Revenge and Choice in “A Creature of Moonlight”

Rebecca Hahn’s A Creature of Moonlight is a beautifully written tale of a young girl finding and making her home and her destiny. In a world where everything is chosen for young women, many have been drawn to the magical forests in an attempt to escape their seemingly inevitable destinies. Once these young women enter the forest, they are never seen or heard from again.

This is the case for all except one. Marni’s mother came back from the forest, pregnant, but otherwise unharmed. But when her brother discovers her pregnancy, he tracks her down and her young child. He kills her, and threatens to kill Marni too, but she is saved by her Grandfather, the king, who trades his kingdom for her life.

After growing up near the forests, Marni is being pulled between two worlds: that of the magical forest where her father, a dragon, lives, and that of the kingdom to which she is the sole heir.

Hahn does an excellent job of telling this original fairytale through a feminist lens, focusing on a woman’s right to choose her own destiny, and the importance of that choice.

(Warning! Some minor spoilers lie ahead). Continue reading “Revenge and Choice in “A Creature of Moonlight””

Jason Bourne meets Twilight in “The Chemist”

Browsing the Overdrive book selection, I was very surprised to discover that there was a new book out by Stephanie Meyer. When a copy finally became available through the digital library, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Any expectations I may have subconsciously held were subsequently blown away when I entered the world of The Chemist, a novel of espionage, murder, attempted murder, torture, romance, and changing identities. While there were some prominent similarities between this novel and Meyer’s other novels, it was also very different from her other books, largely because Meyer decided to break into with the spy-thriller genre.

I was very impressed with Meyer’s extensive research into science, medicine, torture, and other spy-know-how. While I know very little about chemistry and medicine, I completely bought into the main character’s abilities to survive as she is hunted by the government and the thugs the government employs.

But as the main character, Alex, begins to fight back, the pacing of the book seemed off to me. While the gruesome descriptions that characterized the action sequences were hot and fast, and filled with beautiful suspense. But they were broken up by long periods of nothing which seemed to drag on pointlessly. The only purpose I could see for these slow periods was for the romance.

For those who read Stephanie Meyer’s books for the romance, you will not be disappointed. Romance plays a huge part in this book, at times battling with the plot line for the main focus of this book. It was steamy, and engaging, and I enjoyed the originality of the premise. But the romance story line within The Chemist also had its faults.

Personally, I found that the male love interest, Daniel, was unrealistic and stretched my suspension of disbelief too far (those of you who have already read it, you know what I’m talking about). Meyer seemed to fall into the same potholes with Daniel as she did with Edward in Twilight. Daniel is kind to the point where he has absolutely no sense of self-preservation, and he exists solely to complete the main character. His character flaws, that he is too innocent and kind, and good-looking are hardly flaws.

While this book definitely had flaws that will hold it back from being in my top fifty favorite books, it was a really fun read. I loved feeling my adrenaline kick in alongside the main character’s. Meyer did an excellent job stringing the reader along with thick suspense and I had trouble putting it down most of the time. However, the flaws made it hard for me to mentally stay in the story a couple times near the beginning and middle.

If you are a fan of Meyer’s previous work and you love Jason Bourne movies, this may be a good book for you. Personally, I did really enjoy it, but it had enough issues that I won’t be reading this again.

Reading “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore

An emotionally inaccessible young woman with a deadly gift – the ability to kill quickly, easily, and with a single blow – learns the meaning of humanity in this 400+ page fantasy debut novel. Kristin Cashore writes beautifully in the first installment of the Graceling Realm trilogy, Graceling, in which she creates a world where certain people are born with “graces” or special abilities. These people are ostracized from society and such is the world that our protagonist, Katsa, is born into. The niece of a king, Katsa’s deadly abilities lead her to lose herself to rage and fear. The king uses her to do his dirty work, and Katsa, not quite understanding the extent of her power, blindly obeys, hating herself and her uncle for her cruel assignments. However, when a stranger opens Katsa’s eyes to her ability to control her emotions and actions, and choose  for herself what she will and will not do, Katsa becomes a new woman on a quest to redeem her former actions.

This book explores themes of humanity, suggesting that humanity shows itself when we control our base impulses and emotions, and is lost when control is forsaken. I really enjoyed the exploration of this theme through not only Katsa, but also through the villains and some side characters.

The romance within Graceling easily sucks the reader in, loving Katsa and Po throughout as they learn to trust, and to accept what cannot be changed. While the romance was a highlight of this book, it was targeted toward an older audience, containing some suggestive scenes.

The plot, while somewhat straightforward at the beginning, continually surprised me. This was partly due to the pacing of the book, which was unconventional. Cashore portioned out the novel so that an unusual amount of time was spent on specific actions. For example, a longer amount of time was spent on a scene where the main characters are preparing to face the villain, and when the face-off finally happens, it is surprisingly fast, and simple, not the usual climax. Surprisingly, the book does not suffer for this unusual pacing, rather it helps shape the tone of the book. Instead of focusing on the action of the novel, the pacing helps to shift the focus towards the ideology, characters, and relationships within the novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The world Cashore created felt fresh and exciting to me, and the storyline always had me guessing. I would recommend this book, with the advisory that there are some suggestive scenes that might influence some people’s decision of whether it.

Vango—Historical Fiction at its Finest

Well-written, exciting, action-packed, set between WWI and WWII, and excellently translated, Vango: Between Earth and Sky by Timothée de Fombelle, and translated by Sarah Ardizzone, is currently contending for a spot in my top five favorite YA books of all time.

A historical fiction mystery and adventure novel traverses most of Europe, exploring surfacing tensions during the 20th century following the rise of Hitler, Stalin, and preceding the start of WWII. This book, the first of the two-part series,  explores themes and motifs of fate, divine intervention, sacrifice of relationships in return for protection for loved-ones, corruption, and communication. Between Earth and Sky follows Vango, a boy with a mysterious past, an innocent boy suspected of murder. Featuring an ensemble cast, this book expertly balances character development with plot development.

It takes great skill to jump between ten plus characters and still have a balanced narrative with a clear main character, and an engaged audience. While the sheer number of characters forces the novel to sacrifice an intimate reader relationship with the main character, the complexity of the storylines compensates, and even works the absence of intimacy to its advantage. Because the reader is unable to identify intimately with Vango, the mystery of his past and his character becomes an increasingly alluring, drawing the reader further into the mystery.

I thought at one point in the book that the large array of characters would be superfluous by the end of the novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that each and every character served a distinct purpose, everything and everyone included within the storyline felt purposely placed in order to better serve the story. de Fombelle’s calculated way of writing both led and misled the reader through giving the clues necessary to solving the mysteries of the novel, but doing so in a way that the reader was either unaware of the importance of the information, or misinterpreted it. While this could have resulted in a confusing and disastrous effect, I found the end result delightfully complex and satisfying.

It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed Between Earth and Sky, and it was also largely due to the quality of the translation. Had I not known beforehand that it had been translated from French to English, I would never have guessed. Not a single sentence felt out-of-place or awkward. Ardizzone, did an excellent job of translating de Fombelle’s beautiful novel. The figurative language was fresh (I particularly enjoyed the many metaphors), and imaginative, and each sentence felt beautifully crafted.

I highly recommend this book. I absolutely loved it. However, if you do decide to give it a try, I would recommend taking it in slowly, and savoring it. The complexity of the many storylines can get confusing if you aren’t paying close attention.

 

 

Stephanie Meyer’s Rebuttal

Twilight first became popular in my early middle school years. As I entered high school, I watched it transform from something every teen girl was excited about, to something scoffed at, scorned, and belittled. It became cool to make fun of Twilight and anything associated with it and has since become the target of many many jokes, and criticism. Academic criticism has stemmed largely from Bella Swan’s (the main character) inability to save herself and her huge dependence on Edward (the love interest) to fully live life.

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Critics have called Bella a “weak character” and have specifically criticized her as a role model for teenage girls, saying that she is representative of a step backward in the face of current feminist movements. And it doesn’t take too deep of a reading of Twilight to find evidence for all these arguments.

However, in the face of such heated criticism, Stephanie Meyer has countered that Bella does not have a “female problem” but rather a “human problem.” Bella is not weak because she is female, but because she is human.

To support her claim, Meyer wrote Life and Death, a version of Twilight where the genders are switched for almost all the characters.

What resulted was a fresh take on the traditional love story. While this new version of Twilight was not as polished as its original (due to a quick deadline to publish on the 10th anniversary of Twilight), I found it to be an excellent rebuttal. I enjoyed reading Life and Death from Beau’s (the male Bella) perspective, and I found Meyer’s argument convincing.

However, while the gender role reversal solved some of the problems critics have pointed out in Bella, the majority of characters still came across as static, and shallow. I suggest that this might be, in part, due to the genre to which this book largely belongs: romance. Because this story is about a romance, with a tiny bit of action at the end, there is little substance in these books, Life and Death and Twilight, that does not pertain solely to Bella and Edward’s/Beau and Edythe’s relationship. For many readers, this kind of substance is not substance at all. Many readers crave something more, while others are content to relish Bella/Beau’s thoughts and the tiniest details of her/his relationship with Edward/Edythe.

While I am not arguing that Twilight or Life and Death should be considered among the great American novels, I am suggesting that Twilight may not be as bad as so many people say it is, and perhaps it is time to take a step back and see it for what it really is—no more and no less.

A Dystopian Dynasty: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

At the end of the gothic vampire fantasy craze in 2008, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins kicked off the dystopian era of YA literature. An era that seems to be coming to a close as audiences begin to snub dystopian film adaptations. However, amid the apparent burn-out on the dystopian fiction genre, one dystopian novel managed to top the New York Times bestseller list in its first week, leading many to wonder if perhaps contemporary audiences aren’t tired of dystopian trilogies after all. I suggest though, that this new series offers something new to the genre, breathing new life into it.

It’s true that as I read the back of the cover of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, wondering what this hype was all about, I began to feel a little excited. In this series there are two different types of people: those with silver blood, and those with red. Those with silver blood have super powers and those with red do not, creating a severe class distinction, and civil unrest. I was immediately intrigued by the steampunk mixture of super powers in a somewhat feudalistic and aristocratic society. I was excited at the prospect of a protagonist   with superpowers who goes undercover in enemy territory. I was expecting a sort of political thriller.

Sadly, with all my expectations, this book had little hope of living up to all of them. However, despite my potentially unrealistic expectations, I do feel that this novel fell remarkably short of its potential.

The problems with this novel are with the plot and character development. While the premise of this novel was promising, the plot did little to pull me in, and the characters seemed to undermine plot points. Sadly, I struggled to maintain my suspension of disbelief as the text continually contradicted itself, showing one thing and telling another.

For example, throughout the novel the main character, Mare, struggles with her relationship with the two princes. One, Cal, she feels instantly attracted to. The other, Maven, she feels only supposed friendship. Mare meets Cal who is in disguise in her village. He gives her money, and then gets her a job at the castle thereby saving her from being conscripted into the military (and almost certain death). Later in the novel it is revealed that Cal goes into the village regularly, attempting to learn more about the neglected people he will someday rule. He regularly laments the injustices against her people, and even implements a plan to make the military a place of equality rather than subjugation for the red bloods. Despite this kind of evidence to the contrary, Mare continues to convince herself that he is a cold-blooded killer who will do no good on the throne.

This kind of contradiction instills a sense of mistrust with the narrator, making the reader feel that Mare is a bit of an idiot to be seeing all the same things that we are and yet twisting the information to an unbelievable degree, an effect compounded by the fact that it is written in first person. I can only assume that Aveyard was attempting to surprise the reader with a twist in the end about Cal’s goodness, while simultaneously dropping hints throughout the novel that Cal was a good man. Unfortunately, the execution fell short.

Another problem with this novel is related to the character development and portrayal, specifically that of Mare. Because this novel is written in first person, Mare is the character the reader should connect with. There must be points on which we can identify with her, and also trust her. For reasons stated above, the reader’s trust in Mare as a narrator is shaken very early on. Not only this, but I found it difficult to identify with Mare. She seemed, especially at the beginning, a paper copy of Katniss from The Hunger Games. Such similarities between Red Queen and The Hunger Games only grew, given the premise of a people who are suppressed by a rich and well-fed elite class, and who are looking to incite a revolution. While the similarities between Katniss and Mare slowly ebbed as the novel wore on, the similarities were replaced with lack of development.

Mare seemed to become a shell of a character by the end of the novel. She is racked with enormous guilt at the casualties resulting from revolutionary activities, but apart from that she does not seem to do much. She is pulled along by the choices of other characters, blithely awaiting her fate. Despite the book being in first person, we don’t actually get to hear many of her thoughts, the result being that Mare becomes a passive narrator, merely existing to tell us what happened rather than influencing the outcome.

Overall, these, and other such holes in the novel left me with a bad taste in my mouth after reading. While the premise was inspired, the execution left much to be desired.

I realize that I am harsh in my judgement of this novel, perhaps because I was so disappointed by its failure to live up to its potential. But I hope that if you enjoyed this book that you will continue to enjoy it.

However, if you have not read Red Queen, I cannot favorably recommend this book, but hope that you will judge for yourself whether it is worth the read.

 

Forget Dystopian, the Future is a Fairytale

Stars Above is a collection of short companion stories to The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Let me preface my review of this book by a review of the original series itself, focusing on the first book of the series in order to avoid spoilers.

Marissa Meyer outdid herself with this futuristic fairytale world. The first installment of the YA series, Cinder, immediately hooked me with its main character, derivative of course of Cinderella, and the future world she inhabits. Cinder is a cyborg, a part machine-part human young woman who also happens to be the best mechanic in the whole country (New Beijing). Cinder is a strong young woman, who is good at her job, a job which might, in today’s society, be classified as masculine. However, in this futuristic world such gender stereotypes have apparently disappeared, and while it is still a patriarchal society, Cinder is not at all discriminated against because of her gender. But she does still face discrimination on account of her being a cyborg. Her job eventually leads her into an adventure as she embarks on a quest to save Earth from a crazy, power-hungry lunar queen, and a global pandemic.

The second installment, Scarlet, features a spunky farm-girl—derivative of Little Red Riding Hood—and there is of course, a wolf or two involved. And naturally, Scarlet eventually teams up with Cinder on their quest.

The third book, Cress, debuts a Rapunzel-like young woman who lives in a satellite and works for the evil moon queen. As she joins the team, this fairytale mashup only gets more interesting.

To finish off the series Winter (in Winter), the step-daughter of the evil queen, joins up with Cinder and the gang in an epic finale.

Overall, I felt this was a refreshing YA series—futuristic but not dystopian (thank goodness). The characters were all a bit idealistic, lovable, and unique. By the end of the first book I’d fallen in love with Cinder, Iko, and Prince Kai. And while I love all of the books, my favorites are as follows: 1.Scarlet 2.Winter 3.Cinder 4.Cress. I should also note that Meyers published another side novel called Fairest that focused on the evil queen’s perspective. While Meyers did an excellent job and I would unreservedly recommend it, I will not be reviewing this novel in this post.

Now we get to Stars Above, the most recent addition to the series. This book is a compilation of short stories that illuminate different aspects of the main characters. While I do not normally care for many short stories, this book blew me away. Surprisingly I could not put it down. Each short story left me wanting more. Meyer’s writing is simple, and yet draws the reader in easily. This is an excellent read for all of The Lunar Chronicles fans out there. (Note: if you haven’t yet read any of the other books yet, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one).