Friday, October 25, 2013

The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings

The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings (The Dark Horse Book of..., #1)The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings by Scott Allie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another library find that works very well for October Scare Fest reading.  Probably my most favorite type of horror/scary story is ghost stories. Even though ghost stories have been around, well, forever, they have the potential to be very diverse. And I feel that each one can feel different.  I haven't read very many graphic novel-format ghost stories, so this was a new one for me.  Wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I think that the authors successfully plumbed the deep waters of the ghost story, with each one in this volume having a distinct feel.

Truthfully, there were two prose narratives.  The first was a classic, "Thurnley Abbey" by Perceval Landon.  It feels very much like a classic story, and that's good. I feel that the actual ghost was a bit unclear, but I am not unappreciative of a ghost story that depends more on atmosphere than description of the actual scare-causing element. The accompanying illustrations were lovely.  I liked it.  Definitely gave me the classic ghost story infusion I enjoy so much.  The other, "Spirit Rescue", was an interview with a medium IL Dreller.  It was interesting hearing his encounters with real-life ghosts and his insight into the modern spiritualist movement.  I do believe in ghosts in real life. And I watch all the ghost shows, so it was an interesting addition to this book.

As far as the graphic novel stories, I enjoyed them all. The artwork was uniformly well done, showcasing the distinctive styles of all the contributors.  I enjoyed Mignola's addition, "Dr. Carp's Experiment," but that's no surprise.  I actually liked all the stories. My favorite was "Stray", which is about a poor Beagle whose dog house is haunted and has to get some professional help from a ghost hunting dog. It was cute!  Some of the stories were definitely eerie, although none were "I can't sleep" scary.

Overall a good collection, and a quick read.  Recommend to fans of both graphic novels and ghosts.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love (Fables, #3)Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was such a good GN, I started it and was sucked back into Fabletown and out of my own world.  Now, Mr. Willingham, you know how to do a fairy retelling very well.  While I found some parts of this book quite graphic and disturbingly violent, it fits in with the storyline and the series and the grim kind of world of fairy tales, and the situations that the characters find themselves in.

I never did like Bluebeard. I was prejudiced by his past of murdering his wives. It's really hard to get past that, especially in absence of a changed life and persona. That Goldilocks has some issues (even outside of her unconventional relationship with the Bear family).  As usual, Prince Charming is being a scoundrel and manipulating situations to his advantage.

Can I tell you how much I love Snow and Bigby and their relationship? My fingers are crossed that the forthcoming stories don't take their courtship into the dumpster, especially after the interesting conclusion in this volume.

I remembered why I didn't give this a higher rating. I didn't like Jack's parts as much, although they were good folktale stories.  Jack is a rascal and not in a good way.  But it's nice to get his in between story.

I feel a whole lot of affection for this series so far.  In fact, I picked up the next three volumes and Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland because I couldn't help myself.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

The Madness Underneath (Shades of London, #2)The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Can I be honest? I feel... a bit manipulated.  I am going through a horrible reading slump right now, so I know that I am a lot less tolerant than I would have been prior to this dry spell.  So my review of this book might be a bit harsher.  I feel that despite my rather harsh criticism, I am being fair and respectful, which are crucial to me as a reviewer.

I loved the first book, The Name of the Star, and I gave it five stars. I actually thought it was quite brilliant. In comparison, my feelings are not complimentary for this second book. 

I am on the edge of giving up YA books because of reasons that this book sort of ties into. So forgive the segueway. I'll get back to my review in a little bit:

1) I am so sick of love triangles (this one doesn't quite have an in your face one. It's more of an obtuse triangle if anything).

2) Oh the high school drama! I am just sick of the whole high school setting, to be honest. This book isn't so bad in that sense. 

3)So, so, so heartily sick of cliffhangers.  Now this is where I felt manipulated. That ending was just wrong with this book.  Not well done, and contrived.  I think it ended this way so she could have a springboard for the next book. I'm not Maureen Johnson and so I don't get to tell her to write her books. But that was just pain unnecessary.  If I could issue a plea to YA authors, stop the madness with this terrible, meaningless cliffhangers. You can write a series without them. If the publishers are behind this conspiracy, tell them no!

Okay, back to the book.

So I mentioned above how I was not feeling the ending. I was actually quite mad when I finished this book.  I am doing a Bible Study and we talked about anger today, so I was glad I got that lesson prior to finishing this book. I was able to process my anger and determine the reasons for it. I felt manipulated and abused.  I felt frustrated.  I think that processing the anger has made me better able to review this book, but my reasons for feeling anger still stand. 

The storyline itself was okay.  However, it lacked the pizazz and the strength of the last book.  It was meandering and rather dull in comparison.  The word ennui is perfect for this feeling I had when I read this book. Although I can understand Rory being in a fog after the trauma she suffered, the feeling of malaise seemed to affect the whole narrative, and I didn't feel a sense of purpose or momentum as I read this novel.  That was highly disappointing and contrasts very negatively with the first book, which has such a powerful, chilling atmosphere of menace that I found wonderfully effective .  I had a feeling that this new character and her connection with Rory was going to lead to disaster, and I was right about that. But I'm not sure I really care, you know? 

What I liked just as much as the first book was the atmosphere, the presence of London as a character in this novel. It makes me want to jump on a plane and go to England right now.  In fact, London was more distinctive than the actual main character, which is a shame, because I love Rory.  In this book, Johnson seems to be going through the motions in her characterization of Rory. She is blunted and hard to connect to her as a main character in this novel.  My absolute Achilles' heel as a reader is that I can be so drawn into a story that I feel utter empathy for a character, if the writer is able to bring this character to life for me.  With Rory, that connection established in The Name of the Star felt so attenuated, it hurt this read for me.  Also, with such vibrant characters as Boo and Callum, they felt almost like the Shades of London they concern themselves with.  Other important secondary characters, the same. And Stephen, well, he's one of my favorite characters, and even he didn't feel as real to me in this book, although I still love him.

Maureen Johnson established herself as a very admirable suspense writer with the first book in this series and "The Law of Suspects", a short story I had the pleasure of reading as my introduction to her.  I feel she was off her game with this book.  That ability to catch a reader and lead them down a dark, twisted path wasn't as evident in this book. My biggest reaction is that she was going through the motions.  As a result, this reader is dismayed and disappointed.

Will I read the next book?  With that ending, I have to do so.  But my expectations are very low at this point.

Please up your game with the next book, Ms. Johnson.  I need to know that you can finish what you started in this series successfully.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Astro City, Vol. 2: Confession by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Brent Anderson

Astro City Vol. 2: ConfessionAstro City Vol. 2: Confession by Kurt Busiek

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Confession takes the Astro City series to the next level with this story of a young man who comes to the big city to make his name and becomes the sidekick of the mysterious superhero Confessor.  The drawing and coloring was gorgeous and vivid.  It seemed to almost leap off the page at me.  I think this volume was more emotional and much darker than Life in the City.

This reminded me a lot of Batman, which may or may not be intentional.  I felt like the young boy was both a Batman in the making and Robin at the same time.  He has his share of anger at this father's passing and the way he feels that his dad failed him. And an anger at bullies and the unjust.  While Bruce Wayne was more angry at the criminal who murdered his parents, I think he also resented his parents for leaving him, for putting their philanthropy before him. In the Robin parallel, he takes on a mentor who is mysterious and driven, who inspires his loyalty the hard way. And from whom, he takes on a mantle and continues his legacy.

Some aspects of this novel hit home very closely. It deals with suspicion and prejudice, and the injustice that seems so intrinsic to a society. How people use ridiculous reasons to hate each other, and that allows deep injustice to occur in the world, often right under their prejudiced noses. The fact that being a hero rarely pays off materially, but requires an unflinching commitment, often at the risk of personal endangerment, and dealing with the fact that your work is often uncongratulated and the public opinion can change in an instant.

While Life in the City is a more upbeat, bright view of superheroes, this is superheroes in the dark.  There are moments that hit me hard, and I had to go back and double check that I had read the former panel right.  And I was sad to see my understanding was correct.

I think this is a seminal graphic novel work for superhero fans. Maybe I don't get an opinion (because I haven't read as many GNs as others), but that's how I feel. It shows the truth of the nitty gritty of being a superhero, and the narrator (the young man) is like a stand-in for all of us readers who were in awe of the various superheroes growing up (and even now as grown up geeks).  We can see that it's not all it's cracked up to be.  The first volume also showed this, but I still think it was more of a 50s style, everything is bright version of that. This is the version in which all the illusions are ripped away and you see the unvarnished truth.

This is a strong graphic novel and it deserves a high rating. I think if I wasn't in such a persistent reading slump, it might have been a five star book.  It caught me at a less than ideal time, so I'm going to give it a 4.25/5.0 stars.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tales From the Arabian Nights: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Other Stories

Tales From the Arabian Nights: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Other Stories Tales From the Arabian Nights: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Other Stories by Anonymous

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The fact that British actor Toby Stephens narrates this was definitely a nudge to check out this audiobook from my trusty library.  Of course, I appreciate the Arabian Nights, so that's another plus.

Overall, I was a tad disappointed with this audiobook. I enjoyed Ali Baba, Aladdin and the frame story about Scheherazade, but I was bored with the seven tales of Sinbad, and the tale about the greedy man who ended up becoming blind.  They were too monotonous.  I felt my mind wandering as I listened and did my Wii Fit exercises. I wish they had picked different stories besides these two for the collection, honestly. And I could have done with more narration about Scheherazade herself as well. At least I had Toby's lovely voice to narrate for me.  Maybe a pet peeve for some, but all the voices sounded British, so it didn't feel as 'atmospheric' to me. 

This will be a short review because it's kind of a ho-hum read for me.  Nothing spectacular or really awful about it.  Although I did like that they included Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade within the production. I love that music!  I think my standard was higher since I read the Andrew Lang adaptation, and I absolutely adore the TV miniseries that came on ABC with Dougray Scott, Mili Avital, Rufus Sewell, Jason Scott Lee, and other great actors. I plan to read the huge, unexpurgated version of 1001 Arabian Nights someday before I die.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

BellwetherBellwether by Connie Willis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A huge thanks to Nenia for recommending this when I asked for a Nerd Romance. This was exactly what I wanted and more. I can't even begin to classify this into a genre.  It's so distinctive.  First of all, it's hilarious!  I felt like Connie Willis nailed what it's like to work in Corporate America. I could have changed the name of HiTek to the places I worked and it would have been exactly the same.  The complete waste of time exercises they come up with in the hopes that it will increase productivity (when it actually interferes with it), the jive turkey meetings, and horrible acronyms, and the fact that said environment is so fertile for folks like Flip, Desiderata, and even Dr. Bullock.  I loved the wry and deadpan humor. I mainly listened to this while I was doing my Wii Fit exercises, and this is one where you can't be quiet while you read. It made the exercise time fly by!

Sandra is a very accessible heroine.  While she does have a snarky way of looking at the world, and the narrator has her sounding a bit superior at times, her inner voice is very realistic. You don't always see people in the most charitable ways internally, even when you make an effort to treat others well.  Sandra's field of study is fascinating. She's a sociologist/statistician who investigates fads. I loved the facts about various fads throughout the many years of human history. While I feel that she is really a hater of Barbies and I like Barbies, I can't argue with her on most of what she says.  I loved how Sandra processed Flip, who is a complete slave to fads and seems about the most useless person on earth.  Flip is that person you know who just seems to make your life a living 'you know what', but then you realize that they do have a purpose in your life, and they help you to grow as a person. With that in mind, her sometimes superior way of looking at Flip and folks like her is put into complete perspective.  I also loved how Sandra is a big reader and she processes life events in light of what she's read. This book is definitely for bibliophiles.

Can I tell you I adored Bennet?  Oh my, he made my Nerd Love meter go off big time. I wanted to hug him with his horribly fashion-challenged self and his adorable Coke Bottle glasses.  Man I wish I could find a Bennett of my own. :)

The sheep storyline had me dying of laughter. Yeah, sheep aren't the brightest animals, and you really understand why they need shepherds.  I had no idea about the bellwether and it just draws the story together so well when we learn about it.

I tell you, this is a really clever and just wonderful book. It takes a lot of writing talent to take such dissimilar ideas as sheep, fads, Chaos theory and hair bobbing and actually craft a meaningful story around it.  A nice sized read.  It helped me enormously with my book reading slump because it was just so clever and vivid and kept me interested.  I never thought I'd enjoy a book about something so non-specific as research into fads. I surely did.  I definitely recommend this to readers who want something different. And for sure to those looking for Nerd Love and satire about the corporate work environment.  It hits high on every point, so five stars!

