Review: Wait For What Will Come

Wait For What Will Come by Barbara Michaels. Originally published in 1978. Image from HarperCollins ebook edition, 2009.

The Plot: Carla Tregellas is just another hardworking American when the lawyer contacts her to tell her the news: as the last member of the Tregellas family, she has inherited an old mansion in Cornwall. Carla, in her mid twenties, is very practical. She’ll use her summer vacation to go and see her inheritance and take care of getting it sold. There is no question of keeping it: she has little money, and the mansion comes with some land and the house, of course, but nothing else, really. Common sense says sell it and sell it quickly.

Things change when Carla is in Cornwall; when she sees the mansion. When she feels a connection to the place, something she never thought she’d feel. That’s before she hears about that she inherited not just a building; she also inherited a curse. Is the curse to blame for the strange things that start happening? Or is someone trying to drive her out, to force her to sell?

The Good: I was sad to hear that Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara G. Mertz) died this summer, so decided to read one of her books that I hadn’t read before. Then, given how Barbara Michaels = Gothic I had to post the review on Halloween. I selected Wait For What Will Come because BookRiot called it one of her best.

Wait For What Will Come has everything I want and expect in a Michaels’ book.

There’s the sudden inheritance! While Carla’s family has been in the United States for generations, the branch back in Cornwall didn’t do very well. The money’s gone and with the death of Walter Tregellas an heir had to be found. Carla is that heir! Or, rather, “the nearest surviving blood relative who still bore the family name.” I love discovering you’re a secret heiress. Bonus in that you never knew the person who died so it’s grief free. What a disappointment to a younger me to look at all my many relatives and realize that I could never be a long lost heiress.

Of course, Carla being the heiress isn’t a happy ending; or, rather, a happy beginning. No money left, house in terrible shape — BUT DID I MENTION IT’S A MANSION THAT IS HUNDREDS OF YEARS OLD. At first Carla is all “she may as well have a look at it before it went out of the family forever,” but then Carla begins to realize that hey, how many times do you get a MANSION THAT IS HUNDREDS OF YEARS OLD and so keeps postponing leaving and selling.

There is a — love rhombus? Let’s just say, there are multiple handsome young men falling over each other for Carla. The family lawyer, Alan Fairman. The local doctor, Simon Tremuan. The housekeeper’s grandson, Mike Penkowsky. Later on, Mike’s friend, Timothy O’Hara, stops by.

Then there are the various Cornish legends and myths that are mentioned and explained, including the Tregellas family curse! A FAMILY CURSE. A “sacrifice to the sea” must be made every 200 years. GUESS GUESS GUESS WHETHER THE 200 YEARS ARE UP. And that sacrifice is linked to demon lovers. Or dream lovers. Or both.

I love that it’s a curse that is every 200 years, because that is just enough time to have no idea what really, actually happened. I mean, it’s not like it’s within any type of living memory.

Wait For What Will Come weaves together a bit soap opera, a bit historical myth, some modern concerns about what to do with a building one may love but cannot afford, some mixed motives from the locals, all haunted by the possibility of the supernatural. Is the curse real? Is there a family ghost? Is there a realistic explanation to all that is happening, or is it a fantastical reason?

I thoroughly enjoyed Wait For What Will Come. But here’s my problem: other than Ammie, Come Home and Stitches in Time I don’t remember which Barbara Michaels books I’ve read. So, recommendations welcome!




Flashback October 2006

And now, a look back at what I reviewed in October 2006!

Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib. From my review:The story is framed by the Hindu holiday Rakhi, a holiday that is about brothers and sisters. Arun wishes he had a sister so that he could celebrate Rakhi. A few months later, he finds out the family is going to adopt a little girl from India, the country where Arun’s father was born. The story ends with the baby, Asha, (now about one years old) arriving just in time for Rakhi. It’s a holiday I was unfamiliar with; but it’s a perfect holiday to celebrate children becoming siblings, and it’s also one that will be easily understood by children hearing the story.

Jericho TV Show. From my review: “Jake (Skeet Ulrich) has returned to his small Kansas hometown of Jericho after a five year absence; he was only supposed to stay a couple of days, but on his way out of town their was a mushroom cloud in the distance. Is it an accident? It appears that other US towns have also been hit (Atlanta, Chicago, San Diego). Terrorism? An attack? The folks in Jericho have no way of knowing; and they are struggling for answers, trying to figure out what to do next. . . .  I like the townsfolk trying to figure out answers, trying to hold off anarchy, wondering what to do next. In a crisis like this, at what point is money going to no longer matter? Can democracy continue? Is it OK to eat the corn that was caught out in radioactive rain? And who owns that corn, anyway? Sure, they have guns, but what about when the bullets run out? I also like how this type of World Ending Disaster turns everything topsy turvy. Jake had been the world class screw up; but with the WED, he’s become the golden boy. It’s like he’s the McGuyver of the Apocalypse; and all those talents that meant nothing in the Normal World mean everything now.

