Blood Water Paint: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I paint the blood.”

cover art for Blood Water Paint by Joy McCulloughRome, 1610: Artemisia Gentileschi had limited options when her mother died at twelve. She could join a convent or she could work in her father’s studio grinding paint, preparing canvases, and modeling as needed.

She chose art.

Now, at seventeen, Artemisia is a key factor to the success of her father’s studio–not that anyone knows it since she can’t sign her name to her art. Instead Artemisia works in secret while her father takes the credit.

Artemisia dreams of improving her craft, stepping out of her father’s shadow, and painting heroic figures like Susanna and Judith the way they were meant to be seen–not as titillating figures colored by the male gaze.

When she is raped by a fellow artist who she thought she could trust and respect, Artemesia dares to tell the truth–and to demand justice–in spite of the horrendous cost in Blood Water Paint (2018) by Joy McCullough.

Blood Water Paint is McCullough’s debut novel. Artemisia narrates the story in sparse verse. Interspersed between these stories are prose sections in which Artemisia remembers the stories of Susanna and Judith as her mother told them to her as a child.

McCullough beautiful details Artemisia’s passion and commitment to her art. The begins in Artemesia’s teen years and continues through her rape by Agostino Tassi and the subsequent trial. Her rage and frustration against the artistic establishment and her limited options as a woman in Rome are palpable throughout the story–especially during the trial when she is subjected first to a gynecological exam and later torture with thumbscrews to “prove” the truth of her testimony. The novel ends as Artemisia begins again returning to her painting in the wake of the trial and its outcome.

McCullough makes excellent use of free verse to highlight Artemisia’s talents and internalize her anger and fear after the rape. This format also allows the novel to provide a thorough telling while sticking to the broad strokes of Artemesia’s triumphs rather than focusing in on her suffering.

Blood Water Paint is an excellent verse novel and carefully researched historical fiction. Recommended.

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Joy about Blood Water Paint too!

Possible Pairings: Da Vinci’s Tiger by L. M. Elliott, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

 

The Demon Catchers of Milan: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat BeyerBefore Milan, Mia Della Torre was the unexceptional sister compared to her smarter, prettier younger sister Gina. Before Milan Mia was the kind of girl who would check for monsters under her bed and make sure all of the doors and windows were locked each night.

Now, even if Mia is afraid she knows what to do. She knows who in a house is dead and who is something else. After Milan, she might still be scared but she also knows.

Mia’s grandfather left Milan, and his family, behind years ago when he settled in New York. Mia knows nothing of her distant relatives or their strange livelihood until she is possessed by a demon and saved by a cousin and great uncle she has never met. Even freed from the demon, Mia still may not be safe. Not when it can come back.

Suddenly Mia’s normal, unexceptional life is over. She is whisked away to Milan to live with the demon catching relatives her grandfather hated–the only people who might be able to keep Mia alive.

In a strange city Mia is cooped up indoors as she learns the strange language and stranger history surrounding Milan and her family. Demons, it seems, can be anywhere and her family always has to be ready. But with the threat of another possession looming, Mia isn’t sure if she wants to face her fate or hide from it.

Mia came to Milan for protection from the demon who wants her and to learn more about the family she never knew. Along the way, surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins, Mia will also find confidence, a new language and even a new place to call home in The Demon Catchers of Milan (2012) by Kat Beyer.

The Demon Catchers of Milan is Beyer’s first book. It is also the first in a projected trilogy.

Filled with interesting tidbits about Milanese culture and phrases of Italian, The Demon Catchers of Milan is part travelogue, part fantasy. After an action packed opening (complete with a possession and an exorcism!), Beyer slows things down as Mia comes to Milan and begins to acclimate to her new surroundings.

There is not a lot of action in the middle of the story, something that might turn off readers expecting non-stop excitement. There are thrilling moments and the threat of Mia’s demon returning is a constant throughout the story, but the bulk of the plot focuses more on Mia connecting with her family and making sense of her place both in Milan and among the demon catching Della Torres.

Beyer’s focus on family is refreshing. Mia is surrounded by people who love and value her. It’s nice to see that kind of affection and unconditional love in a novel. It was equally pleasing to find a fantasy where the plot stays firmly focused on the heroine (and her family) instead of a messy love triangle or a star-crossed love plot.

Perhaps it’s because my mother’s side of the family is Italian but I absolutely loved Mia and the rest of the Della Torres. The Demon Catchers of Milan is short (288 pages hardcover) but Beyer manages to fill those pages with countless well-realized and vivid characters to create a real ensemble cast.

Although the pacing, particularly near the end, became frantic The Demon Catchers of Milan  remains a solidly enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys fantasies with a strong heroine coming into her own. Best of all, this story is contained. There are hints of things to come in future installments but The Demon Catchers of Milan works very nicely on its own without leaving readers hanging until the trilogy is complete.

Possible Pairings: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Perry’s Killer Playlist: A Review

Perry's Killer Playlist by Joe SchreiberPerry survived his disastrous prom night with crazy-exchange-student-assassin Gobi. And he has to admit things are looking up.

His college essay about said disastrous prom night earned him a spot at Columbia. His band Inchworm is on a European tour and on the verge of an actual record deal. He has a majorly hot (older) girlfriend. And, best of all, with Gobi out of the picture no one has tried to shoot him for months.

Too bad it was all too good to last.

Gobi, the Lithuanian exchange student from hell, is back and this time she isn’t making any bones about the people that need to die; the people she needs to kill.

Once again sucked into Gobi’s whirlwind of death and destruction Perry will have a lot of tough decisions to make before his European trip is over–assuming he lives that long in Perry’s Killer Playlist (2012) by Joe Schreiber.

Perry’s Killer Playlist is the high-octane sequel to Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick. This one stands alone pretty well given the emphasis on murder and mayhem but the story will make more sense with the context of book one.

This novel is another improbable but entertaining rampage as Perry unwillingly accompanies Gobi on her deadly business. Perry is still a great narrator with just the right blend of terror and pluck. While a lot of the story will feel very familiar (arguing about murder doesn’t change much no matter what the book) Schreiber delves into some new territory addressing Perry’s unresolved feelings for Gobi and featuring his family in a larger part of the story.

With lots of excitement, a breakneck pace, and lots of short chapters this is a great pick for anyone looking for a fast but satisfying read.

If you want to recreate Perry’s killer playlist, the short chapters are labeled with different song lyrics.

The Wager: A (rapid fire) review

The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli (2010)

The Wager by Donna Jo NapoliThis book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

I liked The Wager enough to finish it but it wasn’t great. I didn’t hate it but I can’t put my finger on what made it a book I didn’t hate if that makes sense.

I wasn’t familiar with the story of Don Giovanni (an Italian folk tale) before reading this so it was interesting to find a new fairytale but it felt very clinical and I never really connected with any of the characters or events. The ending felt very abrupt and compressed and yet it felt like the book took too long to get to the wager which was the main event of the book.

I liked the Beauty and the Beast undertones in the story but it ultimately just didn’t grab me.

Some parts of the book also just really nagged me. It’s 1169 in Messina, Italy. Why does Don Giovanni keep wondering who he was kidding? Was anyone at the time speaking that way?

The meat of the story is about Don Giovanni making a wager with the devil that comes down to his not bathing for three years, three months, and three days to win an infinite amount of money (or lose his soul). He gets worms and lice. Sores sprout all over his body. But what about his nails? The more I think about it the more it drives me nuts that no mention was made in the wager itself as to whether or not Don Giovani could cut his nails. And if it wasn’t, no mention was made of how long his nails got over the three plus years.

Murder at Midnight: A Review

Murder at Midnight by AviTrouble is brewing in Pergamontio, Italy. The year is 1490 and a deadly plot to overthrow the king is unfolding. Papers demanding change have appeared all over the kingdom all magically the same. Magic is outlawed in Pergamontio, so surely Mangus the Magician must have something to do with this dangerous plot.

Except Mangus isn’t that kind of magician, at least he says so. Mangus’ new servant boy, Fabrizio, is certain his master really can do magic. But he’s also certain Mangus would never commit treason.

If Fabrizio can unravel the mystery and reveal the true traitor he might be able to clear his master’s name. And if Fabrizio can do that, maybe he can finally prove his worth to Mangus and earn the right to remain a part of the Magician’s household in Murder at Midnight (2009) by Avi.

Murder at Midnight is the prequel to Avi’s earlier novel Midnight Magic.

Avi is a widely known and beloved writer. He writes in just about every genre and, throughout his career, has earned a kind of legendary status as an author. He doesn’t disappoint in this book that blends a clever mystery with humor and witty language.

This book is filled with amusing characters and clever language that is straightforward yet subtle enough to appeal to reluctant and avid readers alike. That said, the dynamic of Fabrizio as a servant–often genuflecting and apologizing to his betters–felt a little over the top, not in a bad way but just in an odd way.

Fabrizio might not be the quickest hero at the beginning of the story, but what he lacks in reasoning he more than makes up for in loyalty and ingenuity. Murder at Midnight is a quick, fun read. The period and setting are a good backdrop to the story but won’t distract any readers put off by historical settings. At the same time, without getting into specifics, the time period also plays a very key role in the story.

Possible Pairings: The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen, We Are Not Eaten by Yaks by C. Alexander London, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Kitty Kitty: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Kitty Kitty by Michele JaffeJasmine Callihan is back and better than ever in Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe! And, boy am I excited about that. “Kitty Kitty” will be released in July 2008 by HarperTeen (part of HarperCollins coincidentally enough), so you’re seeing the review here first.

Kitty Kitty picks up a month or two after the ending of Bad Kitty (Jaffe’s madcap YA debut featuring Jasmine). This time around, Jasmine is in Venice, the most romantic city in the world, and in a beautiful hotel. The only problem is that Jasmine is there with her ogre-iffic father and her step-mother Sherri! In other words, Jasmine is really far away from her friends, her rock star boyfriend, AND the prestigious high school that would look great on her college applications.

Why you may ask? So Jasmine can be home-schooled (not from her actual home) while she takes intensive Italian lessons and her father writes his definitive book on the history of . . . soap. Jasmine is understandably put out by all of these abrupt life changes. But what really upsets her is the apparent suicide of her friend from Italian class–the mysterious and eccentric Arabella. Except Jasmine isn’t so sure that Arabella’s death really was a suicide.

Mayhem ensues as Jasmine begins to investigate Arabella’s life in order to understand what could have provoked her death. Atrocities include bangs on the head as well as an unfortunate encounter with a pair of white leather pants. Oh, and Jasmine turning to Mr. T as a new role model (although that last one might not be so bad depending on who you ask!).

Stylistically, Jaffe continues to use a variety of writing techniques to create a truly modern reading experience. Techniques that reappear in this volume include footnotes, email and instant messaging excerpts as well as pictures created with words. These devices help keep the novel interesting–there’s a lot of information presented in a lot of different ways. At the same time, it makes readers extra aware that they are reading. But that’s okay here because it encourages a close reading of the text in some cases–an important skill found in what can be called a light read.

Some parts of the novel seem contrived, such as Jasmine’s friends coming to her rescue, but with blow dart pens and tricked out cowboy boots this novel, like Bad Kitty before it, is more cartoon than true-to-life-drama anyway. (A style that Jaffe once again pulls off very well.) And who wouldn’t want to read more about Jasmine’s motley group of friends? Best friend/fashion genius Polly; lock picking, wise-cracking twins Tom and Roxy; and even Jas’ evil cousin Alyson and her evil sidekick Veronique reappear with just as many made up words and fashion faux pas as before. My only qualm about the novel is that the cat angle that was so crucial to Bad Kitty is also not as strong here since no cats feature as more than passing characters in the narrative.

Another odd addition is the presence of a mysterious sender of e-mails and an as yet undeveloped sub-plot involving Jasmine’s dead mother (this person and the fact that Jasmine’s mother died when she was six turn up more in this novel than the first, which didn’t mention mysterious e-mails at all). Aside from being a fine example of a writer spinning backstories into a series as she writes the series, this new plot thread suggests that Jasmine will return again soon.

Possible Pairings: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, Bloomability by Sharon Creech, My Invisible Boyfriend by Susie Day, Drawing a Blank by Daniel Ehrenhaft, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Fracture by Megan Miranda, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, CSI (television series)