Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #38: Journal July 11, 2010

This was loaned to my by my sister a while back and I forgot about it.  I picked it up a couple of nights ago when I couldn’t sleep and ended up reading the whole thing…

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Journal:  The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason by Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson

Simon and Schuster, 2006

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This cover fits the book, but the real treasure is inside...

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Internal "scrapbook" style pages...

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Multilayered storytelling: Amy's additions are placed over the original book's content, which often has eerie connections to the journal's contents.

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

This tantalizing “found” journal of a troubled young wife and mother combines the diary of Amy Mason, correspondence, clippings from newspaper accounts and remnants of the 19th-century novel Amy used instead of a blank notebook to frame the story of her disintegrating marriage. Amy’s husband, Robert, moves to Boston to head a new cardiology institute, but Amy and her two small children remain behind in Houston, planning to follow later. As the relocation process drags on, Robert throws himself into his new responsibilities and Amy fights a deepening depression. She finds a new friend in her Houston real estate agent, Vanessa Garamond, but the beautiful Vanessa provokes Amy’s suspicions with an unannounced trip to Boston. Sisters Kristine and Joyce Atkinson only hint at the occurrence of a crime, and readers will have to draw their own conclusions from the open-ended assemblage of visual and textual clues. Traditional mystery readers may want a more definitive story, but amateur scrapbookers will find inspiration in this collage.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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This isn’t a YA title, but I’d say that teen readers might find it interesting anyway for its unusual format.

Strengths: This has a really unique format.  The premise of the story involves Amy’s decision to use an old book as her journal (called “altered books”) and she adds emails, recipes, journal entries, scrapbook clippings, etc. to it.   I was really interested as the story unfolded, since the original content of the book shows through her entries, sometimes in a really coincidental and spooky way.  You know there are details to find, and you need to read carefully and pay attention to EVERYTHING.  It’s a treasure hunt.

Potential Flaws: Nothing structural.  I will only say that these types of books just aren’t for everyone.  It’s not a really deep, convoluted mystery, but those who want to read this type of book probably aren’t looking for that, anyway.

My Rating:

A unique, clever diversion.  Not a literary masterpiece, but a fun fast scavenger hunt for clues.

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What I’m Reading #37: Mercy, Unbound

This was another used bookstore find.  I was snagged by the title and sold by the cover.  Even the teaser from the back is promising:

“Mercy O’Connor is becoming an angel.

She can feel her wings sprouting from her shoulder blades. They itch. Sometimes she even hears them rustling.

And angels don’t need to eat. So Mercy has decided she doesn’t need to either. She is not sick, doesn’t suffer from anorexia, is not trying to kill herself. She is an angel, and angels simply don’t need food.

When her parents send her to an eating disorder clinic, Mercy is scared and confused. She isn’t like the other girls who are so obviously sick. If people could just see her wings, they would know. But her wings don’t come and Mercy begins to have doubts. What if she isn’t really an angel? What if she’s just a girl? What if she is killing herself? Can she stop?”

I’ve always been a fan of the teen problem novel, and I admit I find the topic of anorexia fascinating.  I figured I couldn’t lose.

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Mercy, Unbound by Kim Antieau

Simon Pulse, 2006

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I love the delicate, ethereal quality and the fact that they used a brunette model.

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Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Booklist

Gr. 9-12. Funny and painfully honest, this debut YA novel by the author of several adult books tells the teenage anorexia story from the viewpoint of Mercy, 15, who denies she has an eating disorder until she is sent to a treatment center in New Mexico. Like her loving mom, Mercy is a strident atheist who wants to save the world, and she feels the political burden of starvation, both past (her Jewish grandmother survived Auschwitz; many in her dad’s Irish family perished during the potato famine) and present (the suffering of AIDS orphans). The plot lurches at the end, the political stuff is sometimes heavy, and Mercy’s wildly misleading comment to her counselor–if she and the other patients “had been born black in South Africa, [we] would most likely have AIDS”–is never challenged or corrected in context. Still, many readers will want this for the family story and for the teen talk, which is fast, frank, and irreverent. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Strengths: The parallel to Shelley’s Prometheus, Unbound is quite clever.  Like Shelley’s play, Antieau’s book is divided into 4 parts, and Mercy’s feelings regarding the suffering she sees in the world mirror those of Prometheus. I really found this to be a unique and clever approach.

