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Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies & ConspiraciesI’m finally catching up to my NetGalley obligations, posting reviews of books I’ve gained access to through my membership. In this case, it’s the second in Gail Carriger’s Finishing School Series, Curtsies & Conspiracies. As I mentioned last week, I inhaled both the first and this second book in the series in a sitting, enjoying the near-contiguous hand-off between the two.

In book two, Sophronia has started to settle in to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality when the group is warned that its members will face the first of the tests to determine whether the girls are, indeed, worthy to continue.

As usual, Sophronia sees conspiracies behind conspiracies, but has to suffer ostracism from her peers for her unusually high marks. Thus, she begins a closer association with non-student Vieve, Mme Lefoux’s niece, as well as the sootie, Soap, who’s been helping her keep Bumbersnoot well-fed. Together, the unlikely trio explore some of the details of the technology at the core of the series.

“The first aether-borne dirigible flight, and we get to witness it! Do you realize, if Giffard’s calculations are correct, this could halve float times? Can you believe it? We could get all the way to Scotland in four days! I wonder how he is handling aether-current monitoring. Can you imagine being that high up?”

Sophronia was not as impressed as Vieve thought she should be. “It is still faster by sleeper train.”

“Yes, but this is floating. Floating! Using aether currents. The possibilities are endless. It’s so exciting!” Vieve bounced up and down on Sophronia’s bed.

The young inventor had stopped by for a visit after breakfast. Sophronia had no idea where the scamp ate, but clearly it was within hearing distance of the assembly.

The expanding circle of incongruous names (Lord Dingleproops?! Felix Golborne, Viscount Mersey?? Professor Shrimpdittle! Picklemen, for crying out loud!) accounts for a reliable thread of laughter on its own, without considering the string of ridiculous circumstances Sophronia injects herself into. So while the author defined the Parasol Protectorate series as a comedy of manners, this series is shaping up to take the ridiculous deeper into the sublime.

I very much appreciate the association of the very fine points of etiquette with profound silliness, since it serves to underline the constraints under which people have chosen to operate while also illustrating that from another perspective, even constraints can serve a purpose and bring greater meaning to any given set of interactions.

So once again I will highly recommend a Carriger book for those looking for immersive, addictive escapism to a world that, while in some ways is staid and antiquated, also has interesting parallels to ours. The steampunk crossover with paranormal should appeal to a wide audience, even with such a young protagonist.

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage: Finishing School Series Book 1This is another book I picked up through my NetGalley membership. I’d thoroughly enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (and reviewed Soulless, Timeless, Heartless, Changeless, and Blameless on my blog), so even though this new series falls into the YA genre, it carries over enough of the steampunk world-building and even a few of the characters from that first series that I was tipped into wanting to read it. After all, a series intro like the one that comes with this book promises great things:

It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

The writing style shows Carriger has continued to strengthen her trademark voice. The humor is deeply embedded in the story–but in a British, stiff-upper-lip tone that reflects what I enjoy most about Monty Python:

“How do you do? Isn’t this a spiffing day? Really, quite spiffing. I’m Dimity. Who are you?”

“Sophronia.”

“Is that all?”

“What, isn’t it enough?”

“Oh, well, I mean to say, I’m Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott, actually, in full.”

“Sophronia Angelina Temminnick.”

“Gosh, that’s a mouthful.”

“It is? I suppose so.” As though Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott were a nice easy sort of name.

The nicest part of the story is Sophronia’s evolution from family misfit to something even more interesting–and the subversive commentary on women’s roles even in very early 20th-century England. Above all, this finishing school is a way for young women of quality to become aware of the wider application of feminine wiles and tricks of accoutrement. It’s easy to imagine a school like this turning out the Mata Hari–in fact, the timeline of that woman’s life falls neatly into the framework established for this story, and I’m having a head-slapping moment for not having tumbled to that fact earlier.

😀

For the first in a series, this book does not suffer from over-explanation–though I suspect my deep familiarity with the Parasol Protectorate series may also mean I would have been irritated had the author gone into additional detail about the politics and world in which Sophronia is making her way. In fact, the inclusion of Mme Lefoux and her niece operated as something of Easter Eggs for me, and served as tidy reminders of the wider world Sophronia faces. Because, certainly, she is young and naive when she starts at the boarding school, and needs the perspective their experiences can bring to bear.

