A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1

Bookworm Wednesday: A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, sorry this post is a little later in the day than I’d planned on.  A) I’ve been trying to find the time to write this review for a WEEK now, and every time I sit down to do it, something else comes up.  B) It’s been storming on campus all day, with several tornado warnings, so I’ve been shuffled out of rooms and into windowless hallways, and dealing with intermittent internet, and all that fun stuff today.

Anyway, this review is the first for the 2012 To-Be-Read Pile Reading Challenge.  I’ve been meaning to read this book and review it since I won a free copy at the Twitter release party on Halloween.  I wasn’t beginning to think I’d NEVER get around to it.  But I finally have.  So here we go:

Title: Skeleton Lake (Book #1)

Author: Angela Kulig

Release Date: Oct 2011

Genre: YA Paranormal Romance

Where I Got It: won an ebook copy during the release party giveaways

Score: 3 out of 5

Let me start by saying that the premise of Skeleton Lake is absolutely fascinating.  Marlow is a normal high school girl who lives with her parents, has a boyfriend, has a very normal life.  But one night she sees her boyfriend cheating on her, and runs away, dashing through the woods and diving into a lake to drown herself.

And then she awakens, surrounded by people she knows only vaguely from school: Lena, Alex, and the suddenly inexplicably attractive Raiden.  Raiden tells her she died in the lake.  And now Marlow, like Raiden, Lena, and Alex, is a living skeleton.  Beneath her skin, which turns translucent in the water of Skeleton Lake where she drowned, her nearly-unbreakable bones glow bronze.

As if that weren’t enough, Marlow discovers she has inherited the soul of Raiden’s ex-girlfriend Cassandra, who killed herself; both Raiden and his brother Conrad are vying for her affections, and something is after her.  Now, Marlow finds herself caught in the middle of a secret life and a long-standing battle she could never have imagined.

What I Liked:

Let me repeat: the premise of this novel is absolutely fascinating.  How do you even come up with the idea of living skeletons, created when people are near death and dipped into Skeleton Lake?  Seriously!  It’s a very strange, very cool idea.  And it is definitely the main draw of this novel.  That’s not to say, however, that there’s nothing else good about it.

The writing is solid – with a first-person narration that gives the reader a good inside look into Marlow’s thoughts and personality, and also keeps the reader in suspense because we don’t know anymore than Marlow does.  Also, the dialogue was generally well-written, with some great back-and-forth exchanges between characters, and some fun bits of light humor.

The main characters are interesting and easy to relate to.  Marlow, of course, is the girl-next-door type – sweet, smart, but prone to the usual teenage mistakes and downfalls.  I do wish, however, that she had been a little tougher.  This is just a personal quirk of mine – I understand perfectly that not every female character needs to be or should be the “tough” character.  After all, it’s a simple fact that not every girl is like that in real life, and things would get boring if there weren’t some variety in characters.  It’s just that in a life where so many girls are anything BUT tough, I really prefer female characters who are.

I think my favorite character was actually Conrad, who was (in my opinion) the most complex and intriguing character in the bunch.  He was a bit of the “bad boy” type, but not overly-so, he was passionate and conflicted and angry.  And I think Conrad is the one who grew the most throughout the novel as well.

What I Didn’t Like:

Back to characters for a moment: the main male character and love interest, Raiden, while attractive and sweet and romantic and strong and intelligent and all that stuff, was a little too straight-laced and predictable for me taste.  He was a little too perfect, I guess, with few (if any) discernible flaws, quirks, etc to make him a complex character.

Some of the side characters – Lena and Alex in particular – definitely had potential to be interesting characters, but weren’t given enough face-time or development to really capture my attention or concern.  I realize they were side characters and it’s neither necessary nor usually advised to put too much detail into them, for fear of overloading the story and the readers with too many big characters to keep track of.  But I hope Lena and Alex are allowed to develop more in the next book and given more complexity and dimension.

