Review ~ The Seance

Cover via Goodreads

The Seance by Iain Lawrence

SCOOTER KING UNDERSTANDS illusions. In the midst of the Roaring Twenties, he performs them behind the scenes at his mother’s séances, giving the impression that Madam King communicates with the dead. Scooter also admires Harry Houdini and can hardly wait to see the famed magician escape from his razzle-dazzle Burmese Torture Tank. But when Scooter stumbles upon a dead body in the visiting Houdini’s tank, it’s no illusion. Who could the murderer be? And did he—or she—kill the right person?

As Scooter sets out to unmask the killer, the mysterious worlds of mediums, séances, and magic are revealed. No one is above suspicion, and appearances are deceiving. If Scooter doesn’t sort out the clues—and fast—he may end up as the next dead body. (via Goodreads)

The Séance is a murder mystery set in 1926 with a 13 year-old protagonist. I don’t read a lot of books with young protagonists (even when I was young) because I find it hard to believe in the proficiencies of young people. I remember being thirteen. I was pretty crap at most things. In this case though, Scooter is a boy of the 1920s who has been specifically trained with a certain set of skills. And it would have been nice if those skills would have been more intrinsic to his solving the mystery. Another problem I have with young protagonists is that they sort of require a lack of adults. In this case, there seems to be only one policeman investigating the inciting murder and he has no time for a kid’s testimony. All the other adults are pretty much buffoons, including Scooter’s mom. Houdini does make an appearance, here and there, and is a true-to-form glory hound.

I was attracted to this book due to my research into séances and I especially wanted to see how the author was going to treat the behind-the-scenes aspects. All-in-all, those details were handled fairly well. Scooter’s mother does partially believes that her psychic powers are real, but there’s nothing in the narrative that leads down a supernatural path. I was okay with Lawrence adding the fictitious spiky water tank, the Burmese Torture Tank, to Houdini’s repertoire when a unique murder weapon was needed, but there were some later details that were a little too convenient.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Delacorte Press, 2008
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: mystery

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Review ~ Distant Waves

Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn

Cover via Goodreads

From the author of REINCARNATION, another historical, supernatural romance, this time focusing on five sisters whose lives are intertwined with the sinking of the Titanic.

Science, spiritualism, history, and romance intertwine in Suzanne Weyn’s newest novel. Four sisters and their mother make their way from a spiritualist town in New York to London, becoming acquainted with journalist W. T. Stead, scientist Nikola Tesla, and industrialist John Jacob Astor. When they all find themselves on the Titanic, one of Tesla’s inventions dooms them…and one could save them. (via Goodreads)

And Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini are in this book too! Obviously, it pokes many of my historical fandom buttons.

In Distant Waves, history is stretched and twisted back on itself so that many of the events and relationships converge on 1912. There are a lot of inaccuracies, some of which Weyn addresses at the end of the book. To some extent this should be read as more of an alternative history rather than a historical fiction. There are certainly a few speculative touches that pull it away from realistic fiction.

It was a readable book, fairly well-paced despite a pretty long lead-up to the Titanic. It was great for the readathon and I read it cover to cover last Saturday.

I’m not quite sure what I think of Weyn’s Tesla. Not surprisingly to me, the main character Jane, a fan of Sherlock Holmes, takes a liking to the eccentric scientist, who manages to rescue them during his man-made New York earthquake.  We’re treated to a lot of “creative genius picked on by capitalism” stories. In regards to spiritualism, Weyn leaves things ambiguous and that’s a good line to take in this book.

There was one plot point that I kind of rolled my eyes at, even in the midst of all the other stretches. In this case, it was more of a concrete problem solved by overly lucky circumstances that could have been dealt with, I think, in a less complicated manner. (I know this pitfall well; it’s one I often fall victim to.)

Publishing info, my copy: Scholastic, Inc, trade paperback, 2009
Acquired: Paperback Swap, I think.
Genre: historical, speculative fiction

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Review ~ Fangirl

Cover via Goodreads

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? (via Goodreads)

Back in February, I was looking for something lighter to read, something that wasn’t set between 1850 and 1930, where I often find myself. I decided that I’d check to see if the digital library had Rainbow Rowell’s Landline available, Landline being her more adult novel. (To recap: YA? Just generally not my bag of tea. I’m 40 and cantankerous. Young people annoy me. 😉 )

Landline was all checked out, but Fangirl was available. I’d read the blurb when Fangirl came out and I…just wasn’t that interested. But then I read first couple of sentences.

