20 years-old now, L. J. Smith's books are incredibly dated in character types, attitudes and writing (oh God, especially the writing), but they usuall...more20 years-old now, L. J. Smith's books are incredibly dated in character types, attitudes and writing (oh God, especially the writing), but they usually contain a kernel of a good plot/idea in them. In The Vampire Diaries, it was the story of 2 vampire brothers who feud with each other for centuries and in The Secret Circle, it's the idea of a group of teenagers wielding immense magical power.
The Initiation starts with our protagonist, Cassie, meeting a teenage boy on the beach and helping him hide from a pack of bullies with guns. (Bullies are very extreme in this book.) Cassie and the stranger stare into each other's eyes and have a deep connection and it's as cheesy as it sounds. However, Cassie and her handsome stranger part before she even learns his name and then she comes home to the news that she and her mother are moving to live with her grandmother, in a town called New Salem.
In New Salem, Cassie encounters a group of teenagers, who seem to stand apart from everyone else and are feared by the rest of the town, even the adults. There's beautiful and perfect Diana, beautiful and dangerous Faye, beautiful and tough Deborah - you get the idea. Just about everybody in the Circle is unfathomably gorgeous and the reader has to be constantly reminded of this. Written in the same era as the Sweet Valley High series, the writing of The Secret Circle is on par with it: The way SVH repetitively mentioned the Wakefield twins' "sun-streaked blonde hair and blue-green eyes, the colour of the Pacific Ocean", so Smith makes umpteen references to Diana's "hair like sunlight and moonlight woven together" and Faye's "hooded amber eyes".
The Initation is pretty slow going; it takes Cassie the entire novel to figure out what the reader already knows (it's on the blurb, for Christ's sake!): That the teens are a coven of witches and the boy she met on the beach is one of them (and is Diana's boyfriend, natch. You didn't think there wouldn't be a love triangle, did you?). But when they do a spell, it's pretty cool, as is the idea of teenagers with that much power, so I read on.
The Captive is paced at about triple the speed of the first book. It all happens in this one: The coven accidentally release a dark energy; there are 3 murders; Cassie is blackmailed by Faye and turns to the dark side, participating in one of the freakiest things I've ever read about (the 'bad' witches bewitch and then borderline date-rape pizza delivery boys. Really, WTF?); the coven work out who is behind the killings; Faye and Diana fight for leadership; Cassie's family is attacked and Cassie learns the story of the teens' parents and the evil witch Black John, and how the coven came to be born with their powers. I have to admit, the backstory is great and totally spooky. While Smith acknowledges in the text its resemblance to A Nightmare on Elm Street, it also reminded me of Village of the Damned. (less)
The Captive is the best book in The Secret Circle trilogy, so with it starting off this edition, I was totally getting what was good about this series...moreThe Captive is the best book in The Secret Circle trilogy, so with it starting off this edition, I was totally getting what was good about this series. Unfortunately, The Power starts badly with this ridiculous love-fest for Cassie, which annoyed me to no end and put her firmly into Mary Sue territory (seriously, everybody declares how wonderful she is, even after they find out she's lied and betrayed them, and one character begs for 3 pages to be allowed to date her). Plot-wise, Black John comes back to town, although he was scarier when he remained a bogeyman. He's not used very well in the story - the gang only interact with him once before the final showdown. I think this is where the restricted narration is a hindrance, as everything is told from Cassie's POV. Faye joins forces with Black John and it would have been interesting to see their relationship. I imagine the two of them as being like Faith and the Major from Buffy, but we'll never know.
I did like the final battle and the ending in general, though. I'd guessed the big revelations already - the connection between Cassie and Black John and who the real traitor in the coven was - but I didn't guess at the way all the little details fitted together and it was pretty neat to see things that seemed inconsequential earlier in the trilogy become important. Smith did a similar thing in The Vampire Diaries: The Fury, when it was revealed how much that had happened was Katherine's doing.
So as I suspected, there is an entertaining yarn buried underneath the cliches and the bad-romance-novel writing. It's interesting to me, to go back and read teen books of yesteryear and see what was genuinely good and what was at best, a guilty pleasure. L. J. Smith's books definitely fall into the latter category.(less)
Jana Oliver's debut is not a bad book, but in a YA market crowded with this type of fantasy, it doesn't offer anything unique or brilliant enough to m...moreJana Oliver's debut is not a bad book, but in a YA market crowded with this type of fantasy, it doesn't offer anything unique or brilliant enough to make it a must-read.
