The Gray House – Is The House Sentient?

Book Review : The Gray House

By Mariam Petrosyan

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

As with all Russian novels, I was overwhelmed by the vast breadth of The Gray House. Pin pointing my emotions first include, being mesmerized, sickened, fascinated, questioning and confused. Exhausted. Addicted. Ponderous. Poetry. Intense. Thought provoking. Obtuse.

If anyone says they understand this novel, I wouldn’t believe them. It took the author 18 years to write and with all the symbolism, nuances and themes I don’t believe even she could remember all the details without an extensive chart. In my first read through, I made over 145 notes. In an 800 page book I would usually make around 20 notes, so Petrosyan definitely made a herculean story.

One of my remaining questions after reading the synopsis and the entire book remains, is the House sentient? Are we meant to have a definite answer? Probably not. Black, who still struggles with his identity around Sphinx indicates the House’s draw was more imagination than reality. But, he’s a biased witness.

I’ve seen many reviews comparing The Gray House to other authors, and I agree one cannot help but see Lord of the Flies, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the stream of conscience moments like The Sound and The Fury. Some even say it could be seen as Harry Potter’s Hogwarts – though I would disagree with that one. There is even a reference to 1984 with Big Brother. Even so, The Gray House is a stand alone.

What I wish I’d had while reading was a list of some of the main characters, just to give me some anchors in the maelstrom novel. With any luck this small list will be of help.

Smoker: He has been in the Pheasants, the predictable (accountant type), steady tribe, however, he has been kicked out because he dared to wear red shoes. (Very Ayn Rand where the individual is the important one compared to the collective.) Smoker is the character I feel like I most relate to because he is always asking questions. He is also the innocent character, who is forced into losing his innocence. He hadn’t realized he was being cynical at the time.

Tabaqui the Jackal: He is part court fool, part philosopher and all collector of oddities. Another character advises Smoker to listen to Tabaqui because he tells the truth – and he does, it’s just been rolled in beads, feathers and guano before being presented to the audience. He is probably my second favorite character.

Blind: He is seen as the leader of the House. Even though he is part of fourth, he has another role over all the tribes, though not talked about directly. Blind eats the plaster of the House to have it become a part of him. He is the best argument for the House being sentient. Blind is also able to move between realities. He occupies the forest as well as the House. Blind shows very little emotion. He carries out the Law dispassionately. He changes the Law when it suits him, after his contrived encounter with Gaby. He is the most disappointed when the Leaders don’t conform to following him into a different reality at the end of the year. He is the Peter Pan of the lost boys, he cannot grow up.

Noble: He is seen as handsome, and noble. Like the other children in the home he struggles with many issues, but when he is taken from the House and later returned his personality has changed. Noble moved from a strong character to a passive character. He serves as proof of the affects of being on the Outside, like a morality play for the observers. I thought Noble seemed like a decent person the way he treated Smoker.

Sphinx: At one time he tortured Noble, which is why Noble was so fast at moving without his wheelchair. He was a Jumper between realities. Sphinx is said to have been given a choice that no one else had been given. Smoker resented him for being given a choice. Black tried to emulate Sphinx, and also came to resent him. Sphinx seems the most closely associated with Blind.

Black: He had been under Sphinx in the heirarchy in the fourth. When the Dog tribe lost their leader he changed tribes, to become their new leader. It made it so that he and Sphinx were no longer at each others’ throats. He was seen as a black sheep by Smoker, and so, Smoker felt like he could relate to Black when all the others were acting crazy.  Black seems like a realist by the end.

Grasshopper: Though not a main character, he acted as a foil to Blind. He seems to maintain his innocence, because of his youth. He is the only one who liked Wolf, while all the others see Wolf as one of the most depraved.

Ralph or R One: He is the poor councilor who knows more than the other adults. Ralph is also a nickname, one he didn’t like. He wondered how the kids knew he was coming back, when he had barely decided and saw his name written on the walls like a message board. He recognizes the graphite as a source of news in the House. He worries and frets over what may happen based on previous graduations. He genuinely wants to help, but he is blocked – either by the boys or the House.

Mermaid: She is another innocent. Her role could be seen as saving Sphinx. Much like Jane Eyre saving the Byronic hero, Rochester – where the pure female is the only one capable of rescuing and redeeming the flawed, tortured male character.

