Kate’s Review: “The Loney”

25458371Book: “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley

Publishing Info: John Murray, August 2015 (first published September, 2014)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest.

It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is.

I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget…

Review: Gothic horror is a genre that has been making something of a comeback in recent years. The themes of isolation and madness and the inability to trust what you are seeing are all very upsetting, and in a time when manor homes and country life has changed and dwindled these themes have evolved to fit even the urban life. So perhaps our recent fears of losing touch with each other in spite of being so connected have paved the way for this comeback. “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley goes back to the basics of the gothic horror novel, setting it in an earlier time and yet making it feel even earlier. Though it takes place in the 1970s in England, sometimes I felt like it was the turn of the century given the superstitions and moralities that ruled in this book.

It concerns Smith, a man who in present days hears of a news story of a child’s remains, found in the area where his family took a Catholic Pilgrimmage in the 1970s when he was a boy. He takes the reader back in time to this long forgotten and repressed weekend. His older brother, Hanny, can’t talk, and their mother Mummer, zealously Catholic and desperate to cure him, thinks that a ritual in this area will cure him. Her strict and dogmatic approach to Catholicism is in stark contrast to that of the new Priest, Father Bernard, who is far more meditative and lenient when it comes to Christ’s teachings. The Old Ways versus Reform is one of the many themes in this book, as change is both sought out but also feared. Mummer doesn’t believe that medicine can cure Hanny, but also thinks that this new Priest isn’t devout enough, in spite of the fact he very well may be representative of changing times and ideals. Mummer is putting her faith into Father Bernard, but has no actual faith in him because he doesn’t line up with what she thinks faith should be. The priest who better lines up with her was Father Wilfred, a tyranical and steadfast priest who passed away shortly before their trip, a death surrounded by strange rumors of it’s circumstances.

And then there are the locals, which consist of two groups. The first is a man and woman couple, and a pregnant teenager that Hanny is especially taken by. Smith and Hanny don’t get much concrete information about the girl, why she is here, and who the father of her child is. Just that this may not necessarily be her first time at the birthing rodeo. Then there are the strange men who wander through the countryside with their dog, and in and out of the pilgrims’ path. I couldn’t help but get some serious “Wicker Man” (the original, not the terrible remake) vibes whenever they came into play, their own beliefs in stark contrast to those of Mummer and Father Bernard (and the newly deceased Father Wilfred). They too have their own rituals and beliefs, and their own zealotry. I can’t say that the way that they were mysterious and threatening in their weird ways was a new concept, but it did serve an interesting purpose in this book when contrasted with Mummer’s beliefs. Mummer may be faithful and righteous, but she is cruel and cold to her children, especially Hanny. And then you have the strange and threatening locals who have their own anti-Christian beliefs, but who ultimately get shit done in their own ways, even if it is also pretty terrible. And given that this book takes place in Lancashire, the area that has a history of witch trials and witch burnings, the locals and their motives and powers are all the more relevant and creepy. It became clear by the end that “The Loney” was a meditation of faith, religion, and true belief at the expense of others. Even if true belief does work in some cases, there is always going to be some kind of cost.

I say that this is horror because the setting is classic to the genre. The characters wander around misty and dank moors, surrounded by coastline, marsh, and ruins. Smith feels alone in his own fears and skepticism of how this pilgrimage will go, but his love for his older brother makes him desperate to believe that all is well, even when it’s clear that it most certainly isn’t. But while the themes were spot on in this book, in gothic tone and religious reflection, I think that my biggest problem with this book was that it wasn’t particularly scary. At least not to me. I had gone in expecting some kind of slow burn creepiness that would unsettle me through and through, but instead I was just sort of ‘oh. okay’ by the end of it. The themes are interesting, and I liked the comparison and contrasting between the Catholic beliefs and the beliefs and strange, Nativity-esque ritual that the locals were doing (and whose grim climax fittingly happens during Easter weekend). The metaphor and symbolism weren’t lost on me. But I wish that it had been scarier.

For those looking for a scary book, “The Loney” may not be for you. But for those looking for an examination of deep and unyielding faith and the awful things it can reap, you may want to check it out.

Rating 7: A story with fascinating themes on religion and zealous faith, but not as scary as I had hoped it would be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Loney” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Folk Horror and Mystery”, and “Best of Little Known Authors”.

