Book Reviews: Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig, and The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse by Nina Post

Sorrow's KnotSorrow’s Knot
Erin Bow
Arthur A. Levine Books, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-16666-9
Hardcover

How many times have you asked “Why?” only to be told (with a bit of exasperation) “Because, we’ve always done it this way!”  From the outside looking in, this can be frustrating, a non-answer.  It doesn’t explain a thing and it seems somewhat defensive and stubborn.  Of course, if you have “always done it this way”, and there are no obvious repercussions, the old “if it ain’t broke…..” adage may seem more than adequate.  With that philosophy, there would be no progress, no improvements, we would become stagnant.  The devil’s advocate may wonder, what is wrong with that?  Well, Sorrow’s Knot shows us.

I finished this book awhile ago, but writing this review has been challenging. I could almost write two different reviews—both hugely in favour of the book.  It is truly fantastic.  The unique and subtle life lessons were spot-on and welcome.  As an adult (chronologically), a mom, a short-time former educator and self-proclaimed promoter of the written word; I find this to be a stand-out book.  On the other hand, the book loving, adolescent inside of me just thinks it is a kick-ass story.

First, the appeal to the intended Middle-Grade audience: allow me to gush about the Rock-Star-Quality characters.    Otter, Cricket and Kestrel are unique and likeable, individually; but as the tightly knit trio, they are outstanding! I want to hang out with Kestrel, be her BFF.  She is my new heroine.  I could spend days completing menial tasks if Cricket was there to tell me stories.  The friendship among them surpasses all, including the laws that their people have forever lived by.  Together, they face mystery, intrigue, love and death.

Strengths exhibited by Kestrel, a female ranger, are more real, and therefore way cooler, than the modern-day vampire.  Sweeter romance will not be easily found.  In their world, okishae, said to mean mate, pair, knot.  It is the exception, not the rule.  Okishae lasts a lifetime.  Two humans choosing to love each other, exclusively and forever, is not just rare, it is strange.  That which is feared, The White Hand, is a brand-new (or newly introduced) creepy, eerie and scary entity.  The vagueness surrounding it adds to the mystique and makes for a bone-chilling tale.  As their sheltered life begins to unravel, Otter and Kestrel are faced with decisions that will impact, not just them, but the entire population of Westmost and potentially beyond.  Unceremoniously joined up with a complete stranger in Orca; the ladies will be forced to choose where to place their trust.  Should they accept Orca’s wild tales or continue believing what they’ve always been told?  The many twists and turns are thought-provoking and entertaining, making this one of the grooviest books I’ve read this year.

Now—a quick adult-themed note: I love that the village is mostly women, that a monogamous relationship is an oddity, that a Story-Teller plays such a vital role in the community and that the adolescents are so strong, smart and capable.  Most of all, I loved the purity and loyalty that came with their friendship.  These might not leap out as attributes to the intended audience, but the strength and solidarity that they lend to the story will not be missed.

Coming out in November, just in time to kick off your holiday shopping, this would be a welcome gift to any reader.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2013.

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The Passion of the Purple PlumeriaThe Passion of the Purple Plumeria   
A Pink Carnation Novel  
Lauren Willig
New American Library, August 2013
ISBN 978-0-451-41472-4
Trade Paperback

The story opens in Paris with Gwendolyn Meadows, part of the intrepid Pink Carnation spy team, crouched on a balcony outside a room occupied by opera singer, Aurelia Fiorila, and the notorious Tallyrand, Napoleon’s foreign minister. They are hatching a plot whereupon Aurelia will play the spy in Britain. Gwen, of course, carries the news back to her employer and friend, Miss Jane Wooliston, who is known in certain circles as the Pink Carnation.

Meanwhile, Colonel William Reid, late of the East India Company, has just arrived in England with plans to build a home for himself and his two daughters, whom he sent to England ten years previously when his wife died.

Gwen and William meet on the doorstep of the girl’s school attended by Jane’s younger sister and William’s youngest daughter, only to discover the two girls have disappeared. Have they been kidnapped? Has someone taken Agnes Wooliston in order to flush out the Pink Carnation? Or is something else at work here? Why is Lizzy gone too?

The set-up sends Gwen and William on a wild chase seeking the girls. A sultan’s treasure is involved, stolen by one of William’s sons. The plot carries forward with non-stop action, fine-tuned characterizations, and excellent descriptions. And that’s just for starters.

Author Willig’s builds her two main characters with snappy, laugh-out-loud dialogue. The situations are both madcap and serious. Yes, I know. Both. The story building reminds me of some of Georgette Heyer’s lighter and more amusing farces, only Willig is funnier. I’ll certainly be reading more of Lauren Willig’s spy series. The only thing I found not to love was the insertion of some chapters that take place in the present day. Those chapters seemed to me to break the spell set up for William and Gwen.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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The Last Condo Board of the ApocalypseThe Last Condo Board of the Apocalpyse
Nina Post
Curiosity Quills Press, February 2012
ISBN: 978-1-62007-016-1
Trade Paperback

Kelly Driscoll is a bounty hunter for hire tasked with finding one suspect within a 500-apartment condominium. Finding him within two days will be pretty spectacular but that’s her job and she’s gonna do it. But there are more to these residents than meets the eye. Will she find her suspect in time and claim all her expenses?

To be honest, I couldn’t really get into this book at all. Even writing the short synopsis above took an age because quite simply, I didn’t care about the story, mainly because it was so manic throughout that I don’t know if I got it in the end. Ask me what it was about and I’ll struggle to tell you accurately because there are a myriad of characters all running about acting strangely and seemingly without purpose and certainly without sense. The only thing this achieved was to confuse and add unnecessary complexity to the story that made me want to just give up. Reading page after page about condo meetings is agonising and boring. I guess it was meant to highlight how this weird group of characters get distracted from their original purpose but I could have easily done without it, or at least had a very edited, shortened version. It felt like filler, just very, very boring filler.

Put it this way, the story is too haphazard and convoluted to actually work. It lacks direction and purpose and lurches from thread to thread with too many stops and starts. 61 chapters in a 250 page book is too many in my opinion and only add to the manic atmosphere of the story. While I understand that the book is supposed to be detailing the advent of the apocalypse, having to cling to the plot with a death grip does not make for pleasant reading and in the end, the story wasn’t strong enough for me to even care. It ends very abruptly as well which in this instance was a blessing for me when I realised that I didn’t actually have another 25 pages to read. But, abrupt endings are never a good idea anyway. Teasing and tantalising the reader with an open ending or cliffhanger is good, dropping the story like a hot potato is bad. Since the book contained a preview of the next book titled The Last Donut Shop of the Apocalypse, I’m pretty sure this is aiming to be a series. However, I didn’t even bother to read the sample chapter so indifferent was I to the first title and I certainly didn’t dip into the other sample chapter of One Ghost Per Serving either. This book needs a darn good editor and extensive rewriting before it will hit any bestseller lists. As it is, I won’t be recommending it to others.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, August 2013.

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