Saturday, January 23, 2010

Drawn to Read: Hearts for Haiti

It's "Drawn to Read" time! For the past couple weeks I have been highlighting illustrators of picture and chapter books, that are creating exemplary work — adding style and life to current children's literature. In light of the tradgedy in Haiti I am straying from the original concept of "Drawn to Read" this week so we can all make a little difference for those in need.

My wife, Andie, is taking part in two small grassroots efforts to raise money for those in need. So click over to Andie's blog to learn more about Hearts for Haiti. Take a look at what illustrators, artists, and crafter are doing to raise money. So far Hearts for haiti has raised more than $13,000 for Doctors Without Borders. It's a simple way to help and you may get something out of it too. Just follow the link below.
Hearts for Haiti

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vampires, Pixies, and Werewolves, Oh My!

Teen Novels Run Amok. 

Have you looked at the young adult section of your local bookstore lately? Honestly, how does one decide which vampire book to read? It seems to the untrained eye — maybe even the trained eye — that the only thing young adults read about is vampires, pixies and other mythical fantasy creatures. Of course all these creatures are living a
90210/Gossip Girl, life of romance, betrayal and high school. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy fantasy novels and mythical creatures as much as anyone, but how does the average person find a good book when all the books appear the same at a glance? I recently finished two such books and I am here to tell you about them.

"Hearts at Stake"
By Alyxandra Harvey
For Ages 12 and up
"Hearts at Stake" is the first book of The Drake Chronicles, a new series which follows exploits and drama surrounding the Drake family. As it happens the Drakes are an ancient and royal line of Vampires. they are not made with a bite like most vampires. No, they go though a sort of metamorphosis on their 16th birthday. it still involves the drinking of blood. When they awaken the Drakes are dead. Well, undead to be precise. 

There are many types of vampires. The Drakes are very civilized and do not kill people to feed. There are less civilized vamps that are killing machines. Then there are many vampires which fall in the middle somewhere. There are also vampire hunters. The vampires have a councils and royal governing bodies, which of course leads to wars. Especially when you throw in an ancient prophecy. This all brings us to Solange.

"Hearts at Stake" is Solange's story. She is the daughter of the Drakes and appears destined to fulfill an ancient prophecy. Once she survives the "blood change" on her 16th birthday she is destined to become Queen of the vampires. Of course she wants none of it. Solange just wants to survive and avoid as much blood as possible. Unfortunately as her birthday draws closer every vampire around wants to make her his own, and the reigning queen just wants her dead. Luckily for Solange she has a best non-vampire-friend to keep her grounded and five brothers to protect her. You know how big brothers can be.

It's all very exciting, with fight scenes, vampires turing to dust, hormonal lust and make outs, weapons, and royal intrigue. It's not all great though. "Hearts at Stake" is a great deal like the other vampire chronicles on the market. It is full of teen angst and hormones. Basically it's a romance novel for young adults. My biggest fear with this sort of book is that they add fuel to the already overly sexualized media targeting overly hormonal preteens and teens. Everyone is not doing "it." But books such as "Hearts at Stake" give the impression that everyone is and it's great.

Now that I've ranted I'll tell you what I actually liked about "Hearts at Stake." The technique Harvey uses in her storytelling is compelling. The tale unfolds in what appear to be journal entries from Solange and her best friend Lucy. Alternating by chapter the girls' different perspectives give the reader a glimpse into the world surrounding the Drakes. The second installment in the chronicles will also be form two different perspective although neither will be that of Solange or Lucy.
I was also intrigued by the idea that a vampire might not be "turned," but born that way.

So let's summarize. "Hearts at Stake" is a fun adventure into a royal feud between vampire clans. It also has an interesting technique in conveying the story. Unfortunately the writing is reminiscent of a romance novel and the content is a little to teen drama series to make it a must read. It's a nice alternative to the "Twilight" series though as the characters have, well, more character. 

By Carrie Jones
For Ages 12 and up
Evidently Pixies are not all like Tinkerbell. Actually, according to "Captivate" pixies are nothing like Tinkerbell. They are cruel killers with blue skin and sharp pointy teeth that feed on young people. They sound a little like vampires only more animal-like. I'll admit it, I was intrigued by the whole pixie thing. 

"Captivate" is the second book that follows Zara, a normal teen with normal teen problems. unless you call being half-pixie and the daughter of  pixie king normal. There is no need to read "Need" the first of the two books, if you have not already, but it will help you understand the entire dynamic world of pixies, weres, and other such mythical creatures. Mostly it will help you understand Zara a little better. She is a heroine. She is strong and strong-minded. She is against killing all things yet understands the dangers in the world. She has a boyfriend, but on her own terms. She has loyal friends and she has an inner strength which becomes very visible towards the end of "Captivate."

Zara is living in Maine (by way of Charleston, SC) with her grandmother. She attends high school and has  a core group of friends that no everything about her. Zara's boyfriend is a werewolf, her best friend is as normal as they come and her boyfriends best friend is a were-eagle. They spend their days at school and their afternoons patrolling for pixies. They capture and detain the pixies in an old abandoned house in the woods. They lead normal lives otherwise. Everything is about dances, relationships and the cold Maine winters until a strange new pixie shows up.

Zara begins to question everything she has come to know about pixies and learns a great deal in turn. Then everything breaks loose. The pixies escape and rampage, Zaras boyfriend is killed and taken by a Valkyrie to Valhalla for some great battle, and this strange pixie keeps saving her life. Pretty soon Zara ha to decide about her own future and whether to remain human or become one of the things she has been fighting all along — a pixie queen.

"Captivate" is well-written, with some great quippy dialogue. There is plenty of humor wrapped in the action, mystery romance, and horror. The imagery lingers with you long after you put the book down. The teen romance is there and hormonal, but not in your face sexual. The quality of writing elevates the book somewhat from being just another teen romance novel. unfortunately the only real originality is in the use of pixies as opposed to vampires. They could easily be swapped out though.

If you are into the fantasy genre and looking for a new series with supernatural elements, this is a decent choice. The quality writing and imagery keep it from being another Twilight or Vampire Diaries. The character development and toned-down sexuality keep it form being gossip girl with monsters. This allows you to concentrate on the real story of friends, loyalty, family and life-changing decisions.