We spent a week in Lubec over the 4th of July. In a perfect world, I’d live on a hill by the ocean in Washington County and write in between searches for beach glass and going to book sales. I read 13 books that week and below are highlights of the best.
Half-Blood, Pure and Obsidian by Jennifer Armentrout.
If I hadn’t been on a website where the first chapter was posted, chances are good that I might have missed this author completely. Fortunately that didn’t happen. I read the chapter (Half-Blood) and immediately ordered it, the sequel Pure and Obsidian which is in a different, but similar themed series. Yes, the chapter was that good. Both series are YA paranormal at its best. Let me start with Half-Blood. Alexandria, seventeen, was pulled out of the Covenant three years ago by her mother after mom met with the ancient woman known as the Oracle. Alex never learned what the crone told her mom that caused the disruption in their lives. She spent those years moving around, living among mortals, but being pursued by diamons, creatures who are addicted to aether, the extra life energy that flows through the blood vessels of the Hematoi (pure bloods) and to a lesser extent half-bloods like Alex. Interbreeding between the pures and halfs is prohibited, but it happens and that reality contributes immensely to the plot and tension in this series. Alex’ mom was a pure and she’s never met her dad. Her stepfather is a pure and a member of the ruling council, but she has no use for him.
The story opens while Alex is still on the run and in a decrepit warehouse in GA. She’s being hunted by diamons a couple days after her mom was killed by them. Alex’ training as a sentinel, those who dedicate their lives to hunting and killing these evil creatures was interrupted when she and her mother vanished, but she has enough skill to kill two of them before needing to be rescued by the good guys at the Covenant who have been trying to locate her and her mom ever since they took off.
Once Alex is safe and back at the Covenant, you get to know her as one cool character. She’s hot headed, impulsive, prone to rule-breaking and extremely likable. She also is hell-bent on resuming her sentinel training, even though that’s complicated in major ways by her impulsiveness and her attraction to Aiden the totally hot pure blood assigned to get her up to speed. It is the romantic tension angle between Alex and Aiden that really makes this book such a great read.
Add in a cast of supporting characters who are very nicely drawn including Alex’ best friend Caleb and mystery elements surrounding what really happened to her mother, what the diamons are up to, who is out to sabotage Alex’ training, a kidnapping and you have a great first book in a four book series.
Pure picks up right where Half-Blood left off with the romantic tension getting even more complicated when Seth, the Apollyon with incredible powers and an insouciant personality enters the picture. Love triangles in YA are pretty common, but this one is above the norm by far. Seth’s persona is perfect, a mix of smugness and ironic self-humor. This time, Alex has to deal a lot more with how others perceive her and it isn’t always easy, particularly when some blame her for situations that were beyond her control. Her attraction to Aiden ramps up as well, creating some really agonizing moments.
When all three young people have to go to upstate New York for a major conclave meeting so Alex can testify about what happened during her second abduction, she must face some pretty treacherous treatment at the hands of those who want her out of the picture either as a drugged slave or dead. Who helps her and how they do so, particularly when the diamons pull out all the stops in a concerted attack on the conclave make for some rip-through-the-pages reading with gore and great fight scenes. You’re left really wishing the third book (due in November) were here yesterday.
Obsidian: Book one of the Lux series is similar in tone to the Covenant series, but with some differences worth mentioning. Here, the main character, Kate, has no super powers and finds herself still grieving for her dad who died of cancer and at loose ends after her mother moved them from the Florida beaches to a very small town in West Virginia. Her passions are her YA book blog and gardening, and she mildly obsesses about her looks and body image. Her mother, a workaholic nurse, encourages Kate to go next door and meet the teen brother and sister who live there.
Kate’s initial conversation with Daemon, the brother half of the twins doesn’t go at all well. He’s rude, arrogant and demeaning, but Kate holds her own and the narrative between them is a great introduction to how their relationship will alternate between porcupine prickly and satin-sheet smoothness. Once again, Jennifer Armentrout demonstrates her superior ability to create romantic tension between teens. When Kate meets Dee, the other twin, they hit it off immediately, which only makes Daemon’s reactions worse, but he has good reason for his ambivalence. You soon learn that the twins, along with a number of others in the small town aren’t from around here, as the saying goes. They’re aliens whose world was destroyed by a competing alien race and that other race is not only mega-badass, but they’ve followed the good guys to Earth.
As the story progresses, you learn a lot more about how the two alien races have altered the small West Virginia town through a battle or two, gradual revealing about what happened to the third alien sibling and you get an interesting look at aliens attending a small rural high school. While softer in some ways than the Covenant series, this book was equally addictive and I am eagerly anticipating the next in the series Onyx which will be released on August 14th.
Angel Eyes (9781401686352) by Shannon Dittemore is an intriguing entry in the YA paranormal genre. Aside from Travis Thrasher’s great Solitary Tales series, it is the only Christian-themed entry in this very popular segment of YA fiction. I bought it after reading a rave about it in an email newsletter by Lindsay Cummings. I need to state up front that there is a pretty significant religious component to the story. However, being a spiritual soul, this didn’t feel at all uncomfortable, probably because the author has woven it into the plot extremely well.
Brielle left the small town of Stratus, Oregon when she was spotted by a talent scout who arranged for her to attend a prestigious art high school, based upon her skill as a ballet dancer. The choice wasn’t difficult, in part because she was living with her dad because her mother died of cancer when she was very small. She made friends with an awesome young actress named Ali who found a soul mate in a young movie producer named Marco.
The book begins with Brielle returning to Stratus, numb both physically and emotionally, three weeks after a horrible event that she believes she could have prevented. Her reunion with her dad and her awkward reintegration into her old high school are tempered by her interest in the strange new guy, Jake, who first spots her dancing alone very early in the morning to a CD her old ballet instructor left her as a welcome home present.
While Jake intrigues her, he has a bucket of his own mysteries that create a sense of ambivalence in Brielle. Jake can banish the ever-present cold in her body that appeared following the tragedy, while his smile and interest in her and their shared passion for photography are beginning to thaw the ball of ice surrounding her heart.
Would that things be so easy and simple. As Brielle discovers more about Jake and the mysterious Canaan, the individual who is Jake’s guardian, sh begins to realize that she has been pulled into an epic battle between good and evil that really does extend into Heaven and Hell. How that battle plays out, coupled with the development of her relationship with Jake, make this another great first novel.
As I noted in the opening paragraph, some readers will be put off by the religious elements to the story. Those who can accept them, or already believe in the tenets behind this book will be in for a treat. A sequel, Broken Wings will be published in February, 2013.
On The Fringe (9780982500552) is the first book by Courtney King Walker and it is a dandy debut in the YA paranormal genre. Fifteen year old Claire has just realized that she has a major league crush on her best friend Addie’s older brother Daniel. She is going to tell him, or at least broach the subject on the afternoon he comes to pick up her brother Matthew beforte they go to a party. Unfortunately, she gets cold feet and Daniel is shot and killed that night, dying in her brother’s arms.
Claire goes into an extended period of emotional shock, withdrawing and mourning Daniel’s death. Her brother copes by going off to college and pretty much cutting all ties with the family. On the night of her sixteenth birthday, at a party put together by Addie, Claire falls into the lake behind her house and nearly drowns. In fact, she’s clinically dead for 4 minutes and fifty-five seconds. Daniel’s ghost, which has been shadowing her ever since he realized how strong his feelings had been for her before his death, rescues her and brings her to the surface where he breathes into her mouth until she resumes breathing on her own.
Thus begins a reconnection between them, one that starts with their ability to see each other and which soon expands to a window matching the time she was ‘dead’ where they can speak and embrace each other.
This would be confusing enough for Claire, but there are other spirits involved who have sinister or hidden motives regarding the relationship. How these play out in regards to Claire and Daniel and later, Matthew and Addie form the bulk of the plot. Told in alternating chapters from Claire’s and Daniel’s viewpoints, this story is very likely to keep readers turning pages well into the night. There is plenty of action, romantic angst and an unsettling (to me at least), but logical ending to this story. I certainly hope Courtney Walker keeps writing as this is an excellent first effort.
Shift by Jeri Smith-Ready is the middle book in a YA paranormal trilogy that I snagged a while back to review for the 5 for 5 program. I purchased, but didn’t read the first one for the Hartland Public Library, but after reading this one, I promptly ordered Shine the third in the series and plan to read Shade out of order. One of the hallmarks of a really good trilogy is the ability of the second or third installment to be read without any frustration that you haven’t read the previous one(s). Shift is that in spades. I was immersed almost immediately because the author gave me enough very quickly to get what had happened before.
In Shift you meet Aura, Logan and Zachary, the three sides of a love triangle. Aura and Zachary were born moments apart, the only two babies born around one particular solstice. She can see and communicate with the growing number of ghosts as can everyone else born after what had come to be called the shift. Zachary cannot, but has an energy that drives off ghosts immediately. Logan, who was Aura’s boyfriend, overdosed on alcohol and cocaine just before they were to make love on his birthday. He returned as a ghost, but turned to a shade, a more violent type of spirit that prevented him from passing completely to the next world. Logan vanished when that happened. In the ten week interim, Aura and Zachary have begun growing closer. Now Logan is back, not as a shade, but as a ghost again.
The bulk of the story involves several mysteries that the three main characters, along with Logan’s siblings, Aura’s aunt Gina, some interesting government types, a researcher and teens from Aura’s school need to sort out in order to make sense of Logan’s ability to return to ghost form after becoming a shade. Among the questions needing answers; what really happened to Aura’s mother, who was her father, what is the connection between Zachary’s father and Aura’s mother that started during the solstice before either teen was born at a mysterious cavern in Ireland. Can Zachary and Aura have a relationship without it creating some sort of monstrous shift in the equation between the living and the dead?
Jeri Smith-Ready does an amazing job of revealing the answers to all of the twisted threads while creating one of the best teen love triangles around. Even better, she wraps up the middle book in such a way that the reader isn’t banging his/her head in frustration, waiting for the next installment.
I first encountered Kate Constable when I picked up the first book in her Chanters of Tremaris series over a decade ago. I’ve bought everything she’s written since because I love her style and elegance. Her latest Crow Country (9781742373959) is a juvenile mystery set in her home country of Australia and is a very quick read. That, however, doesn’t mean it’s not up to her usual standards. Kate has woven aboriginal mythology into a coming of age mystery that will keep younger teens (and many adults) engrossed.
Sadie is sad and at loose ends after her mother Ellie uproots her from Melbourne and settles in Boort, a remote town where she spent summers and had her first romances. Those, tangled then and still tangled many years later play a big part in the story. Ellie tries to reconnect with David, an aboriginal man she had a thing for at a time when prejudice was far too strong for it to be successful. He is now a social worker and has responsibility for his nephew Walter. Then there’s Lachie, son of Ellie’s other old flame. He’s a budding football star on the local team which is having a terrible season.
Sadie is exploring when she sees a sign for a lake her mother used to mention before they moved. Curious, she follows the faint path, only to discover that it has dried up and is now a bowl of yellow mud. When she crosses it to see what the cluster of stones near a grove of gum trees might be, she finds an abandoned cemetery, that the stones, when cleaned have sacred marks and most mysterious of all, crows begin telling her she must help them unravel the portion of a mystery and injustice that they can only see part of.
Sadie moves back and forth between herself and her great aunt by the same name who knows much of the early part of the mystery that has murder, injustice and righting a wrong that involves ancestors of Sadie, Lachie and Walter. Young readers will get a taste of aboriginal mythology done in a way that well may have them looking for more on the subject.
Through to You by Emily Hainsworth (9780062094193) will be published on 10/2/12. It is an excellent first novel about choices and their consequences with some interesting twists.
Camden Pike has been stuck in limbo since he dropped a cigarette lighter and his girlfriend Viv was killed when she bent over to retrieve it while driving. Cam can’t shake his grief and anger, feelings that started well before Viv’s death when his high school football career was shortened by a severe leg injury. Viv dropped off the cheering squad at the same time and they created a cocoon of mutual support and reality that blew up when she died. Cam spends most of his time mourning her death and pushing everyone who cares away.
One night, while standing by the light pole where flowers, stuffed animals and photos have accumulated as a memorial to Viv, he sees a green light and the faint figure of another girl, one he doesn’t recognize., but the next time he sees the strange light, the same girl reappears and calls him by name. It turns out this girl lives in a parallel world.
Nina Larson is very real in both worlds as are/were Cam and Viv. The choices each made, however are very different and it is how these play out as Cam desperately tries to reclaim what he and Viv had in our world when he enters this other one that make for a terrific and compelling story. As he tries to sort out what he wants in that world and how his withdrawal in this one has affected everyone close to him, he comes to some pretty painful realizations. These force him to do the growing up that got put on hold when Viv died. Readers will find themselves pulled in, placed on an emotional rollercoaster and then guided to a gentle landing when the book ends in a very promising way.