Legend by Marie Lu

legend

This book… feels sexy. It does. It’s got a roughened cover and just feels nice. Yeah, I know book cover fetish, but seriously, if you find it somewhere (the Speak edition from 2013): feel it.

And it doesn’t just have a sexy outside, the inside has its own magic you might want to discover. Here’s what’ what:

The North American states (that’s the Republic and the Colonies) are at war. Before this background, June Iparis wants to avenge her brother’s death. Only suspect is Day, a much sought-after criminal, who’s never killed before. But before June even knows that she’s found him, she spent some time with him undercover and (of course) falls for him. Turns out, he did not kill her brother, but others did. And they have more than that one secret to protect.

There’s much more to this story, naturally. This is a different North America from what we know, but it’s not Suzanne Collins united version, either. The Republic is a sinister place where the lines between rich and poor are quite severe. Much like in The Hunger Games and Divergent, there is a Trial children have to go through – this one is to rid the gene pool of its bad apples.

Day is such an apple. Even though he had a perfect score in The Trial, he was told he failed and was given over to experimentations (while the public thinks, children who failed The Trial were send to labor camps). But he survived and he wants revenge on a corrupt system. June is a prodigy of the system. She also had a perfect score, but because she was born to rich parents, she started training for the military, following in her brother Metias’ footsteps. But her family has a secret of their own, and as she finds out about it, her loyalties are tested until they break away.

I already compared this to The Hunger Games and Divergent, and it’s not far fetched. And yet, Legend is also different. Lu decided to break the book into two distinct voices, June and Day’s. Both are equally important, both are the main characters, and also I-narrators. I think she solved the problem I had with Divergent (or rather its sequel Insurgent) cleverly – giving Day his own voice, keeps this book from being about Day in June’s voice, while June is free to explore her own story.

Yes, there’s quite a bit of romance between the two characters, and I must confess, those pages bored me a little. But the story is so well written, so well thought through, that they were the only moments I did not entirely enjoy. It also made apparently clear to me how much I yearn for a story like Legend, or The Hunger Games with a queer protagonist (or two queer protagonists).

Legend is a really good book and it’s part of a series, followed by Prodigy and Champion, which I will probably read soon and will probably tell you about. I honestly hope Legend will get made into movies, and I also hope that these movies will not white-wash Day who is half-Mongolian. In fact, Legend lends itself perfectly as a series that could bring more Characters of Color to a ‘whitened’ genre.

A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

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Since I started reading Stephen King when I was only ten, I never really read young adult novels when I was a young adult. I’m pretty sure there weren’t as many around as there are now, I’m also doubtful that they were as good as some of them are today.

To these good ones belongs A Spy in the House, the first part of Lee’s The Agency series.

Mary Lang is kidnapped from her way to The Gallows, where London rids itself of its criminals by hanging. When she awakes, she finds herself in a school where she receives a formal education in the years to come. Same school is also a cover for The Agency, a covert operation helping the police and other interested parties to gain information. Like their students, all their agents are women.

Mary’s (now using the last name Quinn) first assignment for The Agency places her as a female companion in the house of the Thorolds. Mr. Thorold is suspicious in several crimes under the cover of his trading company. Mary tries to gather information, but gets involved in far more than just Thorold’s shady businesses.

If the summary sounds a little muddled, that’s my fault, because nothing in Lee’s novel is muddled. She did her research, she wrote an excellent, exciting tale. I couldn’t get away from this book, because I wanted to know what happened next, and next, and next.

Y.S. Lee spins an intriguing tale around her protagonist. Mary Quinn is a modern heroine trapped in times which treated women as anything but heroines. Victorian England is not for the faint at heart, and Mary surely isn’t. She has moments of doubt, moments of emotional turmoil, but she fights to be someone better than her lot in life has dealt her.

Mary’s story and the whodunit tale of the novel are woven into each other. We get to know Mary better as she unravels the mystery surrounding the Thorold family. And she finds herself a male adversary in James Easton. While their war of wits is charming and engaging, Easton is never put before Mary. She is the heroine, it is her story.

This is a book you will like, no matter if you’re 17, 37 or 67. While the main protagonists are in their late teens, they’re mature and interesting, the story is exciting and mysterious, the setting believably narrated. This is a truly wonderful tale. I bet you’ll like it too.

The Secret of Sleepy Hollow by Andi Marquette

thesecretofsleepyhollow

We continue with more reading for Halloween, folks. This story is maybe a little less on the gory than the one before, but who doesn’t like a nice mystery with their ghostly. Also: romance, and that isn’t too bad to have either, especially when you’re trying to solve a mystery.

Abby Crane is writing her doctoral thesis about the legend of the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow; and what better place to begin her research than in the town itself? She also wants to find out more about her own ancestor Ichabod Crane and his disappearance. In Katie McClaren she finds a fellow nerd on the quest to uncover the secret of Ichabod. Katie, herself a descendent of Katrina van Tassel, has her own theories about the mystery that bounds Abby’s and her ancestors. And then there is their own story which involves a headless horseman and an attraction beyond their comprehension.

I must confess, I never read the story by Washington Irving (the reading list back in my first year of studying American lit had Goodman Brown on it). Of course, I watched the Burton film and I really love it, but I never even knew that it wasn’t quite the same as Irving’s story. Marquette taught me better. She tells a lot about the story behind the legend, makes up her own spiel about the Crane mystery and brings it all together in an entertaining read.

To broaden the focus of such a well-known story and to make it plausible and entertaining is quite a chore, but Marquette does it with finesse. Her solutions may not always be surprising, but it’s still fun to accompany Abby and Katie on their quest for the truth. And Abby and Katie are themselves great protagonists with a wonderful chemistry.

If you like new takes on old tales (and I’m aware that’s not for everybody as I hear shouts of ‘sacriledge!’ in the far background), you should give this one a go. Marquette spins a fun tale with some ghostly elements and a sweet love story or two. You’ll probably like Ichabod and Katrina even better after reading this. You’ll at least get a new perspective on an old legend.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

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Look who’s been a lazy book blogger! Yes, that would be me. I have been reading, but I’ve been too lazy to tell you about it. Shame on me. But today, I wanna tell you about this book, ’cause it’s really good.

I first came across The Diviners at my favorite multi-media store in the German version, but the cover had just the right mix of mystery and 1920s feel to it that I was instantly intrigued. I wrote the title down and totally forgot about it, then lost the note, but finally reremembered. At some point, it was the only book I wanted to read at that instant and that was last month. And finally, I read.

And let me tell you, there was no disappointment there. Libba Bray writes in a humorous style about young adults, but that doesn’t mean she writes just for young adults. Just like the J.K. Rowling, Bray understands that the tone of a story can lure in people of all ages. She tells a mature story, doesn’t shy away from gory details and delivers a tale that’s thrilliing and engaging.

And now I almost forgot to tell you what it’s about:

Evangeline O’Neill of Zenith, Ohio, gets herself in a little bit of a bad situation at home and is temporarily shipped off to her uncle in Manhattan. The perfect moment for Evie to shine, though she didn’t think it would be as a part of a murder investigation. Evie has the ability to divine secrets from the possessions of people and it gets her into more trouble when those possessions belong to murder victims.

She’s not the only diviner in town. Through the happenings of the story, a number of people with mysterious abilities revolve around each other: Ziegfeld girl Theta, poet Memphis, piano player Henry, and trickster Sam are more than just coincidentally acquainted in one way or another. But Evie is the one whose life is in danger as she fights the spirit of a serial killer who’s about to put an end to all that’s golden about the 1920s.

Evie is a charming protagonist, but she’s also a bit of a self-involved mess. The tone in which she and her peers talk is the big-talking way of youth, but also the quick-witted repartee of their time. Bray describes the 1920s so well, the book rushes by in a blur. I found myself completely pulled into the plot. And it’s only the first part of The Diviners-series.

This is a story for people who like a good scare, some mystery, some thrill and little drinky at a speak-easy before bedtime. And who doesn’t like that?

Unbreakable by Blayne Cooper

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Blayne Cooper – another one of my favorites from Xena-fanfiction days, ’cause who could forget Madam President and it’s sequel First Lady. I sure haven’t and I enjoy a reread every once in a while. Still, I haven’t read a lot by Cooper and don’t know why. Her style is compelling, her story-telling prowess impressive. But what I like best is her sense of humor, her tendency toward siliness and downright slapstick. Here’s a writer who makes me laugh.

This goes for the aforementioned novels as much as it does for the one I’ve recently read – Unbreakable. It’s the story of five girls who became friends when they were nine. Ten years later they have a falling-out. When one of them turns forty, they meet again – as promised – and discover that their friendship might have been buried but is essentially unbreakable.

While it is not a typical lesbian romance, a lesbian love story is part of the novel. Jacie and Nina become fast best friends and just a little more, undetected by the other girls in their club. While Jacie accepts her feelings early, Nina pushes the realization of what she might be away until their desire breaks through the heteronormative world their friend Gwen has build for herself.

The really compelling part of the story are the relationships between these girl, young women and adults. The chemistry is wonderful and comical and heartwarming. The characterization leads the story sure-footed toward a surprising plot twist that is sure to drive the friends apart once again, but is ultimately solved.

So mainly, I loved the story because I loved the characters. Still, as is often the case, there are some parts of the story, I don’t agree with. And I think there should be a trigger warning applied to it – rape. It’s a graphic scene, a violent and disturbing chapter. And it dampens the mood of the novel severely. I’m sure I will read this novel again some time, but I will at least jump this chapter. I don’t agree with rape scenes which are mere plot twists… or rather, I don’t agree with perpetuating rape culture at all.

There are a couple of minor style mechanisms which I didn’t agree with either. Pushing for the most dramatic effect in a couple of scenes is one of them.

But neither of these things makes this a bad novel, because it’s enjoyable. If a novel makes you laugh and cry, you can be sure you’ve found a favorite and that holds true for me with Unbreakable.

Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt

sometimeyesterdayOctober – what better month for reading a ghost story? I’m diving bookwise into Halloween this year and Yvonne Heidt’s Sometime Yesterday is certainly a worthwhile read for the shorter days and longer nights – who are hopefully filled with steamy love rather than scary ghosts.

Here’s what happens – in the book:

Life after divorce. For Natalie Chambers it’s a new beginning with a new house. But the realtor never mentioned the ghosts that are already living in the Victrian mansion Natalie bought. Two lesbian ghosts who stir feelings in Natalie she hasn’t known before, and one ghostly husband terrorizing the living like he once terrorized his wife and sister. Their history does not not only involve the dead but also Van Easton, a landscaper Natalie is falling in love with.

It’s a lovely story. Heidt paints a convincing picture of the house and its garden in two different eras with two sets of female protagonists. They meet in a dreamscape and slowly the secrets of the past are revealed. Sometimes in vivid violent scenes that involve Beth’s husband Richard, a psychopath, sometimes in sexy love scenes between Beth and her sister-in-law Sarah.

The story is beautifully set and well written. The prose is a little choppy, a style I’m usually not comfortable with, but Heidt describes this magical world so captivating I couldn’t stop reading.

Sometime Yesterday is the perfect read for October when we’re awaiting Halloween with a cup of hot chocolate. But not just for that time, because there’s never a bad time to be scared, to feel indignant about the injustices of the past or simply fall in love. This novel gives you all this and then some. You should read it. I guarantee you’ll love it.

Don’t Die, Dragonfly by Linda Joy Singleton

dontdiedragonflyI have never been a great fan of young adult novels which probably stems from the fact that I haven’t read a whole lot of them when I was a young adult. I started reading my mom’s books when I was 10 and there was just no way back to the books my older sister was reading at the time. While there is a trend in books which are aimed at young adults but read in great numbers by adults (a trend the Harry Potter-series has probably launched), Don’t Die, Dragonfly is not a part of it. This is a young adult novel.

So why have I, proclaimed non-fan of young adult novels, read it? It is the first part of The Seer Series, and as such part of my latest research project that concerns itself with the supernatural. There are fairly few very well-known books about seers – at least as far as I can tell from my research so far. Vampires, werewolves and witches have gained a steadier footing in their genre. The interesting aspect of the seer is probably its rooting in our world since there are quite a number of people claiming to have or see with the third eye. Psychics are a reality of our time. While I’m as suspicious of people claiming to see the future as any other person, I still like the idea of there being all kinds of supernatural beings – and I certainly like to read (and hopefully write) about them (in the future).

Don’t Die Dragonfly is the first part of the story of Sabine Rose who has ‘the gift.’ She is sixteen and has just moved to her grandma’s because of problems she’s had at her old high school. Since moving to her grandma’s, she has been deliberately blocking her ‘powers’ because they’re the reason she’s gotten into trouble. But then they start again. Sabine has a vision about a girl her age with a dragonfly tattoo, there is blood involved and danger is hinted at. But this is only part of the mystery as Sabine meets the girl from her vision and is soon caught up in a tale about cheating and thievery at her high school. And then there is Sabine’s new boyfriend Josh who is too good to be true, and the boy who is living in the barn at her grandmother’s: Dominic. And he’s got a gift of his own.

Singleton wrote an intriguing first chapter to her Seers Series with a young protagonist who is afraid of being ostracized by her peers. While the plot is tight and gets better with each page, the story is written in the sometimes a little annoying voice of a sixteen year-old. And as with the Twilight-series one is never quite sure whether it is the voice of the author herself or a rather good attempt at emulating the voice of a sixteen year-old. It’s an easy read and well concocted for young people interested in the supernatural, while I will probably not work through the whole series. I find myself craving a fantastic tale with a more mature protagonist but find that Don’t Die, Dragonfly is still a deserving read.

The Scorpion by Gerri Hill

thescorpionThis is one of my all-time favorite lesbian romances. Of course, ‘all-time favorite’ is a deceiving term when a novel has only been published in 2009 but I feel that it will always be among my favorites because it does little things differently.

Marty Edwards is a reporter investigating cold cases and her latest endeavor brings her to Brownsville, Texas, where the local police is less than thrilled to have someone snooping into a 10-year-old case. There’s someone on the force, at least, who will help her: Kristen Bailey. She’s the outsider in the department, having only moved to Brownsville two years ago, and her collegues’ nervousness at Edward’ investigation makes her more than curious as to what they’re trying to hide. It turns out, both women become a threat to the power of a man who pretty much owns the city, a man who will stop at nothing to have Marty and Kristen kiled. And then love happens – and the stakes are getting impossibly high.

It doesn’t sound all that innovative and truly isn’t. The plot isn’t the thing that makes this book better than others, it is Hill telling an unflinching story, following through with ideas and solving possible incontinuities instead of turning a blind eye. Genre-mixes are never easy, especially when you mix crime with romance. Usually the romance is on the forefront, the crime story dawdles along and plot-holes are happening along the line. Not with Hill. She works the romance into the crime but the crime story is at the forefront and it is getting solved around the love, not despite of it.

With Marty Edwards, Hill creates a heroine who is somewhat unusual in her perception of self and sexuality. Having had an unstable childhood, she has big trust-issues and was never able to trust another person completely. This transcends into her relationships and she gave up on love and romance before she comes to Brownsville. Bailey is pretty much at the other end of the spectrum: loving family background, coming out at a fairly young age without any drama involved, she is the kind of hero we love to fall in love with. At the point when they meet, they are both alone, though, and need each other more than they care to admit, not just to survive but to reconnect with life. With all the things that have been happening in their lives, they have ceased to really live, or enjoy life.

Hill entwines the backgrounds of these two women with a thrilling adventure with the blossoming friendship and then romance. It does not stand still, it evolves, it changes course but is not showy or flashy. There are moments of fright and action but they are never out of context or over the top. Hill knows how to weave a story that is relatable and real, that’s what I like most about her stories and The Scorpion touches on some sensitive story-elements without exploiting them.

And that’s why it’s one of my all-time favorites, without being all that all-timey.

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen

(I am not sure why the pictures of the covers are not quite accurate. This one is also a little different from the one I have. Well, never mind, as long as the story is the same, I guess.)

When Dr. Maura Isles comes back from a convention in Paris, she encounters a scene out of a nightmare: a woman was found dead in a car infront of her house and she looks just like the medical examiner. The investigation turns up evidence that this woman was her twin sister, and she is not the only relative Maura Isles meets during this exciting story about serial killers and other psychotic behavior.

I really like the way Gerritsen explores the friendship of Maura and Jane. The two women come from the most different places, with very different characters but at the end of the day, they genuinely like each other and nobody is more surprised about this than they are. They are unlikely allies but maybe this is why it works so well. It is cerainly one of the strongest appeals of the series and the one reason it has become a tv show because the friendship/relationship is the heart of the series (seriously, who cares about the murders on this show when Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander are eye-blazing each other?).

It is not the only appeal, though. Gerritsen writes exciting crime, baffling medical thriller. A lot of it is particularly gruesome and maybe the reader can find him- or herself in the devious Dr. O’Donnell who is a little too fascinated by the monsters she analyzes. I always found that my fascination with horror movies was a little macabre even if it also tends to lean toward the aesthetic. And I find the same fascination with Tess Gerritsen’s novels.

In this story, it may be especially strong because of that old question whether evil in human beings is inheritable. Where does it come from? Is it a question of DNA or of socialization? Gerritsen seems to tend more toward socialization and I would agree with her. But I am no expert, I am just a reader with too much time on her hands.

