Summer Reads Pt. 2: Sisters and The Book of Bad Things

by Tessa

It’s part 2 of my “books I’ve read this summer about summer” posts! Today I’m covering 2 dece reads for middle schoolers (and other people who read and like books). Unfortunately, both of them won’t be published until the end of August. Which is a great time to read books about summer in order to hold on to that summer feeling.

[Disclaimer: I’m reviewing Advance Review Copies of these books, so between now and when they’re actually published, things could have changed in the book.]

Sisters

Raina Telgemeier

Graphix, 2014

sisterstelgemeier

 

Raina Telgemeier is a godsend for realistic comics lovers who want to read stories about the middle school years. This is her follow up to her first book, Smile, which was about her totally falling on her face/mouth and having to deal with the messy dental aftermath of it for a long time, during her most awkward years.

This one’s about her sister. Actually, spoiler alert, it’s still about Raina and her feelings about her sister Amara. The framing is a road trip that she, her mom, her sister, and her little brother take, going from California to Colorado to visit family, and is punctuated by flashbacks that explain more about how the sisters grew to have their tense relationship, and why Raina won’t sit in the front seat of the van.

The flashbacks have a neat yellow filter on the pages, making it clear that the story is in the past. I wish all of the ARC I saw was in color, but that would be crazy expensive and I understand why it switched to black and white, but I’m glad I got a preview of what the coloring will be like (done by Braden Lamb, who does stuff for the Adventure Time comics!). The past sequences, with the filter, look like yellowed color photos, while the present sequences, and the present sequences capture the color of the late 80s, which is when I think this was set (maybe early 90s?), as does the fashion, of course.

Telgemeier’s writing and drawing makes me feel comfortable, like I’m reading a surprisingly interesting (and long) cartoon in a newspaper. Her family stories have the rhythm of a good sitcom, replete with punchlines and realistically wacky situations. I was so happy to slip back into those rhythms that I wasn’t bothered at first by the arc of the story. There is one scene at the end, though, that packed a big emotional punch, and it’s delivered by Amara. That made me realize that I didn’t know much about her. It’s a function of Raina not being allowed/distancing herself from Amara, so she doesn’t know what her sister is like. But it also leaves much of the book’s story obscuring half of what the book is about. It’s Sisters, not Sister, and it would have been a more powerful book for me if the big realization weren’t related to one sister not really being present in the story except as a mystery and antagonist to the other. This misstep in plotting won’t hurt the book with its core audience, though, and there are many solid scenes in there for fans to savor.

 

The Book of Bad Things

Dan Poblocki

Scholastic, 2014

bookofbadthingspoblocki

A colleague of mine brought this back from… BEA? And when I saw that it was middle grade horror and that SLJ compared it to R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and John Bellairs, I gladly took it off of her hands.

I’ve never heard of Dan Poblocki before, but he has written a lot of MG horror. Thanks for keeping the torch alight, Dan Poblocki. But you need to work on your tumblr.

The Book of Bad Things is about Cassidy Bean. She’s part of an exchange program in New York City, possibly part of a social work program, that lets her go and live with rich people in upstate New York during the summer. She’s visited one family, the Tremonts, for a couple summers, but this summer she’s arriving late to Whitechapel because the Tremonts took a while to say that Cassidy was welcome to come.

Something happened last summer to Cassidy and the Tremont’s son, Joey. They went out to the big house where Ursula Chambers, the town hermit lived. She yelled at them, and then later, Joey’s dog died, and for some reason, those two things became connected for Cassidy and Joey. Cassidy blamed herself for having the idea in the first place, and the summer seemed ruined.

Now she’s back with a new journal: The Book of Bad Things, where she writes down her fears and anxieties. Joey isn’t talking to her, and Ursula is dead. All her belongings are being raided by the townspeople, because Ursula didn’t have a family. Then, the people who took Ursula’s things start seeing her. And they start dying.

What I liked most about this book was that it wasn’t afraid to be scary and gruesome. It makes its characters question the line between reality and what they’ve seen in horror movies that feels more sophisticated to me than most horror setups in books for the younger set. Poblocki plays with the ideas of ghosts, zombies, psychic/emotional manifestations, and curses, and the real life scariness of hoarding, anxiety and hurt friendship. Sure, Cassidy’s narration is a bit stiff at times, but she’s a very serious girl, so it fits her. It also never states what race Cassidy is, so it’s possible to read her as black, which is important for many kids.

As an adult reader, I wasn’t terrified, but I can tell that if I had read this when I was a tween, it would have firmly lodged itself in my psyche.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Summer Reads Pt. 1: Celebrated Summer and This One Summer

by Tessa

 

Summer: anything can happen, freedom, transitional state of adolescence, blah blah blah. I just read a bunch of books set in summer! Two were more high schooly and two were more middle schooly, so I’ll cover them in two parts.

Celebrated Summer

Charles Forsman

Fantagraphic Books, 2013

celebratedsummerforsman

 

The cover copy calls this a “graphic novella” because it’s relatively short. I call it “self-aware nostalgia” because the narrator, Wolff, is thinking about this one time that he and his friend Mike took LSD and decided to drive to the beach from their small town in Pennsylvania (Forsman is from Mechanicsburg so I’m picturing there). But even as he’s recalling it he doesn’t think it’s magical. Yet he’s not feeling sorry for himself.

Forsman has a spare line that still manages to capture summer days that are unrelentingly hot and humid. Or maybe it’s the way he writes Wolff, who is drifting and so uncomfortable in his skin, but not ready to do anything about it, that is coming through in the atmosphere of the book. In the same way, the LSD in Wolff’s body warps his environment, so he stops knowing what’s inside and what’s outside:

celebrated2

 

More previews at Fantagraphics!

Forsman is really good at pacing his panels. Some of them unspool like frames of film, he always pauses for reactions that make the story flow as if it were in real time, giving conversations real pauses, and some, going off into pure abstraction, still follow their own logic.

I also really liked his The End of the Fucking World, and recommend it. And he runs(?) this comics press/distro called Oily that sells subscriptions and it looks pretty rad. Do more research about it than I just did here, on its site.

 

This One Summer

Written by Mariko Tamaki, Drawn by Jillian Tamaki

First Second, 2014

thisonesummertamaki

 

Hope I’m not scooping you on a review, Rebecca, because I know how much you loved Skim. (Regardless I’d like to read your review of this book, though).

I’m including This One Summer on the high schooly side of things even though it’s about two kids on the cusp of adolescence. Because Rose and Windy are obsessed with the high school/post high school kids at Awago Beach. Because it’s also nostalgic in a way, being that Rose is thinking back to previous summers compared to this one. And it has adult intrigue that Rose understands, but adults reading it will connect to on another level. I think that whatever age reads this book will get different things out of it, and it’s a book to keep coming back to to measure yourself against the feelings it gives you.

It’s gorgeous, no surprise, since Jillian Tamaki is fantastic and wonderful. It’s printed in blue inks, and the lines are brushstrokes. J. T.’s figures are simplified enough that eyes don’t have separate pupils and irises, but retain a sense of depth and weight in the space of the image, so a realism comes through. The backgrounds and splash pages are delicate, detailed, and finely observed, like obsessive studies for full on paintings, grounding the story in place.

