Cinder: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cinder by Marissa MeyerCinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing but even that distinction can’t buy her freedom. Cinder doesn’t have any of that–not when she is a Cyborg.

Legally tied to a stepmother who despises her, Cinder spends her days fixing machines at her stall and dreaming of escape. Those lofty plans are dashed when her stepsister falls suddenly and hopelessly ill. Cinder is the first person her guardian blames and the only one to be punished. Instead of the death sentence she expected, Cinder finds an unlikely source of knowledge about her murky past not to mention the improbable attentions of New Beijing’s handsome prince.

Soon Cinder finds herself in the middle of an intergalactic power struggle that could have dire consequences–especially for Cinder. The more she learns about her past, the less she understands. If Cinder can confront the truth, she might be able to do something. She just isn’t sure if it will already be too late in Cinder (2012) by Marissa Meyer.

Find it on Bookshop.

Cinder is Meyer’s first novel. It is also the first book in the four-book Lunar Chronicles.

There are a lot of retellings of Cinderella in the world. Meyer brings a fresh eye to this popular fairy tale adding an utterly original spin to a familiar story. Filled with nods to the original story (most notably Cinder’s mechanical foot), Meyer also excellently evokes the hectic, crowded city of New Beijing.

With its futuristic, sci-fi slant, this story could have easily gotten carried away explaining the world or simply laying on too many nuances to be believed. Meyer avoids these pitfalls both creating a well-realized setting and presenting it without overwhelming readers.

Despite its obviously futuristic execution, Cinder is firmly grounded in fairy tale lore. As a result the predictability of the narrative might have been unavoidable. As it is, several things are very obvious within the first few chapters of the story. However, it is not until the last chapter than any early predictions are confirmed (or nullified as the case may be). While the story is clever and immensely entertaining, I would have loved to see Cinder come into her own earlier in the novel instead of having to wait to see much of that transformation in book two.

Cinder is ultimately a unique interpretation of a story that has already been told many times. Filled with twists and new details all its own, Cinder takes a familiar story and makes it refreshingly exciting and gripping. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Possible Pairings: Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Ash by Malinda Lo, Legend by Marie Lu, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Lotus and Thorn by Sara Wilson Etienne

The Demon Trapper’s Daughter: A(n Excited!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana OliverIt’s 2018 and the city of Atlanta is going to Hell. The economy is in shambles, the city is practically bankrupt, and Lucifer’s demons are everywhere. Angels wander the streets but they keep a low profile and tend to stay in the background.

Demons have no such scruples. Whether it’s a Biblio, a Magpie, or one of the Geofiends there is no forgetting that things are bad and on their way to worse.

Especially for seventeen-year-old Riley Blackthorne. An apprentice demon trapper learning the ropes from her father, Riley already sticks out as the only girl apprentice in the local demon trapper’s guild. When she botches a routine trapping, that’s bad. When her father is killed and Riley is left on her own, that’s a whole lot worse.

Riley is alone in a hostile city. There are some in the guild eager to see her fail. There are some, like really cute fellow apprentice Simon Adler, who want to help. Denver Beck, her father’s trapping partner and a near constant annoyance to Riley, wants nothing more than to run her life. At least, sometimes he does. Sometimes he just wants to be nice to her. It’s confusing.

Either way, Riley doesn’t want help. She wants to get by on her own and prove herself.

In a city where the demons know your name and the old rules are changing, working alone might get Riley killed. Or worse in The Demon Trapper’s Daughter* (2011) by Jana Oliver.

There is a lot to love about The Demon Trapper’s Daughter. Jana Oliver takes the old conventions about demons and demon hunting and  turns them upside down in this dynamic start to what promises to be a thrilling series. Oliver’s world building is phenomenal. Riley and the other characters, particularly Beck, jump off  the page in an evocative story where readers will smell the brimstone and feel the swipe of every demonic claw.

The story is written in the third person and alternates between Riley and Beck’s viewpoints. The one weak point in the writing are the italicized thoughts interspersed throughout the narrative which are a bit jarring–particularly Beck’s since his are written in the vernacular to convey his Georgia accent. Riley can be a frustrating protagonist especially with her low opinion of (the obviously awesome) Denver Beck. But Beck is just as stubborn. By the end of the story the two balance out even though they might not see it that way.

There are a lot of urban fantasies out there. There are a lot of books about demons. There are a lot of books about a young woman trying to prove herself. This book is all three. Gritty, funny, and exciting The Demon Trapper’s Daughter is a charmer with equal parts action and heart. Highly recommended.

*This book is also called The Demon Trappers: Forsaken–that’s the title for the UK edition. Thanks to the author, Jana G. Oliver, for commenting on the review I posted on Amazon to confirm this information! (I prefer The Demon Trapper’s Daughter as it points more to the crux of the story. Either way, this is the first book in The Demon Trappers series.)

Possible Pairings: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Exclusive Bonus Content: Did you catch by now that I have a ridiculous literary crush on Denver Beck? Seriously, he’s awesome. I can’t even tell you how awesome he is because it gets too far into plot details but I expect him to play a BIG role in the rest of the series (and hopefully not die tragically because that would make me sad). In all seriousness (no really) Denver Beck joins Tom Imura, Alan Ryves and Tucker Avery in the very exclusive Literary Guys I Wish Were Real Club.

Also, if I had a club for Book Covers I Love this one would definitely be in it. I think it not only captures the essence of the book but also the essence of Riley as a character in a weird way. I read this book as an arc so, tragically, I do not have information on the who designed this delightful cover.

Selling Hope: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Selling Hope by Kristin O'Donnell TubbMay 1, 1910: The world might end in sev   enteen days when Earth will pass through the possibly lethal tail of Halley’s Comet but thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniel isn’t too concerned. Her world already ended, in a way, when her mother died years ago and Hope’s father, Nick, joined the small time vaudeville circuit.

Hope is tired of living out of train cars, boarding houses, and not having any friends her own age. She’s sick of being a magician’s assistant for Nick and reading Tarot card fortunes to unsuspecting customers with their fellow troupe member Cross-Eyed Jane.

Hope wants out of vaudeville and with the world possibly ending in less than a month, she’s willing to try something desperate to get that normal house and a normal life.

All around her Hope sees hysteria rising as Mr. Halley’s comet comes closer and closer to Earth. Everyone is looking for some protection from the comet. So Hope invents just that: anti-comet pills meant to counter the effects of the dangerous comet.

With the help of another troupe member, young Buster Keaton, Hope has all the tools to market the pills, earn some money, and maybe finally get away from vaudeville. But with the end of the world looming Hope starts to wonder if maybe she’s been wanting the wrong things. In fact, all of the things Hope hates–the things she’s never wanted–might be exactly what she’s needed all along in Selling Hope (2010) by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb.

This book really charmed me.

2010 is the hundredth anniversary of the Halley’s Comet scare of 1910. The comet was last seen in 1985 and (it is predicted) will not be visible again until 2061. But 1910 was the first time and Tubb has magically bottled the hysteria and wonder created by Halley’s comet and used it as a sweeping backdrop for a story about a girl trying to make sense of her world and find her own place in the midst of the chaos her father’s choices have made.

Hope’s first person narration, complete with original newspaper headlines at the beginning of each chapter and authentic one-liner jokes interspersed throughout the story, presents a very clear snapshot of the vaudeville circuit and of Chicago in 1910.

Like all good stories, Selling Hope is peppered with pieces of fact including real vaudeville performers like Bert Savoy, the Cherry sisters and, of course, Hope’s rather dashing accomplice Buster Keaton. It’s hard to say what was more impressive: making Hope, a fictional heroine, as real and dimensional as the now larger than life Buster or making Buster such an important and believable part of this fictional story.*

Selling Hope is a rich, fluid story that captures the spirit of a very specific point in history and a sense of shock and awe rarely seen in modern times. On top of that Hope is a delightfully original narrator in a story that’s full of surprises.

