Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review of The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman

The Obsidian Blade
By Pete Hautman
2 Scribbles
Tucker is thirteen when he sees his father, the devout Reverend Feye, disappear through a hazy disk-shaped area just above the roof of his house. When his father, the Good Reverend, returns a few hours later, he is much changed. Suddenly, everything Tucker knows and thinks he believes begins to change, and his family stability begins to shatter.

At first glance:
It is difficult to evaluate this novel on sheer surface entertainment value. There is a great deal of confusion involved for the reader as Tucker, his father, his uncle, even his mother, travel to and from different historical and futuristic periods. That does keep the reader engaged to some degree because it is impossible not to want to know how everything turns out for Tucker and his family. So from a tension and action standpoint, the novel moves forward rather quickly. Also, there are some interesting characters in the novel, for one, Reverend Feye—a man of unshakable faith whose faith is shaken. Awn, a Yoda-like character who (ironically) seems untouched by time, and Lahlia, whose presence in the novel (and soon to be series) is as of yet unclear. The flaw in the novel is unavoidable, the reader is faced with paradox after paradox, and so it is challenging for the reader to organize and make sense of the reading experience in our linear minds. Additionally, the work is planned as a series and the resolution of this first book is unsatisfactory.

Digging beneath the surface:
From an intellectual perspective the story is mesmerizing. There is a great deal going on in this text thematically. It seems that the disks, or "discos" as they are called, enable a person to travel back and forth into different times. In fact, according to Awen "time is not symmetrical," and with this idea some themes emerge in the story. First, time travel seems to create all of mankind’s mysteries; if humans understood and believed that time travel is real then we would not see mysterious events like alien visitations, ghostlike apparitions, or the Resurrection of Christ so mysterious or important. Secondly, despite the historical era or geographical location in the Universe, all humans are at their core evil, and so they leave evil in their wake. And lastly, beings that are not human (aliens) exist and at times do interact with humans.

Peppered throughout the text are also symbolic references that are hard to miss. For instance, Feye literally translated means, "destined to die," which is true for all of us. In this story it is doubly true because characters that travel well into the future, like Tucker and his father, are already dead when they go forward in time. Paradox, no? The Feye might also be a reference to the fairy folk who could trap people in their fairy land while time passed more quickly on Earth. People might spend what seemed like a day in the fairy world to return to an Earth where forty years have passed just like in this book. Father September, another character (sort of) in the text, also has a symbolic name. The beginning of September is the start of the Ecclesiastical Year in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. And given the events in the story, this cannot be coincidence.

Overall, I probably just scratched the surface of what is an incredibly dense and perplexing read. I asked a reader-friend of mine, John, to read the book with me. As he said, "if you like Star Trek and the Bible, you may like this book." If you have read the book and would like to comment on my review, please do!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review of Shine by Lauren Myracle

Brilliance Audio
By Lauren Myracle
4 Scribbles
What would you risk to avenge someone you love?

Cat and Patrick were best friends once upon a time. But then something terrible happened to Cat, and she shut everyone in her small town out of her life. Cat learns that it is easier to be alone than to answer questions; besides, small towns are known for their gossip, and she doesn’t want to be a target again. But then Patrick is found bludgeoned, disfigured and left for dead outside of his job at the local gas station, and the whole town knows it is because he is gay. Now, since the local law seems to be indifferent to solving the crime, Cat risks her safety and her own terrible secret to find and reveal Patrick’s attacker. Worse, yet, Cat fears the attacker might be someone she knows.

The tension in this story builds continuously on two fronts from page one. The reader wants to know what happened to Cat in order to make her withdrawal from the world, and at the same time they want to know who attacked Patrick. This conflict, combined with the subtle, yet important commentary about poor economic conditions in the South, growing drug abuse problems amongst residents, racism and prejudice makes for a thought-provoking and powerful read. The characters are well-rounded and interesting; and while at first it is hard to believe in Miss Sweetie’s conviction that all people have good in them, even the most villainous characters in the story reveal this to be true. The dialogue in the story creates a rich texture and humor while at the same time respecting the culture of the region. And while at first I thought that some of the descriptions of attitudes in Black Creek might have marginalized people from the region, I quickly realized that Black Creek is the average American town with all the pretty trimmings removed. Black Creek could very easily be my town, be your town. The novel is raw, edgy, and honest, and I am better for having read it.

Let me add that I listened to this book on audio. The narrator, Elizabeth Evans, nailed the Appalachian accent with ease. I know this because my own parents are from the region! I was especially pleased with the way Evans was able to move from character to character, whether male or female, old or young without ever disturbing my sense of belief. A layered and significant work like this could have been a flop with a lesser reader, but Evans is to be commended. She pulled it off, "bless her heart!"

Friday, April 13, 2012

Review of The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (audio version)

Penguin Audio
The Apothecary
by Maile Meloy
4 Scribbles
What if "magic" isn’t really some mysterious force but a precisely created chemical reaction in matter? Sounds pretty sophisticated, but when Janie is forced to move with her mom and dad from Los Angeles, California to London, England she finds out that these scientific combinations are exactly what magic is made of; magic is very real, very possible, and not that complicated. Together with her newly made friend, Benjamin Burrows, the apothecary’s son, the two stumble across magical formulas that embroil them in an international plot to test an atom bomb, and a spy adventure that rivals Spy Kids and James Bond!

There isn’t a character in this novel that comes off as flat or boring, no matter how minor. Janie’s parents are the kinds of parents every kids wants, caring, creative, in love, but not too overprotective of Janie. Sarah Pennington, Janie’s arch-nemesis, could be your typical prep school snob, but she has a penchant for bad boys, even if they are poor. And then there is Pip! Pip, a character added in obvious homage to Dickens’ Great Expectations, lights up every scene he appears in with his hilarious jokes, cockney accent, pickpocketing and smooth-talking ways. The adults aren’t starchy cutouts either. Mr. Danby, Jin Lo, Benjamin’s dad, even the Gardner all have motivations and pasts. Add these characters, among others, to the mix with American Janie and earnest Benjamin Burrows, and you have a tale that captures the reader even before the author adds action to the mix. And oh, the action! The chapters are very short, and each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, often in some strange but interesting locale. Readers will worry about Janie and Benjamin, and yes, Pip too. Will the troublesome threesome survive as they spy on dangerous criminals who wouldn’t hesitate to kill kids? Will the children learn the secrets of the apothecary’s potions? Will Janie ever make it back home to her parents?

If you like audio books, I would highly recommend listening to this one. The narrator, Cristin Milioti, seamlessly switches between American, German, Russian, Norwegian, Chinese, British, and Cockney accents without stirring the awareness of the reader that it’s a dramatic reading by only one person, not a team of actors creating the narration. With such varied voices, this must be incredibly difficult to do. FYI, this book was on The American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Recordings of 2012 lists—clearly a commendation well earned.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review of the Death Cure by James Dashner

Delacorte Books
for Young Readers
The Death Cure
By James Dashner
2 Scribbles
First let me say that I was enthralled by the first book in the Maze Runner trilogy. I was the series biggest fan; I even made The Maze Runner my favorite book on my website for nearly a year! The mystery of the Glade and the Maze, its possible purpose, hooked me and held me. But I admit, as the series progressed, I became less and less motivated to discover the purpose of WICKED and more and more anxious for the adventure to just wrap up. I was willing to stick with book two mainly because of the addition of new characters like Brenda and Jorge, even the though "The Scorch" was just another Maze-survival formula. That being said, I found book three to be a most painful read. Typically, I don’t mind violence in a novel at all—much of what I read, even in YA, due to my tastes—includes some level of violence. But in this third installment, I found the violence to be frequent, devoid of much intense reaction from or lasting impact on the characters, random and constant. For instance, fights are drawn out repeatedly, the author even including phrases like, "yet again" to describe the repeated pummeling that main characters like Thomas take in order to stretch the action on each page. Like the characters in the story, I grew immune to the gore, skimming over conflicts and fights, attacks and counter-attacks to get to the answers—the meat of the story. When I thought I was finally at the meat of the story, a spine-chilling confrontation at WICKED headquarters reminiscent of Unwind by Neal Shusterman, I was sadly disappointed. Instead the author offered a weak anti-climax followed by more bloodletting. And so I skimmed on. I am slightly impressed that the author fearlessly killed off a few important characters, but such events happen so late in the story that it hardly challenges his skills to guide the plot into newer, more engaging territory. Worst of all is the constant reminder through Thomas’s eyes that he cannot trust anyone. Or can he? He changes his mind so frequently that I actually quit caring who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Sadly, what starts as a strong work of sci-fi, in the end might have been better as one installment.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review of Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

