Monday, April 2, 2012

Two for One

A long and snowless winter has become an early spring.  On the second of April, flowers are in full bloom and trees are green, a sight usually not seen until the middle of the month.  Temperatures have already hit the high 70's this year, and wintry pale legs emerge from shorts and summer skirts.

We are in our Spring Break now.  Eleven days free of schedules, alarm clocks and homework.  I left everything work related at work.  This week, I will concentrate on the tasks I want to concentrate on:  reading, gardening, parenting.

In the past two days, I have finished two books for review.  One was Unspoken:  Book One of the Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Brennan Rees.    The other was A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle.  The completion of this book fulfilled the responsibility of two reviews - Net Galley and SOYAMRG.  Two very different books.

The first in a new series, Unspoken is the story of Kami Glass, a British teen living in the village of Sorry-in-the Vale.    All her life, Kami has been different.  It is not just the matter of being half-Japanese that separates her from her peers.  Kami hears a voice inside her head, that of Jared, a very real boy that Kami has never met.  Despite the peculiarity of hearing the voice, Kami is quite close to Jared and can reach out to him in times of need or joy.  The two share thoughts and feelings.   Her parents are aware of the situation and Kami has one friend, Angela, who is too lazy to be bothered by Kami's real imaginary friend.  Trouble has come to Sorry-in-the-Vale.  The disappearance and ritualistic death of animals and the return of the Lynburns has stirred up the small village.  Secrets hide in the back of the once familiar shops, and the faces of neighbors are lined with worries and fears newly discovered.  The return of the aristocratic Lynburns, sisters Rosalind and Lillian, is perhaps the most disturbing event that has occurred in the past twenty years.  The beautiful blond women bring with them their families, including handsome sons Ash and Jared, and live in the cold, imposing manor house.  On an awkward elevator ride, Kami finds herself face-to-face with Jared.  In her mind, she hears her beloved Jared complain about the Asian girl he has encountered.  It is her reaction to this comment that reveals to Jared who Kami is, and thus begins their strained and unexpected real relationship.  Despite the difficulties of interacting as physical beings, Jared and Kami find themselves thrown into the mysteries of Sorry-in-the-Vale, the sleepy town that is not at all what it seems.  When a girl is found dead, the community turns its fearful eyes to the Lynburns and the strange power they seem to hold over them all.  Kami and Jared must overcome their own fears and doubts to stop the evil that has returned to the village, before it is too late.

Sarah Brennan Rees has written a suspenseful and moody first installment in the Lynburn Legacy series.  An abrupt ending will seduce readers back for answers and romantic fulfillment.  Sorry-in-the-Vale is a well-developed setting and despite the mysteries that surround it, really quite charming.  The strong sense of place is the best feature of the book:  Gothic, yet quaint all at the same time. It is the believable setting that makes the whirlwind plot easier to follow.  Within the first 20 pages of the book, Rees has thrown readers into a half-dozen realities that are all central to understanding both the rising action and the characters.  Readers may find themselves taking deep breaths and flipping back a few pages to fully understand the issues introduced at the beginning of the book.  A slower pace is not always a good thing, but I think the plot and characters of this book would benefit from just that.  After the hundred yard dash that is the beginning of the book, the pace does slow down.  Some of the best moments of the book are when Jared and Kami are alone exploring who each is in light of the others existence.  The climax and the resolution of the book work:  thus the surety that readers will be back for more.  There are few factors in the book that separate it from other YA paranormal romance, but if Rees focuses on the bond between the connected teens, she may be able make Lynburn Legacy series one a must read for teens and the young at heart.

Doyle's A Greyhound of a Girl is a story for all generations, one that offers insight for the young and the old.  It is about four generations:  Mary, her mother Scarlett, her grandmother Emer and great-grandmother Tansey.  The journey the women take is one both metaphorical and physical, and with it, each gathers elusive memories as well as the realities of life. 

Mary's best friend has just moved away.  Forlorn, she walks home from school, only to be met by a lady in the front of her house.  Odd features which emerge as age, transform into an old-fashioned appearance, and Mary finds herself intrigued by the lady, Tansey, with her quaint way of talking and dated methods.  When she mentions the name to her mother, she is told that the name is that of her great-grandmother, a woman who died when her own ailing Granny was only three.  After several encounters, Mary introduces her mother to Tansey, and she confirms that she is indeed, a ghost who was unable to leave her daughter.  Realizing that Tansey and Emer must be reacquainted before it is too late,  Mary and Scarlett invite the ghost to visit the hospital.  Riding in a car is a new experience for the ghostly great-grandmother, and she savors every moment of the trip.  Sadly, ghosts are translucent, and the trio realize she cannot venture into the hospital where her appearance may cause more trouble than needed.  Instead, frail and worn Emer is bundled into a wheelchair and then into the car where the four generations travel to the family farm where Tansey died of the flu after she cared for the slippery, skinny greyhounds in the yard.  Emer's fear of the dogs is tied to the loss of her mother, who quickly puts to rest that fear.  In the empty, abandoned farmyard, the four generations look upon a life that was, and still is, despite the change of year and scenes.  Grand, indeed. 

Doyles' beautiful, lilting writing speaks to the reader as if the room is full of Irish lassies.  The style and structure of the dialogue carries the reader quickly from one line to the next, as if borne by windy, green meadows where greyhounds run.  Each character has her turn to talk and tell her story, and the essence of each generation is caught in simple memories.  The book is a quick read, and will engage readers from one chapter to the next, until there is no more to read.  However, the voices of the book remain, and will last well after the last page is read.  Doyles' story, then, is one of life and of what passes from one generation to the next.  A Greyhound of a Girl is a sweet story, one to be read and savored by any age.

Moving on to The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman.  Review to follow!  Now for some April sunshine!

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