stitching snow

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 | | 4 comments
I’m considering renaming this blog ‘Cecelia Ever After.’  Well, not really.  BUT.  The number of fairy tales retellings in my to-be-read (TBR) pile is… getting out of control.  I can’t seem to help myself whenever I see a new one pop up.  Example: R.C. Lewis’ debut young adult novel Stitching Snow.  There I was at the BEA Bloggers Conference, minding my own business, when I saw that title and cover.  Immediately, I suspected fairy tale retelling.  The ARC might have been in my hands even before my mind finished making the connection.  That turned out to be a good life choice*, because it's a can’t-put-it-down genre mash-up of a book (a.k.a. fun times).

stitching snow by r.c. lewis book cover
Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

Essie is a tough-as-nails teenage mechanic making her way on the ice planet of Thanda by repairing mining drones.  Princess Snow is a long-missing royal heir from Windsong, the most powerful planet in the star system.  Dane is a young man who crash lands a Garam shuttle onto Thanda, ostensibly in search of ‘treasure.’  And none of these young people are exactly who they seem.  However, their actions and adventures will decide the fate of their planets – if they can survive assassination attempts, kidnapping, and double crosses.  Buckle up!

Stitching Snow is a planet-hopping sci-fi adventure for a generation that grew up watching Star Wars.  It’s the story of unlikely heroine Essie, who pays for spare parts for her drones (and lost boy Dane’s shuttle repairs) by cage fighting on the icy planet Thanda.  Seriously, one of the opening scenes is a cage fight!  From there, the story marches on to Garam, a desert world with protected bio-domes and advanced tech, and there are two more planet-hops before the end of the story.  All of this movement is aided by non-stop action and political necessity, so that the pace feels urgent, even breakneck in spots.  Unfortunately, the never-ending action leaves… let’s call them gaps… in believability and world-building. 

Some of the things you have to take on faith: 1) Two teenagers can effectively infiltrate a military/government compound, 2) A girl can remember and understand nuances in relationships/politics from a childhood situation that she hasn't been immersed in for years, 3) Same girl who was betrayed by family at an extremely young age immediately trusts strange boy, 4) Being a royal is pretty simple to pick up, and 5) There weren't any retroactively-planted listening devices.  Most of the above won't make sense until you read the book, of course.  The good news is that the reader can overlook most of it because: entertainment value!

Though Stitching Snow is supposedly a Snow White-gone-science-fiction retelling, I'd say it has a different flavor.  It has some of the trappings of the fairy tale – apple, dwarves, jealous stepmother – but it's mostly a political thriller set against the backdrop of a star system.  It also draws from other tales and traditions, and includes a sadistic king who plays with others' lives and a rebellious group, the Exiles.  My favorite character/bit of scenery was the drone Dimwit, who combined the best of Star Wars' R2-D2 and C-3PO, and was set up as the adorable sidekick early on, alongside another drone, Cusser (who provided comic relief without the need to even say the requisite 'cuss words').

One of the things that R.C. Lewis did well was to write dynamically.  The book starts with that cage fight (a great hook!), and even when characters are training or talking or engaging in other downtime, the flow remains constant.  Another thing I liked was Lewis' mix of future tech and the archaic.  Sci-fi lets you play a bit with advancements in tech and/or traditions, but Stitching Snow had a good balance between things that may be automated, and what will remain manual.  This helped integrate some of the expected 'fairy tale' trappings as well.  A third 'like' goes down to the fact that this is (as far as I can tell) a stand-alone.  I could see places where the story might have been teased out into a series, but I'm very glad it wasn't, for both the pace of the book and on the romance side of things (oh yes, there is a bit of romance...).

In all, Stitching Snow was a fun YA sci-fi novel with political games, near escapes, assassination attempts, kidnappings and cage fights.  Oh, and a nod to fairy tales.  Everything I like (everything exciting!) all in one place.  It wasn't perfect, but I enjoyed it, and I think it will be very popular.

Recommended for: fans of Marissa Meyer's Cinder and Star Wars, and anyone who is partial to light science fiction, stories with breakneck pacing, and heroines who are smart and tech-savvy.

*Other good life choices include (but are not limited to): eating salads for lunch, participating in a real-life book club, and maintaining a sense of humor while riding public transportation.

Stitching Snow will be released by Disney Hyperion on October 14, 2014.

