The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

I’ll keep this review short and sweet — kind of like Sarah Addison Allen’s books.  This is Allen’s third book and much like Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, it has elements of fairy tale mixed with small town North Carolina flavor and a pinch of romance.  Emily Benedict returns to quirky Mullaby, North Carolina in search of a solution to the puzzle of her mother’s life.  Why did Dulcie Shelby leave Mullaby and never return?  Why was she so reluctant to discuss the grandfather Emily never knew, or the house she grew up in?  And why are the eccentric townspeople so angry at Emily for something that Dulcie did years ago?

Like the two other books before it, The Girl Who Chased the Moon is filled with magic, like the wallpaper in Emily’s room that changes with her moods, the bewitching aroma of the sugary cakes that  Julia, owner of the local barbeque joint,  bakes in an effort to lure lost love back to her, and the mysterious Mullaby lights that appear in the woods outside of Emily’s window each evening.  Emily’s grandfather is a gentle giant and her boyfriend’s entire family mysteriously refuses to be seen by moonlight. 

Even though this time around Allen’s book was a bit predictable and some of it was a little silly (the explanation of the Mullaby lights for example), I still enjoyed it for what it was — a light enjoyable read as sweet as one of Julia Winterson’s cakes.

My Rating: 

The River Kings’ Road: A Novel of Ithelas by Liane Merciel

rkr_cover Epic fantasy requires a writer to juggle complex plots where characterization often gets lost beneath politics and world-building. It’s rare to find a writer who can deliver intrigue, an exciting world, and well-rounded characters, but Liane Merciel succeeds beautifully with The River Kings’ Road.

Odosse is a young woman with only one wish: to make a good life for her infant son Aubry. Unfortunately, Odosse has neither husband, nor money, nor beauty to ease her way in life. When an Oakharne lord’s son is orphaned, Odosse is thrust into a conflict between the warring kingdoms of Oakharne and Langmyr, all for the sake of an infant not her own.

Merciel skillfully draws the reader into a dark story full of treachery and builds her world of Ithelas with care. In Ithelas, evil walks in the form of maimed witches known as Thorns. The Thorns’ powers can be bought for a price, and one act of violence purchased by Leferic, an Oakharne lord’s youngest son, sets off a chain reaction that soon spins out of his control.

The beauty of The River Kings’ Road rests with Merciel’s skillful portrayal of her characters and their motivations. Each action leads to a reaction so that the characters become intertwined in one another’s survival. Merciel guides the reader through her plot twists with enough sword and sorcery to satisfy the most hardened fan, but she also uses a dark edge that I’m glad to see returning to fantasy.

Merciel doesn’t rely on shock value for her horror. The Thorns’ zombies are unique and well done, and I found the plight of one of Leferic’s henchmen, Albric, to be particularly disturbing. Merciel probes the psyche and shows the reader how easy it is to fall into death and dishonor with one wrong choice.

My rating:

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Mary Anning truly was a remarkable creature.  Born in 1799, she was struck by lightning at the age of one and survived.  Living with her family in the village of Lyme Regis on the southern coast of Britain, little Mary spent many hours on the beach with her father searching for “curies” or “curiosities” which were in fact fossils of many prehistoric creatures such as ammonites, crinoids and belemnites.  To Mary and her family, “curies” were a way to put food on the table.  They collected the specimens and then sold them to the tourists who visited the coastal resort each summer. 

When the three spinster Philpot sisters move from London to Lyme Regis, Elizabeth Philpot takes an interest in Mary and her fossils.  A collector herself, Elizabeth joins Mary in scouring the beaches and uses her connections in aristocratic circles to help her sell her finds.  When Mary discovers a “monster” embedded in the rock, she unknowingly uncovers the first documented dinosaur, the first of many finds to come, and Elizabeth must fight to see that Mary gets the recognition she deserves.

Chevalier has taken a real life person in Mary Anning and fictionalized her life and accomplishments.  At the time that Mary lived, science was a man’s world and hunting fossils was not considered a suitable pursuit for women.  It was seen as “an unladylike pursuit, dirty and mysterious.”   Although she made major contributions to the world of paleontology, Mary was never given the credit she deserved and was mostly forgotten, though several of her finds are still on display in museums today. 

Alternating between the voice of Mary and the voice of Elizabeth, the chapters emphasize the class differences between the two women and highlight their unlikely friendship, including both mutual admiration and, at times, barely disguised envy and jealousy.  Not just a book about fossils, Remarkable Creatures is also an examination of the roles of women in society, and in the world of science, at a time when being a spinster at the age of 25 or spending time in “unladylike” pursuits such as fossil hunting were looked upon with suspicion and derision.

My Rating:  

Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon

Lil lives a quiet life, working each day in a dusty used book shop in Manhatten,  then returning home to her lonely apartment each night.  We soon realize, godmotherhowever, that Lil is not just any old woman.  Home after a long day of work, she draws a warm bath, undresses and sinks into the welcoming warmth.  “I was alone, finally, completely free.  I leaned forward and unclenched my back.  A pure feeling of bliss moved through me.  My wings unfurled.  White feather by white feather, curving out and up toward the ceiling, spreading to their full span, like two halves to one heart, until they tapped the walls.”

You see Lil is a fairy.  A very famous fairy.  Imagine a Cinderella story where the fairy godmother botches the big night with tragic consequences.  Banished in disgrace  from the fairy world, Lil finds herself living amongst the humans in New York City, old and lonely and longing to return to her world.   One day in the book store she sees a book  with photos of the Cottingley fairies  and becomes convinced that the familiar fairy faces she sees in the photos are a sign that if she can just complete the assignment that she botched hundreds of years before, she can return to her world.  One day beautiful, quirky Veronica walks into the bookstore and soon Lil is on a mission to match her with the “prince” who owns the bookstore and send them to a  charity ball at the Pierre Hotel. 

