Review: Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson


in a sentence or so: Bobby, his mom, and his half-brother Dennis are moving to the country to escape Dublin. Bobby needs to get away from his no-good friends (says his mom) and his mom needs to get away from the debt-collectors (says Bobby). but life in the country brings on more mystery than any of them expect - externally and internally.

Bobby is a 14 year old bad boy. and by bad boy i mean stealing cars and torching them after joyriding with his older pals, using hard drugs, stealing as much as possible, and repeating the events ad nauseum. so while Bobby's mom claims that they are moving to Ennis (the country) to escape the bad influences in his life, he knows that a good chunk of the real reason is so that she can continue to duck the debt collectors knocking on their door.

the relationship between Bobby and his mom is bleak, complicated, and all sorts of teen-angsty with a strong undercurrent of anger. he resents her refusal to tell him who his real dad is, he resents her having Dennis (his 4 year old half-brother), and he resents her forcing them to move out to the country. after stealing a car to go back to Dublin, Bobby is forced into a repayment schedule of working on the neighbors farm. it isn't all that bad really, as there is another guy his age there and the family seems to be well meaning enough. plus, they feed him copious amounts of delicious food and have a house cleaner than he's ever known.

between Bobby trying desperately to get back to Dublin (where his friends won't even see him) and fighting with his mom and working off his debt to the neighbors, some strange things start happening. his little brother Dennis insists he has been seeing a little woman in the middle of the night coming in through the dog flap and that she wants milk and cake to eat. of course, he's only 4 and could be making things up...but the neighbors spill the mystery of the previous owner and his family. making the presence of this imaginary friend just too coincidental for Bobby to ignore.

i picked up this book based on the cover alone - i'll admit that. it's a really spooky and intriguing cover. however, it gave the TOTALLY wrong impression. while there is an element of the supernatural and mystery, the plot is centered around Bobby and his self discovery. his voice felt so authentic that i was grabbed from the first page to hear more of his thoughts and his story.

the motives of the characters are never totally clear, which i appreciated. the neighbors are the classic happy family - but they also served as a source of goodness that Bobby needed in his life, even though he didn't realize it. they illustrated the power of purpose and filled a void in his world.

the conclusion of the book, while sensible, totally fell flat for me. and, after poking around at other reviews, i realize i'm not alone in feeling split over Thompson's writing. particularly the epilogue. it felt clunky, abrupt, and a bit puzzling. but even that didn't detract from the rest of the story for me. i really connected with Bobby's voice and was committed to hearing him out. i think having him as the narrator really helped this novel along and helped me to overlook the holes in the plot, the late character twists, and the less than fulfilling conclusion.

fave quote: "It wasn't because of him that I stayed. I think it was just because there was something happening. Even if it was only digging a drain or stacking bales or shoveling shit, it was still something happening. At home, nothing ever happened." (145)

fix er up: i feel like i shouldn't like this book as much as i did. there were so many glaring literary flaws and clunky plot points...but again, Bobby's voice saved this and made it a solid read.

title: Creature of the Night
author: Kate Thompson
genre: Coming of Age, Mystery, Problem Novel

Review: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell


in a sentence or so: Evie, her mom, and her step-dad Joe head to Florida after he returns home from WWII. what Evie believes to be a vacation adventure and potential fresh start for her ho-hum life ends up being a journey from her own naivety to ultimate disillusionment with everyone in her life...herself included.

Evie is insecure, innocent, naive, and unknowingly beautiful. Evie's mom, Bev, is a knock out. Evie is unable to see her own beauty due to feeling eclipsed by her mother's breathtaking good looks and Bev (who has had a hard life being such a pretty gal) is happy to let Evie pass as average. it's not until after they head to Florida that Evie begins to hear and believe herself to be pretty, and begins to dare that the sexy Peter Coleridge, a man from Joe's military company, can actually like (maybe even love) her.

it's important to note Evie's total unawareness of her own beauty because it shows her sheltered and protected existence. so when they go to Florida, Evie begins to hear things, see things, and even sense things that just don't feel right and she isn't sure why. the mysterious Peter Coleridge starts hanging around Evie and her family quite frequently, which she is certainly excited about. but she is aware that there is something funny going on between Joe and Peter. as in, they pretend to like each other but something is going on under the surface and it's really starting to get awkward. she spends her days in Florida getting to know bits and pieces about other hotel guests and daydreaming over Peter while the rest of the characters weave the plot around her. she begins to wonder what Peter's motive is for hanging out with her and her family, why did they really come to Florida, and how long will this facade of a happy and put-together family last?

there is an undercurrent of anxiety and mystery from the beginning. Evie is beginning to emerge from her innocence cocoon and with it she is learning that the people she knows and trusts don't always do things with the best intentions, and that the actions of others aren't always as authentic as she expects them to be. after a tragedy in Florida shrouded in mystery, deceit and lies, Evie comes to the true crossroads of who she is and how she will handle her new found awareness.

the characters are broken. their motives are never quite black and white. while we as the reader are pretty sure what's going on around her, it takes a while for Evie to get the memo and absorb all that's happening. her discovery of self and of others is really the core of this story, and ultimately her internal resolutions at the conclusion of the book justify why her story is one worth hearing. however, i did feel like external resolutions after everything was said and done were a bit hokey. also, the title really does set you up with the two parts of the story - what she saw, and how she lied. simple, yet life-changing for Evie.

fave quote: "I know now how you can take one step and you can't stop yourself from taking another. I know now what it means to want. I know it can get you to a place where there's no way out. I know now that there's no such thing as just one. But I didn't know it then." (42)
fix er up: the ultimate resolution of the characters. the resolution of the plot seemed fitting, but how the characters lives where handled after the fact and their actions were so cheesy.

title: What I Saw and How I Lied
author: Judy Blundell
genre: Historical Fiction, Drama, Problem Novel

Review: The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, Book One) by Clare B Dunkle


in a sentence or so: Kate and Emily Winslow move to Hallow Hill after the death of their father to live with their two great-aunts and one very unhappy (and shady) guardian, Hugh Roberts. within days Kate has attracted the notice of the goblin king Marak, who wants Kate as his bride. and goblin kings always get their bride.

our nineteenth century sisters Kate and Emily aren't crazy about moving out to the remote Hallow Hill, but they do find the woods ripe for exploration and the stars beautiful at nighttime. on one of their first excursions, the girls become lost and stumble upon what they believe to be a band of gypsies late at night in the woods. Emily, the younger of the two sisters, is excited and totally into the mysteriousness of the gypsies. Kate, the beautiful and brainy sister, is instantly wary of these people and feels that something is not quite right. of course, her instincts are spot on. she soon learns of the goblin king Marak's intention to take her away to the kingdom under the hill and make her his bride. Kate does everything she can to stop this from happening...but will it be enough?

the book is broken into 3 parts - starlight, lamplight, and darkness. i can't really review the last two parts without giving away spoilers, but it made sense for them to be separated into parts. while there is clearly a cohesive story, i think this was the author's way of putting a separate focus for each segment and allowing for emphasis on certain characters and motives.

i started off like Kate: appalled, grossed out, and angry at Marak for trying to steal her to take her away to the creepy underworld of goblins and ick. but, much to my own surprise, about halfway through i felt myself warming up to Marak. maybe even starting to root for him! crazy, i know, but true. the author does a wonderful job of creating a complex and sympathetic character in Marak, while still maintaining his freakishness. i loved it. i think what really won me over is that i bought that he genuinely cared for Kate, more than just a "you're pretty, i'll take you away now" care. i didn't expect that turn by the author, but i was pleasantly surprised when it came. this wasn't exactly a romance, but the mystery of what exactly was going on intrigued me greatly.

Kate and Emily's adventure is full of suspicious characters, danger, using their wit, and staying true to who they are. Dunkle creates quite a plethora of creatures and gives each of them due attention by giving them a personal name and detailed portrayal. her elaborate description of the Goblin kingdom compliments her detailed characters and creates a rich fantasy world which i was able to completely immerse. the happy, quirky ending left me wanting more. which is quite something, since there was no cliffhanger. i want to read the next two books in the series out of pure desire in the kingdom and characters Dunkle created, not by a flustered need to quench my curiosity.

fave quote: "There on the roof crouched the squirrel. It sat up, chattering, and waved its tail at her. Kate had a vision of herself chasing it headlong down the gravel track, yelling like a banshee. No, perhaps she'd better not." (53)

fix er up: as this is a children's book, i shouldn't be too harsh on the over-the-top PG feel of the romantic interactions. Dunkle does a solid job of creating "awww" moments without being racy, but the YA lover in me would have appreciated a little kissing scene or something. meh well.

title: The Hollow Kingdom (Book 1 -- The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy)
author: Clare B. Dunkle
genre: Adventure, Fantasy