Archive for the ‘Paranormal’ Category

Review of Ms Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1

No Normal

by G. Willow Wilson
art by Adrian Alphona

Marvel Worldwide, 2015.

I normally don’t read graphic novels, let alone superhero graphic novels. I picked up this one because it was a Cybils Finalist.

And then, looking inside, I got hooked – this is the origin story of a superhero whose secret identity is a Muslim teenage girl! Her family’s from Pakistan and she lives in Jersey City and just wants a normal life. Her parents are on the protective side. They don’t want her to go to parties, let alone fight crime.

This first volume covers how she attains and tries to deal with polymorph powers. While trying to keep her parents happy and keep up with her schoolwork. But it’s her parents’ teachings that motivate her to do good when the opportunity presents itself. Little did they know it would mean she’d be fighting crime and rescuing people in danger!

There are more volumes in this series, and I probably won’t review them all. (But, yes, I want to read on.) But superhero comics have come a long way since I was a kid! Now even a brown-skinned Muslim girl can become a superhero! Wow!

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from 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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Still Life with Tornado, by A. S. King

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Still Life with Tornado

by A. S. King

Dutton Books, 2016. 295 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Teen Fiction

Wow. This book is original.

And that’s saying something. Here’s how the book begins:

Nothing ever really happens.

Or, more accurately, nothing new ever really happens.

My art teacher, Miss Smith, once said that there is no such thing as an original idea. We all think we’re having original ideas, but we aren’t. “You’re stuck on repeat. I’m stuck on repeat. We’re all stuck on repeat.” That’s what she said. Then she flipped her hair back over her shoulder like what she said didn’t mean anything and told us to spend the rest of class sorting through all the old broken shit she gets people to donate so we can make art. She held up half of a vinyl record. “Every single thing we think is original is like this. Just pieces of something else.”

Two weeks ago Carmen said she had an original idea, and then she drew a tornado, but tornadoes aren’t original. Tornadoes are so old that the sky made them before we were even here. Carmen said that the sketch was not of a tornado, but everything it contained. All I saw was flying, churning dust. She said there was a car in there. She said a family pet was in there. A wagon wheel. Broken pieces of a house. A quart of milk. Photo albums. A box of stale corn flakes.

All I could see was the funnel and that’s all anyone else could see and Carmen said that we weren’t looking hard enough. She said art wasn’t supposed to be literal. But that doesn’t erase the fact that the drawing was of a tornado and that’s it.

Sarah is having an existential crisis. She stops going to school. Her parents don’t know what to do, and they don’t know where she goes.

Sarah goes different places and tries different things. Nothing seems original. And she suddenly can’t do art.

In chapter two, she’s planning to go to City Hall and change her name to “Umbrella.” But this happens:

A woman walks up and sits down next to me in the bus shelter. She says hello and I say hello and that’s not original at all. When I look at her, I see that she is me. I am sitting next to myself. Except she looks older than me, and she has this look on her face like she just got a puppy — part in-love and part tired-from-paper-training. More in-love, though. She says, “You were right about the blind hand drawings. Who hasn’t done that, right?”

I don’t usually have hallucinations.

I say, “Are you a hallucination?”

She says no.

I say, “Are you — me?”

“Yes. I’m you,” she says. “In seven years.”

“I’m twenty-three?” I ask.

“I’m twenty-three. You’re just sixteen.”

“Why do you look so happy?”

“I stopped caring about things being original.”

Sarah later meets 10-year-old Sarah and 40-year-old Sarah as well. They keep popping up at odd times. When 10-year-old Sarah comes to the house, Sarah’s Dad doesn’t even recognize her, but Sarah’s Mom does.

They help Sarah — and the reader — piece together what happened to her and what that means. And what sort of tornado has taken over her life.

A lot hinges on that trip to Mexico that is still fresh in the mind of 10-year-old Sarah. That was the last Sarah saw her older brother Bruce.

16-year-old Sarah is piecing together and remembering what happened in Mexico, but also piecing together something that happened at school, at the art show, and what it means.

We also get a peek into the mind of Sarah’s mother, an E. R. nurse who doesn’t love her husband. They’re staying together for the sake of Sarah. And the effect is that Sarah is growing up surrounded by lies.

I haven’t been able to convey the power of this book. It’s a straight contemporary novel — except that 16-year-old Sarah converses with her 10-year-old, 23-year-old, and 40-year-old selves — and other people interact with them, too, so they are indeed not hallucinations.

This is a powerful story about what happens when a metaphorical tornado goes through a seemingly still life — that was really swimming in lies.

(Tip: If you believe a woman should stay in an abusive marriage for the sake of the kids, this book will not support your views.)

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PenguinTeen.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from 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.

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Review of 23 Minutes, by Vivian Vande Velde

Friday, January 6th, 2017

23 Minutes

by Vivian Vande Velde

Boyds Mills Press, 2016. 176 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Teen Fiction

I loved this book. Yes, there’s an unlikely assumption at the beginning, but since it’s the set-up and they never tried to explain it, it’s very fun to think about what you would do in that scenario.

15-year-old Zoe has the ability to turn back time for 23 minutes. She doesn’t know why she has this ability or how it works, but she’s figured out what she can do. She has to put her arms around herself, without touching anyone else, and say out loud “Playback,” and she will be put back to 23 minutes earlier.

Once she has done this, she can keep redoing those 23 minutes, keep resetting to the same time – for ten tries. But if she once lets 24 minutes go by, or if she uses up her ten tries, she’s done and can’t go back.

Zoe has found that 90% of the time, trying to redo things makes them worse.

But the book starts with a situation Zoe has to try to change. She gets caught in a downpour and goes into a bank to get out of the rain. The people in the bank look at her askance because of her blue hair and the way she’s dressed. One youngish man, though, is kind to her.

But then a bank robber starts holding up the bank, and he ends up shooting the kind man in the face. Zoe has to try to fix this.

Her first try, she borrows a cell phone from someone on the street and calls the police. (Teens who live in a group home aren’t allowed to have their own cell phones.) A lot more people end up getting shot that time.

Next she tries warning the bank guard. That doesn’t go well, either. Eventually she figures out she needs to get the kind man’s help. But what can she say to win his confidence?

This book reminded me of the movie Ground Hog Day, except that Zoe knows the number of iterations is limited. I like the way she learns things in one iteration to use in the next.

The book is dedicated “to those who try to make things better for at-risk children and teens,” and Zoe is indeed one of those teens. I like the way the book shows her trying to do what’s right, despite the reactions of people around her. I also like the way the kind man’s character is revealed to be consistently kind, even though different things happen in each go-round, and he’s tested in different ways.

Of course, totally apart from the wonderful story, it’s fun to speculate what you would do if you had that power. What moments would you be able to fix? It’s easy to understand Zoe’s perspective that it’s usually not, actually, a good idea.

She found out about her ability when she was thirteen. That was when she learned the rules. Here’s why she was somewhat slow about changing things when the bank robbery started:

But she has not had good luck with this sort of thing in the past. She spent way too long on it at thirteen – she thinks she may have spent years playing back various moments when she was thirteen, trying to fix things, despite the fact that, really, nobody can fix being thirteen.

In the two and a half years she’s had this ability, playback has cost her more than it’s gained, and Zoe has come to think of her life as being like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books – one where it’s best to read through once and settle, because the choices only go from bad to worse.

Most of all, this is a thrilling, dramatic story with a life-or-death puzzle to solve and characters you come to love.

VivianVandeVelde.com
boydsmillspress.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, sent to me by the publisher.

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.

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Review of My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

my_lady_jane_largeMy Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

HarperTeen, 2016. 491 pages.
Starred Review

This is the first book I’m reading as a 2016 Cybils first-round panelist for Young Adult Speculative Fiction — and it bodes well that this whole reading experience is going to be tremendously fun.

But let me say right up front that while these are Blogger awards so I am allowed to talk about what books I like — please be aware that I am only one member of the judging panel, and I will write reviews before I’ve talked with any of the other judges. So only my opinion is expressed. On top of that, this is the first book I’ve read for the Cybils this year, so I can’t even compare it with the competition yet. I hope the competition will be tough! So I will simply express that I loved this book — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a Finalist.

That said, I did love this book! The premise is exceptionally fun. It’s alternate history, during a very turbulent time in England’s history — with shapeshifting thrown in.

Here’s how the authors begin the prologue:

You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete stranger (Lord Guildford or Gilford or Gifford-something-or-other), and shortly thereafter found herself ruler of a country. She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head.

Yes, it’s a tragedy, if you consider the disengagement of one’s head from one’s body tragic. (We are merely narrators, and would hate to make assumptions as to what the reader would find tragic.)

We have a different tale to tell.

Pay attention. We’ve tweaked minor details. We’ve completely rearranged major details. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, or simply because we thought a name was terrible and we liked another name better). And we’ve added a touch of magic to keep things interesting. So really anything could happen.

This is how we think Jane’s story should have gone.

Instead of Edward dying of Consumption (or The Affliction), he’s dying because he’s being poisoned by his closest advisor. The part I like best though is that instead of conflict between Protestants and Catholics, there’s conflict between Verities and Eδians (“eth-ee-uhns”).

“The Eδians were blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the ability to switch between a human form and an animal one.” That form is fixed for any individual Eδian. King Henry VIII took a lion form and had a bad habit of eating people who brought him bad news.

But my favorite thing about this book is the character of Jane Grey. More than anything, she loves to read. Because of this, she has an encyclopedic knowledge of many different subjects. And she’s not conventional.

At the start of the book, as part of a plot to take over the throne of England, King Edward’s advisor, Lord Dudley, tells Edward he’s dying. They need to marry off Edward’s cousin Jane quickly so that she can produce an heir before he does.

So, in a few days, Jane is to be married to Lord Dudley’s son Gifford — and nobody bothers to tell Jane ahead of time that during the day, every day, Gifford is a horse.

We’ve got plots and counterplots and people changing into animals at inopportune moments. But there’s also romance and a whole lot of humor. If the sensibilities of the people involved seem a bit modern — well, the narrators make that fun.

I’ll go ahead and tell you that Jane does become Queen of England for nine days. But that’s about all that matches the history we know. What does happen is an entertaining adventure and tremendous fun.

The story is told from three perspectives — Jane, Gifford, and Edward. So I’m not sure if the three authors each took one perspective — they do sound pretty much alike. Though that’s fair because the voice is always that of the narrators. The narrators give things a modern twist throughout, with plenty of humor and perspective dashed across it all.

ladyjanies.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from 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.

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Review of Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

bone_gap_largeBone Gap

by Laura Ruby

Balzer + Bray, 2015. 345 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Printz Award Winner

I read this book because it won the Printz, and probably would have given up otherwise. This book contains magical realism, which isn’t really my thing. I like fantasy that makes logical sense. I know that sounds silly, but I like there to be logical rules to the magic and a reason for the magic to exist. This is much more free-form, with gaps.

However, the writing is beautiful. I came to care deeply about Finn and the people around him.

Here’s how the book begins:

The people of Bone Gap called Finn a lot of things, but none of them was his name. When he was little, they called him Spaceman. Sidetrack. Moonface. You. As he got older, they called him Pretty Boy. Loner. Brother. Dude.

But whatever they called him, they called him fondly. Despite his odd expressions, his strange distraction, and that annoying way he had of creeping up on a person, they knew him as well as they knew anyone. As well as they knew themselves. They knew him like they knew that Old Charlie Valentine preferred his chickens to his great-grandchildren, and sometimes let them roost in the house. (The chickens, not the children.) The way they knew that the Cordero family had a ghost that liked to rifle through the fridge at night. The way they knew that Priscilla Willis, the beekeeper’s homely daughter, had a sting worse than any bee. The way they knew that Bone Gap had gaps just wide enough for people to slip through, or slip away, leaving only their stories behind.

Weeks before the story starts, Roza slipped away. Finn is the only one who was there. He knows a man took her away, and Finn didn’t stop him.

Finn was confused. He thought she wanted to go with the man — until it was too late. Until he saw her hands slapping at fogged glass and the gleaming black SUV was swallowed up by the gathering dark.

And then he wasn’t able to describe the man. Finn told how he moved, what he was like. But that isn’t enough. Everyone is angry with him, and no one really believes Roza didn’t just decide to leave as mysteriously as she arrived.

Finn’s brother Sean, especially, thinks that he’s been left again. He doesn’t believe Sean that Roza wouldn’t do that, that Roza is in trouble. If there was a man, why can’t Finn describe him?

The chapters about Finn and Sean are interspersed with chapters about Roza in her strange surreal captivity. The man keeping her can speak flawless Polish and can effortlessly change where he’s keeping her.

Finn has a lot to learn about himself, about Bone Gap, before he can find Roza. And Roza has an important part in her own rescue. There are shades of the story of Persephone here and plenty of atmospheric paranormal elements.

I should mention that I like the way very realistic elements were woven into this mythic story. Finn has a good reason for his troubles describing the man who took Rosa, and Sean has good reasons for not trusting people. I like the way magic and reality are beautifully woven together in this lovely book.

lauraruby.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from 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.

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Review of The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

raven_king_largeThe Raven King

Book IV of The Raven Cycle

by Maggie Stiefvater

Scholastic Press, New York, 2016. 439 pages.

This is a grand and ambitious cycle of books. Maggie Stiefvater’s writing is lyrical and evocative. The story is unlike anything I’ve ever read — ley lines running under Virginia, a family of psychics, a girl who magnifies the magical gifts of others, a man who’s part tree, a rich private high school student searching for a long dead Welsh king who will grant wishes, another boy who can dream things up – and make them real. And then there’s the curse that if Blue kisses her true love, he will die. And the blooming romance between Blue and Gansey, that rich kid searching for the long-dead king.

I liked the voice in which the book is written. I like the way the author focuses on different characters by turns, starting new chapters with the words, “Depending on where you began the story, it was about…” about many, many different characters.

All that said – and I certainly was going to read every word of this book after reading the earlier three volumes – this is not my favorite kind of fantasy. I like fantasy books where the magic makes logical sense to me, operates by rules. The magic in this book seems much more nebulous and hard to follow.

There’s also a whole lot of darkness here, along with gory death.

And yet the author pulled off a satisfying conclusion. Well, maybe it was a slight let-down. Since I didn’t fully understand how the magic worked, I was a little befuddled by how all the plot threads wrapped up – but mostly satisfied.

And did I mention the wonderful writing? Yes, the story’s dark. Yes, it’s confusing in spots, but you will be pulled along into this world and into the lives of these characters, flawed but lovable, muddling through, trying to make sense themselves of some powerful magic.

This series isn’t one I’ll necessarily ever read again – but I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with it.

maggiestiefvater.com
thisisteen.com
scholastic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from 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.

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Review of Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, by Ann Jacobus

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

romancing_the_dark_in_the_city_of_light_largeRomancing the Dark in the City of Light

by Ann Jacobus

Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Griffin), New York, 2015. 276 pages.
Starred Review

When I saw author Ann Jacobus at the YALSA Symposium, I knew I’d met her at a small conference, where she’d been an organizer. I assumed it was one of the many KidLitCons I’ve been to, but when I had her sign her book and mentioned KidLitCon, she said No.

As soon as I turned away, I remembered, and went right back to her table. I should have known – when, after all, the reason I decided to get a copy of the book was that the Eiffel Tower is on the cover and it’s set in Paris – I met Ann Jacobus at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Paris almost exactly ten years before I saw her in Portland, and she was indeed one of the organizers.