Turgeon gives us a darker take on the familiar Cinderella fairy tale with some unexpected surprises.  Moving back and forth in time between the Cinderella story and the modern day story, we grow to love Lil and feel her sadness, loneliness and isolation.  We root for her to successfully accomplish her mission and find redemption and a way back to her world.  The story ends with a twist that may leave you feeling a bit disappointed, or maybe even a little bit cheated if you expected the typical “happily ever after” ending, but overall I found the whole story quite enchanting.

 

My Rating: 

 

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

*****SPOILER ALERT:  If you have not yet read The Hunger Games this review contains spoilers of that book.*****

  This is the second book in a  planned trilogy by Suzanne Collins centered on The Hunger Games.  The Games have ended and Katniss and Peeta have returned to District 12 as heroes, being the first tributes to ever defy the Capitol and figure out a way for more than one participant to survive the Games.  As they travel around the country to promote their victory, it becomes evident that they have sparked dissent amongst the downtrodden citizens of the 12 Districts of Panem.  Through their defiance, they have inspired others to stand up against the repression and cruelty of  the Capitol.  As the unrest spreads, Katniss and Peeta become unwitting symbols of the rebellion and the Capitol must scramble to come up with an even more twisted way to keep the districts under their control and quell the uprisings that threaten to erupt.

This being the “middle child” in the trilogy you might not expect much.  But though this installment starts out a bit slowly, it gathers steam and becomes almost as gripping as the first installment even though we know much more about what to expect this time around.  The love triangle centered around Katniss, Peeta and Gale is a bit disappointing since Gale is such a peripheral character this time, but most likely it will all play out in the third and final book which will follow our characters into the mysterious District 13 and the inferno of rebellion that is “Catching Fire” in this segment.

Can’t wait for the third book and also the movie which is due out in 2011.  Word is that Suzanne Collins is writing the screenplay and if you read The Hunger Games it no doubt crossed your mind what a fantastic movie it would make. 

My Rating: 

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Dorrit Weger has reached her 50th birthday and is about to embark on a new life.  She’s moving to a place where she’ll have her own apartment in a beautiful community with every recreational opportunity you could imagine, beautiful gardens, great restaurants and trendy boutiques all at her fingertips.  The best part is that none of it will cost her a dime.  It’s all being taken care of by the government.  There’s just one catch.  There are surveillance cameras everywhere, even in the bathroom, and once you become a resident of  “the unit” you never leave.  Your world is literally under a huge glass dome where even the dew on the grass is artificial and the seasons never change.

“The unit” is the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material.  Women who reach the age of 50, or men who reach the age of 60, and are single and childless with jobs in areas that don’t support economic growth become classified as quite literally “dispensable” and are sent to the unit.  Once there, they participate in various scientific experiments and become walking organ donors, providing a kidney, cornea, or whatever else is required to keep the “needed” citizens healthy.  Most last 4 or 5 years before making their “final donation”. 

The creepy thing (well one of the creepy things) about the unit is the way people, even dispensable people, accept it as a normal part of society.  In fact, the unit was established after a referendum was voted on and passed by the citizens.  Everything is done in such a humane and downright cheerful manner.   Dorrit arrives feeling slightly nervous, but the lavish welcome party thrown by the staff soon has her making new friends, dancing and feeling a part of the community.  It’s not long before Dorrit finds something that eluded her in the outside world — love.  As the experiments and organ donations continue,  obedience and compliance  turn to helpless horror at the inevitable ending.

Holmqvist draws you in from the first page and keeps you moving  forward with short chapters that make it impossible not to want to read just one more (or two or three)  before you put it down.  Creepy good read.

My Rating:

The Gentling Box by Lisa Mannetti

The Gentling BoxOh my Wild Things, come close, come close; the Dragon has a treasure for you.  I remember now what it is to be afraid . . .

It is the mid-nineteenth century, but the Age of Enlightenment has bypassed Hungary and Romania’s itinerant gypsy population.  Imre is a half-gypsy horse trader who lives with his wife and daughter in Hungary, but their happy existence is shattered when they receive word that his wife’s mother, the sorceress Anyeta, is dying.  Mimi insists they go to Romania to ease her mother’s final days and against his better judgment, Imre agrees to make the journey with his wife and young daughter, Lenore.

By the time they arrive, Anyeta’s body is dead, but the old sorceress’ spirit has taken possession of another woman’s body.  Anyeta contrives to seduce Imre from his family so she can destroy him.  Anyeta has plans for Imre and Mimi’s beloved daughter, Lenore.  Imre can stop the sorceress, but first he must overcome his own terror of using the gentling box.

Imre’s haunting tale grabs the reader by the eyeballs from page one and does not let go. In spite of his best efforts, Imre watches everything he loves slip away, and his struggle with his conscience is heartbreaking. Mannetti weaves Imre’s story with skill and her dark prose evokes the wild loneliness of the Romanian wilderness where Imre’s small family struggles against Anyeta’s evil.

I was delighted by the accuracy of Mannetti’s research both into Romany culture and the time period.  Mannetti recently won the Bram Stoker Award for first novel with The Gentling Box, and it is an honor that is richly deserved.

I warn you now: let no one disturb you when you read this novel, because you will not want to stop until you have devoured the last word.  I could not put The Gentling Box down and neither shall you.

Tshailo sim.”

I am replete . . . (hehe)

My rating: