THE NEAR WITCH opens with a looming sense of darkness, an undefined eeriness that draws you in. Sort of like sitting around a campfire, listening to t...moreTHE NEAR WITCH opens with a looming sense of darkness, an undefined eeriness that draws you in. Sort of like sitting around a campfire, listening to the beginnings of a well-told ghost story. Except Schwab's ghost is a mysterious wind and the songs of the past--whispers of witches, betrayals and revenge. There's also an edge of sadness because of a loss, but it's not too bitter as it's reined in by Lexi's unrelenting spiritedness, presenting a sharp contrast to the emerging gloom. As the story progresses, the mystery that sprouted at the beginning takes a dark turn when children begin to disappear.
And then you hit page 40.
What had been before just a darkness in the distance, a mystery that begged to be solved, suddenly becomes a danger to Lexi. The mystery becomes a threat--even if Lexi doesn't fully realize it at first. But you do. I think I spent the better part of this book in a constant state of shivers. THE NEAR WITCH is a book that sucks you in and has you thinking/saying things like, "Lexi, check the charm! Make sure it's still there!" It's a book that makes you feel fully invested as a reader. Not just in the mystery, but in the characters themselves--and in the romance. The difficult circumstances within the story heighten the romantic tension, making it feel at times bittersweet.
But one of the most impressive attributes is the paranormal element. It's not that witches haven't been done before, but Schwab took them a new direction, creating such an original twist. Even the setting felt completely new--not modern and not fully old, not fantasy and yet not conventional. Some of the typical conventions of witch stories are employed, but Schwab also created some new rules--which means no expectations for a reader. The best stories are the ones you can't predict, creating something entirely new out of the old. THE NEAR WITCH is a remarkable debut--original and truly gripping.(less)
SKYLARK is not at all what I expected. Not to say that I actually had any expectations, other than it would be good, but I came away from it with that...moreSKYLARK is not at all what I expected. Not to say that I actually had any expectations, other than it would be good, but I came away from it with that breathless feeling you get when a book hits you just right. Because you never know how well you'll like a book, really. (Except maybe some blockbuster everyone raves about, and even then you might end up like, "Pshaw, whatev. So he sparkled.")* But like most books that stun you when you're finished--you know, leaving you staring into a blank space not quite back to reality yet--it's really tough to express just why it was so right for you. I suppose, for me, it's because this is just the sort of book I would want to write as well as read. It has all those rich, bookish elements that make you call in sick to work or school just so you can stay in that fictional world of awesome for just a little bit longer.
On a more general plane, this book is a genre buster. Fantasy, sure. Science Fiction, too. Dystopian(ish). Romance. Mystery. A touch of steampunk. Oh, and YA. But it doesn't read like typical YA. Not that typical YA is a bad thing, or that there's even such a thing as typical YA (seriously, there probably isn't). But this is, I don't know. Glorious? Like Daughter of Smoke and Bone kind of amazing, pulling together these genres into a creation all of its own. And the magic--oh my word, the MAGIC. I was blown away. So freaking original how magic works in this world. I'm not sure if I can say this even, because it's not in the summary. So I'm treading carefully here, people. I don't want to spoil it for you. But...imagine a world where magic is everywhere. Where everyone is born a wizard of sorts. Where there are no "muggles." That fate more unimaginable than death? Yeah. Lark's role as a tiny cog in the larger clockwork of the city plays into that whole magic thing. That's what I mean about the mesh of genres--it's an incredible interweaving of fantasy and science fiction--a blend of magic and clockworks and the unfolding of a great mystery with twists that will knock you cross-eyed. You just won't see it coming.
And can I just say...the romance will make you sigh ever so dreamily. But not because it's that love-at-first-sight unrealistic kind of love. But that Catherine and Heathcliff kind of love where your souls, no matter what they are made of, are quite the same. The kind where no matter how much you turn away to save yourself, you must always turn back or risk losing who you are. Sigh sigh SIGH. It's beautiful. But real, too. As real as love can be in a fantasy. And that, folks, is because the writing is so spectacular full of rich details, characters so genuine with complicated ranges of emotions and vivid settings that feel just familiar enough to ground the reader. The thing that sucks, of course, is that just like in Wuthering Heights you have no idea how it will end up for the lovebirds. But that's what makes it so great, too. The end is not a sure thing, other than it will end when the pages stop. You'll just have to read to the end to see how it all turns out for Lark and--wait. I just realized there's no romance mentioned in the summary. Well. There is a dude, FYI. Hope I didn't just ruin that for you.
