Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: The Hidden Ones, by Nancy Madore

            What does a cuddly cartoon character created by Dr. Seuss have in common with demi-demons from the dawn of human development? Much like the recent movie adaptation of The Lorax, The Hidden Ones, by Nancy Madore, finds its real emotional heart in flashbacks.
Beautiful cover art, too.

            The Hidden Ones tells the story of three different women, linked by time, space, and ancient magic: Nadia, a wealthy young philanthropist, Helene, her grandmother in Saudi Arabia, and Lilith, an ancient djinn who yearns to return to life in the modern world. Nadia never believed her grandmother’s stories about the djinn until she’s kidnapped by a group of men who seem to thinks she’s possessed by one. They claim her charity is involved in funding a planned terrorist attack. Fearing for her life, she offers to tell the men her grandmother’s old stories, in hopes that they won’t kill her if she has information they need. What unfolds is a nested tale of magic, deceit, and adventure spanning thousands of years.

            Helene Trevelyan, Nadia’s grandmother, traveled to Saudi Arabia in 1948 with a pack of archaeologists searching for a Sumerian version of The Book of the Dead. This English teenager loves knowledge and history, and Middle Eastern culture seems very foreign to her. Nevertheless, she, her father, and his friends, press on with their goal—to find the book, translate the incantations, and see if they can summon an ancient Sumerian spirit.

            What they get is Lilith. The daughter of an angel and a human woman, Lilith uses her wits, strength, and beauty to make her way in the male-dominated world of ancient Mesopotamia. The land where she lives is dominated by other giants like her— worshiped by man, feared by the angels—and she’ll do anything to keep it that way, from slaughtering children to stealing a human body to use as her host. Devoted to her sister, lover, and nephew, she nevertheless oozes arrogance, spite, and hypocrisy. For a femme fatale, her weaknesses are quite human. She’d probably hate to read this, but she’s probably the most human character in the story.

            As Helene soon learns, summoning djinn can have devastating consequences. And in the present day, Nadia and her kidnappers soon find themselves working on the same side as they struggle to prevent a terrorist attack that could claim millions of lives. Compared to Helene’s silent dignity and Lilith’s fierce strength, Nadia’s character felt a bit weak to me—more of a passive narrator than an actual participant in the action. In fact, most of the present day action takes place off-screen. We’re only told about the terrorist plot—we don’t get to see any of the terrorists in action. The threat they pose never seems real, only like a device to get Nadia into the kidnappers’ hands so she can relate her tales.

            Highs: Strong characterization. Helene and Lilith really stood out for me as complex, well-developed characters with a lot of heart. Tension. The story really grabs you from the start and sucks you into the mystery of the djinn. Pacing. The story is revealed to us in parts, and each bit leaves us wanting more. Editing. The prose is polished and clean, with no typos I could spot.

            Lows: Cultural insensitivity. One of the kidnappers is an Indian man who tosses around words like ‘veddy’. As someone who lives with an Indian woman, I can verify that most Indian people don’t talk like that. Philosophizing. Chapter Thirty-Four is a philosophical rant about why scientists can’t prove their ideas about Earth’s history any more than religious adherents can. Personally, as a Christian and a scientist in training, I have to disagree—but from a literary standpoint, it’s just not good form to spend pages and pages using one-sided arguments to support your personal beliefs unless you’re writing Atlas Shrugged.

            The Hidden Ones is a polished, original story with a lot of heart. Madore’s energy and enthusiasm for the story really shines through. For a fantasy novel, four and a half stars. For a novel, four. 

You can purchase The Hidden Ones here.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Eight People You Meet In Your Dorm

There's nothing quite like moving into a dorm the first time. 
My home away from sanitary bathrooms. 

There's all these strange people you've never met and you're being forced to play all these dumb icebreaker games. But you've been there before. You did this in high school and at summer camp. You know that in about three days, these people will splinter into the same old roles and cliques. Here's a few. 

The Absent RA

The RA is supposed to support students, answer their questions, and help them get used to college life. Unfortunately  no one's seen him all semester. You glimpsed him at the Homecoming game sitting in a flock of Beta Phis and in the kitchen three weeks ago making pancakes on your tiny dorm stove, but he's really more of an idea than a school employee. He hasn't blown the whistle on the stoners who hang out in the lounge because he's feeding off their pot stashes. Lives in a frat and uses his room in the dorm to store extra clothing. 

The Stoners

They're the reason the lounge smells like pot. I don't have a very sensitive nose (I need my mom or Taylor to tell me when food's gone bad), so I can't really tell if they've been smoking or not. It doesn't really bother me, since I don't use the lounge in the first place, but they can be annoyingly loud sometimes and I can't really steal the brownies from the kitchen because I think they're been spiked. 

The Girlfriend/Boyfriend Combo Pack

This technically counts as one person, because they are together all the time. They sit in the hallway where you can't help but step over them every time you want to use the bathroom. They are joined at the hip in a way that most Siamese twins can't achieve, and spend enough time kissing that they not only share diseases, but long stretches of their DNA. The Boyfriend doesn't even care that the Girlfriend has been brushing her teeth with a Q-tip for the past week and a half. Answers to a single name, like 'Janica', and are never seen alone. If they break up, you can expect to hear two people crying in the hallway every night for a month. Loudly. 