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle, art by Sean Qualls. From my review: “Engle uses poetry to tell the story of Manzano, born a slave in Cuba in 1797. Manzano’s first owner made him call her Mama; his second owner was sadistic. He did not have any type of formal education; but due to exposure to poetry and poets and his own thirst to learn, he became a poet.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison. From my review: “Gilda Joyce, aged 13, lives an ordinary life with her widowed mother and older brother. But Gilda doesn’t want to be ordinary; so she dresses up in outrageous costumes as an investigator, practices her psychic skills, forces a distant relative to invite her to visit for the summer, and finds a mystery to solve involving a dead woman, a locked tower, an unknown cousin (Juliet) and a ghost.

Edu Manga: Anne Frank. From my review:Before I read this, I thought, you’re kidding me. Having finished it, my thought remains the same. (I don’t have the copy with me. It was returned to the library.) Has anyone read this? Yeah, yeah, I don’t do negative reviews… but Anne Frank? And Astro Boy?

Anatopsis by Chris Abouzeid. From my review:Anatopsis (Ana) is next in line to take over the family business, Amalgamated Witchcraft Corporation. Ana, like her mother, Queen Solomon, is a witch and immortal; mortal humans are workers for the ruling class; workers like Clarissa, Ana’s servant who is also Ana’s best friend. Ana enjoys making mischief with her magic, trying to not get in too much trouble with her mother, especially since her mother is more concerned with the family business than her child, and getting the attention of her father, Sir Christopher, a knight errant. Ana finds out that important exams are approaching for her 14th birthday; and for some reason, she must study with Prince Barnaby, the son of her mother’s business rival. All Ana cares about is teasing Barnaby; and since Barnaby is the worst witch ever, it’s fairly easy to do this. But there’s more to the test than her mother has told her; more to Clarissa and humans than Ana can guess; and more at stake than who which business company will end up on top.”

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos. From my review: “Ivy’s mother used to work for the Rumbaugh twins, Abner and Adolph, in their pharmacy, so it makes sense that they are Ivy’s babysitters, even if they appear a little odd; so identical no-one can tell them apart, seeming to need only each other. While playing in the basement, Ivy stumbles upon their secret and discovers the love curse of the Rumbaughs. As she grows up, she tries to understand the curse, and how she is connected to it. OK, no way am I going to be able to do this without some spoilers, so be warned. And I won’t spoil everything. For the spoiler shy, let’s just say that it is dark; it is twisted; it is unique; and yet … yet it is not scary. It is horror without the horror, if that makes sense. Which it won’t, until you read the book. . . . Here’s the first spoiler. Love Curse described in one sentence: Psycho without the murders. A horror story told from the point of view of those doing the unimaginable. See, the brothers Rumbaugh have a hobby. Taxidermy. And this may be the only young adult book that explains exactly how taxidermy works.”

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. From my review: “Annabel is about to start her junior year. Last year her life seemed perfect; good friends, a modeling career, a picture perfect family. This year, her best friend won’t talk to her, and the entire school is following suit in ostracising her. Annabel never wanted the modeling career that consumes her mother, yet she cannot say no. Her perfect older sister is being treated for an eating disorder. The only person who will talk to her is fellow outcast Owen. . . .  “Just Listen” refers to Annabel listening to others, people listening to Annabel, and Annabel listening to herself. It is also about music; Owen loves music, and insists that Annabel listen to it. And while Annabel doesn’t always agree with his taste, she finds her voice by saying what she likes about his music and what she doesn’t like; and as she learns to speak up about music, she begins to speak up about other things. Like the real reason why her best friend no longer talks to her and makes her life a living hell.”

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson. From my review:JJ Liddy, 15, is part of a family that has played traditional Irish music for generations; the tradition is so strong that JJ bears his mother’s last name, not his father’s. It’s nice to have a sense of traditional in a modern world, especially a world so busy that there never seems to be enough time. So many things to do, so many places to be,; people speak wistfully of the past when there was enough time to sit, have a cup of tea, get to school on time, listen to music. Where does the time go? JJ is about to find out that it’s not a matter of looking back at the good old days; there really is less time than there used to be.

Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel; sequel to Airborn. From my review: “Matt is now in the Paris Airship Academy, struggling with both academics and with being a working class student; the money difference is not only at school, but also makes itself known in every interaction with Kate, his very wealthy maybe girlfriend who is also studying in Paris. (For those of you new to the series, this is set in an alternate Edwardianesque world where air travel is by airships, not planes.) Matt is on a training mission when he spots the mythical floating ship the Hyperion; not only is its very existence one of rumor, it’s also supposed to be full of gold and treasures and scientific discoveries; but the training mission ends in near disaster, with no one believing that the ghost ship was really spotted. No one except Kate; and the mysterious Nadira; and the self made millionaire, Hal. Together, each for their own reasons, the four go in pursuit of the ghost ship. And they are being pursued by treasure hunters, willing to do anything to get the treasure.

Story Of A Girl by Sara Zarr. From my review: “Deanna Lambert was thirteen when her father caught her in the back of Tommy Webber’s car; Tommy was seventeen and her brother Darren’s best friend. Three years later, Deanna is still defined by that moment, in her father’s eyes, by the school gossip and in her own eyes. Defined as the psycho/slut who wanted it, who cannot be trusted, who is defined by her sex and by sex. . . . This story has layers and layers. It examines how this one moment not only defines who Deanna is, it is also about how, and why, Deanna lets herself by defined by that one moment.

Review: Hideous Love

Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Stephanie Hemphill. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2013. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: The story of Mary Godwin Shelley, the woman who wrote Frankenstein.

The Good: I have always loved the story of Mary Shelley. To be honest, more than I love her creature, Frankenstein.

I’m not sure what was the name of the book I read about her; I don’t even remember whether it was fiction or non-fiction. I do remember how awful her stepmother was. And the romance of meeting and falling in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and running away with him even though she was only sixteen and he was married. And all the babies, and all the babies save one dying. The drama of it all!

Hideous Love, in verse form, tells that story. Of Mary wanting her father’s approval. Of Mary’s intense relationship with Shelley. Of their journey together, and their ultimate marriage once his first wife had died. Of the origins of Frankenstein.

I’m hardly an expert on Mary, Shelley, or their time, but I do know the generalities. Who Byron was, for example, and his relationship with Mary’s stepsister.

Hideous Love explains who the various people are, including Mary’s own family tree made up of various half and step siblings, as well as the various poets, philosophers, artists and others Mary encounter. It also explains how Mary’s father’s ideas about marriage and “free love” led Mary to think her father would be much more accepting of her relationship than he was.

My favorite part is in the initial love affair between Mary and Shelley. What is more difficult is the “after” part — Mary and Shelley getting older. Given the philosophy of “free love,” well, how free was their love? Hemphill addresses but does not answer some of those questions that really have no answer, namely, who else Shelley had a physical relationship with while he was with Mary.

Hideous Love brilliantly illustrates Mary’s emotional reality. Her hopes, her fears, what drives her, and how that changes and doesn’t change over time.

Here, some of my favorite bits:

“I am happier now

than ever I have been

more joyous

than when I am reading

my favorite book.

And then this, when talking about her stepsister and her fears about her stepsister and Shelley:

“Her design may have been

larger than that.

I notice when she bats

her lashes at Shelley

as though she holidays

with him alone.

I do not believe I have ever

wanted to throw

anyone out of a carriage more.”

Are Mary’s fears realistic? Or is it, having run away with a married man, that she doesn’t trust him? Is her stepsister really interested in Shelley? Or is her stepsister just lonely?

Shelley is always seen through Mary’s eyes. And here is more of a mystery — and again, a reason I want to read more about him — because I couldn’t quite get a handle on him. Oh, yes, Mary loves him. And he loves her. But at times I didn’t quite like Shelley. There was an arrogance about him, and a sense of entitlement almost, that made me love him less than Mary does. Was he really that careless about Mary’s feelings? Or, rather, that careless about others in general? But, then again — this is firmly Mary’s story. Not Shelley’s. So is this just how Mary began to see Shelley, when she was insecure? Or as she grew older and less enchanted?

Hideous Love is an emotional exploration rather than factual biography, so it doesn’t deeply delve into certain areas of Mary’s life and times. While there is enough shared for the reader new to Mary to understand what is going on, I think it’s best read by someone who already has some knowledge of Mary. Even for those who do know the basics, like myself, there were some parts I wanted to know more about. Hideous Love has some great back matter, with more information on Mary, her writings, and short information on the people in the book. For myself, I still wanted to know more about the lack of money, and borrowing, and how Mary and Shelley did and didn’t make ends meet. Libraries and schools who have Hideous Love should be prepared with more traditional biographies for readers who, like me, want more. And let me say — a book that wants you wanting more? That’s not a bad thing.

Other reviews: Teenreads; Librarian of Snark; Proud Book Nerd; Never Ending Stories.


Rainbow Bracelets

“Rainbow Bracelets” are bracelets made with small rubber bands, usually on a loom. It’s quite popular, and I’m sure you’ve seen them.



