Fiction

What Will Disappear Next?

I haven’t been reading YA as frequently as I used to. The characters tend to get on my nerves and the sentences are more likely to bother me. While The Disappearances is far from perfect, it has a unique and refreshing premise. Murphy created a story steeped in mystery laced with literary references. The amount of research and prep that went into this stories structure is impressive. And as Murphy’s debut novel, she will only strengthen her style and voice.

Aila and her brother Miles are shipped off to live with her deceased mother’s childhood friend after their father is drafted into WWl. The siblings are treated with distrust and disdain because their mother left Sterling and never came back. Aila learns their mother was blamed for a curse blanketing the town and the surrounding towns for decades. The disappearances occur every seven years. Smell disappeared first. The stars. Colors from paint and pencils. A person’s reflection. Children born into these towns grow up without these senses. When Aila and Miles arrive, they lose all of them as well.

Each disappearance could be linked back to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Murphy must have read Shakespeare backward and forward to pull out just the right lines to create a story around them. Using everything she’s learned from her mother’s personal copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, Aila helps the town inventor and her new group of friends to lift the curse that has plagued the town for so long.

The Disappearances is a story that suffers from “weak ending” syndrome. The ending seemed too easy. There were questions left unanswered. Not that the story rose those questions, but I wanted to know more about why that worked or how that didn’t work. It wasn’t explored enough for me to feel completely satisfied. My final feeling is that it was good; worthwhile premise but lackluster ending.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

City of Conclusions

The conclusion of a series is always bitter sweet. Even if the last book isn’t as perfect as the first one, knowing there won’t be another story in this world or with these characters is always sad. City of Miracles wraps up The Divine Cities trilogy and based on the ending, we won’t be visiting the city of Bulikov with Shara and Sigrud again.

Sigrud is always Shara’s side kick but he takes the main stage when he learns of her death. Ever loyal, he returns from exile to avenge her death (I was trying to stay away from that description, but it’s exactly what he does). Shara has never done anything simply so naturally Sigrud runs into a tangle of mysteries that envelope Shara and her daughter, Tatyana, and later Sigrud himself. We meet a plethora of new characters but some old faces join Sigrud’s mission of protecting Tatyana. (He completed his revenge on Shara’s killer within the first few chapters as efficiently as we expected.)

As much as I liked Sigrud’s character in the first two books, it wasn’t the best idea to make him the leading character. Putting Sigrud at the forefront drastically changed the dynamic of everything Bennett had previously set up. Shara’s story was steeped in politics and the war that breaks out was a centralized action scene. With Sigrud leading the way, the story became an action packed thriller. Shara was the brains and Sigrud is the brawn. Sigrud could help Shara piece together the clues and events but she was vastly more educated than him. Nothing against Sigrud, as he’s always been a great character, but it was more fun watching Shara’s brain piece together the puzzle than follow Sigrud fumble through the mysteries of Shara’s work alone.

While Sigrud made for a less than desirable main character, it was still an enjoyable book, with the right ending. This last book action at the front but it never lost its mysteries or investigation work that we all originally fell in love with. It’s nice to see the series wrapped up nicely. I haven’t read Bennett’s older stuff but it’s been added to my TBR pile.

 

 

By: Emily Coleman
I received an ARC of City of Miracles from Blogging for Books for an honest review.

How They Survive

Essex County by Jeff Lemire has crawled into my blood, my veins, my very being, and changed me. And the daunting aspect of writing this review is, nothing I say will do this piece of literature the justice it deseessexcountyrves. Everything about Essex County and its characters is beautiful, and lonely, and stark, and satisfying, and real. There is magic flowing between these pages that made its way into my heart and mind and I know will never leave.

Jeff Lemire uses three short stories and two flash fiction stories to tell the lives of everyday characters living outside of Ontario, Canada. There is nothing easy about their lives but they bear it with solemn dignity. Lester is living with Uncle Ken after his mother passes away but Uncle Ken doesn’t know what to do with a kid and doesn’t understand Lester’s love of superhero’s or comics; Vincent and Lou played hockey together, then a betrayal kept the brothers apart until tragedy brought them back to the family farm together; and Mrs. Quenneville who visits her husband every week in the cemtry, a son living with her who wants nothing to do with her, and she is the country nurse who visits elderly farmers, the nursing home, the forgotten, with little appreciation. These may be three separate stories but Lemire has weaved and looped their lives into tangles and each character makes an appearance in each other’s stories. Because like any other small farming community, their lives are connected.

The two flash fiction pieces show a little earlier Essex County history. The boxing club was started by two best friends and meant as a simple pastime for the community and would remain a pastime no matter what; and Eddy Elephant Ears who spent the last 10 years in a coma after a violent car crash that killed his family, but it’s okay because he doesn’t remember them. Even Mrs. Quenneville makes an appearance in Eddy’s story.

Essex County is a portrayal of the heartbreaking and the heartbroken; through the ups and downs, each character has persevered until their end. There is a strong family connection as well. Uncle Ken might not know how to raise a child but he’s going to try beady little eyeshis damnest because he promised his sister he would. Jimmy might have messed up his chance of being a better father but he gives up his box of memories because the boys “still got a right to know who he is.” Mrs. Quenneville has made her patients her family whether they asked for it or not because her “patients are all I have these days. They’re like my family now, I guess.”
Lemire’s art is both loose and detailed. “Tales From The Farm” has an almost sketched quality while “Ghost Stories” seamlessly moves from present to past to present. Some panels are overlapped in the past and present simultaneously and some panels float away like the memories they are. “The Country Nurse’s” artwork is a little tighter from the first two stories. One artist element Lemire has mastered are the character’s eyes. I’ve never seen such emotion in beady little eyes. Lemire also uses numerous panels to evoke emotion like isolation and loneliness. Essex County is a quiet representation of everyday life and what they do to survive it.

 

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman
(This review has been previously published and has been moved to this platform for your convenience.)

Twelves Ways Into My Heart

1. Hannah Tinti is a literary lyricist I can’t get enough of.

2. Not many authors can turn prose into poetry but Tinti pulls IMG_2760it off like there’s nothing to it.

3. Samuel Hawley is one of the truest characters I’ve read.

4. Hawley’s “hits” and jobs don’t feel like they’re coming from a trained professional, but from a guy relying on his common sense, and becomes a professional because of it.

5. Lily is the perfect love story for Hawley.

6. Lily’s touch is all over Hawley and Loo’s lives and Tinti pulled it off without feeling overbearing or cliché.

7. Loo goes on a transformative journey as she learns of her father’s past, how she fit in it, and what their future relationship will look like.

8. Loo’s own love story is still open to possibilities.

9. Marshall is the love story that Loo needed.

10. Marshall goes on his own transformative journey as his life intertwines with Loo’s.

11. Tinti is masterful at making every character we encounter essential to the story.

12. This story will live in my heart for a long time, and I know it will live in yours as well.

 

 

 

By: Emily Coleman

Holy Sexual Awakening

I have a habit of not reading the back of a book before reading it. I read the back to decide if I want it on my shelf, but I won’t reacquaint myself with the story before jumping in. The back of An Almond for a Parrot says Tully Truegood will have a sexual awakening but I wasn’t prepared for how steeped the whole story would be in promiscuity. I couldn’t decide how I liked the book and considered once on putting it down early on, but I’m glad I finished it. The characters were good, Tully went through development, and the magical element enhanced the story.

During the eighteenth-century, Tully grows up an only child with a drunk father and aimg_2577 cook, who isn’t very good at cooking. She never leaves the house and remains uneducated until her father remarried an opinioned woman who brings with her two daughters. This is where I almost put it down, but unlike Cinderella, the new Mrs. Truegood and her daughters are accepting of naïve Tully. Mrs. Truegood find Tully tutors for reading elocution and her new sisters, Mercy and Hope, are there to show her how to wear her new gowns. Mercy is also instrumental in Tully’s sexual awakening. Not only does Mercy explain physical pleasure to Tully, she demonstrates it. It wasn’t the idea of two new step-sisters pleasuring each other that I had a hard time with, but (for lack of a better word) how horny Tully got. Granted she was 16 and the world literally just opened before her but physical pleasure was all she thought about. I don’t say sex because what was under a male’s breeches was still a mystery to her and she was focused on her nights with Mercy for the time being. I was surprised how eloquent Wray Delaney treated the sex scenes. And there’s a lot of them. But they never sounded vulgar. Delaney stayed with the time period and used terms like ‘purse’ and ‘maypole.’ When the sex was passionate for Tully, Delaney made sure her language reflected that so we were never taken out of the scene.

The magical element was subtle but played a huge part for the story. It wouldn’t have been the same without it. Tully is a seer. Since she was little she has been able to see the dead but she never thought much of it. Not until she starts training with Mr. Crease. He shows her how to control it and use it to her benefit, but also the benefit of himself and Queenie. Tully’s father being a drunk and gambled away all his money, married Queenie to settle his debts. Tully finds out Queenie is a courtesan and owns a brothel called The Fairy House where Mercy and Hope work. Tully leaves her father’s house to live at The Fairy House where Mr. Crease trains her to they can perform together at the masquerade ball for the opening of The Fairy House. Mr. Crease can’t explain everything Tully is able to do but together they put on a show for the elite of London, and thus starts her reputation of being a witch. This doesn’t stop gentleman for paying a handsome sum to spend the night with her.

The only thing that bothered me about the start of her career as a courtesan is she seemed to luck out. Her first client pays to take her virginity and pays to make her his full time mistress. While he is in London, she can’t be visited by any other man. And of course he is handsome and passionate and she falls in love with him. Her second client moves her out of The Fairy House to live with him in his estate and even furthers her education by teaching her French. She again falls in love and returns to The Fairy House with jewels and money after his death. It was all too easy and convenient. It’s not until her third client that she learns what it means to be a whore, continually sleeping with a man who reminds you he’s paid for this and expects you to be arm candy when seen in public together.

The more I think about the story, I like it. We watch as Tully starts as a sheltered young girl to grow into an opinioned young woman. Delaney did a great job moving the story forward with drama and even a little action. It was an historical fiction that was easy to read, even with the graphic sex scenes. They never pulled me out of the story and were suited for the plot. It was maybe too much of a happy ending with everything working out a little too perfectly, but it was hard not to be happy for Tully that it all came together.

Field Nurse’s Horror

The Fire By Night by Teresa Messineo is a historical fiction book about World War ll. It’s an event authors continue to use as their back drop, probably because of the savagery of it, the horrors of the Holocaust that continue to peak our morbid curiosity. Teresa Messineo doesn’t focus on the Holocaust, doesn’t even bring it up. Instead she tells us the stories of the field nurses. The women who volunteered, were sent overseas with the troops and set up medical tents img_2424amongst the fighting to care for the soldiers as soon as they were wounded. The Fire By Night follows two friends after they’ve been dispatched to their separate posts and the horrors they faced.

Jo and Kay met in nursing school and when they enlist together, they are sent to opposite ends of the world. Jo spends most of this story in France. She was left behind in a makeshift medical tent, waiting for the convoy to bring them to the hospital that never comes back. Kay is among thousands of people in a Japanese POW camp in Manila. While Jo stays busy keeping her six patients alive with her dwindling supplies, Kay reminisces about Hawaii before Pearl Harbor and write to Jo, knowing these letters will never reach her. Both women survive but will battle their demons while trying to figure out how to live in civilization once again.

Teresa Messineo managed to turn prose into poetry. Everything on the page was eloquent and gut wrenching. Messineo dug deep into what these women were thinking, how they were feeling, what they did to survive. My one critique of the story is from the middle; while chapters alternated between Jo and Kay, they became repetitive. Both women would feel such dismay, they wanted to give up altogether, but something would happen right at the end of the chapter, they would remember why they couldn’t give up and their spirits would be lifted enough to make it through to the next day. This went on for several chapters until both women were recused from their respective prisons.

It’s always good to stretch out of your genre once in a while. I’ve always enjoyed the historical fiction I’ve rea, I just have to remind myself not to take it as truth. Teresa Messineo’s writing easily makes this book worth reading. I really did enjoy seeing World War ll from a nurse’s point of view. Jo and Kay were strong and vulnerable in all the right ways. With The Fire By Night being Messineo’s debut novel, I can’t imagine what will be next.

 

 

By Emily Coleman

Enchanting Sisters

The universe is sending me messages about sisters. I didn’t mean to read back to back books containing a strong sister bond but now that I have, my tear ducts are shriveled and dry. The tag line on the front of the ARC of Caraval is “Remember, it’s only a game…” but when it comes to your sister, it’s never just a game. The main characters Scarlett will protect her sister, Tella, from anyone and anything.img_2391

Scarlett has to be mother and best friend and older sister while protecting Tella from their manipulative, abusive father. Of course Tella has a wild streak that makes it difficult to protect her but Scarlett does her best making sure their father stays unaware of Tella’s actions. Scarlett doesn’t always succeed and it was startling to find out how their father, the governor of a small isle, punishes his daughters. Caraval is essentially an elaborate circus, with less animals, and a scavenger hunt twist. Legend is the ringmaster with plenty of performers to make the five night event feel like a daring adventure. The players are warned at the start “it’s only a game” but the performers encourage them to indulge during the game.

Each year Legend creates a game of tricks and clues for the prize at the end. This year it’s a wish, but to win you have to find the stolen item. Scarlett and Tella have a lot of things to wish for but Scarlett quickly learns she has more at stake when the stolen item to find is her sister. Scar has never been the daring one but she will risk her father’s wrath and her engagement to find Tella first. She has help from the sailor that got the sisters to Caraval but he seems to know too much about the game and has an awful lot of secrets for Scarlett to completely trust him.

Stephanie Garber wrote a magical tale not only of a sister’s love but of self-discovery and self-worth. I loved the world of Caraval. Magical, inviting, but dangerous and a little faded around the edges. Garber added wonderful details to make the island feel tangible. Some of my issues were with the clues Scarlett was searching for. Sometimes it seemed she forgot she was looking for clues at all, and the second, third, and fourth clues happened all at once. It didn’t feel like Scarlett had to work for them and it was really rushed, but then she still didn’t find her sister for some time. The plot structure in the middle was just a little of but I loved the cliff hanger at the end. The story wrapped up but it’s far from over. Hopefully we get to follow Tella on the next adventure.