In view of the fact that I swallowed the book (and its sequel) in a sitting last year while I was supposed to be focused on finishing homework myself, I can highly recommend this book for its ability to draw the reader into an escapist fantasy operating on a consistent set of internal rules. For anyone who wants a more scientific take on young people away at school for the first time (as opposed to the magic in Harry Potter‘s universe), this should fit the bill nicely.

Book Review: Born Confused

Born ConfusedI got this title through my membership at NetGalley because I was intrigued by the cross-cultural perspective of a second-generation South Asian young woman facing the summer before her senior year. I hoped the immersion in the Indian-American point of view would take me past the very young voice the author imbued in her protagonist, Dimple. It took a few chapters for me to really get into the story given Dimple’s profound lack of self-confidence, her level of self-absorption, and her undiagnosed eating disorder.

It’s evident from the beginning that even Dimple isn’t entirely sure of her perspective:

I didn’t have to struggle for spy status. Fortunately I have this gift for invisibility, which comes in handy when you’re trying to take sneaky peeks at other people’s lives, and which is odd, considering I’m one of only two Indians in the whole school.

Her best friend is deeply troubled from family drama, so the story ends up being about the perverse attempt at exchanging self-hood between the two girls. The patter of the writing style carries a heavy English-as-a-second-language Indian flavor with compound nouns, verbs, and adjectives used liberally in the narrative.

All of these elements combined to make my first impression of Tanuja Desai Hidier’s work lean toward indifference. However, as the narrative unfolds, and Dimple has to learn both about herself and reveal the things she’s kept hidden even from her closest friend, she grows into a surprisingly strong young woman. By the end of the book I was entranced by who she’d become and what she’d learned not only of herself, but also her heritage.

The main issue for me, when reading YA novels, is how callow the protagonists are. In stories where that unformed self is not challenged I’m left frustrated; in this story, Dimple has to come to terms with both her own and her friend’s self-destructive tendencies, as well as learn to understand and accept her family’s love. It ended up being a profound exploration of how to balance different cultural influences in a single individual, and left me satisfied that Dimple could grow into a more interesting adult having faced all the things she started out wishing she could ignore.

For anyone who’s interested in a story with a strong South Asian flavor or one that addresses a different aspect of being a third-culture kid, this one has worthwhile nuggets to recommend itself.

Guest Post: Tricia Stewart Shiu

Please enjoy this guest post by Tricia Stewart Shiu, author of the paranormal YA novel with a literary bent Moa. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $600 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, 5 autographed copies of Moa, and 5 autographed copies of its sequel, Statue of Ku.

 

The Story Behind Moa by Tricia Stewart Shiu

I’ve always loved Hawaii and was thrilled when my husband booked a visit for us to see his relatives in Honolulu, Hawaii in October of 2006. We packed light and brought our daughter, who was three-years-old at the time.

Our condo was close to parks and monuments that oozed history. We enjoyed wandering around and indulging in the local cuisine. I even tried poi and liked it!

The morning after we arrived, I rose early to push my daughter’s stroller through the quiet, cool morning air. It felt like such a gift to experience Honolulu before the rest of the island was up.

After a hearty island breakfast, we headed out for a morning at our favorite sandy reprieve, Kuhio Beach. The water was calm and protected by a breakwater. Our daughter enjoyed digging and splashing and my husband and I sat sit nearby without worrying about the strong current.

Afterward, we headed back to our condominium, ate a light lunch, and took a luxurious siesta. Although I’m not usually a mid-day napper, the fresh sea air and sun lulled me into a light sleep—the kind where I felt like I was awake, but I was actually deeply asleep.

I heard a voice say my name and a part of me awoke. I use the word “part” because I could definitely feel my body touching the soft material on the couch. And yet, another part was keenly aware of a young woman with dark hair standing over me. It felt real, but dream-like, so I decided to go with it and ask her her name.

She pronounced a long Hawaiian string of letters, which seemed to go on for minutes. After repeating the name three or four times, she told me to call her “Moa.” Through my exhausted, sleepy haze, I remember being skeptical. If this was, indeed, a dream, I would ask as many questions as possible. So I did.

Why was she here? Where did she come from? How could I be sure she was who she claimed to be?

Instead of any answers, she flashed a mental picture of a woman and said that she was a long lost friend of my husband’s. She told me her name and explained that my husband’s family and she had lost touch 15 years before and had been orbiting around one another trying to reconnect.

I awoke from that nap, slightly groggy. That was an indication that I was definitely asleep. Perhaps it was just my creativity kicking into overdrive, I reasoned, and decided to go on with my day. We walked to a park with my daughter and began playing. Suddenly, there was a squeal and my husband and I turned to see the woman from my dream charging toward us with her arms stretched out wide. As she spoke, I tried to gather my wits. Here was the same woman from my dream, someone I’d only seen a mental picture of, and she was standing on the grass right in front of me.

She and my husband exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch. For the next few hours, I tried to make sense of what happened. I had never had an experience like this before, but there was no denying that I saw a picture in a dream before I met someone and then they showed up in real life.

When I went to sleep that evening, Moa visited again. She answered the other questions I’d asked earlier that afternoon and wanted me to know that I was protected and should share my experience with the world. Since this was definitely my first metaphysical encounter, I had no idea how to form the correct words to share what had happened. How on earth, I asked Moa, am I supposed to convey such undocumented, unsubstantiated, unusual information?

She said that our world exists on many levels which all play simultaneously. Her analogy was of a DVR. Several shows can be playing at the same time but are on different tuners. That, she said, is where she existed.

When I awoke, I began writing and continued to do so. The story evolved into “Moa,” then the sequel, “Statue of Ku.” My daughter, now seven, took the cover photo and illustrated, as well. The photo was taken a few years ago on the North Shore as we played on the beach. The artwork has been compiled over the last two years.

Since my visit with Moa, I began an extensive and sometimes circuitous search to explain my metaphysical experience. I took classes on mediumship, Huna, energy work and through my education, I learned to create healing essential oils and elixir sprays and incorporated that information in the book. Not only did my experience with Moa inspire me and guide me through four-and-a-half of the most challenging years of my life, I also believe that writing about those events and including information I received about that inspiration and guidance, brought my own deep physical, mental, emotional and spiritual transformation and healing. Writing, editing and publishing Moa has opened doors to a new way of understanding myself, those around me and the energy we share.

Whatever your belief or understanding of the metaphysical world, I believe that if one person is transformed through learning, then we are all transformed. I truly believe the Moa I met came through in this work and, just as I connected with her as I wrote, those who read the book will experience her as well.

 

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Moa and Statue of Ku eBook editions have both been dropped to just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing either of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $600 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of each book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copies of Moa and Statue of Ku for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event

About Moa: Eighteen-year-old, Hillary, anticipates adventure as she embarks for trip to Honolulu, but gets more than she bargained for when Moa, an ancient Hawaiian spirit, pays her an unexpected visit. Get it on Amazon.

About Statue of Ku:  The second book in the Moa Book Series, “The Statue of Ku” follows Hillary and Moa as they jet to Egypt on the Prince’s private plane to reclaim Moa’s family heirloom, the inimitable statue of Ku. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Tricia Stewart Shiu combines her addiction to the written word with her avid interest in the healing arts and all things metaphysical in her novels Moa and Statue of Ku and looks forward to finding new ways to unite her two loves. Visit Tricia on her websiteTwitterFacebook, or GoodReads.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Author Interview: Tricia Stewart Shiu

Please enjoy this interview with Tricia Stewart Shiu, author of the paranormal YA novel with a literary bent Moa. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $600 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, 5 autographed copies of Moa, and 5 autographed copies of its sequel, Statue of Ku.

 

1. The Moa Book series has a metaphysical theme. Do you have any expertise in this area?

I am an energetic intuitive and have a talent for creating powerful healing essential oil blends and gem elixirs. The unearthing of these talents occurred as I embarked on a metaphysical journey, which included studies in mediumship, pagan and Huna rituals as well as an energy healing technique called “Crystalline Consciousness Technique.” I also studied a variety of shamanic clearing methods and healing rituals.

