Review: Spirit and Dust

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. 2013. Review from ARC from publisher. Companion to Texas Gothic (2011).

The Plot: Daisy Goodnight is seventeen (so, so close to 18!), a college freshman, and a psychic consultant to the FBI.

Yep, that’s right. Daisy, like all the Goodnight women, has a talent. Hers is the ability to communicate with the dead. For real. Which is why this Texas teen is now in Minnesota, talking to the spirit of a recently murdered bodyguard. The good news is, Daisy can tell that the young woman he was guarding, Alexis Maguire, isn’t dead.

The bad news is, Alexis is the daughter of a crime boss, Devlin Maguire, and Devlin Maguire will stop at nothing to get his daughter back.

Including forcing Daisy to use her unique talents. By whatever means necessary. Including threatening her and her family. Including using magic.

The Good: I am such a fan of Rosemary Clement-Moore! Spirit and Dust (like Texas Gothic and The Splendor Falls) is a perfect mix of paranormal mystery and romance.

The mystery: Alexis Maguire has been kidnapped. Since Daisy talks to the dead, she usually isn’t involved in a case involving a live person. Maguire realizes the power of magic; he even has a witch on staff. He uses magic against Daisy to force her to help find Alexis, not realizing (or, more likely, not caring) that Daisy is the type of person who would help find Alexis just because it’s the right thing to do.

So, what does Daisy do? Figure out who amongst the dearly departed may know something about Alexis. As Daisy discovers more and more, she figures out this is not a simple, typical kidnapping. Alexis, a classics scholar, had discovered something long hidden about Ancient Egypt — something that in the wrong hands, could give someone much power. So, yes, this means that not only is there talking to the dead and kidnapping, but there is also magic, a secret brotherhood, research, Egyptian artifacts, and — as promised — romance.

Research — this is the fun type of research. The dashing from museum to museum, looking for clues, stealing a car or two, and avoiding getting blown up type of research.

Spirit and Dust does a tiny bait and switch. One of Daisy’s handlers is a cute, young FBI agent so of course I thought, “aha, the love interest.” Then Daisy got kidnapped by Maguire, and one of Maguire’s henchman, Carson, gets assigned to Daisy, to make sure she does what Maguire wants. Carson is young, cute, funny, and smart. But wait,  you say — he’s the bad guy, right? Let me just say, that yes, Carson becomes what I think of as a “question mark” — is he a good guy or a bad guy? Yes, he works for Maguire, but all his actions seem to indicate he’s a good guy. But is Daisy too trusting?

What else did I love? The mythology of Spirit and Dust. Daisy talks to spirits, and these spirits remnants are a bit fascinating. When someone has just died, they leave an image that only she can see. A remnant also exists at the place of death, which is what Daisy usually sees when she is brought in by the FBI. It also means that visits to places that have seen a lot of death, such as the Alamo (hey, she is a Texan!) can be a brutal experience for her. Yes, her abilities come with physical side affects, such as migraines. Or, if she’s in a museum with, say, a mummy? Yep, that’s a problem, also. Objects, such as jewelry, that have a connection to a person may also have a remnant. It’s just complicated enough that talking to the dead isn’t easy, or simple.

Spirit and Dust is a true companion to Texas Gothic. Texas Gothic was about Daisy’s cousin, Amy; Daisy made an appearance it that book, and Amy appears in this one. You don’t need to read the one to read the other; there is no continuing story arc. That said, there are plenty of Goodnights so I, for one, hope we see more books about this talented mystery solving family.

Other reviews: Clear Eyes, Full Shelves; YAL Book Briefs; A Dream Within A Dream; Page Turners.

Review: A Need So Beautiful

A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Charlotte appears to be a typical teen. She goes to school; has a best friend, Sarah; a boyfriend, Harlin; volunteers at the free clinic; has a family who loves her.

Charlotte has a problem. Harlin thinks she has asthma, because she has attacks and carriers an inhaler. It’s not asthma; the inhaler is a prop. Sarah believes Charlotte is psychic, because she’s observed Charlotte’s odd actions and interactions with others. Charlotte isn’t psychic.

It’s not asthma; it’s not psychic power. It’s the Need. A physical need, an ache, that drives Charlotte to go into buildings, across town, walk up to strangers, and in that moment, and not until that moment, to know, suddenly, everything about that person: past and present, to look into their soul, to see their future, to tell them what they need to do to help themselves. Find a lost child. Go to the doctor. Always, the people she touches believe her and do what she says. They may be dazed, or confused, but the Need is quieted — until next time.

Next time is getting more and more frequent. The Need is getting worse, getting more demanding, taking control of Charlotte’s life. Her relationships are suffering.

What if she could control the Need? Fight it? Stop it? What if she could be normal and lead a normal life?

The Good: Are you thinking the “a” word? Let’s see, Charlotte approaches strangers in their time of need, knows all about them, sees their pain and their possible bad futures, and steers them onto the right path. Sounds simple, right? Except that the Need makes her go places, makes her take risks, so that her family thinks she is accident prone because of the bruises and broken bones while Harlin’s love is tested by Charlotte’s frequent, sudden disappearances. Even Sarah is beginning to get annoyed at Charlotte’s being late or missing lunch dates. Charlotte may be doing good but the price she’s paying is high. Annoyance at how the Need interferes with her life turns to fear when she learns more about the Need, discovering she is not the first and finding out what has happened to the others who had the Need.

Charlotte learns that there is a way to fight the Need. I’m reluctant to share what she discovers, but I’ll say this: Young’s take on angels (if, indeed, that is what Charlotte is) is refreshing and unique. Also good? Young’s treatment of choice. Charlotte may think she has a compulsion — the Need — but it turns out she has choices. Is the Need her destiny? How can the Need bring something good to other’s lives but be so damaging to her own? Is it so wrong to not want to be made to do things?

Harlin, Harlin, Harlin. I have to say, Harlin snuck up on me. At first he was just The Boyfriend, there to make Charlotte normal, there to give Charlotte a dream of a future. Harlin turns out to be so much more than just The Boyfriend, and I love that the truth of him and his character slowly made itself known.

My last words: That last chapter?!? Really!?! So. unfair. What does it mean? When is the sequel?

Review: Forever

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic. 2011. Review from ARC from publisher. Wolves of Mercy Falls series. Sequel to Shiver (2009) and Linger (2010).

The Plot: In Shiver, Grace met Sam, a werewolf; in Linger, new werewolves and complications are introduced; now, in Forever, it is Grace who is a wolf while Sam waits out the winter as a human, hoping for her safety while locals push for a wolf hunt.

The Good: Forever concludes the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. When writing about the conclusion of a series, I usually think two questions should be addressed: does the book stand alone? Is the conclusion satisfying?

Sometimes, such as with these books, I think the first question is a bit silly. This is definitely a tale told in three acts, and yes, it’s best to read the books in order. Bonus, lucky reader who waited till now to read the series, because you don’t have to wait for new books and can just down them all in one wonderful gulp. If you’ve read this far and are fretting about spoilers and the like, stop reading this blog post, click to my review of Shiver, and when you’ve all caught up come back.

The second question — is the conclusion satisfying? — is answered with a loud “yes.” How much do I want to give away about what happens? I can safely say that Stiefvater continues to examine the scientific, biological basis for werewolves. Part of this grounding of fantasy in reality includes the way the wolves are depicted as, well, real wolves: their actions, their pack behaviour, their thoughts and memories are all more wolf than human-trapped-in-a-wolf’s-body. Grace, Sam, Cole, and Isabel, to varying degrees, look for ways to control how a person transitions from human to wolf and how to save the wolves from the hunt that Isabel’s grieving father has instigated.

The romance between Grace and Sam is not just satisfying and mature and jealousy inducing; it is also almost drama free. Or, rather, the drama comes not from Grace and Sam. These two know their own hearts, know how to communicate, know how to be themselves with each other. The drama and conflicts come from the outside world: the shifting into wolves, the danger to the wolves, Grace’s parents. It’s refreshing to have two teens who respect each other and respect themselves.

For those who like a bit of tension in their romance, the tension that comes from uncertainty, lack of communication, or different goals and outlooks — because, in all honesty, sometimes Grace and Sam’s perfect balance is a bit too perfect — there is Cole and Isabel. Sometimes wanting someone is not the best thing for a person; sometimes two people meet at just the wrong time. Sometimes, the relationship one finds oneself in is not Grace and Sam’s smoothness but the rockiness and uncertainty of Cole and Isabel.

