Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Hollow by Jessica Verday

The Hollow by Jessica Verday has an excellent premise: Abbey, whose best friend Kristen has died right before their junior year of high school, meets a mysterious, handsome young man while at her funeral. Jessica doesn't have many friends, and with Kristen gone, she takes solace in visiting the cemetery near her home in Sleepy Hollow; it's there that she gets to know Caspian, and the two develop a relationship as they begin to share their stories. But there is something odd about Caspian: he seems to have feelings for Abbey but yet he never seems to want to touch her, and he disappears for weeks at time, yet he brings her gorgeous gifts and gives her a special nickname that warms Abbey's heart. Meanwhile, there's Ben, a local boy who seems willing to befriend Abbey, but she is too distracted by Caspian, the loss of her friend, and her hobby of creating perfumes to really want to get to know Ben.
Lots to like in this hefty book: Abbey is a tortured soul who desperately needs to make peace with herself over the loss of her friend, and she seems determined to latch onto people who may seem a bit odd to others. Her parents are well meaning and yet too busy to really involve themselves in her life at times, and Caspian seems to be just what is missing in Abbey's life when he appears. The desperation Abbey feels is apparent in most of her actions, and quite honestly, I left the book wondering just how sane she really was (much like Abbey sometimes wonders herself). And there's that premise of an excellent paranormal element tied to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow--a great idea in itself. And being a lover of cemeteries myself, I really connected to that element of Abbey's existence.
Still...there's a lot that bugged me about this novel. Many people have mentioned the size of the book--it's 500+ pages in a hardback format, making it hefty and not easy to lug around, and the fact that it's double spaced type is just irritating. A huge number of those pages are Abbey doing very mundane things, stretching out the time when it could easily have been compressed to make the story tighter and flow better. The paranormal aspect is actually downplayed until the final couple of chapters, and if Abbey had cried or whined one more time, I would've wall banged the book for good. And as my husband said, sometimes knowledge can be a dealbreaker--in the first few pages, Verday has Abbey watching a *bulldozer* dig a grave. Raised by a father in the excavation business, I can tell you emphatically that bulldozers don't dig--they smooth. It's a *backhoe* that digs and that cemeteries employ. I know, I know, it's a little thing, but accuracy goes a long way in my enjoyment, and it's those little details that an editor should have caught.
Spoiler alert... Okay, if you're still reading, I'll say it bugged me that Abbey can touch Nikolas and Katy and not Caspian (though that might be explained later), and that there were a few too many coincidences (Seriously, Abbey just happens to get a hold of a yearbook from Caspian's high school...and his photo is missing...and his dad has the yearbook at his shop?) Most of all, what's the deal with the black streak in Caspian's hair, which Katy and Nikolas say "marks him as one of us...a Shade"...but they don't have black streaks and Caspian's very much alive father remembers from when he was alive?
Still, this is not a bad book, and I have to say it kept me engaged while reading it. I just feel that there are too many holes to be punched (many of which a good editor should have caught...which seems to be happening more and more lately). I just expected more of a creepy ambiance, more paranormal activity (that seemed paranormal), and a stronger heroine who can handle herself in an emotionally more mature manner. I'm on the fence as to whether or not I'll read the next in the series; I'll have to give it a skim when it comes out to see if the story seems to move along better and fills in some of the blanks.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More Fantasy...The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Julie Kagawa's The Iron King is the story of Meghan Chase, ordinary girl living with her mom, younger brother, and stepfather on a farm in Louisiana. And of course she feels out of place, not having money for fancy clothes, longing for the hot guy at school, not feeling accepted by her stepfather. Turns out that's only the surface of her troubles, though. Instead of just the awkward teen years, Meghan's issues turn deadly when she discovers that her younger brother has been replaced by a changeling, her best friend is actually Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and her father is Oberon. And the only one who can save her four year old brother Ethan is Meghan herself--and to do this, she's got to suspend her disbelief in faeries, gnomes, centaurs, whatever, and enter the land of Nevernever in order to bring him home.
Events are fast and furious in Kagawa's story: Meghan and Puck employ the help of Grimalkin, a sort of Cheshire Cat, to help them find their way through the land while her father, King Oberon, wishes Meghan to stay at his court now that she knows of its existence. At the same time, Meghan's attention is drawn to Ash, a prince of the Winter Court whose intentions seem to be at odds with her own. Innumerable creatures flit through the story; at times the descriptions seem to be more of the point than the actual tale. But Kagawa keeps things moving along at a fast pace and ends up giving us a story that could easily be an analogy for our technology obsessed lifestyles of today.
I wondered how best to describe this story and gave it a good deal of thought for this review. It's not the most complicated story nor is it unusual, but it is engaging and fun with lots and lots of action. I finally realized that Kagawa took the best bits of several different ideas and wound them all together into an entertaining mash-up. Basically, The Iron King is Alice in Wonderland + The Neverending Story + A Midsummer Night's Dream, with a helping of the Disney Channel's The Wizards of Waverly Place mixed in with Romeo and Juliet...and Star Trek's Borg poured liberally over the top. Completely fun and a great set-up for the next book in the series.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

Mary Sharratt's new novel Daughters of the Witching Hill takes place in the late 1500s-early 1600s on Pendle Hill in England. A woman who hasn't had much success in her life--her husband dead, her daughter born with a "squint" eye, forced to beg for food--is suddenly met by a strange young man named Tibb, who causes her cunning skills to awaken, thus bringing her fame as a blesser and a healer in her small community. Despite the fact that she is religious and uses religious prayers in her healing, most folk are wary of Bess and her family, not the least for the fact that her prayers are Catholic in nature (a major infraction under the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I). Still, Bess's family benefits from her skills until her health and eyesight begin to fail, and then Bess looks to her oldest granddaughter, Alizon, to carry on the family tradition. But Alizon's unsure of her powers and distances herself from them, a mistake that results in her striking down a traveling salesman (a "chapman") when her temper gets the best of her and her powers rush out of control. Will her one mistake be the downfall of the entire family?
There is a lot more to this story than what I've described above, and yet, there isn't. Based on the factual tale of the real Device family who lived during this time, Mary Sharratt has fashioned a well written tale of what might have happened during this disturbing time of witch hunts in the English countryside. There are villains, of course: Bess's former friend Anne learns to use the cunning powers but turns them to ill, and a former lover of Bess's daughter Liza evilly abandons her and their daughter. There are the misunderstandings of the time: a son born mentally challenged to Liza is seen as both simple and evil, and the idea of religious freedom is but a dream. This story is told first from Bess's point of view and then from Alizon's, and both women, while courageous and smart, are ill-used by those who should have supported them most.
The story itself took a while to catch hold for me; while I kept turning the pages, I also kept wondering when the "real" story of the witch hunt and trials would take place. However, Sharratt sets us up well by allowing us to glimpse into the desperation of the Device family who mostly just want to feed their own and help others. I did wonder, however, if all the long backstory of Bess was necessary; I felt that there was too much detail given to her learning to use her skills to the detriment of Alizon later on. In fact, I'm not sure I would rate this book higher than 3.5 stars if not for the fact that it is indeed well written and entertaining; it just seemed to need more focus in the earlier pages so that the action toward the end would have been sustained throughout. It was certainly well researched, with a great author's note to help sort out the factual from the writer's licensure. Overall I did enjoy this one and can recommend it for those who are interested in witch trials in England, as well as those looking to learn more about the common people during the early seventeenth century.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Radiant Shadows

First, let me get this announcement out of the way: Radiant Shadows is not about Aislinn and Seth, or even Aislinn at all. Of course that's disappointing to those of us who want to know what happens next to our couple now that Seth is faery, but that story must wait until another story is told. Then I suspect we will know how it all comes together, but if you go into Radiant Shadows expecting not Aislinn and Seth, but instead a story that stands on its own merits, you will come away from the reading with a much more satisfied frame of mind.
That said, Radiant Shadows focuses instead on the halfling Ani and her importance to the land of Faerie and Devlin, the brother of Sorcha, Queen of Faerie. Devlin has always done his sister's bidding (and tried to get along with her evil twin Bananach as well) except in one slightly major thing: he did not kill Ani when she was a child as Sorcha instructed him to do. Oh, and one more thing: he allowed a mortal, Rae, to inhabit Faerie without his sister's knowledge or permission. Devlin's lapses have stayed hidden relatively well until Ani starts to come into her own powers, and Rae, who is now a dreamwalker, unwittingly supplies Sorcha with the power to watch her newly reborn son Seth in his mortal life. To say things deterioriate at this point is an understatement: Ani suddenly finds herself hunted, Devlin must determine where his loyalties actually lie, and the courts are all in disarray. The one mention we get of Keenan is that he's missing, which cannot bode well for Aislinn or Seth, or even Irial and Niall.
Radiant Shadows began as pure confusion for me; it had been a year since I'd read Fragile Eternity and the intricacies of the courts and the Hounds was lost on me totally. The absence of Aislinn and all that I'd come to know of Faerie at first left me cold, but once I started to sort out the situation, I found that Radiant Shadows itself was a well written labyrinth with twists that I could not predict. I can see now where Ms. Marr was leading us and that this story needed to be told in order to get all of the details set up for the final book, but I would very much have appreciated some sort of reminder of who the Hounds and the Hunt were and perhaps a diagram showing where all the courts reside. (This being an ARC I read, it is possible the final copy will indeed include these things). This book is gorier than the others in the series, and the darkness that permeates the world Ms. Marr created is definitely growing. Now that I'm done, I can appreciate the world of Faerie and its intricacies; I just feel the need to warn those who are hoping for a smooth continuation into the lives of Aislinn, that that's not what this book is about. Still, it's definitely well written and gripping, and I can recommend it not just as a filler story, but one that stands strongly on its own if given the chance.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Titanic Eyewitness Book...Not Just For Kids!

I'm a Titanic buff, but it had been a while since I'd picked up a book on the subject. When I saw this one in our school's library, I decided just to flip through it to see what information it held. Imagine my surprise and delight when I realized that it was chock full of photos, information, and fun facts; I immediately checked it out and brought it home to peruse at a more leisurely pace and I'm so glad I did.
There is really nothing terribly new in the pages of this Eyewitness book, but it presents the story of the Titanic from its inception to its rediscovery with lots of detail so that anyone wanting to know more about the tragedy would come away enlightened. I absolutely loved the photos (a few of which I didn't recall having ever seen before), and I loved how many of the people so well known (and even unknown) were brought to life in these pages. Every piece of information I read had its basis in fact, and I was pleased to see that there was even mention of the debate over whether or not the debris field should be disturbed. This book gives a good overall look at the great ship and its demise without shying away from the hard stuff (descriptions even include the recovery of bodies), and it reads in such a way that people of all ages should be able to glean information in a very entertaining way. Highly recommended for readers of all ages.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hourglass by Claudia Gray

As soon as I finished my latest review for HNS, I dove into this gem by Claudia Gray. On one hand, I absolutely loved it, but on the other, I'm mad that I won't get the fourth book until 2011! Head and shoulders above the usual teen vampire stories out there. My Amazon review is below:

Book Three in the Evernight series, Hourglass, picks up where Stargazer left off: Bianca and Lucas, on the run from the burned Evernight Academy, are hiding out with the Black Cross vampire hunting cell responsible for the destruction. The problem? Bianca's becoming a vampire, and her need for blood compromises both their situation and their lives. Still, at least they are relatively safe until the twosome can figure out a way to escape Black Cross and just be together--that is, until Bianca's secret is exposed and the two find themselves in danger from both Black Cross and Charity, the unstable vampire who wants Bianca to complete her transformation and become a part of her "family."

Whew. Lots and lots of action in Hourglass, and also lots of running and hiding. Back for this installment are Bianca and Lucas's vampire friend Balthazar, Ranulf and Vic, Bianca's former roommate Raquel, and even Mrs. Bethany, sinister headmistress of Evernight. Besides the amount of time Bianca and Lucas must spend on the run, there is also the feeling of impending doom as Bianca's health deteriorates in the face of her decision to not become a full vampire, and the fact that the wraiths (ghosts) still believe Bianca should be theirs since her very existence is the result of a pact made with her parents. And speaking of parents, Bianca's parents play an almost non-existent role in Hourglass, which sets up intimate scenes of emotional and physical connections between Bianca and Lucas. Things are definitely changing, not always for the better, and they are packing excruciating decisions and painful separations.

Hourglass is a wonderfully engrossing book; I kept wanting to skip ahead to find out what happens next because I just couldn't read it fast enough. Definitely dark in nature, Ms. Gray is setting us up for future impossible situations that I cannot foresee any solution to at this point. If I have one problem with the book, it's that Bianca and Lucas's monetary situation is too conveniently solved, but that minor argument is more than made up for with the heart-wrenching emotional scenes. This one ends on a major, major cliffhanger and I'm not sure how I'll hold on until the next installment. Ms. Gray has given us one outstanding series and Hourglass is no exception. Highly recommended...and highly anticipating the next one!


Monday, March 01, 2010

Eleventh Grade Burns...and then some!

Vlad Tod is finally a junior in high school, which should be a good thing for our favorite teen vampire, right? Unfortunately, he's got a lot on his plate right now: he's broken up with his girlfriend (so what if it's for her own good?), he's got a sort-of relationship with the girl from whom he's been drinking, his uncle is likely to be put on trial for killing another vampire, and oh, yeah, Joss, his former friend-who-is-really-a-vampire-slayer? He's back in town. Things aren't going so well.
At the time when a lot of series start to either tire out or lose steam, Heather Brewer's Vlad Tod vampire series is definitely getting better and better. Vlad's a very conflicted young man, yet he's also a typical teen in many ways. When he watches Meredith, his former girlfriend, become interested in Joss, his heart shreds; when he kisses Snow (the goth girl from whom he's been drinking), he longs for her while knowing he still loves Meredith. And Vlad still thinks there is something good in Joss, even if it seems the slayer is determined to kill him...but it may just take the death of one or the other for Vlad to find out.
Lots and lots of action fills Eleventh Grade Burns, and new vampires are introduced who bring Vlad more information about both his parents and his future as the fabled Pravus. Brewer gives this entry a very dark tone, but it suits the situations well. And that cliffhanger ending? Killer, just killer. This series is just getting better and I'm so glad to be along to see how it all plays out.