Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review of Endure by Carrie Jones

Bloomsbury USA
by Carrie Jones
3 Scribbles
I’ve been a fan of the Need series since book one when Jones took pixies out of obscurity and brought them to the YA audience. Thus, I was ecstatic to see book four of the series emerge after a long two-year wait. Zara is no different in this installment, soft-hearted, bull-headed, and intolerant of cruelty wherever it exists. Zara finds out the end of the world is eminent, and she is the one who will begin and end the apocalypse. She is an admirable, tough heroine. Unable to accept her role in the coming end, she and her entourage are forced to temporarily enlist new warriors in the fight against the evil pixies in Maine while they travel to Iceland to find the mythic "Hel," or Nordic underworld, and the secret to preventing the destruction of mankind.

Like other novels in the series, there is no shortage of butt-kicking action as Zara and her companions fight Frank and the evil pixies throughout the story. Jones isn’t afraid to sacrifice a human or two in the process either—which adds to the tension. The Norse myth of Hel in the story is very interesting, so different from the traditional Christian mythology of "Hell" that many readers in this country will find the narrative doubly interesting and the descriptions of Hel almost inviting. The keeper of Hel, also named "Hel" is perhaps one of the most interesting new additions to the series. Hel is a devil with a heart, and for some reason, she captures mine. I could see Jones developing a series of short stories based on Hel’s interactions with her "guests." But, I digress. What doesn’t really work in the novel is the changing relationship between Zara and Nick. Without revealing too much, Nick comes off as a major flake. And although the newly-developing relationship between Astley and Zara reveals that first loves (Nick) usually do not last forever, it is hard to make the shift to the new romantic duo—they just don’t sizzle. At times the novel lacks clarity (why does Issie’s mom keep her from going to Zara’s house after dark but let her travel to Iceland?), and it is difficult to suspend disbelief when the teens of the town start training. Despite these minor lapses, the finishing is satisfying even if it is not the best book of the four-book series.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review of Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Katherine Tegen Books
By Veronica Roth
4 Scribbles
Short of sounding like Annie Wilkes from Misery, I can honestly say that after reading Divergent, book one in the series, I became Roth’s number-one fan. For one thing, I think Roth is a plotting genius, moving characters from conflict to conflict rapidly and leaving readers salivating for the next scene and chapter. Insurgent is no different. In fact, the quick, action-packed pacing is amplified in this installment because the remaining Divergent faction (namely Tris, Tobias and followers) who were not a part of the traitorous uprising with Erudite have no home and are forced to run from faction to faction for survival. Meanwhile, they must also decide how to best defeat Erudite and their limitless supply of soldiers thanks to the simulation serums that Erudite leader, Janine, has developed. How does one fight a war with limited resources, troops, and while being on the run? It’s a story rich with political dilemmas, family conflicts, and even dissension among friends. And what’s fabulous is that book two picks up right where book one, Divergent, leaves off!

There are a few flaws to this second book, and I suspect that these flaws are due to the fact that Divergent was such an overwhelming hit (sure to equal if not trump The Hunger Games) that Roth was forced to write and edit too quickly. Roth even comments about these glaring errors in her own blog .
My number-one beef with book two, however, a beef that I hope she remedies in book three, is that the main character Tris, who was tough, stoic, a strong female character who belongs in Divergent in book one…Tris she cries all the time in book two. It is over-the-top, it is melodramatic, it is exhausting to read about. It is too much. It’s just not Tris-worthy.

That being said, the twist at the end put my mind in a tailspin, and I cannot wait for book three, but I will so that quality of book three will be as stellar as book one!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review of What a Boy Wants by Nyrae Dawn

Kindle Edition
What a Boy Wants
by Nyrae Dawn
3+ Scribbles

"…girls didn’t realize the power they held. That they were really the ones pulling the strings." --Sebastion

Sebastion is a self-proclaimed "Hook-Up Doctor" who has the inside 411 for girls on how to land a guy who seems to have no interest (which Sebastion will offer up for a nominal fee). All of his clients are online; it’s the perfect way to save up some cash for a car. What Sebastion doesn’t realize is that giving away hook-up information is like telling a fisherman what bait to use and where to fish when you are a bass. He doesn’t realize that he might just be the target for one of his clients.

