Book Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmener

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

I picked up the ARC for this at a Blogging event at a local bookstore back in January 2017. I’m not a huge YA fan, and only make occasional forays into this genre. I always have a fear that YA books will be too earnest and patronising.

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#BookReview: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Ava Lavendar

A mesmerizing, lyrical tale of the bright and dark sides of love and desire.

Foolish love appears to be a Roux family birthright. And for Ava Lavender, a girl born with the wings of a bird, it is an ominous thing to inherit. In her quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to join her peers, Ava ventures into the wider world. But it is a dangerous world for a naive girl – a world which may view her as girl or angel. On the night of the summer solstice celebration, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air and Ava’s journey and her family’s saga reaches a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

I got a paperback copy of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender from Waterstones during one of their 2015 blogging events. I’m slowly making my way through the stack of YA books I picked up from the event and this was next in the pile. YA is a genre I’ve had problems with in the past (Marked being the most recent one I’ve had trouble with) and I’ve found the books can vary wildly in quality.

Considering this is a first book from this author, she has done a wonderful job. Some people call it “magical realism”, and there are some moments especially at the beginning that could help class it as such. Ghosts appear through the book as do birds in various guises.  With Ava having wings, I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, especially in the fact that she cant fly (and therefore escape).

The Roux family grow up in France, and all the family members have a history of tragic love stories. Her great-grandmother, Maman; grandmother, Emilienne; and mother, Viviane’s stories are all told to us by Ava, usually in the third person narrative.

After moving to the west coast of America,  Ava’s mother falls in love with a man, who marries someone else for her money, leaving Viviane pregnant and single. Ava is born (her twin brother Henry follows not long after) and it is immediately apparent that Ava will be different. The wings between her shoulder blades – brown, not white like an angel’s – cannot be removed without killing her.  As he grows, it becomes apparent that Henry also sees the world differently, rarely talking and then what seems to be gibberish.   As the story continues to it’s climax, it is clear that Henry has joined his grandmother in being able to see and talk with the ghosts that follow Emilienne around – namely the siblings that grandmother lost to love whilst living in France.

The story isn’t just about Ava, or the sorrows that the women in her family have suffered, usually at the hands of men.  There are people in the wider community, centering around the bakery run by Emilienne. Similar to Chocolat by Joanne Harris (another magical realism book), the pastries and bread picked up in the bakery have their own certain magic, and are often taken to replace something missing in the buyer’s life.

We never find out the reasons for Ava having wings – after the doctors wash their hands of her when she is born, there is no further medical investigation into things.  To protect them from the perceived reaction of the town, Ava and Henry are kept secluded until well into their teens. However as Ava gets older she finds the need to spread her wings – literally and metaphorically – and has soon found a way of finding acceptance from people her own age, in no small part through help from her closest friends. Unfortunately there are some people whose interest is too intense, and it results in yet more sorrows for the remaining members of the Roux family.

As I’ve said this is the debut novel from this author and I think she has done an outstanding job with it, producing a book that is perplexing, poetical, slightly flawed perhaps (not all questions are answered, but it’s ok really), and more than a little magical.

Here is a review of the book from Tor.Com

As you know I don’t do vlogging etc, but in searching for some additional reviews to round things off, I found that quite a few vloggers have covered this book so I thought I would include some videos for your perusal.  First off is the book trailer:

 

And here are two randomly chosen vlog reviews of the book – hope you find them useful additions to my review

 

 

 

#BookReview: TimeBomb by Scott K. Andrews

timebomb by Scott K andrews

New York City, 2141: Yojana Patel throws herself off a skyscraper, but never hits the ground.

Cornwall, 1640: gentle young Dora Predennick, newly come to Sweetclover Hall to work, discovers a badly-burnt woman at the bottom of a flight of stairs. When she reaches out to comfort the dying woman, she’s knocked unconscious, only to wake, centuries later, in empty laboratory room.

On a rainy night in present-day Cornwall, seventeen-year-old Kaz Cecka sneaks into the long-abandoned Sweetclover Hall, determined to secure a dry place to sleep. Instead he finds a frightened housemaid who believes Charles I is king and an angry girl who claims to come from the future.

Thrust into the centre of an adventure that spans millennia, Dora, Kaz and Jana must learn to harness powers they barely understand to escape not only villainous Lord Sweetclover but the forces of a fanatical army… all the while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman known only as Quil.

I received a paperback version of this when I attended a YA bloggers event held by Waterstones in Birmingham in September 2015.  I’m not a huge YA fan (so have no idea how I ended up at the event – I’ve found out subsequently I wasn’t the only person to wonder what they were doing there!) but since this was a nicely produced paperback, and we’d all put the effort in, I decided to forge ahead.

Anyway, onto the book:

There’s three main “heroes” in the book – two girls, one guy, who are taken from various places and times, along with several “baddies”, most of whom you don’t know their “motivation” and whether they really are “baddies” or not.

Jana, Kaz and Dora all leap across time and space but end back in England during the 1640s and the English Civil War. Dora is 14 years old and from the 17th Century, so this allows the author to use her as the token “let me explain the internet again” person so that young readers don’t feel stupid by not understanding big ideas like time travel, lasers, computers, laboratories etc. This implies that the book is patronising to younger readers (something I am particularly averse to in books for younger readers, which is why I don’t read much YA) but it’s not.

Quil is an interesting character, occasionally friendly, sometimes believable, and often downright batshit crazy. She is disfigured after some kind of fire, which means she wears a white, full facial mask (which is rather groovy) and a bad wig (which isn’t). Through a quirk of time travel it seems she is in 1645 to look after a 5 years younger version of herself.  It seems Jana, Kaz and Dora have been linked together because between them, they can timetravel, and somehow they are needed to follow up with Quil.  Thankfully, because of Quil’s barminess, some of the more difficult questions over time travel are quickly dismissed by an “I don’t know” or a metaphorical “look! shiny thing!.

There’s no overly complicated terminology or situations; adults are confusing and ambiguous as are situations; there’s plenty of blood, guts, betrayals and death; not everyone gets out of it alive or necessarily whole; people are able to think “this is enough”.  There are enough loose ends in the book to continue the series, and I wouldn’t be adverse to reading the next book (though not necessarily in a rush – but that’s because of me, not the book). I’m sure there are plenty who would go for it. I am going to offer this to someone who has a son in his early teens. In discussing it with her, it seems that the most likely thing to put him off is the female leads (nothing about the blood and guts, naturally!), though he has apparently read the Divergent books, so who knows?!

About this author

I have written episode guides, magazine articles, film and book reviews, comics, audio plays for Big Finish, far too many blogs, some poems you will never read, and a trilogy of novels for Abaddon. My wife and two children indulge me, patiently.