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Thursday, August 31, 2017

What I’m Reading: Creatures of Will & Temper and A Small Charred Face

The September 1st issue of Booklist is out a few days early and I have two reviews for you. As usual, I have included my draft review and bonus info with the full citation to the final review.


Creatures of Will and Temper.

Tanzer, Molly (author).
Nov. 2017. 368p. Houghton/Mariner, paperback, $16.99  (9781328710260)
First published September 1, 2017 (Booklist).


In this urban fantasy retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, we enter a decadently described Victorian London filled with all of the rules and manners we know, but with the addition of two fascinating frames-- fencing and demons! The Gray sisters, Dorina and Evadne, come from the country to spend a few weeks in the London home of their artist uncle, Basil. Dorina, the younger and more traditionally beautiful is excited to enter society and is quickly taken under the wing of the mysterious and enchanting Lady Henry. But Lady Henry and Uncle Basil have a secret, one that lives inside of Henry and possibly others. Evadne, a strong, stoic, fencer is sent to be her impetuous sibling’s chaperone, but soon finds herself immersed in a competitive fencing school, one with an underground agenda that puts the sisters in opposite corners of an epic battle. With a satisfying mix of strong characters, lush descriptions, dual point of view, steady pacing, and plenty of exciting action sequences, Tanzer wraps the reader up in a world where nothing is as it seems and notions of what is good or evil, moral or amoral, are up for grabs. A great choice for fans of supernatural fantasy set in the 19th Century like Lauren Owens’ The Quick or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Further Appeal: Did I mention the fencing and demons above? Oh I did. Well double down on that. They were fun, interesting and just great.

The Victorian frame is also excellent. I love Victoria era novels and this book accurately replicated BOTH the time period and the style of the writing at the time. And, the literary inspiration also adds a level of appeal here. In general, I would say that the frames are the lead appeal factors here. If you are intrigued by these interesting frames, read this book. The writing is beautiful and the story is well paced, but the frames make it stand out, and as a result, easy to hand sell. Again, did I mention demons and fencing?

I could not really get to this in my limited word count but I also loved how this book played with the stereotypes of femininity. The “strong” more manly woman is straight and the girly woman is lesbian. And both are presented just as they way the characters are. I loved that. The novel also delves into the problems people face in society when they do not fit “the norms”of their era- men, women, young, old- in a thought provoking way.

Three Words That Describe This Book: interesting frame, strong characters, lush descriptions

Readalikes: Counting the Wilde source material, there are three options listed above [The Quick is an especially good readalike and my review for that title has more options too], but you should also look at my reviews of Drood by Dan Simmons and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Both could work, but for different reasons. Click on each title to see why.

Finally, Creatures of Will & Temper is part of John Joseph Adams’ new imprint with HMH. I would highly suggest any of these titles and/or any book he has edited.


A Small Charred Face.

Sakuraba, Kazuki (author).
Translated by Jocelyne Allen.
Sept. 2017. 288p. VIZ/Haikasoru, hardcover, $15.99  (9781421595412). Grades 9-12. First published September 1, 2017 (Booklist).

STAR REVIEW

In this lyrical, character centered fable, readers meet three teens in three separate yet irrevocably linked stories that together relate a panoramic, heartbreakingly beautiful tale about the lives of “The Bamboo,” Chinese vampires living in exile in Japan. The Bamboo live about 100 years, can be born a vampire or turned into one, feed only on the already dead, and are ruled by a king and a strict set of laws, the most important of which is to never associate with humans. When it is their time to expire, they bloom in a flurry of white flowers and then disappear forever. Kyo, a young boy whose family is murdered by the Yakuza and is rescued from the same fate by a kind hearted Bamboo, tells the first story, recounting his years being raised by two vampires who want nothing more than to protect his “flame.” Next is Marika, a Bamboo who was turned as a teen, befriends the human Kyo during his high school years, and becomes inextricably linked to Kyo and his family. Finally, we go back in time, to when the Bamboo still lived in China and hear the story of the two teenage, royal vampires who saved their brethren and helped them escape to safety in Japan. While the vampire frame is central to the plot, the novel is quiet, with little violence, Rather than being horrific, this is a thought provoking, coming of age tale about familial love and life with all of its blessings and hardships, related in an authentic voice to which teens will be drawn. A compelling tale perfect for readers who are craving more of the popular spate of fairytale inspired stories.

Further Appeal: This book was beautiful and enveloped me in its world, characters, and fable like storytelling from the first moment. It is an experience to read this book, a wonderful, captivating experience.

Also the way the story is told, through the three connected stories where 1 character from each story appears in the next one, in a way that makes you look again at the character you were introduced to previously was amazing. I especially liked how the story behind how and why the Bamboo are the way they are was saved until the end. Telling the story “out of order”made it better.

I also loved how the idea of a monster, in this case a vampire, was used in a different way. They are still scary but the focus is on the magic, wonder, and otherness, not the fear. But the darkness is still there, lying in wait, just behind the surface.

Finally, while this is a YA novel because it is teens who control the action and storytelling, this is definitely a YA novel that can be enjoyed by adults who like beautiful storytelling and character centered stories. I am not a huge fan of YA in general, but this book I loved.

I didn’t know what to expect when I was handed this book. The plot summary alone does not explain why this book is so phenomenal. Everything else I have said in the review and this extra appeal statement explains why someone would like this book, not the plot.

This is a title you will have to seek out to add to your collections, but I think it is well worth the effort.

Three Words That Describe This Book: lyrical, character center, fairytale/fable inspired

Readalikes: This book reminded me of Murakami and not just because they are both Japanese authors, rather because both use surrealism, character centered and unconventional storylines, and a mystical feel in their works.

Here is the author statement I wrote on Murakami for NoveList to explain:
Haruki Murakami's appeal lies in his characters and storylines, both of which seamlessly meld the mundane and the surreal. His protagonists are introspective and quirky, and they always end up mixed up in some crazy conspiracy. The Murakami plot grows from these situations as the characters and the reader go through a physical and mental journey to reach the novel's completion. Murakami sprinkles odd situations and eccentric characters into the mix to help lighten what can be a heavy load. Start with: Kafka on the Shore.
But that is too easy just to give you another Japanese author. Any story with a fable or fairytale frame where the characters are central would also work, especially those where “monsters” are used in an original way like, The Golem and the Jinni, The Night Circus, or Uprooted.

I also think A Tale for the Time Being is a good readalike. Click here for why.

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