Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

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

What I’m Reading #22: Keeping You A Secret April 2, 2010

Okay, so this book never made it to the “What I’m Reading” widget.  Friesner’s Nobody’s Princess simply wasn’t holding me. When Julie Anne Peters’ book showed up in the mail yesterday, I felt compelled to push Helen aside and go with some LGBT teen lit…

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Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2005

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up-Holland Jaeger goes steady with a good-looking boy and contemplates attending an Ivy League college in the fall. Then she meets “out-and-proud” lesbian Cece Goddard, and her life changes. Within a matter of weeks, the two begin an affair that eventually leads to a committed relationship. Holland loses old friends, encounters vicious discrimination, and is thrown out of the house by her hysterical mother. She finds help at the local Gay Resource Center, however, and begins to look forward to attending a local college after high school, with Cece by her side. Peters knows how to tell an intriguing story. However, while both teens are likable, believable characters, the confidence with which Cece proudly proclaims her sexual orientation at school strains credibility. This aside, the antigay slurs, viciousness, and prejudice the girls endure certainly leave an indelible impression. Peters’s message may be heavy-handed at times, but, overall, this is a well-written and thought-provoking novel.
Robert Gray, East Central Regional Library, Cambridge, MN
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Strengths: I’ll admit this was a nice change of pace from what I’ve been reading.  I found it interesting, particularly since it’s not your typical teen romance.  This could easily have become rather preachy and trite–but Peters’ take on the story is quite poignant and real.  Not for the least because she draws on her own experiences.  My favorite character, however, was not Holland or Cece; rather, I liked Holland’s Goth stepsister, Faith.  Peters’ development of her was excellent–I loved that her character didn’t change, rather it unveiled as the story went on.

Possible Flaws: I agree with School Library Journal–the message, however pertinent and timely, does come over as a bit heavy-handed.  But I suppose it is representative of the turmoil of adolescence.

My Rating:

I enjoyed this read for what it was.  It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it’s definitely thought-provoking  and quite timely.  Particularly if you like to scandalize people by reading a teen lesbian romance, which I think I’d love to leave lying on my mother’s coffee table just to see what she’d do.  😉
(Probably going to hell for that bit, but…plenty of you all are going with me, so I won’t be lonely.  😉 )


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What I’m Reading #14: A Reliable Wife March 8, 2010

Since I love used bookstores and Paperbackswap, I often resist paying cover price for books.  This was one of those books I had to try really hard to wait for.

I was captivated by the cover when I saw it at Borders, and even more so by the synopsis on the back.

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A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Algonquin Books, 2010

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

Set in 1907 Wisconsin, Goolrick’s fiction debut (after a memoir, The End of the World as We Know It) gets off to a slow, stylized start, but eventually generates some real suspense. When Catherine Land, who’s survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a “reliable wife,” she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she’s deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway. After the wedding, Catherine helps Ralph search for his estranged son and, despite growing misgivings, begins to poison him with small doses of arsenic. Ralph sickens but doesn’t die, and their story unfolds in ways neither they nor the reader expect. This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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I fell in love with the cover.  And, surprise surprise, it was another book that had been published elsewhere first.  I’d actually have loved the Canadian cover even more.

How gorgeous would THAT have been?

But I digress.

Strengths: I devoured this book in a day.  It has everything: love, hatred, loathing, revenge, redemption, forgiveness, murder, debauchery, sex, betrayal… It’s deliciously naughty without turning into a bodice-ripping historical romance.  It’s definitely a juicy read, and despite Publishers Weekly’s assertion of the “slow, stylized start,”  I found it hit the ground running.  It has a Gothic twist, set in…Wisconsin, of all places, which is so unexpected I love it.   Catherine is secretive, devious, and beautifully flawed.  The narrative evolves with a ghastly inevitability, so much so that you can’t tear yourself away, knowing full well where it is heading.  Why do I find arsenic poisoning so fascinating?

Potential Flaws:

Really, I wasn’t able to pick anything that weakened the story.  It’s entertaining, but not a literary masterpiece.  But honestly, that’s not what I was looking for when I picked it up, anyway.

My Rating:

A very pleasant, decadent diversion.  Great for a lazy rainy afternoon.