Potential Flaws: This book had a great deal of promise.  As I’ve said, I’ve always been a fan of a good problem novel.  But, that being said, I was really disappointed with this read.  The political/moral issues that keep cropping up, although accurate, are heavy-handed.  Further, I felt that this was potentially two novels.  The first was the typical problem novel about anorexia.  Unfortunately, it never really delivered; Mercy’s repeated “I don’t eat because I’m becoming an angel and angels don’t need to eat” really flies in the face of the fact that in truth, anorexia is about body image and control issues.  The “angel” approach trivializes a serious issue.  The second novel was a “what if” story; what if Mercy really WAS becoming an angel?  This was a direction that I was hoping the story would go.  Again, unfortunately, Antieau doesn’t deliver that either.  Ultimately, while the Prometheus parallel was a good one, I also felt that it was one that would most likely be lost on a significant portion of the intended audience.

My Rating:

A disappointment.  Much promise, but not much delivery.  Too many false starts, heavy-handed political issues, and just not much punch.


 

What I’m Reading #32: The Hand of the Devil July 3, 2010

To preface this post, I need to share  bit about a couple of my favorite authors:  Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

In 1995, Preston and Child released Relic, a delicious thriller built on archaeology, legend, and science.  They followed this bestseller with Reliquary and 8 other sequels, tied together with the same threads: a fantastic cast of characters, scientific/archeological realities, and various legends of strange phenomena/creatures.

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It appears, to my excitement, that I’ve found a YA equivalent to my Preston/Child obsession.

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The Hand of the Devil by Dean Vincent Carter

Bodley Head Children’s Books; First Edition edition (February 2, 2006)

(Isn’t this a deliciously wicked-looking cover?)

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Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up—As a journalist for the weird science magazine Missing Link, recent college graduate Ashley Reeves has dealt with his fair share of crackpots and phony tips, but the letter from Reginald Mather seems genuine. Mather claims to have in his possession the only known specimen of a particularly large and deadly variety of mosquito known as the Ganges Red, a legendary creature believed by some to have supernatural abilities. Ashley quickly departs for Mather’s isolated cabin on Aries Island where, of course, he is promptly cut off from civilization and finds himself in the company of a very unpleasant insect and at least one madman. (A portion of this review deleted due to spoilers.) Carter’s novel contains a fair helping of gore, but never generates much tension or atmosphere. Although large portions of the novel are devoted to people explaining various back stories to one another, none of the characters (with the possible exception of Mather) really emerges as an individual. Suspense and horror fans will probably find Lois Duncan and Darren Shan more satisfying.—Christi Voth, Parker Library, CO
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Description

When young magazine journalist Ashley Reeves receives an intriguing letter, he leaves his London office in the hope of reporting on an unusual species of insect – the Ganges Red. That evening he arrives on Aries Island and encounters the writer of the letter – Reginald Mather. At first Mather seems no more than an eccentric collector, happy to live in isolation on the island. But when Reeves unearths the horrific truth he finds himself thrown headlong into a macabre nightmare that quickly spirals out of control. His life is in danger …and Mather is not his only enemy …Both gruesome and compelling, chilling and page-turning, this much-anticipated thriller from Dean Vincent Carter will delight older readers.

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Ok, so I’m not in full agreement with School Library Journal.  I really thought this was a refreshing departure from typical teen thrillers.  It felt more like a YA Stephen King novel.  It’s definitely not for younger readers; I wouldn’t recommend it below 9th grade, unless the reader was particularly precocious.

It’s definitely a little more raw in content than say, Christopher Pike.  I didn’t find this to be a pale book by any stretch of the imagination; I tore through it in less than a day (and I usually don’t sit and read for HOURS at a time unless the book is REALLY fantastic).  So…

Strengths: As I’ve said, a definite change of pace from some of the tamer, more diluted teen thrillers out there.  Its similarity to Preston/Child books (if you read this and like it, I strongly suggest finding a copy of Relic) was more than enough to pull me in.  Mathers is wonderfully creepy as the villain.  The ending of the book does, IMO, build up quite a bit of tension through a series of confrontations that pile up on each other.

Potential Flaws: I did find one element to be lacking: the addition of  Reeves’ love interest.  She appears too late in the novel and without enough build-up to make Reeves’ feelings for her believable.  It’s a rather afterthought-ish way to add the romance in, which ends up being critical to the climax.   Definitely needed refining in that area.

