Love Is Hell

No, this is not my standard anti-Valentine’s Day message. For the month of February, my book club decided to read books with “love” in the title. I didn’t want to trot out a book I’d already read, so I dove into my sizable to-read pile and pulled this anthology out.

Don’t let the title fool you or turn you away. Love Is Hell features five short stories from some pretty wonderful authors: Laurie Faria Stolarz, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Gabrielle Zevin, and Melissa Marr. I kind of expected some light-hearted love stories with paranormal twists, but I got so much more than that.  Each of the stories explored the darker sides of love, and they were so well-told that I found myself wanting more. (Scott Westerfeld’s story, in particular, would be great fleshed out into a full-length novel…or series.)

The first story in this anthology is Sleeping with the Spirit by Laurie Faria Stolarz, and, as the title suggests, this is something of a ghost story. Brenda, the main character, is experiencing some fairly intense nightmares that leave her with mysterious bruises.

Brenda later learns that her house is haunted, and her bruises are being caused by a ghost, Travis, who is trying to hold onto her. Brenda, then, must determine just what this ghost wants and how it will impact her own life and past. As you would expect in a supernatural love story, romance is brewing between Brenda and the ghostly Travis…which creates some interesting situations for Brenda, especially when she finally helps Travis with his “unfinished business.”

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Scott Westerfeld’s Stupid Perfect World is probably my favorite story in this book. I think it can best be desribed as a futuristic tale. (When I described it to my friends, they said it sounded sort of dystopian, but I don’t think I totally agree with that.) In this story, teleportation is a common mode of transportation, research is done in something called “headspace,” sleep is unheard of, and most diseases have been wiped from the earth. Young people learn about what life was like in the past in a class called “Scarcity.”

A big project is coming up in this class, and each person will have to pick just one thing from the past to experience for two weeks. Some choose to experience diseases (which is no big deal, really, since they can have procedures to correct everything when the project is over), some choose to do without teleportation, but two students are doing something a bit different.  Maria decides to do without the standard hormone regulators. She wants to experience teen angst and all that it entails.  Kieran doesn’t know what his project will be at first, but, with a little help from William Shakespeare, he decides to allow himself to sleep. He’ll have to learn about the cycles of sleep, how the body prepares for sleep, and all that other wonderful stuff…but it’s not as easy as he thought it would be. At least not until Maria helps him a bit.

Maria’s hormones start messing with her pretty quickly. She starts feeling “twirly” and noticing Kieran in a very special way. Poetry seems to explode from her brain, and it’s this poetry that brings Maria and Kieran together. Maria reads Kieran to sleep every night, and, before long, Kieran starts to dream about Maria, a girl he never would have noticed before this project.

All is not moonlight and roses for these two, however. Maria is becoming rather emotional, and those raging hormones don’t exactly make her rational all the time. This leads to some problems with Kieran. I’ll let you discover if these two make it and what will happen to them when this project ends.

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The third story, Thinner Than Water by Justine Larbalestier, was rather disturbing. It revolves around a girl, Jeannie, who lives in a very primitive culture…a culture that puts on a show for tourists who come to town. Jeannie lives in a family of bakers, and that’s basically all they focus on. They expect Jeannie, who is only sixteen, to marry soon and begin having children.

Jeannie wants to run away from her family, but something–or someone–stops her. Robbie, the town outcast, expresses interest in Jeannie and promises that he’ll “handfast” with her during the coming Lammas Day celebration. (Essentially, they’ll get engaged and live with each other for a year before they decide to commit to marriage.) Jeannie agrees and sees this as a way out of her family (made up of truly horrible people).

Well, that’s what happens…but Jeannie’s family isn’t exactly eager to let her go to Robbie, a boy they believe to be one of the “fair folk.” They think he is evil and is spreading his curse to Jeannie.  Jeannie doesn’t really believe in all that stuff, but she knows her family is serious about this…especially when they take Robbie from her in the most brutal way possible. And when Robbie inexplicably returns just when Jeannie is rebuilding her life, what will happen? Will Jeannie take Robbie as he is now, or will she try to build a life for herself?

