November 23, 2011

(+++) ICY HOT

Cold Kiss. By Amy Garvey. HarperTeen. $17.99.

Frost. By Marianna Baer. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.

The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters, Volume 1—Phantom. By L.J. Smith. HarperTeen. $17.99.

     Here are three more of the seemingly endless crop of paranormal romances that are cool to read and hot, or at least warm, for teenage readers to experience vicariously. Cold Kiss, the first young-adult novel by Amy Garvey, starts with a death – the death of Wren Darby’s boyfriend, Danny Greer, in a car accident. In a real-world book, that would be the end of the relationship and the start of rebuilding a life. But Wren has a supernatural talent – the power to bring Danny back from the dead. And that is just what Wren does, only to discover that the Danny who returns is not the Danny she knew before the fatal car crash. And before a reader can think, “Well, duh,” Wren is starting to question, well, everything. “He’s so cold now. Always so cold, skin icy smooth. And his body is so quiet – the distant thump of a heartbeat, the thrum of blood flowing through veins, never seemed noticeable until it was gone. I wriggle around to tilt my head up and kiss him, hoping it will be enough. It never is anymore. For a little while he’ll relax, kiss me slowly, lingering and tasting, but it doesn’t last. It’s hard to go backward, after all.” Well, no – it’s impossible to go backward, and that is the lesson that Wren must learn, until finally she knows she must let Danny go forever, no matter how much it will break her heart (or break it again). Garvey’s theme here – essentially, necrophilia – is an unusual and rather creepy one, even for teen paranormal romances. But it is not handled with any special sensitivity or any elegance of plot. The complications are predictable – for instance, Wren has to keep Danny hidden (well, duh, again – he’s dead, you know?). And there isn’t much to Wren’s musings, either: “I don’t deserve a happy ending. I don’t even deserve a semi-happy ending, because Danny isn’t going to get one. He might have [but] I took that away from him. So I could have him back, so I wouldn’t be alone.” Danny makes a pretty benign zombie, but for that very reason, there is not all that much drama in Cold Kiss, whose eventual outcome – including, yes, a chance for both Danny and Wren to have happy endings of different types – is scarcely a surprise.

     There are a few more surprises in Frost, the first novel by Marianna Baer. The setting, though, is not one of them: it is the usual isolated and possibly haunted Victorian dorm at the boarding school where Leena Thomas is in her senior year. Plenty of things go bump in the night at Frost House, with doors locking by themselves, furniture falling over, frames falling off walls, and all the usual ho-hum occurrences expected in a ghost story. If it is a ghost story. Ah – that is where things get interesting. Certainly there is mystery here, and uncertainty, and an odd triangle involving Leena; her unpleasantly confrontational roommate, Celeste, for whom Leena must intercede with classmates in order to maintain a semblance of camaraderie; and Celeste’s brother, charming and attractive David. Baer tries to build suspense bit by bit, but is usually hampered by the conventionality of her imagination: “I quickly scanned the room and spotted the photo lying awkwardly on the floor across from Celeste’s bed. With growing apprehension, I walked over and picked it up. The photo itself was fine. But one corner of the black frame had chipped badly, revealing the lighter wood underneath the paint. …The frame hadn’t been placed on the floor. It had been thrown.” On the other hand, a few mysteries here are a little unusual: after a night with David, Leena looks at her tattoo and realizes, “It had changed. The colors didn’t glow with that depth of pigment that had made it look like stained glass. Now they were washed out. And the black lines had thickened and bled. As if David’s kiss had reacted with the ink.” The eventual outcome of the events in Frost House is on the inconclusive side, with Leena at the end “trying again to piece together the truth of it.” The implication, though, is that even if absolute knowledge remains elusive, life will go on and things will be all right.

     The dead do not stay put in L.J. Smith’s latest book, either, but that’s another “well, duh” moment, since hey, they’re vampires. The Vampire Diaries keeps spawning (and yes, that’s the right word) book sequences, with The Hunters being the latest trilogy-in-the-making. This one picks up after sexy vampire Damon Salvatore’s death, which happened as Elena Gilbert and others – including Damon’s sexy vampire brother, Stefan – saved the town of Fell’s Church from demons in the trilogy called The Return. At the end of the final book of that sequence, Midnight, it turned out that Damon was not quite dead (no surprise there), and this helps explain why Elena keeps dreaming of him even though she and Stefan can now be together and, presumably, happy ever after. But no! “Damon, what were you thinking? We all thought you were dead! Permanently dead, not show-up-in-my-bedroom-a-few-days-later-looking-perfectly-healthy dead! What’s going on? Well, explains Damon, “It’s not that easy to get rid of really strong magic. As the atmosphere cooled, the magic turned from vapor back into liquid and fell down on me, with the rain of ash. I was soaking in pure Power for hours, gradually being reborn.” OK, that makes as much sense as anything here, which is to say not much. But it’s not just Damon’s return complicating things: demons may have been vanquished in earlier books, but there are always more where they came from – an inexhaustible supply. Well, all right, the threat in this book isn’t exactly a demon – it’s a phantom (hence the book’s title), and that does not mean a ghost but a deeply evil creature that feeds on emotions the way vampires feed on blood. Phantoms “create almost a feedback loop, encouraging and nurturing thoughts that will make the emotion stronger so that they can continue to feed.” So this phantom must be hunted, and of course must have a chance, when confronted, to speak its (actually her) piece: “I’ve found you and your friends so refreshing, all your little jealousies. Each of you with your own special flavor of envy. You’ve got an awful lot of problems, don’t you?” And that perhaps unintentionally hilarious line sums up not only this book but also the whole approach of The Vampire Diaries. Fans of the TV show will, err, devour this book and find it quite tasty. Anyone else is likely to gag.

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