The novel creates a bleak future world in Atlanta, Georgia in 2018. In the few years between now and then, the United States has been drawn into a war with Lucifer and the country is overrun with his demons. The main character is Riley Blackthorne: Riley's father is a master at trapping Hell's demons and under his tutelage, Riley is training to become a trapper herself.
Riley is the typical heroine you find in this genre (feisty yet vunerable and of course, the most special of all trappers) and the boys in her life are also familiar characters: one bad boy who drinks beer and says "Damn, girl" a lot and a sweet, good boy who falls for Riley instantly. The character's aren't unlikeable or annoying (well, maybe Beck, a little) but neither do they offer anything more than their archetypes. However, the alternative future that Oliver has dreamed up is easily the best thing about the book: Descriptions of the different categories of demons, the power struggle within the Trappers' League and the other creepy careers that have sprung up in this environment, like necromancy and holy water trafficking, were what kept my interest.
That and Oliver's writing style, which is easy and engaging. It was no trouble to finish this book, so it wasn't until after I did that I realised the biggest weakness of it was its plot - namely, that there really isn't one. A tragedy occurs fairly early on in the novel and the rest of the story follows Riley's trapper training and then nothing really happens until a big cliffhanger ending. Plenty of seeds are sown for future novels, it's true, but I think that even in a continuing series, each book should have its own story.
Don't pick this book up expecting to be blown away, but if you can never get enough of YA Fantasy, then it's a reasonable way to spend your time.(less)
Entangled hooked me from its very first line and if I didn't have to work, I would never have put it down. The novel is essentially two stories in one...moreEntangled hooked me from its very first line and if I didn't have to work, I would never have put it down. The novel is essentially two stories in one - the first is that seventeen year old Grace has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by the inscrutable Ethan. Ethan doesn't harm Grace, but he keeps her in a bare room with only pens and paper. Grace uses those to write out her life story and the events that led her up to situation she is in. Those events form the second storyline of the book and, while this part is a fairly typical teen drama, it draws in the reader with characters so realistic you feel as if you went to school with them yourself. Grace's voice is that of a thousand teen girls who are lost and damaged but covering it up with an act of indifference and bravado.
I admit to feeling slightly let down by the ending but that's largely because I had let my imagination go into overdrive about what could be the reason Grace was being held captive. What the author does is true to the tone of the story but still, I was a little disappointed that my wild predictions came to nothing. Of course, I still think the book deserves 5 stars as it kept me engrossed and entertained from the first page to the last, which is what you want from everything you read. (less)
This book was much more fun than I expected. I'm not someone who's fed up with the 'sad girls in pretty dresses' covers, but I do object when covers g...moreThis book was much more fun than I expected. I'm not someone who's fed up with the 'sad girls in pretty dresses' covers, but I do object when covers give a false impression of the book. Far from being a dark, tortured paranormal romance in the vein of Hush, Hush or Fallen (which I think the cover image suggests), Paranormalcy has much more in common with Hex Hall - they both approach the supernatural in a humorous, light-hearted way, poking fun at the stereotypes of the genre. I think if you are a fan of Hex Hall, then you will definitely like Paranormalcy; the latter often reminded me of the former, in style and tone.
Paranormalcy tells the story of Evie, a teenage girl who grew up in foster homes, before her special ability was discovered by the IPCA - a group which tracks and captures paranormal creatures. Since then, Evie has led an isolated life working for the IPCA, living and being home-schooled at their centre, with only her boss, Raquel and her best friend, Lish, for company. Evie's job is to spot paranormals and then bring them in but one day, she catches someone breaking into the IPCA centre. It's Lend, who can shapeshift into anyone he wants. Evie, however, is the only person who can see the real him underneath - and she likes what she sees.
Like I said, this book is fun. Evie gets a lot of Buffy-esque snappy lines and her growing relationship with Lend is adorable. I also think it was a stroke of genius on the author's part to capitalise on every girl's childhood fantasy, by making Evie's best friend a mermaid - I couldn't help but squee a little when we were introduced to Lish.
The main plot thread involves a creature who is killing all supernatural creatures and Evie discovering who she really is and how she might be linked to it. But the most enjoyable parts of the book are Evie trying to have the normal teen life she craves - flirting with Lend, watching her favourite teen soap, gabbing with Lish and even seeing a real-life locker. I think Evie is such a charming character that you just enjoy spending time with her and hope she gets what she wants.
I think this is absolutely a book I am going to recommend to my younger students. It's a nice read for someone who wants a taste of the paranormal, it's age-appropriate and not too dark and it's really just a good time.(less)
Confession: I'm a sucker for YA novels that are set in summer beach houses. Talk about a teenage dream - a house right on the sand, hanging out on the...moreConfession: I'm a sucker for YA novels that are set in summer beach houses. Talk about a teenage dream - a house right on the sand, hanging out on the boardwalk, a cute boy winning you a stuffed animal, swimming, beach bonfire parties (I've always wanted to go to one of those!). I love reading about this stuff and imagining that I too, am having this idyllic experience. The Summer I Turned Pretty is one of these novels and sets its story in exactly that summer/beach wonderland.
Isabel (who everyone calls Belly) and her family spend every summer in the beach house of her mother's best friend, Susannah, and her two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. Belly has crushed on Conrad all her life, but as the youngest and the only girl, the boys have always treated her dismissively and left her out. This summer, however, is the summer right before Belly turns sixteen and she has grown up and filled out and suddenly, the boys are paying a lot more attention to her.
In Belly, Jenny Han has created an exceptionally realistic 15 year-old girl and by that I mean, she is often whiny, over-emotional and self-absorbed. Her narrative voice is full of teenage angst with a capital A; every word, every look, every touch, is obsessed over. I have to point this out because I know it might irritate some adult readers of YA. But for my part, I found Han's writing to be so charming and so true-to-life, that I found myself completely sucked in and reliving my teenage feelings. I think Han really captures how aware you are of yourself at that age and and how self-conscious you feel. This novel totally takes you back to your teen self and you will want to shake Belly sometimes, just as you wish you could go back in time and shake yourself then. But if you're like me, you'll take her to your heart.
I found Belly's relationships with Conrad and Jeremiah to also ring true. They're used to teasing her, but now everything between them has a heavier meaning. Conrad is that guy; the one who ignores you and is mean to you, but then turns around and does something sweet, stoking your crush all over again. I wanted Belly to forget about him and go for a boy who didn't mess with her mind so much - and yet, I knew I would be exactly the same in her position: swooning hard for the wrong guy.
As well as the current summer, the novel flashbacks to previous summers, giving more detail and depth to Belly's life. This is done in random order (Belly at 14, then 11, then 14 again), so it's sometimes confusing keeping track of where you are in the space/time continuum, but it's not too big of a problem. It's not all about boys, either - Belly also deals with her distance from her mother, her preference for Susannah and friction with her best frenemy, Taylor. Again, these issues and relationships all felt very authentic. I think the only thing in this novel that I didn't buy was that a girl with a lovely name like Isabel, allows everyone to call her Belly! I think a real-life Belly really would have insisted on a prettier and more mature nickname by now. It is discussed in the book that Belly doesn't like other shortened versions of her name, but I still think she can come up with something better than 'Belly'.
So. If you get frustrated by angsty teenage drama, then this might not be the book for you. However, if you want a book that takes you back and makes you feel fifteen again, then you should pick up The Summer I Turned Pretty right now and relive it all - all the stuff that made you smile, made you pout, made you cringe, made you melt - but this time, with a bonus summer beach house.(less)
In this dystopia, people are segregated into factions that all wholly dedicate themselves to a particular virtue. There is Dauntless, who are brave; C...moreIn this dystopia, people are segregated into factions that all wholly dedicate themselves to a particular virtue. There is Dauntless, who are brave; Candor, who are honest; Abnegation, who are selfless; Erudite, who are intelligent and Amity, who are, well, nice, I guess. The factions reminded me of the houses in Harry Potter, with Dauntless being Gryffindor and Erudite being Ravenclaw. Candor could equal Slytherin because the nasty kids do come from there.
Anyway, the ethos of the society is "Faction before blood" and everything's supposed to be about your faction and every minute of every day, you are supposed to be doing the thing your faction values. The members of each faction are also assigned particular careers that are compatible with these values. Everyone is born into a faction, but at age 16 they are allowed to choose to stay or join another. Tris grows up in Abnegation, which means she always has to put other people ahead of herself and sacrifice her own comfort and pleasure to give to everybody else. Unsurprisingly, when she gets the chance to jump ship, she does and she chooses Dauntless.
The majority of Divergent focuses on Tris' initiation into Dauntless, which is where comparisons to The Hunger Games have come from: The leaders of Dauntless make their initiates compete against each other in violent, sadistic and death-defying activities. It was here that I found the world of the book made the least sense. The Dauntless are in charge of military and security, so they need brave and skilled soldiers. However, the Dauntless idea of bravery is to risk your life in crazy stunts several times a day and their members drop like flies because of it. I don't know how much of an army you're going to have if you're losing soldiers daily, not through warfare, but because you're making them leap off buildings for kicks.
