On the one hand, I liked just how weird and unlike anything else this book is. On the other hand, this book is really weird! The story it most reminds me of is Gormenghast with the Gothic atmosphere and the family dynasty clinging to odd traditions despite their world crumbling around them. But add to that talking objects that form a bond with a person, a healthy dose of cousin marriage, and a world seemingly based on the junk lady from Labyrinth. In the end it just didn't work for me. The internal logic of the world fell apart and while the world-building was detailed, the characters never went beyond archetypes. The characters were what drew me into the world of Gormenghast and these characters were not as engaging. It was refreshing just to read something different, and I can understand its appeal but it's not my cup of tea. Heap House by Edward Carey: buy it or check it out today!
What I liked about this poetry collection was that the poets represented a variety of countries and Milosz's commentary on why he selected them. Getting into the mind of a man who is a great poet in himself to see what he likes when he reads poetry was an interesting experience, even if I didn't always like the same poems he did. A Book of Luminous Things edited by Czeslaw Milosz: buy it or check it out today!
I naturally liked the premise of this novel: an English class that changes the lives of a group of troubled teens. I absolutely hated the conclusion and the lesson it imparts though. This is a completely irresponsible depiction of recovery from mental illness. Coping with mental illness is a long road that requires a lot of work and often many tries to get the right combination of therapy, medication, and life changes. Throwing a bunch of teenagers with serious mental health issues together then having them all end up in relationships with each other is not a happy ending--it is a recipe for disaster. There are no magical quick fixes when it comes to mental health and starting a new relationship before coping with your own issues is not usually a good idea--especially when the person you're in a relationship has unresolved issues of their own. It's not really about the power of literature in the end either, just the power of magical notebooks. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer: buy it or check it out today!
I really enjoyed the puzzle/adventure aspect of this novel. The ravens and their riddles were clever and fun to read about. The mythology of the book is appealing, especially Gabriel's discovery that is family has a special bond with ravens. The characters are a mess though. They're all paper-thin stereotypes. The most troubling aspect is that at the end a character with an abusive father decides to return to him to try and fix things and the adults in the book seem to think this is a good idea. What? They need to be calling child protective services and figuring out the best way to help this family. Not sending a kid back to a verbally and physically abusive father and just hoping it will all work out. I would not recommend this. There are plenty of good fantasy novels for children out there that don't imply that children can fix their abusive parents on their own. Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen
A lot of my students love mermaids. A lot of my students love dystopias. I'm not sure how much those circles intersect though. This is the mash-up nobody asked for. I loved the main character and I would have enjoyed reading a book about her and her life without the evil mermaids, but the evil mermaids refused to go away. I still liked the book well enough until it got to the deus-ex-machina ending, at which point I was over it. I love this author, and I wanted to like this book, but it didn't work for me. Perhaps there's someone looking for a gritty mermaid story who will be delighted to find this book. I'm not that person though. Undertow by Michael Buckley: buy it or check it out today!