SPOILER ALERT This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous books, Hex Hall, Demonglass, & especiallySpell Bound or donSPOILER ALERT This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous books, Hex Hall, Demonglass, & especiallySpell Bound or don't mind knowing some spoilers for them. School Spirits, however, will remain spoiler-free. SPOILER ALERT
After the disappointment I had with the last Hex Hall book, I admit that I was a bit reluctant to return. True, Hawkins had moved on to a new character, one with a completely different backstory, and there were no promises that this would be dragged out into its own trilogy, but I knew it was still a matter of whether the writing itself had changed or not.
Turns out that changes were made, and a lot of them for the better.
Though School Spirits clearly takes place after Sophie's trilogy, I was pleased that it didn't draw too much from the other storyline. Actually, someone could pick this book up and read through it with very little trouble. Granted, it does have spoilers for Spell Bound, stating what happened to Sophie and her relation to Izzy, and there may be confusion from not explaining much about Prodigium, but I think the book holds its own surprisingly well.
Izzy Brannick was a fun main character to follow. I enjoy a good combination of snark and kickass, and Izzy's got both in spades. She's also got a lot going for her in terms of knowledge, skills, and physical abilities, but her confidence has taken a beating lately. So when a mission calls for the infiltration of a brand new environment, she may put up a strong front, but she's really just your typical awkward teen. Which, actually, fits perfectly with the environment: public high school!
While similar in storyline to the original Hex Hall, I found School Spirits to be a lot more believable. Both Izzy and Sophie go through the "new girl in school" storyline, but where Sophie was immediately singled out as both *strange* and *super-special-awesome-homecoming-queen*, Izzy reads as quirky and peculiar. She doesn't receive any special treatment, no hero worship or weird punishments, she acquires friends from shared classes and with similar interests, and she doesn't gain enemies or rivals at any point during her time there. Turns out, high school can actually be...normal!
Well, as normal as a school can be with a Paranormal Management Society. Speaking of which, I really liked all of Izzy's friends. They not only worked as great compliments to our MC, but they were also believable on their own. Romy was a great girlfriend: understanding, passionate, and so not catty. Anderson was a little underused, but still provided some good banter. And Dex, the love interest, was sweet, quirky, and a lot of fun. Though perhaps a bit too quirky for some, I'd love to get to know him more.
I'll admit, I did roll my eyes a couple times during the book, but looking back I have to say that the romance was fairly drama-free. No love-triangles, no Romeo/Juliet angst, no on-again, off-again shenanigans. There is one misunderstanding-caused break-up between the two, but it's nothing outside the range of real teen romance, so I give it a pass. Also I thought Izzy and Dex actually had a sweet relationship. I'm not sure how well it will last going forward, but it was nice to read within the confines of this story.
Another welcome change-of-pace from the original trilogy was the mystery aspect of the story. I'll grant you that the original Hex Hall had a slight mystery weaving through, but here it is the primary driving factor. First they have to figure out who the ghost is, then how to stop it, then who summoned it, and all before the next victim is hurt or killed. It gave a much-needed sense of urgency to the plot, and helped justify some of the speed at which characters or relationships moved.
Unfortunately, the most irksome part for me was the ending. When a book is written as a mystery, I feel like an important aspect of the genre is allowing the reader to develop their own theories about said mystery. Not only are we following the story of our protagonist(s), but we're also piecing together clues for ourselves. Thus, it would follow that there should be information laced throughout the story. However, with School Spirits it seemed like none of the actual information was revealed until the very end of the book.
Now, it's one thing to be completely engrossed with the protagonist, such that we don't see things because she doesn't see things. And that's bound to happen in 1st-person-perspective. Unfortunately, that means that when the surprising twist is actually revealed, the reader is assaulted by everything all at once. Not only are we receiving the Who and Why, but also the What, How, and When all in the span of a couple pages. The info-dump of a reveal felt both sloppy and rushed, not to mention completely out of left field. Frankly, I felt disappointed and deceived.
Would I read another one? Probably. I mean, it's not like I haven't found all of the Hex Hall endings rushed, or exposition-heavy. I really should have come to expect it by now. And I still enjoy Hawkins's snarky narrators with their wit and humor and kickassery. So, yes, if Izzy's book takes the unresolved plot threads and branches off into its own series, I'd probably read another one or two.
Overall, I enjoyed School Spirits more than I thought I would. It still had some eye-roll moments, but that's pretty much one of the staples of the series by now. I'd easily recommend it for those who like YA urban fantasy with a bit of romance in the mix, and I think both newbies and veterans of the Hex Hall series will find it enjoyable. No violence or language in the mix, plus PG-rated make-outs put this at a comfortable middle school level, though high school and up may enjoy the romantic bits a bit more. So if your shelf is lacking on snarky, ghost-hunting heroines, you may want to put School Spirits on your list.
