December 30, 2014

Countdown to Cybils Finalists! Two More Days...

We've been resting and recovering and just generally taking a much-needed media holiday here at FW, but the New Year is fast approaching, and with it, one of our favorite annual bookish events:
the announcement of
the Cybils shortlists!
Finalist titles in all of the categories will be posted on January 1st at the Cybils website. As one of the Cybils organizing crew I've had a sneak peek, and I can tell you there are some wonderful finalist titles in store for you to peruse. But I'm keeping mum until the official announcement--you won't be able to bribe, beguile, or beat it out of me. Just rest assured it's the best list yet. Of course, we say that every year...

Stay tuned!

December 15, 2014

Monday Review: UNMADE (THE LYNBURN LEGACY #3) by Sara Rees Brennan

Cool font, spooky like.
Summary: Okay, so, I have read books 1 and 2 of The Lynburn Legacy and failed to write about those, so this is really a review of the entire trilogy. I know, I know; I really MEANT to write about them individually. But, what can you do? Anyway, I will, as per usual, try not to give too much away, but if you have a pathological fear of spoilers, I suppose you might want to just go read the books now.

Right: for those of you who are still here! Unmade is the third book in this trilogy; Unspoken was the first, and Untold the second. In this story we meet Kami Glass, who lives in the wonderfully picturesquely-named English village of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami's a pretty normal girl; she's part Japanese (go mixed race protagonists!), she wants to start a school newspaper, she has two little brothers and a Goth-y best friend named Angela. Oh, and she hears a boy's voice in her head—and he answers back. That kind of keeps her on the outside of things, for obvious reasons.

SO she isn't totally normal. But she's been talking to Jared in her head ever since she can remember. She doesn't even know if he's real or not, but it is what it is. Until the legendary Lynburns return to the village and everything changes. The Lynburns used to "rule the town"—whatever that means, thinks Kami. Who cares if the youngest Lynburn, the super-hot Ash, starts going to her school and even wants to join her newspaper staff? Who cares about all those crazy rumors? Well, turns out that makes a pretty juicy news story…but what she uncovers is dire and magical and frightening. And it involves generations of sorcerers and their unusual relationship to the village they supposedly protect.

Oh, and then—Jared appears. In the flesh. IRL. That's when things start to get really weird, not only for Kami, but her friends and family, too.

Peaks: I really like the fact that nobody is truly safe in this story. It isn't just the protagonist, Kami, putting herself in danger, but her entire family is threatened, and the village's way of life as they know it. Friends become enemies; enemies become friends—their small world goes topsy turvy and it isn't a secret to anyone in the town. There are no clandestine adventures, had by only young people, that no adults ever find out about; it's all too real for everyone, and so much is at stake. That was really well done, and Kami makes for a very interesting and quirky (and diverse! without it being a Thing!) protagonist who isn't your average heroine, but someone who prevails due to her wit, her inner strength, and her love for her friends and family.

Valleys: I guess if I have to pick at something, on occasion I found the characters' witty banter to be a little too perfect. OK, there, I said it. All joking aside, that's a tough balance to strike, and opinions may vary, too. And, of course, there's always that love triangle thing that shows up so often in YA romance. (We should all have been so lucky. Or unlucky.) But it's handled well, I'll admit.

Conclusion: The story is both lovely and dark; atmospheric and spooky but with a lot of humor, too. Fans of Maggie Stiefvater, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black—definitely don't miss this one. A very enjoyable adventure, and a must read for fans of magical stories set in Britain.

I borrowed my copy of this book from my local library. You can find Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy), and the other two books in the trilogy by Sara Rees Brennan at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 12, 2014


The Pineapple Express, she is expressing, and, at least on TV, there is extreme weather and pouring, driving, spattering rain. Here at home, it's just... like... raining. Which sometimes, despite all drought-without-end claims to the contrary, it does. Anyway. When it rains, I just want to read, and fortunately, here I am, doing just that!

