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. :)

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Bones of Faerie

Bones of Faerieby Janni Lee Simner

Liza lives in a world much different from our own.  Liza’s world was changed when humans and faerie fought a horrible war, devastating both sides.  Liza has been brought up to believe that anything and everything to do with the faeries is bad, especially magic.  When her baby sister is born with pale, pale hair, a sure sign of magic, her father takes the baby to a hillside in the middle of the night and leaves her there to die or be taken by her own kind.  That is the world Liza knows.  When Liza herself begins to show signs of magic, she flees her small town to save herself and to save others from the horrors of her burgeoning powers.  With Liza goes her old cat Tallow, Matthew, another member of her town who is harboring his own secrets, and Allie, a young healer only just beginning to learn her own craft.  As Liza, Matthew, Allie, and Tallow embark on their journey, Liza begins to learn that the ideas drilled into her from birth may not be true, and magic may just be a saving-grace for her ravaged, war-torn country.

Reaction: Bones of Faerie is so much more than a fairy story.  It is also about war.  Liza is brought up to believe that the side of the humans was right and the faerie’s was wrong.  This black and white story of war does not do justice to the nuances of the actuality.  In real life, the humans were just as horrible to the faeries, possibly even more so, than the faeries were to humans.  War is not black and white but full of more shades of gray than possible for any one being to understand.

The story is also about abuse.  Liza’s father is verbally and physically abusive, unable to see past his own warped views of the world.  When Liza is late to work, he lashes her back leaving welts and bloody cuts.  If he were to find out that Liza was exhibiting signs of magic, he would not hesitate to slit her throat and kill her just as he killed his baby daughter.  What was fascinating, though, was the fond memories Liza carried of her father.  He taught her to hunt, to walk softly, use a bow and arrow, and to cleanly skin her kill.  He taught her many other survival techniques that come in handy to Liza while she is on her journey.  I think it is a sign of a truly great author to show the humanity of the monster.  Liza remembers both the good and the bad of the only father she’s ever known.

Of course, this story is about faerie.  It is also about so much more.  It is gripping and captivating.  It grabs you from the first line of the first chapter and carries through to the last line of the last chapter.  I cannot say enough about the awesomeness of this multi-layered tale.

Also: Janni Lee Simner wrote a short story that takes place in the same world as Liza’s called Invasive Species, which you can read here.

My Fair Godmother

My Fair Godmotherby Jeanette Rallison

After Savannah’s boyfriend dumps her for her older sister, Savannah is sent a fair godmother (not fairy because her godmother is not good enough to be a full-fledged fairy godmother, just a fair one) who says she will grant Savannah three wishes.  Savannah’s godmother, Chrissy, proceeds to mess up everything Savannah wishes for — how hard could it be to find Savannah a suitable date for prom?!  Savannah’s final wish turns out to be the Chrissy’s worst screw up.  Chrissy sends one of Savannah’s classmates, Tristan, back to the Middle Ages where he must stay until he either becomes a prince or dies.  Savannah feels horrible for her inadvertent meddling in Tristan’s life and decides to go back to the Middle Ages to try to save him.  Will Tristan and Savannah find their way back to their own time?  Will any of Savannah’s wishes actually come true?

Reaction: Not exactly what I was expecting, but cute.  First, my dislikes, of which there are a lot but they don’t add up to enough to make me dislike the the book:

  1. Hunter only liked Jane when she got a makeover and looked exactly like her sister, and who gave her the makeover, Savannah.  So basically, Hunter only became attracted to Jane when she looked like the girl he was already dating.  Eww.  Why couldn’t he have liked her before her makeover simply because they had more in common.  This would have made more sense and made me like Jane and Hunter more.  I really didn’t like either of them.  Kinda thought they were scummy and superficial.
  2. Just because Savannah is not into school and studying and likes hair and makeup does not make her a bad person.  Savannah has already found something she likes to do and she’s good at — being a beautician.  This is an admiral profession and not everyone can do it well (I’ve had my fair share of bad hairdos).  Why does everyone insist that she needs to pay more attention in school and get better grades?  It doesn’t seem like she’s failing, she’s just doing average which is ok!  Not everyone has to be super smart and want to go to an ivy league college.  And just because she wants to be a beautician and doesn’t particularly like the learning part of school does not mean she’s dumb.  Let her be who she is and stop trying to make her into Jane.  I mean, Jane already looks like Savannah, Savannah doesn’t need to be smart like Jane then they’d be the same person.
  3. Chrissy is mean and slightly evil and self-centered to the extreme! When I picked up the book, I thought that Chrissy was going to be a bad but well-meaning screwball.  NO, she’s horrible.  I’m not even going to go on.  She’s just bad.

So, I know it sounds like I didn’t like the book, but I did!  I really did!  I really liked Savannah, even if she did some ditsy things now and again, she was basically smart and caring.  I liked Tristan.  I thought he was a good counter part for Savannah.  And I thought he seemed pretty hot.  I liked watching them navigate the weird world of a fake, fairy tale Middle Ages.  Even though I pretty much hated Chrissy, I liked that she tried to teach Savannah that, in reality, fairy tales doesn’t exist.  It was fun watching Savannah clean and become disillusioned by the pompous prince as Cinderella and try to convince the dwarfs she wasn’t dumb as Snow White.  If you’re looking for something light, cute, and funny, I would definitely recommend this book.

Wondrous Strange

Wondrous Strangeby Lesley Livingston

Seventeen-year-old Kelly Winslow is trying to make it big as an actress in NYC.  She has landed a role in an off-off-off-waaaayyy off Broadway production of Midsummer Night’s Dream as the understudy to the role of Queen Titania.  Not long before the play is to open, the lead injures herself and Kelly is now the leading lady.  Little does she know, though, that she is more than playing the role of a faerie queen, she is in fact faerie royalty.  Kelly is the long-lost daughter of King Auberdon of the Unseelie Faerie Court.  It is because of Kelly’s abduction long ago that King Auberdon closed the gates that connected the mortal world to the faerie world but the gates, which are located in Central Park, are about to open for nine long nights during Samhain.  Sonny, one of Auberdon’s Janus Guards, will watch the gates with other Janus Guards and slay any fey that try to pass into the mortal realm.  Kelly and Sonny’s paths cross, both connected yet distanced from the faerie realm, both drawn to the other for some inexplicable reason, and both forever changed by the events that take place Samhain night, the night the gates are their weakest.  What does the future have in store for Kelly and Sonny?

Reaction: Wondrous Strange is a very solid, well-written, and interesting new addition to the ever-growing collection of faerie (or fairy) stories.  I was not as in love with this book as Kristi was, so definitely check out her review, but I am still very interested in seeing what the author has in store for the characters.  There were a couple of interesting plot twists (which I did guess) but make the future, for Kelly especially, very interesting.  Wondrous Strange is the first book in a trilogy.  I love trilogies because you get more of the characters you love but the hope of resolution.  I love resolution.

Also, check out the interview Kristi @ The Story Siren did with Lesley Livingston and check out this video of Lesley talking about Wondrous Strange:

Cover: Ok, I couldn’t end this post without mentioning the cover.  Isn’t it gorgeous!