Friday, June 28, 2013

[Review] The Coldest Girl in Coldtown *****

ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are a rare bird that I only discovered existed about a year ago when I finished my student teaching and made friends with a librarian. Usually ARCs are sent out to large companies or other authors to garner discussion about a book before they come out. Rarely do people outside of the publishing industry get hold of these things. Unless you know where to look. Especially if you're a teacher. 

Holly Black has been one of my go-to's when I want to show a skeptical reader that current YA is much more mature, intellectual, and not only for tweens any more. Her novels are always highly aware, poetical in nature, gritty, emotional, and rife with deep characters whose skin I can always crawl under.

The Story

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a novel born out of a short story. In Tana's world, vampires exist and they aren't the things of romance novels. People infected by the bite of a vampire become Cold, and either suffer the agonizing pains of hunger until they drink human blood and turn, or sweat out the virus for almost three months before possibly surviving. Vampires, and their groupies are sent to live in "Coldtowns," or giant vampire towns where every debaucherous thing you could think of is possible. These places are romanticized by not only people but also the media and serve as a delicate holding ground for a world where humans are no longer the top predator. 

Tana is a girl drawn into this mess through party gone terribly awry. In an attempt to save her ex-boyfriend (not your typical ex, btw, Aiden is impulsive, bisexual, and much deeper than expected) from the disease he's infected with, Tana drags along a teenage vampire with way more beneath the surface than even I expected. Gavriel has to be one of my favorite vampire characters of all time because he is the scary side of vampirism while still being completely off-kilter and terribly real.

 Each relationship in this story has a depth that truly holds the book together and the drive of each character bends the plot into a constant flow of action and decision. There are times when even Tana doesn't know why she does the things she does and I like that. It's real. Sometimes an action has so many layers that it's impossible to give a name to why something happens or you choose to go this way instead of that. 

What's So Great About It?
I have always loved vampire stories and the diversity with which so many writers display them. So when I see new books about vampires I am always eager to see what new spin the writer has on the tale. 

Sometimes I'm disappointed, in this case, it was completely the opposite. 

Holly Black's vampires are seen by the people of her world as the romantic ideal that many authors portray them as. They're beautiful, sexy, and flaunt the idea of immortality as if wearing a new pair of Coach sunglasses. I find this fascinating because it mirrors "reality." Well, as in most aspects of reality, all that sparkles isn't necessarily Edward Cullen. These vampires are real, not something you'd want to meet in an alley, and come from the idea that maybe as humans we all carry inside us the capacity to be truly and horribly despicable if given the right opportunity. It's this forray into the question of "what makes of human" that will always grab me and swallow me whole in a novel. The idea of "who am I, really" is the big question that I think plagues most people very acutely between the ages of 14-17 and what makes the combination of this as a YA novel a marriage made in angst. 

Psychologically, there is so much depth in this story that I could spend most of my day squeeing over every aspect; characters, story, setting, society. You name it, there's serious thought behind it. Perhaps my favorite is the psychological breakdown of a certain main character who is an amazing example of mental instability while still having poetry and beauty to who they are. This is where Holly Black thrives, in the sanity behind the chaos. 

It's also in this chaos where Tana thrives as a main character. It's really refreshing to see a character who isn't caught up in the glamour of it all and is the driving forces behind the question of "Why?!" behind everyone. It's through Tana's eyes that the reader sees the true horror behind what everyone else sees as fantastical, and it's a wake-up call that I've read very few times in YA or even in this genre. It's an amazing thing for an author to put their reader in a position where they feel like the only sane person in the room. It's also insanely magical and mind-blowing when it's done so well.

ps. If you are squeamish, I suggest you bring your skip-over-some-parts glasses, but I wouldn't expect anything less from HB. I've always loved the macabre and gothic feel that always emanates from the pages of her novels. 

p.s.s. Yes, there is romance. No, it's no the main plot of the book. Yes, it's steamy, grounded, and refreshing in this genre. It's also the reason I am hoping Holly Black writes some adult novels sometime. Whew. I had to calm down a few times. 

Why This Book?

It's Holly Black. 

If you've had the opportunity to read any of her Modern Faerie Tales  novels it won't take much convincing for me to get you to grab hold of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown the second it hits shelves in September. I will admit, HB's books do have a certain taste to them and if you don't find books that are rather dark and edgy at their core, there might be something about this that rubs you the wrong way. 

However, if you're looking for a really engaging new twist on the vampire genre that's intelligent, grounded, and a swift moving ride through strength during inexplicably horror, pick up this book. You will not be disappointed.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown gets a 5/5 stars for it's realistic insight into a genre that often times gets stale and it's realism when it comes to romanticizing dangerous things. I would definitely recommend it for the use in a classroom library,  but it should probably be kept in a high school. More mature middle grade readers might be okay with it, but I think high school students are the key audience for this and will be deeply drawn in. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I think that last book ruined me

I blame Clockwork Princess for my inability to find a book that I can really freak out about.

I've been browsing through a lot of books that have been on my back burner since there haven't been any huge titles out lately (it seems like most of the big ones come out in the fall. I have a list of about 10 that are going to cause me to have financial issues from August-November.) So, I took this opportunity to catch up on a series I've always been meaning to read but haven't had the time. Also, I think I may have found my own personal bias when it comes to YA literature. Ie: What Causes Me to Enjoy a YA or Throw It to the Floor.

The Fae are Back on my Shelves!

My interest in the world of the fae exploded with Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales series. I loved that she wrote the classic idea of faeries with a very gothic twist and as time has passed, I definitely prefer the fey that you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley to the ones that float around and dump dust on people (if you pay attention long enough, you'll notice that I usually enjoy the darker area of literature. All the best of us do.)

I had seen Julia Kagawa's Iron Fey series in the stores for a while and for a really silly personal reason, had avoided them. Luckily, by avoiding them I was able to read straight through the series. The premise is really interesting; a girl discovers that she is the half-fae daughter of Oberon and finds herself caught up in a world she didn't think existed. Honestly, I was pulled into the series by the premise of the dark haired prince who kind of hates her for no reason  (let's be honest ladies, would you say no?).

While I enjoyed the series and found the plot interesting and fun, there was something missing from the whole experience. On GoodReads I gave most of the books 3/5 stars because while I enjoyed them, I found myself pushing my way through. For me, a book can have an amazing plot and a great premise, but if the writing isn't a style that I enjoy, I'm automatically put off.

This is where my bias exists. Every reader has a bias. Reader bias is what makes our literature culture so amazing and also where I often get frustrated. What appeals to me doesn't necessarily appeal to you. I've read a book and absolutely adored it, handed it off to my friend really thinking they would love it, only to find out they either didn't like it or felt "meh" about it (I've also freaked about a book, handed it off to someone and they flipped-out along with me. Love that.)

I enjoy novels that have a style where they play with their words. I've tried to get very specific about what I mean, but the best way is to describe it is that I like to see new things done with words. I love when authors create metaphors and similes that make you go "oh! that's an interesting comparison." I also really like when description is strong, but not overwhelming. One of the reasons I could never get into J.R.R. Tolkien or George R. Martin is because they describe FOREVER. It takes Tolkien four pages to say "and then they when over the hill."

What I'm finding in YA is that there is a clear divide. On one side are the novels that have whatever topic is popular at the time, have a good plot and "fun" characters, but lack a real sense of writing style. Then there are the ones that are harder to find, but exist. Books where there is a clear style and the writing is mature and has an academic feel to it (high level words and play on sentence structure). I would really love to do some research into the backgrounds of each of the writers whose books I love and the ones I just couldn't get into. I wonder if there is a correlation between academic history and quality of writing. (I am not saying that people without a literature/college education can't be good writers, I would just be interested to see.)

So, even though I couldn't get into the Iron Fey, I am really enjoying her Blood of Eden series which is a dystopian story about a world where vampires have taken over AND the zombie disease has basically infected any humans left (right?! I would be dead.) I don't know what it is about this series that causes me to consistently give the series 4/5. I would love to prove my theory about good writing and say that Julie has grown as a writer, but let's be honest, this type of book is more up my alley than the Fey series. The main character is much darker and her situation much more dire. There is lots of blood and some rather icky description of limbs flying around, so perhaps this is what has peaked my interest. But with that said, her characters feel more real to me. There is something tighter about her writing. I also really enjoy the voice of the main character. She is super snarky and has a hard time dealing with the life she leads and the one she's left behind.

Currently Reading:
Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Reading List Update

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
This is a really fantastic book for anyone looking for a YA with high fantasy, kings, queens and people who are actually dragons. The political aspect really gripped me and I was pulled in by the society that Hartman grows in this, especially between humans and dragons.

Dualed by Elsie Chapman
This is one of those books that I really wanted to be good. The premise of living in a world where a clone of you will kill you unless you kill them by the time you're 18, was fascinating. Yet, I found myself skimming through it half-way through. This might really catch other people, but I found it lacking.

The Selection by Kiera Cass
This. Book. I'm sorry, but if you liked this book, PLEASE explain to me how. I tried. I did. The idea was REALLY interesting, but the writing and characters were SO FLAT. I didn't see anything new in this that I was already expecting. I can see this book in the middle-grade category, maybe? But not YA. Bleh.

Waiting in the Wings
 Stolen Nights by Rebecca Maziel
Rift by Andrea Cremer
Crash by Lisa McMann
Pivot Point by Kasie West
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton <-written a="" attending="" be="" by="" fall="" graduate="" i="" ll="" mfa="" next="" of="" p="" program="" the="">The Unquiet by Jeanine Garsee
The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe
Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger
Elfin by Quinn Loftis
Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw