This year I set myself a goal to read a minimum of 50 books and to share them here on my blog. To that end, I will be writing a quick wrap-up/review every time I finish five. I love sharing the books I’ve enjoyed with other people, and would love to hear from you if you’ve read any of these, or if you decide to do so based on my recommendation. (Actually, I’d love to hear from you anyway. I’m addicted to comments.)
Check out my previous 2012 book reviews here.
Mind Games — Carolyn Crane
Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she’s convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine’s soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. With a little of Packard’s hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity’s worst criminals, and finally get the freedom from fear she’s always craved. End of problem. Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing police chief is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine’s first missions, including one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, are thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into a world of wizardry, eroticism, and cosmic secrets. With Packard’s help, Justine has freed herself from her madness–only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone’s worst fears.
This book is not your traditional Urban Fantasy story. It has an almost super-hero feel to the setting and the characters, but most of the characters are anything but heroic. Their super-powers come, not from a traditional source of power, but from their neuroses, flaws, and fears. I absolutely loved it.
Many of the reviews I’ve read of this book focus on the fact that Justine is, shall we say, somewhat depressing. She suffers from a severe mental illness, and that colours everything she sees and does. The first quarter of the book is particularly heavy on the woe-is-me, I’m-so-helpless aspects of her personality and even after she learns how to use her illness as a weapon for good, she still has moments where she devolves into angst.
Normally this type of character wouldn’t appeal to me at all, but in this case it was so completely warranted, and so utterly authentic, that Justine’s anguish took the book from being an interesting premise to a truly enthralling story. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes gritty, disturbed heroes and vibrant world-building — just be warned that Justine Jones is not an upbeat, happy-go-lucky protagonist.
Writing the Paranormal Novel — Steven Harper
Writing a paranormal novel takes more than tossing in a sexy vampire or adding a magic wand. It takes an original idea, believable characters, a compelling plot, surprising twists, and great writing. Broken down into four parts, “Writing the Paranormal Novel” explores: Prewriting – what a paranormal book is, how to choose supernatural elements, deciding what impact the supernatural will have on your fictional world, research tips, and how to deal with cliches; Paranormal Character Building – techniques for creating different types of supernatural protagonists and antagonists, supporting players, and – of course – the non-human; World Building – developing a strong plot and complementary subplots, controlling pacing, writing fight scenes and flashbacks, using dialogue, and much more; and, Submitting – tips for preparing your work for submission, polishing sample chapters, and more.
The main theme of this book could best be described as: “Paranormal novels are so hot right now.”
While there’s plenty of helpful advice on world-building, race-building, and ensuring that the paranormal aspects of your story are authentic, the focus seems to be on taking an idea or a fully written piece of work, and tweaking it so it fits into the paranormal or urban fantasy genres. Got an aggressive boyfriend? Turn him into a werewolf! Wondering how to throw a spanner in the works of their romance? Turn one of them into a vampire! As a spec fic writer, I found this attitude borderline offensive, if understandable.
I wouldn’t say it was a bad book, and I certainly don’t regret reading it. There were some genuinely useful pieces of advice, including a how-to guide explaining how to contact professionals to research aspects of your book, from law enforcement officers to scientists. But the mix of extremely basic writing tips, combined with the idea that any book can be made more marketable with the careful application of magic, made me question the target audience of the book.
Plain Truth — Jodi Picoult
The discovery of a dead infant in an Amish barn shakes Lancaster County to its core. But the police investigation leads to a more shocking disclosure: circumstantial evidence suggests that eighteen-year-old Katie Fisher, an unmarried Amish woman believed to be the newborn’s mother, took the child’s life. When Ellie Hathaway, a disillusioned big-city attorney, comes to Paradise, Pennsylvania, to defend Katie, two cultures collide — and for the first time in her high-profile career, Ellie faces a system of justice very different from her own. Delving deep inside the world of those who live “plain,” Ellie must find a way to reach Katie on her terms. And as she unravels a tangled murder case, Ellie also looks deep within — to confront her own fears and desires when a man from her past reenters her life.
It will probably come as no surprise to my regular readers to know that I’m not traditionally a Jodi Picoult reader. I know of her, of course, and I’ve read about her, but I’ve never felt any inclination to read one of her books. (I understand they’re fairly light on swords, sorcery, and magic rings.) Then I read Kim Pugliano’s review of Plain Truth and I changed my mind.
Part of the reason I decided to read this book because I’ve always been fascinated by the Amish way of life, and I was curious how it would be presented. In that, I was not disappointed. The details of the Plain way of living are authentic, honest, and presented in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s easy to believe that Picoult herself spent the last few years living amongst the Amish. Although I have no way to confirm the accuracy of the facts presented, I have no reason to doubt their veracity.
There was nothing stand-out about the story itself — I saw the plot twists coming well in advance, and was entirely unsurprised by the ending. But the beautiful prose, truly authentic characters and fabulous setting combined to make this book one of the most compelling books I’ve read all year. I enjoyed my time with Katie Fisher and Ellie Hathaway, and am pleased to have made their acquaintance. So while I may not be inspired to race out and read the rest of Jodi Picoult’s backlist, I can’t say that I won’t read another of her books if I come across one with a setting and/or characters that sound interesting.
Clockwork Angel — Cassandra Clare
It’s London, 1878: sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray’s priority should be finding her brother, not falling in love, especially with two boys. Tessa is soon caught in a dangerous love triangle where a wrong decision could prove fatal. She will need all her strength to save her brother and stay alive as she learns the chilling truth of what really lurks on London’s streets after dark. Discover more about the mysterious and sexy Shadowhunters in this first book of the thrilling prequel trilogy to the bestselling “Mortal Instruments” sequence.
It’s Paranormal. It’s Steampunk. It’s magical and mystical and full of adventure. It is, in a word, amazing.
Tessa Gray starts out as your average, clueless, sixteen-year-old girl abducted by evil necromantic sisters and forced to learn how to magically contact dead people. Then she meets the Shadowhunters. Specifically, she meets the alternately dashing and abrasive Will and the quiet, sensitive Jem and is dragged into their world — a society of Nephilim who patrol the world on behalf of angelic forces, keeping demonic forces and Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, witches, etc) in check.
Of the two boyish Shadowhunters (both seventeen years old), I have a hard time deciding which I like best, and which I would prefer Tessa to fall in love with. Will is everything you expect in a brave and dashing hero (smoke him a kipper, he’ll be back for breakfast!), but he has a dark past that haunts him and causes him to lash out when he thinks people are getting too close. What girl wouldn’t fall for a handsome, strong bad boy like him? Jem, on the other hand, is quiet and soft-spoken, with never a bad word to say about anyone and the simple courage of a true hero. How could any girl fail to fall for him?
But despite my gushing over the two male leads, this is not a romance. This is an action-packed, mystery-fuelled ride through Victorian London, where vampires are vicious and cold, magic demands dark sacrifices, and the forces of good and evil battle openly. I was entranced by the setting, enthralled by the story, surprised by the revelations, and fell in love with the characters. I can’t wait to get my hands on book 2 in this trilogy (Clockwork Prince), and explore more of Cassandra Clare’s work. I may not have read it yet, but if her Mortal Instruments series is as well written and as this prequel, I completely understand how it became a bestseller in seven countries.
Shatter Me — Taherah Mafi
`You can’t touch me,` I whisper. I’m lying, is what I don’t tell him. He can touch me, is what I’ll never tell him. But things happen when people touch me. Strange things. Bad things. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon. But Juliette has plans on her own. After a lifetime without freedom, she’s finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time—and to find a future with the one boy she thought she’d lost forever.
I don’t know how to write this review. If I just tell you it’s a “game changer” and a “wonder of modern literature”, will you go out and read it? Please?
Shatter Me is a YA dystopian novel. I think. The story itself is almost a superhero origin tale, and the writing is modern literature in motion. It’s beautiful and flowing, sharp and discordant, crystal clear and maddeningly indistinct — all of these things at the exact right moment.
Juliette is a teenage girl with a special
ability curse. When she touches someone, they die. She was locked up, put in solitary confinement, when her touch caused the death of a small child, and she has dwelled there alone, untouched, unloved, for years — reliving the moment she tried to help but instead brought pain and death to a toddler. At the start of the book, her sanity is hanging by a thread. And then things get worse.
The world of Shatter Me is disturbing, amazing, and Real. Juliette is a beautiful and tragic heroine. Her would-be boyfriend, Adam, is exactly what you want to see in a male lead. And then there’s the bad guy — the psychopathically evil, and yet strangely fragile and sympathetic, Warner. But even with all these amazing elements, the real magic of the book is Taherah Mafi’s voice and style. Every page, every sentence, every word is perfect. No word is chosen by chance — each one has meaning and feeling and sound beyond my wildest expectations.
I loved this book. I didn’t just read it, I lived and breathed and slept and ate it. And then I got to the end, and felt a horrid sense of disappointment… until I realised that it’s the first book of a trilogy. Bring on Fall 2012 when book 2 is due to be released!