Find “The Loney” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Untold”

15801763Book: “Untold” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

Spoilers for “Unspoken!”

Review: “Untold” picks up directly after the events that unfolded in “Unspoken.” The Lynburn family is in the midst of a civil war and the small town of Sorry-in-the-Vale is caught in the middle. Unwilling to simply sit on the sidelines while the fate of her town is decided without her, Kami gathers her friends and begins her own preparations. All while balancing her new, uncomfortable, un-linked relationship with Jared Lynburn. “Unspoken” ended with a bang, and between the now open secret that is the sorceror infestation in the town, and Kami and Jared’s evolving relationship from source/sorceror to…who knows what, there was a lot of material to work with. And sadly, I feel like most of that material was dropped in favor of witty dialogue.

This may be an example of an author’s strengths playing against her. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, this story, too, was peppered with snappy and fun language. However, unlike the first book, the stakes are much higher from the very beginning of this story. There is much less room in the natural evolution of the plot for characters to all stand around chatting like they’re in an episode of “Gilmore Girls.” So to create these situations, the author had to put the brakes on her story and create relationship drama, all to a largely disappointing effect.

Unfortunately, that relationship drama manifests itself not only in the upping of the love triangle potential seen in the first book, but also in creating a tangent storyline for Holly who is dealing with her confusing feelings after being kissed by Angela. The love triangle is doomed from the very beginning. Aside from my feeling that it is impossible to write a realistic love triangle, this one is made all the more silly from bizarre situations like “oops, it was dark and I kissed the wrong boy!” to the classic misunderstandings that are only possible due to incredible amounts of plot acrobatics. And then when they “suddenly” realize things…

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And as for the drama regarding Holly, I have mixed feelings about this. In some ways, it was a great exploration of burgeoning awareness of a character’s more complicated sexuality, and there were some great moments where this topic was explored from a variety of perspectives. But at other times, it was used as yet another “misunderstanding” plot wedge between Kami and Jared, which just undervalued most of the work that had been done up to this point. Suddenly, Holly’s exploration of herself and her feelings for others was just one more crinkle in the main straight couple’s issues. That frustration aside, I don’t want to end this paragraph on a completely negative point, since I do still really appreciate the diversity that is the cast of characters in this book.

Another of the strengths of the first book was its inclusion of Kami’s family members as active, important people in her life (none of the “invisi-parent” that is so often found in YA). And in this aspect, “Untold” goes even further. Kami’s whole family is affected by this sorcerer war, having been connected to the Lynburn family for years in some mysterious way. Her father and mother struggle to reconcile their reactions to this changing worldview, and her brothers, Tomo and Ten, may be caught up in the struggle as well. Throughout the story, Kami’s thoughts are never far from her family, and it is clear that she loves them deeply and that they are at the forefront of her mind when she plans her resistance against Rob Lynburn. This was a refreshing inclusion.

So, while I did still enjoy “Untold,” I also feel that it succumbed to “second novel syndrome.” The author had to put the brakes on her own story so as to leave material for the third and final installment. And to do that, a lot of relationship nonsense was added. But, while disappointing, I’m still invested enough to want to read the final book, so that will be making its way onto my reading list.

Rating 6: A step down from the first book, but still enjoyable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Untold” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Diversity in Young Adult and Middle Grade” and “Gothic Romance.”

Find “Untold” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous review: “Unspoken”

Kate’s Review: “Doctor Strange (Vol.1): The Way of the Weird”

26030872Book: “Doctor Strange (Vol.1): The Way of the Weird”

Publishing Info: Marvel Comics, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Description: Only Doctor Strange can protect our world from the darkness beyond — now, witness the full toll that constant struggle takes on Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme! Every spell cast comes at a cost, but what happens when Strange falls behind on his tab? Find out as the good doctor wakes up somewhere very odd, nearly naked — with no spell books, no weapons and no memory of how he got there…or why all the monsters are chasing him! And as a new visitor to Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum learns one wrong door can lead to oblivion, a magic circle of Strange’s friends and allies are about to face their greatest threat. Dark forces are destroying everything mystical in the multiverse, and their sights are set on this dimension. Magic’s days are numbered, and Doctor Strange is not ready!

