Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Winter People - Rebekah L. Purdy

Title: The Winter People
Author: Rebekah L. Purdy
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, 2014 (Hardcover)
Length: 351 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: November 24, 2014
Finished: November 27, 2014

From the inside cover:

Salome Montgomery fears winter - the cold, the snow, the ice, but most of all, the frozen pond she fell through as a child. Haunted by the voices of the strange beings that pulled her to safety, she hasn't forgotten their warning to "stay away." For eleven years, she has avoided the winter woods...until she is left in charge of maintaining her grandparents' estate. This includes the "special gifts" that must be left at the back of the property.

Salome discovers she's a key player in a world she's tried for years to avoid. At the centre of this world is the strange and beautiful Nevin. Cursed with dark secrets and knowledge of the creatures in the woods, he takes Salome's life in a new direction - one where she'll have to decide between her longtime crush, Colton, who could cure her fear of winter. Or Nevin, who, along with an appointed bodyguard, Gareth, protects her from the darkness that swirls in the snowy backdrop.

An evil that, given the chance, will kill her.

I saw the cover and read the synopsis (and it just happened to be getting cold and snowy here) and it put me in the right mood to read this. Unfortunately this book just didn't live up to its potential. It was an engrossing read and there were aspects I quite enjoyed, but in the end there were too many things that made me roll my eyes and detracted from the overall enjoyment.

Salome fell through the frozen pond on her grandparents' property when she was six. Though she was mysteriously rescued, she was forever traumatized by the experience. It didn't help that she hears voices in the winter too, voices that speak about her, voices that want to kill her. Avoiding winter by becoming a hermit during those months has helped till now, but when her grandparents vacation south for their health and her mother injured and her father working, Salome is the only one to maintain the property while they're gone.

While working in the woods, she meets Nevin, your typical stoic romantic interest that spurns her at times, claiming he's no good for her and that he hurts those he loves, while at the same time being incredibly enticing. She's also dating Colton, her classmate and long-time crush, who she discovers has a smidge of an anger-management problem. At the same time, bodyguard Gareth keeps saving her butt from constant frigid dangers in the Michigan woods, all the while being very appealing as a love interest as well. Eventually Salome gets it together enough to connect the very obvious pieces of the situation (your obligatory curse of course), and tries to solve it in order to be with one of the three potential love interests.

First off, the writing falls flat. The author overuses profanity, slang, and general low-brow language that gives the impression that a seventeen-year-old is not only the focus of the book but also the author of it. Considering the content of the book (faeries, supernatural, etc.), I would expect more from what I saw.

Secondly, Salome is not what I would consider a realistic character or one I would recommend as a strong female protagonist. Salome is very passive, she can't even research things properly on her own. I don't know about you, but if I almost died several times from freaky ice creatures and suspected my family was hiding things from me about said freaky things, I'd have my butt on the computer or in the library until I figured that crap out for myself rather than putting it off because I wasn't ready for it. She is constantly being rescued and even refers to herself as a damsel in distress. I'm not saying female characters need to be strong 100% of the time and can't be rescued at all, but the level of dependence she has on all three guys just gets repetitive and old. She also at one point  dates three guys at a time, which later drops to two. She is indecisive and strings them along because she can't figure out what she wants, which is a bad example for girls to see, and is a horrible stereotype of women that I would love to never see again in a YA book. And the portrayal of Kadie is not better, seriously all that girl talks about is screwing guys, talk about a one-dimensional character.

Thirdly, the cliches, oh the cliches. From the love square (this is definitely a first in my experience) of moody, unpredictable men that have you screaming at Salome, "run for the hills, girl!", to the "I'm no good for you, I can't kiss you, you need to forget about me" line from Nevin, to efforts to prolong the book through Salome's family's refusal to tell her anything about the curse or even point her in the right direction despite the number of near fatal encounters she has, there's just too many aspects that have me banging my head against the book in frustration.

Granted, there are things I liked. I did enjoy the setting. You don't often see books set in Michigan in the winter, so I liked the atmosphere that gave to the novel. The faery folk were quite mysterious and spooky at times, so there's a plus as well. Gareth as a character was enjoyable, he is the better choice out of the group of Salome's suitors and one that doesn't act like a douche or a psychopath. I like the author's choice of Salome as the main character's name, I'm still figuring out if the cultural significance behind the name fits with Salome in this book, but I give the author credit for using a uncommon name. The entire novel was very engrossing despite the problems listed above, regardless of what I felt about Salome I still wanted to know what happened to the girl.

I'm torn. I think this is worth a borrow from the library, but will eventually infuriate some readers to the point of abandoning the book.

Thoughts on the cover:
This cover is freaking gorgeous and fits completely with the theme and setting of the book. I love the pensive look in the model's face and having her face fade into the trees and snow with the gate at the back.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates - Caroline Carlson

Title: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot (Book 1)
Author: Caroline Carlson
Publisher: Harper, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 344 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy, Adventure
Started: November 19, 2014
Finished: November 22, 2014

From the inside cover:

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors. She particularly enjoys defying authority, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There's only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

Girls belong at Miss Pimm's Finishing School for Delicate Ladies, learning to waltz, faint, and curtsy. But Hilary and her dearest friend, the gargoyle, have no use for such frivolous lessons - they are pirates! (Or very nearly.)

To escape from a life of petticoats and politeness, Hilary answers a curious advertisement for a pirate crew and suddenly finds herself swept up in a seafaring adventure that may or may not involve a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn't exist, a rogue governess who insists on propriety, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous - and unexpected - villain on the High Seas.

Will Hilary find the treasure in time? Will she become a true pirate after all? And what will become of the gargoyle?

I heard the first chapter of this when I was teaching a junior class and the school librarian was reading it to them. She thankfully told me the name of the book so I could find it and read the rest at home.

Hilary lives in the land of Augusta and is the daughter of Admiral Westfield. The upper class that her father holds a prestigious position in abhors piracy, but that doesn't stop Hilary from wanting that as her destiny instead of the dainty, sheltered life as a refined lady that her parents would rather have for her. But when the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates rejects her application and she is forced to attend Miss Pimm's school, she has to be creative and daring if she wants to achieve her dream.

This is a wonderful adventure story in the vein of classic tales, made even better by the fact that the protagonist is a strong, smart female. Hilary doesn't stick to traditional gender roles and advocates for herself, so she makes my list of a good role model for all kids, but particularly for young girls. The novel's language is slightly more advanced than your average middle grade book, which makes for a great challenge for younger readers. The gargoyle is admittedly my favourite, he brings a lot of comic relief and his conversations with Hilary are quite witty and enjoyable.

A story kids will enjoy (who doesn't love a good pirate story?), especially for the humour and the awesomeness that is Hilary.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it, it's nice and dynamic, though I wish the characters on the ship were bigger with more detail. I like how they managed to work the gargoyle into the logo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Bond Street Books (Doubleday), 2006 (Hardcover)
Length: 408 pages
Genre: Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: November 10, 2014
Finished: November 18, 2014

From the inside cover:

All children mythologize their birth...So begins the prologue of reclusive Vida Winter's collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself -all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling but remains suspicious of the author's sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

The ladies in my English workroom recommended this to me, you'd think one of them was a dealer of illegal substances the way they were passing this around. Of course I've learned to trust the recommendations of fellow English teachers, so I gave this a go. I was not disappointed, this story was every bit engrossing and beautiful, I didn't want the book to end.

Margaret lives in the flat above her father's antique bookstore, and in addition to manning the store and being well-versed in the keeping of old books, she also dabbles in writing biographies. One day she receives a letter from the famous writer Vida Winter, asking her to come and be the author of Vida's life story. Margaret, ever the academic, researches the matter first. She finds that Miss Winter has told over a dozen different accounts of her life to various reporters and newspapers around the release dates of her various books. Margaret is intrigued but cautious, and makes Miss Winter give her some facts that can be checked by the public record before she completely agrees to write her story. Miss Winter then takes Margaret on a journey of the history of the Angelfield family, of George and Mathilde, their children Charlie and Isabelle, their daughters Adeline and Emmeline, and the secrets and scandal that followed the family as the years passed. Through research and a lot of investigating, Margaret slowly puts the pieces together involving a kind caterer living near the ruins of Angelfield, the ghost who is rumoured to haunt the grounds, and who Miss Winter really is.

This book is, first of all, a great homage to the act of reading in general. Margaret loves books more than other people (without sacrificing her likability as a character), she is well-read and loves the old classics like Jane Eyre, and she gets free reign of her father's old bookstore where she encounters rare books that people never see. When Margaret finally reads Miss Winter's books (because she spurns modern literature most of the time), she falls in love with Vida's storytelling that captivates her interest. Miss Winter's accounts of the Angelfield family read like a classic themselves, so this is almost like reading two distinct stories that eventually merge to become one. Plus, who doesn't love Jane Eyre references in stories?

Also, something that I noticed was that although the sections of the story involving Margaret and the elderly Miss Winter take place supposedly in modern times (there's nothing to indicate if it takes place in an earlier decade), and Margaret does a lot of research as part of her investigation, not a single electronic device is mentioned. No cell phones, no internet, all information gathered in this story is done the old-fashioned way: using books and calling around to get any info you can't find via books. I have to say I really enjoyed that aspect as a person who came of age just as technology and the internet was exploding, I first learned how to do research the old-fashioned way (with actual encyclopedia volumes) and the technology that didn't come out till I was in high school only sought to make the research process easier but didn't replace that earlier knowledge.

Secondly, the story is wonderfully engaging and keeps you guessing as to the outcome. Is Miss Winter really who she says she is? What is up with the twins, and for that matter, the whole Angelfield family? Who is Aurelius' real mother? What's the deal with Margaret's story? Considering the premise of the entire book is an old lady telling her life-story in a musty English estate house, the end product is nothing short of amazing.

If you're a reader and a lover of literature in general, you need to read this. The style of engrossing storytelling full of mystery and suspense echoes traditional novels that we don't often see today.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the image includes the colourful details that Margaret describes when she sees Miss Winter's books for the first time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Girl of Fire and Thorns Stories - Rae Carson

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns Stories
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2014
Length: 253 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: November 15, 2014
Finished: November 17, 2014

From the back of the book:

Get swept away in the world of Rae Carson's acclaimed, epic, New York Times best-selling Girl of Fire and Thorns series with these three novellas. Before Hector was Commander of the Royal Guard and Elisa's true love, he was a young new recruit. In The King's Guard, watch him prove himself - and uncover a secret that he must keep forever. In The Shadow Cats, discover how Elisa's rivalry with her older sister looks from Alodia's point of view, and why Alodia agrees to marry her sister off to King Alejandro. And in The Shattered Mountain, learn how Mara survived her village's destruction before she became Elisa's best friend and handmaiden.

A must-have for every fan of Rae Carson's stunning fantasy trilogy!

After falling in love with The Girl of Fire and ThornsThe Crown of Embers, and The Bitter Kingdom, I was positively giddy when I found out there were prequel side-stories. Granted, these novellas were released in between the three books strictly for e-readers (and I hate my stupid e-reader so until I spring for an iPad I'm not touching e-books), so I never got to read them until now when they were bundled in printed format.

There are three stories in this collection. One story focuses on Alodia (with Elisa as a secondary character), another on Hector as a teenager, and the other on Mara. I'll admit, the only reason I wanted to read this was because of Hector's story, he's my favourite character after Elisa. And I was not disappointed. I can't give away much for fear of spoilers, but if you're a fan of the trilogy you'll want to pick this up for the extra insight into the characters.

If you're a fan of the original trilogy, give this a read (if only for Hector's story, it's a good one).

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity from the trilogy's covers with the Godstone against the background.