I haven’t posted a review for two weeks. There’s a simple reason for this: up until now, I hadn’t finished a book for two weeks. After the 48-Hour Book Challenge, I was totally burnt out; I went from reading 6 books in 2 days to reading 1 book in a fortnight. After ingesting so many worlds and so many stories in so short a time, I needed some time to recoup.
So, instead of reading, I’ve been laying on the couch like a tuber (Pooka: animal or vegetable?), watching episode upon episode of “Parenthood” (Thank you, Netflix). It’s not even that good of a show. It deals with a lot of real world issues (autism, addiction, poverty, infidelity), and I prefer my issues to be fantasy world issues (of the scaly, fire-breathing variety: the kind of problems that can be defeated at the end of a pointy sword. Or at the very least, problems that don’t need to be taken one day at a time, that aren’t unrelenting – or, if they must be real, problems that are couched in metaphor, or cushioned by a heavier amount of humor & pretty words without so much straightforward drama). But, Lauren Graham is in it… and she was in “Gilmore Girls,” which means she has a “Forever Cool” pass in my book. And, more importantly, Peter Krause (of “Six Feet Under”) is in it… and he’s my biggest celebrity crush since David Boreanaz (after Jimmy Stewart, of course. I love a man who knows how to open his eyes and see what’s right in front of him). There’s just something about Peter Krause that brings a blush to my Pooka cheeks and gets my little, magical heart racing. Just look at his adorable face:
… I intended to choose one picture. I couldn’t. I’m sure you can understand why. I’m sure you can also understand, why then, while I obviously love to read, it was difficult to pull myself away from his entrancing visage. But I did it — for short blips of time that allowed me to read some short stories.
Title: Foretold: 14 Tales of Prophecy and Prediction
Genre: YA / Short Stories
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Hardcover: 368 pages
Is There a Pooka in This Book?: No, but there are spirit animals.
I picked up this collection mostly because it contained stories by both Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, co-authors of the Beautiful Creatures series. Equal to my love for those books is my wonder at how two different people could’ve turned out such a fluid, together narrative. I can’t imagine co-authoring a novel. I’m so particular. I would never be able to accept changes to my work made by my partner. I know this not only from having friends read & edit pieces of my own writing, but also from my daily work habits. I lead a weekly Story Time in the Children’s Library where I work, which is always accompanied by a craft. I don’t trust my co-workers or our very capable volunteers to help me cut out shapes (whether it’s a complicated shape, like a unicorn with a twisty horn and bifurcated hooves, or an easy one like a triangle or an eyeball), let alone trusting another person to help me bring a narrative with a whole world and whole characters to a place I’d want it to go (and let me tell you, it’d be a lot easier to let someone with human fingers cut out bifurcated hooves than to try to do it with my bunny paws, but I just can’t do it. I can’t relinquish control. The shapes must be perfect for the 5-year olds!). With the “Beautiful Creatures” books, I’ve always wondered who wrote what, who was in charge of what, if one author took the lead, if things that I didn’t like so much (like the god-awful, cheesy lyrics to the song “Sixteen Moons”) were the result of compromise and collaboration and if they wouldn’t be there if not for one of them insisting upon it. I wondered whose writing I liked better – Kami Garcia’s or Margaret Stohl’s – or, if I liked their writing equally. Or maybe I wouldn’t like anything either of them had written on their own. “Foretold” gave me the opportunity to place each of the authors side-by-side and compare. I know that’s not fair. And I know everyone probably does it to them. Maybe it’s even destroying their friendship. I hope not. That’d be awful. Nevertheless, it’s what I did. And, of course, I read the other stories, too.
What Made the Book Totally Worth Eating:
1. “Gentlemen Send Phantoms” by Laini Taylor.
This was the first story in the collection and it was a great one to start out with. It was expected – a YA supernatural romance – but it was fantastic! The tale takes place on Saint Faith’s Day (October 6th), when legend states that three unmarried girls can perform a ritual that will lure forth an apparition of the man each of them will marry. The three best friends in the story are as different as can be, but they’ve all got their eye on the same boy – a lanky redhead! Not the typical ladies’ man, right? Though all the girls are lovable, readers end up rooting for one over the others, wishing and hoping right along with her. The boy was definitely swoon-worthy – not daring, or reckless, or arrogant, or a musician, or brooding, or tortured, or smug, like most YA love interests – but so, so endearing. It was nice to see the girl go for the good guy right off the bat (not only after dating the typical love interest first, having her heart broken, and then realizing that her loyal best friend has been crushing on her all along). Sometimes girls like good guys! They’re sexy! Let’s not play into stereotypes, ladies. After reading the story, I looked up the author – Laini Taylor – only to find that she’s written a series I’ve often thought of reading, but have been warned off of by multiple people: “Daughter of Smoke & Bone.”
I’ve been told it’s like a poor man’s “Mortal Instruments” (by Cassandra Clare), but other reviewers be damned! I’m going to read these books now! Taylor’s writing was fabulous and I want more of it! I was also prompted to look up Saint Faith’s Day to see if it was Taylor’s invention or if the saint, and her rituals, were pre-existent. I found that they do exist! But also that I shouldn’t have been so quick to regret my confirmation name choice (Clare, after Saint Clare of Assisi, who created the first known monastic rule to be written by a woman). There’s this cool Patron Saint of Love vibe that Taylor draws on, but Faith was also 12 years old when she died, was tortured to death with a red-hot brazier, and “legends portray her as a patron who could turn against those who only gave small donations to her church at Conques,” which is kind of disgusting. I’ll stick with Clare (oh, I hope that’s not an omen, like after I read “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” I’ll be saying the same thing about “The Mortal Instruments” and Cassandra Clare!) but I do wish I knew about the legend when I was a little girl. I would’ve baked the hell out of that Dumb Cake with my two best friends! If I ever have a daughter, she’ll know…
2. “Misery” by Heather Brewer
Misery is the name of the town where the story’s protagonist lives. Funnily enough, Alek, “in the three years that he’d called Misery home, [had] experienced nothing worse than a strange sense of loss. An odd, unexplainable grief wafted through its windows and doors at every hour, as if the town’s inhabitants had been glazed in a thin film of sorrow and, perhaps, regret. But even with that strange, ever-present gloom, the town’s name had never made much sense to Alek. No one who lived here was miserable, exactly. They simple were. Nothing more. Nothing less” (144). This nothingness extends to the town’s physical realities – nothing is crimson or violet or verdant – everything in Misery is grey. Alek’s memory is grey, too. He, like the other residents of Misery, knows that he used to exist someplace else, but he can’t remember what that was like. The major drive of the story is that Alek’s about to be given a Gift, prophesied by the town Seer, for his birthday, just as every resident is given every year, and though the he’s never heard of a bad Gift, he’s nervous as Hell. Nervous? That’s an emotion. Uh-oh. I didn’t like this story quite as much as “Gentlemen Send Phantoms,” but it had a great mood & setting. I’m not sure if I’ll read more of Heather Brewer. She writes “The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod,” which look like trash, but potentially funny trash:
However, she also wrote this in her author bio: “Heather Brewer was not your typical teen, and she’s certainly not your typical adult. She dresses in black, decorates her office with antique medical instruments, and loves the music of Green Day.” That just screams “Look at me! Look at me! I’m so different!” I don’t know if I can stomach a whole novel/series written by someone like that. I guess I could try. But there’s so much out there to read.
3. “The Chosen One” by Saundra Mitchell.
At roughly 40 pages, “The Chosen One” is the longest story in the collection. I’m glad the editor, Carrie Ryan, was willing to grant Saundra Mitchell so much length. “The Chosen One” is very much a fairytale. The protagonist, Corvina, an illegitimate child of the King, lives in a castle along with her beautiful sister, Lucia, the King’s legitimate child & heir to the Throne. She’s permitted to be her sister’s maid and the two are incredibly close; they’re not only sisters, they’re best friends. When the Crowned Princess falls ill, Corvina takes it upon herself to find her cure – in the process, attempting to fulfill an age-old prophecy of the Kingdom of Vernal, though she does not fit the description of the Hero. Though not immediately apparent, Corvina is “deformed,” having been horribly burned in a fire. She repeats time & again that she’s not a desirable thing, but the story proves otherwise. She’s also never been out of the Castle, but without so much as a second thought, she sets out into the deep, dark, woods, alone (at first, except for the company of her trusty steed) and she survives. “The Chosen One” wields some serious girl power & it’s powerful sentence-by-sentence, to boot. I love that Corvina has (as a woman) not only the feminine power to create but to tear down, too! And I like that it’s good destruction instead of negative – showing that some things need to be broken. I was really surprised to find that Mitchell had written “The Vespertine,” which I read a few years back & found lacking. She’s written a bunch since then, though, and I’m willing to give her another try. (If anyone has a suggestion as to where I should start, I’d be glad to accept it).
4. “Fate” by Simone Elkeles
This was just a simple little story about some teens living in an RV park, who fall in love. But it was really cute and sweet. The only piece I didn’t like was the bit at the end, where the boy tells the girl he’s falling for her and she responds, “If we ever get married, we’ll have to name our first kid ________” (I don’t want to ruin the little bit of wordplay, which is the only thing that kept me from puking at the statement). I hate that the author implies that children are a necessary product of marriage. She manages to say “if” we get married, which is great — that “if” sort-of prevents the message from being that love must always lead to marriage, but that forward-thinking interpretation is ruined in the same breath. This isn’t a great endorsement for the story, and I’m not going to read anything else by the author, so I’m just as puzzled as to why I’ve listed the story here as you are. That’s okay. What’s done is done.
5. “The Killing Fields” by Carrie Ryan.
“The Killing Fields” is the editor’s story, and I didn’t feel like it was included just because she was the editor and could do whatever she wanted; I felt like it deserved to be there. It’s a very gritty story, about this woman who takes on her father’s role as “Gardner.” This does not mean that she plants flowers. She metaphorically “prunes the hedges” in the Emperor’s Court. She kills those who step out of line, first by beating them in a race through the gardens, then by strangling them to death if she wins. If they win (which they never do), they’re permitted to live and are exiled. Like Corvina in “The Chosen One,” Tanci shows that women are just as capable of destruction as they are creation… but it’s not a positive thing. She does it to prove herself to her father, to show that she can be like a man, like the son he’s always wanted, and not to show that she makes her own rules and defines herself. She may destroy a bit of her society’s patriarchy but it’s such a small piece in such a wrong-thinking world, and she begins to destroy herself in the process. She falls in love with a prisoner, Rete, who is slated to race her and die by her hands, but through this love, she finds her own identity – sending the message that women don’t have to be effaced when they find love. Their identities don’t have to disappear – they can be made stronger and clearer if it’s the right kind of partnership. Carrie Ryan is known for her zombie series, “The Forest of Hands and Teeth.” I read the series. All of it. And it was okay. I liked that the zombies were called “The Unconsecrated” and that her society was run by “The Sisterhood,” a fanatical religious group led by women, but I found her protagonist to be excruciatingly whiny and irritating, and her prose to be repetitive. “The Killing Fields” was much, much better. It seems like she’s really evolved & grown.
What I Spit Back Out:
1. The Mind is a Powerful Thing” by Matt De La Pena
I understand that Ryan was trying to make the collection diverse and multicultural and inclusive, and that’s an important and a noble goal, but this story just fell flat for me. It seems like she could have chosen something better. “The Mind is a Powerful Thing” is about an inner-city girl who is “obsessed with news shows about forced entries, kidnappings, brutal killings, and serial rapes” (162). She’s always on the look-out, convinced that someone’s going to try to make her the victim of one of these crimes. Her obsession becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Joanna seems awful to be around, constantly quoting statistics at her friends, who are simply trying to celebrate her birthday and get her to relax a little bit. It’s one thing to educate and look out for; it’s another to harp and to bring facts and figures up in inappropriate settings. In his quest to show what it’s like to live in a poor area, in his quest to make teen readers understand and inspire change, De La Pena forgets to make his protagonist likable. There’s nothing about her that shows who she is, other than a ball of fear, which is sad… but it also doesn’t make for a good read or a dynamic, complex, convincing, or real character.
2. “Homecoming” by Rachel Mead
Rachel Mead is the author of two wildly popular series, “The Vampire Academy” and “Bloodlines.” In “Homecoming,” readers follow Dimitri and Rose, who I assume are two characters from one or the other of her series. Without having read either series, I was lost. I tried to enjoy “Homecoming” on its own, but there were so many questions left unanswered without the necessary context. Mead’s vampire lore is very complex and atypical. There are Moroi (living (?) magic-wielding vampires), Strigoi (evil, undead, blood-drinking vampires), Dhampir (half-human, half-vampires) and none of these concepts were adequately explained. This story didn’t belong in the collection. It wasn’t that it was poorly-written, it was just confusing and piecemeal.
What I Put in My Mouth & Chewed Around for So Long, Puzzling Over, Trying to Decide Whether It Was Worth Consuming Or Not, That Eventually It Just Turned Into Mush and I Swallowed It By Default Without Ever Coming to a Conscious Decision to Do So:
1. “The Angriest Man” by Lisa McMann
I didn’t know what to do with this story. It was depressing. The plot was weird. The character was weird. He was raised in isolation, so his weirdness is only realistic and to-be-expected, but it made me very uncomfortable. It’s about a boy who suffers from domestic abuse, both verbal and physical. His biological mother told him that he was unwanted – told him that he was stillborn, not breathing, until a bee stung him and shocked the life into him. She told him she wished that bee had never stung him. She told him that the bee was born out of a flower on a man’s grave. That man was “the angriest man.” She told him that the bee died after it stung him because “It took one look at what it stang, and died!” The boy involuntarily makes a growling sound, one that constantly emits from his throat, one that he can’t stop, and because of his verbal tic, his mother apparently “went mad” after six years and “sent the boy away.” So he’s raised by a foster family that keeps him in the basement, assuming that he’s “bad” because of his growling. In the story, present-day, it’s the boy’s eighteenth-birthday and he’s finally striking out on his own, leaving a life of abuse behind. But because the boy was raised in isolation, or maybe because he has a disability (which isn’t an outlandish assumption, considering that he almost died in childbirth), his consciousness is atypical. He refers to his “private parts.” On his journey away from home, he rubs himself against a tree to orgasm. I just… I didn’t know what to do with that. But I really enjoyed McMann’s writing style. I love her description of a graveyard: “The cemetery is lush and green from the nutrient-rich soil…Souls tunnel away under rows of boxes and roads, reaching out and tangling up with all the others; an enormous spirit ant farm beneath my feet” (58). I love that the boy refers to his birthday as “the anniversary of the death of the bee” (53). Again, I felt uncomfortable at the story’s conclusion. The boy leaves behind his foster “home” only to go to the graveyard, to find the headstone of “the angriest man,” and to settle himself on top of it, until, quite fantastically, he dies and goes “at last to the place where no bones, where no bees, can find [him]” (60). What message does that send? Sometimes things are so bad that death is the only answer? Is that really the best thing to include in a book geared toward teens?
… I’m interested in reading something else by Lisa McMann, but also wary.
2. “Burned Bright” by Diana Peterfreund
Peterfreund’s submission is about a religious group preparing for the End Times, on the Eve of the Apocalypse. The protagonist is the minister’s daughter, who is a definite Believer. She thinks The Rapture is upon them, that the Faithful will be taken into the heavens, and she can do nothing but pray fervently to her Savior. When, after being struck by a particularly exhausting bout of Spirit, she passes out and wakes up… alone, she decides she’s been Left Behind. She wonders why, despairing, until she encounters another Follower, a boy her own age, who tells her that there are others left and that they’re tearing each other apart. She then divines that she was Left Behind to lead them out of their sorrow, out of their anger and their madness, encouraging them to lead good lives anew so that they can all be taken up in a Second Wave to meet her father (the minister) and the Father (God) in the Kingdom. What she doesn’t know is that EVERYONE was left behind, including her father, and that he’s telling them that SHE was taken into Heaven to prepare the way for them. When the two of them meet, things do not go well, and the story’s a cautionary tale about fundamentalism, about what it means to lead a life devoid of questioning, and about the scary lengths that people will go to in order to cling to old beliefs. I think I feel so uncertain about the story because there’s no strong character to cling to – no hope for humanity. But I guess you, as the reader, are meant to be the hope.
You may have noticed that there are some stories that didn’t make it into any of the above three categories. There were 14 tales and I only mentioned 9 of them. That’s because the others were just plain “meh.” I read them. They were fine. But that’s it. They don’t really warrant blogging about. One of the stories was by Meg Cabot, and, though I’ve been told it’s weird, that’s kind of how I feel about all of her writing. It’s “meh.” But I do love the first “Princess Diaries” movie… and I haven’t read any of that series… it’s just that nothing else I’ve read of hers has made me want to pick it up. The included story, “Out of the Blue,” was not great. I read all of the first book in the “Abandon” series, which reimagines the Persephone myth. I even picked up the second book in that series, “Underworld,” and I stopped reading a few chapters in. They’re not great. She’s Meh Meg. The other unimpressive stories, surprisingly, include those by both Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl! Yowza! I did not see that one coming! If pressed, I’d say I liked Kami Garcia’s more than Margaret Stohl’s, but neither blew me away. I guess I’ll have to read, respectively, both of their upcoming novels “Unbreakable” (coming out in October) and “Icons” (out now and sitting on my bedside table, waiting to be read). Further investigation and analysis is required!
My final thought about the collection is that it’s very diverse, very eclectic. It included stories about alternative sexualities, alternative religions, ancient “once upon a time”s, modern technology, male and female heroes and heroines, creation, destruction, princesses, aliens, vampires, students, and carnies. Because of that, it was an engrossing read. It worked well as Pooka reading, and I think it would work well for adults who read YA, but by that very fact, I don’t know that it would work for teens. I think teens like things that speak to them and this collection was too all-over-the-place for any one person to be able to identify with the whole of it. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d love to read a review of “Foretold” written by someone who’s actually a young adult. But for now, I’m just happy that I’ve found some more YA authors to pursue. And that I can get back to Peter Krause’s face for a little bit before my next read.
Pooka Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Nibbles