Book review: Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

Nightbird2Nightbird is a beautifully written, engaging story with a fairytale quality.  Anyone who’s ever wished there were fairy tales for teens and adults… here is one.

Twig is a 12-year-old girl who lives a sheltered life in a small town. Twig is painfully shy, to the point that people barely notice her, and she has no friends. At first we think this is because of her shyness… but then we learn that her mther is hiding some secrets, which is why Twig can’t invite anyone over.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

I love the way we don’t find out until several chapters into the book that what Twig and her mother are hiding is Twig’s brother… who has wings. James has had wings since birth because of a curse put on the family hundreds of years ago by a witch. Once his wings grew too big to hide, the family moved back to Sidwell from New York, and isolated themselves from the mother’s former friends. James never leaves the house in daytime; only in the dark of night when he can fly through the sky unseen.

But it’s hard to keep a secret in a small town, and a long-standing legend of a local monster starts to heat up again when things go missing around town. We’re kept wondering, is it James who’s taking these things, when he’s out at night? Or someone else?

When a family moves into the witch’s cottage, which as been abandoned since the time of the witch, Twig meets her new next-door neighbours, Julia and Agate, and makes her first friend since kindergarten. James is growing more tired and impatient of his solitary life, and he’s starting to take more risks. Things get even more complicated when a “researcher” moves to town. Twig and Julia begin their own research, into the witch’s curse.

Having already given away the wings spoiler, I won’t give away any more; let me just say this is a truly magical book. The writing is beautiful, especially the descriptions of nature, and Twig’s shy-but-strong voice shines through.

The only down side is that the ending felt too rushed, and a couple of the plot points work themselves out far too easily and conveniently. Still, this book will make you want to find more fairy-like tales; it will leave you feeling happy and enchanted.

Mourning Cloak

Nightbird2

Note on the covers: they make the book look a lot more juvenile than it is, but don’t let them deter you. Although the book is technically mid-grade (mostly because of the protagonist’s age), it reads much more like YA. IMHO it deserves a cover that reflects this; if it were up to me, it would have a cover more like this one on the right.

Book Review: Speaking From Among the Bones

Book cover: Speaking from amng the bonesThe latest Flavia novel has arrived… and it is a cracker!

Now that Alan Bradley’s Flavia mysteries have become an annual event, Bradley fans have certain expectations, and this book delivers on all counts: midnight skulduggery in a churchyard, a bizarre murder discovered by the unflappable Flavia, rivalry with her obnoxious sisters, one-upmanship with Inspector Hewitt, triumphs through chemistry, descriptions that border on the genius, and more laugh out loud moments than any of the previous books in the series. (Minor nit: this novel also seems to have more Americanisms in the text than any of the previous books; someone needs to find themselves a British copy editor!) But on with the show…

This is the fifth book in the series featuring eleven-year-old chemist and amateur detective Flavia de Luce, who has a talent for stumbling across dead bodies. This time, she’s angling to be the first person to see the remains of St. Tancred, the patron saint of Bishop’s Lacey, who is being disinterred for the quincentennial of his death, when she instead gets the first glimpse of someone else’s remains: the church organist, Mr. Collicutt. The plot of this book is delightfully complex compared to the last one, and involves corrupt religious officials, a leprous magistrate, an elephantine soprano, a collector of antique seeds, a victim of lead poisoning, a centuries-old diamond known as the Heart of Lucifer, and a hen named Esmeralda. We also have all the usual beloved regulars: the vicar, Inspector Hewitt, Captain Havilland de Luce, Flavia’s evil older sisters (all right, some loathed regulars) Ophelia and Daphne, Dogger, Mrs. Mullet, and Flavia’s trusty steed Gladys.

The fearless Flavia launches into her own investigations as usual, cheerfully ignoring Inspector Hewitt’s warnings and really coming into her own, in this story, as a sleuth, chemist, and explorer (there’s always a lot of crawling through dirt for our mettlesome heroine, and never more than in this book, which also involves wriggling through putrid graves). As always, both Bradley’s characters and descriptions delight. Alan Bradley is such an enormously talented writer that even if his books weren’t entertaining, gripping, and hilarious, they would be worth reading for the writing alone; this is one of those books you will find yourself re-reading for the sheer pleasure of re-acquainting oneself with certain passages. But happily, plot, character, and description are all deliciously intertwined in this book: a trinity of majestic writing.

To wit, Flavia’s discovery of the wrong dead body, and her delightfully deadpan response: “The first thing I saw was a human hand, its dried fingers tightly clutching a bit of broken glass tubing. And then the face – and ghastly, inhuman mask with enormous, staring acetate eyes and a piggish rubber snout. Beneath it was a white ruffle, not quite covering the ink-black vessels of the neck and throat. Above the eyes was a shock of curly golden choirboy hair. This was most definitely not the body of Saint Tancred. I turned off the torch, withdrew my head, and turned slowly to the vicar. ‘I believe we’ve found Mr. Collicutt,’ I said.”

And Flavia’s descriptions of those she encounters: “Miss Tanty… was a retired music mistress whose sheer physical bulk and full-strength spectacles gave her the appearance of an ancient omnibus with enormous acetylene headlamps bearing down upon you in a narrow country lane.”

Flavia’s delight in chemistry, especially her predilection for poisons: “I had created a poison which, in sufficient quantities, was enough to stop a rogue elephant dead in its tracks. What it would do to an impertinent sister was almost too gruesome to contemplate. One aspect of poisons that is often overlooked is the pleasure one takes in gloating over them.”

I could go on forever, but one more favourite feature of the Flavia oeuvre: the personification of her bicycle Gladys: “I parked Gladys on the north side of Cassandra Cottlestone’s tomb and gave her leather seat a pat. The silver glint of her handlebars reminded me of a frightened horse showing the whites of its eyes.”

Without giving away any more of the plot, I’ll sum up by saying that Flavia’s triumph over all the adults will make you want to jump up and shout “Yaroo!”

There were a couple of not-quite-believable plot points in this book, the most obvious being Flavia’s father’s refusal to part with a First Quarto Shakespeare which could have brought in enough money to save the ancestral home. It seemed unlikely that a small inscription of his late wife’s would hold more cherished memories than an entire mansion; he already has a shrine to his deceased wife in the house, so it makes no sense that he would he choose the book over the latter, let alone that he would make the family homeless for the sake of one scribble.

And there still remain a few unsolved mysteries that span all the books: Why do Flavia and Daphne not go to school? Even if Captain de Luce can’t afford private school, isn’t there a school in at least one of the local villages? And why are there no children Flavia’s age in Bishop’s Lacey? (Lack of local schooling, perhaps?) And could an eleven-year-old really become that adept at chemistry with only books, and no tutor, to teach her? If we’re to believe that five murders could happen in one small village in the space of a year, then we need to believe in the more practical aspects of life in Bishop’s Lacey, too!

Now, besides my earlier nitpick about the Americanisms insinuated their way into the text, I do have a slightly larger axe to grind: I have a personal dislike of books that end on a cliff-hanger. It feels too much like we’re going into a commercial break. If the idea is to get us to buy the next book… we were going to do so anyway! No need to leave us with a Season Finale; a book should have a proper ending. So it looks like we’ll have a LONG wait to find out more about Colonel de Luce’s discovery. (No spoilers here, you’ll have to read it yourself).

That aside, this still feels like a deluxe, bumper edition of Flavia – all the ingredients we’ve come to love, tantalizingly simmered over one of our young detective’s Bunsen burners and set in front of us to either fester into fireworks or distil into delight – or both!

by Jody Kihara

Speaking From Among the Bones is available for sale on January 29, 2013 – you can pre-order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The Book Repository, and other retailers.

Switching Review from Library of Clean Reads

Image: Library of Clean ReadsAnother positive review for SWITCHING is in!

(And I’m tempted to count this as two, as both Laura and her daughter reviewed it, LOL.) Seriously though – it’s always uplifting to a YA writer when they get great comments from teens. So thanks to both Laura Fabiana and her daughter for this one!

SWITCHING review on Library of Clean Reads

“This is the second book I read by Jody Kihara that I absolutely love. Her first book The Frankincense Trail blew me away with its exotic historical setting and Switching is contemporary time travel with a twist. Both unique settings. I began to read this book with my daughter, but soon afterwards she picked it up without me and read it non-stop over a weekend. “Mom, I can’t put this book down!” was her comment to me when I called her to dinner several times to no avail. I have never seen her so engrossed in a YA book before…”  Read the full review ????? ???? ?????????? ????. ????? ?????????? ??????? ????????? ??????, ?????????????? ?? ??????? ? ???????, ????? ??? ????? ??????? ?????????? ?? ??????? ??????????. ????? ? ?????? ? ?????????????? ????? ??? ???????? ??????. ?? ????? ????? ?? ??????? ??????? ? ?????????????? ????? ??? ???????? ??????. ?? ????? ????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ????????? ???????? . http://igrovye-avtomaty-igrat.ru/ ???????? ????? ?????? ? ?????????? ???????? ? ???????, ????? ??? ????? ??????? ?????????? ?? ????????. ??? ????????? ????? ????????????? ??????? ? ????????? ?????????? ???????, ?????? ? ???????????, ???????????? ??????????. ????? ???? ?????????? ????. ????? ?????????? ??????? ????????? ??????, ?????????????? ?? ??????????? ????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ????????? ???????? ? ??????????????. .

Switching Review from Orchid Forsythia

There’s a review of SWITCHING up on The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia. Thanks to Orchid for the great review!

Orchid Review Site

The Switching giveaway is still open too, so head on over to my Facebook page by November 16th to enter!

SwitchingReview:
I was really excited when Jody Kihara, the author of The Frankincense Trail, asked me to review her latest book Switching because her last book was a favorite of mine last year.

One of the things I enjoyed most while reading Switching would have to be the ‘why’ when it came to how Terri and a couple other characters were switching. I found the reason, metal implants and electromagnetism, to be one of the coolest explanations for how a character could bounce around from one decade to the next. What made the time travelling theory in Switching even cooler was that the different metals used had different effects on the person travelling.

While the time travel theory was interesting, one of the best parts of this book is the author’s writing…
[Read the full review]

Reviewers needed for Frankincense Trail blog tour

Another of my books is going off on vacation!

Lightning Book Promotions is organizing a blog tour for The Frankincense Trail in November, and we’re looking for reviewers. If you have a book review blog with 250+ followers, like YA historical fiction, and are interested in participating, please contact Stormi (details in her post). Once we have a list of confirmed bloggers, we’ll provide you with a copy of the book to review. We’ll also be running a 10-copy giveaway that your readers can enter.

Here’s the book’s trailer:

…and the synopsis:

In 200 BC, frankincense was worth its weight in gold, making Arabia was the envy of the world. But wealth comes at a cost: the precious resin had to be transported along the Frankincense Road, a dangerous route through rocky mountains and barren desert.

Alia is a princess in a dwindling kingdom that lies on the Frankincense Road. Having grown up hearing tales of Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba, she dreams of finding a way to restore her kingdom’s former might. When a caravan journeying to the mysterious incense lands stops to take on travellers, she sees her chance.

She soon realises, however, that her trust in the caravan leaders has been misguided. They are not mere incense merchants, but traitors and mercenaries. Alia’s journey soon turns from dangerous to life-threatening.

The Frankincense Trail is a story that transports the reader to a time and place reminiscent of the Arabian Nights tales.

You can read more about the book (and a preview of the first two chapters) on its website.

UPDATE: we now have all the blog tour places filled. I’ll post news of the tour nearer to the time (Nov 1-10), including details of the giveaway!