Although February is the shortest month of the year, it certainly has the rest of the calendar beat in the holiday ratio: Valentine’s, Mardi Gras, and President’s Day (not to mention Groundhog’s Day) offer readers many reasons to celebrate. Here is a little-bit-of-everything to make your month a fabulous one.
Love Under the Sea
Merfolk have been a part of mythology for 3000 years, long before Disney made Ariel a household name. An explosion of recent books has made mermaids the new zombies—with about as much relationship success.
Fama, Elizabeth. Monstrous Beauty. Farrar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780374373665. $17.99.
In 19th-century Jamestown, Ezra, a young naturalist, becomes obsessed with legends of local seafolk, drawing the attention of a headstrong mermaid named Syrenka. As their tragic love story unfolds, it comes to bear responsibility for a triple murder and a generational curse. Almost 150 years later, teen Hester has guarded her heart, knowing that the women in her family tend to die mysterious deaths mere days after giving birth to their daughters. But even her stony resolve is no match for the handsome stranger (in old-fashioned garb) whom only she can see on the beach. Fama builds the tension as Hester works to free herself and a bevy of ghosts from the dark sea magic holding their souls. The audio edition (Macmillan Audio. 2012. ISBN 9781427222176; read by Katherine Kellgren) was honored by the 2013 Odyssey committee and is well worth the listen, although not for the faint of ears: sometimes it is hard to distinguish who is more vicious, the cruelly beautiful Syrenka or Plymouth’s mean-spirited inhabitants.
Siegel, Mark. Sailor Twain: Or, the Mermaid in the Hudson. First Second. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9781596436367. $24.99.
Another American mermaid beguiles an otherwise stalwart man in this graphic novel inspired by the greats of 19th-century American literature. Elijah Twain captains the Lorelei, a steamboat on the Hudson. One fateful night, he rescues an injured mermaid from its waters, closeting her in his cabin. Meanwhile, the behavior of the boat’s financial backer, a Frenchman named Lafayette, grows frenetically amorous toward its lady passengers. Unknown to Twain, Lafayette believes that his brother was taken by this same mermaid and is attempting to break her spell by juggling seven lovers at the same time. Sailor Twain was originally serialized online, and the story makes sly hints to Melville, Dickens, and, as one would expect, Mark Twain. Its atmospheric charcoal drawings contain elements of both menace and humor. An engrossing read from one of the most-respected artist/publishers in the field.
Two new stories of love that does not die.
Ellison, Kate. Notes from Ghost Town. Egmont, 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781606842645. $17.99.
Another sea-born tragedy, this time set in modern Miami. Sixteen-year-old Olivia almost gives in to her feelings for her piano-prodigy best friend, Stern, before packing up for another year of art school. While she is away, Stern is murdered on the beach, and Olivia’s mother—a schizophrenic who sometimes goes off her meds—confesses to the deed. A week before her mother’s trial, Stern begins to haunt Olivia, begging her to prove her mother’s innocence, and Olivia is sure his presence is just one more sign that she too will go mad. Ellison’s edgy debut, The Butterfly Clues (2012), also featured a teen protagonist battling mental illness, and here again she plays with the fine line of perception—how much of what you experience is real, and how much is your brain’s coping mechanism? “Ghost Town” refers to a high-end ocean condo development that figures prominently in the action and serves as a cautionary tale of the Florida real estate market. This page-turner proves that Ellison is an author to watch.
Sedgwick, Marcus. Midwinterblood. Roaring Brook. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781596438002. $17.99.
Sweden’s most controversial painting inspires this tale of a centuries-old cycle of love and tragedy. Hanging in Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum, Carl Larsson’s Midvinterblot (1915) tells the story of a king who is sacrificed by his people in order to end a famine. In Sedgwick’s telling, connected stories of a dragon-flower cult, an archaeological dig, a painter, a vampire, and a ghost point further and further back to the bloody beginnings of the northern isle of Blessed, ultimately landing on the same Norse legend. Themes of love and loss play out in each story, which are tied together by the island, familiar-sounding names, and a foreboding sense of danger. Fans of the television series Lost will find much to like in this atmospheric and emotionally resonant literary achievement.
Epic Love: Series and Sequels
Some love stories are too big for just one book. Here are three that pick up or conclude in their second or third volume.
Meyer, Marissa. Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, Bk. 2). Feiwel & Friends, 2013. 464p. ISBN 9780312642969. $17.99.
In Cinder (2012), a cyborg Cinderella falls in love with a futuristic prince, only to lose him to an evil alien queen. At that book’s close, Cinder escapes execution and learns a world-changing secret about her origins. In the series’ second installment, young Scarlet does not yet understand her connection to Cinder, only that her grandmother has gone missing and the police no longer suspect foul play. When a street fighter named Wolf offers to help in the search, Scarlet comes to learn that her grandmother’s past was much more exciting than her present quiet life in the French countryside. With their engaging characters and exquisite world-building, Meyer’s far future–meets–fairytale “Lunar Chronicles” have become best sellers. This fun take on Red Riding Hood (with its sexy wolf) only whets the appetite for more.
Oliver, Lauren. Requiem (Delirium, Bk. 3). HarperCollins. Mar. 2013 400p. ISBN 9780062014535. $18.99.
In a world where love is criminal, how hard would you fight to resist becoming an emotional cipher? In Delirium (2011), Lena made the choice to leave her oppressive community, escaping to the Wilds with her true love, Alex. If she had not, like all of her peers, she would have undergone inoculation for delirium nervosa, the disease of love, which is to be guarded against at all costs. As this final book in the series- begins, Lena and Alex are together in the fight, but their love bond has been broken by the strain of time and distance and the presence of Julian, an important new recruit who owes his life to Lena. Oliver alternates this triangle with the story of Hana, Lena’s friend from the first book, who underwent the procedure and is now preparing for her wedding to an up-and-coming politician. Of the recent dystopias featuring loveless societies (think Ally Condie’s Matched and Veronica Roth’sDivergent), this is my favorite, equal parts action and emotional truth. A satisfying conclusion.
Taylor, Laini. Days of Blood and Starlight. Little, Brown. 2012. 513p. ISBN 9780316133975. $19.99.
Pity Karou and Akiva, for the love between this chimaera and angel resulted in the annihilation of an entire people. At the conclusion of Daughter of Smoke and Bone (2011), Karou, a blue-haired art student in modern Prague, regains her memory and rejects the angel Akiva, who, in Karou’s previous incarnation, was both her lover and the instrument of destruction for her beastly kind. Now that Karou knows the truth about her beloved, she hardens her heart and makes plans to avenge the many deaths. Akiva, despondent over this turn of events, holds onto the hope that there is some future beyond their present struggle. Furthering the story’s appeal are Zuzana and Mik, human friends of Karou who serve as a comic foil to the serious weirdness surrounding her. Weighing in at over 500 pages, this second installment answers some burning questions left hanging from the first and sets the stage for a thrilling conclusion. [Film rights for Daughter of Smoke and Bone have been bought by Universal Pictures, with Joe Roth producing.—Ed.]
Celebrating Presidents’ Day
And finally, a gripping nonfiction book for the Lincolnphile in us all.
Sheinkin, Steve. Lincoln’s Grave Robbers. Scholastic. 224p. ISBN 9780545405720. $16.99.
It is estimated that by 1864 50 percent of the paper money in the United States was counterfeit. This prompted the Treasury Department to establish the Secret Service in 1865 for the purpose of protecting the integrity of U.S. currency and bringing counterfeiters to justice. In 1876, on the very eve of the most-contested election in history, a band of counterfeiters set in motion a plan to rob the grave of Abraham Lincoln. Their intention? To hold the President’s body ransom and free a notorious counterfeit engraver from prison. Sheinkin—author of last year’s wildly acclaimed Bomb: The Race To Build – and Steal – The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (Flash Point/Roaring Brook, 2012)—again sets a story of intrigue and derring-do against the backdrop of history, here the origins of the Secret Service and the presidential race between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden (which makes Bush vs. Gore look downright civilized). While aimed at a younger crowd than Bomb, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers still delivers for the adult set.