2. You get pretty heavy into the metaphysical. Are you, in fact, a witch?

Like, Hillary, I question who I am on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. For centuries, women have been persecuted and even killed for being labeled a witch. I have studied many forms of healing rituals and magic and discovered that I have talents for using essential oils and crystals for the highest good. Others, who have witnessed the results of my practices, have called me many things: healer, shaman, and yes, witch. I choose not to accept any of these names but to embrace all of them as one growing changing name—wishealer or heshitch—to coin a phrase…or maybe not. As I discover more talents, gifts and unique parts to myself, this unusual word is sure to undergo a metamorphosis and may grow to the size of Moa’s real, and quite lengthy, Hawaiian name.

3. What are your favorite books and how have they touched you as a reader?

Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The books/stories that touch me most echo the theme of humanity and self discovery and include a sense of adventure and wonder. Ray Bradbury’s short story, Frost and Fire is a shocking, but tender story about a boy’s journey into a world where people only live eight days. James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man inspired me to unleash my inner censor and allow my truth to shine though my writing. If I could wish anything for those who read my books, it would be the gift of self acceptance and self acknowledgement.

4. How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?

Good question. I went back into my notes and discovered that it took me exactly three months and ten days to write Moa from beginning to end. That seems to be my average writing speed, three months. My aunt Rebecca Gummere is my editor extraordinaire. We have developed a comfortable and productive working rhythm that balances creativity and structure and brings such joy and enrichment to the work.

5. Who designs the covers for your books?

The brilliant and talented Sydney Shiu took the cover photos when she was six during a trip to Hawaii. Scott Torrance brought his years of experience in photographic art and design to the layouts.

6. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

The time between stories is the most challenging for me. When I am inside a story and writing I am filled with peace and joy. When I finish and have to leave that world, I mourn the loss of this comforting place–the same is true when I finish reading a great book. Nevertheless, I believe that this sadness brings with it a great opportunity and depth of creativity and I wouldn’t change a thing about the process.

7. Any take-away message you want readers to grasp?

Each of us has at least one divine gift to remember. The moment we wake up and retrieve the memory of who we are and what we are here to do, that’s when the adventure begins.

8. When did you first consider yourself an author?

I was in middle school and read James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist for the first time. About an hour later, I was overcome by an urge to write, an impulse I readily indulged. Time stood still, I still can’t quite remember what happened during that frenzied period of first creation. All I remember is coming to with pages upon pages filled with words in front of me. It felt incredible to express myself so freely. I’ve never looked back.

9. Did you start out writing novels?

No. I started out writing short stories when I was young. Then when I began acting, I wrote one-woman shows and plays, eventually combining my efforts of performance and writing in a piece called Doing Lunch which made it’s way into a short film trilogy directed by Hal Trussel. That film won “Best Dramatic Short” at the Houston Film Festival.

10. What was your main source of inspiration for the Moa book series?

When I was five, I was visited by a vision. I’ll never forget it, I was running down the stairs and the entity, a girl with dark hair, stopped me in my tracks. The spirit said that I would go through a deeply challenging time in my life, but would resurface, later in life, with unimaginable joy and fulfillment. That vision stayed with me. In middle school, I would sit quietly at my desk adding up the years to figure out exactly when my life would turn around.

And then I forgot. I got busy, my work and the stress of family life took over and I was completely overwhelmed and in desperate need of a vacation. My husband, daughter and I decided to go to Hawaii.

When the plane landed in Honolulu, I remember feeling the difference in the atmosphere as I disembarked. The air made me somehow, remember that there was a part of me that knew…something…what was it?

Never mind, I was in Hawaii it was time to see the sights! So, I sped off to see Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach and then headed home for an afternoon nap before an evening luau. As I drifted toward sleep, I heard my name being called. In my mind’s eye, I saw a beautiful young woman with dark hair, who said her name was Moaahuulikkiaaakea’o Haanaapeekuluueehuehakipuunahe’e—Moa for short.

And then I remembered.

