Sunday, January 20, 2013

REVIEW: Beautiful Creatures

Garcia, K. and Stohl, M.  (2009).  Beautiful Creatures.  Boston:  Little Brown and Company.

563 pages.

Appetizer:  Ethan Wate wants nothing more than to leave Gatlin, South Carolina where his family has lived for almost two centuries.  But as a sophomore in high school, an escape to college is a long way off.

When a new girl named Lena arrives to town, she'll cause controversy that will force Ethan to choose between his comfortable place in the Gatlin community and Lena, who may prove to be both magical and dangerous.

After years of hearing this was a good series, and after adding the book to the To Be Read Mountain several years ago, I finally got around to reading Beautiful Creatures in light of seeing the movie previews.

Starting the book was a complete surprise.  I'd assumed the novel would be from Lena's perspective.  (And the book does include her perspective for a key segment near the end.)  Based on the movie previews, I would have bet good money that Lena narrated the entire story.  But as a change from many paranormal young adult novels, Beautiful Creatures is narrated by Ethan.

I also liked that the YA novel had a Southern setting.  The small town experience that the book provided was both interesting and frustrating.  While I'd like to argue that some of the behaviors of the people in Gatlin were hard to believe, I suspect there are people like the Gatlin mean girls and town crazies out there.

To get through this book, I decided to listen to the audio book (since all of my actual reading time must go to the books I teach and the Cybils award finalists).  The audio book used a lot of sound effects, which was a nice touch.  Some of the effects could have been more dramatic.  The narration describes this huge dramatic moment of a window breaking and the sound that the audio book used was less than impressive.  But other sound effects really added to the story.  The audiobook actually included multiple versions of the "Sixteen Moons" song.  The main version kept getting stuck in my head.   (Apparently you can download the song as a free podcast on iTunes.)

The story is engaging, but I can't say that it amazed me or kept me on the edge of my seat.  Whether because I've seen the movie previews or because I'm just that awesome of a reader, I found that the mystery elements were either predictable or obvious.  I also found Ridley, Lena's cousin, to be a ridiculously annoying character.  Just about every scene with her made me want to roll my eyes or cringe.  Ugh.

I also thought that Ethan should have had more of a reaction to learning that magic was real.  He pretty much just accepts the revelations as they come instead of acknowledging that his worldview has been shaken.  Call me crazy, but if I start to have a telepathic link to the person I have a crush on, it's going to raise some questions and lead to a doctor's visit.

Overall, I found the book enjoyable, but it wasn't anything to go crazy or lose sleep over.  I may continue reading the series...but it won't be anytime soon.

Dinner Conversation:

"There were only two kinds of people in our town.  "The stupid and the stuck," my father had affectionately classified our neighbors.  "The ones who are bound to stay or too dumb to go.  Everyone else finds a way out."  There was no question which one he was, but I'd never had the courage to ask why." (p. 1)

I was free falling, tumbling through the air.
She called to me, and just the sound of her voice made my heart race.
"Help me!"
She was falling, too.  I stretched out my arm, trying to catch her.  I reached out, but all I caught was air.  There was no ground beneath my feet, and I was clawing at mud.  We touched fingertips and I saw green sparks in the darkness.
Then she slipped through my fingers, and all I could feel was loss." (p. 4)

"'Dude, did you hear?'
"Hear what?"
"There's a new girl at Jackson."
"There are a ton of new girls, a whole freshman class of them, moron."
"I'm not talkin' about the freshmen.  There's a new girl in our class."  At any other high school, a new girl in the sophomore class wouldn't be news.  But this was Jackson, and we hadn't had a new girl in school since third grade." (p. 17)

"There she was.  Lena Duchannes.  The new girl, who would still be called that fifty years from now, if she wasn't still called Old Man Ravenwood's niece, handing a pink transfer slip to Mrs. English, who squinted to read it." (pp. 33-34)

"Sixteen moons, sixteen years
Sound of thunder in your ears
Sixteen miles before she nears
Sixteen seeks what sixteen fears.... (p. 37)

"There was someone in the road!
I pulled on the wheel with both hands, as hard as I could.  My body slammed against the side of the door.
Her hand was outstretched.  I closed my eyes for the impact, but it never came.
The Beater jerked to a stop, not more than three feet away.  The headlights made a pale circle of light in the rain, reflecting off one of those cheap plastic rain ponchos you can buy for three dollars at the drugstore.  It was a girl.  Slowly, she pulled the hood off her head, letting the rain run down her face.  Green eyes, black hair.
Lena Duchannes." (pp. 42-43)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

REVIEW: The Eternal Ones

Miller, K.  (2010).  The Eternal Ones.  New York:  Razorbill.

411 pages.

Appetizer:  Seventeen-year-old Haven Moore is haunted by dreams and memories of another life, of a girl named Constance who loved a boy named Ethan.  While watching TV with her uber-religious and controlling grandmother, Haven happens to see a celebrity gossip report of a rich playboy named Iain.  She faints at the sight of him, certain that she is the love she lost in the 1920s.

Haven's grandmother conspires to prevent her granddaughter from travelling to New York City, the scene of all her memories.  As her grandmother's religious overtures grow more intense and as Haven becomes more and more ostracized by the other students in her small town in Tennessee, her only means of escape to New York may include a strange society that is focused on helping people who believe they have been reincarnated.

But, even after Haven does escape to New York City, she learns that everything may not be as they appear and that the love she has trusted through multiple lives may be her greatest betrayer...time and time again.

I really liked the idea of The Eternal Ones, but the execution of the story left a lot to be desired.  Plus, despite liking this initial premise of finding a love from a previous life and trying to find him, I realized that it had already been used previously.  Dead Again is a movie from over 20 years ago and it does a much better job of establishing a mystery...if you can manage to look beyond all of the early 1990's styles:

The novel felt like a rough draft for a great mystery.  It felt like all the ingredients to a recipe had been thrown into a bowl, but very little mixing had taken place.  Plus, the story should have been tightened (say to 280 or 300 pages instead of 411 pages).  The Eternal Ones spent way too much time in Snope City with Haven being bullied by various characters.  As I read the first 120-ish pages, I thought the book would appeal much more if the novel opened with Haven arriving in New York. Let her past and purpose be a mystery to be unraveled as the reader gets further into the story, as opposed to having to witness Haven faint many times and go back and forth about deciding to leave or not leave.  Ugh.

As a character, there was nothing really striking or engaging about Haven's love interest, Iain/Ethan.  In fact, after he meets Haven, I almost immediately started to dislike him.  Gentlemen of the world pay attention:  If you want to turn-off a girl and send her running, be sure to refer to other girls as "props" (p. 163), and make her feel as though you're ordering her around (p. 179).  So unsexy.

Dinner Conversation:

"Haven was back.  She glanced across the familiar little room.  Silver clouds hovered over the skylight high above a rumpled bed.  A candle sat on the edge of the vanity, waiting for her sun's weak rays to finally fade.  Her gaze returned to the mirror in front of her.  She smoothed a strand of her blonde bob and tucked it behind one ear.  The reflection in the mirror wasn't hers, but she knew it as well as her own." (p. 3)

"Haven Moore stood on top of the footstool, gazing out the open window in front of her and willing herself not to fidget.  Over the winter, the anticipation had been building inside of her.  Once the weather turned warm, she found herself unable to sleep or stay still.  It felt as if every cell in her body were dancing.
Beyond the tall mountains that surrounded Snope City, something was waiting for her" (p. 5).

