Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead

The set-up: After Rose failed to kill her ex-lover, Dimitri, who turned Strigoi (evil vampire) in a previous book, Dimitri sends her creepy-stalker death threat messages. Meanwhile, Rose graduates from the Vampire Academy and goes to the Moroi (nice friendly vampire) Court. From there, everything falls apart. Not the plot, really, although the thread of it winds around, but Rose’s life and handle on the world.


Main character’s goals: Rose wants to change Dimitri back from his evil vampire state (think Buffy wanting to save Angel), but failing that, she is determined to kill him (think Buffy wanting to stake Angel).

My reaction: BIG SPOILER HERE, BUT IT ISN’T REALLY A SPOILER BECAUSE THE BOOK DOESN’T EVEN HAVE AN ENDING….Please please please can we just have a beginning, middle, and end in a YA fantasy anymore? Please? I thought this was the last book. Imagine my surprise when instead of a happy ending we are left with Rose about to go to trial for murdering an important Moroi vampire. Imagine the swear words that poured from my mouth in a very un-mommy-like stream. Mmmkay, spoiler over.

Of interest to writers: You CAN write a sequel-begetting ending without cliffhangers. I have seen it done before and done well. Try Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, for one of my favorite examples, or The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, which I have reviewed here and here, respectively.

Bottom Line: I love Rose Hathaway. She’s tough and gutsy and not afraid to call the Moroi queen a “sanctimonious bitch.” Bella Swan would pee her pants even thinking about doing that.

Second Bottom Line: I have had it with YA fantasies not ending. I am now all about the contemporary fiction. Well, after I read the last in the Vampire Academy series.

Monday Maybe-a-Book-Review Day

Okay, so here’s the thing. I could write a book review for today, but I’m not really feeling it. What I am feeling is working on my manuscript, which does, quite honestly, begin to unravel on page 200 (better than page 115, which is how it used to be before my revision marathon, a.k.a. The Great Visit of the Mother-in-Law Who Answered My Prayers for Free Babysitting). The very idea of working on other stuff when the last 82 pages of the story are so flawed…I just can’t do it.

So, the new blog schedule is now going to be “Monday: Maybe a Book Review.” I can’t take book reviews off the schedule permanently because I love books too much – I’ve gotta share these books with the world!

Alas, au revoir, ciao, adios for now. See you Wednesday. My mom’s here to distract the Z-meister today (a.k.a. Another Sucker Grandmother Answers My Prayers for Free Babysitting…uh, just kidding Mom. About the sucker thing, that is), and I plan to take advantage of this opportunity. You’ll thank me when you read my book. Er, I hope.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

That (ridiculous, highly inconvenient, yet time-saving) limited-internet challenge is finally over, and I’m back with a review for a book so good I had to read it twice. Later this week I’ll do a post or two on what the limited-internet challenge taught me (if anything). But for now, feast your readers on a book that is, well, wonderful.

The set-up: Thirteen-year-old Kyra lives in an isolated Compound with her mother, her father, her father’s two other wives, and her twenty brothers and sisters. She is content (barely) with her piano playing, her secret love for Joshua, and her secret visits to a library-on-wheels…until the Prophet (the dude in charge of their community of “Chosen Ones”) says that Kyra must marry her sixty-year-old uncle.

Main character’s goals: Once she is told she has to marry Uncle Hyrum, Kyra wants OUT. Her goal is to avoid that wedding at all costs.

My reaction: Unsurprisingly, this book evokes a strong visceral reaction. We have polygamy, we’ve got young brides, lots of babies. We’ve got book burning, forbidden love, child abuse, murder. The first time through, I had to read it in one sitting (thankfully the novel is somewhat short), because the premise alone made my gut clench.

The child abuse thing almost had me putting the book down – it got a little too gut-wrenching at one point. In fact, I still can’t think about that scene. In fact, I’m writing scenes in my head where the jerks who do it get in Big Trouble. Jail would be too kind for them.

Of interest to writers: What a hook! Damn, this is a sensationalistic idea but it is tastefully done. Kyra’s voice is strong and authentic. Watch especially for the melding of lyrical prose and cannot-put-it-down tension. A-MAZ-ING.

Also, great first line: “If I was going to kill the Prophet,” I say, not even keeping my voice low, “I’d do it in Africa.” May we all have such grabbers at the beginnings of our manuscripts.

Bottom Line: It’s a(n) [enter your favorite positive adjective here…none of mine seem to do it justice] book. I read it twice.

Sellout by Ebony Joy Wilkins

The set-up: After a horrifying onstage experience, NaTasha, the only African American in her suburban school, decides to spend a few weeks with her grandmother in Harlem, where she’ll volunteer at a crisis center for girls her age.

Main character’s goals: I don’t think NaTasha’s goal was entirely clear, at least not in her mind. At the beginning, she wants to escape her humilation. Throughout the middle I couldn’t find much of a goal except evading humiliation and bullying from girls at the crisis center. It’s at the end that NaTasha finally grows a backbone and sense of self-determination when her goal becomes clear (and now I can’t tell you what it is without giving you a big spoiler).

My reaction: The bullying was cringe-inducing. I could identify with NaTasha’s desire to be left alone, so every time she’s the center of attention and the object of hurtful words (or hands), I really felt for her. Then I was later thrilled with how she grew as a person and as a character.

Also, and I’m not saying this just because it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day – I am white, and have not considered myself a minority (in most situations). Seeing NaTasha in her suburban town, trying to fit in with her peers, was eye-opening and took me to that place where you walk through the world in someone else’s shoes. No, this isn’t the first book I’ve read where the main character is not white. Far from it. It’s just refreshing sometimes, to get another perspective.

Of interest to writers: There are some big moments in the plot that Wilkins handles exceptionally well. The inciting incident is one of these, with NaTasha’s onstage embarrassment. Other big moments include a volleyball match, and a date at the end (can’t say more here, you know, spoilers. Sorry). If you want some solid examples of big turning points, study these.

Bottom Line: There’s a lot to be learned from this book, not just about writing, but about life.

Bad Apple by Laura Ruby

The set-up: Tola is a high school student, and she’s been named the victim of an affair with her favorite teacher. She insists nothing happened, but from the start of the novel she’s established as a storyteller (ahem, liar), so can we, the readers, or they, her family, friends, and the authorities, really believe her?

Main character’s goal: All Tola really wants to do is clear her teacher’s name so he can come back to his job. She’s got some other goals, though, one involving a hottie named Seven (who is so cool he needs his own book!).

My reaction: This was a light story, feel-good at the end. I’d probably sub-categorize it as “chick-lit” (what a stupid sub-genre name), but at the same time I really liked it. I got indignant on behalf of Tola, which is a pretty good sign that I liked her. Also, I should clarify that it felt really fluffy at the beginning, but as I got further into the book, I became more invested in the story, and it felt deeper somehow.

Of interest to writers: The unreliable narrator thing must be hard – at least, it sounds like a daunting writing task to me. But Ruby pulls it off, so consider this a shining example if you ever need one.

Also: at the end of each chapter there’s a little mini-chapter of “(comments),” quotes from various characters who give their own ideas about the affair. These little quips serve to shed some light on Tola’s situation and personality. They also serve to develop some of these side characters’ personalities.

Bottom line: It’s a fast read, satisfying, and has a compelling hook. The web of stories, lies, and hearsay kept me intrigued throughout.

To visit Laura Ruby’s very pretty website, click here.