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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Other Things I Read Recently (Short Reviews)

From the very beginning I was in love with Aza Ray and her story. Headley has such a clear handle on Aza's voice and who she is ... and she is magnetic! She's scared and scary, tough and vulnerable, and her internal monologue is sharp with the contradictions of her situation. This story is one of the most uniquely creative that I have read in a long, long time. I loved it, and I am hoping to find out more about the amazing world of Aza Ray!  I smell a sequel.

Beastly Bones, William Ritter (Algonquin Young Readers)

This second book starring the mythological-mystery hunter R. F. Jackaby (a quirky Holmes-ian character) and his keen-eyed assistant Abigail Rook  gets off to a fast start with all the elements that made the first book fun: quick wit and quick action.  Of course, they are also involved in a new fantasy-mystery with new creatures and a further development of intriguing characters.   It was a fast read that I wished I could slow down to enjoy it more.  And I look forward to seeing the story progress in the next book.  

I thought this Beastly Bones was better than the first book because it had better character development and, with some of the clunky set-up material out of the way, the story could just fly into its own quirky fun zone.  It was a great, light diversion.

"Blackhearts" Meet and Spark


Anne is a fiery beauty with coppery skin and blue eyes in a time and place where such things are not meant to mix.  Since becoming an orphan she wants nothing more than to control her own destiny and find her mother’s people in the West Indies.  Edward/Teach is the son of a rich man who has worked hard all his life to create a different life for his son.  But Teach’s recent year at sea has left him more sure than ever that he must be his own man.  From the moment Anne and Teach’s paths cross -- virtually the opening of the book – this story is off and running.

Now if you know anything about pirates (or if you remembered the summaries of the ARC’s you downloaded), it would not surprise you that Edward and Teach are names associated with the pirate known as Blackbeard.  But … this 18-year-old son of a merchant is Blackbeard?  My mind immediately jumps to the image of a beard laced with lit candles to frighten enemies and other weird chaotic tales and legends, but this story is moving so fast I even begin to question my own mind on this subject (see above parenthetical).  Maybe it’s not “that” Teach, I think.

Blackhearts is fast-paced, almost too fast-paced I think at first, as Anne and Teach find themselves almost immediately entwined.  But as the story progresses, with me continually on watch for the pirate theme to take over, I start to get involved in these two characters as envisioned by Castroman.

In some ways this is a recognizable tale of two young people fighting mutual attraction, but it is fun and fast and there is a sense of crisis constantly in need of being averted that gives it a thrill.  It’s a tightrope of mixed motives and stolen meetings, new realizations and dreams in the face of harsh social reality.  I kept reading page after page, thinking it was a light fun read (which it is), and I started to relax into its fun rhythm.  Then I turned one more-dangerous corner, saw the word “Blackbeard,” and suddenly I knew I wanted more!  Blackhearts is fast romantic fun, and I want to see where this ship is headed.

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Publisher|Amazon|Barnes&Noble| IndieBound

"The Creeping" is Definitely Creepy, a Little Confused

The Creeping, Alexandra Sirowy (Simon and Schuster Books)

I really enjoyed this book and thought the author did a great job building the scare and keeping the ball in the air as far as who really took little Jeanie 12 years ago. The weird touches like her hair being French-braided and the variously obsessed childhood friends really made me think I could see several ways that sad event could have happened.  For almost the entirety of the book she managed to circle around the ramifications of this creepy-sad event.

The mysterious connections to a local history of "disappeared" little redheads and potential cults or vague evil influences, however, were less satisfying because they spread out in all directions, then seemed to crystallize, then disappeared ... almost.  Even with the final chase through the woods, which was well-done, and made some good sense as to human perpetrators, there was raised a specter of some sort of evil beyond mere mortals.  So at the conclusion of the book it was a bit less than satisfying to have Stella just "decide" against monsters, in effect. [Yes, I know this may not make sense if you haven't read the book, but I am trying not to be a complete spoiler.  And, yes, one could say her actions were symbolic, but it was a creepy horror story, people!  So symbolism didn't entirely cut it for me.]  Anyway there were quite a lot of raggedy horror story loose ends that I'm pretty sure did not get tied up, i.e., did not make good sense.

I felt like it was a pretty good creepy story, but maybe the author was not quite sure how to handle all those really weird threads she had pulled in the beginning so she opted for pretending she hadn't pulled them.  I was left feeling a little confused about what had just happened.  Nevertheless, it was a fun ride while it lasted.  It definitely had me "creeped out" more than just a little so it was worth it! 

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Publisher|Amazon|Barnes & NobleIndieBound

Friday, September 25, 2015

Monsters (and Humanity) Alive Again!! Thanks to Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee’s This Monstrous Thing is rich in emotional content and detail, and it stays true to the spirit of Frankenstein, while finding a totally original way to incorporate it.  Ms. Lee takes on the mythic Frankenstein’s monster and gives it a serious re-tooling using great elements of drama (love, loss, denial),  mixes in some steampunk (steam-powered sleighs, robot men), and then for the final kick, that dash of monster pathos that should make us all think about what makes us human.   The end result is a monstrous winner!
At first glance, I thought it just must be trite, a Frankenstein re-told with cogs and metal parts instead of bones and beating hearts.  But it had a moody glowering cover and looked ambitious, and who am I to deny myself a bit of steampunk (a definite weakness)?  And so it begins on a dark and stormy night as 17-teen-year-old Alasdair holds his brother’s new heart in his hands at the beginning of the book.  Ooh, well, that’s different … and horrible.  I’m in.  

From the first scene in a ragged clock tower high over Geneva, we move quickly to the details of digging up his brother Oscar’s corpse with Mary at his side, and glimpses of a secret that must be uncovered.  Alasdair’s head is full of details of his brother’s life and death as he implants the heart and brings his brother back.

Two years forward and there is no Mary in Alasdair’s life.  We meet his family, now just father, mother and Alasdair, living a life as purveyors of finely crafted mechanical toys and also – in the secret, locked, half of their lives – Shadow Boys providing mechanical body parts to people.  Whether injured through accident or the recent French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, people with mechanical parts – clockworks -- are treated publicly as inhuman and second-class, made to shift aside for “real” people and sometimes spit on in the streets.  Though these mechanical parts have been used in a hundred different ways to save people’s lives and productivity, making them is outlawed and these clockworks are made to suffer for their differentness.  Some parents would even deny their own child as a monster, seemingly preferring death to a mechanical alteration.
Into this world Alasdair receives a copy of a book entitled Frankenstein and written by an anonymous author.  What?  Never did I expect the book Frankenstein itself to drop into the middle of the action as a plot twist.

It is clear that Mackenzi Lee is very skillful at portraying human interactions and emotions.  Alasdair’s pain, joy and frustration when he considers growing up with Oliver and often in his shadow as the less flamboyant younger brother are burdens he carries with him, along with his anxiety and guilt about the current state of affairs, and Ms. Lee makes the scenes flow realistically and with genuine emotion.  In order to have a future, Alasdair must find a way to appreciate his own gifts and separate from both his past and a very difficult present.  It’s a journey that is easy to commit to, though, as there is a lot to think about during the ride.  In the end it is not just a story about Alasdair and his family, but also a story about the impact individuals can have in changing the world around them.

I fell in love with this book a little.  Not just because Ms. Lee writes in a way that makes characters feel like real people.  Not just because she doesn’t allow her characters the easiest route out of a difficult situation.  But because This Monstrous Thing did not shy away from the myth that is Frankenstein but instead took on the classic without being afraid to add some new elements.  A definite re-charge for the classic tale of humanity pushed to its limits.

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Publisher|Amazon|Barnes & NobleIndieBound