Kiersten White: Paranormalcy

Title: Paranormalcy
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Publisher: Harper Teen

Evie is 16 and can identify paranormal beings on sight – she can see through their glamors to the creature underneath. She’s working for the IPCA, the International Paranormal Containment Agency, who found her as a child when she screamed at the sight of a vampire in a cemetery. They took her out of her foster home and brought her to live at the IPCA center, where she’s home-schooled when she’s not on assignment identifying and tagging vamps, weres, hags, and other supernaturals. Other than her ability to see through glamors, Evie’s just a normal human teenager. Wrong! As the story unfolds, Evie learns that she’s pretty far from normal, in more ways than one. She also learns what it means to be happy, and to be loved, in ways she never expected.

Evie is very much a 16-year-old girl. I love that in a book about what’s normal and not normal, Evie’s more of a normal teenager than a lot of the fully human teens in other YA paranormal novels. She likes to shop and watch television and has a crush on a famous actor. She wants to meet a cute boy who will like her back, and she wants to go to prom. She’s goofy and flirty and at times very insecure, and it makes her easily likeable. Lend is clearly paranormal from the first time we meet him, yet he’s also a very normal teenage boy. I found both characters refreshing in a genre that often expects teenagers to save the world. Now, that’s not to say that Lend and Evie don’t save the world. To find that out, you’ll have to read the book. :)

The story starts out on the more lighthearted side, and it’s told from Evie’s perspective so it’s a little fun and goofy, like she is. As the plot unfolds, the book takes a more serious turn but Evie’s voice is constant. I really enjoy White’s writing style, and I love that she keeps the fun in the story. I recommend this book to anyone who likes to have a little fun, whether young adult or young-at-heart. If you enjoy White’s writing as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know that Paranormalcy is the first book in a trilogy, with the second book, Supernaturally, coming out in Autumn 2011.

Rebecca Maizel: Infinite Days

Title: Infinite Days
Author: Rebecca Maizel
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Lenah Beaudonte is a 592 year old vampire whose greatest wish is to become human again. Rhode, her lover and maker, sacrifices himself to allow her to regain her humanity. Alone and in her 16-year-old body, Lenah begins to discover the human world again. At first she feels like an outsider, but then she meets Justin…

I love that Infinite Days offers a fresh take on vampires. It seems like most modern writers are romanticizing them as heroes, but Maizel shows them in a different light. Her vampires are inherently evil, and must overcome that evil to be capable of rational thought and compassionate action. Most of Maizel’s vampires aren’t capable of that, but a select few are, and those are the characters that make this story great. Lenah, the main character and narrator of the book, was one of the most evil, but a selfless act by her soul mate Rhode gave her a second chance at life. Rhode offered his life to make Lenah human again. As he tells her before he dies, it is the intention that matters.

I really liked meeting Lenah and watching her transformation in the book. The story is told with a number of flashback-style memories, so I got to know not just who she is in the present time of the book, but also who she was in the previous 592 years. The flashbacks did pull me out of the present-day story a little bit, but I really liked getting to know the person that Lenah is becoming before knowing too much about who she had been as a vampire. Maizel’s description of the way Lenah rediscovers her humanity is what made this book for me. She describes the things that Lenah sees and feels so vividly that I could really imagine what it would be like to have those experiences for the very first time, and it made me love the story and the character all the more.

Rhode is such a romantic character, and I found him absolutely fascinating. He was able to overcome his vampiric evil, and he loved Lenah so much that he was willing to die so that she could truly live. Lenah thinks about Rhode often, so he appears in quite a few flashbacks, and in many ways he’s the primary love interest in the book. From the sneak peak in the back of the book, it looks like we’ll be learning more about Rhode in the sequel, Stolen Nights, and I’m really looking forward to it.

There are humans in the story too, of course, though I didn’t find them nearly as fascinating as the vampires. Tony is the first human to talk to Lenah and they quickly become friends. He’s a character that’s easy to like. He’s quirky, artsy, and very down to earth, so I was drawn to him quickly, though it was clear from the beginning that he was the friend and not the love interest. Justin I adored, but I didn’t feel like his character was as consistent as Tony. He seems to vacillate between being immature and superficial in some scenes to being very mature in others, and there were times when I downright disliked him. He’s a teenage boy, through and through, and Maizel does a great job of capturing that.

Nothing about this story feels contrived, and each scene flows smoothly off the previous one, leading to the confrontation that is clearly coming from the beginning of the book. The ending is beautiful and wonderful, and left me wanting more. I’ve always felt that the best fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal is about, at its heart, what it means to be human. Infinite Days fits this perfectly.

Julie Kagawa: The Iron King

Title: The Iron King
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Even with all the great press this book got, I almost passed on it as I’m just not crazy about the fey. I’m really glad I didn’t, as this is one of my favorite books of the year so far.

The Iron King tells the story of Meghan Chase, an awkward and lonely teenager whose biggest hopes are that the cute boy at school will notice her and that her mom and step-dad won’t forget her 16th birthday. Little does she know that everything in her life is about to change. When her 4 year old brother is kidnapped, Meghan learns the truth – that her brother has been taken by fairies, her best friend is fey and her father is a fairy king. Meghan must face a heritage she never knew she had and travel into the perilous fairy realm if she ever hopes to see her brother again.

This is very much a true fairy story, with all the standard fairy fare, such as the Seelie and Unseelie courts, pixies (or, as in the book, piskies), and the entire fairy cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, second only to Twelfth Night.) There are trolls and goblins and talking cats, and new fey for the internet age. I haven’t read a lot of fairy books, so I’m not sure how standard the summer and winter courts are, but I really enjoyed the descriptions of the contrasting fairy realms.

The beginning of the book felt a bit rocky, as it seemed odd to me that Meghan never saw anything strange even though her brother kept trying to show her the monsters he was seeing. Then her sight came right before she turned 16, and her brother was taken at the same time. The events felt a little rushed together. It also felt awkward that after so many years of keeping the fey world a secret from Meghan, Puck was willing to tell Meghan everything, just because she asked him a few questions. That said, I often find the beginning of books where the lead character does not know that supernatural beings exist feel a bit contrived. The beginning isn’t bad, per se, it just wasn’t as strong as I would have liked.

The fast pace continues into the fairy world, with Meghan having to learn quickly how to survive in a place where all the rules are different. Then the story slows, and there are a few sections in Part 1 and 2 of the book that meandered a bit. Meghan’s not really looking for Ethan and not learning much about the fey or herself. I found these sections frustrating and didn’t see how they added much to the tale. The main plot really picks up about 100 pages in, and from there it moves forward at a steady pace. While in the beginning I felt like the book wasn’t holding me, the last 180 pages wouldn’t let me go. I loved meeting the iron fey. Though the idea behind them isn’t new, I really enjoyed the way Kagawa handled it. I expected the book to become preachy, but it didn’t. Instead, the story built to a riveting climax and left me wanting more.

Continue reading Julie Kagawa: The Iron King »

Jackson Pearce: Sisters Red

Title: Sisters Red
Author: Jackson Pearce
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Publisher: Little, Brown

The premise of this book piqued my interest right away – a meaty werewolf story based on Little Red Riding Hood, only Grandma dies and Little Red Riding Hood grows up to be a werewolf slayer. The book starts out with the very definite promise of sadness, with Scarlett, the older of two sisters, having to defend younger sister Rosie from the wolf that killed their grandmother. Flash forward 7 years, and Scarlett, covered in scars and with only one eye, has devoted her life to hunting and killing Fenris, soulless men that transform into wolves to feed on young girls. Scarlett and Rosie are on their own, both having dropped out of school to train and hunt the Fenris. Scarlett’s best friend and hunting partner, woodsman Silas Reynolds, has just returned from San Francisco. Rosie and Silas are the only people in Scarlett’s life, and she drives them to hunt through guilt and their love for her. Silas, however, sees more in Rosie than a hunter, and Rosie starts to realize that while she owes her life to her sister, maybe that doesn’t mean she has to hunt beside her forever.

Pearce delivers two complex and passionate women in Scarlett and Rosie. Rosie and Scarlett each narrate alternating chapters, but in many ways this is Scarlett’s story as she has the most emotional growth ahead of her. Scarlett is physically strong and mentally determined, yet emotionally she’s a mess. She needs Rosie and Silas to hunt with her, to support her. Her strength of purpose isn’t enough to make up for her insecurities about her scars and her regrets about what life could have been for her, and she can’t see that she’s taking away Rosie’s choices just as the Fenris took hers.

It was with Rosie that Pearce really pulled me in. Rosie doesn’t have the physical scars from the wolf attack, but she has all the emotional scars. I wanted Rosie to have everything she could out of life. It made me root for Rosie, and for Scarlett.

Sisters Red is very much a book about sisters, but I also really enjoyed the development of the relationship between Rosie and Silas. Pearce gives all the hints and clues and allows the reader to anticipate the future and to ride along with Rosie as she experiences her first love. Unfortunately I didn’t feel as positive about the main plot. There were points in the story where the book felt stagnant and the characters seemed to be thinking and saying the same things over and over. Fortunately the sluggishness doesn’t last long as the main plot picks up quickly once the lovers are outed.

When Rosie and Silas started to fall in love, I was sure that the book would end in tragedy, with one of the main characters making the ultimate sacrifice for the other two. Pearce deftly pulls out an ending that I didn’t expect. Quite a few of the steps on the way to that ending seemed predictable, and some of the characters’ feats pushed on the borders of what I would consider believable, but by the climax of the book I was so wrapped up in the action that all was forgiven. All in, Sisters Red is an enjoyable read, and a reminder that sisterly love knows no bounds.