November 29, 2010

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

I'd seen Nevermore around and been drawn to it for its wonderful title and simultaneously sort of stayed away from it because of its not quite as wonderful cover. Not that it's bad, per se. But it does sort of scream vampire tale meets Gossip Girl and (with the glut of similarly veined paranormals out there) who needs that mess, really? But on the flip side, who can resist a book with lines from "The Raven" embossed all over it? (So pretty!) Or one that begins with a prologue featuring Edgar Allan Poe on the way to his mysterious death? (So awesome!) Yeah. Not me, that's who. Then a copy arrived to be read for The Cybils and I happily snatched it up and settled in for a long and satisfying night. Man, I wish I'd read this book around Halloween. It would have been perfect. Nevermore is Kelly Creagh's debut novel and the first in a planned trilogy--a fact I was unaware of until I approached the ending and it hit me that no way were we going to get the kind of resolution I was hoping for. But don't let that worry you. If you're anything like me, you will only want to read more from Ms. Creagh and these characters after finishing this book.

Isobel Lanley is as All American as they come. Star cheerleader, member of the popular crew at school, older sister to a nerdy, video game playing pest of a little brother, Isobel's life is one continuous round of happily normal. Then one day she walks into English and is paired up with disturbingly not-normal Varen Nethers for the upcoming author project. With his drooping dark hair, goth fashions, and tendency not to speak when spoken to, he's pretty much the opposite of Isobel in every way. Hoping he'll want to switch partners just as much as she does, Isobel approaches Varen in class. But instead of switching, she ends up with Varen's number on her hand and a growing sense of fear in the pit of her stomach. Varen decides they will be doing their research project on Poe. He will do all the research, while Isobel will do all the talking. Uncertain but amenable, Isobel agrees to the deal and tries to go on with her usual activities and ignore this one small aberration in the usual round. Then things get a little more complicated as Isobel's boyfriend take a violent disliking to Varen and makes it his mission to terrorize him. Caught between the two, Isobel finds herself automatically defending Varen, particularly as they get to know each other better and she realizes there's much more going on under his forbidding exterior than meets the eye. But even as she digs below the surface, she is drawn into a conflict much darker and more dangerous than the ravings of a jealous boyfriend. And somehow it all centers on the melancholy subject of their English report and his own mysterious death.

I'm a sucker for a nice healthy dose of the macabre in my young adult fiction and Nevermore came through for me in spades. I wasn't sure at first. After all, the basic facts of Isobel's existence aren't precisely endearing. Perfect cheerleader with a macho bruiser of a boyfriend and few thoughts in her head outside of the next game and what she'll wear today. But it quickly becomes apparent that there's something more substantial to her. I have to hand it to Kelly Creagh for creating a cheerleader I really liked. Isobel loves cheer for the athleticism of it, for the feeling of flying through the air, and for the strength and satisfaction she derives from training her body so meticulously. I can admire that. The events of this story are an awakening for her in so many ways and the awesome thing is she makes the right choices when important things are riding on them. That's what really won me over to her side. That and her steady recognition of Varen as something special. What made me like Varen so was how genuinely disinterested he was in Isobel from the get-go and how that disinterest was real and not thinly veiled lust. These two are not attracted to each other right off the bat. On the contrary, they despise and distrust each other for quite awhile. I loved that Isobel did the lion's share of the defending, the standing up to people and/or otherworldly creatures, the refusing to give up on anyone. Behind these two characters lies a wonderfully creepy background made up of the most chilling characters, images, and puzzle pieces from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The spirit of Poe is most definitely captured here and I shivered numerous times, even as I smiled every time I recognized another allusion or reference to one of his stories or poems, especially the excellent anagram that is Varen's name. So many of them play key roles in the unraveling of the mystery, including my favorite--the enigmatic Reynolds. I will say that as the climax drew closer, things got a little discombobulating for me. Creagh's strength lies in stitching the two worlds together and when we plunged full bore into the Other, it lacked the cohesion of the rest of the story. That is not to say that my interest in the characters diminished one bit. Just that I could have done with a slightly more controlled unraveling, if that makes sense. As the end drew near, I knew it wasn't going to be enough, that I'd close it positively pining for more from Isobel and Varen. And so I did. Can't wait for the sequel!


Linkage
The Book Smugglers Review
A Bookworms Haven Review
Dear Author Review
Good Books and Good Wine Review
Presenting Lenore Review
Pure Imagination Review
Steph Su Reads Review
Stiletto Storytime Review

November 24, 2010

The Books I'm Grateful For

This Thanksgiving Eve I find myself thinking about the books I'm grateful for. Inspired by the Book I'm Most Thankful For series over at Teen Writers Bloc and Suey's post over at It's All About Books, I decided to put together my own list of the ones I wouldn't be me without. I already have my Beloved Bookshelf tab on this page, but when I think of the ones I'm most grateful for, I think of specific times in my life and the way that particular book or series literally changed the course of things. For the better.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe--Because they were all just words on a page until I read this book. This book I get choked up just thinking about. Still.

The Nancy Drew series--Because it's a family obsession and when it got to me, it linked me together with my mom and dad and the children they were in a real and lasting way.

The Hero & the Crown, The Blue Sword, Beauty, The Outlaws of Sherwood, Deerskin, Sunshine . . . ahem, well, you get the picture--Because finally, finally I felt as though I'd found the kind of girls who were like me. Stubborn, wary, wistful, a bit out of step with the world around them. But strong in a way I wanted to be.

The Song of the Lioness quartet--Because every single character owned a piece of my heart by the time I was finished and that hold has never loosened over the years. Not one iota.

Middlemarch and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall--Because they changed the way I thought about women writers and fueled my creative and academic imagination in ways I could never have foreseen. Also, one Will Ladislaw.


84, Charing Cross Road--Because it remains the most touching memoir I've ever read and because it was the first gift my future husband ever gave me and it demonstrated just how well he knew me. And loved me.

The Harry Potter series--Because it was and is sheer wonder from start to finish. It was my first real reading aloud experience and it continues to bring my family together over and over again with its magic, humor, and charm.

What about you? Which books are you particularly grateful for this year? Happy Thanksgiving!

November 19, 2010

Retro Friday Review: Goodbye Pink Pig by C.S. Adler


Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my weekly post.
You'll forgive me for indulging in what is essentially pure nostalgia this week and reviewing a book I hadn't thought of in years, but which had a profound impact on me as a young girl. I was remembering the school I attended in fifth grade the other night and mentally wandering the halls and rooms. I remembered the wonderful library it had and the kind librarian there who listened to me talk about how much I loved Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper and, smiling, led me over to wonderful, new authors such as Madeleine L'Engle. It was in this library that I was perusing one day when I came across Good-bye Pink Pig by C.S. Adler. I know. Can you believe that title? And the picture to go with it. I mean, look at the sadness in that little girl's eyes. They almost look without hope completely. I hadn't even entered my hopeless junior high years yet, but for some reason it called out to me. I'd read a fair amount of children's and young adult fantasy by this point, but I'd never really read a contemporary fantasy, let alone one that might actually have just been the sad dreamings in a little girl's head and not real at all. That ambiguity intrigued me and I fell utterly under this relatively unknown, wistful little novel's spell.

Ten-year-old Amanda walks around feeling like the world's biggest disappointment. Her beautiful, cultured mother doesn't know what to do with her shy and unremarkable daughter. Her big brother Dale is kind to her and watches out for her, but their relationship is all but eclipsed by their mother's expectations for Dale regarding going to an Ivy League school and putting that special shine to the family name. Her best friend Libby has always been a source of comfort, but things begin to shift when Amanda discovers a tiny, glass pink pig to add to her collection of miniatures. Pink Pig is different from her other toys. He's real. When she plays with pink pig, she's transported from her dull daily life to a world where all her miniatures live and are real. It's during these times, and only during these times, that Amanda feels alive and loved. But no one will believe her when she tells them about Pink Pig. No one but her grandmother Pearly, who works as a janitor at the school Amanda attends, and who her mother tries to keep her from seeing as a rule. Embarrassed by her ex-husband's working class mother, Amanda's mother does everything in her power to keep the two separate. But when Pink Pig is lost, Pearly is the only one Amanda can turn to to fend off the bone crushing loneliness that threatens to engulf her. 

Even now, years later, I get a little thrill of happiness thinking about this sweet, sad story and how much I understood (despite not sharing Amanda's bleak circumstances) the loneliness she felt and the longing for beauty and magic to balance the grim. It's a beautiful book and it made me both long for an older brother like Dale and feel profoundly grateful to have two loving parents in the place of one high strung and completely clueless mother. It reminded me very much of watching The Neverending Story. As I said, this book resides somewhere between fantasy and contemporary fiction and I remember thoughtfully trying to decide which I really wanted it to be. I was 10 myself when I read it and, like Amanda, I felt caught between the two worlds, wondering if it would be so bad if the magic were all in her head, reluctant to let it slip out of my fingers, and curious at how well she would handle moving on with her life. I was very proud of her in the end. And thoroughly pleased with the result. Curiously, I believe C.S. Adler actually wrote a sequel to this book, but I never felt the urge to read it as this one just didn't need a coda of any kind as far as I was concerned. I'd love to talk to someone else who's read it more recently and hear how it holds up over time. In my memory, it's preserved perfect and clear, like the glass of each little figurine on Amanda's shelf.

Retro Friday Roundup

November 17, 2010

Chain Reaction Cover

I just . . . I just love her covers and that's all there is to it. Chain Reaction is the third and final book in Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemisty trilogy and will feature Luis--the youngest Fuentes brother. Given my enjoyment of the first two, I'll definitely be picking this one up when it comes out on May 24th. I'm thinking I kind of need to have the full set on my shelves.

See how pretty they'll be?
Thanks to my buddy Katy over at Vision Quest Fail for the heads up on this one!

The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes

The Jumbee somehow flew under my radar for quite awhile and I only became aware of it when I saw reviews popping up on a couple of trusted friends' sites. What's that you say? A Phantom of the Opera retelling? Indeed? A YA Phantom of the Opera retelling, set in the Caribbean, in the present day? How on earth have I not read this book already? Fortunately, the benevolent Holly offered to let me borrow her copy and I jumped into it with uncharacteristic abandon at a time when only a string of old standbys were doing anything for me. And that was the first mark in its favor. I had no trouble whatsoever falling into The Jumbee's world. In fact, I gave myself over to its whimsical and deathly charms without batting an eye. Pamela Keyes' inventive retelling was just what the doctor ordered and I'm so glad I decided to give it a shot. It should be noted that, while I am not what you might call a rabid Phantom of the Opera (the musical) fan, it did sort of rock my world when I went to see it for the first time at the age of 16, and I have a fondness for the story and music that persists to this day.

Esti Legard has made a rash decision, but one she feels certain is the right one. In the wake of her famous father's death, she and her mother packed their bags and moved from their longtime home in Oregon to the small house her father owned on the island of Cariba in the West Indies. One of the most lauded Shakespearean actors of his time, Esti's father's spirit is still very much with her as she gathers her courage to try out for the part of Juliet in the local high school's production of Romeo & Juliet. Everyone there knows her name. Everyone knows her father's name and watches her for signs of having inherited a portion of his greatness. Meanwhile, her mother struggles to move on and worries about Esti as she becomes more and more involved in the disturbing events taking place at the school theater. The locals have their eye on Esti and murmur words of an evil spirit known as the Jumbee returning to the theater. The sudden death of a student rocks the little town. And the return of a former childhood friend turned local bad boy has Esti's emotions in a complete tailspin, especially as she's already more than halfway in love with the elusive Alan--the man she's never once seen, but whose voice haunts her dreams. The talented Shakespeare aficionado who coaches her, who gives her confidence, and who clearly loves the stage every bit as much as she does.

