Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Taking a bit of a break.......

Just a heads up that I need a break, so no blog updates for about 3 weeks.  Back soon, with book reviews, and back on my usual track.    Enjoy the rest of April!!


Coming Soon .... RM Pirates tour!!

Just when you think life is progressing along smoothly, pirates appear.   And then there's no telling what may happen next.


Keep your eyes and ears open for the Random Magic Pirates Tour ---- from May 10-30, 2011, it will be a whirlwind of features, photo galleries, music, books, and goodies galore!!     You remember, Random Magic, yes?   The delightful book that's chock-full of magic and adventure?!    And what says adventure more than pirates?   Well, actually, I suppose you could think of all sorts of things that are adventurous, but in May, we're focusing on pirates.....

So stay tuned for more information as we draw closer to May.  I'm already crafting and polishing my bit (focusing on lady pirates .... and pirate lore and superstitions)    In the meantime, please enjoy this little bit from the book: 

He shimmied awkwardly up the mast and extended the spyglass. He held
it up against his eye, impatient to find the other ship. Egh. Dust. He rubbed the dust off on his sleeve, and looked through the lens again.
White. White. Where was it? He scanned the water. Aha. There. If he squinted, he could just make out the ship's flag. Black and white. A cricket bat -- no, two. No, maybe swords. Two crossed swords and a giant...apple...no. A skull. A skull and...
He dropped the spyglass.
A skull and crossbones.Pirates.
He scrambled down the rigging backwards, and ran back across the deck.
"Winnie," he yelled, shouting down to her from the top of the

you never know where a pirate map may lead you....

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Darkest Mercy (Wicked Lovely series, #5) by Melissa Marr

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): 
The Summer King is missing; the Dark Court is bleeding; and a stranger walks the streets of Huntsdale, his presence signifying the deaths of powerful fey.   Aislinn tends to the Summer Court, searching for her absent king and yearning for Seth. Torn between his new queen and his old love, Keenan works from afar to strengthen his court against the coming war. Donia longs for fiery passion even as she coolly readies the Winter Court for battle. And Seth, sworn brother of the Dark King and heir to the High Queen, is about to make a mistake that could cost his life.
Love, despair, and betrayal ignite the Faery Courts, and in the final conflict, some will win . . . and some will lose everything.

And here's what I thought:
  I had been eagerly anticipating this book, and when I got it in my hands, just whooshed right through it.   I fell in love with this series right from the beginning, with Wicked Lovely, and have enjoyed the series all the way through.  I will note that at times, the politics between the different courts got a bit confusing, but not enough to detract from the stories.   And so here we are, in this book, at the end.  No! No!  More books, please!!!   Ahem!... sorry about that....   I'm going to avoid spoilers, which is pretty tricky, so my thoughts here will be somewhat brief.  What I will say is: Melissa Marr is a great storyteller.  She writes compelling, sympathetic characters (and supporting characters), and weaves storylines with grace and finesse.   As you can see from the summary, everything is building towards this final conflict, and it is clear from the beginning of the story that there might not be happy endings for everyone.    Ok.  That's all I'm saying about the story.

I was completely happy with this book, although I realized that perhaps at some point, I need to start at the beginning and read through all of them again.  I find that with some series, I can't always keep track of the relationships between characters easily, just because of the time lapse between when one book is published, and the next comes out.  By the time the newest book comes out, I don't always remember what was happening in the previous book.   With this series, I definitely had to refresh myself a few times, especially because there were a lot of characters to keep track of (and their relationships with each other sometimes became a bit complex).  I appreciated that Melissa Marr kept things consistent throughout the arc of the five books (I never experienced a sophomore slump with her writing).  I will admit that I really enjoyed Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange the most (Ink Exchange especially because of the tattooing.... since I have several tattoos), but thought the entire series made for some good reading.  I'm a huge fan of this author, and have had the opportunity to go to her book signings twice --- so now, I'm just waiting to see what she does next, with Graveminder!

If you've never read this series, I'd strongly encourage you to start at the beginning, with Wicked Lovely.   When I pitch this book to people at the library, I always use the term "scary faeries" -- that way, they aren't thinking it's all "Tinkerbell-pink-and-lovely-and-nice" and more like "Grimm and dark."

First sentences: Niall walked through the ruins of the tattoo shop.  Shards of painted glass crunched under his boots.  The floor was strewn with vials of ink, unopened needles, electric apparatus he couldn't identify, and other things he'd rather not identify.  The Dark King had known rage before, known grief; he'd felt helpless, felt unprepared; but he'd never before had all of those emotions converge on him at once."

Thoughts on the cover:  Beautiful, like all of the covers.  The flower, glittering and looking as it it's lit from within, held forward, is beautiful. 

Note: I received this book as part of Book it Forward ARC Tours (and had also read our library's copy).

Wither (Chemical Garden, #1) by Lauren DeStefano

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   What if you knew exactly when you would die?  Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left

And here's what I thought:  I started this book one evening and finished it the next day -- once I started reading, I just kept going because I was so into the story (and needed to know what was going to happen next).  This book is so well-written, and the pace is so even, that even though what's going on with Rhine and the other girls is kind of horrifying, you can't stop reading (at least, I couldn't).   The whole idea is so disturbing, that young women are stolen from their homes and families, and forced into polygamous marriages just to breed before they die.   If they aren't found suitable, they're just disposed of.  Sound horrifying? To have such a short life (living to only twenty) and having all of your personal value placed on whether or not you're seen as acceptable to try and procreate with?  And to know that in some cultures, this is the reality for some girls?  Definitely disquieting.

Rhine is an interesting character, and definitely seems like someone who keeps her own counsel.   The other two sister-wives, one younger and one older, make interesting foils to Rhine, showing the reader what she's made of, through compare and contrast.  In fact, the relationship between the three sister-wives was something I found pretty compelling (maybe because I've watched two seasons of Big Love and sometimes marvel at how those three wives get along at times).  It was also interesting to see how her relationship developed with her new husband, who isn't at all what I had expected he would be like.

I did wonder a bit at the world that the author has created -- there's not much explanation about the possible reasons why humans have such a short life span, and it's a bit vague on when this is supposed to be taking place (obviously, it's some time in the future, and there is mention of a third world war, which "demolished all but North America, the continent with the most advanced technology" p. 55).   I suppose it takes a bit of imagination to accept the situation in this story, but I'm used to that suspension of belief, considering all the fantasy books I read.

If you have read and enjoyed the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, this book will most likely resonate with you.   Where Atwood took the idea of a society where women serve only one purpose, to breed, and spun it in one direction, commenting on society as a whole, DeStefano takes the idea where fertile young women are seen as the solution to a rapidly dying human race, and spins things in a different direction.   Unlike Atwood's book, this story is one in a series, and the ending is definitely left open for the story to continue.   I'm curious to see if there's a bit more about the world and society in the next story, considering where this first book ends.  

First sentences:  I wait.  They keep us in the dark for so long that we lose all sense of our eyelids.  We sleep huddled together like rats, staring out, and dream of our bodies swaying.

