April 06, 2014

YAck Attack: Reality Boy

I am a bad, bad Lady YAcker.  I never remember to share our actual YAcks.  Except for today!  Our most recent YAck was on the excellent if disturbing Reality Boy by A.S. King.  

You can find the YAck here.  It contains Bad Language.  Which should surprise no-one.

April 04, 2014

Lord, I Want To Be In That Number (Review: This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready)

This Side of SalvationThis Side of Salvation
Jeri Smith-Ready
Simon Pulse 2014

Life is just beginning for David Cooper.  He's is on the verge of a career in baseball, academically on the up and has, for the first time, a great girlfriend.  For all these good things, David thanks God, relying on his faith to get him through both the fun times and the not so fun.  And there are a few not so fun things going on - a past tragedy that echoes loudly in the present, a father whose mental health is deteriorating alarmingly and a mother who seems unable to steer her family to safety. Until she hears about the Rush. The Rush will swoop all believers up to Heaven where they will have front row seats for the Apocalypse and the Coopers will be up their with the best of them. But David doesn't want to be Rushed. He wants to stay where he is, surrounded by sinners or not. As life unravels before his eyes, David finds himself questioning his family, his friendships and his faith.

David is a nice bloke - kind, funny and thoughtful not to mention focused and driven. Life hasn't been particularly easy for him.  After the death of his brother he got angry - really angry... but then he got religion. Yet David doesn't have unquestioning faith.  He's a smart kid, with smart friends whose beliefs differ from his own and who is happy to examine what he himself believes.  Of all the aspects of his character this is by far the most appealing.  Being able to question ourselves and what we hold most dear is a hard thing to learn and watching David do this while simultaneously hold together a fractured family and lead a normal life is both compelling and moving. However, Smith-Ready hasn't written him as some existential philosopher but rather has presented readers with an utterly believable teenage boy who wants to play baseball and have sex and hang out with his friends. He is completely likable and his undercurrent of grief and desperation is palpably real.

Like David, all the other characters in This Side of Salvation are highly readable. Girlfriend Bailey and best friend Kane are particularly well written. Bailey is a strong proponent of evolutionary theory and Kane is newly out as gay.  Both could have come across as mouthpieces for beliefs and lifestyles that contradict David's own but instead Smith-Ready has created two characters who are completely three dimensional. David's sister, Mara, is fascinating and a bit of an enigma, holding her cards close to her chest while trying to keep David away from the fundamentalist line that she so clearly feels that he might cross. Of all the scenes in the book, the quiet moments between Mara and David hold most resonance and are the most heartbreaking. David's parents are almost frighteningly real in both the grief that they are so frantically trying to suffocate and in their close-minded belief in a rapturous end. His father is a character who is both incredibly sad and incredibly disturbing (and mad props to Smith-Ready for his dialogue, which is written almost entirely in biblical quotations). Finally, there is John, the brother whose untimely death is at the very heart of This Side of Salvation and whose sainted presence haunts each page.

Sport and religion. You won't find reviews of many book containing either in these here hills because I am disinclined to exercise and hate to be preached at.  Amazingly, Smith-Ready has written a title that contains plenty of both but which neither bores nor infuriates.  Yes, there's a lot of baseball, but David's love of the sport is so palpable that it becomes enjoyable to read. The religious aspect could have been trickier - David really does believe in God and it gives his him a great deal of comfort - yet I never felt that his character was A Message For Us All. In fact, Smith-Ready's great achievement in This Side of Salvation is that I came away from the book with absolutely no idea as to what she herself believes - something that I cannot say for any other YA book that I have dealt with where God plays a role. Rather, Smith Ready has taken the idea of religion being the great opiate and examined how this can be both positive and negative in a way that should, and will, make readers think. And hopefully encourage both believers and non-believers to consider or at least understand viewpoints which oppose their own.

This Side of Salvation is a gripping story starting on the night of the Rush and moving between the past and present as events unfold. Also, everyone loves a good cult, so there's that.  More than anything, though, it is a searing portrait of a family drowning in a grief that they cannot get move on from; of parents who are grasping at straws; of children who can do nothing but stand and watch as everything falls apart. It is at times extremely sad but, importantly, also carries a great deal of hope. This is Jeri Smith-Ready's first foray into contemporary YA fiction and it hopefully won't be her last. Her straightforward writing style and ability to create very real characters makes her as natural a fit in this genre as it has in her previously more paranormal outings.  This Side of Salvation is a book that will make you think and hopefully engender many conversations on the nature of faith, grief and family.  Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. This Side of Salvation is available now.  Thank you to the publisher (via Edelweiss) for providing us with a copy of this title to review.

March 27, 2014

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - April Genevieve Tucholke talks Amoral Love Interests

Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea is the debut novel of April Genevieve Tucholke - and what a debut!  Violet White is waiting away a long, hot summer in a house on the edge of the pacific. Life is quiet, dull even, until the arrival of River West. There to rent out the summer house, River is enigmatic, seductive and unsettling. Violet cannot stay away. But strange things are happening in her corner of the world and before long she is realises that there is more to River than meets the eye, that she cannot trust her own eyes, never mind her own heart, and that she doesn't really care.

Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea is utterly mesmerising. All faded splendour, old money and bohemian parents who run off to Paris for their Art, it is set in the modern world yet feels oddly ageless - falling somewhere between Manderlay and Gatsby. It's all very atmospheric, brimming with odd monikers, imperfectly perfect community otherworldly children, chasing devils and telling strange stories.

The writing is incredibly visual and astonishingly good and readers will find themselves pulled helplessly into the world that April Tucholke has created even as they silently urge Violet to get out of it.  Violet herself is a joy to read, a slightly eccentric character who is remarkably clear sighted when it comes to her feelings, and incredibly honest with herself even as she navigates difficult relationships with her twin brother, her best frenemie and, of course, River.  River is something else. Truly unsettling yet utterly captivating he will send chills down your spine - in the best and worst possible way.  But doesn't everyone love a bad boy - or at least one who is not, perhaps, entirely good?  April Genevieve Tucholke is an author who clearly thinks so and here she is to talk about some of the best:

I’m not a big fan of black and white characters. With some key exceptions, such as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, I’m more comfortable with gray. I have a high tolerance for amorality (and mischief) when it’s presented to me in a charming, complex package. River stands on the back of many fictional characters with questionable morals. Here are my top five.

1. Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He's proud, aristocratic, mysterious, and utterly evil. Francis Ford Coppola's film version, in particular, depicted Dracula as a sensuous Byronic hero--and I can't help being drawn in every time. You want him to die, you want the protagonists to kill him, you do....just not yet. Not yet. 

2. Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.  I wanted River to have the charm and mischievousness of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre and the wildness, passion, and manipulative ferocity of Heathcliff. And I wanted him to lie more than both of them put together.

3. Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. 
He’s reckless and wicked, but he really knows his poetry. He’s thoughtless, and selfish, and yet his love for Marianne is genuine.

4. Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.
Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. I love his love for the flawed, flawed Scarlett. I love how he is drawn to her ambition, and greed, and unsentimental determination.I love that he is both a cynic, and an idealist. What a fascinating, brilliant character.  

5. Jaime Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (SPOILERS ahead)
Jaime starts off with a bang by pushing a kid out a tower window in A Game of Thrones. And then, in book 3, everything changes. He loses a hand and gains a heart.

Thank you, April. What an excellent list. We'd like to add The Darkling from Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone (because Hannah at F&F clearly loves him) and also Max De Winter from Rebecca because, well, swoon. This post has been brought to you by the combined forces of April and Hannah at Faber and Faber (who we would like to thank for sending us a copy of this title to review) and we broke our recent no blog tour rule to be part of this one because the book is just so damn good.  You can find the other stops on the tour on the banner in the sidebar and you can find the book in all places where good books are sold.