Lifelong reader of fantasy, longtime reader of manga, and more recent reader of YA. But I'll give just about anything a chance if it interests me.
(Originally posted at Dear Author.)
I love all things supernatural. Fitting, I suppose, given the season. That’s why demon hunting ranks high among my my favorite fictional occupations. I like seeing what they can do, the types of monsters they face (bonus points if they’re non-western!), and how their job affects their lives. So when I heard that your debut solo effort featured a team of demon hunters, I snatched it right up.
Unbreakable wastes no time kicking the story into gear. We first meet Kennedy as she’s out looking for her cat one night. Her search brings her to a cemetery where she not only finds her cat but also encounters a ghost. This meeting proves to have terrible consequences because without Kennedy realizing it, the ghost possesses her cat and hitches a ride to her house where it then proceeds to kill her mother.
Kennedy would have shared a similar fate but a pair of hot twins, Jared and Lukas, save her in time. Devastated by her mother’s death, she soon discovers that a normal life is no longer possible for her. She’s the descendant of a demon hunter who belonged to a five-member society charged with keeping a powerful demon in check and that demon is now doing everything in its power to break free.
Kennedy is exactly the type of protagonist you’d expect in this type of story. She had a normal life and loving relationship with her mother. Given that the relationship was a good one, the mother’s ultimate fate is hardly shocking. Poor mothers. They always die! Kept in the dark about her heritage, Kennedy has no idea how to hunt or fight demons. She’s had no training or special abilities. Her only skill is an eidetic memory, which of course comes into use. While much of the story is about seeking out the pieces to stop the demon’s escape, it’s also just as much about Kennedy learning about the Legion and their mission.
The plot proceeds fast and furious. It wastes no time and there is no fluff. Once Kennedy is swept up into the world of the Legion, it’s a race against time to stop the demon. While I liked that the plot was relentless, I wished the plot-to-characterization ratio was more balanced. As it was, I found the characters a tad superficial and this detracted from the story. If the characters had been better developed overall, I think some of the dramatic reveals (like Jared’s big secret) would have had more impact.
Speaking of Jared, I thought the romance between Kennedy and him was phoned in. It went through the motions of the typical instalove formula so prevalent in YA but as usual, I never quite understood why they were Meant to Be. Why did Jared like Kennedy? Why did Kennedy prefer Jared over his twin? They both saved her.
In addition, there’s a poorly developed love triangle involving Kennedy, Jared and Lukas. Poorly developed, because it never got off the ground. Both twins are attracted to Kennedy but while Jared is standoffish due to guilt over past actions, Lukas is more demonstrative and friendly. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Kennedy to like Lukas then? But Kennedy only ever truly thinks of Jared. When it comes to Lukas, it’s apparent she only thinks of him as a friend. I understand love triangles involving siblings can be tricky but they require intensity and conflict to make them work. While Lukas and Jared had their issues with each other, that emotion never came through because the characterization left much to be desired. Even if the intention wasn’t to have a love triangle — and I can see an argument for that — the underlying conflict between the brothers should have affected the burgeoning relationship between Kennedy and Jared.
I did like the supporting characters, Alara and Priest. True, they suffered from poorly executed characterization but the idea of them was great. I adored that Alara was fiercely competent and that her relationship with Kennedy starts off on the wrong foot. But in her eyes, the inexperienced Kennedy is a liability and someone who could get them all killed. If I were in Alara’s place, I’d feel the same way. But that’s what makes the evolution of their relationship so great. Kennedy has to work to gain Alara’s trust and respect. It doesn’t just fall into her lap.
While I won’t say the ending revelation was a surprise, I thought the execution was excellent. It was a brutal twist and delivered a gut punch. For what was an otherwise so-so read, the ending is something that makes me contemplate picking up the sequel. At the very least, I’d like to find out the truth about the Legion, the demon it was charged to watch over, and how exactly Kennedy and late mother figured in all of it.
Unbreakable is a worthwhile read for people who love demon hunters and want an action-packed plot. Readers who want deeper characterization and angst, however, should probably look elsewhere. I just wish the rest of the book lived up to the ending.
(Originally posted at Dear Author.)
I was a big fan of the Gardella Vampire Chronicles. While her other novels, including those written under other pen names, haven’t worked as well for me, I’m still willing to give a new project of hers a try. When Jane sent me this, I was skeptical but game.
The Clockwork Scarab relies on a fairly absurd premise. It’s one of those that will either make readers laugh or make grabby hands. The suspension of disbelief required is pretty high: Sherlock Holmes’s niece and Bram Stoker’s sister work as a team under Irene Adler to investigate the deaths of young women in Victorian England. See what I mean?
I normally don’t like these sorts of mash-ups but apparently I was in a receptive mood. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it despite being quite aware of how silly the whole thing was. Maybe it was because I was in the mood for something featuring multiple female main characters and The Clockwork Scarab definitely gives us that.
Mina, the niece of Sherlock Holmes, is brilliant and observant but awkward and not at all comfortable maneuvering proper London society. This is further compounded by being abandoned by her mother, who’s run off to Paris, and a father who’s present but long since checked out. Evaline, the sister of Bram Stoker, is the pretty ingénue but in reality, is a vampire hunter. To readers thinking this sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that: Evaline is Victoria Gardella’s descendant. Yes, this in-universe wink-wink tie-in can be trite and cutesy but given the premise of the book, I think it’s a little too late to quibble and throw stones. What I found interesting about Evaline, however, is that she’s a thwarted vampire hunter. There are few vampires left running around, leaving her with all this strength and speed and no way to apply it. The one time she does come face to face with one, she freezes and that failure haunts and drives her throughout the novel.
It was pretty refreshing to read a novel about female partners. I mean, I usually read fantasy and am drowning in a sea of male partners going on adventures. It’s nice to read about female partners doing the same once in a while. (I’d actually like it if this could be more than once in a while though.) Mina and Evaline don’t get along when they first meet and it takes them the majority of the novel to trust each other. What I liked about their interpersonal conflict is that it’s all personality based. Both are used to being outsiders and working alone. They have no idea how to work with one another. Mina is very cerebral and a careful planner whereas Evaline is a fighter and lives on instinct. These are two very different approaches and it causes many mishaps in their investigation. I also liked that they were mutually intimidated by each other. How often do you see female characters jealous over other female characters’ skills?
While there were multiple love interests set up for each girl (but none of whom overlap so there will no “fighting over the same boy” shenanigans, thank goodness!), the potential romances remain low-key. The mystery and their investigation very much remain at the forefront. The girls have an objective and while they may get momentarily distracted, they never take their eyes off the prize.
The downside of this focus, unfortunately, is that the mystery never gets resolved. The girls’ deaths are linked to an underground organization devoted to the Egyptian goddess, Sekhmet. It’s purportedly a radical (for the time) women’s lib organization interested in letting escape the shackles of marriage and the like. What never quite made sense to me was how this goal would be accomplished by resurrecting an Egyptian goddess in Victorian England.
There’s also a random time traveler. I have no idea what purpose he serves. Other than being a love interest, of course. I don’t even have a clue about how time travel fits into all this. It’s somehow tied in the Sekhmet cult but since that mystery is never completely solved, I got nothing. Dylan never fit into the story so whenever he showed up on page, I found it jarring.
The Clockwork Scarab is the first of a series and it suffers from the same unresolved conflict issues that plagued many other YA series. We never learn what the Sekhmet cult was all about. We never learn how or why Dylan travelled through time into a weird alternate past. But because of the female leads and their interactions with one another, I’m willing to stay on the ride for at least one other book.
(Originally posted at Dear Author.)
A few months ago I mentioned a personal need to take a break from the YA dystopia subgenre. The books weren’t working for me, and I was growing increasingly frustrated. Then I heard the premise for your debut novel: a world in which fresh water became a scarce, much sought after resource. I found this idea far easier to believe than some other dystopian concepts I’ve read.
Lynn’s existence is one of desperate survival: purifying drinking water, fending off coyotes, finding enough food to last the winter, and protecting their pond against strangers who’d want to steal their precious water. It’s a hard life but it’s the only one she’s ever known. She’s used to it and wants nothing more than to remain in the family home with her mother. Lynn doesn’t need anyone else.
When her mother is killed by coyotes, Lynn must now fend for herself. Not only does she have hungry coyotes to deal with but she also has to protect her home from scavengers who’d love nothing more than to steal it from her. But when she encounters strangers camping out by the stream near her home, Lynn learns what it means to trust and love another human being. Now she has to protect them too while the scavengers she’s been fending off growing in strength and number.
Given how many dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels there are, it’s hard to be original and this book isn’t. But a lack of originality is fine, provided the characters are interesting and the story are interesting. For me, Not a Drop to Drink delivered on both fronts.
I liked Lynn a lot. She’s a hard heroine, raised to be fierce and independent, by a mother who became a hard woman in order to survive in a world that was falling apart. Some readers will find her unlikeable. I thought her characterization was great. Given her upbringing, it made sense that Lynn didn’t trust anyone. She was taught to shoot first and forget about asking the questions later because the person you shot at better be dead.
I also thought Lynn’s innocence about certain topics made sense. She didn’t grow up around men so why would she know anything about them? That said, this ignorance wasn’t played for laughs. Lynn wasn’t a wide-eyed naive girl. Sex, love, and flirting were foreign concepts to her. There was the usual instalove romance subplot but it was more low-level than in other books in this genre, which I appreciated. So if you’re a reader who prefers much prevalent romance in your YA, this is not the book for you. That and the romance doesn’t end well.
