Black Ice

My latest read, Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick, features heavy snow, serial killers, deception and secrecy, surviving in the most extreme conditions, and a fair amount of violence. What did I take away from it, though? Don’t go hiking. Don’t go backpacking, camping, or anything else that involves being “one with nature.” Actually, don’t go outside and interact with people, and you’ll be just fine. A message from your hermit-in-training.

All jokes aside (though I’m really not joking), Black Ice is a thrilling–and sometimes aggravating–book that will likely keep many readers guessing until the very end. I thought I knew what was going on through most of the book, but even I was thrown for a loop a couple of times. I do like a book that keeps me on my toes.

Many girls spend spring break of their senior year at the beach–swimming, hanging out with friends, relaxing, and getting ready for that final push to graduation. Not Britt Pheiffer. Britt is planning to hike the Teton Range with her reluctant best friend, Korbie. Britt’s ex-boyfriend (and Korbie’s older brother), Calvin, is also along for the ride. Britt isn’t thrilled about that particular development, but maybe forced proximity will give her closure regarding the end of their relationship…or ignite a whole new spark.

Circumstances, however, force Britt and Korbie into a dangerous situation before they’re able to meet up with Calvin. While driving to Korbie’s family lodge, the girls encounter extremely hazardous conditions. The two girls are forced to abandon their car and look for shelter before they freeze to death. They eventually find a remote cabin, occupied by two young men, Shaun and Mason, who appear to be very normal at first glance.

But there’s nothing normal about this situation.

Britt and Korbie quickly learn that Shaun and Mason are on the run, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to evade capture. That includes forcing Britt, a self-proclaimed expert in navigating the area, to lead them to the highway. They leave Korbie behind and journey into the frozen wilderness.

Britt hopes that Calvin will somehow come to her rescue, but she’s ultimately responsible for saving herself. She looks for opportunities to escape, and she becomes even more determined when she discovers shocking evidence that her captors may be responsible for the deaths of several local girls.

Something, though, is not adding up. Britt thinks that Shaun, the more violent of these two fugitives, is capable of murder, but she’s not so sure about Mason. He seems to have some sort of moral code, and Britt has observed some tension between Mason and Shaun. Could there be more going on here than meets the eye? Can Britt possibly count on Mason to be an ally? Or is he really the more dangerous of the two men?

As Britt navigates this terrifying, treacherous, confusing reality, she reflects on her relationships with Calvin, Korbie, her own family, and she comes to understand that she’s much stronger than even she realized. And she’ll need that strength for what’s to come. As Britt moves closer to what appears to be her salvation, she also uncovers some horrifying secrets–secrets that shake the very foundation of her world and place her in a more perilous situation than she could have ever dreamed of.


So…Black Ice definitely kept me on the edge of my seat–and that’s great–but this book was not without its issues. Maybe they’re more my issues than anything else, but I’ll address them anyway.

First up, there’s Korbie. I 100% loathe this character…and I figure I’m supposed to. It’s obvious to me–and to Britt–that Korbie is not a good friend. She acts superior and spoiled, and I seriously doubt she would have thought of Britt’s safety over her own. Her attitude provides a good contrast to Britt’s, and that’s probably the best thing I can say about Korbie.

Then there’s the messed up love triangle. I’m not going to go into specifics because that would give you a major spoiler, but I think Britt has a serious problem with her taste in guys. I mean, really. Both potential love interests were not exactly great to her, and one may or may not have been a deranged murderer. Sure, it miraculously and inexplicably works out for Britt in the end, but it just didn’t track for me. Maybe I’m cold and completely devoid of romantic sentiment. (I probably am.)

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way too neat and completely unrealistic ending. It was much too “rainbows and sunshine” for my taste, especially in a book that had been so intriguing up to that point.

Even with these issues, I did enjoy Black Ice. It was exciting, easy-to-read, and kept me engaged the whole way through. I think it’s a great fit for YA suspense collections.

If you’d like more information on Black Ice and other books by Becca Fitzpatrick, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

Yesterday, in the span of about an hour, I read a book of poetry that really spoke to me. (People who know me realize just how unusual this is. I don’t read a ton of poetry.) October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman takes a look at a senseless tragedy in a very unique way. I think many readers will be both horrified and captivated by the story presented, and my hope is that they will use this book as a starting point in learning more about Matthew Shepard’s too-short life and what they can do to put an end to homophobia.

October Mourning shows readers just what happened to Matthew Shepard on October 6th, 1998. Readers learn how two homophobic Neanderthals lured a gay 21-year-old out of a club and into their truck. They see that Matthew was beaten to within an inch of his life, tied to a fence, and left for dead.

While some of what readers see is presented from Matthew’s perspective, they also see this event through some unique points of view. The fence to which Matthew was tied, the doe that kept him company during the long, cold night, the stars that watched over him, the biker who found Matthew, the doctor who cared for him, the protesters at his funeral, and even the perpetrators themselves.

Each of the poems in this book paint a picture of what happened to Matthew Shepard and the events that occurred after his death. No, the book is not a narrative, but I think the poems used in this book often make things clearer than they might be otherwise. They cut through a lot of stuff and get to the very heart of Matthew’s story.

While the poems in October Mourning were created from the author’s imagination, they are based on real events, and there are footnotes at the end of the book detailing much of the content in the poems as well as explanations of the various poetic forms used.

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I picked up this book because it was nominated for the 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, but I honestly think I would have read October Mourning anyway. You see, I can remember when this tragedy occurred. I was a sophomore at Winthrop University, and I recall being absolutely horrified by what happened in Laramie, Wyoming. I remember realizing that this could happen in South Carolina. Several of my friends were openly gay, so I worried that some dumb redneck might get the idea to do something similar. (Even today, that worry hasn’t entirely gone away.)

I know a lot has changed in the nearly sixteen years since Matthew Shepard’s death, but there is still so much work to do. Look around. Homophobia still runs rampant, and political talking heads and uber-conservative blowhards continue to prey on irrational fears to prevent true equality from becoming a reality. Many churches–institutions that are supposed to be all about God’s love–preach messages of hate. Books depicting gay characters are pulled from library shelves. People’s lives are still threatened just because of who they love. Will we ever see an end to this madness? I truly hope so.

If anything positive can come of a tragedy like this, I hope that young people will read October Mourning, learn a bit more about Matthew Shepard, examine their own attitudes, and do something–no matter how seemingly small–to eradicate homophobia. I believe it can be done.

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For more information on October Mourning and what inspired author Lesléa Newman to write it, check out this Huffington Post article. There’s a video there as well, but I’ve also put it here. It tells you about this book more succinctly than I ever could.

*By the way, I applaud the SCYABA committee for choosing this book as one of next year’s nominees. It goes to show that, even in a state as conservative as ours, attitudes are changing, and South Carolinians can be champions for gay rights. Thank you!*

Hallowed

Spoiler alert!  If you haven’t already read Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, this post will be all kinds of confusing.  Seriously.  Read Unearthly before proceeding!

Nearly a year and a half ago, I read a truly outstanding novel that revolved around angels.  That book was–if you haven’t already figured it out–Unearthly by Cynthia Hand.  Now that summer is upon us and I have ample time to indulge my deep and abiding love for YA novels, I finally read the sequel, Hallowed.  This book continues Clara Gardner’s search for her true purpose, but she’s in for some surprises that rock the very foundation of her world.  While Hallowed, in my opinion, isn’t quite as action-packed as Unearthly was, it is definitely emotionally loaded.  I got angry and sad right along with Clara, and, to be perfectly honest, I’m a little wrung out at the moment.  (I finished the book about twenty minutes ago.)  If you’re looking for an emotional roller coaster of a book, Hallowed might be just what you’re looking for.

After the fire that changed Clara’s life–and what she believed was her purpose–forever, she finds herself wondering what’s next. Will she be punished for choosing to save Tucker, the boy she’s chosen to love, instead of Christian, another angel-blood who may or may not be meant for her? How has her choice changed the course her life is destined to take? And who will be impacted by whatever happens?

In addition to wondering about her changing purpose as an angel-blood, Clara is being presented with disturbing visions of the future. These visions convince her that someone she loves will soon die. But who could it be? She searches her visions for clues, and, just when she’s convinced that she knows what to expect, Clara is presented with some knowledge that not only clarifies her vision but shakes her world to the core.

As Clara prepares herself for the loss that is to come, she must also deal with a growing threat from Samjeeza, a dreaded Black Wing (or fallen angel), who has a strange interest in her and her family. What does he want? And is there anything Clara can do to stop him?

Clara’s world is quickly spinning out of control. Her brother, Jeffrey, is growing colder and more distant. Her relationship with Tucker is strained, and her feelings for Christian are more complicated than ever. She must also decide the direction her life will take after graduation. All of these things are swirling in Clara’s mind, but they must soon take a back seat to something that will alter everything Clara ever knew about herself, her family, and her angelic nature.

Life is about to change yet again for Clara Gardner. She’ll go through loss, grief, sadness, heartbreak, resignation, and even joy, but will she be strong enough to handle everything being thrown at her? And will she be able to figure out her true purpose while remaining true to herself?

The Unearthly series–Unearthly and Hallowed, so far–is perfect for readers who are fascinated with angels.  Like other “angelic” series, such as Lauren Kate’s Fallen saga, Courtney Allison Moulton’s Angelfire series, and Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series, Unearthly and Hallowed reel the reader in with scenarios of how angels could exist on the earthly and heavenly planes.  If you’re like me and were brought up in church with stories of angels watching over you, these stories are especially compelling.

Hallowed is a great read for anyone in middle school on up.  The love scenes are rather mild, so I wouldn’t have any problems putting this book in the hands of a middle school student.  And there’s enough emotional angst to satisfy even the moodiest of readers.  (I’m talking to you, teenagers.  Yeah, I used to be one of you, so I know you can be a little more emo than you’d like to admit.)

If you’d like more information about the Unearthly series or author Cynthia Hand, visit http://cynthiahandbooks.com/ or follow the author on Twitter @CynthiaHand.  The third book in this series, Boundless, is due to be released on January 22, 2013.

If I still haven’t convinced you to give Hallowed a try, check out this book trailer.  That might do the trick!

Unearthly

What do you think of when the word “angel” comes to mind?  Personally, I think of celestial beings wearing white robes, sporting huge white wings, playing the harp, watching over the mere mortals below, and worshiping God.  I don’t typically think about fallen angels or the how and why of their fall.  I don’t think about angels serving a purpose here on Earth.  Thankfully, that’s where Cynthia Hand, author of Unearthly, comes in.  She has thought about these things, and she’s crafted an amazing story of a girl struggling to reconcile her divine heritage with the thoughts, dreams, and desires of a teenage girl.  I was utterly captivated from the first page, and I hope you will be, too.

Clara Gardner is an angel-blood.  She’s not 100% angel, but she’s got enough angel in her (25% to be exact) that her life is less than normal.  She can speak any language, birds follow her around, she’s smart, athletic, and beautiful, and she has wings.  Clara is also trying to figure out her purpose.  (Clara’s mom, who is half-angel, tells her that all angel-bloods have specific purposes in their lives…the reasons they were created.  No pressure.)  She begins having visions of a fire and a boy, and her purpose, seemingly, has been revealed.

Clara’s vision lead her and her family from sunny California to the mountains of Wyoming.  So, not only does Clara have to figure out her angelic purpose, but she also has to start a new high school where everyone has known each other since kindergarten.  And she has to do all of this without telling anyone that she’s part angel.  (Again, no pressure.)  On Clara’s first day at this new school, though, things immediately begin to unravel when the subject of her vision, a popular guy named Christian, is standing right in front of her…and he’s gorgeous.  Could her purpose be to simply fall in love with the hottest guy in school?  Nah…fate is never so kind.

As Clara tries to figure out her purpose and where Christian fits in, she’s also confronted with some unexpected, and not-so-angelic, feelings for another guy in school, Tucker.  How can Clara be expected to focus all of her attention on one guy, who may hold her entire destiny in his hands, when there is another who could hold the key to her heart.  Decisions will have to be made.  Is Clara strong enough to serve her purpose if it means sacrificing those she loves?  Read Unearthly by Cynthia Hand to find out.

I absolutely adored this book.  Clara’s voice was perfect, and she wasn’t too whiney like so many female protagonists in YA novels.  I also loved how the author highlighted the differences in the characters of Christian and Tucker.  We may have another Edward vs. Jacob type war on our hands soon.  (If that reference made no sense to you, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past few years.)  Unearthly ended on quite a cliffhanger, so I’m hoping we’ll be hearing more from these wonderfully divine characters soon.

For more information on Unearthly, the debut novel by author Cynthia Hand, visit http://cynthiahandbooks.com/.