house of ivy & sorrow

I don’t know about you kids, but I can’t be trusted in a bookstore.  I mean, I love bookstores.  I adore them.  They’re full of books, and books = my jam.  BUT.  A bookstore is full of books for SALE, and that can pose a problem for my wallet.  I went into a bookstore this past spring with my friend Lauren, and I made some stupid proclamation along the lines of, “I’m not going to buy anything unless they have the exact title I want!”  Ha.  Hahahahahahahahaha.  I walked out with the prettiest book I saw in the Young Adult section, Natalie Whipple’s House of Ivy & Sorrow.  And I thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t do more damage.

house of ivy and sorrow by natalie whipple book cover
They say a witch lives in the old house under the bridge…

What the residents of Willow's End don't know is that there are two witches living in the crumbling old house draped in ivy. Ancient, toothless Dorothea Hemlock … and her seventeen-year-old granddaughter, Josephine.

Jo has always managed to keep her magical life separate from her normal one. But now the mysterious Curse that killed her mother—and so many Hemlock witches before her—has returned. Soon Jo realizes that the life she's fought to keep hidden could destroy the one she's worked so hard to protect.

Josephine (or Jo, as everyone calls her) is a hereditary young witch living in the back-of-beyond Iowa with her Nana, a formidable (if nearly toothless) power, her two best friends, and her crush-turned-almost-boyfriend, Winn.  When a mysterious man appears on their doorstep, Nana looks forbidding, and Jo starts worrying about the Curse, a Black family legacy that killed her mother.  From there, things only get more dangerous, as the witchy mystery escalates and Jo tries to keep it together at school and at home.

I think this book wanted to be a lot of things.  It wanted to be funny, with snappy dialogue.  It wanted to pose deathly-serious consequences to magic-gone-wrong.  It wanted to be a sweet, first love kind of romance with just enough tension and another boy on the horizon to keep things young-adult-fiction-interesting.  What it managed, in the midst of all that striving, was to give me a headache.

The issue, as I see it, was tone + worldbuilding.  While it is possible to do light-hearted plus dark (see: Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken), House of Ivy & Sorrow didn’t hit that level.  I felt like I had whiplash: first reading a scene of mild embarrassment over sitting next to a boy on the bus, and then an abrupt shift to tearing out teeth, gouging skin, or pulling hair out by the roots to make a powerful spell. The dialogue was frequently fresh and fun, but it didn’t match the magical system, where the ‘sacrifices’ practioners had to make were horrible (but never seemed to incapacitate) and the reasons for doing them either terrible or vague enough as to seem unnecessary.  Long story short, it didn’t gel.

Main character Jo had strengths and weaknesses, and it was refreshing to read a book where a young magic-user gets things wrong and fumbles around a bit (as you’d expect anyone new to a skill would!).  I also appreciated the small town setting, her healthy female friendships, and their realistic banter.  That said, Jo’s reactions under pressure were… not mellow, exactly, but not urgent.  And that didn’t match the sarcastic, smart, difficult girl she was supposed to be.

Let’s review: there was the matter of tone, discussed above, and various other inconsistencies (for example: these witches are always harming themselves… so how does no one notice that Jo isn’t completely covered in scars/bruises?!) that interrupted any flow before it could really get going. Additionally, what I would call the essential elements of a good fantasy/paranormal were the weakest bits. It was trying for spooky but not laying the groundwork for the proper atmosphere.  In all, House of Ivy & Sorrow was a mixed bag of a book.  It didn’t work for me, but I think it will appeal to those who aren’t regular readers of fantasy.