*The dynamic between Hope and Buster was so genuine and so convincing that, upon finishing, it was a bit disappointing to remember that Buster Keaton lived a whole different, real, life that had nothing to do with Hope or pills.

Possible Pairingsº: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Murder at Midnight by Avi, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

ºKristin O’Donnell Tubb has a list of her own recommended reading list at the end of the book–definitely worth a look!
Exclusive Bonus Content: So, I have two cover images here. The top one (with the girl) is what I think is the final cover will look like. I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher (Feiwel and Friends of Macmillan) for review. The second cover (with the moon) is the cover that from my ARC. I like both covers. I think the top one captures the time and the vaudeville vibe with the font and framing. I like that bottom one because it doesn’t show Hope (while capturing the vaudeville/period vibe with the font and artwork). Her sense of self is so muddled throughout the book that I kind of liked the idea of not having her on the cover. I also thought the ARC cover captured the spirit of the time and all of the cartoons and adverts Tubb describes in the book. Maybe that’s just me. Draw your own conclusions.

Also, if you’re still reading, check back tomorrow for a related swag giveaway!

The image is literally from my ARC because I scanned it. Which took forever because I have a new printer and the scanner apparently didn’t set up properly and I don’t even know what’s going on with it now. See what I do you for all, dear readers?

Halo: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Halo by Alexandra AdornettoDark forces are gathering. Terrorist attacks, murders, strife, poverty. Just look at the news and you can see them everywhere. Three angels are sent to earth to complete good works and counter the darkness. Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany the least experienced of the three, created a mere seventeen years ago, but also the most connected to the human race.

This is Bethany’s first visit to Earth. While her older siblings are able to view their new earthly surroundings and experiences at a remove Bethany is fascinated by all of it and instantly enchanted by the wonders human life has to offer.

Gabriel and Ivy immediately throw themselves into their mission, seeming to know instinctively what good they can do for the small community Venus Cove. Bethany is less certain of her own role in the mission. Instead of finding her own heavenly path, Bethany finds herself drawn to a mortal boy in Halo (2010) by Alexandra Adornetto.*

Halo had a lot of promise. It’s been getting a lot of hype. The cover is lovely. The plot is kind of interesting sounding. Adornetto, a veteran author at the tender age of seventeen, has the potential to be a media darling. And angels are the new vampires.

The book also has an intriguing trailer available for your viewing pleasure.

With all of that potential, Halo still managed to fall painfully flat.

Maybe that shouldn’t have been such a surprise after seeing the book’s epigraphs (excerpts from Romeo and Juliet and from Beyonce’s song “Halo”).

First and foremost, Halo is massive. The first book in a projected trilogy this one clocks in at just under 500 pages where nothing happens very slowly. Set up is, of course, very important for a story–arguably more so for a fantasy. That said, one hundred pages without getting to the crux of the story is a bit excessive.

Then there is the matter of Bethany, our narrator. Bethany’s naivete about life on Earth is amusing in the beginning but as the story progresses it begins to ring false. Everything seems to come easily to the angels: they are preternaturally good looking (to the point that Gabriel causes a near riot when he arrives at the local high school as the new music teacher), they inevitably excel at everything they do, they glow (really). And yet, Bethany can’t figure out how to talk to other teenagers when they use slang or reference pop culture? She finds herself tongue-tied and completely obsessed by the first (literally the first, I’m serious) good looking boy she sees. What?

On top of that, everything about Halo felt very contrived.

There are no homely people in Venus Cove, at least if there are they escape Bethany’s notice entirely–all of her human friends are beautiful with startlingly blue eyes or titian curls. The angels, unsurprisingly, have wings and Bethany mentions none of them would be wearing tank tops any time soon only to have Ivy walking around in a tank top a few pages later and Gabriel greeting a human neighbor wearing nothing but a towel.

Finally, and most bizarrely since Adornetto is herself still a teenaged girl, I couldn’t shake this feeling of condescension each time Bethany started talking about human teenagers. She identifies the cliques at school with their stereotypical modifications to their uniforms (except for the “academic types” who are too timid for such things and carry the official school backpack), she talks about listening to the prayers of teenage girls hoping to date the captain of the rugby team. Bethany keeps worrying about how weak and fragile she is compared to her siblings who are so absorbed in their heavenly mission they never get much of a chance to develop in the story. Every character, it seems, is diluted to the basest elements–especially Bethany whose thoughts are wholly consumed by a mortal boy ten pages into the story.

