Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

"Demons are made of shadow. Don't look at the shadows too long or a demon might look back..."

This cover, this is a gorgeous cover. Just look at the pretty.


In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, a young woman named Nyx is married off to an evil, demonic man. The Gentle Lord makes bargains. For the price of two daughters, one was promised as a future wife. In spite of her outward appearance, Nyx is resentful that she was chosen to sacrifice her freedom and ultimately her life.

She was chosen because she resembles their father. Astraia, her twin, resembles their mother, who died giving birth to them. By punishing Nyx, he is symbolically punishing himself for the bargain that led to his wife's death and for sexing up his dead wife's sister.

The plan is for Nyx to give into her husband's, um..."marital desires." Then she must find the four elemental hearts in his palace. She was trained in an elemental magic that will allow her to shut down the hearts. Once all four hearts are destroyed, she will be able to kill the Gentle Lord and finally free her people from his bargains, though she will most likely die in the process.

After a lovely wedding where Nyx calls her aunt out on having the sex with her dad, tells her sister how she really feels, and marries a rock (Symbolizing her husband), she arrives at the castle. There are many surprises awaiting her. The Gentle Lord, Ignifex, doesn't immediately ravage her. He turns out to be pretty evil, but not such a bad guy. I really loved him, but I'm always a fan of the bad ones.

Living with Ignifex involves a lot of games. Nyx is given a key that opens a select number of doors. She uses them to explore and search for the hearts while he is indisposed at night. She is also given the chance to guess his true name every night. If she guesses correctly, Ignifex will let her go. If she is wrong, he will kill her.

There is also the issue of his servant, a shadow called Shade. Ignifex must retreat from the darkness every night. At the same time, Shade is insubstantial in the day and becomes solid at night. Nyx trusts Shade, even starts to fall in love with him.

Nyx spends most of the book wanting to kill Ignifex. He is evil, making bargains and twisting them around to hurt people. Ignifex argues that the people are aware that the bargains come with a great price, they just don't care. Personally, I think he has a point, but Nyx is firmly in the "my husband is evil" camp. What she doesn't see until later in the book is that they share a dark side. Nyx has a part of her that doesn't want to be self-sacrificing, that part that destroyed her sister on what was probably the last time she will ever see her. Ignifex has secrets that even he doesn't know. Together they might be a perfect match.

I really liked the story here. The fairy tale elements were fantastic, and as the story continues it becomes even better. Unfortunately, one of the major plot elements was glaringly obvious. It was frustrating that Nyx was so unaware, to the point that I was yelling at her. It kept the book from being a complete 5 stars, but it was still really good. Again, I really loved Ignifex. He was funny and kind of evil, and deserves to be part of my YA Boyfriends club.

I received my copy of Cruel Beauty from Edelweiss, courtesy of Balzer + Bray. It's available for purchase now.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

"I liked this idea: that peculiarness wasn't a deficiency, but an abundance; that it wasn't we who lacked something normals had, but they who lacked peculiarness. That we were more, not less..."
You can read my review of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children here.

(Some spoilers from Book 1 follow)
Wow, it's been 3 years since the first book was published. It was a story of a boy named Jacob. His grandfather always told him stories of the peculiar children who live on an island in the care of Miss Peregrine. Jacob stopped believing in the stories after he grew up. When his grandfather passed away, he decided to travel to the island featured in the stories. There, he met evil creatures called hollowgasts who want to eat peculiar children, and the twisted wights who want to steal their souls for their own evil purposes. He also found that Miss Peregrine and all her charges were real, and still the same age as when his grandfather knew them.

They live inside a time loop, where they are safe from wights and hollowgasts, and where they remain the same age forever. At the end of Miss Peregrine, their loop is invaded. The wights force them to flee their island to England, which is in the middle of the blitzkrieg of World War II. Even worse, after being apprehended by the wights, Miss Peregrine is stuck in her bird form until they can find another ymbrne (The bird ladies who watch over peculiar children) to help her.