Recommended for: fans of Aprilynne Pike’s Wings or Kiersten White’s Paranormalcy, and those who like a mix of not-too-dark and light in their YA reading.

above the dreamless dead

I’ve had an interest in fictional accounts of the Great War (or Word War I, as we call it now) for many years.  I don’t remember where it started, but books like Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series and Suzanne Weyn’s Water Song only stoked the fire.  Shana AbĂ©’s The Sweetest Dark would have been another favorite, if only it hadn’t had a love triangle.  All that to say, when I heard that First Second was publishing a graphic novel anthology of WWI trench poetry to mark the centennial of the beginning of the conflict, I perked up.  I hadn’t read poetry from the period, but it’s something I’ve always meant to do.  Editor Chris Duffy’s Above the Dreamless Dead is a powerful little volume, and one I can’t seem to stop talking about.

above the dreamless dead edited by chris duffy book cover
As the Great War dragged on and its catastrophic death toll mounted, a new artistic movement found its feet in the United Kingdom. The Trench Poets, as they came to be called, were soldier-poets dispatching their verse from the front lines. Known for its rejection of war as a romantic or noble enterprise, and its plainspoken condemnation of the senseless bloodshed of war, Trench Poetry soon became one of the most significant literary moments of its decade. 

The marriage of poetry and comics is a deeply fruitful combination, as evidenced by this collection. In stark black and white, the words of the Trench Poets find dramatic expression and reinterpretation through the minds and pens of some of the greatest cartoonists working today.

With New York Times bestselling editor Chris Duffy (Nursery Rhyme Comics, Fairy Tale Comics) at the helm, Above the Dreamless Dead is a moving and illuminating tribute to those who fought and died in World War I. Twenty poems are interpreted in comics form by twenty of today's leading cartoonists, including Eddie Campbell, Kevin Huizenga, George Pratt, and many others. 

Here’s a strange idea: take a selection of trench poetry (so-called because the poets themselves often lived and wrote from the Front, which was basically a patchwork of trenches for the duration of the war), and put it in the hands of talented comics artists.  See what sorts of collaborations (is that even the right word, if the writers are dead?) ensue.  Watch readers cry.

That last isn’t a foregone conclusion – the poetry itself isn’t maudlin.  However, if you have a feeling bone in your body, and you read and view the art, and then go to the end of the volume and look through the biographies of the authors and realize that quite a few of them died TOO YOUNG (I expected it, but I was still shocked by the numbers… and when I thought about those great minds, silenced)… I dare you not to get a tiny bit teary.  This book isn’t all mournful remembrance, of course.  It’s got moments of humor, and there are a few instances of gently whimsical art paired with serious subject matter.  And of course it’s all quite beautiful.

I had two personal favorites among the twenty-eight entries.  The first was Siegfried Sassoon’s “The General” (adapted by Garth Ennis, Phil Winslade and Rob Steen), a straightforward reading and representation of the poem (which was quite damning on its own), and one of the longer pieces in the book.  Second was Wilfred Owen’s “Soldier’s Dream” (adapted by George Pratt), a really magnificent, haunting piece that I know I’ll turn to again and again.

Duffy has done a great job of uniting disparate comics styles within one volume.  There are what I would call ‘traditional’ panels familiar from years of newspaper reading, full-page abstract paintings, images that evoke movement and violence, and detailed pages that require close study.  Add to this a variety of source material: poetry (obviously!), selections from soldiers’ songs, and a portion of a book.  It could have been a muddle.  Instead, it’s a lovely, poignant, intense read. 

Was this meant as a tribute to the fallen?  A reminder to all that war is costly?  No matter what its provenance, Above the Dreamless Dead succeeds as an anthology of art, and it is both poetic and visually stunning.

Recommended for: everyone (ages 10+), but especially fans of graphic novels and those interested in WWI.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

top ten authors who occupy the most space on my shelves

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | | 12 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

This week’s topic was really fascinating to me.  You might say to yourself, “But isn’t that just a list of favorite authors?”  Well, in very simple terms, yes.  But this list also marks out those favorite authors whose books I’ve wanted to reread so much over the years that I’ve collected them on my shelves.  See, early on I didn’t have the resources to collect many books (my mother is laughing to herself across the country – I always found money for books!), and I made a rule: only buy a book if you’re confident you’ll reread it at least twice more, thereby making it more worthwhile to own than getting it out from the library (and possibly running up fines).  In later years it hasn’t been so much about the cost of books as the space for them.  So, looking over my shelves and seeing the books that have survived weeding, have become collectibles, as it were, was fascinating.  And… not very surprising.  *grin*

