Blog tours are a rarity here at Bookshelves of Doom, so on the very few occasion that one swings through, you can be confident in assuming that I feel very strongly indeed about the book in question.
It's been six years since the last Kiki Strike book, and even the most devoted fans of Ananka Fishbein and the Irregulars had given up hope of a third installment. So when The Darkness Dwellers was announced, there was much rejoicing in the kidlitosphere. And not classy, tempered, polite rejoicing, but RAUCOUS, DELIGHTED SQUEEING.
I was working when I found out, and it's possible that I whooped so long and so loudly that some of my patrons shushed me... but I'm not admitting to anything.
If you haven't read the firsttwo books, you're missed out on huge fun: Kiki Strike is a tiny, white-haired girl with life-threatening allergies, a penchant for wearing black and using her martial arts prowess on anyone who gets in her way... and is a secret princess to boot; Ananka is our narrator, has a avid interest in all things cryptozoology and conspiracy, who lives in an apartment with a private library so impressive that it would rival most public ones; Betty is a sweet-natured master of disguise; DeeDee is a science genius and explosives expert; Luz is aggressive and crabby, but a whiz with gadgets; Oona is a hacker, lock-picker, and business maven; Iris is a younger-mascot-turned-member. Because they're teenage girls, villains often underestimate them... but like Mary Quinn, Buffy, and any number of kickass heroines, Kiki and the Irregulars always use that to their advantage.
As in the first two books, many of the chapters end with sections of practical advice about how to handle oneself in a number of tight spots. In the previous books, the advice offered up would have been right at home in one of the Worst Case Scenario handbooks... but this time, in a rather brilliant twist, those sections could have come straight from Miss Manners. It's all about being a twenty-first-century lady (or gentleman): there are sections on Tea Parties and Flower Arranging, Delightful Dinners and The Rendezvous. NEVER FEAR, THOUGH, the girls haven't come close to losing their edge, and the advice sections are just as clever and subversive as fans would expect.
So, I went in with high hopes—which is sometimes a dangerous proposition—but I'm happy to report that Kirsten Miller has done it again: like its predecessors, The Darkness Dwellers is chock-full of excitement, mystery, secrets, disguises, stock market shenanigans, and smartypants humor. There are punches thrown and tires slashed; code-breaking and chemistry and cool tidbits of lesser-known history.
And while that'd be plenty to keep anyone entertained, it's ALSO an emotionally engaging story about the importance of loyalty, honor, friendship, and family; about realizing that sometimes you can rely more on the family you choose than the family you're born to, but that you also shouldn't be too quick to give up on people. That there isn't only one way to be strong; that you don't have to appear hard-as-nails to be tough; and that being compassionate, polite, and offering second chances doesn't equate to being weak... as long as you don't throw your pragmatism out the window. (And always keep your right hook in reserve, just in case.)
Kiki and friends, I'm glad you're back, even though I'm well aware that this might be your last outing. If so, I'm comfortable with that—the major plot threads were resolved, after all—but I very much hope that it won't be.
I really need to go back and read Brenna Yovanoff's The Space Between, because somehow I never made time for it last year. Which is ridiculous, because I enjoy her so very much: her stories satisfy my weird, vaguely uncomfortable fascination with the macabre without coming off as sensationalized or exploitative. She also writes sensitively about difficult topics—in the case of Paper Valentine, about grief and eating disorders and the nature of sociopathy—but without getting maudlin, and with a good deal of dark humor.
It's been six months since Hannah Wagnor's best friend Lillian died, and Hannah is still reeling... but not for the reason you'd assume. No, Hannah's having a hard time letting go of Lillian because Lillian won't let go of her: she's been haunting Hannah ever since she died.
As Juliet Stevenson's character in Truly Madly Deeply could attest, being haunted by the ghost of a loved one—no matter how loved—is not a comfortable, comforting thing. For one thing, you're constantly faced with a reminder of your loss... and for another, even in death, your loved one still has all the obnoxious habits that drove you bananas when s/he was still alive.