Fine print: I picked up an ARC of this book at the BEA Bloggers Convention in May.  I received no compensation for this post. 

monday memories - the four and twenty blackbirds pie book

Emma of Miss Print and Nicole at The Book Bandit have started a new weekly feature called Monday Memories.  To participate, all you have to do is take a photo of one of your books (or a library book that means a lot to you) and talk a bit about why it made an impression.  Today I'm going to talk about The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen.


On Saturday I went to the Baltimore Book Festival for the first time.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day on the Inner Harbor, with dozens of tents set up all around the waterfront to host author talks, panel discussions, signings and book sales.  I took the train up with Sajda and Ashley from my DC Forever Young Adult book club, and we went to several panels together.  I was most excited for the 4pm feature at the 'Food for Thought' stage.


The Elsen sisters founded a pie shop in Brooklyn (I've never been there, but I follow on Instagram), and a cookbook soon followed.  I first heard about their cookbook through... blogging!  In the past few years I've become the pie master (not an official title) at Thanksgiving, and I tend to perk up whenever I see a pie recipe or crust variation.  Every year I live in genuine fear that my crust will turn out wrong, so anything that could help the cause is always of interest.


So, I was excited to see the Elsens in person.  AND IT WAS AWESOME!  They held a pie crust clinic right in front of us, took questions from the audience, and had a lovely volunteer named Laura (she's on the left side in that photo above) join them on the stage.  I drank in the whole experience.  During the presentation they served samples of their Bourbon Pear Crumble, and it was kind of unbelievably delicious.


Afterwards I had to have my newly-purchased copy of their cookbook signed (obviously!).  Emily and Melissa are/were super sweet, and talked a bit with me about pie (again, obviously).  I'm really looking forward to reading this cookbook cover-to-cover and trying out the recipes for myself.  The day was a huge success, and this book signing and cooking demo were a huge part of it.

If you'd like to see more Monday Memories posts, head over to this week's link list.

h.o.r.s.e.: a game of basketball and imagination

Emma of Miss Print and Nicole at The Book Bandit have started a new weekly feature called Monday Memories.  To participate, all you have to do is take a photo of one of your books (or a library book that means a lot to you) and talk a bit about why it made an impression.  Today I'm going to talk about Christopher Myers’ picture book H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination.

h.o.r.s.e.: a game of basketball and imagination by christopher myers book coverOne day at the basketball court, two kids, a familiar challenge--H.O.R.S.E.? But this isn’t your grandmother’s game of hoops.

Not when a layup
     from the other side of the court
             standing on one foot
                       with your eyes closed
                                  is just the warm-up.


Around the neighborhood, around the world, off Saturn’s rings, the pair goes back and forth.

The game is as much about skill as it is about imagination.

A slam dunk from multi-award-winning author/illustrator Christopher Myers, H.O.R.S.E. is a celebration of the sport of basketball, the art of trash-talking, and the idea that what’s possible is bounded only by what you can dream.

I met author/illustrator/very-tall-person Christopher Myers this last spring in New York at a breakfast event put on by Egmont USA.  Myers is a talented artist AND an entertaining conversationalist, and he kept our entire table amused with basketball stories.  It was special to hear straight from the author about his inspiration for his Coretta Scott King Honor book.  Afterward he was kind enough to personalize a copy of H.O.R.S.E. for me.  It was an early meeting, so I can’t say I was my most sparkling self, but I remember the morning fondly, and the book is of course a beautiful reminder.


But what about the story?  It’s a conversation between two kids in the city, united by their love of basketball and wide imaginations.  They know the game H.O.R.S.E. by different names, and they may have different ideas of the parameters – but once it starts, their dreams expand.  It’s half trash talk, half tall tale, and a joy to read.  It’s a testament to the power of sport (or any shared interest) to unite people and fire imagination.

The artwork, though!  It’s another step up.  Mixed media (some paint, some altered photographs) blend to create the setting: first the basketball court, then the cityscape, and then the planet and space.  The two unnamed main characters are African-American kids with a passion for the game, and Myers has distilled their gangly adolescence in these pages, as well as the boastful reach of their dreams. 


In all, H.O.R.S.E. is a beautiful book and an homage to a game, a friendship, and telling stories.

Recommended for: all-ages fans of art, picture books, and basketball.