Thoughts on the cover:  Interesting images of a girl, looking down - juxtaposed with other images, like a bird in a cage and an hourglass.   Also interesting how the title and author are perpendicular, with lines and circles making their way around the cover.  Conveys the tone of the story, and makes you wonder what lies inside this book.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   What happens to the girls nobody sees—the ones who are ignored, mistreated, hidden away? The girls nobody hears when they cry for help?  Fourteen-year-old Luce is one of those lost girls. After her father vanishes in a storm at sea, she is stuck in a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village with her alcoholic uncle. When her uncle crosses an unspeakable line, Luce reaches the depths of despair. Abandoned on the cliffs near her home, she expects to die when she tumbles to the icy, churning waves below. Instead, she undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.
A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. The mermaids are beautiful, free, and ageless, and Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: they feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks.
Luce’s own talent at singing captures the attention of the tribe’s queen, the fierce and elegant Catarina, and Luce soon finds herself pressured to join in committing mass murder. Luce’s struggle to retain her inner humanity puts her at odds with her friends; even worse, Catarina seems to regard Luce as a potential rival. But the appearance of a devious new mermaid brings a real threat to Catarina’s leadership and endangers the very existence of the tribe. Can Luce find the courage to challenge the newcomer, even at the risk of becoming rejected and alone once again?  Lost Voices is a captivating and wildly original tale about finding a voice, the healing power of friendship, and the strength it takes to forgive.

And here's what I thought:   This is the second mermaid story that I have read in the past few weeks, and the two books couldn't be more different (which is cool).   Beautifully written, this story gives us a different perspective on what life as a mermaid could be like.  As you can see from the summary, Luce has been left with her uncle, who isn't nice at the best of times, and a worse person when he drinks (and he drinks a lot).  After a horrifying confrontation with him, Luce flees to the sea, falling off a cliff and into the water.  Rather than drowning, she transforms into a mermaid, and soon encounters a sinking ship, and a group of other mermaids.   While she definitely enjoys being able to swim so deftly, and be in the company of the other mermaids, it soon becomes clear to her that her new life isn't going to be an easy one.

The relationship between Luce and the mermaid queen, Caterina, is an odd one, veering between friendly and unfriendly in a wave of a tail (ok... couldn't help it!).   Caterina doesn't always seem like the most stable of minds (perhaps because she's been a mermaid so long), and frankly, at times, I got tired of her and found her annoying.   Actually, I found a few of the other mermaids to be annoying, too --- apparently, transforming into a mermaid doesn't mean you automatically have a sparkling disposition.   At times, the rivalry between Luce and some of the mermaids was a bit wearing -- I wanted less talking, more action.

There were parts of the story that I thought were extremely creative and cool.  For example, girls who become mermaids undergo the transformation when something awful happens in their lives, usually some type of abuse.  That's a new idea that I haven't come across before.   In this story, there are only mermaids (no boys, no men), but there are also larvae, babies and small children who have made a transformation to mermaid, but because they are so young, have limited abilities (speech, swimming, etc).   These larvae are kind of disturbing (let's face it -- calling them larvae is a bit off-putting).  The attitude of Caterina and the other mermaids towards these creatures is pretty heartless; they make it clear to Luce that there's no point in really even acknowledging the larvae because they attract sharks, and plus, the orcas just eat them up, so why care?   Luce is pretty repelled by this, as well as the mermaids' attitude towards humans.  If you think they dislike the larvae, wait until you read about how they view people --- they are positively venomous towards them.    And, actually, this is something I thought was interesting about this story.  In other mermaid stories that I have read, mermaids are portrayed as being beautiful, sometimes sexy,  and while they might attract sailors, don't seem to have animosity towards them.  In Porter's story, the mermaids have a hatred of humans, deliberately sinking ships and causing people distress.  They are sirens, attracting with their songs, and then wreaking havoc. 

This is the first in a trilogy, so it will be interesting to see where the author takes Luce next. 

First sentences:  "Lucette?  Did you even hear the question?"
Luce had been gazing out the window at the darkened sky sinking over the harbor still dotted with rough floating ice, the mountain walls of shadow-colored spruce and rusty boulders under the greenish-glassy dusk of a coming storm."

Thoughts on the cover:  Beautiful shot of a mermaid diving down, with light filtering through the water.  Perfect for the mermaid theme of the story.  Is this Luce?  I would say no (you'll understand when you read the story), but this could be any of the mermaids in the group.

Note: I received an ARC of this book through Book it Forward ARC tours. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Teeth: Vampire Tales - edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Sink your teeth into these bite-sized tales exploring the intersections among the living, dead, and undead. Features stories by Neil Gaiman, Melissa Marr, Cassandra Clare, Garth Nix, and many more.

And here's what I thought:   Um... ok.  That little summary doesn't say much --- other than mentioning some of my favorite authors!!  When I saw this had stories from Neil Gaiman, Melissa Marr, and Kaaron Warren, I was completely intrigued.  And I was in the mood for some stories.   The nice thing about a book of short stories is that if you aren't wild about one of them, you're sure to find at least one that you love.   And that's what I found here.   I'm not going to do a summary/review of each story, but I want to mention a few that really stood out to me.   The one thing I'll mention before I start on the stories is that the introduction, written by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, is really interesting.  They discuss the popularity of vampire stories, but also how vampires in literature have evolved over the years.   Really a cool way to begin this collection.

So, on to some of the stories that I really liked (although, seriously, I really liked just about every story here -- but I would be going on and on to talk about each of them).

The first one, Things to Know About Being Dead by Genevieve Valentine, brought in some Asian culture to the vampire mythos, which was something new for me.  The main character's grandmother knows her granddaughter is a vampire, but she helps her, instead of shunning her.  As for the vampire, her observations on being undead, and still going to her classes really make her a pretty sympathetic character.    This was a pretty thought-provoking story.

LOVED Delia Sherman's story, Flying, about a girl who used to be a circus performer with her family before she got sick.   When she discovers a small, old-fashioned circus coming to her town, she begs her parents to go to a performance .... and enters a world where many things are not at all what they seem.   I have always had a bit of a fascination with the circus, which I'm sure is partly why I loved this story.   But, the main character is interesting, and I thought the story was really original.

The List of Definite Endings by Kaaron Warren was another story that really stuck in my head.   In this one, the vampire is somewhat solitary, not fitting in well with her vampire friends.  When she meets Ken, a young man who works in a morgue, she strikes up an unlikely friendship.  There's a lot in this story about reflections on past decisions, and life lived -- really interesting, and thought-provoking (and a bit sad at the end).    Kaaron Warren is an author I discovered through Angry Robot Publishers, and I was excited to see that she had a story in this collection.

Neil Gaiman's story is... a poem.  And quite cool.

Overall, I liked most of the stories, although I admit to skim-reading the three that didn't wow me.    This is a great collection, with a wide variety of stories written by some talented authors.     

First sentences from some of the stories:   "As it turns out, if a person dies badly, sometimes the soul can't escape the body and will have to feed off the living forever.  Of course, I only find this out after Madison Gardner offers me a ride home in her dad's Beemer after six shots of coconut rum and ends up shoving the car through a tree."  (Things to Know About Being Dead by Genevieve Valentine)

"Sometimes, partying felt like punishment.  Claudia hated large groups of people, vampires included.  They had secret jokes she didn't get, and the conversation always moved too fast for her."  (The List of Definite Endings by Kaaron Warren)

"They both smiled at each other, the way that best friends do.  Their smiled revealed different things.  Gina's teeth were gray and almost translucent.  They looked soft and loose.  Amy's teeth gleamed bright and white even in the dimly lit room.  And of course there were the canines.  Long and pointy.  Hollow at the tip, perfectly made for the sucking of blood."  (Best Friends Forever by Cecil Castelluci)

Thoughts on the cover:  Definitely eye-catching, with the girl who looks like she's covering her mouth (is she a vampire or not?).   The image of the girl is cool, and the font of the title definitely conveys the vampire theme.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Summary (courtesy ofGoodReads):   After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.    
A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

And here's what I thought:   I got swept up in this book right away, greedily sequestering myself (and abandoning the vacuuming) to curl up and read.   The book has a great pace, and I just got wrapped up in the story, and Ginny, and how when she would make a recipe, a ghost would show up.   Sometimes, it was so touching when one would show up, that I would get a bit choked up (although one of the ghosts was actually quite frightening).   Her conversations with these ghosts were revealing, not only about her relationship with that person, but about Ginny, herself. 