 

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Moa and Statue of Ku eBook editions have both been dropped to just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing either of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $600 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of each book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copies of Moa and Statue of Ku for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event

About Moa: Eighteen-year-old, Hillary, anticipates adventure as she embarks for trip to Honolulu, but gets more than she bargained for when Moa, an ancient Hawaiian spirit, pays her an unexpected visit. Get it on Amazon.

About Statue of Ku:  The second book in the Moa Book Series, “The Statue of Ku” follows Hillary and Moa as they jet to Egypt on the Prince’s private plane to reclaim Moa’s family heirloom, the inimitable statue of Ku. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Tricia Stewart Shiu combines her addiction to the written word with her avid interest in the healing arts and all things metaphysical in her novels Moa and Statue of Ku and looks forward to finding new ways to unite her two loves. Visit Tricia on her websiteTwitterFacebook, or GoodReads.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Excerpt: Moa

Please enjoy this excerpt from Moa, a paranormal YA novel with a literary bent by Tricia Stewart Shiu. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $600 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, 5 autographed copies of Moa, and 5 autographed copies of its sequel, Statue of Ku.

 

Eighteen-year-old, Hillary Hause’s left thumb searches frantically to turn on the “I’m Okay to Fly” hypnotherapy recording. Her nerves on edge, fuchsia fingernails press into the blue pleather armrests of her airplane seat.

“No spells can help you now,” she whispers to herself under her breath—then checks to see if anyone notices. Nope, they don’t.

The plane lifts through the early morning, gray fog of California, “June Gloom” giving way to the azure sky, and Hillary covers her curly brown head and retreats beneath the questionably clean plane blanket cranking the volume to drown out the drone of the engines.

“Outer shell close to breaking.” This time she doesn’t care if anyone hears.

I hover just beyond her “outer shell”—a movement in the periphery, a faintly familiar scent, a fond memory just beyond recognition, a non-human observer. Before the week is up, Hillary will save my life, as I will hers. But, for now, more about Hillary.

The drink cart rolls past the blanket, which has, by now become a moist steamy cave.

 

“Hey, freak. I hope your plane crashes.” The memory reverberates through her brain despite her attempts to distract herself with the hypnotherapy recording. She increases the volume, but the ugly conversation, which occurred just before school ended, still haunts her mind.

“I guess the only people they check on those flights are the suspicious ones,” Krystal Sykes, a bully from her home room, leans in as Hillary hastens to grab books for her next class. Krystal, also a senior, has hounded Hillary since the first day of freshman year and this is the final day during the final hour at this tiny high school of 376 students —where everyone knows everyone else’s business.

“Look, Krystal.” Hillary turns her eyes toward the sneering blonde. “It’s the last day of school, we’ll never see each other again. Can you give it a rest?” These are the most words the two young women have exchanged in the entire four years of high school.

A look of shock replaces Krystal’s smug snick, “Oh, so now you talk.” She leans in, so close that her spray tan becomes a patchy Impressionist painting. Her pores are blotched with cakey, two shades too dark powder, her unblended cream eyeshadow creases across the center of her lid and her tropical breeze flavored breath threatens to strangle the words right out of Hillary.

“I know all about your witchcraft practices and have made a few spells of my own. Trust me. You’ll never make it to your sister’s house in Hawaii.” Krystal’s backpack jingles and Hillary watches her spin around and skip down the hall.

 

Hillary is not a witch. She has, however, carefully crafted a “shell” to protect herself from bullies like Krystal—who, as far as Hillary can tell—is not a witch either. She has watched Krystal throughout elementary, middle and high school and has not been able to discern whether or not she practices witchcraft. No matter what Krystal’s background, her intent is to harm. And there is nothing worse than a spell with an aim to hurt. Hillary has had no choice but to remain in a constant state of defensiveness.

The twenty-minute recording ends and Hillary falls into a troubled sleep—feeling every bump and hearing every creak of the plane.

With about an hour left in the flight, Hillary awakens with a “turtle headache.” Hillary’s older sister Molly taught her this term which means a headache caused by sleeping too long underneath the covers of one’s bed.

Sadly, Molly lost her husband, Steve, last year in an unfortunate surfing accident. The throbbing pain in Hillary’s left temple could be the result of remaining submerged beneath an airplane blanket and wedged between the window and armrest, or it could be from worry about how Molly and her niece, Heidi are dealing with their devastating loss.

Disoriented, Hillary pokes her head out just in time to glimpse puffy clouds and sparkling sea below. A flood of excitement and sheer wonder flows through Hillary in the form of a tingle from her head to her toes. And then, a lovely thought:  “…And for an Everlasting Roof, The Gambrels of the Sky…” She will enjoy this plane ride, thanks in part to Emily Dickinson.

 

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Moa and Statue of Ku eBook editions have both been dropped to just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing either of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $600 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of each book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copies of Moa and Statue of Ku for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event

About Moa: Eighteen-year-old, Hillary, anticipates adventure as she embarks for trip to Honolulu, but gets more than she bargained for when Moa, an ancient Hawaiian spirit, pays her an unexpected visit. Get it on Amazon.

About Statue of Ku:  The second book in the Moa Book Series, “The Statue of Ku” follows Hillary and Moa as they jet to Egypt on the Prince’s private plane to reclaim Moa’s family heirloom, the inimitable statue of Ku. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Tricia Stewart Shiu combines her addiction to the written word with her avid interest in the healing arts and all things metaphysical in her novels Moa and Statue of Ku and looks forward to finding new ways to unite her two loves. Visit Tricia on her websiteTwitterFacebook, or GoodReads.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: My Dead Boyfriend

My Dead BoyfriendOnce again, I have to say: I feel lucky for having found a great group of mutually supportive writers via Twitter/Triberr. In this specific case, Barbara Rose (who also writes as Barbara Mack, whose book Chasing the Sunset I reviewed a few months back) has released a new young adult fantasy. She was kind enough to share it with her tribe mates, and I had to fight my natural inclination to gulp down new, intriguing fiction while I met other obligations.

The blurb for this one is a little vague (probably to avoid spoilers), and lets the reader know this will be the first in a new series.

When Allison Mack’s boyfriend and his family are killed in a car wreck, she suspects that her life will never be the same. She knows it for sure when her dead boyfriend comes to visit her on her sixteenth birthday. He warns her to beware of Under Places and then disappears again, only to reappear later. Is she losing her mind, or is something supernatural going on?

Ally finds out something startling about her own family. They are all in terrible danger, and she might be the only one who can save them…

The story captures the young, sweet side of first love–on the other side of a life-changing disaster. The sense of being different, though, is underlined by actual differences from standard human existence.

The story kicks off on her 16th birthday with that unexpected visitation from her dead boyfriend and gets odder from there. In the meantime, her mother is stuck trying to revise her own history by living vicariously through her daughter:

“Oh, you have to have a sixteenth birthday party, Allison,” she told me. “I never got to have one, and I’ve always regretted it.” At the time, it hadn’t seemed very important so I gave in.

Well, she was having her party now. And I was opting out of it, right now.

My eyes burned and my throat ached as I opened my window and threw one leg over the sill. They can wait forever for me to open those presents, I thought as I climbed out the window and down the tree. I hung by my hands from the lowest limb and dropped to the ground.

Her fraught relationship with her mother (and her dead boyfriend) notwithstanding, Ally comes across as a pretty well-adjusted teen, looking forward to getting her driver’s license and figuring out a new course for her life now that she’s seen first-hand how plans can go awry.

Her coping mechanism seems to be her snarky side–and she does spin out some snappy comebacks throughout the book.

The pacing and unique story line hooked me so this ended up being a very fast read, and I could see where fans of PC & Kristin Cast’s House of Night series would also enjoy this book–though it’s significantly lighter fare (as in no evil, murdering goddess inducing significant sexual exploration).

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a paranormal cast including ghosts and fairies, and an introduction to a coming-of-age series.

Book Review: Entanglements

EntanglementsOnce again my Twitter addiction paid off for me: on February 20, @prmason reminded all her followers: “Entanglements (a full-length urban fantasy/paranormal romance) FREE for only a few more hours at Amazon.” I hadn’t actually read any of her other work, and I always enjoy a good urban fantasy, so I wandered over to Amazon and downloaded the eBook.

