Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Haunting Violet Review

Haunting Violet - Alyxandra Harvey
*June 21st, 2011 Walker Books for Young Readers

Violet Willoughby doesn't believe in ghosts. But they believe in her. After spending years participating in her mother's elaborate ruse as a fraudulent medium, Violet is about as skeptical as they come in all matters supernatural. Now that she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death, Violet can no longer ignore her unique ability. She must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose.

Afraid of ruining her chance to escape her mother's scheming through an advantageous marriage, Violet must keep her ability secret. The only person who can help her is Colin, a friend she's known since childhood, and whom she has grown to love. He understands the true Violet, but helping her on this path means they might never be together. Can Violet find a way to help this ghost without ruining her own chance at a future free of lies?

With Haunting Violet Alyxandra Harvey has painted a deliciously chilling gothic ghost story.

It's a little unfortunate that there isn't more historical YA out there these days, especially considering how they could provide the perfect context for [recently in demand] ghost stories. Harvey portrays an immersive world of Victorian society and Lords and cultural aspects of days gone by. It's the perfect setting for her well put together tale. Haunting Violet has a bit of everything - mystery, intrigue, gossip, scandal...

For the most part, the mystery element in Haunting Violet is relatively well done. The more observant reader might catch on fairly in advance of the characters doing so, but the plot line throughout is interesting. The characters are likeable and credible as belonging to the Victorian era. Violet's voice and personality shine with charisma throughout the course of the novel, more than earning her right to be the title character.

If you're looking for a good ghost story or a mystery novel or something set in the Victorian era, or just a good read in general, Haunting Violet is definitely one worth checking out.

Alyxandra Harvey has created a haunting tale with Haunting Violet.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Giveaway: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Catherynne M. Valente's first novel for young readers The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is now available from Macmillan Children's. After you've checked out the super-duper trailer above, be sure to pop by Macmillan's page for the book, as well as Catherynne's site and blog.

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn?t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

If that sounds like a book you'd like to win, then enter the giveaway (hosted in collaboration with Zeitghost Media)! Contest is open to mailing address in the US & Canada, and will run until June 30th, 2011 noon EST. Go here to enter. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hourglass Review

Hourglass - Myra McEntire
*June 14th, 2011 EgmontUSA

One hour to rewrite the past . . .

For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn’t there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She’s tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he’s around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?

Myra McEntire's Hourglass opens with a beautiful quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you." A very fitting selection for a novel that features a leading lady named Emerson and dissects the concept of time.

And boy, does McEntire execute it in a phenomenal way! The writing is wickedly humourous, the style decidedly unique. Emerson's voice carries throughout the course of the novel exceptionally well, at turns very witty and almost sardonic. One of my personal favourites? "My ass was grass, and big brother was the lawn mower" (McEntire 188). Right? What did I tell ya?

I love the fact that Emerson is a bit of a spitfire, able to hold her own and isn't a blubbering damsel-in-distress. And, y'know, Michael Weaver's not too shabby himself either. Basically, characterization of both major and supporting characters is very well done. They're all very likeable, very [people]-next-door, the kind of people you'd want to know. (Well, maybe not the antagonists ;)

The concepts explored in Hourglass are also very thought-provoking, and will leave your mind whirring long after finishing the novel, trying to think your way through every possibility - both explicit and implicit. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more from McEntire! And guess what - you're in luck! Hourglass was officially released today, so go, go, go and get your hands on a copy!

Hourglass is a phenomenal paranormal debut from Myra McEntire.

*The beautiful cover photography was shot by Lissy Elle using a Nikon D90. The piece was originally titled "Defying Gravity". Definitely pop by her site or flickr photostream if you get a chance - there's some really amazing work there.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Reviews: Choker & The Sky is Everywhere

Choker - Elizabeth Woods
*January 4th, 2011 Simon & Schuster

First off, how striking is the cover for Choker? The graphic design work on it is pretty cool. Now, Choker. Honestly, kind of mixed feelings about this one. When I'd first picked it up, a couple pages in was the "cafeteria scene" - and it was basically very textbook, cliche, standard "expected" cafeteria scene - described by clique and how each clique sat at specific tables, etc. etc. (Now, let me just say, having experienced multiple high school cafeterias - we're talking upwards of 4 here - nowhere have I encountered a cafeteria with dividing lines laid out so precisely thus.) And that was basically the point at which I put the book down.

A couple weeks later, bored, I ended up picking it up again. The majority of the book is fairly decently written. (There were a couple of instances of characters having already done an action, and then repeating it a few paragraphs later, though.) But the really redeeming factor for Choker is its ending twist. It's the sort of ending that makes you go, "whoa" and quite of re-question all the narrative that came prior. It's the kind of ending that leaves you thinking, leaves you churning the story over in your head long after the last page has been turned, searching, marveling, trying to piece it together.