I haven't been much into historical fiction as I used to be. Sure, I get a taste every now and again, but with so much urban fantasy and paranormal teen material coming out lately, I'm sorry to say that the historicals have been crowded out. So you can see how discovering a new young adult historical novel focusing on lady spies and protectors of Queen Elizabeth might intrigue me. Crafty girls armed with blades and surrounded by historical intrigue? Sign me up! If only it were that awesome.
Meg was an easy enough girl to sympathize with. Headstrong, crafty, and a bit lawless, she values her freedom more than almost anything. And yet, when push comes to shove, she's actually extremely loyal, even to her own detriment at times. I guess you could call her snarky, but thankfully not in a modern way. She's got a lip to her, but is still very much set in the 16th century, so she's not completely outspoken or brash. Still, I liked that she knew her skills, both physical and mental, and wasn't afraid to use them.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed by how...passive Meg turned out to be. I know spies are supposed to hang in the shadows, always observing, not springing into action, but Meg hardly did even that! I think she spied a grand total of two times, and even then she hardly gathered any information from it. I guess 'passive' isn't the right word, maybe 'ineffective' works better. Any information she did gather (most of it from pick-pocketing) had to be translated by another person because it was in a foreign language or coded or both. Which meant that too much of the time Meg (and therefore the reader) felt assaulted by loads of exposition.
But even when she was doing something, she never did it on her own. Between receiving orders, passing information off, pairing up with another of the Maids to explore or research, or getting rescued (twice!), she didn't seem all that "talented" to me. And to top that off, there's also a mystery involving this book her grandfather passed on to her on his deathbed. But rather than researching it on her own, or adding context to the deciphering or something, it's instead solved off-screen and the solution handed to her. So as much as her "natural talent for spying" is hyped up, and she's supposedly set on a path toward self-discovery, I didn't really see Meg achieving much at all.
At least not on her own, which is where the other maids factor in. I liked the other girls well enough, but I didn't get much character from most of them. Mostly they seemed to fit different archetypes and never strayed from that archetype. Jane, the Blade, was Tomboyish, so made a good companion for Meg when exploring secret passageways. Anna, the Scholar, liked codes and puzzles, so served as a convenient tool to translate Meg's findings. Sophia, the Seer, was timid and weak, so served as someone to protect as well as make Meg look better by comparison.
And lastly, Beatrice, the Belle, served as the other extreme, the bitchy, prissy, socialite and guy-magnet. Honestly, I was most confused by her character. One minute she'd be all mightier-than-thou and seeming to take pleasure in others' misfortune, and the next she'd be their best friend. There was one section in particular where Meg was forced to lie to Beatrice about being chosen by the Queen for a task, and Beatrice was instantly chummy and apologetic for all her earlier bitchiness. But when she's told another lie about Meg's true intentions, she is even more catty and horrid than before. And the next time we see her, she's perfectly fine again. I can't tell if she was actually a complex character, was too simple to question the validity of the information given to her, or was simply written into various roles to serve the plot.
I was also sorry to see the two spymasters' characters never expand into anything more than plot devices. One man is in charge of Meg and the other Maids of Honor's training, and one is the Queen's spymaster. Both add conflict to the story, partly by threatening Meg's friends should she decide to run away, and partly by assigning Meg to spy on the Queen herself. We get a little of the logistics of why someone would want the Queen's movements tracked, but we never get any motivation from these two specifically.
In fact, we get very little interaction with them at all. Meg receives her lessons and her orders, and is then left completely on her own. Oh wait, no, they do step in again toward the end of the story, but nothing ever becomes of their actions. Well, nothing on their side, anyway. They aren't ever held accountable for their spying on the Queen, or their actions and threats towards Meg. In fact, they get off scot-free for everything. So not only do we know next-to-nothing about them, but their actions aren't even important enough to be addressed.
But perhaps this lack of intimacy between Meg and men was simply a product of the time, for even her relationship with Rafe Luis Medina, Count de Martine was somewhat brief. I'm not much for the love-at-first-sight kind of romance, which this most definitely was, but I can tolerate it as a way to kick things off if there's some growth and bonding afterwards. But all we get from Rafe is nonstop flirting, some stalkerish behavior and threats spy talk, and the claim that he would have rescued Meg after the fact. So all Rafe really has going for him is his gorgeous looks and hawt Spanish-ness. Not really my idea of heartthrob material, there.
I did, however, like how Meg's denial was written. Oftentimes in YA, the heroine will be against men or love and then fight her feelings out of confusion more than anything else. "I've never felt this way, it must be a bad thing!" Meg, on the other hand, knows the attraction for what it is, and fights it because she doesn't want to be owned. She knows as soon as she agrees to marriage, her freedom goes out the window. She would own nothing, not even herself. And though that freedom has already been taken (supposedly temporarily) by the spymasters, she's not about to willingly give herself up like that. A refreshingly logical view for a heroine to take.
