Wow, what a huge surprise this was! Unexpected layers, a heroine who develops over the course of the book, and a seriously, seriously crush-worthy guy...moreWow, what a huge surprise this was! Unexpected layers, a heroine who develops over the course of the book, and a seriously, seriously crush-worthy guy.
3.5 starsI Hunt Killers was one of my favorite books last year. Between the graveyard humor and the taut plotting and the excellent character sketch...more3.5 starsI Hunt Killers was one of my favorite books last year. Between the graveyard humor and the taut plotting and the excellent character sketch of a boy who fears he may become a serial killer like his father, I was both intrigued and excited by the story.
I have more...mixed feelings about the sequel. While it's certainly still well-researched and well-executed, the focus has changed from suspense--albeit with gory underpinnings--to a more typical thriller. Since it's written like adult crime fiction with a teenager suddenly in the middle, it's a little harder to suspend disbelief that the authorities would rely so heavily on a 17-year-old's input (to the point of taking him across state lines), no matter what his parentage.
Things I liked: it's still fun to be in Jazz's head. The secondary characters, including his best friend Howie, are interesting and diverse. There are some good action scenes. It's fascinating that Jazz is afraid that having sex with his girlfriend Connie will trigger latent violent tendencies, even though he deliberately chose a girl whose ethnicity doesn't fit the usual victim profile; Jazz's self-awareness in general, and his attempts to keep himself in check, are so well done. And dear heaven, I will never, ever be able to look at a grapefruit spoon in the same way again.
Things I struggled with: Distracting limited multiple POVs. Creepy flashbacks of sexual encounters Jazz has blocked from his mind--they reminded me of the voyeuristic ones from Boy Toy. A TV episode-style cliffhanger. Investigators who are portrayed in a fairly stereotypical way in order to serve the "boy detective" premise. A lot of scenes written from the perspective of the killer's, which is rarely a technique I find engaging. And unfortunately, every time the words "Hat-Dog Killer" popped up, I read "Hot Dog Killer," which didn't help matters at all.
The thing is, my favorite part of Jasper Dent's story is not the crimes in and of themselves, but the riveting psychological profile of a boy who's on the brink of making the choice to ignore his baser instincts and violent training--or to unleash the scary ass monster that you know is hiding inside him. The skilled observations of human behavior present in I Hunt Killers take a back seat to cat and mouse, Lecter-like machinations in Game's more action-oriented plot, and as a result I was less inclined to overlook the more unlikely scenarios--and less inclined to care about what happens to Jazz himself.
But am I still excited by the series? Hell, yes. There's a lot to be said for books that push boundaries, and even those that make us uncomfortable. I may have mixed feelings about this particular installment of the Jasper Dent saga, but the author's writing, gift for narrative voice, sense of humor, and excellent research will ensure I'll read just about anything he's written. I'm just hoping that the final book in Jazz's story makes a return to the things I loved best about the first book: the origin story of a serial killer, or the survival of a man who chose good over evil. Thrillers are a dime a dozen; it's the complexities of individual human drama and emotion that make a story stand out.
Read the incredibly touching story behind If You Find Me through the author's guest post for our blog. It made me cry. (And you can win a copy of the...moreRead the incredibly touching story behind If You Find Me through the author's guest post for our blog. It made me cry. (And you can win a copy of the book, too.)
4.5 starsMy sister don't talk much. When she does, it's only to me, in moth-winged whispers, and only when we're alone.
There are few things more contrary to nature than abandoning your children. Basic instinct assures that most animals protect their young, so the idea of thinking, reasoning human parents neglecting or abusing their children is a violently offensive one.
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch is a stunning debut that explores the consequences of child neglect. 15-year-old Carey's mother is mentally ill, and a drug user who comes and goes without any accountability. She's hidden Carey and her younger sister away in a national forest in Tennessee for over ten years, and the girls know nothing of the outside world until she finally disappears for good. Carey and Jenessa then have to adjust to a new life when they go to live with their father, a man they don't remember at all and can't help but fear.
Reading about the instability of the girls' life in the woods is a wrenching experience, even though it's related mostly in retrospect as Carey recalls her past. It's hard to read about children who survive on a dwindling supply of canned beans, and whose want for simple warmth and shelter and companionship is something they don't even miss or comprehend, because it's the only way of life they've known.
What hits home the most, however, is that there is a great deal of beauty in the way Carey sees the world in spite of her upbringing. She misses the woodsmoke that used to cling to her clothes and hair, she knows her sister needs her pathetic, dirty books and toys to make their father's house feel like a home; and the woods still call to her, even as she marvels over the simple joys of owning a coat that doesn't smell of pee, having real food to eat, or being blessedly clean. That longing for what's familiar in spite of what logic might dictate is such a painfully human truth, and it's one of many honest revelations that felt gut-wrenchingly real.
I do think that a few things could have been more polished to make this story stronger: restructuring and streamlining of some of the plot, particularly in the use of flashbacks and sudden info-dumping; less reliance on quotes as a jumping point for discussion, particularly later in the book; and a closer eye kept on some repetitive words and phrases.