Right now, my fascination with Rainbow Bracelets is the reaction to them.

Minecraft became popular with kids and adults, and what did I see? Many articles and posts about how schools and libraries can use something that kids are excited about. Some posts are about the “yay, it’s fun, let’s promote the fun” and others are about “there are some great skills that can be learned from Minecraft so it’s actually educational.”

Rainbow Bracelets became popular with kids and adults, and what did I see? Not much, to be honest.

Here are the searches I made on Saturday. As you can see, Minecraft library programs? Over 1,000,000. Rainbow Bracelet ones? Less than 5,000.


When I changed my search to be school / education, Minecraft gave me actual resources. Rainbow Bracelets gave me stories about how they are so distracting, some schools are banning them.

In looking for ideas about the types of skills involved with making Rainbow Bracelets, I found an interesting article and a useful post.

The Times Free Press of Chattanooga reported on the Bracelet Boom: Rainbow Loom trend catching the imagination of young area students. Here are some of the quotes I saw that could be used to build programs and lessons: “kids love trading the bracelets“. You know another word for “trade”? “Barter.” It’s an exchange. It’s economics. It’s about placing value on something and determining how and when to exchange that for something else of like value. It’s business.

endless number of designs they can make. They are able to really push their creative limits. We’ve seen kids that have made handbags, hats, etc.” Here: designs, both in terms of what type of bracelets are made as well the colors used, but also in taking something that is one purpose — bracelets — and seeing what else the loom and loom techniques can produce. There is creativity here, yes, but design is also about making and planning.

fine motor skills” So, again, skill sets beyond it’s a pretty craft.

Note: the person saying most of this is a salesperson at a store, so some people may want to consider that in whether or not they agree with the above. I also found it interesting that the loom itself was invented by an engineer.

The post I found that lists specific skills was at Teach Mama and gave “5 reasons kids need it and parents love it.” Go read the full post, but in brief: math skills; reading skills; fine motor skills; relationship building; and confidence building.

A couple of things I’ll add, based on my own observations of bracelet making. Finding videos that show different and new techniques is part of making bracelets, so I’ll add both information searching and evaluation of resources; and then making your own how-to videos. Which is about making, editing, and promoting one’s own videos.

I’ll confess my concerns: I wonder if Minecraft is viewed as more desirable because it’s technology and it’s boys. (But the reality is it is also girls playing — yet I’ve seen more than one article that makes me think it’s viewed as “boy” activity.) While Rainbow Bracelets are art and it’s girls. (But the reality is it’s also boys. But “bracelets” = “jewelry” = “girls” in many people’s minds.) And, well, what has more value in society?

Why is it that Minecraft is inspiring more programs than Rainbow Bracelets?

And what type of Rainbow Bracelet programs have you done or do you plan to do?



Bridget Jones, Allegiant, and Fans

I confess:

When I heard the news about the most recent Bridget Jones book — that Mark Darcy was dead — I felt pissed and betrayed.

Darcy dead?!?! Bridget a widow?!?!

How dare Helen Fielding? How dare she?

Destroying a perfectly good romance! For no good reason! I complained and groused on Twitter and in person.

All this without having read the book.

Darcy dies years before the book begins. It’s not a true “spoiler”, in that the entire book is about Bridget’s life now, after Darcy. I’ve had the chance to process the shocking news, and I’ve gradually come to a point where I’m ready to read the latest Bridget Jones. I placed my hold at the library.

As a reader, I don’t see anything wrong with being angry that what I thought of as a romance, complete with Happy-Ever-After, being ruined by, well, taking away that HEA. I’ve had time to readjust my thinking, true, to look at Bridget as a comedy with romance, rather than a romance.

I’m still a bit annoyed, to be honest.

This is a bit different, to be true, than some of the disappointed reactions to the ending of Allegiant, the final volume of Veronica Roth’s dystopian trilogy. I haven’t read Allegiant yet; I’ve tried to stay away from the spoilers. It’s not the first time that the ending of a story has disappointed readers. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins disappointed many.

It’s perfectly OK for fans to be disappointed in what they love; to be disappointed in how that story ends.

I’m a fan of many things: movies, TV shows, books. I get it, that investment and disappointment. The rants I could make on what did, and didn’t, happen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel alone. I am still not reconciled to the Cordelia storyline. On the other hand, when I heard about the Buffy/Spike pairing I thought it was the stupidest thing ever and it ended up being a pairing I enjoyed.

I’ll repeat: It’s OK to be disappointed.

What I’ll add, though, is what I’ve found, as a viewer and reader and fan, is to be open to the story. And to realize what the story is, or is not. To realize, for example, that Bridget Jones isn’t a romance (or at least the way I define romance, which is HEA), and to read Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy accordingly.