Halo had many promising elements, but taken together they managed to create an unexceptional book. While interesting and an undoubtedly impressive body of work for a seventeen-year-old author Halo simply did not realize its potential.

*I would tell you more about the plot but my YA Lit professor always said not to give away anything beyond the jacket copy and/or the first twenty pages. I adhered to the latter but, be warned, the plot summary above is for the first hundred pages. Seriously.

Exclusive Bonus Content: I’m not religious, so I might be the only person who missed the point here. But it turns out that a book about angels is going to be very religious–not necessarily in a preachy way but in a very overt way that was not entirely comfortable to read. I might be touchy, but I don’t see a lot of non-Christian readers picking up angel books in general and Halo in particular. It wasn’t anything in particular but I felt very at a remove reading it and very . . . not like the intended audience if that makes sense. Anyway, as ever, feel free to draw your own conclusions.

It’s a Book: A Picture Book Review

It's a Book by Lane SmithIs it wrong that I liked the book trailer for It’s a Book (2010) by Lane Smith more than I enjoyed the actual book? If it is, I don’t want to be right.

What happens when a monkey* sits down with his copy of Treasure Island and a donkey** sits down with his laptop? Well, let’s just say the book might not do as much, but it sure has a lot of staying power.

It’s a Book has a great message. In snappy text and fun illustrations, it shows all the fun a book can be. And yet . . .

There is something very meta about discussing the merits of a book in a book format. There is also the issue that anyone who really needs to know how great books are (or show their children how great they are) is not going to be reading It’s a Book in the first place. I could see this being a fun read aloud but only in a nose-thumbing kind of way among people/children who are already readers. Honestly, the trailer was more effective as a medium and I’d love to see something like it being adopted by ALA to compliment their READ posters.

There’s also the issue of the donkey. The book introduces him as a jackass and ends with a mouse reminding him, “It’s a book jackass.” And that’s fine because it’s a legitimate term for donkeys. But it’s also a language issue*** and it just feels awkward and superfluous in the story.

I’m not really sure what Smith wanted to accomplish with It’s a Book or what it actually will accomplish. It’s an interesting idea and the book trailer is wonderful in its own right(do watch it!). Oddly as an actual book this one falls short.

*I feel really strongly that what we have here is a gorilla and it’s been driving me nuts since I first saw the book that he is called a monkey throughout.

**Smith actually calls the donkey a “jackass” from the get-go, not I think in a negative way but just in a “jackass is another name for a donkey” kind of way, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

***I’m kind of a prude when it comes to bad language, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable reading this book to anyone. Some reviews have said it’s snarky or obnoxious, I wasn’t feeling that but it was . . . a really weird element to include.

*I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher*

Evermore: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Evermore by Alyson NoelEver Bloom used to be your average sixteen-year-old girl. She was head cheerleader. She was vain about her long blonde hair. She had parents, a little sister named Riley, and a puppy named Buttercup. She even had a boyfriend.

She doesn’t have any of those things now. And she isn’t your average sixteen-year-old girl. Not anymore.

Ever had what they call a near death experience. Except there was nothing near about it. Ever was dead along with the rest of her family. They all crossed a threshold, and Ever meant to as well. But she was too late.

Now instead of a normal life, Ever has psychic abilities. She can see people’s auras, read their thoughts, and learn their life stories with a casual touch. It’s too much.

Ever can’t get rid of her new abilities, but she can ignore them by withdrawing into herself, blasting her music, and hanging out with the school misfits instead of the popular crowd. Which is fine since everyone thinks she’s a freak anyway.

Gorgeous, exotic, and apparently rich the new student Damen Auguste is a shot of adrenaline to the entire school. Which Ever knows without even looking at him. He is also the only person who can quiet the noise in her head; the only person whose aura is invisible to her.

The more Ever learns about Damen, the more questions she has about who he is and what exactly he is. Nothing about the new guy makes sense. Especially not the fact that Ever might be falling for him in Evermore (2009) by Alyson Noël.

The first book in Noël’s The Immortals series, Evermore has all the markings of a being a popular paranormal romance. The plot follows one that will be familiar to Twilight fans right from the outsider girl and the gorgeous, mysterious new guy to the narrative that is strangely depopulated of peripheral characters and the passive aggressive jealous best friend.

Noël’s writing is interesting. At times the prose is very sharp with sweeping sentences detailing the types of minutiae Ever is subjected to about her classmates and teachers. At others the story drags with awkwardly worded sentences, weird vernacular choices and dated pop culture references (were teens still watching “Friends” in 2009?).

If you can get past the erratic writing, the story is intriguing. Even though the plot itself will feel familiar, the premise is unique as far as modern teen fantasies go. The book also spends a lot of time explaining the nuances of Ever’s abilities although most of the references are poorly integrated and read more like research notes than actual parts of the story. Ever is likable enough as a character but in her efforts to create unique side characters Noël managed to make Ever’s best friends pretty annoying.

At the same time, Ever and Damen sizzle. While readers might get the gist of things before Ever does, Evermore is mysterious and romantic and sure to excite readers looking for a new paranormal romance fix.

The Sweetheart of Prosper County: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. AlexanderAustin Gray doesn’t have a lot of things at the beginning of The Sweetheart of Prosper County (2009) by Jill S. Alexander (find it on Bookshop). She doesn’t have a blue-ribbon-winning sow. She doesn’t have a deer hunting license, or a signature wave. And she definitely doesn’t have a mound of cleavage.

What Austin does have is a plan.

Austin is almost as tired of waiting for someone else to pull her into the annual Christmas parade as she is of being the butt of Dean Ottmer’s jokes and Austin has a surefire way to fix both her problems: become a hood ornament/Sweetheart in the No-Jesus Christmas Parade.

The plan is pretty simple: join Future Farmers of America, raise a blue-ribbon-winning animal, learn to hunt or fish, and say hello to her new role as a member of the confident, parade royalty that are able to shrug off Dean Ottmer’s bullying and taunts. Easy as pie with a little help from her best friend and her momma.

Things soon get complicated (and exciting) when Austin acquires a chicken named Charles Dickens and befriends the FFA crowd. Before she knows it, what had started as a mission for Austin becomes a lifestyle as her dream of becoming the sweetheart of Prosper County forces Austin and her momma to rethink how they deal with little things like annoying neighbors and bigger things like the death of Austin’s father years before.

As a New York City native, reading about Austin’s world was almost like reading about another country. In the beginning I wasn’t sure what to expect. But this book was also disarming in the best possible way. Austin is an open-minded and mellow (except when it comes to Dean Ottmer) character and the book absorbs those qualities.

The book mentions religion a lot (one of the awesome secondary characters is an Elvis impersonator with an Evangelical side) but not in a self-important or righteous way–it’s just a part of who these people are. And, really, that’s how most things should be treated in a book be it cultural, religious or otherwise.

Alexander is a Texas native and she adds a lot of that flavor to The Sweetheart of Prosper County. Readers will be able to hear the twang and feel that Texan charm in Austin’s narration and the story itself. The plot is well-paced and delightfully fun while still having some weight to it.

Possible Pairings: Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, Miss Smithers by Susan Juby, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Mathilda Savitch: A review

Mathilda Savitch by Victor LodatoThere is an important distinction that needs to be made clear before proceeding to the actual review of Victor Lodato’s debut novel Mathilda Savitch (2009): Some books are classified as young adult novels (books written for teenagers) because they capture some vital aspect of the adolescent experience. Other books might have a teen-aged protagonist but they are still very much an adult novel (a book written for adults) because of the voice or attitude of the book.

I am 99% certain that Mathilda Savitch falls into the latter category. And that’s fine. But this review is written very much because of the fact that I spend a lot of time reading young adult novels.

Mathilda wants desperately to be awful. Not just bad, but truly awful. She hurts things, even things she loves. As Mathilda will readily tell you, awful is easy if you make it your one and only.

It might seem that she is a spoiled child (I believe thirteen years old, but perhaps twelve) looking for attention and excitement. But really, Mathilda is living in the aftermath of a tragedy.

I have a sister who died. Did I tell you this already? I did but you don’t remember, you didn’t understand the code.

A year ago, Mathilda’s beautiful, perfect sister died. Helene’s death is shrouded in uncertainty. Her parents won’t speak of it, won’t unearth her possessions or open her room. Mathilda will tell you the details she knows. But it’s not enough.

Mathilda won’t stop investigating until she has the full truth about Helene’s death–a search that unfolds a secret life she never would have imagined.

The writing in Mathilda Savitch can be quite intricate. Lodato is clearly talented. But Mathilda herself is utterly unconvincing as a teen (almost child really) narrator. Her voice is too mature and her thoughts too bizarre. The tone here is very similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon–but even the narrator there was seventeen.

Lacking a narrator that I found convincing, it was impossible to really get into the story or particularly invested in the characters. Mathilda Savitch felt like it was trying to be something different than what the writing dictated, a problem that made the book seem at odds with itself and unconvincing, possibly as a result of having a teen character at the center of what is ultimately an adult book.

Dreamquake: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dreamquake by Elizabeth KnoxI don’t make a habit of rereading books. And yet I have wanted to reread not one, but two books in the past month almost as soon as I completed my first reading. They were that good.

The first of these two extraordinary books was Dreamhunter by New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox (alternately known as The Rainbow Opera in the UK). The second, and perhaps this isn’t a great surprise, was Dreamquake (2007) also by Elizabeth Knox. Together, these titles create The Dreamhunter Duet.

Dreamquake (which I believe is more appropriately called The Dream Quake in England) is the second book of Knox’s Dreamhunter Duet and was a 2008 Printz Award Honor Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults in 2008.

There is a lot I want to say about this book, but first I have to say a bit about how the duet actually works. Some readers feel strongly, and fairly, that the Duet cannot be read in isolation (that is the two books cannot stand alone). Other readers, also fairly, feel that the books can and do work well as individual pieces of prose. I actually agree with both viewpoints.

Personally, I think both books stand alone. Knox is a good enough writer that either book feels like a complete read. The opening of Dreamquake adequately explains the events of the first book so that readers won’t be lost or bored. At the same time, having seen both parts of the Duet in person, I have to say they really are one book. Just looking at the book design–the first book has a prologue while the second includes the epilogue and a glossary–I realized that Dreamhunter and Dreamquake are more like two parts of one story (what I often call companion books in this blog) than two stories directly following each other (what I would call sequel books).

Just a bit about the basic plot of Dreamhunter: I’m not all that familiar with New Zealand but a review from the New Zealand Listener tells me that Knox’s novels are set in “something like the New Zealand of a century ago, but with a twist, in that social life revolves around a traffic in dreams.” The rare people who can catch dreams (dreamhunters) perform them for the social elite at dream palaces like the Rainbow Opera. Dreams are also often used for the public good in hospitals around Southland.

Some dreamhunters also capture nightmares which readers learn in Dreamhunter are used for the public good, but in a much more sinister way. Laura, our protagonist, discovers this fact when she begins investigating the disappearance of her father, one of the greatest dreamhunters Southland has ever seen. Outraged by what she has seen, Laura sets out to inform the public of the governments use of nightmares. Dreamhunter ends with the disastrous results of this attempt.

It is therefore no surprise that Dreamquake opens with the chaos following the execution of Laura’s plan as Southland and Laura’s family are thrown into a state of disarray. Adrift with only her creation Nown and a nightmare, Laura has to find a way to earn back her family’s trust while negotiating an entanglement with a fellow young dreamhunter. All this while continuing to investigate the corruption of the sinister Dream Regulatory Body created to control the Place and its invaluable resources.

I could actually talk for hours about the nuances of this novel’s plot and how Knox ties everything together at the end, but if you read the book you’ll probably see what I mean for yourself.

Dreamquake is every bit as good as Dreamhunter while also being even better because it expands on characters who don’t get as much time to shine in the first novel. Sandy and Rose (and to some extent Nown) are back and much more engaged in the central plot than they were in Dreamhunter to great effect.

Knox’s prose is unique in that it is well-paced while also being high action. Knox takes her time to explain terms like “Soporif” and “Novelists” but never to the detriment of the story. The action here is so intense and gripping that, at several points in the novel, I found myself skimming ahead just to make sure that everything would turn out all right in the end.

The Dreamhunter Duet is a rare thing in contemporary literature. Both books are rich enough that, were the main characters not teenagers, no one would question its place as an adult book–but I’ve made that argument about other books on this site. More to the point, Knox is an amazing writer. Dreamhunter and Dreamquake are populated by a wide variety of characters, each unique and fully realized on the page.

Instead of creating a world and characters and even this story, it feels instead like Knox is introducing readers to old friends, reciting a familiar tale–everything within these novels seems so real, the details are so concrete, that it feels like folly to consider it fantastic or even fiction. And that is why Dreamquake (and Dreamhunter) will surely take their rightful places among the canon of great fantasy novels.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Chime by Franny Billingsley, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Dreamhunter: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dream Hunter by Elizabeth KnoxA bit of background before we begin: Dreamhunter (2006) by Elizabeth Knox first came to my attention when I was talking to “Amy” the YA librarian at my place of employ. As a fellow fantasy fanatic she also thought I would admire the writing. I, however, did not remember to write down the title. A bit later, upon hearing about writing troubles I had been having, Amy once again recommended Dreamhunter. This time I immediately put the book on hold. And looking back now I am ashamed that I waited so very long to read it.

Dreamhunter is Knox’s first novel for a young adult audience, although I feel obligated to point out that the genre label here applies more to the fact that her main characters are teens than anything to do with the novel’s subject or prose. She is also the author of several novels for adults.

Like so many great fantasy novels, Dreamhunter is set in a world not that different from our own. The one reminder that this novel is not like any other period book set in 1906 has to do with dreams.

For a very few people, perhaps one in every three hundred, dreams really are tangible in the Place: a mysterious other-world far larger than the few acres of woodland that in encompasses in the real world. The Place hold dreams. Of the few that can enter the Place, fewer still are able to sleep there and bring the dreams back to the general public where the dreams can be performed in private residences or in a dream palace like the Rainbow Opera–a sort of theater for dreams–for the public good. Dreamhunters, when they have enough skill and talent, can make their fortunes by catching the right dreams.

No one knows this better than the novel’s fifteen-year-old protagonist, Laura Hame, and her cousin, Rose Tiebold. Laura’s father, perhaps one of the best dreamhunters ever, discovered the Place and Rose’s mother is another very skilled dreamhunter.

But, as Laura and Rose are about to learn, all is not right in their world. When Laura’s father disappears under mysterious circumstances she and her cousin set out to find the secret behind not only his disappearance but also, perhaps, the very secret of the Place itself.

Aside from its thrilling plot, Dreamhunter is a wonderful novel because of Knox’s background work. As soon as I opened this book, I felt like I was immersed in Laura and Rose’s world. It didn’t matter that I had never heard of dreamhunters, or Tricksie Bend, or the Grand Patriarch because Knox incorporated all of these new ideas effortlessly into her plot. I was hooked, almost literally, for the entire 365 pages of this novel.

The writing here is rich without being overdone and beautiful without being conspicuous about it.

This story opens in the year 1906. The choice of time period, as well as Knox’s writing style bring to mind Garth Nix’s powerhouse fantasy novel Sabriel. I loved Sabriel (as I love all of Garth Nix’s books), but I might have loved Dreamhunter slightly more if for nothing save its ending–one of the best I have read of late.

Laura and Rose’s story continues in Dreamquake the conclusion of Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter Duet.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Chime by Franny Billingsley, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner