Thursday, March 31, 2011

REVIEW: The Siren Song (The Cronus Chronicles Book 2)

Ursu, A.  (2008).  The Siren Song.  New York:  Atheneum Books for Young Reader.

430 pages.

Appetizer:  It's been several months since Charlotte and her cousin Zee traveled to the underworld to prevent a revolt against Hades and Charlotte is still grounded for having been out all night.  Her cousin Zee's parents are being overprotective as well.  And Charlotte feels certain that she can get through anything as long as her cousin is by her side, but when Zee starts behaving strangely, Charlotte isn't so sure anymore.  So, when her parents plan for the family to go on a cruise (fun!) to see famed historical sites along the East Coast (less fun), Charlotte thinks it may be her only chance at a break.  She doesn't even suspect that she is venturing into a trap set by Philonecron, who blames her for his failure to take over the Underworld.

The Siren Song lives up to the fun narrative voice set up by the first book in this trilogy, The Shadow Thieves.  As I was reading, I felt Charlotte's frustration with how overbearing her parents were being and I loved Zee's continued struggle to find a place that he belongs (although, Philonecron's fascination with him did become a little too creepy this time around.  As the reader, I wasn't really picking up the supposed would-be-father-wants-you-as-a-son vibe that the story was trying to establish.  For me, it was more of a creepy-demon-guy-is-way-too-in-love-with-a-teenage-boy-ICK vibe.)  I also felt like the story could have been trimmed a little.  (Charlotte spent too much time running around her cruise ship for my liking and I was left with the too-strong desire to want to go on a cruise (if only I had the time/money...I suppose I would be willing to settle for a tanned man servant bringing me drinks and making whooshing sounds to represent the sound of the sea waves.)

As with the first novel, most of the story is told from Charlotte's perspective, with an introduction to give Zee's account.  With this novel, I didn't really feel as though including Zee's perspective added much (except for maybe trying to attract those elusive male readers).

I did like that Poseidon was a featured Greek god in The Siren Song.  It was particularly interesting, since Ursu's approach to creating him was so different from Rick Riordan's in his Percy Jackson series.

I really love the world Ursu has created and the fact that Charlotte, an ordinary girl, must repeatedly best the Greek gods.  With most of the gods disinterest in helping mortals and Charlotte and Zee's acknowledgement that the system has to change, I am very curious to see what happens in the final novel of this trilogy, The Immortal Fire.

Dinner Conversation:

"Once, not so long ago, inside an ordinary middle school in an ordinary city in an ordinary state in the middle of an ordinary country, a small redheaded eighth grader was doing something very ordinary indeed.  Charlotte Mielswetzski (Say it with me:  Meals.  Wet.  Ski.  Got it?  If not, say it again:  Meals.  Wet.  Ski.) was in the school office calling her mother.  And lest you think she was calling her mother for some interesting reason, let me assure you she most certainly was not.  For Charlotte could be found in that same office calling her mother every day after school."  (p. 3).

"An American History cruise!" said Mrs. Mielswetzski.  "Up the East Coast!  Normally, a girl who is grounded doesn't get to go on cruises, but given the educational nature of this one, we thought we'd make an exception."
"Anyway," said Mr. Mielswetzski, "it will give us a lot of time together.  As a family."
Her parents exchanged a happy look.
"Oh," Charlotte said.  "Um, look I've got to go to my room now."  (pp. 16-17)

"It was silly, of course.  Ridiculous.  Normal boys aren't afraid of shopping malls.  Normal boys go out with their friends and have fun and talk about sports and gils and music and video games and don't worry about whether a half-demon/half-god freak is stalking them.  But normal boys just don't have Zee's fabulous luck." (p. 96)

"She was stranded in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a cruise ship full of people in singer-induced comas.  For the last month of her life, she had been feeling increasingly more alone in the world.  Well, now she was truly all alone.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

REVIEW: The Shadow Thieves (Cronus Chronicles Book One)

Ursu, A.  (2006).  The Shadow Thieves.  New York:  Aladdin Paperbacks.

420 pages.

Not to be confused with one of the books in the Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson that has the same name, The Shadow Thieves is the first book in the Cronus Chronicles which features Greek gods and creatures.  (Although, with all the shadows being separated from their children, it is difficult to not think PETER PAN!  YAY!)

