Jolie Wilkins' magical powers are strong enough to raise the dead, and she may have to do a lot of dead-raising very soon if the impending supernatural war goes on as planned. The evil Bella wants to rule all otherworldly peoples, and she has a huge army on her side, while the good guys (led by Rand, Jolie's warlock boss) have a relatively small group of fighters to back up their noble intentions. Jolie's got to get stronger if she wants to convince Rand to let her fight in the battle, and when Sinjin, the sorta-bad vampire from the previous book, starts showing an interest in her, she has to decide where her heart and her allegiances truly lie.
Toil and Trouble is action-packed, but I like how Jolie spends the first portion of the novel incapacitated. At the end of Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble she beat the fairy king Odran's champion in a duel, in order to convince Odran to support Rand in the upcoming war. She succeeded, but the fight has drained her energy so badly that she's bedridden for awhile, then spends a few chapters regaining the use of her limbs. It's always good to see a heroine with weaknesses as well as strengths; it makes Jolie very humanized, despite her extreme magical talents.
Rand and Jolie's love story is the emotional core of the book. They both love each other, but because of their magical natures, if they decide to commit to each other, it'll be a forever-and-eternity no-going-back sort of thing, which is a weighty prospect, even with all they've been through together in the past months. Rand is all the more leery of the commitment because he had a former love who died, and apparently the experience of losing her was so painful, almost all of his memories of her had to be erased. Rand and Jolie are really at a stalemate, and are frustrated by the fact that they can't be together and can't really be apart, either.
Enter Sinjin. Jolie's love life is a little complicated even with just Rand around, but now that Sinjin is on their side, he's constantly around her and he seems more appealing as time passes. They start spending even more time together because Jolie needs Sinjin's help. Rand doesn't want her to fight in the war, but Jolie knows that she needs to be the one to kill the super-evil vampire Ryder, so she gets Sinjin to help her train in secret. Sinjin's not so bad (and I know he has some major fans), but I'm not fond of the back-and-forth triangle that starts. It would be great if Sinjin were the main guy, but he's less of a leading man and more of a temptation away from Rand. But ultimately, a good clue about the guys is how they treat other people: Rand is a gentleman, and while he may prefer keeping to himself, he's a generous person when placed in social situations. He's nice to ladies other than Jolie, and even kind to complete strangers, while Sinjin's kindness and gallantry are directed almost solely at Jolie.
Luckily, after extensive fight training, a lot of magic-using, some time-travelling, and a hardcore battle, things look like they're finally resolved once and for all on the romantic front. Plus, we still have plenty of adventure left to look forward to as Jolie takes on some new challenges and responsibilities. Jolie's still got that great, smart but not too sarcastic narrative voice that feels like a good friend is telling you about her joys and misadventures, so her stories are always going to be fun to read.
Cameron can hear people's thoughts, and it's seldom a pleasant experience. Within the first couple of pages, she reads the thoughts of a man who's about to rob the diner where she's eating, but she gets up and walks away without warning anyone. She feels guilty for not acting, but she's been raised to keep her head down and not let anyone know about her ability. Her Grandma is paranoid about keeping her safe, and the two of them had to move around the country many times during Cameron's childhood, to stay away from people who would exploit her talents. Cameron's just surviving one day at a time until an unsolved murder crops up in their seaside town, and a handsome stranger named Lewis shows up and seems to understand her abilities...perhaps because he can read minds, too. Cameron's already-weird life will never be the same, and she's going to have to make some tough choices about who she wants to be and what principles shes going to stand for.
I usually prefer reading about heroines who are reckless in their defense of others, but Cameron's play-it-safe attitude changes over time. So much of her unwillingness to warn people about danger comes from the conditioning she's received from her Grandma. Cameron has a tense relationship with her controlling grandmother, and sadly, her strongest friendship, with rich n' popular Emily, is built entirely on lies. Cam's mind reading ability allows her to tell Emily exactly what she wants to hear, and Emily likes having a best friend who will flatter her and never compete with her for boys. Cam has a few other friends, but nobody really gets close to her until Lewis arrives.
Cam can't read Lewis' thoughts, and when he says he's also a mind reader, and that he needs her help, how can she turn him down? She's ready to learn more about her talents and to start helping people instead of always running away. Lewis takes her to meet other people with mind reading abilities, and she quickly finds that her powers are more extensive than she's ever dreamed of.
I thought this was going to be a quick, cute paranormal read, and was I ever wrong. It's quick, and has some cute moments and some funny moments, but the themes here aren't at all frivolous. Cameron's character development is very powerful and believable, and she has to make some very tough lose/lose decisions. She moves from (mostly) accepting that what her Grandma says is true to wholeheartedly accepting what her new friends say is true, to truly thinking for herself. Cam has this absolutely wonderful strength that is seldom seen in YA, and it's hard-earned, to boot. The ending of the book contains a nice parallel to the beginning, the love story is considerably more complex than it initially looks, and I simply can't wait for volume two.
Holly Hamilton lives in Century City where her dad, Invincible Man, defends the good citizens against all evil--or at least he did until he lost most of his powers fighting against Anti-Hero. Now he leaves all the city-saving to Ellen, Holly's big sister, who flies about in a cape as the superhero Suprema. Holly is 100% human, like her mother, and she's going through an awkward phase complete with glasses and retainers. While Holly spends all her time collecting bugs, doing science experiments, and hanging out with her equally uncool friend Mona, she can never measure up to her super sister who's not only high-powered but also an academic whiz and a head cheerleader. But the presence of a new superhero in town begins to put Holly's sisterly jealousies on the back burner as she tries to figure out whether Magna Boy is a friend or foe.
Holly has a pretty good family life--her mom adores her, her dad's a vet in his spare time, and her sister Ellen's not stuck up, she's just naturally good at everything. Holly's getting along fine in life until a new guy shows up at school. Well, actually, two new guys. Eddie McGee is a classic nerd archetype, but Holly's interest is drawn by another new guy, Tad, who's a classic hunk archetype. She develops an instant crush on Tad, but she knows that he's more in her sister's league. Holly's distressed that he'll never see past her exterior to give her a chance, though she's interested in him mainly for his exterior qualities. Still, this is a light, sweet story so nobody's really trying to objectify or use anybody else.
When I started this book, I wondered if it would have a comedic or sarcastic slant to it, but the superhero tropes are played pretty straight from the 1960's and earlier comic book eras. The 80's comics started deconstructing heroes in stories with gritty settings and gray morality (Watchmen, most of Batman, etc), and even though heroes are getting rebooted and reconstructed these days, I think I usually expect a twist. If you like the classics heroes, villains, powers, and mysteries, then this story is a great example of how the original plot elements work.
To me, the story is clean enough and sweet enough that it feels more like a Mid-Grade, and it'll be a good superhero adventure for younger teens and tweens.
Harper has been through six foster homes in one year, mainly because she starts levitating objects when she's angry and everybody's pretty freaked about by that. Now she's moving from Atlanta to smalltown Peachville to stay at the Shadowford Home, a last-ditch residence for girls who can't go anywhere else. Shadowford is an old plantation house and the very feel of the place gives Harper doubts. Then she gets to school and finds that the Peachville cheerleaders are much clique-i-er than they are even at normal schools. The fawning attention they get doesn't make any sense to Harper, so she knows that something shady's going on, and it's a whole lot weirder than a town obsessed with school spirit. Harper starts to have troubling dreams and she gets a serious warning about the future from resident bad boy Jackson. What kind of secrets is this rural town hiding?
The heroine's great, and I really like the supporting cast in this book. There's bubbly Agnes who is super friendly, but isn't a standard best-friend character. Agnes often compliments Harper, but she's also quick to subtly put Harper down by suggesting that the quarterback couldn't ever be interested in her or implying that Harper can't be smart enough to take senior Calculus as a sophomore. (I think that's a type of person a lot of us have met!) Then there's Drake, a nice football player, or at least he seems nice and flirty until he learns that Harper's living in the local home for teenage rejects. He's not a good guy and not a villain, and he plays a secondary role to the cheerleaders who run the school. Then there's Jackson, my favorite character. He's a non-mainstream guy, but he's definitely not "bad" at all, and he shows himself to be kind and down-to-earth. He's got a ready smile, and he and Harper have an instant rapport, so any scene with Jackson interacting with Harper is a good one.
I also love some of the little nuances in Harper's character. With her many moves, she's left with a limited wardrobe of mostly plain black clothes. But one of her foster moms worked at a crafts store and gave her lots of ribbons, so Harper routinely ties different colored ribbons around her wrist to make up for the lack of variety in her clothes. It just struck me as a very cool detail, something that sounds true to life.
There's a point where Harper gets short-term amnesia, which is never my favorite plot point because it tends to make characters act unlike their previous selves, but it all works out okay and there's a paranormal reason for it. With brief chapters that move the action along at a good pace, Beautiful Demons is a novella-length story that will give readers a quick, tasty bite of paranormal YA.
Dr. Aline Harman never meant to become a staff member of Grace General Hospital for paranormal patients. After all, she's human and she's enjoying her second year of residency at a normal hospital where the staff is unfriendly but the emotional reward of helping patients is very high. Then she lends a hand to the mysterious Dr. William Rocque and his bizarre zombie-like patient, and makes a mistake that gets her dismissed from her workplace. To Rocque, this shows that Aline's the kind of person who will take a risk to help someone, making her the perfect candidate for an internship at his hospital. Aline has never heard of Grace General, but Rocque assures her that it is a well-known “private facility with a unique clientele”. She's about to find out just how unique.
This story is really a genius kind of genre-blend. Some people love medical stories and some love paranormal stories, and what better way to make a lot of readers happy at once than to write about urban fantasy medicine? The glimpses of worldbuilding are really cool, because Grace General isn't just for vampires—werewolves, pixies and other creatures are treated, too, and one of the first patients Aline sees is a mermaid who had an unfortunate collision with a yacht propeller. Aline is thrown into a tough world where the patients are dangerous and the doctors are slightly psycho, but just when the story's getting really crazy, it is grounded by Aline's sympathy and how much she wants to help hurting people.
The support cast is great, though most of them just cause more problems for Aline. Rocque is sweet and kind, but he's only slightly helpful and rarely offers his much-needed guidance. Kessler, the grumpy Chief of Emergency, is looking for any excuse to fire Aline, and Dr. Arlington dislikes Aline so much that she worries she might not even survive her first shift. One neat thing about this novella/short novel is that it actually makes you care about the lives of these paranormal creatures, because Aline does. It's a fast, fun ride of a story, but it's also surprisingly heartbreaking in places as Aline faces tough situations and tougher choices about her patients' welfare. Looking for some fresh urban fantasy that really stands out from the pack? Check into Vampire General.
Lindsey's a college girl who is enjoying life with her boyfriend, but when he drops the "L" word, she knows she's not ready to say "I love you" back. But she doesn't have much time to ponder their relationship's depth because half a minute after Ravi confesses his feelings, the two of them are caught in horrible car crash. Instead of waking up in the car wreckage, Lindsey finds herself regaining consciousness in beautiful meadow in springtime. She meets Aiden MacRae of Eilean Donan Castle, a dashing Scottish fellow who is not an angel, but a Transporter--he's basically her guide to get from earth to heaven. But the trip might not be so simple after Lindsey falls for Aiden and begins to hope she can stay in the in-between place forever.
Lindsey and Aiden have some cute moments. He actually goes all-out Scottish and wears a kilt, and is one of those extra-perfect heroes who knows just what to say to the heroine and appreciates all her virtues as well as overlooking her flaws. Lindsey has a tender heart and cares about things like how her parents will feel after losing her, and how Aiden feels about his job as a Transporter. Between's subgenre is kind of an afterlife-meets-time-travel setup because Aiden can manipulate their surroundings to reflect his past. There are lots of accurately drawn historical flashbacks in the form of Aiden's memories, which he replays for Lindsey. A realistic battle scene, a visit to the palace at Versailles and the streets of France (pre-Revolutionary War), and some scenes of his boyhood in Scotland are all interesting. Lindsey can re-experience her memories too, and the visits to her past help flesh out her character, since we didn't really get to know her before she met Aiden.
The real conflict of the story comes from the ever-present possibility of separation, and there may be more keeping the two sweethearts apart than just Lindsey's imminent move to heaven. Can a supernatural love endure even a permanent separation? The book is aimed at older teens, but it doesn't so much follow YA tropes as it does more grown-up-book plot movements, so I think it'll work better for adult readers who are fans of highland stories
Jack is a young vampire returning home to visit his family's property. He has to be careful, because he can't be seen by his only surviving relative; ten years have passed since Jack was turned into a vamp and his 15-year-old kid brother Billy is now his 25-year-old big brother Billy. But evading Billy's notice is not Jack's only problem. his friend Lily sees the future (kind of) and tells him to run the other way when he meets a girl in a pink fuzzy sweater because this girl will cause his death. Her prophecy is partially true. When Jack sees Silver being attacked by a werewolf, he tries to help her and he winds up dying, but the death isn't permanent. He wakes up the next day as a human, and Silver reveals that she is a werewolf hunter and that the two of them are the subject of some very important prophecies. Even after he's regained his humanity, life is going to be anything but normal for Jack Creed.