Well, where there is good, there is usually bad as well, and I have already talked about this in my review of The Sinner: heteronormativity rules. Maura finds herself another love interest while still fighting her attraction toward a catholic priest. And I find some disturbingly conservative gender role play at work. The difference between The Sinner and Body Double seems to be that Gerritsen is aware of it here. Mattie Purvis, a woman incarcerated during most of the story, seems to be commentary on classic heteronormative socialization and fights her way from desperate housewife to mother tigress. The subject matter demands the latter role and I would rather have had a woman who fights for her own sake rather than a baby’s but, I guess, some clichées can’t be helped. On the whole, the one thing that annoys me most is Maura’s desperate search for a man. Yes, she is forty years old, yes, she is attractive but does she really have to fall for every single male that struts her way. She’s like a cat in heat and her desperation is not very self-assertive. I can live with a single women, with a kick-ass job being the heroine of a crime series. I guess, this is where the tv show is actually better than the books.

Maybe it is a convention that we try to find a significant other for our heroines, maybe it is even a mirror held up to reality because every single (heterosexual) woman is looking for a man (I wouldn’t know) but I feel that Gerritsen pushes this point too hard. And with points that are being pushed too hard, the question of why is never far from my mind. This is where everybody is welcome to make their own interpretations. As for me, I think, I would welcome a steady love interest for Maura who is like Rizzoli’s agent Dean: a lot out of town. But, I guess, that’s just me.

It’s a good story, though. Much better than it’s predecessor and a reason to continue reading the series.

The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen

(The cover above is not quite the one that I have. The title is white on red and the picture of tv Jane and Maura is at the other side of Gerritsen’s name. Why is this important? It is not. I only now find myself a book-fetishist and it seems important to me. Also, the book “feels” nice, the cover has some kind of roughened surface, very  nice to touch… it’s a fetish, I am not going to apologize for it.)

The Sinner is the third novel with detective Jane Rizzoli but its focus lies heavily on medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles. Together, they are trying to solve the murder of a young nun who, it turns out, had just born a baby. Jane’s involvement in the case takes a personal turn when she finds out that she is pregnant but doesn’t want to inform the father, agent Gabriel Dean with the FBI. Maura’s life also takes an unexpected turn when her ex-husband, Victor Banks, turns up. The case doesn’t get any easier: more bodies turn up and the connection to the attack on the nuns is not what anybody had expected.

I may have mentioned this before but I am not a great fan of crime stories. I read little crime and if I do I read certain authors who I know and trust if you want. Jefferey Deaver is one of them (the Lincoln Rhyme series), Tess Gerritsen is another. Yet I must say that The Sinner rather falls into the category of predictable crime stories that make me mistrust the whole genre. While Gerritsen knows her medical field and writes an exciting story, the identity of the perp is not very surprising. The puzzle is too easily solved, and I am not sure that this is due to my observational skills or just because it is written that way. I think it is the latter.

Still, I like how the friendship between Jane and Maura builds in this novel. And yes, I am a Rizzles shipper and that makes it a little difficult not to hate agent Dean or roll my eyes at the heteronormativity that penetrates the novel at every turn, but I think Gerritsen describes the budding friendship between her protagonists rather well.

While I am glad that there is a book series with two female protagonists – as we all know this is rare, especially in a genre that is overwhelmingly male – at least in this installment I detected a very conservative take on gender roles. I am not sure whether this is due to Gerritsen’s writing or the subject matter. The title and the setting bind the novel to Catholic religion and this seems to set the tone of the novel as well. I have not detected anything like it in Gerritsen’s other novels but maybe I was a little inattentive before and this is indeed part of her way of writing. I can only say that I am not very happy about sentences like this:

“They shook hands, an oddly masculine greeting between two women.”

While I am aware that hand-shaking is more common in the European (or maybe just German) setting, I am pretty sure it cannot be called a male custom. Why would it be, especially since on this occacion it occurs between two professional women. This is one example where I found what I like to call “gendered nonsense” where a behavior is referred to as gendered when there is 1) no need for it and 2) makes no sense at all. I guess, I will find out soon enough whether this is part of Gerritsen’s writing or not since I have her next novel of the same series, The Body Double, among the books I will read next. I hope it’s not because it is not something I can stomach.

On the whole, I found The Sinner disappointing. While well-written and even better researched, it is predictable and on the disturbing side of heteronormativity.

Gerritsen, Tess. The Sinner. Bellantine Books, New York (2004).