Both the books I’m going to review were won in the Spring Fling (an ebook competition). A review was suggested but not required. This does not affect my review.
These two books are very different, but I loved them both.
Author: Cady Vance
Title: Bone Dry
Genre: YA middle Fantasy
Themes: magic, parents, power, small towns
Similar books: For some reason, this reminded me of Corrine Jackson’s Sense Thieves books. Also the Mortal Instruments.
Premise/blurb (written by me): Basically, there’s a world of spirits superimposed on top of ours, called the Lower World. Spirits can occasionally escape the Lower World to feed on human lives. Shamans possess the power to go into the borderlands, half between the human world and lower world, and banish spirits-or summon them.
There’s Holly, a shaman with just a few issues ( single mother incapable of feeding herself? No money?) who, with her best friend Laura, earns money by banishing spirits from people’s houses- or using their magic to make them think there are spirits, because Holly needs cash. There’s Nathan, a preppy boy who once had a spirit banished from his room, and keeps turning up to help, despite being just a mortal.
When big, evil, and most important, real (and summoned!) spirits start appearing in people’s houses, Holly is called in. But her mother never taught her much about Shamaning (totally a verb) and she’s wondering if this is a bit more than she can handle. When she realises that this is a big demon, summoned by another shaman, Holly is worried. She, Laura and Nathan are going to be led on a hunt, finding out the truth about shamans, their power, and Holly’s mother’s mysterious and sudden illness after a quick spirit banishing job in Boston.
I hope that wasn’t too spoilery… I really, really loved this book. I had a few qualms, which I’ll get to in a minute, but let me talk about what I liked.
Aside on the topic of photos. The book title is bone dry, right? It’s the middle of monsoon. There is no bone dry. It is damp, misty, and very green. My father (and I promise this is relevant) likes to ask why the phrase bone dry exists, when bones can be wet or damp or something. He claims it’s an intensifier, like ‘very’ so you’re allowed to say ‘that was bone funny or something’. So anyway, for lack of actual dryness, here are some bone wet photos.
Firstly, the characters. I actually liked most of the characters, as well as finding them well developed. Some, (I’d say medium level- could have been better but also waaaaay worse) characterisation happened over the course of the novel. The MC, Holly, was likeable and interesting. I appreciated her devotion to her mother, her struggles with independence, her moral qualms (mini spoiler: it wasn’t just good vs. bad. Holly had a few issues as well.), her relationship with Laura, and her relationship with Nathan. Laura was also interesting, and while I felt Nathan could have been more developed, he was perfectly acceptable. Side characters, like Laura’s dad, Nathan’s ex, and Brent, a friend of Nathan’s and the first to have a spirit in his house, were interesting too. The villains were less developed, but I enjoyed the slight moral ambiguity and dawning realisation of the nature of their evil.
The plot was wonderful as well. Flashbacks (could they be called that? Usually only a few sentences?) to scenes like when Holly got a spirit out of Nathan’s room or how Holly’s mother was before the incident were seamlessly nicely incorporated. There were a few times when Holly was looking at pictures or an item and remembering a particular event which I found especially well written. There was good backstory without info dumping, there was action and discussion, and a bit of time for romance and comic book nerding.
The setting wasn’t particularly interesting, but worked well. This book happens over the course of just a few days (maybe a week?) and I liked how (mainly in the beginning, not so much in the weekend) the characters actually had to balance fun magicky stuff with history homework and cooking dinner. So many YA books miss that!
I found this, and Never Sleep as well, with a perfect balance of tropes (such as boy and girl, magic secret powers, spirit underworld) with originality (candles, signs, desperation for money, mortgage paying, comic books, characters with some powers, rather than none or a lot).
I did have a bit of trouble with the romance. I guess I’m a bit sick of YA needing romance? But at the same time I did ship it so maybe I’m being hypocritical. I felt the villains weren’t evil enough, and that towards the end of the book, operating under a tight deadline, they suddenly did about 50 things in just a few hours and that was strange. And toward the end, they git a bit desperate and suddenly there’s a loooot more action. So
Characters: 4/5 T
otal: 5/5 (this isn’t an average, just an entirely different category. Similar to enjoyableness).
I’ll definitely try to read the rest of the series!
Title: Never Sleep
Author: Cady Vance
Genre: YA sci-fi?
Themes: insomnia, friendship, New York, rebellion, courage
Similar books: The Program (even though I didn’t like it), Revive?, Skinned?, The Adoration of Jenna Fox ?
Blurb(from goodreads since I’m feeling lazy after the first one) Thora Green had a life once upon a time. But that ended the day her parents enrolled her in sleep clinic prison. At the facility, her chronic months-long insomnia is observed by scads of doctors, but she is never actually treated for her dire disease.
In a feat of desperation, Thora escapes from the CT sleep facility and heads straight for NYC. Buried deep in the city’s underbelly, there is rumored to be a clinic called the Insomniacs’ Café: a secret haven where people like Thora can find relief. But finding it is going to take a lot more than a map app on an i-phone.
As Thora joins forces with Aiden and Florence, two fellow insomniacs, their search will take them from the dusty bookshelves of The Strand, to a quest for red-velvet cupcakes at Magnolia, to countless taxi and subway rides. Clues leading to their final destination are waiting for them at every turn. But so are Sleepers—a powerful core of sworn-enemies to all Insomniacs— who wish to see Thora and her friends destroyed at any cost.
Even though this was an entirely different genre, it was similar to Bone Dry in the respect that (in my opinion) it had the perfect combination of familiar (and comforting, not in a bad way) trope and original ideas. Some of the old tropes were clinic, scavenger hunt around a city, rebellion, and a young quest for freedom away from the restrictive and of course evil authority. But the insomnia idea was new, as well as a totally unforeseen and awesome plot twist(s) at the end, and the characters.
I’ll discuss the things I didn’t like as much now, then talk about the awesome parts. I was a bit annoyed about Thora’s relationship to her brother Odin, which I really liked but was then terminated early in the piece for seemingly no reason. It was abrupt and just not emotional enough. I felt there were a few unnecessary characters- the type that could be turned into shovels, if you get my drift- and the action scenes were a bit useless because Thora just flopped around and did nothing, while miraculously not getting caught (or escaping, as the case may be).
For someone who was supposed to be tired, she had an awful lot of energy. Also, since my parents are doctors, it’s really hard to go for 3 days without sleep, let alone 3 months. So it wasn’t too scientific (although this aspect is explained later but no spoilers).
Also, they were looking for Gemma, Thora’s best friend, right? I wanted to understand the friendship. We hardly saw Gemma. And some of the excerpts at the beginning of the chapters were also just entirely redundant.
I loved the setting, New York, Scavenger hunt, night. It was perfect. From the cupcake shop to an internet cafe to a dumpling shop (there were some nice food descriptions, let me tell you) to a clinic, the settings, extremely diverse, were crisp and impeccable.
I thought all the characters were well fleshed out, although I don’t think Thora or her love interest (who isn’t in the blurb) were as good as some of the others. I love Aiden in the same way I love Snape… he’s special (not being the bad guy, just like sudden twist at the end). Florence was my favourite character by far. She was awesome, sassy, and really attached to her iPod. The plot was engaging and fast paced, as was Thora’s voice.
Over the book, she goes through wonderful characterisation as she learns about who she is, her disorder, how she fits into the world. There is plenty of action (more than bone dry) and that’s all fine. The book touched a bit on what it means to be human and how people cope with difficulties. Okay, I’m losing my verbosity.
Total: 4/5 (Just read it, okay?)
Have you read these books? What books do you think have a good balance of trope and originality? How do you feel about science fiction? Spirits? Also well done on getting through that long review!