King of the Underworld a hottie? Um, fo sho.

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

EVERY GIRL who has taken the test has DIED.

Now it’s KATE’S TURN.

It’s always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate’s going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won’t live past the fall.

Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld—and if she accepts his bargain, he’ll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.

Kate is sure he’s crazy—until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she’ll become Henry’s future bride, and a goddess.

If she fails…

Here’s the scoop:

Whoa.  Sounds heavy, right?  Well, yea, kind of, but there is so much more to this book than life and death drama.  Like swoony pants action with the King of the Underworld.

Kate Winters is grappling with the approach of her mother’s untimely death.  Mom has been struggling for years with cancer and we meet them on Kate’s 18th birthday on the road from New York to Eden, Michigan.  Mom’s dying wish is to live out the last of her days, which evidently are somewhere in the slim to none category, in her hometown.

Mom begins her walk down nostalgia road by asking Kate to make a stop in a wooded area not far from the outskirts of town. So they pop by and mom takes a moment at a hu-mon-goid wrought iron gate which she says is the entrance to Eden Manor.  Anything called a “manor” sounds creepsville to me.  And even though, after mom stares lovingly at the gate for a lil’ bit all they do is return to the car and go on their way, I know Eden Manor is something to watch out for in this story.  I am just gifted that way.

As they approach the town of Eden, Kate nearly sends her mom, and herself, to an earlier grave, as she has a near miss with a cow on the road and swerves the car into a spin that nearly crashes them into a line of trees, which I hear can be pretty painful.  Mom, in her weak state and all, pretty much sleeps through all of this, but Kate spots a hella good looking young, dark, brooding fellow in a black coat (because they always gotsa to be in foreboding wardrobe, it’s the rule!).  This brief encounter through her rear view mirror leaves her unsettled.

They settle into a not-so-cozy house, and Kate begrudgingly starts her new school, appropriately named Eden High where she befriends James, who incidentally is kinda the school weirdo. Then, of course, once Dylan, the captain of the football team, starts making googly eyes her way, all-a-sudden Ava, GF of the aforementioned high school football star, who is – shockingly – captain of the cheerleaders, decides it’s time to be friendly.

Ava turns out to be a big phony bologny byotch.  She takes Kate on a wild goose chase towards a supposedly awesome party, into the dark, dark forest, across a cold river (not cool since Kate is like tote’s afraid of water) not far from Eden Manor.  (Did I call it, or what?  Just sayin.)  Once there Kate realizes, WHAT?  There’s no party, no cool people by the keg!  Ava takes off her clothes, revealing a bikini – and with it – her plan to abandon Kate in this predicament all along, all because she was mad at Kate over her boyfriend sending some stink eye her way!  Like it’s Kate’s fault!?  Homegirl dives into the river, cracks her head and passes out.  (That’s why mom always said, “Feet first the first time,” yo!)  So now Kate has to save the bish-who-JUST-stole-her-pads?  Child, please.

So now, Kate’s not alone in the middle of the woods, at night, not knowing how to get back home.  Oh no, now she has a dead girl for company.  As she sits there pondering what to do about the dead girl, guess who shows up?!?!?  Um, dark, brooding dude with the black coat.  I KNOOOOOOOOOOOOOW!  And, in a nutshell he asks Kate, in his totally hot, swoony way, what she would do if only she could give Ava her life back.  And Kate says, “Anything.”  Oh shizz, girlfriend, don’t you know?  Never say, “Anything”!  Not to a dark, mysterious, seemingly super natural being in a BOOK.  Cuz in a BOOK, he’ll be all, “Alrighty then, how about giving your life over to me and being queen of the Underworld for 6 months out of the year, for the rest of eternity?”  Obvs you’ll say, “Sure thing, jelly bean,” because you think this guy is high.  Who would possibly do that?  Henry, as this gorgeous fellow introduces himself, that’s who!  And he does.  In two seconds flat Ava goes from dead to not.  Henry’s only condition is that Kate stay true to her word or Ava goes without a pulse again.  Because Henry is, in fact, Hades, King of the Underworld, just like we all learned in Greek Mythology class.  Or, he at least claims to be.

