Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review of Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Feiwel & Friends
Monument 14
By Emmy Laybourne
5 Scribbles
There is no denying that high school changes people. Unexpected friendships form and some friendships end altogether—perhaps this is because high school seems to challenge a person’s character, and some people aren’t equal to the challenge. Bookish protagonist, Dean has no idea when he boards the bus for school one average morning that the world will change and he will be stranded with 14 kids from his school district in a Greenway department store. Tsunamis, hailstorms, earthquakes, and now something far more sinister has changed the United States forever. How will Dean meet this challenge, and who will he befriend in this unlikely mix of characters?

The novel’s killer first chapter is followed by a beginning reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, although the plot quickly evolves into something far more contemporary. Critics might think being stranded in a giant department store makes the struggle too easy for the characters, but what it actually does is focus the conflicts on the characters themselves, their interactions, and their inner turmoil. It also reveals how simply surviving isn’t enough; we all crave connection to family and friends. Dean’s simple voice (in easy to read, short chapters) reveals a sharp, dry wit that appears when least expected, and readers will chuckle despite the horror that surrounds the characters. On that note, the author has an uncanny sense of timing and knows exactly when comic relief is needed. Not only do Dean’s observations of the other characters create humor, but the voices of the small children, specifically Batiste and Max, make me laugh out loud! Humor aside, however, this narrative has a dark, disturbing edge and a startling twist at the end. Here’s hoping Monument 14 evolves into a new brilliant series that I will be following!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review of 34 Pieces of You by Carmen Rodrigues

Simon Pulse
34 Pieces of You
by Carmen Rodrigues
4 Scribbles
To be released September 4, 2012
This novel reads like The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky meets Looking for Alaska by John Green. Told in the alternating voices of Jake, Sarah and Jessie, the aftermath of Ellie's drug overdose is explored. Is Ellie’s death an accident, or did she commit suicide? When Jessie discovers a box with 34 scraps of paper hidden under Ellie’s bed she hopes it may hold the secrets Ellie could not share, and help to reveal the reason for her death.

It becomes clear early on that Ellie has been sexually abused, and this mistreatment has permanently scarred her young psyche. Yet, Ellie is not the only character riddled with scars; through the lens of Ellie's death the reader witnesses a kaleidoscope of coming-of-age experiences that accurately reflect the confusing and volatile emotions teens often face. The author expertly explores the murky and edgy waters of teen sexuality, drugs, broken families and the nature of love in this fast-moving work. Readers will applaud this somber work's realistic characters. Those who have experienced crushing grief over early death will connect to the narrative, and those who haven't will understand this grief more fully.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review of Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Feiwel & Friends
Cinder: Book One the Lunar Chronicles
By Marissa Meyer
5 Scribbles
For a while there I lost my desire to read any book that was a fairy tale spin off, because a few of those I have read have been silly and trite, and so I fought reading Cinder; but then I saw all of the accolades the book is earning and I though, why not? Thank goodness that I finally overcame my apprehension and read this phenomenal book! Cinder is a cyborg living in New Beijing; she was made into a cyborg when she almost died at age 11 and scientists patched her together with artificial parts and internal computer programming to keep her alive. That makes her a second-class citizen to her stepmother, sisters, and pretty much everyone. Since she works as a mechanic to pay her "guardian" stepmother’s bills she devises a plan to run away and perhaps find her family—the family she cannot remember from before the accident. But then the plague comes to New Beijing, and suddenly Cinder finds herself the center of a study to find the cure for the deathly illness that might cost her everything, her freedom, her health, and maybe even her life.

The setting for the story is perfect and unique! Who would have thought that China (of the future) would be so appropriate for this story? Given China’s current manufacturing boom it totally makes sense, and China feels like any Western country, so it’s very easy for the reader to feel at home while reading the story! Cinder’s character, while facing daily prejudice and persecution, is so much fun to follow. The dialogue is very realistic, with Cinder talking exactly like teens today would talk, and sharing the same habits and hopes of teens today. For instance, when she meets the Prince and is asked to fix his Android, it’s all she can do to speak intelligently and not get too distracted by his good looks, even though she knows he’d never speak to her if he knew she was Cyborg! I adored Cinder’s calm under pressure, her love for her younger step-sister Peony, despite Peony’s privilege, and her sense of humor. She is a strong and admirable protagonist that any of us would like to have as a friend. And as for the plot? Perfect. Although anyone who has read Cinderella sort of knows Cinder’s destiny, it’s still a joy to find out how the author will spin the classic tale with Cinder’s character. I was riveted to this story and it’s action; I could not put it down. A great read for the middle grade, junior high, and high school ages—and for that matter, for anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale/sci-fi blend.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review of Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

