Souls Squared: A Review of Two Books

Last week I was looking for good recommendations for girly fantasy titles not involving vampires or fairies.  No one had any but that’s ok because not long after posting that I received My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent and Meridian by Amber Kizer in on hold at the library.  You can guess what I’ve been doing the past couple of days! :)  I didn’t realize how similar these two books were when I originally requested them but reading them back to back made me think that they would be perfect paired together for review.  Both books deal with death and the release of a person’s soul after death.

My Soul to TakeI picked up My Soul to Take first, which was a bit surprising because I really had no interest in the title when I first heard about it…a girl who uncontrollably screams when someone dies, nuh uh, but the whims of a reader never make sense (at least my reading whims).

Kaylee Cavanaugh has lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousin for most of her life, ever since her mother died in a car accident and her father, deciding he couldn’t care for young Kaylee on his own, dropped her off and headed to Ireland.  Despite her father’s abandonment, Kaylee’s life is mostly normal, except for her attacks.  Her aunt and uncle, doctors, everyone seems to think these episodes are run-of-the-mill panic attacks, and Kaylee just needs some drugs and she’ll be fine.  Kaylee knows that’s not the case, she knows screaming endlessly for hours for no apparent reason isn’t normal but it’s not a panic attack and she’s not crazy and she doesn’t need drugs.  After a night out at a dance club, things simultaneously get better and worse for Kaylee.  The good: Nash, one of the hottest guys at school, seems to be interested in her and doesn’t even freak out when she has an “episode,” in fact, his presence and the songs he sings to her help calm her down from the worst of the attack.  The bad: Nash knows a secret about Kaylee, one that can explain everything she’s going through, a secret that her family has kept from her her entire life.  Also, Kaylee learns she screams when someone dies, and lately, Kaylee has been screaming a lot.

MeridianNext, Meridian (pretty cover, right?)  Death has followed Meridian her whole life, attracted to her like a magnet from the time she was a baby.  At first it was just insects but as Meridian grew, so did the size of the creatures that sought her.  Meridian has also almost always been sick.  She has trouble sleeping (I suppose anyone would if they woke up with dead things going bump in the night around them), she doesn’t eat much, her whole body aches and constantly seems as though it is physically falling apart.  She’s never really had friends and has always been considered weird.  Even her parents seem standoffish and are not as affectionate with her as they are with her younger brother, Sammy.  Young Sammy is the only one who seems to love and accept Meridian for herself.   On her sixteenth birthday, everything changes.  Walking home from the bus stop, Meridian witnesses a car plowing into and killing several of her classmates.  All of the death causes Meridian to completely collapse.  Her parents quickly ship her off to a bus station, give her a ticket and some money, and tell her to make her way to her aunt’s house in Revelation, Colorado.  They tell her they love her but she’s not to come back home because they won’t be there; they’re leaving as well and they don’t tell her where they’re going.  Meridian has no idea what’s going on and knows nothing about this aunt except that she sends quilts as birthday presents.

After a long, tiring journey, Meridian finally makes it to Auntie’s and Auntie reveals the big secret, one that Meridian should have been told a long time ago: Meridian is a Fenestra.  A Fenestra is half-human, half-angel and she provides souls a safe passage to the good afterlife (many would call it heaven).  Meridian must learn to control her power before it ruins her and in time to save herself and her loved ones from the evil beings that seek to destroy Fenestras and those who work in the light.

Reaction(s): Two very different books, two very similar themes.  In My Soul to Take, Kaylee’s screams allow her control souls as they depart from the dead, giving them time to say final goodbyes and guaranteeing they won’t be snatched by malevolent beings.  In Meridian, Meridian is a Fenestra who helps ferry souls between the living world and the afterlife. To my surprise, I enjoyed My Soul to Take better, though they were both good.  My Soul to Take ended up having fairies of sorts but it was such a different and original take on fairies that I didn’t mind that it violated one of my specifications. :)  I thought the back story was fairly well developed and I really enjoyed Kaylee and Nash as a couple.  While they had an instant bond, the “L” word was never mentioned.  I get really annoyed when characters fall instantly in love, though I know I’m in the minority.  Kaylee and Nash had instant attraction, which I think is totally believable, and a pull because they were two of a kind and different from pretty much everyone else they knew.  I’m interested in reading some of the next books in the series but not dying to do so.