 

What I’m Reading #7: Susannah Morrow February 1, 2010

Admittedly, I’m a little obsessed with some of the darker periods of history.  Spanish Inquisition, witch hunts, the Mormon Mountain Meadows massacre…

Okay, it’s morbid.

However, I feel that these are great fodder for writers of historical fiction.  Even if some have been beaten like a dead horse…

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Susanna Morrow by Megan Chance

Warner Books, 2002

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

The infamous Salem witch trials are staged once again in this historically accurate yet oddly flat novel. Three characters narrate the tale: 15-year-old Charity Fowler; her father, Lucas; and her maternal aunt, Susannah Morrow. The novel opens in 1691 as Charity,devastated and increasingly uncertain, struggles to cope with both the loss of her mother in childbirth and the abrupt departure of her first love. The easily led teenager seeks solace in a group of manipulative girls, who insinuate that evil is lurking in their insular,superstitious little town. As Charity loses her grasp on reason,Lucas, a God-fearing man who has tended his family the best he can but is hobbled by his piety, takes the reins of the narrative. Tormented by his sexual longings and uneasy about his stern treatment of his daughters, he commits grievous errors in judgment. The hysteria over the alleged presence of witches in the village-as documented by the crazed “fits” of young girls-has paralyzed the community when Susannah’s voice takes over. Her London background and her strength,sensuality and courage inevitably make her a victim of the madness,but her lucid narration carries the reader through the horror of escalating accusations and unmerited punishment. Chance’s clear-eyed narrative doesn’t slide into sensationalism, but with the exception of the intriguing and well-drawn title character, it adds little to the well-known story.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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First off, I’ll say I’m probably a little Salem-witch-trialed-out for a while.  How many different ways can you approach a subject so well documented?  Perhaps a little post-apocalyptic fiction next time.

Strengths: I will agree with part of the review from Publisher’s Weekly:  I do feel the title character, Susannah, was “intriguing and well-drawn.”  I find her free-spiritedness and voice of reason refreshing–so often the characters in these books may be noble, but are also natives of the region and largely born of the same religious hysteria that gave rise to the witch trials to begin with.  I loved the cover, which dares to show Susannah, however completely clad, as something sensual and alive (I did NOT like the mass-market paperback cover–it looks very dated, and I’d have never wanted to pick it up–go for the hardcover or the trade-size.)  I did like the multifaceted narrative, which includes a male perspective we don’t usually see in these sorts of books.  Chance is an established romance author (see http://www.amazon.com/Megan-Chance/e/B000AP9DIK/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 ), which I normally feel bleeds through too much and comes at the price of historical accuracy; however, in the case of this book, I found the love story to be sweet, more mature–not your traditional over-the-top romantic fare.

Potential Flaws: I don’t necessarily see the story as “oddly flat.”  However, I absolutely LOATHED the character of Susannah’s niece and accuser, Charity.  And not in the good way in which I love to hate flawed characters.  I just couldn’t stand her–which is unfortunate, since her narrative takes up pretty much the first half of the book.  In that respect, Charity’s development was predictable, almost pedestrian.  Of course, what did I expect?  The story’s history is pretty much established.  I think I longed for Chance to in some way surprise me, to present one of the accusing girls as perhaps more human than what other authors portray.  It was not to be.  Further, I truly wanted Susannah’s portion of the narrative to become a greater part of the book; it was the shortest portion, told in the darkest time of the witch trials, during her time in jail–also predictable.  I felt that Chance in some respects cheated Susannah and didn’t give her the voice that really deserved to be heard.

My Rating:

I felt I really needed to give a split rating here:

For the first half, I was just underwhelmed.  Could NOT get past detesting Charity.

For the second half, and for Chance’s lovely characterization of Susannah.

 

What I’m Reading #5: Incantation January 22, 2010

While deciding what to read next, I found a copy of Alice Hoffman’s Incantation. In the reviews for The Apprentice’s Masterpiece, it mentioned Hoffman’s book, so I decided to give it a shot.

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Incantation by Alice Hoffman

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 7 Up–The opposing forces of love and hate, loyalty and betrayal underscore this brief but rich tale set during the Spanish Inquisition. Told by 16-year-old Estrella deMadrigal, the novel shows how gruesome beliefs nourished by ignorance and prejudice destroyed the lives of countless people. Hoffman weaves a tale of a close friendship between two teens, Estrella and Catalina. Both envision that their lives will be intertwined forever. However, there is a secret about Estrella and her family that unfolds in spurts. The deMadrigals are Jews who follow their religion in secret, appearing to the world as good Catholics in order to escape persecution. Hoffman, a master storyteller, has captured this harsh time and the fragile lives of the hidden Jews. On one level this is the story of a friendship and the deadly interference of jealousy. It is also a story of the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit. Estrella develops incredible strength as she tries to save herself and her grandmother. Ultimately, it is the love of a Christian, Catalina’s cousin Andres, that saves her. Hoffman’s lyrical prose and astute characterization blend to create a riveting, horrific tale that unites despair with elements of hope. Good companion selections include Waldtraut Lewin’s Freedom beyond the Sea (Delacorte, 2001) and Kathryn Lasky’s Blood Secret (HarperCollins, 2004).–Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

First off, LOVELY cover.  I love the presence of the red lily, which is important later in the book.

Strengths: Fast-paced, solid read.  Estrella is a strong, beautiful heroine.  Again, I was delighted (morbidly so, I suppose) to read about a less-than-ordinary time period–the Spanish Inquisition.  I love that Hoffman doesn’t pull any punches; she portrays the Inquisition’s horrors without apology.  Her descriptions are vivid and straightforward and ring with accuracy.  Despite the dark terror she portrays, she’s still able to end the story on a hopeful note without sounding forced.

Potential Flaws: Again, I’m at a loss on this one.  Difficult to pick anything that is really a FLAW, per se.

My Rating:

Well-written and entertaining.


 

What I’m Reading #1: The Red Necklace January 1, 2010

Okay, so I’ll admit it.  I am fickle about what I read sometimes.

I will be FAR more likely to pick up a book and give it consideration if it has a captivating cover.  This, like Jacqueline Kolosov ‘s “The Red Queen’s Daughter,” was one of those titles.  Being a lover of historical fiction doesn’t hurt, either.

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The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

Dial, 2008

From School Library Journal  (Courtesy of Amazon.com)

Grade 7–10—As the first embers of the French Revolution begin to burn, Yann Margoza, a 14-year-old voice thrower and mind reader, watches his simple life as a magician’s assistant disappear before his eyes. During one fateful midnight performance at the chateau of an overindulgent, debt-ridden marquis, a string of irreversible events unfurls. Jolted from the only world he’s known, Yann becomes inextricably intertwined with the marquis’s 12-year-old daughter and lecherous, treacherous Count Kalliovski. Yann struggles to make the right choices while coming to terms with his origins and unique abilities in order to save those he loves. Gardner deftly plays out the same brand of intrigue, romance, and murky intentions beautifully rendered in recent period magician films, The Prestige and The Illusionist. Readers will root for Yann and Sido as they struggle toward adulthood amid the political and social turmoil surrounding and sometimes endangering them. At the book’s end, Gardner provides further historical background on late-18th-century France, though most readers will find themselves wishing simply for a sequel to continue this engrossing tale.—Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2009

I put this one away in about three days.  If I’d had more time (it’s been a very busy week so far) I’d have done it in less.

Strengths: As historical fiction goes, it was fairly accurate.  I appreciated the author’s notes at the end that included a timeline of the French Revolution.  Overall solid characterizations, likable characters (I was particularly drawn to Sido’s character–some bit of Jane Eyre-like modeling of her early on, in my opinion).   Excellently set up for sequel possibilities.

Potential Flaws: In hindsight, I might have made better use of the author’s notes if they were used as a preface to the novel.  As I read, I sensed some disjointedness in the passage of time–inexplicable lapses of time that left me puzzled.  Having the timeline (even a general one) prior to reading the story might have prevented that.  However, this was only a minor disruption to the flow.

My Rating:

An enjoyable read, worth the time.


Update:

While updating my “What I’m Reading” image widget for I, Coriander, I stumbled upon Gardner’s sequel!  The Silver Blade is currently available!  I hope to track down a copy soon.