Ann Jacobus did set the book in Paris because of having lived there. (Paris tends to capture people’s hearts.)

Now, I’m not the best reader for a dark book – I don’t tend to enjoy them. This book is dark, and it took me awhile to get it read because of that.

But the book is well-written, and the concept is intriguing. Summer is in Paris staying with her Mom, trying to repeat and finish her senior year of high school, because she keeps getting kicked out of schools in America. She has to finish high school and graduate from college before she turns twenty-two in order to inherit her grandfather’s wealth.

There’s a lot of pressure on her, and Summer doesn’t like it. She thinks a lot about death. She researches burial customs of different cultures on the internet. Her father died years ago. Summer carries his flask with her, filled with vodka to help her get through.

Summer would like to have a romance in Paris, and she meets two people who might fulfill that desire. One is a student at her school, Moony (Munir), who walks with a limp because of a bad car accident when he was younger. Moony is uncommonly kind – and he doesn’t deserve to have Summer’s mess in his life.

Kurt is a handsome man Summer meets at a Paris metro station, just after a woman throws herself onto the tracks in front of a train. Kurt keeps showing up. He seems to know Summer’s thoughts. There’s a smell of decay about him.

I said this book is dark. That darkness, in Summer’s life, is personified in Kurt. Yes, there are some paranormal elements going on. They are done with excellent touches, making me want to reread it now I know all that’s going on – but I don’t want to give it away for other readers. Let’s just say that we watch more and more things in Summer’s life fall apart.

The novel doesn’t end badly, though – and that’s because of Moony. And Ann Jacobus shows us Moony’s character, persistence, and kindness in a way that we believe the ending.

But Moony isn’t perfect. We also see hints that he’s not helping Summer because he doesn’t know anything about despair or problems. And that works into the ending as well.

There’s more I’d like to say, but it gives too much away. (Feel free to talk about the ending in the comments if you’ve read the book!) This is a well-written book about a suicidal teen, set in Paris. (The title is perfect!) There are Suicide Prevention Resources at the back of the book, and it actually ends up a hopeful tale.

annjacobus.com
thomasdunnebooks.com
stmartins.com

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Source: This review is based on my own signed copy, which I got at the 2015 YALSA Symposium in Portland, Oregon.

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.

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Review of Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer

Friday, April 10th, 2015

belzhar_largeBelzhar

by Meg Wolitzer
read by Jorjeana Marie

Listening Library, 2014. 8 hours on 7 compact discs.
Starred Review

Jam Gallahue has been sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school in Vermont for “highly intelligent but emotionally fragile” teens. After she lost her boyfriend, Reeve, she’s withdrawn from everything and everyone.

On her first day of classes, her roommate is jealous when they discover that Jam’s been put into Special Topics in English. No one knows why everyone claims the class is life-changing. There are only four other students, and a teacher who will retire at the end of the term. They will be studying Sylvia Plath. The teacher, Mrs. Quinnell, gives them each a red leather journal and tells them to write in it twice a week. She’ll be collecting them at the end of the term.

When Jam writes in the journal, she’s transported to another place, a place outside time, and she is together with Reeve again. She can’t do anything new with him in that place, but she can actually feel him and see him and talk with him. When she comes back, five more pages of her journal are filled in with her own handwriting.

The other members of Special Topics in English have their own traumas to deal with. Before long, the class members all figure out that each one is being transported to another place, where things are right again, every time they write in their journals.

But the journals will be completely full by the end of the term.

This story could have been trite and problem novel-ish. But the author has crafted the story well, revealing information a little bit at a time. Each student in the class has a compelling story, and we also learn more and more about what Jam went through, and how she interacts with her fellow-students.

There’s a fine overarching message about dealing with trauma and being able to get on with life. But the book is good because the story is told in a compelling way.

It’s also a tribute to the healing power of words – both written yourself and written by others.

This book has some healing power of its own.

listeninglibrary.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from 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.