"Haven's eyes glanced up at the action.  A tan, handsome young man slid out of a black Mercedes as camera flashes sparkled in the car's windshield.  For a moment, he stared back at the paparazzi, his face dark and unreadable.  Then, unexpectedly, a corner of his mouth curled into a grin.
"Ethan," Haven whispered.  A blaze ignited at the tips of her toes.  As it began to burn its way upward, Haven felt her knees buckle beneath her." (p. 8)

"Suddenly she was no longer just Haven Jane Moore, daughter of Ernest and Mae.  If the notes were to be believed, she had once been someone else.  A girl named Constance.  And her visions weren't fantasies or hallucinations.  They were scenes from a past that was every bit as real as the present." (p. 43)

"'Well, I think I might be having the visions for a reason.  I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to find Ethan.  That's what I told my dad when I was little.'
"Ethan?  You think he's still around?  Wouldn't he be awfully old for you by now? I mean, even if he is real, at the very least he'd be pushing a hundred and ten--"
Haven cut him off.  "I had another vision last night.  There was a fire.  That's how Constance died.  I think it killed Ethan, too.  And I think he's been reborn, just like me.  I have to find him, Beau.  And you have to help me.  I can't explain how, but I know he's out there." (p. 53)

Tasty Rating:  !!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

REVIEW: Days of Blood & Starlight (Favorite quotation: "Kiss/Punch")

Taylor, L.  (2012).  Days of Blood & Starlight.  New York:  Little, Brown, and Company.

513 pages.

Appetizer:  After the events of Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou has disappeared, leaving her best friend Zuzana to obsess, worry, and deal with the aftermath Karou having been recorded flying over a bridge in Prague.

Tensions are mounting between the angels and chimaera and Karou and her former love (of a couple of lives), Akiva, are separated and fighting on opposite sides once more.

Strange and mysterious thefts has occurred at many museums around the world.  Someone is stealing from the large animal displays.  Someone is taking the beasts' teeth.

Although still amazingly well-written, I initially had trouble keeping my focus on this book the way I managed to dive into Daughter of Smoke & Bone.  My suspicion is that Days of Blood & Starlight jumped upon too many different characters' perspectives for my tastes.  Plus, with Karou and Akiva's love being on ice, and Karou separated from her best friend/comic relief, Zuzana, my drive to know what was happening next was lessened.

But, by mid-book, friends and love interests were interacting and the drama heightened and Days of Blood & Starlight won me over and now I'm left waiting for the final book in the trilogy.

Taylor once again manages to write beautiful prose, establish a love triangle, and deliver some surprising plot twists.  It is worth noting though, that these beautiful prose do include some difficult and dark situations (including one extensive and disturbing sexual assault scene).  Still, the second book in this trilogy does live up to the first.  Keep reading this series!

Dinner Conversation:

"Prague, early May.  The sky weighed gray over fairy-tale rooftops, and all the world was watching.  Satellites had even been tasked to surveil the Charles Bridge, in case the...visitors...returned.  Strange things had happened in this city before, but not this strange.  At least, not since video existed to prove it.  Or to milk it.
"Please tell me you have to pee."
"What?  No.  No, I do not.  Don't even ask."
"Oh, come on.  I'd do it myself if I could, but I can't.  I'm a girl."
"I know.  Life is so unfair.  I'm still not going to pee on Karou's ex-boyfriend for you." (p. 1)

"Karou didn't understand.  The world she was returning to was not the one from her memories.  She would find no help or solace there--only ash and angels." (p. 7)

"Affixed to it [a table] with a twist of silver wire was a small square of paper on which was written a word.  It was a chimaera word, and under the circumstances the cruelest taunt Akiva could fathom, because it meant hope, and it was the end of his, since it was also a name.
It was Karou." (p. 26)

"A phantom, the news anchor said.
At first, the evidence of trespass had been too scant to be taken seriously, and of course there was the matter of it being impossible.  No one could penetrate the high-tech security of the world's elite museums and leave no trace.  There was only a prickle of unease along the curators' spines, the chilling and unassailable sense that someone had been there." (p. 39)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 #Cybils Finalists Announced!

To welcome in the new year, the finalists for the 2012 Cybils Awards have been announced.

I'll be helping to select the winner in the YA fiction category.

The finalists are:

I've already read two of them and based on my enjoyment of Code Name Verity and I Hunt Killers, my fellow judges and I are going to have some difficult but awesomely fun work ahead of us.

For more information on the winners and to see the other Cybils Award categories, check-out the Cybils website.

Let the book discussing commence!  What a wonderful way to begin the new year.  Happy 2013!


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