A strength and a weakness in the novel is the voice of Sebastion the womanizer, and main character. His narration is a strength because the dialogue/slang he uses is colorful, a bit profane, and very reflective of the way many teens speak. However, when this book is released in print (it is currently only available on Amazon Ebook), and I have no doubt it will be picked up for print, it may become dated after a number of years. The main conflict, Sebastion’s desire for and fear of a relationship with his lifelong friend, Aspen, will be valid no matter the decade or era. Who isn’t a bit unsure and afraid when they fall in love? Girls (and guys for that matter) should read this book. The peek into the male psyche and way of thinking is very insightful. So many young women don’t realize that they have power over boys—if they realized this they might be more apt to make strong choices in the relationship instead of being unduly influenced or pressured into commitments they aren’t willing to make. And for both guys and girls, the message is clear—games are the worst way for a happy dating situation. Games suck! So guys, read this book and see if it really explains what a guy wants, and girls, read this book and pull those strings!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review of Henry Franks by Peter Adam Salomon

Henry Frank
by Peter Adam Salomon
5 Scribbles
To be released September 8, 2012
Henry doesn’t remember the accident that gave him the scars on his body, and he isn’t sure why he is losing feeling in his hands. What he does know is that his mother died in the accident that caused his father to become eerily absent and caused Henry to forget. Something is not quite right on St. Simons Island. Could that something be connected with the series of murders that have been reported?

One of the most refreshing aspects of this gruesome mystery is the voice. Unlike so many novels now told in the first-person, "I" narrative, this novel is told from the outside looking in. This outside view, coupled with the sparse dialogue between the main character Henry, and those he speaks with gives readers a more crisp view of the action, but also a more limited view, very appropriate for a mystery. Clues are planted early, but they are subtle, and I challenge readers to decipher their meaning before the revealing climax. The novel’s setting is also a strength—it certainly ratchets up the creep factor. The environment is hot and steamy, causing Henry’s scars to nag and itch, thus building the reader’s feeling of unease, and the impending hurricane, coupled with Henry’s loss of feeling, builds pressure on the reader to discover the killer. Salomon’s technique is clipped, with the only true narration appearing in news articles, which not only builds tension, but drives reader crazy trying to predict the killer and the ending, making for an extremely satisfying read. This is Saloman’s debut novel—a promising beginning to a writing career I plan to follow!

Review of Skinny by Donna Cooner

By Donna Cooner
3 Scribbles
To be released Oct 1, 2012
Any time Ever sees her father, her gorgeous stepsisters, her stepmother, her classmates, or anyone else for that matter, she knows they are thinking about the elephant in the room—and that elephant is Ever. She weighs 302 pounds and is 15 years old. Will gastric bypass surgery help Ever win her crush, Jackson, and stop the embarrassment and isolation she feels every day?

Ever is a difficult character to embrace at first. She is plagued by a constant inner voice she dubs her fairy godmother, Skinny; Skinny’s voice is brutal, nagging and mocking Ever’s weight with hateful insults on a constant basis. Thus, Ever is also hateful, slinging snarky comments and sarcasm in her path wherever she goes, even to those who don’t deserve them. However, as the novel progresses, the reader begins to realize that Ever’s bitterness is all a front. What she really wants is to find friends, find love, and to fit—whether that be in her clothes or in her school—and right now she doesn’t fit anywhere. With the support of her dad and her best friend Rat, Ever chooses weight loss surgery, and through that experiences she begins to discover where her pain comes from. Without the band aid of food, Ever must now begin first grieving her mother, and then grieve food. Only then can her soul’s true beauty shine. Although Susan Vaught’s My Big Fat Manifesto presents an outside perspective of weight loss surgery, Cooner’s novel explores heretofore untouched territory of a teenager’s personal journey with gastric bypass. And while the humor falls flat in some places, and the romantic angle is predictable, teens struggling with personal overweight, or teens supporting a friend with these issues will enjoy the book. It is a timely story about the definition of true beauty, and for those who hate fairy tale retellings, no worries here, this tale is only loosely based on the Cinderella original.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review of Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Little Brown Books
for Young Readers
Story of A Girl
by Sara Zarr

5 Scribbles
One of the wisest women I have ever known used to say to me, “wherever you go, there you are.” And yet, who hasn’t felt like starting over in a new place might solve all of their problems at one time or another?  Deanna is only 13 when she gets caught in the backseat of a car with her older brother’s best friend, and from that moment on she is a slut in the eyes of her classmates. Worse yet, her father can’t even look at her anymore because he is so ashamed of her.  How long, and how far away from that backseat does Deanna have to get for people to see who she really is?
It isn’t difficult to have empathy for Deanna’s character. She speaks with a cynical voice that is wise beyond her years and angry, yet still belongs to a teenager. Even though Deanna is sexually experienced at an early age, she is still innocent in many ways.  What Deanna really needs is the love of her father and not his harsh judgment of her past.  She works relentlessly to restore her father’s love and respect, and yet she is continually punished, so much so that she begins to wonder if she really is as bad as what others (including her father) think she is. The setting also plays a huge role in the story contributing to the feeling of hopelessness and regret.  Deanna’s family is relatively poor, and this is evident in the peeling paint, messy yard, and stained carpeting of their home. Her brother, sister-in-law and niece live in the basement, and every member of the family has a poorly paying, but demanding job. No one really has time to spend listening to Deanna, and even her beloved brother seems to be moving away from her with his own family. Through Deanna’s eyes the reader has an authentic experience of a lower-middle class American. They see how difficult it is for struggling adults to keep their own disappointments from bleeding into the hearts of their children.  And better yet, they learn that the only way to change perception is to challenge it, to tell others who you are and who you intend to be, and usually that is done right where you are.