However, my two biggest problems are this:

First: The romance. I cannot tell you how many books I’ve read or heard about in which the main female character meets a man/boy who she is suddenly, powerfully, inexplicably, uncontrollably irrevocably attracted to/in love with.  I’m not talking about instant attraction, which plenty of people experience, as in: “look at that really gorgeous man, he’s really hot I’d love to get to know him better.”  I’m talking: “I don’t know anything about you, but I feel like my soul is being sucked out of my body and I’m so completely and passionately drawn to you that I would probably have your babies right this instant if you ask me.”  I know, I know, it’s YA and this is pretty much par for the course in YA.  BUT WHY???

Now, Kulig does at least a decent job of explaining this away with the concept that Marlow has somehow inherited Raiden’s ex-girlfriend’s soul (and all her emotions, etc that go along with that), but that explanation is only really necessary because she first felt the need to write that instant, inexplicable passion into the plot to begin with.  And, of course, there’s a love triangle with Raiden’s brother Conrad (who was, of course, also in love with the dead ex-girlfriend, and who just can’t seem to help himself even though he knows Raiden has the prior claim – and don’t even get me started on that particular concept!).

I just don’t know why all YA romance plots have to be like this.  Whatever happened to developing relationships in a natural way over the course of a novel?  Why aren’t we given the opportunity to see how the characters develop and interact over time, until we come to understand (as the characters do) why they were just MEANT to be together.  Because, really, in these sorts of instant-love romance plots, there is no really justification, no development of the relationship, no reason to believe these two people are really compatible or meant to be together except that “there’s thing deep in their souls drawing them to each other! It’s fate, damn it!”, ie: because the author tells us so.  And honestly, that just doesn’t work for me.  It didn’t often work for me even when I was 15 or 16, let alone now that I’m 26.

My second big complaint is with the ending: Now, I like the idea of the ending, but I didn’t like the execution.  I don’t want to go into detail here because I don’t want to give too much away for those who might read (or are reading) this book.  But suffice it to say that there’s this huge build up from like the third-to-last chapter to the end: great tension, great feeling of insurmountable hardship as the good guys prepare to come face-to-face with one of the main bad guys who is touted as being cruel and devious and powerful, etc etc etc.  And then the actual confrontation is a total let down.  What could and should have been a huge epic confrontation, is over in like 3 pages (and I’m talking short little Kindle-sized pages, not usual paperback pages), in which very little happens, and the good guy barely breaks a sweat.  Total let down.

Now, for those of you who don’t mind, or even actively LIKE, the insta-romance plot device, I an definitely recommend Skeleton Lake.  The interesting premise, combined with that kind of romance should be right up many people’s alleys, who will love it for what is and not expect it to be anything else.

It just doesn’t do it for me.

And I feel bad saying that, because I know Angela Kulig from Twitter, and like her a lot, but I just get so tired of that particular brand romance plotting, and I am absolutely determined to be as honest and straight-forward as humanly possible in these reviews, no matter how I feel about the author.  So there it is.

For interested parties, the book can be found on Goodreads here: Skeleton Lake, Book 1.

Amanda’s To-Be-Read Pile

Bookworm Wednesday: Amanda’s To-Be-Read Pile

I haven’t had the time to start any new books yet this week or last week, so in lieu of a new book review, here are a few of the books that just came out or are coming out soon that I’m really looking forward to reading (with their goodreads.com descriptions).  Note: click on the image to go to the goodreads page for each book.

Amanda’s To-Be-Read Pile:

The Diviner by Melanie Rawn (2 August 2011 – this one’s been out awhile, but I only recently found out about it): The only survivor of royal treachery that eliminates his entire family, Azzad al-Ma’aliq flees to the desert and dedicates himself to vengeance. With the help of the Shagara, a nomadic tribe of powerful magicians, he begins to take his revenge-but at a terrible cost to himself.  (Prequel novel to The Golden Key.)

Being Human by Patricia Lynne (8 September 2011): For Tommy, there is only one thing he needs to do: survive.

Only surviving isn’t that easy. The hunt for blood can be tricky when humans know to fear the night. Desire sits on the edge of his mind, urging him to become the monster humans think he is. Vampire Forces, a special branch of police, is determined to turn every vampire to ash. Tommy included.

The only human Tommy can trust is his twin brother. A bond connects them, and with Danny’s help, Tommy starts to understand the human world he struggles to survive in. He’ll learn what friendships means and feel the sting of betrayal, find that sometimes the worst monsters are very human, and come to understand that family means more than blood.