But the heart of this book is beautiful. There is poetic soul beneath the rough edges of backwoods dialect and unpolished story, and the honesty in the book's emotional journey shines through even when Carey is angry or scared. And while the ending may have felt a little too neat in some ways, there is redemptive and truthful quality to this girl's story that I respond to strongly. After all those years of living in awful circumstances, Carey's physical well-being is finally assured--but the truth is, none of us are whole until our hearts are mended.
If You Find Me is a story full of heartbreak and hope, as well as brutal and beautiful feeling. It's a testament to both the fragility and overwhelming power of hope--and to how some things, even horrific, dehumanizing things--can be soothed by nothing more than simple human kindness.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Warning: triggers for violent and abusive behavior. Recommended for adults and mature YA readers only, particularly ones who might've been drawn to Living Dead Girl.
If You Find Me Blog Tour
Please join us next week on the blog, when the author shares her emotional story behind how this book came to be. (less)
What makes us fall in love--and what makes us who we are?
Those are the questions at the heart of this novel, which tells a thoughtful, touching story...moreWhat makes us fall in love--and what makes us who we are?
Those are the questions at the heart of this novel, which tells a thoughtful, touching story that will surprise readers with its sentient literary style and gentle feeling.
Everyone longs for human connection, but 16-year-old A.'s search for it seems to be a losing proposition. Every day, for as long as he can remember, he wakes up in a different body: sometimes as a girl, sometimes with a different ethnicity, sometimes with a different sexual orientation. He's long recognized the futility of trying to create lasting relationships, but everything changes when he meets Rhiannon, a girl who makes him want things he's never thought possible.
This story reminds me of one of my favorite TNG episodes with a similar concept, and A. also follows a sort of prime directive in his self-imposed policy not to interfere too much in his "host's" life. He is, for the most part, a very likeable protagonist who doesn't wallow in self-pity or maudlin emotion, and it's interesting to see how skillfully the author retains A.'s sense of self and personality even within very different people in very different circumstances. One of my favorite things about this book is how we catch a glimpse of all the lives that A. touches; some of the manifestations are humorous, some of them are incredibly sad, and some of them are downright harrowing. There is also a tension and urgency in the story from various different sources, most notably in the form of someone who is relentlessly pursuing A. for his own dangerous reasons.
The things that some more logic-hobbled readers (heh, I am coining that term!) won't like about this book are precisely what I do like about it. I like the book's more quiet, philosophical bent, and I actually like that we don't get any answers as to why this happens to A. Frankly, they're not necessary--this story isn't about that, and had the author attempted to invent specious reasoning for the wheres and whyfores of this concept, this would have been a very different book. A. obviously makes some mistakes in judgments--haven't we all?--and I do think his relationship with Rhiannon developed rather suddenly, as she's a fine enough girl, but I never really understood why he liked her so much! But for me, this all worked within the confines of this story concept. I accepted that in the course of living countless lives in A.'s lifetime, something in this girl at this time called out to him. And sometimes people just come along at the exact right time in your life when you desperately need it, and A. is very much in need of being loved. And perhaps even more importantly, he is very much in need of being acknowledged.
"The tenderness between two people can turn the air tender, the room tender, time itself tender. As I step out of bed and slip on an oversize shirt, everything around me feels like it's the temperature of happiness."
Things become very difficult, of course, once Rhiannon learns about A.'s unique circumstance. It's hard to fault anyone for having trouble accepting the fantastical premise, as well as the reality of living with it, because after all, a big, big part of love relies on both the thrill and the comfort we find in another person's familiar presence. The struggle that these two have to reconcile what they want with what is realistic is poignant though ultimately, still very hopeful. By the end of this pensive, bittersweet novel, your heart may rend in two, because the purest form of love is perhaps when it involves some form of selflessness or self-sacrifice. But there's a great deal of beauty--and comfort--to be found in that, too.
This is my first time reading David Levithan. But it won't be my last.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Recommended for: fans of A Certain Slant of Light, for those who were intrigued by the body-switching concept in Mercy, and for those who might've yearned for a more mature, tender feeling from Tempest.
Win an Every Day ARC! And make cookies, too!
We're giving away an Advance Readers Copy of this book on the blog. And hey, this review was powered by peanut butter cookies! By special request from Cassi you can download the free recipe card, too.
2.5 stars A lot of potential, but I think this one tried to tackle too many issues without exploring any one of them with enough depth and focus for m...more2.5 stars A lot of potential, but I think this one tried to tackle too many issues without exploring any one of them with enough depth and focus for my taste. And please, if you have a character who is a teacher, let's have him know how to conjugate the word "lie" correctly!
Still, with more editing and thematic/character development, I think this author might have interesting things to offer in the future. Definitely interested in seeing what happens with the sequel.(less)
Briefly: I enjoyed this, even though the story meandered quite a bit. I was surprised by how smooth the transitions were between Brenna, Saxon's, and...moreBriefly: I enjoyed this, even though the story meandered quite a bit. I was surprised by how smooth the transitions were between Brenna, Saxon's, and Jake's POVs, and it was kind of fun to be in the boys' heads for once. I wasn't so crazy about all the "Brenna is so hot" comments again and again though, and I do think poor Jake gets the short end of the stick a bit, since he isn't given that much to do and Saxon's story is so much more interesting.
