Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Book Review: Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl


Beautiful Creatures
(Caster Chronicles, Book 1)
Movie Tie0In Edition
Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Trade Paperback, 563 pages
Little, Brown and Company
November 20, 2012
Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, YA
Source: Marshall's Dept. Store

Synopsis:  The first book in a lush Gothic fantasy series for younger readers of Charlaine Harris and fans of Cassandra Clare.
 

This edition features exclusive movie cover art and a foldout poster!

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.



https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15789722-beautiful-creatures
 




Quite honestly, I don't think I've ever felt so conflicted over a book before. I wanted to love this novel. As I began to read it, I did start liking it, and initially at least, kept turning pages. Then I hated it and now I'm not really sure how I feel about it....

The one thing I do know is that, as I read, a feeling of OPPRESSION grew in me. And yet, I couldn't stop reading. This is certainly paradoxical!

The authors have a wonderful prose style, and their well-written descriptions make the setting come alive. The reader really does feel as if they're actually in the town of Gatlin, South Carolina.

The references to historical events related to the Civil War were really fascinating to read. I also enjoyed the authors' not-that-subtle ridicule of the townspeople's staunch defense of the Confederate side, to the point of staging yearly reenactments of one specific battle in the war, ignoring the fact that it was the North that ultimately won. 

The supernatural events and paranormal characters together make this novel a truly INTENSE experience. Of course, that doesn't mean the experience will necessarily be a pleasant one. It does mean that it will most likely remain indelibly impressed on a reader's memory banks, the way a traumatic event might be. All the unpleasantness, all the morbid feelings and darkness, will haunt the person who underwent the traumatic event. 

This is how I feel about this novel. It is a dark story. Some readers might disagree, but then, there are varying reading tastes in the world. I'm speaking from the viewpoint of someone who can't stomach the horror genre. And this novel does come close to a horror novel, at times. Well, the word "Gothic" should have alerted me; really, Gothic fiction is, after all, a very close cousin of horror fiction.

And yet.....even now, as I reminisce about a book I no longer own (I donated it to Goodwill, along with the rest of the books in this series), I can't seem to forget the plot....and I'm wondering whether I didn't appreciate it as I should have. But then again, I could not find the enjoyment in it that I unequivocally found in The Twilight Saga, for instance.

The love story is certainly a compelling one. Ethan Wate, the male teen protagonist, is the narrator. This was a rather refreshing change from all of the female narrators in YA novels dealing with paranormal romance and urban fantasy. At last we get the male point of view! And I did like Ethan. He's a very sweet, unassuming young man. And he falls totally in love with Lena Duchannes, the female protagonist. Both are Gatlin high school students.

One quibble I have with the authors regardng Ethan: there are times when he does NOT sound like a guy, but instead, well, more like a teen girl. His descriptions of clothing, for example, are sometimes too detailed to have come from a guy. Let's face it: guys, and ESPECIALLY teen guys, are not the most observant people in the world. 

Lena is a Caster, which is another way of saying that she's a witch, because she's a caster of spells. Although this makes her very different from Ethan, she cannot help feeling very attracted to him, a mortal. 

I liked Lena, too. She's very vulnerable in spite of her powers, which she can't always control, and is also a poet. In fact, she frequently likes to decorate her room at the infamous Ravenwood mansion with her poetic thoughts. These thoughts meander all over her bedroom walls, thus serving as a sort of protective cocoon for her. 

The other characters are memorable as well, although I have to be honest and state that I didn't like most of them, except for the teen couple, and the town librarian, Marian Ashcroft. This character endeared herself to me because of the fact that she had been Ethan's mother's best friend; furthermore, her take on the unusual events in the town, as well as the existence of the Casters, was a very well-balanced one. I really admired this character!

Well, I must admit that I do like Amarie (nicknamed "Amma") Trudeau. She has raised Ethan since his mother's death, and is very protective of him. She cares about him as if he were her own son, or grandson. What scared me about her as I was reading the book was that she was proficient in voodoo, although she did work white magic. However, I did not like (please forgive the spoiler) her meeting with Lena's uncle, the very strange Macon Melchizedek Ravenwood, in the middle of a swamp, in the middle of the night. During this meeting, she brought offerings for her deceased relatives, whose graves were right in the swamp. Ugh.

Speaking of "dear Uncle Macon", I never liked him. He doesn't like humans much, especially those who live in Gatlin. And he thinks much too highly of himself. Furthermore, although he's supposedly always looking out for Lena, he's not very affectionate toward her. He's more like a legal guardian with paranormal powers.

There were some clichés in the plot, as well, and these bothered me. For instance, there was the usual group of mean girls at school, who bullied Lena and attempted to have her expelled. They were supported in this endeavor by Mrs. Lincoln, the mother of Ethan's best friend, Wesley, known as "Link". Mrs. Lincoln is the stereotypical self-righteous Christian who has gone out of her way to try to get books banned at the local high school, and who is always up in arms about anything she deems "just not right", by her standards. She has a whole slew of friends from a Confederate association she belongs to who fully stand behind her, too. 

In spite of the fact that Lena and her family are supposedly good witches (except for Ridley Duchannes, who is a Dark Caster, and who was another stereotypical character -- a femme fatale, luring unsuspecting males to disaster), they sure do seem to use dark magic. Lena has a powerful influence over nature. It seems that whenever she's distressed, she causes terrible storms. Unfortunately, she can't control them. And I STILL don't know why she's always driving around in a HEARSE. Is this just for dramatic effect? It certainly doesn't seem to fit into the plot at all. Why a hearse? Was Uncle Macon an undertaker in his younger days? Or maybe in a previous life? What's UP with that, I wonder....

At one point in the novel, the Ravenwood family members get together for Halloween. One of the visiting cousins enjoys turning his arm into a very realistic snake.... All of you out there are most likely familiar with the scene in the Garden of Eden in which Eve succumbs to the temptation offered to her by....A SNAKE. So yeah, these are GOOD Casters, who only work WHITE magic. Right.

And then, to make things even more creepy, the whole family clan form a circle around Lena in order to protect her from some mysterious force that's trying to claim her. As they stand in the circle, they chant something that has to do with blood....

There's also a curse on Lena's family, due to one of her ancestors having used forbidden magic from a mysterious spell book known as The Book of Moons. And oh, as a "special bonus", there's also some grave-digging connected with this book....

Okay, so I do enjoy reading paranormal romance and urban fantasy, but this novel is just much too dark for my taste. I just felt that strongly oppressive state of mind throughout. It was relentless, too. At times, I even started to question Lena and Ethan's whole relationship. I alternated between wanting them to be together, against all odds, and wanting Ethan to get the heck away from Lena. I kept sensing that this relationship was somehow dangerous for him. 

I didn't quite finish the novel. It's one of the longer books I've read in recent years, and I did get as far as page 496. The book has a total of 563 pages. You might think it's silly to go that far into a book and then not finish it. The thing is, though, that I lost patience and peeked ahead to see how the the whole ended. And I didn't much like what I came across; the ending leaves things up in the air, and history ends up repeating itself. 

This book has received a lot of praise. It has even garnered awards. I was expecting to love it, since it's been touted as the perfect next read for those who have enjoyed The Twilight Saga, as well as Charlaine Harris and Cassandra Clare fans. However, it just didn't do it for me.

One thing I did find interesting was the constant references to Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Macon is compared to Boo Radley, a reclusive character from the Lee novel. The town of Gatlin is just as fictional as Maycomb, the town mentioned in To Kill A Mockingbird. I think the similarity between the name of Lee's town, and the name "Macon" is not accidental. 

All of the ingredients in this novel should have guaranteed that I would love it. Somehow, that simply didn't happen. It wasn't the slowness of the plot, as other reviewers on the Internet have pointed out. I found the pacing to be just right. I repeat, the whole atmosphere of the novel was just overwhelmingly oppressive to me, and I finally couldn't take that anymore. All I wanted to do was to get out from under that evil cloud!

Readers who might be tempted to start reading this book should, quite honestly, pick up either The Twilight Saga, or the Vampire Academy series, instead. In all honesty, I think these are much better choices for the YA reader who's also into PNR and UF.

Then again, I know I'll probably read this book again in the near future, in order to re-evaluate it. If I can take it better at that future time, I will come back and change the rating. I do wonder if that will ever happen, thogh. Who knows....

MY RATING:

 





Kami Garcia is the #1 New York Times & USA Today bestselling co-author of the Beautiful Creatures and  the Dangerous Creatures novels, as well as the author of the instant New York Times bestseller and Bram Stoker Award nominated novels Unbreakable & Unmarked, in the Legion Series. Her contemporary romance The Lovely Reckless was released on October 4th, 2017 (Imprint/Macmillan).

Kami grew up outside of Washington DC, wore lots of black, and spent hours writing poetry in spiral notebooks. When Kami isn't writing, she lives to bake, watch bad disaster movies, and listen to Soundgarden. She lives in Maryland with her husband, son, daughter, and their dogs "Spike" and "Oz" (named after characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).








Margaret Stohl is the #1 New York Times bestselling co-author of the Beautiful Creatures and Dangerous Creatures novels, the author of the New York Times bestselling Black Widow: Forever Red, and Black Widow: Red Vengeance, from Marvel Press (Marvel YA), and of the Icons Novels. As of November 2016, she is also the author of the Mighty Captain Marvel comics from Marvel Comics.








4 comments:

  1. Outstanding commentary on this book Maria.

    Even though you did not read every page you seem to have conveyed the essence of the book, even though you had reservations about it. It is interesting that you the book was so oppressive. I tend to like atmospheric books. I think that people are naturally drawn to such writing.

    The To Kill A Mockingbird references are very interesting, I tend to like it when an author relates a classic book to their worked.

    O laughed when I read your comment about the male character noticing clothing. You are right on the money with that :)

    have a great week!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Brian!

      Thanks for the good word!! :)

      This was a rather paradoxical read for me, as I stated in the review. The book is very well-written, and it kept my interest, in spite of my discomfort. But I kept struggling with that feeling of oppression. Part of it might have been due to the terrible storms Lena unwittingly unleashed. But part of it was also due to Macon Ravenwood himself. I just did not like that guy! And that meeting in the swamp, in the middle of the night....I really should have stopped reading right there!

      I like atmospheric books myself, but only if they have HAPPY atmospheres. Lol. I also enjoy reading books with enchanting atmospheres, or those having to do with history. And, of course, my favorite atmosphere -- the Christmas season! I just don't like creepy, oppressive atmospheres.

      The references to the Harper Lee novel did surprise me, but I liked them. I agree with you -- it's interesting and enjoyable when a contemporary author mentions a classic book in their own novel.

      I'm glad you found my comment about the observation skills of teen boys funny! Lol. If I still had the book, I would go look up the passage and quote it. It IS funny!

      On the other hand, I'm thinking of classic male and bestselling authors, and the power or their descriptions. Dickens, for instance, did describe clothing in his novels. However, I don't think -- as far as I can remember -- he went into a lot of detail. I would have to reread "Oliver Twist", for example. As for other authors I've read, I also don't remember. Come to think of it, though, authors have special skills not possessed by "the average Joe". Lol. And Ethan is definitely not a writer, although his narration is very compelling. Interestingly, his father is, in fact, a writer. Still, I did find Ethan's descriptions of Marian's (the librarian) clothing to be the sort of thing a female would write.

      Thanks for another TERRIFIC comment, Brian! Hope you're having a great week yourself!! <3 :)

      Delete
  2. I am sorry this one wasn't better for you. It sounds though like you enjoyed it more than I did, even though you didn't finish it. I read the book over three years ago, so my memory of it is not that great.

    I was drawn to this book because it is about witches--a topic that interests me in fiction and nonfiction. Looking at my notes, I found the book lacking in many respects. Unlike you, I didn't care for Ethan. I found him annoying and didn't think Lena was much better. I thought the whole cheerleader shuns the new girl routine to be too cliche. I did like the world building in terms of the myth and magic behind the Casters and I liked Macon and Amma. I wish there had been more about their backgrounds as I found them to be the more interesting characters.

    Are you going to watch the movie? I thought it was terrible. Dull, really. Although I liked the movie ending better than the book's.

    I agree that it's a rather dark book, although I gravitate that way, whereas I know you don't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Wendy!

      What I did like about this book was the writing style. I thought the story was very well-written and presented. So that's why I decided to give it three stars. However, on Goodreads I only gave it two. Lol. You see, in my rating system, three stars means "Good. I liked it, but....: On Goodreads, though, three stars means "I liked it." And that's it. With my rating system, three stars means that I was conflicted about the book, that I did have some reservations.

      I'm really upset that a book that was so well-written made me feel SO uncomfortable. And I don't know WHY I stayed with it as long as I did. Maybe it was the world building, which was also very well carried out. As you stated, the myth and magic underlying the Caster world was definitely fascinating!

      It's interesting to see how two different readers relate to the characters. I liked Ethan, whereas you didn't. And you liked Macon, whereas I didn't. I really couldn't stand him! Lol. As for Amma, at times I liked her, and at times I didn't. One thing I do agree with you on is the fact that the authors didn't give us much background on these two characters.

      Another character I really liked was Marian, the librarian. I would have appreciated it if the authors had also given us more background on her.

      There's one point I didn't make in the review, and I really think I'll go back and include it: in spite of liking Ethan and Lena, I didn't really enjoy reading about their romance. Compared to the Twilight books, it just wasn't....I don't know, ROMANTIC enough. Maybe that's because the story was narrated by a guy. I didn't get that giddy feeling of excitement I got from the Twilight books. I also got that feeling from the Vampire Academy books. Rose and Dimitri were just GREAT together in those novels!

      As for the movie, no, I'm not going to watch it. I've read some reviews, plus I have your own opinion of it. Furthermore, I Googled it, and read the plot. I was VERY disappointed when I found out that Marian had been cut from the story! Instead, they made Amma the librarian. I didn't like that at all.

      It might seem paradoxical that I enjoy reading paranormal and urban fantasy novels, given the fact that I don't like horror. Sometimes the line between these genres can get blurry. That was certainly the case here! Not so with the books I mentioned above, in spite of the fact that they had vampires and werewolves in them. (Well, the VA series only had vampires and vampire hybrids in it.)

      Thanks for for the GREAT, thought-provoking comment, Wendy! HUGS TO YOU & MOUSE!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

      Delete

THIS IS NOW AN AWARD-FREE, AND TAG-FREE BLOG. Thanks for the compliment, though! : )

Thanks for your thoughts on my posts! I always reply here, as well as comment back on your blog. Have a WONDERFUL day!! :)