Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Tag: new adult fiction

Review: The Skeleton Key – Tara Moss

The Skeleton Key coverWhen I received The Skeleton Key in the mail, I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of book. I’m a bit (okay, a lot) over paranormal romance at the moment, so I was worried that I might find myself wading through just the kind of novel I’m avoiding right now. As it turned out, I really needn’t have worried. There’s a hint of romance here, but the emphasis is strongly on the paranormal, and the book as a whole is much more Buffy than Twilight. I actually recommend it strongly to Buffy fans, because Pandora is from a similar kind of normal-but-kickass-chosen-one mould. (Try to say that one three times quickly.)

Although I haven’t read the first two books in the Pandora English series, I didn’t struggle at all with picking up the premise and the universe. Tara Moss creates an interesting world full of all the usual paranormal types, and manages to avoid the same-old-same-old trap. There are vampires – sorry: Sanguines – here, but there is a refreshing lack of uniformity when it comes to their characterisation. Deus (whom I loved) is a very different character to the undead supermodels who plague Pandora’s existence.

One of the things I liked most about The Skeleton Key was the humour that marked the narrative and the character voice. There’s a healthy sense of irony here, and that makes the occasional genuinely creepy moment stand out even more. The key villain of the novel is suitably discomforting and, while Pandora largely operates on instinct and employs extreme powers she doesn’t fully understand, I didn’t find this annoying. Her resignation to her responsibility as the Seventh and her commitment to doing the very things she doesn’t yet know how to do somehow made up for the relative ease of her achievements.

Pandora is nineteen, and The Skeleton Key very cleverly walks the (fading) line between young adult and adult fiction. There are no pubescent dramas to distance the book from adults, and there is nothing within its pages that could be considered too ‘old’ by younger readers (or their parents). The idea of crossover appeal is often thrown about these days, but I think it’s an apt descriptor for this series.

All-up, I found The Skeleton Key a light and enjoyable read and I shall definitely look up the first two books in the series – even if my arachnophobia does make me a little nervous about The Spider Goddess

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Hushed – Kelley York

Hushed book coverArcher would do anything for his best friend, Vivian. He’s proven that several times over by now – in the most drastic of ways. But then Evan arrives in town and, for the first time, Archer begins to question the hold that Vivian has over him. Evan’s love may have the power to change Archer, but is it too late?

Hushed is a tense novel that will have its readers hooked from the opening pages right through to its conclusion. It presents themes of love and loyalty and explores the aftermath of trauma and the choice to follow a particular path. While its content and focus are definitely gritty, Hushed doesn’t feel unduly dark. Indeed, I came away from the book feeling almost uplifted; for every depressing or sordid occurrence, there is a helping of love or hope.

The thing that really makes Hushed is the artful depiction of its protagonist, Archer. Multiple times within the novel, Archer is referred to as a “monster”, but somehow he is also extremely sympathetic and, amazingly, highly likeable. If someone were to tell me about a book with a loveable murderer, I would scoff, but that is exactly what Kelley York has produced. The reader can’t help but hope that, in spite of his crimes, things will work out well for Archer.

In contrast, Vivian is very difficult to like. Although we are given reasons for her behaviour, we are also shown that there were other paths that she could have followed. There is just something about her character that made me wary from the start. Archer’s devotion to her is perfectly plausible, however. She is cleverly described as just the sort of person who possesses that kind of hold over people.

Evan is sugar where Vivian is poison. He is perfectly understanding, perfectly devoted… and fairly perfect all round, for that matter. He offers the kind of unconditional care that Archer needs to start to break free of Vivian’s hold over him. The difficulty I had with him as a character, however, was the fact that he mostly is shown as being a positive force in Archer’s life. We don’t learn as much about Evan himself as I would have liked – just glimpses of the way he fits into Archer’s world.

The romance here is very nicely done, with little focus on the genders of the people involved. While there is definitely a place in YA literature for tales of coming out and the establishment of sexual identity, I think they tend to dominate the market more than they should. It was refreshing to read a book where the romance plays out much as it would with a heterosexual couple, but without ignoring the social implications of a same sex romance.

As mentioned, some of the content in Hushed is quite dark, and I would recommend it to readers from the late teens upwards. While the main characters are in their first year of university, I think that the plot and execution of the novel will endear it to adult readers as well. An engrossing and though-provoking read.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: I Loved You First – Reena Jacobs

I Loved You First coverAlex is in love with her best friend, Seth. The trouble is, he’s gay. Worse still, he’s so deeply in the closet that he dates a never-ending string of girls to keep up appearances, but never so much as looks at Alex in the way she dreams about. As Seth’s charade begins to fall apart, so does his friendship with Alex. Being in love with her best friend is hard enough. But could Alex lose him altogether?

I Loved You First is an easy, enjoyable read with a positive underlying message. Its stand-out feature is the strong character voice of Alex, which remains consistent and appealing throughout the book. The first person narrative quickly draws the reader into Alex’s world and encourages them to empathise with her situation.

Alex herself is a likeable character. While, at times, her choices were frustrating, I never resented her for making them. She is flawed, certainly, but this is the story of her growth from an invisible sidekick into an independent young woman, and change rarely occurs without a few mistakes to be learnt from. At times, I wanted to reach into the book and shake Alex out of her unflappable loyalty to Seth, especially when he was being particularly belligerent and she was being particularly submissive. Such a response shows both my fondness of Alex as a character and my total absorption in the book!

In contrast, Seth is a difficult character to like. I understand why he acts the way he does, but it doesn’t make his behaviour any easier to stomach. I found that I mostly felt sorry for him – not so much due to the attitudes of others as due to his own attitude towards himself. Indeed, Alex, despite harbouring her fantasies of being the one woman who can overcome Seth’s sexuality, is far more accepting of his identity than he is. There is a self-destructive aspect to Seth’s behaviour that is almost as difficult to witness as a reader it is for his best friend.

The minor characters in I Loved You First are well-drawn, with Trinity being a fun and likeable late addition to the ensemble and Bruce offering the right amount of villainy to the plot. Dink is multi-faceted and provides an important alternative to the black-and-white portrayal of Bruce. I changed my opinion of him several times throughout the book, as various aspects of his character were revealed.

For me, the best part about I Loved You First is the personal growth that Alex experiences as the novel progresses. While much of the action of the book is centred around Seth, the heart of the book is Alex’s struggle for emotional independence. Always a realistic character, she evolves into a truly strong young woman.

Jacobs’s style is chatty and unforced. The writing could have been a little tighter in places but this is well-masked by the casual nature of her protagonist’s voice. I also found the overwhelming homophobia shown by many of the book’s characters out of keeping with my own experiences with university educated young adults, but am aware that my nationality and the educational circles I’ve moved in may be a key factor here.

While I Loved You First focusses on university-aged characters, the subject matter and content are appropriate for all young adult readers. It is a light read dealing with heavy subjects – homophobia and the emotional (and physical) damage it causes – and is a very solid young adult debut by Jacobs.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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