Tag Archives: England

Into the Dim: A Review

Into the Dim by Janet B. TaylorHope Walton is certain that her mother isn’t really dead. But no one else saw the flash of news coverage and no one can find any evidence to corroborate what Hope knows to be true thanks to her eidetic memory.

Expectations for a summer visiting her aunt in Scotland are low (even without the smack of rejection knowing her father will be on a cruise with his new girlfriend). Between her crippling claustrophobia and headaches brought on when her photographic memory gets away from her, even time at home–alone–can be overwhelming.

Soon after arriving in Scotland, Hope learns that her aunt and mother belong to a secret society of time travelers dedicated to preserving the timeline–a mission that has left Hope’s mother trapped in twelfth-century England.

Hope might be the only one who can save her mother. But she’ll have to learn how to conquer her own fears first in Into the Dim (2016) by Janet B. Taylor.

Into the Dim is Taylor’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

Written in the first person, Into the Dim is narrated by sixteen-year-old Hope. Hope is incredibly book smart thanks to her memory but she is also naive and reads as much younger than her sixteen years would suggest. Taylor also chooses to write characters’ speech in dialect to convey accents which often feels stilted if not clumsy to follow.

The novel’s plot is based on some problematic elements. The role of her father is especially troubling. Readers learn early on that Hope was adopted by her mother who married when Hope was five. Her mother and father are the only parent’s Hope has ever known and she considers both her parents without qualification and, as far as the story suggests, Hope’s father feels the same way about her. Despite that Hope’s father allows his own mother to treat Hope as an outsider and inferior to the “real” members of the family. (This is behavior that leaves Hope’s mother seething but seems to get a pass from her father.) Aside from being a damaging trope to perpetuate it feels like a heavy-handed attempt to build in sympathy for Hope and better explain her decision to go along with a visit to Scotland at all.

Other problematic familial aspects of Into the Dim include the fact that Hope’s father has a new girlfriend a mere eight months after his wife’s sudden death and chooses to go on a cruise with her while leaving Hope to fend for herself with an aunt she has never met in a foreign country. Furthermore the idea that Hope’s aunt has never bothered to speak to her–ever–despite speaking to Hope’s mother weekly seems highly unlikely.

Hope’s photographic memory and phobias often feel contrived. That isn’t to say that her fears are invalid or badly portrayed. Rather they feel like elements added into the story solely to move the plot in a very specific direction. The addition of extreme headaches brought on by Hope’s eidetic memory seems superfluous and lacks any basis (as far as my research shows) in reality.

Into the Dim veers more to the light end of the speculative fiction spectrum. Explanations for the mechanics of time travel are thin when they are presented at all. The novel is also poorly paced with obvious twists (time travel!) that are hinted at in the plot summary not appearing until well into the story. For a novel that travels to a variety of locations and time periods, Into the Dim often lacks a strong sense of place feeling as it if could be set anywhere without much change to the action. The historical parts of the novel are well-researched but come too late to enhance the text.

Into the Dim begins with a promising premise that hints at action, time travel, and even some romance. Unfortunately in a year rich with titles that explore similar themes, this one often falls short by comparison.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Winterspell by Claire LeGrand, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

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Boys Don’t Knit: A Review

Boys Don't Knit by T. S. EastonBen Fletcher knows his friends are good for nothing but trouble. After an unfortunate incident involving a crossing guard and a bottle of Martini & Rossi, Ben is especially sure that he needs new people–particularly when the judge decides to make an example of Ben.

As part of his probation Ben has to Make Things Right with said crossing guard. No easy feat when she seems determined to kill him with household objects hurtled from windows. Worse. He has to take a class to improve himself. Desperate to avoid his father’s mechanic class, Ben decides to try knitting where he can at least ogle the hot teacher. Except, of course, she isn’t actually the teacher.

No one is more surprised than Ben when he starts to show an actual talent for knitting. Even more shocking is the realization that knitting helps keep Ben calm and eases his (many) anxieties. Except, of course, for the ones related to panicking about his friends and family finding out that Ben Fletcher–accidental criminal and intentional liar–is a knitting prodigy in Boys Don’t Knit (2015) by T. S. Easton.

Boys Don’t Knit was originally published in the United Kingdom where it also has a sequel (An English Boy in New York) which will hopefully make its way across the pond soon.

Boys Don’t Knit is an unexpected, funny novel. Written as Ben’s probation-mandated diary, the novel chronicles Ben’s brief flirtation with shoplifting (and the unfortunate crossing guard incident) before moving into his knitting misadventures.

The humor here is decidedly English and as charmingly quirky as you’d expect. Ben is neurotic, precocious, and looking for ways to make sense of his increasingly confusing teen years. Something he finds, unlikely as it may be, in knitting.