Regarding Lynn’s ignorance about certain topics, I’m of two minds about the handling of rape. At a point in the novel, it’s necessary to explain to Lynn what rape is and it didn’t sit well with me that rape was equated to sex. Rape has more to do with power rather than with sex, and the narrative didn’t make that distinction clear in my opinion. On the other hand, Lynn received this explanation from a male neighbor and perhaps that is how he viewed rape and that’s why he explained it to Lynn that way. The lacking distinction is murky, so I’m not entirely sure if it was deliberate.
One of the reasons I liked this book is because despite an obvious dystopian premise, it reads more like a post-apocalyptic survival adventure. I miss those kinds of stories and even if there is a rather useless love interest, the narrative remains focused on Lynn and her growth as a person. The story makes it clear that it’s perfectly all right to be a hard person, sometimes the circumstances require it in order to survive, but that it was okay to have some soft edges too. That it was okay to trust people.
The ultimate confrontation at the end could have used more build-up. I thought that the initial threat was set up nicely in the beginning when both Lynn and her mother were shooting at the scavengers in the dark. But once Lynn made contact with her neighbor and then befriended the people by the river, that thread dropped, only to be picked up at the end. It almost read like an afterthought: Oops! The book is ending! We need an exciting climax!
I also thought the identity of the antagonist was predictable and cliche. That said, I did think Lynn’s choice was the correct one. Blood doesn’t trump everything.
While not an original story, I thought Not a Drop to Drink was a worthwhile read. People tired of introspective dystopias might find this more to their liking. The constant spectre of rape might be a turn-off, as well as the way it was handled, however. And romance readers definitely need to mind what I said about that subplot.
(Originally posted at Dear Author.)
I’ve been slow to climb on the new adult train. I’ve read a few but I keep running into what I call the Trauma Wall. So much trauma. So many victimized characters. I get that angst is very popular in the genre right now, but I can only read that sort of thing in small doses. Still, I was intrigued by the idea of a virgin hero so I picked up your debut.
Avery doesn’t do relationships. One night stands and friends with benefits are more her speed. When a hot tattoo artist, Bennett, moves into the apartment upstairs, she thinks she’s met her next hook up. There’s only one problem. Bennett wants a more lasting relationship with her, and that is the one thing she can’t give him.
Like many NA protagonists, Avery has a traumatized past and the fact that she’s female should give a big clue as to what type of trauma it is. The narrative treated it as this big skeleton in the closet, but it was very obvious what had happened in her past. By the time the details were finally revealed, I was tired of all the skirting around the subject. There’s a fine balance between keeping a secret to heighten tension and just drawing it out needlessly, and I think All of You tips towards the latter.
One thing I did like about the treatment, however, is that there were lasting effects on her behavior. Avery is in complete control of her sexuality. She controls who she sleeps with and when, where, and how it happens. She’s not ashamed of her sexuality and screw anyone who thinks she should be.
Both Avery and Bennett come from similar family backgrounds: no father present while they were growing up and a neglectful mother with a tendency to date terrible men. It gives them common ground. But while that history made Avery not want to form any permanent relationships with men, it made Bennett very cautious and careful about who he has sex with.
I liked that the usual relationship dynamic was flipped. In All of You, the heroine is the one with lots of sexual experience while the hero is a virgin. I thought that reversal was great, and I got what the subversion was trying to accomplish. In other romances, the sexually experienced hero sleeps around indiscriminately until he meets the heroine, and then he stops because he’s met The One. In All of You, a similar thing happens except the gender roles are switched and that’s refreshing. But because Avery is a woman, there’s an aspect to it that’s not present in the male character equivalent. Namely, because of her history and family background, the subtext is that Avery sleeps around because she’s broken. Her own brother even implies it. Like there has to be reason why she sleeps with multiple partners beyond she wants to. And this is where the subversion starts falling apart for me. If a hero can sleep around because he’s alpha and hot, why can’t a heroine sleep around just because she’s alpha and hot? Does she need a traumatic, broken backstory to justify that behavior?
For the most part, Bennett is all right with Avery’s sexual experience but only in a theoretical context. There are a couple times in the novel when he comes face to face with her previous partners and loses it, but I found that reaction believable, sadly. Despite these scenes, I was fine with those depictions because the narrative makes a point to say he has no right to feel that way. Bennett is genuinely sorry he reacted the way he did. The same also goes for Avery. The narrative clearly says she has no right to feel jealous of the girls Bennett talks to because she’s made it clear she wants no relationship with him. She knows and Bennett calls her on it.
The main complaint I have pertains to the subplot involving Avery’s stepfather. The way that played out seemed forced and contrived. It seemed like it was present for the sole purpose of bringing Avery and Bennett together and then once that happened, the set-up required some closure.
I thought All of You was a good portrayal of two people with opposing desires falling in love. They spend a long time negotiating the ins and outs of their relationship. They go from an initial attraction to determining it wouldn’t work because they clearly want different things to trying to be purely platonic (and very much failing). I enjoy reading about evolving relationships and how they change as the people involved get to know one another and in that sense, All of You delivered.