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Thursday, October 4, 2012

'Spark' Elementals #2 by Brigid Kemmerer

 Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:
Gabriel Merrick plays with fire. Literally.

Sometimes he can even control it. And sometimes he can’t. Like the fire that killed his parents.

Gabriel has always had his brothers to rely on, especially his twin, Nick. But when an arsonist starts wreaking havoc on their town, all the signs point to Gabriel. Only he’s not doing it.

More than Gabriel’s pride is at stake -- this could cost him his family, maybe his life. And no one seems to hear him. Except a shy sophomore named Layne, a brainiac who dresses in turtlenecks and jeans and keeps him totally off balance. Layne understands family problems, and she understands secrets. She has a few of her own.

Gabriel can’t let her guess about his brothers, about his abilities, about the danger that’s right at his heels. But there are some risks he can’t help taking.

The fuse is lit…

Gabriel Merrick is not a bad person … he just seems that way when compared to his saintly twin brother, Nick. Admittedly, Gabriel didn't make life easy on his older brother, Michael, after their parents died and he became their legal guardian... but he was a child then, and he's really trying now. But, try as he might, Gabriel Merrick can't seem to get away from himself. He's failing math without his twin's 'switcheroo' help. He's picking fights with his brother's girlfriend, and becoming friend's with his youngest brother, Chris's, romantic rival, Hunter. Maybe it's simply in Gabriel's volatile nature to be a screw-up, what with having fire as his element and all...

But Gabriel is determined to be better. Nick is planning for the future, so if Gabriel wants to catch-up with his brainiac twin then he'd better kick himself into gear. First up is the math problem - for which he has plain-jane nerd, Layne, to help him. A girl he has never paid much attention to, Layne catches Gabriel's attention when she helps him out of a sticky situation with nothing to gain herself... and when he meets her deaf younger brother, who is being tormented at school, Gabriel's soft-spot grows.  

The next thing Gabriel needs to get under control won't be as easy as X equals Y. He wants better control over his fire element - and to do that, he'll need Hunter's help and some practice. 

But when an unknown arsonist goes on a rampage across town, targeting the houses of Gabriel's classmates, all fingers inevitably point to him... 

'Spark' is the second book in Brigid Kemmerer's wonderful new paranormal YA series, 'Elementals'. 

Brigid Kemmerer  hooked me on her new 'Elementals' world when she introduced the Merrick brothers in first book, 'Storm'. Four brothers connected to earth, wind, fire and water, whose magic killed their parents and turned an entire town against them. Kemmerer's first book was addictive reading, and I'm happy to report that her second novel is another one to obsess over.

'Spark' concerns the first of the Merrick twins, the most volatile and hot-tempered 'bad' twin, Gabriel. When we met him in 'Storm' Gabriel came across as a vain, play-boy with a chip on his shoulder. He seemed to be in a constant feud with guardian and oldest brother, Michael, and 'Storm's' protagonist, Becca, mentioned the reputation Gabriel had with 'loving and leaving' the ladies. So, of course, I found him the most interesting of the Merrick brothers - particularly when we learnt that he had the every apt element of fire.

I'm happy to report that Gabriel's jack-ass behaviour from 'Storm' keeps up in 'Spark', and he doesn't have an instant turn-around the moment he starts to fall for geeky-girl, Layne. When the book begins Gabriel is, seemingly, his usual self - his eye is easily strayed to the hot cheerleaders, and his quick-temper erupts yet again and continues to find a target in brother Michael, and Nick's new maybe-sorta girlfriend. And, ironically, it takes a long time for readers to warm up to Gabriel... which I actually liked. Kemmerer followed through with her set-up of Gabriel as the 'bad' brother, the prickliest and hardest to like, with a bad-boy appeal that's on the verge of tipping into disgust. I liked that Gabriel was an anti-hero in this young adult novel, because it just meant that as readers we had more layers to peel back. And Kemmerer does, to an extent, delve into Gabriel's reasons for being the way he is. Their parents' death scarred all the Merrick brothers, but Gabriel appeared to be the one who acted out the most (and for good reason). He has been carrying a stone around his neck for many years now, and it's only with the recent slew of arson attacks that he's able to start picking at old wounds and reconciling with his past. 

I did admit that in 'Storm' I wasn't overly keen on female protagonist, Becca. Well, I'm glad to say that in 'Spark' Kemmerer has written a wonderful female counterpart to Gabriel's fiery-temper, in self-proclaimed nerd and turtleneck-wearer, Layne. Whereas I couldn't really see why two boys (Chris and Hunter) were fighting over Becca in 'Storm', I can definitely see Layne's appeal to Gabriel in 'Spark'. No, she's not a beautiful teenage cheerleader living the American dream. Layne is scarred and gawky, uncomfortable in her own skin and unsure of herself. She's good at math and bad at flirting, and Gabriel Merrick makes her nervous, then mad and then a little bit smitten.... It might seem like you've heard this all before - beautiful boy turns girl-next-door into bombshell, but Kemmerer only takes the old cliché so far before she spins it on its head. Layne is no wilting flower, once you get to know her. And Gabriel is more complex than he first appears. These two, together, were an interesting and dynamic couple who had me cheering for them on the page! 

She scowled out at the parking lot. “So is this like your place?”
“My place?”
“Where you bring girls.”
“Yes. I bring girls to this run-down parking lot all the time.” He gestured with his cup. “I have a sign-up sheet nailed to that tree. Now that you mention it,” – he glanced at his watch – “we should probably wrap this up.” 
Her eyes were intense, challenging, fixed on his. “Do you have a five-minute limit before you start getting mean?”
“I don’t know, Layne. Do you have a five-minute limit before you start getting defensive?”
She clamped her mouth and turned to face the darkness.

As I predicted in 'Storm', the actual 'Elementals' world grows bit by bit in this second novel. The Merrick brothers (and their female affiliates, by association) are not safe - their powers make them dangerous, and people are scared of them. I am really loving Kemmerer's world-building in this series. I wouldn't say it's the focus - I think the Merrick brothers are very much front-and-centre as the main draw-cards - but I am slowly getting a sense of this world, and finding my footing in it as a reader (just as Becca and Layne are) and I like that. The heart of 'Elementals' definitely lies in the Merrick brothers (yes, yes; they're smokin' hot!), in their connection, sad past and uncertain future. Everything else can take its time being established, but the brothers are the driving force and I like that human connection takes precedence over supernatural hoopla in Kemmerer's series. 


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