Review of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Quirk Books
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
By Ransom Riggs
3 Scribbles

Jacob grew up hearing his granddad, Abraham, tell stories about his narrow escape from the “monsters” that lived in Poland during WWII, and his flight as an orphan to a children’s home in Wales.  Granddad’s escape isn’t just from the Nazis, but monsters of the mythical type with bloodthirsty cravings for human flesh. When Jacob grows older he dismisses the stories about monsters as ravings from Granddad’s senile mind—that is until he witnesses a murder— and in his search for the killer, is forced to reconsider whether or not Abraham’s stories are actually true. 
There are three things that I find quite misleading about this book. The first perplexing point is most certainly the cover. Perhaps it is the intent of the artist to make the cover appear eerie and menacing, with the floating girl in vintage clothing, but what it actually does (in tandem with the long and lame title) is promote the book to primarily young female readers, even though the protagonist is a male, definitely not a good move on the part of the publisher. The third confounding element is the age of Jacob, the protagonist. At the start of the novel Jacob is an older teen using older-teen vocabulary and with an older-teen attitude. Imagine my disappointment when  Jacob seems to regress as the story moves on, acting more like a younger teen. Those errors aside, the action and the characters (including the monsters)  in the story are both excellent, feeling like a cross between the writing of Daren Shan in his Cirque du Freak series and Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus.  However, I would argue that there is nothing spooky at all about the story. The concept of possible time travel, while not unique per se, is made more interesting when described as time loops that eventually close.  And while the ending leaves a few questions unanswered (also leaving an opening for a second book in a series) this book has won several awards, and there is movie buzz surrounding it, so my average rating may fall well below the accepted mark.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review of The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda

St. Martin's Griffin
The Hunt
By Andrew Fukuda
3 Scribbles
There used to be humans in Gene’s life. There were his dad, his mom, and a sister—but that was so long ago he can barely remember. Now he lives amongst vampires. Each day he meticulously shaves all of his body hair, trims his nails, sharpens his fake fangs, and pretends to be excited about lunches of bloody, raw flesh served without anything to drink. If you’ve ever seen Ethan Hawke in Gattica, you know how little room there is for any error when one is passing as someone whose DNA is so markedly different from his compatriots. Discovery means being torn limb from limb by his bloodthirsty classmates and devoured. Gene knows he is perhaps the last human alive, and there is no future of family and friends to look forward to. The best he can hope for is survival. But then the Vampire Ruler announces The Hunt—apparently there are other humans, and the vampires are going to have a lottery to see who gets to hunt them and eat them—and guess who is chosen?

The concept of humans passing as vampires is an interesting spin on the tired vampire genre, so it’s not difficult to be drawn into the narrative of the story from the beginning. Descriptions in the book are vivid and quite well done, but in that richness is a slight flaw. Clearly, this is science fiction, and yet, it is difficult to suspend one’s disbelief that Gene can actually pass as a vampire. For one thing, he doesn’t have super-human speed, and I would think that would be very difficult to hide. Additionally, at one point in the story vampires are able to sniff out humans (Hepers) in the rain over an expanse of many miles nearly losing their sanity in the process with bloodlust—and yet, flimsy cover stories allow Gene to live amongst vampires without showering for several days undiscovered. At another point in the story Gene is near-death with dehydration, and yet he chooses to sleep rather than spend the safe hours while vampires are sleeping searching for water. Gene repeatedly makes errors that result in very close calls, and yet still seems to escape undiscovered. While this does contribute to the tension of the story, it’s a hard thing to overlook. However, if one is forgiving, the story is a bloody, action-packed start to a unique new series. Younger readers, and lovers of vampires will likely eat it up. But make no mistake, this is not the next Hunger Games.

Auction to Save Animals!

