Man, that cat has appeared on the cover of every one of the Hex Hall books, despite there distinct lack of cat in the series. IT DRIVES ME BANANAS.
Yes, I realize I should get out more.
Anyway, Spell Bound. SPOILERS ABOUT THE FIRST TWO ARE A NECESSITY.
At the end of Demonglass, Sophie had finally come to terms with demonic heritage... only to be magically prevented from accessing her own powers. As if that being powerless and being-hunted by the same jerks who bound her powers isn't enough, she gets captured by the Brannicks—specifically the youngest one, which just adds insult to injury—a family whose monster-hunting legacy goes back for decades.
But get this: it turns out that Sophie's mother is a Brannick.
Which means that so is Sophie. So she's got demons on one side, and demon hunters on the other... which, if she makes it through all of this alive, will make for some HELLISH (<--ho ho ho) family reunions.
Oh, ALSO, she's not sure if any of her friends are even still alive. And IF THEY ARE, she still doesn't know how she's going to deal with that whole in-love-with-dreamy-Archer-the-triple-agent-but-betrothed-to-hottiepants-Cal-the-healer thing.
Like Hex Hall and Demonglass, Spell Bound is energetic, fast-paced, and funny. Sophie continues to by likable and entertaining, and her habit of making terrible, terrible jokes whenever she's nervous never gets old. Neither this installment nor Demonglass ever quite reaches the heights of Hex Hall, but the whole series is still immensely fun, and I LOVE that it's a smart, witty, mostly-boppy paranormal romance peopled with characters that I care about, rather than being ANGSTY and OVER-DRAMATIC and RIFE WITH TRAGEDY and FILLED WITH CHARACTERS I WANT TO SLAP.
La la la la la la la.
SPOILER: I didn't particularly like how the love triangle was resolved—killing off Cal seemed more cop-out than resolution—but that's a pretty small issue, especially since now Elodie can pursue his ghostly hotness for all eternity, and as she's one of the best characters in the whole series, I'm glad that Hawkins gave her a happy ending.
NOW, ON TO SCHOOL SPIRITS, WHICH I'VE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO FOR AGES.
I guess Traditional is probably the right word, but it was highly unconventional. I sent two of my short stories to Diana Wynne Jones. Not only was she gracious enough to read them, she recommended I send them to her American editor Susan Hirschman who agreed to publish my collection of short stories, Instead of Three Wishes.
That's as rad as Lyle Lovett crediting Guy Clark for kickstarting his career by talking up his demo tape way back when. MY SHRIVELED LITTLE HEART, IT JUST GREW THREE SIZES.
The first book in Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series is $1.99 today, so if you don't have it, I'd TOTALLY suggest snagging it.
If you haven't read it, DO. After all, like Arrested Development, it has such devoted and vocal fans (not to mention stellar reviews) that the series survived cancellation. (More on that here and here.)
Oh, and Artemis Fowl is $2.99 today. I almost didn't bother mentioning it, because A) I'm not a particular fan and B) it's not like the series needs a push from me, but C) I figured that since I was writing this post anyway, I may as well throw it in here, too. So there you go.
[ETA: Huh. Variant, by Robison Wells, is also $1.99. Worth a purchase? The description makes it sound like Lord of the Flies in boarding school.]
Ludania is ruled by a powerful, magic-wielding queen who enforces a strict language-based caste system. She's dying, though, and there isn't an heir capable of taking the throne.
Due to discontent with the severity of the system—simply failing to lower one's eyes when someone speaks a language associated with one of the higher castes is punishable by death—as well as unrest within the broader political landscape, a revolution is brewing.
Our heroine, seventeen-year-old Charlie (short for Charlaina) isn't particularly interested in being involved in a revolution. She's got enough on her plate, what with having to hide her magical ability—despite her lowly Vendor status, she can understand any language; written, visual, or verbal—and hiding the even-more powerful power of her younger sister.
Unfortunately for Charlie, her years of insuring her family's safety by keeping her head down and getting through life without attracting attention are at an end: her ability is far more significant than she could have ever imagined, and is of huge interest to both the queen and to the people who want to bring about the end of her rule.
For the first fifty or so pages, The Pledge had me. Like, REALLY, REALLY had me. Derting dropped me into Ludania and Charlie's life without much explanation or exposition, which is always a storytelling technique that I appreciate, as it makes the world and characters and dialogue more believable (none of that "Dean, we were RAISED as WARRIORS" stuff*) and suggests confidence and faith in the reader's abilities. It was refreshing that the culture was so matriarchal that there was never even a discussion about the feasibility of coronating a male heir; the idea of a caste system being based in language appealed to my language-loving self as did Charlie's non-flashy-but-extremely-cool ability; and I enjoyed that the focus shifted from character to character and from first-person to third and back again.
Where it lost me—and sadly, this isn't much of a surprise given the other recent dystopians I've read—was in the love story. Not only was it a case of instalove—Max meets Charlie and, like, five minutes later, pretty much swears fealty to her—but Max is also a hero in the Edward Cullen vein, in that he romanticizes danger (he makes Charlie feel unsafe, but her attraction to him is Not To Be Denied) and that he is so protective that he keeps making decisions for her, and so, despite the whole matriarchal society thing, her agency is lessened. Both of those issues can, of course, be chalked up to personal taste, so it's likely that The Pledge will be a good pick for Twilight fans who enjoy dystopians.
BONUS ISSUE: The book wraps up really, REALLY quickly. So quickly, given the pacing of the first 7/8s of the book, that it feels like the author threw her pen across the room with a big, Willow-esque "BORED NOW", and then had to get up, get her pen, and force herself to finish the book off with a couple of brief chapters and an epilogue.
BONUS HAPPY DANCE MATERIAL: THERE ISN'T A LOVE TRIANGLE. There's plenty of potential, but it never actual pans out. So YAY FOR THAT!
BONUS SECONDARY HAPPY DANCE MATERIAL, BUT IT INVOLVES TWO MAJOR SPOILERS: I loved that in the epilogue, Charlie mentions that she'd taken Max into her bed. No mention of marriage, that it was a thing that would last forever and ever, or that he had instigated their sexual relationship. Although it came on the very last page, that one short line did a lot to assuage my concerns about his Cullen-y nature, and it got me curious about the sequel: I want to know if Charlie's new-found confidence is truly her own, or if it is a byproduct of having melded with the Queen...
*In the first few episodes of Supernatural, the brothers Winchester spout a lot of clunky dialogue that served purely to explain their situation to new viewers. It was annoying because they A) repeated the same information every episode, information that they B) were both well-versed in, which made the dialogue unnecessary and unlikely, all of which served to C) weaken the world-building and character development and D) deal regular blows to my suspension of disbelief by constantly bringing the screenwriters to my attention.
I have such a soft spot for the Bloodlines books. Unless I'm spacing on something, I think that it is—at the moment—the only vampire series that has me CONSTANTLY YEARNING for the next installment. (I really should go back and read the Vampire Academy books: Bloodlines is a spin-off series.)
Most people know Sydney Sage as a quiet, somewhat socially-awkward, khaki-clad, extremely studious student at Amberwood Prep in Palm Springs, California. A select few know her secret: she is ACTUALLY an Alchemist, a member of a secret organization that works to keep the fact that vampires exist a secret from humans who aren't In The Know. Like all Alchemists, Sydney grew up believing that all vampires are bad news—even the non-murderous "good" ones—but her work (and her friendship-slash-ongoing-case-of-red-bottomosity with Adrian Ivashkov, a snarky, smoldering, artistic vampire royal) with vampires in the field has led her to distrust those long-held beliefs... but only secretly, since Questioning Protocol doesn't go over well in the Alchemist camp.
In this installment, she works on tracking down the mysterious Marcus Finch, a possibly-mythical Alchemist who A) is rumored to have quit the fold without getting forced into getting Re-educated, and B) supposedly Knows Things about the Alchemists that they Don't Want Known. She also goes to a vampire wedding; gets involved in a covert search for a powerful witch who's been draining young magic users of their life essence; and actively uses her magic... in the last place that she'd ever have expected herself to use it. Oh! There's also a DRAGON. A PIE-EATING DRAGON.
Here's what I love about this series:
Sydney. Although she has strong emotional ties to the Alchemist way of life, her intelligence, her logic, and her critical-thinking skills have led her to start to question what she's been taught... but it's always clear that she's got understandably mixed feelings about it all; in the first two books, she was teetering on the brink of an eating disorder, and her struggles with and thoughts about that have been realistic, believable, and relatable. She's reserved and careful about who she trusts; she can be oblivious to the feelings of others; she's difficult and sometimes bossy; really type-A, and not always in a particularly attractive way; basically, she's wonderfully imperfect and I definitely see what Adrian sees in her.
Adrian. My favorite thing about him—beyond the handsome, talented, smart stuff, which is par for the course with vampire love interests—is that he has faith in Sydney's abilities. When she decides to risk her freedom (not to mention her life) by going off to St. Louis and infiltrating the Alchemist compound and stealing some vital information, he isn't particularly keen on the idea, but not only does he NOT try to talk her out of it, but he also sets his own jealousy aside and even offers up pointers on how to use her feminine wiles to further her mission. Also, he's very open and frank and non-brooding about the fact that he's in lurrrve with her, which makes for some moments that are both hilarious (for the reader) and annoying (for Sydney).
Also good: the books are smart and funny, the secondary characters are likable (well, not the villains, duh), and Mead weaves in real-life issues without being preachy or condescending or didactic. If you like paranormals and you HAVEN'T started this series, they'll make for perfect beach reads this summer.
In the first book of the Unbound trilogy, high school sophomore Emma Townsend gets struck by lightning and zapped into Jane Eyre. Ultimately, it turns out that she was in a coma and that It Was All A Dream (there's a little bit of OR WAS IT??, but for the sake of simplicity (AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, BREVITY, WHICH IS, AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED, NOT MY STRONG SUIT) I'm going to stick with that), but everything works out and she Gets Her Man and all that jazz. Overall, I had mixed feelings about it, but I wrote all about that at Kirkus, so I won't repeat myself here. Overall, my feelings about A Touch of Scarlet are way less mixed than my feelings about A Breath of Eyre: it had many of the same negatives, but less of the positives.
Emma has to read The Scarlet Letter over the summer, but she puts it off and puts it off because she and Gray Newman are busy running through fields of daisies together and being revoltingly [<--my opinion, obvs., but it's worth mentioning that they are SO EXCRUCIATINGLY LOVEY-DOVEY that I ended up writing notes like 'barrrrrrrrrrrrrf' and 'vom'] in love. So she crams it in right before school starts up again, and she HATES it. Partly because, as she puts it, "Hawthorne never used seven words if twenty-seven were available", and partly because it cuts into her Gray-time. He is, after all, leaving for Coast Guard training soon, and so she won't be able to talk to him for eight weeks.
So, she goes back to school Gray-less and bereft, but there's lots going on there, what with Michelle's confusion about her relationship with Owen—she cheated on him over the summer—and the mysterious break-up of the Fearsome Four (the school's resident mean girls). Then Michelle starts HANGING OUT with Elise Fairchild, Queen of Evil, and one thing leads to another and Emma starts having Scarlet Letter-themed visions.
Things that didn't really work for me, but that very well might work for other readers: it was very clear to me where Michelle's cheating plotline was going from the very first second, and as it was super-obvious to me, I found it frustrating that Emma ultimately had to have the situation spelled out to her; and [SPOILER] after Gray breaks up with Emma, she becomes as insufferable as Bella Swan when Edward Cullen dumps her. As I said, though, my dislike of those aspects of the book is based purely on personal preference.
Things that are more straight-up across-the-board problematic: Emma's narration never really gels into a consistent, believable voice. She ranges from snarky-casual to super-duper stiff and formal (with the occasional infodump), and there's a lot of telling rather than showing, especially when it comes to the interactions and relationships between the characters. Michelle's storyline (along with the student protest and the alternaprom and the end of Dr. Overbrook's arc) never completely integrates with the rest of the story, and so it feels at best, like it should have gotten its own book, and at worst, extraneous. (And, in terms of plotting, very afterschool-specially.) Finally, the one thing that I really liked about A Breath of Eyre—the alternate view of Bertha Rochester—isn't a factor in this installment: all of the Scarlet Letter stuff was about Emma figuring her own problems out, rather than a combination of literary interpretation AND Emma's own story.
I'm still planning on reading the third book in the trilogy, but that's less because I'm ALL HET UP about it and more because I figure I've read the first two already so it would be silly to skip out on the third. Also, the third one is based aroundPhantom of the Opera, so I'm curious to see what Mont does with it.
Spoilers about The False Prince are a necessity here. If you haven't read that one, you should: it's twisty-turny-fun-fun-FUN with political intrigue and narrator who is a strict truth-teller but also completely untrustworthy and a great cast of characters and did I mention how much fun it is? It ALSO (deservedly) won a 2012 Cybils award.
THIEVERY! PIRATES! BROKEN BONES! OLD FRIENDS! OLD ENEMIES! OLD FRIENDS WHO ARE NOW ENEMIES! NEW FRIENDS! NEW ENEMIES! LOTS OF ACTION, ADVENTURE, AND SURPRISES! ALSO ROMANCE! I love this series. There's enough information provided at the beginning for new readers to catch up—and for old readers to get reacquainted with the characters and challenges and politics—but I really would suggest beginning at the beginning.
If you haven't read it and you're still reading, YOU'VE BEEN WARNED. (Seriously, shoo! Go read it.)
With the very first line of The Runaway King, Jennifer A. Nielsen reminded my exactly why I enjoyed The False Prince so much:
I had arrived early for my own assassination.
It's just so... JARON-Y: hardboiled, wryly humorous, a little bit self-deprecating and a little bit pompous. The plotting, too, starts with a bang—or, well, a swordfight—and it doesn't slow down once. This isn't a marathon of a book, it's an all-out sprint. As in the first book, many of the chapters end with cliffhanger-y lines like: I was only midway through one of my better curses at him when he raised the sword and crashed it down on my head.
It would make for a great read-aloud, and I very much hope that
Scholastic got a strong reader for the audiobook, because it deserves
I have a few minor complaints. Jaron makes some tactical moves that had me yelling "AUUUUUUUUUUUUGH, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?" and at one point,
"NOOOOOOOOO! DON'T EDWARD CULLEN HER, YOU MORON!" (Then again, it's almost always a point in a book's favor if I start yelling at it—it speaks to an exceedingly high level of engagement!) Also, there's a major plot point that hinges on the may-as-well-be-patented Michael Crichton* formula in which, for the entire book, the protagonist tries to remember a crucial piece of information, and 300 pages later, he finally does... JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME. Which I always feel is kind of weak. Finally, as Jaron uses a lot of the same
lying-by-telling-the-truth deflection techniques that he used in the
first book, his habit of playing his cards super-close occasionally
comes off as more obnoxious and smug than entertaining and surprising, but for reals, those are all just petty, minor issues: for the most part, I read
the whole thing quite happily. And I totally can't wait for the next one.
I suspect that the basic premise of the first book will tempt some readers to label this trilogy as The Queen's Thief-lite, but I think that's as unfair to Nielsen as it is to label The Hunger Gamesas a watered-down Battle Royale: they're geared to different audiences, and I wouldn't even say that they're in the same genre, with The Ascendance Trilogy as a throwback to the very same Olde-Fashioned Straight-Up Rip-Roaring Adventures that pundits occasionally proclaim to be extinct, whereas The Queen's Thief started as that same sort of story, but then morphed into a political thriller and a meditation on leadership and service and life-as-an-individual versus life-as-a-political-figure and heck, if you don't know what I'm talking about, I don't know why you're spending time reading this and not headed for your local library RIGHT NOW.
*Every Michael Crichton book I've ever read uses that formula.
But in early drafts of “Matilda,” Dahl had painted her as a wicked child who uses telekinesis to fix a horse race, a pursuit that ultimately kills her. Although Dahl was known for archness, even cruelty—remember Violet Beauregarde, in Willy Wonka’s factory, blowing up into a huge blueberry—the new book seemed unusually savage.
The article is actually more about the stage production of Matilda, but WOW. I clearly really need to read Storyteller.
...I talk about the Strange Chemistry imprint in general and Julianna Scott's The Holders in specific:
Lately, I’m never more excited about reading a new book as I am when I’m about to read something from Strange Chemistry. Which is funny, as I’ve had extremely widely ranging reactions—from adoration to profound disappointment—to their books thus far: It’s been well over a month since I read and reviewed Laura Lam’s Pantomime, and I’m still head-over-heels in love with it; and I have similarly strong feelings towards Broken, by A.E. Rought, though they’re of a decidedly less-affectionate variety.
Which brings me to their most recent offering: The Holders, by Julianna Scott. Which, ultimately—and sadly!—falls into the same category as Broken.
The Peculiars, as you may have guessed from the cover, is set in a steampunk-y version of our past. So it's the Victorian era—Lena loves Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain—but one with dirigibles and aerocopters. It's also a frontier novel, in that the majority of it is set on the edge of civilization, and much of the storyline and plotting involves a wilderness area—populated by outlaws, convicts, and supposedly, Peculiars—called Scree. Like some (and in my opinion, too few) other alt-histories, McQuerry includes a historical note at the end that describes some of the real-life people she included in her world, as well as some of the changes she made (for instance, in her world, the Pony Express is still up-and-running in 1888, whereas in our world, it was only in operation until 1861).