Summary: The post-apocalyptic society has figured out a way to fix its problems with crime -- brain scans, to stop criminal behavior before it starts. While this does away with innocent until proven guilty, its' not as if there are courts and trials anymore anyway - it's the will of the Cardinal who makes the world work. Anyway, it's not that bad -- the guilty are taken away from the MidWest Territory into the PIT (Permanent Isolation Territory) before they can transgress, and the rest of the community goes on in happy comfort. Every citizen of the Territory is tested at the age of sixteen, the boys in their prom dresses, the guys in their tuxes. It's a kind of coming-of-age thing, where first contacts for eligible partners are found and formed. All everyone has to do is approach The Machine and be scanned. That's all. It's the rite of Acceptance, and it's just the first step toward being an adult. Sixteen year old Rebecca is ready. She's well-dressed, well-educated -- well, as far as girls get educated, anyway - and well-versed in the things that will make her a functional member of her society. She is ready to be a mother, a nurturer, and a pillar of the home in support of her husband. Unfortunately for Rebecca... her first step into the adult society is her last. The Machine claims that she has a criminal mind, and her life is now in the penal colony with the rest of the losers. Rebecca - who knows nothing of how to survive, only how to sew and make casseroles, is thrown into a refugee-style camp with psychopaths, murderers and rapists. And, as she believes, she deserves it.

Peaks: Every time I think, "Okay, enough, I am well sick of post-apocalyptic novels," I find another which mildly intrigues me. While the concept isn't entirely fresh, I did find that the execution was somewhat original. Rebecca is not plucky. She's not heroic. She's passive, an observer, and naive. As a matter of fact, she doesn't even TRY to save others or herself at first, and that kind of pissed me off - but it's realistic to how some personality types would react when thrown into the system in innocence - she really didn't know how to handle herself, and she suffered for it. Because her whole life had been spent acquiescing to authority figures; first her mother, then the State, she didn't even have the emotional wherewithal to say, "They say I'm bad, but I know better, because I know ME." She hasn't a rebellious gene in her DNA. She simply accepted what she was told. Does this make her kind of dumb? ...For me, it just made her really young, possibly younger than her age. She was prey because her society created prey... but they also somehow saw in her that she had the potential to become an apex predator, which they didn't want.

Valleys: I have questions about the motivation behind some of the character's actions, including the BIG SPOILERY REVERSAL that happens midway through the novel. There is a betrayal, but the motivation behind it is dubious.

Second, Rebecca finds herself in a love triangle that isn't a real triangle because she... doesn't like one of the guys. While allegedly the heroine of the novel, Rebecca is at times alarmingly passive, and just sort of ...waits for the situation to resolve itself. Um.

Finally, while in many ways this novel is a brilliant exploration of societal expectation for women and of the struggle to balance freedoms vs safety through government intervention, I felt that it was largely disingenuous in its avoidance of certain issues. This is a post-apocalyptic America, yet the issue of race, as linked to criminal mindsets in American society, which is a HUGE and pervasive conflation which has persisted from slavery onward and is largely responsible for racial profiling and vastly inequitable policing - that issue is ENTIRELY absent from the novel. As a matter of fact, there is a mixed race relationship in the novel, and it's like - nada. Nothing at all strange about that, no thoughts that Rebecca has, as coming from a struggling middle-class home, any prejudices or ideas about race or class or crime. I really cannot understand how this would have just been conveniently washed away when society has been pushed back into pre-Victorian ideals for women... they were, at one point in our history, either chattel or at least seen as "less than," as were slaves or people of other ethnicities. I find it difficult to see how the post-apocalyptic society would pick-and-choose on that score and only limit women's upward mobility, especially when the Cardinal's entire platform is "see how good I am at preventing crime." Maybe this is a specious argument, but I really do feel like it was disingenuous of the author not even to touch on this. Maybe the society has figured a way past this, but privilege is an ingrained, reflexive and very convenient-to-return-to privilege. To leave this out of the novel entirely and expect that to be believable didn't work for me.

Conclusion: Entertaining yet uneven, this first book in a post-apocalyptic trilogy will intrigue plenty of readers who love the genre.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find RIGHT OF REJECTION by Sarah Negovetich at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 11, 2014

Thursday Review: WHEN WE WAKE and WHILE WE RUN by Karen Healey

Summary: When We Wake--and the companion/sequel While We Run--are the newest spec fic/sci-fi books by Karen Healey, whose books The Shattering (reviewed here) and Guardian of the Dead (reviewed here) I really enjoyed. If you're already a Karen Healey fan like me, you won't want to miss this fast-paced, frightening, all-too-believable sci-fi adventure.

We've all heard the half-joking references to cryonics—freezing someone's head or body and reviving them sometime in the future. In the world of these two books, cryonics isn't a joke. The beginning of the story takes place in 2027, the near- but still-recognizable future. Tegan is sixteen, lives in Australia, and she's pretty cutting edge: her hobbies are guitar-playing, parkour, urban exploration, and going to protests with her best friends Alex and Dalmar. Dalmar, who she hopes will soon be more than a friend.

…Until one day's protest changes everything, and Tegan wakes up a hundred years in the future.

Peaks: Without giving too much away (because the constant surprises and twists are what really make these two books so compulsively readable), I really thought this was a fantastic premise, and one that hasn't (yet) been done to death, at least not in this specific way. Who hasn't wondered what it would be like to just wake up sometime in the future, just catch a glimpse of what's in store? And yet, the author has created a world that is still recognizable, still our own in fundamental ways; the story's not set in space or on another world or anything like that. Humanity's not quite there yet. In fact, humanity's still pretty horrible in a lot of ways, and this is a story that doesn't pull any punches about the potential for stuff seriously going down the tubes.

Kudos on not whitewashing!
In the midst of all that, Tegan (in the first book) and Abdi (in the second book) make very relatable narrators. Tegan is the one whose story we hear first, and the one who was uprooted from her world and tossed into a new, scary environment where she's locked in a government hospital and nobody will tell her what's going on. Her already-mentioned skills at jumping around abandoned buildings make her attempted escape more realistic, but it doesn't take long for her to figure out she has to cooperate, at least for now. She has to learn what life is like in this unfamiliar new world before she can strike out on her own. IF they let her…

Valleys: I have to admit—I'm not generally speaking a fan of all these books featuring teens who do parkour and urban exploration and building scaling and whatnot as a hobby. How widespread is that, honestly? As a character trait, that always tends to feel more like a wish fulfillment fantasy than anything else. But beyond that, there really are no negatives as far as I'm concerned. The characterization in all other respects was fantastic: the good guys were relatable, the bad guys were truly scary and despicable, and there were plenty of people who fall into the in-between gray area, including an array of interesting side characters, allies and enemies alike.

Conclusion: I think I've succeeded in pushing this enough without giving too much away. Fans of lightly futuristic action/survival (like Carbon Diaries or Rot & Ruin or Mila 2.0) will really like this one. Though I wouldn't call this one dystopian per se, I'd also not be afraid to hand it to fans of The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, or Across the Universe.

I borrowed my copies of these books from my local library. You can find When We Wake and While We Run by Karen Healey at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 08, 2014

'Tis the Season to Go Shopping...

...and there's very little I personally hate MORE than "going shopping," especially when it's the season of Everybody Shopping. Shopping online, therefore, is kind of what saves me during this time of year. I just made my first holiday purchase this morning and that reminded me to remind YOU: you can benefit the Cybils Awards just by doing your Amazon shopping, if you click through using one of the Cybils Amazon links from their website (see this Cyber Monday post from the Cybils blog).

You don't even have to buy the book in question! You can buy some other book. Or a plant. Or a big-screen TV, or a Rolls-Royce, or stock in Kim Kardashian's butt. (I assume they sell that on Amazon. They sell everything.) But regardless of what you buy, a teeny percentage will go towards the Cybils, and we'll use those not-so-ill-gotten gains to fund nifty prizes for the award winners. So, in the name of the big C, by which I mean Cybils, go forth and shop!

December 05, 2014


It's a blustery, rainy day, and I have hot tea and lemon and have just finished a novella I've been looking forward to for weeks. All is well in the Wonderland treehouse, people. Happy, happy times.

I'm generally not attracted to prequels as much as I am to sequels, and, as I said when I joined the cover reveal for ROSE EAGLE, this is the prequel to KILLER OF ENEMIES that you didn't know you needed. I was jonesing for a sequel pretty hard, but KoE was such a perfect book that I decided to suck it up and (hope for a movie and) live with its singular perfection.


Then, I got a little obnoxious with my reader greed. Fortunately, the prequel then dropped neatly (well, "neatly," for a given value of my lack of tech competence in downloading an ebook. Thanks for your help, Hannah!) into my lap.

This novel isn't full of adventurous surprises around every turn - as a matter of fact, the nasties are ones we met before with Lozen. This novel is mostly endurance - a lot of walking - but Rose Eagle is quite a relatable character. Completely unsure of herself, lacking in confidence, and apt to scream for help while killing what she's afraid of, Rose made me smile, and her sidekick is a quiet pleasure as well. I think that's a good couple of words for this book - a "quiet pleasure." That's ROSE EAGLE, in a nutshell.

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Rose Eagle is a Lakota girl living with her aunt and others in what's left of a mining plant. After the Cloud came, the silvery magnetic ball from space which knocked out all power, digital and electronic stuff, (which we read about in KILLER OF ENEMIES), the genetically modified Overlords are dead or being chased down by the genmod monsters they created and The People are working together to survive. Because of the clarity of the true dream Rose's aunt has had, she knows she's meant to be something -- important? Useful? -- but Spirits aren't the easiest thing to understand. After Rose's sweat lodge experience is kind of ...disrupted, she's dismayed to find that one of her aunt's old beaus has emerged from the woods with new information about the world outside of the Big Cave and its woods. The familiar and orderly world Rose inhabited is about to change - she's got a job to do which will take her from the world she knows, and change everything -- if she could just figure out how to get there without showing anyone she's terrified, feeling stupid, and not sure she can actually do it.

At the close of the novel, the author acknowledged a debt to the Lakota people and his Lakota friends for sharing their culture, and for their help with this book.

Peaks: Rose has a gift. Like Lozen's knack with weapons and, you know, killing enemies, Rose has a knack for animals. The "hopeful, feathered things" that take refuge on her shoulders are a treat. Also, I would very much like a badger to live calmly near me. Just putting that out there for the universe.

I appreciated that Rose wasn't a superhero like Lozen, since it takes all kinds. She got tired, got cold, was sad, hungry, felt filthy and itchy and dirty and had to use the bathroom. This isn't often granted to protagonists leading adventures, and I always love those details. Though the book wasn't unpredictable, it did have a satisfying narrative pace - a quest, a journey, an unexpected bonus gift on the way, the quest is fulfilled, and everyone goes home. Or, at least, starts out that direction. I also appreciated how much I learned, in an entertaining fashion, in this novel, and should I ever go to South Dakota, I'm guessing I'll know a little more than the average tourist about its land and residents.

Valleys: It is too short. Okay, yeah, so this is a novella and not a full novel, but still. I could have stayed in this monster-ridden, post-apocalyptic dystopian-type universe a couple more hours and been perfectly happy. However, even good books must end.

Conclusion: This ebook prequel companion to KILLER OF ENEMIES is a sweet and satisfying morsel which will whet your appetite for the sequel.

I bought my copy of this book courtesy of a Tu Books special. You can find ROSE EAGLE by JOSEPH BRUCHAC at an online e-tailer, or at Tu Books online.

December 04, 2014


Summary: I'd just like to start by saying how much I have LOVED Catherine Fisher's work so far--both the Incarceron books and the Obsidian Mirror books. Incarceron in particular is up there with my (admittedly rather long) list of favorites. So I was excited to see her latest in my library: Circle of Stones. Unlike the others, this one is a stand-alone; somewhat like Obsidian Mirror, Circle of Stones involves intersecting characters and timelines that weave ever closer, not entirely comprehensible in their relationships until the end of the story.

This one's got three stories in three different timelines, to be exact: the briefest--almost atmospheric and mythical in its feel--is the story of Bladud, an ancient druid king. Then we have the alternating stories of Zac, an architect's apprentice in the 18th century, and Sulis, a mysterious young woman hiding from her tragic past in modern-day Bath, England.

Peaks: In fact, all three stories take place in what is now the city of Bath; what was already in Zac's time the burgeoning spa city of Aquae Sulis (the waters of Sulis, a local indigenous goddess who became absorbed into the Roman pantheon as Sulis Minerva), where the wealthy and poor alike would flock to take the waters. Having been to Bath a few times, and having just read a rather interesting non-fiction book called Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England about English city life in the 1600s and 1700s (Bath was one of the cities featured in the book), I was really intrigued to read a story set there at different times in its past.

Of course, one of the wonderful aspects of Fisher's writing is that you don't have to have visited Bath to get a feel for its buildings of sandy golden stone and its bustling but still somehow magical tourist section with its Roman and Neoclassical buildings and its ancient cramped medieval alleyways. Sulis, in modern-day Bath, shows us the city in all its glory, working at the Roman Bath Museum and trying to regain her independence in her new life. All is not well, however, as Sulis begins to feel that her past is catching up with her. In THE past, meanwhile, Zac helps the architect (fictitious, but loosely based on a real person) Forrest try to realize his dream of a circular court of houses, all connected by the facade, perfectly aligned like the stone circles of old. That circle--the King's Circus--is where Sulis lives, so we know it was built--eventually. But at what cost, and with what sacrifices? The intertwining storylines are very subtly done, and nothing ever feels forced or prodded into place. Both Zac and Sulis are sympathetic and very real-seeming teen characters; the suspense created by Sulis and her ever-increasing sense of impending doom helps move all three stories along.

Valleys: This isn't the same sort of action-packed fantasy quest that Incarceron was, nor is it a desperate race to save the world, like Obsidian Mirror. Those looking for more adventure will instead find a quieter story about transcending one's past to become somehow more, about living with and moving past the flaws in our own hearts so that we can embrace our full selves and what we are meant to ultimately be. (Can you tell I'm trying not to give too much away?)

I also have somewhat mixed feelings about the end of Sulis's narrative. I think it's because I expected a story that was more based on fantasy, that had more actual magic, but instead the magic here is a touch, an aura, the ghosts of the past. It's well done, truly. But in this case, the defying of my expectations felt a little bit like, "...Oh. So that's what this is about."

Conclusion: Overall, though, I really did enjoy this book. If you like Catherine Fisher's other work, give it a read. If you liked The House on Hound Hill (which I really did), and that sense of the past imbuing a place with ancient echoes, read this one.

I got my copy of this book at the library. You can find Circle of Stones by Catherine Fisher at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 03, 2014


This book is non-fiction, and was originally self-published, because the filmmaker Nick Gray was so convinced this was a story we should know. Nonfiction what we usually review on the blog, but though this particular tale is about two real boys, they are part of an ongoing story about a culture clash, a small group being swallowed up by a larger group, and religious differences. Their story is about growing up, finding convictions, leaving what only looks like safety - and finding the will to go forward into the unknown, in hope of the real thing. I was attracted to this book because when we lived in Glasgow, one of our flats faced a Buddhist temple, and we often saw priests going about their lives in their saffron robes, riding bikes and sipping Irn Bru. It never even occurred to me to ask why they were there, or where they'd come from, or if they'd always been in Scotland. It feels a little silly now, when they were so friendly, that I never asked...

China invaded Tibet and annexed in 1950... and, because it was a tiny country far away, nobody really did more than shrug. But, looking at the faces of the boys on the cover of this book, we know that they were real people whose lives changed terribly that day. Ironically, this past week, I got a colorful flyer in the mail advertising a National Geographic trip to Tibet. It's perfectly safe, the travel guides assure us, for climbers and mountain-lovers from other nations. Privilege strikes again.

The narrative is straightforward and the prose is clean. The author, together with a forward by the Dali Lama, lays out the political, cultural and religious situation in Tibet in a simple manner, and then explains what people are doing about it. Though the danger is very real, the risk very high, and the violence dreadful, the narrative voice remains pragmatic and low-key, letting the story simply unfold as it will. Readers are left with a bittersweet account of brothers choosing a better life that will appeal to pilgrims and sojourners in every culture.

Summary: It is 1994. Tenzin is eleven, and he, his mother, and two brothers have been working their tiny farm in Tibet for as long as he can remember. His nineteen-year-old brother, Pasang, has been gone now for five years - five years, since he to the Buddhist monastery where he was training to be a priest, and a little less than that since he ran away from the monastery. Suddenly, Pasang is back, and while Tenzin is excited, he's also beginning to realize faintly that his brother being back isn't all good. When he'd run away, the Communist Chinese authorities has searched the village and threatened his mother. Now that Pasang's back... they're at it again. Refusing to hide, Pasang faces his accusers. Sneering, swaggering, and eying him, the soldiers bully and press. They're just waiting for Pasang to do something. So is Tenzin. Pasang has a quick temper and restless feet. If he doesn't explode and pop a guard in the nose, Tenzin is terrified his brother is, one night, simply going to disappear into the anonymous world. Pasang and his mother are already having quiet, intense talks when he's not close enough to overhear. Tenzin is heartbroken - his brother has served as his father as well, and when Pasang is gone, Tenzin has to step up to help protect his smaller siblings and his older brother whose developmental delays have damaged his brain and left his body strong. What will the family do without Pasang?

Then one morning, instead of walking to school, Pasang tells him to get up in the ox cart with he and their mother. Pasang is going to take him away - to India. Mother refuses to leave - can't see letting their youngest sibling go, and knows the older one will just slow them down, so Pasang has chosen Tenzin alone. There's nothing for him in Tibet, where they can't practice their religion as they want, and show their cultural heritage. There's no point in staying, Pasang explains carefully. Tenzin is just ecstatic to be adventuring somewhere. But, his mother weeps - and soon, the trip on the bus to the big city doesn't seem like a big deal. They can't use much money, so they sleep on the streets -- Tenzin has to learn a few words of a Chinese dialect so that they can beg - and everywhere, soldiers are rousting the beggars and putting them in jail. Everything feels dangerous, and repeatedly Pasang snatches them away, just ahead of danger - but others don't always make it to safety. Eyes wide, Tenzin soon learns the brutality of the Chinese military. And then, he and Pasang get caught.

Only contempt for their abused bodies by the soldiers who have hurt them allows them to escape at the last. A fortunate meeting with a monk connects the brothers with a guide, and others looking to cross the Himalayas. It won't be easy -- climbing near the pass where Americans go up over Everest -- it's suicidal. It's insane! But, Tenzin realizes, it's that, or go back home.

Through altitude sickness, snow-blindness, frostbite, bad food, scabies and and incredible weariness, an eleven-year-old and a nineteen-year-old make an incredible journey to a life that makes sense to them - a life where they can practice religion or not, a life where they can be free. From myriad setbacks to their triumphant meeting with the Dali Lama, Tenzin's subsequent realization that he and his brother are in a movie (he was so sick he doesn't remember being filmed) and being granted the freedom to become British citizens, the novel tells a fantastic story which is a bit scary in parts, but would be perfectly suitable for Middle Grades and up.

I actually fiddled around on Youtube and found ...Tenzin had posted the film! Which is pretty cool. If you have an hour, it's a documentary, and shows he and his brother on their journey, and shows a little of what happened next. They live in England now.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Annick Press. You can find ESCAPE FROM TIBET by Nick Gray with Laura Scandiffio at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 02, 2014


Billed as "Downton Abbey meets The Princess Diaries," I expected a critique of manners and class striations somehow blended with the awkward, frizzy charm of a Mia Thermopolis knock-off. Disappointingly, that's... not exactly what I got. Despite its elegant cover and interesting blurb of "if Hitchcock had directed Downton Abbey," this novel includes a lot of young adult clichés which, while appealing to some, for me signal the "unholy trinity" - death, insta-love triangle, and drama. A whiplash quick plot-twist pulls the whole awkward bundle together into a messy conclusion. The jacket flap reveals that this novel is meant to be a twist on the classic Daphne du Monier's REBECCA... which I actually don't see at all, but just to put that out there. Filled with prose by turns beautiful and descriptive to breathless and heaving, the shocking conclusion to this novel which will leave you blinking... possibly in bewilderment. The end leaves some narrative strings danging, and is out-of-left-field and bemusing.

Summary: Knowing that her parents are minor peers of British royalty, Imogene, by age ten, just sees it as kind of a game - the Stanhopes bow a little lower to her grandfather and uncle than they do to her. Her cousin Lucia is a Lady, and Imogene is just... Imogene. But, none of it matters to a ten-year-old American girl. She's at her father's home in England for the summer, and what she wants to do is ride horses, play with Sebastian Stanhope, her buddy, tell secrets with Lucia, and otherwise just... be a kid. Imogene is uneasy that it looks like twelve-year-old Lucia and Sebastian are dating... and for her, there are some odd incidents involving fire and flowers, which Imogene ignores because she just wants to spend her summers unencumbered by thought. The plot accommodates this, allowing Imogene to go on not thinking - just pretending all is well. Which, honestly, shouldn't have been a surprise when it doesn't work long term.