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Gabrielle Zevin’s story, Fan Fictions, is probably every fangirl’s deepest nightmare. I know we all joke about having “book boyfriends,” but this story takes things a bit further. It’s a rather uncomfortable read, and I honestly don’t know what to do with how the story unfolds.

Paige is the epitome of an average girl. She often goes unnoticed, she sits in the middle of the classroom, and she waits for someone to really see her. One day, it actually happens. After spending some time in the school library (and getting a book recommendation from the new librarian), Paige feels someone looking at her. She turns and sees a gorgeous guy, Aaron, who doesn’t seem to fit into her neat little world.

Aaron is everything that Paige could want in a guy. He’s mysterious, he dotes on her, and, most importantly, he notices her in a way that no one else ever has. But there are some things that don’t add up. Aaron never talks about his family, he doesn’t eat, he’s always absent from school. Paige really knows very little about him or his past. None of her friends have met or even seen him. Paige wants things to change, but Aaron is resistant, and Paige soon learns why. Aaron is not totally human (of course).

Soon enough, things begin to unravel for Paige and Aaron. And when Paige learns that everything she believed about this “relationship” is contrived, she will come totally unhinged (if she wasn’t before). The lines between fantasy and reality will become blurred, and Paige will be unable to deal with the fallout. (It’s easy enough to relate to this. I felt sort of similar Sunday night when I thought my beloved Sherlock had a girlfriend. Sigh.)

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The final story in this anthology, Love Struck by Melissa Marr, involves selchies (or selkies, if you prefer). These creatures live as seals in the sea and shed their skin to live on land as humans. In this story, Alana (a human) is seemingly entrapped by a selchie, Murrin, who wants to make her his beloved.

Alana wants none of it, and she definitely expresses this to Murrin. Murrin, though, is sure he’s found the love of his life, and he does everything in his power to convince Alana to stay with him. But Murrin does not figure on his brother, Veikko, using Alana–and her growing feelings for Murrin–to settle an old score.

Love and lies collide in this tale filled with longing, deception, and overcoming obstacles. What will Alana and Murrin ultimately do to remain true to all that they hold dear?

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It should be obvious that I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology. (I really didn’t expect to.) I was prepared for fluff, but I’m pleased to say that I got some real meat here. I fully intend to explore the other Short Stories from Hell anthologies, and I can only hope that those stories live up to those I found in this installment.

Until I Die

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read Amy Plum’s Die for Me, the first book in her Revenants series, do that now. (If you’re a South Carolinian, you may want to read Die for Me anyway. It’s a nominee for this year’s SC Young Adult Book Award.)

So, I read Die for Me in February, shortly after it was announced as a nominee for the 13-14 SCYABA. Now, four months later, I’ve finally found time to read the second book in the series, Until I Die. (Hopefully, I’ll finish the rest of the series before next weekend.) Until I Die picks up right where Die for Me left off, and it is absolutely essential that you read the first book before continuing with the second.

Kate Mercier, an American living in Paris after the tragic deaths of her parents, is in love with the enigmatic Vincent, a Revenant. What are Revenants, you ask? Well, it’s kind of complicated. They’re sort of less creepy versions of zombies. Yes, they’re undead/immortal, but Revenants became immortal by dying to save another’s life. They keep immortality by sacrificing their “lives” to save others. Their enemies, the numa, are kind of the opposite. They became immortal by killing others, and they retain their undead status by continuing to kill or convincing others to kill themselves. (Like I said…complicated. I’ve read two of these books so far, and I’m still not sure of what it really means to be a Revenant or numa.) Kate is learning more and more about this world she’s now a part of, and what she’s learning is both fascinating and disturbing.

Kate isn’t sure she can handle Vincent constantly facing death to stay forever young, and Vincent doesn’t want to put Kate through the trauma, so he becomes determined to find a way to suppress his urge to sacrifice himself to save others. With the help of a newcomer to the Revenants’ Paris home, Vincent thinks he’s found a possible solution, but it’s painful, and Kate can’t stand seeing him so weak. What’s a girl to do? Well, she goes on the hunt for a different “cure.” Her search, however, leads to some dangerous paths and possible prophecies, and it seems that others–possibly the evil numa–are just as eager to find this information as Kate is.

Once again, Kate, Vincent, and everyone around them are in peril, and it’s not always clear where the menace is coming from. They know the numa are always a danger, but what if the danger is closer to them? What if an enemy is hiding in plain sight? Can they trust anyone? And can Kate and Vincent find out what’s really going on before death separates them forever? Discover the horrifying truth when you read Until I Die, the second book in Amy Plum’s Revenants series.

Like many second books in a series, Until I Die, in my opinion, served as a “bridge” book between the first and third books in the series. I’ll go ahead and tell you that it did not exactly have a happy ending. That’s a good thing. If it had ended nicely and neatly, I wouldn’t have been so eager to read the next book. As it stands right now, I have no clue where things will go in the final book, but my imagination is going haywire. Luckily, I don’t have to wait to find out what happens. Tonight, I’m planning on reading Die for Her, an ebook novella from Jules’ point of view (Vincent’s best friend), and sometime tomorrow I’ll begin reading book three, If I Should Die. (I’ll probably also read something a little less intense at the same time.)

If you’re a school library or in the business of recommending books to others, market this series to Twilight fans. There are some pretty obvious parallels, but I have to say that Kate, in many ways, is a much stronger character than Bella Swan. (At the very least, she didn’t want me to go on as many feminist rants.)

For more information about Amy Plum, Until I Die, or the entire Revenants series, visit the author’s website, her Twitter feed, her Goodreads page, her Facebook page, and Revenants Central on YouTube.

The Great Gatsby

This week, I finally did something I probably should have done years ago. I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know many people may be shocked that I never got around to reading this American classic in high school, but I guess I just missed out on it. (When I was in high school, I didn’t read “classics” unless they were required in my literature classes. I gravitated toward cheesy teen romances, fantasy, and some science fiction. Not much has changed.) Anyway, I wanted to see the movie adaptation this weekend, so, of course, I had to read the book so that I could compare the two.

(For the record, I probably would have seen the movie even if I hadn’t read the book. I’ve been a Leonardo DiCaprio fan since he played Luke Brower on Growing Pains in the early 90s. That is one man who just gets better with age…and he’s a fantastic actor.)

So, I’m not going to tell too much about the book because I figure all of my readers either have read it or will read it the future. I will say, though, that I think The Great Gatsby paints a vivid picture of what life was like in New York in the Roaring Twenties. There were some lavish parties and, at least among the upper echelons of society, a rather casual disregard for propriety and self-control–when it came to wealth, sex, marriage, sobriety, etc. (Goes a long way in explaining how the whole concept of Prohibition came about.)

The Great Gatsby is both a tragic love story and a tale of people who bring out the worst in each other. Told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, who is at once above the drama and a part of it, we delve into the mystery of Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan. It’s often difficult to sort out the truth from all the lies, but the lives of the people in this book intertwine in a beautiful mess, and, in the end, their lives unravel in the blink of an eye.

I enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby, and a big part of me is happy that I waited until I was an adult to experience this book. I honestly don’t think that I could have appreciated it as a teenager. Now, with some knowledge of the time period–I studied the 1920s extensively as an undergrad student–and more life experience myself, I can grasp just why this book is widely considered a must-read American classic.

I can’t wait to see what Baz Luhrmann does with Jay Gatsby’s story. I hope I enjoy it as much as I did Moulin Rouge, especially since The Great Gatsby has the same kind of decadence that was present in that wonderful musical. I have high hopes for this movie, and I am praying that my hopes are not dashed by Hollywood (as they have been so often in the past). So far, reviews are mixed, but I don’t really put too much stock in reviews. (The original Star Wars trilogy was widely panned by reviewers. Those people were made of stupid.) Either way, I’ll get to look at Leo DiCaprio on the big screen, and that’s always fun!

Speaking of fun, here’s a trailer for the movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby to whet our appetites for the movie…which is in theaters today!

Die for Me

Amy Plum’s Die for Me had been on my to-read list for a while, but, when I heard that it had been selected as a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, I moved it to the top of the list. (Even though I’m now in an elementary school, I still like to read as many of the SCYABA nominees as I possibly can.) It took me a little longer to read this book than I would have liked, but I finally finished it this morning. (By the way, it wasn’t the book’s fault that it took me a while to read. It was totally gripping…but so was all the other stuff going on in my life. I won’t bore you with the details.)

Anyhoo, Die for Me is the first book in a series about beings called Revenants. Revenants are a little like zombies, but, since they aren’t nearly as creepy or gross, I was okay with it. (My aversion to zombies is fairly well-known.) The main character in this book, sixteen-year-old Katie, is about to be introduced to Revenants and the terrifying truth of their existence. Will it be enough to keep her away from Vincent, the most fascinating guy she’s ever encountered? Let’s find out…

After a horrible accident that claims the lives of their parents, Katie and her older sister Georgia move to Paris to live with their grandparents. Georgia is jumping back into life with both feet, but Katie cannot let go of the grief that colors every part of her world. She retreats into her beloved books so that she doesn’t have to deal with her own pain, and it works…for a while. One day, though, she encounters a boy who changes everything. At first, she thinks he doesn’t notice her, but Katie soon learns that this boy, Vincent, not only notices her but he has become sort of obsessed with her. Why? There’s nothing special about her…is there?

For some reason, Katie runs into Vincent nearly everywhere she turns, and, after Katie’s life is saved by one of Vincent’s friends, Katie and Vincent are drawn even more closely together. Katie fights Vincent’s pull, but she just can’t seem to stay away from him, and it’s clear that he feels the same way. Even when Katie learns the truth about what Vincent really is, she is incapable of really letting him go. She tries. Oh, how she tries, but she just can’t give him up.

When it becomes apparent that Vincent–and his friends–aren’t exactly human, Katie resolves to know the truth about this boy she’s coming to truly care for…and Vincent tells her as much as he can. He and his companions are Revenants, people that died while trying to save another’s life. When they died the first time, they awoke three days later, seemingly human again. Revenants have a kind of immortality, and they keep their youth by saving lives. There is a trade-off, though. Each time they save a life, they experience death yet again. And even when they don’t save a life, each Revenant essentially dies for three days once a month. It’s a lot for Katie to take in, and, at least at first, Katie doesn’t think she can handle it, but she realizes fairly quickly that living without Vincent is not living at all, so the two of them do their best to really be together.

As Katie becomes more and more involved in Vincent’s world, she learns that Vincent and company are not the only undead traversing around Paris. Their enemies, the numa (evil Revenants), are also out and about, and, while Revenants are reborn when they save a life, the numa prolong their existence by taking lives. They kill, convince people to commit suicide, and wreak havoc on both Revenants and the people around them. And they’ll stop at nothing–nothing–to destroy Vincent and those trying to do a little good in the world.

Life is getting very complicated for Katie. She is sure that her feelings for Vincent are real, but dealing with his unique “life” may be more than even a strong girl like her can handle. She’s already dealt with so much death in her life. Can she really be with someone who basically dies at least once per month? And if she does decide that being with Vincent is worth it, can Katie handle being put in danger’s way herself? What does being the girlfriend of a Revenant really mean? What is Katie willing to sacrifice to be with Vincent–her sanity, her family, her own life? Read Die for Me, the first book in Amy Plum’s Revenants series, to learn what someone is willing to risk for love.

Like I mentioned before, Die for Me is a gripping read, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book, Until I Die, which is already out. (The third book, If I Should Die, is due out this May. There’s also an ebook novella, Die for Her, that will be released in early April.) After reading the first installment in this series, I’m definitely hooked, so I’m sure I’ll be reading all things Revenant.

I think this book is fine for readers in both middle school and high school. (I can’t say that about the second book…yet.) There is some violence appropriate to the storyline. There is also, obviously, some romance, but the characters never go “all the way” or even close to it. They take their relationship slowly (which I think more tweens and teens need to learn how to do).

I’m sure some readers will make connections with this book and others like it–the Twilight saga, in particular. In my opinion, Die for Me is much better than Twilight, but I’m all for using that hook to get readers to try something new. Do with that what you will.

For more information about Amy Plum, Die for Me, or the entire Revenants series, visit the author’s website, her Twitter feed,  her Goodreads page, her Facebook page, and Revenants Central on YouTube.

The Vampire Stalker

If you’re anything like me, you’ve often wished that the guys in books were actually real.  (I have a long-standing crush on Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy that will probably never go away.)  Most of the guys I encounter just don’t measure up to those I read about…which might explain why I’m not married and have no desire to be.  My fictional boyfriends are too perfect to actually exist…or are they?  In my latest read, The Vampire Stalker by Allison Van Diepen, one girl discovers what it’s like when fiction becomes reality…

Amy Hawthorne is just a little obsessed with the popular Otherworld series of books. These books take place in an alternate version of Chicago where vampires run rampant and have driven out nearly everyone who could make the city a better place. Amy’s favorite character in the books is Alexander Banks, an intense, devastatingly attractive vampire hunter. Amy is so captivated by Alexander that she even writes fan fiction about him.

Amy is so enraptured by this fictional world that she can’t believe it when the living embodiment of Alexander crosses her path.  But this isn’t just some guy who bears an uncanny resemblance to her favorite character.  It actually is Alexander Banks, the vampire hunter from Otherworld.  How in the world did this happen?  Is Amy going crazy, or is something seemingly impossible happening right before her eyes?

The fictional world that Amy loves has quickly become a reality that she’s finding hard to handle.  While she’s kind of thrilled that Alexander is now a part of her life, she’s not at all happy about the fact that Alexander’s nemesis, the horrible vampire Vigo, has also entered her world and is terrorizing everyone in Chicago, including people close to Amy.

Can Amy and Alexander track Vigo down before he unleashes unspeakable horror on the city?  Can they figure out why Alexander and Vigo crossed into this world in the first place?  And what will Amy and Alexander do when the circumstances that brought them together threaten to tear them apart…forever?

While I’m totally in favor of the premise behind The Vampire Stalker–and I even kind of understand the concept of “literary physics” presented in this book (authors are just tapping into other dimensions when they write “fiction”)–the story itself was less than stellar.  Yes, it was a quick read, and it was entertaining at times, but something about this book just seemed a little off to me.  I can’t really put my finger on why this book didn’t really do it for me.  It just didn’t.  Maybe you can clarify things for me when/if you read Allison Van Diepen’s The Vampire Stalker.

For more information about The Vampire Stalker and author Allison Van Diepen, visit http://www.allisonvandiepen.com/, follow the author on Twitter @allisonvandiepe, and check out the book trailer below!

Fallen in Love

If you’re as enamored of Lauren Kate’s Fallen series as I am, you’ve got to check out Fallen in Love, an anthology of stories featuring beloved characters from Fallen, Torment, and Passion.  If you haven’t read these books yet, please do so before diving into Fallen in Love.

Fallen in Love contains four very different stories, but they all share the same basic theme–love, and how it can ultimately save or destroy a person (or angel, demon, whatever).  Each story intersects and takes place in medieval England, and the action centers around a Valentine’s Day Faire. 

The first story, Love Where You Least Expect It, explores the budding relationship between Shelby and Miles.  Roland’s story, Love Lessons, delves into what a being is willing to sacrifice if it means preserving the happiness of his love.  The third story (and quite possibly my favorite), Burning Love, tells of the forbidden love between Arriane and someone whose very blood could destroy her.  When her lover asks the impossible, Arriane must decide if love is worth giving up everything she believes in.  Finally, in Endless Love, Daniel and Luce are (sort of) reunited for a Valentine’s Day to remember. 

The stories in Fallen in Love provide some insight into some of the complicated relationships in Lauren Kate’s Fallen series. I especially enjoyed the stories of Roland and Arriane. Those two tales emphasized the dark side of love, and how heartache often accompanies it.

This book also gives readers a first look at the final book in the Fallen series, Rapture. I finished reading the prologue and first chapter last night, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the rest of what is sure to be a gripping end to a fantastic series!  (Thankfully, the wait is not too terribly long.  Rapture is expected to be released on June 12th.)

Beautiful cover. I love the transition from the black dress of the previous covers to the white of the finale. I wonder what it could mean...

If you’d like more information on Lauren Kate and her amazing Fallen series, visit her website at http://laurenkatebooks.net/.