Rambling thoughts: I like the new friend, even though I think we spent a little too much time with her. This always happens when a new spinoff character is introduced in a book, though. :/ I'm glad that Saxon (view spoiler)[finally managed to move on, and I like his new GF. I thought the way things were left between him and Brenna at the end was nicely done, and it struck the right note (hide spoiler)]. It did make me a little nuts (view spoiler)[when Jake goes skinny-dipping with Caroline...I mean, REALLY. And I wasn't crazy about how much emphasis there was on Jake and whats-her-name looking at each other and speculating on their mutual attraction and what would've happened if they'd met before she and Saxon met or Jake and Brenna met. (hide spoiler)] I get it, valid point, but it was too much.
Still, the book was cute and had a little bit more of the spark I enjoyed so much in Double Clutch. It wasn't as great as that first book, but it does allow me to have some closure and to pretend that Junk Miles doesn't exist. I really hope this is the end of this love triangle, though. And if they show up in the spinoff series, I won't mind at all, because I really do like these guys. (view spoiler)[Just as long as Saxon stops mooning over Brenna in his mind (hide spoiler)].(less)
"Can we be certain of anyone's soul, human or otherwise?"
Fiction is often most meaningful when it explores questions we find too disturbing to ask in the everyday world. Through one girl's struggle to claim her own identity, The Lost Girl addresses some fascinating ethical questions, all the while presenting a measured, powerful essay on the value of human life.
Fifteen-year-old Eva lives, sleeps, and breathes someone else's existence. As an echo, a carbon copy of a girl halfway across the world, she learns everything that Amarra learns and is even nearly forced to suffer the same physical injuries as her other. There have been various books that explore cloning, but what's so unusual about this one is the psychological element, since it's not just Eva's organs that are being harvested, it's her entire entity and identity.
One of the things I liked best about this book is the way the science fiction elements are handled. The creators of these echos are called Weavers, and they are presented in somewhat mystical and mysterious manner. It has a similar tone and feeling to the film Children of Men, and the book is not unlike the way some of Bradbury's futuristic tales are written; that is, these just happen to be human beings in extraordinary circumstances, rather than a fantastical, tech-heavy setting with some humans in it.
The writing is also well-paced, thoughtful, and beautifully descriptive, deftly balancing gravity and humor, as well as joy and sadness. Eva recalls a man with "a voice like thunder and lions" and upon her relocation, marvels at how familiar her new home seems.
I had been sent pictures all my life, of course, and Mina Ma had told me long stories about Bangalore. She had described streets, places, pieces of her life. As a child, I sat at her feet and drew picture, inspired by her voice and the flickers of memory passed on through Amarra's and my consciousness. So many of those pictures had been true. There were ashoka trees down the middle of a long road, just the way I'd imagined...There were little stalls along the roads, open late, tea stalls with clinking steel cups and sweet shops with packets of crisps hanging from makeshift roofs. Or chips, as Mina Ma called them. Coke and Pepsi in glass bottles with steel caps. Men crouched on the edge of the road, smoking tiny not-quite cigarettes.
Every character left an indelible mark, from Eva herself to her gruff caretaker Mina Ma to her brother Nikhil to her friends at school. I was enraged by the casual cruelty Eva endures, and the parents later made me so angry that I couldn't see straight. I do wish that Sean and Ray had a chance to be a little more developed, though the love story--and the love interest--still squeezed my heart.
"I'd rather spend the rest of my life without seeing you again," he says,"than to watch them destroy you because of me."
When I initially finished the novel, I rated this a 4.5 because there are some elements that might have been explained a little more, and I thought the ending was a bit rushed and becomes perhaps more of a typical YA thriller. But who am I kidding? A book that treats human life with this kind of reverence deserves nothing less than 5 stars.
This book explores loss and grief in a way you wouldn't necessarily expect in speculative fiction and tears dripped down my face for nearly an hour as I was reading it. It is an stunning elegy for those who have been lost, a cry of sorrow for those who are left behind, and a profoundly sad lament for those whose very existence is denied. This elegant novel touched me deeply, and will leave readers with a lingering feeling of grief that is all the more devastating for its restraint and its dignity.
If you were to lay out a visual storyboard for The Miseducation of Cameron Post, it would be filled with lomographic photography--retro lighting, wide...moreIf you were to lay out a visual storyboard for The Miseducation of Cameron Post, it would be filled with lomographic photography--retro lighting, wide-open vistas, saturated colors, and quirky, sometimes blurry exposures that provide quick snapshots of the many small pleasures of childhood. This coming of age novel, which is written more like adult literary fiction than typical YA, beautifully captures the sun-drenched mood of summer as we meet Cameron, a young girl living in a small town in eastern Montana in 1989.
It was the kind of heat where a breeze feels like someone's venting a dryer over the town, whipping dust and making the cottonseeds from the big cottonwoods float across a wide blue sky and collect in soft tufts on neighborhood lawns. Irene and I called it summer snow, and sometimes we'd squint into the dry glare and try to catch cotton on our tongues.
