Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review - Neverland by Douglas Clegg

Neverland by Douglas Clegg
published 4/10
304 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

For as long as he can remember, Beau and his family have summered on Gull Island, visiting with his Grandma Weenie and his mother's sister's family. They're there to find some peace away from the city, but there is no peace on this island, and not only because the families are at constant odds. There's something dark and evil that exits here, and thanks to Beau's creepy cousin, Sumter, it's about to come out and play.

Sumter discovers an old shed on the grounds and claims it as their clubhouse. He calls it Neverland, and he and Beau spend most of their time there. But strange things happen within Neverland's walls, including dead things, even people, coming back to life.... It's all thanks to a presence called Lucy, a demon who demands the boys make sacrifices of small animals to her. So, as the adults spend their time drinking and arguing, the kids, including Beau's twin sisters Missy and Nonie, start sneaking out at the dead of night to visit Neverland. There's something intoxicating about what goes on inside Neverland, and the kids will do anything to keep experiencing Lucy's magic. But when Lucy tells Sumter she wants a bigger sacrifice, a human sacrifice, just how far will he go to keep Lucy happy?

My thoughts:

I discovered Douglas Clegg last year when I picked up an impulse copy of Isis from the library, and fell in love with it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that even though I don't generally cite horror novels as something I seek out, I was definitely looking forward to reading his next book.

If Isis is a fable - almost a cautionary tale - Neverland is it's darker, more malevolent big brother. Everything I enjoyed about Clegg's writing is more and bigger here - the creepy atmosphere, the undertones of unidentifiable but very real danger, the slightly disturbing but perfectly placed black and white illustrations. Everything is staged perfectly to slowly but surely drag the reader so far into the story that by the time you realize you probably don't want to know what is going to happen, it's far too late.

Clegg's genius in both books is his ability to use a child's point of view with such precision. He perfectly nails the innocence with just a touch of cruelty that feels so realistic - his focus is on Beau and Sumter, and because we only see the peripheral characters from Beau's perspective, they tend to be just a bit out of focus, which seems fitting for the story Clegg wants to tell.

I have to admit this author has won me over. I still don't know that I would call myself a fan of the genre, but I will definitely be reading as many of his books as I can get my hands on.

Also, I'm a bit ambivalent about book trailers, but this one is pretty darn good...

Finished: 4/24/10
Source: review copy from publicist
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, language, and other scary stuff
My rating: 8/10

Friday, April 16, 2010

Review - Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn

Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn
published 2008
403 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Plagued by guilt for failing to protect her king, Rider Wen has fled the city of Gillengaria and given herself the penance of a life of wandering, helping strangers in need. But when chance brings her to the great estate known as Fortune, Wen will find her fate, and finally confront the ghosts of her past.

My thoughts:

This was another good choice for me as I ease my way back into the reading/reviewing vibe. I've thoroughly enjoyed the previous four volumes in Shinn's Twelve Houses series, so I knew going in that I would most likely enjoy this one, too. And happily, I was right.

Fortune and Fate is a definite shift in tone from it's predecessors - they were very much wrapped up in the prelude to rebellion and the war itself. In this book, the war is over, and so in many ways this book felt quieter, less frantic. I was never worried that one of the main characters would die - even though there was some danger and adventure, it never seemed quite as treacherous as it had before.

One of my favorite parts about Shinn's books is that she always gives her readers a strong heroine, and she didn't disappoint in Wen. Honestly, it's just so much fun to see her take on the boys and beat them at their own game - she is strong, and smart, and more than a match for anyone or anything that crosses her path. It was also fun to catch up with the core group of 6 who had featured so prominently in the previous books, and the meeting of Wen and that group was memorable and fulfilling.

This is just a great read. I think I've said before that Shinn's fantasy is most likely not for everyone - she has a definite undertone of romance in her novels, and I know that might turn some readers off. For me, losing myself in her world is always a pleasure. I don't know where she plans to take me next, but I can assure you I'll be going there with her.

Finished: 4/11/10
Source: Forest Avenue library
MPAA rating: PG? Some violence and adult situations, but nothing explicit
My rating: 8/10

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review - Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
published 2009
341 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive Wolf-Man who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup's father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated and used by the US government as a weapon. The Wolf-Men were engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sensory capability, stamina, and a total lack of fear, and Loup, named for and sharing her father's wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider.

After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: They form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town.

Aware that she could lose her freedom, and possibly her life, Loup is determined to fight to redress the wrongs her community has suffered. And like the reincarnation of their patron saint, she will bring hope to all of Santa Olivia.

My thoughts:

This book has been on my radar for quite a while - I fell HARD in love with Carey's Kushiel series, but even I could tell that Santa Olivia was not going to be the lush, romantic epic fantasy that I'd come to expect from this author. So, while I knew I wanted to read it, I'd put it on the back burner for a while. Because really, what can be worse than when an author you LOVE writes a book that you....don't. And when I read the description, I thought, "Wolf-Men??? Hmmmm...."