The story is Rose’s summer at Awago Beach, where her family has been going forever. She has a beach friend named Windy, who’s a bit younger than her. This summer she has a crush on the video store clerk, he’s having drama with his maybe girlfriend, and her parents are not getting along. Her mom won’t go to the beach and she’s pushing Rose’s dad away. It’s a summer made of moments, and some of them will affect Rose in obvious, rememberable ways, and some of them are the kind that pass by and come back in embarrassment or with a laugh years later, or might never be remembered at all. Here we get to see them play out and wonder which are which. Mariko Tamki is fantastic and wonderful as well, writing another layered and immediate story, with characters that are perfectly themselves.

 

 

“Geekers Have To Geek Out”

A Review of Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

Sourcebooks Fire, 2014

Fat Boy Vs. The Cheerleaders Geoff Herbach

by REBECCA, May 22, 2014

hook

It’s war in a Minnesota high school when the creation of a new dance team threatens the funding for band, which has come from the school’s pop machine (yeah, “pop”; this is Minnesota). Gabe (aka Chunk) is ready to take on the system—even if he has to do it one Mountain Dew Code Red at a time.

review

When I first read the premise of Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders it reminded me of a kind of The Chocolate War meets Pump Up the Volume meets Mean Girls. Well, maybe that’s just what I was hoping for.

The plot is simple. Gabe is the class clown, a role he embraces in the hope of staving off bullying by laughing at himself for being fat before anyone else can laugh at him. His mother left him and his dad and has never looked back. His two best friends don’t make him feel great about himself. The only thing he really enjoys anymore is high school band. And now, even that is being threatened when the school board redesignates the funds from the school pop machine for the new dance team, which is really just all the cheerleaders with a more expensive coach.

When his beloved band and marching band camp are threatened, Gabe decides he has to take action, so he bands together (heh) with the other Geekers, as he calls them, for various protests, letter writing, and playing of “Tequila.” (Sidebar: I think it should be considered a literary crime to even mention songs like “Tequila” by name in a book as they then immediately become lodged in one’s brain. Other offenders include: “The Macarena,” “The Chicken Dance,” “Feliz Navidad,” and any song that has ever been blared out the speakers of a neighborhood ice cream truck.) Along the way, Gabe makes new friends and realizes that if he wants to stop being thought of as a clown then he needs to stop acting like it’s okay to treat him like one.

This is a light, entertaining read, and who doesn’t like a story where geeks take on the man—or, in this instance, the pop machine. Geoff Herbach does a great job of evoking a small Minnesota town and I enjoyed that the scale here is realistically small. Gabe et al aren’t trying to bring down the government or anything. They live in a small town and so one of their teachers getting arrested for drunk driving is a huge deal that instantly goes Minnekota-viral on Facebook, etc.

My two favorite characters were Gore and RC III. Gore (Chandra) is a six-foot-tall goth girl who everyone fears because she once threatened to kill some kids who were mean to her (hence, “Gore”). RC III (also not his real name) is a newly arrived jock who’s kind of a big deal but likes hanging out with the geeks more than the jocks. They are the voices of reason in a group of otherwise overreactive characters, and perhaps that’s why Gabe likes them so much. “You shouldn’t call cheerleaders bitches,” Gore tells Gabe. “Why not?” he asks. “Look what they’ve done to us.” “You don’t have to be like them,” she says (161). It’s simple and it’s true and I like her.

Gabe plays the 'bone

Gabe plays the ‘bone

Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders brings up lots of interesting issues—class, race, body image, self-conception, emotional abuse, surveillance culture. And I give it credit for its themes, certainly, even if they are laid on a bit thick. The use of names as a thing that communicate our sense of self is nice: Gabe transitions from being called Chunk because he doesn’t like it, but Gore likes the nickname she was given and reclaims it, whereas RC III chose to name himself after someone he admires and simply asserts it as his name. There are some nice moments of commentary, too. For example, Gabe makes the point that, because he thought his money was going to the band, he feels good about buying and drinking four or five Mountain Dew Code Reds a day because he’s managed to convince himself that he’s winning (for band) even as he’s losing (by drinking so much pop). But, though it raises many interesting issues, ultimately, it doesn’t really dig into any of them so, in the end, it feels like the content is just to fill out a relatively predictable storyline. As a result, it’s not terribly satisfying. It would have felt meatier if the plot structured the book but wasn’t so very foregrounded.

The Scar Boys Len VlahosAnd I lay this at the feet of yet another narrative frame that totally backfires. I discussed this issue when I reviewed Len Vlahos’ The Scar Boys, which is written as a college application. Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders is written as a memo from Gabe’s attorney, which is being submitted as context for the case against him (for stealing money from the pop machine). This narrative frame was totally unnecessary, as there is no threat that Gabe’s going to go to jail or anything (he stole $17.75 in change). So, no reason for it. But it has a number of downsides. The first is the one I already mentioned: that such a device foregrounds the linear this-happened-then-this plot at the expense of character development and richness. I mean, how much are you going to describe people when talking to your lawyer? And, if this were a mystery or a crime story or an adventure story, then maybe foregrounding the plot would be fine. But, though it would be a great armature for a book about Gabe, as storylines go, it’s not quite unique or unpredictable enough to be The Focus of the novel.

In turn, this contributes to the theme tourism because there isn’t any reason for Gabe to delve deeply into any issue that isn’t directly connected to the plot. Sometimes Gabe will start to talk about something and then say, “Hey. Why are we talking about this, Mr. Rodriguez? Shouldn’t we be talking about how . . . how you’re going to keep me from going to jail or something?” (7) and sometimes feels the need to justify how things relate: “This totally has to do with the pop machine” (11). By drawing attention to how he’s shoehorning things in or where he’s cutting himself off, this narrative frame just highlights these superficialities.

Frankenstein Mary Shelley

The best narrative frame!

Finally, the kiss of death: I didn’t find Gabe to be a very pleasant narrator, either. He doesn’t have any interests besides band (that we hear about) and he’s very judgmental. I don’t feel like I know him well and the shifts in his character have to be taken on faith, since he simply asserts them. And the narrative frame didn’t help this either. Because every word is something Gabe’s saying to his lawyer, there’s no internal monologue. I hadn’t thought about it in quite these terms when I reviewed The Scar Boys, but it turns out that this is a huge problem for me, since what I like most about reading is getting to know new characters. In a third person narrative, we get to know those characters through what’s said about them as well as what they say and do. In a first person narrative, we get to know them by that unique voice that is unfiltered. But in a first person account to a lawyer, or in a college entrance essay? Despite (perhaps?) best laid plans, these narratives fail to engage me because their technique is neither narrative truth nor confession. And so I’m bored.

So, I discovered something about myself as a reader, and can make sure to cross off my list all YA novels with a narrative frame that means the story is being told to a grown-up. Well, it’s all about the lesson, no?

readalikes

Sister Mischief Laura GoodeSister Mischief Laura Goode

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode (2011). Also set in Minnesota! Best friends Esme, Marcy, Tess, and Rowie are Sister Mischief, the all-girl hip-hop group that wants to take Holyhill (aka Holy Hell) Minnesota by storm. Along the way, they find first loves, lyrics, a PA hijacking, 4-H (Hip-Hop for Heteros and Homos, that is), and, of course, goats. My full review is HERE.

Fat Kid Rules the World K.L. Going

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going (2003). Curt MacCrae startles Troy out of throwing himself in front of a subway train and demands that he is owed lunch in exchange . . . and that’s just the beginning. Soon, Troy finds himself one half of the punk band Rage/Tectonic, even though he can’t play the drums and hates anyone looking at him. Can Troy overcome his self-consciousness to embrace the musician inside? And can he save Curt from his own demons in the process? My full review is HERE

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach is available now.

I Couldn’t Ignore ‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’

A Review of Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King

Knopf, 2010

Please Ignore Vera Dietz A.S. King

by REBECCA, December 9, 2013

review

Reality Boy A.S. KingA.S. King is one of those authors who’s been on my to-read list for years but who, somehow, I never got around to. On a library run to pick up my reserved books, I saw Please Ignore Vera Dietz‘s vibrant green cover sticking out in an otherwise underwhelming sea of picked-through YA (ah, the agony and the ecstasy of a neighborhood branch of the illustrious Free Library of Philadelphia) and grabbed it. I am so glad I did, especially because I have an ARC of King’s new book, Reality Boy, which (upon peeking at the first chapter) looks freaking awesome.

Vera Dietz is reeling from the death of her best friend, Charlie Kahn. That would be bad enough, but Vera was also kind of in love with Charlie, and he had been acting like a beast to her for months before he died.  Now, she can barely make it through a shift as a “pizza delivery technician” without the vodka she keeps under her seat. That would be bad enough, but now Vera keeps seeing Charlie. And he wants her to do something for him.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is told mainly from Vera’s perspective. She’s smart, independent, and very much grieving for Charlie—the loss of him because of his death and the loss of his friendship that she didn’t fully understand. Vera lives with her father (her mother left a long time ago) and, while they love each other, they both have trouble expressing themselves. Her father expresses his love by trying to make Vera be as responsible and practical as possible (he insists that she work a full-time job while going to school so that she won’t end up a pregnant teen stuck in this small town, like her mother was), but Vera uses how busy she is to avoid dealing with Charlie’s death and the emotional mess it left behind.

The narrative structure is one that I really like: we begin at Charlie’s funeral and then the past is revealed, starting from Vera and Charlie’s childhood and moving forward, working toward the revelation of the events surrounding Charlie’s death. This allows for great character development and builds suspense in to an introspective and psychological story. There is a real mystery here, too, though: why did Charlie stop hanging out with Vera and become friends with the Detentionheads? And what really happened the night Charlie died? Only Vera knows, but she’s kept it secret—until now.

I am a pagodaOne of my favorite things about Please Ignore Vera Dietz is the way King plays with genre. I mentioned that Vera sees Charlie (multiple Charlies, actually, as if he were a bunch of paper dolls). The chapters that are from Charlie’s point of view are in the present—that is, after he is dead. There are also a few brief chapters from the perspective of the Pagoda where some of Vera’s most significant memories happened. From this perspective, we get a long view of the history of the town, since the Pagoda has been there for generations.

None of these narrative choices shift the book out feeling like contemporary realism; rather, they function to open the story up, making it less insular to Vera. The few chapters told from Vera’s father’s perspective do this in particular. It’s rare in YA books to have an adult perspective (especially a parent’s) alongside the protagonist’s, but in this case, it’s poignant because it shows that Vera’s father, though he loves her, doesn’t really have any more answers than she does, even though he reads Buddhist self-help books and has drafted flow charts of life choices to convince himself he does.

Beautifully written and understated, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a really solid contemporary YA read that confirms the rightness A.S. King’s over-representation on my to-read list. I’m doubly excited for Reality Boy now, too.

readalikes

Last Night I Sang to the Monster Benjamin Alire Saenz

Last Night I Sang to the Monster, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2009). When Zach wakes up in rehab he has no idea how he got there . . . or where he was before. How can he figure it out when he doesn’t want to remember? Last Night I Sang to the Monster is a gorgeous book that also works through a psychological mystery. My full review of Last Night I Sang to the Monster is HERE.

Shine Lauren Myracle

Shine, by Lauren Myracle (2011). Shine begins a week after Cat’s best friend, Patrick, is gay bashed and left for dead at the gas station where he works in their small, North Carolina town. While Patrick lies in a coma in a nearby hospital and the police do nothing, Cat sets about solving the mystery of who hurt her friend, and reveals a lot about the town and its inhabitants in the process.

procured from: the library

5 Reasons You Should Watch Hemlock Grove!

A Review of Hemlock Grove, Season 1, created by Eli Roth & based on the book by Brian McGreevy

Netflix, 2012

Hemlock GroveNetflix debuted its third original series on Friday: Hemlock Grove, a tale of a small town with big secrets. Now, nearly every news outlet and reviewer has panned Hemlock Grove. However, lest you find yourselves without my opinion on the matter, here it is: I TOTALLY ENJOYED IT!

Hemlock Grove is set in a small Pennsylvania town where girl has just been violently murdered—torn apart by . . . is it an animal? a crazed killer? We don’t know. But, in the crosshairs of the rumor mill surrounding the murder are the newly-arrived Peter and Lynda Rumancek, a Romani mother and son who the suspicious town calls filthy gypsies, and the Godfrey family, most notably to-the-manor-born Roman, who uses his beauty to get what he wants (and, when that doesn’t work, his gaze, which compels obedience), his mother, Olivia, the “most beautiful and hated woman” in Hemlock Grove, and his sister, Shelley, a lurching, seven-foot-tall girl who can’t speak and glows with strong feeling. The first murder, of course, is no isolated incident; they are occurring every full moon, giving rise to rumors that it’s a werewolf committing them—and that Peter is the werewolf.

Is Hemlock Grove the smartest, least misogynist, most disciplined, least derivative, and most sex-positive show that’s ever aired? Em, no. But it has a totally awesome opening credits sequence. And here are five reasons why I think Hemlock Grove is totally worth watching.

1. Genre Feast! If you’ve ever read Crunchings and Munchings or met me (or, really, talked to me for, like, two minutes) then you know I am a fool for genre; especially interesting combinations of genre. Well, Hemlock Grove has . . . all of them, really. Its main genre is a kind of horror-light supernatural mystery. It’s a werewolf story, complete with its own set of werewolf lore, from a Romani perspective, and what is probably my new favorite human-to-wolf transformation method. Hemlock GroveIt’s gross and cool and the effects are done really well. Then, there’s the small-town gothic, one of my favorite genres. Hemlock Grove is a creepy place, complete with secrets, cliques, only one high school (which we all know can tip any show into horror!), and an eerie combination of woodland and broken-down industrial wasteland. In addition, there are definite notes of the fairy tale, the 18th-century novel (hello, Shelley, anyone? p.s., she lives in the attic . . .), and good, old-fashioned camp. There is also a bit of a science fiction twist: Godfrey tower, the town’s only skyscraper, houses secret medical experiments, run by the sociopathic Dr. Pryce (yet another nod to classic horror). This storyline is less developed, presumably to keep our interest for season two . . .

