Thursday, 14 April 2011

Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting

‘Desires of the Dead’ is the outstanding follow up to Kimberly Derting’s debut ‘The Body Finder’.  While the story picks up a few months after the events of the first novel it works perfectly well as a standalone story.  However, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll want to read both of them!
Once again the story follows the events in the life of Violet Ambrose.  Violet is a girl with a gift: she has the ability to find the bodies of murder victims through the echoes they emit.  The story plunges rapidly into the main action when Violet discovers a body in a shipping container.  She decides to contact the police with an anonymous tip.  Unfortunately it wasn’t anonymous enough and Violet finds herself firmly in the sight of the FBI.
There is a lot more to the story than the brief summary above but to write more would be to include spoilers –and I really wouldn’t want to ruin the story for anyone! 
So, what’s so good about this book?  Well, Kimberly Derting’s debut novel was accomplished and engaging but this book is so much more.  Most of the issues I had with the first novel – few though they were - have been ironed out resulting in a tightly written and fast paced read.  Violet Ambrose is a fully developed character who undergoes real growth and development in this novel.  Her attitude to her ability is explored as Violet is forced to consider what her talent means to other people.  Additionally, her growing relationship with her boyfriend Jay continues to develop in a realistic way.  Unlike far too many leading ladies, Violet is no sappy heroine whose only focus in life is her relationship with her boyfriend (fill in the novel of your choice here!)  Violet is the centre of this story and a lot of what she does and experiences does not involve Jay; she deals with things perfectly well on her own.
And this is where I have a problem.  Violet wanders around at dead of night, drives her car into cities and deals with malicious calls all without parental intervention or informing her very worried and amazingly patient boyfriend.  Yes, she leaves the odd note on the table telling them not to worry but, considering what happened to Violet in the first novel, the absence of parental involvement was unrealistic.  Derting explains this by having Violet claim she wants to protect them from any more pain and worry on her account.  This was really disappointing for me as one of the things I enjoyed so much about the first novel was the fact that Violet wasn’t alone but had a loving and supportive family, unlike so many other Young Adult characters who may as well be orphans.
However, what I enjoyed about this novel far outweighs any complaints.  Apart from enjoying a really engaging story I also love Derting’s writing style which is incredibly visual.  Her use of language is precise with not a word wasted or out of place.  A particular strength is the way in which Violet’s ability to hear the echoes of the dead is brought hauntingly and achingly to life.  The language and imagery is visceral in its intensity.  As with her first novel, Derting doesn’t skirt around the horrors of Violet’s ability and the first body she discovered reduced me to tears.  Violet certainly deals with it all better than I would!
 In between Violet’s chapters, the story is, like ‘The Body Finder’, interspersed with chapters written from the point of view of another character, one who means harm to Violet.  Unlike Violet’s chapters, these all have title headings taken from the seven deadly sins – envy, wrath etc.  While interesting this wasn’t as effective as when used in the first novel.  However, considering the disturbed nature of the serial killer from ‘The Body Finder’ that would be pretty hard to top. 
Derting also introduces some now characters in her novel, the most interesting of which was a mysterious young man called Rafe who also has abilities of his own.  While the story was complete in itself, Derting introduced enough new elements that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Violet’s adventures continued.  I just hope she doesn’t go down the route of one girl having to choose between two boys.  How tedious!

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

In a Young Adult book market currently experiencing a glut of paranormal themed books “The Body Finder” is a breath of fresh air!  Don’t misunderstand me – my reading material of choice is generally paranormal romance or urban fantasy – but too often I read books with different covers, different authors but the same old story tropes tirelessly trotted out.  “The Body Finder” is different.
The book follows the story of Violet Ambrose who has the ability to sense the bodies of those, both human and animal, who have died unnatural deaths and the echoes these murders leave on the killer – whether the killer is a cat who has just eaten a mouse or a man who has just killed a teenage girl.  And that’s where the story begins.  Violet’s town is the hunting ground of a serial killer, the murders are getting closer and closer to home and the echoes of the murdered girls are calling to violet.  I’ll stop there before I give away any spoilers.
This is the first novel written by Kimberly Derting and it’s a great beginning.  Her writing style is engaging and her main character, Violet, is well developed and likable.  Of course there’s teenage angst aplenty as Violet discovers, much to her chagrin that she has fallen in love with her best friend Jay.  What is a girl to do?  On top of that she’s also dealing with the killer stalking her town.
I loved the way in which Derting described Violet’s ability and the way in which a person’s echo was as unique as the person themselves.  I also liked the fact that Violet wasn’t struggling alone with her ability but had a close and loving family –and boyfriend – that knew about her unique talent and were there to support her. 
The book is written in third person and is told from the perspective of Violet.  Interspersed with these chapters, however, is the voice of the killer and Derting does an outstanding job of detailing his genuinely disturbing thoughts and the way in which he views his victims.  This added a genuinely tense element to the book.
However, while the book was a great read it wasn’t flawless.  It took a while for the action to start and I must admit to getting a little impatient and was tempted to skip ahead – but I didn’t!  There was also the developing relationship between Violet and Jay.  While I loved how they were slowly discovering each other anew it did rather push the murder mystery to the side.  Considering the nature of the crimes it didn’t sit well with me that such a powerfully written and horrifying crime should take a back seat to anything.  The ending, while dramatic, was also rather contrived.  Violet is, by this point in the novel, under police guard and her friend abandon her in a conveniently isolated part of the school?  Seriously! 
However, these minor moans aside this book was a great read.  I’m just about to read the follow up: Desires of the Dead and am looking forward to seeing where Derting takes our heroine next.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Carnegie Award 2011

The shortlist for the Carnegie book award has finally been announced!  The following six books are all candidates for the 2011 award.  Looks like a  good selection this year!

Reviews to follow.

The Bride's Farewell
The Bride's FarewellMeg Rosoff

Prisoner of the InquisitionPrisoner of the Inquisition
Theresa Breslin

White CrowWhite Crow
Marcus Sedgwick

The Death Defying Pepper Roux
The Death Defying Pepper RouxGeraldine McCaughrean

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking)Monsters of Men
Patrick Ness

Out of Shadows

Out of Shadows
Jason Wallace

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Book 1 of 3
 ‘Shiver’.  And I certainly did.  Shiver that is!  I read this book in one sitting with my heart sitting firmly in my mouth!  What a find.

Maggie Stiefvater’s ‘Shiver’ follows the story of Grace.  Attacked as a child in her own garden by wolves, Grace is saved by a member of the pack; a strange yellow-eyed wolf.  Despite the attack, Grace remains fascinated by the wolves in the woods at the back of her house.  She is strangely drawn to one wolf in particular and winter after winter she sits on her porch and watches her yellow-eyed wolf.  In return, he watches her.  However, things become dangerous when a local boy is killed and suspicion falls on the wolves.  In her attempts to save the wolves, Grace stumbles across a boy, a boy with brilliant yellow eyes, lying naked on her porch with a shotgun wound.

Stiefvater’s take on werewolves is fascinating and unique.  Those that are bitten spend every winter, as the season becomes colder, as a wolf.  As the world thaws and summer returns, they return to human form.  While in wolf form the memories and desires of their human life fade and the nature of the wolf dominates.  As the years pass their time as a human becomes shorter and shorter until eventually only the wolf remains.  For the first time I really felt that an author portrayed the “curse of the werewolf” as exactly that!  This wasn’t some fun adventure where once a month you got to run around and howl at the moon.  Stiefvater brings to harrowing life the crushing sense of loss and a life left unfulfilled through the character of Sam, Grace’s werewolf, who wants nothing more than to be human and to be with Grace.

The narrative voice is equally divided between the two main characters: Grace and Sam.  I thought this worked well as both characters are fully realised and their two perspectives complement each other beautifully. In Grace, Maggie Stiefvater has created a protagonist who is determined and knows her own mind.  She has had little choice in this as, while she shares a house with her parents, she doesn’t share their lives and has had to raise herself.  When Sam’s narrative voice takes over I could barely keep from crying.  Time is running out for Sam.  Each year he spends less and less time as a human and Sam suspects this will be his last human year.  His grief is palpable and a bittersweet melancholy threads through his narrative as he deals with finding Grace and the knowledge that he will lose her all too soon.

Maggie Stiefvater perfectly captures the seemingly doomed love between Grace and Sam.  Their quiet desperation, as time passes and winter encroaches further into their lives, is heartbreaking.  Steifvater writing style is quite lyrical and beautifully descriptive, as she slowly details the growing relationship between the two lovers. The constant danger posed by the cold made winter itself almost a living presence within the novel and I found myself actually viewing the cold as a character – one I definitely wasn’t rooting for!

While the story of Grace and Sam takes centre stage there are a number of secondary characters who add breadth to the plot.  My favourite has to be Isabel: sharp, sassy and with a fabulous line in sarcasm that left me smiling but also glad she wasn’t aiming that sharp tongue at me!  There are many interesting revelations throughout the novel, all of which add interest and depth to the main plot.

For me, this is a book for my ‘keeper’ shelf!