Review of Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick


by Marcus Sedgwick

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2013. 262 pages.
Starred Review

Wow. This is one of those books that after reading, I just sit there in amazement at the level of craft that went into it (well, actually lie there — I read in bed). It’s one you want to read over again to fully appreciate all the details. Though next time, just for the fun of it, I might read it backwards.

How to describe it without giving too much away? The book is a series of interconnected stories. The first story takes place in 2073. The next section takes place in 2011. And the sections go progressively further back in time, all the way to prehistoric times, with a section going back to 2073 at the very end, tying everything together. So well done.

I won’t give away exactly what the connection is. You’ll get the idea quickly. Certain common elements occur in all the stories, and finally at the end, you understand why.

All of the book is set on an island in the far north, an island called Blessed. The island is home to a rare “Dragon” orchid. And strange things happen there.

Every story is creepy, disturbing in some way or other, atmospheric. But I don’t usually like creepy stories, and I loved this. He manages never to cross the line into awful. There’s a lot of variety in the stories, including a vampire story and a ghost story, but even though I usually don’t like vampire stories or ghost stories, every one of these stories was exceptionally good. There’s a lot of untimely death in the stories, but they never sink into despair.

Another thing that perplexed me was that recently, I made some comments in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books regarding Jepp, Who Defied the Stars as to how strongly prejudiced I am against books that are written in present tense. But this book was written in present tense (all the different time periods), and it didn’t bother me in the slightest. So I am going to have to modify my analysis. Clearly present tense isn’t the problem. It must be something about the way it is often used. Maybe it bothers me when there’s too much telling in present tense and not enough showing? I’m not sure how he did it, but Marcus Sedgwick made the present tense storytelling seem absolutely right. Maybe it just takes a truly outstanding writer. Now I’m going to look harder at which present tense books I hate, which I can tolerate, and which blow me away with their craft. (So far, this is the only one I can think of in that category.)

Anyway, since I don’t want to give away what’s going on in this book, I’ll finish my review with the beginning of the book, set in June 2073, and so full of promise:

The sun does not go down.

This is the first thing that Eric Seven notices about Blessed Island. There will be many other strange things that he will notice, before the forgetting takes hold of him, but that will come later.

For now, he checks his watch as he stands at the top of the island’s solitary hill, gazing to where the sun should set. It is midnight, but the sun still shines, barely dipping its heavy rim into the sea on the far horizon.

The island is so far north.

He shakes his head.

He’s thinking about Merle. How something seems to wait in her eyes. How he felt calm, just standing next to her.

“Well, so it is,” he says, smiling with wonder.

There! Just writing that out, I noticed the significance of one little detail that I hadn’t noticed before. I must read this book again to appreciate the craft even further!

This book is amazing. It’s got sinister undertones, but the even those who don’t like creepy books (like me) may be won over by the sheer brilliance, as the author uses the unsettling elements in a way that adds to the story’s power. This is one that will stick with you.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Teaser Tuesday

teasertuesdays31It’s Teaser Tuesday!

Last week, I posted five teasers from books I was planning to read soon. In that time, I have only finished two of them, and in the meantime a new Alexander McCall Smith book came to the library, so that immediately went to the top of the pile.

I was happy that last week lots of people posted teasers of their own on my Facebook page. You can use the blog comments, too. Teaser Tuesday is hosted by the blog Should Be Reading, and here’s what you do:

Take a book you’re currently reading, turn to a random page, and post two teaser sentences from that page (no spoilers allowed). Alternatively, you can use the page where your bookmark is lying (which is what I’m doing today). Then tell the title and author of the book.

Here’s my contribution for this week:

La’s childhood was spent in the shadow of Death. He was an uninvited guest at their table, sitting patiently, watching La’s mother, his target, bemused, perhaps, that such courage and determination could keep an illness at bay for so long.

La’s Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith

More Teasing Choices

teasertuesdays31It’s already Teaser Tuesday again!

