Friday, June 30, 2017

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Down Among the Sticks and Bones Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am fortunate to have received an Advanced Review Copy of this book.

When we last saw twins Jack and Jill Walcott in Every Heart a Doorway, McGuire's Nebula Award winning novella, a killer had been outed, and Jack was finally free, due to various developments, to return to the home of her heart, The Moors, a world of mad science, vampires and werewolves. Sumi, Nancy's ill-fated roommate, had once admonished her that "You're nobody's doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell your story is you." Well, it turns out if you're an identical twin that it's a little more complicated than that. You might find your story is inextricably interwoven with that of your sibling and neither of you can quite manage to have things exactly as you wish.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second of McGuire's Wayward Children books in a series that tells us about portals to other worlds (be they doorways or trunks with stairs going down, down, down) and the children who find those worlds. Jack and Jill enter the world of The Moors on a rainy, boring afternoon, from the portal of their loving grandmother's trunk, which is located in the attic of their asphyxiating, sterile family home. At first, you may be puzzled, if you have recently read Every Heart a Doorway, by the seeming role reversals of the twins, because as raised by their parents, Jillian is raised by parental dictates to be a tomboy and Jacquelyn is forced into the role of a girly girl. (This all occurs after being cruelly separated from their loving grandmother, who raised them for the first five years of their lives.) The Moors sets it all right, except for the part where Jill becomes a little, um, "ruthless," something that will be no surprise to readers of the first Wayward Children book.

Less a sequel than a prequel (since we see the lives Jack and Jill led before arriving at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children) Down Among the Sticks and Bones was more compelling than its predecessor to me because rather than providing us with mystery, the story provides us with a deeper backstory that makes us empathize with both girls.

Three lovely illustrations by Rovina Cai accompanied my ARC, and I loved the touch that the illustrations only present views of the world of The Moors, a point which I found reminiscent of the film version of The Wizard of Oz giving us a color version of Oz. The Moors is the real world of Jack and Jill Wolcott. And it's a fearsome, wonderful place, where Jack finds love, friendship and true knowledge and Jill finds the limits of love are more inflexible than she might have thought.

This isn't a conventional children's book, but it is a book that weaves yet another dark and beautiful fairytale.

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Review: The Goblins of Bellwater

The Goblins of Bellwater The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Goblins of Bellwater was inspired by Christina Rossetti's powerful poem, "Goblin Market." Long a favorite of many a fantasy writer, one of the things that always struck me about this poem was that one sister saved the other. In an era in which men were usually called upon to save women, Christina Rosetti's poem was unusual for sisters saving themselves, so to speak. Yet I came to feel in this book as if the waters were muddied in that the sisters had to have relationships and those relationships had to be neatly tied in a bow by the end of the book. Rather than focusing on the magic of the goblins, and the fae in general, making the book a YA fantasy novel as one might have expected from the title, this a YA Romance novel with a splash of magic. Some of the descriptive aspects of the local fae magic were nicely done but were lost in the midst of the sisters working out relationship issues with their boyfriends. There were few other characters on offer other than the sisters and the eligible young men. The romances themselves were awkwardly developed, especially Kit and Olivia's, and yet were a fait accompli from the first few chapters. Some of the sexual aspects were oddly pragmatic and lacking in emotional range.

Given the awkwardness of the romances developed, in this book I actually wanted to learn more about the goblins and the local fae, see more of Livy the scientist dealing with the magical overlay in her forest. I wanted to understand Skye more as a person. I wanted to feel more love, rather than duty, from Livy toward Skye. In short, I wanted to feel the power of the love that Rossetti gave us. I just didn't feel it.

I also feel that the book might have benefitted from pencil or charcoal illustrations of the goblins, since illustrating is one of Skye's only modes of communication. It would have allowed us to see and engage more with what Livy, Grady and Kit saw from her perspective.

Here's Rossetti's poem, just in case you've never read it:

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