Big Spoilers Upcoming! Don’t read if you want to be surprised! You have been warned! Imagine this as graphite warning away the uninitiated! I have done my best to give you a chance to stop reading and so here continues my review…
 The Gray House doesn’t break down into the same points as an American novel. Even so, it helped me to look at it under this microscope. The first section seems to revolve around Smoker; his innocence and being a fish out of water. The inciting incident is when Smoker is kicked out of the Pheasants. The next catalyst is when Smoker witnesses a murder with the other students. Each student has touched hands, as though they are all in this action – no one is innocent any longer. The second section, shows the decline of the tribes – each is unique and rife with their own problems (accept for the Pheasants, the most “normal” of any of the students). As an example, one tribe is always trying to cut themselves with razors, some are more militant, others have bizarre rules to follow. A frenzy towards to the end of this section has two members of a tribe trying to kill Red. He is inadvertently saved, while the other two run. The runners both seem to be punished, one is gone to the Outside – the same as death, and the other ends up in the basement barely subsisting on charity. Next, Blind has been sequestered with Gaby – purple lipstick marks seem to glow on his skin. After this encounter, Blind changes the rules and the girls are allowed to visit. No longer are the boys isolated, but with this comes a new onslaught of problems. Jealousy. Love affairs. Lack of privacy. Not only is the House full of alcohol and drugs, now sex is added to the mix. (The sordid details are not explained, just the bare bones of the facts – which is disturbing enough among this house of lunatic children. It seems like many of the characters are about 14 or 15, but the ages vary.) The final section of the book obsesses over graduation. How in the past there were savage deaths and mayhem. Ralph is particularly concerned since their is a two faction House at the moment. The roller coaster ride to the end had me worried about death. Rather than an outright mass murder, some of the students disappear on a bus, others go into a coma by choice while a few disappear – presumably into the forest. Later we hear that Elk, another councilor died, but without an explanation except it sounded like an accident. Finally, the novel jumps forward and we peak into the adult lives of the few of the characters. Smoker is a painter – the bear Ginger held continues to show up in his art. Red is at a commune, and a father. Sphinx is a child psychologist. Black remains the realist. The last scenes are of Stinker throwing confetti, a new twin boy with his facilities awakened and realizing he is so happy (a product of being in the House) and finally, of a boy walking to the school ready to enter the doors. Another offering to the House.

End of spoilers!

End of spoilers!

A couple of quotes, to give you the flavor of the writing, if not the context:

“The snails clung to the tops of the weeds and knocked against each other, sounding like hollow walnuts.” (Kindle location 2239)

“When a person turns into a patient he relinquishes his identity. The individuality sloughs off, and the only thing that’s left is an animal shell over a compound of fear, hope, pain and sleep. There is no trace of humanity in there. The human floats somewhere outside of the boundaries of the patient, waiting patiently for the possibility of a resurrection. And there is nothing worse for a spirit than to be reduced to a mere body.” (Kindle location 3356)

“Wolf had been one of those who’d changed reality around them. One of the strongest in that regard. A potential challenger.” (Kindle location 4997)

“The game was boring if he regarded it as a task, and exciting if he just played it. It made his eyes hurt and filled his dreams with jittery flashes.” (Kindle location 5557)

“The House demands a reverent attitude. A sense of mystery. Respect and awe. It can accept you or not, shower you with gifts or rob you of everything you have, immerse you in a fairy tale or a nightmare. Kill you, make you old, give you wings…It’s a powerful and fickle deity, and if there’s one thing it can’t stand, it’s being reduced to mere words. For that it exacts payment.” (Kindle location 9531)

“Because whoever’s telling the story creates the story. No single story can describe reality exactly the way it was.” (Kindle location 9826)

“Life does not go in a straight line. It is like circles on the surface of the water. Every circle, every loop is composed of the same stories, with very few changes, but no one notices that. No one recognizes those stories. It is customary to think that the time in which you find yourself is brand new, freshly made and freshly painted. But the world only ever draws repeated patterns. And there aren’t than many of them.” (Kindle location 12101)

“You should always smell of things that surround you, that’s one of the Forest survival tricks. Becoming a part of it reduces the danger. It’s a bit like copying the inflection.” (Kindle location 12428)

 

Whew! And that’s just a short review! As you can see, this book is not for the faint of heart. One needs to be willing to run the course, with obstacles and serpentine storytelling. I enjoyed it, but frankly I would have cut 200 pages. I know if you are one of the cult fans, you’ll think I’m wrong and wish she had added another 500 pages. If you have read this interesting book, please leave a message. I’m anxious to hear what other people think!

