Review: The Hazel Wood

the hazel woodReview:

The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert

Publisher: Flatiron Books, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

Alice Proserpine has had a nomadic childhood. Her mother, Ella, has moved her from place to place, often without any warning of change. There are only been a few constant factors in her life. Her grandmother, Althea Proserpine, is the author of a book of dark fairy tales and has lived until her recent death on an estate called The Hazel Wood. Alice has never met her grandmother and her mother never speaks of her. In fact, they avoid anything to do with her grandmother, including her following of fans. The other constant in Alice’s life: bad luck seems to follow Ella and Alice.

In a deeply disturbing twist of fate, Alice will be forced to team up with one of  Althea’s fans to discover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance. She has never seen a copy of her grandmother’s famous book but will need to find it in order to understand what is happening. The truth is that her grandmother’s fairy tales are far more than stories. These creatures exist; these stories are happening – NOW. Alice must find a way to enter the dangerous world known as the Hinterland, an unexpected and dark place.

Some people really love this kind of story where fractured fairy tales meet Stephen King. I don’t happen to be one of them. If you like that kind of stuff, go for it. You will probably find it quite enjoyable (and there are many good reviews). If, like me, you would rather read something lighter and sleep well at night, this book is one to miss.

Happy Halloween!5

 

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

we have always lived in the castleReview:

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Author: Shirley Jackson

Publisher: Penguin Books, originally published 1962

Source: Personal Purchase

It’s nearly Halloween and I’ve been reading my usual selections, books with ghosts and witches and other scary monsters that go bump in the night. Today I’d like to offer something a little different. There are no monsters, per se. No ghosts, no black cats, nothing. Yet when I (re)read this book on a brightly sunny afternoon, it sent chills down my spine. What makes it even creepier is that the “monster” of the story is someone very much like you or me.

Mary Katherine Blackwood and her sister Constance and their Uncle Julian dwell in their grand family home at the edge of the village. They are the only remaining members of the Blackwood family, as the rest of the family has been poisoned. Constance, fearful and unable to leave the house, never goes to the village but stays home to cook, clean, and care for frail Uncle Julian. Mary Katherine, or Merricat as she is called, braves the hostility of the villagers. The adults are unfriendly and the children chant:

Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?

Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.

Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?

Down in the boneyard ten feet deep! (16)

But oh! Do they have it wrong! As the story progresses, the real culprit becomes more and more obvious. As we go through the seemingly regular rounds of daily activity, Jackson brings us into a world of everyday evil. Those familiar with her story “The Lottery” can be assured of a similar, though extended, type of horrible revelation. While this book may be lacking in the usually ghouls of the season, it is a story which will haunt you.

 

 

Review: Bone Gap

bone-gap.jpgReview:

Bone Gap

Author: Laura Ruby

Publisher: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015

Source: Personal Purchase

There is something different about Finn O’Sullivan. The people of Bone Gap know him as Roadkill or Moonface, because somehow he is just not like any of them. So when the young and beautiful Polish girl named Roza goes missing, no one expects that Finn is the one who knows what has happened. Unfortunately, there are gaps in his story, for Finn cannot remember the man who kidnapped Roza. It seems impossible to solve the mystery without this knowledge.

Finn is obsessed with finding Roza. It’s not just that he knows what has happened. It’s that her disappearance has affected his relationship with his brother. Sean loves Roza, yet she is just one in a long line of people who have left Sean. His father died, his mother left the boys to be with another man. He thinks Roza has run away from him and Finn is lying about her kidnapping. After all, if Roza really was kidnapped as Finn claims, why can’t he reveal the man who did it?

However, Finn is not lying and it takes Priscilla “Petey” Willis to detect the truth about Finn’s inability to find Roza’s kidnapper. Once he understands, he knows he must rescue Roza. No one else in Bone Gap is the right person to face the challenge. With his own unique skills, Finn will track the kidnapper while facing his own personal demons.

This is a unique and magical love story, forcing the reader to confront their perceptions of what love truly means.

 

 

 

 

Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

gentleman's guideReview:

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

I have to be honest. Every so often I enjoy a good romance. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is the kind of steamy summer read that is both romantic and sensual. It takes place in the 1700s and explores a lot of important issues.

The plot is fairly simple. Guy A likes Guy B and there are lots of complications that make this relationship difficult (more accurately, forbidden), which should give readers a good idea of how things are going to play out.

OK, there’s more to it than that. Lord Henry Montague, Viscount of Disley, is going on the Grand Tour of Europe – after being expelled from Eton – with his best friend, Percy (with whom he is secretly in love). His sister, Felicity, is in tow, along with a suitable chaperone to keep Monty in line (as if that is possible). After the Tour is over, Monty is expected to return to England and take over the family’s estate. However, Monty’s choices are going to change the trip from a simple Tour to a harrowing manhunt, with plenty of action and adventure to keep him – and the reader – busy.