Appetizer:  Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Mielswetzski (Meals. Wet. Ski.) thinks her life would be a terrible story since nothing much has happened to her.  (I disagree with a humorous narrator like hers, her life seems pretty interesting to me.  But terrible or not, her life is about to change:  Her cousin Zachary is moving in with her family, her odd new English teacher, Mr. Metos, is doing a unit on Greek mythology and Charlotte keeps having dreams of the ground breaking under her feet and her falling.

Her cousin, who likes to go by Zee, is having some problems of his own.  His grandmother died over the summer and ever since then it seems all of the other kids around him are getting sick.  It will be up to him and Charlotte to figure out what is going on and to fix it.

This story won me over from pretty much page one.  The narrator rambles humorously in a way that I wish I could write.  Plus, the narrator is very pro-kittens (How could you not be?!).  Writing as someone who has read...oh, over thirty-something novels that include the gods in the modern world, the narrator's voice was very refreshing.

I did struggle a little with the way that the text shifted perspective.  I immediately loved Charlotte and did want to leave her story-line to hear about other characters.  I also felt like some of the characters figured out what was wrong a little too easily.

But aside from that, I looooooved The Shadow Thieves.  I'm not saying everyone will love it, but I recommend it highly.

Dinner Conversation:

"Pay attention.  Watch carefully, now.  Look at the sidewalk, there.  See that girl--the one with the bright red hair, overstuffed backpack, and aura of grumpiness?  That's Charlotte Mielswetzski.  (Say it with me:  Meals-wet-ski.  Got it?  If not, say it again:  Meals.  Wet.  Ski.  There.  You thought your name was bad?)  And something extraordinary is about to happen to her.
No, the extraordinary event will not be related to that man watching her behind the oak tree...that oddly pale, strangely thin, freakishly tall, yellow-eyed, bald-headed man in the tuxedo" (p. 3).

"So, anyway, there she was, walking along in an ordinary way, muttering to herself about curses, with her bursting backpack and her metaphorical black cloud and her ordinary bad mood--when something extraordinary happened.
A kitten appeared in front of her.
Not--poof!--not like that.  Nothing magical at all.  Quite ordinary, in fact.  A normal chain of events, just what you would expect with a sudden appearance of a kitten"  (p. 5).

"Charlotte did not sleep well that night.  For a few days she had fancied herself on the periphery of some great mystery, one that had begun with the sudden arrival of her British cousin and then seemed to encompass her English teacher as well.  But suddenly Charlotte wasn't living in a mystery anymore, in a fantasy world made of dark secrets and hidden tunnels and vampiric teachers and foggy London nights.  Now Charlotte lived in this horrible world where her best friend could get so sick she couldn't lift her head" (p. 70).

"Lots of kids are sick.  So I guess--"
"Wait," Zee leaned forward.  "How many?"
"I dunno," Charlotte shrugged.  "Maddy's got it.  She's been gone for a week."
Zee leaned toward her and grabbed her arm.  Bartholomew fell off his lap.  "What is it?  What does she have?"
Charlotte stared at him.  "I don't know!  Nobody knows.  She can't get out of bed, it's really awful, she's just lying there-"
Zee fell back into the couch.  "Oh no."  His hands flew to his face.  Charlotte and Bartholomew stared.
"It's my fault," he said slowly.  "It's all my fault."
Charlotte could not stand it anymore.  "What's your fault?  Zee, what's going on?"
Zee had lost all color in his face.  He seemed to be shaking.
"They followed me."  (p. 84)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

So, about a year ago, my dissertation advisor suggested I read this series since it was so closely related to my dissertation.  I planned on it.  I meant to read it.  Somehow, I got the idea in my head that the series wasn't that closely related to my topic.  Stupid ideas and stupid head.

I'm so glad I read this book before my dissertation was finished even though I now have to go back in and add new segments to heavily edited and polished chapters.  There would have been a gap in my dissertation without including this series.

On to book two, The Siren Song!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just A Snack: Wicked Lovely

Marr, M. (2008). Wicked Lovely. HarperCollins.

As apparently the only person left on earth who had not read any of the Marr's Wicked Lovely series, I felt like I at least had to check out the first book.

I'm... undecided.

The writing was actually fairly good, and I liked Aislinn's desperate, albeit useless, attempts to remain a Normal Teenager.

However, I found pretty much everyone to be profoundly unsympathetic and/or uninteresting.

Keenan? Keenan the harem-owning stalker, plucking innocent girls from the streets and condemning them to a life of either a) suffering as the power of Winter floods through their veins, or b) flitting around desperate for his attention and requiring apparently a diet of nothing but sunlight and sex? No.

And Seth? Seth the stereotypical pierced and tatted bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold, who lives in a set of train cars (one of which is filled with nothing but a bed and dim lighting) and who doesn't appear to have independent thoughts outside of Oh My God I Love Aislinn I Wonder If She Has Eaten Today?

Even Beira just read like a Disney villain. I kept expecting her to steeple her fingers and cackle wildly. Meh.

So in summary, okay book to skim, would recommend to anyone who was gripped by the torrid passion of the Edward v. Jacob fight for Bella... but not interesting enough for me to read the next seventeen novels in the series. As tempting as it would be to hear more about Seth's gorgeous navel ring (really?), I'm just not up for it.

Oh, and on a final, semi-unrelated note. No one in the book seemed as squicked out as I was to discover that Keenan had, you know, tried to get all up on Aislinn's mom.... I realize it came during a pivotal and fast-moving action sequence, but you'd think at least SOMEONE would point out how kind of twisted it is that Aislinn is now marrying Keenan. Keenan, who apparently used to be in love with her mother. Her mother, who subsequently died from her unwillingness to be with him. Because he's a creeper. No? I'm the only one, here?

Tasty Rating: !!!

REVIEW: Hell Week (Book Two of the Maggie Quinn: Girl Vs. Evil series)

Clement-Moore, R.  (2008).  Hell Week.  New York:  Delacorte Press.

327 pages.

Appetizer:  Maggie Quinn is back.  After surviving prom and the rest of her senior year of high school, she is now a freshman at the local college and trying to find a way to get her articles in the local and college papers.

Maggie is also uncertain of what's going on between her and Justin.  He went off on an internship to Ireland for the summer and apparently he's been back in the country for a week, but hasn't called her.  (WTF, Justin?!  If I didn't already think you were way too old for Maggie I might be upset.)

Maggie has her eye on doing an expose on the college's sororities.  As she goes undercover, she has to face the reality that she may be in over her head, especially when one of the sororities seems to have some supernatural tendencies.  Looks like Maggie may have to take on evil once again.

As with the first book--Prom Dates from Hell--I'm left feeling pretty lukewarm toward this series.  Maggie has a lot of great sarcastic lines that I love, but a lot of the story itself feels as though it is a mushed together hybrid of Veronica Mars and Buffy.  (Specifically a mash-up between the Buffy episode Reptile Boy and the Veronica Mars episode My Big Fat Greek Rush Week.)

Plus, there were a lot of names in this books.  And almost all of them belonged to sorority girls.  I could not keep the characters straight.  And the narration didn't always give me little clues to remind me of who was who.  Kaylee, Tara, Alexa, Devon, Victoria, Kirby, Juliana, Holly, Jenna, Brittany, Ashley!  AAAAAH!  So many cute sorority-girl names.  (And while I'll admit, I'm horrible with names in real life, usually I can hold my own in literature.)

Also, this time around, the tension and danger took a very long time to emerge...and there wasn't really a wonderful monster to describe, like in the first book.  So, again, I felt lukewarm.

On the plus side, I now feel like I have a better understanding of the Greek system.

I will plan to read the third book, Highway to Hell at some point.  For the time being I have to look at some other books that may have a place in my dissertation.

Dinner Conversation:

"Bright teeth flashed; I fought the instinct to recoil.  Perfectly white, perfectly even, possibly once human.  Coral pink lips pulled back all the way to the gums, giving the smile an unfortunate equine quality.  "Soooo...?" The owner of the teeth and lips drew out the word and flipped it up at the end in a question.  "What's your major?"
"English."  An untruth.  I don't tell them, as a rule, but I'd been asked this question five times in the last hour, and the lie rolled off my tongue now with ease" (p. 1).

"'You're not really going through with this, are you?'
I glared..."I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, come on."
..."I'm working on something."
"In a sorority."  Not a question.  Just incredulous.
"Don't think I can pull it off?" I asked, slinging my satchel over my shoulder.
"I know you can.  That's what worries me." He tapped the page.  "It says right here:  'Resistance is futile.'  These things--historically, sociologically--they suck people in."
"It's a sorority, not a cult, Justin.  I'll be fine."
I swung out the door, already regretting the words.  When would I learn not to tempt fate?" (p. 87-88).

""Have you considered that there may be some greater power at work here?  You joke about Faustian bargains, but maybe that's not a coincidental analogy."
"Sorority girls from Hell?  Isn't that like saying French people from France?"
"I'm serious, Maggie."  (p. 171)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

REVIEW: Prom Dates from Hell (Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil Book One)

Clement-Moore, R.  (2007).  Prom Dates from Hell.  New York:  Delacorte Press.

308 pages.

Three pages into Prom Dates from Hell I knew I was going to love it.  (Talk about a bias!)  I loved the sarcastic, smart voice of Maggie Quinn right away.  She reminded me of a hybrid of Veronica Mars and Buffy Summers.

...But I guess with dark hair.

Appetizer:  After stopping an incident of bullying in the halls, the three most popular girls in the senior grade (all named Jessica) take notice of Maggie and start to make her life hellish.  While that would be bad enough, Maggie has been having dark dreams again, and that part of herself that is a seer like her grandmother has been awakened, just when *something* at the school is trying to make the most popular seniors suffer.

Just in time for prom!

No longer able to ignore her intuitions, Maggie enlists the help of an attractive college guy, Justin, to fight evil.  While they quickly try different folk tactics to hold off the ghost/monster/shadow/demon-thing, it quickly becomes apparent that the beastie may be too much to contend with.

I enjoyed Prom Dates from Hell enough that I will definitely be picking up the second and third books in the Maggie Quinn:  Girl Vs. Evil series.  Maggie has a lot of wonderfully sarcastic narration.

I have to admit that while I was amused, I was not *completely captivated* by the story.  I figured out who the real culprit was pretty early on (although, Clement-Moore did a good job of constructing her red herring.)

I was also a little sceeved out by the age difference between Maggie and Justin.  Although Justin's exact age is never specifically given.  He's already in college and it's safe to assume he's far along in his program since he talks about graduate credits and what not.  Speaking as someone who has been that age, I would have thought that a senior in high school was a wee-little baby and I NEVER would have considered dating someone in such a different position.  And I know YA lit loves to have the high school girl date a college boy.  But my immediate response is to wonder what is wrong with said college-aged character that he can't date someone his own age.  Plus, beyond battling the forces of darkness, I didn't really feel a special connection between them beyond the occasional one-liner or the unfounded over-protectiveness on the part of Justin.


Dinner Conversation:  !!!

"As an interactive horror experience, with beasts from Hell, mayhem, gore, and dismemberment, it was an impressive event.  As a high school prom, however, the evening was marginally less successful.
I should start at the beginning, but I'm not entirely certain when that is, so I'll start with the day I realized that despite my most determined efforts, I was not going to be able to ignore the prom entirely" (p. 1).

"Back on the middle school Serengeti I learned that, lacking a certain killer instinct, my best bet was to avoid standing out from the herd and making myself a target for the apex social predators, at least until I'd built up a tough skin.  Now I'm sort of like the spiny anteater.  Small and prickly, trundling along, a threat to no one.  Except ants, I guess, which is where the metaphor runs out" (p. 2).

"Again my eye snagged on some dark movement--her shadow on the water? I barely had time to wonder, a half-fired neuron of warning, then everything went wrong" (p. 43).

"What if I want to get in touch with you?" he asked.
"About my alleged psychic powers?"
"Then think about me real hard, and I'll know to give you a call."  I flashed a sunny smile, put the Jeep in gear, and drove away.  For the first time that day, I felt as if I'd gotten the upper hand in a human interaction" (p. 74).

"I had a lot to do that afternoon.  Besides homework, newspaper, and yearbook, there was saving the world as well.  Where was I going to fit in a date?" (p. 190)

"Witch hunts scared me.  Not for the obvious reasons, but because they were so irrational that there was no defense against them.  But I couldn't actually be hanged for a witch.  Could I?  I wouldn't put anything past the Republicans"  (p. 223).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Personal Post: My Adventure with Roller Derby

Guys, I don't think I've spoken about this in a public forum before.  I absolutely loved the movie Whip It.

It's just good YA and a great look at femininity.  Plus, the movie made me want to skate in a roller derby.  I had fantasies of skating, forcing people of the track, hearing people cheer as I rolled past with some chart-topping hip-hop playing in the background.  In these fantasies I don't fall.  I just knock people down and then pump my fist in the air to the sound of cheering.  It's a fun fantasy.