Imogene's life is irrevocably changed when her parents and Lucia's parents apparently spontaneously combust - in the middle of the night - outside in the family's huge maze. Imogene had just seen her father in there that afternoon, and his cryptic remarks about there being something in there are the first example of heavy foreshadowing - something's in the maze. Something that eventually kills everyone - but what is it?? Lucia tries to get her cousin Imogene to stay in England with her, but her parents have a codicil in their will that returns Imogene to the United States and to the home of neighbors, who keep her as their own... and they keep her so well that they don't tell her that England has been calling... calling... calling for years. By the time she's seventeen, Imogene has all but forgotten the rest of her family, in a quest for normalcy which seems to excise anything unpleasant or past-related from her mind. I found it difficult to believe that she would nearly forget that she had blood-relatives simply because her parents died but she seems to let it all fade... until a phone call connects her with a man who has come to New York to let her know that she is the last of her family, and now the Duchess... her American family has been keeping this from her, for their own Adult Reasons, which seem to cause hardly a ripple for Imogene - I would have battled the rest of the book trying to let that be okay, but she is over years of duplicity fairly quickly. Of course, there is a cryptic and easily dismissed anonymous letter which hints that all of the deaths which it took for Imogene to be in line for the duchy are somewhat suspicious, but Imogene neatly sidesteps this, and carries on. It must be noted that one thing the character is very good at is not worrying about details, and moving on.

As soon as she arrives in England, Imogene reconnects with Sebastian, the love of her life, who was destined for her from the age of...ten...when he started to date her cousin. There's that insta-love I mentioned, and I was disappointed, because that could have been handled much better and differently. Despite Sebastian's dating her cousin for the seven years prior to her death and the whole "I never seemed to be into you except as a friend" stuff, Sebastian's ready to vow eternal love with Imogene. That for me would have been "red flag: freaky alert!" but Imogene take it as her due. Now, all they need to do is wobbly through any number of affairs of state without wearing flip-flops and chawing down on a wad of gum, figure out what is causing all the drama and random gusts of wind inside the estate, find out what's up with the grim housekeeper, what's up with Imogene, fire, and flowers and why no one demolished the maze if people died in there and there's allegedly "something" in there???

Peaks: This book is, at least in the beginning, beautifully written, with many lovely turns of phrase. The author's attention to detail in the manor house and grounds speaks to a great love for architecture and gardens, and an eye for what will interest readers with a bent to the romantic English country house or Merchant/Ivory type film.

Valleys: The plot was a disappointment for me, as I found it muddled and confusing. There were a few elements which seemed as if they'd initially set out to be about one thing, and then the author changed her mind about their significance midway. {SPOILER} Imogene has a power... which has nothing to do with anything, doesn't reveal much of anything, nor does it solve much of anything. The Maze, which features so prominently on the cover, and in the death of her parents, aunt and uncle, does not seem to be significant of anything. If one were to take out both the maze and the powers... it wouldn't really affect the novel, which makes their ominous and repeated references hollow. It was very confusing that the dramatic and high-profile, game-changing deaths of so many adults ALL AT ONCE were never... explained, explored, or solved, not really. I mean, "the spirit got mad" seems too little. The why and the how of the way they died is unnecessarily opaque, as if the author deliberately is trying to keep details of the plot from the reader... but who, then, are the details for? Additionally, there is the usual "All British People Are White" comfort-zone trope, and various types of diversity are entirely absent from this novel, though the cook is comfortably within cliché and described as stout. I found the emotional relationships less than satisfying, as I never felt that a forever-type of relationship could be founded on an attraction which started at age ten, though I recognize that others who are quite sure of themselves romantically may beg to differ.

Conclusion: This novel didn't work for me, and I felt at times like I could make no headway in getting to know neither the characters nor their motivation. Their actions lacked urgency for me; in short, I didn't care what their issues were - about the "powers" of State or the British aristocracy, etc. etc. - all things which in The Princess Diaries we're allowed to engage with and care for. The romance didn't feel genuine at all, as it was just one of those Foregone Conclusions we as readers are meant to get swept along with, and the power... I'm still not sure what it was for, or why it existed. However, for those readers who enjoy an atmospheric novel with plenty of Gothic architecture and a lot of designer-name dressing up, as well as those who enjoy explanations of British pride in their class distinctions, those readers will find this a memorable wish-fulfillment type of novel which will feed their dreams of princessdom and into which they can disappear for awhile.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After December 9th, 2014, you can find SUSPICION by Alexandra Monir at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!