It's a little unfortunate that the rest of the novel didn't have the same intensity, the same pow! factor as the ending, but Choker is definitely a thriller still well worth reading.

The Sky is Everywhere - Jandy Nelson

*March 9th, 2010 Dial

There's been a ton of great buzz about Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere. Basically just reporting in that it lives up to the hype!

The Sky is Everywhere is a touching, charismatic sketch of loss and love, of going forward but remembering the past, of growing up. Lennie (who has a very cool name!) is voiced wonderfully and uniquely by Nelson. But what really stands out is Nelson's style. The writing is very different from a lot of what's out there in YA these days (a fair amount of short, choppy phrasing, a fair amount of long, flowy diction, etc.). There's something poetic and lyrical and almost artistic about Nelson's writing.

Basically, Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere is pretty exquisite.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why YA? Why not?

Recently, the prestige and caliber of modern day YA has once again been cast in spotlights. Although it's been a recurring debate as of late, this Wall Street Journal articles has further thrown fuel on the fire. Numerous blog posts and twitter hashtags resulted (notably, #YAsaves & #YAkills). Now, a ton of great stuff has been said - the majority of it supportive of YA - so I'm not going to rehash that too much. I would, however, like to further propose a few points for discussion (and really, feel free to pop your opinions down below as comments).

First off, the age bracket of YA. The general acceptance seems to be the 14-18 range, solidly, although usually the span is greater, ranging from 12-20. Now, let's take note of the fact that this is indeed a wide range of ages, especially since it encompasses the onset of puberty and the transition into "adulthood". But let's also keep in mind the fact that everybody develops at a different rate, age is just a number, yada yada. As cliche as it may sound, it is also undeniably true that yes, a lot of 12-year-olds haven't had the same life experience as someone who's say, 30. But it is also likewise true that there are countless 16-year-olds out there with a much greater amount of maturity in their possession as someone who's say, 40. Furthermore, young adults aren't the only ones reading YA. Older adults aren't the only ones writing YA. And really, any decently written, worthwhile book should be able to transcend the superficial labels of age anyway.

The article by Meghan Cox Gurdon has already been hotly debated with numerous examples of how #YAsaves and counterexamples of dark fiction published in previous generations. To quote, "How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear:" And then she proceeds to provide the example of The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but The Marbury Lens is not contemporary YA. Let's compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges, shall we? If we look at John Wyndham's The Chrysalids or Ayn Rand's Anthem, fiction that contains sci-fi or dystopian or fantasy or paranormal elements in general tend to be darker than straight-up contemporary. YA contemporary of which there is an abundance of light-hearted, fun, easy-going reads, regardless, in addition to those that deal with the heavier material.

There seems to be a fair amount of First World naiveity going on here as well. When we look at the rest of the world, the brutality, the mutilation, the terror, the torture, the horrors of daily life... Things far worse than what's depicted in today's YA literature exists out there, occurs out there, and will continue to occur out there if it's ignored. Considering that the 'young adults' of today are the leaders of tomorrow, isn't it of absolute importance that these youth are exposed to the realities of the world so that we, homo sapiens, as a collective species, are able to acknowledge our flaws and our brutality so that we are able to take steps to ameliorate and eradicate said negativity?

Do we really want to spawn a generation whose biggest concern is whether the whale appears on Twitter, a generation who rages at being unable to access Facebook at school, a generation who dwells in ignorance of the atrocities that occur in the world? Let's take a famous example here, Harry Potter. Now, isn't it a valid point that Lord Voldemort, the Horcruxes, separating his soul through homicide, etc. etc. is comparably "dark" to those themes mentioned in Gurdon's article? And yet... we haven't seen anything on the news lately about any young adults attempting to split their soul through murder - shocker!

Judy Blume has published books as recently as 2008 - three years ago. Pretty sure that was the same generation as this current one, which would make... Judy Blume the Judy Blume of our generation, yeah?

And onto Katie Roiphe's article - in the Wall Street Journal Business section, no less - from two years ago today. The insult parade gets a head start with the title: "It Was, Like, All Dark and Stormy". Well, if that isn't a huge generalization about supposed "teen-speak". But most importantly, in the 'Corrections & Amplifications' section, the writer herself acknowledges: "Also, in the novel "Hunger Games," one teenager of each sex from each district competes in a competition to the death. Previously, the essay incorrectly said one teenager from each district competed." First off, the title of the book is The Hunger Games. Secondly, considering that the fact that both Peeta & Katniss are from the same district is such a key aspect of the novel - and the double tributes are such a dominant motif throughout - it would've been picked up by even a scanner-reader. Which begs the question, did Ms. Roiphe even read the novel before making judgements and trying to incorporate it as evidence?

Wall Street Journal, I can't say I'm not a little disappointed. Once, fine, maybe it was one article gone awry. But twice? And practically on the two year anniversary of the first? Really, really?

Maybe it's time to take a page out of npr's book on this topic.

What're your thoughts on this whole issue?
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