This read was for the 2012 Theme Park book club, March theme: Michael L. Printz Awards and Honors.
I am always pleased to return to YA as there's gener...moreThis read was for the 2012 Theme Park book club, March theme: Michael L. Printz Awards and Honors.
I am always pleased to return to YA as there's generally something cosy and familiar about it (and I don't mean this in a boring kind of way as YA is also in my mind the place where authors are allowed to be more creative in how they express ideas, more so sometime than in adult fiction), probably because I've read and enjoyed so much of it. However, there is nothing cosy about the Monstrumologist, nothing at all.
When I saw the UK paperback cover, I was really expecting something along the lines of Darren Shan, and as much as I enjoyed the Cirque du Freak series, it's a nicely wrapped candy compared to what Rick Yancey delivers here! This was completely unexpected in many ways and at some point I even thought back on my days as a private tutor and asked myself if I really would have given this to read to my students... That being said I can think of one student in particular who would have appreciated but I'm not sure what his mum would have thought about it!
Back to the UK paperback cover. You think you can't possibly be scared of a monster is no head and jaws in the place of its stomach? Well think again. Rick Yancey made these creatures all too real for me and while I had my doubts upon first seeing the cover, I quickly realized that it didn't do justice to the horror these creatures unleashed (I like the US hardback much better - see above). By the time the monstrumologist was dissecting one of the creatures and explaining their living, eating and breeding habits, I wished I could have closed my eyes!
The Monstrumologist is one of those books that makes you question what truly separates YA from adult fiction? Is this categorized as YA because the main character is a teenager? Rick Yancey never talks down to his readers and while his prose is a bit wordy, the book is meant to be the journal of a man living in New England in the early 1800s so I guess in that regard it served its purpose. On top of that, I found that it served the detailed scientific explanations very well while also making the gory descriptions vivid.
Also, compared to many other YA titles, this one takes its time. It's a dense and slow book and while there's clearly a lot going on to justify its length, the characters and their relationships take a while to fall into place and in turn the reader also takes a while in truly connecting with them. The doctor in particular is a character that I have grown to understand, if not like. He is initially portrayed as this one dimensional despicable, selfish and privileged man with an over-sized ego whose work is all that matters and while this is all well, it made it difficult for me to understand why Will Henry even bothered to try and please him. Of course, their relationship is a lot more complex then this but it unravels over several hundred pages. It's a risky business for a YA novel but a well worth risk here.
Among the elements that I really enjoyed were the setting and the general atmosphere. Perhaps I should have started by stating that I read very little horror, or rather I read very little pure horror. I guess that if you are a genre reader, chances are certain tropes, creatures and characters often specific to the horror genre creep up in a lot of your urban fantasy titles. So I'm tempted to say that this was a refreshing change for me but I'm really not sure refreshing is the word here. There was something almost oppressive about reading this novel as though I was the one trapped underground with the monsters that could come out at any second, as though I was the one that couldn't escape and wasn't left a second to rest (the author clearly suffers from the Dresden syndrom which translates as a nasty habbit of never letting your main protagonist rest, let alone sleep!).
The descriptions of some horribly gory and gruesome scenes stayed with me after I'd closed the book (metaphorically as I was reading this on my Sony Reader). But while these described the gore and ugliness of the monsters, they also served to depict the nastiness of humanity and stressing the sometimes narrow gap between the creatures and their hunters (for heaven sake, a man in a psychiatric ward is left to be eaten away by maggots!). I suppose this is quite common to the horror genre but like I said I'm a tourist here.
There were some other elements to the story that felt a bit forced to me. I am sure it's because they were merely introduced in this first book and will have their importance in coming installments but I personnally feel that the story did perfect well without them. I'm thinking for instance of Will Henry's parasite and the long life side-effect, the suggestion that one character was in fact Jack the Ripper. I felt that this character's purpose was mainly to help humanize the doctor but I am not sure how well he actually stood on its own.
But this is really me nibbling at the narration here. I really enjoyed it and was really looking forward to finding out more as I was reading it. Yet, as much as I found this engaging, I don't feel an instant urge to read the rest of the series. I would be happy to, but it's nothing quite the 'OMG I need to get my hands on the next installment NOW!' feeling that I sometimes get. I think this is because I do feel like this could be read as a standalone and I don't consider it a criticism to say so.
Overall, this is definitely a book that I would recommend but not to the fainting kind! This is not the accessible fun YA that I was expecting and was all the more enjoyable for it. (less)
As always when continuing a series you particularly enjoyed, there's always a strange mix of excitement and apprehension. What if the sequels don't li...moreAs always when continuing a series you particularly enjoyed, there's always a strange mix of excitement and apprehension. What if the sequels don't live up to the first book? Well, there's no point in maintaining any melodramatic suspens here, I loved the second book as much as I loved the first though these are two very different books.
In the Forest of the Night picks up right where we left Teagan, Aidan and Finn. It seems somewhat surreal that after journeying and surviving Mag Mell, Teagan and Aidan actually need to start their daily routines again (school, medical appointments, part-time jobs, etc.). Things are quite clear though, Tea has not given up on her dreams and ambitions despite her mother's death, the revelation that she is part goblin, her love for Finn and the diminution of her father. This is one strong and inspiring female character Kersten Hamilton has created and it's so good to see that her mind hasn't evaporated because 'Sexy Beast' (as he likes to be called) has come into the picture. Tea has her plan and she will try to fit Finn in it but they need to have their own lives and be able to stand on their own two feet before becoming an item.
This is how book 2 differs from Tyger, Tyger. We are familiar with the characters by now, we know the background, we know the stakes. This second book contains less action than the first but then action is not what the book is about. That doesn't mean that there's nothing going on, there's actually quite a bit going on but this time, it's all about discovering new facets of the main characters, especially Teagan.
There's of course her growing love for Finn but even that is broached in a way it hardly ever is in a lot of YA novels. Generally, parents are too quickly done away with because well, they're parents and we always think we're better off without them. Plus, their deaths or disappearances also serve as good plot devices to explain the main protagonist's vulnerability... Not here, Tea does miss her mother and her father has yet to fully recover from his visit to Mag Mell but he still maintains his role as a parent. It seems in a lot of YA novels, teens end up living under the same roof due to impossible circumstances. All those hormones, someone has too keep an eye over them. John Wyllston's character is endearing, charming and witty and he makes sure that both Finn and Tea keep a foot in the real world. Love is all nice and well, but there's a lot more to it than just love at first sight. John makes Finn and Tea wonder how well they actually know one another and the answer is of course, not very much. It's interesting to see such topics raised in a YA novel, especially in a fantasy one when more often than not the story stops when the main characters run off into the sunset and the reader can only assume that they'll live happily ever after. I really appreciate this level of reality being thrown into an epic fantasy story. It's unfortunately too much of a rarity.
This is what best describes the entire novel: in Tea's image, it finds its roots into two worlds, one is that of fantasy and Mag Mell and the other is the real world.
Tea is also face with another dilemma. She has mixed heritage and her actions will decide which part will overcome the other. Ideally, we wouldn't want it to be the goblin part, but what Tea did to make sure Aidan, Finn and herself escaped Mag Mell in book 1 has somehow tipped the balance. And her dear goblin cousins intend to make it tip yet further. This inner struggle which also has physical consequences is very interesting to withhold, especially if you analyse it through the angle of cultural diversity. Tea is convinced that she will become evil as the goblin side of her grows and matures but as Finn remarks, her new powers have not changed who she is at the core and it's really about hanging to your beliefs and staying true to yourself no matter how original and mismatched that self might be. Your identity needn't be black or white (pun not intended) but generally comes in all shades of gray and in fact, in all shapes and sizes as it shouldn't be a homogeneous whole.
In that way, despite their differences, the first two books in this series share a similar strength: excellent characterization.... okay and let's not forget witty dialogs... and references to very cool songs (I think this series should come with a soundtrack).
Some say that the second book in a series is often the calm before the storm, that it builds up for the final chapter (the third might not be the final). The ending of book 2 will certainly makes you feel this way. There's a reason why the series is called The Goblin War, a war is coming. And it's hard to think you'll have to wait a year to know what's coming next.
I feel like there was so much in this book that I haven't touched upon (I haven't even mentioned Aidan... how I love Aidan... and the Turtles... well, they're not real turtles... and some many more). I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Not only is it original and fun, it's also clever and unputdownable. If you haven't had a taste of it yet, now's your chance to read Tyger, Tyger before In the Forests of the Night comes out this November!(less)
This self-published has an interesting story. In 2009, Siobhan Curham was offered a two-book deal and turned it down. She self-published Dear Dylan in...moreThis self-published has an interesting story. In 2009, Siobhan Curham was offered a two-book deal and turned it down. She self-published Dear Dylan in April 2010 and in November, it won the YoungMind Book Award. Earlier this month, it was acquired by Egmont as part of a two-book deal and it will be relaunch in July.
Dear Dylan is the last novel I read for my previous job and I consider myself very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to read it.
It's not often you encounter YA 'issue novels' that are a) engaging and b) not actually depressing. That is not to say that I don't enjoy a nice tragic story once in a while, but there seems to be this trend, especially in YA, of novels that are just a succession of tragic events with no light at the end of the tunnel. And these novels tend to leave me feeling hollow, depressed and wondering 'what's the point?' I'm not a partisan of the 'every YA/children titles should have a happy ending' argument, but if I can't find any purpose to the endless stream of suffering, something to take away with me as I turn the last page, then I'm not a happy reader. I'm glad to say that Dear Dylan is not one such story.
The novel's format is unusual and presents a great many challenges for any author. The story is entirely told as a series of emails, recounting the life of 13-year-old Georgie whose Summer holiday is just about to begin when she decides to write to her favorite TV actor, the young Dylan Curltand via his website. And well, she's quite surprised when she starts receiving responses to her fan mail. Oh go on now, admit it, the teenager in you has fantasized about this... more than once, I think it's safe to say...
I'm not going to say anymore than that because there's no point in ruining the surprise.
I admit I was a bit skeptic about the whole epistolary aspect. I didn't think it could work throughout the novel. Surely, at some point, the author would have to find a clever way around this or risk the overall pace of the novel slowing down and the whole thing collapsing on itself. Well, it didn't. The narration stayed strong till the very end.
The very element that endangers the whole exercise is also what makes the novel's original and so engaging in the first place. The main character's voice is a strong one and the words flow, accessible, light and funny. You can't help but tun the pages to know what's going to happen next, but it's also just to follow the voice.
And yet, the story is far from being light and carefree. Curham broaches some very delicate and important issues, similar to those raised by Jacqueline Wilson or Melvin Burgess. In fact, there seems to be a discrepancy between the level of writing, the age ground targeted, and the maturity of the issues raised. Again, this goes to prove that children's writing is not and should not all be all teletubbies and smiley faces. I think most kids are able to approach and comprehend delicate issues, it's all a question of presentation or representation. And I must say that in Dear Dylan, it's done brilliantly.
I would recommend this to those looking for something different in children's literature, something a bit heavier than you'd initially expect it to be, but whose package you just can't resist.(less)