The parents in this series are complex. Yes, Isabel’s father is instigating a hunt of wolves who are really human so it’s basically planning a mass murder. But, here’s the thing; he doesn’t know that. What he knows is that the local wolves have attacked and killed people, including his son. Whenever the fear of the hunt came up, all I could think was — this man buried his only son. Of course he wants the wolves gone. Who wouldn’t? I even felt myself feeling some sympathy for Grace’s parents, with their odd mix of indifference and inattention and over-controlling.

The person who I cannot feel sorry for, at all, is Beck, Sam’s adoptive father. I’ve addressed my reservations about him before; basically, Beck is responsible for Sam being attacked by werewolves as a child, which led to Sam’s fearful parents attempting to kill Sam, which led the way for Beck to conveniently adopt Sam and raise him up to be both werewolf and protector of werewolves, namely, Beck. Every character in the book agrees that Beck has been a wonderful parent to Sam. Personally, I was very, very (can I add another very?) pleased that in this book, Beck’s actions towards the child Sam are brought up and discussed. The Beck situation does bring up an interesting ethical and moral quandary, the type of question that is easier to discuss in fiction than in fact — what is redemption and forgiveness? If someone does one terrible thing, can a lifetime of good erase it? Would I be more forgiving of a real-life Beck, or less?

After reading Forever, I looked back to questions I had after reading Shiver. Were they answered? Let’s see!

After reading Shiver: “Was Grace deliberately attacked as a child? How much about the wolves do her parents really know? And does that explain some of how she is (and isn’t) treated by them? How much of Grace’s own personality was shaped by the werewolf attack? Is Grace replicating her parents relationship in her own intense bonding with Sam? And, finally, more an observation than a question — raise your hand if you don’t trust Beck.” Knowing what I know now, I can say that my questions about Grace and her attack were addressed in future books, though not always in the way I guessed.

Review: Paranormalcy

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White. Harper Collins. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Evie, sixteen, works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, helping contain paranormals such as faeries, vampires and werewolves. It’s her version of normalcy until a captured shape-shifter makes her rethink everything she knows about paranormals, the IPCA, and herself.

The Good: I read Paranormalcy on the plane out to ALA Midwinter; it was one I’d been meaning to read  but hadn’t yet, and there was a chance of meeting the author at ALA so I decided perfect plane reading! Which it was, except for the jealousy-inducing method by which Evie travels the world — faerie paths that are practically instantaneous.

The bad thing about bringing a good book to Midwinter is that you end up saying how much you enjoyed it to someone whose response is, “oh, I’d like to read it.” And there goes your copy, which makes writing a review a bit more challenging. In other words, no quotes! And those quotes would have been me showing (not telling) that Paranormalcy delivers what I like in supernatural books: humor mixed with seriousness. I want to laugh and be scared at the same time. But, really, the cover shows you all that and more, with the play on the words “paranormal” and “normalcy” which, well, are quite the opposites, aren’t they? It also has a beautiful girl who is not smiling. Who looks kinda dangerous. Yet who is wearing a fancy dress. That expression and that dress, like the words “paranormal” and “normalcy,” appear to be opposites.

What is “normal”? For Evie, her normal is being a human who hunts paranormal creatures because she has a talent, a gift for seeing under the “glamour” the paranormals wear to pretend they are human. It’s having a best friend who is a mermaid who can only “talk” to her through a computer generated voice and a faerie for an ex-boyfriend who (still) makes her feel all warm and golden inside (literally). It’s loving teen soap operas and pretty clothes but only being able to watch teens on TV or buy clothes online.

The normal Evie wants is the normal she sees on TV: a normal of high schools and lockers, human family and friends, boyfriends and proms. Evie may get the “normal” she wants, and it comes from an unexpected source, a shape-shifter who breaks into the IPCA. This new paranormal creature raises questions that Evie didn’t know she had, and forces her to re-examine just what is meant by “paranormal” and “normal”. See, this is part of why I love supernatural stories: it’s not about the vampires or the faeries or whatever. Here, it seems like it’s about a paranormal hunting girl raised by a government agency who begins to wonder if paranormals are all evil and the IPCA is all good. What it is really about is a teenager who begins to realize that she can make choices in her life, including the choice between the way she was raised and the way she wants to live. The whole idea of what is “normal” — is it your family? Is it what you see on the TV? Is it something else? — is also applicable to just about anyone.