Ultimately, though, it's Lark's story. She's the hero, and a tough chick at that. Well, she doesn't start out tough. But she'll get there. Man, I love that about this book. No one's born kickass, you know. Stuff has to happen to make you steel. SKYLARK demonstrates just that. But even better? It illustrates that you can fight like a boss no matter how fragile you are. SKYLARK is a book that will stay with you, a book you'll want to come back to over and over--and find something new every time. (less)
I picked up ACROSS THE UNIVERSE thinking that it would be a sci fi novel. And while it was--complete with all sorts of cool futuristic spacey technolo...moreI picked up ACROSS THE UNIVERSE thinking that it would be a sci fi novel. And while it was--complete with all sorts of cool futuristic spacey technology, I discovered it was so much more than that. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is like STAR TREK meets THE GIVER bound together by a delicious romance (and lets face it, all the best books will have a delicious romance). Already, I know this will be one of the best books of 2011 for me. I read this book straight through in one day without stopping. Every chapter had me by the throat.
While AtU is set so far in the future, on a spaceship with cryogenically frozen bodies no less, the learning curve is actually not that huge. Beth does some really cool things with language, as well as with structure that really helps to pull you into this futuristic world without you even realizing it, weaving in details of this world and its history into the narrative in a masterful, unnoticeable way. For writers, there's a lot to be learned in the way of technique. For readers, it's like taking a trip aboard the Godspeed, albeit one full of secrets and lies.
The mystery is one of the most exciting aspects of the book, as Elder and Amy uncover clues bringing them closer to answers--and to the murderer. But AtU is more than just a mere mystery, or a mere dystopian--more, even, than a simple combination of genres. It's a powerful book that says so much about right and wrong and that muddy space in between. It questions what it means to be human, to love, and to fight tooth and nail to protect that which you love. It highlights issues of leadership, war, and "true" history. AtU offers the reader so much to think about without being preachy or obnoxious, asking readers to come up with their own conclusions about the choices and sacrifices they would make to preserve the things most important to them.
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is a book rich with complex emotions and conflict, but fast paced and gripping. You won't be able to put it down.(less)
I got all set to talk about the coolest, most awesome thing I loved most about this book, and then last minute I read the summary as I was pasting it...moreI got all set to talk about the coolest, most awesome thing I loved most about this book, and then last minute I read the summary as I was pasting it from Goodreads, and CRUD. It's not even mentioned. Which means if I talk about it, I will be spoiling it for everybody. Dang it dang it dang it.
Okay, so, fresh approach, avoiding the coolest thing which answers "never guessing where he's really from."
So, obviously, HERE is a mystery. Eh hem. It's also a romance, but it's special in a certain regard, which I can't talk about because that's also not mentioned, and that would be giving away something quite major. Hm...
The amazing thing is, even with so much of the story being a complete surprise (and those surprises being some of most memorable aspects of the book), the summary itself is really compelling even without those spoilers. That should give you an idea of what to expect from HERE.
(I totally just talked in circles--but bear with me.)
So let's focus on non-spoiler things. Like Julia. She's emotional, a little lost, suffering from intense survivor's guilt. The amazing thing is that Julia still manages to come across as a three dimensional character with a well rounded personality; she's not just 'the depressed character." She's got issues outside of the death of her friend Monica. Like her parents. And school. Lack of self confidence. And eerie occurrences (this is where the story elevates to a higher, more intense level). It's got a bit of a science fiction flare, but very accessible, with teen drama that makes the fantasy of it still feel really relatable. Swank captures well that angst that seems to drive teenage existence without overwhelming the reader with it.
It's easy to get carried away with HERE, to just rush through the pages. It's filled with tension that drives you forward, propelling you headfirst into the fantasy element without you even realizing it's happening. It's quite a genre buster--a story that feels like a YA romantic mystery, but it pulls elements from history, sort of...bending them...while throwing in some SF/F that ultimately shapes the mystery into a thriller.
I really like genre busters, so this is awesome.
HERE is cool and different from so much of the YA that is out there now, though I predict we'll see more books like this in the next year or two. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how it's different without ruining it for you. Just trust me on this.(less)
The thing is, you can’t go into a book like this expecting rainbows, unicorns, and bubble gum language. The (amazing) cover tells us this, but so does...moreThe thing is, you can’t go into a book like this expecting rainbows, unicorns, and bubble gum language. The (amazing) cover tells us this, but so does the description of the premise, the central focus of which is death and Hollywood. And let me just say, Hollywood has to be the most perfect setting for teenagers obsessed with death. Yes, the story was a bit creepy at times—several scenes gave me the shivers, yet I couldn’t wait to turn to the next chapter.
