young adult

In the first book of her Legends saga, Crane, Stacey Rourke takes on Washington Irving’s unforgettable tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s a story we’ve all seen retold many times – through animation, on the silver screen, and, most recently, for television . It would be easy for anyone handling the story to fall into issues of over-familiarity, but Stacey Rourke manages to bust through that obstacle without a hitch. Instead, she gives readers a mystifying and vastly entertaining reimagining that stays devoted to the nuances of the original characters while taking the legend we thought we knew in a pulse-pounding new direction.

Meet Ireland Crane: smart, sassy, and refreshingly original. Newly arrived in Sleepy Hollow, she’s determined to leave her past mistakes behind her and start fresh as a guidance counselor at the local high school – that is, until bodies start piling up and whispers abound that the legendary Headless Horseman has made his return. The situation worsens when a scraggily old hobo shows up in Ireland’s life claiming to be Rip Van Winkle, newly woken from centuries of slumber and tasked with the mission of helping Ireland break the curse that has the horseman running lose and the spirit of Ichabod Crane in turmoil. Throw in a handsome handyman neighbor, a vindictive ex, and an angry spirit with a serious grudge, and Ireland has her work cut out for her.

Rourke counters Ireland’s modern-day plight with chapters that flash back to the days of the Revolutionary War as Ichabod and his friends – Rip Van Winkle and, in charming new fictionalization, Washington Irving – seek their futures in Sleepy Hollow. Once there, quiet Ichabod falls in love with the beautiful Katrina and sparks a chain reaction of trouble. The atmosphere of the historic storyline comes alive under Rourke’s smart writing while the modern scenes spark with wit and style. She manages a superb combination of spooky thrills, intriguing mystery, and wry flashes of humor that makes Crane pure fun and impossible to put down. Her heroine is instantly lovable in her disarming honesty, and the classic characters of Sleepy Hollow – as well as Irving’s adjacent character, Rip – are handled with devoted attention. Her inclusion of Washington Irving himself as a character makes the novel feel less like a Sleepy Hollow retelling and more like a journey of immersing ourselves into Irving’s whole world. Altogether, Crane is a smart blend of mystery, romance, and darkly comic mischief. It’s surely the start of a unique new series that’s worth losing your head over getting excited about. (Yes, I went there.)

Crane (Legends Saga #1) by Stacey Rourke
Publisher Anchor Group Publishing
Source: Gift from a friend (thanks, Bonnie!)
Release date: May 26, 2014
Buy the book: Amazon | B&N

More on the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Crane (The Legends Saga, #1)

Review: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

by Casee Marie on January 8, 2013 · 6 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

When Duncan Meade enters his senior year at the esteemed Irving School his spirits are low and his expectations are lower. After an entire summer away, he still can’t manage to sway his thoughts from the disastrous events of the cold February night of his junior year when a traditional secret party went from harmless to heartbreaking in the blink of an eye. Everyone at Irving remembers Tim Macbeth, the albino boy who transferred in to finish his senior year among them. Everyone’s heard the rumors of his surreptitious relationship with Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of the school’s star athlete. But no one knows the whole story of what really went on, or the events that lead to the terrible incident at the senior party. Those details are gone – until Duncan finds something special left behind in his room. It’s a gift from Tim: the whole story. As Duncan unravels the threads of Tim’s fateful senior year he struggles with the weight of his own: most notably the Tragedy Paper, a staggering and historically difficult thesis challenge delivered by Irving’s fiercely dedicated senior English teacher, Mr. Simon. Together, as Duncan and Tim relive the events of the previous year and face down their demons, they’ll plant the seed for a Tragedy Paper that will go down in the Irving School’s history.

Elizabeth LaBan’s debut novel is a whirlwind of themes and emotions, culminating into a quietly explosive story that will provoke its reader from the first pages until the very end. Through two separate focuses – alternately Duncan’s and Tim’s – LaBan weaves the struggles of two very different young men into one corresponding story, meeting together at the source of the novel’s elusive suspense. The author’s ability to nurture The Tragedy Paper’s story into a well-calculated mystery with a host of supporting themes is triumphant, to say the least; I was drawn in easily and without fail. There wasn’t a moment when I felt I had predicted how things would work out, partly because the story itself is compelling in every scene, entertaining the reader in the present while encouraging a nearly palpable energy of anticipation as the mystery starts to unravel. The beguiling mystery of the book is supported by a captivating love story and an examination of one teenager’s struggle for self-worth. The foundation of The Tragedy Paper and its beautiful execution are further emboldened by the remarkable characters LaBan has created to tell its tale. The passion of Tim’s plight to finally fit in, to no longer be seen as the albino boy, is intensely felt. Duncan, too, strikes a chord with the reader through his desire to escape from the awful events he witnessed. From the kind yet enigmatic Vanessa to her selfish boyfriend Patrick, and even the school’s colorful faculty, The Tragedy Paper is brought to bolder and brighter life.

