This was apparently a good week for books.
1. This week, I read Orson Scott Card's The Lost Gate (Whitney finalist), the first (apparently) in a series. The book follows Danny North, of *the* North clan (a family of magicians who are apparently the descendents of the Norse Gods). Danny's place in the clan is tenuous, since his gift hasn't yet manifested itself and, at 11, it should have presented long since. A chance encounter with a young girl from another clan tells Danny that he does, in fact, have a gift: He's a gate-maker, a gift that will get him killed if his family finds out about it. Danny flees the compound, stumbles from one seemingly chance encounter to another, and finally finds himself in a situation where he can learn about his powers in (relative) safety. I liked the premise of the book--it was fairly original and well-thought out. I also found myself interested in the story of a young mage on the parallel world of Westil.
But . . . I never really found myself connecting to Danny. I liked him, but I never felt as invested in his story as I wanted. There were also a few things that happened early in the story that didn't seem wholly necessary to Danny's development as a gatemage. So--most of Card's fans would probably enjoy the story, but it's definitely not his best. (My personal favorite has always been Enchantment--of the ones I've read).
2. C.J. Hill's (pseudonym for Janette Rallison) Slayers (another Whitney finalist). For the most part, I enjoyed this story of Tori Hampton, a sixteen-year-old senator's daughter who goes to a dragon camp to indulge her inner geek, only to find out that she's actually a "Slayer" (and yes, Rallison is alert to the fact that the name is slightly melodramatic)--someone with the DNA of a dragon knight in her blood, DNA that was activated while her mother was exposed, during pregnancy, to a dragon egg in the DC area. Despite some of the campy elements of the story (the jealous rival at the camp, Tori's slightly stuck-up attitude at the beginning, the inevitable hot guys), I thought the story was pretty believable. Tori grapples with the real consequences of her new identity and struggles to fit in among her fellow slayers. There was also a compelling love-triangle, which I'm a sucker for, and the writing was fun and fast.
3. Shannon Hale, Midnight in Austenland (this one was purely for me). In this book, Hale takes us back to the world of Austenland, where, for a fee, single women can indulge themselves in a couple of weeks of imaginary residence in Regency England. As a fan of Austen, I can definitely see the appeal of this kind of vacation, even if the idea of a pretend romance (that you pay for) always makes me feel a little creeped out. I enjoyed the first Austenland, but didn't love it (it didn't feel fully polished), but I really enjoyed this one. That might be partly because I identified with Charlotte Kinder, the recently divorced mother of two who is still trying to come to terms with her own identity and trying to stop being such an agreeable doormat (essentially). Charlotte reminded me a lot of Catherine Morland, from Northanger Abbey--a very unlikely choice of a heroine. Over the course of the novel, she gets the chance to be a heroine as she stumbles upon what might be a murder at Pemberly Park. I have to admit that the murder mystery was my least favorite part of the story line. Because Hale set up so much of the story alluding to Gothic Romances and Northanger Abbey, I spent several chapters confused as to whether or not the mystery was real or just part of Charlotte's imagination (and that may have been Hale's point). In any case, the mystery wasn't as compelling to me as Charlotte's gradual evolution and romance (which actually surprised me--usually I can spot the love interest earlier than that).
4. Carol Lynch Williams, Miles from Ordinary (Whitney finalist). This book was a hard one for me to read--there's a reason why my preferences in fiction run to lighter fare! This book follows 13-year-old Lacey Mills through an eventful 24 hours in her life. Lacey starts the day hopeful that things are on the mend for her and her mother, as her mother is about to start a real job at the grocery store and Lacey has a job at the local library. As the day progresses, however, we learn more about Lacey's background: about her mom's schizophrenia (or similar disorder) and cutting; the reason why her aunt left; and the fact that her mom believes that her father talks to her (even though he died before Lacey was born). As Lacey's day unravels, Lacy has to confront some unpleasant truths about her mother and her own history and find strength she doesn't know she has to cope. I found this book deeply disturbing--as I think Williams intended it to be. I also wasn't entirely sure about the ending: Lacey goes through an episode where it's not clear if something supernatural or psychotic is happening, and it seemed out of character for Lacey and threw me, as it also wasn't quite in keeping with the tone of the rest of the book. I also have mixed feelings about the voice--it was beautiful and well-done, but the voice itself seems middle-grade while the concept (and some of the stuff that goes down in the end) seems distinctly YA. I'm not sure who the book's target audience is. I have to say, if I were going to recommend a book for young readers on this topic, I'd prefer Claudia Mills' One Square Inch, which deals with a young boy's struggles with his manic-depressive mother. That also addresses mental illness, but in a way that's more appropriate for young readers (not so dark).