Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Secret Circle Trilogy by L.J. Smith

Cassie Blake is devastated when her summer vacation in Massachusetts is made permanent when her mother insists they have to move in with her grandmother in small town New Salem.  But her disappointment soon gives way to shock when she encounters The Club at school--the elite clique that even the teachers submit to.  But the biggest shock isn't that they're witches, it's that Cassie is actually one of them.  Soon she is locked in an internal struggle between those who use their powers for good and for evil, and she soon discovers that the decision is not as easy as it seems.  When a centuries-old evil starts to infiltrate their coven and tries to bring them all under its control, Cassie finds herself with choices to make, and one wrong step could spell doom to all.

I was going to review these one volume at a time (the "trilogy" is currently packaged into two volumes), but I could not put them down!  L.J. Smith does some fantastic world building and the story ensnared me.  The tension between the major characters is fantastic-- it's very refreshing to read a series where a coven isn't held together by "perfect love and perfect trust", but is held together mainly by heritage.  This leads to a lot of power plays and emotional mainipulation, which is so relatable and a large part of why I couldn't stop reading-- I had to make sure my favorite characters were going to be alright!

My favorite part of the series, though, was the love triad of Cassie, Diana, and Adam.  I say "triad" instead of "triangle" because despite the competing romantic interests of the three, they remain a cohesive unit bound by love and friendship between all of them.  (I almost get the sense that Smith wanted to set-up a three-way, polyamorous relationship, but wasn't allowed to or didn't think she could get away with it.)  It is a much healthier take on a dynamic that flourishes in YA lit these days.  It's also just far more interesting and heart-wrenching to see three people who love and respect each other deal with this issue, instead of the typical tug-of-war of one person between two people who hate each other.

Of course, the witchy aspect is what we're here for, and Smith pulls it off brilliantly!  She sets up a complex internal mythology that has endless potential for expansion (which I expect to see on the TV show!)  And even though they originally came out almost 20 years ago, this series holds up remarkably well (only the characters' birthdates really threw me).  The writing can be a little melodramatic at times, but it did its job of roping me in!  Pick it up!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Old Magic by Marianne Curley

When a freak storm happens inside their classroom on Jarrod Thornton's first day at his new school, resident "freak" Kate Warren has her suspicions.  When an earthquake hits just the local cafe-hangout when Jarrod is there, Kate is absolutely sure.  Jarrod has magical powers, just as Kate and her grandmother Jillian do.  Seeing how ostracized Kate and Jillian are in their town, Jarrod is not eager to associate with her, especially since he doesn't believe in magic and that's all Kate wants to talk to him about.  And besides, if he has magical powers, then why is he--and his entire family--so unlucky?  For Kate the answer is obvious: the Thorton family is cursed.  Jarrod categorically rejects the idea at first, but after digging into his family history, he finds the theory impossible to ignore.  And when tragedy strikes, he cannot resist Kate's offers to help end the curse once and for all.

I loved the dynamic of this book.  The chapters alternate between Jarrod and Kate's POVs, which not only gives you a greater view of the plot, but also allows both leads the chance to develop.  Curley nails the nuances of human interaction, how people perceive each other, how they act outwardly towards each other as opposed to how they actually feel.

The plot was filled with good ideas, but it kind of fell apart for me in a few places--but to its credit, a lot of that had to do with how I felt about the characters.  For example, when Kate and Jarrod go back in time to break the curse, I felt like there were too many characters and things going on that blotted out a lot of what I loved about their relationship.  However, it was still an engaging, perfectly-paced story.  As a history nut, I was totally hooked by the setting of Thorntyne Castle, and I really appreciate how much thought Curley put into the complexities of time travel.  A great read!

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