Shouty Doris Interjects during…The Casquette Girls!

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Shouty Doris interjectsShouty Doris and I would like to welcome you to another tag-team review, this time for a three-quarters intriguing, one-quarter dragging new release YA novel.  We received The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden from the publisher via Netgalley.  It’s a book that nearly made my Top Books of 2015 list for originality and a cracking tale, but by the end, I opted to leave it off the TB2015 and just recommend it to you as an exciting story with familiar themes but some quite intriguing ways of expressing them.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Seven girls tied by time.
Five powers that bind.
One curse to lock the horror away.
One attic to keep the monsters at bay.

After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne wants nothing more than her now silent city to return to normal. But with home resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.

As the city murder rate soars, Adele finds herself tangled in a web of magic that weaves back to her own ancestors. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, who can she trust when everyone has a secret and keeping them can mean life or death? Unless . . . you’re immortal.

casquette girlsI was initially drawn to this title because of its setting in “Post-Storm” New Orleans.  The catastrophic event that was Hurricane Katrina is as mesmerising as it is heartbreaking.  It appears that publishers have decided that the “too-soon” period has passed, as there seem to be a number of YA titles around at the moment that are set in New Orleans in the close aftermath of the hurricane.  The added bonus of a magic curse or family secret alluded to in the blurb just sweetened the deal and for the first few chapters I was riveted by Adele’s cautious return to the remnants of her hometown.

Shouty Doris interjects

Riveted, were you? 

Not at all concerned about this young woman’s safety then!  What kind of person would bring their 16 year old daughter into a lawless, foodless, shelter-less disaster zone,  just because the girl begs to return? Shocking parenting, if you ask me. 

Well, yes, I will admit to a little bit of disbelief at the apparent lunacy of returning to a place with no electricity, scarce food, hardly any security, no school and a primary place of residence that any ordinary person would consider to be structurally unsound.  But I pushed past this minor quibble and got caught up in the weird goings-on that materialise around Adele – there’s a bird attack, a very creepy incident with an old convent…and the fact that corpses keep turning up in non-Storm-related circumstances.  Just as I was getting into the story however, one of my pet peeves turned up: unnecessary romance.Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t mind at all when those handsome young lads turned up.  Lovely European manners, too!

Now come on Doris,  you knew they were going to be trouble as soon as they appeared.

Shouty Doris interjectsWell, boys will be boys now, won’t they?

Well, as it turns out, boys will be…..actually that would be a major spoiler.  Essentially, a number of handsome (of course – why can’t they just be ordinary looking?) young men turn up to vye for Adele’s attention and apart from fulfilling some major plot points, generally end up slowing everything down as we are subjected to your typical swooning girl/smarmy-but-drop-dead-gorgeous-older guy/disgruntled-initial-suitor-who-would-be-a-much-better-fit-for-the-female-protagonist-but-has-temper-issues attraction triangle.  Bummer. 

Just as I thought the magic/paranormal part of the story would start rolling along, we are introduced to the diary of  Adeline Saint-Germaine – a young French girl who has some unspecified connection to Adele and the odd circumstances surrounding her return to New Orleans.  Cue historical fiction interludes!  I quite enjoyed this unexpected jaunt into the strangely similar events of a couple of centuries pre-Adele, but again, after a while I felt that these sections also slowed the pace of the book and made it seem much longer than it needed to be.

Shouty Doris interjectsDon’t forget all the French.  It’s je suis this, and croissant that all the way through.  It’s a wonder I could make out any of the story at all!  Honestly, the book should have come with a cautionary sticker: Only attempt this book if you have studied French at tertiary level.

Hmmm. Yes.  I agree there is quite a bit of French language scattered throughout – appropriately enough, given the story’s setting and the fact that Adeline Saint-Germaine and her cohorts are French – but this may be a bit annoying if you are reading the book in print format.  Luckily, I was reading on the Kindle so the translation function got a good workout.

French aside, by the halfway mark in the book there are a number of parallel storylines playing out with plenty of secrets left to be uncovered.  By this stage I was still certain that this would end up being one of my Top Books of 2015, but by two thirds of the way through, it just…

I just…

Shouty Doris interjectsSpit it out. While we’re young. Or some of us, anyway.

That’s just it!  By two thirds of the way through, I wanted the book to be over.  I was ready for the action-packed climax, wherein all the twisty turns were explained and Adele and her friends set themselves to the task of ridding their fair city of the curse that plagues it.  Instead, I got more drawn-out interludes between Adele and both lots of handsome young men that seemed hardly believable, given the fact that the one she likes most is….dangerous.

Shouty Doris interjectsI agree.  Despite ol’ Mr Handsome-Pants’ suave European romancing, I think young Adele is far too intelligent to fall for his life-threatening charms.  But then again, the authors these days have to put SOMETHING in to keep the young ladies reading books instead of shutting themselves away on the Tweeter all day.  A bit of descriptive courting is sure to draw them in.

*muffled giggling from the younger shelf-denizens*

My dislike of romance (especially gratuitous romance) is well known and the amount of simply unbelievable romance bits in this book really brought my enjoyment level down by the end.  I can’t help but thinking if a lot of these sections were more tightly edited, the pace of the book would have benefitted immensely.

On the whole though, this is a complex tale with action, magic, paranormal elements, historical fiction and some standard contemporary-teen problems, all wrapped up in a highly engaging setting and brought to life with the help of some extremely colourful characters, almost all of whom are not who they appear to be.  Despite my decision to ultimately not add this to my TB2015 list, it’s still a cracking and fascinating read that will keep you hooked – provided you don’t mind a bit of teenaged mooning over handsome Europeans.

Shouty Doris interjects

Don’t forget the doe-eyes.  Or the illegal hooch. 

Which reminds me, it’s time for my afternoon snifter. 

It’s ten in the morning, Doris.

Shouty Doris interjectsIf anyone wants me, I’ll be in the drawing room.

That’s the door to the bathroom, Doris.  Doris?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Scaling Mount TBR: The Whitby Witches…

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Thank you for joining me as I claw my way up the teetering goliath that is my current TBR pile. Today’s book is one I picked up second-hand after having placed it on my wish-list very soon after Mad Martha returned from a memorable sojourn to the seaside town of Whitby in the UK, declaring that we should now search out and read every book ever written with Whitby as a setting. And there have been a lot. Although we still haven’t read the most famous by far.

Here’s a picture of Mad Martha enjoying the B&B in which she stayed. If you squint, you can just see a bit of the Abbey in the distance out the window:

mad martha whitby

And here she is enjoying a long-awaited wash in the Whitby Laundromat washing machine:

mad martha whitby 2

 

And just for fun, here’s one of the Abbey that looks like it’s screeeeeeeaaaaammmming!

abbey screaming

But I digress. Today’s book is The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis, a rollicking and surprisingly dark (in places) tale that was first published in 1991, although it has the ring of a book published much earlier. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At first glance, the small seaside town of Whitby seems quiet and charming, but eight year-old Ben and his older sister Jennet soon learn that things are not always as they seem. Moved about from foster home to foster home, Ben and Jennet hope to make a fresh start in Whitby. But Ben sees things and people others cannot. There’s something unusual about Alice Boston, their new guardian. And what is that horrible howling Jennet hears late at night? Something wicked’s brewing in Whitby. Can Ben and Jennet put it to rest?

whitby witches

This was an unexpected reading experience for me because there was just so much story packed into the pages. There are the witches and witchiness of the title of course, but then there are fantastical creatures, an ongoing (and progressively more deadly) murder investigation, a strange nun that might not be what she seems, an ancient curse, pregnant cats, as well as an astoundingly action-packed climax that features time-travel along with everything else.

And does anyone else think that Alice Boston bears a striking resemblance to one of the TV versions of Miss Marple??

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Extraordinary!

So I didn’t expect there to be quite so much going on in this book, but I really appreciated how the author gives the young reader enough credit to put in some pretty creepy content. For a start, there’s the terrifying hound on the cover of this edition. Then there’s quite a lot of violence directed towards old ladies. I was genuinely surprised at a few points that Jarvis was brave enough to pen the deaths of the aforementioned old ladies in such vivid, atmospheric detail.  Actually, now that I think about it, there are a number of scenes that had me thinking, “Oh, that’s a bit shocking!” and this disposed me fondly toward the author for having the gumption to trust that younger readers can handle some grisly, scary stuff and come out the other side unscathed. I suspect this is why the book felt like one that was published before the 90s, because there doesn’t seem to be any coddling through the difficult bits.

Overall, this is one of those stories that has all the classic elements – abandoned siblings, a setting oozing with its own character and history, mysterious magic and just plain, unadulterated adventure! As this is part of a series, I will now add the others in the set to my ever-growing TBR pile and hopefully get to them in the not-too-distant future.

I recommend The Whitby Witches to anyone (especially mini-fleshlings of the upper middle-grade persuasion) looking for good old-fashioned feats of danger and derring-do.

Until next time,

Bruce