Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stalkers Beware...

I've been meaning to write about Deb Caletti's Stay for several months. And the issue is becoming pressing, as my library copy is EXTREMELY overdue AGAIN. As in I checked it out, read it, loved it, meant to post on it, and then had return it and check it out again. True confessions time - together Elizabeth and I are singlehandedly funding a librarian position at the amazing Seattle Public Library due to our extraordinary ability to rack up overdue fines. At least it all goes to a good cause!

Stay. Guys, it was great. For two reasons:

1) It was set in the Pacific Northwest and it actually felt like it was set in the Northwest. I checked the cover flap and Deb Caletti apparently lives in Seattle. Well you can totally tell, as she gives such awesome local landmark namechecks. From El Corazon to the Deception Pass bridge, she does a wonderful job of weaving the setting into the book. And more than just name checks - she describes the varying parts of Washington state well and evocatively, from Seattle to the Skagit Valley to the Olympic Peninsula where Clara and her father retreat for a summer.

2) And while I put this second, it's actually my number one reason for loving this book. In
Stay, Deb Caletti destroys the extremely disturbing trend in YA fiction (represented most prominently by our most favorite of books, Twilight) of making stalkers seem like good boyfriend material. However, I am getting ahead of myself.

Stay operates on two timelines. In one our heroine, Clara, is spending the summer with her father on the Olympic Peninsula, away from their Seattle home. Her father, a well-known mystery writer, is using the time to finish his latest book, but they're primarily away because of the second, earlier storyline, in which Clara meets Christian. Christian who seems like the perfect boy when she meets him at a high school basketball game - good-looking, foreign, and, most of all, super into her.

Caletti does an excellent job of spinning out their story, told by Clara's future voice, so that you understand how she got caught up in the heady rush of their relationship. But as she details the pretty charming beginning, Clara also points out signs that she herself missed, signs that indicate that their relationship is headed for deeper water. I don't want to spoil how the story unfolds, but I will say as the narrative progresses it becomes truly creepy. And not in a paranormal sort of way, but in 'wow, that could happen to someone I know' sort of way.

Anyhow, I'd highly recommend
Stay for anyone who loves a good Northwest setting, found Edward to be a bit of a creepster in Twilight, and, most of all, for anyone who DIDN'T find Edward a creepster in Twilight.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In defense of the unlikable heroine: The Splendor Falls

So here’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. Has there been a move in YA towards more likable heroines? From Sarah Dessen to Meg Cabot, heroines in YA fiction seem to be trending….nice.

And while I enjoy reading about characters I identify with (and anyone you talk to, after I’ve paid them $5, will be happy to tell you how nice I am), it’s also a refreshing change to read about someone who isn’t quite so kind. And I’m not talking about Bella Swan, who, while not malicious, isn’t actually very nice at all to her poor parents or “friends”. I’m talking about someone who is thinking about her actions outside of how they relate to her sparkly boyfriend.

That’s why Rosemary Clement-Moore’s The Splendor Falls comes as such a breath of fresh air. Her heroine, fallen ballerina Sylvie Davis, is an unapologetic bitch on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her narration is pungent and her observations are frequently spiteful. Sylvie has good reason for being so cranky – her promising ballet career come to a crashing halt with a freak accident and she’s been shipped off by her emotionally unavailable mother to the deep South.

And true to her irritable introduction, Sylvie doesn’t make an effort to think the best of everyone. Her natural reaction to everyone is basically derision and dislike. She's antagonistic towards basically everyone she meets. And she’s a realistic ballerina – she’s grossed out by butter and pats the grease off the pizza she forces herself to eat. Certainly not healthy, but on the mark. I know I'm not making her sound like a whole lot of fun, but she was, and in addition, she felt authentic - like a full fledged character, not a stand in for the reader.

While its heroine is unique, the plot of The Splendor Falls is pretty much straight up Southern Gothic Paranormal (if such a thing exists): mysterious happenings in night cause the heroine to start asking questions and stirring up trouble, bad things happen and she has to decide who to trust. Several other reviews have mentions that it reads like a contemporary Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels. As I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Peters’s seventies-tastic mysteries (seriously try them, they're a delight), this only improved my opinion of The Splendor Falls.

While the plot is nothing groundbreaking, the characters - from Sylvie's Aunt Paula to the Teen Town Council are entertaining. And, in proper Southern Gothic form, the atmosphere is excellent. So if you're in the mood to try a some YA with a bit of bite (um let me be clear that the paranormal happenings are NOT vampiric thank goodness), I'd recommend The Splendor Falls.


If you like The Splendor Falls try:
Texas Gothic. Clement-Moore's second book features the practical and reality-based Amy Goodnight, who finds herself put upon by mysterious happenings and the eccentricities of her extended family. I actually liked Texas Gothic as a whole more than The Splendor Falls, but while the extended cast of characters is more interesting, the heroine isn't as unique, as Amy is pretty darn, wait for it, nice.

Make sure to avoid:
Beautiful Creatures. The plot of Beautiful Creatures makes it sound like classic Southern Gothic with a twist: a male protagonist infatuated with the mysterious new girl in town. Sadly nothing else about this VERY long and pedestrian novel stands out - the characters are cookie cutter and the plot feels drenched in tar it move so slow. Neither Elizabeth or I managed to make it to the end, but I can't say that either of us cared.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

We promise Bookmates will be revived!

Life has just been pretty crazy lately and we (mainly me!) have neglected Bookmates. But I promise to post again soon. In the meantime, here is a quick mini-post.

I've gotten back into my eclectic reading schedule lately. Here's a sample of my latest reads:

The Passage by Justin Cronin
This book is long. Really, really long. I'm on page 640ish right now and I think I have about 150 pages left. Anyhow, worth the read but I think it may have needed a harsher editor. Also: freaky viral vampires.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
I think every one's reading this book right now, and there's a reason why: it's excellent. It's rare that interconnecting stories entertain me, but I was glued to this book throughout the night. Highly recommended.

Yes, this is not a book. But! I love BUST. It's my feel-good magazine. It's like etsy combined with Jezebel combined with Highlights for adults. Yay!