2. Binge! Netflix has gotten a mixed response to their experiment of releasing all the episodes of their original programs at once—folks seemed to love what it did for House of Cards and hate what it did for Hemlock Grove. Well, I say, bless you, Netflix, for finally acting on the behalf of people like me who would rather wait a year to be able to watch a whole season of a show at once, rather than wait around week-to-week and watch one episode at a time. Now, the critiques of this strategy are that without the necessity to compel an audience to come back each week, Hemlock Grove writers and producers were not nearly as disciplined with their cliffhangers and structure as they would otherwise need to be. But I really liked the feeling of chugging through all at once, not just because I am a binger, but because many episodes picked up exactly where the last left off, giving it a novelistic  or filmic feeling. Also, it allowed them to avoid one of my all-time pet peeves of serial tv: when the “previously on” recap totally gives away what’s going to happen in the episode based on what clips from previous episodes they show. WHY, for the love of god, has no one solved this problem, yet, I ask you!? But Hemlock Grove doesn’t need to do this, so I was never taken out of the story. It uses flashbacks where necessary, which aren’t the most graceful thing ever, in terms of filmmaking, but totally serve their purpose. And, at thirteen episodes, it was the perfect length for a weekend binge (#don’tjudgeme).

Hemlock Grove3. Depressed Industrial Town! Hemlock Grove‘s setting is a small town in Pennsylvania that used to be home to a booming steel industry, a downturn in which threw the town into a depression, only saved by Roman’s late father, who turned to the biotech industry, but in the process laid off many people in town. This made the Godfrey family many enemies and resulted in huge, abandoned factories and broken-down machinery for bored teenagers to smoke in, have sex near, and search for bodies in. It also created a stark disparity of wealth between the Godfreys and nearly every other family in town, especially the Rumanceks. Roman wears tailored overcoats, does a lot of drugs, drives a fancy sports car, and has perfectly coiffed hair while Peter is scruffy, with long fingernails, vaguely dirty hair, persistent two-day stubble, and grimy jeans. Class, then, is always subtext in Hemlock Grove, and while the show does a shitty job with gender, it’s more savvy in terms of economy. Plus, abandoned industrial shit is awesome-looking.

4. Wacky Casting! One thing that amused me about Hemlock Grove was the fact that its casting directors clearly didn’t give a good goddamn about realism in terms of casting, so the show is kind of accent soup. But it really worked out well (except for Famke Janssen who plays Olivia Godfrey, doing a British accent like she was barely even trying). Peter, played by Landon Liboirin, is charming and not smarmy and doesn’t overdo things, for the most part. I do not know what is in the water over in Sweden, but Roman is played by Bill Skarsgård, another in the seemingly endless line of extremely beautiful children sired by Stellan Hemlock GroveSkarsgård. Like, seriously, I’m starting to think that every time I clap my hands a Skarsgård cheekbone sharpens. Anyhoo, Roman is totally delightful as the mercurial heir apparent: he’s fucked up for sure, and you can see exactly how he got that way. He also does my favorite thing a character can do, which is that he sometimes makes really terrible decisions and sometimes makes really good ones. Because, you know, that’s what people do. Also delightful is first-timer Nicole Boivin as Shelley, who is expressive when not speaking, but also really touching and funny in her voice-overs as she writes Jane-Austen-inspired emails to her uncle (Dougray Scott!). But the you’re-awesome-why-weren’t-you-in-every-scene award goes to the always-amazing Lili Taylor, who plays Peter’s mother. Ah well; maybe next season.

Hemlock Grove Brian McGreevy5. A Real, Season-Long Plot! Hemlock Grove is based on the novel by Brian McGreevy, who also wrote some of the episodes. As such, the whole season was already plotted out for the creators/writers. This is such a good thing, I think, because with so many elements at play (genres, mystery, murder, relationships), Hemlock Grove is a mixture that could quickly have gotten out of hand and turned crazy. And if there’s one thing I will argue to anyone about the show it’s that it does not go off the rails, plot-wise. There are definitely things that aren’t tied up completely or explained fully—possibly because we’ll get more about them in the next season, if they make one—but for the most part, this is a well-plotted show. It’s not particularly tight, which has been a critique of the show but which I found thoroughly enjoyable: this is a show that sits back and stretches its legs, sure the next thing will happen pretty soon, not a show that chases every speck of dust. It’s not particularly invested in action, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t suspense. There is; it comes from having a mysterious plot instead of trying to building a cliffhanger before every commercial break. So, for me, the fact that the show was confident in where its material was going allowed for it to take the long way, something that gave the show texture and mood, even if it didn’t make every second count. I was never bored and I felt like I got the time to get to know the characters.

So, there you have it: five reasons I really enjoyed Hemlock Grove! There are, of course, negatives as well, and it will likely come as no surprise that they’re nearly all to do with misogyny. The show—and I don’t know if this is the book or creator Eli Roth—just can not stop punishing women for having sexual desire, so that’s a total bummer. There is a plot point (no spoilers) that goes Hemlock Grovetotally unacknowledged, but which makes me feel wretched for still liking Roman. Olivia Godfrey/Famke Janssen is a “strong and beautiful woman,” which apparently now is synonymous with a cold borderline sociopath with incestuous tendencies where her son is concerned. I’m so deathly sick of this character (and Famke Janssen seems to play her in 4/5 of her movies). I haven’t read the novel that Hemlock Grove is based on in order to know how much of that is the show’s interpretation of the character. Either way, I want to go on record as providing future novelists/tv and film creators with the following cheat sheet:

It is possibly for women to be strong without being evil; it is possible for women to be evil without being sociopaths; it is possible for women to be strong and evil in ways that are not fixated on their children!

SO, have you watched Hemlock Grove? What did you think? Are you going to watch it? Why or why not? 

A Review of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) by Maggie Stiefvater

Scholastic, 2012

The Raven Boys Maggie Stiefvater

by REBECCA, November 5, 2012

characters

Blue: the only non-psychic in a super-psychic family, rather than having an inferiority complex, Blue is open-minded and appreciative of the possibilities that others see

Gansey: a monomaniacal to-the-manor-born nice guy—who ever thought something so delightful could exist!?

Adam: a scholarship townie too proud to accept anyone’s help, he is honorable to a fault

Ronan: angry, self-destructive, genuine, loyal to his friends, he seems as scared of himself as others are of him

Noah: though he always seems to fade into the background, he is great at finding things . . . and people

hook

Blue’s family has foreseen that if she kisses her true love he will die, so she has no intention of ever falling in love. But then she meets Gansey, Adam, and Ronan and gets caught up in their pursuit of a magic larger than she has experienced. And she gets caught up in them.

worldview

Binary Ode, by Adam S. DoyleFirst of all, can I say how pleased I am by this use of “Cycle”? It just makes me expect some glorious, Wagnerian epic. And I’m sure it won’t disappoint. Second of all, I adore this cover. You can’t really tell from the picture, but the paper it’s printed on has this really beautiful nacreous coating. The image is by the wonderful Adam S. Doyle, who also did the forthcoming cover for the paperback edition of The Scorpio Races. You can check out more of his work HERE. Third of all, I want to say the word Aglionby all the live-long day.

