Darker Still: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Darker Still by Leanna Renee HieberOddities have always clung to Natalie Stewart. Some are tame like the art objects her father collects for the new Metropolitan Museum. Some are stranger like the Whisper that sometimes tugs at the edge of her hearing.

Some are so terrifying that they took Natalie’s voice, leaving her Mute from a young age.

Then there are the things that defy all description like the portrait of Lord Denbury–a painting that seems to call to her, changing as if Lord Denbury himself were beckoning Natalie.

Stranger still, when Natalie answers the call of the portrait she finds much more than a painting. Soon she is drawn into the uneasy world of magic and possession where paintings can act as traps and a body can be stolen with the right words.

In this dangerous word Natalie may love and even her voice. But other, darker things, may find her as well in Darker Still (2011) by Leanna Renee Hieber.

Darker Still is the first in Hieber’s Darker Still trilogy, followed by The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and The Double Life of Incorporate Things which is currently being presented in serialized form on Hieber’s blog (and will culminate with the publication of the complete novel).

For obvious reasons, Darker Still is an epistolary novel–written as Natalie’s diary. The format makes sense and provides opportunities for interesting passages of time and an interplay between “present” moments and Natalie’s narrative asides. However during high action sequences the journal entry form does stretch the limits of believability as Natalie rushes to jot down key scenes.

Hieber’s writing is delightful with Natalie’s breezy, sometimes even impertinent, tone. Natalie is refreshingly brash and independent as she does a lot of the wrong things throughout the plot (for all of the right reasons). Being Mute, Natalie’s narration also offers a unique perspective on life in general and specifically 1880 New York.

While Natalie shines as a heroine, the format and pacing of Darker Still did not leave much room to build up the setting as a backdrop for the story. The journal also created limitations in pacing as Natalie “rushes” to write everything down.

While Denbury is an admirable male lead in terms of looks and personality, his immediate connection with Natalie felt almost too immediate. It works because the entire novel is a bit of a whirlwind but if you think too much about their connection it starts to fall apart.

Darker Still is a fun, generally satisfying, riff on themes found in many a gothic classic with obvious nods to The Picture of Dorian Gray. A great read for anyone eager to try reading historical fantasy, gothic tales of suspense and even steampunk.

Possible Pairings: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney

Unspoken: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Unspoken by Sarah Rees BrennanAccording to Kami Glass, every town in England has a story. Her town, Sorry-in-the-Vale, is no exception. The only problem is no one in town seems willing to tell that story to a daring girl reporter no matter how charming she is while asking pointed interview questions. Kami knows her town’s past is tied inextricably to the Lynburns, the town’s founders, even if their manor house has been empty for as long as Kami can remember.

If every town has a story, so does every resident. Kami’s own story has caused her a fair bit of trouble over the years and not a few friends. That’s what happens when your best friend seems to be an imaginary boy you talk to in your head. Luckily, Kami can handle the odd looks from neighbors and worried comments from her parents. Kami is nothing if not intrepid and she is more than prepared to keep everything under control.

All of that changes when the Lynburns come back to Sorry-in-the-Vale. Their return brings many questions, as well as something more sinister, forcing Kami to question everything she thought she knew about her town, her friends, and even herself in Unspoken (2012) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Find it on Bookshop.

Unspoken is the first book in The Lynburn Legacy (which will be a trilogy).

No one writes families and friends quite like Sarah Rees Brennan. Unspoken is no exception. As Kami struggles to crack the secrets of Sorry-in-the-Vale’s past she assembles an unlikely band of misfits to help her investigation. Like Kami herself these characters are well-rounded and, above all, memorable. Along with the Glass family, they create an entertaining ensemble that adds much to the narrative.

Rees Brennan brings Kami’s world to life with her signature wit and charm. (If you have read the author’s blog or tweets you may agree that this book truly channels her voice in the writing.) Kami is an determined and capable heroine who is ready and willing to fight her own battles even as she is surrounded by friends and family who fiercely want to help in any way they can.

Patently eerie, Unspoken gives a nod to its gothic novel roots as the plot moves forward. Although a lot happens in the final hundred pages of Unspoken, the unusual pacing is balanced out with humor, banter, strong characters and many moments of page-turning suspense. Highly recommended for anyone who likes their mysteries with equal doses of plucky girl reporters, chills, adventure, and cute boys in distress.

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, A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, 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

Exclusive Bonus Content: I love, love, love the cover by the way. Jacket illustrator Beth White created absolutely beautiful artwork for Unspoken that also is very in keeping with the book. If you’re as excited about this book as I am, be sure to head over to Sarah Rees Brennan’s website to learn more about the characters and the world of Unspoken.

But wait! There’s more! Sarah Rees Brennan also wrote two short stories to accompany Unspoken.

You can read about (and download a pdf copy of) the first story, The Summer Before I Met You from Sarah’s blog here: http://sarahreesbrennan.com/2012/09/the-summer-before-i-met-you/ (The story is being hosted by Oblong Books–an indie store. Isn’t that awesome of them?)

Wuthering Heights: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

When Mr. Earnshaw, a man of means, brings a dark, ill-mannered foundling into his home he has no idea that his one good deed will alter the course of his family forever.

Taken into the Earnshaw home only to be cast out abruptly, Heathcliff is intent to avenge himself on those who have done him wrong through any means possible. Even his oldest friend and companion Catherine is not beyond reproach.

Lockwood knows nothing of the scandal and unrest that surrounds Wuthering Heights when he leases Thrushcross Grange from Heathcliff for a season. Scandalized by the residents of Wuthering Heights and shocked by the blatant disregard for common courtesy and propriety, he soon endeavors to unearth the whole story from his housekeeper, Nelly Dean.

The story Nelly reveals is one of unresolved passion, haunting obsession, and a connection that even death cannot deny in Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Brontë.

Wuthering Heights is Brontë’s only novel.

Groundbreaking for its time, Wuthering Heights is a divisive novel that is more often regarded with love or hate rather than indifference.

Some claim Brontë’s gothic novel is a sweeping romance that spans not just years but death itself. Written in the first person with a framing story around the main drama of Catherine and Heathcliff’s doomed relationship, Brontë creates an evocative story filled with Yorkshire dialect and harsh lanscapes.

At the same time, this book is a study in human cruelty. Catherine and Heathcliff are horrible people and, even while proving their love for one another, they do unspeakable things.

If you can get past the basic meanness of almost all of the characters, Wuthering Heights is an atmospheric story filled with chills and menace sure to linger after the last page is finished.

Possible Pairings: Frost by Marianna Baer, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen, The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle, Swoon by Nina Malkin, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Between by Jessica Warman, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff