Friday, December 23, 2011

Beautiful Chaos-Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

And I thought that things would be okay for Ethan and Lena. Holy moly…was I wrong…

“Ethan Wate thought he was getting used to the strange, impossible events happening in Gatlin, his small Southern town. But now that Ethan and Lena have returned home, strange and impossible have taken on new meanings. Swarms of locusts, record-breaking heat, and devastating storms ravage Gatlin as Ethan and Lena struggle to understand the impact of Lena's Claiming. Even Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals is affected - and their abilities begin to dangerously misfire. As time passes, one question becomes clear: What - or who - will need to be sacrificed to save Gatlin? For Ethan, the chaos is a frightening but welcome distraction. He's being haunted in his dreams again, but this time it isn't by Lena - and whatever is haunting him is following him out of his dreams and into his everyday life. Even worse, Ethan is gradually losing pieces of himself - forgetting names, phone numbers, even memories. He doesn't know why, and most days he's too afraid to ask. Sometimes there isn't just one answer or one choice. Sometimes there's no going back. And this time there won't be a happy ending.”

When I read Beautiful Creatures, I wasn’t too sure about the story of Ethan and Lena. As I read Beautiful Darkness, I got more drawn into the world that Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s created. This third book, Beautiful Chaos, was by far the best in the series. “Oh really?” you say? Yes. It is the best.

My main issue with the books have always been that I felt that Ethan was a bit of a whiney girl and depended too much on Lena to define him as a person. In this book, we see Ethan, in a clich├ęd term, turn into a man. I loved the psychological mind games that Ethan is being forced to face. Since he died and resurrected in the first book, little things about him are slipping away because half his soul is in the afterlife while the other half is stuck in the land of the living. The tricks of the mind that Ethan is experiencing adds a great creepy twist that leaves the reader turning the pages, hoping that the next set of words will reveal what is happening to our hero. But, while all this is going on, he is still some how facing the end of the world from when Lena broke the Order to claim herself. Ethan goes through trials and tribulations, searching for truth that is unsavory and acting bravely to those facts. I loved that Ethan finally took control of his own fate, and didn’t depend on anyone but himself.

Oh! And then there’s Ridley and the mystery of her Casting abilities. We get to see Serafina’s past as she struggles being claimed to the Dark. And we see that there is a deeper side of Link. And then, Amma uses bad juju in an attempt to save Ethan. Action, suspense, doomed love…and not just Ethan and Lena.
Best part of this book? The ending left me screaming for more. Like screaming: “Wait?! What?!” To me, that is a sign of a great book. And I totally know there will be one final book in the series. How do I know? Well, I got a Tweet from Kami Garcia herself telling me there will be one more book.

My oh my. What will Ms. Garcia and Ms. Stohl will have in store for Ethan Wake in the fourth book? I don’t know, but whatever it is, I hope it’s something I don’t see coming.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Great and Terrible Beauty-Libba Bray

So what would those girls from the movie “Mean Girls” look like in Victorian England?

“A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel. Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order.”

I read Libba Bray’s “Beauty Queens” before reading this, and at first, I was totally excited. I loved Beauty Queens. But as I started reading, the more bored and frustrated I became. We meet Gemma Doyle, and at sixteen years old, she is introduced as a brat. Not the best way to introduce our hero. She is arguing with her mother, begging and wishing to be sent to England. But then, a mysterious force appears and her mother is murdered. Then, in a strange turn of events, Gemma gets her way. Sent to England and to Spence Boarding School for girls, where she is bombarded with mean girls. Then, things take a turn for the gothic when it is revealed that she is has a special power that lets her access a different plan of existence called The Realms and magic. But, there is also a mystery revolving around two girls from many years ago who died in a fire in the east wing of the building. By the end of the book, one of the girls has chosen to stay behind the Realms of magic, her body dying, while the other girls are tasked to rebuild The Order, to bring back balance to the Realm of magic and the mortal world.

How Bray created a mystical Victorian Gothic novel is amazing. The mannerisms of the characters, the historical imagery of an older Imperial England, and the air of creepiness, emerged me into a potentially exciting world. Potentially: key word. I couldn’t fully emerse myself into Bray’s Victorian England because the main characters, Gemma, Anne, Felicity and Pippa are well, not nice girls. They are suppose to develop this friendship between each other but they all hide secrets and are back stabbing each other. I have a hard time believing these girls are remotely nice, even Gemma.

Despite the downfall of the characters, I am interested in seeing what happen to Gemma and her crew in the next two books. Do they rebuild the Order? Does anyone else die? How about do any of the girls go bad?
I’m hoping that the next two books, Rebel Angles and The Sweet Far Thing, will be a little better in that I don’t despise our hero, Gemma.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Percy Jackson & The Sea of Monsters-Rick Riordan

Cyclopes, Monsters, Bermuda Triangle...oh my!

“Percy Jackson’s seventh-grade year has been surprisingly quiet. Not a single monster has set foot on his New York prep-school campus. But when an innocent game of dodgeball among Percy and his classmates turns into a death match against an ugly gang of cannibal giants, things get…well, ugly. And the unexpected arrival of his friends Annabeth brings more bad news: the magical borders that protect Camp Half-Blood have been poisoned by a mysterious enemy, and unless a cure is found, the only safe haven for demigods with be destroyed. In this fresh, funny, and wildly popular follow-up to The lightning Thief, Percy and his friends must journey into the Sea of Monsters to save their camp. But first, Percy will discover a stunning new secret about his family-one that makes him question whether being claimed as Poseidon’s son in an honor or a cruel joke.”

I am always pleased to read a series that gets a little better with each book. Rick Riordan’s Sea of Monsters is an amazing sequel. It is just as fun and fast paced as The Lightening Thief. This book shows the growth of Percy as he grows from a kid into a teenager. Riordan shows the toughness of Percy, but always keeps the character grounded. Clarisse, daughter of Ares and rival to Percy, is chosen to go to the Sea of Monsters to retrieve the Golden Fleece to save Thalia’s Tree (what keeps Camp Half-Blood protected). Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson, Percy’s Cyclopes half-brother, sneak out of camp not only to help retrieve the Golden Fleece, but to save Grover, who sends Percy a message through a dream that he is trapped in the cave of Polyphemus, attempting to hide being a sader by sporting a wedding dress and veil.

But where is the Sea of Monsters? That’s where it gets super brilliant: it’s the Bermuda Triangle! Riordan has a gift for blending ancient Greek myths with the modern contemporary world. And the thing is, it total makes sense. The Sea of Monsters being the Bermuda Triangle makes since in that the place is shroud in paranormal theories and mysteries. Why not have monsters explain why boats and planes that enter those waters be the reason for the disappearances?

My favorite part of the book was when we discover more about who Annabeth is. We know she is brilliant, tough, and resilient. But, when they go by the Sirens and she manages to cut herself free and swim to their island, we see that she hopes for love and affection of her mortal father and goddess mother Athena, and her once best friend Luke, sitting together at a picnic, happy and together. We see how lonely she is, always stuck at camp, never being with her mortal family. And with Luke betraying her, she truly felt she had no one. I feel at the end of the book, Annabeth sees that she’s not alone in having Percy as a friend, but also is able to allow herself to try to be with her father and her step-mother and half-brothers. 

For me, Percy Jackson is one of two characters I have read that have been under the age of sixteen (the other being Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Material series. Amazing! That’s for another book review). What Riordan seems to do best with his characters is give them room to grow. Percy is a great pre-teen/teenage character with the right amount of snark, pride, and self-doubt that makes him a great narrator.  Pat yourself on the back Mr. Riordan. You got another person hooked on your series with your great action sense, how you inject mythology into the modern world, and have us still routing for the Olympians. Because even though they are sort of jerks to their demi-god children, the alternative, Kronos, is just not something we want in this world.