’s a little too much exposition for the reader to be unaware of the adult who is writing it.
And while I was so thrilled with the literary references in the first half of the book, with subtle nods to everything from C.S. Lewis to Philip Pullman to J.K. Rowling, I have to confess that this eventually became a little distracting to me because there were so many of them. I appreciate that Hazel is a voracious reader, and the reader in me rejoiced to be reminded of so many beloved classics, but even with the knowledge that books are her windows to understanding the world, it all became a little too much. The writing is so strong, the images so evocative, and Hazel so thoroughly winning that I didn’t feel as though it was necessary to spend so much time focusing on other books. Some of the fairy tale elements that Hazel encounters later in the forest did interest me quite a bit, especially considering their dreamlike quality, but again, I think this would have been a perfectly strong book on its own--with its own mythology and its own unique feel—without relying so heavily on other people’s stories.
The ending also feels very rushed and rather underdeveloped, in both story and emotional satisfaction. Overall I found that the first two-thirds of the book, as readers get to know Hazel and her quirks and her insecurities, is much more compelling than the last act, when things finally get moving with the big rescue. For while the idea of a child being so immersed in stories is certainly a bewitching one, at some point that child must step out of that fairyland in some way in order for this to be a true story of personal growth.
Still, this is an exquisite book in many ways, and one well worth reading. (Certainly more so than the other recent YA nods to The Snow Queen story, Stork and Frost.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see this as an awards contender when all is said and done, and the book will no doubt deserve it on the strength of its writing and its premise alone. I do wish, however, that this fairy tale had trusted in its own merits—and those of its valiant little heroine—a little more. It could so easily have been something more than merely a charming and well-written homage.
There is a certain rough beauty which can be found in urban environments. Anyone who has stood on a rooftop at sundown or noticed a patch of wildflowe...moreThere is a certain rough beauty which can be found in urban environments. Anyone who has stood on a rooftop at sundown or noticed a patch of wildflowers poking out of a concrete sidewalk will appreciate the strange duality of natural and manmade aesthetics, as well as the occasional difficulty of finding security and happiness in such surroundings.
For Kid, who has been living on the streets for over a year, the city of Brooklyn offers both strength and sadness and love and loss. Kid's parents can't seem to accept a lifestyle that doesn't fit neatly into a box, and Kid turns to one person after another looking for fulfillment that can't be found at home. This is a slow, gritty coming of age story that deals with painful family relationships, small but impossible dreams, unexpected kindness, hopeful love, and the hard truth that sometimes friends can understand you better than the people you've known your entire life.
Written in matter-of-fact prose that is ever more affecting because of its lack of sentimentality, Brooklyn, Burning offers a troubling look at what many kids go through when their families can't or won't accept their fundamental sexual identities. The author pulls off the incredible trick of never revealing Kid's gender to the reader, and it's clear that Kid's father's refusal to open his heart to his son/daughter is the direct cause of Kid's desperate struggle to find some measure of peace and happiness outside of self and outside of home.
Despite its pragmatic style, there is incredible beauty and a great deal of latent emotion in this moving book. Kid's longing for human connection lingers over every conversation and every thought, and the author's descriptions of love and music leave a lovely ache.
I just stood, watching him, listening to the melody he hummed. Even without words, it haunted me--filled the room and everything in it. The visions it gave me: they were dark, but beautiful. They took me out of the cellar, up to the rooftops at night on the lower East side, down into the subway, onto the tracks, and into the tunnels. They brought me deep into the city, deeper than anyone can ever really go: into its heart.
Can you miss someone before they're gone, when they're still smiling up at you with closed eyes, and their beautiful face, with its deep-set eyes and two days of beard, is rolling slowly between your knees?
I was drawn in by Brooklyn, Burning in ways that I never expected, but was so touched to find. This is a brave and unique story, and as unlikely as it might seem, I know I'd be hard pressed to find a book written this year that has more toughness and heart and spirit and beauty than this one.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Please note that there may be some mild spoilers in the discussion below! (less)
3.5 stars It's pretty much impossible to read this book and not smile throughout most of it. Impossible, I say! I've never read this author before, bu...more3.5 stars It's pretty much impossible to read this book and not smile throughout most of it. Impossible, I say! I've never read this author before, but the quirky cover appealed to my sense of humor and the premise reminded me a of A Different Twist, one of those Scholastic paperbacks I really liked in grade school.