But I saw it at the library, and I felt like I could use a bit of a break from the modern, somewhat bleak lit-fic I had lined up, so I grabbed it. Then it sat languishing in my bag for quite a while, as my reading time became occupied with more important things. And then, last weekend, I was almost out the door before I remembered I didn't have a book in my bag (TRAGEDY!), and it was on top of the pile, so I grabbed it and ran.

Several hours later, I was so engrossed I forgot to eat dinner. And the next morning I woke up early to keep reading. Because once again, I fell HARD in love with this novel.

Santa Olivia is a little bit dystopian sci-fi, a little bit coming-of-age, a little bit romance, a little bit adventure - really, it's such an interesting mix of genres that it winds up feeling a lot like it's very own thing, which isn't in this case bad. It's definitely a departure for Carey, though - her Kushiel series has an elegant, lyrical quality to it that perfectly fits the narrative. Santa Olivia is neither elegant nor lyrical - it is hard, and blunt, and again, it fits the narrative. These characters live hard, bleak lives, and too much elegance in the prose would have seemed out of place.

While the writing itself is good, it is the characters that make this novel. Carey takes such care in creating her characters, and they just come to life in the pages. Each of them is important, and so perfectly placed - I can't imagine the story without a single one of them.

And then there is Loup. She is a heroine I will never forget. She is feisty, and loyal, and completely unafraid. (Literally. She can't feel fear. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.) This book, more than anything, is Loup's journey - from precocious little girl to fascinating woman. She learns about love, and courage, and about picking her battles. She is strong in all the ways a person can be strong, and yet she is not invincible. She is utterly compelling.

Yep, I loved this book. It's not perfect - some of the backstory could be fleshed out a bit more, and the ending was a bit abrupt. But I think much of that could be resolved in a sequel, which I understand from the author's website is in the works. (Hooray!) But it was one of the most entertaining books I've read this year, and I have a feeling it will be one of my favorites when the year draws to a close.

Finished: 4/3/10
Source: Forest Avenue library
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, and sexual situations
My rating: 9/10

This book counts toward:

42 Science Fiction Challenge
4/42 complete

Women Unbound Reading Challenge
2/8 complete

Sunday, April 11, 2010

TSS - Where I've Been

Boy, it has been quite a year.

They say that bad things come in three's - well, I'm hoping I've reached my third for this year, because I think I need a break.

The first thing was, of course, the deaths of my friend Levi, and Baby Sam. Many of you read and wept along with me as that sweet boy struggled to hold on for 2 short months, and then left his earthly family. His parents are still, understandably, devastated by his loss. I would imagine losing a child is a pain you never get over. However, even in their heartbreak, they are finding ways to help others. My heart still hurts for them.

The second thing is what has kept me from blogging for a while now. A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law called my husband after he came home from work (at around 10 pm) and asked him to come over to her house. She told him she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This was, of course, shocking and frightening. Pancreatic cancer has one of the worst prognosis for recovery, and being an only child, my husband and his mom are incredibly close.

Two days later, she went to the ER because she was experiencing extreme pain and nausea that she couldn't control. She didn't leave the hospital again until this past Thursday - she was there for almost a month. It was painful and frustrating to watch her struggle with such severe pain - she rated it a 9 or 10 almost every day, for weeks on end. Last week, she had surgery to remove a larger-than-baseball sized tumor from her abdomen, and at that time her doctors changed her diagnosis to colon cancer - still serious, but with a much better chance for recovery. Her doctors were able to get the ENTIRE tumor, and it had not spread from the initial locations they had discovered.

However, we are not yet out of the woods. She is still struggling from extreme pain - she has had arthritis for many years, and her doctors will not currently allow her to take any anti-inflammatory medications, to prepare for her upcoming chemo. This is causing debilitating pain in her shoulders and joints. She has not been able to work in over a month, and most likely will not be returning any time soon - in this unstable economy, the loss of an income is a scary thing. And, in 3 weeks, she will be starting chemotherapy, with all that entails. It seems likely that my husband and I will be moving in with them, to help with her care and the household expenses. My husband has barely slept in 3 weeks - it's a lot for him to handle. We are all feeling the strain.

The third thing? My cousin, Andrew, who fought and overcame leukemia as a child, has been told that it is back. I don't have a lot of details, but that is certainly news no family wants to hear.

So, as you can see, quite a year. Of course, as is the case, along with sorrow comes joy. My husband and I found out - just shortly before everything happened with my mother-in-law - that we will be welcoming our first child in October! We are very excited - I am almost 4 months along, which means I've also been dealing with extreme sickness and fatigue for the past few weeks. Honestly, reading and blogging just didn't have a chance with everything else going on! I'm hoping (cross your fingers!!) that the sick part will be over in the next couple of weeks - it would be really nice to have a day where I didn't just feel like poop. But, it will be what it will be, and I'm sure it will all be worth it in the end, right??

Thanks to all of you who are still reading - both this rather long post, as well as my blog in general. I'm hoping to start getting back in the swing of things soon - it's been too long, and I miss it. But the past few weeks have cemented in my mind the resolutions I made earlier in the year.

"There's no such thing in anyone's life as an unimportant day." ~ Alexander Woolcott

So, what's been going on in YOUR life??