The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

The Blue CastleThe Blue Castle
by L.M. Montgomery
Pub. Date 1926

If you are like me, you grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables series and watching Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe fall in love in the movies with Megan Follows. I remember thinking Gilbert was so romantic and wanting to be like Anne when I grew up—intelligent, beautiful, and still having fun and getting into trouble.

When I was in college, a classmate of mine introduced me to The Blue Castle, another book by L.M. Montgomery that is not as well known. I enjoyed it so much, I gave it to my sister and my teenage niece to read, and they loved it too.

It is not the typical romance for that time period—the main protagonist is a 29-year-old spinster named Valancy who has never had a boyfriend or a marriage proposal in her life. She has resigned herself to a lifetime with her overprotective mother and an assortment of relatives who pride themselves on being proper. Then, Valancy is told she only has a year left to live. She realizes that if she only has a year left to live, she is going to enjoy herself and live it up. Valancy breaks all her family’s “proper” rules, and begins to live a life worth living filled with adventure, fun, and love.

For those of you who loved Anne Shirley, I believe you will also enjoy Valancy Stirling. For those of you who struggle with L.M. Montgomery’s older style of writing, The Blue Castle is not as dry or detail focused as some older novels. It is also light and playful, and a fast read. There is not any violence or sexual connotation to worry about; although if you do not like stories about people who thrive after disobeying their parents and elders, this might not be the book for you. Valancy’s family is quite comical in their dignified way, and I love watching Valancy and Barney’s relationship develop. This is a great story about finding yourself and living your own life, no matter how old you are.

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Horrorstör, by Grady Hendrix

Horrorstor Grady HendrixHorrorstör
by Grady Hendrix
Pub Date: September 23, 2014

The first think I heard about this book was that it was formatted to look like an IKEA catalog. And it was about an IKEA-like store, called Orsk, that is. I’ve worked retail, though not at IKEA or any furniture store, and this sounded so ridiculous and weird I knew I would get a kick out of it.

Orsk, a popular low-price faux-European furniture superstore, has been experiencing some unnerving activity. Every morning the staff arrives to find merchandise broken or damaged, and the security cameras aren’t catching anything. The store manager is at his wits end, and “volun-tells” some of his employees that they will work the store overnight to figure out who or what is in the store and put a stop to it before any of the corporate higher-ups find out. So already this is a relateable story for anyone who’s worked retail and had to deal with a lot of things that should be above their pay grade.

So the Orsk employees embark on what they hope is a mostly quiet evening where they nab a shoplifter and can consider the case closed. Two of them intend to film a segment for a ghost hunters show. And naturally everyone is over their heads as other residents of the store make their presence known.

While this is definitely a ghost story, there’s enough humor in it you won’t feel like you can’t read this late at night (at least, that’s how I felt about it). You might end on a cliffhanger, but then there’s another catalog spread for Orsk – but they do get increasingly dark as you progress through the story. It’s gimmicky for sure, but that’s what makes this book fun. It pokes fun at familiar horror film tropes, and you do walk the line of “is it humor or is it horror?” the whole way through. Mostly you read this book for the experience of it, and not for a real scare. It moves at a fast clip with short chapters, so it would make a good read while you wait for the trick-or-treaters.

(The author’s next book is My Best Friend’s Exorcism out in May and will be formatted to look like a high school yearbook. That should be fun!)

 

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

AsylumAsylum
by Madeleine Roux
Pub. Date August 20, 2013

Understand before reading this review, I am biased against this style of book. I do not like scary books, horror novels, or thrillers. I read this book because all my teen reading club voted to read this book. Every one of the teens that read this book came back to tell me how much they liked it. Several have requested for me to buy the next two books in the trilogy. So, while I was not fond of this book, the rest of the group enjoyed it.

In Asylum, Dan is a teenager spending a month of his summer vacation on a college campus to take college-level classes. At first Dan is not excited—he has a weird roommate, has a hard time making friends, and is staying in a creepy converted asylum. Luckily, at the first night’s party Dan meets Abby and Jordan, and the trio becomes instant friends. As a bonding experience, the three decide to explore the restricted rooms of the asylum where they are staying. Inside these rooms, they discover creepy photos, equipment for torture, and patients’ files. Dan, Abby, and Jordan leave the room, but part of the room goes with them.

The story is written with a higher interest level, and a lower reading level. There is not a lot of character development, and the friendship between the three main characters seems forced. I found Dan’s comments about his “new best friends” impulsive and premature. I did appreciate the historical aspect of the story, as well as the clues the author hides throughout the story that aren’t discovered until the end of the book, with a couple clues that lead into the next book in the trilogy.

As far as other aspects, the story only has a little romance with one short kissing scene. There are swear words, and some disturbing images and photos of some of the tortures the patients in the asylum went through. One of the key characters in the story is homosexual, but this is more of a side note than a focus of the story.

Overall, it was a creepy story that was written without a lot of gore or sexual connotation. I would highly recommend it to people with a lower reading level because there is a lot of action, the photos keep a person reading, and it doesn’t have a lot of details or characters to keep track of. I would also recommend it to someone who wants to read a scary book without the sex and violence that seems to be in a lot of other scary stories.

Mermaids in Paradise, by Lydia Millet

Mermaids in Paradise Lydia MilletMermaids in Paradise
by Lydia Millet
Pub Date: November 3, 2014

You may recall that 5-7 years ago, when the Twilight phenomenon was in full flight, that some people speculated about the next “big” supernatural creature of YA fiction after vampires. Witches had a resurgence, and werewolves. Mermaids was supposed to be the next big one, though I can’t say I really noticed too many books that made enough of a splash. (HAHA! Get it?)

