Monday, September 22, 2014

A Murder of Magpies

One for sorrow, 
two for joy.
A destructive girl,
a damaged boy.

Sarah Bromley knows how to create an atmosphere, draw a reader in, and ease them into her grip until they're so firmly in it that they can't break free, even to get some more tea. Her magic is in the details.

A Murder of Magpies is the story of Vayda, a girl whose family is running from a past so horrifying they dare not even use their names, her brother Jonah, who struggles against the power inside him, his ties to his family, and a yearning to fit in, and Ward, a boy whose utterly dysfunctional home life has left him broken on the inside in more ways than one. I found it ironic that throughout A Murder of Magpies, Vayda, who is so much an outsider to the tiny town of Black Orchard, Wisconsin that she'd been there three years without making a real friend, repeatedly pushed Ward away calling him gadjo- outsider.

The use of body language, in and of itself, made this a worthwhile read. Bromley pays keen attention to detail in constructing her story, which is filled with subtle foreshadowing, wonderful relevant glimpses of backstory, and although it spans several states, the cast of characters and locations are kept few enough to infuse them with a wealth of character and detail.

A strength of A Murder of Magpies lies in the way it deals with uncomfortable territory. Two of the strongest themes in the book which will unsettle readers and give them food for thought and conversation are bullying and consent, which is why I recommend it for book clubs, because there is a wealth of conversation material between the covers. A Murder of Magpies explores the boundaries of will and ethics, probing each character's moral fiber, as well as the reader's. Of course, the dialog the reader has with herself is always more telling than the one she would have with a group of people, but I think it would be hard to walk away from this book without having examined their own view of right and wrong a little more closely.

Regarding consent, A Murder of Magpies deals with consent in a wide spectrum of manifestations, from question of sexual consent to other venues in which one's will can be subverted. Bromley treads boldly, but respectfully into uncomfortable territory, and I respect the choice. Moreover, her portrayal of bullying and the violent undertow of an environment that nurtures bullying struck me as important to the culture in which her characters and readers coexist.

I like that the characters she's created are bookish, even if they're not great students or terribly great with authority. I like that because her readers are probably bookish, because heck, they're reading, right? I like that Vayda and Ward could nearly be any of the readers if their lives were just 7% more peculiar. Vayda is easy to relate to without coming off as a hollow character (ahem, Bella Swan), and Ward too feels like he's just a step removed from so many people while remaining an individual. Even the antagonists rise above archetypes, and it makes for a good read.

I was very fortunate to be able to read an ARC of  A Murder of Magpies. I'd gotten my hands on the three chapter teaser in the spring and was desperate to get my hands on the full manuscript. I plan to buy a signed copy for my bookshelf in the near future, like, you know, when it's available to purchase.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Crown of Ice

In the tradition of Wicked and the short but well made NBC series Dracula, Crown of Ice, by Vicki Weavil, brings us the time honored tale of the Ice Queen from her perspective- rewriting villain as protagonist and challenging the reader to reassess their own moral compass as they navigate the frozen terrain of difficult choices on a quest to solve what might be one of the most difficult math problems in the history of YA.

I don't know if I liked it best for it's ethical challenges or for the way in which Weavil writes the ice into the heart of Thyra. Much like a freezer, Crown of Ice kept things fresh by supplying me with characters who behave in unpredictable ways (despite this being a retelling of one of my favorite stories) because, particularly in the Snow Queen's case, her actions are just so far outside my box of expectation. When faced with a problem, if I'd solve it by stepping left to avoid it, she'll solve it by walking into it or doing something so unpredictable I can't even predict it enough to give an example.

At the heart of Crown of Ice lie tried and true themes: volition, honesty, and the balance between ends and means. While a thread of romance ties the tale together, it doesn't overpower the rest of the story. This is the sort of story I recommend when longing for snow.

I  received a review e-copy of this title from the publisher.

Monday, September 1, 2014

When Mystical Creatures Attack

Painfully funny.
Surprising on nearly every page, and so downright eccentric I felt like perhaps Kathleen Founds had somehow been possessed by the same perverse and brilliant muse that moved Douglas Adams and inspires Jasper FForde.
When Mystical Creatures Attacks blends whimsy and reality, raw emotion and unconventional storytelling to create something downright fabulous.
I usually do not go in for short stories, but these aren't short stories, they're glimpses through surreal windows that look out on a landscape that resembles, all too keenly, looking in.

The truth is, you'll pick it up because the cover is fabulous. That's what caught me. But you'll stick with it because it's excellent. Then, halfway through the first section, the essays from Ms. Freedman's class, you'll be flipping back to make sure you picked up a work of fiction, because each voice is so distinct, surely they couldn't all have been penned by the same woman. But they were. And then you'll be caught, just as surely as the unicorn on the cover.

I had the pleasure of reading an e-ARC of this title via Netgalley.