Tuesday Reads: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

I’m not often into vampires. I choose my vampire media very carefully, and usually only after it’s been recommended to me by someone whose taste I trust.

I’m saying this because I know a lot of people who have been burned by Twilight and the boom in vampire YA that followed it. They hear “this YA book has vampires in it” and shut down. If you’re one of those people, I want you to know that I’m the same way, and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is different.

If you’ve read Holly Black before, that’s probably not a surprise. She’s an amazing, talented writer and a super-awesome person. I’m already crazy about her, and then I read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and it just might be my favorite of her books. (And not just because it has one of the most gorgeous covers, oh my god, look at it)

“I haven’t had a very good day. I think I might still be hung over and everyone’s dead and my root beer’s gone.”

These are not secret vampires. These are vampires that the entire world knows about, and we get to see how the world has responded and changed. One big part? Coldtowns. They’re walled cities where the vampires live with some humans. Thing is, once you go in, you don’t get out. Our protagonist, Tana, is headed straight to the nearest Coldtown in a desperate attempt to save herself, her ex-boyfriend, and a new, mysterious friend.

Although Coldtowns are (usually) a one-way trip for vampires and humans alike, they’re far from being a dirty secret. The Coldtown Tana goes to has huge, decadent vampire-hosted parties every night, and these parties are streamed online for the entire world to see. Humans attend hoping to be infected, to become one of the undead, but vampires are very picky about who they turn.

People liked pretty things. People even liked pretty things that wanted to kill and eat them.

Holly Black has a gift for dialogue, especially banter. The plot is pretty serious. It’s literally life or death.Tana’s trying to save herself and others but could very easily just end up getting herself and everyone else killed. I love a book that can take a serious plot like that and still provide humor. In bad situations, I’m the first person to start cracking jokes. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown balances real emotion with Buffyesque banter, and does so beautifully.

And yes, there’s some heart-pounding, swoon-worthy romance, but for me, it doesn’t take over the book. There’s enough to satisfy me and make me squeal (“GOD, WHY WON’T YOU JUST KISS ALREADY?”), but Tana still stands on her own and has more going on than just the cute new guy.

What I’m getting at is: READ THIS BOOK.

Medium: Kindle
Stars: 5/5

Tuesday Reads: The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

In blood as in drought or in poverty or in flame, Oleander was Oleander, and there were still crops to be sown and meth to be harvested, pies to be baked and pigs to be prized, bargains to be hunted and farms to be foreclosed, cherries to be popped and hearts to be broken, worship to be offered and sinners to be shaped.

I didn’t know that The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman existed until the day it was released, and my Twitter feed was flooded with love for The-Waking-Darkit. So many people were telling me to read it that I immediately bought it on my Kindle. What can I say? I’m vulnerable to literary peer pressure.

I’m glad I did it. It’s horror YA (which I now seriously need more of, so send recommendations my way) about Oleander, a small town in Kansas. One day, for reasons no one can understand, twelve people jump right off the deep end, and commit murder-suicides. In Oleander, they call it the killing day – and a year later, when the town is finally starting to heal, a tornado rips through the town and brings the insanity back with it.

Violence rules Oleander, with murder becoming not only common but accepted – particularly when it’s righteous, Old-Testament style. A man suspects his wife of cheating and drags her naked out into the streets to be stoned. Parents beat their gay child near to death and no one blinks an eye. A group of high school jocks turned vigilante seek out anyone breaking the town’s new, barbaric rules – or that they just, you know, hate – and punish them.

Reviews will tell you that if you like Stephen King, you’re going to like The Waking Dark, and I agree. The thing that’s scary about The Waking Dark is not that the town starts committing these awful, inhuman crimes. The scary part is that they’re only showing the darkest part of humanity. Nothing they do is out of the realm of imagination – and if you read Stephen King, you know that’s how he rolls, too.

If you like horror, you need to read this book. And yeah, if you like Stephen King, you really need to read this book.

Medium: Kindle
Stars: 4/5

Tuesday Reads: OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

But if I don’t drive by Austin’s place, he might vanish. Into thin air or a hospital or a foreign country…

If I don’t check on Austin, I might vanish.

