Book Reviews: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater, The Stone Demon by Karen Mahoney, and Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

SinnerSinner
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-65457-9
Hardcover

While Sinner, the recently released, highly anticipated, companion book to the Shiver trilogy didn’t take me back to Mercy Falls, it most certainly allowed me an enchanting opportunity to revisit Cole St. Clair and Isabel Culpepper. If you, like me, loved absolutely every single thing about the Shiver trilogy, my best guess is that you will revere Sinner. On the other hand, if this is the very first you’ve heard of said trilogy, I can still unabashedly recommend Sinner as a remarkable stand-alone novel packed with the punch that only Ms. Stiefvater can deliver. Even if you are “not really into the whole werewolf thing”, I stand by my recommendation. To me, the werewolf in Sinner is more an allegory than a creature to be feared or envied.

Ms. Stiefvater’s newest novel is a fast-paced, engrossing read that ebbs and flows with generosity and narcissism, love and hate, determined clinging and letting go. There is love and laughter, heart-ache and tears, mistakes, self-realizations and forgiveness. It is about life, growing up, being true, acting brave and accepting that; sometimes, walking away isn’t a cowardly act; but rather, the hardest and most definite thing you will ever have to do. Lessons generally learned much later in life become imperative in the formation and revelation of the true self as both Cole and Isabel; separately, yet simultaneously, become a bit more open and a little less jaded. Not embracing, but almost acknowledging that options aside from black or white, wrong or right, indeed exist. Grey comes in many shades, the road less traveled still delivers the traveler to his destination; and sometimes, pausing to ponder “what’s the way?” is the only way to keep going forward.

As always, within a Stiefvater saga, there are serendipitous seeds of wisdom that, when nurtured, bloom with breath-taking splendor. The brief glimpse of family on the beach is beautifully brilliant, encapsulating both a smiley and a teary moment (this author is a sneaky, clever, creator). If you’ve read this book, but weren’t captivated, amused and delighted….you may not have been paying close attention.

Leon. Leon’s pictures. The insightful inclusion of this quiet, soft-spoken man adds depth and a certain melancholy, elevating the book to a new level.

Sofia, because every darkness deserves a ray of light; and every home, a little hope.

I closed Forever four years ago with mixed emotions and a heavy heart. I had fallen for these characters, accepted the finality; but longed for just a little bit more Cole and Isabel. The two characters are so vibrant; filled with energy, anger, frustration, confusion, yet appearing confident and collected. They required their very own story and Sinner is it, spot on.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.

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The Stone DemonThe Stone Demon
An Iron Witch Novel #3
Karen Mahoney
Flux, April 2013
ISBN 978-0-7387-3340-1
Trade Paperback

Ms. Mahoney epitomizes the ideal conclusion to a trilogy with The Stone Demon. Thankfully void of loose ends, neither was each and every situation systematically closed out, as if checking off a list. Admittedly, some resolutions and explanations are needed; and answers were provided in a very satisfactory way, with any remaining questions providing excellent points to ponder long after the story has been told.

The first book, The Iron Witch, introduces Donna Underwood who wants nothing more than to be a regular teenager. Such a simple request, yet utterly impossible for her. She has been shrouded in mystery and secrets since she can remember. Flashes from her distant memory serve only to remind her that her father died trying to save her; the magical iron tattoos used to restore her arms will forever make her an outcast; her mother is in an asylum and she is left with only her aunt.

Further, Donna isn’t being raised as a typical teen. Rather, she is being “trained” for her rightful position within a Secret Order of Alchemists. So secret, in fact, that she knows almost nothing about the Order, which means she can’t really trust them. One more, tiny detail: Donna is being pursued by faeries and she has no idea why.

Yes, readers. I am telling you about a unique, intriguing story that features Fey, Alchemy, Demons and Ley Lines (oh, my)! Mixed in with the wizardry, and accompanying Donna on her journey of discovery we have her best buddy Navin. He is, hands down, one of my favourite fictional characters of all time. His sharp tongue, quick wit, and self-admiration make him amusing and delightful; particularly when situations are dark and dire. He provides the stability and balance Donna needs, and their friendship typifies the strength, support and unparalleled loyalty that so many teens sweetly maintain.

With a rich, compelling cast of characters, a tantalizing mystery unraveling, and just a dash of romance, The Iron Witch Trilogy is a must read for any fan of Fantasy, Mystery and/or YA. If you have a teen-aged reader in your life, turn him/her on to The Iron Witch Trilogy and you will be revered. You’re welcome.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2014.

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Hold FastHold Fast
Blue Balliett
Scholastic Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-29988-6
Hardcover

Step back, Wonder Woman, I have a new heroine in Early Pearl. Captivating, courageous and thoughtful, this spunky eleven year old is simply amazing. Throughout this story, Early’s soft, quiet determination, fueled by hope alone, astounds. And what a story this is.

A mystery of epic proportions unwinds quickly, enveloping the entire Pearl family. From an outsider’s view, it may appear that this family of four is down on their luck; but the love, admiration and respect that they share for each other is a true treasure that eludes so many.

While Dash’s job in a Chicago Public Library may barely cover the bills, it is the right place for him. This is confirmed when he has a chance to make extra money on the side by simply cataloguing old books. Stumbling onto an original print of the Langston Hughes’ The First Book of Rhythms inexplicably sets off a whirlwind of events.

With Dash missing, their tiny one-room apartment broken into and trashed, forced to move into a shelter while being dismissed by the police; the Pearl family seemingly has no reason to hope. Early refuses to let her family down. The lengths that Early would go to while valiantly trying to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance deeply affected this reader.

Although this would be more than enough for one young girl to tackle, the compassion and empathy that fill Early do not allow her to focus on only this goal. Rather, her acquaintances and her new life in the shelter give her ideas bigger than any she could have imagined. Her tireless efforts to make a difference not just for the small Pearl family right now; but for shelter kids in the future are beyond admirable.

Ms. Balliett shares Early’s tale with such phenomenal presentation that the book-steeped mystery becomes almost secondary, in the way that the lyrics to a beloved song fade into the background when sung in a haunting, melodious voice.

I fully admit to feeling somewhat guilty while reading this book; as if I was getting more than I deserved….I got the chocolate and vanilla twist in a waffle cone, when really, I only should have gotten only a small vanilla one. I can’t fathom how a mere human is capable of writing, incorporating so many layers, in sneakily simple prose. Possibly, this book was created by a magic that only Ms. Balliett can harness and control, or maybe Ms. Balliett herself has super-powers, either way, she has a new fan in me!

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2014.