But if my one attempt at roller skating since the age of ten has taught me anything, if I ever actually tried to participate in a roller derby, I'd be the person who would have to crawl off the track while begging for the refs to make it stop.  When I tried to skate over the summer, my body had the weird sensation that roller skating was familiar, that I should have been able to take off and fly around the rink, weaving around obstacles.  My mind and lack of balance disagreed.  I didn't fall, but I *did* look ridiculous, like the stupid goose by the river who honks a lot but can't quite make it off the ground when the others take off that you pity and that you feel fairly certain won't be able to fly south for the winter with all of the more coordinated geese, that it'll suffer through the early part of winter, only to starve and die and then have its carcass freeze in the cold and have people pass by it on some nature trail and say, "Awwww, poor thing," but moments later they're thinking about something else, the dead goose forgotten.

I would be that goose.

Nonetheless, when somebody in my program suggested several of us avoid thinking about our finals or our dissertations by watching the opening game of the Ohio Roller Girls.  I jumped on the opportunity, my declaration of "I loved Whip It!" was met with "OMG!  US TOO!"

But despite my repeated viewings, once I arrived at the Ohio Expo Center and the first derby began, I quickly realized I did not know much about the sport.  I especially didn't know what all of the refs' hand gestures meant.  Those gestures seemed important to understanding the game.

If I am ever to become a roller derby skater, I will *for sure* need to figure out what the refs' gestures mean.

But for the time being, I decided to be content with sitting in the front row on the floor beside the track, hoping somebody will have a dramatic (but painless!) fall right in front of me (but not so dramatic that they slide/fall/fly into me) so that I can capture it for all of forever-ness.

And that brings us to the point of this post.  Pictures:

I'll admit, I'll probably still have fantasies of being on a roller derby team.  It's a nice distraction from my dissertation.  But considering that I cringed every time one of these players fell, that I like the *thought* of being aggressive but don't actually like *being* aggressive, that I hate pain and that I can't skate, I think I'll be staying on the sideline.

With my camera.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Just A Snack: Trapped

Northrop, M. (2011). Trapped Scholastic Press.

This is a cool looking book -- the cover makes you claustrophobic right from the start (and the almost-buried "Winter Wonderland Dance" sign is a nice bit of dark humor), and each chapter is headed with an illustration of snow rising... and rising... and rising... until finally there's nothing but white.

The kids act exactly like anyone would expect a group of freshmen and sophomores to act. They worry about their folks, but also about their zits. They go through technology withdrawal and wear the batteries on their phones out sending useless texts and playing video games. They don't really get along, but in a Breakfast Club sort of way they're willing to put up with each other since they've got no other options. It was easy to put yourself into the mindset of the main character, hormones and all.

That being said, I got a little sick of the ominous, Something Terrible Is Going To Happen foreshadowing that the author insisted on throwing in. It was tolerable on page eight ("Looking back on all this, I shiver a little.... Images creep in: black smoke and blue skin"), tedious by page thirty-four ("From here on out, the number would only go down") and irritating from there on out. Yes, yes, someone will die, we get it.

Plus, despite the foreshadowing, the book doesn't actually explain the outcome of the storm. We know in a loose sort of way that the narrator survives, because he's the one prophesying DOOM all over the place. But the rest of the kids? Their families? The state in general? Not so much.

Upside? It was a GREAT book to read on a snow day.

Tasty Rating: !!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

REVIEW: Mr. Monster by @Johncleaver

Wells, D.  (2010).  Mr. Monster.  New York:  Tor.

Appetizer:  Things have calmed down since the events of I Am Not a Serial Killer.  There haven't been any more murders and the people in Clayton are starting to relax.  Even though John knew the fate of the killer before anyone else, he's still having his own problems.  He broke down the wall that kept his dark impulses under control.  Mr. Monster is out now and is urging John to do more violence.

But then, another body, a girl this time, is found and it looks like the town has another killer.  John fears that the dead girl is a message.  A message for him.

He must deal with the new killer, with trying to keep Mr. Monster in check and, most surprisingly of all, going on a date with a neighbor girl, Brooke, the girl he has been trying to control his obsession with for months.

I really liked John's struggle with trying to date Brooke.  It was a good challenge for John.