Top Ten Authors Who Occupy the Most Space on My Shelves

1. Garth Nix – I have one and a half shelves devoted to Nix.  I’ve really liked (or loved!) all of his novels, and I’ve read nearly his entire backlist.  The only Nix stories that don’t make my heart go pitter-pat are his Sir Hereward & Mr. Fitz shorts/novellas, which feature a puppet and a knight.  But hey, that’s doing really well, considering!

2. Robin McKinley – McKinley’s books are just… gorgeous.  I credit McKinley for my love of fantasy and fairy tale retellings.  I am also, always (not-so-patiently) waiting for her next novel. 

3. Neil Gaiman – If I can credit McKinley for starting me on fantasy and fairy tale fare, I can credit Neil Gaiman for my love of dark fantasy, right?  Neverwhere was (for a short while) in danger of toppling Jane Austen’s Persuasion as my favorite book.  I keep it on hand for reading emergencies.

4. Mercedes Lackey – Lackey is a startlingly prolific fantasy writer, and her Edwardian fairy tale retellings (the Elemental Masters series) are basically like book crack for me.  I buy them hardcover the day they release and then they go live on my shelf forever. In series order, of course!

5. J.K. Rowling – I mean… obvious.

6. Sharon Shinn – Dear Angie of Angieville, I blame this one on you.  You turned me on to Shinn, and when I realized that her books were made of swoon, I (naturally) had to start collecting them.  So, THANKS FOR THAT.  For real, though.  Love, Me.

7. C.S. Lewis – Lewis is one of the few writers I loved as a child, and now respect even more as an adult reader.  I enjoy his nonfiction as much as his fiction.  Weird/awesome.

8. Nalini Singh – If I could only suggest one shape-shifting romance series to try, it would be Singh’s.  Her books… yep. They are for me.

9. Patricia C. Wrede – Wrede has written many different types of fantasy: from funny dragon-and-princess escapades to Regency pickpockets-made-over-into-ladies, to an alternate version of America’s Old West. I’ve loved them all.  Wrede is one of my guaranteed, go-to authors, and I’ve been collecting her books since high school.

10. Meljean Brook – Brook’s Iron Seas series is steampunk + romance + diversity + ADVENTURE, and that all adds up to amazing. I find myself counting down the days to the release of her next book (and owning multiple copies of the ones that are already out!).

Honorable Mention: Patricia A. McKillip – Another fantasy love of long-standing.  I can count on McKillip for really beautiful books that are creative, art-filled and intellectual.  I can’t think of anyone else who does that combination quite so well.

Are any of these authors on your collectible list?

cookbooks for days

Saturday, July 26, 2014 | | 6 comments
Last weekend I visited the family lake house (and family with it, of course) in upstate New York.  To spare everyone (my uncles) the hassle of kitchen drudgery, we ate out for lunch and dinner, and the meals were lovely.  Add in a LAKE, boat rides and swimming, and it was a slice of heaven.  I would stay all summer if I could get away with it.  *grin*

Weekend Cooking posts spring from unlikely places.  Even though we didn’t cook (with one exception), I decided to photograph my Uncle Michael’s cookbook collection.  He’s a gourmet at heart, and his meals are truly better-than-restaurant-quality.  I learned how to make roux at his stove one Thanksgiving, and I felt like I’d ‘made it’ when he told me my piecrust was perfect.  Suffice it to say, his influence is one of the reasons I care about food.  As you can imagine, his cookbook collection is extensive.  I didn’t get all of the titles – that’s a job for another day… but the photos give you an idea of the quantity if nothing else.

Do you see any titles you recognize?  Let me know in the comments!

Interested in other food-related post?  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!
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