Friday, February 24, 2017

THE WIDE WINDOW


Review of THE WIDE WINDOW by LEMONY SNICKET
(third in the A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS series)

The bad luck streak continues for the poor Baudelaire orphans. After their sweet uncle Monty died in the last book, they’re being shipped off to another even more distant relative. Josephine means well, but she’s no ideal guardian. She’s too timid, fearful, and concerned with her own well being to look after or out for three grieving children being pursued by an evil mastermind.

Many of my comments on this series remain consistent from book to book, my main one being that all the adults are incompetent. The level of hyperbolized incompetency can be frustrating, but ultimately I consider it a therapeutic metaphor for any child who feels adults aren’t taking them seriously. And the fact that no one listens to the Baudelaires forces them to be resourceful.

One criticism that’s a bit new to this specific installment in the series, though, is that there’s some pretty transparent phobia about gender ambiguity. One of Count Olaf’s lackeys is described from book one as a person who can’t beg pegged as either man or woman. That description alone can be interpreted as objective or prejudiced depending on how you read it, but in this book that fact is specifically cited as one of the scarier characteristics of this person.

Each of these books is a fast, simple read that follows a similar formula: Baudelaires go to new home and then it all goes horribly wrong. Along the way, you’ll encounter plenty of witty, subtle jokes that make each story well worth the read.

Friday, February 10, 2017

TEXAS GOTHIC


Review of TEXAS GOTHIC by ROSEMARY CLEMENT-MOORE
(first in the GOODNIGHT FAMILY series)

Amy comes from a family of witches, but doesn’t seem to have any magical gifts of her own. She hopes ranch-sitting for her aunt in Texas will be a nice, normal break from her crazy life. Well, she can forget that dream when she stumbles across a skeleton, starts finding herself haunted by angry ghosts, and can’t help antagonizing the cute - if tightly wound - guy next-door.

I’m not normally one for ghost stories, but I met this author at a conference and wanted to give her book a try. So glad I did. Themes are an easy way to sort what we expect we’ll like, but they’re not everything. And this is so my kind of book!

Above all, I loved the novel for the protagonist and her unique but familiar voice. Amy comes from one of my favorite character molds: a strong-willed girl who hides whatever insecurities she does have beneath a thick layer of humor. Despite being recognizable as a type, though, Amy still feels like a distinct individual with her own quirks and surprises worked into her personality.

Oh, but the humor. The writing here feels one of a kind, filled with unusual phrases that tell us plenty about Amy’s state of mind while earning laughs. In some ways, Amy puts me in mind of Brigit Jones a little, always finding herself in embarrassing situations and unable to filter herself as much as she would like. Let me share the first line, for example: “The goat was in the tree again.”

There’s a strong romance element running through this novel. I’ve mentioned plenty of times that I like romance, but I’m a very critical romance reader. When a romance meets my high standards, it can be my favorite part of a story, but when it doesn’t it’s where I’ll hit the hardest in a review. TEXAS GOTHIC falls in the former category. Neither character is portrayed as “perfect” but nor is the guy an idolized jerk. In other words, the author avoids all the cliché pitfalls of writing romance that can wind me up and instead presents a sweet story about two people who challenge each other and both come out better for it.  

Oh, oh, oh! And as a crazy dog lady, I loved what a big role Amy’s pack of rowdy dogs plays in the story. Easy tip to make me like a book more: add a dog. Even more: add another dog. It’s that simple.

I didn’t realize this is the first in a series. For one thing, the author does an excellent job writing this first book so it can be read as a standalone. No cliffhanger ending here! Nevertheless, I cannot wait to read the second.

Friday, February 3, 2017

ABARAT


Review of ABARAT by CLIVE BARKER
(first in the ABARAT series)

I first read this book back in college, on the recommendation of a friend, and remember being beguiled by the complex, extraordinary world Barker crafted. This one lives up to a second read as well as my flattering memories.

Candy lives a mundane life in a small town with her mother and alcoholic, abusive father. Then one day everything stops making sense, but becomes a magical adventure in the breakdown of logic. A sea sweeps in to the middle of a field - yes, a sea - and pulls Candy from her world into another: the world of Abarat. Here each hour of the day is an island, each one strange and different in its own way. There’s also an island for the 25th hour, the time out of time, but we won’t get into that yet.

In case you haven’t caught on, this book is weird. Writing weird is difficult, because tastes vary so much. Sometimes I find weird stories and I mean the adjective as a confused insult. In this case, when I call ABARAT “weird” I mean wonderfully, beautifully, enchantingly weird. Exactly my kind of weird. From invented creatures to how the magic works to surprising plot twists, here you’ll find page after page of the unexpected...and it feels like that sea swept you out to another world, too.

My only complaint has more to do with the specific edition of the book I read. The author is also an artist who paints dozens of images from his stories. The first time I read this book I borrowed it from the friend who recommended it, and her copy had the author’s paintings sprinkled throughout the story, almost every page. When I decided to re-read this one, I bought my own copy, not even realizing it was a copy without the illustrations. Get the illustrations! Get the illustrations! They add so much to the story...and the weirdness.

This tale transported me to Abarat and has lingered in the back of my mind for years. It’s one of those rare books that feels like its own kind of magic and reminds me why I’m in love with reading.