Naturally, I ran out of time for a week or two (and it really is easy to forget the various eBooks you’ve downloaded in various formats for various readers), but then I had that trip. And its concomitant hour and a half of being trapped in a plane. So I poked through my phone looking for some kind of entertainment to while away the enforced idleness, and discovered this… again.

The blurb for this book was so vague I didn’t even know the protagonist was a teenager until I started reading. So the whole young adult thing that I had been trying to wean myself off of crept up on me without warning:

She was driven by love.
He was bound by duty.
Together they were swept through a vortex to a world of danger.

Still, it was enjoyable. Mason caught the angst of being a teen in the midst of horrifying drama (I certainly classify a father’s madness as true horror!) and peer drama (will he date me, won’t he?) with a deft hand. Kizzy is a complex character who plays with the perception of “sullen teenager” while having real reasons to be one. One of the truly endearing early scenes caught the age’s tentative approach in such true-to-life fashion I had my own flash-back (minus the whole texting thing, which still seems… foreign… to me):

“If you want to go on a date, I’ll take you.” Franky’s pale face went bright red with a blush that seemed to start at his forehead and seep down to disappear into the collar of his shirt.

“Franky, you’re like a –” I swallowed down the word brother. “I like you. But we’re just friends.”

Now I knew what the word crestfallen meant. His face actually sagged.

My phone pinged and I glanced at the face. A text from Petra: I might as well be living in Siberia with no boyfriend and no best friend.

The book is written in classic three-act form and does a good job building a through-line based on solid science (fiction?) regarding alternate realities, wormholes, and the things that connect us to each other. In fact, the author introduces us to a basic science lecture about relativity and wormholes during an argument (that they shouldn’t be having during class) among Kizzy’s friends. The way the two opposing conversations are overlapped is a nice foreshadowing of the ultimate message of the book and speaks to the author’s commitment to her themes.

There were a few points where Mason pushed the unreality just far enough that I surfaced from my suspension of disbelief (and noticed a typo or two), but generally I would classify this as an enjoyable merging of sci-fi and fantasy appropriate for both young and adult audiences who like seeing the bad guy get outmaneuvered and the happy ending we all wish we could have had for the tragedies of our lives. For a measly $2.99 at full price for the eBook, you will definitely be entertained for the several hours it takes to embrace a world where a human’s blood is the key to unlocking a portal between worlds, and all the complications that will introduce into space- and time-lines.

Book Review: Farsighted

FarsightedAs is more and more frequently the case, I learned about this book via Twitter. Author Emlyn Chand (@emlynchand) offered Farsighted as a freed download on the 9th. I had seen it mentioned a few times on Twitter in glowing terms (in fact, its Amazon product page lists quite a litany of awards: Overall Winner of the Dragonfly eBook Awards, 2011; Best Young Adult Fiction, Dragonfly eBook Awards, 2011; Best Debut Author, Dragonfly eBook Awards, 2011; Winner of the Alternative Booker Award, 2011; Winner of the WritersType First Chapter Competition, September 2011), so I thought I’d give it a shot–despite my recent efforts to offset the YA jag I’ve been on.

I finally picked it up yesterday, and despite a couple phone calls trying to interrupt my reading train of thought (sorry to the people who were trying to talk to me… I really wasn’t paying attention to you as I snuck in a few more words of the book between sentences… You should know me better now than to expect me to pause that long…), finished it in one sitting.

😉

This book grabbed me and held on to me for the way it dealt with “talents”. Especially those that further marginalize you from the mainstream. Alex is born blind and has to deal with overprotective parents and a town full of kids who seem all too willing to follow the distasteful lead the town bully lays out for them to follow. The book begins with Alex not looking forward to the beginning of his sophomore year, and the unexpected arrival of a new burden.

From the description:

Unfortunately, Alex is in store for another new arrival–an unexpected and often embarrassing ability to “see” the future. Try as he may, Alex is unable to ignore his visions, especially when they suggest Simmi is in mortal danger. With the help of the mysterious psychic next door and friends who come bearing gifts of their own, Alex embarks on his journey to change the future.