It's a pleasure to be lulled into the slow rhythm of the author's words and to enjoy the moments of stillness and spontaneity throughout the entire story. As the novel begins, Cameron's parents have gone off on their annual camping trip, and she's spending the summer with her best friend Irene, eating too-big scoops of ice cream and strawberry pretzel salad, freezing wet shirts to keep cool, telling stories, and watching the twilight creep over the town. There's a new awareness between the two girls, however, which floods Cameron with pleasure and confusion when things suddenly take an unexpected turn.
There's nothing to know about a kiss like that before you do it. It was all action and reaction, the way her lips were salty and she tasted like root beer. The way I felt sort of dizzy the whole time. If it had been that one kiss, then it would have been just the dare, and that would have been no different than anything we'd done before. But after that kiss, as we leaned against the crates, a yellow jacket swooping and arcing over some spilled pop, Irene kissed me again.
Later, the girls talk about how they'd get in trouble if anyone found out.
Even though no one had ever told me, specifically, not to kiss a girl before, nobody had to. It was guys and girls who kissed--in our grade, on TV, in the movies, in the world; and that's how it worked, guys and girls. Anything else was something weird.
Shortly afterwards, Cameron's parents die in a car crash and she's sent to live with her conservative Aunt Ruth in the small town of Miles City, Montana, where she does her best to fit in and forget what happened before. So when beautiful Coley Taylor arrives on the scene, it spells trouble in a big way--and things spiral out of control in Cameron's world when she is sent off to God's Promise, a Christian de-gaying camp. (The author addresses this very frankly in most of the interviews I've seen, so I'm assuming it's not a spoiler to include that info here.) Here, she is to learn "appropriate gender roles" and refrain from "negative bonding over sinful/unhealthy desires."
I wasn't sure what to expect with this novel, so it was a relief to find it doesn't feel at all heavy-handed. I've realized recently that the problem I have with so many Message Books is that you can so clearly tell the author set out with an agenda and just filled in additional details to make a story. However, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fully realized novel in every way, and if Cameron weren't gay, it would still be a well-crafted, well-written story with an immensely appealing protagonist...even if she's not always completely likable. But I sort of like that about her, you know? Because most of us were pretty unbearable as teenagers, and I found her prickliness and defiance to be sympathetic and very real.
Fair warning that Cameron is just as likely to tell you to eff off as she is to bum a smoke off you, though. For even though there are beautiful moments of stillness and jumbled, joyous images of childhood (Cameron puts a piece of flourite in her mouth at one point so she can taste its hardness and grit, which is something I totally did as a kid), there are also frank sexual situations, marijuana use, shoplifting, and all kinds of other things that might normally drive me up the wall when they're casually included in your typical YA book.
But this isn't a fluffy young adult novel at all, and it's easy to understand why Cameron acts out as she tries to figure out who she is under extremely difficult circumstances. Not to mention that her feelings are not at all unusual; Cameron's confusion and longing during the prom scene when Coley dances with someone else is that stuff of universal loneliness and despair. As a reader, it also hurt unbearably to read about Mark Turner, son of a preacher from a mega church in Nebraska, who is the "poster boy for a Christian upbringing, but yet here he was, at Promise, just like the rest of us." Mark's struggles with his faith and his natural impulses are devastating to witness, and it's a brutal reminder that there are sometimes terrible consequences when we ignore what's right in the name of what's righteous.
I appreciated how honestly teenage sex and experimentation were portrayed, in a way that didn't feel tacky or sensationalized. And I appreciated the restraint with which this enormously touchy subject was handled. I found myself getting very angry as I read the book--it's hard not to when you see a child being told unequivocally that he's going to hell for what he feels--but the story is remarkably even-handed. While Cameron is defiant and angry over her containment, as most of the kids are, the few harsh words about the program include "I'm just saying that sometimes you can end up really messing somebody up because the way you're trying to supposedly help them is really messed up." Instead of using this platform to rant or rage, the author simply allows us to get to know Cameron and provides the framework for the question: after reading this girl's story, which is the story of so many girls and boys just like her, can anyone deny the validity of her feelings?
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fierce book that boldly explores identity, sexuality, and human responsibility in a relatable way, even as it demands attention from your social conscience and reaches out for your empathy. Even with such a hot-button topic, however, it somehow manages to refrain from outright condemnation of those who oppose its views. It's a shame that twenty years after the events of this book, this type of tolerance is still not entirely a two-way street.
Recommended for mature teens and adults only.
About the Book
The author was partially inspired by the true story of a 16-year-old boy who said he was being sent to a de-gaying camp in Tennessee. Read more about this in the author's Slate interview with author Curtis Sittenfeld.
Emily Danforth also has a deleted scene from the book on her website.
4.5 stars While I was reading 17 & Gone, I felt as though someone had taken me by the hand and was leading me into a dream state where realities w...more4.5 stars While I was reading 17 & Gone, I felt as though someone had taken me by the hand and was leading me into a dream state where realities were blurred and paranoia was a constant state of being. I caught glimpses of someone disappearing around a corner, I heard whispers from companions unseen--and there was nothing I could do but allow myself to be pulled deeper and deeper into the ever-changing kaleidoscope of the author's masterful storytelling.