In The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater  combines a number of my favorite things for a delightfully balanced story that makes me immensely excited to read the rest of the cycle (apparently there are to be four? yay!), but still feels like it could stand alone. In Henrietta, West Virginia, Blue is the only one in her family without the sight, but she acts like an amplifier to the powers of those around her. Her whole life, Blue has avoided who she calls Raven Boys, boys from Aglionby, the private school in town, but one night at work, she meets four of them and is drawn into their quest for the ley lines, magical lines that Gansey (the true quester) believes will lead to a long-buried king. Gansey is driven in this quest, and Adam and Ronan are devoted to Gansey, so they’re devoted to the quest. As Blue’s friendship with the boys deepens she sees that there is truth to their quest and that, perhaps, her own story is connected in ways she never would have expected.

Glendor's BannerWhile I certainly enjoyed the interlocking plot elements, The Raven Boys‘ greatest pleasure for me was the friendship among the Raven Boys, who are a rather unexpected crew. Gansey, in particular, is a gorgeously conflicted and surprising character. He is accustomed to leisure and privilege, and is driven by his monomaniacal desire to find the body of Owen Glendower, a Medieval Welsh king. With his meticulous research notebook, his khakis, and his friendships with old British dudes, Gansey is the kind of ageless character that I’m really drawn to. He seems like he could be from any time since, like, the 1920s. His friendships with boys as different as Adam, Ronan, and Noah add to this quality. He is the center of their group, and his sincere dedication to his quest and to the well-being of his friends connects them to him in ways that I imagine will only grow more complicated in the next books.

Also, I loved that Stiefvater seeded a number of things that I imagine the next books in the cycle will take up (what a fantastic and sinister final line!). It’s hard to make these tidbits both really compelling and not like big, shiny buttons labeled “HEY, I’m going to press this in the NEXT BOOK!” and Stiefvater nails it.

Blue comes from a tight family and we get the sense that they have been her main relationships thus far, so her new friendship with the Raven Boys feels full of discoveries for her. Blue’s relationship with Adam is sweet and makes sense: she is a townie who wouldn’t ordinarily poke a Raven Boy with a stick, and he is a scholarship kid who lives in a trailer and has much more in common with Blue than with his friends. It seems exactly the kind of first relationship that they would each have. Blue’s feelings for Gansey, on the other hand, are more complicated and much less clear. They’re not romantic—although, neither is her relationship with Adam, exactly—but more like the recognition of something she respects but cannot control, like an untamed animal.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

The different worlds of Aglionby and Henrietta are also particularly vivid, and Stiefvater’s engagement with class is really well-done. In the way of all the best storytellers, Stiefvater manages to use the differences in economic and cultural backgrounds to develop her characters and the intricacies of their relationships:

“Adam had once told Gansey, Rags to riches isn’t a story anyone wants to hear until after it’s done” (131).

“Gansey knew he had to make a difference, had to make a bigger mark on the world because of the head start he’d been given, or he was the worst sort of person out there” (131).

“A wrinkle formed between Adam’s eyebrows as he looked away. Not at the double-wides in the foreground, but past them, to the flat, endless field with its tufts of dry grass. So many things survived here without really living. He said, “It means I never get to be my own person. If I let you cover for me, then I’m yours. I’m [my father’s] now, and then I’ll be yours.

It struck Gansey harder than he thought it would. Some days, all that grounded him was the knowledge that his and Adam’s friendship existed in a place that money couldn’t influence. Anything that spoke to the contrary hurt Gansey more than he would have admitted out loud” (133).

The only uneven thing about the book, for me, was the perspective. The roaming, third-person perspective is part of what makes the character development so strong, but it also gives the narrative a bit of a floaty feeling; I often found myself backtracking a few sentences because I realized I had shifted from one character to another. I think this was partly because in the chapters that focus on Blue, she’s the only one who we’re following, whereas in the chapters that focus on the Raven Boys there are several perspectives.

As you’ll remember from my review, I adored Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races—it was gorgeous, a soaring yet restrained duet. The Raven Cycle promises the opposite: all of Stiefvater’s beautiful writing and insightful characterization in a sprawling, wide-reaching tale that explores magic, fate, the limits of belief, and, you know, dead kings. COUNT ME IN!

readalikes

Donna Tartt The Secret History

The Secret History  by Donna Tartt (1992). Something about Gansey put me in mind of Donna Tartt’s character Henry, a wealthy scholar totally out of touch with contemporary life or mores. They both have this delightfully nineteenth-century intellectual thing going on—the notion that knowledge is the highest pursuit and its own reward that only the very wealthy can envision for themselves. The Secret History is one of my favorite novels, so Gansey’s touch of Henry-ness delighted me. I write about The Secret History and a ’90s series that totally rips it off HERE.

Practical Magic Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995). Blue’s psychic-y, clairvoyant-y family is a little like the Owens family in Practical Magic. If you’ve only ever seen the Sandra Bullock/Nicole Kidman movie (don’t get me wrong: I love it and my sister and I watch it at least ten times a year, but . . . ) the book is far superior and completely different in tone. Check out my review of both the book and the movie HERE.

The Scorpio Races Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (2011). I know it’s totally cheating to put one of Stiefvater’s own books as a readalike, but I really feel like they go together in some way. Besides, as a bonus, you can read my review HERE and laugh at how I cried all over myself in public. Good times!

procured from: the library! But you should feel free to get me a copy of my very own for Chanukah, since I’ll certainly want to re-read it.

Re-Read: Nowhere High Series. So ’90s!

A Review (kind of) of the Nowhere High series, by Jesse Maguire

Ivy (Ballantine), 1989-1992

Nowhere High series Jesse Maguire

By REBECCA, October 17, 2012

Sometimes I feel like Crunchings & Munchings really exists so that I can talk about all the ’90s-era books series that I loved so much as a kid but that never really slotted into “classic YA” enough that anyone talks about them (I won’t speak for you, Tessa, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the ’90s figure pretty heavily into your C&M joy too). In that tradition, then, today I bring you the Nowhere High series—a series that, as far as I know, none of my friends growing up ever read, making it impossible for me to describe any of their hair as being “the color of eucalyptus tree bark—sort of silvery brown” and have them know what I was talking about (6). Anyhoosier, the Nowhere High books were a staple of my ’90s childhood, but much to my shock, when I tried to look the books up to write this review, I saw that there were a seventh and eighth book in the series that I never read. I must get my hands on them immediately!

The deal is this: when TJ McAllister moves to rural Pennsylvania from L.A., he finds himself on the wrong side of a group of pants-snatching, mud-slinging dudes after his first day at Ernest Norwell (“Nowhere”) High. TJ soon meets Caroline Buchanan (Caro), the girlfriend of the school badass who doesn’t seem to care about anyone; Josh Hickham, one-time pants-stealer but artist at heart; Darcy Jenner, boarding school reject whose passion for pranks doesn’t fit with her good-girl image; Alison Laurel (Mouse), Caro’s childhood best friend with a passion for music and thrift store magic; and a few other misfits. They commandeer an abandoned railroad station on the outskirts of town and turn Split River Station into more of a home than most of them have. They are, so the cover of book one tells me, “Hanging out and holding on . . . together.”

