Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Muse of Nightmares
Muse of Nightmares, Laini Taylor
It was good to be back with Sarai and Lazlo and the gang.  Muse of Nightmares enlarges upon the rich tapestry of Strange, interweaving new and worthy voices.  Initially I was lukewarm about spending time away from the original blue bunch, but as the narrative progressed, I conceded these  characters were adding layers and not simply separating me from places I needed to be.  I was thoroughly impressed with the seamless yet thorough catch-up chapter, the rightness of string-tying and the tasteful treatment of sensuality.  (The steam is definitely thicker in Book 2, but for the most part, sexual scenes fade-out before getting too graphic; some attention given to nipples is probably the most scandalous description.  I would think mostly older YA would be reading these anyway, since the prose is denser and more verbose than Laini's other work.)  Muse didn't wind me with its originality like Strange, but then, these characters and settings were no longer mind-blowingly new.  Instead, Muse was about picking up the introduced characters and settings that had stolen my breath and reframing them -- repopulating spaces, upturning cities and engendering sympathy for villains.  If you've been waiting, you won't be disappointed, but you're not in for the same eye-opening journey into the unknown, you're saddling up for a heart-twisting road to redemption.  Happy October!

Review copy received from Hachette.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Dry from the Shustermanssss

Dry, Neal and Jarrod Shusterman
I was looking forward to this.  I snuggled up with it knowing I'd get a survivalist fix.  I haven't really met a survivalist book I didn't enjoy...and Dry was not to end this streak.  I wouldn't say it blew all the others out of the water, but it smugly satisfied and definitely had its own edge.  It's memorable.
  • This doesn't rely on romance.  It may help some of you lovelies to go in knowing.  I wasn't disappointed by that at all.  (Though I'd just enjoyed time with Lazlo and Sarai -- read my Muse of Nightmares review tomorrow -- so wasn't hankering hard).
  • This is told from multiple perspectives and the voices are distinctly different.  Win. 
  • This particular brand of disaster has a haunting and more resonating ring to it than most (though it's entertaining to imagine outrunning zombies / speculate what the moon being knocked out of its usual orbit might do to us....).  Earlier this year, I sweat in L.A. heat while taking in the visible signs of forests recovering from fire.  That memory made this pretty raw and plausible speculative fiction reading, for me. 
  • The prose is tight and well-edited.
  • It's tasteful.  Though there is some violence (including violence resulting in death) and somber insinuations, much is left to the imagination that might have been exploited.
This one's for fans of Shusterman or Station Eleven, The Age of MiraclesZ for Zachariah and Life As We Knew It.

Yes Dad, you'll enjoy this.

Review copy received from Walker.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Lauren Oliver's Latest - Broken Things (Oct 2018)

Broken Things, Lauren Oliver
I've been loyal since Delirium.  Oliver is worth watching.  Her new book out this month is pumping down a similar vein to Vanishing Girls more than it shares blood with her dystopian series.  I smashed this out in an afternoon and an evening because it was hella-compelling.  Other notes:
  • Oliver can really write.  She doesn't just have strong stories in her, her prose is intelligent and well-crafted.  It's also impressive that it can be so funny whilst so dark.
  • In particular, the interspersed excerpts from the source-book the characters are fixated on (and wrote fan-fic in sequel to) adds to the atmosphere for the narrative.  I knew from Delirium Oliver was good at this, but this proves again she's a master of those extras, not just injecting filler.
  • Like Vanishing Girls, this took me back to my Christopher Pike days -- it's a distinctive fusion of teenage grit and Hitchcock tension.  And like VG, it rings with authenticity.
  • So on the grit, advisory-wise, there's a lot.  I'd be comfortable with someone slapping an R16 sticker on this puppy, and maybe a red sticker with some trigger warnings, including: graphic violence, paedophilia, sexual references, animal abuse, and although both are always aptly challenged -- there's a smattering of homophobic slurs and fat-shaming comments.  
  • With the exception of the opening (a hardball shock-chapter), I do feel like sensuality and crimes are usually alluded to or described matter-of-factly and without too much gratuity. I am usually pretty sensitive to a number of things within this plot, and yet something about the retrospection and age of the heroines in the time the story is grounded in made it more manageable for me.  It is still horrific, but it felt like a thriller not a horror -- and that's pretty much the distinction between what I can stomach and what I usually slap closed / switch off.  It's still not going to be for many of you, my readers. 
  • I picked the suspect from the line-up early, but the red herrings were excellent and as I opened, I was hooked, and was determined to confirm my suspicions and know all the motives before day's end. This gripped me more than anything else I've read this year without leaving me as a rattled as something like say, Lost Boys
  • This is told from multiple perspectives.  Although at times I found these narrative voices similar (and had to check whose chapters I was in), there were some really rich and resonating moments where a character was seen so differently through different people's eyes.  I dig that.
If you enjoyed Vanishing Girls, How to Hang a Witch, or Christopher Pike for a spell (hey, I get it!) and you're up for some mature content, then this one's for you. 

Review copy received from Hachette.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Louisiana's Way Home

Louisiana's Way Home
From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.  Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

I read this one aloud to my three (ages 5, 7 and 9) and that humour and tenderness described?  It feels like the DiCamillo we so love (we read The Miraculous Adventure of Edward Tulane aloud as well), and also...Applegate!  The girls commented more than once, "She reminds me of Ivan.  She's so funny!"  I will say, my delivery plays a part...ahem...but yes, yes, these authors share more than just Newbery Medals, there's an honest warmth to their characters that my kids really identify with.  I think the reincorporation of strong imagery unique to the characters and the urgency of the direct address are commonalities too.  My girls would beg for "one more chapter" again and again (and wanted to listen every night).  Ivy even wrote an allusion to Louisiana's grandmother into a talk she's giving at church.  Touchstones, people, touchstones.  Advisory-wise: this isn't a happy story.  It is shot-through with plenty of happy moments, but it is a sad story and explores some hard concepts.  For under-10s I think it works better as a read-aloud for that reason (for me at least, I want to unpack these heavy and heart-aching concepts!).  The cover (front and back) are an exquisite bonus. I highly recommend you just accept the place this will hold in your family's hearts and order the hardback.

Review copy received from Walker.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Rachael Craw's new book: The Rift
The Rift, Rachael Craw

Check-out the blurbage for Rachael Craw's latest book, due in November:

When the Rift opens, death follows.For generations, the Rangers of Black Water Island have guarded the Old Herd against horrors released by the Rift. Cal West, an apprentice Ranger with a rare scar and even rarer gifts, fights daily to prove he belongs within their ranks. After nine years away, Meg Archer returns to her childhood home only to find the Island is facing a new threat that not even the Rangers are prepared for. Meg and Cal can’t ignore their attraction, but can they face their darkest fears to save the Island from disaster?

The rift opened early for me, unleashing a legerdemain tale filled with bewitching beasts and compelling characters.  I've had a sweet little ARC in my hands since September (and didn't it come packaged beautifully?!) and I read it fast.  The story's stayed with me since...but recent weeks have been crowded for us, so the review comes now. 

As I experienced with Spark, it takes me a couple chapters to adjust to Craw's first-person present narrative voice; it's like skipping a single rope on one half of the court and then moving over to the double dutch area; I need a sec to find my rhythm, but then I'm in.

The depth of this wholly original world-build is impressive.  It is packed with power for introducing such diverse perspectives and motives driving characters inhabiting its world -- a lot of angles have been considered and fleshed out.

And on those characters -- the love interests are set-up early and without being at all gauche, and it is wonderful. (And tasteful!  Simmering without sex scenes.)

The writing is more dense and thoughtful than I remember Spark being, but in a rich, elevated way rather than in a headache-inducing one.  And Spark is intelligent and super-strong! Stylistically, The Rift reminds me of Maggie in All the Crooked Saints and content-wise could have a great conversation with The Scorpio Races so...basically, if you're a Stiefvater fan, get on it already.  The Rift is a beautiful blend of fantasy and science fiction and magical realism and the extraordinary feeling real.

I was a third of the way in before the humour I was expecting really reared its head to say g'day.  It's not at the fore in this one, but it's there.  (That first third I also felt drunk on the world-build, so it was probably for the best.  I can only take so much.)  The pace really picks up from this point too.

Rachael Craw, you are a wonder.  Your debut is smashing and you've more than still got it, you're growing from great to rare.  Definitely one of the best YA books I've read not only this year, but ever. 

ARC received from Walker.
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