I thought the author did a great job with the characters. Ginny is sometimes a little frustrating, but she's intriguing.  Her sister, Amanda, was someone I really started to despise -- she seems intent on running Ginny's life and making decisions for her, just steamrolling over anything Ginny actually wants.  But the fact that I despised this character means she's well-written (that's my logic, at least.  If a character's not well-written, I just don't care about them).     The whole relationship between the two sisters is compelling --- they are both so different, and coping with the death of their parents in completely different ways.  I found myself imagining what it would have been like for them when they were kids.   The whole family relationship was something I kept coming back to, thinking about the dynamics, and how people relate to each other.   Ginny made a statement about her mother that I thought was interesting: "When she's gone I want her here.  When she's here I want her gone.  She's right, I'm difficult, and in many ways."  (p. 110).   I can see this being a familiar theme with mothers and daughters -- those relationships can be complex. 

It was fascinating to have the main character, through who we experience the entire story, to be someone with Asperger's  (This is not a spoiler -- it's on the inside flap of the book that she has this syndrome).  I'm familiar with what Asperger's is, and experiencing everything through Ginny, whose mind works a bit differently than some people's, was refreshing.  It made me think about some of the things she encounters in the story in a different way.  I appreciated, for example, how, when she needed to calm herself, she would imagine certain kinds of food.  I usually count to ten in my head, but maybe I'll start trying her technique.   I liked how sometimes Ginny had a different kind of view of things, and how she approached the challenges she came across.    One of the things she said in the book really stayed in my mind:  "Difficult, Ma called me,  It cuts both ways.  Difficult for her to deal with me, sure, but difficult for me too.  Difficult to feel like I'm always a little bit on the outside.  Difficult to launch myself into activities everyone else seems to take for granted like a school day, a lecture, a lunchroom, knowing that I might have a reaction I can't control.   Difficult, but not impossible.  I am not impossible."   (p. 168)   Yes.

First sentences:     "Bad things come in threes.  My father dies.  My mother dies.  Then there's the funeral.  Other people would say these are all the same bad news.  For me, they're different."

Thoughts on the cover: Love it, how the net shopping bag filled with peppers evokes a feminine shape.  Plus, I like the idea of the net, of how it could reflect Ginny's feelings of being caught in not knowing what to do.  

Note:  Thank you to the book publicist who contacted me about reviewing this book --- it was a great read!   And for all readers -- this book will be out on April 12th, so keep your eye out for it!!

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Lulu and Merry’s childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu’s tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare. He’s always hungered for the love of the girl’s self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly.
                  Lulu’s mother warned her to never let him in, but when he shows up, he’s impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past ten-year-old Lulu, who obeys her father’s instructions to open the door, then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help and discovers upon her return that he’s murdered her mother, stabbed her sister, and tried to kill himself.
                    For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened. Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make. Though one spends her life pretending he’s dead, while the other feels compelled to help him, both fear that someday their imprisoned father’s attempts to win parole may meet success.

And here's what I thought:   This book wasn't always easy to read, but was thought-provoking and compelling.   It is beautifully written, although sometimes, what is happen in the story might be ugly (and I think that's definitely a talent on the part of the author).   As you can see by the summary, these two sisters don't have the easiest time of things.   When we meet them, in July of 1971, Lulu's 10th birthday is right around the corner, and her little sister Merry is almost six.   Their mother doesn't seem that interested in them, choosing instead to focus on herself, and their father has left them.  It's not the nicest situation, but things take a horrific turn when their father appears at their door and bullies Lulu into letting him in.    The sisters initially are taken in by family, but then put into a girls' home to spend their childhood.   Visits to their grandmother provide some relief, but it's a different story for the visits to their father, who is now serving time in prison.   Lulu cuts off all contact with her father, but Merry goes for frequent visits, taken by a grandmother.    This pattern of Lulu having nothing to do with her father, and Merry feeling compelled to continue the visits (even though she doesn't really want to) continues through the story, as the sisters grow older.