OK, it is also about the faeries and are they good or bad and what about that hot shape shifter named Lend and how, exactly, can a shape shifter be hot?

What else did I enjoy? That a story about vampires addresses the fact that a vampire is a corpse and rotting flesh is not sexy. Also, who is right and who is wrong and what is right and what is wrong is not necessarily what Evie or the reader thinks. A simple “bag and tag” plot turns out to have dangerous shades of gray, and that it makes sense that it takes time for Evie to begin to realize that and that she wouldn’t have figured it out earlier.

By the end of the book, questions are answered but in answering, more are raised. Which means: Sequel! The sequel, Supernaturally, is coming out August/September 2011.

Review: The Iron King

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa. Harlequin Teen. 2010. First in the Iron Fey series. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Meghan Chase, almost sixteen, lives in the middle of the Louisiana bayou with her mother, stepfather and four year old half-brother. Maybe it’s the oddness of having had her father disappear when she was six; maybe it’s living on a pig farm and being poor; maybe it’s not having any of the technology (like cellphones) that her stepfather dislikes; maybe it’s that her only friend is Robbie Goodfell, the school’s greatest prankster — whatever the reason, she doesn’t have many friends. Her crush on cute Scott Waldron ends disastrously.

Could it get any worse?

Why, yes. Meghan starts seeing things. Doesn’t think they are real, until her little brother starts acting strange and it turns out — well, nothing is what she thinks it is. Fairies and otherworldy things are real, her brother has been replaced with a Changeling, and to save him she has to enter the NeverNever, the world of faery. A dangerous world with dangerous creatures, because it turns out? Her good friend Rob is actually Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck. Her father is Oberon, King of the Summer Court. Which means she is half-faery and a princess. Also, it means that Oberon’s wife, Titania, isn’t too happy she exists. Then there is this whole other court, the Winter Court, ruled by Mab.

And just as it gets more confusing and dangerous, enter Ash. Mab’s son. Someone who makes Meghan’s heart race.

The Good: Let’s just get down to it, shall we? It’s Team Puck versus Team Ash.

On the one side, Puck. Minuses: he was sent by her father to keep an eye on her. Has been half-lying to her about her identity for years. And those jokes can sometimes get on one’s nerves. Pluses: he’s her best friend. The person she can absolutely trust. He knows his way away Faeryland and he’ll help her, no matter what. He’s a fighter, he’s loyal, and he’s cute.

On the other, we have Ash. Minuses: the Winter Court and Summer Court are long-time enemies, so he’s her built in enemy. He’s sworn to kill Puck, in a “cannot take it back” way. Dark, moody, edgy, not very communicative. Not to be trusted. Pluses: He’s Mr. Hotty from Hottyville who just sets her heart a-racing.

Me? I say date Ash, marry Puck.

I’m trying to figure out when to put my spoiler warning. Like triangles, with two very different but equally interesting people? Read The Iron King. If it’s all about the world building and you want an otherworld that has both the dark and the beautiful things from ancient stories, tales, and myths come to life, read The Iron King. In addition to Puck and Ash, there is Grimalkin, a talking cat, sirens, goblins and more.

But what I really liked about this book is something that is a bit spoilery. Don’t want spoilers? I warned you!

As in Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement, belief matters. “Doorways to the Nevernever tend to appear in places where there is a lot of belief, creativity and imagination. Often you can find one in a child’s bedroom closet, or under his bed.” Children (like Meghan’s younger brother) can see and talk to those from the Nevernever because they believe. At one point, Meghan is told she can tap into her half-faery powers to become invisible if she just taps into that power. Personally, that seems the worst thing, because the minute you doubt…oops. It doesn’t work.

In The Iron King, not believing can have consequences: “Mortal disbelief has always taken a bit of the Nevernever.” It turns out that belief can have consequences, also. Mortals and their belief in science and technology have not just “taken a bit of the Nevernever”, it has created new type of fey, the Iron Fey. The Iron Fey have kept their existence secret from their traditional, older brothers and sisters. What’s interesting is that iron — science and technology — have always been fatal to the fey. So here are a new fey that are both immune to the dangers of the mortal world, and themselves are dangerous to their fellow fey.