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • Michelle

I just finished reading The Hawkman , A Fairy Tale of the Great War by Jane Rosenberg LaForge. Even though the two books are nothing alike, if you like the one I think you would like the other because both are surreal and have a quality of writing rare in today’s market.

As previously said, even though there is nothing quite like The Gray House, here is a list of some other books to give a try that each have surreal elements:

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Trick of the Eye by Dennis Haseley

The Girl In Between by Laekan Zea Kemp

 

If you’re a fan of The Gray House, send me a message of other books you have liked!

 

 

 

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Interview With Alan Bradley, the Author of the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series – A Must Read For Mystery Afficionados!

 

Alan Bradley

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Alan Bradley is the New York Times bestselling author of THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE and recipient of the Dagger Award in 2007.

This interview contains some spoilers, though I have tried to avoid significant spoilers.

Michelle:
Hello, it’s a delight to have an opportunity to interview you for www.talesuntangled.wordpress.com.

I originally discovered Flavia in I AM HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS and loved her for her clever mind and perspective on the world. I had to go back and start the series from the beginning with A SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE because I didn’t want to miss a moment of the undaunted, poison mistress – Miss Flavia.

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(The first book introducing Favia, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, in the series and the fourth book, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, the one I read first with a dramatic cast of characters.)

I’ve always thought characters make or break a novel. I love the fact that you are a mature man writing a young female character as the protagonist. Can you share with us how you developed Flavia?

Alan Bradley:
It’s a strange story all round. As I was writing an entirely different mystery novel, Flavia appeared on the page as if from nowhere, and demanded attention. I did not consciously create her, and cannot take any credit whatsoever for her coming to life. I can only presume that she was lying in wait for years waiting for someone with a pen, or a pencil, or a keyboard to come along.

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The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, the second novel.

Michelle:
That gives hope to me that there are other amazing characters out there ready to be discovered!

I’m also fascinated with your other characters like Flavia’s father, and her surrogate father, Dogger. They are complex and I can feel their backstory pushing to get on the page. I’m rooting for Dogger to have a love interest in the future – there was a hint in THE GRAVE’S A FINE AND QUIET PLACE that he has loved in the past. How do you decide how much of their backstory to include?

Alan Bradley:
I merely eavesdrop on Flavia’s conversations with Dogger. I am always aware in their scenes together that I must keep very still and listen attentively. It’s like snooping on strangers at a railway station.

 Michelle:
How fortunate that you are such a skilled eavesdropper! I’m sure it’s a talent many authors wish to acquire.

Another reason I believe your series resonates with readers is the unvarnished relationship between sisters. The deadliest of enemies, and friends at times.

When the house was willed to Flavia, I gasped, unable to imagine how her sisters would react. How do you find a balance between their vicious attacks on one another and still have them care for each other as siblings? Did you have character models from real life? (If so, that may be a question best left alone!)

 Alan Bradley:
Someone pointed out early in the series that I had two sisters precisely the same number of years older as Flavia does. Coincidence? Ridiculous! But I’ve always been aware that intense cruelty and intense love can and do co-exist.

Michelle:
After reading your series, I’ve wondered if I was better off with only my brother as a sibling! Even so, he was probably grateful not to have a sister interested in poisons.

After a career in television broadcasting, visual story-telling must have come naturally to you as a writer. When did you decide it was time to start writing? Had you always wanted to write novels?

Alan Bradley:
My television career was devoted to electronic systems: the cameras, recorders and millions of miles of wiring beneath the floor; the anatomy of TV, if you like. Still, I was always keenly interested in the stories taking place in front of, and behind, the lenses, and was sometimes even asked to step across the line and consult on scripts, etc. As a very early reader, I was always devoted to literature, and began writing my first novel at about five years of age. It didn’t come to much. In later years, I published assorted children’s stories and newspaper articles, but didn’t take up the art of the novel until taking early retirement.

Michelle:
You are masterful at plot development, and slowly revealing clues to the readers. Do you have a method to make each book blossom so effortlessly? How do you choose your red herrings? I’m always so engrossed in the story I never realize you’ve sent me on a false path. I love being surprised by a book!

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A Red Herring Without Mustard, the third book in the series.

Alan Bradley:
I begin each novel with only a general idea of the main theme or setting, and launch into the actual writing with no other plans. As with Flavia, I let the characters materialise and walk onto the page by themselves. The red herrings appear spontaneously, arising naturally out of the story. I am always happily surprised as each new twist reveals itself. I realise that this is the complete mirror-image of how most writers tackle about a book, but it works for me. Charts and graphs and lists of plot points and scenes would drive me gaga.

 

Michelle:
Your titles tickle me – they add the whimsy inherit to Flavia even though the story always revolves around murder. I love the moment when I see the reference for the title. I can only imagine the research needed for the titles. My kudos also go to the illustrator of the jacket covers.

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Speaking From Among the Bones, the fifth book and The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, the sixth book.

In the most recent installment, THE GRAVE’S A FINE AND QUIET PLACE, there is a moment when I laughed for five minutes. Dogger has just explained to Flavia the chemical reactions within a body, due to exertion, in great detail. Flavia responds, she had never had such a simple explanation before and now it all made sense to her.

Before reading your books I never liked chemistry. It would seem you have an extensive background in chemistry, or are all the references also the work of laborious research?

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The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse is a short story and number 6 1/2 in the series. You won’t want to miss the information on chemistry in this one, though not an experiment you would want to try at home! It’s currently only .99 and worth more than its weight in copper pennies.

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As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the seventh book, takes place in Canada while Flavia is sent to a boarding school.

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Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed, the eighth book, where Flavia returns to England to discover her father is seriously ill.

Alan Bradley:
I know nothing whatsoever about chemistry. In school, I frittered away my chemistry classes by reading Steinbeck, largely ignored by the teachers. Flavia, on the other hand, knows everything about the subject that can be known. If I dare say, “Gee, Flavia, I don’t know if that’s actually possible,” she snaps her fingers and says, “You can look it up in your spare time.” Maddeningly, she is always right. I don’t pretend to understand this process. Actually, the most recently published book is “The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place”, and the one before that, “Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d”.

 I’m glad to hear that Flavia made you laugh. She makes me laugh, too – especially when she rhapsodises about corpses and churchyards. My wife says she can always tell when Flavia has done or said something outrageous because she can hear me laughing in the next room.

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The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place is the ninth book in the series and Flavia is in true form solving mysteries that have layers of deception!

Michelle:
Do you have a secret for your success? The publishing industry is known for being cut-throat, what is your advice for unpublished authors?

Alan Bradley:
Write the best prose of which you are capable. Keep personal seat applied to chair seat. Write. Never give up. As somebody wisely said, it takes ten thousand hours.

Michelle:
I’m hoping for another Flavia de Luce mystery, but I would read anything you write at this point. What upcoming projects do you have?

Alan Bradley: Flavia will next appear in February 2019 in “The Golden Tresses of the Dead”. I’ve just handed the manuscript to my publishers in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.

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The Golden Tresses of the Dead can be ordered on Amazon to see how a finger in the wedding cake is only the beginning!

Michelle:
I can hardly wait for the next book!

Thank you for sharing your insights with me today.

Alan Bradley:
Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts, Michelle. I’ll be looking forward to appearing on Tales Untangled, which is a great title by the way!

Michelle:
You are too kind! Keep in touch!

To follow Alan Bradley you can find him at http://alanbradleyauthor.com/

 

 

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The Wounded Shadow – Do the Ends Tie Up In A Satisfactory Manor?

Book Review : The Wounded Shadow
The Darkwater Saga #3

By Patrick W. Carr

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

The kings and queens of the northern continent lay siege to the Darkwater Forest, desperate to contain its evil. But rumors of gold and aurium have lured deserters and the desperate into its shadow, creating a growing army held in its sway. Desperate after the death and dissolution of their greatest ally, Willet and the Vigil seek the truth of what lies at the heart of the evil they face. They delve the mind of an old enemy and find an answer far worse than they could have imagined.

Danger stalks the cities of the north, striking at the rulers of the kingdoms. As Willet and the rest of the Vigil seek to find answers, the group is scattered with an ever-growing darkness around them. Will they discover a path to keep their land safe, or will an ancient evil reclaim the world it once called its own? (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I think one of the hardest challenges of a series like The Darkwater Saga is pulling everything together to create a satisfying ending. I feel like Carr does a great job answering questions I’ve had since the very beginning while still leaving some elements a mystery. I will not discuss all of the conclusions because it’s better when read.