My Rating:

Carter’s book is fast-paced, gruesome, and intense.  Thoroughly enjoyable and uniquely plotted.  Good for reading late at night.  🙂

 

What I’m Reading #30: A Drowned Maiden’s Hair April 29, 2010

This book has been lurking on my bookshelf for a while, waiting for me to be in the right mood for it.  A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, aptly subtitled A Melodrama, falls on that fine line between middle-grade reading and young adult literature.  I picked it up after a synopsis on Amazon caught my eye.

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A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz

Candlewick Press, 2006

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Grade 4-8–Maud’s life at an orphanage has been one of neglect and poverty. When the Hawthorne sisters appear out of nowhere and adopt the 11-year-old troublemaker, she vows to be obedient. Distracted by unfamiliar pleasures such as new clothes, ice cream, and indoor plumbing, she doesn’t worry too much about the sisters’ insistence that her presence in their home be kept hidden. Well cared for but bored, she finds a way to communicate with Muffet, a deaf serving woman, and the two develop a close relationship. Mysteries abound, and Maud soon discovers the family secret–the Hawthorne sisters make their living by conducting fraudulent séances and they need Maud to play the part of a girl’s ghost to deceive a grieving mother. Wanting to earn her guardians’ affections, Maud is drawn further and further into the scheme despite her growing qualms of conscience. Only after a betrayal and a tragedy does she finally find the loving home for which she longs. Filled with heavy atmosphere and suspense, this story re-creates life in early-20th-century New England and showcases the plight of orphans. Maud is a charismatic, three-dimensional character who is torn between doing the right thing and putting her own needs first. While much of the plot is predictable, particularly the ending, the book will find an audience with fans of gothic tales.–Melissa Moore, Union University Library, Jackson, TN
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Strengths: I really thought this book was charming.  It borders on Gothic; I might use it as a springboard to Gothic with the right reader.  Maud, the eleven-year-old heroine, is scrappy but compulsively likable, and her spirit is hard to contain.  Schlitz deepens Maud’s character with her sensitive portrayal of a child’s yearning for a loving home.  Maud is a little like Oliver Twist in that sense, particularly in her misfortune of falling in with a less-than-desirable crowd.  But I loved Oliver Twist, so the parallel doesn’t bother me. Maud is a little Oliver, and a little Anne Shirley too; she means well, but is sometimes led astray.

Potential Flaws: If melodrama isn’t your thing, you’ll probably not be too thrilled with this book.  It occasionally veers a bit sappy.  And the ending is, as School Library Journal says, predictable.  But these “flaws” have more to do with personal preference than with stylistic problems or construction issues.

My Rating:

A solid, charming story.  Not earth-shattering, emotionally, but a really enjoyable book.

 

What I’m Reading #27: Green Angel April 15, 2010

This is the third Alice Hoffman book I’ve read and reviewed, along with Incantation and The Foretelling.  This happened to be in my car today when I went to get my hair done, and I read it while waiting.

I’m getting to be a huge fan of her lean, lovely prose.

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Green Angel by Alice Hoffman

Scholastic, 2003

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Booklist

Gr. 6-12. Hoffman’s latest fable for teens begins with an apocalyptic scene that mirrors the events of 9/11: a girl watches as her city across the river explodes into smoke and fire, and people leap from buildings. Green, named for her uncanny gardening talent, is 15 years old, and, in the tragedy, she loses her beloved family. Faced with grief and an anarchic world, Green finds solace in the brittle numbness of daily tasks and in the pain of the tattoos that she begins to draw on herself. Slowly, she connects with survivors, especially a mysterious boy, who helps her replant her garden and feel joy again. Hoffman’s lush prose and moody, magic realism will easily draw readers into the harsh, ash-covered world that follows the explosion, as well as the sunny world that precedes it, when “bees would drink the sweat from . . . skin, and never once sting.” Green’s brave competence and the hope she finds in romance will appeal to many teens, particularly those with gothic tastes. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Strengths: I really thought this was a beautiful book.  The idea of a post-apocalyptic fable is not new, but Hoffman makes it fresh and hauntingly lovely.  The narrative resonates with a message of hope, even in the dark terror of Green’s new world.  It’s a touching story about the power of the soul to survive even the harshest of realities.  I love its edginess that makes the softer moments even more sweet.  A fast read in Hoffman’s incredible style, it looks simple but speaks volumes.

Potential Flaws: Hoffman’s sparse style may be too bare for readers who crave lush narratives.  And the question of exactly WHAT happened to destroy the city is never truly answered (and in fact, is relatively unimportant), but some readers may be bothered by the lack of explanation.  I certainly wasn’t.

