Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Burning Wild and Gym Candy

I read two books over the holiday weekend. The first was my usual paranormal fare. The second was a young adult novel. I enjoyed one and felt lukewarm about the other.

Strangely, it was Christine Feehan's BURNING WILD that left me feeling tepid. Feehan writes three different series: the Carpathians, the Ghostwalkers, and the Drake Sisters. I usually enjoy all three series, particularly the Drake Sisters novels. BURNING WILD isn't part of any of those series. The protagonist is a leopard person...a man who can become a leopard when he chooses. Of all the paranormal characters, shapeshifters are my least favorite, but that in itself isn't why the book didn't satisfy me. Rachel Vincent writes about cat shifters, and I love her series.

My problem with the book was the characters, particularly the hero. Jake survives his loveless, abusive childhood, but it molds him into an asshole as an adult. Flawed heroes and heroines are par for the course in romance, and that's okay. We all have to overcome our issues in order to love and be loved by someone else. Unfortunately, I never felt like Jake overcame his. He was domineering right up until the end, and Emma wasn't a strong enough character to ever be his equal. She tried, but the only place she had any power was in cooking, cleaning, and raising the kids. Jake swooped in and "handled" everything else. I never stopped being annoyed by his attitude...or hers for that matter.

Otherwise the book was okay. There were a couple of interesting plot twists, and the villains were nasty. As always with Feehan, the love scenes were hot. In fact, I was reading the book between innings at Connor's baseball game, and I had to put it down. I didn't want to have to explain to the other parents why I was blushing, and I don't blush that easily. So there you have it.

I loved GYM CANDY for the exact same reasons I had problems with BURNING WILD. Good characters make all the difference in the world. The boys in Carl Deuker's book could have stepped out of the pages and into the halls of my school. They were absolutely believable. I led a discussion group on the book with a group of boys after school today, and they all liked the book for the same reason. They initially selected it because it was about football, but the realistic characters hooked them.

Mick Johnson is a freshman on the varsity football team. Football is his whole identity. His dad was drafted in the third round by the Chargers, but never made the team, so he has his hopes pinned on Mick. Mick is a talented player, but he's not as big and strong as some of the older boys. He costs the team a playoff game when he comes up a yard short of the goal line. An unpleasant, but believable incident occurs in the weight room, isolating him from his friends and intensifying his desire to become stronger. The steroids come from an unexpected source, and some of the boys in my group found it shocking. Mick convinces himself it's only for a little while, just to get enough of an edge to keep his spot. Of course, the lies and rationalizations spiral out of control, and so does Mick. Deuker exposes the dark underbelly of steroid use in the book, and your heart breaks as this likeable, talented kid destroys himself.

Finding books for boys is hard, especially if they're not into fantasy. This book will grab boys who like sports and realistic fiction. The football scenes are vivid, the characters are three-dimensional, and Deuker assumes his readers are smart. Connor loved the book so much that he read three others by Deuker. For the first time in his life, he's become a recreational reader. As an author, I can't imagine a better endorsement than that.

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