On top of that, it's the hottest July on record (SUCH a treat to read about in January, for reals); Hannah's had a couple of moments with Finny Boone, the town's resident delinquent; and someone in Ludlow is murdering young girls. Lillian is convinced that it's a serial killer, and she wants to catch him. Dead or alive, Lillian gets what she wants... so, despite the danger, Hannah starts investigating.
Yay! I'm happy to say that Paper Valentine lives up to its lovely cover art. As I said above, it's got elements of the macabre (in addition to the murders and the ghost, birds are literally dropping dead—like, falling from the sky—due to an avian virus), but it's also, very much, a story about grief and about moving on (both the desire to and fear of).
Hannah and Lillian's friendship is appropriately complex; and as the story plays out, it's clear that their friendship was just as complex in life, but in different ways. Lillian was a Queen Bee-type, and her death affected the balance within their group of friends, but she is never simply a Queen Bee. Even in death, she's a believable, real, three-dimensional person, and Hannah is just as real and believable. They both have a lot going on under the surface—as you might imagine, Hannah, especially, is under a huge amount of pressure—and Yovanoff does a fantastic job of showing that through their actions, interactions, and emotions. Oh, and bonus points for Hannah's creative side: the descriptions of her homemade clothing (not to mention the FANTASTICALLY WONDERFUL decoupage project that shows up in the last third) are super.
While I'm talking about characters, of course, I can't forget to mention FINNY BOONE, who I suspect will walk away from this book trailed by a whole parade of fangirls. The Bad Boy/Good Guy type IS ridiculously difficult to resist. He's a little bit of a stock character—Hulking Brooder Who's Been Hurt In The Past, Is Great With Kids, And Is Very Protective Of Those He Cares About—but he's still pretty irresistible.
As for the mystery component, the solution totally surprised me in the best sort of way: when I thought back, I realized that there'd been clues, and that I'd (SHOCKINGLY) just missed them. And along those same lines, I had no complaints about Hannah's detective technique: she made connections fast and acted on them quickly, and while she took chances, they weren't stupid or unnecessary ones.
I absolutely guarantee that some of you will want to throw this book across the room. For one, some readers are bound to be hugely disappointed by the prosaic solution to the mystery. Much more problematic, however, is the portrayal of the one black character—an adoptee from Uganda; he is constantly exoticized and, in more ways than one, comes off as very much “other.”
There are no firsts, and there is no coming of age. When the book begins, Finn has already joined the adult world. He’s already dealt with major loss (when his mother abandoned him), is way past experimenting with mind-altering substances and he lost his virginity years ago. As he’s no longer in school, he’s working full-time—pretty much supporting the household. When his father dies, there isn’t a big reckoning about responsibility, finances or authority. His dealings with adults are all on adult terms; while he doesn’t get a whole lot of respect from them, that’s less about his age and more about his demeanor. In a nutshell, Crusher isn’t a crime story that also portrays an aspect of the teen experience. It’s a crime story, period.
The specialness isn’t just in Rosenfield’s description, turns of phrase or how she captures the slow, heavy feel of summer. It’s about how she makes every single action, interaction, sometimes even the briefest of moments...feel like a turning point. There’s a constant sense of dread, inevitability and change.
Trust me? Add this to your list. Don’t trust me? Add it to your list anyway. Fan of historical fiction? Espionage? World War II stories? Add it, add it, add it. Even if your tastes don’t usually tend in that direction, you need to pick it up anyway. It will make you dissolve into a puddle, and then, once you’ve recovered, you’ll immediately read it all over again. That’s what I did.
I've read four of the five YA titles. (And I still don't think that Crusher is actually YA, but whatevs.)
It’s a solid thriller with a cool premise—think Rear Window, but starring a Parkour-practicing heroine who has Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a condition that makes sunlight not just dangerous, but life-threatening—strong dialogue and character development, exciting action, suspenseful plotting, and the requisite smootchies, AS WELL AS being a really believable, effective story about friendship, secrets and lies.
In other recent Kirkus columns, I covered April Lindner's Catherine (Wuthering Heights in NYC) and Adrienne Kress' The Friday Society (Charlie's Angels goes steampunk).
On the Fifth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five gold rings...
There's only one gold ring in Storm Catchers, but it's important. Thirteen-year-old Ella is snatched from her family's house in the middle of the night, and, fearing for her life, her parents follow the kidnapper's instructions and leave the authorities out of it.