My Rating:

Classic Hoffman: Deceptively simple with a rich complexity that speaks hauntingly to the soul.

 

What I’m Reading #13: Incarceron March 6, 2010

Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron was published in Great Britain in 2007.  Released in the US in 2010.

And I’m so glad that it was.

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Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Dial, 2010

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010: The shifting landscapes, unexpected plot punches, and bold, brave characters found in Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron are nothing short of thrilling: fans of Garth Nix and Suzanne Collins will take to this epic, twisty fantasy instantly, but it’s also the kind of book that will draw in the most hesitant fantasy reader. The mysterious world of Incarceron—and its factions of daring Prisoners, led by an incorrigible team in Finn and Claudia, who are both searching for a means of escape—is wonderfully imagined, at once frightening and full of seduction, and marks the beginning of an addictive new series. —Anne Bartholomew

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Okay, I’m normally NOT a big reader of fantasy.  I’m one of those people who LOVES the Lord of the Rings movies, but for some reason can’t get into reading the books.  My collection of historical fiction dwarfs my collection of fantasy texts tenfold.

Why I decided I wanted to read this, I’m not entirely sure.  It was probably profiled on someone’s blog, but I can’t remember.

Strengths: This book had one of the most well-built plots I’ve ever read.  Gaps and missing information are intentional, an essential part of the plot itself.  As I read, I went through a constantly evolving progression of theories about who was who, and what was what.  It’s fantasy, but a futuristic one; the technology angle is definitely futuristic.  This clashes brilliantly with the world OUTSIDE the prison, which exists in a forced antiquation called The Protocol.  Their denial of technology (but not really, considering the technology they used to create the prison, Incarceron) leaves the reader strangely intrigued with what outside would be like WITHOUT Protocol. Fisher’s characters are well-developed, and CONTINUE to evolve and develop throughout the book in a way that I don’t find in a lot of YA books.  Definitely NOT static.  The climax of the plot converges in a delightful explosion of action and plot revelations that lead marvelously into the ending, which of course sets the book up for the sequel, which, thank goodness, is coming.

Potential Flaws: I will address this with an indelicate *snort*.  None to speak of.

My Rating:

Brilliantly written.  Excellently paced.  I just hope I can manage to wait for the sequel without splurging to order it from overseas.

 

What I’m Reading #11: Mary Reilly February 26, 2010

After I read Property, I decided to go looking for more of Valerie Martin’s work.  I like her clean, straightforward style. I also love authors that take a traditional staple of literature and turn it on its ear, which is what Martin does in Mary Reilly.

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Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin

Vintage; Reprint Edition, 2001

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

From its startling first scene to the final, provocative paragraph, this highly original view of the Jekyll and Hyde story is a feat of narrative engineering. Mary Reilly is a housemaid in the Victorian London home of Dr. Henry Jekyll, a thoughtful, silver-haired scientist who, in the eyes of his servants, often overexerts himself in his nearby laboratory; nor are these worries assuaged when “Master” announces he has hired Edward Hyde as an assistant. Mary’s remarkable self-possession and intelligence are matched by a commitment to the duties of her station and her devotion to Master, whose weariness seems to worsen. Drawn to her wit and forthrightness, Jekyll establishes a more personal relationship with Mary. Her growing attachment to Master, her ever-so-slowly dawning realization that something is dreadfully wrong and her determined belief in her own good judgment propel the plot with unobtrusive forcefulness. Spare and atmospheric, this story is a dark, absorbing symphony; Mary Reilly is an unforgettable character. Martin’s ( The Consolation of Nature ; A Recent Martyr ) striking imagination grows more powerful with each of her accomplished novels. BOMC featured alternate; QPB selection; film rights to Guber-Peter/Warner Bros.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Strengths: Martin definitely gives a fresh take on the Jekyll-and-Hyde tale.  The heroine is reserved, and has demons of her own, a painful past that surfaces throughout the book.  Knowing the original tale, it’s interesting to watch it unfold to its inevitable ending, but from a different, more personal point of view.

Potential Flaws: The alternative point of view here is something of a double-edged sword.  Martin is true to using only Mary’s perspective.  Unfortunately, I was left as a reader DESPERATELY wanting the gaps filled in.  Wanting to know what Master was up to, wanting to know more details, more explanation.  IF this can even be CALLED a flaw.  Is it a flaw to leave me wanting more?

My Rating:

A solid piece of writing with a solid premise.  Just…not all I wanted it to be.