Is this story truly plausible or realistic? I don’t know. In fact, I don’t even care. The story is so good and I was so caught up in the romance that I really never gave the whole thing a second thought (at least until I read the Author’s Note – and by then I already loved the story). Monty is a lovable, witty, smart-ass who will sweep readers off their feet.

One word of warning: I really liked this book but that doesn’t stop me from giving it a huge MOM ALERT. I like to offer reviews for all levels of young readers and this is definitely a YA selection that may not be appropriate for younger readers.

 

 

Discussion Questions: Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

elektra's adventuresDiscussion Questions for Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy by Douglas Rees

 

  1. On the trip from Mississippi to Guadalupe Slough, Elektra complains that the trip is “running away” while Mama sees the trip as an “adventure” and a “rescue from Mississippi.” Who do you think is right?

 

  1. Elektra claims that Mama has left her father because he wouldn’t leave Mississippi. Could Elektra be mistaken?

 

  1. When Mama, Elektra, and Thalia arrive at their new home, Elektra feels a ray of hope. She is sure they will be returning to Mississippi pronto. Do you think this will happen?

 

  1. What do you think of the new neighbors?

 

  1. Once again, we see a difference of opinion between Elektra and Mama. Mama couldn’t handle Mississippi because it was “rigid, hypocritical, and, worst of all, boring.” Elektra feels that life in Mississippi was “rich as delta soil and sweet as molasses” (pg. 41). What might be some of the reasons behind their differing opinions?

 

  1. We meet more neighbors and Mama’s tone of voice makes it clear that they, at least, are not boring. How might Elektra feel about this?

 

  1. The family receives a rather unique gift from one of their new neighbors (Ralph). How would you feel about receiving George?

 

  1. The girls explore the town by going to the library. They meet more of the residents of the area. How would you feel about these people? Interesting or boring? Elektra thinks they might be interesting, but do you think that will make her want to stay?

 

  1. Thalia likes their new town, but Elektra feels trapped. Why do they have such different opinions?

 

  1. Elektra meets Carlos Gonzales. How do you think she feels about him at this first meeting?

 

  1. After multiple tries to reach her father, he finally answers one of Elektra’s calls. Instead of saying she should return to him, he claims it is best for her to stay with her mother. He refuses to let her go home, but doesn’t really explain his reasons. Why do you think he feels that Elektra belongs with her mother?

 

  1. After this conversation, Elektra convinces herself that her father needs her and was just confused about what he really wanted. Do you agree with this?

 

  1. Elektra begins to wonder: What Would Odysseus Do? “Odysseus never complained unless he thought it would do him some good” (pg. 111). Elektra has done plenty of complaining. Has it done her any good?  Has it changed her situation? What do you think about her plans for action?

 

  1. As Mama evaluates her prospects for employment, Elektra responds with a smart-ass answer about their outlook. Mama slaps Elektra’s face. How do you feel about Mama right now? What about Elektra’s response?

 

  1. Elektra knows that to get back to Mississippi, she will need money.  How successful do you think she will be earning enough in Guadalupe Slough?

 

  1. Even as she plans to return to Mississippi, Elektra suddenly remembers a family trip to the Aegean Sea. Looking back, she now wonders about her father’s behavior toward her mother during that time. Do you think that summer caused this summer to happen? Do you think this revelation will change Elektra’s mind?

 

  1. How does Elektra feel about Carlos now that he is no longer Carlos-the-geek but Carlos the nineteen-year-old Stanford grad? Obviously, there is more to Carlos than she first realized. Could this be true of others, too? Evaluate the ways this is both good and bad.

 

  1. Mama comes home to find the girls missing. They were at get-together with the neighbors. Mama is angry, even though she learns that Ralph has fixed her car. Does she have a right to be?

 

  1. Thalia believed the incident was just her and Elektra having a good time with good people. Elektra explains that Mama was upset because she went by what she saw – Thalia and Elektra in a room full of adults where there was drinking going on – not by what they (Elektra and Thalia) knew. Could Elektra be making the same mistake in some of her relationships? Do we all do this at times?

 

  1. How do you think Thalia knew how to handle the situation with Ralph? (pgs. 157-159). We haven’t discussed much about Thalia, but what do you think about her outlook on everything – the change in her life, her new circumstances?

 

  1. Elektra knows that her actions in trying to get home are not truthful or honorable. She rationalizes that she can start being a good person again once she gets home. Do you think it is right for her to be “skeevy” just because she didn’t get what she wanted?

