The Night Has Teeth by Kat Kruger

NightHasTeeth_LowRes_1024x1024Connor Lewis, 17 years old and socially awkward, if off to Paris to study for a year on scholarship. He quickly makes two new friends, flirty and oddly attractive Madison and her boyfriend Josh. The couple seem constantly on the verge of breaking up, and sparks are flying between Connor and Madison. But what seems like it could be the set up for a typical YA romance becomes something altogether different.

We meet Connor’s host family: Amara, an attractive tattoo artist in her early twenties, and her broody boyfriend Arden. To say this is not your standard exchange student scenario would be a huge understatement. We flash back to his childhood, and discover he bit a boy, badly, on his first day of school, and has been an outcast ever since. Now in Paris, Connor discovers an underworld of werewolves: the born (who transform into majestic wolves)  and the bitten (the half-man, half-beast monsters we are more familiar with).

Throw in some beautiful people, the City of Light (and the dark tunnels beneath it), a creepy cemetery or two, and a novel scientific theory on the evolution of the werewolf, and you’ve got yourself a damn fine story.

“The night has teeth. The night has claws, and I have found them.” — Eyewitness account of the Wolf of Magdeburg, 1819

So if it isn’t your standard YA fantasy romance, what is it? It’s a part paranormal, part sci-fi, and all parts awesome werewolf story. I know, you are skeptical. So was I. Twilight kinda killed werewolves for anyone not a Twihard. (Dear God I just used one of their made up words.) But honestly, Kruger has told a fascinating story, which is of course just the set up for a larger story – this book is part 1 of the Madgeburg Trilogy (part 2 is due out this summer).

I thoroughly enjoyed The Night has Teeth, and recommend it highly. I will disclose a personal bias: Ms. Kruger is a friend of mine.  I read it months ago, and hesitated to post a review as it was hard to find the right voice to review a friend’s work. I wanted to convey how much I enjoyed it without gushing and coming across as fake. I hope I have accomplished that… and I hope you check it out the book and enjoy it too.

Paperback: 306 pages
Publisher: Fierce Ink Press (Sep 23 2012)
ISBN-10: 0988106701
ISBN-13: 978-0988106703

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

Twin brothers Victor and Konrad Frankenstein are inseparable, and together with friends Elizabeth and Henry embark on numerous adventures – real and imaginary. Their happy youth ends quickly one day as Konrad falls extremely ill, and in desperation, Victor turns to alchemy, and the forbidden library discovered in their ancient family home, to find a cure for his brother.

Having watched the play and read another retelling of the Frankenstein story last October, I could not resist revisiting the characters again.  I’m also a sucker for stories involving alchemy or magic, so why not? It was the perfect read for a short airplane ride.

Oppel’s novel is set earlier in Victor’s life, and introduces a twin brother to the narrative. The imminent death of his twin provides the perfect explanation for young Victor’s descent into the world of alchemy and other (future) questionable scientific endeavors. We also see his passion (perhaps misguided) as well as hints of the arrogance and selfishness that lead to his ruin. Great precursor’s to Mary Shelley’s character, without hitting you over the head with obvious links.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of adventure in the story, its translation into young adult material,  and the budding romance/unrequited love story between Victor and Elizabeth, I wasn’t completely sold on Oppel’s take on the story and characters. Having lived through these experiences with alchemy, and the at times drastic results of their experimenting, I am not convinced that this young Frankenstein would go on to create the monster now so well associated with his name.

Of course, Oppel is not done. I did not know it when I was reading, but This Dark Endeavor is part one of a planned trilogy. There is still much left to read before the doctor’s demise.

Note: I don’t like to label books as “for boys” or “for girls” as I have always read books recommended for both. And yet, if you allow me to remove the quotation marks: this would be a great book for young boys. Yes there is some romance, but it is not a focus, and not overdone. It is filled with adventure and written from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy. Of course, I believe most girls will enjoy it as well.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (May 22, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1442403160
ISBN-13: 978-1442403161

Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Category: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Published Date: Sept. 14, 2008, Sept. 1 2009, Aug. 24, 2010

ISBN-10: 0439023483, 0439023491, 0439023513

ISBN-13: 978-0439023481, 978-0439023498, 978-0439023511

I guess technically, this is three books this week, not one, but I have a habit of looking at a series as one book, in parts.

Having finished a few long and/or dark books in the last few weeks, and starting to read Moby Dick – very long and a more difficult read, I was looking for something easy. My sister-in-law had been talking up this series when I chatted with her over Christmas, so last Thursday I bought the e-book version at lunch. Before I got back to work at 1:30 I had read 37% of it. It was exactly the addictive, easy-but-not-simple read I was looking for.

The Hunger Games is a young-adult science fiction dystopian trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. Our heroine is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives with her mother and sister in District 12 of the country of Panem – all that remains of what we now call North America. The 12 districts of Panem are controlled by a powerful government located in the central city called simply The Capitol. The Hunger Games of the title are an annual televised reality-show type event where one boy and one girl from each district are chosen to fight to the death, in a gruesome reminder that The Capitol holds the power, and not even children are beyond their reach. (This is in retaliation for an uprising by the districts, many decades earlier.)

When her 12-year-old sister is chosen to represent District 12, Katniss volunteers to replace her, and is sent off to The Capitol to compete, along with District 12’s other champion, Peeta Mellark. They are not friends, but many years earlier, Peeta saved the lives of Katniss and her family with a gift of food. So Peeta and Katniss struggle to trust and help each other survive the Games, with the knowledge that only one can survive in the end, which may mean killing one another before it is over.

That’s only the beginning of the first book – and I can’t tell you much more without spoiling it. Of course, with three books you can assume our heroine survives. Does she ever. Katniss is one of the most inspiring female characters I have read in young adult fiction. Collins has created an amazingly strong feminine character. She’s smart. She’s resourceful. She fights to the death. Even the typical love-triangle plot doesn’t turn her into a confused young girl stereotype. She is far from perfect, and could stand to put a little more trust in her instincts and in her friends, but given her life history it is not surprising that she doesn’t.

Simply put, these books were amazing. They took the dark themes of war, survival, tyranny and death and yet played out a beautiful story of friendship, loyalty and perseverance. Despite being written for a young audience, no theme was off-limits – except perhaps sex. Characters were remarkably chaste, despite all the kissing going on. (I remember reading books where teens had sex, or at least some serious making out and temptation. Is that not OK anymore? Particularly when compared to how realistic the rest of the interactions were.)

What struck me the most was the attitude towards war and killing. With the exception of a few characters, all struggle with the realities of taking another life. Whether it happened during the Games or later during the uprising, characters feel the killing, and deal with what can only be symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Violence is not glossed-over. It is not simplified. Characters deal with guilt and loss in very real ways. Also, with the exception of a few characters who are clearly meant to personify good and evil, all characters have a depth not usually seen in this genre. They question their own motivations. They change their opinions on matters, and change them again. They learn and grow based on what is happening around them.

If I can criticise anything it would be that by the end of book three I was beginning to be overwhelmed by just how many bad things are happening. I almost feel the story could have ended 2-3 chapters sooner, that some of the final battles and catastrophes were not necessary. I don’t know which I would choose to cut, only that I found myself wondering if it was ever going to end. And then it did, and I was devastated, because the story was so good I wanted it to continue.

Some of the fault there may also be mine. I read all three books in three days. I just couldn’t stop reading. Perhaps if I had paced myself better, if I’d had to wait for the release of the 3rd book, the ending would have seemed more fitting. Regardless, all three books are well worth the read. You won’t be disappointed.