Each development follows logically on the heels of the last, and the reader gets the unusual treat of building a world entirely based on the sounds and smells that surround the boy. In fact, this growing awareness of cultures opposed to the stiflingly small-town atmosphere that he’s grown up in is subtly foreshadowed early on as he starts reading a school assignment:

“During the daytime, I work my way through The Odyssey. I’ve gotten to the part where Odysseus meets the princess and the goddess Athena makes him look especially good so the hot, young princess will like him. I wish I had a goddess doing things like that for me! Odysseus has all the luck–everywhere he goes, princesses and goddesses are throwing themselves at him.”

The author also throws in chapter headers describing Norse runes as another way of underlining one of the central themes of the book (and providing some handy crib notes for where the chapter will take you–a whole new take on foreshadowing for me): The tension between belief and non-belief and the power of our ability to ignore the facts of our experience in favor of our personal interpretation of those. As the story unfolds and Alex continues to try to frame his visions in simplistic superhero versus super-villain terms, one of his mentors is given the chance to offer a profound insight to both him and readers generally:

“You are not good in the purest sense of the word. Nor does such a concept exist. You are both good and bad. Time will tell which of the two you favor.”

So while this book was true to the uncomfortable transition early High School experiences offer kids, it also dealt with universal themes–the hallmark of any truly good story. I’m happy to recommend this (even at its full price!) to anyone interested in a story about finding your own way in trying circumstances. The analogy between psi and magic talents in Rowlings’ books is pretty obvious, so I would say anyone who could appreciate those will also appreciate this–which turns out to be the beginning of a series itself. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it develops, myself.

 

Review: The Trouble with Tuck

The Trouble with TuckI rang in the new year with a quick trip to visit family in Virginia, where I have a niece in the third grade. My brother honored me by giving her my name as her middle name and making me her godmother, so I try to pay close attention to what she’s up to–despite the distance that separates us. So while I was at their house and found her notebook with this book casually placed on top of it (and her brother informed me that it was for a class assignment in that funny way older siblings have), I thought I’d browse through it a bit while the house was quiet in the afternoon.

I did not expect to be sucked into the story in such a way that I found it impossible to put the book down. Author Theodore Taylor wrote The Trouble with Tuck in 1981 after having heard of a real-life tale of how a young girl in California dealt with her dog’s Progressive Retinal Atrophy. It’s set in the mid-50s and feels rooted in that time. From the product description:

Helen adored her beautiful golden Labrador from the first moment he was placed in her arms, a squirming fat sausage of creamy yellow fur. As her best friend, Friar Tuck waited daily for Helen to come home from school and play. He guarded her through the long, scary hours of the dark night. Twice he even saved her life.

Now it’s Helen’s turn. No one can say exactly when Tuck began to go blind. Probably the light began to fail for him long before the alarming day when he raced after some cats and crashed through the screen door, apparently never seeing it. But from that day on, Tuck’s trouble–and how to cope with it–becomes the focus of Helen’s life. Together they fight the chain that holds him and threatens to break his spirit, until Helen comes up with a solution so new, so daring, there’s no way it can fail.

The story moved me to tears–twice. Even reading the last three chapters aloud to my nephew was challenging, as Helen’s stubbornness warred with Tuck’s.

While this really is a story about the depth of relationship available between humans and their pets, the interesting subtext is how that relationship helps the human side of the equation grow as an individual. Helen isn’t even aware of her parents’ reasoning in giving her the puppy as a gift, but comments by her brothers, and, in the final chapters, her own self-evaluation, clarify her evolution in self-confidence.

I could deeply empathize with Helen’s drive to keep Tuck alive and appreciated the creativity she brought to bear in pursuing that end. On top of which, two days later I got to help my niece write up her first book report and talk with her seriously about the merits of the book she had just finished reading (while laughing internally at the irony that I write these essays for fun, while she faced the daunting task of stringing sentences into paragraphs in a logical way for the first time). For all these reasons, I’m happy to recommend this book to any animal lover–and certainly to any parent or care-giver who wants to enthrall their charge with a moving story about how life with even a disabled pet can enrich the life of the person who is dedicated to their care.

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