*Spoiler for mid-book in this paragraph*  I also liked the drama involving John's sister, who is dating an abusive egotistical guy who reminds John of his father.  It was an interesting trigger for John's murderous impulses and for insights into the family's past.  Although, after John sees a bruise on his sister's face and has to vent his anger, I really hated who is hurt by John's rage.  It was a sad enough scene that I almost wanted to stop reading.  *End spoiler*

I have to admit, Mr. Monster included a lot of dark aspects that won't be for every reader.  Reader, be warned.

The third and final book in this trilogy, I Don't Want to Kill You, will be out at the end of March.  You can pretty much count on the fact that I will be picking it up, wanting to know what happens to John and his many demons.

Yet again, I am left feeling like I know way too much about human embalming.  I am off to read a book that involves less death.  *glances around at YA dystopian, vampire and zombie trends*  Assuming there are any light books left out there.

Dinner Conversation:

"I want to do a lot of terrible things, and it's just easier to come to terms with that side of me by pretending it's someone else--it's not John who wants to cut his mother into tiny pieces, it's Mr. Monster.  See?  I feel better already.
But here's the problem:  Mr. Monster is hungry.  Serial killers often talk about a need--some driving urge that they can control at first, but that builds and builds until it's impossible to stop, and then they lash out and kill again.  I never understood what they were talking about before, but now I think I do.  Now I can feel it, deep in my bones, as insistent and inevitable as the biological urge to eat or hunt or mate.
I've killed once, and it's only a matter of time before I kill again."  (p. 12).

"For my sixteenth birthday I got a dead body to play with:  Mrs. Soder, the oldest woman in Clayton County, finally died.  The corpse was laid out on the stainless steel embalming table, the body bag removed and the body motionless.  It had died in the hospital, and they'd shipped it to us in a hospital gown.  This made it a lot easier; rather than wrestle with real clothes, or try to get the family's permission to cut them off, we could just snip a tie here and there and have the hospital gown off in seconds.  The embalming  would be almost too easy--I wanted to take as much time as possible, so I could really enjoy it" (p. 76).

"For me, embalming was a form of medication; it brought a sense of peace that I had never found in any other aspect of my life.  I loved the stillness of it, the quietness.  The bodies never moved or yelled; they night fought or left.  The dead simply lay there, at peace with the world, and let me do whatever I needed to do.  I was in control of myself.
I was in control of them." (p. 79).

"They found the second woman's body on Saturday, lying in a ditch on Route 12, covered with a similar array of torture wounds.  It was the same place where the Clayton Killer's second victim was found, less than ten feet from the exact spot.  It was now obvious that this new killer was trying to communicate something, but what?  Was he saying "I'm the same," or "I'd different"?  Was he telling us he wanted to be like the first killer, or was he hinting that he already was?  More than anything else, I wondered who he was talking to:  the police?  The whole community?  Or was he sending this message to the only other killer in town?
Was he talking to me?"  (p. 87).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Just A Snack: Wither

DeStefano, L. (2011). Wither. Simon & Schuster.

Guys, if I could star this book based on cover alone, it would be TEN WHOLE STARS. For real -- did you see this thing? Wedding ring leading to caged bird flanked by gorgeous teased-out girl in poofy ball dress, with dying lily petals drifting down the back? Love it.

As for the book itself, I had more mixed feelings. It was full of topics that I normally would be all over. Tragic dystopia? Sure! Scandal and child brides? Why not?! Twins? Yes! But when they were all combined, it seemed overdone and under-explained.

Why, for example, are only the wealthy concerned with the future of the human race? If they need babies like a fish needs water, why are they wantonly shooting girls who aren't hot enough to marry rich stupid sons? How did every other continent on Earth manage to be blown into teeny tiny pieces whilst the US apparently continued on unscathed? Are the orphanages in the pay of the Gatherers, and, if not, why the heck are they teaching impressionable kids that it's awesome to be pregnant by thirteen? And, perhaps most importantly, why must the love interest in this book be so blah?! (Sorry Gabriel. You're just not cutting it for me.)

I did enjoy reading Wither, don't get me wrong. Destefano writes like a dream--I'd be willing to be Gathered myself if it meant wearing some of the outfits she describes. The next two will be on my To Read list for sure and, presumably, all of my burning questions except the last will someday be answered. I just don't expect that the plot will stay with me for any longer than it takes me to put the book back on the shelf.