Have you ever wondered why guys don't call back when they say they will? Natalie has, so she decides to go undercover at a boys' prep school for some inside info for her newspaper story on how the other half thinks. She cuts her hair, puts on a school uniform, applies some fake stubble, and throws herself right into the project. How hard can it be to figure out what makes boys tick, right?
The set-up and many of the details are obviously far-fetched and silly (and have been used in many stories before this one), so you're going to have to just run with them if you're going to read this book. It's not hard to leave your analytical brain at the door, though, as I was hooked from the very beginning by the breezy tone and fast-moving plot. I loved Natalie's smart and funny voice as well as her sly observations about the world around her.
My personal favorite, however, is the brief and appropriate nod to My Fair Lady during the transformation scene with Nat's friends. "By George, I think you've got it." Love love love!
There are really great girl-girl friendships and cute boys, as well as some interesting revelations that come to Nat about friends (and trolls) hiding in unexpected places. I also liked the author's depiction of the natural exuberance in the way girls interact with each other, and the way Nat comes to appreciate both the opposite sex as well as her own pleasure in being a girl.
This is a super cute book that is a lot of fun to read. I highly recommend it for the next time you want a fast and fluffy, uncomplicated but not shallow book. It's something we can all use from time to time.
In the dark of night, when the house is still, what fears creep into your heart? For Conor O'Malley, his nightmares take the shape of a very old and v...moreIn the dark of night, when the house is still, what fears creep into your heart? For Conor O'Malley, his nightmares take the shape of a very old and very dangerous monster who visits him every night at seven minutes past midnight. He's half-convinced that these must be dreams of his fevered mind. But how can they be, when the visits are so vivid and when he finds physical evidence of the monster's existence the next day?
Conor's nightmares begin shortly after his mother starts her treatments for cancer. He's also dealing with a father who lives far away and is engrossed with his new family, a brisk and determined grandma who doesn't understand him, and schoolmates who don't seem to see him anymore. As readers learn more and more about Conor's story and the terrible monster who comes to visit, it is impossible not to feel worry and fear and sadness for this boy, whose must shoulder problems that have toppled many adults before him. But even in his anger and pain, Conor's defiant spirit shows flashes of dry humor and painful hopefulness that are difficult to witness, but make him impossibly endearing.
A Monster Calls is a middle grade children's book, but it's a children's book in the way that Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein wrote children's books--that is, the surface stories are certainly well-written and compelling, but underneath that are the themes of confusion and loneliness and sadness that elevate them to timeless works of literature. And while A Monster Calls chooses to confront its demons more literally than some other books may, it does so with such fierce intelligence and ease that it never feels didactic or forced.
...the fire in Conor's chest suddenly blazed, suddenly burned like it would eat him alive. It was the truth, he knew it was. A moan started in his throat, a moan that rose into a cry and then a loud wordless yell and he opened his mouth and the fire came blazing out to consume everything, bursting over the blackness, over the yew tree, too, setting it ablaze along with the rest of the world...
This an incredible book about the enormous burdens of responsibility and grief and loss. I read most of it with anxiety in my heart and as the story intensified, the ache in my throat got worse and worse. By the time I reached the end, hot tears were dripping onto the last two pages, and continued to fall as I immediately read those pages again, and as I read them yet again.
But more than anything else, I felt a great deal of love as I was reading this. Love for Conor, love for his mum, love for his grandma, and love for everyone who has ever experienced a profound loss. This is such a beautiful book, such an important book, and one that I think so many children and so many adults will appreciate. I cannot imagine that there will be another children's book written this year that will provide such a moving and emotionally truthful experience, or one that will so easily become an instant classic. In just 215 pages, A Monster Calls shatters your heart and then wraps it up tightly again so that you can go and be present in the world as an infinitely wiser, more loving human being.
About the Illustrations:
The words themselves are powerful and full of terrible beauty and latent emotion. But if you're able, do try to get your hands on a copy of the hardcover, which is illustrated with wildly expressive artistry that complement the story perfectly and captures exactly the right feel for the book. I've included some of the illustrations from the book here in this review, but if you'd like to see more images, please visit Jim Kay's website to learn more about the process the artist used.
About the Story:
The story behind this book makes it even more poignant. Siobhan Dowd, the award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, conceived this idea and the characters and the beginning--but died of breast cancer at the age of 47 before she could write the novel. Patrick Ness was asked to write the book based on her idea, and he succeeded in achieving a work of fiction that both transcends its genre and painfully wrenches your heart.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
After three decades, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho still stands out as a masterpiece of suspense. June 16 marks the anniversary of the movie's 1960 releas...moreAfter three decades, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho still stands out as a masterpiece of suspense. June 16 marks the anniversary of the movie's 1960 release and it's a good opportunity to dive into the impressive story behind the film. I don't always have the patience to sit down and read an entire exhaustive biography, so I really enjoyed reading this fairly short, focused piece on one particular project.
The Crime Behind the Film
Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho traces the origin of the story to the infamous body snatcher and murderer Ed Gein, upon whom the fictional novel by Robert Bloch was based. Bloch's book was anonymously optioned by Hitchcock (as was his habit) for the paltry sum of $9000 and no percentage of the profits, which must have been a hard pill to swallow after seeing the film's eventual success. It's interesting that the book's prologue delves right into the gruesome details of Gein's crimes, for although the facts of the case will not be news to anyone who has dipped a toe into his history, the ghastly details may be somewhat repugnant to the casual reader.
The Making of the Film
The book quickly moves onto Hitchcock's deal-making, pre-production work, and casting, however. Hitchcock personally financed Psycho and deferred his usual director's fee in exchange for majority ownership of the negative, so he enjoyed a fair amount of autonomy with his choices. The author goes into great detail about the hiring and firing of screenwriters, crew members, and various other below-the-line negotiations that might be a little on the dry side for some readers. I personally enjoy learning about budget details for these kinds of projects, however, so the author kept my attention with his meticulously researched facts and figures, many of which were uncovered in discussions with Hitchcock himself during a series of interviews shortly before the director's death. It was particularly interesting to read about Hitch's relationship with Saul Bass, the graphic designer famous for his work on The Man with the Golden Gun, Vertigo, and West Side Story, and the man who designed Psycho's simple but evocative title treatment. There has been much debate over the years over who actually was responsible for directing the infamous shower scene with Janet Leigh, and the author's interviews with cast and crew sheds some interesting light on Bass' storyboards for this scene and his role as sometime assistant director.
The Man Behind the Film
Though this book is primarily a fairly objective documentation of how a film project came to be, the portrait it also sketches of the man behind the film is fascinating. You expect a man with his talent and showmanship to be shrewd and exacting and stubborn and clear-sighted, but it is a pleasure to discover that Hitchcock also placed a huge amount of trust in many of his collaborators, that he seemed to delight in surprising those who caught his fancy, and was a skilled trouble-shooter who found ingenious technical solutions to the innovative shots he was undertaking. It's easy to praise the film now with the benefit of modern perspective, but back then, Hitchcock really had to push to get this project made the way he wanted to. This ranged from using voyeuristic camera angles, suggestive lack of clothing, and of course, shocking murder scenes that had viewers fainting in the aisles. The film caused a sensation when it was released, and it's funny to hear that even then, directors had to include more violence than they intended to keep in order to play the ratings game with the MPAA.
Hitchcock's influence on the filmmakers who followed him cannot be overstated, and it's intriguing to read the play-by-play details for one of his most well-known films. All in all, this was a very enjoyable read and is recommended for any Hitchcock fan or student of film history. (The book has apparently already been optioned for a feature film.) I'd love to see a similar treatment someday for my personal Hitchcock favorite Marnie, as it would be great to gain some insight into what Hitchcock went through to get a film about a frigid kleptomaniac made. Right now, however, you'll have to excuse me while I go watch Psycho again.
Read an excerpt from the book:
If you'd like a sneak peek at the book, the publishers have made an excerpt from the book available which describes the crime upon which Psycho was based. Warning: the content of the preview is not explicit, but it is also not for the faint of heart.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review. (less)