Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD by Jane Nickerson

I came across Jane Nickerson’s STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD on an agent website and decided to check it out. I’m so glad I did because it was the sort of book I didn’t know I was looking for but absolutely loved. I couldn’t put down this southern Gothic historical and was sneaking chapters during the car ride with my kids on spring break. Here’s the cover and description.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane NickersonWhen seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The villain – STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD is a retelling of the tale of Bluebeard, and I confess I’m not familiar with it, so I went and looked it up (I totally should have waited until afterward so I wouldn’t have spoiled anything). But anyway, I really loved the character Ms. Nickerson created with Bernard de Cressac. He’s a perfect villain because of his charm. He puts a sort of spell on Sophie so that even while she knows he’s reeling her into a dangerous web, she keeps convincing herself he’s really not who she suspects. So well done!

2. The setting – I felt like I was in Mississippi with Sophie, experiencing the mosquitoes and the humidity, exploring the ancient abbey transported across the ocean. All of M. de Cressac’s extravagant touches came to life in each scene, and I was transported to another time. Gorgeous!

3. The tension – I wouldn’t call this a fast-paced book, and yet I was compelled to keep turning pages to find out how Sophie would handle each escalating tightening of the noose on her life. And while the tension was physical, it was more than that. Sophie had to decide how much of herself she would give up, walking on eggshells with M. de Cressac with each demand he made. While in today’s society, we might think it would be easy to walk away, it was not an easy decision for her.

4. Sophie’s growth – Sophie spends a significant portion of the book in self-denial, and while it was frustrating at times, it was also understandable based on her background and situation in life. I enjoyed watching her figure out the truth and come into her adulthood during the story, both in regard to standing up for her principles (there’s a subplot regarding slavery) and herself.

5. The mystery – The thread of mystery throughout the story was fantastic, as Sophie followed the clues about M. de Cressac and ultimately solved it. Going along with the Gothic theme, there were some supernatural elements, which were very well done and fit perfectly with the story.

There are two other books that follow STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD, and I will definitely be reading these as well. Have you read these books? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SLEEPOVER by Jen Malone

I’ve had THE SLEEPOVER since the NESCBWI Conference this spring, when I finally got to meet Jen Malone in person. I’ve reviewed several of her books and even interviewed Jen for her debut, AT YOUR SERVICE. (Also see my reviews for YOU’RE INVITED and WANDERLOST.) I planned to jump right into this book as well, but I took it along on our family lake vacation in June, and when my kids saw the cover, they demanded I read it aloud to them. As you can imagine, doing a book as a read-aloud doesn’t happen every day or even every week with everything else going on in life, so we just finished it last week. Anyway, here is the cover that so excited them. You can see why they had to know what it was about, right?

The Sleepover by Jen MaloneIn this tween version of the movie The Hangover, Meghan, Paige, and Anna Marie are super excited for the Best. Night. Ever. The sleepover they’re planning can be nothing short of EPIC. There will be junk food, there will be crazy-scary horror movies, and there will be karaoke smack-downs. Not even the last minute addition of Anna Marie’s socially awkward, soon-to-be-stepsister Veronica can dampen their spirits.

But nothing prepares them for the scene that greets them when they awaken the next morning: the basement is a mega disaster zone, Meghan’s left eyebrow has been shaved off, her “pillow” is the prized-possession hoodie of the class rebel who lives next door, and–heavenly heckweasels!–what is the deal with the slew of tiny ducklings in the bathtub!?

Worst of all, Anna Marie is missing. As in completely and totally gone-zo. Now the remaining girls have to piece together what exactly happened the night before, in the hopes it will lead them to their missing friend before the parents arrive for pick-ups. If she’s not waiting safe and sound when that doorbell rings, heads will roll and their social life as they know it will cease to exist. Trouble is, none of them can remember anything of the prior evening past that hypnotism trick performed by the two-bit magician Veronica arranged in an effort to impress the other girls.

The clock is ticking, the clues are weird and weirder, and one thing is certain: last night got a lot wilder than karaoke and make-your-own-sundae.

So, I tried to get my kids to help me write the review, but when I asked them what they loved best, they were basically giving away the whole story. My attempts to guide them back to more general points unfortunately annoyed my eight-year-old so much he refused to tell me his favorite things anymore, so I’ll just tell you the things I think we all loved best :).

1. The pranks – You can tell from what they found in the morning that the pranks they got up to overnight involved ducklings, shaving off Meghan’s eyebrow (yikes!!), and then there’s a whole thing with a hedgehog … Suffice it to say we couldn’t stop laughing.

