Sunday, January 24, 2010

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is dark, frightening, and wonderful

So Junkies, I'm not sure if I should write this review because a) I'm not sure if Lena is actually a heroine and b) the ending pissed me off.

I was, however, sleep deprived for an entire week because I stayed up WAY past my bedtime reading this book, I just couldn't put it down until I heard grumblings next to me, "You know what time it is, right?" (the circles under my eyes are all part of this addiction, baby)

I loved this paranormal romance, so I figured I might as well take a minute and tell you why.

Beautiful Creatures is narrated by a sixteen-year-old boy, Ethan, who falls for a supernatural  fifteen-year-old girl, Lena.  It was surprisingly refreshing to be inside the head of a teenage boy who hangs out with basketball players who spend their time commenting on the relative hotness of the girls around them.  These teens were very real, which is something I treasure in YA, because I spend all day with teenagers and I can spot a phony a mile away.  This book was realistic in showing that teens' day-to-day stresses are more about where they fit in on the social ladder and less about homework and what their parents are up to.

I loved the layers of conflict in this story.  Lena and Ethan struggle with their feelings for each other, the magic that surrounds them, and the small town with a mob-mentality working hard to make thier lives miserable.  For me, the Civil War worshiping Southerners and DAR women were way creepier than any black magic or voodoo.

That's what makes Beautiful Creatures so dark and frightening and wonderful.  The history of this small town is woven together with old prejudices, which is woven together with magic, which is woven together with secrecy, which results in a complex and compelling story.

I believed the magic, but more importantly, I believed the relationship.  Ethan and Lena share something so rare in YA: intimacy.

Granted, it helps to get to know someone when you share dreams and read each other's thoughts, but still.  Lena and Ethan talk, share secrets, talk about their hopes and fears.  They spend months together, building a relationship, starting off as friends, until it's clear they care so much for each other that as Ethan says, "there's no going back."
And when it's time, they're both terrified of their feelings because they know how vulnerable it makes them, know how much they stand to lose, know how much the other could hurt them.  I bought their love, hook, line, and sinker.

That's what teen love can look like, people.  Not "Hey baby, aren't I dangerous and smoldering?  I love you so much I peep through your window every night.'  'Ooh, I love you too, the world is a scary place, protect me?'  'Of course, I'll kill anyone who looks at you, that's how much I love you' Swoon."

Lena is one bad ass female who does what she can to protect Ethan from the curse that plagues her and, most importantly, from herself.  She's a wonderful mix of powerful and vulnerable.  She's only learning what she's capable of. She can cause a hurricane on a whim, but is terrified of the bitchy cheerleaders.  Lena is dark and dangerous and is balanced by Ethan's optimism.

So, Junkies, here I was, flipping pages, losing sleep, biting my nails.  Terrified for Ethan and Lena because of the magic, the danger, the secrecy, the prophecy, the sacrifices, the choices, the creepy Civil War reenactment.  Will they be able to hold on to their love through it all? 

And then what do I get?  Not an ending, not a resolution, but a postponement.  I'm sorry Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (side note how DO two people write a book together?  You must share dreams and thoughts like Ethan and Lena), your book is amazing.  It's beautiful and dark, but your ending pissed me off.  I mean, I kind of get it, maybe you wanted to leave us wanting more, priming us for the sequel.  And if that's the case, it worked.  But I read the last page like 10 times, mumbling to myself, "that's it?"

Ok, Junkies, I just did a litle tap-tapping on google and discovered that Beautiful Creatures is only the first in a FIVE book series.  The sequel will be out in December.  Phew!  Ok, my addict anger has slightly abated.  I will, however, be simmering until that sequel is in my shaky, scratchy hands.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

RADIANT SHADOWS by Melissa Marr: The Ultimate Fairytale

OK Junkies, so I was fortunate enough to receive an Advanced Reader's Copy of Melissa Marr's 4th book in the Wicked Lovely series, Radiant Shadows, and can I just say: OMG!!!

I'll try to tread carefully here, because as much as I want to tell you how wonderful the book is, I really don't want to spoil anything, especially when you'll have to wait three months to read it (haha, suckers!).  I'm hesitant to even tell you about the existence of one of the characters, because, after all, if the High Queen doesn't know about her, should you?

Part of Melissa Marr's genius is the way she's structured her series.  She takes tiny pieces of information and marginal characters from one book and turns them into the central focus of the next book.

Now, when I met Ani in Ink Exchange, and I met Devlin in Fragile Eternity, I highly disliked both of them.  I just remember picturing Ani licking Irial's blood with a guilty look on her face and thinking, "Who is this chick?"  And how could I not be turned off by the cold calculating assassin in FE?

I still didn't immediately fall in love with them as I started reading Radiant Shadows.  Ani is consumed by need.  She needs touch, she needs emotion, and she's denied both, so what she really needs is a place to belong.  At first, it was hard to stomach a character who acts purely in response to her hungers, with little thought of anything else.

Devlin is calculating as he balances both the order and the chaos he's made of.  He simply shrugs as Bananach stabs a mortal next to him.  He's killed plenty of faeries and mortals and accepts that death is sometimes necessary to keep order.

Ani and Devlin are probably the least human of Marr's characters.  But as Ani discovers her strength and Devlin lets himself be weak, it's really hard not to root for them.  

At times, Radiant Shadows is bloody and violent, but it's by far Marr's most romantic book yet.  And by the end, Ani is definitely Marr's strongest heroine.  In a lot of ways, this read like a classic fairytale.  There's a prince, a horse, a fairy-godmother, a prophecy, an orphan, a wicked witch, revenge, and a to-die-for love.

But of course, Melissa Marr takes the classic fairytale and turns it on its head.  She's great at creating a world with impenetrable boundaries, impossible obstacles, and nonnegotiable rules.  Then Marr creates characters strong enough to knock them all down.

It's a story about finding one's place in the world, about fate, about destiny.  In a world where loyalty is everything, this story is about the characters with split identities. Ani is half-mortal and half-fey, which makes her dangerous to both worlds.  Devlin was created by Order and Chaos, but has nowhere to call home.  Rae is neither mortal nor fey and has secrets she cannot tell.  Seth is sometimes mortal, sometimes fey, and has allegiances everywhere.  The stakes are high as these characters struggle to find where they fit in and decide what they're willing to sacrifice for love.

Seth's small presence in the book is exhilarating.  I gasped out loud while reading when I remembered something from the end of Fragile Eternity that seemed trivial then, but proved pivotal in Radiant Shadows.  Marr has woven threads throughout all four books that have left me hankering for the final installment.

I've been repeating the last line of Radiant Shadows's Epilogue in my head over and over again since I finished reading.  And Ms. Marr, if you're out there, please, PLEASE let him take his advice.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mibs shows us you don't have to kick ass to be a heroine, in SAVVY by Ingrid Law

I love middle grade novels.  I love 'em so much I wrote one.  I especially love them when I don't feel like I have to turn off a part of my brain to enjoy them.

Savvy is a great middle grade novel.  Those writers out there trying to figure out what the heck agents and editors mean when they say they want "voice" definitely need to pick up a copy of Savvy, by Ingrid Law.  Mibs narrates her story in her charming midwestern-small-town-magical-thirteen-year-old voice.  Her quirky turns-of-phrase and unique sayings are easy to fall in love with.

Mibs explains her and her family's special abilities using a bizarre vernacular that somehow sounds natural.  I didn't skip a beat when she explained that Rocket hadn't learned to "scumble his savvy."

You see, Junkies, everyone in Mibs's family has a savvy, or a special gift.  Her oldest brother, Rocket, has a way with electricity, her brother Fish manipulates the weather, and her grandpa causes land to shift and grow.  Their savvies are revealed to them on their thirteenth birthday.  Fish caused a hurricane the day he turned 13, so the family had to move to Nebransas-Kansaka, to get away from the water.

Tragedy strikes Mibs's family two days before her thirteenth birthday.  She's convinced her savvy will be able to save her family and she sets off on an adventure where she discovers not only her savvy, but even more important things about herself.

Savvy is really a kind of coming of age story. It tackles the tough moments of transitioning from a child to a teenager in a way that adults can relate to.  There's a little romance, a little comedy, a little tragedy, and a whole lot of adventure.

Even though there were no real bad guys to fight, no monsters to kill, and no evil to thwart, this was still an exciting story that kept me turning pages.  Mibs never had to risk her life to show us she's incredibly brave.  She never had to hurt someone to show us she's strong.

After finishing the book, it took me a while to realize what was so different about it.  I'm so used to associating magic powers and fantasy with good v.s. evil battles.  This book showed me that there doesn't need to be a bad guy, that life itself is a big enough obstacle to require a heroine with super powers.

I'm looking forward to Law's sequel, Scumble.

Don't worry Junkies, I'm not going soft on you.  My next post will hopefully be about Melissa Marr's Radiant Shadows which is sure to have plenty of ass-kicking heroines and bloody battles.