Poof.

My job at that #mww13 thing I blogged about was to assist literary agent Victoria Marini. Since she was there, a recently released book from one of her authors was being sold. The title and the cover both grabbed me pretty instantly, and I bought it, but I didn’t actually start reading it until last week. And, review spoiler alert: It was amazing.

Let’s talk about OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu.

OCDLoveStoryI admit I was a little nervous going into this book because here’s the thing: OCD has become kind of a joke in our society. It tends to be seen by those who don’t have real world experience with it as a cute quirk. I know more people than I can count who casually call themselves OCD because they like things clean or because it kind of annoys them when something’s off center. They aren’t experiencing actual obsessions or compulsions, but they say it anyway, because OCD has been generalized into just liking things clean and orderly and kind of being upset if they’re not. It’s like how sociopaths are all serial killers and if someone’s bipolar then clearly they’re just completely crazy.

Only those things aren’t true, and OCD isn’t a cute quirk or joke. I don’t have personal experience but I know enough to know that, so going into a YA book about a girl – Bea – falling for a guy – Beck – I was worried that the book would take the quirky/joke line and make me want to headdesk.

It doesn’t.

OCD Love Story shows the ugliness of the disorder, and it does so beautifully. It would be so easy to blur the line between the disorder and the person, and make the person ugly as well as the disorder, but OCD Love Story doesn’t do that. I love these characters. Even as I watch Beck do things that, in person, would make me feel terribly awkward and embarrassed, going through these obsessions and compulsions that I can never fully comprehend, I love him. Bea’s OCD pushes her repeatedly into stalker behavior that terrifies me, but I love her.

And while the characters have self-deprecating humor about their own issues, their disorders are not a joke. They are horribly, painfully real. Their compulsions and obsessions make them harm themselves even though they don’t really want to be hurting.

The cruelest trick of OCD Love Story is that it makes you feel what they feel. I do not have OCD. I have never had OCD. But I felt Bea’s panic when she couldn’t go through with her compulsions. I felt my pulse race with hers and I felt her need to just pinch her thigh or overshare or check up on the couple she’s stalking. I knew that these compulsions were harming her but I felt her need and I hoped for her to get her release. When she starts having to face her problems and let go of her obsessions, I panicked with her. I hated her therapist with her. I know how destructive her behavior is and I still thought, “No, no, why are you doing this? It makes her feel better. It makes her happy. Don’t take it away from her!” I had to put the book down and breathe and get out of her mind.

That’s both a praise for the author and a caveat for the reader. I don’t suffer from OCD but I do have severe anxiety, and Bea’s own anxiety was written so realistically and graphically that I couldn’t quite put up a wall between her and me. After reading five chapters, I was in love, but I also spent the rest of the day in a state of anxiety. If you’re someone who empathizes heavily with characters – like me – and/or suffers from disorders along the lines of these characters – like me – I suggest you take this book slowly. That is, assuming you can. Once I picked it up the second time, I couldn’t put it down until I was done.

Medium: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5

Tuesday Reads: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

“I know what it’s like when you can’t get no one to listen to you. When what you say don’t matter. I half think every girl knows what it’s like to be silenced.”

ScarletScarlet by A.C. Gaughen was recommended to me ages ago when I was looking for some good YA, and I definitely think this qualifies. It’s a take on the Robin Hood mythos in which Robin Hood isn’t the main character. Instead, it’s our Maid Marian, in a form unlike any I’ve ever seen her in. She’s a thief on the run from her old life and a dangerous man. She’s a good shot with daggers and she doesn’t take to being bossed around by anyone – which is, in part, why she’s in disguise as a boy named Will Scarlet.

For one thing, Scar’s past won’t be looking for her as a boy. But she also knows that girls aren’t taken seriously. A boy thief is less likely to be messed with on the forest roads than a girl traveling alone. People will listen to a boy. They’ll just tell a girl to go home. This theme is pretty central in the book, as is Scar’s unwillingness to accept it.

This is probably one of the best Robin Hood retellings I’ve encountered. Those classic characters that we know so well – Robin, Friar Tuck, Little John, Maid Marian – are put into new roles as characters that are both familiar and yet entirely themselves. Plus, it’s chock full of girl power messages, and you know I love that.

I do have some issues with it, however. Robin acts like he has a right to know all of Scar’s secrets just because he’s told her some of his. He becomes furious with her whenever he learns that she’s kept something from him. I would understand annoyance or frustration, but he seems to think that he has a right to all of her memories and secrets. I’m not okay with that. Just like no one has a right to your body, no one has a right to your mind, either. I wish Scar had fought back a little more when he was angry at her for not telling him everything, instead of just (mostly) thinking that he was right.

Also, the Sheriff of Nottingham character was pretty weak, to me. An original villain was brought in, and the Sheriff was lost. He did some pretty evil stuff, but I never really got a sense of him as a character. Maybe I’m spoiled because I’ve been reading A Song of Ice and Fire and those characters have ALL OF THE DEPTH, ALL OF IT, but I just wanted more out of both him and the original villain. There wasn’t much to them except, well, evil.

Overall, I’m gonna say this is a good book that’s well worth reading, especially if you a) like Robin Hood and/or b) are craving some feminist YA.

Medium: Kindle
Stars: 4/5

Tuesday Reads: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

It’s no secret that I love YA, and I’ve fought with many people about its worth. They think it’s meaningless, written entirely for the financial gain, and contains no substance. Any actual reader of YA would know this isn’t true. YA is just as capable of giving us insight into the human condition as any other form of literature. It represents teenagers from all walks of life, and it doesn’t shy away from harsh topics. Many adults underestimate what teenagers can handle, but YA authors don’t. They know that teenagers are confronted, either in their personal lives or through their friends, with sex, drugs, abuse, eating disorders, rape, suicide, and many other awful things.

It also has a gorgeous cover.

It also has a gorgeous cover.

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff is about a girl trying to solve a string of murders while being haunted by her dead best friend. I went into it thinking it looked good and would be an entertaining ghostly murder mystery. Instead, it kept surprising me. First, I thought that Hannah’s best friend was killed by the murderer, but it quickly becomes clear that instead, she died of untreated anorexia.

At that point I thought, okay, this is a book about eating disorders, and I grew nervous. I’ve never struggled with an eating disorder, but I have trouble reading about them. I also wasn’t entirely sure where the murders were going to fit in. I kept going, though, because I was intrigued by the friendship between Hannah and Lillian and I’m a sucker for books about best friends. Then Hannah meets a boy, and I thought, oh, it’s a romance.

It was all of them. It’s a ghost story and a murder mystery, it’s about anorexia and the pressure to be perfect, it’s about best friends and how hard and horrible and beautiful those relationships can be, and it’s about first love. It’s about being haunted by more than just literal ghosts and about figuring out who you are beneath the mask that you put up for everyone else. It’s about finding your own strength.

It would be so easy to write about these topics and make it clunky and way too after-school special. But Yovanoff weaves it all together seamlessly. I spent the book stressed out by the growing impact Lillian was having on Hannah, giddy over Hannah’s new romance, and consumed by empathy for both girls, dead and alive. When Hannah starts to worry that her crush may be the killer, I felt her fear.

I haven’t shared Hannah and Lillian’s exact experiences, but I know what it’s like to love your best friend more than anything but also to hurt them and be hurt by them over stupid things. I know what it’s like to watch your best friend fade away and do any little thing you can to help but feel like it’s not at all enough. I know what it’s like to have a huge crush on a boy and then start to wonder if you can trust him at all.

Paper Valentine is the most painfully human ghost story I’ve read. If someone reads it and still thinks that YA has no substance, I’m not sure they’ll ever get it.

Favorite quote: “Our whole lives, it was like we were always trying so hard to be perfect – for our families and our friends, for each other – when the funny thing was, we didn’t have to. In the end, we were better than that.”

Medium: Kindle

Stars: 5/5