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Alabaster: Wolves by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Alabaster: WolvesAlabaster: Wolves by Caitlín R. Kiernan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Dancy Flammarion is quite an unusual character. A young teenager who has been on her own for a while, guided by a seraph who leads her to monsters she needs to kill.  I first became acquainted with Dancy in Alabaster, and I was drawn to her character.  I wanted to protect her, even though she is much more fierce than I could ever see myself.  In Alabaster, I wasn't quite sure of how much was real and how much wasn't, as the writing was quite surreal.  In this graphic novel, I think you pretty much know that Dancy isn't living out a psychosis of what's happening to her. Sometimes graphic novels don't tell stories well, but that is not the case with this one.  This story leads itself very well to the visual medium, so I am glad that they decided to make it into a graphic novel.

The artwork is beautiful.  Although some imagery is dark and disturbing, I still see a lot of beauty in the manner in which Dancy's fine features are drawn and painted (as well as another young woman she encounters), and even the choices of color and design in the darker scenes.  The motion of the wolves is conveyed very well, even down to their musculature and sinews. Dancy is an albino, and the artist captured this excellently, from her white hair, white skin, and to her red/pink eyes.  The artwork also brings the Gothic Southern atmosphere to vivid life.  It is spot on with that otherworldly feel of the South, where a bloody history and rich folkloric heritage (slavery and Civil War) has tinged the land in so many ways.  Even in the daytime scenes, the hot sun seems barely able to protect against the dark monsters lurking in the shadows. 

The stories are nicely sinister, with just enough menace to make sure a scary/slightly disturbing read without going over the line into the grotesque and unpalatable. The lettering captures the feel of Kiernan's prose very well, and I could clearly hear the syrupy thick Southern accents as I read.  I was holding my breath as I read, not sure if Dancy was going to make it out of the very sticky situations she faces. She's very good at what she does, but she's not invincible, so she faces very real threats along the way. I appreciate how things ended. I'm not ready to say goodbye to this special young lady.

I think this is a good read for those who are inclined more to classic horror, because it has such great atmosphere, and the storylines are tailored towards the older themes of horror. As I mentioned above, the Southern Gothic feel, but also a bit of the Lovecraftian sort of mythical feel.  It makes me think of those occult detectives who are alone in their fight against the monsters of darkness, such as Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John and Kolchak.  This is awesome because Dancy is a young woman, and she doesn't need a man to rescue her. 

I have to give this one 4.5 stars because it was very nearly perfect. I hope for more Dancy adventures in the future.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

House of Mystery, Volume 2: Love Stories for Dead People by Matthew Sturges

House of Mystery, Vol. 2: Love Stories for Dead PeopleHouse of Mystery, Vol. 2: Love Stories for Dead People by Matthew Sturges

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This volume was a mix of emotions: "wow", "that's so sad", "I don't get it", and "not so much".  I do have to say that Love Stories for Dead People definitely canvasses the theme of this collection.  Love is so much more than a four letter word, with infinite potential to shape our lives for the best and worst.  This volume delves into that with a dark, twisted, and often gruesome collection of stories.

I loved the backstory on Ann, who was a pirate back in the day.  I am all for a kickbutt, take charge, dangerous woman, and that's definitely her. I can see how deeply she was hurt, and why love isn't something she focuses energy on.  And of course, I am a pirate theme lover.  As far as Miranda, once a waitress in the House and a part of the crew, what was that about??? I didn't get it!  The bits about Fig and an important person from her past were interesting. I can see that she has an ability that is going to play a huge role.  I didn't understand what Cress did to Simon, but I know it has something to do with her terrible luck with love. Simon reminds me of John Constantine so much, it isn't funny!  I loved the fact that Cress's doctor suitor looks exactly like Peter Cushing.  Anyone else pick up on that, I wonder?

I feel like I didn't understand a lot of what was going on.  The whole Cain/Abel thing and the nightmares that Harry had to battle. I could use some Cliff Notes for this book, but thankfully, I did find a Wiki, and I'll read some of that and hope I don't get too spoiled.

It's hard to give a good analysis of this book because I was feeling so lost for a lot of it. I saw a mix of nightmarish images with some events that had a little more clarity.  I think the best part of this book was getting more of a backstory on two of the main characters:  Ann and Cress, and finding out about Harry's earlier days in the House and his decision to make it into a bar. Oh and finding more about Fig's relationship with her father.

I hope I don't feel so lost in the next edition of this series.

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Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things by Ted Naifeh

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things (Courtney Crumrin, #1)Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things by Ted Naifeh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Courtney Crumrin has a very informative preface by Kelly Crumrin, addressing the inherent scariness of childhood. It gave me something to think about.  I know I was a kid that loved reading scary books, although I admit I did get a bit too scared a time or two.  One part of his commentary that hit me hard was that he felt the collective conscious of children picked up on the real monsters that prey on children in the world. I didn't like to think about that, because I hate the idea of children being harmed or suffering.  However, I can see some logic to his comment that childhood nebulous fears might be a manifestation of a subconscious awareness of what real children face.

With that thought-provoking beginning to this graphic novel collection, I had some higher expectations but also that this volume would 'go there.' It did. I'm not sure how I feel about some of the plot elements.  I stand strongly against children being harmed or killed, and there is one aspect that felt so wrong to me in this book.  I kept wondering why Courtney didn't use the power she gained over the goblin for a different result.  I do feel that there was a bit of nihilism to this graphic novel, and that's something I just can't go for.    Courtney has had a tough life, and her parents are beneath contempt. I can see things from her viewpoint and accept that she didn't get a very good moral foundation for her life, and that certainly affects her choices. I did cheer for her that she pursued her baby sitting charge into the Goblin Market, even though she did it for selfish reasons. The result of that didn't hit me with the right note, although the faerie enthusiast in me loved a look at the inhabitants of the Market, not to mention the changeling folklore and a talking cat (not sure I want my own cats to be able to talk, since they'd probably cuss me out).  One thing I did like about this novel is how it addresses the situations that kids face everyday: bullying, isolation and ostracism, and parents who aren't sufficiently involved in their day to day sufferings (for whatever reasons).  Of course I hope most parents are better at parenting than Courtney's but I acknowledge that good parents can have so much going on that they don't have the energy to address issues that seem so trivial like being mildly bullied or feeling like a social outcast.  I was bullied and I know how that felt.  I know my mother cared, but how much could she do, day to day? And children are very creative in their cruelty.  Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get through it. In a lot of instances, parental interference can make it worse, although there are certainly times when a parent definitely needs to step in.

I didn't like Courtney's dabbling in witchcraft at all.  I have an aversion to witchcraft, so that's part of it. I don't have an issue with magic in the abstract sense, but I really dislike the use of spells to control people (which is the crux of my dislike of witchcraft), which is what Courtney was doing. At least, the author shows the negative results of this, and has Courtney's Great-Great Grand-Uncle step in.

One of the things I wasn't keen on with this book was the ambiguous and somewhat unresolved  and rather dark endings.  Yeah, yeah, that's the whole theme of this book, I know. Maybe this is going back to the overall theme of the inherent darkness of childhood.  I am more of an upbeat ending girl, even as a fan of horror. I think you can have horror and still get a sense of hope, and in the case of Courtney's situations, I don't feel that much hope, even when the original crisis is somewhat resolved.

Will I continue to read this series? Probably, but not back to back. It's a bit too dark to pile these on one after another.  I wish this was in color, but I did like the drawings and the manner in which the character personality is conveyed. And I loved Courtney's hair so much!

Overall, this was pretty good, but I didn't love it, for the reasons above.  It's definitely an appropriate choice to read in the month of October for an atmospheric and horror-esque book.  Or just anytime if you like books that are dark in theme with younger characters.

I think that this book is for readers over 11, more or less okay for the middle grade/juvenile age group.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

AfterwardAfterward by Edith Wharton

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I read this as part of the Classic Horror Lovers group, Tales to Chill Your Blood series that we started in October.  A member reminded me that it was available in the Tales of Men and Ghosts collection, which is free on Kindle, so I was jazzed.

Overall, it didn't catch my interest. I found my attention wandering and boredom setting in as I read it. I think it was probably a situation where the writing style didn't work for me.  Wharton seems to have a sort of elaborate, flowery style, and I usually don't care for that kind of writing.  I didn't feel the tension build that much, even after the pivotal events occur.  I was looking for that moment, I'll call it the 'crunch moment', although that is probably not the best word, and when it occurs, I didn't feel anything.  I am a reader who likes to be involved in the story, and I felt detached from this story.  I really didn't care about the characters.  It's hard to feel horror or fear when you don't care and aren't drawn into the story.