The Iron King ends on a cliffhanger: to save her brother, Meghan has made sacrifices and promises. Promises that must be kept. Her future survival is a bit of a question mark. So, to, is the future of the fey and what will happen now that the Iron Fey are no longer hiding. The story continues in The Iron Daughter and The Iron Queen.

Review: The Eternal Ones

The Eternal Ones: What if love refused to die? by Kirsten Miller. 2010. Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. Personal copy.

The Plot: Haven Moore, 17, is from tiny Snope City, Tennessee, but she dreams of New York City. No, really — she has dreams and flashbacks to New York City, a place where she has never been. In her visions, it’s ninety years earlier, her name is Constance, and she looks totally different. She’s in love with a man named Ethan. Haven’s grandmother and the local preacher have half-convinced Haven that she’s possessed by demons.

One day, Haven sees playboy Iain Morrow on television. He looks different than Ethan, but she knows: it’s Ethan. Now all Haven has to do is figure out how to get to New York City, meet Iain, ask him if he knew her in a past life — well, OK. The plan has some flaws. But nothing is going to get in the way of Haven and true love. Not her controlling grandmother. Not the impossibility of meeting an A-List celebrity like Iain. Not a secret society. Not her suspicions about how Constance and Ethan died. Well, OK, maybe her suspicions that Ethan had something to do with their deaths….

The Good: The first part of The Eternal Ones reads like something out of V.C. Andrews: mean grandmother, weak mother, extreme religion, possible mental illness, and did I mention the snake-handlers? Haven isn’t locked in an attic, but her grandmother does threaten to lock her up because of her visions.  Haven briefly gets a “happy ever after” in the middle of the book after she connects with Iain/Evan. The final third is Haven trying to figure out the truth about herself, Iain, Constance, Ethan, and other reincarnated people (present and past) with additional complications from the Ouroboros Society. The society is dedicated to the study of reincarnation, but there is something more, something hidden, something dark about it.

There are many barriers to Haven’s seeking the truth. Some are her own incomplete memories of Constance. Haven may recognize a building Constance was in but she has no idea what Constance’s last name was. Some problems arise from the “secret” part of secret societies. Others are from people not telling everything they know all at once. And really, what kind of story would that make? Can you imagine — “my name is Iain, we’ve been in love for centuries, and let me describe in detail my entire life, all the lives I remember, all I know about your past life, and oh yes, there’s this place called the Ouroboros society and did I mention I love you?”. The entire book would be Iain’s monologue. I’ll admit, it can be a bit frustrating as a reader when you’re thinking “if only Iain had said something earlier!” As one character says to Haven, “you know, if [Iain] really is your boyfriend, you guys should probably spend some time getting to know each other a little better.”

If one of Iain’s flaws is a reluctance to share with Haven things he thinks she’ll find unpleasant or threatening, Haven’s flaws are a mix of insecurity and jealousy about Iain/Ethan that leads her to  jump to conclusions about him. She also has a tendency to believe strangers for no good reason, or, rather, to believe them when they confirm her worst fears. Reincarnation in The Eternal Ones is not just about having memories, it’s also about retaining talents (art, design, science) and character traits (jealousy).

As with Miller’s Kiki Strike books, the setting of New York City is conveyed by using unique and lesser-known landmarks and history. Other writers may mention Central Park or the Brooklyn Bridge in their books, but how many include Washington Mews or The Rose House? I would love to go on a historical building tour of New York City with Miller!

Review: Firelight

Firelight by Sophie Jordan. HarperCollins. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Jacinda, sixteen, is a draki who broke the rules. A draki isn’t human – not quite. A draki is descended from dragons and has the ability to shift to human form. Flights are limited to night, when humans cannot spot them. Jacinda cannot resist an early morning flight. Hunters come – in helicopters and hummers, with nets and guns. Modern warfare against a not so mythical beast. Jacinda has exposed her pride. Her mother, afraid of the consequences the pride will inflict for Jacinda’s actions, flees the protected town of the pride to the outside world, hoping they can hide in plain sight.

