Book Review: Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer

March 6, 2011 at 10:41 am (Book Reviews) (, , )

Calla Tor has always known her fate: she will serve the Keepers as a Guardian, mate with the son of a rival alpha, and together they’ll form a new pack charged with protecting humanity against the Keeper’s enemies. Is the thrilled with it? Not exactly, but she’ll deal. After all, it’s what she’s supposed to do.

Until she rescues a human boy from a bear, a human boy with impossible connections and a history as hidden as Calla’s is clear to see. A boy with enemies, with protectors, with a whole host of secrets even he doesn’t know. And he’s about to turn Calla’s predictable world into chaos.


I admit, I really didn’t want to like this book. Part of it’s the tagline on the cover (“She can control her pack, but not her heart”- I can’t even say it with a straight face, and I know that’s no fault of the author but still) and part of it’s a trilogy I wrote a couple of years ago that brings up some disturbing similarities. I know parallel development happens but it still sucks to encounter it.

That being said, I absolutely devoured it. I think what won me over was the Republicans for Voldemort hoodie. Throw me some geek humor- especially Harry Potter geek humor- and I’m a happy camper. I loved the relationship between Calla and her younger brother Ansel- fun, but there’s also a large level of trust and respect there. It’s clear that he feels comfortable with her as a leader, which can be very difficult for siblings. Ren’s very carefully contained vulnerabilities give a lot of depth to a character who would otherwise come off as little more than an arrogant manwhore. The constant state of challenge that exists between Ren and Calla is brilliant, both in a sense of who they are as people and their instincts as alphas.

Not everying made as much sense for me, but- and maybe this makes me a lackluster reviewer- I can’t always quite put my finger on why. Shay was a problem for me, mainly because I never really felt like I knew him. Ren I understood- in some ways he’s very much a reflection of Calla- but Shay never stepped off the page for me because the urgency and the comics jokes didn’t quite conceal the gap where the person should be. That Calla’s attracted to him, I never questioned; why she’s attracted to him remained more of a mystery. Calla’s relationship with her mother also startled me and, I think, put me off a little, probably because both Calla and Ansel seem to treat her as a somewhat obnoxious older sister. That could account for some of the independence, but Calla seems to spend more of the book barely tolerating and at least passively disliking her mother, and the way both she and Ansel intermittently call her Naomi reinforces that in my mind.

What I really liked- and for me the thing that kept me captivated- was the delicate question that floated like a soap bubble through the action only to finally pop and release a deluge: how much of what we know is truth? Our history, our status, our beliefs, our reasons for doing the things we do, and the way we understand the actions of those around us…how much of that is real? How much of that is truth? It’s a stunningly teenage question. Not that this particular dilemma only hits teenagers, but that’s usually when it hits first and sometimes when it hits hardest. It was beautifully drawn through the events of the books, but instead of trying to give us an answer, it gives us more questions- not just as a lead-in to the next book but as an acknowledgment that all too often, these kinds of questions don’t have easy or simple answers.

I’m often accused of not having a romantic bone in my body, and there’s probably an element of truth to that, but the triangle here really bothered me. Again, I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was because Call was so honest (and relatively straightforward about her desires) with Shay, but didn’t give equal honesty to the boy she’s actually planning to spend the rest of the her life with. I get the confusion and the indecision; if she were equally honest or equally secretive with both of them, I don’t think it would bother me nearly so much. I’m assuming this is something that will weave through the next book(s) as well, but for now…well.

I had problems with this books. A lot of problems. The way the school was set up, the fact that no adults were worried about the club/bar for minors, some things I can’t talk about because they’re spoilers…and I still loved it. If you ask me why, I can give you fractured reasons but nothing coherent or cohesive. I had problems with it, but I loved it.

And that’s what’s going to keep it in my thought for quite some time.  Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer. Check it out. Interested in winning an autographed copy? Through March 21st, one lucky person will receive autographed copies of five AMAZING books, courtesy of Beth Revis. Check it out

Until next time~

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Book Review: Wither, by Lauren DeStefano

March 2, 2011 at 8:17 pm (Book Reviews) (, , )

They created the perfect humans, eradicated cancer, took the study and practice of genetics to such a sublime level that it seemed all cares of the human race were over. Then their children started dying. Irreversible and impossible to prevent, the virus claims all post-First Generation males by the age of twenty-five, and all females when they are just twenty years old. There are some who insist that a cure can be found, and others who insist, just as fervently, that the time of the human race has come to an end. It’s a nation cut off from all others, where the divide between reality and illusion is less than paper thin but the divide between the rich and the poor is endless. It’s a world where Gatherers kidnap young women and sell them as brides and breeders, to increase the population in the short years they have.

And Rhine Ellery has just been taken.

This book is utterly captivating. I already had a copy on order because it looked intriguing when an ARC came into the store, and I sat and read it all in one go. Normally this wouldn’t be shocking, but it was well nearly eleven when I started, I was tired from a very long day, and David had on an achingly, hysterically bad movie that was begging to be mocked, but I did not want to put this book down for anything.

Rhine is an intelligent, observent narrator, one with steady determination that’s sometimes sorely tried, one who makes plans but is- for the most part- cautious in implementing them. She’s very aware of the horrors of the world around her, but also of the small joys that can be occasionally found, and though she knows they’re gone too soon, she savors those small moments. She’s a fully realized character, well rounded, with strengths and weaknesses and a history that, while often painful, only adds to current action without bogging down with backstory. The present tense narration is clear and immediate, but even in her misery she’s never self-pitying. She has a strength that sometimes folds into tears but that’s by no means a sum of who she is. Rhine is a formidable character.

And she grows.

It’s a tricky thing in YA books, showing growth within a single volume (especially if it’s part of a series), and a lot of authors don’t really manage it. Some don’t even seem to make the attempt. Others spread the growth out across so many books that despite the action it seems as though time is crawling. But Rhine takes in all of her experiences, even the unpleasant ones, and grows from them, learns from them. Nearly a full year passes within the book, and the Rhine at the end and the Rhine at the beginning have a vast difference between them. They’re both Rhine, both innately the same character, so it’s not a matter of inconsistency but of genuine growth.

Another element that both amazed and gladdened me was to see how well-drawn the other characters were. The sister-wives, Jenna and Cecily, their forced-husband Linden, Lady Rose…each has a strongly defined character that stands on it own, and yet the interactions between them are absolutely fascinating to watch. Jenna, who is almost appallingly indifferent to her own state, is nonetheless a steady force of strength through the book. She’s also a fine example of bitterness, hatred, and grief, but even those temper her strength into something true and resonant. Spoiled little Cecily, headstrong and clueless and desperate for the illusions she thinks are real, who throws tantrums and abuses the staff and begrudges anyone anything in which she can’t also take part, is also touchingly vulnerable, a child who has no comprehension of the world she lives in and can’t bring herself to understand even when she’s battered by the reality.

Linden at first seems less finely drawn, but as the story unfolds, as his character unfolds, we start to realize the sinister underpinnings of that almost-vagueness. There are pieces of him that are touchingly real, and then there are pieces that feel, in a way, unfinished- until we realize that’s exactly what they are. Sheltered and hopelessly naive, he has no idea how the world works beyond his home, and even less of a clue of how it works within. More than a stronger drawn character would have, he defines that clash of illusion and reality that seems, in some places, so seamless. Rhine and Jenna both see their cage clearly, Rhine determined to escape it, Jenna equally determined to punish the people who put her there, but neither Linden nor Cecily even understand that the cage exists. It’s terrifying, but it’s also very, very real. Gabriel, a servant with whom Rhine shares a deep and slow-building attraction, is in that nebulous state of transition where he was once free but has largely forgotten what it was like, and so is caught between two worlds without a full understanding of either of them.

Only one significant character is left largely undefined, that of Linden’s father Vaughn, a First Generation doctor intent on finding a cure, and yet the purposefulness of that choice draws him in such a deliciously ambiguous way that it still sends prickles down my spine. Vaughn Ashby is a terrifying man, the kind of terrifying you feel right down in your bones even if you can’t fully define it. We see the fake charm, the iron will, the secretive, manipulative side of him, we see the dangerous side, the fanatic side, and we see subtle flashes of things far, far worse, but the fact that we never get to see ALL of those piece come together into a clear understanding of the monster that lurks beneath the luxurious house renders him an ominous threat for the two books to follow.

No book, of course, is perfect, and there was one continuing thread through this book that had me gritting my teeth each time it came up: the weather. Rhine is a New York native taken from Manhattan and brought to a- for lack of a better word- plantation in Florida that includes a massive stretch of orange groves. So, pretty much, the central swath of Florida including the coastal areas. And yet, she’s talking about early autumn cold (though we keep 90s into December), a flurry of red and gold leaves (oranges are evergreens, and while there are individual trees of other species that may turn red, gold, or orange, most either stay green or just die), and then SNOW. Not just a flurry that melts before it hits the ground or may actually linger on cars and grass for half an hour or so (and it’s front page news when it does) but actual SNOW like you find up north. Pandhandle gets some snow each year, sure, but that’s not orange country. There was also a fairly loose grasp of hurricanes, which got to me a little, but mostly it was the seasons that really irritated me. At one point she makes a comment that she’d thought Florida more temperate, but there’s no discussion of anything that would have happened to change weather patterns, no signs that we’re swinging into an ice age or anything, so the significantly changing leaves and the actual snow drove me crazy.

At the end of the day, though, if that’s the worst I can say of a book, I’m happy as a fool in love. STRONGLY recommend this book, the first of the Chemical Garden Trilogy, which comes out on March 22nd.

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