I don’t know how many people are responsible for this, but someone—author Michelle Hodkin, publisher Simon & Schuster, all those magic elves that make books happen—is doing things right with “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” (out next Tuesday, September 27). First of all, that title blows me away. “Unbecoming” sounds both like someone unraveling and like a teenage girl behaving unladylike, making you all the more curious about who this Mara Dyer person is. Then there’s the cover, a girl being embraced by a boy from behind, both underwater up to their eyes and photographed in dark sepia tones that bring a mood of melancholy and mystery. Is he rescuing her? Holding her down? Desperately hanging on? (Also, I love that you can’t see their actual faces. Hate when covers have some model’s face that then dominates my imagination when I try to picture the characters myself.)
And then, we come to the book trailer, a medium that frankly, I think is still hit-or-miss. This one is a mega-hit. And mega-HOT. “Even Stevens” vet Christy Carlson Romano does the voice-over, which is actually the letter that opens the story, as the scenes unfold, mostly in black andblack and white. The narrator, who claims that Mara Dyer is not her real name, tells us that “a 17-year-old who likes Death Cab for Cutie was responsible for the murders,” and “somewhere out there is a B student with a body count.” Those words lend a creepy air to the quickly cut scenes of three girls using a Ouija board, a news ticker reporting on the death of three teens in a building collapse, a storm, Mara walking alone at night by an old building, a car heading straight for the camera and the very sexy make out session between Mara and a shirtless, broody and delicious boy. And the song that plays over it all, bringing a sense of urgency, is a driving, crescendoing rock song—not by Death Cab but by singer/songwriter Kelli Schaefer.
And having just dropped everything to devour “Mara Dyer” in a matter of hours, I can tell you that the book lives up to the trailer’s promise and then some. It’s the story of a girl trying to piece together what happened the night she, her best friend, her boyfriend and his sister spent the night in an abandoned asylum and only she survived, unscathed but traumatized. And it’s the story of a girl trying to start over again after her family picks up and moves to Miami, all for her sake. And it’s the story of a girl falling in love with the super-cool British bad boy with a rep for breaking hearts. Be careful, ’cause you’ll fall right along with her. Your only solace: The sequel is due out in the fall of 2012.
Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is the perfect mix of mysterious, dark, sexy, and all consuming. I’ve seen many pretty covers before only to be disappointed by the pages inside so, despite all the positive buzz, I was nervous to start the book. However, Michelle Hodkin absolutely delivered with her debut!
Mara Dyer, as a character, is the definition of mysterious. For starters, ‘Mara’ is only a pseudonym so there is an immediate degree of distance from her. Second, the introduction to her is after an accident that she can’t remember and from which she is the sole survivor. Third, she’s seeing and hearing things and she doesn’t know what’s real anymore. Despite some of the goodness in her intentions, and the relationships she has with her family and friend, there’s a definite darkness in her. I loved that Hodkin was willing to explore that side of her personality — and not just by skimming the surface; there were some terrifying moments to be had. Mara is a complex and layered character and there’s still so much to uncover about her.
I have to admit that I went into this thinking that I wouldn’t be a big fan of Noah Shaw. I was sure that he’d just be a typical bad boy cliche and I don’t usually go for his type of character. And yet…he completely pulled me in. There are some cliche-type aspects to him, but Hodkin managed to execute it all well and make me not care. He’s absolutely delicious and the attraction between him and Mara? YOWZA! These two definitely had the spark and they kept me on my toes with their banter and chemistry. So, so tantalizing.
Even though Noah was an important and amazing part of the story, I never felt that the romantic storyline took over the book. I eagerly looked forward to their scenes together, but I was equally engaged in getting all the details of Mara’s story: her darker side and the truth of what happened the night of the accident. The mystery continues to build throughout the course of the novel and it was so easy to fall into the confusion and panic that Mara did. What’s real? Was it just a nightmare? Is Mara really crazy? Excuse my language, but it was a total mindfuck in the best possible way.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer concludes with a bang — one that is already shaking things up for the following installment in a huge way by increasing the mystery and intensity. I cannot wait to see where Michelle Hodkin takes us next on this thrilling ride.
To add to its amazingness, the book also has the best book trailer I’ve seen so far. I’ve watched it, oh, I don’t know… a good dozen times since it first surfaced. Check it out and snag a copy of this book if you haven’t already.
A Shocking, Twisting Beast of a Book: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
Earlier this year, Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds took me completely by surprise. Initially attracted by Joey Hi-Fi’s gorgeous cover illustration, I was quickly sucked into the story of Miriam Black, an opportunistic young drifter whose unique curse/gift allows her to see the exact time and circumstances of the deaths of the people she touches. She mainly uses this mysterious skill to loot the occasional bit of cash from the soon-to-be-deceased, allowing her to stay in motels and keep enough booze on hand to numb her many personal demons… until one day she sees one particularly gruesome future death scene in which the victim’s last words are her own name.
As much as I hate to see or use the phrase “compulsively readable” in reviews, in the case of Blackbirds it’s applicable as it’s ever going to be: a unique, tightly written novel you just can’t put down until you’ve read every last dark, gory detail. If you haven’t read it yet, now’s the time to rectify the situation because this month, mercifully quick on the heels of Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig already delivers its sequel, Mockingbird. The further adventures of Miriam Black, wrapped in yet another stunning Joey Hi-Fi cover? Well, “must-buy” is another one of those phrases I really don’t like much, but in this case…
As Mockingbird starts off, Miriam Black is settled in a (for her at least) strangely stable life. She has an actual address, for one, rather than drifting from motel to motel. Sure, her new residence is a doublewide in a trailer park full of losers and tweakers, but still—in terms of stability, it’s an improvement. Miriam even has a job, working as a cashier in a sundries shop on the Jersey Shore. It all seems much too staid and normal for Miriam, and sure enough, before the first chapter is out she’s losing it at a customer and getting canned.
As of Chapter 2 (“The Liberation of Miriam Black”) we’re back to normal, which in her case means vindictively storming back into the store she just got fired from to shake her former boss’s hand and get a glimpse of how and when she will die. That death turns out to be surprisingly bloody and soon, setting off another whirlwind of a novel full of darkness and violence.
If you’ve read Blackbirds, you’ll know what to expect from Mockingbird, and you won’t be disappointed. The setting and atmosphere are similar, with Chuck Wendig describing the grimier corners of present day New Jersey in all their glorious, boring squalor. He frequently points his lens at the dreariness we’ve learned to unsee in order to make it through the day: the mundane details of life on the fringe of cities, the motels and chain restaurants people pass through on their way to a real home.
Emotionally, Miriam is still (and in her own words) “a garage full of cats on fire,” making her a challenge to deal with even for the few people who actually wish her well in this story. She still tends to deflect anything and anyone that might come too close with hyper-cynical, cutting, profanity-laced combat-dialogue, “her mouth brimming with foulness the way a soup can bulges with botulism.” She’s not fun to be around, to say the least, but as long as you don’t need likeable characters in your fiction, you’ll once again find it completely impossible to put down her story.
In Blackbirds, Miriam’s strange ability to see people’s deaths was mostly presented as-is, but in the new novel Chuck Wendig starts to reveal some of its underpinnings and even ties these into the novel’s central mystery, making it an even more tense and gripping story. I realize that’s vague, but I simply don’t want to give away any plot details here because Mockingbird, a shocking, twisting beast of a book that’ll have you on edge throughout, is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible.
Sure, I could point out a few very minor negatives. The cheesiness of some of the chapter titles occasionally grated against the novel’s atmosphere. You could argue that these two books follow the same pattern a bit too obviously. Still, that’s all much less important than this simple fact: I tore through this novel in less than 24 hours, unable to let go until there were no more pages left to turn, and if someone somehow could travel back in time to hand me a copy of the next Miriam Black novel, I’d drop everything and read it right now. If Blackbirds hit you like it hit me, you need to get your hands on Mockingbird as soon as you can.
Book Review: Torment (A Fallen Novel) by Lauren Kate
If you loved Fallen by Lauren Kate, you will find plenty more to keep you turning the pages late at night in the new sequel, Torment.
The book continues the saga of Luce and her fallen angel paramour Daniel — as they struggle to find safety and moments of peace amidst a budding war involving Heaven and Hell (and maybe a few other forces that are less well-defined).
Once again, Kate masterfully combines a lush, well-researched mythology with modern teenage drama — this time in a new, yet equally intriguing setting. Luce has moved from the stark hardships of reform school to the privileged life in a small, upper-crust private school along the Northern California coast, where she is given plenty of freedom along with the school’s other Nephilim (whom the other coeds believe are simply “gifted” students).
Tormentmasterfully combines an unfolding mystery, building tension, a richer past for Luce, a strange new enemy and an epic battle scene — all while weaving in brief moments of sweetness (and hotness!) between Luce and Daniel.
That’s not to say that Tormentis perfect. There are moments when I felt frustrated as a reader — though not necessarily with the book itself, but rather with the nature of a series itself. Because after two books, I’m still not sure where the series is going. The mystery surrounding Luce (and her timeless relationship with Daniel) has only deepened in Torment, and there are now new questions about her purpose that have yet to be resolved. Likewise, the lines between good and evil are blurred even further — and the ending leaves you questioning who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, and what role Luce has to play in all of this.
And yet, while these elements frustrate me at times as a reader, they also keep me coming back for more. (Aha, Lauren Kate, I see your cleverness now!) And it’s that quality — the page-turning, give-me-more quality — which makes Tormentsuch a devouring read.
Tormentis in stores today — but tune in later this week for your chance to win a copy!