This series has many of the things that I love about YA fiction combined with many of the things that I love about ’90s movies:

Foxfire gorgeousness!1. A hideout! Number one wish from middle and high school?: that I could have had an amazing abandoned railroad station hideout with my friends! (Well, maybe, like, number two wish.) Split River Station is awesome, and throughout the series all the characters run away to it, hook up in it, and break down in it.

The Breakfast Club2. A rag-tag bunch of misfits! My favorite thing about the series is that the characters are all so different that none of them would be very likely to be friends in high school—you know, The Breakfast Club vibe. “Looking around the cafeteria, [Caro] saw that the rest of the school was neatly divided into groups” (40-41). When they’re together at Split River Station, though, none of what is expected of them by social group matters. So Josh can just do his art, Darcy doesn’t have to be nice, Mouse isn’t a freak, Caro is more than her looks, and TJ . . . well, TJ is a freaking mensch and I’m sure he would be whatever social group he was in.

3. Small town life! Many of the best ’90s books and movies are about kids chafing against their small towns. And it seems to me that it’s mostly in small towns that the high school stereotypes are the strongest, since there isn’t much mixing or variety, so it makes sense that they are the settings for much angst. It’s the same in this small town in Pennsylvania. Everyone knows each other so it’s hard to get past reputations, and new kids stick out forever. In a way, actually, the first book in the series, Nowhere High, reminded me a bit of a 1989 (mid-Atlantic) version of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, one of my favorite books of all time.No, really! I mean, obviously, it’s not anywhere near as good as The Outsiders, but there is a sense of desperation in the characters, and that shade of hard-edged girls and by-turns distant and violent guys that seems familiar from Hinton’s world. Especially Holly Vickers (such a good name!), the twin sister of one of the school bad boys—she smokes, chews gum loudly, fights, bullies people into dating her, and uses enough hairspray to fell a llama.

Nowhere High Jesse Maguire4. Early ’90s fashion! So, I’m going to do a whole post sometime soon about my favorite descriptions of fashion from YA lit (send me your nominations!) and Mouse in Nowhere High definitely ranks. Caro wears “a tank top, a big khaki shirt to go over it, and a pair of jeans. . . . She clipped on some earrings, pushed a couple of bracelets on, and pulled on a pair of boots” (62). Khaki shirt! Clip-on earrings! Mouse shops for the school dance at a thrift shop and she is clearly a master:

“Alison had unearthed a peasant blouse, heavy with old lace on the neck and sleeves, and an ancient cocktail dress with a stiff strapless bodice and a sequined skirt. Curious, Josh watched as she carefully folded the ugly bodice down and held the blouse up over the skirt. Then she took an old fringed shawl in green, gold, and brown, and with a quick twitch of her fingers, flung it about the skirt at a rakish angle—and suddenly there was a striking outfit” (143).

Supernatural Sam Dean Castiel5. Good, old-fashioned, interpersonal drama! Friends, I never thought I’d say it, sprung full-grown from the bookheads of Anne Rice and J.R.R Tolkien that I am, but I am a little para-super-extra-ed out. I’m sick of prefixes in general, as a matter of fact, and so returning to this mundane saga of pretty basic teenage problems was something of a palate cleanser. People have fights, feel inadequate, want to make art, get pregnant, fall in love, hope, eat, and not a whole heck of a lot else. It’s like I’ve been so supernaturaled-out that when I was rereading the series I kept thinking, like, oh, now TJ and Josh are going to turn out to be creatures and—no, wait, and ah, I bet Caro’s eucalyptus hair is really a Medusa—oh, yeah, not this time. And I didn’t miss it at all.

So, what are your all-time, top-five, desert-island ’90s reads? Inquiring minds want to know.

Winter (Voice) Is Coming: Demon Eyes

A review of Demon Eyes (Witch Eyes #2) by Scott Tracey

Flux, 2012

Scott Tracey Demon Eyes Witch Eyes #2

 

 

 

 

 

Note:Demon Eyes is the sequel to Witch Eyes, so make sure you read it first (our full review is HERE).

 

 

 

 

 

By REBECCA, September 14, 2012

characters

Braden: with great power comes great . . . migraines, and adventurous hijinks with a couple of difficult hotties

Trey: handsome and infuriating son of Braden’s enemy, he and Braden run hot and cold

Drew: shape-shifting potty-mouth, he’s always around when Braden needs to fight evil

Lucien: manipulative demon that Braden killed at the end of Witch Eyes

Riley: single-mindedly determined to solve the mystery surrounding Lucien’s death

Matthias: mysterious new demon with an unclear agenda

hook

Witch Eyes Scott TraceyAfter he killed the demon Lucien at the end of Witch Eyes, everything kind of went to shit for Braden. He has moved into Thorpe estate to live with his father, Jason, but Jason is nearly never there and doesn’t seem to care about Braden much when he is there. Trey and Jade Lansing have decided they shouldn’t be seen together after all (that whole feuding families thing—you know how it goes), and Riley thinks it’s too dangerous to stay friends. So, what’s a guy to do when he loses his only two friends and the guy he’s falling for, especially when he’s having nightmares that maybe, just maybe Lucien isn’t quite as dead as he thought? Well, for starters, he can develop a deadly defense mechanism in reaction to the pain.

worldview

Whereas in Witch Eyes, Braden was trying his hardest to stay out of the feud, now he is undeniably right in the middle of things. Braden’s been having nightmares and visions about Lucien and girls are starting to go missing. On top of that, Trey’s pushing him away with one hand, and holding him close with the other; Jade ignores him at school but says they can still be friends out of it; and Uncle John, whom he came to Belle Dam to protect, is totally incommunicado. Poor Braden!—dude, your life totally blows right now. It’s no wonder, then, that Braden throws himself headlong into trying to solve a whole new set of mysteries.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerDemon Eyes is a super fast-paced supernatural mystery, and Scott Tracey doesn’t skimp on any of the plot—and that’s what I find so enjoyable about Demon Eyes: unlike the other myriad young adult books with supernatural overtones, Tracey’s novel is really all about action. In this way, what it reminds me of most is a television show. And, indeed, I feel like the CW would be doing themselves a huge favor if they’d go for something like the Witch Eyes series (as long as they wouldn’t turn Braden straight). Each book has more than enough plot for a great season-length arc, against which we could enjoy Braden and Trey’s immense sexual tension. I could totally imagine the hilarious hijinks that fashionista Jade could get up to at school, the sub-plots involving whatever the heck it is that Drew gets up to in his spare time, the creepy shenanigans of Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe, and, of course, all the ways in which Braden is awkward and snarky. It could be like Supernatural meets Veronica Mars meets Buffy meets Gilmore Girls. Come on, CW!

what were this book’s expectations? did it live up to them?

Sam-Dean-and-the-Impala SupernaturalThis is a good sequel. I sometimes find myself annoyed at the middle books in trilogies because it can feel like a rebound book that does nothing but react to the first book and segue into the third. I think Tracey made a smart move by creating a mystery that isn’t hinted at in the first book (yeah, I know, I’m being vague, but the book isn’t out yet and I don’t want to give too much away). Much like the new season of a tv show, when the book begins some things have changed and character relationships have shifted, providing new drama. And if I keep talking about the book in televisual terms it’s because in its pacing it really reminded me of tv—especially the dialogue which is brief, funny, and snarky.

Demon Eyes Scott TraceyAdditionally, we get to know Drew better (who popped up briefly in Witch Eyes, but whose motives were questionable)and he’s quite the amusing flirty bodyguard, providing a nice middle-book-of-the-series relief in the drama between Braden and Trey, whose relationship is as unstable as ever. Drew and Braden’s relationship is fun (especially since it pisses Trey off royally) and Drew is a great foil to Trey’s seriousness. It’s also nice to see a jokey, supportive, and fun male friendship in a book with a gay main character.

Veronica MarsAs I mentioned in my review of Witch Eyes (here), I really like Braden. I want to be stuck in study hall with him where we’d become friends through a series of cutting remarks aimed not at each other but at our mutual situation. He’s funny, smart, and a total head-case for excellent reasons. I particularly like that his impulsiveness often makes it so that he doesn’t quite think through the consequences of his actions, which feels realistic. He is conflicted about his loyalties, his relationships, and his responsibilities, but he never falls into the trap of so many infuriating characters—that is, acting for no apparent reason. Braden is conflicted, sure, but Tracey always makes damn sure Braden’s reasoning is clear in the moment, which makes me very sympathetic to him when things don’t go his way. He’s brave, but not invincible by any means (his powers exact a grave price from him), so his bravery is believable, and his vulnerability well-earned. Plus, did I mention he’s funny?

In short, I enjoyed the heck out of Demon Eyes. My one complaint is that I didn’t feel like I got very much character development in book two—while Braden certainly went through changes, I don’t feel like I know him better now than I did after the first book, and I could have used some more daily interactions that developed the main characters along with the great story. But there’s a third book, so I remain hopeful on that score.

Oh, and if you read Witch Eyes and want something to tide you over before Demon Eyes is released (October 8th), you can check out Homecoming (Witch Eyes 0.5), a short story prequel to Witch Eyes that’s set before Braden comes to Belle Dam. From Goodreads: “When it comes to making friends, witch-in-training Braden is no rock star. But he gets more than he bargained for when one little charisma spell goes disastrously wrong at the social event of the season.”

readalikes

White Cat Curse Workers Holly Black Red Glove Curse Workers Holly Black Black Heart Curse Workers Holly Black

Curse Workers series by Holly Black (2010-2012). Cassel is from a family of curse-workers—people who have the (illegal) power to change emotion, memory, and luck by touch. But Cassel doesn’t have this power, so he tries to stay out of the kind of trouble in which his family members usually find themselves. When Cassel sleepwalks his way into a mysterious con, though, he can’t keep out of things any longer.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer Lish McBride Necromancing the Stone Lish McBride

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (Necromancer #1) by Lish McBride. While working a fast-food job, low-key Sam finds out that he’s—you guessed it—a necromancer. And there’s another creepy necromancer who wants something from him. Book two in the series, Necromancing the Stone, is out next week.

Procured from: receivedARC from NetGalley (thanks!) with no compensation on either side.

Demon Eyes will be released on October 8th

The principal supporting business now is rage*: A Plague Year

A Plague Year
Edward Bloor
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011

Characters
Good Guys
Tom Coleman, a likeable square
Bobby Smalls, fighter against ableism
Arthur Stokes, Tom’s cousin
Wendy Lyle, daughter of a drug counselor

Bad Guys
Reg the Veg, man of many unredeeming qualities
Dorfman, football meathead par excellence
Mr. Lyle, super snob & hypocrite
METH

Hook
There’s a plague coming that you should be ready for. It will turn your town into a zombie-infested war zone.  But it’s not a virus. It’s meth.

Worldview
Popular literature has been said to reflect the fears of real life.  Edward Bloor makes an explicit connection between the zombie-lit craze and the epidemic of Meth use across the United States in his newest work of realistic fiction.

meth kind of does this to you. photo by Heather Buckley on flickr.

There’s nothing scarier than real life for Tom Coleman.  He lives in a small central Pennsylvania town and works at the Food Giant that his father manages (off the clock, natch, but his “wages” go into a college fund).  Then, over the course of a year, meth reaches the citizens of the town.  Robberies go up.  People get more short-tempered and stressed out. There are homeless, dead-eyed, shuffling corpses everywhere Tom looks.  They used to be his friends and neighbors.

Tom and the rest of his drug counseling group decide to take on the plague any way they can.

What is this book’s intention and is it achieved?
The only thing saving this book from being a one-dimensional afterschool special of a book is that Edward Bloor does realistic dread very well, and although his characters spout didactic dialogue they are, in other ways, realistic.

I was pretty square growing up.  I had a friend who took me to parties in high school and I refused to drink (or smoke, of course).  I had an intense period of religiousity in late elementary school and middle school–oddly enough, during the times that I was most into Metallica.  So maybe that makes it easier for me to believe in characters who are teenagers that voluntarily work for their parents after school, go to drug counseling groups to support their sisters, or generally try to be of service to their community.  But I also see teens like this in real life and in news stories, so that’s not so big of a stretch.

What makes reading this a bit of a cringer are the thematic parallels that get hammered home between the Black Plague in Europe and the meth plague of today.  Tom’s English teacher, Mr. Proctor (get it?) is doing a whole unit on this and it’s reflected in the conversations that go on between the kids in the counseling group.  I do like the fact that the group allows the story to open up honest conversation in the narrative, but the whole English class parallel ultimately hurts the story, pushing it farther into we get it already territory.  Meth isn’t a super-new problem, and I think the story would have gotten its scariness across to the reader without comparing it to the Black Plague.

blackened is the end / winter it will send / throwing all you see / into obscurity - james hetfield.

Without that subplot we have a book about a real problem, with all of its attendant societal ripples.  There’s a pervading sense of doom in Tom’s town, related very well through his journal — which is not actually a real-time journal, but a reconstructed journal.  (For the record, I like this conceit, because it allows immediacy without an overuse of too-casual language.)

The feelings ring true.  Tom is nervous because he loves his cousin but his cousin’s family are sketchy.  He doesn’t know how to defend his co-worker from mean-spirited pranks that take advantage of the co-worker’s Down Syndrome, or process the stress he feels coming from his parents about a lack of family finances.  He has a minor rebellion and a very realistic crush that involves a small but humiliating scene at a party in the bigger college town next to his.  So if you can get past the Message, you’ll find a book with a compelling heart.  But if it’s your first Bloor book, I’d say put it down and head straight for Tangerine.

Readalikes

Breathless by Jessica Warman
This is semi-autobiographical realistic fiction set in SW Pennsylvania, involving a girl who is shipped off to boarding school (or gets herself shipped off to boarding school? I can’t remember which), but can’t escape her love for and angst about her severely schizophrenic brother.  She’s also a competitive swimmer and her boyfriend is hot but sanctimonious.