In this suspenseful psychological thriller, 17-year-old Lauren is overcome by "waking nightmares" of girls who have gone missing. She is compelled to investigate their cases, even as her own family and personal issues threaten her peace of mind. Can she save the girls who are lost? Can she at least honor them even if they're gone forever? Will she be next?
There are two main things that made this book absolutely outstanding to me: the research and the writing.
800,000 children go missing every year. That's a big number, and yet in the framework of a fictional story, 17 & Gone captures some essence of those precious lives that are lost. These girls are real and individual souls to Lauren, but eventually the sheer number of their heartbreaking details becomes an overwhelming experience, for her and for us.
There is another, very important topic that is incredibly well-researched, but it's not one I can reveal without spoiling a huge part of the story. But suffice to say that any experience or knowledge of that subject will give you an increased appreciation for the way certain details are subtly woven into the narrative.
And my god, this woman can write. As with her gorgeous book Imaginary Girls, there is a mood of disquiet and dismay, as well as the unsettling feeling that the story you're reading might vanish in a wisp of vapor at any moment. I would guess that 17 & Gone will be just as polarizing as its predecessor was, because you may not get your questions answered, and the answers you do get may not necessarily be the ones you're looking for. But for me, writing like this, storytelling like this, is the stuff that dreams are made of. I will gladly accept Nova's hand and let her lead me wherever she damned well pleases.
This has been amazing year for young adult literature for mature audiences. From The Miseducation of Cameron Post to the upcoming Monstrous Beauty, it...moreThis has been amazing year for young adult literature for mature audiences. From The Miseducation of Cameron Post to the upcoming Monstrous Beauty, it's been incredibly exciting to find books that aren't afraid to push boundaries, ask questions, and immerse their readers in unusual literary styles. Is this in recognition that more and more adults are reading YA? Perhaps. I just hope the trend continues.
One of my favorite books this year is definitely Kat Rosenfeld's Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone. It's the story of Amelia Anne Richardson, a girl found brutally murdered on the side of a dirt road--but it's also the story of Becca, who is spending a last summer at home in her small town. It's a mystery without easy answers, it's a snapshot of a girl's coming into her own, and it's a sad, painful testament to the trauma that envelopes the end of a love affair.
Our first meeting was romantic. High school legend-like, it made me yearn to stay with him just for the chance to tell our kids someday about how their father had swept me off my feet at the tender age of sixteen. About the bonfire at Hunter's Point and the coltish-skinny, cigarette-smoking boy with shaggy hair, sitting apart from his friends, who looked across the flames at me with such intensity that he himself seemed to be on fire.
The writing is entrancing, with a slow, rhythmic cadence that captures the moody summer violence that both girls experience. It isn't an easy book or typical page-turning mystery by any means, and it's likely to be very polarizing in its style and its content. I'm not certain we ever get to know either girl as well as I would have liked, either, and I think I would have been more moved by their plight if their stories didn't parallel quite so much. But I still found myself fascinated by the language and the mystery of what happens to Amelia Anne and Becca, whose true fates seem elusive even at the conclusion of the book. Readers who appreciated the writing in Cameron Post or the dreamy smoke and mirrors of Imaginary Girls will likely fall in love with Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, too.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher. Recommended for mature YA readers only.
4.5 stars Do you believe violent offenders are the product of nature or nurture?
In the case of 17-year-old Jasper “Jazz” Dent, he’s got both factors...more4.5 stars Do you believe violent offenders are the product of nature or nurture?
In the case of 17-year-old Jasper “Jazz” Dent, he’s got both factors working against him. Not only is he the son of the country’s most notorious serial killer, but dear old daddy even forced him to watch those grisly crimes and sometimes…more.
I’ve always been interested in how human beings cope with extreme circumstances, and the way children in particular can demonstrate remarkable resilience. I Hunt Killers sets up a fascinating scenario showing how both environment and biology can contribute to certain conditioned responses and behaviors—and how an innate sense of human decency might be strong enough to overcome even the worst of upbringings. At least that’s what Jazz keeps telling himself. Because now that he suspects that a new serial killer is at work in his small town, he’s flashing back to memories that make him extremely uneasy. Did he help kill someone he loved without knowing it? Is he destined to follow in his father’s footsteps?
What sets this novel apart from all the other paint-by-numbers mysteries is that Jazz is an incredibly complex, believable character. The book has been billed as “Dexter for YA” and it’s an apt comparison; Jazz is likable, relatable, and consumed by the idea that he may not be able to stop himself from doing harm to others. The story itself is engaging, with the masterfully detailed, well-researched criminology aspects related in an accessible way. The book is also HILARIOUS from beginning to end. I didn’t expect to be laughing so much at a book about a possible serial killer in the making, but it’s impossible to resist the graveyard banter running through Jazz’s seasoned, offhand narrative.
Making a duplicate key from a wax impression was an extremely useful skill to have if you were the sort of person who liked invading other people’s homes and killing them.
And later, his best friend Howie earnestly asks him what his middle name is, because he’s sure that serial killers all have three names! The choice to use humor to hook the reader into the story is brilliant, and I thoroughly enjoyed being in Jazz’s conflicted and absurdly playful head.
Despite its humorous tone and exceptional writing, however, my guess is that this is going to be an extremely polarizing book. Its refusal to look away from the often horrific nature of brutal crimes and twisted mind games will be shocking to readers who aren’t used to these kinds of details. Early in the book we’re eased into some crimes because they’re mostly told in past tense, but the later scenes definitely escalate in tension and violence, although I don’t think they really cross the line in terms of being gratuitous rather than graphic.
If I had to quibble about anything, I’d say that Jazz’s give and take relationship with the police is something readers will need to accept, although their doubtful reliance upon him is portrayed in a fairly believable tone. And as with all murder novels, I wasn’t particularly keen on the few scenes told from the killer’s point of view. But those things are really almost incidental when the writing is nearly pitch-perfect in balancing ghoulish humor and a macabre subject.
It’s so exciting to see YA that pushes boundaries in this way. While I confess that I'm a little uneasy about the idea of 13-year-old being exposed to this sort of information, I don’t think the book contains too much explicit material that older teens or adults already haven’t seen in other forms of entertainment. I strongly urge readers to carefully consider whether this is a subject that they want to read about, however, because this book certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. But for the right audience, this thriller will hit all the right notes for an unforgettable reading experience. Its dark, disturbing, and devilishly funny vibe is pure genius.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.
If you’re intrigued by the sound of this book, stay tuned. We’ll be giving away an advance readers copy next week on the blog!(less)
Take a photographic tour of the Monstrous Beauty world as Elizabeth Fama stops by The Midnight Garden to kick off her blog tour! Plus win a finished h...moreTake a photographic tour of the Monstrous Beauty world as Elizabeth Fama stops by The Midnight Garden to kick off her blog tour! Plus win a finished hardcover of the book.
It was a woman--as pale and luminescent as a ghost, with swirling white hair. Ezra startled, dropping his pencil into the water. Her face snapped toward him. Her eyes were too large, clear green, and had horizontal, slit-shaped pupils, reminiscent of an octopus.
Did your pulse quicken when you read that paragraph? Mine did! I had a feeling I was going to love this book, because it blends several different things that I love: mermaids, the nineteenth century, and ghosts. What I wasn't prepared for was an unconventionally striking story that will definitely not appeal to someone looking for a typical YA paranormal book. I found this dark fairy tale to be wildly exciting and utterly gorgeous, however, and I think it will find its audience in readers who enjoy literary fiction or more mature YA.
In the late 1800s, a mermaid named Syrenka makes a terrible mistake in judgment as she seeks companionship. More than a hundred years later, 16-year-old Hester searches for the mystery behind a tragic curse that has haunted her family for generations. The book alternates between past and present in a small fishing town in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the shifts in time and multiple POVs are handled with skillful aplomb. Deep secrets are slowly revealed in both young women's pasts, and a fine thread of tension running through the story eventually escalates into scenes of shocking madness and violence.
There are despairing stolen souls. Creepy churchyards. A woman drowned in a sarcophagus. Rape. Underwater doll graveyards. A boy who (view spoiler)[quite literally (hide spoiler)] gives his heart for the one he loves. A truly repulsive mermaid queen (view spoiler)[with rows and rows of sharp teeth, like a shark (hide spoiler)]! Through it all, the seductive beauty of the language irresistibly lures the reader into the story's unique mythology, so that by the end of the book the lonely, painful fates of the characters seem as gut-wrenchingly immediate as your own.
"Even in rage, she was eerily beautiful."
Syrenka is such a splendidly doomed creature, however, that Hester unfortunately pales just a bit in comparison in the beginning. Because readers see the perspectives of both past and present, they'll likely guess certain truths well before Hester does, which provides a few moments of frustration. Later in the book, however, Hester's story takes on more shape and her choices are both brave and heartbreaking in their necessity. The plot has many twists and turns, and while I did guess quite a few of the surprises, this didn't detract from my enjoyment of this beautifully crafted story at all.
Mermaid lovers should note the sea creatures in this story are incomparable to anything that has come before them; the disturbing nature of their animal instincts and deadly muscularity is boldly unapologetic, and the story is all the better for it.
Readers who appreciate literary young adult fiction will love this book.Monstrous Beauty's dark moodiness is incredibly evocative, and the startling originality of its story--as well as the lush vividness of its imagery--will not soon be forgotten.
Strongly recommended: for fans of Angela Carter, Cat Hellisen, Margo Lanagan, and possibly Laini Taylor; for adults who don't normally read young adult fiction and for mature YA readers; and finally, for anyone who has been searching tirelessly for a mermaid book that truly transcends its genre.
Heed the siren call: this mermaid story is unlike any other you've read.
Why are readers drawn to horror? Read our Q & A with Marcus Sedgwick, the Printz honor author of Midwinterblood. Plus win a finished copy of this...moreWhy are readers drawn to horror? Read our Q & A with Marcus Sedgwick, the Printz honor author of Midwinterblood. Plus win a finished copy of this fantastic book!
4.5 starsBlood-soaked nightmares. Of another time. Of another place. Of another life.
