Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Goddess Test: Engaging writing will draw you in but a lot of license has been taken...

It's always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate's going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won't live past the fall.

Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld—and if she accepts his bargain, he'll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.

Kate is sure he's crazy—until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she'll become Henry's future bride, and a goddess.

Book Review

Title: The Goddess Test
Author: Aimee Carter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: April 19, 2011

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Aimee Carter's The Goddess Test is a unique, modern reimagining of the Persephone myth. Kate Winters fulfills her dying mother's wish by returning her to her childhood home, where Kate meets the engimatic Henry. Kate makes a bargain with Henry to save a friend, and now Kate must pass seven tests for the chance to say goodbye to her mother and save Henry. But someone doesn't want Kate to pass...and will do anything to stop her.

The Goddess Test sparkles with engaging writing, a caring heroine, and a loving mother/daughter relationship. Compulsively readable, The Goddess Test drew me in until I couldn't put it down without knowing how it ended. Classic mythology with its amoral, selfish gods is reshaped to the point where it's almost unrecognizable, but those who don't mind a bit of license taken with the classic stories will enjoy it. This is very sanitized version of mythology, but the target audience will enjoy the slow-simmer relationship between the angsting, tortured Henry and the girl who can show him love and make him want to stay.

The best part of The Goddess Test is the love and concern Kate shows for her mother. So many YA characters disregard their parents (if they even have parents at all!) so Kate's care and compassion for her mother felt unique and refreshing. I was touched reading the sacrifices Kate has been willing to make for her mother and how deeply Kate cares for her mother.

An interesting underlying message of The Goddess Test is revealed in the tests themselves. Knowing this book involves Greek mythology, I expected the tests to be EPIC and grand in scale and nature. However, many of the tests are so subtle that Kate doesn't even realize they're happening. At first, I was disappointed that the tests were not more glorious, but then I realized the message of these seemingly mundane tests. Sometimes, it's not the big, grand things that define us, but the consistent, everyday virtue of our lives. It's the little day-to-day choices that make us who we are--the choices we make when we don't think anyone's watching. While the tests are based on Western values and don't relate particularly well to Greek mythology, I love this message that our daily actions are the best reflections of our character.

With it's engaging writing and caring heroine, The Goddess Test is an enjoyable, light read, perfect for summer vacation.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Long, Long Sleep: Read with Kleenex...

Rosalinda Fitzroy has been asleep for sixty-two years when she is woken by a kiss. Locked away in the chemically-induced slumber of a stasis tube in a forgotten sub-basement, sixteen-year-old Rose slept straight through the Dark Times that killed millions and utterly changed the world she knew.

Now, her parents and her first love are long dead, and Rose – hailed upon her awakening as the long-lost heir to an interplanetary empire – is thrust alone into a future in which she is viewed as either a freak or a threat. Desperate to put the past behind her and adapt to her new world, Rose finds herself drawn to the boy who kissed her awake, hoping that he can help her to start fresh. But when a deadly danger jeopardizes her fragile new existence, Rose must face the ghosts of her past with open eyes – or be left without any future at all.

Book Review

Title: A Long, Long Sleep
Author: Anna Sheehan
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: August 9, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Anna Sheehan's A Long, Long Sleep has one of the best first chapters I've read all year. I read that first page and couldn't put the book down for the rest of the afternoon. What a hidden gem! The cover is pretty enough, but it absolutely does not convey what a touching, heart-rending story this is.

You read that blurb, and you THINK you know what A Long, Long Sleep is going to be about. You THINK you know exactly where the author's going to take this story (at least I thought I did). And then Sheehan takes these events and writes such an unexpectedly beautiful, startling, tragic story that I was blown away. This book was NOTHING like I thought it was going to a very, VERY good way.

Forgotten in her stasis tube, Rosalinda Fitzroy is awakened after 62 years by a kiss. She struggles to come to terms with the death of her beloved Xavier and everyone she's ever known, and she understandably feels alone and lost in this strange world. Initially, Rose is passive and full of self-loathing and guilt. I've read about many YA heroines in need of a healthy dose of self-worth, and oftentimes the voices of these characters can be unbearable. But not Rose. Don't give up on Rose as she seems to shrivel with self-loathing. As her story unfolds and the REASONS for Rose's self-hate and passivity come to light, she becomes such a tragic, sympathetic character that you just want to love and embrace her. Watching her overcome her past and seeing her character growth was a beautiful, albeit heart-wrenching, journey.

Sheehan's writing shines in her characterization. Her characters are fascinating and well developed, especially my favorite, Otto. Otto, an experimental blue human with alien DNA, is such a poignant, compelling character. He cannot speak aloud, so he and Rose begin communicating through IM chats. After reading the annoying chats in Beastly, I was initially wary of this technique, but Otto and Rose's chemistry instantly won me over. These heartfelt chats quickly became the moments I looked forward to the most. Otto and Rose feel connected to each other through their loss and abandonment, and their devotion and understanding creates a touching relationship.

This story is absolutely devastating at times. Read with Kleenex. A Long, Long Sleep may be called sci-fi, and while it does have a futuristic setting, at its heart, this is a story about child abuse and abandonment. About the aftermath of abuse. About overcoming the tragic hand you've been dealt and learning to LIVE. Yes, there are those annoying future words and few new gadgets but this is not heavy sci-fi. This is a stirring blend of sci-fi lite, mystery, and romance coupled with a serious look at neglect and abuse.

I had an inkling from the beginning about a certain twist of events, and I read the next 250 pages wondering how Sheehan could possibly resolve this situation without a major dose of ick. (Let's just say the relationships in this book are unconventional.) At the end, I was utterly impressed--Sheehan crafts a satisfying resolution for these characters that feels authentic. The end isn't all rainbows and sunshine, but it feels triumphant and hopeful. And that last paragraph? CHILLS. What a powerful ending.

A Long, Long Sleep is a story of overcoming tragedy, of learning to love yourself in the aftermath of abuse. It is a story of love--not just the romantic kind, but of true friendship--and of finding a family in the ones who love you. It is tragic and devastating, but the ultimate message is one of hope and triumph.

Thank you to Candlewick Press for the opportunity to read an ARC of A Long, Long Sleep.