Which is what made the treatment of Queen Elizabeth so disappointing for me. I had thought there would be much more interaction with the Queen than there actually was. The fact that Meg talks with her and receives an assignment from her in the 4th chapter helped that impression along quite a bit. But truthfully, the Queen has very, very little to do with this story. On the one hand, I understand that this isn't her story, but on the other hand, these Maids are supposedly her personally picked guards/arsenal, so I would have expected there to be a little more intimacy between her and our heroines.
As it was, though, I think there's enough intrigue in the historical facts for readers to want to do more research and reading on the subject. There was a lot of political strife at that time, both religiously and between the genders, and much of it is simplified or glossed over here in deference to Meg's personal plot. But there are enough references and glimpses here and there that I think this will pique the curiosity of anyone previously unfamiliar with the period. Which is always a good thing, in my opinion.
In terms of a series starter, I'm not sure I'm hooked quite yet. Meg's story wrapped up fairly neatly, though is still quite open ended. The next book, Maid of Deception, actually picks up a couple weeks after this one, and follows Beatrice instead. But while I'm interested to see what part of Elizabeth's reign is covered next, I'm not sure if I'll enjoy experiencing it through Beatrice's eyes. Then again, who knows? I might get some questions answered.
Overall, Maid of Secrets provided me with a fun jaunt into Elizabethan England, but lacked the character depth I crave. I'd recommend it for fans of YA and historical fiction who don't mind some romance as well. It's free of language and sex, but does contain some violence and a good amount of kissing, so I'd say high school and up would enjoy this the most. With a fairly slow pace, a lot of details in regards to settings and clothing, and somewhat stereotypical characters, this definitely won't appeal to everyone. But if you've got a soft spot for historical England or spies or girls overcoming adversity, then you might want to give Maid of Secrets a try.
I'll admit, I'm normally not one for mysteries. Many in my family enjoy reading them and figuring out whodunnit loAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
I'll admit, I'm normally not one for mysteries. Many in my family enjoy reading them and figuring out whodunnit long before the character discovers it, but I'm more along for the ride with the characters than thinking ten moves ahead. Lately I've gotten a little more interested in TV mysteries (House M.D., Castle, Whodunnit?), but have always preferred the more upbeat and campy storylines rather than the dark and gritty ones. Still, with all the hype surrounding this book's release, and being among the first at my library to place a hold, I figured I had to take a peek.
And I got hooked as soon as I finished that Prologue. Very reminiscent of Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez, describing the moments following this death of a celebrity, the press and the spectacle surrounding it, and then asking how and why it happened. And that's really what the rest of the book is devoted to; talking with people, gathering information from them, piecing it together, and finally revealing exactly what happened at the end. But whereas Márquez's novella looks at the events from an omnicient eye, this story is seen through the eyes of the private investigator, Cormoran Strike.
Strike was a believable foil for our narrator. While the story is told in 3rd person, it's limited mostly to what our detective observes. Thus many of the descriptions of scenery and people, moods, and such were understandable because you believed Strike would be sensitive to these things. Personally, however, Strike was extremely closed off, even to the reader. There are enough clues here and there to pull out a better picture of him, his motives, and his past, but they can be slow in coming. Eventually I grew to like him, but I honestly cared more about solving the case than I did finding out more about our main character. Thankfully, that was never much of a distraction, as the book does well to keep the case its main focus.
Still, some time was given to establishing those who are to be the main characters of the series. Strike has run into some money troubles, and happens to forget to cancel the temp agency from sending in a new secretary. Robin is an extremely organized, smart, and empathetic woman. She's overjoyed to find herself in a real detective's office, having a very romanticized notion of how investigations are conducted. For the most part she serves as a helpful sidekick, answering phones, looking up information on the internet, and playing dumb in order to finagle important information out of unwilling witnesses. On the whole, she's kept out of the thick of things, and is thus very underplayed. Still, she's definitely smart and has the enthusiasm and drive to get what she wants (even when her fiancee disapproves). There are a few hints that there might be romantic tension between the two a little down the line, but I do hope it doesn't get too cliche or derivative.
However, where the book really shone was in its huge cast of suspects, witnesses, and informants. This book may not have magic, but I found the multitude of characters to be fascinating. It was clear that each and every one of them was fully developed and had motivations, desires, dreams, and pasts which had shaped them and brought them to this very situation. Psychology was brought up a couple times in the novel, a subject that both confounds and intrigues me, and it was exciting to delve into and study some of the characters in that light, fleeting though their presences were. Even though I doubt we'll encounter many of them in future stories, I'm excited to see when and how some of them might show up again.
I thought the mystery as a whole flowed well. Again, I'm not very well read on mysteries or crime/thrillers, but I thought the plot unraveled quite nicely, giving clues and information so that when the whole of it was revealed at the end, it made sense. I also thought the characters' histories worked well with the mystery vibe. You really aren't told much about Strike when he first appears, but through the course of the narrative we are able to piece together more and more until we're left with a better picture (though still not a complete one).
In terms of pacing, I can see where a few would complain. A thriller this is not, neither in action nor tension. The death happened some three months before the investigation starts, so other than Strike's doggedness in learning the truth, there's not much driving the story forward. I think the book spans about three weeks, and much of it is scheduling talks and working around other people's schedules. The story moves at a steady pace, so if you're set on learning about the starlet's death from the get go, it shouldn't be hard to keep going through to the end. If, however, you're struggling to find a hook in the first few chapters, I'm sorry to say that you probably won't find anything to better invest you.
I think I'm most interested to see what will happen in future books. Not only has Strike's situation drastically changed between the beginning and end, but I don't see how the series can work if the formula is just repeated. Strike is better known now, so I can see interviews becoming a bit easier in some cases and harder in others. Where will the dynamic go between Strike and Robin? Perhaps cases will revolve around a stricter timeline, or deal with different parts of society. Now that we've got something established, I'm excited to see what direction it goes in next.
At last it's time to talk about the giant purple polka-dotted elephant in the room: So J.K. Rowling wrote this book, what does that mean? For many, it seems a way to voice their utter disappointment in how far the author has fallen. It is hard not to think of Harry Potter when the the author's name comes up - a major downfall of her last novel, which was one of the Top 5 Most Abandoned Books (according to Goodreads). So I can understand wanting to distance herself from, not only the expectations of die hard HP fans, but also of the fantasy world in general.
This is not a fantasy novel. These are not fantasy characters. They don't exist in the same world, the same rules, nor the same attitude. They're not fighting a war which will amount to anything. They're not on some crusade for peace, or vanquishing evil. They're just trying to survive in a world where money is power and love can be a rare commodity. It's tough, it's gritty, it's downright ugly at times, and sometimes the only victory is living to see tomorrow. It's not something people are necessarily happy about, but fighting it isn't really an option, so they'll take what little victories they can.
Am I biased because I knew J.K. Rowling wrote it? Yes, I think so. I know that an author who knows how to write penned this novel. But at the same time I also know that she wrote not for her fans, but to explore and share a different type of story. She picked a different name, possibly a different persona altogether, not to trick people into liking her books but to share a story for mystery/detective fans. If anything, you should look at this novel as the farthest thing from Harry Potter and mark it down for its similarities rather than its differences.
Is the writing style different? Yes. Are the characters different? Yes. Is it better or worse? Perhaps. That's something that each person will have to figure out on their own, drawing on their own preferences and reading histories. But comparing The Cuckoo's Calling to a series so outside its genre and demographic is like comparing a peanut to a cantaloupe. Can similarities be drawn? Sure, go right ahead. Is one necessarily better than the other? It depends on what criteria you're using, but probably not.
In short, if you like the book, great! Tell others who you think would enjoy a detective story. If you don't like the book, that's fine too. I just hope that Rowling's first books aren't used as weapons against her newest ones, so that they might find their own fans as well.
Overall, The Cuckoo's Calling was an interesting foray into the world of detectives and investigation. I'd recommend it for those familiar with the mystery genre and detective stories enthusiasts or those looking for a calm and steady investigation with elements of noir. It contains strong language, drinking, allusions to sex, and violence (apart from the original crime), so it's safe to say it's probably not meant to be on the shelves of schools. That being said, I don't think some older high-schoolers would be completely out of range, though the pacing might be a bit too slow for them. So if you're looking for the magic that is good old-fashioned logic and curiosity, you'd have to be cuckoo not to give The Cuckoo's Calling a look.
You remember in school when you were given a picture and told to write a story about it? Or maybe you've had a writing exercise where you have to use a picture and a phrase within your short story. Well, regardless of whether or not you've done it yourself, I think we can all agree Ransom Riggs has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements.
I'll admit, the photographs did creep me out when I first received the book. The majority of them are of children in carnival clothes, all with blank or staring faces, almost like they're daring you to judge them. It gave me a horror-esque vibe when I first saw it, which I'm sorry to say put me off reading it for quite some time. But regardless of whether this book was inspired by the many Ripley's Believe It Or Not-esque photographs or whether they were sought out after crafting the peculiar tale, I'm glad they were included. It gives the entire work a uniqueness that not only enhances the reading experience, but is sure to remain in the minds of readers for some time after completion.
The story focuses on Jacob, a teenager who has grown up hearing strange stories from his grandfather. Stories of children who have fantastical abilities, a kind old bird who watches after them, and horrible monsters who would like nothing better than to gobble them up. Much like believing in Santa Claus, however, he eventually grows out of the fantasies his grandfather tells. That is until his grandfather dies at the claws of one of the monsters he knows can't be real. Now it's up to Jacob to journey to the orphanage from his grandfather's past in order to uncover the truth.
While the age of our protagonist and the type of journey he takes is very similar to the typical YA fiction these days, I found the tone and style of this book fitting for a much broader audience. The writing is very matter-of-fact and reflectional rather than conversational or stream-of-consciousness. It's almost like reading a journal, or a research journal rather than having a narrator who is speaking directly to the reader.
As such, compared to most modern-day YA adventure fiction, I felt a little distanced from the narrator, Jacob. Sure, I could still tell his personality, and most of his emotions at certain points, but it did feel very much like he'd had some time between the events happening in the book to when he is telling us. It's not a bad thing, just different from what I imagine most YA readers would be expecting.
The supporting cast was equally distant, in terms of the writing, though I still got some instances where personalities shone through. Four of the 'peculiars' in particular had especially great dialogue that made me fall in love. And does every invisible man nowadays require a snarky personality? I'm not complaining, mind you, but I had to chuckle at the stereotype that seems to be forming. The rest of the children had enough description to let me differentiate them by name, but not quite enough to make me all that interested. And Miss Peregrine was...a bit more underwhelming than I would have liked, serving as a typical knowledgeable adult who won't reveal anything until 'the right time'. I don't know, I never got a clear enough read on her, so I'm still not 100% sure of her yet...
Which I suppose worked well with the whole mysterious feel the book had going for it. If the creepy pictures weren't enough to make you uneasy, the majority of the book centers on Jacob's quest to discover what is real and what isn't. It's a bit of a mystery, a bit supernatural-fantasy, with some action and adventure sprinkled in now and again. Ultimately, I was never absolutely sure what to think of anyone or anything, which made the entire experience the right kind of unsettling.
Which made the twist towards the end of the book all that more jarring. I really don't want to go too much into it here, since saying much at all would only diminish its impact for those who haven't read it yet, but suffice it to say that I had to applaud the jaw-dropping realization that Jacob has to face a good 3/4 through the story. This book truly drives home the fact that our world is full of magic if only we know where to look, though not all of that magic is good.
And speaking of things that may or many not be good, I've got to talk about a couple problems I had with the book. First off, the romance. Yes, it's YA and 9 out of 10 books have to have some boy-meets-girl (or visa versa) love story, but the style and pacing of this book didn't allow for much growth between the two. Jacob seems pleasantly surprised at best that the girl has feelings for him, and yet we're to believe that she factors majorly into his decisions? I suppose it's a major draw for those who aren't interested in angsty YA romances, but then keep it as a mutual crush, don't try to pin life-altering decisions on it. Hopefully this will be fleshed out further in the sequel(s).
Another thing I hope gets a lot of fleshing out is the time-travel magic. Granted, time travel is going to be confusing and paradoxical no matter what, but I would have liked a little more explaining at times. Yeah, I understand why things were kept vague/mysterious, but I'm really hoping that we get more solid answers as the series progresses.
Still in spite of, and in some ways because of the time travel elements, there is a timeless quality about this book which is partly why I think it appeals to both younger and older readers. The journalistic narrative style, the historical references, and the period pictures and dialogue all combine to make the story seem like it could take place any time, with any person. With so many books attempting to appeal to the now, trying to get the clothes, the slang, and the pop-culture right, it was great to read something that didn't pay attention to any of that. And in doing so, not only did Riggs create something unique from much of today's YA, but something I believe will continue to stand out in years to come.
Overall I found Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to be a surprisingly pleasant journey into the unknown realms of our own world. Fans of fringe science, creepy photographs, and paranormal mysteries will no doubt enjoy this book immensely, but I'd also recommend it to those who like YA fantasy or adventure, since this book doesn't necessarily look it on the cover. Between the creepy photos and some disturbing/violent scenes toward the end, I'd recommend this for middle grade and above, though you might want to stick to daylight reading depending on your disposition. If you're looking for a book that's a little unique, or dare I say peculiar, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an edge-of-your-seat story that will have you questioning what you know to be real, what is possible, and what might be lurking just out of view.
In April of 2010 I wrote and posted my first book review on my blog. Now, just over a year later, I've read and reviewed its sequel. It really takes mIn April of 2010 I wrote and posted my first book review on my blog. Now, just over a year later, I've read and reviewed its sequel. It really takes me back to how far I've come, you know? But enough reflection and on to my review.
I could go into a bunch of background info about Castle and comparisons, but I don't want to repeat myself from my last review. That being said, I have to say I'm extremely impressed with the improvement between Heat Wave and Naked Heat. For those who haven't read the first novel, it's not necessarily a pre-requisite for the sequel. Most of the information is recounted for the uninformed (or forgetful, in my case) and I honestly don't think I lost anything in not re-reading its predecessor. But from what I do remember (and what I picked up from re-reading my review), the improvements came not only in copy-editing (only 1 typo this time!), but the characters, the plot, everything just felt tighter, more in-sync with what I'd expect of a mystery/crime novel.
As my regular readers know, mystery/crime fiction is not my usual genre. Taking that into account, those readers more familiar with the genre might find this book a bit simplistic in its make-up. I, however, appreciated the fact that I never got lost and never suspected the actual killer until it was revealed. It was just the right balance of information and suspense that keeps you hungering for more. I'll admit, there were times when the plot stalls a bit, but let me assure you that the characters are more than enough to pull you through.
The characters are just as sharp as ever—even more so, actually. Nikki is the same kick-ass heroine, balancing precariously between independence and solitude, seriousness and humor, feeling too little and feeling too much. I do find it slightly annoying that in both books Nikki is assaulted by a killer. In Heat Wave it was a fight to the death in her own apartment, and this time it's an abduction and torture. I understand the desire to juxtapose the tough, no-nonsense cop by also making her a victim, but do we need it so bluntly depicted in each book? I sincerely hope this doesn't become a recurring theme.
Rook is definitely less conflicted, serving to further illustrate the complexity of the heroine, but his wit and sense of humor are always a joy to read. Raley and Ochoa also tend to be on the comic-relief side, but they too have their serious moments to balance things out. I especially enjoyed when the narrative perspective traveled from Nikki to focus on one of the others. Especially Rook's perspective, which masterfully fed the sexual tension of the story.
It's interesting to note how the author still manages to create sexual tension in a series where sex happens. Off screen, of course, but still there. In TV shows it seems like the only way to have sexual tension is to keep the characters as close together as possible without actually letting them "get together". Here, however, the action of sex is less a victory or a finale, because the main battle between the two characters is whether or not they can remain friends. Heat and Rook haven't yet hit that chemistry point where nothing can pull them apart, so getting them in bed together doesn't seem nearly as fulfilling as getting them to crack jokes together in the daylight.
Overall, this was an excellent mystery and addition to what looks to be turning into a fantastic series. Fans of Castle are probably the main audience for this series, but I think this book especially will appeal to mystery or crime fiction readers who don't mind a little humor and romance mixed in with their murder. Based on the steamy scenes and some graphic language, I'd recommend this for an older audience, definitely not below high school. In short, if you're in the mood for a fun, steamy, witty romp through the city that never sleeps and don't mind a bit of intrigue, scandal, and murder on the side, you should pick up Naked Heat now.
Tory Brennan is just your typical high school freshman. You know the type: so smart she skipped two grades; lives on an island with a father she justTory Brennan is just your typical high school freshman. You know the type: so smart she skipped two grades; lives on an island with a father she just met; niece of a famous forensic anthropologist; spends most the time boating around with three older geeky guys. Yeah, sure. Typical.
And it's on a typical trip to the neighboring Loggerhead Island, home to a super high-tech biology research lab and off limits to outsiders, that she and her friends discover a clue to a 50-year-old mystery as well as evidence of cruel animal experimentation. Apparently not everything on Loggerhead is as official and clean-cut as it seems.
After rescuing the wolfdog puppy from the labs, Tory and the group start experiencing strange symptoms. But heightened senses, hunger for raw meat, and yellow eyes are the least of their worries when their investigation efforts start attracting the wrong sort of attention. The deadly kind. They'll have to work together if they want to stay alive and put this mystery to rest.
Fortunately, they are now more than friends. They are a pack. They are Virals.
This book was impossible to put down! I started reading this at midnight, thinking I'd spend an hour or two at the most before turning in. Four and a half hours (347 pages/57 chapters) later I finally found a place I felt I could comfortably leave them and go to sleep. I grant that the pacing isn't the best at times—I found it impossible to tease the book using the first 50 pages because nothing had happened yet—but the absence of action in the beginning was completely covered by the characters. And once the action started, it never let up—especially not at chapter breaks.
But speaking of characters, I loved each and every one of them. Tory, our freshman-at-fourteen narrator was everything I love in a female lead. She's smart, sassy, strong (though she often plays it down for the boys' sakes), wounded but trying to overcome. And her language, her pattern of speaking/thinking was exactly like I'd expect. In some ways it matched my own, such that tagging along in her head was a pretty seamless experience. Plus she's a redhead, automatic +2 points.
Tory's boys were just plain fun. Hi, probably my favorite of the bunch, was the comedian of the group. If the situation's getting way out of hand, trust him to throw in a line that lets everyone take a breath. Shelton and Ben blurred together a bit at first, but I straightened them out eventually. Shelton's the techno-wiz, but tends to spook easily. Ben's definitely the muscle, but he doesn't boast it. All three of them had great senses of humor, and though they're older, they're all intensely loyal to their leader, Tory.
