Review ~ The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel

This book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley for review consideration.

Cover via Goodreads

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo

When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all. In Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won’t erase. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
As a kid, very few things frightened me more than the thought of the Headless Horseman galloping down the hill in my neighborhood (blocks from one of the busier intersections in Omaha) while I was on my way to my grandparent’s house. As an adult, I have read Washington Irving’s story and have heartily enjoyed various adaptations of the story beyond the Disney short. And since I’m not completely heartless, I thought the story with a romantic twist might be fun for the upcoming season of spookiness.

What Didn’t Work (for me)
Erin Bow has written one of my favorite posts ever about book reviews. She wrote it from the perspective of a writer reading reviews, but I like to keep her thoughts in mind when I’m a reader reviewing books too. And I thought a lot about the concepts of cilantro and werewolves while I was reading The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel.

In Bow’s parlance, a person’s reaction to cilantro is a matter of taste. Some people just don’t like cilantro. The same goes for book genres. Generally, I’m not a big fan of YA romance, supernatural or not, but there are exceptions. In fact, the biggest surprise of the year for me was how much I enjoyed Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints. It was a book I probably wouldn’t have read if I hadn’t won it in a contest. So I knew going in that The Spellbook of Katrina Van Vassel wasn’t in my ideal choice of genres and I was ready to make allowances for that.

But still… Ichabod and Katrina were just *so* perfect together. Everyone (other than Brom and Katrina’s father) loves them both together. Isn’t a protagonist allowed to have flaws? And for a being social outcasts (due to Brom’s insensitivity), Charlotte and her mother seem to do pretty well…aside from being shunned at parties. Also, everyone has a ton of free time and older adults are miraculously absent from goings-on. It was many of the things that I (perhaps unfairly) pin on the YA genre.

To return to Bow’s thoughts on reviews, the concept of werewolves is this: a reader brings their own agenda to a book. “This biography of Teddy Roosevelt was pretty good, but it didn’t have nearly enough werewolves in it for me.” Obviously, werewolves in a nonfiction biography of Roosevelt is an unfair expectation. I don’t think I am being unfair when I expect a book called The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, set in Sleepy Hollow, released in October to have some strong supernatural aspects. And this story really doesn’t. There are some dreams and visions and a bit of off-scene action that we are meant to take as supernatural. Mostly, this book is a star-crossed romance that is eventually complicated by a missing person mystery (that no one bothers to really investigate until two years later).

The actual spellbook of the title is the book of regional lore that Katrina begins to write as she is Ichabod-less and trying to find some joy in the second half of the book. It’s a very nice metaphor, but not what I was expecting.

I feel like there were many opportunities when Palombo might have taken the story in a direction that might have resulted in more tension in the plot, but those are werewolves that I shouldn’t bring into this book.

Overall
If you’re looking for a romance between two young people in sort-of 1790s New England with a little paranormal pumpkin spice seasoning, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel might be the book for you. If you’re looking for a story that veers closer to the more recent movie or television adaptations of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleep Hollow,” gallop past.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, St. Martin’s Press, Oct. 2, 2018
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: historical romance

Advertisements

Review ~ All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked Saints Cover via Goodreads

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I won this from Midnight Book Girl(s) during Bloggers Dressed in Blood. YA isn’t usually my thing, but I was intrigued by sort of magical realism vibe going on in the blurb.

What Worked
I love a good setting and the place and time of Bicho Raro, Colorado, in the desert in 1962 are intrinsic to the story. Pirate radio stations are a thing of the past and the desert is as much of a character as any person. Both transported me to an arid, harsh, but beautiful land full of darkness and stars, owls and soundwaves.

There is a heightened type of narration in All the Crooked Saints and it took me about two-thirds of book to figure out what it reminded me of: Wes Anderson. In a Wes Anderson film, each character has a place and a default way of acting, sometimes in a slightly absurd manner. Crooked Saints has that with the myth-making of Peter S. Beagle and a dollop of telenovela drama. To be fair, this is something that could have gone poorly for me if I hadn’t been in the right mood.

It’s a lovely bit of fairy tale with characters working their way through the mysteries of tradition and superstition in a world where magic does exist.

What Didn’t Work
There are a lot of characters. Not all of them get a lot of page time—which is fine—but many of them don’t get too much of a different voice either. The world is peopled, but much of the Soria family sounded and felt the same to me.

Overall
I really enjoyed All the Crooked Saints. It was a well-needed injection of gentle fantasy into a fairly dull bunch of March books.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Scholastic Press, 2017
Acquired: 11/15/17
Genre: fantasy, YA

Mini Reviews, Vol. #9


My 20 15 10 Books of Summer efforts crashed pretty hard. I was going to make a last valiant effort during Bout of Books, but alas:

I ended up in digital libraries like some sort of ebook junky. So, here’s a wrap-up, not of 20 15 10 Books of Summer, but of what I ended up reading instead.*

alt text Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown

As a kid growing up in the Midwest in the 80s, I don’t think there was any escaping the reach of pro wrestling. Even before he was the brute squad, one of the most recognizable “faces” in the wrestling industry was that of Andre the Giant. This is a no-nonsense graphic biography of Andre Roussimoff, warts and all. It’s also a nice snapshot of the world of professional wrestling as a business and an entertainment.

alt text Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is my ultimate slump-buster. Don’t know what to read? In a mood? Rainbow Rowell. But, I didn’t like Landline as much as I have her other books. I loved the voice of it, but the characters and plot didn’t do it for me. In the end, it didn’t feel like the story went very far.

alt text The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee

So, I stumbled upon a book recommendation engine. “What should I read next?” That sort of thing. I plugged in The Last Unicorn (not what I just finished, but my favorite book of all time) and The Silver Metal Lover was the top of the list. And it was available through the Open Library, so…I thought I’d give it a go.

A YA dystopia, it is not my kind of book. Jane, our young protagonist, feels everything so acutely. She breaks away from her rich, controlling mother through the love of a good…robot. Despite the kind of ridiculous title, there’s not a lot of sex. Which is just fine. Instead there’s a ton of drama and peril. Maybe more sex would have been better.

* I did go 6/10 for my 10-ish Books of Summer, which isn’t a passing grade, but is actually better than I thought before I counted.

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

ripnineperilfirst
RIPXI Info | Reviews

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

ripnineperilfirst

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

frightfest

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.”