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.
I am proof that no matter how involved you might be in a reading community, no matter how on top of publishing news, or reviews you might be, and no matter how much you read, you can still miss out on great stuff. It's amazing how many excellent books I still stumble upon or, as in this case, gets recommended to me. To which I say, hallelujah!
To my complete delight, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Beautiful Creatures series was one of these oversights, kindly pointed out to me by most gracious blogger friends via Twitter and while standing in line at various author signings. After more than one of them told me I had to read them, and that I would definitely love the series, I was sold. Even better, the hubby was sold, and I woke up Valentines morning to a beautiful box set of the series sitting on the coffee table with a piece of paper with a heart drawn on it in sharpie with an arrow through it. Soul mate, obviously. Also obviously, I went out that afternoon and bought him a small fortune in jelly bellies to let him know he's appreciated.
Beautiful Creatures, book the first, is in many ways a traditional YA paranormal romance. It falls into the traditional format laid out by Twilight and the likes, an inexplicable attraction that happens instantaneously between the boy and the girl, a whirlwind romance of epic proportions that's quickly complicated by reveals of paranormal lifestyles (because you know, I'm a submissive, or I'm a vampire is sort of the same thing). Let me go on record as saying I'm a fan of this style, there were elements that I LOVED about Twilight and although the writing isn't the kind I can read repeatedly, Meyer solidly tapped into how many girls and women love the idea of falling in love far more than love itself. What Garcia and Stohl brought to the genre was excellent writing, fabulous ambiance and style, and of course humour, making it similar to Twilight but at the same time placing it leagues above it.
I heard a familiar banging sound. Things were worse than I thought. I ducked under the doorway and into the kitchen. Amma was standing at the counter in her industrial denim tool apron, which had fourteen pockets for nails and could hold up to four power tools. She was holding her Chinese cleaver, the counter piled hight with carrrots, cabbage, and other vegtables I couldn't identify. Spring rolls required more chopping than any other recipe in Amma's blue plastic box. If she was making spring rolls, it only meant one thing, and it wasn't just that she liked Chinese food.My absolute favorite character in this book was the setting. Set in the southern town of Gatlin, South Carolina, Beautiful Creatures would be half the book it is if you were to remove all the southern elements from it. Everything is enriched by the southern atmosphere, history and manners: the plot, the believability of the world of the Casters, all the relationships, and of course the characters, who are each one a master piece in and of themselves.
Aunt Mercy and Aunt Grace were playing Scrabble at the kitchen table; neither one of them seemed to notice they weren't actually making any words...Coming from Saskatchewan, the great Canadian prairies, which is in a lot of ways it's own hemisphere and culture in Canada, I could relate to a lot of unique aspects of Gatlin. I too had a group of great aunts (and uncles actually) who were a huge part of my life and who were full of intriguing history and all a little bit crazy. I spent a great deal of time with them growing up, and referred to them simply as aunt's and uncles even though they were my grandmothers siblings and not my mothers. We'd take long hot road trips to the tiny town they lived in, an hour and a half out of the city for day- long visits and family reunions, and I would often worry that we'd be abducted by aliens while driving home in the dark down lonely dirt country roads on the way home (I had a vivid imagination and read far too much for my own good, even then).
Aunt Mercy put down her tiles, one at a time. I-T-C-H-I-N.
Aunt Grace leaned closer to the board, squinting. "Mercy Lynne, you're cheatin' again! What kinda word is that? Use it in a sentence."
"I'm itchin' ta have some a that white cake."
"That's not how you spell it." At least one of them could spell. Aunt Grace pulled one of the tiles off the board. "There's no T in itchin'." Or not.
My version of Amma, was my grandmother who was a whirlwind in the kitchen and was appalled by any of my attempts at individuality. I had a beloved pair of jeans that nearly put her in an early grave every time I wore them "You're not wearing that are you? The neighbours will all think we're too poor to get you ones that aren't full of holes!". Because my mom was a single parent and very close to my grandparents they spent a great deal of time with us, and in many ways they raised me as much as my mom did. Like Amma, my grandma would arrive with a car full of baking (literally, like it would take 3 or 4 trips to get it all into the house from the car, with 2-4 people), each thing specially made for someone in particular "I made those cookies your friend with the long hair liked, Rhiannon, there's a tupperware for you to take to him." (and it would have like 2 dozen cookies in it). And one of the funniest conversations I ever heard was the time one of my cousins thought he could explain the internet to my grandma.
I was almost relieved it was Saturday. There was something comforting about spending the day with women whose only magical powers were forgetting their own names...So although I didn't grow up in the southern united states, in many ways I felt like Stohl and Garcia had tapped into my upbringing. And I loved it, because honestly, it's crazy but it's fun, I was a lucky girl.
"We have ta feed them every four hours with this little dropper," Aunt Grace explained. Aunt Prue was holding one of the squirrels in her hand, while it sucked ferociously on the end of the dropper. " And once a day, we have ta clean their little private parts with a Q-tip, so they'll learn ta clean themselves."
That was a visual I didn't need.
"How could you possibly know that?"
"We looked it up on the E-nternet." Aunt Mercy smiled proudly.
I couldn't imagine how my aunts knew anything about the Internet. The Sisters didn't even own a toaster oven. "How did you get on the Internet?"
"Thelma took us ta the library and Miss Marian helped us. They have computers over there. Did you know that?"
"And you can look up just about anything, even dirty pictures. Every now and again, the dirtiest pictures you ever saw would pop up on the screen. Imagine!" By "dirty," Aunt Grace probably meant naked, which I would've thouth would keep them off the Internet forever.
I also really enjoyed how they doled out the mystery and the reveals of what was happening to Lena, who her parents were and what the dangers of her 16th birthday really were. But the real genius was using Ethan as the protagonist, because 1-it's a boy, and that just doesn't happen enough in YA these days, and 2- because he brings the southern style to the eccentric Casters and ties the two worlds together in a way that wouldn't happen if Lena had been the narrator.
All in all it was a fun, and page turning book that had me itchin' to start the second as soon as I had finished it. Also, between these books and Justified, I kinda want to move to the crazy south now too.
Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Published by Little Brown, December 2009
Buy Beautiful Creatures on Amazon, or you know, the whole box set.