Merdian wasn’t quite as tightly drawn as My Soul to Take.  The premise was very interesting and the characters had potential it just seemed like there was a bit too much going on to fully develop any one thing.  I wanted more practice time between Meridian and Auntie.  I wanted Tens and Meridian to have more time to develop their feelings.  In the end it turned into a jarring instant love with little transition between Tens’ veiled animosity and his love.  I wanted more time to understand the bad guy and a better battle with evil at the end.  Again, a great premise and a good story, I just needed a bit more from it.

Both stories dip into areas that are new to me in the fantasy genre and provide interesting takes on death, souls, and the afterlife.

P.S. I’m still interested in any fantasy with romantic subplot recommendations if you have any. :)

Nothing but Ghosts

Nothing but Ghostsby Beth Kephart

Ever since Katie’s mom died, she and her dad have been having a tough time handling their grief.  Katie has pulled away from her best friends, choosing to shut them out because it is too hard to explain how she is feeling.  Her father spends his time buried in work, refuses to sleep in the room he shared with his wife, and plays at being a gourmet chef, always setting a third spot at the dinner table.  To keep herself occupied over the summer, Katie takes a job doing landscaping work at the mansion of the reclusive Miss Martine.  When Miss Martine was young, around Katie’s age, she was the talk of the town and attended all of the society events.  One night, though, she just simply disappeared, retreated into her house never to show her face again.  Katie can’t help but be intrigued by the mystery of Miss Martine.  What happened to make such a social butterfly shun everything she seemingly once loved?  Katie’s questions escalate as she and several of her fellow gardeners are assigned the odd task of hand-digging a hole for a gazebo.  The estate’s caretaker, Old Olson, is acting very strange with this project: just staring at them while they dig and arriving to the site early to sift through the dirt at the bottom of the hole.  As Katie continues to deal with her own grief, she is compelled to figure out the mystery of Miss Martine and the true reason behind the hole she is helping to dig.

Reaction: What a well-written, engrossing story.  There were so many different things (and, specifically, characters) that I really enjoyed in this novel.  First, Katie’s relationship with her dad.  It is obvious that she was always much closer to her mom than her dad but I loved the new bond Katie and her dad have formed.  While they are both still obviously depressed and grieving, they have made it a habit to look out for each other.  Katie’s dad is always pushing her to get back in contact with her friends and telling her to eat more.  Katie is constantly checking up on her dad to make sure he isn’t working too hard and cleaning up after all of his kitchen concoctions.  Then there is the trendy, fashionable librarian Ms. McDermott.  Ms. McDermott is a support system for Katie’s research; I think she somehow understands that the research is just something Katie needs to do.  There is also Sammy, the young neighborhood terror child who can’t sit still and is constantly climbing on things.  It is odd but he seems to be a lifesaver for Katie’s father.  While Katie only barely tolerates Sammy, she is happy to see the happiness that Sammy’s presence brings to her father.  And finally there is Danny, the thoughtful boy who works with her (and his goofy brother Owen) at Miss Martine’s.  Danny is a welcome surprise for Katie, who has never had a boyfriend and at the moment doesn’t even really have any friends.  Danny is ok with the fact that there are things that Katie just can’t talk about yet.  My only complaint may be that Katie’s mother seemed a bit too good to be true, too perfect, though that may just be one of the reflections of grief–always seeing only the good in the dead.

There is so much more that could be said about this small but powerful novel, but I’ll leave it for you to find out about on your own.

Once Dead, Twice Shy

Once Dead Twice Shyby Kim Harrison

Madison Avery is dead but no one knows it.  On the night of her prom she was killed by a celestial being, a dark reaper, but somehow managed to snag his amulet and give her ghost self a corporeal form.  Now she is being guarded and taught by a light reaper named Barnabas.  Avery is a bit of an anomaly, even in the strange new world of which she is now apart, and Avery and those who are trying to save her must figure out what she is and her role in her new ghosty life before the dark forces find her once again and try to get rid of her once and for all.

Reaction: Wow, it was hard to write an understandable plot synopsis for this one.  Avery’s world is complicated.  There are light reapers and dark reapers.  Dark reapers decide to take the lives of people before their natural death time in order to stop something it is predicted the person will do in the future that the dark reapers don’t want to see happen.  Light reapers try to stop the dark reapers from prematurely ending a life.  Light reapers and dark repears are angels of sorts and are sent on their various missions by two timekeepers, one dark and one light, who used to be human and are not immortal.  A dark reaper was sent to and did kill Avery but somehow after she was dead she got a hold of the amulet of the dark reaper who slayed her and this gave her special ghosty powers, like a body even though it isn’t actually her body because the dark reaper stole her real body.  The story is about what Avery is supposed to do now, who is after her and why, and what her future as a dead girl holds.

These are the basics of this complicated story but it felt like basics are all we really get.  The story is more of an outline or unfinished, undeveloped full story.  Details are not explained or not explained very well.  I wanted to know more about Avery’s hinted to past — the whole story behind why she now lives with her dad.  I wanted more background on the light and dark reapers — what they were exactly, where they really came from, how they were assigned — and the timekeepers — how are they chosen, what are all of their jobs, powers, and functions.  And then there was Avery and Josh.  They had an odd history.  I wanted to know why Josh agreed to ask Avery to prom, I wanted to know why Avery said yes in the first place since they seem so different, and I wanted to know who Josh’s real friends were since he was so nice and his friends were such jerks.

Overall, I’m interested to see where this series* goes because it’s a unique and interesting premise but I just hope that there is a lot more development and explanation in the next book otherwise I don’t see this series going very far.

The cover, though.  The cover’s awesome.

*I’m assuming this is a series.  Her other books are a series and this one is very open ended.  I couldn’t find any information on other books but I didn’t dig too hard.  I guess we’ll see.

Jo-Jo and the Fiendish Lot

Jo-Jo and the Fiendish Lotby Andrew Auseon

Jo-Jo’s life is pretty crappy.  He lives in a poor section of Baltimore with his slightly older sister and her baby.  His mom is dead and his dad flip-flops between spending time in jail and spending time passed out after a long night at the bar.  Jo-Jo has no real ambition, sees no point in school or anything like that since he figures he’s just going to end up following the same path as the rest of his family.  The one bright spot in Jo-Jo’s life was his girlfriend Violet.  Jo-Jo got a lot of crap at school for dating Violet because she was black and he’s white.  No one every bothered Violet about their relationship until the day White Knife Johnson murdered her.  With Violet gone, Jo-Jo figures he doesn’t have anything else to live for.  He takes a gun and goes down by the stream near his house.  Things don’t go quite as planned, though.  When he gets to the stream he finds someone has beaten him to the punch; there’s a naked dead girl floating in the water.  Jo-Jo can’t stand the sight of that girl in the water so he wades in to pull her out and gets the shock of his life.  She revives and she’s black and white and she says she’s from the Afterlife.  Turns out her name is Max and she and her band-mates have come back to life for awhile to try out new material since they’re too huge in the Afterlife to get an honest opinion.  Jo-Jo puts off killing himself to help out Max and the rest of the guys from the band the Fiendish Lot but it seems it’s Jo-Jo’s time.  After an altercation, Jo-Jo finds himself in the Afterlife, following the Fiendish Lot as they go on tour.  In Jo-Jo’s death he has a second chance to live but he must learn who he is, what’s important, and his true purpose if he’s going to survive his death.

Reaction: Truly unique.  In that respect it reminded me of The Order of Odd-Fish.  I loved the concept of the Afterlife.  The idea was detailed and well thought-out.  In the Afterlife, there is no color, energy comes from burning items brought over from life as people cross over, you never need to eat or sleep or drink, but you have a sol.  Your sol burns brightly if you are fulfilling it and dims leaving you ghostly translucent if you aren’t.  People who have fulfilled their sols in the Afterlife burn so brightly until they burn up, not in a hurting kind of burn but in an awe-inspiring kind of burn, onto the next stage of death.  People who are unfulfilled fade into the mists that surround the edges of the Afterlife until they are nothing.  I really liked the thought that you have a second chance if you left your life unfulfilled and I liked the concept that your fulfillment was something that was measured in a tangible way but the light your sol emits.  One of my other favorite parts of the book were the footnotes of how people Jo-Jo encountered in the Afterlife died.  For example: John Gray, 1980-2004: crushed by falling church bells during freak blizzard (149) or Elvira Custer, 1966-1996: murdered by distant relatives after winning the lottery.

Despite how much I enjoyed Jo-Jo and the Fiendish Lot, it has some flaws.  First of all, it’s really long.  Second, I didn’t necessarily buy Jo-Jo’s transformation even after 473 pages.  Jo-Jo spends most of his Afterlife determined to find Violet.  Every time I think he’s having a breakthrough about what he’s really supposed to be doing with his Afterlife he takes two steps back and returns to his old ways.  He waffles like this through most of the book so his ability to let go in the end seems abrupt to me.  In the end, the good far outweighs the flaws.  I enjoyed Auseon’s sense of humor and creative mind.