Book Review: The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton

The Strange MaidThe Strange Maid
The United States of Asgard Book 2
Tessa Gratton
Random House Children’s Books, June 2014
ISBN 978-0-307-97751-9

A wizard is that person who is outstandingly clever, the person of amazing skill and accomplishment; she who practices magick, also known as a conjurer and enchanter. Ms. Gratton epitomizes this definition, she is a true wizard and The Strange Maid confirms it.

As the second in The United States of Asgard Books, I assumed that Signy’s saga would pick up where The Lost Sun left off. (Ms. Gratton throws back her head and wickedly laughs at my basic expectation.) Of course she would never do something so simple, so mundane, so exactly-what-the-reader-expects. No, her way is cooler than the other side of the pillow. Using her mad, magickal skills, Ms. Gratton seamlessly gives the reader a more comprehensive look at Asgard as a whole, then cohesively melds Book 1 and Book 2, evoking a familiarity and comfort level in the oh-so-fortunate-reader.

The passionate, albeit petulant, Signy is such a strong, laudable, endearing character that, truly, Ms. Gratton could have had her eating cereal and still given us a remarkable yarn. This reader couldn’t keep from rooting for the courageously determined, head-strong heroine with a carefully hidden, yet not closely guarded, pure and kind heart.

Signy is plagued by a riddle. She firmly believes that the answer to the riddle will reveal who she is and what she is meant for. This lyrical portrayal of Signy’s journey is captivating and wholly engrossing with colorful and alluring characters all along the way. It is also sneaky and clever in that the journey proves more enlightening than the destination.

True to form, Ms. Gratton masterfully and oh-so-subtly unveils Signy’s self-realizations throughout the story, beautifully presenting growing pains and character developments that all adolescents experience in their voyage to adult-hood. The supporting cast including trolls of all varieties, gods and goddesses and my personal favorite, Glory the Fenris Wolf; keeps this story fresh and wildly entertaining.

Tiny twists throughout amused and delighted me. Ms. Gratton’s uncanny ability to present various points of view is a unique, remarkable trait that keeps the reader open-minded and hopeful. Red-Stripe exemplifies this. Which author could have me terrified of mountain trolls while simultaneously wishing I had my very own Red-Stripe? None other than Wizard Gratton, of course.

I’ve come to learn that whenever I pick up a Tessa Gratton book, I’m in for a special treat. There is no doubt that the tale will be compelling, heart-felt and diabolically funny at times. The other certainty is the plethora of quotes that I pull from each tome: “…that a way of life, a tradition, does not equal truth.” Righteous.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2014.

Book Review: The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

The Nightmare AffairThe Nightmare Affair
The Arkwell Academy Series #1
Mindee Arnett
Tor Teen,  March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3333-9
ISBN: 978-1-4668-0067-0

Dusty Everhart spends her life breaking into bedrooms to feed off the energy of others dreams. Feed too long and the magic is gone, along with a soul or two. But now, the dreams are different. His dreams are different. Eli, the good-looking, popular guy is a perfect match for her abilities. Together they must face the greatest danger to all kinds, magical and ordinary. Can they defeat the oldest and most powerful magic ever known?

This book is fantastic! There, I’ve said it. Now to justify my declaration (of love, admiration and a smidge of jealousy). I had just finished a below par book and having sent off my unsavoury review I begrudgingly decided to soldier on with the next one since I felt guilty at not having all these titles reviewed by now. I’m so glad I did since The Nightmare Affair gripped me from the first page and reminded me why I review books in the first place. Once in a while, you’ll stumble across an absolute gem that makes it all worthwhile. I read this in one sweep, taking about 3 hours to do so, and so enthralling was the story that it carried me away into a new world while my own ticked away in the background. While the book market has recently been saturated with vampire and werewolf tomes of late, The Nightmare Affair takes a new slant on typical teenage fantasy and tackles the subject of Nightmares and their quirky habit of sitting on the chest of their unsuspecting victims, ahem, I mean subjects. A dangerous mission has Dusty and her dream partner Eli, not to mention her siren friend Selene, chasing down suspects, breaking into crypts and battling powerful enemies, all while tip-toeing through the minefield that is the teenage social scene.

This book was very well written, with characters that have depth and an intriguing plot. Occasionally, some of the more peripheral characters were a little light in detail but not enough to be off putting and certainly not enough to take away from the plot.  I did manage to pinpoint one or two villains of the piece, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and certainly not for younger readers. There were enough surprises and twists to satisfy most readers and keep you eager for more. I think this is a book that teenagers would love and I’m hoping that this is the first of a series. I will definitely be on the lookout for any follow-ups and heartily recommend it to others. I certainly would not be surprised to see this on the shelves of any good bookstore; it’s simply a must for young adults!

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, August 2013.