Still, there are parts of this that are very entertaining to read about, as the Dauntless stunts vary from frightening to thrilling. Being in this faction makes Tris undergo a complete metamorphosis and her development from a drab, introverted girl, to tattooed and fearless is pretty cool. By the end of the novel, she's running around like Sarah Connor; kicking ass and taking names. I liked her relationships with the other initiates: When she first meets Christina, Al and Will, I was thinking OK, these are obviously her loyal sidekicks, but the friendships were a lot more complicated than that and the tensions and jealousies between them were an interesting change from the normal BFFs in these kinds of stories.
Two things frustrated me the most about Divergent. One is that 300 pages of it take place exclusively in Dauntless territory, so we don't get to see much of the other factions or get a sense of the society as a whole. Some of the factions were very undeveloped, to the point where I wondered what Amity and Candor even did. The other is the title: the fact that Tris is Divergent. She's warned that this is dangerous and if anyone finds out, her life will be under threat, but we're only given tiny bits of info about this every 100 pages or so and Tris herself seems unconcerned about it most of the time. It's a story thread that develops ve-ry slowly and shouldn't really be the title - Initiation (or something like that) would be a more reflective one.
The initiation into Dauntless does drag on a bit too long, but the climax of the book is some rip-roaring action, as Tris discovers one faction's plans for war. The ending lead me to believe that the following books in the series would explore the wider society, which will do away with one of my complaints. I'm also hoping there will be a good explanation for why being Divergent is so dangerous and rare. Overall, I found Divergent to be an imperfect read, with some things that worked and some that didn't, but I think there is enough good there to make it worth trying.(less)
I've been waiting for months to truly fall in love with a 2011 YA book. Now, I've liked many of the debuts this year, but when I finished reading Acro...moreI've been waiting for months to truly fall in love with a 2011 YA book. Now, I've liked many of the debuts this year, but when I finished reading Across the Universe, I wanted to flip back to the first page and read it all over again. Out of all the new series this year, this is the one for me; the one I'm going to obsess and fangirl over.
I should admit right away that I love sci-fi, so any story that contained space ships travelling to the future was going to be a win for me. But Across the Universe has something for everyone - it mixes sci-fi, dystopia, murder mystery, with a dash of teen drama and romance.
Amy is cryogenically frozen alongside her parents and sent on a spaceship bound for a new planet, on a journey that is due to take 300 years. 250 years into the future, Elder is one of the new generations of people born aboard the ship, who know no other world beyond the ship's walls. Elder has a special role in this society; he will one day take over from the current leader, Eldest and be the one to lead the people.
The story is told in alternating POVs from Amy and Elder, like Sam and Grace in Shiver. Amy's POV is a wonder to read at the start of the novel, as the experience of being frozen is detailed and it sounds - how can I put this? Horrific. The actual process is immensely painful and Beth Revis' writing makes you feel everything alongside Amy as she watches both her parents endure this, knowing that she is next. Then, it seems like once Amy is frozen and boxed away, she is actually conscious. Conscious, while trapped in a box, for hundreds of years. To say she immediately won my sympathy as a character is an understatement.
But who I really loved was Elder. Elder is a real boy, not an impossibly perfect YA dreamboat. He's clueless sometimes, he screws up, he can be immature...He does fall in insta-love with Amy, but it's totally understandable as she is the only girl his own age he's ever met and she is completely different to all the people he knows. And the feeling's not mutual; when Amy is woken prematurely, she is shocked and scared and he has to work to make her trust him.
Amy has good reason to be scared. Someone unplugged her and left her to drown in the melted ice. She is saved, but it keeps happening to the other 'frozens' and she has to work out who is trying to kill them and why. She also has to adjust to life on the ship and it is - how can I put this? Horrifying.
What impressed me most about Across the Universe is that it was a true dystopia. Many YA dystopian stories are war stories - in that, it's obvious from the beginning that the world doesn't work and we're supposed to root for the main character to overthrow it. What's great about Across the Universe is that Amy discovers things bit-by-bit, so at first we're presented with a successful community and then we slowly see through Amy's eyes what is needed to keep this community running smoothly - and every new discovery is more sickening than the last. However, also having Elder's POV (someone for whom life on the ship is completely natural) allows us to debate the ethics of it all. Life on the ship really is a utopia, but it comes at a terrible price. Across the Universe does what dystopia is supposed to do, IMO, which is make us question whether a 'perfect' world is worth it.
I could say more, I could talk about this book all day, but really, I just want to encourage everybody to read it. I think Across the Universe is a perfect series opener: It works as a standalone, as it tells a complete story and I don't mind some things being left unanswered and to the imagination. However, there are some things I really want to see happen (Amy and Elder making it off the ship, for one!) so I am keen to read the second and third books and follow this story wherever it goes. (less)