I read and reviewed this book as part of the #diversiverse challenge.

diversiverse

If you'd like to see more Monday Memories posts, head over to this week's link list.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.

hallelujah! the welcome table

I read a lot as a child and young adult (I brought stacks of books on weekend camping trips… #justsaying), but I mostly read from lists of “classics” until I went to college.  Then, some modern (and by modern, I mean contemporary) American writers and poets crept into my consciousness via syllabi, regular newspaper reading, and the internet.  Still, I’d never read one of Maya Angelou’s books until a couple of weeks ago.  This despite having my interest in her history (and stories) rekindled when she passed away this past spring.  Given my focus here on the blog, it makes sense that the first Angelou title I would pick up would be her first cookbook, Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes.

hallelujah! the welcome table by maya angelou book cover
Throughout Maya Angelou’s life, from her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, to her world travels as a bestselling writer, good food has played a central role. Preparing and enjoying homemade meals provides a sense of purpose and calm, accomplishment and connection. Now in Hallelujah! The Welcome Table, Angelou shares memories pithy and poignant–and the recipes that helped to make them both indelible and irreplaceable.

Angelou tells us about the time she was expelled from school for being afraid to speak–and her mother baked a delicious maple cake to brighten her spirits. She gives us her recipe for short ribs along with a story about a job she had as a cook at a Creole restaurant (never mind that she didn’t know how to cook and had no idea what Creole food might entail). There was the time in London when she attended a wretched dinner party full of wretched people; but all wasn’t lost–she did experience her initial taste of a savory onion tart. She recounts her very first night in her new home in Sonoma, California, when she invited M. F. K. Fisher over for cassoulet, and the evening Deca Mitford roasted a chicken when she was beyond tipsy–and created Chicken Drunkard Style. And then there was the hearty brunch Angelou made for a homesick Southerner, a meal that earned her both a job offer and a prophetic compliment: “If you can write half as good as you can cook, you are going to be famous.”

Maya Angelou is renowned in her wide and generous circle of friends as a marvelous chef. Her kitchen is a social center. From fried meat pies, chicken livers, and beef Wellington to caramel cake, bread pudding, and chocolate ├ęclairs, the one hundred-plus recipes included here are all tried and true, and come from Angelou’s heart and her home. Hallelujah! The Welcome Table is a stunning collaboration between the two things Angelou loves best: writing and cooking.

This cookbook combines 28 vignettes (they could be called short stories or flashes of memory, too) centered around a particular recipe or meal menu, often connected to a friend or family member that made an impression on Angelou at some point in her life.  The cookbook progresses from her younger years growing up in her grandmother’s store to learning to cook Creole cuisine out of absolute necessity to recollections from later years and mentoring relationships.  It’s a story of a life, food and how it helps people to interact and connect with each other, and how cooking and hospitality can be used to understand the human condition.

The prose sections are easily the best part of this cookbook.  Angelou offers a variety of experiences and stories: some poignant, some funny, others tragic, courageous, homey and inspiring.  The selection is superb and ranges the entire emotional spectrum, much of the twentieth century, and geography that varies from the American South to Europe to California and back.  It's a window into Angelou's extraordinary life and experience as an African-American woman, artist and academic.  She lived, and wrote beautifully about it.

The food doesn’t sound half-bad, either (see: understatement, definition of).  There’s a mix here of southern comfort food, Cajun, traditional American classics and French fare.  It’s a combination born of a lifetime of moving, settling in somewhere new, and adapting to a changing world and new friends.   The recipes themselves are focused on main courses and sides suitable for lunch or dinner, and a few desserts.  It’s not very vegetarian-friendly or health-conscious, though there is one section at the end dedicated to vegetarian recipes. 

I tried two recipes: Crackling Corn Bread (Maya’s grandmother’s recipe, which she claimed was better than other peoples’ Sunday cake), and Pickled Peaches.  The peaches were a success!  Different than anything I’ve ever made before, in a good way.  They’d be perfect served with (regular) cornbread, chicken, and green beans.  The Crackling Corn Bread… was a flop.  I think this may have been due to my source of cracklings (chicharrones) more than the recipe itself.  It did smell amazing while it was baking!  But here, have the recipe that worked:


Pickled Peaches

INGREDIENTS

6 medium nearly ripe peaches, peeled and pitted
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespooon whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks


DIRECTIONS

Put peaches in large post, add sugar, salt, vinegar, juice, cloves, and cinnamon sticks, and cover with water.  Boil for 30 minutes. Take off stove, and let cool.  Put in refrigerator in its own liquid.  Discard cinnamon and cloves.  Serve cold.

pickled peaches

One downside (if you want to call it that) of the cookbook is that the recipes have few “fine” directions. For example: Water necessary for the recipe isn’t listed in the ingredients section.  There aren’t any warnings like “do not overstir,” no mention of how many minutes to mix, or how fine to chop the ingredients.  The recipes are clearly meant to be more of a guide than precise chemistry.  If you’re the kind of cook who interprets things loosely and puts their own spin on recipes, this method will suit you down to the ground.

Hallelujah! is a treasure of a book, whether you try the recipes or not.  It’s worth owning for Angelou’s stories alone, though the food sounds mouth-watering as well. 

Recommended for: anyone who likes good food and a story well-told, and especially anyone interested in food culture and the American South.

I read and reviewed this book as part of the #diversiverse challenge.

diversiverse

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking!

monday memories - east of the sun and west of the moon

Emma of Miss Print and Nicole at The Book Bandit have started a new weekly feature called Monday Memories.  To participate, all you have to do is take a photo of one of your books (or a library book that means a lot to you) and talk a bit about why it made an impression.  Today I'm going to talk about Kay Nielsen's illustrated masterpiece East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

kay nielsen fairy tale art

My love of reading is no accident - I come from a family of strong women who read (and gift) books to their daughters.  East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales From the North was a gift from my great-grandmother to my grandmother for Christmas in 1926.  1926!  My grandmother was seven years old that year (and she's still reading every day - I hope I'm doing the same at 95!).  In time, she read it to her own children, and when I was a kid she sent it to my mother to share with my siblings and me.  When my parents downsized their book collection, I asked for it.  It remains one of my most precious possessions.


It's a beautiful book, and even better, it's well-preserved.  I don't know how, exactly, as it has by now been through three generations of children, and kids can be pretty careless when it comes to books.  There is one illustration and a couple of other pages with enthusiastic pencil scribbles all over them, but otherwise the text is pristine.


And what pages!  This is an Art Deco-styled piece of, well... ART.  From the endpapers to the in-text black-and-white prints to the full-color illustrations pasted in (they were printed separately and then painstakingly inserted onto individual pages by hand!), it's all beautiful.  That visual splendor is why my childhood self adored this book, but now it's the sentimental connection that makes it dear to me.  I open it occasionally when I need to bask in the glory of books and family history.  Or when I want to reread some of my favorite fairy tales.  I've loved fairy tales from the very beginning, and I've never stopped.


As you can see, the art is a combination of patterns, wistful, magical illustration, and text design.  The pages are heavy, creamy and substantial, the letters slightly indented from the printing method.  They just don't make books like this anymore.  It's truly a treasure.  Thank you great-grandmother, Nana, and Mom!  I adore this book.


If you'd like to see more Monday Memories posts, head over to this week's link list.

#diversiverse (in which i challenge myself to read diversely)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 | | 3 comments
I’m sure my fellow bloggers will agree that one of the most wonderful things about blogging about books is that you discover new worlds and authors every day.  But even if you’re immersed in the world of books, it’s easy to continue with blinders on.  Whenever I catch myself thinking that I read widely, I give myself a thorough shake.  I don’t.  I try (sometimes), but mostly I stick to familiar categories, authors, and suggestions by a few select reading friends.   That’s why I was so glad to see that Aarti at Book Lust is hosting A More Diverse Universe (#diversiverse for short) challenge for the last two weeks in September.

diversiverse

So what’s all this about then?  The challenge:

    Read and review one book
    Written by a person of color
    During the last two weeks of September (September 14th - 27th)

It’s so simple.  It’s simple, unless you (like me) don’t pay much attention to authors while reading unless they’re FAMOUS (imagine that all in lights!).  And I should be paying attention to the authors I’m reading, because, to quote Aarti, “[T]he media we consume does not accurately reflect the diversity of our society.  And books are such a massive part of the media we consume that we should demand and fight for those that do represent minorities and those that do present the world from a different perspective than the one we are used to.”  Basically, I know I should be doing better, I should be finding new voices and broadening my horizons, and this is my chance to begin.  I’m also excited (as always) to find that new story or character that will change my life.

If you’d like to sign up to join the fun, check out this post.  And if you’re interested in resources for reading more diversely (i.e. how do I find the books?!), Aarti has covered that too.  Keep an eye out here from September 14-27 – I’ll post a couple of reviews (and maybe even a giveaway).

top ten underrated books in young adult science fiction

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 | | 7 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 list is my favorite kind of list.  Why?  I get to draw attention to awesome books that have been overlooked or underrated (at least, I think they’ve been overlooked – I am not infallible, though).  Young adult science fiction is a hot commodity right now, but it hasn’t always been, and I think that’s why some of these titles have languished: pure timing.  Others are more character-driven than plot-driven, and perhaps that made a difference.  I can only guess really, because I think they’re great.  This list is my attempt to sway you to the dark side (my side!).  So, pick one up!  These are great books and they deserve great readers.

Top Ten Underrated Books in Young Adult Science Fiction


1. Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci – Not ready to commit to reading a whole novel just yet? Check out Castellucci's short story for Tor.com, We Have Always Lived on Mars. Should give you a feel for how awesome her sci-fi is. (the answer = VERY. very #awesome.)

2. Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve – Perfect for upper middle grade as well as the young adult crowd, with steampunk flavor.  It’s high-stakes mystery featuring a memorable heroine.

3. A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix – Garth Nix isn’t exactly an unknown – his Abhorsen series is big in fantasy, after all.  However, buzz for this standalone sci-fi title faded almost as soon as it was released in 2012.  I really liked the character development and travel-across-the-universe plot.  And if you’re into early dystopian YA, another Nix standalone, Shade’s Children, is the way to go.

4. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde – Video gaming, ethics, future tech, fantasy role playing and a deadly accident combine in this old favorite of mine.   I need to read the rest of the books in the series, like, yesterday.

5. Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet – A huge favorite of mine from this year, and a pharmacological and ecological take on the dystopian trend.


6. Extras by Scott Westerfeld – I liked the Uglies series, but I never got farther than ‘liked’ until this, the fourth book.  Extras was the only one that didn’t feature Tally as the main character (go figure), and I really enjoyed it.  I thought it had a lot to say about our current celebrity- and tech-obsessed culture, and what it means for society’s future.  Plus it was just FUN, you know?

7. Epic by Conor Kostick – Another video game/sci-fi/fantasy mash-up sort of book, with added dystopia!  And dragons!  Stellar older (and by older I mean published before I began blogging) YA sci-fi, and on my re-read list for sure.

8. InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves – Yes, I put a Neil Gaiman title on this list.  Yes, I realize that Neil Gaiman is pretty much the opposite of underrated these days.  But have you read this book?  Because I’m betting you haven’t, and I thought it was an interesting take on parallel worlds.

9. Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund – One of the first genuinely sci-fi young adult books I ever read, and also a satisfying romance.  Will please fans of These Broken Stars and Diana Peterfreund’s YA sci-fi romances.

10. Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry – If you’re only going to read one YA zombie novel, this is the one to pick.  It’s good, features diverse characters, and its pulse-pounding pace is spot-on.

Would you add any books to this list?

waiting on wednesday (81)

Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Last year I read a fantastic YA sci-fi novel (These Broken Starsby Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner).  I called it “a can't-put-it-down read, with a satisfying romantic element (no love triangles here!) and mystery.” At the time I also mentioned that it was the first in a series, and despite my rampant series fatigue, I was excited to read the next installment.  WELL, folks, it’s not a series.  Or it IS, just that each of the books is its own, self-contained story, featuring unique characters.  And that, meus amiginhos, is my favorite sort of series.  Can I repeat that I loved the first book?!  I can’t freaking wait for This Shattered World. It will be released by Disney-Hyperion on December 23, 2014.

this shattered world by amie kaufman and meagan spooner book cover
Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. His sister died in the original uprising against the powerful corporate conglomerate that rules Avon with an iron fist. These corporations make their fortune by terraforming uninhabitable planets across the universe and recruiting colonists to make the planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage against the military occupying his home, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape base together, caught between two sides in a senseless war.

What books are you waiting on?

of monsters and madness blog tour (review + giveaway)

Today on Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia I’m part of the blog tour for Jessica Verday’s Of Monsters and Madness.  It’s a tale of gothic sensibilities and dark mystery.  It will be released by Egmont USA on September 9th, 2014.  Check out the end of the post for your chance to win a copy!

of monsters and madness blog tour






My education in classic horror has been sadly neglected.  I never read Frankenstein or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and only short stories by Poe.  That said, these tales have become part of the pop culture lexicon, and I know the important parts of those stories because I’ve seen them reworked in film, comics or in novel retellings.  I keep saying I don’t like scary, but I do like dark fantasy, and much of it owes at least of piece of inspiration to the classics.  Jessica Verday’s Of Monsters and Madness is a gothic/horror mash-up with a perfectly pitched sense of impending doom.

of monsters and madness by jessica verday book cover
A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Annabel Lee is summoned from Siam to live with her father in 1820's Philadelphia shortly after her mother's death, but an unconventional upbringing makes her repugnant to her angry, secretive father. Annabel becomes infatuated with her father's assistant Allan, who dabbles in writing when he's not helping with medical advancements. But in darker hours, when she's not to be roaming the house, she encounters the devilish assistant Edgar, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Allan, and who others insist doesn't exist.

A rash of murders across Philadelphia, coupled with her father's strange behavior, leads Annabel to satisfy her curiosity and uncover a terrible truth: Edgar and Allan are two halves of the same person - and they are about to make the crimes detailed in Allan's stories come to life. Unless Annabel stops them.

The year is 1826, and Annabel Lee has lived most of her life in Siam, far from her father’s influence and knowledge.  When her father finally sends for her just before her mother dies, Annabel knows she has no choice but to leave her home. When she arrives in chilly, dark Philadelphia, nothing is as she expected.  Her father is withdrawn and disproving.  Her surroundings are foreign.  And there are a rash of unexplained murders occurring nearby.  Annabel is determined to earn her father’s approval and learn the mysterious secrets of his house, but she doesn’t count on being attracted to her father’s assistant, Allan, or frightened of his mysterious cousin, Edgar.  As sinister happenings strike closer and closer to home, Annabel’s intuition and suspicions will not let her rest until she knows the truth—even if it endangers all she holds dear.

Well!  If you’ve read the official synopsis, you should have a pretty good idea of what will happen, and which classic tale the book retells.  The story’s surprises weren’t of the plot-twist variety, at least for me.  What was compelling about Of Monsters and Madness then?  Annabel Lee, of course!  She’s an unrepentantly curious character with a strong stomach, a desire to practice medicine, and a history in an entirely different culture.  She doesn’t fit the expectations of her sex for the time period or setting, and that causes disorientation and frustration, even though she tries to reign those feelings in.  The first person narration allows the reader to see it all through her eyes – and though she worries that she is cold like her father, in fact Annabel feels things deeply.  It is that deep feeling paired with curiosity that leads her into dangerous territory – and into the path of Allan/Edgar.  While the reader can guess what comes next, Annabel doesn’t know the story, and that makes her vulnerable to it. 

But back to the setting: historical! brooding! dangerous!  In other words, perfectly gothic, and a great backdrop for a tale of horror.  Speaking of horror, I’d say this is on the lighter-ish end of the spectrum, as I wasn’t scared away.  Still, there IS gore and murder… so it’s not the book for those who prefer sunshine and happy endings.  Though Annabel does seem a bit prone to wander into dangerous situations, her actions are plausible and the set-up works.  Another thing to be aware of: this is the first in a new series, and there are a some (okay, several) loose ends and mysteries left for following books.

In all, Of Monsters and Madness is a well-written homage to classic horror, a strong first entry in a new young adult series, and an ideal pick for Halloween reading.

Recommended for: anyone interested in classic horror, dark first-person narratives, historical fiction mashups, and fans of Kady Cross’ steampunk series for young adults.

Would you like a SIGNED copy of the book for yourself?  You're in luck!  Egmont USA is graciously allowing me to offer one copy to a lucky winner.  To enter, simply fill out the FORM.  Giveaway open to US/Canadian addresses only, will end on Monday, September 15 at 11:59pm EST.  Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email.  Good luck!

If you’re interested in learning more about author Jessica Verday and Of Monsters and Madness, check out the blog tour page, and tomorrow’s stops at The Book Monsters and Addicted 2 Novels.

Fine print: I received an ARC of this book for review consideration.  Giveaway prize provided by the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.
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