Boys Don’t Knit is often sensationalized and exaggerated with big moments for humor tempered by Ben’s introspection about his family or his friends (a friend writing a rip-off of Fifty Shades of Grey with the original name of Fifty Shades of Graham adds another layer of absurdity and a lot more fun). A hint of romance between Ben and his long-time crush also helps to move the plot along.

Easton keeps the narrative very focused on the world through the lens of a teenage boy while also populating this story with strong women including Ben’s crush and several authority figures including his mother and teachers.* Ben is honest and authentic throughout the story both with his knitting and the rest of his life. Boys Don’t Knit is a perfect read for anyone looking for a bubbly bit of cheer and some good fun.

Possible Pairings: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

*SPOILERS: There’s some coarse language in here, as can be expected from teenagers. It didn’t bother me and it works in the story but since this book is otherwise middle grade appropriate it seemed worth mentioning. There is also a scene where Ben and his friends spend their afternoon ogling a woman with a broken leg struggling to put groceries in her car (causing her skirt to ride up repeatedly). Ben points out how their behavior is problematic and a bit gross in the narrative itself but again it does move the target age a bit higher for the story.

These Vicious Masks: A Review

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly ZekasEngland, 1882. Evelyn would rather do anything than spend another night at another interminable party with the same vapid women and the same eligible bachelors that her mother considers ideal candidates for marriage. Evelyn has no desire to be married off so quickly and disappear behind the veiled curtain of domesticity.

Little surprise, then, that Evelyn immediately secures passage to London when her younger sister Rose disappears under mysterious circumstances.

Accompanied on her search by the dashing Mr. Kent and the brooding Sebastian Braddock (who claims Evelyn and her sister have healing powers), Evelyn is thrown in a world of secrets populated by extraordinary people. Evelyn isn’t sure what to believe or who to trust. The only thing Evelyn knows for certain is that she has to find Rose before it’s too late in These Vicious Masks (2016) by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas.

These Vicious Masks is the first novel from Shanker and Zekas. It is also the start of a series.

These Vicious Masks starts with a fun premise. Victorian England. Romance. Superpowers. Action. This book literally has it all complete with a heroine with decidedly modern sensibilities (something that was, personally, less satisfying to read than a character operating within the social mores and expectations of her era).

Evelyn’s narration is filled with snark and humor as she bemoans her status an a young (bored) debutante before her sister’s disappearance. The story is filled with evocative descriptions but thinner on historical detail with the time period serving more as set dressing for the novel than an integral part of the plot.

Readers will follow Evelyn’s search for Rose with as much interest as they will her romantic prospects with the appropriately contrasting suitors of Mr. Kent and Mr. Braddock in a love triangle that is filled with intrigue and tension.

These Vicious Masks is a fast-paced and super fun read. Ideal for fans of light historical fiction and superhero adventure. An open-ended conclusion and shocks in the denouement promise an exciting next installment.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

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

Unmade: A Review

*Unmade is the third book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy which begins with Unspoken and continues in Untold. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

Unmade by Sarah Rees BrennanThe boy Kami loves is gone. She is tied to a different boy. Her town is under siege. And her enemies are only getting stronger.

Kami tries to push her grief for Jared aside because she refuses to imagine a world where Jared might not be okay. But even with a new link between herself and Ash, Kami isn’t sure she will be strong enough to fight Rob Lynburn and save Sorry-in-the-Vale.

Rob is demanding a sacrifice. And Kami isn’t sure her town is strong enough to resist. Kami will have to risk everything in order to save her town and the people she loves in Unmade (2014) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Unmade is the third book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy which begins with Unspoken and continues in Untold. Rees Brennan pulls no punches in this action-packed final book.

The novel picks up a few months after the conclusion of Untold with Kami and her friends still reeling from Jared’s disappearance and Rob’s crushing victory in taking control of Sorry-in-the-Vale.

With time running out and the stakes climbing ever higher, Kami and her friends face impossible choices (and sacrifice in their efforts to save their town). These moments are tempered with Rees Brennan’s signature wit and the banter readers of this series have come to expect. Unmade also happily features Kami’s father, the delightfully irreverent Jon Glass, and Lillian Lynburn in more prominent roles.

Although Unmade is very action-driven, the story also spends time with all of the characters readers have come to love in this series. Readers coming to this series for the romance will not be disappointed as Kami gets to deal with kissing and break ups while fighting evil and performing magic. Watching Lillian’s changing feelings about Ash and Jared is especially touching while Kami’s own changing family dynamic is suitably realistic.

Unmade is a clever ending to a truly unique trilogy. Rees Brennan takes time to give each character the sendoff that they deserve. This series is highly recommended for readers looking for a modern take on the Gothic novel, witty banter, and loads of excitement.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Veronica Mars

Untold: A Review

*Untold is the second book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy which begins with Unspoken. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

“Let’s not front. We all know magic is real.”

Untold by Sarah Rees BrennanKami Glass thought she knew everything there was to know about her small English town Sorry-in-the-Vale; she was certain she had her town’s story figured out.

Then the Lynburns came back, bringing magic with them as well as Jared Lynburn–the boy Kami has known for her entire life as a voice inside her head.

Now everything is changing in Sorry-in-the-Vale. Even the boy Kami thought she knew better than anyone. With their link broken, Jared feels farther away than ever and Kami isn’t sure how they can ever bridge the new and foreign distance between them.

Rob Lynburn is gathering his sorcerers and preparing to make Sorry-in-the-Vale a battleground as he tries to bring the old ways ways back to town when sorcerers ruled and everyone else cowered.

Kami has never been much for cowering.

Everyone tells Kami that without magic she is helpless and of no use when sorcerers choose to fight. Kami refuses to believe that. Trouble is coming to Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami intends to do her part in the thick of it in Untold (2013) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Untold is the second book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy which begins with Unspoken.

Untold picks up shortly after the shocking conclusion of Unspoken. Kami and Jared are barely speaking. Sorcerers are choosing sides. Life in Sorry-in-the-Vale has never been messier. Or more dangerous.

Rees Brennan once again delivers a refreshing blend of witty humor and chilling moments in this decidedly modern take on Gothic mysteries. Untold expands the world of Sorry-in-the-Vale as Kami uses her journalist know-how to research more about the town’s history and the role of the Lynburns therein.

Kami’s ensemble of friends (and potential love interests) returns in this installment. Everyone is as dimensional and well-written as they were in book one. Third person narration and shifting viewpoints also help to give secondary characters larger storylines and more opportunities for witty banter.

Untold is very much building to the conclusion of this series in Unmade and has quite cliffhanger ending as a result. At the same time, Untold also has a contained and generally complete arc for the characters. This books offers a thoughtful exploration of what it means to be dependent on a person versus what it means to have a person on whom you can depend. Rees Brennan artfully explores character relationships, particularly between Kami and Jared, as our intrepid heroes are forced to test their mettle both together and apart throughout the novel.

Untold is a story all about choosing who you want at your side and holding on tight. Another excellent installment in a favorite series. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Veronica Mars

A Curse As Dark as Gold: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. BunceWhen their father dies suddenly, Charlotte Miller and her younger sister Rose are left in charge of the family mill. With it comes the large responsibility of seeing to the mill’s numerous employees as well.

The Millers are not known for their good fortune. Some even claim that the family has been cursed though Charlotte is loathe to put any stock in such silly superstitions. Still, the mill’s usual problems seem to multiply dangerously after Charlotte takes charge. Mending broken equipment and painting faded walls can only go so far, however, when Charlotte learns that her father also left behind a shocking debt.

Desperate to save the mill and protect those who work there, Charlotte enters into a dangerous bargain with a man known merely as Jack Spinner. But every bargain comes with a price. As the stakes grow higher, Charlotte begins to realize that saving her mill may jeopardize everyone she holds dear in A Curse as Dark as Gold (2008) by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a loose retelling of the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. It is Bunce’s first novel and winner of the 2009 William C. Morris Debut Award.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a lush and well-researched historical novel with just a hint of fantasy to better accommodate the fairytale retelling aspect. Bunce’s prose is immediately evocative and brings Charlotte’s village and the mill to life.

Fairy tales in general, but especially Rumpelstiltskin, are often very black and white, making it easy to tell exactly who the villain is. A Curse as Dark as Gold complicates things with rich, thoughtful characters who raise interesting questions throughout the narrative. While there are some decidedly bad choices and terrible acts, no one is ever completely bad anymore than they are entirely good.

Despite the vibrant settings and compelling characters, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a slow read. While the pacing allows readers to really know Charlotte and her world, the novel doesn’t get to the actual plot (not to mention the retelling aspect) until the second half of the novel.

It is also impossible to ignore the fact that a significant number of problems for the characters could have been avoided with good communication. At several points throughout the novel, if Charlotte had chosen to talk to anyone about even half of what she had done or suspected, the entire plot could have easily been resolved. Instead Charlotte clings stubbornly to her pride and a foolish belief that, as head of the mill, she is meant to deal with all of the Miller’s problems entirely on her own.

Plot aside, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a beautifully written and very solid historical novel, making it easy to understand why it garnered the Morris win in 2009. Despite its interesting take on Rumpelstiltskin and a charmingly romantic plot thread, this novel remains a slow and often dense read. Recommended for readers who enjoy strong writing and well-rounded characters. A Curse as Dark as Gold will hold particular appeal for readers who can ignore weak plot points in favor of dazzling prose.

Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Beauty by Robin McKinley, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer