Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review of The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
House of the Scorpion
by Nancy Farmer
5 Scribbles
Where has this book been all my life? I hardly feel qualified to review it. Released in 2004, and winning the National Book Award, The Printz Award, the Locus Award, and a Newberry Honor Award ( and many, many others that we have no room to list here) the accolades speak for themselves, but if you want my two cents worth, here it is!

The geography is a little different in Matteo’s world. Mexico is now Aztlán, the United States is still the United States, but carved out in the middle is a new country named Opium. Opium is the brain child of a man called "El Patron," the dictator of Opium who now controls the growth and export of opium to its neighbors. Geography isn’t the only thing different in this future—Matt is not a regular boy, he’s a clone. Clones are no better than animals in this world, and because of this, once he is discovered, Matt is hated and abused by nearly all who meet him with the exception of El Patron, who dotes on Matt and protects him at the huge Alacrán mansion. What Matt doesn’t know is that El Patron, who is 140+ years old, has a hidden motive for his actions. And it doesn’t take long for Matt to realize that his life is no more valuable to El Patron than the brain-dead "eejits" who harvest the poppies. Farmer’s dystopian novel, ahead of the curve of so many of the sci-fi dystopian works now flooding the market, is written in such simple prose that younger and older readers will enjoy it. Her incorporation of themes that are still timely eight years after publication—medical ethics, immigration, homelessness, and government— are seamlessly written into the story in a way that forces the reader to understand how current technologies, while useful in solving many problems, may not be ethical in practice. Best of all are her amazingly drawn characters. Celia, Matt’s beloved nanny and surrogate mother, comes to life with her pet names, sweet whispers of affection, and fattening comfort food. No reader will leave this book without wishing Celia would wrap them in her arms and murmur, "mijo," or "mi vida." Tough, but wise and fair, Tam Lin is another character whose Irish lilt jumps off the page, and makes the reader stand up straighter. Best of all, the villains in the book are not exaggerated, their behavior is chilling, but not unbelievable in the world of the future or the world today. The action in the book is non-stop and the conclusion is bittersweet. My only disappointment is that Farmer is only now writing another installment.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review of Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

Simon Pulse
by Sarah Ockler
5 Scribbles
Let’s face it, relationships can be tricky. No one knows that better than Hudson Avery, whose dad split a few years back to hook up with a female Elvis impersonator. If it weren’t for the strong relationships Hudson has with her mom, her bother Bug, and her best friend Dani, she’d have cracked long ago.  Thing is Hudson is a talented figure skater—but her dream of professional figure skating disappeared with her dad.  Now, she bakes bangin’ cupcakes at her mom’s diner as a form of therapy and to keep her mind off of the ice, but her future looks frozen in the present. Is Hudson doomed to serve cupcakes and cantankerous customers forever?  Ockler leaves the warmer settings of her two previous novels and takes readers into the frigid Watonka, New York winter to explore themes that are layered and sophisticated.  Readers will adore the tight friendship and quirky dialogue that Hudson and Dani share, and they will appreciate the close and protective relationship between Hudson and her baby brother, Bug.  At the same time, they will groan at Hudson’s self-serving attitude, will air-nudge Hudson in the right direction time and time again only to see her (ironically) risk repeating the mistakes of her past, and even the mistakes of her father.  Couple that conflict with Hudson’s physical attraction to the hockey team captain Will, and her more natural attraction to his co-captain Josh, and you have tension that threatens not only to melt, but to boil the ice.  This novel is anything but cold—-it reflects the values of loyalty, honesty, friendship, and communication--all mixed up with a batter of steamy attraction. Most of all, it reveals the truth in that old saying, “wherever you go, there you are.” 
The only thing missing is an actual cupcake on the cover--what gives with that?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review of This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Harcourt Children's Books
This World We Live In
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
4 Scribbles

Imagine the last time you were grounded. Perhaps you weren’t allowed to go anywhere and were stuck inside with your parents and siblings. Maybe you were grounded from technology—no TV, no WiFi, no cell phone, no iPod, not even radio—the ultimate torture for misdeeds. Required to endure the company of family for three whole days, bored out of your mind and forced to read books, and not even Ebooks, but books on paper pages, you swore off misbehavior forever. Now, imagine those same circumstances combined, toss in no electricity and not enough food, and that is the world that the protagonists in this novel endure. Pfeffer forces characters from book one and book two in the Last Survivors series to come together into one household. The novel is again told through the voice of Miranda from the first book, and her diary pulls the reader back into what life is like a year after the moon is thrown off orbit. Miranda reveals towns devoid of life, rogue bands of individuals drifting around the country in search of food, startling acts of violence, and as Miranda discovers, special elite "safe towns" that are set up by the government through ruthless tactics I cannot imagine our government using. Tension mounts as the reader wonders, will Miranda and her new, blended family be able to tolerate living with one another in the same, cramped house? New relationships and alliances inevitably form, but will Miranda and her new family continue to survive in their small town, or will they be forced to move on like so many others desperate and in search of food? With suspense-laced pages, and nail-biting natural disasters, book three is no disappointment. What remains to be seen is if Pfeffer will indulge readers in a fourth book, and reveal the secrets being held in these freshly introduced "safe towns."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review of Racing California by Janet Nichols Lynch