While Mermaids in Paradise is not a YA book, I think we can allow it to be close enough to the supernatural to count as a Halloween-type book. It’s also silly enough to not be a very Halloween-type book. It’s a good vacation read that’s excellent for escaping the approaching cold weather, too.

Deb and Chip are newlyweds on their honeymoon. Deb is a very snarky, sarcastic narrator – not everyone will like her, but I enjoyed her immensely. Her husband Chip is a total DOLL. He is pretty close to my ideal of a spouse. Very sweet, smart, cute, and supportive. The two spend their honeymoon at a tropical resort, and meet a few of the other guests, who are varieties of character types primed for this Gilligan’s Island mashup with a heist film. One of these, a marine biologist, claims to have discovered real mermaids, and discloses the finding very excitedly to her new vacation friends. Unfortunately, the owners of the resort see this as a money-making opportunity and swoop in to capitalize on the mermaids. It’s up to Deb, Chip, and their new friends to put a stop to it and save the mermaids. Pretty silly, right?

Overall I found this a delightful romp, a whimsical farce, an enjoyable reading experience. If you are into Young Adult lit, this reminded me of the tone of Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens. It’s poking fun at reality with only breaking a little from reality. It’s enough of a cozy mystery to not get too dark, but has that wink of sarcasm and absurdity to keep from being too treacly. This is definitely a book aimed more at Millennials with its sense of humor, but that’s not to say others can’t enjoy it.

Fair warning – it takes a little bit to get to the meat of the story. Deb meanders a little giving a lead-up to the wedding, and there’s a scene during the bachelorette party that some readers may want to just skip over. Personally I found all of it hilarious, but you’ve been warned. If you want something relatively light that will take you somewhere, and get a chance to meet some entertaining and nuanced characters, and have your dark sense of humor funny bone tickled, this is something to pick up.

Twilight 10th Anniversary

We thought we’d read Twilight in honor of the 10th anniversary of its publication and blog about it, and then the Internet blew up with the news that the “bonus material” for the anniversary edition was Stephenie Meyer writing a gender-swapped version of the story called Life & Death, with Beau for Bella and Edythe for Edward (and most of the other characters flipped), and then we had to make sure we mentioned it, too!

Turns out, Maria – our resident teen librarian – had never read Twilight before!

It may be pointless to say, but here be spoilers (for both Classic Twilight and New Twilight). The conversation could definitely go on, so let us know in the comments what your thoughts are on the bonus material or just Twilight in general! Continue reading

Redeemed, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

RedeemedRedeemed
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Pub. date September 8, 2015

I have been looking forward to this book since the Missing series started in 2008. Eight books later, I am happy saying goodbye to these characters and excited to see what Margaret Peterson Haddix will come up with next.

I can’t do this book review without also including the series. I loved this series because it includes several of my favorite themes: history, time travel, and the hero’s quest. I enjoy watching characters grow and develop through trials and difficult situations. Having those difficult situations include stories about the lost princes from the Tower of London, the Romanovs, the city of Roanoke, and Albert Einstein was especially satisfying.

The series focuses on Jonah, a boy who is adopted and has discovered he and a group of tweens are from the past—children taken from their time periods, turned back into babies, and adopted/raised by families in the future. Unfortunately, this has disrupted the time continuum and could destroy everything. So, Jonah and these tweens go back into time to fix whatever was broken when they were taken from their time periods.

On its own, I thought this book was good; it was not my favorite in the series since this book focused more on wrapping up loose ends then a story from history. Ms. Haddix has constant twists and turns, with cliff hangers at the end of every chapter. She handles the complexities of time travel well, and she does a good job of portraying the mindset of tweens. The ending is not what I expected, but it works with the rest of the series and has a good message.

Overall, I highly recommend this series. It must be read in order since there are so many twists, turns, and cliffhangers. For those who are leery of romance, there are boyfriend/girlfriend relationships that mention kissing and holding hands. Still, the story is interesting, educational, and well-written with a good moral message.

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

every last wordEvery Last Word
by Tamara Ireland Stone
Pub. June 2015

One of the trends I have noticed recently in young adult literature is books with protagonists who have mental, physical, or emotional disabilities. Every Last Word shows the difficulties of living with an Obsessive Disorder, similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder without the ‘compulsive.’ Samantha has obsessive thoughts that makes her struggle to think about anything else, or even sleep at nights. Samantha has a supportive family and a competent therapist that help her through high school, friend problems, and her illness. It was refreshing to read a book with positive adult role models and strong family values.

Samantha is one of the most popular girls in school, but her friends are not supportive; if anything, they add to her obsessive anxiety issues. Samantha escapes through swimming at the pool and participating on the swim team. Her friends make fun of her swimming, her wide shoulders from her swimming muscles, and never go to her swim meets. Samantha’s therapist encourages Samantha to find new friends, but the thought gives her anxiety.

Then, Samantha meets a girl who is different than any of her friends and accepts Samantha for who see is even after she finds out about the Obsessive Disorder. This girl leads Samantha to a secret group that meets during lunch to share poetry. Through this new friend, her discovery of poetry, and the people Samantha meets in the poetry club, she begins to feel more in control of her life. There is a bit of a shocker towards the end of the book (which the author did such a great job with), but it is a great story of accepting yourself and others.

I highly recommend this story as a great realistic portrayal of learning to accept yourself, problems and all. I appreciated the way there were great adult examples in Samantha’s life, including her mother and therapist. It was also nice to see the way her family interacts, and the way her relationship with a certain guy develops. Warning— there are swear words, kissing, and a teenage sex scene.  Overall, it was a powerful message about life, dealing with a mental illness positively, and the power of strong relationships with family and friends.