Totally Joe by James Howe
A journal format narrative about fighting bullying in schools (specifically GLBTQ bullying)


Ellen Hopkins, particularly Crank and Glass – the wildly popular poem-novels that touch on issues that Hopkins has faced in real life – her son was addicted to meth and inspired her first books.


Breaking Bad.  Why aren’t you watching this amazing show already??

Disclosures & Digressions
I was kind of hoping this book would be about how meth creates real zombies.  I mean, it is about that, but in a realistic way.  I was hoping the meth users would become actually dead but unable to die because of the drugs.  And they’d have to eat the brains and blood of other meth users to keep themselves alive/drugged up.

*This is a line from the poem “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg” by Richard Hugo. It’s about a dead mining town. Click and read and weep.

The Past’s So Scary I’ve Gotta Wear Shades: Witch Eyes

A Review of Witch Eyes (Witch Eyes #1) by Scott Tracey

Flux, 2011

By REBECCA, February 27, 2012

characters

Braden: with unique power and an unknown past, he wants to protect those he loves and stay out of the rest of it

Trey: handsome stranger whose feelings for Braden drag him into the middle of a war

Uncle John: Braden’s guardian and tutor in all things magic, with a few secrets of his own

Jade: rich, popular, and used to getting her way, she adopts Braden as a friend on his first day

Jason Thorpe: Braden’s long-lost (and very controlling) father, and the head of the Thorpe family

Catherine Lansing: creepily cold and calculating head of the Lansing family

Lucien Fallon: sleazy and mysterious Iago figure

Drew: neither Thorpe nor Lansing, he has powers of his own . . . but is he trustworthy?

hook

Braden flees rural Montana to the small town of Belle Dam, Washington. Once there, he attends high school for the first time, gets caught up in a feud between witch dynasties, accidentally releases some hellhounds, and starts falling for a compelling and infuriating boy . . . whom he might have to kill.

worldview

17 year-old Braden is a witch, but he also possesses a unique power: he can see through lies, see the past, and untangle spells just by taking off his sunglasses.

“The sunglasses were meant to keep my powers in check. With the ability to see the world as it truly was—not the filtered world that most people saw, but the true world—I soaked up everything like a giant sponge. Everything that has ever happened in a place, to a person, or because of an object leaves an imprint. The stronger the emotion, the more violent the death, the darker the spell, the impression will be likewise as strong.

My eyes—my power—was also my curse. Witch eyes, my uncle called them.” (7-8)

When a vision that he will cause his uncle’s death unless he leaves town brings Braden to his knees next to the milk in a local convenience store, he hops a bus to Belle Dam, his uncle’s hometown, in the hope of protecting him. But once he arrives in Belle Dam, Braden’s power (which he tries to keep under wraps) quickly makes him a sought-after tool by both the Lansings and the Thorpes, and no matter how badly he wants to stay out of their war, if he hopes to stop evil forces from destroying Belle Dam, he has to figure out which side he can trust.

Not quite the Capulets and the Montagues or the Starks and the Lannisters, the Thorpes and the Lansings are feuding witch families. As in any good feud, each family thinks the other is monstrous and dangerous, whereas they themselves are righteous and benevolent. And, as in any good feud, they’re both wrong. The book blurb reads:

“Braden must master his gift, even through the shocking discovery that Jason [Thorpe] is his father. While his feelings for an enigmatic boy named Trey grow deeper, Braden realizes a terrible truth: Trey is Catherine Lansing’s son.”

When I first read that blurb, I thought, “huh, you just gave away two pretty big-deal-seeming plot points, book blurb.” But, but, but, it’s all good, because the mystery of this book is not the interpersonal stuff at all; the mystery is about Grace Lansing, the town’s founder who, it is said, is the only other person besides Braden to ever have the witch eyes.

Braden’s task, then, is to figure out his own past and how it links up to the founding of Belle Dam, in the hopes of de-eviling it. This is an interesting mystery, and takes what could have seemed quite melodramatic (yes, there are Romeo and Juliet jokes made in the novel) and makes it just a regular obstacle to relationships and trust.

Belle Dam is a cool setting: it’s kind of like where you would be if The Secret Circle or The Vampire Diaries were set in one of Sarah Dessen’s towns. Witch Eyes is the first in a trilogy, so I’m sure we’ll get more of Belle Dam in the following books. On his blog, Scott Tracey tells us that sequels Demon Eyes and Phantom Eyes will be published in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

what was this book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

This is a good old supernatural mystery, which I love. Tracey does a good job of keeping the rules of magic consistent, but allowing magic to do surprising things. Braden’s gift, for example, exacts a price, leaving him with debilitating migraines in exchange for his view of the world without his sunglasses on to filter it. But certain magic also shows him what the world might be like without his witch eyes, which leads to . . . more mystery!

Braden’s a good protagonist: he feels responsible for the big things (protecting his uncle; keeping Belle Dam safe) but is also kind of a mess in the small things (communicating with the dead and fighting for your life really take a toll on one’s homework capabilities, and without a car, Braden constantly find himself stranded places).

The best thing about Braden, though, is that Scott Tracey has done the work to construct a tight plot, so Braden isn’t forced to do annoyingly contrived things to heighten the drama. That is, he isn’t blind to things that are totally obvious; he doesn’t make stupid decisions just to force the plot along; and he isn’t so stubbornly stuck in his own head that he misses obvious clues. Yay! (This may seem like faint praise, but it’s not! For me it’s the difference between a book I trust, that I can get lost in, and one that I feel is constantly about to give way, that I can’t escape into.)

The romance between Braden and Trey fits the book really well. Witch Eyes is set in a realistic world, except for the magical elements, and the focus is on unraveling the mystery. Accordingly, Braden and Trey’s developing relationship isn’t a swoony fantasy. They have friction at first: Braden is suspicious of Trey’s overprotective meddling and Trey is annoyed by Braden’s reluctance to accept his help. And, let’s not forget, they’re the sons of feuding enemies! So, their mutual attraction has just enough resistance to feel threatened, but there’s enough romance that it’s satisfying. I can’t wait to see where it goes in the sequels.

P.S., I’m always so impressed when characters can have a really amazing romantic moment and then push the other person away and be all, “ok, we need to figure out how to kill these hellhounds now.” Such self-control.

There were moments where the pacing could have been a bit better: a few moments of exposition drag a bit, and one climactic action scene doesn’t have quite the cinematic style that would have made it more emphatic, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and look forward to the sequels.

P.P.S. How’s this for perfect timing: Scott Tracey just posted this short story that is a tie-in to Witch Eyes. You should read it because it says this: “I fell in love, learned of my birthright, entered a loveless marriage, and manipulated a man to death before I would even graduate from college.” Well, that just makes me feel like a total underachiever.

readalikes

The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan (2010). Like Witch Eyes, this series features powers that are also curses, long-buried family secrets, grittiness. Of course, Nick is far more, um, cold than Braden.

The Dream Catcher trilogy by Lisa McMann (Wake, 2008; Fade, 2009; Gone, 2010). Janie gets sucked into people’s dreams the way Braden gets sucked into his visions, and both partner up with their boyfriends to get to the bottom of things.

The Secret Circle trilogy by L.J. Smith (1992). Small towns and witch families and feuds, oh my! See our review here.

procured from: the library

%d bloggers like this: