Friday, March 28, 2014

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson (Shades of London, #2)

"You are not weird in the head," he said, more firmly. "You went through something horrible, and you survived, and you've done amazingly well. You're strong. Stop making jokes about it. There is nothing wrong with you." 
I wasn't expecting this little outburst, or the anger that edged his voice.
"Sorry," I said. 
"Don't be sorry. Just don't do it. It's important. Because of what we do, it's important to always remember that there is nothing wrong with you."

[Click here to read my review of book 1: The Name of the Star]

After reading the first book in this series and falling in love with it's creepy and intriguing storyline, I was excited to see what book 2 had in store. Still, I waited (It's fairly rare that I read an entire series in one go. I usually read other books in between those books in the series.) and only got around to reading it a few days ago.

After the conclusion of the Ripper case, Rory is removed from Wexford by her parents and is staying in Bristol with them while she recovers. Her body is nearly healed, but she's a mess otherwise. Her teachers have been sending her work that she ignores and her therapist keeps prodding at things Rory would rather she left alone. She's separated from her friends, the only people who understand her ability to see ghosts and can possibly help her deal with her newfound "ability".

Then Rory's therapist suddenly suggests she goes back to Wexford and Rory jumps at the chance. However, things just aren't the same. She doesn't quite know how to deal with what's happened to her and she's sick of lying to everyone but Callum, Stephen, and Boo. She's fairly certain she's going to fail her classes, yet can't seem to bring herself to catch up where she left off after the attack. As if that weren't enough to keep her occupied, murders with seemingly ghostly origins start popping up and Rory can't help wondering if something that happened the night the Ripper attacked her has something to do with it.

Rory is a very relatable character with a sense of humor that endears you to her almost immediately. Even after all the chaos of the first book and the considerable amount of trauma she's been through, that doesn't change. Maureen Johnson has created in her one of those characters that makes every situation that much more interesting and I really love that about her.

As for the story itself, I've heard a few complaints that it suffers from that second-book-slump, but I'm not so sure I agree. Admittedly, there isn't as much mystery, but there is just as much plot as the first installment in the series. Johnson is clearly using this book as a launchpad for the major excitement in the next book, but this one still has its fair share of nail biting, cheering, and crying.

I think the next book is going to be absolutely stunning and I can't wait to see where Maureen takes the story from here. If the first two books are any indication, the next one will be a knockout.

Rating: ★★★★★

We were sitting right on top of the graveyard of the world's most infamous mental institution, which is arguably many hundreds of times worse than being on top of the old haunted burial grounds that things are always being built on in America. Loads of mad ghosts . . . who might be disturbed by, say, a major explosion that might have, quite possibly, opened up some kind of crack that they could pass through? And they might, for instance, kill people with hammers . . .
Now I had a reason to call Stephen.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Pastor McKee, do you think we really have a ghost up there in the sanctuary? I mean, does the church even believe in ghosts? Because – if there is a ghost – maybe it's related to this drowning?”
It sounded so ridiculous when she said it out loud.
Tell me, lassie, have you paerchance heard any local tales o' sea folk?” he said out of the blue.
Uh . . .” Hester wondered where he was going with this.
I've haerd tell they live en the deepes' par' of our own bay.”
Why do you ask?”
He shrugged and shifted his feet, preparing to sit in the chair again. She held his arm while he lowered himself into it. “Jus' tha' tales o' ghosts and tales o' sea folk paersist in the world. Even an educated paerson mus' wonder ef thar's a reason for et.”

“Monstrous Beauty” is another book I came across on the shelves of my local Half Price Bookstore. I hadn't ever heard of it or the author before, but the cover was stunning and the summary on the back sounded just dark and interesting enough to catch my attention. If I remember correctly, this wasn't long after I had read “Fathomless”, so I'll admit I was probably on a bit of a dark mermaid story binge at the time, though I obviously didn't read it until much later.

Hester Goodwin has pledged herself never to fall in love or marry. Most especially, she will never have children. Hester has made this decision because of her family history. After all, if all the women in the last one hundred fifty years of your family history had died within a week of giving birth to their first child, you would be concerned too. Though she definitely has feelings for her best friend, Peter, she suppresses them and pulls away. She can't fall in love. She can't be talked out of it. She doesn't want to die.

Then Hester meets Ezra, a strange and intoxicating man whom she only ever sees on the beach, and suddenly all of her resolve seems to dissipate. He claims he can help her, that her troubles sound more like a curse than a genetic fault and perhaps the two of them can solve it together.

As she begins to look into her family's past, Hester begins to uncover the pieces of a tragedy that took place long ago and may be the cause of her curse, as well as the rumored hauntings that have taken place in the church and its graveyard, where she used to play as a girl. It's up to her to uncover a terrible truth and set to rights that which was tampered with long ago, that is, if the forces that be will let her do it.

The further I sank into this book, the more surprised I was that I hadn't heard of it before. A beautifully written tale that can be dark, tragic, thrilling, and hopeful all in one excellent novel? I was smitten from the start.

I cannot get over how good this book managed to be and I will definitely be singing its praises for months. The reader is caught up along with the protagonist in the mystery that surrounds her and the terrifying adventures she must face in order to get to the bottom of things. Hester is fierce and resourceful and an all-around believable character that I enjoyed getting to know within the pages.

If you're looking for a good, dark fantasy preferably containing mermaids and other supposed myths, this is the book you need on your shelf. I suggest finding it as soon as you can manage.

Rating: ~★★★★★~

She struggled and writhed as the thing switched positions, easily hooking an arm around her neck and swimming her down – headfirst, faceup, deeper and deeper – in a death-spiral version of a lifeguard rescue. It was a distinctly humanlike arm that held her, and Hester clutched it with both ahnds, afraid of the speed, and afraid it would strangle her. The rhythmic thumping and pumping beneath her was the unmistakable action of a powerful tail, propelling them to the depths of the bay. Hester kept her eyes closed, but she knew without seeing the creature: it was a mermaid.
They were real.
McKee was right; E.A. Doyle was right.

And Hester was about to be killed.

Friday, March 21, 2014

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Piper and Edmond and Isaac and I used to watch this lunatic fringe milling around every day around sunset and then Edmond and I would slip away up to the tiny bedroom at the top of the house or the big storage closet under the eaves or the lambing barn or one of about a thousand places we'd found where we could try and try and try to get enough of each other but it was like some witch's curse where the more we tried to stop being hungry the more starving we got.
It was the first time in as long as I could remember that hunger wasn't a punishment or a crime or a weapon or a mode of self-destruction.
It was simply a way of being in love.

I picked up “How I Live Now” while I was Christmas shopping late last year. It's a pretty well known fact that I can't leave a bookstore without at least one book for myself, so I already knew shopping books for Christmas presents was going to end up with me buying some for myself. Thankfully, I was in charge of stocking stuffers this year, so I could get away with convincing myself I needed it.

I spotted this lovely volume in the Young Adult section at my local (at the time) Half Price Bookstore. I'd been trying to find this novel for a while anyway, but had only ever managed to locate movie cover copies, so you can imagine how I snatched this one up.

In “How I Live Now” we meet Daisy, a fifteen year-old who has been sent to live in England with her cousins after her father marries a particularly foul stepmother. Though she has never met her cousins until now, she immediately fall in step with them and all their endearing oddities.

When her Aunt Penn goes of to give a talk on the impending war many believe England and much of the world are about to face, the children can't help but view it as a blessing. The five of them now have the huge house to do with as they will. Even when war does break out, it certainly doesn't seem real. And with Daisy falling madly in love with Edmond, well, how can she be expected to think of anything else? That is, until the military shows up at their doorstep and Daisy is separated from nearly everyone she has grown to love.

Edmond and Daisy promised each other they would find the other. Now it's up to Daisy to make sure she and her youngest cousin, Piper, make it back to their home before they become casualties of a war they never imagined could touch them.

Forbidden love, World War III, and coming of age all in one story? You can count me in.

Written from the perspective of Daisy as she tells the story long after it has happened, I fell in love with “How I Live Now” almost immediately. The writing style, which is almost like reading the protagonist's journal, fits the material like a glove. There are no word for word quotes, only Daisy's record of what she remembers them saying and, for some reason, that works phenomenally.

This book is about war and survival, falling in love and the breaking of hearts. It captures the helplessness a young person would feel in the midst of a battle they don't know how to fight or win, and it captures the triumph of good and heartlessness of evil one must come face to face with in those circumstances.

I fell in love with Daisy and the way she tells her story. I'm sure you will too.

Rating: ★★★★★

There never were seven more silent human beings in the back of a truck, we were too stunned even to cry or speak. When we reached Reston Bridge our driver, who I knew was a close friend of the Major's, got out of the truck and stood there for a minute trying to get up the courage to go inside and tell Mrs. M what happened, but first he turned to us and said in a voice that sounded broken and full of rage, In case anyone needed reminding This is a War.

And the way he said those words made me feel like I was falling.

Monday, March 17, 2014

More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell (Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, #2)

Customer: Do you believe in past lives?
Bookseller: Erm, well, I …
Customer: I do. I absolutely do. I feel very at one with everything. I'm pretty sure this is my seventh time on earth.
Bookseller: I see.
Customer (looking pleased with herself): And I'm almost certain that in a past life I was Sherlock Holmes.
Bookseller: … You know, Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character.
Customer (outraged): … Are you trying to tell me that I don't exist?
Bookseller: …

I heard about this book from Leena Norms, who is the sole contributor of the Youtube channel, Just Kiss My Frog. She mentioned both this book and its predecessor, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, in one of her videos and I was immediately interested. If you've worked in retail for any amount of time, you learn that there is no end to the stupid questions and ridiculous things people say in whatever store in which you work. So anyone who compiled a list of them was bound to come by a great deal of golden material, and if it has to do with bookshops then that's another level on which I'm interested.

I spread the reading of this one out a couple of weeks, reading a page or two every few days, giggling, and setting it down again. I loved it. This books is a goldmine of hilarious comments and questions that will keep you dying to read more. If you're looking for a few more laughs in your life, I absolutely suggest it!

(I've also been told that the second book isn't quite as good as the first, which only gives me hope. I loved this one, so I cannot wait to get my hands on the first.)

Rating: ★★★★★

Child: Mummy, who was Hitler?
Mother: Hitler?
Child: Yeah. Who was he?
Mother: Erm, he was a very bad man from a long time ago.
Child: Oh. How bad?
Mother: He was like … he was like Voldemort.
Child: Oh! That's really, really bad.
Mother: Yes.
Child: (Pause) So did Harry Potter kill Hitler, too?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Winger by Andrew Smith

Then I saw Casey puffing his chest out, walk straight up to Joey and push him hard, knocking Joey back. And Casey said, “You think you're funny with your song, queer?”
I threw my backpack down and ran as fast as I could.
I knew Joey would fight. He wasn't afraid of anyone. You had to be like that to be a fly half, and I'm sure that Joey had been hit square against his unpadded body at least a thousand times more than Casey ever had. But I wasn't going to let him get gang-jumped by those assholes.
So I ran faster than I did in practice. I had to. And just as Joey was making a fist, Nick was circling behind him, and Casey was in the process of throwing the first punch, I launched myself, head up and shoulder down, right into Casey's knees and wrapped my arms around his legs, driving him, crashing, to the ground.


I love a good fight scene.

Seriously. If a book or movie has a good fight scene in it, I'm much more likely to enjoy it than if it doesn't. Some people like romance, some people like mermaids, some people like pirates. I like violence.* I'm not sure what that says about me (other than the fact that I like to write fight scenes too), but it's true.

It's no wonder, then, that I picked up Winger. I mean, the kid on the cover looks like he's been in some kind of fight and I wanted to know why. After reading the summary (and seeing that there were illustrations scattered throughout – I'm a sucker for art), I had to have this book. I bought it and added it to the hoard of unread books stacked around my room until I finally got around to it a few days ago.

Ryan Dean West, or Winger (as his rugby teammates call him), is a loser. At least, that's what he calls himself almost constantly. He's a fourteen year-old in his junior year, making him the baby of the class, and is in love with his best friend, Anna, though he doesn't have the guts to tell her. Adding to his loser status is the fact that last year he got caught having stolen a teacher's phone, which he only took to call Anna on her birthday, and has now been to Opportunity Hall – the crappy dorms where all the delinquents are sent to live in his boarding school, Pine Mountain.

Ryan Dean is certain this is his death sentence, especially when he realizes he's rooming with the biggest asshole of them all (not counting the football team, whom everyone hates most of all). When Annie tells him he'll have to toughen up, he knows she's right, but even Ryan Dean has no idea what this year has in store for him and it's going to take more than a little toughness if he's going to make it through to senior year.

With its witty sense of humor and realistic portrait of teenage confusion, heartbreak, and cruelty; Winger was a joy to read, even if it did break my heart more than once. I love Ryan Dean as a flawed protagonist who made more than his share of mistakes, but did them with a good heart so that you couldn't help cheering him along.

Intelligently written, laugh-out-loud funny, and heartbreakingly honest, this is one I'd suggest to most teenage boys and girls – especially those that need reminding that just because you make a lot of mistakes and bad choices doesn't mean you're a bad person. We're all just finding our way along as best we can and sometimes the only thing we can do is try.

Rating: ★★★★★

*Not senseless violence. I do have specific standards with what's involved. I just like a good fight, that's all. Particularly when the hero is the winner. But then, what else do you expect from someone who has been in love with DC Comics since the nineties?

And that's probably about the time that Joey seriously considered throwing the old man out too. If it wasn't precisely at that moment, I'm sure he felt like it when Ned started screaming insanely in wild terror.

You know, there's something especially frightening when you're stuck in the darkest depths of hell, in the middle of a raging torrent of mud, and the insane old lost guy in the front seat starts screaming like he's going to die. I mean, I figured Ned had probably stared Death in the face more than a few times in just the past four of five hours, let alone since the discovery of fire, so when you hear a guy who you know has gone through as much shit as Ned has – in a lifetime that was undoubtedly measured by geological periods as opposed to calendars – screaming like that, well . . . you just know you're going to die too.