I’ve found that overall I enjoy the viewing and reading experience when I don’t judge the story on what I wish to happen, but on whether what does happen makes sense for the story and the characters. That can be hard to do, to be sure, especially in the moment of being in the story, of being so connected to it. And just because this is how I read, well, that doesn’t mean it’s how everyone should read. Reading is personal and unique.

Being a fan is about being “so connected”. So involved. It’s about caring. And being passionate.

As I said, I haven’t read Allegiant. Or the spoilers. So I don’t know the ending, and cannot say anything about it, or anything about the fan reaction, because I don’t have first hand knowledge. And, I’ve only seen the edges of the unhappy fans — I don’t want to be too spoiled about the ending!

But I do know this:

Yes, it can hurt when a story doesn’t end the way you want it to. And that’s OK.

What’s not OK: pushing that hurt and anger and disappointment out onto a person, that is, the author. Kit Steinkellner at  BookRiot has a post called Hell Hath No Fury Like a Superfan Scorned, and that headline tells you all you need to know about how some people are acting based on their reactions to Allegiant‘s resolution. (Spoilers in the BookRiot article! Major mega spoilers!) Steinkellner wonders, in part, why fans are reacting this way.

Is part of it that they are teen readers? I’m not sure, because some of the reactions I’ve read are from adult readers. Still, as a teen I remember thinking “oh, bad things never happen to main characters.” Side characters, family members? Yes. The first time I watched a TV show that killed off a person who was major in the storyline, I was shocked and appalled because it was against the rules. Again, I haven’t read Allegiant and have avoided major spoilers, but I wonder — is Allegiant the first time some of the readers have encountered a story that veers from the expected?

As people who work with teen readers, we can give them a place to vent. And cry. And get mad. We can also give them a place to discuss. A good discussion is more than complaining about what happened, but to wonder and explore and try to figure out why. Why something happened. What it means. Whether, as I noted above, it was realistic and true to the plot and story and characters. Because here is something, also — one can be mad and angry about what happens in a story, and still like the story. Or, one can be mad and angry and disappointed, and not attack.

What do you think authors “owe” their readers? What readers “owe” authors?

And have you ever been really, really angry at how a story (or show or series) ended?


Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. Little, Brown. 2013. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Tana wakes up after a party to a house filled with the dead.

She is one of three survivors: the others are her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, and strange vampire, Gavriel. As the sun slowly sets, the vampires who killed everyone else, bit Aidan, and tied up Gavriel, crawl out of the basement.

Tana makes a quick decision:  no one gets left behind. She escapes, taking Aidan and Gavriel with her.

Aidan is infected. If he drinks blood, he’ll become a vampire. Tana decides the only logical thing to do is to take Aidan and Gavriel to the nearest Coldtown, a place where vampires and the infected – and those humans unfortunate enough to be trapped behind the walls.

All Tana has to do is drive a hungry infected teen and a hungry vampire to the nearest Coldtown and get them safely inside. She’s also going to go inside with them: Aidan may be an ex, but he’s still her friend, and she’ll do everything in her power to stop him from drinking human blood. So she’ll go in to make sure he stays human. And Gavriel — there are a lot of questions there, but she figures, if the other vampires are after him, there has to be something there worth saving.

The problem is, Coldtown is a lawless place run by vampires. It’s dark and dangerous. Once you get in, it’s almost impossible to leave.

Almost. They haven’t met Tana yet. She’s determined to do the impossible: save Aidan, help Gavriel, and return to her father and sister.

The Good: Holly Black has created a wonderful vampire world in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Vampires used to be hidden, remaining the subject of myth and legend, until one vampire broke the rules. The result wasn’t only the loss of secrecy, it was also the spread of vampirism. People were bit and infected. Once they drank human blood, they became vampires themselves. Very few were able to withstand the compulsion and remain human. Locking the infected in basements and hospitals didn’t work, so a handful to towns were designated “coldtowns” — towns just for vampires. The vampires were locked in, along with any humans unfortunate enough to be stuck in the towns when the walls wents up.

Everyone loves a vampire — the darkness, the danger, the eternal youth, the power. The vampires of Coldtown realize that, and realize that they need blood, and realize that all they need to do is convince humans to enter the Coldtowns willingly. Reality TV shows, live from Coldtown, making it all seem sexy and glamorous and exciting. The vampires are stars — safely behind walls, except for those few so swept out by the wonder of it that they believe they are different and unique enough to enter a Coldtown a human and become one of those stars. As I read about the parties being shown and the clothes worn, about the whole odd society of humans, vampires, and infecteds within Coldtown, I wondered — how much had the vampires created out of the myths of vampires? How much would they have done anyway? Did the vampires allow human stories to influence how they portray themselves?

