Middle Grade fiction and I don't usually get along, which is funny considering their covers are the cutest things EVER. I am one of those people easil...moreMiddle Grade fiction and I don't usually get along, which is funny considering their covers are the cutest things EVER. I am one of those people easily swayed by pretty covers and I just can't help clicking that "To Read" button on Goodreads. What can I say? I have ZERO self-control. You should also know that I do not do Horror. Like, at all because I am a total scaredy cat who's afraid of her own shadow. I sleep with a teddy bear and everything. But anyway, for The Year of Shadows I knew I had to give it a try because a) Legrand is pretty awesome and I like her style b) Dat cover, yo. You will notice this is how I select most of the books I read, which is not always as fail-proof as I'd like it to be. Unfortunately, Awesome Author does not always equal Awesome Book. But in this case, it totally does. The Year of Shadows tackles issues that I was surprised to see in a Middle Grade novel... and it does it so well.
The novel follows Olivia Stellatella, a kid who's dealing with way more than anyone should have to deal with at her age. Her mother has left Olivia and her father, which causes a strained relationship between them. Her father's failing Orchestra has left them severely in debt, causing Olivia, her grandmother and the Maestro himself to move into the very old Emerson Concert Hall. It doesn't even have a shower. The horror. To make matters worse, Olivia has school troubles, and you can just imagine how all of these things combined can make for a very bitter kid. She's not very kind to the Maestro even though he is obviously dealing with his own demons, the two friends that she does start to make, she pushes away, and she is kind of a brat. As Mr. Potato Head would say, "That ain't no happy child."
But the thing about Olivia is that you can't help but feel for her situation. At times, she is a frustrating character because you want her to just open up already and give people a chance. But at the same time, I understand why she's a loner and why she despises Emerson Hall and blames it partially for her mother's departure. She's a depressed, lonely kid just trying to survive when she discovers the ghosts haunting Emerson Hall. Through a few uncanny friendships, you can see Olivia's' growth as she slowly allows herself to heal. Or rather, she allows the friendships of the ghosts and her two friends to heal her.
Speaking of Olivia's friends, Henry and Joan were fantastic. The one thing I sometimes miss when hanging out in YAland is the dynamic of friendships, because with YA, there is usually such a strong focus on romantic love. But I loved how Henry saw beyond Olivia's facade and was there for her even when she pushed him away. I loved Joan and how she was all about getting involved with causes. Then there was also Igor, the cat, who Olivia may or may not have talked to in her head, dreamy Richard Ashley (fetch me my fainting couch!) and Olivia's grandmother. These characters were adorable and I was so happy that Olivia had them.
My favorite setting would have to be The Happy Place, a coffee shop run by Mr. and Mrs. Barskey. (My Personal Happy Place generally involves my couch, ice cream and watching Pitch Perfect over and over while thinking of ways to then incorporate Pitch Perfect jokes into every conversation I have. A-ca-believe it! But I digress...) With its bright vibrant colors with equally colorful personalities of the couple that owned the establishment, it provided a much-needed ray of sunshine considering how depressing The Year of Shadows can be. And it definitely had its dark moments when Olivia and Henry started "sharing" with the ghosts and learning about their pasts. Topics such as murder, The Great Depression and war are delicately presented in a way that was not overwhelming, but never lacking in severity. Mr. Worthington's story tore me up inside. WHY, CLAIRE. WHY? ARE MY TEARS TASTY?
Legrand also did a fabulous job with her descriptions, making Emerson Hall easily come to life in my head. But I especially loved the ones with the music.
It's a strange feeling, when you hear a good piece of music. It starts out kind of shaky, this hot, heavy knot in your chest. At first it's tiny, like a spot of light in a dark room, but then it builds, pouring through you. And the next thing you know, everything from your forehead down to your fingers and toes is on fire. You feel like the hot, heavy knot in your chest is turning into a bubble. It's full of everything good in the world, and if you don't do something--if you don't run or dance or shout to everyone in the world about this music you've just heard--it'll explode. - The Year of Shadows ARC, page 183
And the descriptions went so well with the beautiful illustrations, which were not finished in my ARC copy. Pro Tip: Totally get a paper copy of this instead of reading the ebook if you can. From the chapter headings with Igor to the bordered page numbers, The Year of Shadows is all-around wonderfully crafted. I'm once again reminded why Middle Grade is often so special, because you don't always get these cool extras in YA or even Adult fiction.
Overall, The Year of Shadows, is a fantastic novel with endearing characters, delicious descriptions and a captivating plot, making this one of my favorites of 2013. While aimed for the Middle Grade audience, it holds a complexity that will compel readers of all ages to flip pages late into the night.
ARC was received from the publisher for an honest review. Thanks!
Be sure to stop by the blog Friday (8/23) for a hilarious story interview written by Claire and a giveaway!
I have to admit, Preloved truly surprised me. After finally getting a hold of Fury, I wasn't entirely sure how Preloved and I would get along because...more I have to admit, Preloved truly surprised me. After finally getting a hold of Fury, I wasn't entirely sure how Preloved and I would get along because Paranormal Romances with ghosts usually make me want to roll my eyes. However, in Preloved's case it worked really well for me. In fact, there is something really special about Shirley Marr's sophomore novel because while the blurb sounds strictly PNR, it gives off a very strong contemporary feel at the same time. I actually found myself enjoying Preloved more than Fury at times. You have your relatable characters, familiar setting, and a pinch of abnormal. What more could you ask for?
The 80's was an interesting time in history. It taught us all to "kick off our Sunday shoes," that anyone can become a "dirty dancer," how we shouldn't fear the "Thriller," how it felt to feel "Like a Virgin, touched for the very first time," and that you aren't truly a boss until you can pull this number off in leg warmers:
I'm still working on it.
Confession: I internally groaned when I saw this book had a heavy focus on the 80's. I mean, it's the 80's! Mullets, leg-warmers, bad perms, leotards! Need I say more? Thankfully, it didn't happen like that. Logan is a ghost from the 80's who happens to show up after Amy, a very lonely girl, acquires an old locket. Except the locket wasn't meant for her, but instead her beautiful, hipster, best-friend Rebecca, who Logan just happens to love. She initially sets out to help him connect with Rebecca, who bares a shocking resemblance to Logan's old girlfriend, but it turns out to be much more than she bargained for.
If I were to describe Preloved in two words it would be sugary sweet. I love self-discovery novels. They have a way of reminding me of times when I was naive, innocent, and unsure of myself. Amy is the kind of protagonist that is entirely relatable because she's a broken, teen girl searching for her identity in the world. I could easily connect and sympathize with her and not once did I grow impatient with her character. She's the kind of main character that continues to grow on you as the novel progress until you realize it's time to let her go, but your aren't quite ready yet. The supporting cast fell a little short for me mainly because I just didn't care for Rebecca and Nancy wasn't around long enough for me to properly form an opinion. However, I did like both Logan and Amy's mom, both important plot points on Amy's every shifting graph.
The romance wasn't something I was expecting to enjoy since it does contain a love triangle. But this one was unique since it was, but it wasn't. While most of the novel Logan expresses interest only in Rebecca, she never felt like a real contender in the race for his heart. I didn't feel the same "Oh, who are they gonna pick?" urge that I normally feel for say, a novel like Unearthy. But the relationship between Logan and Amy is one I couldn't help but cheer for. The way he affectionately called her Ms. Matey and blushed in his ghostly form really was the icing on the cake.
So if you are on the market for a lighter Paranormal Romance that is fun, relaxing, and sugary sweet Preloved may be just what you're looking for. And don't worry, I promise there is none of this going on:
Do you hear that? That's the sound of me eating my words. Girl of Nightmares truly surprised me. I'll be honest and say I wasn't expecting to love or even like it because originally Anna Dressed in Blood and I didn't get along. While everyone else ran around screaming high praises for it, I was left on the side lines. And I hate being on the sides lines. No matter how much I tried to love Anna Dressed in Blood I couldn't. It had too many open ends and I'm of the belief that even when you are reading a series each book must stand on its own merit. So I was disappointed, but I also wanted to give the second book a try because regardless of my initial reservations, it wasn't a bad book. And after that fun interview we did, I was convinced to try again. So imagine my delight when I started reading Girl of Nightmares and discover how much I was enjoying it. When I finished I felt like I had been on one epic ghost-busting adventure. And it was awesome.
Girl of Nightmares takes place six months after the events in Anna Dressed in Blood with Cas attempting to get on with his life without Anna. Unfortunately, that's not going so well for him since he continues to witness Anna being tortured in his sleep and while he is awake. I'm not going to go off and describe the blurb for you, but I will say Cas gets to the bottom of EVERYTHING in Girl of Nightmares.
Everything that I complained about in Anna Dressed in Blood were addressed in Girl of Nightmares. The plot is solid with no inconsistencies that I could see. In fact, I really loved the plot because there wasn't a dull moment. That partly has something to do with there being a lot of loose ends to cover: the mystery surrounding the athame, where Anna went, Cas' background, ect. Despite there being so many issues needing to be addressed, I never once felt like Blake info dumped or rushed through explanations. It was all very smooth and engaging. I didn't want to put my book down, but well, I have kids, so it was unavoidable. And that made me cranky. Also, this book was creepy! Do yourself a big favor and do NOT read the "Suicide Forest" scene late at night. *shudders*
Don't ask, just obey...
The characters have seen a considerable amount of character development, most notably being both Cas and Carmel. Cas is no longer the cocky little prick who all girls fawn over like he's God's gift to womenkind. In Girl of Nightmares he is a broken character struggling to let go of Anna. He obsesses over it constantly to the point where it interferes with his ability to ghost hunt. This was a Cas I could easily sympathize with and I wanted him to find a way for both Anna and him to be happy. As for Carmel... I can't really say much without giving away huge spoilers, but she was a badass. You will love her.
The best part of Girl of Nightmares was the hilarious dialogue. These characters feel so real to me because Blake has sat down and given them so much personality. Laughing is pretty much a given when reading Girl of Nightmares. You can't get around it. But that's okay because you want the humor when you in the midst of being scared shitless.
The ending was perfect. I can't say anything about it because I refuse to ruin the book for anyone, but I think fans will be very happy and satisfied. Or not. Who's to say? Lol.
But I would like to share with you a piece of wisdom. After finishing Girl of Nightmares I happened to learn one big lesson:
Reading this book in the second floor hallway right above the stairs at night, while my entire household was sleeping soundly, wasn't one of my best ideas. Learn from me.
This ARC was generously given to Kat and I by Kendare Blake. This in no way swayed my views of the book. In fact, I think she was expecting me to dislike it, but she'll just have to settle for my glowing review!