Tasty Rating: !!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

REVIEW: Dark Goddess

Chadda, S.  (2010).  Dark Goddess.  New York:

Appetizer:  Set three months after the events of Devil's Kiss, Billi has not really recovered from the death of *someone* (to avoid a major spoiler) she cares about.  She feels nothing, and while committed to her duties as a Knight Templar, she does not really want to help nine-year-old Vasilisa, a Russian girl who is a possible oracle whose family was killed by werewolves who hope to sacrifice her to an ancient goddess.

Vasilisa is too much like Billi, who also has lost people she loved and found herself committed to the Knights Templar with little choice in the matter.  To try to keep the young girl safe, they will have to go to Russia and partner with the equally secret group, the Bogatyrs.

After I began reading Dark Goddess, I quickly realized I was enjoying this book more than its predecessor, Devil's Kiss.  I liked the foil between Billi's past and Vasilisa's initial concerns.  I liked Ivan (one of Billi's new Russian friends in the Bogatyrs) as a love interest.  I understood the tensions Billi had with him more more easily than I'd ever understood what was going on between Billi and Kay.

Generally, it was easier easier to get into Dark Goddess than I did Devil's Kiss.  In this book, I already knew where the characters stood with one another, so it was easier to ease into the drama and adventure.

I did have a little trouble with Billi's redefined relationship with her father.  In the first book, their difficult relationship was at the heart of the novel.  Toward the end of that book, I learned more about why their relationship was so pained.  Devil's Kiss did leave the possibility of some resolution.  My issue with Dark Goddess was that from the beginning of the sequel, Billi and her father seemed *so* much better.  The narration doesn't address their past conflicts.  I really wanted the book to address that they had changed, that Billi was adjusting to her kinder, more humorous dad.

Dinner Conversation:

"The rottweiler's head lay in a bush, just off the snow-sprinkled path.  The boy was several yards farther, its chest carved open so the ribs stuck out of the skin like a row of gruesome lollipops.
Billi covered her face with her sleeve.  The cold night air was fresh with January frost, but the corpse stank of spilt intestines.  The dog was, had been, brutishly big, but its size had not saved it from being torn apart" (p. 1).

"They'd been hunting the werewolf for over four months, following its bloody trail from Cornwall, Devon, through the southeast, all the way to here--Thetford Forest in East Anglia.  Thirteen dead across five counties.  Werewolves were territorial and only went off reservation if they were hunting something, or someone, very special" (p. 3).

"The werewolves would call her a Spring Child.  They believe the goddess will reward them with a good spring and bountiful hunting if they sacrifice Oracles to her during the full moon.  The spirit of the child is taken by the goddess, renewing her, and the body is eaten by the pack.
Good God," whispered Mordred.
"They're called the Unholy for a reason," replied Billi" (pp. 35-36).

"Billi knew she should feel differently by now.  But there was a hollowness inside her that nothing filled.  No matter how much she trained, how hard she fought, the emptiness only seemed to grow.  She'd cared too much, and only realized how she felt after he'd gone.
Never again.
She sat in the kitchen, looking at the tray Lance had left.
Elaine was too soft.  But then she could afford to be:  she wasn't a Templar.
Billi had her priorities, and looking after a little girl was way, way down on the list.  Her job was to fight the Bataille Tenebreuse, the Dark Conflict.  There was no room for weakness"  (p. 41)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I'm still mourning the death of Brian Jacques

Despite the fact that I've only ever met Brian Jacques twice in my life and despite the fact that I haven't read one of his books since I was probably ten or eleven, I find that I still have moments where I am totally overwhelmed with sadness as his passing.

I've posted previously about how Redwall was the first book I ever loved, the first series that made me imagine myself in the world of the characters.  So the series and its author will always have a special place in my memory.

When I was doing research for my dissertation this morning, I was going through a book called Battling Dragons:  Issues and controversy in children's literature.  I noticed that there was a chapter written by Brian Jacques.  I had to read it.  The conclusion of his chapter was very moving.  He wrote:
"What do I want from the future?  What any good author wants I suppose--to leave footprints in the sands of time.  By that I mean, in years to come when I am no longer here, some child will take from a library shelf a dog-eared book of mine, without an attractive dust jacket, and read it with enjoyment.  How presumptuous of me!  The sort of thing just does not happen to someone with a name like Brian Jacques, who attended Saint Johns Elementary School in Kirkdale, Liverpool."  (p. 219)
He wasn't presumptuous.  I am certain that his hope for the future is being realized.


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