Tana doesn’t see the wonder of it all, probably because as a child she saw what vampires were really like. Her mother became infected; her father locked his beloved wife up, thinking if they only kept her from drinking blood all would be well. It didn’t end well. Tana’s sister, Pearl, was too young to know her mother or remember the details of her death. Pearl watches the reality shows, online and on TV, entranced. The power and pull of the vampires is also shown by two siblings Tana meets, “Midnight” and “Winter” who are entering Coldtown in the hopes of becoming vampires. (Because of the food supply issues, this is actually not a very likely thing to happen. The last thing the existing vampires want is losing a source of food AND having another hungry mouth within the Coldtown.)

Tana is one of those characters who — well, let me put it this way. If I had been Tana, this would have been an entirely different story because I would have run as fast as I could once I woke up in a house full of my dead friends. I’d have saved myself first, sending help. So yes, I kept on yelling at the book “don’t do that, that’s too dangerous, it’s not worth it.” Except, of course, it was. Tana is simply braver than me. And more forgiving because I really couldn’t stand her ex, Aidan. Or, perhaps, not so much forgiving as someone who has lost people — her mother and a house full of dead friends — so will do anything to save the few survivors, no matter how annoying and self centered and selfish they are. It’s perhaps even a bit selfish of Tana, how she holds close those she wants to save. Selfish, because she doesn’t want to lose people, and selfish because it’s driven by the guilt from her lost mother. Selfish, because she’s not asking what it is that Aidan wants.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown also has terrific plotting: how things fit together is, at times, almost like a layered puzzle box. How the people and things fit together, how it all works out. It’s not just that Tana helping Gavriel turns out to be more significant than anyone could guess. (Well, except the reader of course, who realizes that a vampire being hunted by other vampires has to have a pretty unique backstory). It’s not just what ends up happening with Winter and Midnight and Aidan and even Pearl. It’s how all that works together as a whole. Brilliant.

This is a Favorite Book Read in 2013. Because while I’ll never be the heroine in Coldtown, I love visiting in the safe pages of a book. Because The Coldest Girl in Coldtown starts with a mass murder of a roomful of teens, and those are not the last deaths we’ll see. I love a book where the stakes are real!

Other reviews: The Book Smugglers; Slatebreakers; YA Bibliophile.






Flashback October 2008

A look at what I reviewed in October 2008:

Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Early and Transitional Readers in Grades K-5 by Karen Szymusiak, Franki Sibberson, and Lisa Koch. From my review: “I’d further suggest it to parents who are trying to understand what is going on in their child’s classroom and what is happening with their child’s reading skills and how those skills are much more than a “level.” What about comprehension, understanding what is going on in the book, etc? The authors and other contributors, all classroom teachers, explain some of the “critical needs” of their students, using examples, including how and when an adult can help the student meet those needs. The parent who complains about a teacher using picture books or graphic novels, or who doesn’t use books grades above the child’s grade, needs to read this book to understand better how reading is much more involved than learning how to read words.”

Pop Goes the Library. No, I didn’t review the book, but linked to reviews others did! “Brookover and Burns cover most of the important lessons on librarianship that can be taught in a book: creating a niche; building a collection; using technology; and developing crowd-pleasing programming, among others. As an added bonus, their writing style is as much fun to read as Michael Buckland, S.R. Ranganathan, Jesse Shera, or Elaine Svenonius.’

Review: Sex and Violence

Sex and Violence by Carrie Mesrobian. Carolrhoda LAB. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Morris Award shortlist.

The Plot: Evan Carter is at yet another school. He’s been to six schools since he was 13, traveling frequently because of his father’s job. At his latest boarding school he’s doing what he usually does. Not really making friends, because he know he won’t stay long. But you know what he does, and does well? Scoring with the ladies, planning temporary hookups.

Until the day that some of his classmates don’t like who he’s hooking up with and beat him up so badly he is hospitalized. And what they do to the girl is worse.

Broken and crushed in body and spirit, Evan’s father takes him to the family cabin in Minnesota.

Slowly, Evan begins to heal physically and emotionally.

The Good: Evan! Evan! Evan! I just adored this teenage boy, with his rough edges and his emotional pain, his physical scars, his inability to truly connect with anyone.

Evan, who so wants contact but he cannot articulate that need; so, instead of real relationships engages in numerous superficial physical relationships. Sex and Violence is about both Evan healing, but also about examining his own life. Not to say that it was his fault what happened, no; but to realize that how he was living his life wasn’t healthy to begin with, and to figure out what to change. And why. Part of it is his dead mother, emotionally unavailable father, and lack of any type of roots or community. Part of it is something else — and if you’ve read the book, I’d love to talk in the comments about it.

Part of the reason I loved the character of Evan is his attitude towards girls. “But girls are weird. I’m always amazed at the shit they put up with for a little attention.” It’s horrible, and he’s clearly a player. BUT. BUT. Sex and Violence is about someone who is a player but not quite a user; he isn’t about the seduction, in part because that will take too much time. He doesn’t want a girlfriend. He doesn’t want to invest in getting a girl to say “yes.” Instead, he’s about figuring out which girls will say yes. It’s shallow and it’s not nice, true, but there is a certain level of honesty in his selfishness. And, as Evan’s story unfolds, it turns out that he has reasons to look at sex as a valid way of connecting with people, as a short cut to intimacy. Evan himself looks back at this stage of his life with disgust: “Dirtbag Evan Carter, who lived for that whole game.”

Evan gets the crap beat out of him by a jealous ex. It’s brutal, and part of what I loved about Sex and Violence is that it doesn’t shy away from the impact of that violence on Evan. Sex and Violence takes place over a year: and that’s the reality of recovery. It’s not quick and simple. It’s not about snapping out of it. Sex and Violence has some of the best therapist/therapy scenes I’ve seen in a book, not because it fixes everything for Evan, but because it gives Evan the tools and language he needs to understand himself. It treats therapy not as a cure all, but as part of the process.

Evan’s problems are not his problems alone. His mother died when he was young, and his father is distant and unemotional at best. Evan’s recovery forces the two together and into a relationship, perhaps for the first time ever. So, then, part of Evan’s emotional make up at the start is in part because his only surviving parent models the same type of isolation that Evan lives. The family cabin — a small house by the lake — is not just a physical place where the two can safely retreat. It is also a part of a deep rooted community, and one that includes Evan and his father because it’s where Evan’s father grew up, even if it’s a place and people that is new to Evan. Evan is accepted into the group of teens and, perhaps for the first time, begins making friends.

I realize I am saying very little about the plot, after the first few brutal acts. That is mainly because — while none of it falls into twists and turns surprises — it is not just Evan’s journey to becoming a whole person, it is also the reader’s journey to understanding Evan and his father.

Evan is also funny. Not in a “here is a sentence I can show you” way, but in the way he observes and snarks and comments.

This is a Favorite Book for 2013 because I love Evan, and I love his journey. I love that he calls himself a dirtbag and then makes cupcakes for a little boy’s birthday. I love that he worries about the girl who was attacked. I love how he makes friends, and the people he makes friends with. I love that he decides to learn how to fight. I love the realistic portrayal of a victim of violence. I even grew to love his father.

And I feel weird saying “love” because Evan and the others in the book are so flawed and real. And that “love” may be mistaken for “like.” I don’t like what happened to Evan; I don’t like the place he is in at the start of the book; I don’t like the journey he has to go through. I want to reach into the pages and fix it for him and make it better. No, I don’t like the violence or how Evan treats women. But I love how real and true Evan is, and the things that happen to him, and the people around him.

My only quibble: the jacket copy/ description of the book includes the sentence “Until he hooks up with the wrong girl and finds himself in the wrong place at very much the wrong time.” In my never to be humble opinion, there is nothing “wrong” about the girl Evan hooks up with at school. Wrong place, wrong time, yes. She is someone’s ex, yes. But she is not “wrong.”

Other reviews: Stacked Books; Smexy Books; Between The Lines.

National Book Award – Shortlist

The shortlist for the National Book Awards have been announced!

The Young People’s Literature list:

Kathi AppeltThe True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)

Cynthia KadohataThe Thing About Luck (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)

Tom McNealFar Far Away (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House). My review.

Meg RosoffPicture Me Gone (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Group USA)

Gene Luen YangBoxers & Saints (First Second/Macmillan). My review.


This short list came from an earlier long list, which, in addition to these five, had an additional five titles:

Kate DiCamilloFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press)

Lisa Graff, A Tangle of Knots (Philomel, A division of Penguin Group USA)

Alaya Dawn JohnsonThe Summer Prince (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)

David LevithanTwo Boys Kissing (Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House)

Anne UrsuThe Real Boy (Walden Pond Press/an Imprint HarperCollinsPublishers)


Part of the reason I didn’t blog about the long list earlier is, well, I was a bit overwhelmed by it! So many titles that I hadn’t read and I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to read them all.

I will, though, try to read those on the shortlist that I haven’t read before.

Wish me luck! I have until November 20, the day the winner is announced!


Review: The Waking Dark

The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman. Knopf. 2013. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: One day, a small town: Oleander, Kansas. Like so many other small towns, where everyone thinks they know everyone. Where everyone has secrets. Some secrets they don’t even know about.

A handful of people, with no connections to each other, go on murder sprees. Each murder ends in a suicide; or, in the case of one person, an attempted suicide. There are five survivors, who have to live with the horror they saw. Or, in the case of one, the horror they inflicted.

One year later, just as the town looks like it has recovered, or, at least, forgotten, a series of tornadoes descends. In the chaos that follows, the town is quarantined, sealed off from the outside world.

How much can one town take?

The darkness and horror has barely begun.

The Good: I loved this book so, so much!

I’m not the first to say “Stephen King” when describing The Waking Dark. First, because of the horror: The first chapter starts out with murder after murder, with people of all ages being killed by their neighbors and friends for no reason. And here’s the thing: these murders are not what make The Waking Dark horror. Rather, the horror is the worse that will come. It’s what people will do and will think. Neighbor turns on neighbor, and it soon likes almost as if the people who died the year before were the lucky ones.

Why did these handful of people become killers? The answer may be hidden in the history of the town, or it may be something else. After the tornadoes destroy part of the town, it’s not just the phones and Internet not working, it’s the military blockades around the town preventing anyone from leaving, or entering. Is it the isolation that makes those in the town of Oleander turn on each other? Or is it something more? Is the reason behind the destruction of Oleander and its people supernatural? Scientific in origin? Or something else entirely?

Second, because of the setting: a small town, who, even before the murders and tornadoes, was dying. Dying because of the loss of work, dying because of the rise of meth and drug use, dying because of just the general meanness of people. The portrait of Oleander, and those who live there, is sad and specific and full; Wasserman, like King, has created a world that appears to really exist. I’m sure that somewhere, Oleander is on a map and its inhabitants are flesh and blood.

There are five narratives running through The Waking Dark, overlapping and entwining upon occasion. Daniel Ghent, whose normal life ended years ago with the death of his mother and her father’s losing touch with reality. Julie Prevette, whose trailer trash family is notorious for their violence and crimes and meth. Ellie King, a Christian girl who needs to believe in God. Jeremiah West, high school football player and all around popular kid. And, finally, Cassandra Porter, who doesn’t remember what she did in the baby nursery but who is paying for it now.

Here is an early scene with Daniel: “Daniel flipped through the wrinkled page [of the comic book], past caped heroes who never arrived too late and punches that never left a bruise. He couldn’t remember ever being young enough to believe in that kind of world; he didn’t want to imagine his little brother ever being old enough to stop.” It tells so much about Daniel, and his life, and his childhood, and his brother, and their relationship, in just a handful of words.

Five people do not a town make. The Waking Dark includes many other characters, and this is another area where Wasserman is like King, because even with a few lines and a handful of scenes, she creates memorable, believable characters.

This is not a book about good-hearted people pulling together. When things go back in Oleander, they go really, really bad. What happens when people let the darkness in their heart out? When the meanness that you keep in check to be polite doesn’t have to be kept in check anymore?

The Waking Dark is also not about a handful of strangers banding together to fight back. The main characters know each other the way that teens in a small town would know each other. It takes a while for the five main characters to connect in a more meaningful way, and since all five are teenagers, for most part, they are without any real power to fight anything. This is a town where, within less than two weeks of the quarantine, people believe that a public execution by fire is a good thing. What can teens do to fight that? Not much; they best they can hope for is escape.

Towards the end, there is a line, almost a throwaway — “They had all deserved better.

And this is perhaps the true genius of The Waking Dark, and why this is horror. Because, yes, these five deserve better. But so does everyone in Oleander, whether they’re the young girl whose baby brother was murdered, destroying her family, or the local meth dealer who loves and wants to protect his niece. They all deserve better. We all deserve better than what life gives us: but that’s life. What happens, happens, and is neither punishment nor reward. Life doesn’t care what we deserve. It doesn’t care in Oleander, and it doesn’t care outside Oleander.

One last thing: Oleander is quarantined. And here is another example of why I love The Waking Dark. Even before the military closed the town off, it was a town that trapped people. Using teens as the main characters underscores how trapped people are: make someone a high school graduate and a reader may say, “oh they can always leave,” ignoring the ties of blood and family and friendship, ignoring that leaving a place, any place, requires someplace new to go and the resources to get there. And, not to give too much away about the ending, just because one is stuck somewhere doesn’t mean that isn’t home.

By this point, I’m sure you’ve all figured out that this is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

The only thing I’d like to add is the diversity that Wasserman includes in The Waking Dark. One character is part Hispanic; another is gay.

Other reviews: The Book Smugglers; Librarian of Snark; Rachel’s Reading Timbits; and author interview at Entertainment Weekly.