Kiersten White’s “Paranormalcy” Series

I really enjoyed “And I Darken” and “Now I Rise” from Kiersten White’s recent series, “The Conqueror’s Saga.” In fact, I needed more of White’s writing now. I couldn’t wait for book 3 of “The Conqueror’s Saga” to come out.

Fortunately for me, White has written more books. I gravitated towards her “Paranormalcy” series and read all three books ridiculously fast. Since I read her newest series first, I expected the characters in “Paranormalcy” to be dark and disturbing and the world to be immensely detailed and historical. However, “Paranormalcy” is a completely different beast. Actually, I was glad to read something lighthearted and bubbly for once. Sometimes the darkness in the books I read gets to me and it was a great contrast to meet Evie, the star of this series, who loves boys, pink, and kicking paranormal butt with her taser.

The dialogue throughout the series was hilarious. Evie is both girly and awesome. Too often I meet the female character who is determined to be so tough that she loses her femininity. This is such a common trope these days, it gets tiring. Evie is a great example of how there is nothing wrong with being a girl and liking girl things. She shows that being a girl does not contradict being strong.

Even though the “Paranormalcy” series is cheerful and pokes fun at common paranormal tropes in YA (cough, cough, vampires, cough, cough), it still deals with serious themes. Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend definitely has some issues with consent and boundaries. These themes play throughout the books, but don’t get too heavy and in-your-face. And, although the evil, sexy faerie trope has definitely made its mark on the YA shelves, “Paranormalcy” is different enough to enjoy. I thoroughly did.

“One Of Us Is Lying” by Karen M. McManus

Five kids go to detention. One is murdered. Who killed him?

The premise of this book is simple and catchy. It works so well.

I loved so much about it from the standard school setting to the detailed characterisation. The four murder suspects are a jock, a nerd, a popular girl, and the school drug dealer. However, their background stories are intriguing enough to keep them from being too stereotypical.

At some point in the novel, you will be convinced that you know who is the murderer. For sure. And then out of nowhere, another hint will point you in a different direction and you’ll go “meh, maybe it wasn’t them,” and you’ll have to keep reading to find out the truth. Make sure you have time, because you’ll stay up all night with this book! Consider yourself warned.

Each character has flaws, but they also have positive traits as well. Sometimes I’d think, “Heh, I can see why this person would want to kill that kid.” And then I’d think, “God, I hope they didn’t. They have so much to lose if they did.” This constant flip-flopping feeling the whole way through is what makes McManus brilliant.

In terms of themes, this novel is extremely relevant. The kid murdered was a cyberbully with an inflammatory blog. Although everything he posted about his peers was technically true, it makes him the most unlikable character of the bunch.

In addition to cyberbullying, “One Of Us Is Lying” addresses academic cheating, high pressure to succeed, drugs, parental approval and disapproval, mental illness, and being true to your identity. This book involves so many topical issues that the high school environment feels dangerous, challenging, and real. The characters make tough decisions, sometimes the wrong ones. Sometimes there is no right decision to make.

“One Of Us is Lying” speaks directly to its teen audience. It’s cyberbullying gone too far. It’s bad decisions made for good reasons. It’s an awesome read.

 

“And I Darken” by Kiersten White

I picked up “And I Darken” thinking it was fantasy. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be more historical fiction. This turned out to be pretty sweet.

This epic novel was inspired strongly by Ottoman and Romanian History, which fascinates me since my education neglected these countries and time periods. However, where the novel really shines are the characters.

The three powerhouse characters are:

1) Lada, the Wallachian ruler’s daughter. She is fierce and vicious, angry and cruel. Strongly independent, she bows for no one – especially men. Sometimes her unlikeable personality made her a difficult character to read about. However, she is placed in difficult circumstances when her family is forced to flee her country. Her father leaves her brother and her in Edirne with the Sultan, as agreement to support the Ottoman Empire. This somewhat excuses her dreadful behaviour. Also, she grows on you.

2) Radu, Lada’s younger brother. He is the most likeable of all the characters. Gentle and empathetic, he always thinks about other people over himself. He is a perfect foil to his violent sister. Although sometimes his softness also drove me crazy, since occasionally his failure to stick up for himself or say what he wants got on my nerves.

3) Mehmed, the third and least favourite son of the Sultan. He values friendship and loyalty, and often has to make difficult choices about who to trust and how to act. His personality really comes out when he interacts with either Lada or Radu. Without them, he is aloof and distant and barely has any personality at all.

These three characters drive the plot. There are some turbulent romantic moments that shine through the brutal betrayals and back stabbing and wars. The religious dialogue is fascinating, but it always comes back to these three. How they interact. How their views contrast. Whether they will support each other or come to blows.

In terms of writing style, the chapters and sentences are short, direct, and clear. Even though the book is fairly large, the pacing is fast.

I’m very much looking forward to reading the next in the series.

 

 

“City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve listened to Cassandra Clare’s “City of Bones” audio book three times in the past three months as I fall asleep. I’ve also awoken in the middle of the night to a scream of “JAYCE!” with the headphones still dangling from my ears. This doesn’t mean I find the book so boring that it puts me to sleep. Nothing could be farther from the case!

And the reviews on Goodreads seem to agree with me. People just can’t put this book down. I recommended it to someone a while ago, and she still can’t take it out of the public library because the demand is so high – and this book was written in 2007 peeps! That’s some serious staying power.

Although, I’ve read some scathing reviews on Goodreads about this book too. Anything from Clary being a Mary Sue character to “City of Bones” being a blatant Harry Potter rip off to the similes being too frequent. The truth is: I don’t care.

“City of Bones” works. It works so well that I am willing to listen to it time after time again. And that is testament to something that is pretty kick-ass.

So why is “City of Bones” so awesome?

This, my friends, is why:

1) The characters. You walk away from “City of Bones” thinking something along the lines of “why is Simon so annoying?” “Will Jayce and Clary ever end up together?” “Why can’t Alec just accept that he is gay and Jayce is straight?” “Could Jayce be gay? That’d be kinda hot.” “I wish I could be as badass as Isabel.” “Why isn’t Clary as badass as Isabel? Girl, get with the Shadowhunter program!!!”

2) The relationships. You become seriously invested in who ends up with who, and the betrayals, man. The betrayals.

3) The setting. Urban fantasy works on so many levels, because wouldn’t it be nice if this world right now contained magic and demons and warlocks and shadowhunters and possibilities? The reader sees themselves in Clary’s world right away. Urban fantasy takes “what if” to a level grounded in reality.

4) The action. “City of Bones” has a nice amount of fighting where the stakes are high.

5) Jayce. Is. Seriously. Hot. This books also is clearly inspired by anime with the whole demon fighting bad boys type thing. I don’t know what it is about the bad boy character, but jeez can they work the dialogue. I actually laughed more than once when listening to this book the first time. Also, the dialogue itself is excellent as a whole.

So, without trying to spoil this book too much, where does it fall flat?

The whole middle section involving a rat goes on for too long. Also, the big twist at the end that may remind you of Star Wars – you’ll know what I mean when you read it – nearly stopped me from reading the rest of this series. However, the desire to know what happened next trumped the annoyance with the plot and I did read the rest of the books.

In conclusion, I think virtues of “City of Bones” far out way its flaws and that it is worth a read for its dialogue alone.

“Vampire Academy” by Richelle Mead

I must be the last person on the planet to read “Vampire Academy.” I know it came out a while ago, but holy crap is it good. Rose is such a kick-ass heroine and Lissa is such a gentle soul. Their halfway mind connection, where Rose can see her best friend Lissa’s thoughts but not vice-versa is a nice plot technique.

The world building of vampires with their damphir bodyguards (half-human, half-vampires who have serious martial-art skills) creates a lot of exciting action sequences. But it’s not all blood and guts. There is some serious romance.

Damphir Rose balances her bad attitude with loyalty to for friends. And her attraction to her older teacher Dmitri is H-O-T. Of course, maybe I have a slight bias towards shipping them, since I met my husband in a teacher-student relationship. Just like Dmitri and Rose, my husband-to-be was seven years older than me. But he didn’t teach me martial arts. He taught me calculus, which also led to some potentially lethal lessons, haha.

Anyway. I shipped Dmitri and Rose. Hard.

Also, this series has a unique approach to discussing mental illness. Lissa is a vampire who has an unusual power called spirit that is poorly understood. She basically has healing super-strength, which is great for other people, but not so great for herself. Using her powers, even though she often wants to, causes her to feel depressed. Even though Lissa is strong, she has to learn how to balance self-care with caring for others. Bringing the dialogue on mental illness into the fantasy arena surely will help reduce stigma for readers who suffer from the same conditions.

So yeah. “Vampire Academy” isn’t just about fighting and kissing, it has some additional depth. Although, honestly I like the violence and romance just as much as the deep parts.

 

“Winter” by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles)

I just read Marissa Meyer’s “Winter” and it did not disappoint. Ever since “Cinder” stole my heart with her cyborg awesomeness, the Lunar Chronicles have made a serious impression on me. There’s a strong message of being yourself no matter your background and abilities. Each novel in the series introduces a new character and romance to the cast to overthrow the cruel Lunar Queen. And each is loosely based on a popular fairytale – Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White.

“Winter” is the final episode in the battle against the Lunars and is a hefty volume at 823 pages. Of course, the cast of characters at this point in the series has become quite large, so Meyer needed a fair amount of space to describe each of their contributions.

At first I found Prince Kai’s participation in the plot a bit tiresome – how many times must he attempt to bait the Queen into a marriage that will make her empress over the Commonwealth? And then, it hit me over the head with the brilliance of it. This complaint is usually one I have for female characters. Why is Princess So-and-so only valued for her marriageable eligibility and sex appeal? Why is her only plot device the betrothal and the wedding?

Here, Prince Kai is the sex muffin who is traded around in marriage, a typically female role. His love interest, Cinder is the one who has to save him – a girl who’s part cyborg, part human. Now, I’m back to remembering why I love this series so much. The feminine empowerment is incredible.

Winter, the newest character in the cast, suffers from mental illness. In spite of her struggles, she triumphs. Cress overcomes her shyness. Scarlet tames the beast. I found the parallels between the long list of couples to cause characters to become indistinct at times, however this didn’t freeze my heart to “Winter.” The message of loving someone despite of their flaws is a good one.

Will they all live happily ever after?

Read “Winter” to find out.