Thursday, February 23, 2012

Matchbox Girls lights the imagination

Matchbox Girls
Chrysoula Tsavelas
Feb. 2012 Candlemark and Gleam

Review by Deirdre Murphy

I won Matchbox Girls in an online drawing. The cover, drawn in an unusual style, drew my attention right away. The story more than lives up to the cover. It’s quirky and enjoyable, starting with an old trope (the troubles resulting when angels crossbreed with humans) but the world is original and interesting. The girls are adorable and I was rooting for Marley from the very first line, when she wakes up to answer an urgent call moments before her phone starts to ring.

As the book opens, Marley has more than enough trouble keeping her own life in order. She’s on medication to keep her hallucinations—all visions of disaster—and anxiety attacks under control, and her occasional writing jobs don’t really bring in enough money to pay her share of the rent.

So she’s shocked when the tiny twin nieces of an attractive male friend call to say he told them to call her if he ever disappeared. The girls insist their uncle vanished in his study shortly after answering his phone, which is, of course, totally preposterous. Still, the girls are scared, so she struggles into her blue-jeans and rushes out into Los Angeles traffic to go reassure them. Wildfires are burning in the hills, and the ominous glow and haze of smoke adds a sense of danger to the simple act of driving.

When she arrives, Zachariah’s car is in the driveway, but he’s not there. A search of his study discloses his cell phone and a strange roll of papers, the words either encrypted into strange letter-shapes or in a language Marley had never seen before. The girls want to get out of the house, saying it’s creepy there! Things start getting stranger. It’s little things at first—a book disappearing, and one of the twins opening the locked door of Zachary’s car so they can get their car seats. (They insist they can’t ride in Marley’s car without their seats, so they trust her with a secret they haven’t even shared with Uncle Zach.)

The strangeness accelerates as Marley’s visions return, and she becomes convinced that the twins will only be safe if they are with her. The wildfires in the hills grow ever closer to LA; a sinister lawyer threatens Marley, telling her that kidnapping is a crime; and she starts to have strange dreams. Then a variety of strange people show up, some trying to claim the girls and others acting to help Marley protect them.

At some point, Marley realizes she’s forgotten her medicine—but too many strange things have happened by that time for her to believe she’s just hallucinating. Besides, the twins and her best friends have seen strange things too, and she is more and more certain with each passing hour that she’s somehow protecting the twins just by being with them.

As with real life, when answers to some of Marley’s questions start to appear, they just raise more questions. The action moves forward at a good pace, blending danger and mystery in good measure as the story builds to a climax.

I liked this book. I think you will too.

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