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REVIEW:  Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

REVIEW: Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Dear Ms. Garcia,

I love all things supernatural. Fitting, I suppose, given the season. That’s why demon hunting ranks high among my my favorite fictional occupations. I like seeing what they can do, the types of monsters they face (bonus points if they’re non-western!), and how their job affects their lives. So when I heard that your debut solo effort featured a team of demon hunters, I snatched it right up.

Kami Garcia/UnbreakableUnbreakable wastes no time kicking the story into gear. We first meet Kennedy as she’s out looking for her cat one night. Her search brings her to a cemetery where she not only finds her cat but also encounters a ghost. This meeting proves to have terrible consequences because without Kennedy realizing it, the ghost possesses her cat and hitches a ride to her house where it then proceeds to kill her mother.

Kennedy would have shared a similar fate but a pair of hot twins, Jared and Lukas, save her in time. Devastated by her mother’s death, she soon discovers that a normal life is no longer possible for her. She’s the descendant of a demon hunter who belonged to a five-member society charged with keeping a powerful demon in check and that demon is now doing everything in its power to break free.

Kennedy is exactly the type of protagonist you’d expect in this type of story. She had a normal life and loving relationship with her mother. Given that the relationship was a good one, the mother’s ultimate fate is hardly shocking. Poor mothers. They always die! Kept in the dark about her heritage, Kennedy has no idea how to hunt or fight demons. She’s had no training or special abilities. Her only skill is an eidetic memory, which of course comes into use. While much of the story is about seeking out the pieces to stop the demon’s escape, it’s also just as much about Kennedy learning about the Legion and their mission.

The plot proceeds fast and furious. It wastes no time and there is no fluff. Once Kennedy is swept up into the world of the Legion, it’s a race against time to stop the demon. While I liked that the plot was relentless, I wished the plot-to-characterization ratio was more balanced. As it was, I found the characters a tad superficial and this detracted from the story. If the characters had been better developed overall, I think some of the dramatic reveals (like Jared’s big secret) would have had more impact.

Speaking of Jared, I thought the romance between Kennedy and him was phoned in. It went through the motions of the typical instalove formula so prevalent in YA but as usual, I never quite understood why they were Meant to Be. Why did Jared like Kennedy? Why did Kennedy prefer Jared over his twin? They both saved her.

In addition, there’s a poorly developed love triangle involving Kennedy, Jared and Lukas. Poorly developed, because it never got off the ground. Both twins are attracted to Kennedy but while Jared is standoffish due to guilt over past actions, Lukas is more demonstrative and friendly. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Kennedy to like Lukas then? But Kennedy only ever truly thinks of Jared. When it comes to Lukas, it’s apparent she only thinks of him as a friend. I understand love triangles involving siblings can be tricky but they require intensity and conflict to make them work. While Lukas and Jared had their issues with each other, that emotion never came through because the characterization left much to be desired. Even if the intention wasn’t to have a love triangle — and I can see an argument for that — the underlying conflict between the brothers should have affected the burgeoning relationship between Kennedy and Jared.

I did like the supporting characters, Alara and Priest. True, they suffered from poorly executed characterization but the idea of them was great. I adored that Alara was fiercely competent and that her relationship with Kennedy starts off on the wrong foot. But in her eyes, the inexperienced Kennedy is a liability and someone who could get them all killed. If I were in Alara’s place, I’d feel the same way. But that’s what makes the evolution of their relationship so great. Kennedy has to work to gain Alara’s trust and respect. It doesn’t just fall into her lap.

While I won’t say the ending revelation was a surprise, I thought the execution was excellent. It was a brutal twist and delivered a gut punch. For what was an otherwise so-so read, the ending is something that makes me contemplate picking up the sequel. At the very least, I’d like to find out the truth about the Legion, the demon it was charged to watch over, and how exactly Kennedy and late mother figured in all of it.

Unbreakable is a worthwhile read for people who love demon hunters and want an action-packed plot. Readers who want deeper characterization and angst, however, should probably look elsewhere. I just wish the rest of the book lived up to the ending. C

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Fairies in My Fireplace by R.L. Naquin

REVIEW: Fairies in My Fireplace by R.L. Naquin

Dear Ms. Naquin,

First of all, I’d like to say thank you for this delightfully quirky and strange third installment of your Monster Haven series. The characters are warm and sweet, mostly relatable with just enough spice to make them believable. However, I believe “subtle” is a word that is verboten in this universe. Zoey Donovan is a newly discovered Aegis – one with special abilities who attracts the Hidden of society, those who are distinctly not human, but who have to live within the human world. With the help of her vast cast of friends, Zoey must discover why Hidden all over the United States are going missing – and stop the mysterious Collector.

Fairies in My Fireplace (A Monster Haven Story)  R.L. Naquin
For someone who hasn’t read the first two books in the series, it was a little difficult to fall into the story and figure out who came from where and why. Some characters and their relationship to Zoey – Andrew and Milo, for example – were explained fairly well, but Riley, Zoe’s significant other, was a bit of a mystery. It took quite a bit of reading between the lines and digging out of context clues to figure out his role in everything. I thought, at first, that there’d been a typo in the description of the book and that it was paranormal romance – I’m used to the two going together like a fennec fox and oversized ears. But I was wrong – this was straight paranormal with just a tiny bit of romance tossed in, almost as an afterthought. Which is kind of a shame given that this book showed some relationship progression that deserved a good bit more screen time than it received.

I have to say that the secondary characters absolutely won my heart and made me want to read more of the series. From Molly the Brownie to Maurice the Closet Monster to Iris the Skunk-Ape, all of them were beautifully developed with just enough “humanity” to appeal to readers, yet there’s just enough otherworldly about them to set them apart. Sarah, Zoey’s best friend and business partner, turned out to be the surprise hit for me – she’s a perfect blend of friend, confidante, judge, and kicker-of-behinds when needed.

Overall, the book felt a little light in places, as if there could have been a little more literary meat in there, but it was trimmed off for some reason. I wanted to know a bit more of the Collector’s story – there weren’t enough details in there to satisfy inquiring minds. I wanted to know about motivation for the Collector’s actions and even a little history. Certain important plot points weren’t elaborated on to the point where they made sense – it was if I were grabbing for explanations and hoping what I took a guess at was correct. One other thing that didn’t quite work for me was the cliffhanger ending. While quite a bit of the main plot was resolved, it felt as though things were left too unfinished. The overall metaplot was progressed incrementally, at an almost glacial place, with bits dangled in front of the reader then snatched away, rather like a cat toy in front of a cat.

All of that being said – I want more. The narrative drew me in to the world, immersing me in quirky delight. The characters, for the most part, were vivid and interesting with quick, witty dialog. Since I came into the series with the third book, I decided to go back to read books one and two. The third follows in the same vein, but isn’t quite as strong as the others. It feels more like a transition into the next phase of the Monster Haven’s incarnation. The monster under the bed in this book isn’t quite as friendly as Maurice, but neither is it a grumpy, pregnant sea serpent. B-

Forever Inside the Mushroom Circle,

Mary Kate

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