Tommy just wants to survive and he knows what he needs to do. But with the number of humans that mean more to him than a meal growing, he’ll learn there’s more to life than simple survival. He’ll discover being human doesn’t mean being a human.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson (20 September 2011): Having fled to British Columbia decades ago to avoid the draft, Richard Forthrast then amassed a fortune transporting marijuana over the border to Idaho. Now he spends his time playing a power-wielding online fantasy game and his money buying viral gold and other necessaries from Chinese gold farmers and, finally, launching his own techie start-up. Alas, one of the gold farmers sets off a virtual war for dominance that could be the end of Richard.

The Legend of Beka Cooper Book 3: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce (25 October 2011): The Legend of Beka Cooper gives Tamora Pierce’s fans exactly what they want—a smart and savvy heroine making a name for herself on the mean streets of Tortall’s Lower City—while offering plenty of appeal for new readers as well.

Beka and her friends will face their greatest and most important challenge ever when the young heir to the kingdom vanishes. They will be sent out of Corus on a trail that appears and disappears, following a twisting road throughout Tortall. It will be her greatest Hunt—if she can survive the very powerful people who do not want her to succeed in her goal.

Skeleton Lake by Angela Kulig (21 October 2011): Unsure if she’s drowning or being saved, all Marlow wants to do is run away. Ensnared in a haunting love triangle, she realizes both boys have holes in their hearts; gaping spaces she can never hope to fill.

Scars from loving the same girl, a girl who managed to stay dead.

Now she is being hunted, for what she has become and what she never asked to be. Even as a Skeleton Marlow isn’t the worst thing in the night—she isn’t even close.

Breathe by Melanie McCullough (11 November 2011): Life’s hard. People make it harder. They tether you to them. Make it difficult to breathe, and damn-near impossible to leave…

Seventeen year-old Abby Rhoades knows this all too well. Born to a mother who could never love her and who vacillates between a sloppy drunk and a suicidal maniac, Abby’s never had it easy. But Abby can swim. And Abby has a plan–win the state championship, earn a free ride to Penn State, and leave her small town and suffocating mother behind.

But then the body of Tom Ford, her mother’s latest boyfriend and a man Abby adored, washes up along the shore of the Susquehanna River. His injuries suggest murder and suspicion quickly falls on Abby then on her best friend Garrett Scott, both of whom saw Tom the night he died.

They both know what happened that night, but neither one is talking. There’s too much at stake and the truth could tear them apart.

Pigments of My Imagination by Angela Kulig (11 November 2011): From the moment Lucia steps into Bayside Art Academy, she is fed a steady stream of lies, but it’s not until she meets Michael that she begins to question the people she trusts. Unraveling fact from fabrication seems impossible until Lucia finds her first painting, and discovers the dead do not lie–at least not to her.

A dozen lifetimes ago, Lucia started a war. Not a war with armies or guns, but a bloody war nonetheless. The path leading Lucia to the truth is hidden within lovely art that spans the ages. In this life, however, Lucia doesn’t know where to look. Lost, she turns to the one thing she knows with certainty–she is in love with Leo, and has been before.

ONE LAST THING: While we’re talking about books, I would like to take an opportunity to mention one more thing.  Neil Gaiman has already spread the word on Twitter, but more word-of-mouth never hurts.  A filmmaker in New York, Hannah Jayanti, is trying to make a documentary for the 50th Anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth.  She has the blessing and the help of the writer Norton Juster and the illustrator Jules Feiffer.  She is trying to raise money on Kickstarter and I thought I would share that link with you all.  Because The Phantom Tollbooth as an absolute CLASSIC, and deserves to be remembered and celebrated.  Here’s the Kickstarter page: The Phantom TollBooth Turns 50: A Documentary.

Okay, that’s all from me folks.  (I’m having a horrendous day — car accident, school troubles, you name it — so I have a million things to take care.)  Feel free to chime in below!  Have you read any of the above books yet?  Are there any others you think I should add to be T0-Be-Read pile?  Any stories/comments about the ever-wondrous Phantom Tollbooth?  Sound off now!