Sunday, December 16, 2012

Children's Fantasy: "Lily the Silent" by Tod Davies

Holy social commentary, Batman! Literature has a long history of being used to teach morals and social values, ancient Greek plays and Aesop's Fables coming most notably to mind. Add to that list Tod Davies's new book "The History of Arcadia: Lily the Silent," especially if you're looking to brainwash your children into an extreme left-wing way of thinking long before they're registering to vote.

In this children's book, the beautiful Lily (who will one day be queen) is taken from her peaceful homeland of Arcadia when soldiers from the wasteful and proud Megalopolis invade her country. Taken with her faithful dog Rex to a children's mine, she is eventually noticed by a handsome but spineless socialite and brought into the upper crust of Megalopolitan society. But Lily turns out to be there for another reason: the most prominent socialites know that their used-up land is close to destruction, thanks to a mystical book they found on the moon and an angel that they captured and tortured. Lily, they discovered, is the key to stopping a great cataclysm. They send her into the sea to retrieve a mystical key from mermaids, but when she returns to land, she tricks the socialites and leaves Megalopolis, leading a vast number of women and children into the mountains ahead of a tidal wave that wipes out the rest of the jeering, mocking city. From there Lily leads everyone through a harsh winter in the mountains, has a baby, and brings them all into Arcadia, where she becomes queen.


This was a really random-ass book. Aside from that, something that stood out for me was that it didn't really "show" the reader at all; rather, it "told" everything in more of a "first this happened. And then this happened. But really it was like this," instead of being able to create an image of events through the writing. But as awkward as that sounds, it has the feel of a folktale to it, which fits neatly with the written-by-a-bard thing. The simplistic writing style also makes this a good children's book, without too many complicated writing techniques.

But content? Holy crap. I'm not at all afraid or ashamed to say that I am a very politically liberal person. But Davies overloads this story with an incredible number of black-and-white social critiques of our modern age. There are the general themes of resource management, environmental protection and sustainability, yes. But it doesn't stop there. Davies goes on to condemn video games, blonde people, social media and large-breasted women, equating them purely with Megalopolis and expressing wonder on Lily's behalf at how different things are in Arcadia (which, we can assume, is full of only small-chested brunettes who worship the frequently-referenced Goddess). So much for the image of an idyllic, inclusive society accepting of all people.

Honestly, unless you're raising your kid to be the next extreme leftist nut job who is mostly laughed at but occasionally gets hours on a liberal radio station in the wee hours of the morning, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. Nope, no one. And I'm pretty sure that's a first for me. Just in case you want to see what I mean when I say this is a terrible book though, Tod Davies's book "The History of Arcadia: Lily the Silent" came out in October. I suggest you check it out from your local library, and avoid wasting your money on purchasing a copy. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Steampunk Fiction: "The Dark Unwinding" by Sharon Cameron

Love clockwork and steam punk stories of Victorian England? This, dear reader, is a book for you. Sharon Cameron's first novel is a great adventure full of quirky characters, first love, a detestable villain and a young woman coming into her own.

A 17-year-old orphan entirely dependent upon her entitled aunt's charity, Katherine Tulman is sent from London to her uncle's rural Stranwyne Keep one summer. The occasion, however, is no holiday. Katherine has been charged by her aunt with testifying to her uncle's insanity so that Katherine's useless lump of a cousin can inherit the estate, after a lengthy stewardship by her aunt, of course. But when Katherine arrives at Stranwyne, instead of the Bedlam she expects, she finds a thriving community that wouldn't exist without her uncle's harmless, if unorthodox, way of life. Katherine must make the decision to risk her own position in her aunt's household or betray Stranwyne Keep's inhabitants in a setup that feels familiar but not old.

The writing style is easy to read and Katherine's plight creates a real connection to the reader, especially when you get the feeling that some characters know more about the truth than either Katherine or the reader does. This ties closely into the time period (namely in regards to strained relations between England and post-Napoleon France) and gives rise to the emergence of a good old mystery in the midst of the other plot lines, blended and intertwined to perfection. I'll be the first to admit that I thought the culprit was someone different than I expected, and I've read a number of clockwork mysteries in my time.

The only gripe I have about the story's outcome is that Davy's implication isn't entirely clear to me regarding motivation. Passing details, though, that could have poked holes in the plot were tied up quite neatly, leaving a large sense of unfinished business to imply an intended sequel, which I for one hope will be forthcoming sooner rather than later.

Ask your independently-owned local bookseller for a copy of Sharon Cameron's "The Dark Unwinding" now. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Historical Fiction: "The Imposter Bride" by Nancy Richler

What happened after the "after"? It's a question I think we've all probably asked ourselves after reading some book that left you wondering or maybe even at a loss. In her new book "The Imposter Bride," Nancy Richler foregoes the bulk of the "before" in favor of the "after" of a Jewish family living in Montreal. A young woman by the name of Lily Azerov arrives there in Canada after fleeing Europe in the wake of WWII, where she has arranged to marry into the Kramer family. But like many, Lily is not who she was before the war, although this expression is more literal than metaphorical in her case. Years later, Lily's daughter Ruth tries to suss out the mystery of her mother and her mysterious disappearance when Ruth was a baby. Her efforts drag her through the muck of her family's rebuilding after WWII, their histories, fears, sins, and most desperate memories, but above all the love and commitment to each other that held them together despite adversity.

This was an interesting novel for me, in part because I found some of it quite frustrating. Richler paints vivid portraits of the characters involved, from old Yiddish women to dissatisfied young men in the up-and-coming world of business. But she moves from voice to voice, perspective to perspective, without any indication to the reader. It was unsettling, having to re-read every few paragraphs to put the perspective to the person. This became easier after a few chapters, after the challenge of not only reconciling multiple third-person perspectives with their appropriate characters but also identifying the first-person speaker as Ruth. While difficult at times, this did not unduly impede the unfolding of the story line.

That story line produced its own frustrations in me as well, though. I can't honestly tell you what kept it going, only that for some reason I kept reading. Perhaps I as a reader was just carried on the flow of events and the demystification of how the family members all fit together, before and after WWII, because I can't think of anything else that could be said to hold this novel together. Although the book is entitled "The Imposter Bride," and Lily Azerov's past and identity are what set this story in motion, its trail is really quite thready through the book, only briefly and tentatively following up on itself. While it's the initial hook to the story, don't expect much as far as closure goes. But despite this, the novel itself reads quite smoothly.

 I'd recommend this novel to someone who's looking for something to sit back and ponder, perhaps as a sort of "down time" book for a long week of being snowbound or something to read between harrowing crime novels. It's a good contemplation-type of story.

To find out the "afters" of both the Azerov and Kramer families, and see how this book clings to consolidation with the same tenacity as those two families, look for "The Imposter Bride" at your neighborhood bookstore in February 2013.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

YA Fiction: "Personal Effects" by E. M. Kokie

It's not easy, being a teenage guy. E. M. Kokie reminds us of this in her debut novel, "Personal Effects," which centers on the life of Matt Foster in what is probably one of the most difficult times of his life. On top of the normal problems of senior year in high school (like being totally in love with your best friend, learning to balance your mental and physical urges, and passing the last of your classes to graduate) add the trauma of having just lost your older brother on his last tour in Iraq.

TJ was Matt's hero, and with his mother dead and his father as emotionally unavailable as they come, he's left at a loss when it comes to coping. Until he goes through TJ's personal effects in secret, knowing that his father refuses to acknowledge that TJ is gone. There he discovers that TJ had a whole other life separate from both the Army  and his family, a life with someone special. In a last-ditch attempt to make sense of TJ's absence, Matt decides to disobey his father, his principal, and even his own reason to deliver TJ's last, unsent letter to the love of his life.

I didn't really understand what was going on to Matt, didn't really start to feel what it was to be him, until maybe midway through the story. But then again, I'm from a fairly liberal family without close relatives in the military. While I didn't understand on a personal level some of the things that Matt describes, like his father's mood swings and the physical abuse that he just tries to see as affection, I'm sure that it will resonate with someone whose situation better parallels the one in the book. It's a very visceral book, in an impressively convincing voice, considering that the author is a middle-aged woman and her protagonist a 17-year-old boy. Kokie isn't shy about dropping vulgarity or describing the *ahem* physical effects of feminine wiles. She does it all with a hint of humor and a grain of salt, and I found myself really caring about Matt and how things would or would not come together for him in the end.

I especially liked the play on words in the title of this work. "Personal Effects" can refer to TJ's belongings, which were sent home after his death and which started Matt's search for real closure. However, it also refers to the personal effects of TJ's death on different people, specifically Matt, their father, and TJ's lover. The two interpretations collide in the form of the unsent letter, and the personal effects that this personal effect causes.

Young adults today are living in a world that contains problems that weren't there just a few years ago. New technology, new wars, a whole new world gives rise to the need for new books to address these things in a way that can communicate to us what it feels like, and communicate to young readers that they are not alone. "Personal Effects" steps up to the challenge with all its gut-wrenching discovery of self and others. I'd recommend this to teenage guys, since it's "real" and not touchy-feely, but still deep and kinda tough to handle at times. It was also effective in showing me, someone without experience in a conservative military family, what the other side of the spectrum sees when it comes to war, politics and family.

E. M. Kokie's "Personal Effects" was released in September. Look for it at your favorite independently owned book store now. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Historical Fiction: "The Art Forger" by B. A. Shapiro

Continuing the recent trend in art-themed novels is B. A. Shapiro's "The Art Forger," published by Algonquin Books. Shapiro's seventh book, this story centers around starving artist Claire Roth. Black-balled from the Boston art community because of a scandal three years ago, Claire makes  (very) modest living copying great works of art for an online reproduction company. When an old acquaintance from her pre-scandal days approaches her about copying a painting with questionable origins, Claire has to make a choice between her career and her personal integrity.

But wait, don't roll your eyes and walk away from this tired Right versus Wrong setup quite yet. Claire obviously chooses the "wrong" thing to do, otherwise there wouldn't be a story. But the Faustian (and, frankly, underwhelming) premise leads the reader on a merry chase through art history, forgers past and present, the finer legal points of art, and the established authority of "art experts." What looks like it might be a boring "learn your lesson" novel at the beginning is actually a lot more complicated, and rewarding, than it first appears.

In order to make all of these details and story lines fit together, though, there was some format finesse involved. Shapiro effectively intertwines three (connected) stories from three different time periods: the present, three years ago (the scandal), and in the late 1800's when Degas was still alive and painting. Not only are these distinct times clearly labeled at the beginning of chapters, they're done in different fonts and formats too, which is a nice touch.

The research that went into historical art forgers, painting techniques, nomenclature and practices featured in the novel is impressive. I learned a lot about different types of painting, different approaches to it and the mechanics of it as well, just by reading the details that were added to the text and story line. However, I'm sorry to say that this attention to detail seemed to backfire on occasion: when you spend so much time writing details into your text, your readers pay them more attention, so when you make a minor mistake (say, for example, he requirement of being fingerprinted to volunteer at a juvenile detention center) it jumps out.

Additionally, while the story's play was interesting, I'm sorry to say that the main character, in fact, was not. Aside from the tired cliche of the starving artist character, which is drenched in pained, labor-of-love desperation to not sell out, Claire Roth was one of those women who you just want to shake until their teeth rattle, then wash your hands of them because no matter how many mistakes they've made in the past, they just don't seem to have learned anything. You kind of start to think that maybe they actually deserve what they get when, somehow, their misguided decisions in love and life just keep turning out to be - well, bad.

I'd recommend this book to "mystery lite" lovers, as it's high on the suspense and discovery scales but lacks the grit of a lot of modern crime novels. It's also good for a book club or reading group, which is where I picked it up, because it seems like everyone can find something they enjoyed and something that irritated them about the story, and it's a different combination thereof for almost every individual. Look for "The Art Forger" now in the local bookstore of your choice.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Historical Fiction: "The Painted Girls" by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Historical fiction, in my experience, falls along a sliding scale of exactly how much of its content is fact, and how much has been created through artistic license on the part of the author. "The Painted Girls," Buchanan's second novel, is the result of much research into the life of a Parisian ballet girls painted by Edgar Degas.

Marie and Antoinette (the humor of the names in conjunction was not lost on me, although its purpose, if any, remained unclear) are sisters struggling to make ends meet with a deceased father, a drunken washerwoman for a mother, a ten-year-old sister, and debt ceaselessly threatening to drown them all. They see their salvation in the Paris Opera, where Antoinette has already lost her chance to become a ballerina, but Marie and little Charlotte may yet find their way onto the stage. This dramatic novel dips into the seedier side of the Opera, namely the realities of the girls who dance like gilded angels on the stage, and exactly what they have to do to get - and remain - there.

As I mentioned, Buchanan has obviously done a lot of research for this book. The Van Gothem girls really did exist, and Marie's character was the inspiration and model for "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen," a famous wax figurine by Degas. Additional characters, places, and incidents are gleaned from Parisian history, all of the same time period, and sources cited by the author in the book. It is all very involved and, frankly, quite impressive.

Also impressive is the manner in which Buchanan changes voice between the perspectives of Antoinette and Marie. The chapters alternate between these two characters, from their points of view, and it is instantly obvious to the reader when one character is changed for another. Through this language manipulation, not only words but perspectives, reactions, and opinions the sisters have of each other are cunningly used to convey the conflicts and struggles faced not only externally by the sisters, but internally as well. Love, loss, betrayal, self-doubt, passion and struggle: it's all here, from two different angles at once.

Although the book's conclusion was a little too tidy for me, one sister's turnaround a little too complete for me personally, its execution was wonderful and tied into the focal story line without obsessing about the time that had elapsed between the final chapters. And it's a happy ending, rewarding after following the characters through the immense number of challenges with which they struggle alone and together.

Look for "The Painted Girls" at your local bookstore starting January 10th, 2013.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Memoir/Environmental: "Into Great Silence" by Eva Saulitis

It is not often that a book published as a memoir focuses so little on the life of the author. Instead, "Into Great Silence" brings into sharp focus the life of the author in specific context of her research on the AT orca pod after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking story that galvanizes the reader to do something to help the damaged Alaska wilderness and, specifically, the orcas living there - only to then reveal that there is nothing left to be done.

Alaska's Prince William Sound is lovingly described with both the detail of a scientist and the emotion of someone who has been deeply touched on a spiritual level by that place. Her scientific findings about the AT pod that she studies are flawlessly balanced by tender emotion and very personal reactions to that which she observes, both in the destruction of the Sound and its healing.

This was an all-around beautiful book, and by the end of it I was bawling. Anyone who loves the precious fragility of life and the world in which we live will find something of value in this unique story. Saulitis has a gift for connecting the world of scientific exploration with humanity, so that we may all understand the significance of what we as a race are discovering.

"Into Great Silence" is slated for publication on January 15, 2013. If you are interested in a copy, which I think everyone should be, here is a link to the publisher's website:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

YA Fiction: "Lovely, Dark and Deep" by Amy McNamara

Looking to steer a teenage female toward falling in love with a character who's neither vampiric, nor lupine? "Lovely, Dark and Deep" by Amy McNamara will do the trick, serving up enough romantic angst in this YA novel to satisfy even the moodiest of adolescent women.

To be fair, McNamara starts out with good intentions in this three-hundred-page dramafest. Her focus is on one of the hardest things that a young person can face at the critical point just after high school: the death of a loved one. Mixed up with that is the overwhelming question of "What are you going to do with your life?" which can make anyone, not just a traumatized teen, cringe. Sent into a tailspin by Life's cruel twists, main character Wren escapes to her father's art studio deep in the Maine wilderness. There, she tries to make sense of what happened to her and, more importantly, where she goes from there. Despite her endeavors to remain isolated from humanity, she soon finds herself in the company of Cal, another "runaway" with life-changing issues of his own. With their complementary strengths, it seems that they could have the power to help one another if they can get close enough.

McNamara's setup is promising, hinting toward a story of loss, recovery, and rebirth. Ah, if only. Alas, I feel that the author became a little too exuberant in her intention to make Wren overcome dramatic tragedies. Instead of completing her story arc, McNamara got to the center of the book and added another skeleton in Wren's closet. And then another. And then another. Instead of a good, solid story about the strength of a young person to overcome the untimely death of a loved one, "Lovely, Dark and Deep" also became about teen pregnancy. And divorce. And life-threatening chronic diseases. And parental pressures. And suicide. And depression. I could probably add some more subcategories to the list but I'll stop there. And yes, there really is a lot to feel and think about and avoid and cherish as a teenager, when your hormones have your emotions amped up to an eleven. But trying to tackle those things in all their varying forms in a single book was a mistake.

That being said, I was impressed with the writing style of the novel. It was innovative, written from Wren's perspective, in the clipped tones of someone who has just stopped caring about the world around her. She's snippy, sardonic, and wryly humorous in a way of which she as a character does not seem to be aware. This makes it just a little bit endearing, and when she finally does start to open up to people again (as we all know she must), Wren expresses honest amazement at the unbidden changes in herself. Her thoughts and feelings are communicated openly and without apology, in a very pleasing character voice.

The dramatic overdrive in this book was a bit much for someone who has moved past the teenage OMG WHY IS EVERYTHING SO HARD AND LIFE ISN'T FAIR AND NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME phase. But in honesty, it's what some readers (read: teenage girls) need in order to feel like they're not alone, like someone understands how they're feeling, like life goes on and there is a way through. If there's someone like that on your holiday shopping list, consider this book a sort of potential release valve. Hey, at least Cal's not a romanticized vampire. Look for "Lovely, Dark and Deep" at your local bookstore starting October 16th. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Self-Help: "8 Habits of Love" by Ed Bacon

There is a growing genre of self-help and spirituality books out there that blend different aspects of Eastern and Western thinking in order to help people find balance and meaning in their lives. "8 Habits of Love" is another book in that lucrative vein, written by Rector Ed Bacon of the famous All Saints Episcopal Church, which has a congregation of over four thousand people. Rector Bacon is also a frequent guest on the Oprah's Soul Series radio program and, to my dismay, decided to add "writer" to his resume with this book.
                While there are many, many good self-help books out there for all types of people, this is not one of them. From the very beginning (and I mean the beginning, like half way down the first page of the introduction) his writing made me feel like he was trying to sell something. Most of it started with testaments from People You Don't Know (as stated by Rector Bacon, not even in their own words) about how much Bacon's Habits of Love helped them, without smooth transitions between them so that they read almost as a list. I felt like I was reading a script for a 2 am. infomercial. You know, the kind where the actors are reading the teleprompter for the first time themselves?
                Also reminiscent of underfunded commercials was the way in which he kept hammering home each of his Habits. And I don't mean why they were important; I just mean repetition that "____ ('Generosity' for example) is important! Whee!" Half of what he spoke about in each chapter didn't even seem to be related to the Habit itself except in the most convoluted of ways, most of his stories centering around how enlightened he is and how he helped other poor, lost souls to really discover what it's like to be happy. There were some pearls in the book, I'll grant. But they didn't necessarily come from knowing and following his Habits (like the philosophy that "the universe is kind") and frankly, it's not worth wading through the muck of his book to find them. A Zen devotional would do a better job of it.
                Frankly, I felt like Rector Bacon, aside from his poor writing style, nonexistent transitions, and self-righteousness, was just trying to hop on the East-West Spirituality Wagon that's become so popular. I felt like "8 Habits of Love" was little more than a piggyback onto Buddhism's Eight-Fold Path. And while it is very true that Rector Bacon and his 8 Habits may have helped many people, his book at least does a god-awful job of communicating the lifestyle's potential. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Historical YA Fiction: "A Thunderous Whisper" by Christina Diaz Gonzales

Around the time that the Nazis gained power in Germany, Spain was engaged in a brutal civil war that pitted traditionalists against progressives in a bloody conflict over the future of their country. "A Thunderous Whisper" is told by Anetxu, or Ani, a 12-year-old girl from the northern Basque region of Spain. The reader follows her and her new friend Mathias, a Jew, as they navigate life in the town of Guernica during some of its most significant days during the Spanish Civil War, and even become spies in an effort to support the progressives'  side of the war.

In this heartwrenching story of finding your identity when the world keeps shifting around you, Gonzales does an excellent job of integrating the important question of Basque culture and language into the novel. Words, phrases, and names appear in Euskera in a manner that allows the reader to understand what's being said while still observing the unique language of the Basque region. Ani struggles to define herself in context of the war, of her relationship with her sardine-selling mother and soldier father, and of her friendship with Mathias. In the midst of all this is the looming question of whether or not Ani really wants to be a part of history, or if she'd rather just remain quiet and unnoticed in the corners of life.

Reading level in this compelling story is relatively low, suitable for beginning YA readers, but this leaves the complexity of Ani's situation and the observations that she makes undiminished. Throughout the book she compares her life to a film (cinema was very new at the time). This adolescent fascination with the movies combined with the numb, third-person perspective of watching your life play out on a screen is a perfect way to capture how Ani seems to feel, living where and when she does. Gonzales did an amazing job capturing the entirely believable thoughts and emotions of a young girl forced to grow up too soon by an absent father and a mother as bitter as only a single wartime provider can be.

You don't have to be a Spanish history buff to read this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who fell in love with the film "Pan's Labyrinth" as I did, or enjoys reading the too-old-for-his-age narrative of Oskar in Jonathan Safran's novel "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Look for it this October at your bookseller of choice. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Suspense/Supernatural Fiction: "Hidden Things" by Doyce Testerman

Any modern fantasy novel that features a creepy clown (an intentionally creepy clown, not a normal clown who just comes off as creepy) as one of its protagonists is worth at least a second look to me. And while I still can't decide if the creep clown thing is brilliantly off-the-wall or just too unsettling, that second look really pays off with "Hidden Things."

Calliope, the main character, is an extraordinarily empathetic character, even if she's a bit difficult to get a read on in the beginning. Her growth as a round, as opposed to flat, character as the story progresses is brilliantly written, subtle but clear changes in her demeanor conveying the nature of those changes. Especially poignant were the moments of unrequited feelings and unfinished between Calliope and her partner, Joshua. Some of these are represented by sections of text in italics, but it's unclear if these sections are dreams, memories, or something different. Another extremely human moment for Calliope was the experience of that moment where you realize that your parents have become your friends, sometimes against all odds. Although the true significance of her singing remained rather fuzzy around the edges, by the end of the book I was quite attached to Calliope.

As Calliope and her creepy clown counterpart investigate the strange disappearance of her business partner/ex boyfriend Joshua, she finds herself dealing with fantastic creatures that should only exist in fairytales, and some that don't even belong there. The reader learns about these magical creatures, their relationship to the mundane world of humans, along with Calliope. Some details about the Hidden Lands, as they're called, are never revealed, with the simple and sometimes unsatisfying excuse that something "just can't be explained." While this sometimes felt like the author was cheating in a way, it was forgivable in the broader context of the complete story. 

I was mildly annoyed by a quirk of writing that demanded that every measure of time be recorded exactly, from what the digital clock said to how many seconds someone held their breath tensely to the length of someone's nap. It was all spelled out in hours, minutes, and seconds. A technique like that is okay to put in once and a while, but becomes tedious when it's featured throughout an entire book. Luckily, this trend tapered off as the story progressed, with only the occasional throwback phrase.

I would recommend "Hidden Things" to the modern fantasy reader who's grown tired of the classic Tolkien cast of fantasy races and fairy-type beings. They're in for a twisted fairytale treat with this novel. Look for "Hidden Things" online and in your local bookstore this month.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: "Orleans" by Sherri L. Smith

            I have to admit that I rolled my eyes when I saw that this was yet another postapocalyptic young adult novel. I mean, how many truly different variations on this tired old trope can you get? More than I thought, it turns out. And Smith has yet another one, admittedly more creative than some, in her upcoming novel Orleans.
            The book starts out with a back story presentation that's enticingly unusual: instead of just having a narrator tell you what's going on, or finding out alongside a character who's just as in the dark as you are, Smith uses a combination of a timeline and excerpts from (fake) government documents to set the scene for her readers. It's a creative way to go about presenting a dramatic opening scene.
            The story centers around a young woman from Orleans, Fen de la Guerre, and Daniel, a young scientist from the Outer States of America. Southern states have been isolated from and abandoned by the rest of the country after hurricane after hurricane turned the region into a ruined swampland full of Delta Fever. Most of the narrative is written in Fen's Orleans vernacular as she narrates, but switches out to more normative grammar and speech patterns when a chapter is written from Daniel's perspective. While I found this an effective way to communicate perspective and give the reader insight into the mind of each character, it felt like Smith sometimes had a hard time separating the two voices. For example, Fen would occasionally use words that felt too big and educated for her simplistic vernacular, words that felt much more suited to Daniel's speech pattern. Reading level was fairly low, as one might expect from your average YA (young adult) novel.
            Two main points of conflict arose in the course of the story, one of which centered on Daniel and the other on Fen. The two of them seem to be working their way toward mutual help in solving both problems, but I was shocked when at the end of the book one of the conflicts was resolved and the other was just left hanging in midair, like someone forgot to turn the gravity on and bring it back down to earth somehow. That was a big disappointment in my book, seeing the complex situation that Smith had carefully woven around the conflict just abandoned. It gave the impression that the author either got tired of the whole issue or somehow managed to entirely forget about half of it.
            Overall, while the reading level and writing were nothing impressive, the story line in Orleans was imaginative and had some innovative ideas in it as far as back story presentation goes. Fans of Katniss from the Hunger Games books will enjoy Fen's spunky, necessity-wrought knowhow as well as her commitment to her loved ones. Look for Orleans in stores in March 2013, or pre-order online from your favorite bookseller. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Let's Begin Again

This blog started out a couple of months ago as my first foray into the world of online writing. There were scattered posts about this and that, from books to beers and the odd requisite social commentary. Now, however, with a recent employment shift that has planted me squarely in the world of bookselling and upcoming publications, I have finally found a personally inspirational something to write about here: new book reviews.

My reviews of recent and/or soon-to-be-released books will be selected from a variety of genres and some of them will appear in Whatcom County's Chuckanut Reader, a publication of Bellingham's Village Books. However, you'll be able to find more in-depth and frequent postings here, on the blog. My goal is to post about a new book approximately once a week. I look forward to writing for you about exciting new offerings from the literary world, both here and in print.