The unusual story of Midwinterblood begins in the future, in the year 2073. A young journalist named Eric arrives on a remote island, where it is rumored that the people live forever. He is immediately drawn to a woman named Merle, but soon begins to notice that the locals are behaving strangely...very strangely. Little does he know that his story is but one chapter in a piercingly poignant, savage saga that stretches across time and transcends the boundaries of life and death.
I love fiction that is unsettling, particularly when it comes to the YA genre. Eric and Merle's story has elements of the shrieking madness of the film The Wicker Man, including a distinct undercurrent of unease and disturbing pagan rituals. To tell you too much about the seven interconnected stories would be to give away too many of their delicious secrets. But following the opening segment, the plot moves backwards in time, and by the third story "The Airman," the pieces start fitting together. My favorite ones are "The Painter"(1902), "The Unquiet Grave" (1848), and "The Vampire" (10th Century), many of which are violent, pensive, and sad. One of the things I like best about the plot is how Eric and Merle are bound together throughout the centuries, and yet their relationship is never the same. Sometimes they are lovers, sometimes they are children, etc., but there is always a connective emotional thread between them.
The prose is descriptive and powerful, with fragments of rough beauty jutting out from the horror contained in the intricate framework of the story.
Behind them grew a tree, an odd tree, with a straight trunk, and a pointed crown of brilliant green leaves. Gold objects hung in the glossy leaves, and Bridget was startled as she saw they were skulls. Shining golden skulls.
Although I read a great many books for sheer entertainment value, it's coming across an author like Marcus Sedgwick that reminds me how very formulaic many YA books tend to be. When I read his chilling gothic mystery White Crow last year, it freaked me out--I couldn't believe the intensity of the emotional pitch, or how the persuasively suggestive writing played tricks with my perception. Midwinterblood solidified the author's place on my list of favorite writers, and I will be seeking out every title of his that I can get my hands on. I wish we saw more YA with this degree of depth and complexity.
If you're the type of reader who prefers goth over gore, mood over mayhem, or disquiet over digust, this is exactly the kind of horror story that will appeal to you--one that is odd and beautifully strange, and one written with passion, but also with great restraint. Unapologetically bold, horrifying, and desperately doomed, Midwinterblood is not a book any reader could easily forget.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Midwinterblood Tour Stop
We're very pleased to be kicking off the official Midwinterblood Blog Tour next Monday, February 5th! Stop by for our Q & A with author Marcus Sedgwick, when you may also enter to win a copy of this spectacular book. (less)
I hardly ever read straightforward fantasy, but every once in awhile a book comes along that blows right past all my usual objections to become a new...moreI hardly ever read straightforward fantasy, but every once in awhile a book comes along that blows right past all my usual objections to become a new favorite. As gently but strongly as a wisp of incense, Eon beckoned until I was completely in the thrall of its magic, and I hate to think how sad my life would be if didn't have this vividly imaginative novel in it.
For years, 16-year-old Eon has been training to be a Dragoneye apprentice, a coveted position in which the student serves as the conduit between energy dragons and the human world. Eon's whole way of life is cloaked in secrecy and danger, however, because Eon is actually Eona--a girl forced by necessity to live her life as a boy. If her secret were discovered, her life would be danger, as well as the lives of those around her. To make impossible odds even more impossible, Eona is also crippled, so the deck is very much stacked against her. But on the day the apprentices are chosen, it is revealed that Eona has the unusual ability of seeing all the energy dragons, not just one--and she is chosen by the powerful Mirror Dragon, a being that has not been seen in hundreds of years.
There are gorgeous dragons and epic sword battles, all against the backdrop of an incredible setting that takes its influences from a blend of Japanese and Chinese cultures, but is still a unique world of its own. I really like the idea of stories with girls disguised as boys, and though the concept is certainly nothing new, it's definitely not something we see too much in young adult literature. What makes this an exceptional book is the intricate tapestry of characters and themes that are deftly woven together, as well richly textured and evocative writing. You can practically hear the whisper of heavy silk robes and see the glow of majestic dragons as you read this book, and every night when I closed my eyes, I kept thinking about the creak of wooden wagons and the clang of swords that I'd read about that day.
You are wrong when you say there is no power in being a woman. When I think of my mother and the women in my tribe, and the hidden women in the harem, I know there are many types of power in this world...I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way.
For me, the book's greatest strength is its depiction of gender and the roles that women play in a parochial society. This is definitely a novel for mature young adult fans because of the situations and themes explored with transgendered characters, eunuchs, forced intimacy, and physical assault. I found it fascinating that the author chose to write a book focusing on a world where power is forbidden to women, and my favorite character was the indelible Lady Dela, Eona's "contraire" mentor who is a man living as a woman...who is in love with a noble eunuch. I mean, really! Who could fail to be intrigued by such a scenario? And who could fail to admire the gutsiness of a YA author in exploring such impossible loves?
The book is by no means perfect, however. Eon has a problem connecting with her dragon, and as soon as the problem was presented, I knew immediately--as I suspect most readers will--what the issue was. So it was frustrating to watch her further sabotage herself for several hundred pages before she finally realizes what the solution is near the end. (view spoiler)[Just say no, Eona! (hide spoiler)] I also wasn't crazy about the fact that one of the most interesting things about Eona's character is just...negated, in a very fairy tale sort of way when (view spoiler)[Eona's lameness is suddenly and conveniently cured in the climax of the story. (hide spoiler)] I mourned the loss of that trait, because it unnecessarily removes an obstacle she had already proven she was able to overcome.
As frustrating as the novel occasionally became--and it is admittedly very slow in the middle--I really, really liked this one. It's so uncommon to find a book with such an engaging fantasy story and an intriguing heroine, let alone one that also seamlessly blends magic, a historical feel, and thought-provoking themes. And the fact that this also happens to be a YA novel means that it's a very rare animal indeed. I'd strongly recommend picking up Eon if you find the synopsis even remotely appealing; I think most readers will be just as enthralled as I was.
Believe it or not, as much as I liked Eon, I loved the sequel Eona! And yes, yes, I will attempt to put my thoughts down on paper at some point. (less)
Gosh, this book is so freaking cute, I can't even stand it. We all can use a little romance now and then, but not many contemporary YA love stories st...moreGosh, this book is so freaking cute, I can't even stand it. We all can use a little romance now and then, but not many contemporary YA love stories stand out as anything particularly memorable, which is why I normally prefer to see them cloaked among werewolves and angels and other such distractions.
Brenna Blixen doesn't need supernatural beings to keep our attention, however. This smart and focused heroine has plenty of drama in her life, what with starting all over again at her school after being abroad for a year. She's also attracted to two very different boys: the arrogant, too-sexy-for-his-own-good Saxon, and the hot but shy Jake. Both boys pursue Brenna with enjoyable focus, and as things heat up in the two different relationships, she discovers that everyone's hiding secrets...and the two boys even have a complicated history of their own.
I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did, but it quickly became one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Love triangles are rarely well-done, but it's easy to see why Brenna likes both boys in different ways--and why they like her, too. She's smart-mouthed but kind, responsible but spontaneous, and just seems like an all-around nice girl who'd be fun to hang out with. I liked that even though the story is very much centered on the romance, Brenna has a balanced life and cares about things other than just boys. Her parents and friends are great, she thinks about school and about her future, and she doesn't allow herself to be walked all over. Ever.
I love that Brenna goes on blessedly normal dates, sneaks her boyfriend into her room, and tries to be a good person in handling her attraction to these guys without being a boring old goody-goody. One of the things debut author Liz Reinhardt deserves big credit for is that this is probably the most explicit and realistic depictions of teen sexuality I've ever read. It's also HOT. And fun. And the characters actually talk about sex, which is fantastic.
The two boys are also mouth-wateringly adorable. They're both seriously cute, Saxon with his careless demeanor and how he's attuned to Brenna's personality, and Jake with his sweet uncertainty and absolute devotion. (I almost hate to say this, but the name *whispers* Tucker Avery floated into my head more than once...) Neither boy is even close to perfect, though, which makes for some uncomfortable moments and history, but also some fairly realistic ones, including some wince-inducing bluntness from Saxon in particular. I liked that, aside from a number of hot and heavy make-out scenes, there is also unexpected depth and emotion in this story. These characters are layered and feel very real; this book pushed a number of buttons for me, since it makes me terribly sad to hear about kids who don't have enough to eat, as well as incredibly angry when I hear of anyone being mocked for their lack of education or intelligence.
If there's any room for improvement, I'd say that Brenna might be a little too adult sometimes in her thinking and her actions, even though I really enjoyed not wanting to smack the heroine for a change. Jake's past is also perhaps explained away a little too simplistically, and there are a lot of references to films that might be considered a bit dated when they're all taken together. None of this really bothered me all that much, however, as the narrative voice is so fresh and funny and thoroughly winning. It just worked for me as a YA romance in a way that few others have ever done. The sequel, Junk Miles, wasn't quite as successful for me, but this first installment was one that I really enjoyed.
The next time you're in the mood to wriggle your toes over some adorable dates or swoon over some cute guys, consider giving Double Clutch a try! I think most fans of contemporary YA romance will fall in love with it in a big way.
That's right, this is a self-published novel, and aside from a couple of minor typos, it's actually more polished than many traditionally published books on the market. Although I do support indie authors, I rarely respond to indie review requests these days since I receive so many. What caught my attention about Liz's note, however, was her warm and personalized approach, her reference of the Oxford comma in her author profile, and my sneaking suspicion that Brenna's name was a nod to the writer Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen. I was right about that reference, and I was right to give this book a chance. I hope that if you're a romance lover, you will, too.
3.5 stars Recommended, although with some strong reservations. The story gets pretty convoluted as it progresses, and the book would have been much st...more3.5 stars Recommended, although with some strong reservations. The story gets pretty convoluted as it progresses, and the book would have been much stronger if many elements and just about all the characters were further developed. I'm also a bit turned off by the numerous occasions when a young teenager was witness to some pretty squicky adult situations, although they were admittedly non-graphic in nature.
An entertaining gothic tale in the tradition of Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt (for mature YA readers only), but I dearly wish the story had been more cleanly plotted and was more emotionally satisfying.(less)