Mini Review Round-Up: September – October 2015

I realized the other day that I read a bunch of books in the past few months that I didn’t write reviews on. I’m not sure why, to be honest, but instead of writing eight (!) extra posts, I’ve condensed them all into one post of mini reviews!

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow – Katherine Woodfine

24463265A charming middle-grade mystery. I can see it appealing to people who’ve read/want to read The Adventures of Miss Petitfour (except a lot less cats). There were certain elements that seemed “older” than middle-grade, but I feel like people in the UK have different standards for children’s books. Also, LOVE the endpapers/spot illustrations by Julia Sarda.

Rating: 4 interrobangs

Knightly and Son – Rohan Gavin

17978149Mix Artemis Fowl (or really any Eoin Colfer boy protagonist) with a hint of Sherlock Holmes, a dash of Lemony Snicket’s All The Wrong Questions series, and a lot of Spy (the hilarious British show), and you get this. I think I literally laughed out loud a couple of times (or at least snorted). Another fun middle-grade mystery, not to be taken too seriously.

Rating: 4 interrobangs

The Ghosts of Ashbury High – Jaclyn Moriarty

0-545-06973-4I’ve been a big fan of Jaclyn Moriarty’s Ashbury/Brookfield books for many years, and I was so stoked when I realized there was a fourth book (they’re loosely connected so you don’t really need to read them in order). I liked what she was doing with it – ghosts! gothic fiction! exams! – but I found it took longer to get into this installment than the others.

Rating: 4 interrobangs

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times – Emma Trevayne

18332010This cover kills me, it’s so pretty. It had a lot of elements that I really enjoyed – clocks and London and alternate universes, to name a few – and I would compare the tone to classic children’s books like Peter Pan or The Wizard of Oz. The only thing that stopped it from being perfect was the slow-moving plot: stuff happened, but it took a while for it to really pick up.

Rating: 4.5 interrobangs

Vivian Divine is Dead – Lauren Sabel

18651963I got an ARC of this last year when I was interning at HarperCollins Canada and then sort of forgot about it until last week. It started out great, then kind of sputtered along in the middle, and the end was good in a soap opera kind of way. Now that I think about it, it’s probably similar to a really dramatic Hispanic soap opera. Decent, but not stellar.

Rating: 3 interrobangs

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean – Justin Somper

1721141This was a re-read. I know it sounds almost like a joke (vampires + pirates?), but it’s honestly such a good series, even if the second book is a little slow. Lorcan Furey is definitely one of my book boyfriends. And I know it gets better, especially when the badass lady vampirate shows up. Really, I was just glad to see it still held up after almost ten years!

Rating: 5 interrobangs

Why is This Night Different From All Other Nights? – Lemony Snicket

25229245I’ve been reading Lemony Snicket books for literally half my life, so you think by now I’d know that a series ending is just going to leave me confused. It was about as satisfying (that is, unsatisfying) as I expected, but still so Lemony Snicket (if you’ve read his books, you know exactly what I’m talking about). Loved the references to ASOUE characters!

Rating: 4 interrobangs

Whisky From Small Glasses and The Last Witness  – Denzil Meyrick

2482053222665422I liked book one more. It was well-paced and I could easily imagine the small Scottish town where it took place. It’s interesting because some of the characters, such as DS Scott had heavy Scottish accents which were depicted in the text (think Hagrid’s way of speaking x 1000). Book two was harder to get into for because the storyline was more complicated and DS Scott played a huge role, which made reading it a chore.

Rating (Whisky From Small Glasses): 4 interrobangs
Rating (The Last Witness): 3 interrobangs

Have you read any of the books on this list? Or do you have any recs for me now that I’ve read these? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Don’t forget to enter this giveaway for an ebook of J.P. Grider’s Naked and Far From Home, courtesy of Xpresso Book Tours!

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty [re-direct to Mind the Gap]

I don’t usually read a lot of “adult” fiction, but when I do, it might be because the author is the sister of one of my favourite YA authors (Jaclyn Moriarty, who wrote one of my favourite contemporary series, the Ashbury-Brookfield books). Click here to read my review of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies!


ARC Reviews – July 2015

This round-up is a day late because I honestly forgot about it until late yesterday. Either way, this month wasn’t terribly productive in terms of ARCs, but they were all decent. It was also the first time I conducted an author interview, so that was exciting!