The book has chapters that alternate between Lulu and Merry, so we experience this novel through both sisters.  It's an interesting way to tell a story, with two characters who approach life completely differently, and who are drawn together by their family circumstance.  Lulu's reaction to her mother's murder makes her emotionally cold, and she shoulders the responsibility of her own decisions, as well as feeling responsible for Merry, and making sure that Merry is provided for.  Merry, on the other hand, seems to wear raw emotions on her sleeve at times, continuing the visits to her father, even though she dreads them.  Lulu chooses a straight and narrow path and eventually becomes a doctor; Merry is a bit looser, eventually becoming a parole officer as an adult.   The focus not only on the sisters' relationship with each other, but to their father, made this an absorbing read.  Even if I didn't always like the sisters, I was interested in what was happening to them, or what their future would be.     The pacing is even, with the time passing in chunks; the book begins in July, 1971, then 1972, 1974 and so forth, bringing us into the present day, but allowing us to see what happens to each sister during a certain time period.   It's an interesting way to follow two lives. 

Definitely a compelling story, with interesting characters.   When you read this book, definitely read the Acknowledgments and the part from the author about why she wrote this book.    She has some very personal reasons for writing this story, and once you read this part, you'll want to go back and re-read the whole book again.  

First sentences: "I wasn't surprised when Mama asked me to save her life.  By my first week in kindergarten, I knew she was no macaroni-necklace-wearing kind of mother.  Essentially, Mama regarded me as a miniature hand servant."

Thoughts on the cover:  I like how the two girls are shown walking on a boardwalk together, with the younger one reaching for the older one -- very evocative of the story.  

Note: Thank you very much to the publisher, who sent me this book in exchange for a review.  I don't know if I would have picked it up right away, otherwise, and it was a great read.   

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   When the elliptical new drama teacher at Stellar Plains High School chooses for the school play Lysistrata-the comedy by Aristophanes in which women stop having sex with men in order to end a war-a strange spell seems to be cast over the school. Or, at least, over the women. One by one throughout the high school community, perfectly healthy, normal women and teenage girls turn away from their husbands and boyfriends in the bedroom, for reasons they don't really understand. As the women worry over their loss of passion, and the men become by turns unhappy, offended, and above all, confused, both sides are forced to look at their shared history, and at their sexual selves in a new light.

And here's what I thought:   This is an interesting story, less about sex and more about how men and women relate to each other.   The even pace of this story means that everything just starts out nice and smooth, and then begins to unfold.  As a reader, you see the relationships between several couples begin to come apart, not with explosive force, but almost with a sigh of indifference (or a sharp sigh of frustration).   The main couple we meet in the beginning, Dory and Robby Lang, seem like such nice people, attuned to each other, and to their daughter, Willa.  Dory and Robby appear to be a close couple, the kind that still hold hands after years of marriage, who always consider each other with respect and affection.  However, a stir is created in the community when the new drama teacher, Fran Heller, arrives on the scene.  At first, it just seems like she's a bit abrasive, a bit forward --- not really someone that fits in with the rest of the teachers.  But, that's to be expected with someone new.   What's not expected is that the play she chooses seems to weave a spell over the women and girls in the community.