2. The mission – Their efforts to figure out what happened the night before and why they can’t remember what happened the night before are as hilarious as the actual events. I love how this provides the forward momentum for the story.

3. The crush – Meghan’s crush on Jake is the most adorable thing ever. And I love how it’s just sweet and confusing and exactly right for her age. Oh, and there’s one scene that’s so excruciating my son was hiding his face on the couch and howling.

4. Veronica – I think Veronica might be one of my favorite characters ever. She completely owns her wackiness, and every time she spoke, I waited for something brilliant to come out. Like this:

Veronica blushes and sticks out her chest a little. “I completed the Junior Hardy Boys Detective Certification Course.”

Um, oooooookayyyyyyy.

“Well, since I don’t know how to respond to that, I’m just going to move on,” Paige says, gripping the banister. “Okay, so let’s be superquiet, girls. Stick together and do not make a noise.”

“I also take ninja lessons,” Veronica whispers when we reach the top stair.

And then there was the squirrel. Believe me, it’s hilarious!

5. The villain – Who caused all of this mayhem? Well, I’m not going to tell you, but I thought the resolution was brilliant. In fact, my son listed what happened in the last five pages as one of his favorite things about the book. Too bad it’s one of those spoilers :).

Go read this book! You will be laughing–and cringing–throughout. And as you should be able to tell from my review, my son found it just as entertaining as my daughter.

Research, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE SHADOW CABINET by Maureen Johnson

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I posted a review. It’s not because I haven’t been reading any good books. I have. I just … haven’t been in a review mood? Mostly I’ve been so entrenched in revision mode that reviewing hasn’t broken through that focus–until now.

So. THE SHADOW CABINET is the third book in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, and if you haven’t read the first two books in the series, you should! THE NAME OF THE STAR was one of my favorite reads of 2012, although I don’t have a review because I read it before I started this blog. The second book was equally mysterious and chilling, but I still didn’t review (probably because I was waiting for the third), so I’m making a point of reviewing this one. However, if you haven’t read THE NAME OF THE STAR and THE MADNESS UNDERNEATH, you should STOP READING NOW because there will be spoilers for those in the description below and my review.

Still reading? Okay …

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen JohnsonRory and her friends are reeling from a series of sudden and tragic events. While racked with grief, Rory tries to determine if she acted in time to save a member of the squad. If she did, how do you find a ghost? Also, Rory’s classmate Charlotte has been kidnapped by Jane and her nefarious organization. Evidence is uncovered of a forty-year-old cult, ten missing teenagers, and a likely mass murder. Everything indicates that Charlotte’s in danger, and it seems that something much bigger and much more terrible is coming.

Time is running out as Rory fights to find her friends and the ghost squad struggles to stop Jane from unleashing her spectral nightmare on the entire city. In the process, they’ll discover the existence of an organization that underpins London itself—and Rory will learn that someone she trusts has been keeping a tremendous secret.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The mystery – So many unanswered questions. What really happened at the end of THE MADNESS UNDERNEATH? Rory has to figure this out and then unravel a trail someone has left behind (trying to stay unspoilery here) in order to save the team. Each of these books has a self-contained mystery, and they’re all well-done.

2. The characters – I love how real these characters are. In particular, what struck me as I was reading is that often characters in this type of book–hero-type characters–will make the right choices all the time, the kind of choices that will save the world. The characters in this book sometimes make more reckless choices that seem right to them at the time but don’t end up being the best choices at all. Unfortunately, that’s often how things happen in real life.

3. The villains – Ms. Johnson introduces two completely new villains in this book, and they make everything the villain in the previous book did suddenly (ok, maybe not suddenly) make sense. The prologue is downright chilling in how cold-blooded these villains are. There are villains you have some empathy for, and there are villains you hope never know your name. Sid and Sadie fall into the latter category.

4. The trippiness – I just made up a word there, I know. There’s a definite seventies theme going on with this book, with the flashbacks forty years before to Sid and Sadie and Jane. I was barely alive in the seventies, so it’s not my time. And yet, I could see how it permeated this story, and I found it interesting. From the weird style of the villains to some craziness that happens toward the end of the book … yeah, I’ll just call it trippiness.

5. That it’s not the end – I went into this book expecting it to be the last one. I figured out at 602 of 661 (I was reading this in the Overdrive app on my phone) that there was no way the overall plot was wrapping up in this book, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Because more Rory! More mysteries! More psycho killers! Wait, that last part makes me sound a little bloodthirsty …

Who else has read this series? Are you anxiously awaiting the final book? Because I checked Maureen Johnson’s website, and she says there will only be one more …