Review: Okay, listen up, nerds. I’ve said it before, but I’m saying it again. I am very solidly a DC girl when it comes to my comic book stuff and movies (Deadpool and X-Men being exceptions). I have dabbled in multiple Marvel comics, but ultimately (besides Deadpool) I haven’t found many Marvel stories that resonate with me, or that I feel a desperate need to continue. But I have always been vaguely intrigued by Doctor Strange. For one thing, the very premise of his character is right up my alley. I mean, sorcerers are awesome and I will always get behind that kind of thing. But the bigger reason is that on one of my favorite TV shows, “The Venture Bros”, there is a character named Doctor Orpheus who is based upon Doctor Strange. And I love me some Doctor Orpheus. Now Doctor Strange is no Doctor Orpheus, but I actually enjoyed this comic all the same.

What I liked about this comic is that Doctor Strange has found himself at a place where using his magic has caused him to play a very high price when it comes to his existence. He’s incredibly powerful and can help others with his magic, but all of that comes with consequences to himself. He lives in a very haunted and paranormally active house, known as the Sanctum Sanctorum. He can only eat food that is so far out there and filled with magic because regular food no longer sustains him, and even hurts him. He has few friends and few contacts outside of his housekeeper/cook/martial arts teacher/confidant, Wong. And while he thinks that he is fine in this existence, when magic itself starts to disappear from his home and his life, he has to come to terms with how far gone he is and how much he relies on it. And it’s cost to him. He is no longer able to do whatever he needs to do in terms of magical acts and powers. There are now consequences to his magic, and that makes him no longer the all powerful being that Doctor Strange has kind of been up until this point. It’s pretty dark in theme, but the tone never feels brooding or morose. It always treads the line pretty finitely.

This book also introduces us to a new character named Zelma Stanton, a librarian from the Bronx who is the perfect foil for our sorcerer. We get a human who is unfamiliar with this magic to fill in for the reader, who needs things explained to her the way that we do. But it’s done in a way that never feels over-done or exposition heavy. In fact, Zelma is a very fun and witty character who, I think, is going to be fun to follow. Also, HELLO, she’s a librarian! That alone was enough to make me love her immediately. I also do have to give some serious props to Marvel when it comes to how they handle adding new characters of different backgrounds, races, orientations, and histories. It’s always great seeing more diversity in comic books, so welcome Zelma and I hope you stick around!

The overarching mystery of where the magic is going has been put into motion, as other Sorcerer Supremes like Strange have been murdered. But it’s no where near being fully explained. I wasn’t as interested in this mystery as I was interested in Zelma, or Doctor Strange’s background and his present troubles. I know that some of his troubles are derived from this arc, but I would have been perfectly fine if this was just a character study of a person who can no longer function without an outside force there to keep them going. So I guess I kind of wish that this was going to be more like “Sandman” and less like other superhero comics. The good news is that it still has my attention. While I’ve looked at other Marvel comics and said ‘oh yeah, I’ll go on eventually’, only to not go on at all or to be disappointed by where they eventually went, I am looking forward to seeing where Doctor Strange is going next. Not enough to get me to go buy the comic books themselves, mind you, but still. I want to keep going. That’s pretty impressive in and of itself.

Rating 7: I wish that this was more like a Gaiman-exploring mythology a la “Sandman”, but “Doctor Strange: The Way of the Weird” entertains. Strange and Zelma are a good team.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Doctor Strange (Vol.1): The Way of the Weird” isn’t on many lists yet. But I would recommend it if you like “Sandman” for sure, and the newer Marvel comics.

Find “Doctor Strange (Vol.1): The Way of the Weird”at your library using World Cat!

 

July 2016 Highlights

Happy July 4th everyone! We’re fully into summer now, and both of us are doing the usual summer fare of travel, relaxing, and lots of reading. July brings a new list of books that we are looking forward to reading. So let’s see what we picked.

Serena’s Picks

28862528Book: “Saga: Volume 6” by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples

Publication Date: July 5, 2016

Why I’m Interested: While Kate usually covers all the graphic novels for our duo, the “Saga” series has been on of the rare exceptions of a series that I’ve been following. This sci-fi graphic novel series is absolutely brilliant. A humorous, tragic, romantic, adventurous romp of a story all wrapped up in beautiful, vibrant illustrations. I’m one volume behind at this point, but I’m excited to pick this one up soon!