 

  1. Mama claimed she could never write because she never had a day to spend on her work. She couldn’t just walk away from taking care of her family. Will this new living situation really change that? Do you think that was Mama’s real problem?

 

  1. Elektra reads the following quote in one of her mother’s books on writing: “Your characters are defined by their actions…” (pg. 179). What do Elektra’s actions say about her? What about the actions of Mama and Thalia? Carlos or Ralph?

 

  1. Mama goes off on her interview and Elektra uses the opportunity to make her escape. En route, she finds out that her father has resigned his job, moved, and has a new wife. What do you think about Elektra’s plan now? What do you think about her father?

 

  1. At the same time Elektra receives this shocking news, she also learns her mother has been in a terrible accident on the way home from her interview.  What do you think of her next actions?

 

  1. What do you think about the neighbors after Mama’s accident? Has your opinion of them changed at all?

 

  1. Elektra wants to earn Ralph’s respect. She also needs to respect herself. Is this important?

 

  1. Mama finally comes clean about the circumstances of the divorce. Do you think she should have explained to the girls sooner? Was her plan to wait until they were older reasonable?

 

  1. What do you think of Elektra and Thalia’s plan to get some money? And what of their plan to tell Mama the truth, but slant?

 

  1. What do you think about the relationship between Rob and Mama. And what do you feel about the way Elektra and Thalia handled the fact that he “likes our Mama” (pg. 270)?

 

  1. Carlos thinks Elektra belongs in Guadalupe Slough. “The slough can be a good place for people who aren’t trying to be someone they’re not” (pg. 275). Was Elektra trying to be someone else when she arrived in California? What about now?

 

  1. Elektra’s father finally calls and admits he has been “remiss.” What do you think of Elektra’s response (pg. 281) to him?

 

  1. Elektra says Mama could have played it safe, but didn’t has Elektra come to understand her decision? Does Elektra always play it safe? Do you think that even though they don’t play it safe, they will be safe?

Review: Because You Love to Hate Me

Review:because you love to hate me

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy

Edited by: Ameriie

Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2017

Source: Library

In this anthology, thirteen acclaimed best-selling authors team up with thirteen booktubers to reimagine stories about our favorite villains – folks like Hades, the Sea Witch, and Medusa. The result is thirteen unconventional and unforgettable tales about the villains that we so love to hate.

What captures our imagination so fiercely? I think Ameriie explains it best in the introduction to this book:

“Villains take the risks our heroes can’t afford to take and make the choices our heroes are too afraid to make. They live in the Grey, and I, for one, love that sliver of space between light and dark, where things tend to be more interesting, people are more complex, and its harder to draw clean lines. Look into a villain’s eyes long enough and we might find our shadow selves, our uncut what ifs, and unchecked ambitions, a blurry line if ever there was one.”

Here are just a couple of examples of what is in store for readers.

  1. Whitney Atkinson’s (whittynovels) villain challenge to April Genevieve Tucholke (Wink Poppy Midnight, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea) was: Beauty and the Beast: Suitor’s Revenge. Tucholke’s story is “Indigo and Smoke.” As with the other stories, it is followed by Atkinson’s response to the story and her article, “Glamorized Recovery: Expectations vs. Reality” is just as interesting as the story itself.

 

  1. “Death Knell” by Victoria Schwab (Shades of Magic series) is in response to the challenge by Jesse George (jessethereader). In this tale, Hades wakes up after being unconscious at the bottom of a well in Ireland. George’s response, “Dear Death,” is a letter written to Death questioning Death’s motives.

These short stories will open your eyes to all sorts of new possibilities involving those dreaded, beloved folks we call villains.

Review: Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

elektras-adventures.jpgReview:

Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

Author: Douglas Rees

Publisher: Running Press, 2018

Age: 13 and up

Source: ARC

When Elektra Kamenides’ parents divorce, Elektra and her sister Thalia must move with their mother from their home in Mississippi to a new home in Guadalupe Slough, California. It’s painful, especially since Dad has made it clear that he thinks it is best for the girls to go with their mother. Elektra does not agree. She belongs in Mississippi.

Their new home – which their mother has bought sight unseen – is an ancient trailer parked on a barge which is sunk into a mudflat. To say it is an unappealing prospect is an understatement. The family is surrounded by a cast of eccentric characters, including “a retired brothel keeper, a suicidal failed poet, a lunatic with a gun, and a mean old Mexican man who hates white people” (pg. 96). There also happens to be a tarantula named George, a neighborhood dog named Boozer, and – oh, yeah – a hot young artist close to Elektra’s age. However, it is not as bad as it sounds, for the new neighbors are surprisingly welcoming and caring.

As the daughter of a professor of Greek mythology, Elektra tries to figure out “What Would Odysseus Do?” How can she find her way back to Mississippi and her father? She determines that the best course of action is to run away. Just as she is about to achieve her goal, life will take a dramatic turn that will cause her to reevaluate her plans and her goals.

I think young readers are going to love this story, with both comedy and tragedy mixed to make a heart-warming adventure. As an adult reader, I will admit to feeling some frustration with the actions of both parents. Near the end the father admits, “I’ve been remiss.” You think? I would have used much stronger language. Fortunately, I think the younger readers will miss all that and focus on Elektra and her emotions, which are totally plausible and understandable.

 

*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Hideous Love

hideous-love-e1523324967618.jpgReview:

Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein

Author: Stephanie Hemphill

Publisher: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publisher, 2013

Source: Public Library

While looking through the library bookshelves for additional poetry selections, I stumbled across this second, older version of Mary Shelley’s biography.

Like Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge, Hideous Love is told in free verse. In essence, the two books tell the same story, in much the same voice. Both books give the same information at the end: a cast of characters and additional biographical information about Mary and her writing.

From the point of view of the writing, I would say that both Hideous Love and Mary’s Monster are equivalent. Both are excellent. What I believe elevates Mary’s Monster is the graphics. (This from someone who is often does not care for graphic novels!) The pictures add an additional layer to the haunting quality of Mary’s story.

Review: Mary’s Monster

mary's monsterReview:

Mary’s Monster

Author: Lita Judge

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

For poetry month, I’m starting off with a new book by Lita Judge. It is poetry, but it is also the biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I have to admit that I knew very little about her when I began reading and what I did know was mostly inaccurate. This is the fascinating story about Mary, her life, and the monster she created.

Mary’s young years are marked by her father’s steadily declining finances. Mary’s mother died at her birth, but her fame as a writer and women’s rights advocate lingered throughout Mary’s youth. Her father married for a second time and Mary’s new stepmother certainly seems to have been the role model for many evil stepmothers. The family moves to Holborn, just a block away from Newgate Prison. Here her father sets up a shop in which he sells children’s books that he has written and published. Unfortunately, this endeavor will not achieve the hoped-for success her father and stepmother anticipate.

Mary is sent to Scotland to a family that are followers of the work her father publishes. Although her stepmother has insisted upon this exile and it seems harsh on a young girl, these turn out to be happy years for Mary. The Baxter family kindly accepts her into their home and Mary grows close to them, especially the daughter Isabella. Mary spends two years with the Baxters, but at sixteen her father finally forces Mary to return to England. Mary’s life once again descends into one filled with poverty, squalor, and bitter fighting.

Yet after Mary’s return to England, there does seem to be a ray of light and hope, for Percy Bysshe Shelley has entered her life. Little does she dream in these early days that her life with Shelley will also have its dark influence or that their life together will continue to build in the creation a monster that will long outlive either of them.

This dark and dramatic free verse poetry is told from Mary’s point of view. It is often as satisfyingly sinister as reading or watching Frankenstein. The black-and-white watercolor illustrations are perfectly suited to the text and often as scary as any movie, especially those illustrations that depict the monster. I had, in fact, considered saving this review as an excellent additional to October’s usual haunting choices, but the poetry was just too compelling not to share sooner.

Review: A Thousand Nights

a thousand nightsDo you remember back when I reviewed Tales of the Arabian Nights by Donna Jo Napoli? I wished for an updated/modern version to the story – and this book is just what I had hoped it would be.

A Thousand Nights

Author: E. K. Johnston

Publisher: Hyperion, 2015

Source: Personal Purchase

The man: Lo-Melkhiin had taken three hundred brides before he came to her village. These young women were heroes, of a sort, for by marrying Lo-Melkhiin, they ensured that all the other young women of the village would be safe. But this sacrifice came at a cost. By nightfall that day, the young woman would be dead and Lo-Melkhiin will have been the one to kill her. “The world had never seen another like Lo-Melkhiin, and it had no stories to combat him” (pg. 8).

The woman: Her sister is the most beautiful girl of their village. Determined to save her sister from a short and cruel marriage, she collects the fragments of the many stories she has learned. Dressing in a garment of purple with black embroidery that she and her sister had made as the sister’s wedding dress, she awaits Lo-Melkhiin’s arrival. Now it would be her own wedding dress and in wearing it she would save her sister’s life. Hopefully, her plan will not only save her sister’s life; it will save her own life, too.

Although this version of the story is lacking the familiar “mini” stories (Aladdin or Sinbad), it is, in itself, a very satisfying version. It also deviates from the original in the reason the wives are killed, but once again this version is far more satisfying. Lo-Melkhiin is a monster – and has married the one young woman who does, perhaps, have the power to change him.