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REVIEW:  Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve Tucholke

REVIEW: Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve...

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Dear Ms. Tucholke,

Between the Spark and the Burn is the follow-up to your debut, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, which I read and enjoyed last year. It continues the story of Violet, whose life was rocked when the Redding brothers walked into her life. I won’t summarize what happened in that book — the review’s linked right there. But I will warn new readers that because the books are tightly linked, there may be spoilers in this review. Tread carefully!

The story picks up a few months after Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Despite his promise, River still has not returned to Violet and she begins to fear the worst. Then one night, on a late night paranormal radio program, she hears rumors of weird occurrences and “devil sightings” in an isolated country town. Suspecting that it might be River–or worst, the murderous Brodie–she and Neely (the third Redding brother who stayed) go on a road trip.

They arrive, only to find that River–or Brodie–is gone. But they find clues pointing to other places the brothers may have gone. So their road trip leads them on a chase from one town to next, as they track the brothers. They always seem to be one step behind, until they catch up to River in a North Carolina island community. There, Violet learns her fears were quite founded. Now to find Brodie — except he might be closer than any of them ever suspected.

While I think Between the Spark and the Burn has the same dreamy gothic tone as its predecessor, I enjoyed this book a lot more. I’m fond of road trip stories, and this is basically a gothic monster hunter road trip story! All of my favorite things in one.

I really liked Violet in this. She loves River. She always will in some way. While I wasn’t really okay with these feelings in the previous book for reasons I explained in the linked review, I apprecated how much Violet has grown in the months between. She doesn’t trust River anymore because despite his promise not to, he’s used his powers and they’re harming people. Because of this, she refuses to let herself fall into the same trap again. He’s bad for her, she realizes it, and she makes the correct decision. Essentially, all of the misgivings I had about the first book are addressed. The screwed up relationship is presented as screwed up. It’s not presented as romantic. I loved that this happened!

I also really liked the burgeoning relationship between Violet and Neely. It’s a variation on one of my favorite tropes: Girl goes after guy… and ultimately ends up with guy’s brother/best friend instead. And while you can argue that it’s Bad Boy (River) versus Nice Boy (Neely), I didn’t view it as a love triangle for the reasons I stated above. I understand why other readers would, but by the time they catch up with River, I felt confident that Violet’s feelings for him stopped being romantic and became one more of responsibility and debt. Because of the things River did in the past, and because of the horrible things he does in this book, Violet will never feel the same way about him as she once did. She can’t.

The twist involving Finch made me gasp. It was so obvious. The signs were all there, but I was determined to believe that I was wrong. Never have I been so sad to be right! (I mean this in a good way.) Still, well done on that particular plot thread.

One thing I wish the book had more of is close female friendships. Violet’s friend, Sunshine, is absent for large stretches of the book and while Pine and Canto are introduced, the former only makes brief appearances and the latter is wrapped up in Finch. It just seemed like it was all about Violet and her relationships with the brothers. Yes, that is the premise, but it would have been a nice to see another dimension to her life.

If you imagine a Stephen King story written for the YA set in a gothic style, you’ll get this book. I think the two books together make a fabulous whole. And if you were like me, and viewed the romance in the first book with distaste, know this book will satisfy you. B+

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

REVIEW: The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

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It’s all a grand adventure when Christy Mansel unexpectedly runs into her cousin Charles in Damascus. And being young, rich, impetuous, and used to doing whatever they please, they decide to barge in uninvited on their eccentric Great-Aunt Harriet—despite a long-standing family rule strictly forbidding unannounced visits. A strange new world awaits Charles and Christy beyond the gates of Dar Ibrahim—”Lady Harriet’s” ancient, crumbling palace in High Lebanon—where a physician is always in residence and a handful of Arab servants attends to the odd old woman’s every need.

But there is a very good—very sinister—reason why guests are not welcome at Dar Ibrahim. And the young cousins are about to discover that, as difficult as it is to break into the dark, imposing edifice, it may prove even harder still to escape . . .

Dear Readers,

I’ve been trying to think back over my Mary Stewart reading history and remember which was the book of hers I started with. There was a wire paperback book rack in my high school library with almost all of her (then) books on it and I think it was this groovy cover that caught my eye. I mean really, that dress. But it does show that this is a 1967 book which turns out to be important to the story.

It might be nostalgia coloring my view but this is another darn good effort from Stewart which plunks the reader down in the (then) exotic locals of Syria and Lebanon back in the days before the Lebanese Civil War turned Beirut from the “Paris of the Middle East” into a battleground. The detailed descriptions of the settings are enough to put you right there though this time around I felt that perhaps Stewart did go on a bit in cataloging the flora and geological scenery. How many ways do you need to describe scrub bushes, barren rocks and the heat?

Having said that, other descriptions in the book are magical. The run-in Christy and Charles have on a narrow souk street involving a taxi, a donkey, several small children and some bolts of garish silk tells you exactly where in the world the book opens. I loved Christy’s view of Charles’s Porsche pride and joy “blah blah, McPherson Struts, blah blah, dampers. blah blah blah.” The truly over-the-top Seraglio gardens would probably have dazzled even Cecil B DeMille and the scenery directors at Warner Bros.

I don’t want to give away the ultimate reason for the elaborate plot conflict but suffice it to say that the location, age old practices and the mores of the 1960s ought to give you a pretty good idea. As is usual with Stewart books, clues are laid out along the way but the whole is needed before they all slot into place and form the complete picture.

Christy is a bit more cosmopolitan than past Stewart heroines but still retains some veddy, veddy British characteristics such as her “but I shouldn’t be stopped at the border” superior attitude when the Syrian guards won’t let her back into the country from Lebanon despite lots of (slightly self important) arguing. She does have moments of the usual Stewart heroine naiveté at times yet is also more “pushy” due to being raised with all that lovely family lucre. But without this moneyed attitude, she would never have set the plot ball rolling nor would Charles have insisted on his due visit with Auntie.

the gabriel houndsHow this book is different, I think, is that Charles and Christy perceive they’re up against obstacles early on and plunge on anyway in the face of them just because they can and they aren’t used to being told no. Christy even gets a touch sulky at times and (almost) earns the sobriquet one villain gives her of “silly bitch.”

Charles and Christy soldier on in the face of all opposition because at heart they’re concerned for their aunt and determined to do the right thing. Christy does make mistakes but to me they’re forgivable due to the way Stewart arranges what Christy is allowed to see and gives her plausible interpretations of those things.

Since the book is told in first person, we know all about Christy and since she’s a bit obsessed with cousin Charles, we learn a lot about him too. However I think the character I enjoyed the most is their Great Aunt Harriet. The Mansel family is eccentric as a whole but Great Aunt H has set the bar to stratospheric levels. For years she’s roundly told off the family in her annual Will letters in addition to complaining about the flimsiness of the paper used in the overseas editions of The Times. And let’s face it, you’ve got to have some chutzpah to model yourself on Lady Hester Stanhope and get away with it.

As I mentioned earlier, once the plot is all laid out and tied together, it makes perfect sense. The book ends in a blaze of glory with each person getting his or her due and in a way that will burnish the legend of Great Aunt H for years to come. One of the most comedic noir scenes, and the one that has stuck with me for years, occurs near the end as Christy and Charles “mind the pigeons” in the Seraglio – though not, perhaps the mice and rats, and then get mistaken by some (snooty) British tourists for locals. The feather in the cap of the book, however, is Great Aunt H’s final present to Charles and Christy. Yeah, it’s not quite as good as some other books in the Stewart oeuvre but I still enjoyed it again. B

~Jayne

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