On Teaser Tuesday, hosted by Should Be Reading, you take a book you’re currently reading, turn to a random page, and post two teaser sentences from that page (no spoilers allowed).

Last week, I had so much fun choosing my next book by looking at teasers, this week I’m really going to get carried away. First off, I will say I limited myself to books in the pile by my bed of books I hope to read very soon. And this is only part of the pile. I am not telling how many more piles there are.

I will post the titles and authors after the teasers. I will begin with the books I will probably read first.

Teaser Number One: “Well, you mustn’t be caught by them!” the king said to Minli. “Then they would find out all about my little adventures and then where will I be?”

Teaser Number Two: The dresses and the food didn’t matter, but the laughing did, and you didn’t wear the bells out by ringing them. Did happiness wear out?

Teaser Number Three: This doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but it would seem weird if I didn’t mention that the Hallsteds’ green Cadillac might not actually be green. I am a deuteranope.

Teaser Number Four: There wouldn’t be a chance to get coats. In the falling snow, she could hold the baby against her, using the blanket to shield him.

Teaser Number Five: On the way to lunch on Tuesday, they pause at the front end of the car, united by a common sympathy for ruined metal. Duncan can’t help thinking that given a woman’s bruised face or a bad dent, he knows which one he’d wince at first.

See what I mean I’m having too much fun with this? And that’s only some of the books on my first pile. Let’s see. Remember how in December I was planning to catch up on the 30 books I’ve read and want to review? Well, now there are 39 on my list! You can see that I’ve only written one “official” review in December, but have done plenty of reading.

I’m going to have to chalk it up, again, to headaches. I’m getting these very low-level, very persistent headaches. I can still read, but it’s harder to be creative and write reviews. So — I’m adding more books to my list to be reviewed, and then not reviewing them. This was made all the worse the last few weeks, as the neurologist prescribed a migraine preventative to try — and it turned out to be exactly the medicine I should not take. I think it was responsible for several migraines during that time. All I know is that today the side effects of that medication are done; I feel worlds better — but I still have the very persistent, very low-level headache that I went to see the neurologist about in the first place. In fact, this is the 27th day. Urgh.

Anyway, my reaction to the medication put things in perspective — this low-level headache is really not so bad! By contrast, I almost feel good!

But I suppose I probably won’t get five books read in the next week. Still, I can try. Here are the candidates for my next books to read:

Candidate Number One: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. This is a children’s novel mentioned on the Heavy Medal blog and nominated for the Capitol Choices list. Looks good. Quite light, with fairy tale overtones. Might be a little too much like the fabulous Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, which I finished last night.

Candidate Number Two: A Christmas Promise, by Anne Perry. So far, in my light holiday reading in past years, books by Anne Perry have definitely been my favorites. I started this after my MRI last week, so tonight might be a good time to polish it off.

Candidate Number Three: A Young Adult novel with a great cover is How to Steal a Car, by Pete Hautman. Great author, too. I will definitely read this one soon, but am not quite sure when I will get to it.

Candidate Number Four: The Spy Who Came for Christmas, by David Morell. Holiday thriller reading is usually fun, too. If this one involves a baby in danger, I might have second thoughts.

Candidate Number Five: New World Monkeys, by Nancy Mauro. Gotta love that title! This is a novel for adults that looks quirky and funny. Looks like there’s a lot of realistic, and funny, tension between a married couple, too. If that doesn’t get too dark, could add to the fun.

So, I’ve certainly spent enough time on that. Now I’m going to review last week’s teaser, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.

Fluffy Holiday Reading

by Janet Evanovich

Well, on Teaser Tuesday I posted two teasers and asked you to help me choose which to read. I got one comment on Facebook, and I went ahead and ignored that comment!

Yep, my friend Missy told me to skip the Janet Evanovich holiday book, but Wednesday night I went ahead and knocked it off. She said that she’d been disappointed in a different Evanovich holiday book. But I had wanted something light and fluffy, and something I could read in less than two hours.

Sure enough, I read Thanksgiving in about the same amount of time it would have taken to watch a chick flick, it had about that much depth and characterization (not much), was that much fun (lots), and hurt my head a lot less, because it didn’t involve any bright light. So it was exactly what I was in the mood for.

But it was light and fluffy and not highly believable or lasting literature and sexy and silly and fun and not necessarily what I want to be known for recommending. So — I thought I’d just talk about it on this blog but not post a review on the main site. But that way, you’d know how the Teaser Tuesday turned out.

And today I had another long wait at a hospital for an MRI, and read further on The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Okay, it’s quite dry reading, but I’m getting pulled in, little by little. I probably should stop reading it when I have a headache, though, I think, as it needs a little more focus than what I’m giving it.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, did not need much powers of concentration at all! Basically a young woman with a history of being dumped has moved to Williamsburg and meets a fresh-out-of-medical-school pediatrician when his rabbit (of all things) nibbles her skirt. Then a young teen mother mistakes them for a married couple and dumps a baby on them, and Megan falls for the baby (yeah, right) and they take care of it and have a perfect Thanksgiving with their families and confront her former fiance and have a comedy of errors (of course) and go through lust and love and decide whether to live happily ever after.

Light and fluffy, completely unrealistic, but quite a bit of fun. I was a little annoyed that the rabbit hardly ever came into it after the initial scene where it engineers their meeting, but okay that wasn’t the only quibble. And it certainly didn’t have any more plot holes than a similar chick flick and would make a delightful one.

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Help Me Choose

teasertuesdays31It’s Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesday is a blog Meme hosted by Should Be Reading. You go to a random page from a book you’re reading and post two teaser sentences from that page.

I think it’s especially fun today, because I wasn’t quite sure what book I wanted to pick up tonight. Bedtime’s still a couple hours away, so let’s see if I get any responses. And I will see what teasers I come up with. Here are the two books I am considering.

Candidate one I started at the doctor’s office last week. It comes highly recommended, has an intriguing premise and has a long wait list at the library, so I need to turn my copy in. The only trouble is that it didn’t quite grab me. But I wanted to give it one more chance. Let’s see what teaser I come up with.

Hmm. Now that I”m doing this, I don’t think I will post the titles and authors until after I have come up with the teasers. Okay, Teaser number one:

What if literature were a television we gaze into in order to activate our mirror neurons and give ourselves some action-packed cheap thrills? And even worse: what if literature were a television showing us all the things we have missed?

Candidate Number Two is a fluffy holiday book. I get this silly hankering for them this time of year. You can kind of tell that’s what it is with Teaser number two:

Megan noticed he was wearing the sneakers with the sutures again. He didn’t have any money, she guessed.

Hmm. I’m still not sure which book I’ll read tonight, though I’m afraid the fluffy one is losing appeal by how hard it was to find a page that had any interesting sentences at all.

The titles of the books are Candidate Number One: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, and Candidate Number Two: Thanksgiving, by Janet Evanovich.

Which do you think I should tackle tonight? Please vote in the comments! And leave a teaser of your own!

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is a blog meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

I love it! If I can swing it, I plan to make a weekly habit of participating in this my first blog meme. Tuesday is the night I work late at the library, but if possible, I’m going to make a post. Here’s how Teaser Tuesdays work:

Grab a book you’re currently reading.

Open to a random page.
**Note: I’m going to modify this to open to a page where my bookmark is unless it gives away too much.

Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.


Of course share the title and author, too.

Oh, I’ve got a fantastic one to share today, and it’s perfect because it’s from a volume of three stories and the first page of the first story can’t possibly be spoilers, can they?

I’d love for my readers to share theirs in my comments, but you can also do it on your own blogs, and of course on Should Be Reading. That’s how these things spread! Isn’t it fun?! That’s called community! 🙂

Okay, here are my teasers from Lips Touch: Three Times, by Laini Taylor, page 145:

She went to sleep with brown eyes, and when she woke at dawn to the howling of wolves, her left eye was blue. . . . Her eye flashed at her in the mirror, pale as the wink of a ghost, and she forgot all about the wolves and just stared at herself.