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Review of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater

Friday, February 13th, 2015

blue_lily_lily_blue_largeBlue Lily, Lily Blue

Book III of the Raven Cycle

by Maggie Stiefvater

Scholastic Press, New York, 2014. 391 pages.

Why in the world was I thinking this is a trilogy? All along, they carefully called it The Raven Cycle, not The Raven Trilogy. Yes, some extreme things happened in this book, but they just inched the plot further along, rather than wrapping things up, as I had hoped.

I’m not crazy about this series — It’s a darker story, with more occult elements, than I usually like. But I can’t look away! And I’ve come to care about the characters. I’ve even come to believe in a romance between Blue and Gansey — and that took some skilled writing!

This cycle of books is like no other fantasy I’ve ever read. We’ve got a bunch of entitled rich kids and their scholarship friend and a girl from the hills looking along a ley line in West Virginia for a buried Welsh king. And all sorts of amazing supernatural things are happening while they’re looking.

In some ways, this felt like a bridge piece. It wasn’t as striking as either the first or the second book. And the characters were dealing with consequences from the second book, looking for Maura, and getting much closer in their quest to find the sleeping king.

There’s not a lot I need to say. If you’ve read the first two books, this strings you along with more of the same. Maggie Stiefvater is an amazing writer, and manages to make her crazy world seem plausible, even as not a bit of the story is predictable.

I may not be crazy about this series, but one thing’s for certain: I will be reading the next book as soon as it comes out.

maggiestiefvater.com
scholastic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from 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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Boys of Blur, by N. D. Wilson

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

boys_of_blur_largeBoys of Blur

by N. D. Wilson

Random House, New York, 2014. 195 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Cybils Finalist

The first page of Boys of Blur pulls you in:

When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame.

Crouch.

Stare through the smoke and let your eyes burn.

Don’t blink.

While cane leaves crackle and harvesters whir, while blades shatter armies of sugar-sweet sticks, watch for ghosts in the smoke, for boys made of blur, fast as rabbits and faster.

Shall we run with them, you and I? Shall we dodge tractors and fire for small handfuls of fur? Will we grin behind shirt masks while caught rabbits kick in our hands?

Shoes are for the slow. Pull ‘em off. Tug up your socks. Shift side to side. Chase. But be quick. Very quick. Out here in the flats, when the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, there can be only quick. There’s quick, and there’s dead.

Boys of Blur can be thought of as Beowulf in the Florida swamp. With zombies.

Charlie Reynolds has come to Taper, Florida with his mother, stepfather, and little sister, to attend a funeral. The funeral is happening at a white church on a mound outside of town on the edge of the swamps, in the middle of muck, and ringed by a sea of sugarcane. The funeral is for Charlie’s stepfather’s old football coach, and his stepfather has been asked to coach the high school team in his place.

Charlie was in the cane where his stepfather had been raised and played his first football. Over the dike and across the water, he knew he would find more cane and the town of Belle Glade, where his real dad had been raised and played his football.

Soon, Charlie meets Cotton, his stepdad’s second cousin, and Cotton says that makes them cousins, too. He takes Charlie into the cane and shows him a mound topped by a stone. The stone has a dead snake on top, and a small dead rabbit beside it. But that’s only the first strange thing. They see a man wearing a helmet and carrying a sword.

There’s drama and danger here. There’s tension, because Charlie’s mother knows his father lives near, and Charlie sees the old familiar fear in her eyes.

And there are secrets in the cane, in the swamp, in the muck. Why do dead animals keep appearing at certain places? And what is the foul stench that comes up in the swamp at night, while Cotton and Charlie watch the helmeted man digging in Coach Wiz’s grave? And is that sound the scream of a panther?

This book is a bit more mystical than I tend to like my fantasy. But it’s excellently carried out, so it didn’t bother me while I was reading that by the end I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened. Think Beowulf in the Florida swamp — with zombies — and you’ll have the idea — Friends fighting monsters together.

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