By Lauren Oliver
5 Scribbles
Book two of the Delirium series introduces a girl who is no longer naive; Lena is tough, resilient, and stoic in the face of what she has lost. And yet Lena is slightly-broken—never having dreamed she would face her idealistic "Wilds" without Alex—the boy who infected her with the delirium. In alternating chapters entitled "Now," and "Then," the reader experiences Lena’s growth from a newly-born Invalid mourning her lost love and struggling to recover and thrive in the Wilds to a full-on member of the Resistance. Charged with her mission, to shadow the youth leader of the "Delirium Free America" organization, she moves to Manhattan and assumes a false identity. Will she survive the experience? The more fully engrained she becomes in her new life, the more she begins to wonder if the Resistance isn’t much different from the world she left. Will she be forced to evaluate her own moral code? Is it ever acceptable to sacrifice the needs of the individual in order to prosper and protect the whole? With action that builds momentum and urgency in each page, the reader is compelled to see if Lena will complete the mission she has been given by the Resistance, if she will abandon her new Invalid family, and if she will ever recover from the loss of Alex and find love again. Readers engrossed in will be equally pleased with book two and applaud the bittersweet irony of the Oliver’s clever ending. Book three, Requiem, cannot arrive soon enough!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Starters by Lissa Price

Delacorte Books
for Young Readers
By Lissa Price
4 Scribbles
Imagine being curled up in flannels, belly full, checking texts, or updating your Facebook feed one last time before bed. It is good to be healthy, strong, and a teenager, good to chill out and drift off to sleep with no worries except what is going on this weekend. Now imagine that a new day breaks, the world has changed, and all the parents in the United States are dead or dying. That’s Callie’s reality.

A biochemical weapon released during a war on the United States kills everyone between the ages of 20 and 60. Only the young and very old live—having been inoculated first for the virus that government officials knew would come—and now children who don’t have concerned, rich grandparents, or "Enders," to care for them are homeless vagrants fighting against starvation and violence to stay alive in a world that could care less. Callie is desperate to provide for her sick brother, Tyler. She volunteers at a mysterious company, Prime Destinations, where for an outrageous amount of money an Ender can "rent" her body for a time and like a teenager again. The deal seems straight forward enough, and so despite her uneasiness at having someone living in her head and body for a while, Callie signs on the dotted line. And that’s when the fun begins. Callie is a strong female protagonist who isn’t easily swayed to go against her morals despite the fact that doing so might save her brother’s life. She is angry at having to live in a world with uncaring and selfish Enders, at not being allowed to work to provide for her brother, and yet she is resourceful enough to keep them both alive. A good thing she’s resourceful too, because in the world of Enders, nothing is as it seems. Plot twists keep readers plowing through pages despite minor details that might have been touched on (for instance, how do the Enders who are "renting" manage to keep their muscles strong and not starve while reclining for months on end?), and mysterious characters like Blake’s grandfather and the Man in the Mask, force readers to move forward in search of answer. Part survival story, part apocalyptic fare, what’s best about this novel is the unique slant. In a market filled with such novels, Price has truly engineered an exceptional tale with no contemporary comparisons—and that’s saying something, especially for a debut author! Couple all of this with the (cruel) teaser at the end and readers will be begging for a second installment.