The Roommate of the Girlfriend/Boyfriend Combo Pack

Despite the fact she lives with the Human Centipede, she seems oddly nonplussed  If you peek in her room, you'll find her typing away on her English paper while the Girlfriend/Boyfriend Combo Pack spoons in bed. You'll see this over and over, and eventually you start to wonder if she's actually okay with it, is too polite to say anything, or just kind of . . . likes it.

The Starcraft Nerd

You don't see much of him. He's usually in his room, but he will come out of his den to eat and attend classes. He brings his computer (usually an expensive one) everywhere he goes. And he will always be playing Starcraft. The only time he isn't playing Starcraft is when he's studying. Always an engineering student and almost always a male Asian, the Starcraft Nerd rarely speaks to people in person. Despite this fact, he's a member of the Starcraft club and spends every weekend hanging out with friends, so in a way he's much more social than you are.
The Hipster With The Dumb Tattoo
Like this, plus stupid tattoos

According to the other architecture majors, she really regrets it. Who on earth would regret getting quotation marks tattooed on their wrists? This California chick has a really dumb name and has a big Bob Marley poster hanging on her wall. She's the only one in our suite with a printer and I'd rather walk down to the community center than use hers and actually have to spend time in her room. She and her friends get together and never ever shut up. If someone says something ironic, I bet she'll hold up her wrists and everyone will laugh. At her. Also, she has several nose piercings.

The Sorority Girls

In their matching knee-length coats, expensive scarves, and eyeliner, these college students are notorious both for their pack-hunting behavior and their high-pitched roars. It's not unusual to see a herd of twenty or more hanging out in the lobby of the community center. They posses high tolerance for inclement weather, as they'll walk out in 20 degree weather without any pants on. The only tee-shirts they wear are ones with Greek letters on them. White, Asian, or black, they all look the same. Possibly, it's because they're all sisters.

The Naked Person
There's nothing offensive about this! Honest!

Some people just don't like to wear clothing. You know what? That's okay. We're all born naked. We all shower naked. The human body is a beautiful, organic form. Perfect the way it is. Fat, thin, short, tall (as long as you don't have copious acne). Anyway, this is the one person in the dorm who isn't afraid of the human form. They rarely wear a shirt and have no problem with sitting nude in their dorm room when nobody else is there. This is why it's important everybody knocks before entering the room. If you knock, this person will generally be more than happy to put on a shirt. Just knock. Please.
Less benign forms include the girl currently standing in the kitchen, making hot cocoa without any pants on. Her mug is shaped like a naked female torso. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book Review: Fallen Tears (A Blood Crave Novella), by Christina Channelle

So this week, we're returning to the Blood Crave series with Fallen Tears, a novella by Christina Channelle.  Though originally planned for a release as part of the next book in the series, Fallen Tears stands very well on its own. It deepens and enriches the world of the series, raises my anticipation for the next book, and creates a new romance that I can't wait to read more about.
Different hot chick on the cover. 

In the first entry of the series, Dahlia, we learned about the eternal conflict between the lamia and the lapsus (vampires and fallen angles). Making up new names for traditional supernatural creatures has always been a pet peeve of mine, but it's a pet peeve the main character in Fallen Tears shares with me. We first meet Rowan as a twelve-year-old runaway who meets a mysterious man while she's searching for shelter. He jokes with her and consoles her, eventually taking her in. Sure, he's a vampire, and as we learned in the last book, there's only two vampires left after the fallen angels hunted 'em all down. I thought they'd be a good deal more dangerous--but I was pleasantly surprised.

This vampire, Kaji, has a sweet side. He confesses to Rowan that he's lost touch with his humanity, and she offers to teach him about being human in exchange for food. This supposed deadly killer takes her in as his ward. Since I'd had the impression that the two surviving vampires were bad guys, it'll be really interesting to see how this works out in the next book. Will Dahlia learn that these supposed man-eaters are humanitarians in multiple senses? Suspense! Also, will Rowan end up with Kaji? Don't worry, it's not gross, she's nineteen for the majority of the story. Plus, she also gets turned into a vampire, so it's all good.

You see, one of these fallen angels decides to murder Rowan for associating with vampires and Kaji turns her to save her life. He then drops her off with a family of fallen angels/witches who take care of her as she acclimates to her new state. Both the female witches seemed a little one dimensional to me, although I loved the character of Remy, the sole male witch in the family, who struggles with his attraction to Rowan as he helps her through the turmoil of becoming a vampire. Rowan's a lot grittier a character than Dahlia, and her attitude and determination make her worth rooting for.

I do wish the story arch was a little more complete. Though it builds to a climax, few of my burning questions were answered. It's obvious that Fallen Tears is part of a larger work, and the characters could have used a few more personal flaws. Nevertheless, it did the job of making me care about the characters, and that in itself is enough to make me happy. I can't wait for the next entry in this series.

I would also like to see a female protagonist in this series who wasn't incredibly hot, but that's a genre thing.

As a YA paranormal romance, four and a half stars out of five. As a novella, three and a half.

You can purchase Fallen Tears here