Now, the children are on the run. With help from their book of stories detailing famous peculiars, they reach the time loop where Miss Wren keeps her menagerie. Unfortunately, the animals of the menagerie have long been oppressed by normal humans and only a few remain. A bulldog named Adelaide directs them to London, which is being evacuated because of the bombings.

Along the way, they encounter a hollowgast inside a time loop, which should be impossible. They are nearly captured by wights, but must fight their way out. If they don't reach a ymbrne in time, Miss Peregrine may be stuck as a bird forever. Then, the children will never be able to re-enter their loop, and Jacob will be permanently stuck in the past.

This book contained a lot more action than the first. That one set up a lot of the story and introduced the characters, but a lot more happened once the basics were out of the way. Additionally, I thought that some of the pictures from the first book didn't actually tie into the story. In Hollow City, everything fits. Something or someone is described, and you know a picture will be soon to come. My minor issue is that there are a lot of landscapes and such in this book, which is boring compared to the peculiar pictures. Even so, the old black and white images definitely make the Miss Peregrine books what they are. They add a lot of interest and atmosphere to the story. I only hope that Ransom Riggs doesn't take as long to put out a third book.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Half Bad by Sally Green

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so... -William Shakespeare"

You may think that Harry Potter has the monopoly on magical angst and abuse, but he doesn't hold a candle to Half Bad's Nathan. The book opens with him trapped inside a cage. He is forced to run laps, with a collar that poisons him if he goes too far. He has to do strenuous labor, and he is beaten for stepping out of line. We don't know why he is in the cage, or who put him there.

Half Bad is set in present-day England. In this world, witches live among normal humans. There are good witches and bad witches, and one half-witch, Nathan. His mother is a white witch, and his father is the worst of the black witches, Marcus. Nathan and his brother and two sisters are raised by their grandmother, after their mother killed herself. His brother, Arran, is his closest friend, and his sister Deborah is really nice. His other sister Jessica is a total bitch. Seriously, she's a younger version of Dolores Umbridge.

When a witch reaches 17, they must complete a ritual called a Giving Ceremony. This will give them their powers. If they don't perform this ritual, they will die. The ritual involves blood that must come from a relative.

Nathan secretly wishes he could meet his father, use his blood in the ceremony. Deep down, he believes that Marcus will try to find him. It doesn't seem likely, as Nathan is supposed to be the only person who can kill Marcus. Because they expect Marcus might make contact with Nathan, the magic council keeps close tabs on the boy. They pass all kinds of restrictions and make him come in for yearly assessments to determine if he is a good witch or a bad witch.

The council eventually ends up taking Nathan from his family. He lives with his captor, a tough woman who teaches him to fight and be strong. At the beginning she seems cruel, but by the time we get the full story she has some good qualities. The torture of a teenage boy is bad, but they end up with a mutual understanding. It's either really sweet or Stockholm syndrome. The council still isn't satisfied. They still don't know if he is good or bad. They plan to move him again, lock him up in the council buildings, but he escapes. His goal is to find his father and perform his Giving Ceremony, as his 17th birthday is only a few days away.

Nathan was a strange character. I liked him for the most part, but he was very volatile. He would react violently at the worst times, which made me feel very embarrassed on his behalf. It made me really sad that he wasn't very good at reading, because reading is the best. I understand that the character had a difficult life, but he rarely seems to help himself with that. He would face a bad situation and make it worse by punching his teacher, for example.

I was pleasantly surprised by Half Bad. I expected it to be a paranormal romance, a girly Twilight thing. It's nice to get a male protagonist. There was a good amount of grit and action, maybe a little too much at times. Overall, I really liked this book and I hope that we get a second soon.

I received copies of Half Bad from Edelweiss and Netgalley, courtesy of Viking Juvenile. It's available for purchase now.