I’ll be straight up with you, though. This book is seriously edgy for the teen category. It will likely give you pause and should open the door to discussion between teens and the old farts in their lives. BUT. Given the subject matter, I think it almost had to be in order for it to feel authentic. You have two teenagers obsessed with celebrity deaths, both of them living in a jaded, LA environment. They ain’t listening to the Jonas Brothers, yo. But this book is so much more than death and Hollywood. JOHN BELUSHI IS DEAD illustrates the very gray space that teenagers exist in, that period in time we question all we’ve ever believed, learning for the first time that not every question has an answer and not every answer is one we can stomach. Their regular visits to sites of grizzly celebrity murders are just a manifestation of their desire to understand death, the ultimate bane of our existence.
For Hilda, this macabre obsession is especially poignant. Her pain isn’t obvious at first, though you know from the get-go that there is something really powerful lying beneath the surface. But we quickly learn that at a very young age, in the most horrifying of ways, Hilda has been forced to confront her own mortality, and we realize that beneath the pink hair and the goth appearance lies a little girl who can’t make sense of what has happened to her. So she delves into a world of darkness searching for answers, attaching herself to a creepy dude that seems to get where she’s coming from. It’s all a bit morose, but it’s also that morbid part of her nature that draws the reader in—it helps us understand the demons she’s harboring, even though Hilda herself doesn’t seem to understand why she is the way she is.
But along the way, Hilda begins to comprehend the true nature of her demons—and that she’s not alone in having them. We see a romance blossom and a friendship form in the most unlikely of places. And in the process, she is forced to confront her fascination with death and the effect it has had on her ability to live.
JOHN BELUSHI IS DEAD is such an emotional book that pulls you in and makes you fall in love with Hilda—laugh with her and hurt for her. Every one of the characters was compelling and genuine, but Hilda is a true star, stealing the show. She is so authentic and her voice almost intoxicating. I was so drawn in by her. Like with a train wreck, I found myself morbidly interested in those grizzly deaths—I was creeped out, yes, but intrigued nonetheless because she was, and I felt invested in her. But there’s more to the story than its compelling characters. JOHN BELUSHI IS DEAD touched on the most basic human desire to live, while also forcing us to consider the nondiscriminatory nature of death:
"In the end, we all fade to black."
That’s some heavy stuff, no? It’s eerie and a little sad, and yet…oddly comforting, sort of like JOHN BELUSHI IS DEAD. Read it. Be moved by it. Talk about it.(less)
If I had to choose one word to describe WILDEFIRE, it would have to be...unpredictable. I whipped through the pages, just waiting to see what new turn...moreIf I had to choose one word to describe WILDEFIRE, it would have to be...unpredictable. I whipped through the pages, just waiting to see what new turns the story would take. It begins with action and ends with--well, I won't tell you. But suffice it to say you won't see it coming. Somewhere in the middle, I shouted, "OMG, WTF, Karsten!" I think my heart actually started racing. There was this...running...and there were just these...things--creepy, eerie take-you-by-surprise-add-a-whole-new-dimension-to-the-story things. There comes a point when you realize there's so much more to this world than you envisioned. The story just sort of grows and widens and sucks you in deeper and deeper.
It's also just really fun. Ash has some mega skills. A can-do, take-action sort of girl, she's no damsel in distress, no matter who's harassing her (or trying to kill her). But there's another layer to Ash, which adds to her complexity; she's a fighter, but not out of choice. She doesn't hesitate to protect herself, but she doesn't particularly like it. It's this inner turmoil that sets her apart from her equally strong sister--and makes her so appealing as a character. Her distaste for violence and a natural aversion to using her abilities to their greatest extent drives a good portion of her actions and decisions.
There's a hot romance, too, which adds to that feeling of un-put-downableness. But the romance is not the main element of the story--it elevates the tension and adds yet another layer of complexity to the plot and to Ash as a character. Which, if you didn't catch it from the summary, is already fairly complex by virtue of the fact that Ash is actually a goddess. And not just any goddess. I won't go into any specifics as it would ruin it for you, but what Knight does with the gods in this world is truly unique. Truly...unpredictable.
The writing itself will pull you in, too--clever turns of phrase and indefatigable humor. Ash has this incredible, dry sense of humor, whether she's speaking or thinking. It's subtle and by no means makes this a comedy, but it will have you cracking up. Ash is refreshingly blunt, but also witty. It's a perfect combination--a voice that can hold its own in a kickass urban fantasy. WILDEFIRE is a wild ride: funny, original and jam-packed with excitement.(less)