Characters are key for a book. We have to like some, hate some and know their quirks and personalities. Once members of the urchins joined the Vigil, the way opened up for all kinds of exciting dialogue, events and turns. In addition, we can see a lot of character growth in them and how they affect the members of the Vigil. I’m just going to touch on a few of the characters, but they help show the complexity of this epic fantasy series.

Mark, the chosen apprentice of Pellin (Eldest in the Vigil), has struggled through the series because he witnessed man’s inhumanity to man as an urchin. He saw the falseness of the priests directed by the church. Vigil members have felt like he was disrespectful and didn’t belong. Pellin discovers Mark’s depth of humanity as he cares for Elieve, the first to rebuild a personality after a vault was destroyed within her mind. Further, the Eldest realizes that Mark is the way he is because of his depth of belief in Aer (God) compared to the shortcomings of those who profess to follow Aer.

Cesla, the former Eldest of the Vigil, started the entire epic battle with the Darkwater forest – which is really the ancient, poisonous god-like entity imprisoned within the forest. More than Cesla’s character, the thoughts of how the other characters perceive him is interesting. Obviously, Pellin recognizes his hubris to believe he could access the power, but over time Pellin also can still feel love for his brother instead of hatred. I also felt like Willet could pair his deep sorrow with compassion for the man and his mistakes.

Willet, the main protagonist, started as being recalcitrant and glib, now he is humble and devoted to stopping the evil of the Darkwater forest. Through the course of the series there were several key events that changed Willet’s perspective. The first has to be receiving the gift of domere. The gift changed the course of his life. Second is the love of his fiancé, Gael. Willet felt he wasn’t worthy to be loved, and yet her love supersedes the bounds he had come to expect. The next forces of change are his interactions with Ealdor, the priest he communed with. Willet is first devastated to discover Ealdor is a product of his mind, and then is justified when it is revealed that he is from the Fayit – the previous god-like race which inhabited their earth. Working with the Fayit, and witnessing Ealdor’s sacrifice teaches Willet to be humble. Willet also learns to forgive when he thinks of Volsk as a friend, even though this man had previously tried to kill him. Forgiveness is a theme found in many works of classic literature.

Bolt has always been an enigma. Even though we learn more about his role as an Errant, he remains reticent to interact with others. He is probably the least changed of the characters because he had gone through his growth as a person prior to this series. I like him because he expects the worse and stirs the pot, at least in regards to Willet. He also snookers Rory into working harder to train as a guard, which had me laughing. Bolt has a dry sense of humor.

Toria Deel, who was so opposed to Willet, goes through another personal crisis, while working with Brekana and recognizes she doesn’t feel worthy to be a leader within the Vigil. She comes to realize that Willet makes choices based on his moral code and she loses her distrust of him. Toria Deel and Fess also come to a better understanding and the reader is left with a hope for something better in both of their lives. Fess moves from being critical of Toria Deel, to understanding her actions, and gives her comfort in his lack of condemnation. Toria wonders how an urchin could offer such grace in complete amazement.

Even minor characters like King Rymark are transformed. He no longer has a thirst for war after the battle against the Darkwater that stole so many lives. Jeb, the prison guard from The Shock of Night, is happy raising his adopted daughter. Custos is one of the few characters that feels exactly the same, he loves knowledge and a packet of figs.

I highly recommend Carr as an author for anyone who loves fantasy and a story well-told. I consider the prequel, By Divine Right, for The Darkwater Saga to be a must, it’s a short gem. He is also the author of The Staff and the Sword series, which you won’t want to miss. Check out A Cast of Stones! It’s one of my all-time favorites.

5  out of 5 stars

5 star

  • the Mother

Fans of Brandon Sanderson will enjoy Patrick W. Carr’s books and vice-versa.

I would also recommend trying Cinda Williams Chima, The Demon King and Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron. An older book to read, with a similar theme of forgiveness is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

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Perfect Catch – Clean Romances Can Be Super Fun

Book Review : Perfect Catch
A Sundaes for Breakfast Romance

By Chelsea Hale

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

She was the perfect catch. But one wrong move, and Kyle Montgomery was given the silent treatment for years. When the grown-up version of her crush appears in her life again, will Kandice Naylor give him a chance to prove he’s worth taking a risk for?(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I’ve previously mentioned that I’ve had dismal luck finding romance novels that I enjoy. After meeting the author at a conference and her promise that her books are filled with “sparkles and butterflies” I decided I had to give the prequel, PERFECT CATCH a try.

I had a flight and thought it was a good moment to read without being interrupted by my kids. Hale didn’t disappoint, her characters were charming and realistic. The romance is squeaky clean. I still felt like I was seeing two real people working through their misconceptions. All relationships have to work through those.

I liked how Kandice held onto her grudge, and was reluctant to let it go. It seemed really realistic that she would have been hurt by Kyle’s actions in high school. Like many of us, she remembered every detail from a bad situation. Kandice also had a natural streak of kindness that helped her transcend her reluctance.

Football players are a bit of a conundrum to me. My brother played football, but I haven’t known many athletes personally. It seems like it would be easy to fall into the stereotypical football jock. I liked Kyle because he was driven to succeed in his sport while emulating other values. His drive didn’t prevent him from being likeable and approachable with his family and friends. I always have soft spot in my heart for book lovers, and both Kandice and Kyle love books – which is how they connect and reconnect.

If you are in the mood for a summer romance, this is the right author to check out!

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • the Mother

If you want another romance try The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, it’s an older book and lots of fun.

 

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The Dream Thieves – How to Raise the Stakes in a Series!

Book Review : The Dream Thieves
The Raven Cycle

By Maggie Stiefvater

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

The second book in a series must raise the stakes, create hyper-tension, to keep the reader engaged. Stiefvater is masterful in connecting hints and raising the tension. In the first book, The Raven Boys, we learn of a teacher who murdered his friend for power. He’s gone by the second book, but don’t despair because instead, there is a hit man. A professional killer trumps a single crime as an antagonist.

“‘That was a lie,’ the Gray Man said. ‘I’m sorry. I had to think quickly when you said I couldn’t have a reading.’
‘So what’s the truth?’
‘I’m a hit man.’
This confession ushered in several moments of silence…..He did absolutely nothing to make his words easier to accept. It was impossible to tell if he was asking them to believe him or to humor him or to fear him. He merely laid out his confession and waited.” (p. 112-113)

The hit man isn’t everything he seems.

“He had brought her two things: a daisy-chain crown, which he somberly placed on her head, and a pink switch blade, which he handed to her. Both had taken some effort to procure. The first because the Gray Man had forgotten how to efficiently link daisies and the second because switchblades were illegal in Virginia, even if they were pink.” (p. 329)

Another stake raised is in the setting. Cabeswater has disappeared. Though it isn’t entirely gone, so now the Raven boys along with Blue/Jane need to figure out what’s happening. This is one of those pieces that after the reveal, it makes the reader say – of course, I should have seen it coming. I’m not revealing the answer because Stiefvater crafts it so well, it’s best to see it come out through the novel.

“They hadn’t made a wrong turn. They hadn’t overshot the road or parked in the wrong place. This was where they’d found Cabeswater. This was where it had all begun.
Noah finally said it: ‘It’s gone.'” (p. 119)

“Ronan had been listening, because he spun and leaned in the window. ‘At the store, when he disappeared, he didn’t just become invisible. He went away. If you’re saying Cabeswater’s like Noah, it’s not invisible. It’s gone somewhere.'” (p. 123)

Gansey is still a central figure, but Ronan moves to the front. We discover he hadn’t really tried to kill himself in the past – even though he allowed Gansey to believe the lie. He has a unique gift, just like his father. However, his gift intrinsically has an element intent on his death. The Ronan brothers fighting reaches a new pitch, but we also get to see the loyalty between (some) of the brothers. They have a complicated relationship.

“Ronan rested his forehead on the topmost shelf. The metal edge snarled against his skull, but he didn’t move. At night, the longing for home was ceaseless and omniscient, an airborne contaminant.” (p. 71)

His desire for home gets wrapped up in his relationship with his brothers, though mostly Declan. Matthew, on the other hand, is the happy go lucky brother that everyone loved. Ronan’s relationship with his youngest brother is completely different than Declan.

“Matthew believed him, why shouldn’t he? Ronan had never lied. (p.426)

If those tidbits aren’t enough to get you reading this series, I’m shocked. There are also moments that made me laugh, like when Gansey is discussing pigeons with his contact in England. It’s a complex world and fascinating. Definitely a book I recommend.

The intended audience is an older YA group – the book curses, including being peppered with f-bombs. Two boys also insult each other with epithets surrounding gays – certainly not PC, but realistic.

5 out of 5 stars

5 star

  • Michelle

If you like this one try:

The Gray Wolf Throne – Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

And for an adult fantasy recommendation:

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

 

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The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place – Girl Detective On The Case

Book Review : The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place
A Flavia de Luce Mystery

By Alan Bradley

Spoiler Alert!

34837078

 

Summary

Flavia is enjoying the summer, spending her days punting along the river with her reluctant family. Languishing in boredom, she drags a slack hand in the water, and catches her fingers in the open mouth of a drowned corpse.

Brought to shore, the dead man is found to be dressed in blue silk with ribbons at the knee, and wearing a single red ballet slipper.

Flavia needs to put her super-sleuthing skills to the test to investigate the murder of three gossips in the local church, and to keep her sisters out of danger. But what could possibly connect the son of an executed killer, a far too canny police constable, a traveling circus, and the publican’s mysteriously talented wife?
(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

Since this is book nine in the series, and I’ve read them all, it should be an automatic clue that I quite enjoy Flavia.

If it’s still a mystery why Flavia is one of my favorite detectives, I’ve collected nine clues for you, in honor of this being the ninth in the series:

Clue 1 – Sassy, brilliant, still naive and practical.

Clue 2 – Relationships brimming with danger, confusion and malice

Clue 3 – The onion layered character, devoted to Flavia – a mystery unto himself.

Clue 4 – Bumbling individuals who need to rely on the expertise of a child.

Clue 5 – Bygone era.

Clue 6 – Rather stiff and curious individual

Clue 7 – Whimsical, fanciful and yet creepy

Clue 8 – Hidden layers revealed while some are kept secret

Clue 9 – The ever faithful, though exasperated individual

I will add there was one element I deeply missed – Gladys the bike was nowhere to be found between the pages of this book. I adore Flavia’s relationship with her bike.

Answers to clues:

Clue 1 – Flavia herself, girl wonder of poisons, logical thinking and cool even while having hooked a dead body through the mouth while her fingers trailed in the river.

Clue 2 – Daffy and Feely, both a whirlwind of emotions embodied. I’m grateful I don’t have sisters like them – I too would consider poison.

Clue 3 – Dogger, the faithful servant who always has Flavia’s best interest at heart – even to the point of possibly finding mysteries for her to solve for her happiness.

Clue 4 – The inspector on the case, he definitely didn’t want Flavia involved. The undertaker was another one who certainly enjoyed Flavia at first, then took a turn for the worse in his feelings for the young sleuth.

Clue 5 – England post WWII, with cars but with quaint villages and fields for a young detective to explore.

Clue 6 – The dead of course, who always hide such interesting clues.

Clue 7 – The traveling circus, quite a mixed up and suspicious affair.

Clue 8 – A son with a chemical addiction, clergy who may be innocent, gossiping biddies, police officers who may not be so innocent and a landlady full of regret.

Clue 9 – The much admired Hewitt, though exasperated he shows his true colors and pays attention to the young detective, Flavia.

Here are a couple of favorite quotes:

     “‘Thank you,’ I replied, baring my teeth and rewarding him with a full-on but well-chosen grin from my inner grab bag of smiles.” (p.69)

“‘This is harder than it looks,’ I said after a couple of minutes. My arm was already beginning to ache.
‘Sustained muscular action often is,’ Dogger said. ‘Without prior training, that is. Such fatigue is due largely to a surplus of chloride, potassium, lactic acid, and magnesium, caused by muscular contraction, and a simultaneous insufficiency of creatine phosphate, glycogen, and adenosine triphosphate.’
Why had no one ever put it so plainly? It suddenly made such perfect sense.” (p. 107)

“How pleasant it is, as you sit in an ancient church, to ponder poisons, surrounded as you are by the towering toxicity of the stained-glass windows.” (p. 243)

“I could see at a glance that sunlight was not welcome here.” (p. 295)

Poor Alf! I thought. His life was measured in parsnips.” (p. 345)

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • Michelle

There is truly no other book I can think of like the Flavia de Luce mysteries. I would recommend trying The Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters – he is a clever monk and works with limited resources to solve murders.

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