Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

Title: The Cure for Dreaming

Author: Cat Winters

Information on series: Not part of a series

Audience:  Young Adult

Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 3.5

TL;DR: Historical fiction with a hint of fantasy. Highlights the struggle for women’s suffrage at the turn of the last century.

Longer review: This is Cat Winter’s second historical fiction book for a YA audience that has some fantasy/paranormal element. This book is set in 1900 in Portland, Oregon. The protagonist, Olivia Mead, is a pro-suffrage teenager who is struggling to assert her opinions or gain any freedom from her domineering and anti-suffrage father.

Olivia is chosen to be hypnotized by Henri Reverie on Halloween night (also her birthday, this fact plays a very minor role).  Olivia’s father sees this in the paper and hires Henri to hypnotize Olivia into more “ladylike” tendencies.  Instead, Henri tells Olivia to “see the world as it is.” This results in Olivia seeing her father as a vampire (her favorite book is Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and suffragettes with a heavenly glow.  Of course, there is a romantic element between Olivia and Henri. Together they team up to affect change and advance the efforts toward universal suffrage.

This book is a good introduction to fantasy for those who would not normally be inclined to read fantasy. The fantasy element is present, but there is no real world building beyond contextualizing the historical setting. Some of the message about free speech and rights is a little heavy handed at times, but that does go along with the storyline. Overall, it’s a quick read that may get some fantasy readers to learn about history or get some history lovers to appreciate the freedoms fantasy writing allows (humans doing things that they normally cannot).  The romantic element is fairly chaste and is suitable for older middle school readers.

Read alikes:
Life After Life—Kate Atkinson
The story of one girl’s life throughout the first half of the 20th century. This story is largely historical fiction but may appeal to fantasy readers. The main character dies several times throughout the book, but is either able to change the past to prevent the fate or mysteriously defeats death.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds-Cat Winters.
Has a similar style and tone to The Cure for Dreaming, but set in 1918 during the height of the spiritualist movement and the Spanish Influenza. Features haunting pictures of the era to drive home how devastating the flu really was.

Review by Olivia of the Ericson Public Library

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: The Southern Reach Trilogy by James VanderMeer

Title: The Southern Reach Trilogy

Author: James VanderMeer

Information on series: 3 titles: Annihiliation, Authority, and Acceptance

Audience: Adult

Rating (scale of 1-10): 9

TL;DR: Area X. Engulfing an ill-defined swath of land, sea and sky in the southern U.S., it appeared suddenly,cutting off all connections from the rest of the world. Eleven expeditions have been sent over the border, none have returned unscathed, And yet, the agency that oversees each of these doomed expeditions – The Southern Reach – prepares a twelfth expedition.

Readalikes: Crouch End by Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft

Longer Review:
Area X. Engulfing an ill-defined swath of land, sea and sky in the southern U.S., it appeared suddenly, cutting off all connections – human, animal and otherwise – from the rest of the world. The government sends team after team – scientific and military – into Area X. Some disappear without a trace, others return badly damaged and still others return seemingly unharmed, only to die weeks or months later. Most communication and recording instruments are rendered useless once the border is crossed, the footage that does survive only deepens the mystery – and the growing horror – of Area X. Still, the agency that oversees each of these doomed expeditions – The Southern Reach – prepares a twelfth expedition.

VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy opens with Annihilation (February 2014) as four women – an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist and a biologist – are sent into Area X. Neither the author nor the narrator (the biologist) use names, instead the characters are defined only by their professions, lending a clinical and dispassionate air to the narrative. Even though we observe the others and Area X through the biologists’ eyes, even she remains somewhat removed from us and from her team. But instead of alienating the reader from the narrator, it lends an odd kind of intimacy that continues throughout the trilogy.

The second book, Authority (May 2014) is told from the point of view of a man called only Control, who has been put in charge of The Southern Reach soon after end of the twelfth expedition –  and the investigation into its fate – as Area X appears to infiltrate (or contaminate, depending on your perspective) the world outside its borders. The third book, Acceptance (September 2014) returns us to Area X and the similarly inscrutable organization attempting to oversee, explain and control it.

The language VanderMeer uses is  deeply atmospheric and complex, at times, maddeningly so*, although here in Area X it is entirely appropriate. Area X itself defies explanation and even description, as if our view of it through the eyes of our semi-anonymous characters was obscured, with unseen or unknowable dimensions hovering right at the edge of our perception. This dawning horror of the unknown creates and maintains a nearly intolerable level of suspense as layer after layer  is peeled back – at times reluctantly – exposing and obscuring Area X and the people drawn into its influence.

This series is one of those that you’ll want (or in my case, need) to read more than once and even then, it stays with you. It reminds me of Stephen King’s short story Crouch End, or anything by Lovecraft. Even the cover art on the paperback editions is worth studying – and then hiding safely away, lest Area X escapes.

~ Allison

* In the middle of reading Authority, I came across this word and had to share it.