I read (and fell in love with) Gaston Leroux's original Phantom of the Opera long before I ever saw the musical. I loved how genuinely creepy it was and how he made the whole thing feel so real. I wondered how Pamela Keyes would take on these themes after transplanting the characters to high school and to such an unexpected setting. But, you know, it flowed beautifully. I loved the setting, with its rich history, colorful culture, and natural beauty. It was the ideal backdrop for this story of passion and drama, pain and longing. I loved Alan. I crept down the path of his dark history along with Esti, afraid what I would find, certain it would be worse than I thought. I liked Rafe and his easy friendship with Esti. He seemed a very logical Raoul and his temper and assumptions made more sense at this age and in this context. But he came through in ways I didn't expect and I have to say, somewhat dreading the ending as I was, I felt distinctly relieved at the way it unfolded. It was, in some ways, a more hopeful conclusion than this story has seen in the past. That's not to say that Ms. Keyes alters it in unacceptable ways, but merely that all three of the lead characters handled things strongly and surely and I felt that and loved them for it. As love triangles go, this is a good one. This one is not a waste of your time. The storyline is well-paced and thoughtfully laid out so that I was never bored, despite the familiar subject matter, and I enjoyed every aspect of it, especially the added bonus of all the wonderful Shakespeare. The Jumbee is a worthy retelling and I highly recommend it for fans of the original or anyone in the mood for a spooky love story with all the trimmings.


Linkage
Book Harbinger Review
Dark Faerie Tales Review
Forever Young Adult Review
GalleySmith Review
A Good Addiction Review
Good Books and Good Wine Review
Read in one sitting review
See Michelle Read Review

November 16, 2010

Silhouette Pretties


Great covers and great titles here. I love all three. And I've only read one of these authors before, so I'm interested to see what the other two are like. All contemporary young adult fiction here, something I've been rather in the mood for lately. You can look forward to these this coming spring.

The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
Already out in Marchetta's native Australia, The Piper's Son will make its U.S. debut with this awesome cover--very different from the Aussie one. I like both. This is technically a sequel to Saving Francesca, a book I've been ordered to read on several occasions and which I plan to do before release day. And because of that, I don't want to know too much about the sequel. Looks great, though! Due out March 8th.

Future Imperfect by K. Ryer Breese
Details are sketchy, but this debut novel explores the theme of addiction through the experiences of one 17-year-old Ade Patience, who--due to being knocked unconscious--can now see the future. With his life falling apart, he sees Vauxhall Rodolfo coming and, through her, spies hope for the future. That is, if both of them can kick their addictions. Due out April 26th.

The Lucky Kind by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
I'm always intrigued by characters who overtly believe or disbelieve in the notion of luck. Nick Brandt believes his life up to this point has been fairly lucky. Then his parents reveal a secret they've been keeping from him and things take a decidedly unlucky turn as Nick tries to figure out how to handle his loss of trust in his parents. Also, there's a girl. Due out May 10th.

Jane Giveaway Winners!

And the winners are . . . Evert and Melanie!

Congrats, you two! Be sure to contact me with your mailing addresses and Little, Brown will get those finished copies off to you soon. I loved hearing all your favorite retellings. Evert's is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and Melanie's are the retellings of Pride and Prejudice that Sourcebooks has been publishing recently. Thanks again to Little, Brown for offering up the books for giveaway and to all of you for stopping in and sharing your favorite retellings and/or love for Jane Eyre!

November 10, 2010

Jane Eyre Movie Trailer


And in the spirit of the Jane giveaway we've got going on, here is the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of Jane Eyre. It stars Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender and is set to release March 11th here in the U.S. I think it looks perfectly awesome and I'm so excited I can hardly wait. They've certainly adapted this story a number of times over the years and people tend to have definite opinions about their favorite version. Me, I get a little thrill with every one as it's just one of my favorite stories ever. So, who's going to go see it? 

November 8, 2010

Jane Blog Tour + Giveaway!

Today I'm thrilled to help kick off the Jane blog tour. Since I've already reviewed the book here and interviewed author April Lindner here, Little, Brown suggested we do a two-book giveaway and I said, You're on! So now's your chance to enter to win one of two copies of the finished book. Those of you who've read my review know just how wild I went over this modern retelling of Jane Eyre and, if you haven't had a chance to read it yet, I highly recommend doing so as soon as is humanly possible. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment telling me your favorite retelling or, if you don't have one, why you want to read Jane. The giveaway will be open for one week and will close at midnight on Monday, November 15th. I'll announce the two winners the next day. This giveaway is open to U.S. addresses only. Please be sure to leave me a way of contacting you.

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

I picked up Harmonic Feedback based on the strength of Trisha's review over at The YA YA YAs. This is not an unusual thing for me to do, as you probably know. Trisha has impeccable taste and a knack for tempting me with her reviews in such a way that what was non-committal longing suddenly turns into I must have it now! Trisha asked why more people aren't talking about this book and called it "a noteworthy debut." After reading it, I frankly have to agree with her. It was hard to track down in the first place, which was frustrating, and I haven't talked to all that many people who've read it. Yet it's a lovely story of growth and grief and what it means to exist outside the box. I think it possesses wide appeal for young adult readers who appreciate sensitive and thoughtful characters engaged in the search for connection and meaning in their lives.

Drea and her mom are on their own and they have been for as long as Drea can remember. Her first sixteen years have been one long string of moves and men. Her mother can never seem to keep a job long enough for Drea to finish that year of school. And she goes through men like they're a dime a dozen. Eternally nonplussed, Drea really does have enough on her plate without having to deal with her mother's fickle behavior. Diagnosed with ADHD and a mild form of Asperger's syndrome, it's hard for Drea to relate to her peers. They continually act irrationally, in ways that make no sense to practical, methodical Drea. Her mother is forever explaining "normal" people's behavior to her in the hopes that she will catch on and not stick out like a sore thumb. But Drea's not interested in changing herself to fit an inexplicable mold and, when they're forced to move in with her rigid and disapproving grandmother, it becomes even more difficult to get through each day. Then next door neighbor Naomi barges in, with her purple hair and her lust for life, and a nice boy named Justin starts talking to her at school, and Drea begins to wonder if some of that "normal" life she's observed for so long might just be a little more interesting than she thought.

Harmonic Feedback was a pleasure from start to finish. I've been in a somewhat odd reading place lately, bouncing back and forth between new books I've been wanting to read and old favorites I seem to need to reread. But this one had me from page one. And most of that was Drea herself and her unvarnished way of looking at the world and at herself. She was so uncompromisingly herself and I just felt for her as she wound her way through the twisty maze that is high school and teenage friendships and relationships to someone whose brain works a little differently. She certainly made mistakes along the way, but none of them were due to a lack of intelligence or conscience. I always admired her. And like Naomi and Justin, I was drawn to her because she spoke her mind, she lived for music, and she was just plain good people. Her relationship with her mother is also sympathetic and compelling as they seem to butt heads so often, yet they clearly love each other very much. Drea tries for her mother, when she doesn't for anyone else. And her mother just wants her to be happy, even when she sometimes overprotects her in the wrong ways. I will also just go ahead and say that I loved everything that went down between Drea and Justin. Justin has got to be one of my favorite nice guys in YA fiction--and how often do I say that? I was caught up in the depth and texture of the two of them, in that wonderful tug and pull between two smart individuals who are very different, who have issues, but who are nevertheless drawn to each other. I did feel as if the end of the book trod a bit too far into the melodramatic, as though it was working a little too hard to make me as the reader really feel what happened, when I was doing just fine on my own. But that quibble aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Harmonic Feedback and look forward to Tara Kelly's next offering with much anticipation.


Linkage
The Allure of Books Review
The Book Cellar Review
The Hiding Spot Review
Shaken & Stirred Interview
Steph Su Reads Review
The YA YA YAs Review