Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Red Glove by Holly Black

What You Need To Know:  Cassel and his fascinating world of magic and crime return, in this strong second volume of The Curse Workers. 

Summary:  After discovering his gift, and how his brothers misused it, Cassel has more problems then ever.  Mom's out of jail, working her own game, and the girl he adores has been cursed to love him -- which sucks.  But when Cassel's brother turns up dead, and the feds want his help, he'll have to run the greatest con of all to make it out alive. 

What works:  Cassel Sharp is awesome, and Black nails his voice.  An honorable guy in a deeply dishonorable world, he's far from perfect.   Cassel is tempted, and makes mistakes just like any high school age guy would.  What makes Cassel awesome is that he uses his brains and skills to get himself out of trouble, and Black avoids the "magic fixes EVERYTHING" problem that fantasy writers can fall into. 

Although the central mystery at the core of this book is slightly less compelling than the first Curse Workers volume, Black manages to keep the suspense high, and work in a few surprises along the way.  As always, the world building is expertly done, showing instead of telling, and all in service to the story. 

What Didn't:   To me, the political subplot felt trite and overdone.  Yes, its good for a zinger in the end, and Black does her best to work it into the central mystery, but all in all, I could have lived without it.   

Who would I give this book to:  I think that this series would be a great choice for kids who grew up on Harry Potter, but are ready to move on to darker fare.   Guys who like the paranormal, but are iffy about romance would like it too.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shine by Lauren Myracle

What You Need to Know:  This amazing modern southern-gothic mystery is one of the best books of 2011.

Summary: Once upon a time, Cat was best friends with Patrick.  Now Patrick lies in a coma, the victim of a hate crime.  Although nobody in the small North Carolina town of Black Creek wants to look too hard for the criminal, Cat takes it upon herself to find out who hurt Patrick.  While local law enforcement looks for an outsider, Cat feels sure the victim lies a lot closer to home.  Along the way, Cat will have to come out of her self imposed exile, and face the issues she's been ignoring.

What Worked:  When I finished this book, my reaction was:  "Damn, Lauren Myracle could win the Printz."   A vibrant setting, timely issues, tight plotting, compelling characters, and polished writing -- this book hits all of the award criteria. 

For me, the best thing about the book was the setting.  The small, rural town of Black Creek, which is slowly dying, although nobody wants to admit it.  Cat is such a product of this place, she knows it like nothing else, so she is naturally the one to solve the mystery of who attacked Patrick.  Also, Myracle nails Cat's voice, a girl longing to break free of her small world, but not really seeing a way out, who feels a debt to someone she abandoned.

For once, I felt like the romance elements of the book were organic and well intergrated.  As much as this is a mystery, it's also Cat's coming of age.  Finding someone to connect with is part of that journey. 

What Didn't:  The ending is going to leave some readers (me) unhappy.  Without getting too spoilery, lets just say that the crime is solved.  Is the criminal brought to justice?  Well, that depends.  The choice made at then end is made honestly, but left me feeling cold.   

Who would I give this book to?  With Myracle's name on the cover, this book isn't going to require much selling.  However, I can see it appealing to teens with an interest in GLBTQ issues, and mystery fans.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

What You Need to Know:  This Western masquerading as a zombie novel features lots of action and guy appeal.

Summary: Benny Imura can’t keep a job, so he decides to go into the family business – killing the undead.   When Benny was 2, the zombies rose, and humanity was forced into small, technologically deficient enclaves.   Benny lives with his older brother Tom, who like many others, makes a living by killing zombies in the rot and ruin beyond the town gates.   Many think Tom is a hero, but Benny knows better.  Tom is a quiet man, unlike the swaggering, boastful bounty hunters who pass through Mountainside.  When Benny is 15, he must work, or loose his food rations.  Not willing to take up the grunt labor that makes life possible, he apprentices with his brother.  Outside of Mountainside, Benny learns more about his brother, and the killers Ben once admired, than he wants. 

 What worked:  OMG – I LOVED this book.  Maberry nails Benny’s voice, a boy who thinks he’s a man, who has everything figured out, and then has the rug pulled out from under him.   Maberry also does some really nice world building in desc ribing life in Mountainside, building details naturally into the text, and not relying on info dumps or ominecent narration. 
Maberry builds a strong Old West feel into his future zombie dystopia.  Hand  cranks power the town, gaslamps light the darkness, bounty hunters are both feared and idolized, sherrifs and posses abound.  Everbody travels by horse, and news moves slow.  Westerns don’t often pop up in Teen Lit, so I was charmed by the novelty of the tropes being used.  

Also, Benny is half Japanese.  Characters of color can be rare in teen horror novels, so this was good to see.

And, Tom kills zombies with a samuari sword.  That is inexpressibly bad ass.  

What didn’t:  The romance elements of this book felt a little forced.  Benny goes from not wanting anything to do with girl-next-door Nix, to falling for a girl he’s only seen on a trading card, to risking everything to save Nix in rapid order.   

However: I have little patience for romance, as I’ve said before.  Less smooching, more decapitating!  And Nix is pretty bad ass herself.

Who would I give this book to:  Fans of zombie novels, such as World War Z or The Walking Dead, looking for a different type of undead story

Note the First:  Killer First Line “Benny Imura couldn’t hold a job, so he took to killing”

Note the Second:  This would be an interesting book to pair with Black Hole Sun, another “genre Western”. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

What You Need to Know:  This is a romance-y spin on the current Greek Gods trend, featuring a strong heroine and an interesting premise.

Summary: Kate Winters has spent the last several years waiting for her mom to die, living to care for her, and shutting out everyone else.  Now, as her mom reaches end stage, Kate has come to Eden, Michigan, her mom’s hometown, to wait for the inevitable.   Eden is the smallest of small towns, and Kate attracts the attention of mean girl Ava.   When Ava dies playing a prank on Kate, a mysterious stranger named Henry appears from nowhere and offers Kate a deal – Henry will reanimate Ava, if Kate will agree to live in his home from Fall to Spring.   Eventually, Kate takes Henry up on his offer, but discovers there is more to the request.  See, Henry is Hades, and since Persephone’s death millennia ago, he has ruled Hades alone.  Now, he has little time left to find a queen, or else loose his purpose, and his existence. 

What works:  This is an interesting take on the Greek pantheon, that they existed before the Greeks gave them names, and have continued to exist after.  Kate is a likeable heroine, and her reasons for accepting Henry’s offer are clear and understandable.  Kate’s mom, Diana, is also an interesting character, who gives her daughter excellent, if not exactly selfless, advice.

As for Henry, he is a very engaging guy.  A little broody and aloof, but the reader can understand why Kate wants to save him. 

All through the book, the reader knows something HUGE that Kate doesn’t.  For me, this made the book an interesting experiment   -- my knowledge makes me see the characters differently than Kate does. It created a tension that I liked.    

What didn’t:  Is it written on a scroll somewhere that ALL YA paranormals must include a love triangle?  In this one, its between Henry, Kate and another god named James.  James is a twitchy bag of ticks, and more than a little underhanded, and why Kate might feel something for him is never clear.

The “Goddess Test” in the title is actually a series of 7 tests, but Kate doesn’t know when they are happening or what the tests even are.  So while the book is engaging, there is no epic quest, no training, and no huge denouement.  Kate lives in Henry’s home and… hangs out.   It’s a little bit of a bait and switch.

Verging into spoiler territory,   the “twist” at the end of the book left me feeling flat.  No, I didn’t see it coming (although Carter does drop hints, if you know what to look for) but it also felt a little contrived, and opened up some huge questions about the universe Kate and Henry live in. 

However:  The above makes it sound like I didn’t like the book.  But I did.  I liked it more than a lot of YA paranormal romances.

Who Would I Give This Book To?  Teen girls looking for more paranormal reads, who have had it with vampires,.  teen fans of Percy Jackson who liked the romance angle.    

Review copy downloaded from NetGalley. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Books I Didn't Finish: Bumped by Megan McCaffrerty

Total Finished:   78 out of 244 pages.

So, Why Couldn't You Finish It?

In the near future, infertility has struck everyone over the age of 18.  Because of this, teen girls are encouraged to "bump" -- get pregnant.  Recently reuinited 16 year old twins, Melody and Harmony go about this in very different ways.  Harmony, raised on a religious commune, is preparing herself for wife and motherhood.  Melody, raised by hyper-perfectionist parents, has "gone pro" and sold her fertility to the highest bidder.

There is something here -- the idea of teen pregnancy being a desirable state, and the commodification of teen fertility -- these both have great narrative potential.

However,  McCafferty's writing does nothing for me.  The jargon of her dystopia is artificial and cloying, and instead of creating a world, pulled me out of it.  More pressingly, Harmony and Melody are flat out annoying, and not interesting enough to compensate for it.  Throw in a crush on a "perfect" guy by the religious girl, and the refusal of the "perfect" girl to realize that she's crazy about her best friend...  I'm done.

Dissenting opinions?  
Publisher's Weekly
 Good Golly Miss Holly 
Write Meg

Final Word:   Annoying and trite pretty much spells the end of a book for me.  I have too much other stuff to read....