Jacinda hates having to be something she is not, having to pretend to not be draki. Her twin sister, Tamra, who never manifested as a dragon, loves being at a normal school, having regular friends, trying out for cheerleading. Jacinda hates it. Then Jacinda meets Will. Instant connection. Only problem is…

Will is a hunter.

The Good: Sophie Jordan has written historical romances and paranormal romances, so I was really excited to read her foray in young adult books. It does not disappoint; I love the romance between Jacinda and Will. I especially love how Jacinda’s draki self (she’s a rare fire dragon) becomes a metaphor for female sexuality.

No, really. Jacinda’s draki manifests itself just seeing Will, and gets even more intense from touching and kissing him. Manifestation for Jacinda is ultimately changing into a fire dragon; along the way, her skin turns red, she feels physical changes within her, and her skin becomes hot to the touch. Here are some scattered descriptions of her manifesting, often in reaction to Will: “My flesh shivers. The tiny hairs at my nape prickle in alert.” “My skin blurs in and out, shimmering faintly, like I’ve been dusted with gold. The draki in me stirs, tingling, yearning to come out.” “I look back at Will and pleasure whips through me.” “My lungs expand with smoldering heat. I hold my breath. Suppress the heat at my core, the rumbling vibration inside me.” “That much-missed vibration ignites in my chest, spreads to my core. My skin snaps alive.” “My tightening skin heats, flashes a brief shimmer of red-gold.”

Now, part of this is that the draki inside responds to certain things including arousal and attraction. But part of it is also that in Firelight, the metaphor is sexuality.

The book begins with Jacinda wanting to fly as a draki on her terms, not her pride; in other words, wanting to experience sexuality on her own terms. Repercussions include the pride wanting to control her further, by forcing her into a “bonding” relationship with another draki to pass along her genetics and to produce more fire dragons. They literally want to control who she has sex with. Meanwhile, the hunters are seeking to destroy that which they don’t understand and they fear — the draki / female sexuality. Will falling for Jacinda is, on the surface, a star-crossed lovers romance. He is the hunter, she is the hunted. That doesn’t mean she is a victim; far from it. The drakis are so powerful that she is the stronger of the two. The hunters need weapons to take on the draki. Since the metaphor is sexuality, this is also about Will realizing that Jacinda / female sexuality is not something to be feared, not something to destroy.

The family’s escape from the pride and their town reads like an escape from a cult. Jacinda yearns to return to the pride because in the world she has to hide her draki self; the reader realizes that the pride is not the answer to Jacinda’s prayers. Then again, the outside world is not an answer, either. The family is no longer controlled by the pride (something Jacinda doesn’t fully realize, not at first), but the are hardly free if Jacinda has to hide her true identity, suppressing it until it dies. Will Jacinda be able to find a place where she can be herself, without fear? I look forward to reading the rest of this series to find out.

Review: Manifest

Manifest: A Mystyx Novel by Artist Arthur. Kimani Tru, an imprint of Harlequin. 2010. Copy from publicist; questions, below, are part of a Community Interview put together by Online Publicist.

The Plot: Krystal Bentley, fifteen, has had a rough year. Her parents divorced, her mother forced her to move from New York City to Lincoln, Connecticut, her mother met and married Gerald, Krystal has no friends, and dead people talk to her. No, really, Ricky (who looks pretty fine for a dead boy!) is right there, in her room, kind of transparent, insisting she help solve his murder.

The Good:  The press release for Mystyx promised  “an exciting, new multicultured paranormal series” and it delivers. Krystal’s mother is half Cherokee, her father is black; and the students at Settlemans High School are a mix of race and ethnicity. Sasha Carrington is a “Richie” and Latina; Jake is a “Tracker” and white. Sasha and Jake become Krystal’s friends and will be main characters for the next books in this series.

Dead people talk to Krystal; up to now, she has ignored them and they leave her alone. Until now. Until Ricky. Sasha and Jake notice Krystal’s odd birthmark that looks like a letter “M” and tell her that they have the same birthmark. Sasha and Jake further share that they have powers: she can teleport; he can move things with his mind.  Krystal lets her guard down, enough to make friends with Sasha and Jake, to learn more about her own powers, to help Ricky, and to recognize the truth behind her parents’ divorce.

Krystal, Sasha and Jake try to figure out how to use their powers and why they have them. This is the first in a series, so some of the things that contradict each other may be explained later. Sasha and Jake discovered their powers when they turned fifteen, while Krystal has heard dead people for years. Sasha’s theory that the powers are linked to puberty is wrong, but no other explanation is given in this book for how, and when, powers manifest. It may have something to do with being conceived during certain types of storms (which adds a nice scientific twist and research to the tale), but that still doesn’t explain when the powers how up. Jake discovers a diary of his great grandmother that reveals that people have had powers before and some people are aware of the powers that is called “Mystyx” or simply “the Power” or “Powers”. While the reader may speculate that this means other people in the present day are aware of (or have) powers, it’s not really followed up on in Manifest. While I was thinking “what about…”, I know from reading series that not everything can be (or should be) addressed in the first book. So,  yes, there are some lose ends and things that don’t wrap up nicely, and may even contradict, but that’s the price you pay for reading a series. It’s not all set out or resolved in book one. I actually have a theory about other people knowing about the Mystyx and who specifically they are, but let’s wait till the next book to see if I’m right.

I had a couple other “what about” moments, like why Krystal’s mother moved back to her hometown yet Krystal does not mention her mother having any relatives or friends in town. Not live ones, anyway. Part of it may be “this will be explained later,” part of it may be that Krystal is so self absorbed in her own problems, pain, hurt, and life that she probably wouldn’t notice if her mother had a dozen friends over every day.

Arthur has created a very realistic teen in Krystal, so I can forgive those “what about” moments (and trust that they will be addressed in future books.) Krystal’s anger at her mother, the injustice of having to move away from her father and now having to live with Gerald – you feel it and are right there with her every angry step of the way.  In less than a year, she’s lived in a New York City apartment with both her parents, a small apartment  she and her mother lived in when they first returned to Connecticut, and now the big house she moved into after her mother and Gerald wed. Who wouldn’t be pissed beyond the telling? In rereading the book, I realized that Gerald and Krystal’s mother have been married for only one month, which definitely explains a lot of Krystal’s attitude. Her poor mother and Gerald can do nothing right. I love when a book creates such believable self-involved angst that I find myself getting just as angry as the teen! It’s actually quite cathartic. At one point, I eye-rolled at something Gerald said and thought “no adult is that clueless.” Luckily, I have a blog review buddy who I checked with and she basically said, yes, she has known adults that clueless. Moral of the story for reviews: just because it’s not true for me, doesn’t mean it’s not true for others.

Krystal’s anger and hurt combined with being naturally defensive because of “talking to dead people” creates a character who sometimes sounds whiny or self-involved. I imagine part of the reason she hasn’t made friends before this is she was sending out a silent “stay away from me” message with every gesture, expression, and tone of voice. Given all that has been piled on her plate, I cannot blame Krystal for her attitude, and often shared those feelings towards her seemingly clueless mother and stepfather. Krystal’s connecting with Sasha and Jake and discovering her powers can be used for good and not feared allow other defenses to come down, so she eventually sees her parents and stepfather in a more balanced light.

One of the reasons I said “yes” to reviewing Manifest is it’s part of the Kimani Tru imprint from Harlequin: it’s the African American young adult imprint from Kimani Press, which is an imprint of Harlequin.While Harlequin is known for its romance, and there is some romance in Manifest, I wouldn’t categorize it as such. More a straight-forward paranormal story with some “does he like me? do I like him?” elements. Anyway, so I said yes to the opportunity to review a book from this imprint, and also because Manifest has such an awesome cover. A bonus was that the publicist handling this also put together a “community interview,” using one question from a bunch of different bloggers. I’ve selected a handful of questions to share here.

Let’s start with my question: As a writer are you a “plotter” (with detailed outlines) or are you a “plunger” (plunge into the story and see where it takes you)?

Artist Arthur: I’m a plotter definitely. As I begin to write the characters take on their own life but with my outline I know where I need them to end up. Most of the time they work with me.

 Diana Dang said…How do you write out your stories? Plan them? Let the characters decide? Or only when you have an “aha!” moment then you put it down?

Artist Arthur: I’m a planner. I get the idea then I run with it. My outlines are usually about five pages long and that’s just on the characters, not actually the story. I know, overkill right? LOL

Star Shadow saidHow did you come up with the amazing idea for the base for this book and the Mystyx group/powers?

Artist Arthur: I love watching the weather channel. I kept thinking that something has to be left behind after all these storms and natural disasters. My daughter came up with the names of the Mystyx characters and I gave them powers. I wanted different powers, ones that would fit each character specifically.

MissAttitude said…My question: Why did you decide to not only make Krystal African American, but also one fourth Native American?

Artist Arthur: I wanted all the characters to be unique in their backgrounds and upbringing. My family has some Native American (Cherokee) so it was a natural mixture for me.

Review: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater.  Scholastic Press. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from ALAN Conference. The Wolves of Mercy Falls series; Linger is a sequel to Shiver

The Plot: Shiver, the tale of human Grace and sometimes wolf Sam, ended on a happy note, with Sam permanently shedding his wolf and becoming a real boy, so that Sam and Grace could live happily ever after.

Except, things are never that simple, are they? Spring is here, the time of year when wolves change back into human form. Sam is adjusting to being human and not being a wolf, as well as being the caretaker for the human-wolves in the forest, especially the new ones.

Grace’s perfect life isn’t so perfect, because her distant and absent parents are acting quasi parent-like, at least when it comes to her love life and their suspicions of Sam. Now she has to balance their dislike of him with her own growing love for Sam. If only parental disapproval and caretaking of new wolves was their only problem.

The Good:  Stiefvater continues to slowly reveal the world of human-wolves. What makes someone transition into a wolf? Why do some have years before their wolf-selves become permanent? Why would someone voluntarily give up their humanity to become one? Why do some people who get bit live, why do some become wolves, why do some die?

This remains Sam’s and Grace’s story. Sam is realizing for the first time he has a future. Or does he? What is his responsibility to the wolves, to his adoptive father Beck, to the new wolves, Cole and Victor, who were just turned the prior fall? While free from becoming a wolf, is he now trapped in Mercy Falls?

To make things worse, Thomas Culpeper, who lost his son Jack to the wolves in Shiver, continues to hunt the wolves. Culpeper sees them as animals who kill, who took his only son, and nothing will stop him from making sure there are no more wolves in Mercy Falls.

Grace has the love of her life, but something else is happening: “But now it is spring. With the heat, the remaining wolves will soon be falling out of their wolf pelts and back into their human bodies. Sam stays Sam, and Cole stays Cole, and it’s only me who’s not firmly in my own skin.” Her parents are suddenly suspicious, looking at Sam as just a high school fling who is a distraction to school work. Grace wonders, can she still go away to college? If Sam is linked forever to Mercy Falls and caring for the wolf pack, does she have to stay?

Sam and Grace, those two crazy kids. I like their relationship; they are so easy with each other and comfortable with each other. They love each other, and are in love with each other, and are friends. Take away the whole wolf aspect of the story, and you have a fairly healthy teenage relationship. I say “fairly,” because theirs is the type of relationship that is so complete there isn’t room for many other people.

Two new voices add to the story: Cole, the young man who chose to become a wolf, and Isabel Culpeper, who lost her brother Jack when she tried to stop him from becoming a wolf. Cole and Isabel’s flirtation and attraction is more brittle, more heated, less romantic than Sam and Grace. It provides a nice balance to the sometimes too perfect, too happy Sam and Grace.

Sam, bitten as a child, never chose to be a wolf. With Cole, Stiefvater explores why someone would want to lose themselves in wolfishness.

When I reviewed Shiver, I had questions. Some are answered, but just as many more are asked. Without giving too much away, both Sam and Grace were bitten as children; Grace was cured inadvertently as a child, while Sam’s cure was deliberate. The cure is dangerous; Isabel’s brother Jack died from it. It turns out the cure is more complex than anyone realized and that there are repercussions to deal with.

Linger‘s ending is perfect, and if the series ends with Shiver and Linger I will be content. But I really hope there is a third book!

For the record, while both Grace and Sam like Beck and the wolf family he created, I am suspicious of the man and just don’t trust him.  Some reviewers of  Shiver didn’t like the potrayal of Grace’s parents (too distant! too uninvolved!) but very few questioned Beck’s actions towards Sam (deliberately biting a child so that he would join the pack), which to me was almost a kidnapping. But then, I am a suspicious person because I also think Grace’s parents have a secret or two they are not sharing.