Thursday, May 22, 2014

I Am the Weapon by Allen Zadoff

Main character:  16-year-old Ben (or is it Zach?)
Location: Manhattan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre:  YA Fiction, Thriller, Action/Adventure

Ben is a trained killer, an assassin.  His age is his advantage--who would suspect a teenager?  When he is assigned a target, he gets to the target through a son or a daughter (preferably a son--girls are difficult to predict), infiltrating the school, spending months becoming close enough to the family to strike.  His preferred weapon is a pen that delivers a toxin that mimics a heart attack. Assignment done, he slips away, to emerge in another place with another name, enrolling in another school to befriend another child of a powerful, possibly traitorous man.

Now Ben is given a new assignment, but this one is very different.  He doesn't have months, he has five days to get close to the daughter of the mayor of New York so he can kill her father.  Trouble is, he likes her.  And he likes her dad.  When he misses two perfect opportunities, his handlers have to ask--is Ben losing his touch?  Can he still be trusted to complete his job?

In a lot of ways this book, the first of a series, reminded me of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Ryder books.  Those, of course, were based on the James Bond series, and Alex knew that what he was doing was in service of his country and rarely was his assignment specifically to kill someone.  Ben has been trained to kill, though he, too, thinks that he is serving his country.  He is told that his targets are either about to betray the United States or through their actions cause harm to the U.S.

Throughout this assignment, Ben is reminded of his own father and his own grief on learning of his father's "questionable loyalties" and subsequent death.  The organization became his new family, with his handlers being referred to as Mother and Dad.  But is what he remembers really the truth, or part of the indoctrination he was put through?

I really enjoyed this book.  On one level there is all the clandestine details--the drop points, the coded messages on the smart phone.  On another level is using Ben's memories to fill in his history.  Then there is Ben himself who is likeable (for a killer.)  He is not a cold-blooded killing machine, but a smart, introspective kid.  It's easy to see how both the mayor's daughter and her best friend are attracted to him.  Okay, there are times when I question whether a teenager, or an adult for that matter, can think as fast, move as fast, or fight as hard, as Ben does, but that's what makes a thriller a nice piece of escapism.   

I read I Am the Weapon as a e-ARC from Net Galley.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn

Main character: 17 year old Marni
Location: unnamed fairytale land
Time period: Medieval-ish
Genre: YA fiction, fantasy

Marni, the flower girl, lives with her Gramps at the edge of the forest.  People from the village and lords and ladies from the castle come to buy their flowers and visit with Gramps, but Marni does not feel a part of either group.  There is something in the forest that calls to her, especially a pretty lady with glowing eyes who teaches Marni to knit magic with pine needles.  But Marni never goes too far into the forest and she always stays close to her home, her garden, and her Gramps.

Every once in a while, the forest will call to other girls who walk in and are never seen again.  Marni’s mother was one of these girls, but she was the only one to come back out—with a baby.  But Marni’s mother was the daughter of the king and the king’s son is enraged at what he sees as his sister’s betrayal.  He chases her to the ends of the kingdom and kills her, crippling his father when he tries to protect her.  He would have killed Marni as well, but the king promises to give up his throne and raise her apart from the court.

This is pure fairy tale.  It’s not a retelling or re-imagining of a familiar tale, or a fractured tale, or a mash-up of fairy tale characters.  Instead, it’s more like Gail Carson Levine’s original fairy tales, such as Ever or Fairest.  It is so steeped in fairy tale traditions that it feels real.  That can set up expectations in the reader--when Marni winds up at the castle, her uncle’s wife, the queen, welcomes her.  I was expecting a stepmother variation and worried that the queen’s welcoming words hid a darker purpose, but no.  She is perfectly sincere in offering friendship to Marni.

I also really enjoyed that when faced with a choice--go into the forest and become a wild creature or marry Lord Edgar who can protect her from the king--Marni chooses her own path.  

I read A Creature of Moonlight as an e-ARC from Net Galley.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

Main character: High school freshman Nell Golden
Location: San Francisco
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA fiction, Relationships, Sisters

Nell Golden is so excited to be going into high school where her older sister is already the star of the soccer team.  Nell and Layla have always been close, and the last two years of going to separate schools has been hard on Nell.  Now finally, the sisters will be back together and life will be back to normal--except, of course, that it won't.

There is an ominous tone throughout this book, a feeling that things are not going well and will not end well.  Layla is sometimes distant, not talking to Nell and not wanting to do things with her.  When Nell finds out why, she feels compelled to keep Layla's secret from her parents, to keep the peace, just as she has always done.

It doesn't help that Nell sometimes refers to the Creed bothers, family friends who were as close as Nell and Layla were--until one brother died in an accident (possibly because of drugs) and the other commits suicide because he cannot live without his brother.  Nell even has imaginary conversations with the Creeds.  I was really dreading a very tragic end. 

The book is written as if from Nell to Layla, putting the reader in the position of Layla but without knowing everything that Layla does.  (Is this a long letter to a dead sister, perhaps?)  This choice does really draw the reader in and makes this a hard book to put down.

Layla isn't the only one with a secret.  Nell develops a crush on a good-looking junior boy, Sam.  She even tries out for the school play to get close to him.  When Layla tries to warn Nell about him--that he has a cruelness about him--the sisters' relationship has already been damaged to the point that Nell ignores her.  There is a discretely written scene that takes place at the closing night party, when Nell learns that Layla was right about Sam's cruelness.  (The scene is so discrete that it is open to interpretation--when Nell denies the rumors that Sam himself starts, I was surprised.  Is she telling the truth? Or has she turned into a unreliable narrator?)

I did like this book, though I recognize it may not be to everyone's taste.  It does not have a lot of action, but it is an in-depth look at families, sisterhood, and all the different ways of love.  Though one cannot say that it has a happy ending, it certainly is a better one that I had foreseen.

I read this as an advanced ebook from NetGalley.  We Are the Goldens is scheduled to be published on May 27, 2014.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dangerous Dream (short story) and Dangerous Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

 Main character:  Ridley Duchannes, Siren and dark Caster
Location: Gatlin, South Carolina,plus a world tour
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: Fantasy, YA Fiction

Graduation marks the end of one period of time and the beginning of another.  It's also a good time to shift from the Beautiful Creatures series with its focus on Lena Duchannes and Ethan Waite, to the new Dangerous Creatures series with its focus on Ridley Duchannes and Wesley "Link" Lincoln.  Dangerous Dream is a transitional short story that bridges the summer between high school and what comes after.

When Link says three fatal words ("I love you") to Ridley, she flees from him and embarks on a world tour, reasserting her Siren nature to attract men to her like moths to a flame and then move on, leaving behind her a string of broken hearts.  She eventually finds her way to a Caster club where she bluffs her way into a game of Liar's Trade which Casters play for talents, favors and powers.  She thinks her power of Persuasion makes her sure to win, but she is set up for a major fall, owing the House a band drummer and a favor to be named later.  Who does she know that's a drummer? 

Back to Gatlin and her half-mortal, half-Incubus boyfriend.

Main character: Ridley, the dark Siren, and Link, the half-Incubus
Location: New York City
Time period contemporary
Genre: Fantasy, YA Fiction

Ridley returns to Gatlin in time for a "last night" party with Link, Lena and Ethan, and John and Liv.  Around a campfire they roast marshmallows and speculate on the future, and Lena casts a binding spell.  The spell creates rings for each of them which not only symbolize their connection, but can change color to alert them if one needs help.  The following morning they split up, and we follow along with Ridley and Link as they head up to New York.

Ridley maneuvers Link into meeting with the members of the band he is (unknown to him) going to join to fulfill one of Ridley's debts.  This is a Caster band, and includes an Illusionist, a Necromancer, and a Darkborn.  When Link finds out why he's accepted into the band, he is furious with Ridley and makes her promise not to use her powers anymore.  But the club owner, Lennox Gates, who holds Ridley's markers, has some dark purpose that includes both Ridley and Link--at the bidding of a mysterious and dangerous spirit.  How will she be able to protect him?

I really enjoyed the Beautiful Creatures series (which I actually listened to as audiobooks),but I think I might wind up liking this series better.  Ethan and Lena were often in danger--both of their lives and their souls--but there was rarely any doubt of the strength and purity of their love and that they would ultimately prevail.

Ridley has a much more complicated relationship with Link.  Sirens are supposed to go through life wreaking emotional damage without being touched by it.  Link loves her despite of (or maybe because of) her faults, but she fights her growing affection for him.  Despite herself, she also comes to care for Link's band members, especially Necro. 

I suspect that we may see this series develop into a redemptive journey for Ridley, and those kinds of stories are always fun.  I kept thinking of Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer--how she reveled in her badness for so long until she had her (mostly off-screen) redemptive journey and became a force for good.  I can see Ridley beginning such a journey--though she may need to be dragged kicking and screaming at some parts--and becoming good.  It may not be within the rules of the Caster world to go to the Light when you've been claimed by the Dark, but we've already seen rules of the Caster world ignored and broken.  I will be keeping my eye out for the next Dangerous Creatures book.

(I wonder, will there be a third series following John and Liv?)

I read Dangerous Dream and Dangerous Creatures as ebooks from NetGalley.