This no-kill animal shelter hosts an annual auction of items for book lovers including books, critiques, jewelry, swag and other perks. The bids are very reasonable! You have from now until May 13, Mother's Day.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review of Dark Song by Gail Giles

Little Brown Books
for Young Readers
Dark Song
By Gail Giles
4 Scribbles
Ames lives the fairy tale. Attentive, loving father who provides for the family. Mother who gives Martha Stewart a run for her domestic crown. Cute and cuddly baby sister. Quirky and loyal best friend. Mansion, exotic vacations, private school, cash flow—it is good to be Ames. That is until the bottom falls out. Ames’ dad barely avoids jail time for committing a white-collar crime, her mother turns into a shrew, her sister is afraid to sleep alone at night, and the family loses their house. Ames is not just angry to find out her parents aren’t the perfect people they pretended to be, she’s furious. What kind of parent violates the trust of their child like this? When the family is forced to move to a slum in Texas, Ames saves no time looking for someone to replace the parents she once loved, and she doesn’t really care who gets burned in the process. Most readers will identify with Ames because she is angry with her parents for their dishonesty and deception, who wouldn’t be? She is forced to face reality too soon—and in such a devastating way. However, what might be harder for readers to understand is Ames’ constant rich-girl whining…she’s almost comically sheltered from the real world; and yet, the reader will still stay firmly in Ames’s corner. True, Ames’s parents do take out their anger on Ames often in the story, but Ames is unable to see her part in the cycle of cruelty. Instead, she fights back by starting a relationship with a potentially dangerous 22-year-old, Marc, down the street. What she doesn’t realize is that this guy burns hot, and Ames is likely to get scorched. In trademark Giles’ style, the novel moves at a startling pace, with an introduction that teases the reader on, and short chapters that read like a roller coaster ride. Fans of Giles won’t be disappointed in this truly fractured fairy tale.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review of Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Dutton Juvenile
By Joshua Cohen
5 Scribbles
Readers will plow through this narrative like an offensive lineman on steroids, and in this novel, there is plenty of steroid use going on. Yet, that is not the thrust of the story. Kurt, a new player for Oregrove High School’s Knights, is glad to have a fresh start at a new school, having come to OHS as an orphan with a disturbing history. Cursed with a hellacious stutter, Kurt isn’t likely to share that story; instead, he plans to make the most of his new life, pumping iron not only to increase his chances at a scholarship, but also to insulate himself from pain, both inside and out. When his fate intertwines with Danny, an underclassman gymnast with mad skills, the two are unlikely friends. But a violent crime ties them both together, and they must decide if they will risk everything to speak out—including their lives. The story rockets along with a tension that is palpable, conflicts that will rip the reader apart from the inside out, and keep them awake at night. Even though some of the bad-guys seem to be a bit over-the-top in the sheer evil of their actions, I have no doubt in the wake of current news about bullying all over the country, that evil villains like these really exist. This novel is not for the faint of heart, and those offended by profanity and violence need not crack the pages—this is a story that could not be told without both. With an insight into human nature that psychologists would envy for its raw examination of courage and cowardice, I for one, find Leverage to be one of the finest, most well-written novels I have ever read.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review of Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin
Books for Children
Grave Mercy His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy)by Robin LaFevers
3 Scribbles
This is no average Cinderella story, although Ismae does rise up from the ashes. Sold into marital slavery by her father, she manages to escape with the clandestine help of furtive holy men who deliver her to the convent of Saint Mortain—a.k.a.— Brittany’s god of death.  There, Ismae becomes a nun who serves death.  And how does she do this? She’s an assassin who is charged with killing anyone who comes in the way of her country’s independence.  The novel begins with heart-stopping action. Ismae faces the consummation of her marriage to the filthy, pot-bellied drunk her father sells her to and immediately engages the reader’s sympathy. Prepared to love Ismae, the reader will follow her through her training in the convent and yearn for that first assignment. However, when Ismae makes her first kill, a great deal is lacking from the description. First, Ismae’s reaction to the kill seems nonchalant at best, making it difficult for the average reader to relate, even if the convent has trained her for this mission. Wouldn’t even the most calloused assassin feel something powerful after their first kill? From this point, Ismae is faced with infiltrating the Duchess’s castle as a noblewoman, becoming a spy, and murdering traitors along the way (which she does quite well). It isn’t until later in the novel, after several kills, that Ismae begins to question her task as a killer, and not entirely for the reasons one might expect. Furthermore, the romance that blossoms in the story is a stretch given Ismae’s hardened nature. Some writers can take a hate-hate relationship and turn it on its head in 200 short pages, not so in this case, not even with 400+ pages. I really, really tried to connect with Ismae, to feel those flutters with her when she finally opened her heart to love, but her distant affectation was perhaps written too well. That being said, the plotting of the novel is quite solid. The mysterious traitor is not easy to spot, several plot twists and skirmishes create interest along the way, and the setting is authentic. I am planning to read LaFevers’ second novel, featuring Ismae’s fellow sister-in-death, Sybella, because I felt that even in the brief time readers knew her, Sybella’s character was quite well-developed. I sense that Sybella has a magnificent story to tell! Overall, this is a valiant effort at a new series with an intriguing concept.