Wracked with guilt—he was supposed to be home with Ella and their three-year-old brother Sammy—fifteen-year-old Fin turns Ella's GOLD RING into a dowsing pendant, and together, he and Sammy attempt to find Ella before it's too late. BUT. There's much more going on than at first glance, and since Ella's kidnapping, Sammy's mysterious imaginary—or is she?—friend has been drawing him into ever-scarier, ever-more-dangerous situations, and there's this old tramp who's been hanging around...
Storm Catchers reminded me a little bit of Susan Cooper—it's set in Cornwall, is totally creepy, and it has that Old Fashioned '70s Adventure flavor—though it's heavier on action than any Cooper I've ever read. There's a little bit of Mary Downing Hahn in here, too: as in Wait Till Helen Comes, there's a ghost girl and a whole lot of crappy behavior on the part of the parents. Fin's father, especially, is absolutely insufferable—he's very open about blaming Fin for Ella's disappearance, even though SPOILER the whole situation has come about due to his own actions a decade ago END SPOILER—and neither parent ever thinks to turn to Fin and say, "IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT. YOU'RE A FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY, CLEARLY NOT A FIGHTER, AND EVEN SMALL FOR YOUR AGE. IF YOU'D BEEN THERE, YOU COULD HAVE BEEN HURT OR KILLED, AND IT'S LIKELY THAT ELLA STILL WOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN. WE'RE GLAD THAT YOU'RE SAFE." Bowler taps right into that ADULTS ARE UNFAIR NO-NOTHINGS feeling, but some readers are bound to be annoyed that Fin never voices any sort of frustration with any of it. Then again, he's kind of busy trying to find his sister, to keep his younger brother safe, and to figure out what the heck his father is hiding. So maybe he just doesn't have the time for a good old gripe session.
It's a LOT to cram into two hundred pages—kidnapping, ghost, family secrets, big-time betrayal, blackmail, telepathy, magic, and tragic death—so some of it feels somewhat undeveloped, but overall, it's well-written, atmospheric, the action sequences are fast-paced and cinematic, and at points, it's super scary. Fun stuff, and bound to appeal to readers looking for that semi-wholesome (er... there's no romance or major profanity, anyway, though the storyline involves marital infidelity) old-fashioned adventure feel.
Now I've got one parent jetting off to Italy, and the other zooming away to Japan, while I get to spend my entire summer working at a second-rate stripmall comic shop, taking money from snotty kids and forty-year-old men who need showers. Plus, it's my life dream to go to Japan. One of my best friends is there all summer, and I would kill to be there with her. And now my dad—who won't even touch sushi with a ten-foot chopstick—is the one who gets to go. This is so not fair.
Luckily for sixteen-year-old Violet—aspiring manga artist and fan of all things Japanese—her talents catch the eye of Kenji and Mitsue Yamada, the couple who've just hired her father, and suddenly they've offered her a summer job in Japan, too.
And, as Violet is also a mystery novel junkie, the fact that her new employers just-so happen to be offering a one hundred thousand dollar reward for information leading to the recovery of their three recently-stolen van Gogh drawings, well, that's just the icing on the cake. So now she's headed to Japan with a new job PLUS a mystery to solve and a reward to win.
Fun stuff. Lots of running around—in Seattle, Tokyo, and Kyoto—spying and sleuthing and shopping, detecting and drawing and deducing. Violet's habit of recreating the suspects and storyline as manga characters (sometimes on paper, sometimes in her mind) is a really cool touch, and often gives her train of thought a sort-of prose-version-of-manga feel, though it's always clear in Tokyo Heist what is reality and what is fantasy. There's a lot here about Japanese culture and art, but since Violet already has a pretty decent base of knowledge, it's conveyed in a nicely organic manner, without didacticism or infodumps.
In addition to the aforementioned stolen art, the mystery involves the yakuza, secret love affairs, mysterious deaths, and a treasure hunt that follows clues hidden in art. There are lots of twists, turns, surprises and red herrings, and it's fast-paced and entertaining from start to finish.