It's YA, so you know there's gotta be some romance, right? Well, yes and no. There are some boy-girl scenes with flirting, some boyfriend/girlfriend references, and some definite crushing going on. However, in comparison to most girl-narrated YA, this was surprisingly tame. There was a bit of a triangle popping up now and again...and maybe it's just me, but I sense Ben might have a little crush of his own...but on the whole, everything is sub-subplot at best. It's there—it's pretty near unavoidable when dealing with high school—but it's maybe 30 pages of a 450-page book.
Instead of teenage angst, the book mainly focuses on mystery, sci-fi, and action plots. Doesn't seem to be typical YA genres these days, especially for what looks to be a sci-fi or paranormal book. I'll admit, I was surprised at how well everything was woven together. Just when you're thinking Mystery Plot caught a huge break, Action bursts in, shakes everything around, and then lets Sci-Fi take the lead. Each of the three plots seems separate, which might be offputting for some, but with the characters leading you through it all it's not too hard to follow.
The action starts off immediately, right from page one in the form of a prologue. Technically, the prologue takes place in the middle of chapter 25, so it was a bit confusing trying to figure out what the heck was going on. On the other hand, it certainly gets you hooked right away, and Reichs does a good job referencing back to the prologue in the chapter (in case you need a refresher), so I think it works alright. The action throughout the story kept my heart pounding pretty fast (the music* ensured that pretty well too).
The science/science-fiction of the story is fairly understandable. Since none of the characters specialize in the same fields, there's usually a fair bit of explanation between them for any science-y stuff. I'm a bit biased toward wolves (gee, ya think?), so I'll admit that the wolf-DNA change plotline was what drew me to the book in the first place. Didn't know exactly what to expect—full-blown werewolves, monsterous mutation, canine-centered super-powers, or mere insanity—but I was pleased with the results. Even as science-fiction, it seemed believable, obtainable at our current level of technology.
I was especially impressed with the pacing of the mystery. With the characters somewhat going about their daily lives, the pacing actually felt realistic, which only helped build the suspense. I never felt like there were convenient breakthroughs, nothing was handed to them, they had to work for every clue they found. But I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything less from the author of the Bones series.
Speaking of which, I feel I must make a clarification for those who are familiar with Bones, the TV show. The Temperance Brennan referenced in this book is NOT the one from the show, she is the one from Reichs' novel series which inspired the show. So before any Bones fans start complaining/questioning about how Tory is Brennan's sister's granddaughter (TV-Brennan is in her 20's and has a brother), please reference the books. That being said, other than that one reference to their relation, there is absolutely nothing concerning "Aunt Tempe" in Virals. She's mentioned a couple times as a minor tag to Reichs' other work, that's all.
But I think I've blathered on long enough. If you haven't gotten the gist that I loved this book, I don't know what you've been reading. Overall, I'd recommend this for fans of sci-fi, mystery and/or action who don't mind a YA style. I'd say that, between the younger-but-still-high-school narrator, lack of romance and the good amount of action, this book is definitely geared for middle school and up. If you're looking for a break from the norm, something you can really sink your teeth into, Virals will definitely keep you intrigued, mystified, and entertained.
If the name sounds familiar, you may be a watcher of ABC's Monday-night Crime-Drama, Castle…or you may have just happened upon a commercial for it. EiIf the name sounds familiar, you may be a watcher of ABC's Monday-night Crime-Drama, Castle…or you may have just happened upon a commercial for it. Either way, if you've caught the premise of the show, you've pretty much got the premise of the book.
* Show: Richard Castle is a novelist who, having recently killed off his last meal ticket (literally speaking, of course), has cast Detective Kate Beckett of the NYPD homicide division as his new inspiration. With help from the right connections, he gains permission to tail Beckett and her team during their cases, much to her (initial) chagrin. Over time, Castle proves to be useful after all, and Beckett comes to welcome his humor and helpful insights to the daily grind. Castle and Beckett have plenty of romantic tension, but play it off humorously and have yet to share anything more than the occasional walk or car-ride.
* Novel: Jameson Rook is a magazine freelancer who, having commissioned a piece on the NYPD, has cast Detective Nikki Heat of the homicide division as his main inspiration. With help from the right connections, he gains permission to tail Heat and her team during their cases, much to her (initial) chagrin. Over time, Heat finds she can't help but be attracted to Rook and the couple finally shares a steamy night (in more ways than one) together in Chapter 10.
If you think they sound familiar…well, that's probably because they really are. The book was published by Disney's Hyperion and was done primarily for its tie-in with the show. In fact, the show just finished a two-part episode in which Heat Wave was used to help catch an over-enthusiastic fan gunning for Nikki Heat (aka Detective Beckett). The title, characters, and cover are the same, the page numbers, however, are different (the show claims around 340 pages; the real book, however is only 197).
I picked up the book solely for the tie-in, but I doubt anyone would be turned off it for not watching the series. It plays out very much like an episode, so if you're an avid hater of the show, it wouldn't be for you, but otherwise I think it appeals to anyone who enjoys a good cop-thriller novel.
Some mystery has arisen over who might have written the book. Every listing in the book names fictional character 'Richard Castle'. Even the About The Author section shows a picture of Nathan Fillion (the actor who portrays Castle in the show) and lists the character's bio.
At first, I thought it might be James Patterson, who happens to be one of the Executive Producers of the show. However, after reading it I'm pretty sure it's not. The book has problems - ones that I don't think a seasoned writer, nor one who is closely involved with the show, would make. I don't know if grammatical issues are the fault of the writer or the editor (or both?), but there definitely needed to be at least one more read-through.
And before you ask if these were simply due to "Richard Castle" being a novice, I'll kindly answer, no. "Richard Castle" has supposedly written a best-selling Derrick Storm series, so he is hardly one to fall back to beginning errors.
This ghost writer needs a few more lessons…or a better ghost editor. Or…who knows? Maybe Richard Castle himself did write it… In that case, Nathan dear, you should slip a copy to James or one of his editor friends before sending it along to print.
I have a few nit-picky things to get out of the way. After reading through rough drafts of stories online and giving my comments, I found it very hard not to cross things out and write suggestions for fixes in this book. For one thing, there are blatant grammatical errors: misplaced commas, run-on sentences, and sentence flow problems. A couple spots had me re-reading the sentence 5 or 6 times asking, "What the heck were they thinking?!" I'd quote directly, but I've already returned the book to the library.
The amount of time Rook has been tailing Heat is never directly established. I don't have a huge problem with that fact, but I do feel that references to it should be more consistent. Heat's attitude makes it seem like he's been there for maybe one or two cases. Three tops. But she then goes on to state personal tidbits about Rook (such as referring to his mother as the Grand Damn), which make it seem like he's been around much longer. I mean (partly basing Rook off of Castle), yes, he might let tidbits like that slip if it somehow related to the situation at hand, but stuff that personal (and random) seems like it should take a chummier relationship to share.
And, if Rook has been around longer than one or two cases, then why would Heat still be that annoyed with him? Is he truly so useless that he comes off as merely an annoyance? Granted, Rook is not Castle. He's not nearly as charming in print as Nathan Fillion is on the screen. He also doesn't come across nearly as intelligent as Castle has proven himself to be. Rook relies more on his favors and high-profile connections to help the case than his actual wit. For a book that's supposedly inspired (and written) by Castle, these main characters fall short of their marks.
All that being said, it wasn't a chore to read. It's not my usual genre, so the beginning took me a little while to adjust to. Plus, I kept trying to picture things as vividly as an episode, which took longer. Once I got in the groove of things, it was an easy and fun read.
The case was interesting, and kept me guessing all the way through. A suicide-that-wasn't turns into a double homicide with a couple assaults, a home invasion, and an attempted rape thrown in. (I will admit, my mind was starting to ponder about home invasions just before one happened in the book, but I'm leaning toward it being coincidental.) Fans of the show will definitely recognize the long line of suspects and dead-ends, though I have to agree with Rook that the constant dogging around town did get rather tiresome.
The characters (despite some of their plot-based flaws) were engaging. Roach (Detectives Raley and Ochoa) were believable and intelligent. It did throw me off a few times how often they were referred to as a single unit, even in dialog, but it was quirky enough to work. The coroner (whose name unfortunately escapes me) had a great relationship with Heat, and ended up being one of my favorites of the bunch. Other star personalities on the show, like the Police Chief and Castle/Rook's Family, were downplayed, but I have hopes for them yet.
It was an interesting change of pace to get the story from the lady detective's perspective rather than the writer/reporter who leads in the show. At times, I loved Heat's insights and internal quips, but at others I craved a little more quirky interaction from Rook. It was almost as if the author were afraid of Rook stealing the spotlight, and so downplayed him as much as possible. He wasn't even allowed to participate in the final "Gotcha!" scene! Still, Heat was as strong and sexy as her name and the book jacket imply.
Speaking of the "Gotcha!" scene, I have to say, it was straight out of television. Not in the way that I've seen it before, but in the way that it was purely a visual set-up. You had the cops go through all this pre-scene setup, leading the reader along with dialog and visual cues, and then they reveal to the reader and the suspect that they knew it was him/her all along and here's all the proof. In reality, they would have, of course, simply cuffed him/her and taken 'em to lockup. Instead, they set up an entire scene to lure them into a false sense of security, then don't even need their confession to seal the deal. Course, it's more dramatic that way.
Though the book is lacking in a few areas, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who has room for a quick and fun read. It's something I can see myself re-reading, even knowing how it turns out. I will probably be purchasing the paperback this summer. News has been released of a sequel (Naked Heat) coming out this fall, which I will gladly pick up from the library (and buy, after it comes out in paperback).