  • A Whole New World – Liz Braswell: “It’s YA, but it feels like the young end of YA – more 12-14 than 14-16 – which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but don’t go in expecting something scandalous, even if there are some surprisingly violent scenes.” (3 interrobangs)
  • A Curse of Ash and Iron – Christine Norris: “I felt like it was lacking something. It was a decent story and it had some really fascinating elements, but my inability to connect with the characters made it a hard read.” (2.5 interrobangs)
  • The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl – Ishbelle Bee: “The writing continues to have a lovely lyrical quality to it, even when she’s writing descriptions of a massacre.” (4 interrobangs)
    • I also got the chance to interview the lovely Ishbelle Bee, which you can read here.
  • Placid Girl – Brenna Ehrlich: “I liked the concept, and I think it serves as an excellent cautionary tale.” (3 interrobangs)

Author Interview: Ishbelle Bee

Hello and welcome to my first author interview! I was stoked to get a chance to interview Ishbelle Bee, author of the “adult fairy tales”, The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath and The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl. Both are excellent reads and I highly recommend them.

Thanks once again to Penny at Angry Robot for reaching out to me!

Hi Ishbelle! Let’s start with a mini introduction: if you had to tweet a description of yourself in 140 characters or less, what would you say?

I look like an extra from CARRY ON SCREAMING!.

Congratulations on releasing your second book! Was the process easier this time around compared to Mirror and Goliath? What has the reception been like for both books so far?

I am far more relaxed this time (to the point of sedation) about the entire process and no way near as nervous. I try not to read the reviews anymore unless they are pointed out to me or sent to me, which is probably a good thing as it would be a massive distraction. There have been some really lovely reviews and comments about both books, which I am so happy about.

There are several new characters in this book. Who was your favourite new character to write?

My favourite new characters to write were Queen Victoria & Zedock – they are both really evil and I loved writing their scenes. The baddies always have the best lines.

I love the mad Mr. Loveheart! At what point in the book planning did he appear? Did you always intend for him to be the anchoring character in your series?

He was initially going to be a minor character who got eaten by a tiger but as I was writing him I realised rather quickly he was the lead and now he’s my favourite character.

Why did you choose butterflies? What’s the symbolism behind them?

I was researching Aztec mythology, fairy tale metamorphoses and symbolism- each of my books has an insect theme. I came across a reference in Aztec mythology that butterflies were the reincarnated souls of warriors and the idea developed from there.

In both of your novels, your female protagonist starts off as a little girl and, as the story progresses, grows up. Do you think it’s easier to start off a fairy tale with a child-like protagonist?

Yes, it is easier because I can shape them as they develop and then change them. Both Mirror and Boo Boo go through dramatic transformations and in Boo Boo’s case a hybrid metamorphosis.

Who or what are some of your influences/inspirations?

I am strongly influenced by folklore, fairy tale and mythology. My aspirations are to continue to write fairy tale inspired novels, and I would love to write for film and television.

Do you have a favourite quotation, either from your own work or from someone else?

I am going to pick one of Rufus Hazard’s – “Unspeakable bad manners leaving a man with his head in a bowl of trifle.”

When you’re writing, do you have any weird/interesting habits? Do you listen to music or do you need absolute silence?

Yes I need to be alone and with headphones on listening to music and blocking out the outside world. I like to write in the mornings with plenty of strong coffee.

If you could have tea (and a Victoria Sponge!) with any author, alive or dead, who would it be and why? What would you talk about?

I am going to pick Caitlin Moran because I read her book How to Build a Girl, which I thought was brilliant. We’d talk about her work and eat a lot of cake.

[Sam’s side note: I briefly met Caitlin Moran last fall and she was delightful. How to Build a Girl was a great novel!]

What’s next/what are you working on?

I am currently writing a book on the Scottish witch trials, which is part fairy tale and part historical research, and then the fifth book in the Loveheart series.

If your books were being adapted for the screen, who would you choose to play Mr. Loveheart? Do you have a dream cast for any of the other characters?

Loveheart is a really difficult one to cast. I think he might be best played by a newly discovered talent. The rest of the cast are much easier to cherry pick from my favourite actors.