There was a boy in her room.

Cath looked up at the number painted on the door, then down at the room assignment in her hand.

Pound Hall, 913.

This was definitely room 913, but maybe it wasn’t Pound Hall—all these dormitories looked alike…

And once again, Rainbow Rowell got me with the nostalgia. See, when I was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I lived in Pound Hall. I started out in Sandoz Hall, but after nearly two months I moved to Pound when I was given the opportunity to have a no roommate. I lived for the rest of that year and the next on the 5th floor and then moved down to the 3rd for my junior and senior years. I know Pound Hall. Even though I could probably figure where 913 is, I see Cath and Raegan’s where mine was on 5: at the end of the hallway by the stairwell. I see the cinder block walls and the built-in desks and bookshelves.

PoundSingleMine
Floor plan of my room in Pound Hall.

There are other nostalgia things as well: Love Library’s stacks that had their own weird air currents, dashing back across campus after dark when alone (when you’re a freshman girl) because you’re certain you’ll be attacked (fairly unfounded fear, shed by second semester), and the fact that starting out no one from Omaha actually knows where East Campus is. Fangirl kind of made me marvel at how *I* managed to make it through freshman year. It also made me really appreciate where I am now.

So, the story itself. The blub makes it seem more like this book going to be about writing fan fiction than it is. Sure, there’s some comment on fan fiction’s place within the realms of what is “legitimate” writing, but Fangirl is really about the girl. It’s about Cath dealing with all those college-y things and her own brand of crazy while having this very firm backbone of Simon Snow fandom to help her stay upright. And, to make this about me again, how much did ST:TNG and X-Files help introverted me? There is a beauty to fandom; it gives people common interest, a starting point. Fangirl is a love letter to that.

Publishing info, my copy:  St. Martin’s Press, Kindle Book, Sep 10, 2013
Acquired: Tempe Public Library OverDrive Collection
Genre: YA

Fright Fest Update ~ The New Girl

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I missed the R.L. Stine/teen horror phenomena in the nineties. For me, the nostalgia of these books, or at least The New Girl which I read last week, is in the setting. Published in 1989, it is just *so* 80s. At least in the original printing I have. I’ve heard that new editions have updated references as well as grittier covers. I’m glad my Fear Street editions have the ditto machine still intact! Honestly, I was surprised at how much fun The New Girl was to read. Cory Brooks, our smitten hero, is a bit of a bone head, but still likeable. The plot twist was appropriately sensational and I enjoy the concept of horror novels that are all set in place. I’ll be reading Fear Street #2 next week, probably during Dewey’s Readathon.

The New Girl (Fear Street, #1) The New Girl (Fear Street, #1) The New Girl (Fear Street, #1)

Actually, what is up with the new covers? They’re a little racy for book that only has kissing and non-graphic “excitement.”

Review ~ Vaclav & Lena

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Cover via Goodreads

Vaclav and Lena, both the children of Russian émigrés, are at the same time from radically different worlds. While Vaclav’s burgeoning love of performing magic is indulged by hard-working parents pursuing the American dream, troubled orphan Lena is caught in a domestic situation no child should suffer through. Taken in as one of her own by Vaclav’s big-hearted mother, Lena might finally be able to blossom; in the naive young magician’s eyes, she is destined to be his “faithful assistant”…but after a horrific discovery, the two are ripped apart without even a goodbye. Years later, they meet again. But will their past once more conspire to keep them apart? (via Goodreads)

While reading this book, I did something I never do. I went on Goodreads and looked at some reviews. I was interested to know what Russian immigrants and their children thought of Vaclav & Lena. To me, it felt like there were a lot of stereotypes being presented. The voice of the book, especially when the narrative was focused on Vaclav, was full of a “was having, am being” dialect that really wore on me. Not surprisingly, the reviews of this book are pretty divided. Mostly, anyone who has emigrated from Russia to the US or is a child of immigrant parents doesn’t care for it. Aside from the stereotypes, the other most common comment was about how long it takes for young children to learn a second language (not long at all) and how many Russian parents only speak Russian in the home as a way of preserving heritage.

So, this isn’t an accurate presentation of the immigrant experience, and I wonder why Tanner, whose experience this isn’t, chose to write it.

Then there is the story. The first third of this book is about our titular characters at age nine. Vaclav is magic-obsessed and has been Lena’s only friend. He believes in two things: that he will be a great magician and that Lena will marry him and be his assistant. His ambitions are somewhat wince-worthy especially since Vaclav seems utterly blind to anything else going on. But then again, he is nine years-old.