Despite Henry’s hotness, Kate struggles with her decision.  If she accepts, she must leave her mother, move in with Henry, and go through some crazy tests that will decide whether or not she is worthy of being Queen of the Underworld.  If she doesn’t accept, rumor has it Ava will drop dead.  Again.  But these are probably her last days with mom. How can she leave now that her mom is so sick that she has nurse care 24/7?  But if she doesn’t go, will Ava really die?

I would be spoiling some of my favorite thrills and chills of this book if I divulged Kate’s decision, Ava’s fate and the part that James plays in this story.  Suffice it to say that just as I felt I knew who was who, and what their role was in the story, the author surprised me time and time again.  Henry continues to be delish, if a little removed (but we’ll just call that brooding).

As a debut author, I think Aimee Carter has hit the nail on the head.  The Goddess Test, released on April 19, is entertaining and, satisfyingly – to a mythology dork – it offers logical explanations as to how the world of mythology, and a place like Hades, could still exist in our world, within the parameters of this fantasy.  And it does so without getting lost in its own explanation and without taking away from the main story, which is Kate’s journey to understand this world she didn’t know existed, and the journey she is on emotionally as she prepares to say goodbye to her mother.  Kate is a heroine with a good head on her shoulders, a strong voice, and a good heart.  The story has some incredible twists that you really, honest to goodness won’t see coming, and some swoon in there, for good measure.

I want to send a huge thanks to Harlequin and Net Galley, for offering us the chance to review this book.  Being a bit of a mythology geek, among my many areas of geek specialty, this was right up my alley!

A sequel to The Goddess Test is scheduled to be released in February 2012, entitled Goddess Interrupted.  I am hoping Henry will reveal more of his romantic, passionate side in this one, if he does make an appearance…  (That’s my Jedi mind trick, playing with your head.  Will he or won’t he?  What’s he doing – or not – at the end of this book…ah!?!?)  Aimee has also revealed on her website that a third edition to this series will be released in November 2012, and is yet untitled.  I am looking forward to seeing how this story develops!

Crush Level:

4.5/5 – Great story, but I am looking for a more reciprocal devotion on Henry’s part.  A big chunk of him seems still pining for Persephone, his former wife,  as Kate is falling for him and it’s hard to decide if he could possibly be genuine in his feeling for Kate with all the baggage he’s carrying. But the exciting and unexpected twists in this story, and the smartly written heroine make this story a one-sit read for me.  I already am hearing that little voice in my head saying, “I wanna read  this again!”

How I See It:

Kaya Scodelario fits the bill for me - again (See Hunger Games Casting).

Kate: Kate needs to be someone really good-looking – she’s hanging out with gods and goddesses, so “must look good in a toga” is a requirement, but still down to earth, because she has to prove herself a worthy human with a good head on her shoulders.  I think Kaya Scodelario scores high for me on both those traits.

Shiloh Fernandez. Look at him, all dark and broody.

Henry:  This was a hard one, and as close as I could get being that Henry is supposed to be in his early 20’s.  As a young yet tortured looking dude, with millenia of experience in his eyes, I do declare Mr. Shiloh Fernandez will do.

OMG, this picture is so perfectly "Ava" its not even funny!

Ava:  Has to be someone who plays the recovered mean girl role really well.  Cheerleader with a heart, if you will.  Ashley Tisdale…perfect!  Now before you go ragging on my Disney Channel choice, let me just say that if Ms. Tisdale makes some good choices (better than the cheerleader show she was on not too long ago), she’s definitely one to watch.

Time machine, time machine, wherefore art thou, time machine? Sorry Matthew Lillard...

James:  This was not as hard to cast as Henry — always hard to cast my swoony men — but it was also quite difficult.  I couldn’t get out of my head the picture of a young Matthew Lillard, who is now way too old to play this character (sorry Matthew, but you’re supposed to be in high school).  I just think he’d be the perfect dorky, yet cute looking, head phone wearing, french fries on a tray eating friend who isn’t bothered or discouraged when someone turns him down.  Oh, if only I’d finished building that time machine like I’ve been meaning to!