Monday, August 24, 2015

The Shadow Behind The Stars by Rebecca Hahn

Title: The Shadow Behind The Stars
Author: Rebecca Hahn
Atheneum Book for Young Readers
Release Date:
Sept 1, 2015

The Gist: Heed this warning, mortal: stay far away from the three sister Fates. For if they come to love you, they might bring about the end of the world…

Chloe is the youngest. Hers are the fingers that choose the wool, that shape the thread, that begin it. The sun smiles upon her. Men love her without knowing who she is. She has lived forever and will live forever more. She and her sisters have been on their isolated Greek island for centuries, longer than any mortal can remember. They spin, measure, and slice the countless golden threads of human life. They are the three Fates, and they have stayed separate for good reason: it is dangerous for them to become involved with the humans whose lives they shape.

So when a beautiful girl named Aglaia shows up on their doorstep, Chloe tries to make sure her sisters don’t become attached. But in seeking to protect them, Chloe discovers the dark power of Aglaia’s destiny. As her path unwinds, the three Fates find themselves pulled inextricably along—toward mortal pain, and mortal love, and a fate that could unravel the world.

The Shadow Behind the Stars features the three fates of Greek mythology.  On a desolate island the sisters spin, measure, and cut, shaping the lives of humans they were sure to never meet.  Until Aglaia appears on their doorstep and forces them to once again engage with the human world.  While many books will feature encounters with the fates, this is the first time I have read one where they are the main characters.  I loved the concept and the humanization of such epic characters.  With only a handful of details written about the sisters in Greek mythology, it allows a wealth of opportunity to expand their story and imagine their world.  Hahn capitalizes on this in the best way possible, creating characters that are interesting and intricate with thousands of years of experience to motivate their actions. 

As with her previous book, A Creature of Moonlight, Hahn's writing is beautiful and haunting.  She keeps true to the spirit of the old Greek tales and also makes a nod to Shakespeare with the inevitability of death that features so prominently in Macbeth.  However, The Shadow Behind the Stars is not a particularly fast paced novel and does require a patient reader who can appreciate the beauty of the writing and forgive the sometimes slow crawl of the plot.
I loved this book almost all the way through, but it did take a downturn in the ending.  After the novel was over, nothing really seemed to have changed for the characters.  I don't think life after the story would have been all that different for the sisters if Aglaia had never shown up in the first place.  As such, I'm not sure what the point of the entire adventure was.

Bottom Line: The Shadow Behind the Stars is beautifully written and, despite some pacing and plot issues, will surely be a hit with readers who love Greek Mythology.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Sex: None
Violence: Rape, Murder
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

Title: A Curious Tale of the In-Between
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date:
September 1, 2015

The Gist: Pram Bellamy is special—she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.

Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram’s power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.

I love a good first line and A Curious Tale of the In-Between certainly has it.

"Pram died just before she was born"

Is that not a great line to open a new series about a young girl who sees ghosts?  I haven't really loved anything of DeStefano's I have read up until this point but that first line pulled me right into this story.  The writing style continues in this fashion.  It is delightfully whimsical and perfect for a middle grade novel.

Pram is a wonderful new character.  She is curious and sweet but very cautious and will definitely appeal to young readers, especially those who might prefer the company of books to people (as I did as a child).  As an orphaned child raised by her spinster aunts, she questions her place in the world and begins searching for a trace of the father she never knew.  Pram is joined by Felix, the ghost boy who lives outside her home and has watched her grow up and Clarence, her first real, living friend.  Clarence is still reeling from the death of his mother.  He and Pram set out to find her ghost and, along the way, encounter Lady Savant, a medium who takes an unhealthy interest in Pram.  When she lures Pram away with promises of messages from her long dead mother and information on the father she has never known, the story takes a dark turn and Pram must push her powers to lengths she never dreamed of, or give them up forever. 

The first half of this novel is extremely charming, introducing us to Pram and her world.  I loved that she sees the ghosts not only of people but also animals and insects.  This small detail added a whimsical new layer to an old theme.  We are also treated to a sweet, age appropriate romance.  The second half of the novel is exciting and a little bit scary.  There are points where I really feared for Pram's well-being and a few surprises that I didn't see coming.  Lest you think this is just another straight-forward, middle grade novel, there is also a great deal of introspection as Pram sees exactly what motivated Lady Savant and proposes that even the villain of the story has more to her story.     

Bottom Line: A Curious Tale of the In-Between is a promising start to this new series.  I can't wait to read more about the little girl who talks to the dead. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

10 and up
Sex: None
Violence: Murder by drowning, kidnapping
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Monday, August 10, 2015

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

Title: Secondhand Souls
Author: Christopher Moore
Harper Collins
Release Date: August 25, 2014
Rating: 4/5

The Gist:
In San Francisco, the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing—and you know that can't be good—in New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore's delightfully funny sequel to A Dirty Job.

Something really strange is happening in the City by the Bay. People are dying, but their souls are not being collected. Someone—or something—is stealing them and no one knows where they are going, or why, but it has something to do with that big orange bridge. Death Merchant Charlie Asher is just as flummoxed as everyone else. He's trapped in the body of a fourteen-inch-tall "meat" waiting for his Buddhist nun girlfriend, Audrey, to find him a suitable new body to play host.

To get to the bottom of this abomination, a motley crew of heroes will band together: the seven-foot-tall death merchant Minty Fresh; retired policeman turned bookseller Alphonse Rivera; the Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs, Bummer and Lazarus; and Lily, the former Goth girl. Now if only they can get little Sophie to stop babbling about the coming battle for the very soul of humankind...

I was so incredibly excited when I saw this book was up for review.  I am a big Christopher Moore fan and Dirty Job was the first of his books that I ever read (I fell completely in love after I discovered the cover glowed in the dark).  The story stayed with me and I always wondered whatever became of the little girl who was the big bad death.  Secondhand Souls picks up about a year after the first.  All has been quiet on the soul collecting front, Charlie remains stuck in the body Audrey created for him, Sophie continues to think he is dead and the death merchants persist in their trade - except when they don't.  As the forces of darkness rally behind a new leader, those on the side of good must once again pick up their sword-canes and fight for the the souls of San Fransisco.

Secondhand Souls has everything that makes Moore fans keep coming back: dark and dirty humor, madcap adventure and just a touch of depravity.  The plot was occasionally bogged down with diatribes about Buddhism and the state of the soul but otherwise moved quickly, especially once the main characters were brought back together.  There were unexpected twists and turns sprinkled liberally throughout the plot and I particularly enjoyed watching the Squirrel People reach further depths of creepydom. 

I was a little disappointed in how little there were of the things that made me giggle in the first book, namely, Sophie (and her potty mouth), the grandmothers (with personalities big, like bear) and the indestructible and irreplaceable Goggies.  I loved checking in on my favorite characters once more, but I wasn't all that interested in the newer characters.  The expanded cast made it difficult for any one or two characters to truly shine.  It also wasn't quite as funny as the first.  It was still humorous, but often left me smiling rather than guffawing as I had reading Dirty Job

Bottom Line: Secondhand Souls is a fun read and a great addition to the Christopher Moore library, though if you are a first time reader you might want to jump into Dirty Job or Lamb first.