Racing California
by Janet Nichols Lynch
Release Date--February 20, 2012
No Available Cover Image
3 Scribbles
Senior Evan Boroughs never imaged that his part-time job at Arizona Cycling Tours would introduce him to the gods of his beloved cycling universe, but during Winter Training camp in Phoenix one of those gods, Tour de France winner Dashiell Shipley, approaches Evan and invites him to join his team for the upcoming Tour of California race. Being a lifelong cycling fan, Evan has no choice but to say yes, but in doing so he risks losing his right to walk with his class during graduation, his girlfriend Glory to another guy, and an even larger dream—to be a doctor. Short chapters feature sweat-filled pages of muscle wrenching action as Evan realizes that competitive cycling is exactly what he knew it would be—pain. Far from cursing the experience though, Evan embraces pro cycling and finds reserves of strength he never knew he had. Idealistic about cycling from the start, Evan is in for an awakening. The world of professional sports and the gods that live there are not entirely guileless, and even gods can crash. The work is extremely well-researched and obviously written by someone who cycles and is familiar with the cycling world; that being said, even those unfamiliar with cycling will learn naturally and enjoy the story. The end of the novel leaves a few loose ends (who is Super Heckler Man?) and wraps up pretty quickly and neatly, but the action in the body makes up for the brevity of the ending.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review of New Girl by Paige Harbison

Harlequin Teen
New Girl
By Paige Harbison
Release Date--January 31, 2012
3 Scribbles
Senior Callie has no idea why everyone keeps comparing her to Becca, the girl who mysteriously went missing last year, and whose place Callie has taken at Manderley boarding school. Callie is trying desperately to fit it and enjoy her new school so she doesn’t disappoint her parents, but what she finds are whispers in every corner, advice to stay away from the only guy she’s attracted to, and a roommate who loathes the sight of her. As the year passes she realizes that she must ignore the judgment of others and take hold of what she wants before it is too late. Teen readers will have no trouble identifying the characters in this novel with people in their own circle of friends. The novel is told in alternating voices; first through the eyes of self-centered, devious, conniving, and promiscuous Becca who uses her sexuality to blackmail everyone around her; and then through Callie, who is loyal, laid back, and steadfast. Harbison does well recreating the culture of drama existing in some schools and in many teen circles, and at revealing how easy it is for some individuals to become addicted to the cycle of drama, gossip and spite. Wild, alcohol-laden parties contribute to the feeling of and danger and recklessness at Manderley, and the dark, cold, and dreary setting all add to its mystery. With a realistic and satisfying conclusion, fans of "chick lit" will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review of The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeepers
by Alice Hoffman
5 Scribbles!
The Dovekeepers is a tale of survival told in the alternating voices of four substantial and mesmerizing women who were expelled from Jerusalem, some as refugees of the Jewish-Roman wars in 70 CD, and some as the result of another woman’s scorn. Indeed the plot is loosely woven around the historical evidence surrounding the first Jewish Roman wars and the Siege of Masada. Readers will be spellbound by the tale of Yael the assassin’s daughter who betrays her only friend in order to discover her true self; they will admire the steadfastness of Revka, who witnesses a scene that would drive a lesser woman mad; they will respect Shirah for her wisdom and mysticism; and they will adore Aziza for her courage and humanity. The novel’s plot matches its desert setting—it is all at once heated, dark, intense and desperate. The protagonists come to life via the well-researched mythology and mysticism of ancient Judea, and even more specifically of the women of that era. And while all four struggle for survival through brute strength, determination, love, and an unwavering faith in God, the reader will be surprised to find that very few Jews actually survived Masada. The best historical novel of this type since The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, I cannot imagine anyone reader of historical fiction who wouldn’t want to read this remarkable and startling novel.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review of A Tinfoil Sky by Cyndi Sand-Eveland

Tundra Books
A Tinfoil Sky
By Cyndi Sand-Eveland
3 Scribbles
Release Date January 10, 2012
Twelve-year-old Mel cannot believe her good fortune when her mom, Cecily, decides to leave her jerk boyfriend and return "home" to Mel’s grandmother. Mel and Cecily have moved eleven times during the past four years, and Mel is absolutely thrilled about the chance to meet the grandmother she cannot remember. She dreams of a bedroom all her own, the same school all year long, friends, and a much-coveted library card. What she never dreams will happen is that her grandmother will turn them away, her mother will go missing, and her future will never be the same. The author weaves a tale reminiscent of Leslie Connor’s award-winning Waiting for Normal; and although not as powerful as that tale, the novel boasts realistic, flawed characters who are neither wholly bad nor wholly good. For instance, on the surface, Cecily is an admirable mother who showers Mel with affection and shares everything with Mel—her dreams, her singing talent, her hopes for the future—but all of this at the expense of stability. Additionally, it is easy to be angry with Mel’s grandmother, Gladys, because of her callous attitude, but at the same time see that the all-too-human Gladys fears being hurt once again. Best of all, the story is refreshingly honest, with a realistic ending readers will appreciate. Mel truly matures and outgrows her mother, realizing that sometimes the right choice for a hopeful future requires painful sacrifice.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Review of Crossed by Ally Condie

Dutton Juvenile
by Allie Condie
3 + Scribbles
The tone of Crossed, the second book in the Matched trilogy, is heavily influenced by the raw setting of a barren, abandoned land, where both Ky and Cassia find themselves. The author resists the urge to build tension by forcing the protagonists to circle around one another, instead allowing them to meet towards the beginning of the action, and then ironically moving them towards differing goals. Told in the alternating voices of Ky and Cassia, it quickly becomes clear that Ky has secrets, and these secrets may prevent him from a future with Cassia. Xander, who appears little in the novel, but is spotlighted throughout via secret messages hidden on tiny slips of paper, also has secrets. The reader cannot help but notice that what was obvious in book one, that Ky and Cassia are meant to be together, becomes less of a certainty in this installment. In the second half of the novel the prose leans towards the poetic, and at times slows the action tremendously; less devoted readers might struggle to stick with the story. However, new characters will hold the attention of devoted fans and add depth to the trilogy. Finally, a surprise ending encourages the reader to question if Cassia understands that the Rising she has always dreamed of may not be the utopia she hopes for.