Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: "The Archived" by Victoria Schwab

Ready for a teenage protagonist who will actively choose reason over drama while still managing to keep you on the edge of your seat? Enter Mackenzie Bishop, the badass girl around whom "The Archived," by Victoria Schwab, centers.

This is an awesome first installment of what is sure to be an exciting and creative young adult series. Mackenzie and her parents move into the Coronado, a hotel-turned-apartment complex with a mysterious past, as they try to move past the death of Mackenzie's younger brother Ben. But in addition to family tragedy and relocation, Mackenzie is dealing with another strain on her time that actually keeps her from moving away from Ben's death: she is a Keeper, working for the mysterious Archive, in which all Histories of the dead are kept and tended to by Librarians. If one of the Histories awakes and escapes into the Narrows, a labyrinthine borderland between the Archive and the outside world, it is Mackenzie's job to find them and use one of the myriad doors there to get them to Returns, where they are safely put back into the Archive. 

As she settles into her new Keeper territory at the Coronado, Mackenzie discovers that the apartments have a bloody, violent past that tugs at her morbid sense of curiosity. Her pursuit of the building's history combined with a new friend (who also happens to be a Keeper) and a strange person who appears to be living in the Narrows is a recipe for all sorts of teenage angst and hair-pulling. Refreshingly though, Mackenzie's character displays a stoic pragmatism that feels more realistic than over-the-top teenage love drama in the context of her job as a Keeper. However, this compartmentalization of her emotions doesn't prevent the reader from empathizing and connecting with her. It even, to me, made her more relatable, especially when the walls of her neat little compartments start coming down and she finds herself having to deal with both of her separate worlds at once. 

Reminiscent of Garth Nix and the "Abhorsen" trilogy, Schwab has created a new and very clever representation of death and what happens beyond that veil. as well as who will look after us. Mackenzie's character takes that role very seriously, giving her friend Wes (also a Keeper) ample opportunities to foil her sometimes dour demeanor with intelligent jokes and melodramatic humor. He never fails to make Mackenzie (or me) smile.

If you're ready for a strong female protagonist not so easily swept off her feet and away from her responsibilities to others, if you liked the "Abhorsen" books, or if you're just ready for a creative new look at death, I very highly recommend "The Archived" by Victoria Schwab. I warn you, however, that upon finishing the book you may find yourself madly refreshing Schwab's website, searching her website for the release date of the next installment. "The Archived" hit shelves at your favorite independent bookstore on January 22nd. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book Review: "The Demonologist" by Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper's latest book caught my eye originally as I was browsing through a stack of ARCs because the criminal suspense is centered around Milton's "Paradise Lost." Literary geek that I am, I had to pick it up and see what it had to offer.
The protagonist, Professor David Ullman, is a scholar of religious texts, particularly of Milton, although he is not a religious man himself. Trapped in a black hole of a marriage with his daughter Tess the only bright point in his life, Ullman is suddenly approached by a mysterious woman representing a benefactor who wants to fly him to Venice. Why? To witness and weigh in on an undisclosed phenomenon relating to his work as a "demonologist," as the representative puts it. After initially saying no, Ullman takes Tess with him on what he thinks will be a relaxing, all-expenses-paid consulting trip to Italy. Alas, there would be no story if this were the case.  When he finds his way to the mysterious house in which he is to witness the phenomenon, Ullman finds himself face-to-face with a demon who wants him to be a witness to its presence. This meeting heralds the beginning of a desperate search for Tess, taken by the unnamed demon, all across the United States with a hired assassin pursuing him and a cancer-ridden best friend as his only copilot.
While it was an overall okay suspense novel with an interesting premise, I expected a little bit more of Milton than was presented. "Paradise Lost" was used to identify the demon and his purpose in choosing Ullman, his motivations and his weakness. Ullman also used it to find clues about where to go in search of Tess, but these quotes and clips were taken completely out of context of the original work, some of them requiring such great leaps of thinking (see the one about Florida) that they were almost pointless. Pyper might have more easily just said "Hey, let's have them randomly decide to go visit Jacksonville." The purpose of this interstate trip, when revealed at the end, doesn't excuse the sheer obscurity, almost randomness, of the journey itself.

The reader and Ullman are both told that Tess will be lost forever if he cannot save her within a certain time limit, but never once did the protagonist express any sort of clue as to how he was supposed to get her back. I imagine that this would be the more realistic representation of a father whose child has been taken: desperately following cobweb-thin clues, running around half-lost and confused. This is probably a more realistic representation than the persona of the Bold Hero who knows exactly what he's doing, but it somehow seemed to detract a sense of urgency from the writing.

SPOILER ALERT: After all that work, all that self-discovery and desperation, not to mention what gas must have cost him, Tess is magically returned to Ullman and everything is fine? He just gets on a train at the instruction of his dead friend, who is an angel, and Tess is there waiting for him. This ending screams "Just believe in God and everything will instantly be okay!" It's like the Book of Job rewritten for the modern era, only instead of getting new children Ullman has his used model back again.

If you like supernatural crime novels with no romance (sorry, "Twilight" and "Fallen" fans) give "The Demonologist" a try. Andrew Pyper's latest will be at your favorite independently owned bookstore in March of this year. Also expect to see a book-based movie by Universal Studios. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hey, Bibliophiles!

Want to give away 20 copies of an awesome book to strangers? Apply to be a Giver for World Book Day in April! It's simple, it's free, and it's a really neat idea. If you're interested, which you should be (because come on, when was the last time YOU were handed a free book that wasn't a Bible?) be sure to sign up by January 23rd. Just go to the link below: