The Mystery of Hollow Places: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca PodosThe only details seventeen-year-old Imogene Scott has about her mother are ones gleaned from the bedtime story her father told every night.

Before he became a best-selling novelist, Joshua Zhi Scott was a forensic pathologist who met Imogene’s mother when she came to identify a body. He would then tell Imogene that her mother was always lonely. He’d even say that she was troubled waters. They would never talk about why her mother left, especially not since her father remarried and Lindy is now part of their family.

When Imogene’s father disappears in the middle of the night, Imogene thinks he might want her to follow the clues he left behind; he might want Imogene to find him and maybe find her mother as well.

With unlikely help from her best friend and all of the skills learned from reading her father’s mysteries, Imogene hopes to find her father and unravel the secrets surrounding her own past. But, as Imogene knows too well, things aren’t always perfect at the end of a mystery in The Mystery of Hollow Places (2016) by Rebecca Podos.

The Mystery of Hollow Places is Podos’ first novel.

Podos delivers an eerie mystery in this surprising tale. The Mystery of Hollow Places is also a solid homage to mysteries and Gothic novels alike as interpreted by a heroine whose favorite novel is Rebecca.

Imogene’s first-person narration is pragmatic and often insightful as she makes sense of her mother’s absence and her father’s struggle with bipolar disorder. Unlike many teen detective stories, this book also remains decidedly in the realm of possibility as Imogene works with what she has and within the limitations inherent to a teenager trying to investigate some very adult problems.

Although the plot focuses on the mystery of finding her father, Imogene’s story is just as much about acceptance and the strength found in friendships and choosing who to call family. Elements of magic realism and a stark Massachusetts backdrop add atmosphere to this sometimes choppy mystery with a diverse cast of characters.

The Mystery of Hollow Places is a strong debut and an unexpected mystery. Recommended for fans of traditional mysteries, suspenseful stories filled with twists, as well as readers looking for an atmospheric novel to keep them company on a cold winter night (or to evoke one anyway!).

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol and David Ostow, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

In Which I Win a Blog Award of Sorts

Yesterday I heard that my blog won an award from the Best of the Book Blogosphere Awards (organized by M & M Mariam).

I am the 2015 winner of the Homer Award for longest running book blog.

Here’s my pretty, pretty award button:

the homer award book blogAnd here’s a link to check out all of the winners:

https://bookblogawards.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/award-winners-2015/

Challenger Deep: A Rapid Fire Review

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (2015)

Challenger Deep by Neal ShustermanIn a year when we have books like All These Bright Places with deeply damaging portrayals of mental illness, the literary world needed this honest portrayal of one boy’s struggle with schizophrenia. (Although it has to be said that the inclusion of illustrations from Shusterman’s own son felt a bit indulgent.)

Sadly, because I have a heart of stone, this book left me deeply unaffected. It’s one of those where I can tell it’s Important but I also can’t bring myself to Care on a personal level as a reader. I think Challenger Deep is a great book to recommend to readers; the way in which Shusterman weaves everything together clearly demonstrates his talents as an author. This book definitely and completely deserves the praise its been getting solely for what its done to get more people talking about mental health and mental illness.

The one flaw here is having Caden’s medications leave him numb. I don’t know where to begin with the fact that in his author’s note Shusterman says he experienced that effect himself when he accidentally took two pills. That’s not how treatment with medication works. At all. Why would his reaction to the pills be at all indicative of how someone who actually needs the pills would react to them? No. Just no.

Challenger Deep won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. That says a lot about the level of skill in Shusterman’s writing while handling a difficult topic and wrestling with some complicated material. The way in which this story weaves together Caden’s reality with his hallucinations–seamlessly moving between moments of madness and clarity, as it were–is fascinating and intricate and handled very, very well. An interesting and important addition to the ongoing conversation about mental illness.

Week in Review: January 24

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

So this week was my birthday week. It was pretty nice. I went to the Met with Nicole to see their Middle Kingdom Egypt exhibit and a staged photography exhibit. We also got crepes from By Suzette which I have been trying to do for weeks!

I finished up a quiet vacation hanging out with my mom which was a lot of fun. I got a ton of ARC and gifts (hiiiii birthday) and am now getting back to work. Now that I am not on a committee I have also been knocking out a lot of outstanding books I had to read and I am feeling pretty good about things.

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my January Reading Tracker.

How was your week?

Batman’s Dark Secret: A Picture Book Review

Batman's Dark Secret by Kelley Pucket and Jon J. MuthThe story starts with young Bruce Wayne out with his parents after watching a movie. Bruce, brave and inspired by the movie’s hero, walks with his parents down a terribly dark alley. In the darkness, Bruce hears two bangs and sees flashes of light before he smells smoke. When Bruce walks out of the alley, he does so alone. His parents are gone.

When Bruce returns to the Wayne mansion, he is terrified of the dark. With Alfred’s help he sets about lighting up the entire house to keep the shadows at bay. The lights work until Bruce falls through a hole into a pitch-black cave filled with bats. When Bruce is forced in this very physical way to face his fears, he learns to take control of the dark and vows that he will never be afraid again.

Then, as most readers will have guessed, this book closes with young Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman in Batman’s Dark Secret (2015) by Kelley Puckett, illustrated by Jon J. Muth.

Batman’s Dark Secret was originally published in 2000 as an easy reader. Scholastic is now reissuing the story as a picture book in advance of the newest Batman movie.

Batman’s Dark Secret is largely what you would expect from a version of Batman’s origin story meant for the hero’s youngest fans. Much of what makes Batman who he is ends up being sanitized to make the story palatable for small children. Gotham’s pervasive corruption is completely absent while the murder of Bruce’s parents is completely glossed over without their deaths ever being explicitly explained in the text.

Puckett’s text is child friendly and presented in smaller chunks on each page. Some of the pages read as a bit clunky largely because the source material is so out of sync with the age level of the text.

Muth’s illustrations work surprisingly well with this comic book hero. Striking watercolor illustrations make excellent use of light and dark to lend an appropriately noir feel to many spreads. The artwork also uses darkness to good effect conveying Bruce’s initial fear and how he ultimately comes to embrace the dark.

Obviously Batman’s Dark Secret has a rather niche audience. Truncated as it may be, this picture book is a good introduction to Batman for very young readers. Older readers, however, will likely prefer to get their Dark Knight fix in comics instead. A fun interpretation for committed fans and possibly an interesting picture book about overcoming fears /being afraid of the dark.

The Carbon Diaries 2015: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci LloydIn 2015 the UK becomes the pilot country for a program to ration carbon in an attempt to stave of the catastrophic climate change that has already lead to super storms and other natural disasters.

Laura Brown uses her diary to make sense of the chaos and keep herself sane in this strange new landscape with minimal heat, carbon ration cards, blackouts and worse.

With everything changes so quickly, will Laura and her family make it through their first year of rationing? Will the coutnry? Only time will tell in The Carbon Diaries 2015 (2008) by Saci Lloyd.

The Carbon Diaries 2015 is Lloyd’s first book about Laura Brown’s experiences with carbon rationing. The story continues in The Carbon Diaries 2017.

Originally published in 2008, The Carbon Diaries 2015 has only become more timely and plausible in 2015. That said, there is something very on the nose in reading a “futuristic” book during the year in which it is set (or after).

Because The Carbon Diaries 2015 is written as Laura’s diary it is sometimes hard to get a sense of her character. Generally, Laura reads very young although that works in the book’s favor as it has fairly broad age appeal.

Lloyd does an excellent job of bringing Laura’s eerie world to life with all of the madness and troubles that come with carbon rationing. It is this evocative prose that save the novel from being relegated to nothing more than a message-driven allegory for readers used to living in a world of chronic over-consumption.

Although The Carbon Diaries 2015 is a slight read beyond the obvious ecological messages, it’s still an entertaining read. Recommended readers looking for something new after reading all the bigger name post-apocalyptic novels.

Possible Pairings: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow,  The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, Empty by Suzanne Weyn

Never Never: A Review

Never Never by Brianna R. ShrumJames Hook is a boy who is desperate to grow up.

It is only in his sleep, and the brief moments when he forgets himself, that James indulges his childish dreams of captaining the fierce pirate ship The Spanish Main.The rest of the time, James eagerly looks forward to the day he will be a man and all of the new responsibilities it will involve.

When he meets a strange boy named Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, James wonders if perhaps he should spend more time as a child. So strong is Peter’s pull that James agrees to go with Peter to Neverland–at least until the end of his holiday when he will return to London and his future at Eton.

Neverland is not what James imagined, filled with all manner of strange and horrible things from the dreams of other Lost Boys. Worse, Peter refuses to bring James home.

Disillusioned and alone, James Hook soon grows up. He knows who he might have been in London, but when that path is lost to him, he chooses to make himself into the feared pirate captain of his dreams–the pirate who might be able to exact revenge against the Pan in Never Never (2015) by Brianna Shrum.

Never Never is Shrum’s first novel. It is also a standalone retelling of Peter Pan that begins with Hook’s arrival in Neverland as a Lost Boy.

The thing to remember about Peter Pan, in any form, is that the story is incredibly problematic when viewed through a modern lens. Peter is as vicious as he is careless. Tiger Lily and her tribe make no sense in the context of Neverland being used to meet the whims of both Peter and Barrie. The Indians in Neverland are also portrayed badly with tired and often inaccurate stereotypes about Indians. The issues surrounding Wendy are numerous as well although less relevant in the context of this novel.

The most interesting part of Never Never is, unsurprisingly, Hook himself. The interplay between who Hook is for most of the story (a good young man dealt a very bad hand) and who he chooses to present to Neverland (a villainous pirate) is an interesting one. This duality also leads to some thoughtful meditations on what it means when childhood fantasies are too gruesome–or too grim–to survive into adulthood. The idea of Hook getting older in Neverland without any of the inherent growth and development is also an interesting one. Although James Hook becomes a man called Captain Hook by the end of the novel, he is still very much an angry boy looking for his own version of justice.

Never Never is very character driven with most of the novel being very introspective as James makes sense of various catastrophes and slights. This focus works well set against the dreamlike and often sinister Neverland that Shrum has created. It also makes the pacing of the novel quite slow.

Tiger Lily is always a troublesome part of Peter Pan. That is especially true in Never Never where she is the girl who has James Hook’s heart despite belonging to Peter Pan. The awkward love triangle is made worse by the fact that Tiger Lily remains little more than an exotic temptress. She is further diminished by her complete lack of agency throughout the novel as she is constantly reacting to either James or Peter. (Even Tiger Lily’s choice to grow up is predicated on making herself closer to James’ age.)

While Never Never is a promising debut, it fails to add anything new to the world of Peter Pan instead sticking very close to the source material despite being written from Hook’s perspective. Being a story about a villain, it’s easy to guess how Never Never will end. Given the amount of time readers spend with Captain James Hook it is also easy to guess that this ending will be largely unsatisfying for many readers.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Wendy Darling: Stars by Colleen Oakes, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Vicious by V. E. Schwab