Currently Reading: And I Darken by Kiersten White

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Book Review: The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

the-may-queen-murders-cover_hres_zpscvngg26k
Published May 2016 by HMH Books

This book was awful. I regret wasting my time reading it, but I wanted to review it, so I muddled through. The May Queen Murders is a mystery, of sorts. It centers around Ivy, a teenager who lives in a small town in the Ozarks. Strange animal deaths begin occurring, and soon Ivy’s cousin and best friend Heather is murdered. These events are blamed on a local creep who lives in the woods.

The May Queen Murders is all style and no substance. And, hello, creepy backwoods hillbillies. I think Ivy’s town is supposed to come across as eccentric and charming, but, really, I see why her classmates think it’s a cult. They live apart from society and avoid electricity and modern things. They wear old-fashioned clothes and are incredibly superstitious and distrustful of “outsiders.” There’s no apparent reason for any of this; they’re not Amish or Mennonite. There’s no religious aspect to it. I feel like the story would have benefitted from being moved back from modern times into the 1800’s.

Ivy herself is just… ugh. She has no ambition, no likes or dislikes, and spends the whole story reacting slowly to things. She doesn’t come across as very intelligent. I feel like she could have stopped some of the murders had she just opened her mouth and told someone what she knew.

The author made an attempt at diversity in her characters, which is nice, but I didn’t think it was executed well at all. Ivy has a stutter, which, of course, never actually impedes her ability to speak. Her mother is Mexican and occasionally peppers her dialogue with Spanish 101 vocabulary, just in case you forget she’s supposed to be Mexican.

The revelation of the murderer (or should I say murderers?) is incredibly stupid. Oh, it wasn’t the creepy forest hobo after all, it was this guy! No, wait, it was actually her friend and the second murdered girl working together! No, wait, the first guy almost killed someone and then this third guy finished her off and then covered it up and is now trying to kill the protagonist! The words “Are you kidding me?” escaped my mouth several times during the climax of the story.

I might have given The May Queen Murders two stars if the ending wasn’t so awful. As it is, it barely deserves the one. I definitely won’t be recommending it to anyone.

Nonfiction Friday: Volcanoes and Hurricanes

I love nonfiction about natural disasters. Tornadoes are my favorite, but I read all kinds. I’ve been meaning to read Al Roker’s The Storm of the Century since it came out… last year. But I finally got to it! It’s an account of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the deadliest natural disaster in American history. It’s pretty good. Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson is superior, though, so if you’re only going to read one book on the topic, read that one.

Eruption by Steve Olson is about the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. I had previously read In the Path of Destruction by Richard Waitt, which I personally enjoyed more, but I think Eruption is probably a better starting place. In the Path of Destruction has dozens of eyewitness accounts, which are thrilling to read, but it starts slowly, detailing the day-to-day events that happened prior to the volcano’s eruption. To be honest, Eruption also drags a bit in the beginning, giving the reader the history of the land and the local logging industry. Some of the stories presenting in the two books are the same, but both have different, worthwhile, things to say about the tragedy.

Book Review: Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

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Published May 2016 by HarperTeen

★★★

I exist! And I’ve been catching up on my reading. I just looked back at my old posts and was surprised to realize my last review was almost a year ago. It doesn’t feel that long! I’ve had a few reviews half-scribbled in various notebooks, and I need to dig them out and post them here.

Queen of Hearts is a YA fantasy set in a Wonderland different from the one most are familiar with. The book follows Dinah, princess of Wonderland and future Queen of Hearts, as she navigates her father’s court. Despite being the heir to the throne, her father despises her, a fact rubbed in by his preference for her newly-arrived half-sister.

I picked this book up because I mistook it for Marissa Meyer’s Heartless, which has yet to be released and has been on my to-read list for a while. The cover is eye-catching, and I’m a fan of all things Wonderland. The book itself is…okay. It has a lot of faults which are partly redeemed by interesting worldbuilding.

This version of Wonderland is less satirical than Carroll’s and less of an acid trip than Disney’s, but is still weird and colorful. The author takes great delight in describing the setting, the architecture, and the outfits. (The book may have been better served as a graphic novel!) Much of the imagery of the original is intact, and the characters emerge in different but recognizable forms.

Future Queen of Hearts Dinah, however, is the least interesting character in the story. This is meant to be an origin story for a villain, so I overlooked a lot of her shortcomings. Good characters don’t have to be good people. Dinah, however, is rather dull, both in personality and intellect. She’s filled with anger and jealousy toward her half-sister Vittiore, who has never done anything bad to Dinah except exist. Dinah is the kind of character who is constantly surprised by things that are obvious to the reader, and is profoundly incurious, only acting when forced to. She falls into the “Not Like Other Girls” trap, frequently bemoaning how much she hates dresses and fashion, yet the narration is constantly telling us every little detail of her outfit. She claims to prefer books and exploration to courtly things, yet never reads a thing or does anything else to back up these claims. I wish the author had done more to set her up as an eventual villain, rather than spend most of the book telling us how nice she thinks she is.

Her father, the villain of the piece, is an absolutely horrible person with no redeeming qualities. The Cheshire Cat (my favorite Wonderland denizen!) appears as Cheshire, the king’s advisor. He’s obviously not as evil as Dinah thinks, but she’s too dumb to realize that. Her love interest is pleasant enough, and the romance isn’t beaten over the reader’s head.

The tone of the book is inconsistent. Most of it is entertainingly weird Wonderland, somewhat macabre, with just enough blood as a few heads are lost. There’s a section in the middle, however, where Dinah and her love interest sneak into the kingdom’s prison, the Black Towers, which is much gorier and more uncomfortably sexual than anything else in the novel. That particular part would have fit better in a book aimed at adults, where most of the story would probably be acceptable for middle grade audiences.

This book is mostly setup for things I assume will come later in the series. There’s enough to like that I would recommend Queen of Hearts to teens who like a darker story. It can appeal to fans of Alice in Wonderland, fairy-tale retellings, dark fairy-tales, and villain protagonists. I liked it enough to finish to book, but not enough to read more in the series.

Well, I’m still behind on my reading, since I’m trying to finish a writing project. (No distractions allowed! Lies. I get distracted all the time.) But I did just get promoted at work, and am now officially a librarian! So that’s exciting, as well as an incentive to catch up on my books.

Just a quick post to say I still exist! I took a break to work on writing some stuff, and then got caught up in job things and the holidays.

I’ve got a handful of half-finished reviews lying around in a notebook that I really need to get around to posting!

Book Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Published September 2015 by Greenwillow Books

★★★★★

When I picked this book up, I didn’t really know what I was going to get. As I’ve mentioned before, pioneer books were my favorite genre as a kid, so the premise of this book caught my eye. I knew, though, that I would also be super critical of it for the same reason. As it turned out, I really liked Walk on Earth a Stranger!

I thought it stumbled a little in the beginning. The death of Lee’s parents and the arrival of Creepy Uncle happen very suddenly. I dislike Creepy Uncle, which I guess is a good thing, since he’s the villain. I thought he was too Obviously Evil, and that the townspeople were pretty freaking stupid to not realize that. His interactions with Lee have a very unsettling overtone which I would have called sexual in a pair of characters not related to one another. Thankfully, he is not present for most of the book, once the plot gets going!

My other concern was the “Lee disguises herself as a boy for most of the book” thing. I hate hate hate that trope! I don’t even know why; it’s just my biggest literary pet peeve of all. I was pleasantly surprised by how Rae Carson handled it. Lee doesn’t fall into the “Not Like Other Girls” trap; she enjoys the freedom she has as a boy, but misses being feminine and being able to interact with other women. Also: other characters can tell she’s a girl. That always strained my suspension of disbelief in other books.

As in all good pioneer literature, there are some absolutely brutal deaths. Crossing the American West on foot was neither safe nor easy, and Carson pulls no punches in demonstrating this. Adding to that, the author spends time building up and developing the side characters, so that the whole cast has depth.

I’m not a fan of romance, so I was happy that the Lee-Jefferson-Therese love triangle was kept to the background and handled carefully. It never overshadowed the plot at any point, and the characters didn’t waste time angsting.

The book is very light on the fantasy. Leah’s ability to sense gold is very important at the beginning, but dies down after that. I think, though, that later installments in the series will be more magic-heavy.

I do think the author fell into the trap that many modern historical-fiction writers do – being super preachy about historical issues. Yes, slavery and the oppression of Native Americans are bad. Show it, don’t have characters tell me that it’s bad. You don’t have to convince me. I get it.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and am looking forward to reading more in the series!

Nonfiction Friday: Quick Reaction and Currently Reading

Ugh. I am sick. It’s also rainy and cold, which makes this a perfect day for just laying around and reading. There’s also a hurricane/tropical storm coming, so I’m in the mood for disaster stories!

I’ve been reading Curse of the Narrows by Laura M. MacDonald, and finally finished it yesterday. I gave it four stars on Goodreads. It’s a very dense book; the author tells you every. little. detail. possible. which is impressive, but sometimes boring and badly-paced. The Halifax Explosion is a fascinating subject: the largest (manmade) explosion prior to the invention of the atomic bomb. Two ships collided in Halifax Harbor, and one of them, carrying explosives meant for the battlefields of WWI, exploded and wiped out a good chunk of the city while killing and wounding thousands of people. I recommend the book to anyone who likes a good disaster story, but those who aren’t nonfiction fans will probably find it slow and difficult to finish.

I’m currently reading The Day the Earth Caved In by Joan Quigley, which tells the story of the mine fire under Centralia, Pennsylvania, which is slowly undermining the city and has caused a gradual abandonment of the town. The author has seen fit to give an exhaustive history of the town and her ancestors’ roles in it, which I will admit to skimming through. Hopefully the pace will pick back up soon.

I’ve got a couple more disaster books lined up for this weekend. Hopefully the hurricane/tropical storm will give my area a wide berth!

Currently Reading: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Library books are hard enough to photograph with their glossy, plastic covers, but this one has the added difficulty of metallic gold on the actual cover! I’ve seen this book on a number of blogs, so it caught my eye when I was shelving in the new YA section. Pioneer/Old West settings were my absolute favorite when I was a kid, so here’s hoping this one will be good!