The spell appears to strike Dory first, and then spread to other women, coming into their lives like a cold wind, and leaving them uninterested in having sex with their husbands and boyfriends.   For Dory, it is described like this:  "The spell was more subtle, but still when it first came over a woman it was shocking, perhaps even grotesque, and she didn't have any idea that she was under it.  Dory Lang simple felt as if she was freezing, and then she was aware of a mild disgust, no, even a mild horror at being touched.... Her body momentarily shook- a brief death rattle, a death-of-sex rattle, technically - and then stopped." (p. 13)   You'd think that in a strong relationship like Dory and Robby's, this wouldn't be such a big deal, and it isn't at first.  But when Dory can't explain to Robby why she is repelled by him, he becomes frustrated and hurtful, and their relationship starts to unravel under their animosity and indifference.   Other couples in town are similarly affected, including Dory's daughter Willa and her new boyfriend, Eli (who happens to be the drama teacher's son).   When, just as they are about to have sex, the spell comes over Willa, the change is immediate and upsetting, especially for Eli (not surprisingly, since it's so sudden).   As relationships continue to unravel, and the rehearsals for the play continue, everything seems to build, until you aren't sure if anything is going to be resolved between the women and the men.   I liked being kept on the edge like this, and also admittedly liked how this book gave me a voyeuristic glimpse into several relationships.  We all see people who seem perfectly happy together, the perfect couple, but wonder if they have some secrets --- and this book is all about that kind of thing.  And it's interesting to think about how important sex can be in a relationship --- not the act, itself, but the intimacy, the small moments of affection and touching that go along with it.  If that suddenly ended for one person in a relationship, I could see how it could be quite hurtful.

As I said, the pace in this story is smooth and even, and it has some unexpectedly funny bits in it, as well.  I came across several while I was reading that made me smile (although I will note that it is wry humor, not comedy).   The characters are all diverse and interesting, and there are even a few odd ones thrown in, like the drama teacher and another teacher, Abby Means.   Abby Means is a particularly entertaining character, as she's odd in both dress and manner, and when she interacts with the other characters, makes an impression.   One of my first moments with her is when Abby meets Fran, discovering that Fran has unwittingly taken Abby's soda from the teacher's lounge fridge.   Here's a bit of that (from p. 33)

"You know, I don't really ask for much," said Abby Means.  "But the one thing I do expect is that when I reach into the fridge each day, my soda will actually be there.  That no wildebeests or hobos have come and taken it away in the night."
             All the teachers watched with open interest.  By the copy machine, Dave Boyd laughed at Abby Means's latest outrageousness.... Dory thought that if she herself were the new drama teacher and someone had criticized her like that, she might have cried a little bit in front of everyone.  But Fran Heller said to Abby Means, "Oh, relax.  I'm not a wildebeest and I'm not a hobo.  You just like saying those words.  I'm new.  Cut me a little slack and it will all be fine."

Definitely gives you an idea of how Fran Heller's going to be as a new teacher in this school.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I think other readers are going to like it, as well.  It definitely would be a conversation-provoking choice for a book group. 

First sentence:  "People like to warn you that by the time you reach the middle of your life, passion will begin to feel like a meal eaten long ago, which you remember with great tenderness."

Thoughts on the cover:  Somewhat blurred look at a cookie-cutter little landscape of small houses, like a set for toy trains.  Underscores the whole "this is a nice little place where everyone is happy" idea at the beginning of the story.

Please note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher, through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.  Thus, any quotes or page numbers may differ upon final publication.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Update on Blue by Lou Aronica

I had posted a review of this book, which I had enjoyed -- and the author just contacted me to let me know that the e-book edition of Blue is now $2.99.   This is a pretty nice price, I must say!    I enjoyed this read, and I have seen other positive reviews around the blogosphere....

So, if any of you have an e-reader, this edition is available now.   Just lettin' y'all know. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hoppin' Time!

Late as usual, but still determined to Hop!   The week's Book Blogger Hop (hosted, as always by Jennifer) asks us, since it's April Fool's Day, to tell everyone what the best prank we've played on someone was, or that someone has played on us.

Well.....  I don't have an answer.  Nada, sorry.  I'm not really a prankster, and I've never had anyone prank me (which is good, I guess, considering that would make me pretty cranky).    But, I'm still all for April 1st -- now that March is behind us, we can keep moving on with Spring!!  

I'll get to hopping in a moment.....
Happy Hopping, everyone !!!   And Happy April 1st!
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