The next two sections of the book outline the next eight years of their lives as they are apart, and also Lena’s past before she knew Vaclav and his family. The last section is their meeting again, at age seventeen. Lena has a traumatic past, some of which she cannot remember. On her seventeenth birthday she decides to find her parents and that the only person she feels she can trust to help her is Vaclav. So, she calls him up because he still lives where he’s always lived. (And I kind of wonder why she never called before.) What follows is…a lot of drama. Most of which seems very out of place. I found the ending, how characters ultimately choose to treat Lena, to be somewhat distasteful.

For all of that, I read this book very quickly, almost compulsively. Despite its faults, I wanted to know what was going to happen to Vaclav and Lena, or rather what had happened. The story bears comparison to Eleanor & Park, but less well written and a much less satisfying ending (and if you know how Eleanor & Park ends, you know that’s saying something).

Publisher: The Dial Press
Publication date: May 17th 2011
Genre: Literary/YA
Why did I choose to read this book? *sheepishly* You did notice the part about Vaclav wanting to be a magician, right?

Review ~ Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Cover via Goodreads

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under. (via Goodreads)

I generally don’t read YA. We’ll get to that in a moment. But I’ve wanted to read Eleanor & Park since, well, since I discovered it existed.

First: When I was a student at UNL, Rainbow Rowell wrote a column for The Daily Nebraskan, the campus newspaper. I enjoyed her writing a great deal. Heck, I still have a clipping from Dec. 1994 about mothers and daughters. Rowell always had a reasonable voice; a little geeky, a little neurotic, but still sensible. A few years back, I realized that she was writing for the Omaha World-Herald, and a while after that, that she’d published a couple novels.

Second: Eleanor & Park is set in Omaha in 1986 and I grew up in Omaha in the 80s and 90s. There’s a certain weirdness to reading about things you *know*. Those gym suits? The red and white onsie with the zipper? Yeah, I wore one of those. The Old Market? Drastic Plastic? The Antiquarium? Been to those places. The hair styles, the music. The cliques. I’m talking heavy nostalgia here.

So, the book. And YA and my relationship to it. During a class discussion of Romeo and Juliet in the book, Park gives an answers as to why the play has lasted four hundred years: “Because people want to remember what it’s like to be young.” I’m 39 years old. The experience of being 16 is over half my life ago. What YA has to do for me at age 39 is make me remember what it was like to be young. Whether it was the setting, or era, or the author (an Omahan a couple years older than me), or the two smart, geeky protagonists, Eleanor & Park felt real to me. For better and worse, it made me remember what it was like to be young.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: February 26th 2013
Genre: YA contemporary-ish, 1986 is contemporary, right?

Review ~ The Prince of Mist

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Cover via Goodreads

A mysterious house harbors an unimaginable secret…

It’s wartime, and the Carver family decides to leave the capital where they live and move to a small coastal village. But from the minute they cross the threshold of their new home, strange things begin to happen. In that mysterious house still lurks the spirit of Jacob, the previous owners’ son, who died by drowning.

With the help of their new friend Roland, Max and Alicia Carver begin to explore the strange circumstances of that death and discover the existence of a mysterious being called the Prince of Mist; a diabolical character who has returned from the shadows to collect on a debt from the past. Soon the three friends find themselves caught up in an adventure of sunken ships and an enchanted stone garden; an adventure that will change their lives forever. (via Goodreads)

I’ve been meaning to read Carlos Ruiz Zafón. He seems to be a very interesting author. This is one of the first books he published and is middle grade/YA. I picked it up because I wanted a nice little scare and that’s pretty much what I got. It reminded me of Lady in White and Something Wicked This Way Comes,  the film rather than the book. It’s certainly something I’d recommend to my niece, Gwen, who is currently on the prowl for fun ghost stories.

My main complaint is that the individual pieces don’t quite hang together in the plot. It’s sort of a conglomeration of spooky things, but there isn’t quite enough explanation  as to why all the pieces should fit together. I *did* very much liked the not entirely happy ending. I’ll be reading more Zafón.

Genre: YA Ghost Story Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? After 14, I was still in a sort of Scooby-Doo mood. With its mysterious house and shipwreck, it fit the bill.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Finished in a couple of days.
Craft Lessons: A couple of spooky things does not a spooky plot make.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library

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