23299512Book: “This Savage Song” by Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: July 5, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Victoria Schwab, often known for writing under the pseudonym of “V.E.Schwab” (is this because she writes books that boys may like and “boys don’t read books by women authors”?? Hmmm), is an increasing presence in the fantasy genre. I have heard her works praised far and wide and have yet to actually get around to one of her books. This one, set in a world overrun by monsters, is touted as a dark, urban fantasy and sounds like it would be right up my alley. It features dual protagonists and is being advertised as the first in a duology.

29056083Book: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” by J. K. Rowling

Publication Date: July 31, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Um. Obviously. I am incredibly excited for this release. However, I’m also a bit apprehensive for the Potter mania that might follow. This is a play, not a novel, and I’m not sure how well that is actually going to go down with many Potter fans who have started pinning all of their hopes and dreams on this work. All I can say is that J. K. Rowling is greatly to be admired for expanding her world in such creative ways (short stories, her website, and now a play), and I am thrilled to be along for the ride!

Kate’s Picks25251757

Book: “You Will Know Me”  by Megan Abbott

Publication Date: July 26th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: I have found other books by Megan Abbott to be very addicting and overflowing with villainous suds. In this book she takes on the world of teenage girl gymnastics, when a Katie, the mother of gymnastic’s prodigy Devon, has to decide how far she’s willing to go to achieve her daughter’s dream. Bella Karolyi, eat your heart out. I really liked “The Fever”, and I hope that “You Will Know Me” will be a good vacation read.

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Book: “Monstress, Vol.1: Awakening” by Marjorie Liu

Publication Date: July 19th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: It’s steampunk meets an alternate historical fiction universe version of Asia, so”Monstress” is a new series that I’m really quite interested in.  In a world where Arcanics, or magical creatures who can pass for people, are hunted by sorceresses called Cumea who wish to take all their power. Maika is teenage girl Arcanic who has a psychic connection to an ancient monster whom she hopes will help her survive. The art looks gorgeous and I’m in the mood for some more girl power in my comics.

28187230

Book: “The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware

Publication Date: July 19th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: I really, really, REALLY liked “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, the grit-lit book that Ware published last year, and when I heard that she had another one coming out I immediately threw myself on the request list. When travel journalist Lo Blacklock starts the cruise assignment she’s writing, all seems like a dream. But when she thinks she sees a woman thrown overboard, she panics and tries to report it. But all of the guests are accounted for, at least that’s why they tell Lo, who wants to get to the bottom of it. I’m already freaked by cruise ships, so this will probably exacerbate that fear.

What books are you guys excited for that are coming out this month? Let us know in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “Princess Academy”

85990 Book: “Princess Academy” by Shannon Hale

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury, April 2007

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king’s priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year’s time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king’s ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.

Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.

Review: I was trained as a public librarian with an emphasis on young adult and children’s services. Bizarrely, this resulted in a high exposure to young adult titles, children’s stories, and pictures books with only a few books scattered in between that could be rightly categorized as “middle grade.” My definition for this group is books that are enjoyed by readers aged 10-13. Therefore, in an attempt to self-educate myself and to stay up to date with this segment of readers, I’ve been slowly working my way through Shannon Hale’s collection of works. She’s a well-known and respected middle grade author and I’ve enjoyed her other titles. “Princess Academy” is also a Newbery Honor Book, which further speaks to her prowess in this genre, and all in all, I can see why its praises have been so loudly sung.

Right off the bat, I was skeptical of this book’s premises. The title alone seems to imply that what we have here is a story about a bunch of girls vying for a prince’s attention and I’ve been burned by this before (side-eyeing “The Selection”). But I was relieved and surprised to discover that “Princess Academy” was so much more than that!

One of the most important aspects of this book, for me, was its depictions of friendship and family. The set-up is primed for catty-girl-drama, and while Miri does struggle with her relationship with some of the girls, the reader is presented with honest depictions of fully fleshed out teenage girls. Personalities may clash, but it is never reduced to silliness. If anything, it is depicted as the typical growing-up process that all children face. Lessons like diplomacy, sensitivity, and empathy are all in play.

Another of my favorite themes of this book was its emphasis on learning. Miri and her fellow academy girls come from a very poor village where education is completely lacking. In this way, the princess academy is presented as important in the most basic way: it is not only a tool by which to prepare a princess, but a unique opportunity to be taken advantage of by a group of girls who otherwise would have had very few options. Miri’s growing realization of the size of the world and all of the knowledge that exists is wonderful to follow. And, while the book does use this gained education as a plot tool, there is a clear emphasis on the fact that Miri realizes her own love of learning purely for its own merit. This is a great message for a middle grade novel.

There were also some fun elements of mystery within the story, including Miri’s friend Britta’s hidden past and the slow reveal of powers of her humble home. All of this is tied up neatly in simple, yet lovely, language. And, while the story does have sequels, it can also be read as a stand-alone book. All of this said, the book is firmly set in the category of middle grade. The writing style and language use is simple and the story is straightforward. However, if you enjoy middle grade novels, this book is definitely worth checking out!

Rating 8: Very strong middle grade novel highlighting great themes of friendship and learning!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Princess Academy” is included on this Goodreads list: “Best Princess Tales” and “Newbery Medal Honor Books.”

Find “Princess Academy” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Lovecraft Country”

25109947Book: “Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff

Publishing Info: Harper, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description: The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

Review: As a fan of horror literature, it’s no surprise that I do have a fondness for the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Last year my husband got me the complete annotated Lovecraft for our anniversary, and it sits on my shelf in it’s huge and daunting glory. Cthulhu is also one of the most badass literary monsters out there. But here is the thing about Lovecraft: He was an unrepentant racist and white supremacist. People can trot out the ‘man of his time’ argument, but that doesn’t matter at the end of the day. I don’t think that there is a problem enjoying his works and his writing, but to deny that other side of him is inherently dishonest and problematic.

And that brings us to “Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff. Ruff takes the works of Lovecraft and pays homage to them while simultaneously exploring and exposing American racism. He splits this book into multiple parts that all have their own little twists on Lovecraft stories or Lovecraft themes, and while they could probably stand alone, they all combine into an overarching narrative. While all of these stories have magical elements, from a haunted house to a magical cult of sorcerers to a magic elixir, all of these elements are connected to race. The haunted house does house a ghost, but the creaks and bumps in the night may also be the neighbors who are angry that a black woman has moved in. The sorcerer cult hopes to use Atticus as a vessel, as his ancestor was a slave who was raped by her master and started his recent familial line. The magical elixir gives a black woman the ability to turn white when it would be beneficial to her. They all reek of Lovecraft, but are so much more.

Our protagonists, led by Atticus Turner, are all members of an African American family in Jim Crow Era America, but their hardship and experiences of violent racism are by no means limited to the Deep South. Atticus has his uncle’s “Safe Negro Travel Guide” (based on “The Green Book”) to tell him what areas are or aren’t safe for him and George to be in, but that doesn’t keep him immune or safe from non-magical threats such as racist cops and locals who threaten or even give chase to them. It was pretty clear from the get go that the greatest threats in this book were not going to be Cthulhus or ancient ones, but White America and the hatred and bigotry that it stewed in during the time period of the novel. On the cover of this book, designed to look like a pulp novel, there are a number of things that show you just what you’re getting into. The blurb that sticks out says ‘America’s Demons Exposed!’, and right below it there are images of ghostly figures that look a whole lot like the Klan. This book is less about Lovecrafts works, and more about Lovecrafts thoughts, thoughts that were shared by people in all parts of America. And I think that Ruff did a great job of using this theme to talk about the ugliness that still haunts us today, even though we as a country are so uncomfortable thinking and facing that. America’s demons indeed.

And plus there were definitely some really creepy parts in this book. My favorite section was that of the Haunted House, “Dreams of the Which House” (a play on Lovecraft’s “Dreams in a Witch House” in both title and theme). The story concerns Letitia, Atticus’ childhood friend who had accompanied him on his road trip. She is looking to buy a house, and the one that Letitia settles on is in an all white neighborhood. It’s also very cheap because it’s haunted. So when Letitia is spending time in this house, there are strange and scary things that the ghost does. But then, there is an even bigger threat from the neighbors, who have started to harass Letitia just as much as a ghost might. I liked this one the best because I liked Letitia, I liked how she interacted with the ghost, and I liked how she made a stand in her house against ghost and Klan alike. Ruff also did a very good job of addressing racism in housing and property rights in this chapter, and microaggressions faced in day to day living (with Letitia and Atticus both being assumed to be ‘the help’ in her own home by white characters).

And I should say that while I think that Ruff did a good job, my perspective is that of a white woman, so if there are issues that POC have with this interpretation of racial oppression and bigotry, please do let me know.

“Lovecraft Country” is a book that I hope Lovecraft fans will read. I hope that many people will read it, as it explores themes that we simply can’t ignore.

Rating 8: A very well done horror story on both supernatural and realistic levels.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Lovecraft Country” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Quality Dark Fiction”, and “Best Weird Fiction Books”.

Find “Lovecraft Country” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Unspoken”

10866624Book: “Unspoken” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publishing Info: Random House, September 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

Review: I’m not sure how this book ended up on my TBR pile. I’ve read some Sarah Rees Brennan in the past, but it has been a while since I picked up one of her books. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I was browsing the library shelves (Goodreads app in hand to check against my to-read lists) and found this book right there waiting for me and didn’t have a lot of pre-existing expectations set in place going in. And it was good! Brennan manages to balance many classic YA tropes with a fresh voice and perspective that allows them to grow past their typical, clumsy restraints.

From the get go, I liked Kami Glass. She’s pretty much a half-Japanese, British born, Lois-Lane-in-the-making. And we all know how much I love Lois Lane. Full of spunk, wit, and drive, Kami pursues her goals with an energy that can’t help but draw in those around her. And in a testament to the author’s creative ability, the cast of characters who surround Kami are as diverse as they are typical, without falling over the stumbling block stereotypes often found in young adult literature. Kami has a female best friend, Angela, who is very clearly her strongest support system (stereotype avoided: lack of female friends for the female protagonist so as to cement her “difference” from “other girls”). There is even a third female friend, Holly, one of the more popular girls at school (stereotype avoided: “mean girls”). Angela has an older brother who is a healthy, non-romantic male friend of Kami’s (stereotype avoided: meet-cute with the boy-next-door who is a love interest). Kami has a very stable, loving family complete with two parents and two younger brothers (stereotype avoided: nonexistent/absent parents, lack of siblings or poor relationship with a distasteful, often older, sibling).

And, while there are the makings of a love triangle, this too is waded through carefully and with respect to the emotional struggles that would exist due to the situation. In fact, the way the relationship between Kami and Jared was portrayed was one of my favorite aspects of the story. Each honestly believed the other was a made-up character in their own head. Discovering at age 16 that your imaginary friend is not only real, but here in your own town, going to your own school, would have dramatic affects. This is not a romantic, blissful situation. Suddenly the closeness and emotional vulnerability becomes real and, perhaps, invasive. Kami begins to question where she leaves off and Jared begins. Physical contact is uncomfortable to the extreme.

I can’t say how much I appreciated the author’s handling of this situation. What could have so easily been twisted into a silly, romantic plot device is instead highlighted as intensely unhealthy, especially when Kami and Jared attempt to build a real friendship/relationship with their fully existing selves. In a book notable for its witty dialogue and punchy descriptions, Kami spends a significant amount of time analyzing independence, a sense of self, and what a healthy relationship should look like.

The mystery and fantasy elements of the story were also strong. The history of the Lynburn family and this small, British town was chilling and the book does a good job setting up this conflict for the remaining two books in the series. My one point of real criticism is the location for the book. It is set in England, however, the language felt very Americanized. Not being natively British, I’m not sure if maybe my expectations are out of sorts or whether this is an actual failing. But I routinely forgot that this was set in England at all. The lack of British terms and turns of phrase in the dialogue felt odd. Other than creating a “manor family” legacy for the Lynburns and the town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, this setting felt underutilized and perhaps even disingenuous with regards to the other narrative decisions.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and have already placed a request at the library for the second one!

Rating 7: Very good, though a few questionable decisions with regards to underutilizing its setting.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Unspoken” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best YA Books with Non-White Protagonists” and “Strong Womances In YA.”

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