While the idea was good, the execution didn't work for me.  I'm disappointed because I was definitely looking for a good vintage ghost story to get my October Scare Fest started, and this wasn't the one.

Edith Wharton is obviously touted  as a well-respected author, and I won't even try to dispute that. I do have to say she had quite a vocabulary, which is always enviable. Unfortunately, I'd have to say that this ghost story didn't work for me.  I read it late, late at night in bed on my Kindle with the lights off, and I didn't feel a single chill.  Not good for a ghost story.  I'll try her again though.

Overall rating: 2.5/5.0 stars.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

BreadcrumbsBreadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this more than I did for a few reasons. I loved the author's Chronus Chronicles series, and I am absolutely crazy about the fairy tale, "The Snow Queen." Another wonderful aspect of this novel is that the main character, Hazel, is a young girl who is Indian in ethnicity (from the country), although adopted by a white, American couple. I think that Ursu has something powerful to say about being 'other' in a society that is primarily of a certain race/culture. How that can impact a young person, and the wounds it causes that person as they walk through a world where they feel alien.

I also enjoyed the deep friendship that Hazel has with Jack. However, I felt that this aspect of the novel, which is probably the crucial element, fell short. Hazel is almost obsessed with Jack. He's like an anchor to her in a stormy sea that her world has become since her parents' divorce. While I don't mind that she is bonded to Jack, I never felt that Jack was as bonded to Hazel as she was to him, which bothered me. Understanding the fairy tale source helps to appreciate the rift that forms between them, but as it was written, it's not enough. We are given breadcrumbs (if you'll forgive the unintentional pun) to suggest that Jack's issues are also about his mother's bout with depression, but while I can see that Hazel and Jack spend so much time together, I could have used more of his viewpoint on how important his relationship to Hazel was to him. Clearly she was the right person to save him, but more depth on his point of view would have been great.

Ursu made the choice of ending this novel with some questions left in the air. I can't fault her on that, but it did leave me dissatisfied about some situations that weren't addressed, both in the winter woodland and in the lives of both Hazel and Jack. Despite that, I do have the conviction that things will work out for Hazel and Jack. Even though the problems in their families might not be resolved, we know they have each other to get through those times. Also, knowing that Hazel has found more connections in her life other than her mother (and absentee father) and Jack. She needs those. She also needs to know she is fine as she is. She needed that validation, especially with the way her father failed her. One scene I was so glad that Ursu included, her mother telling her that she was perfect and didn't need to change, was very important. Kids need to hear from their parents that they are approved of and loved despite any perceived short-comings.

As far as "The Snow Queen" retelling, it was well-done, and I liked the manner in which Ursu personalized it to Hazel and Jack's story. I felt that the White Queen's menace and authority was slightly undermined by the resolution. I would have loved more descriptive imagery of her Ice Palace. I liked how Ursu creates a world of magic that intersects with the 'real world' in that children travel to this other place to escape from their disappointing lives on the real side of the woods. I hurt for the children who suffer from the cruel effects of selfish magic that the woods bring out in adults and the creatures who live in the woods.

Ursu's writing is good. She drew me into Hazel's story and I felt for this wonderful little girl. It broke my heart to see her feeling so disconnected and flawed. No child should feel that way. I am all for color-blind adoptions, but I feel that her parents should have worked harder to make sure Hazel wasn't alienated by the fact that her ethnicity was distinctive from her parents and many of her peers. I loved the fact that Ursu does address this so poignantly, but she doesn't offer a lot of solutions for the issues Hazel felt.

Overall, I think my biggest issues with this novel were the lack of resolution on those crucial issues and the fact that I think some really important aspects of the story (outside of Hazel and Jack's bond) weren't dealt with in the depth I wanted. I know this is a book for younger readers, but the maturity of the writing makes me want more from the author as far as an emotional resonance and completion about the familial issues faced by Hazel and Jack.

I would be curious to see what a younger reader thinks of this book. If they grasp the deeper, melancholy aspects of this novel. I feel that its melancholy and darker elements hit the right note for a mature reader, but might be lost on a younger reader. Although the ending is hopeful, I can't help feeling a lingering sadness now that I have finished it.

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