Friday, June 13, 2014

What we're reading: Edgy fiction

I'm planning to read at least a dozen of the 25 books nominated for this year's Teens' Top Ten list. So this weekend I started off with Maybe I Will, by Laurie Gray, which was a bit of a heavy choice in terms of topic. The protagonist, Sandy, has a traumatizing experience and tries to kill the pain with lying, stealing, and copious amounts of alcohol. There's something about this story that will really throw you for a loop--if you're like me, you will make a basic assumption throughout, only to realize that you might have been completely wrong. As one reviewer suggested, I'd like to go back and read the book with the opposite assumption and see if it works for me. But maybe not yet!

In terms of stars, this book has to get high marks, although I can't say I precisely enjoyed reading it. I would echo other reviewers who call it an "important," book, a ground-breaking book, a book that both teens and parents would benefit from reading. I predict that it will take its place with Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, and with Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, and with other books that feature teens who must choose how to deal with pain and take their lives back. Sandy's story is a compelling one, and I would urge teens who don't know how to reveal their pain and ask for help to read Sandy's story for themselves.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What we're reading: YA Regency romance

I just finished Keeping the Castle, by Patrice Kindl, which I picked up based on its cute and clever description in the catalog. It's a Regency romance, which is:
...a subgenre of romance novels set during the period of the British Regency (1811-1820) or early 19th century. Rather than simply being versions of contemporary romance stories transported to a historical setting, Regency romances are a distinct genre with their own stylistic conventions that derive from the works of Jane Austen (and to some extent from distinguished Austen progeny such as Georgette Heyer and Clare Darcy), and from the fiction genre known as the "novel of manners." In particular, the more traditional Regencies feature a great deal of intelligent, fast-paced dialogue between the protagonists.
--from Wikipedia

The cover quote calls this a "confection," and it certainly is that--a rather light and airy one. It's cute, it's fairly well done, and it's absolutely predictable (well, maybe one or two small details surprise). Another cover quote calls it a mash-up of I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, and Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I understand the first reference, because, after all, they both take place in a draughty castle in a remote location, and in both books the fortunes of the family are dependent on the daughter of the family marrying someone wealthy; but it's really more of a Georgette Heyer homage, given its Regency trappings--the Dodie Smith book is set in the 1930s.

As for Pride and Prejudice, I imagine that was the one cited because it is more well known (and also because its heroine is similarly poverty-stricken), but in some respects this book reminds me more of Emma--an entirely clueless heroine bent on settling everyone's personal lives to her own self-satisfaction. Anarda also pointed out its possible similarity to A Brief History of Montmaray, by Michelle Cooper (which I reviewed here), and it does agree in some respects (crumbling castle, no visible means of support--the heroine, not the castle, although both are true!), but again, much closer to Georgette Heyer, though without the enduring qualities of her books.

I liked it--I didn't adore it. If it had been my first and/or only experience of this genre, I probably would have liked it a lot better, but...I would say, if you want Georgette Heyer, read her! Or, if you have an enquiring mind, read this one first and then read Ms. Heyer, to see what I mean! Heyer is the mistress of character development, witty banter, and delightful resolutions to knotty society "problems." My favorites are The Grand Sophy, Arabella, Charity Girl, Bath Tangle, Faro's Daughter...okay, I have half a dozen more "favorites" but what's the point of naming the whole list? Read one and see what you think!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What we're reading: Fantasy

Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge
Stand-alone book
342 pages
Reviewed by Anarda

Nyx is angry: Angry about her father’s bargain that led to her mother’s death at her birth; angry at her twin sister for being raised as a beloved, coddled daughter while she, Nyx, was raised to be a heroic, self-sacrificing and unloved avenger; angry that at the age of 17 she now has to fulfill her father’s bargain with the Gentle Lord, demon ruler of their island nation, and marry him. Marry a demon, kill him with the hermetic arts her father has taught her, and free the island kingdom from the curse that isolates them from the rest of the world, free them from the madness that came to some who looked too long at the shadows where demons now live, free them to see the real sky once more, the blue sky they knew from books, the glorious sun that shines brighter than the soft glow from a painterly disc that alone shows it is day. Free to see the stars!

Well, her task may be hopeless, and she has been assured that she would be giving her life to kill the Gentle Lord, but that there would be good for everyone else if she succeeded with her sacrifice. Nyx would like her sister and the villagers to see the sky again, to be free to do as they wish without the demon’s rule, but oh, she is furious that she is the chosen one, and her bitterness over her father’s choice cannot be lightened by the affection she has for her sister.

Nyx brings that anger to the ruined castle where she finally meets her handsome, demonic husband and his curious, nearly identical, detachable shadow, called Shade. She is not immediately ravished and killed by the Gentle Lord, as her aunt led her to believe. Her husband leaves her alone most of the time, with a few rules to obey, which she won’t (and neither did his previous wives, she finds out--shades of Bluebeard!). Instead, she begins to search for those sources of magical power that will allow her to stop the demon, and makes an unexpected ally as she roams the ever-shifting halls of the enchanted castle at night. She also finds herself strangely attuned with and attracted to the Gentle Lord himself, her anger and bitterness finding a match in his own unexpected disquiet. What are the secrets he is holding back? What does Shade really know about the curse on the kingdom? And what would happen if she followed the path her heart begins to uncover?

What a fun read! The author dips into history, Greek and Roman mythology, hermetic magic, and allusions to other fairy and folk tales in this story of angry lovers and cursed fates, but she makes it fresh and crafts the story well. There is some lovely writing in this book, and there are enough twists to the story that I never felt that I was on too-familiar ground.

Great book cover! My rating: 4 out of 5.