blog about reviews writing

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dark Star, Sinner, Coda, and Jackaby Mini-Reviews

Dark Star (Dark Star #1) by Bethany Frenette
Audrey Whitticomb has nothing to fear. Her mother is the superhero Morning Star, the most deadly crime-fighter in the Twin Cities, so it's hard for Audrey not to feel safe. That is, until she's lured into the sweet night air by something human and not human--something with talons and teeth, and a wide, scarlet smile.

Now Audrey knows the truth: her mom doesn't fight crime at night. She fights Harrowers--livid, merciless beings who were trapped Beneath eons ago. Yet some have managed to escape. And they want Audrey dead, just because of who she is: one of the Kin.

To survive, Audrey will need to sharpen the powers she has always had. When she gets close to someone, dark corners of the person's memories become her own, and she sometimes even glimpses the future. If Audrey could only get close to Patrick Tigue, a powerful Harrower masquerading as human, she could use her Knowing to discover the Harrowers' next move. But Leon, her mother's bossy, infuriatingly attractive sidekick, has other ideas. Lately, he won't let Audrey out of his sight.

When an unthinkable betrayal puts Minneapolis in terrible danger, Audrey discovers a wild, untamed power within herself. It may be the key to saving her herself, her family, and her city. Or it may be the force that destroys everything--and everyone--she loves.

Released: October 23rd 2012     Pages: 368
Publisher: Disney Hyperion       Source: Library

Before I started this, I was prepared to nitpick.  This is set in my home state, so I would know if Bethany Frenette got any facts wrong (and I thoroughly enjoyed nitpicking Shiver and Linger).  Dark Star pleasantly surprised me in this way; I have no MN-related criticism.  It did bug me that a few characters complain often about the cold, but I'll let it slide.  Overall, it seems like an authentic version of Minneapolis.

I expected Dark Star to read like a Marvel movie.  It presents itself as a superhero story, but in reality, it's more like Hex Hall than anything else.  The paranormal aspect--the Harrowers, which are kind of demons but kind of people--feels awkward and poorly explained.  It never seems to fit with the story, somehow, as if it was crammed in as an afterthought, which is concerning since it's the main plot of the story.

Audrey is not an interesting protagonist.  She's likable enough, but there's nothing that makes her compelling.  Her relationship with Leon develops too quickly.  And isn't Leon twenty-something?  And she's around sixteen?  That's not cute--that's creepy.  Audrey's best friend (another example of the overly-cheerful best friend trope that I mentioned in my review of Antigoddess), Tink, did nothing but annoy me with her shallowness and occasional degrading comments.

Overall, this just didn't come together for me.  The plot brings nothing new to the paranormal/supernatural genre, the characters are uninteresting, and the aspect of the Harrowers doesn't feel as natural as it should.  I don't plan on reading the sequel.

Similar Books: It reminds me of Antigoddess, Ink, and The City's Son.

Sinner (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #3.5) by Maggie Stiefvater
Sinner follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the #1 New York Times bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole's story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole's darkest secret -- his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel's life. Can this sinner be saved?

Released: July 1st 2014         Pages: 368
Publisher: Scholastic Press   Source: Library

It hardly ever happens that an author takes your favorite character from an already-finished series and says, "Hey, you know what?  Let's write another book about him.  Because why not?"  Cole St. Clair is my favorite character from this series, so I was thrilled when I heard about Sinner.

Cole St. Clair is not a nice person.  He is not healthy, not kind, not even wholly human.  And yet, he's one of the most fascinating characters I've come across in a long time.  He's a complete mess, but Maggie Stiefvater writes him in such an honest, raw way that makes him seem real.  I consider that the mark of skilled character creation--to take a flawed, "unlikable" person, and make me care despite their problems.  Isabel had this, as well, but to a lesser extent.

I'm not sure what I expected from Sinner, plot-wise, but this wasn't it.  It focused less on the werewolf aspect of the series, and more on the character development of Cole and Isabel.  It surprised me, actually, how small a role the werewolf part of it played, compared to the other three books.  I'm not usually one to go for realistic fiction like this, especially a novel that's so incredibly angst-ridden, but it worked.  Again, probably due to the fantastic character study.

I spent most of this novel wishing I could hear a NARKOTIKA (Cole's band) song, somehow.  Since I can't do that, I imagined they would sound something like Thirty Seconds to Mars (like this) meets Green Day (like this) meets Adam Lambert (like this).  Another reader was also wanting to hear the band, and asked about it on Tumblr, to which Maggie Stiefvater replied with this list of similar-sounding bands.  I'm not familiar with any of these, so I have no way of knowing how close my guess was.

Sinner is a complete mess of anger, bitterness, and general angst, but it's also very real, and surprisingly full of feels, especially for Cole fans.  Highly recommended.  I just wish it had a bit more werewolf action.

Similar Books:
It's a contemporary paranormal novel, with more emphasis on the contemporary than paranormal, like Invisibility.  Its dark sense of humor reminds me of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and its level of sheer angst could give Charm & Strange a run for its money (and also, there are werewolves, maybe).

Coda (Coda #1) by Emma Trevayne
Ever since he was a young boy, music has coursed through the veins of eighteen-year-old Anthem—the Corp has certainly seen to that. By encoding music with addictive and mind-altering elements, the Corp holds control over all citizens, particularly conduits like Anthem, whose life energy feeds the main power in the Grid.

Anthem finds hope and comfort in the twin siblings he cares for, even as he watches the life drain slowly and painfully from his father. Escape is found in his underground rock band, where music sounds free, clear, and unencoded deep in an abandoned basement. But when a band member dies suspiciously from a tracking overdose, Anthem knows that his time has suddenly become limited. Revolution all but sings in the air, and Anthem cannot help but answer the call with the chords of choice and free will. But will the girl he loves help or hinder him?

Released: May 7th 2013             Pages: 320
Publisher: Running Press Kids   Source: Library

In my experience, there are two types of people who claim to love music.  There's the first kind, the kind that says "I love music", but their collection of songs resembles the iTunes popularity charts rather than any type of personal taste, and they are mostly unaware of the finer points of a song, such as harmony, key changes, and whatnot.  Then, there are the type of music lovers that really love music.  The people who branch out beyond what the radio plays.  The type that will listen to the same song on repeat all day long, who know every chord change in their favorites.  Coda is the dystopian novel for that second type of music lover.

The best part of Coda is the worldbuilding.  Emma Trevayne has created a completely unique, yet still believable dystopian future.  It's incredibly cool, but also haunting.  It would've been so easy for this setting to make no sense, but everything is so thought-out that I never had that problem.  People often liken music to drugs, but what if that was real?  What if you didn't have a choice in the matter?  This is the type of setting that really makes you think.

I loved the characters, as well.  Anthem is likable, flawed, and easy to connect with (unlike the last character I read about with the same name).  I felt for him, and I never lost touch with him throughout his struggles.  Other side characters are interesting, as well--Scope, the twins, Haven, etc.  Each side character has a distinct personality and role to play, rather than simply being cardboard cutouts to populate Anthem's world.  They surprise you in the best ways possible.

Coda is a compelling, fascinating look at a possible dystopian future.  In this wave of post-Hunger Games dystopian novels that still hasn't stopped for some reason even though we're more than ready to move on, it's unique and refreshing.  Highly recommended.

Similar Books: The high-tech, futuristic setting reminds me of Proxy and Ready Player One.  It also reminds me of Legend.

Jackaby by William Ritter
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

Released: September 16th 2014          Pages: 304
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers    
Source: Goodreads First Reads giveaway

This book had me right away with "Doctor Who meets Sherlock".  And with a character who can see supernatural creatures.  Because SuperWhoLock.  While this book does not resemble what I assume SuperWhoLock would look like, if it were to actually exist*, it still grabbed my attention.

While the main character, Abigail, isn't as complex as I would have liked, she's spunky, smart, and likable.  She has attitude that makes her interesting, but she lacks emotional depth.  She goes along with strange, supernatural events more easily than is realistic, but at times, that's the way to approach this book: just go with it.

The title character, Jackaby, is an enigma, in a good way.  He was modeled after Sherlock Holmes, which gives him all the eccentricities and strange genius of the character, while still managing to be unique.  He lacks the complete social cluelessness of Sherlock (the BBC and RDJ versions, at least), and instead of an unusual gift for deduction, he has the ability to see supernatural creatures hidden to the rest of us.  He's still quirky, but in a different way.  And he's still likable.

Like Abigail, the plot doesn't have as much depth or complexity as I like, but it was still just plain fun.  It can get a bit predictable, but it's also a funny, plucky, and sometimes strange.  The narration is lovely, with authentic-sounding period prose.  As a whole, it isn't perfect, by any means, but it is immensely enjoyable.

*If it ever happened, I assume it would look something like this or this.

Similar Books:
It takes place in Victorian New England and features supernatural creatures, like The Monstrumologist.  It also has a lot in common with the Matt Cruse series, This Dark Endeavor, and Darker Still.

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