Dream casting:
Mr Fingers – Alan Cumming
Zedock Heap – Gary Oldman
Goliath – Idris Elba
Queen Victoria – Sigourney Weaver
Rufus Hazard – Matt Berry
Aunt Eva – Tilda Swinton
Professor Hummingbird – John Malkovich

[Sam’s side note: I’m crying at the thought of Alan Cumming and Gary Oldman as those characters. It would be AMAZING.]

What book(s) are you reading now?

I am currently reading The House by the Churchyard by Sheridan Le Fanu.

Like something straight out of a fairy-tale, you’ve turned into an animal for a day. What animal would you be and why?

A dragon – it would have to be a creature that could fly and as a dragon I could eat a few nasty people as well.

If you could travel anywhere in the (real) world, where would you go? What fictional world would you want to visit?

In the real world I would love to visit Iceland.
In the fictional world I would jump into my own Victorian London and visit Mr Loveheart.

Quick pick: sweet or sour?

SWEET, of course!

Thanks for the interview! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

Thank you so much for a wonderful interview. I really enjoyed it xxx

About the author:

Ishbelle-Bee-Author-PictureIshbelle Bee writes horror and loves fairy-tales, the Victorian period (especially top hats!) and cake tents at village fêtes (she believes serial killers usually opt for the Victoria Sponge).

She currently lives in Edinburgh. She doesn’t own a rescue cat, but if she did his name would be Mr Pickles.

You can follow her on Twitter or Goodreads, and check out her website with her Quentin Blake-esque character sketches!

ARC Review: The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl

The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl – Ishbelle Bee

23519605Two orphans, Pedrock and Boo Boo, are sent to live in the sinister village of Darkwound. There they meet and befriend the magical and dangerous Mr Loveheart and his neighbour Professor Hummingbird, a recluse who collects rare butterflies. Little do they know that Professor Hummingbird has attracted the wrath of a demon named Mr Angel-Cakes.

One night, Mr Angel-Cakes visits Boo Boo and carves a butterfly onto her back. Boo Boo starts to metamorphose into a butterfly/human hybrid, and is kidnapped by Professor Hummingbird. When Mr Loveheart attempts to rescue her with the aid of Detective White and Constable Walnut, they are turned into butterflies.

Caught between Professor Hummingbird and the demon Angel-Cakes, Loveheart finds himself entangled in a web much wider and darker than he could have imagined, and a plot that leads him right to the Prime Minister and Queen Victoria herself . . .

Release Date: August 4th, 2015

Thanks to Penny at Angry Robot for reaching out to me about reading/reviewing this book! My interview with author Ishbelle Bee will be posted next week – keep an eye out!

Update: you can now read my interview here!

I read Bee’s first book featuring Loveheart, The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath in April and loved it, so I’m very glad I got a chance to read this “sequel”.

What I liked:

-the cover. LOOK AT IT. IT’S BEAUTIFUL. I cannot even deal with this cover, it’s so gorgeous (I had the same reaction to Mirror and Goliath – someone at Angry Robot is doing a fantastic job).

-the writing continues to have a lovely lyrical quality to it, even when she’s writing descriptions of a massacre.

I especially liked the pages that were full of CAPITALS and wonky-sized/boldfaced words. It broke up the page without completely taking your attention away from the story and gave the whole thing a fairy-tale feeling (fairy-tales more in the vein of the Brothers Grimm and less like Disney).

-Loveheart continues to be mad and unnecessarily violent and I continue to love his scenes. I mentioned last time that it feels weird to be rooting for a man who chops the head off of anyone who he thinks deserves it, but he does it in such a carefree way, you can’t help snickering.

-Boo Boo was the anti-hero(ine) I didn’t know I needed. On the one hand, she is technically the heroine of the piece, but since she becomes just as deadly as Loveheart, she doesn’t fit into a traditional role. I liked how, even though she didn’t talk a lot, she had her own dangerous abilities and talents, instead of being completely powerless.

-the Butterfly Club (and its leader) was creepy and horrible and was exactly what you would expect from a Neil Gaiman-esque story like this.

What I didn’t like:

-I know this contradicts what I said I liked about Loveheart, but sometimes it felt like there was a little too much violence.

I’m not opposed to violence (fictional violence, of course, I don’t condone actual violence), I just mean that when someone’s limbs are being cut off in every other paragraph of a single chapter, it can be a little overwhelming.

Overall, while I loved getting a chance to get into Loveheart’s head again, I didn’t love it as much as I loved the first one. Still a solid four interrobangs, though, and I’ll be following Ishbelle Bee closely now.


4 interrobangs

ARC Review: The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath – Ishbelle Bee

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath – Ishbelle Bee

208776691888. A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.
John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.
Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down…

Release Date: June 2nd, 2015

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review!

Before I tell you what I liked/didn’t like, can we all take a moment to appreciate that cover?? It’s gorgeous. I think I’ve fallen in love with a book cover. No…I know I’ve fallen in love with a book cover.

What I liked:

-the writing. It had a whimsical, Neil Gaiman-esque quality (and since I worship Neil Gaiman, this is very high praise). There were moments that would have been confusing if it had been presented by a less-skilled writer, but in Ishbelle Bee’s hands, you just sort of accepted it. Lovely, somewhat lyrical, the writing was wonderful.

-Mr. Loveheart. He is clearly “mad as a hatter” (I kept picturing him as the Mad Hatter too, except with hearts on his clothes), but his back story was intriguing and I found myself looking forward to his scenes, even the brutally violent ones.

-speaking of violent scenes: it was almost comical how blithely Mr. Loveheart went around slicing people to pieces. I realize this makes me sound like a terrible person,but it was so off-handed and Mr. Loveheart was so convinced he was doing the right thing, I couldn’t help but find it both horrifying and funny.

-the setting. Victorian England is awesome, isn’t it? I’m fascinated by that time period, so of course, the setting worked for me!

-Mirror and Goliath. While I eventually had issues with their storyline (see next section for what I didn’t like), I loved how cute their relationship was at the beginning: Mirror is so small and almost fragile, while Goliath, with his bear-like attitude is warm and protective.

-the Jack the Ripper connection which I saw coming about halfway through, but still liked how it played out.

What I didn’t like:

-Pomegranate’s section. I loved the story she was telling (I’ve always liked the Persephone myth), but it seemed to come out of the blue and distracted me from the main story. I could see why she was introduced, and I respect the decision to keep her in there, but she was distracting and by the time I was done her part, I had almost forgotten what the main plot was.

That being said, I’d probably read an entire novella about Pomegranate and her aunt Eva.

-Mirror and Goliath. I know I just said I liked their relationship at the beginning of the book, but I don’t love how it ended (though, again, I respect that Ishbelle Bee wanted them to go down this road).

HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER (and please excuse my poor formatting, one day I’ll figure out how to hide spoilers properly)

As soon as Mirror ages, I knew – as well as she did – that her relationship with Goliath would become more “romantic”. What I want to know is: did she age mentally as well as physically? Or does she have a six year old’s mentality and a young woman’s body?? Either way, it’s a little weird.

Apart from those two issues, I really enjoyed this book! It was fun and magical and beautifully written. According to Goodreads, there is a second book coming out later this year, and I definitely want to read it.

Also, who are we kidding, I’m going to buy myself a physical copy of Mirror & Goliath because it’s just too pretty to not have on my shelf!


4.5 interrobangs

4.5 interrobangs

Fiction Friday Round-Up – March 20, 2015

It was a three book week, which makes me feel accomplished (even though I had been reading one of those books for several weeks). Click the links for full reviews!

  • The Monogram Murders – Sophie Hannah: “I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel before, so I was pretty excited to try this one. Perhaps there is a reason I never bothered looking up Hercule Poirot.”
  • Masque of the Red Death – Bethany Griffin: Not only does this book have a gorgeous cover, but it’s based on/influenced by a short story by Edgar Allan Poe…These are two surefire ways to pique my interest and I’m glad I picked this one up.”
  • Why We Broke Up – Daniel Handler: “I’m actually surprised I liked it as much as I did, considering it was written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style. That normally drives me crazy, but, since there was proper punctuation, it was bearable. Plus, I’ve always liked the epistolary form.”

Agatha Christie’s The Monogram Murders – Sophie Hannah

The Monogram Murders – Sophie Hannah


Hercule Poirot’s quiet supper in a London coffeehouse is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered. She is terrified – but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.

Later that night, Poirot learns that three guests at a fashionable London Hotel have been murdered, and a cufflink has been placed in each one’s mouth. Could there be a connection with the frightened woman? While Poirot struggles to put together the bizarre pieces of the puzzle, the murderer prepares another hotel bedroom for a fourth victim…

I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel before, so I was pretty excited to try this one.

Perhaps there is a reason I never bothered looking up Hercule Poirot.

I don’t read a lot of mysteries, despite being intrigued by the genre, so at first I thought I was just being nit-picky because it was unfamiliar territory to me. Then Ro, who reads a lot of mysteries, read it, almost fell asleep within the first 50 pages, and then told me that it was annoying. So I guess it wasn’t just me.

The murder itself was interesting – whose cufflinks were found? Why was the murderer trying to frame a dead man? Was the murderer trying to frame a dead man?! Find out by reading 300 pages of convoluted relationships until you start forgetting who was in love with who and why this is a problem.

I almost wanted to draw a map of all the characters to keep track of who’s who, but I was reading on the subway, and it would have been cumbersome.

There was a lot of telling, which I suppose is just part of writing a mystery (you know, the “big reveal” near the end and all that), but that was sometimes boring (especially if you consider that the story is being written from Catchpool’s memory, and I highly doubt anyone can remember THAT MANY conversations in perfect detail).

But my main problem was Poirot. A part of me feels bad that I’m complaining about a “much beloved” character, but holy frack, he’s infuriating. For one, he talks about himself in the third person. You know, stuff like, “Oh, but I, Poirot, I know the answer because I am so very smart” and “Hercule Poirot, he knows that he is smart”, and so on.

He reminds me of the master of disguises, Leclerc from Allo, Allo, only not nearly as funny.


Also, he often said things like “you don’t know the answer? Dommage, I’ll tell you later” and then he would tell you 100 pages later, by which point you’d forgotten that he’d already solved the mystery and was now just stringing Catchpool (and the readers) along.

I actually didn’t mind Catchpool (apart from his apparently perfect memory retention which was unbelievable at best) and I definitely shared his vexation over Poirot’s “I’m better than all of y’all” attitude.

What’s interesting, though, is that most reviews say that Sophie Hannah did a wonderful job invoking the spirit of Agatha Christie’s celebrated novels…but then there are the hardcore AC fans who are all “codswallop!” (because I imagine they’re all British and say things like “codswallop” and “rubbish”).

So maybe I’ll give an actual Christie novel a chance; my dad says that Miss Marple (her other famous creation) is quite eccentric, and I’d be happy to get behind a kooky detective.

Also Known As – Robin Benway // Once Every Never – Lesley Livingston // The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld

One and a half of these books I read last week but never blogged about; the third, I just finished.

Also Known As:

“Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.

Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She’ll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school’s security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.”

I’m a big fan of Robin Benway (I’ve talked about Audrey, Wait! many times), and I was really excited to read her spy novel that came out over a year ago but that I kept forgetting to buy until earlier this fall. So it pains me to say this but…it was good. It just wasn’t great.

I liked Maggie, I loved Angelo, even Roux was pretty swell. But I feel like I’ve read these characters before. And not just in my frequent forays into YA, I mean in another Robin Benway book. Maggie was a more socially awkward Audrey (and, by being so, was automatically May from The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June), Roux was Victoria x 3. There’s a scene where Maggie’s getting ready for a date that reads almost identically to the scene where Audrey goes out with James for the first time (incidentally, that’s one of my favourite chapters, which is probably why I have most of it memorized).

“You’re being awfully nitpicky”, you might say, and I’d agree. I draw these comparisons because I’ve read Audrey, Wait! a thousand times, and April, May, and June at least half that. I make these connections because I admire and respect Robin Benway, and I desperately don’t want her to fall into the Cassandra Clare “all my characters in one series are basically older versions of all my characters in the other series” trap.

I also didn’t love Jesse Oliver, but that’s because I compared him to James, Henry, and even Julian (from Benway’s other books), and found him lacking whatever spark I liked in the other guys. He was very sweet, but sort of “meh”. Which is not to say I didn’t like the book; I liked the plot, the pacing was decent, the dialogue was (as always) hilarious. And Angelo was far and away the best character – I’ll read the sequel if only to spend a little more time with him.

Once Every Never:

“Clarinet Reid is a pretty typical teenager. On the surface. She’s smart, but a bit of a slacker; outgoing, but just a little insecure; not exactly a mischief-maker … but trouble tends to find her wherever she goes. Also? She unwittingly carries a centuries-old Druid Blood Curse running through her veins.