On the more personal side, I especially liked Violet as a protagonist because she wasn't perfect, or even always entirely likable: while she's smart and talented and often quite fun to be around, she's also a bit of a snobbish pill about her job in the comic shop, and she's kind of a jerk to her crush. Her difficult relationship with her father is especially good, as is her friendship with Reika. Speaking of Reika, two things: 1. This book totally passes the Bechdel Test, and 2. in addition to being written as an actual three-dimensional character, Reika acts nicely as a bridge between cultures and languages due to her upbringing and parentage—her mother is originally from Tokyo and her father is from Seattle. But, like I said, she's written as an actual person, not as a vessel for imparting information to the reader. Well done, that.
Finally, my only real problem. While I liked Violet's lack of romantic experience—her understanding of lurrrve comes from watching Reika's love life from the sidelines and reading lots of shōjo manga—her own love story feels not only flat, but completely unnecessary. That flaw certainly won't stop me from recommending Tokyo Heist as a solid mystery to my YA patrons, but it was still enough of an issue that it was worth a mention.
The issues raised in this book—which, remember, is set almost 100 years ago—are frighteningly similar to many of those raised in the most recent election cycle. While that may sound scary and depressing, it isn’t. Rather, by the end, Sirens is a celebration of girl power, sisterhood, and hope for the future.
John Banville, under the name Benjamin Black, is writing a new book:
This idea has been germinating for several years and I relish the prospect of setting a book in Marlowe's California, which I always think of in terms of Edward Hopper's paintings. Bay City will have a slightly surreal, or hyper-real, atmosphere that I look forward to creating.
One Wednesday night, Kayla Cutler left Pete's Pizza to deliver three pizzas.
She never came back.
The thing is, though, the kidnapper got the wrong girl. At the last minute, bubbly, flirtatious Kayla switched nights with studious, shy Gabie Klug. It was Gabie that the kidnapper wanted. That the kidnapper still wants.
Gabie and her co-worker Drew Lyle are sure of it—when Drew took the order, the man specifically asked if "the girl with the Mini Cooper" would be working, which could have only referred to Gabie—but the police aren't interested in their theory.
So Gabie and Drew start investigating on their own. The closer they get to the mysterious John Robertson, the more danger they're in. And the closer John Robertson gets to Gabie, the more danger Kayla's in... after all, he only needs one girl in his "special room" at a time.
The Night She Disappeared is a straightforward—yet still tense—thriller. From chapter to chapter, the perspective shifts between the four main characters—Kayla and Drew, Gabie and John Robertson—as well as some of the minor ones, like the boys who stumbled on the crime scene and one of the divers who searches the Willamette River. The voices and perspectives are all distinctly different, and the short chapters—none more than three or four pages long—are interspersed with transcripts of 911 calls and police interviews, evidence slips, search warrants, and other documents related to the case.
Gabie's mixed feelings about the mistake—horror, guilt, and some amount of relief—are all very understandable, and her growing friendship/romance with Drew is believable. The technical details about the investigation (especially the methods of the dive team) are worked in naturally, and fans of procedural/forensic mysteries are bound to like those elements. Similarly, fans of The Mentalist will like the subplot that deals with the faker psychic lady. Oh, and it's worth noting that John Robertson is creepy as all get out, but while there's certainly an implied threat of sexual assault, nothing like that ever happens onscreen.
While it hasn't inspired any gushing on my part, I enjoyed it. I did have two issues, though, one more problematic than the other. Minor: the dialogue is a bit shaky in spots. Major: the detective assigned to the case is so unhelpful, so unwilling to follow up leads, so dismissive of Gabie and Drew's concerns, and so aggressive towards them that I found it hard to believe in him. Rather than a three-dimensional person, he was a character pulled straight out of the Police are Useless trope. Which was pretty glaring, especially when contrasted with the more complex characterization of the teenage characters.
Bestselling YA author Andrea Cremer has agreed to do an adult erotic trilogy for Dutton. The author, who is best known for her popular Nightshade series (which Penguin’s Philomel imprint publishes), sold world rights to three books that will be set within the Nightshade world. ... The first book in the series—Dutton said it’s about “the lives, passions, and betrayals of lovers whose very desires invite their dooms”—is scheduled for October 2013.