Jack is so thrilled to be human again, he wants to pick up where he left off and get a real high school experience. He attends school with Silver, but between a creepy teacher who seems to know a little too much about Jack, werewolf threats, and the fact that Silver's keeping bigtime secrets from him, Jack has a lot to be concerned about. There's plenty of action and emotional drama as Jack and Silver try to make sense of their relationship and figure just what the bloodthirsty werewolves are up to now.
I like the family bonds in this story. Billy is the only family Jack has left after the rest of the Creeds were killed by a werewolf, and the interaction between Billy and Jack is pretty believable. Jack is willing to do anything to protect Billy, and Billy is eventually ready to accept and protect Jack, too . Silver's family adores her and they're cutely overprotective, considering that their baby girl can remove souls from people's bodies. The romance is nice, also. Silver and Jack may be linked by dreams and prophecies, but they still have an appropriately long getting-to-know-you process.
There were some elements that didn't quite work for me: 1. Vampires aren't really a match for werewolves, and a single scratch from a wolf can kill them. I'm just surprised at seeing vampires this vulnerable. 2. Silver's full name is Silver Reign, which is a little too paranormal of a name. 3. Early on, Jack and his vampire friends act very lighthearted in the face of tragedy, which is a nice break from angsty vampires in some ways, but can also seem like they have an emotional disconnect. A vampire named Cowboy leaves a dying Jack on his brother's front porch like he's dropping off a friend after school, and as Jack is dying, he requests a cigarette and some loud music on the radio.
In regard to mythology, many of the traditional vampire rules are still in place: vampires can't enter a home unless they're invited in, they fry in the sunlight, and they can manipulate objects with their minds. But I like that Jack's a young vampire. In most stories, we don't see the vampires until they've built up several decades or centuries of boredom or sorrow. Seeing a guy whose life was so freshly left behind makes him very sympathetic--he's been a vampire just long enough for things to be awkward because he can't fit into his old world anymore, but he's not far enough gone that he doesn't still want to fit in.
It's an interesting premise with a few rough spots, but worth looking into.
In this novella based on Beauty and the Beast, teenage Bee (Beauty) has heard the stories about the Beast and his nightmare of a magic house--all of the stories sound impossible, and none of them give her the slightest confidence that she won't be harmed by the Beast inside. Bee's father has made the ultimate mistake of trespassing on the Beast's property, and Bee is the one who has to pay for the mistake by living with the Beast. When the Beast shows himself, Bee discovers that he's nice-looking except for the scar that marks one side of his face, and he's not particularly frightening, except for his disdainful, snobby attitude. His real name is Will and he lives in the house with his younger sister Rose, and his named-for-what-they-do servants Housekeeper and Butler. He's under a curse and needs Bee to help him break it, but he doesn't know how she can help, and Bee's barely convinced that she wants to help such a nasty person.
She tries to use her wits to escape from the magic house, but the doors refuse to open and the windows are unbreakable. And the house truly has an eerie Gothic vibe, from the smiling statues in the Hall of Regret to the underground Labyrinth, to the dead conservatory. The setting really contributes to the mood of the story, and it's clear that while Bee might not be in any life-threatening danger, any number of weird, impossible things could happen in this place. And weird things do start happening, especially after Bee discovers a certain chained-up prisoner in the labyrinth.
We might not know much about Bee's background, but she's still a strong and sympathetic character who's acting brave in the midst of a bad situation. There's some really rough emotional issues between Bee and her dad because, lets face it, he has sacrificed his own daughter to who-knows-what in order to save himself from the magic that marks him as a trespasser. We expect this sort of bizarre abandonment to happen in dark old faery tales, but when it happens in modern fiction, you experience the full weight of a parental betrayal that's impossible to justify. In Alex Flinn's Beastly, she made Beauty's father be a drug addict, to explain why'd he'd willingly hand his his own daughter to a dangerous stranger. In The Curse Girl, the father seems like he's just very thoughtless and weak, and Bee resents him for it, but his mistake allows her to find out what she's really made of.
The romance starts as a near-enemies relationship, like you'd expect. Will and Bee exchange a lot of verbal barbs because she automatically distrusts him and he's immediately dislikes her, though he needs her to break his curse. I really like this version of the Beast--not a brawny monster like in the Disney version (though I love him, too) and not really the standard handsome-guy-turned-ugly guy either. He's intelligent and caustic and he's trying to figure out the rules of his own little supernatural world, just like Bee is. In another upside, he's not some stalker that demanded that Bee's father hand her over to him--getting Bee wasn't really even his idea, so he's still a bit of a brat but he's no kidnapper. I like the gradual development of Bee and Will's relationship. It's halfway through the story before they've even established a good, tense friendship and their struggles to connect are fantastic to watch. The end of the story definitely made me smile.
With a strong heroine, a well-layered mystery, and a truly great setting, The Curse Girl makes for a very solid paranormal read. It's a really compelling take on Beauty and the Beast, and I'll be looking forward to seeing what Kate Ellison comes up with in the future.
It's Ariel's fifteenth birthday, but nobody's too happy about it. Her calmly dysfunctional family only has a tiny 4-person party because Ariel's mom Claire decided it was necessary. Claire is an ultra-perfectionist who runs the perfect business and maintains the perfect home, while Ariel is a standard messy teenager feeling the weight of her mother's disapproval. Ariel's not-so-great birthday gets weirder when she looks out the window and sees her friend Jenna who has been missing for three months. Ariel follows as Jenna runs into the nearby woods and enters the old Dexter Orphange building, which is supposedly haunted. The house catches fire, then Ariel wakes up, still missing her friend.
Ariel stars her sophomore year of high school in a daze, feeling lost without her best friend and wondering what connection her dreams might have to reality. More paranormal phenomena start cropping up, and Ariel gets the unsettling feeling that she's being watched. On the bright side, Ariel does meet a new friend, an outsider girl named Theo, who is a great supporting character.
At school, Ariel also she hears other girls gossiping about a cute new guy named Henry, but Ariel doesn't think she'll like him. And at first she doesn't--he tries to win her friendship and make her laugh, but she's not in a mood for joking because she's still dealing with survivor's guilt after losing Jenna. Henry's actually kind of intrigued that she's annoyed by him, but though he shows some interest, Ariel knows that she shouldn't even think about flirting back because the most popular girl at school has already called dibs on him. Henry has a genuine charm, and his presence seems to be a benefit to Ariel. It's always nice to see a YA guy who isn't especially mysterious or brooding, though Henry does have a few secrets to hide.
There are only a couple of difficult elements in Gravity: 1. The school scenes can be a little longer than necessary when there's no particular action or character development we need to see. 2. Ariel and Henry go back and forth a few too many times about whether they're involved with each other or not.
Ariel tries to manage her school life, plus her new friendship with Theo and new potential relationship with Henry, but she's plagued by her memories of Jenna. Ariel is certain that there's more going on in her town than meets the eye, and Ariel and Theo start spying on the suspicious-acting Principal McPherson. Ariel also begins digging into her town's dark past, particularly as it relates to the creepy ancient orphanage, and she uncovers some truly chilling secrets.
Gravity is a good read for younger teens who'd like something that's on the scary side, and it'll probably be the most interesting to read around Halloween.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOK #1
One week after the events of Shimmerspell, Jensen's having disturbing dreams of a water nixie who talks about a curse Jensen is under. A normal teenage girl wouldn't have to deal with these wacked-out dreams, but Jensen is the halfling granddaughter of the dark nixie Morgan Le Fae, and she's now staying with Dermott, her recently discovered father who also happens to be a skilled magic user. Jensen's best friend Zoe is still providing her with emotional support, but it's hard for Jensen to regroup after learning that her "sister" Lauren was actually her mother, and that she wasn't one of the good guys. Everything Jensen has known to be true has turned upside down, and she still has plenty of unresolved issues.
Brennan the spike-haired siren is back, and he seems to be ready to help Jensen stay safe from the supernatural creatures who would try to harm her, but she's really not sure if he's trustworthy. Jensen's enjoying the little time she gets to have with her faerie boyfriend Liam, a Sidhe Guard who's part of the Seelie Court living on Earth. But her dad is convinced that Liam has some nefarious intentions, and Jensen has to admit to herself that she doesn't fully know this paranormal guy who seems so perfect. There's a very small number of people that she can truly trust in, and they keep changing. This volume contains even more surprise revelations for Jensen, and they're all very attention-grabbing.
For me, the only real downside to the story was seeing Jensen using her magic for kind of selfish reasons. Nothing evil, but still on the shallow side.
The writing style has some good, rich descriptions like I enjoy seeing in faerie fiction--you can get away with some really pretty flourishes when you're discussing the dark and beautiful faerie courts. But the language never kicks over into being flowery because the story really does have its roots in urban fantasy, where there's enough action and grittiness to balance out the beauty. And the Arthurian legends are still woven into the story, which makes it even more interesting. Overall, this is a very engaging second volume in Jensen's ongoing story. And there are dragons in it! Grade: B+