A lot of YA literature is about dystopia, dysfunction, and darkness. I’m not knocking dystopia, dysfunction, and darkness—som...moreA fresh rom-com adventure
A lot of YA literature is about dystopia, dysfunction, and darkness. I’m not knocking dystopia, dysfunction, and darkness—some of my favorite books are pretty grim. But sometimes a funny, action-packed fantasy with just the right amount of romance thrown in, the kind of book that you devour with a silly grin on your face, is a very welcome breath of fresh air. Let me introduce to your next breath of fresh air: “Poison” (Hyperion, 2013), by Bridget Zinn. Sixteen-year-old Kyra is a highly skilled potion master. She is also a would-be assassin who tried—and failed—to kill her former best friend, the Princess Ariana. Kyra knows that someone is intent on destroying her kingdom, and that somehow, Ariana is involved. But when Kyra, a master sharpshooter, somehow fails to kill Ariana with her poison dart, she goes on the lam. Now, with the Princess in hiding and the king’s soldiers and her former business partners on her trail, she sets off to find her former friend and finish the job. A book about a girl who tires and fails to kill her best friend is not dark? Indeed not! In her quest to find her friend, she acquires an adorable little pink, Rosie that can track like a bloodhound. She encounters a charming, funny, and outrageously handsome young man named Fred and his dog Langley as she is fording a river wearing only her embarrassingly frilly underclothes. The two develop one of those classic, screwball romantic comedy relationships over the course of the book: they flirt, they quibble, they stomp off in anger, and yet…they can’t stay away from each other. She can’t tell him her secret, but, as it turns out, Fred has a secret of his own. Full of twists and turns, cliffhanger chapter endings, evil characters and people who are distinctly not what they appear to be, “Poison” is a rollicking adventure from start to finish. Kyra and the Princess are strong female characters, and Fred is the kind of very cool guy who isn’t threatened by independent chicks. The ending is happy but not in the least bit sappy. Sadly, readers who enjoyed “Poison” and look forward to this debut author’s next book will be disappointed. Bridget Zinn died, far too young, before she got a chance to see her book published. So cherish “Poison,” because it’s all you’re going to get from this talented young author.
Sara Latta is a science writer and author of 17 books for children and young adults. You can learn more about her work and link to past reviews at http://www.saralatta.com. This review was originally published in the Sunday, April 7, 2013 edition of the News-Gazette. (less)
Jazz-era New York City comes to live in supernatural thriller
Once again, Libba Bray has sprinkled whatever magical fairy dust she employs onto her com...moreJazz-era New York City comes to live in supernatural thriller
Once again, Libba Bray has sprinkled whatever magical fairy dust she employs onto her computer keyboard and come up with something utterly new and compelling. In the past, she has written Gothic fantasies (the Gemma Doyle trilogy), a book about a dying teenager who goes on a road trip with a loopy punk angel that somehow manages to be both wacky and heartbreaking (“Going Bovine”), and a novel about teen beauty queens stranded on a desert island (“Beauty Queens”). While her subject matter appears to be all over the literary map, her books have this in common: they are wildly inventive. Libba Bray’s latest, “The Diviners” (Little, Brown and Company, 2012) is no exception. That said, “The Diviners” strikes me as even more ambitious in its attempt to make a statement about the American psyche in a particular place and time: New York City in the jazz age. Seventeen-year-old Evie O’Neill has a party trick lands her into trouble: she can divine information about people from their personal objects. When she reveals an inconvenient secret about the son of a well-to-do family in their Ohio town, she is sent to live in New York City with her uncle, who runs The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. Not that Evie, a party girl and would-be flapper, minds leaving her boring hometown for the bright lights, nightlife, and shopping of the big city; she’s “pos-i-toot-ly thrilled.” But when a paranormal serial killer (“Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with this apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ‘em off for a coupla stones.”) begins to terrorize the city, Evie uses her power of divination to help catch the murderer—if he doesn’t get her get her first. Bray brings 1920’s-era New York to sparkling life, from the slang of the era (Gossip is “chin music,” and a gullible young woman “was a real tomato who was not hitting on all sixes.”) to the speakeasies. But Bray brings in larger issues as well, touching on eugenics and the uneasy and sometimes ugly race relations of the time, the aftermath of World War I, and the intense interest in the spiritualist movement of the late nineteenth century. What brings it all to life are the amazing characters, many of whom, like Evie, have some supernatural power. There is Memphis Campbell, a seventeen-year-old numbers runner who once had the power to heal; a con man named Sam Lloyd who can make himself disappear; Theta Knight, a Ziegfeld girl who falls in love with a certain Harlem poet; and Henry Bartholomew Dubois IV, possibly the next George Gershwin. “The Diviners” is the first in a planned series, made evident by the many dangling threads Bray neglects to wrap up by the end of the book. They only serve to make you tap your foot impatiently until the next installment in the series appears.
Sara Latta is a science writer and author of 17 books for children and young adults. You can learn more about her work and link to past reviews at http://www.saralatta.com. This review originally appeared in the April 28, 2013 edition of The News-Gazette. (www.news-gazette.com). (less)
I'm on real Gillian Flynn kick lately. I started with Gone Girl, when went back to Dark Places, and now I'm listening to Sharp Objects. She writes abo...moreI'm on real Gillian Flynn kick lately. I started with Gone Girl, when went back to Dark Places, and now I'm listening to Sharp Objects. She writes about darkness, and about the dark side of women in particular, so very well. I hope she won't mind if I quote something from her website:
"I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains. Not ill-tempered women who scheme about landing good men and better shoes (as if we had nothing more interesting to war over), not chilly WASP mothers (emotionally distant isn’t necessarily evil), not soapy vixens (merely bitchy doesn’t qualify either). I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women. Don’t tell me you don’t know some."