The art of storytelling and of creating a memorable cast are all signs of a terrific talent; yet, LaBan takes The Tragedy Paper one step further. At the depth of the novel she infuses an intellectual and philosophical significance that further beguiles her reader, an examination of words and meanings that transcends the literary experience to encourage the reader to think deeply and revel in the limitless possibilities of words. As a result, The Tragedy Paper is absolutely a triumphant book among the vastly growing Young Adult genre that will work its magic on readers for a very long time.

Title: The Tragedy Paper
Author: Elizabeth LaBan
Genre: young adult, contemporary romance, drama
Publisher: Random House | Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release date: January 8, 2013
Source: Engelman and Co. (C/O)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Twitter

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Review: Inevitable by Kate Bennett

by Casee Marie on April 11, 2011 · 32 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

When I was contacted late last month by author Kate Bennett with the opportunity to review her debut novel, Inevitable, she described it to me as, “a young adult contemporary romance with a slight supernatural element.” This goes a long way to describing her own modesty because approximately six chapters into the book the reader realizes that the “slight supernatural element” is actually an unexpected and original twist that will not only secure your rapt interest in the novel, but will keep your attention clinging to it even after the final pages. (And for the record, it doesn’t involve vampires!) What it does involve I can’t precisely say because that will just spoil the entire element of surprise, which is a great contribution to the book’s overall charm.

What I can tell you is that Inevitable, which was published in January, boasts a charming series of characters made all the more interesting when they’re thrust into unimaginable circumstances. The heroine, NYU student Carina Lombardi, zings the narration along in a way reminiscent of a smart, attentive young Bridget Jones. She has her flaws; she’s a bit strong-willed and has a few life lessons to learn, but it made her all the more endearing to me in the end. The object of her affection – and perhaps in a way the true protagonist of the story – is fellow student Jared Taylor. He’s mysterious, handsome, shy and seemingly perfect. As the story unfolds, folds itself back up and unfolds again, we find that Jared too has his imperfections. Carina and Jared form a strong connection early in the book, but one moment shatters everything and Jared must challenge time and mortality to stop what soon becomes the inevitable.

I’m not sure if there’s a word to accurately describe what I felt at the last pages of Inevitable, but I think I would linger on “fascinated”. Kate Bennett has an unassuming writing style that charmed me into a comfortable familiarity from the first, but as she weaved her story I realized that this little book would pack quite a punch. She’s fearless in her storytelling; she handled a supremely difficult plot with confidence, carried two would-be perfect characters into the realm of imperfection and rounded the entire book out with an ending as boldly original as the plot twists itself. I was genuinely impressed with her daring exploration of life and time, and perhaps most importantly with the way she consistently encouraged the power of love to triumph over everything else, even the inevitable.

Title: Inevitable
Author: Kate Bennett
Genre: fantasy, romance, young adult
Publisher: Amira Rock Publishing
Release date: January 20, 2011
Source: Kate Bennett (C/O)
Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Blog | Twitter | Facebook

Review: Initiate by Tara Maya

by Casee Marie on February 27, 2011 · 8 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

Earlier this month I was invited by authoress and fairy tale extraordinaire Tara Maya to read and review her novel, Initiate. Published in December, Initiate is the first in a fantasy series called The Unfinished Song. In true fantasy form Maya delves into a world at once familiar and richly exotic. Wars wage, passions are fueled and in a centric plot a young girl becomes a woman. It’s part coming-of-age story, part retribution tale and so much more between the lines. Dindi, our protagonist, encompasses the coming-of-age story. Hopelessly embroiled in her own continuous blunders, her chances of achieving her dream are slim to none: that dream is to pass the initiation test and become a Tavaedi, a member of a powerful society who are part dancer, part warrior and universally revered. Her trials are many, from scheming fellow Initiates to the Test itself and all manner of set-backs betwixt.

Initiate shifts to other characters with their own stories including Kavio, a Tavaedi warrior wrongly accused of a crime and thus forced into exile. Then there’s Rthan, at once a villain and a victim, a leader of Tavaedi who is cursed with the ghostly memory of his murdered wife and daughter. Brena is a mother of two Initiate girls with an altogether different curse of her own: one involving a murder that has not yet taken place. Gwenika, her youngest daughter, is plagued by her own insecurity and must find the courage to stand up for herself. Flashes to another time also introduce us to Vessia, a beautiful dancer with no past who fears nothing and thinks not twice before sacrificing herself for the sake of others. With graceful aplomb and a true gift for the written word Maya weaves all of these stories together, enthralling her readers with each strand of fantasy and surprising them at the crossing points.

I was enchanted by Initiate, drawn into a world that felt as comfortably recognizable and uniquely untried as Narnia, Hogwarts or Middle Earth. The characters found places in my heart instantaneously, and the story unfolded in my imagination as if on film. Although it had been a while since I’d read a true fantasy I had no difficulty in immersing myself in the arcane magic of the novel owing to Maya’s gentle guiding through her fairy tale world, and I was left with the satisfaction of a genuinely fascinating read.

Title: Initiate (The Unfinished Song #1)
Author: Tara Maya
Genre: fantasy, romance
Publisher: Tara Maya
Release date: December 25, 2010
Source: Tara Maya (C/O)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle
Connect with the author: Official Site | Blog | Facebook | Twitter