Now, with a single thoughtless act, what started off as the Summer Vacation in Dullsville suddenly spirals into a deadly race to find a stolen artifact, avert an explosive catastrophe, save a Celtic warrior princess, right a dreadful wrong that happened centuries before Clare was even born, and if there’s still time— literally—maybe even get a date.

This is the kind of adventure that happens to a girl once every … never.”

Apparently this week I was just disappointed by normally beloved authors.

I’ve read (most of) Lesley Livingston’s other books. I’ve yet to finish the Starling series (just waiting to pick up Transcedent when I have the time), but I liked them all. This one…this one bothered me for some reason.

First of all, I couldn’t figure out why it took Clare so long to understand who Connal was. Like, pay attention, girl! It’s slap-in-the-face obvious, but it took her 100+ pages to be all “OH, I GET IT NOW”.

There were “romantic aspects” that annoyed me beyond reason. She falls through time and the first thing she thinks is “hey, that guy holding a sword is pretty hot…I wanna see him again”. Even though there’s a hot nerd living in London who’s madly in love with her (of course).

I could forgive that, but the thing that bothered me the most was the frequent messing-with-time-without-any-real-consequences. When she goes back and messes with things, the people who know what’s she’s doing still remember the original series of events. When she literally changes history, everything is still hunky-dory at home. With that much of time travel, I expected one – or more – of her loved ones to cease existing because she accidentally set off a chain of events that altered her life as she knew it. As Ron Stoppable once said, “Time travel…is a cornucopia of disturbing concepts”. You’d think that someone would disappear and raise the stakes, but no. Not yet, anyway.

I almost want Al (Allie, Clare’s best friend) to be the heroine because at least she’s smart and more likely to catch on quickly compared to Clare’s rather delayed reactions.

The Enchanted:

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.” The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honesty and corruption—ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.”

On a completely separate (i.e. non-YA) note, I read The Enchanted.

One thing I loved about this book was the writing: it was lyrical, poetic, and sometimes disturbing. Our nameless narrator often talked about books and reading in general; as a life-long book lover, it was lovely to read his descriptions of how the act of reading was soothing, how the books transported him to a different place, even when he was stuck in his cell.

This was also a book that can give you pause: on the one hand, you’re reading about death row prisoners, men who have committed unspeakable, disgusting crimes. On the other hand, you can’t help but feel sorry for them, especially the narrator (so that, even though I guessed halfway through which inmate was telling the story, the revelation at the end still punched me in the stomach in a “how can you sympathize with someone like this” way). It was also fascinating to see York’s story unfold, told by such an unconventional narrator.

Overall, it was an excellent read. It definitely fell out of my usual comfort zone (in terms of subject matter), but it was very well done.

Wicked Girls – Stephanie Hemphill

I didn’t read much last week so it took me longer than it should have to finish Wicked Girls.

“From Printz Honor winner and Your Own, Sylvia author Stephanie Hemphill comes this fictionalized account of the Salem Witch trials from three of the real young women living in Salem in 1692.

Ann Putnam Jr. is the queen bee. When her father suggests a spate of illnesses in the village is the result of witchcraft, she puts in motion a chain of events that will change Salem forever.

Mercy Lewis is the beautiful servant in Ann’s house who inspires adulation in some and envy in others. With her troubled past, she seizes her only chance at safety.

Margaret Walcott, Ann’s cousin, is desperately in love. She is torn between staying loyal to her friends and pursuing a life with her betrothed.

With new accusations mounting against the men and women of the community, the girls will have to decide: Is it too late to tell the truth?”

I read one of Stephanie Hemphill’s books, Hideous Love, a few months ago. I thought it was fascinating that it was written in free verse rather than the traditional prose. The same goes for Wicked Girls.

I don’t know much about the Salem Witch Trials, so this was a bit of a history lesson for me. I mean, obviously Hemphill took a few liberties in the telling of the story, but I imagine she did her fair share of research before writing. Plus, there is a convenient section at the end of the novel that explains what happened to the girls in real life.

There’s not much to say about Wicked Girls. It was enjoyable and somewhat educational. It takes a few pages to get used to the free verse but once you hit your stride, you don’t even notice how much you’ve read. It also might make you want to pick up an actual history book, but when has that been a bad thing?