Carrier of the Mark
By Leigh Fallon
2 Scribbles
Megan and her dad have moved nearly every year since the tragic death of her mother, and Megan hopes this latest move will be the last because she feels right at home in Kinsale, Ireland. Megan makes friends fast, even though (in very Twilight-esque fashion) the boy she is most interested in, Adam, avoids her. What Megan doesn’t know is that the odd gray-cloaked man she has seen in the strangest places has brought her to Kinsale for a very important event. There is something special about Megan that even she doesn’t know—and through a series of odd and mysterious happenings, Megan will soon find out what that something is.

Let me first say that while I loved the setting for the novel, I found the character of Megan…well…dull. Outside of being an American in Ireland, there isn’t anything particularly interesting about her. She doesn’t have any obvious skills, interests, or traits that make her outstanding (with the exception of her birth secret that comes out later). I loathe the fact that when Megan meets her beloved she falls head over heels for him despite the fact that she has never dated before. She doesn’t even seem to have any doubts about swearing eternal love to him and he does the same, even though they’ve only known one another for like, five minutes. The narrative seems to focus around him obsessing over her, her objecting to (but secretly relishing) his obsessing, the two sparring and then making up. What could have been a strong supernatural element gets overshadowed by the sappy romantic elements and the weak characterization. And, in true series fashion, the ending leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Sadly, this novel would have been stronger if some of those questions at least, had been answered. At this point I probably won’t pick up a next installment.

Review of Throne of Glass by Sara J. Maas

Bloomsbury USA
Throne of Glass
By Sarah J. Maas
5 Scribbles
To be released, August 7, 2012
Celaena Sardothien knows she will live out the rest of her days as a slave in the salt mines of Endovier, days that are numbered—that is until the son of the King of Adarlan, Prince Dorian, approaches her with a deal. Win a contest against the most ferocious assassins in the combined kingdoms and win her freedom. Not an easy task for most teenaged girls, but Celaena isn’t your average teenager; Celaena is a trained assassin, and she’s eager to win her freedom, even when she discovers she is fighting not just against earthly powers, but against the powers of a dark and supernatural otherworld that are hell-bent upon her destruction. Celaena is a strong female protagonist, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Graceling’s Katsa and Divergent’s Tris. Readers will love watching Celaena face off with brutes three times her size and at the same time keep her feminine edge. In fact, key male characters fall for Celaena, but what makes this read phenomenal is that the squeaky-clean romance supplements the story and does not dominate it. Celaena has a heart and a brain, and she comes off as surprisingly moral and compassionate for someone who has been defined as an "assassin." In fact, I hope to see another installment in this series so that Celaena’s background may be revealed. Secondary characters are equally interesting, and the chapters move at a rapid-fire pace that keeps readers riveted. After this work, readers will demand more from Sarah Maas!

Review of The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison

Egmont USA
The Butterfly Clues
By Kate Ellison
3 Scribbles
17-year-old, Lo cannot walk through a door without performing a complicated routine; she collects random chatzkies and struggles to fit in socially—all elements of her obsessive compulsive disorder. Perhaps this is why, when a stripper named Sapphire is murdered in Neverland, where Lo hangs out, Lo obsesses over the case, determined to find the killer. Certainly Lo’s mental illness makes for an interesting ride; her disorder not only builds tension and conflict in the story, but it becomes a serious problem when Lo gets into dangerous spots. Lo spends a lot of time in Neverland, outside of Cleveland, a place with seedy strip clubs, crack houses, and drug-addled artists. Lo counts herself as one of these misfits; her parents have hardly noticed her since the death of her older brother years ago, and in Neverland she doesn’t have to hide her rituals from anyone—especially not from Flint, the handsome, eccentric artist who agrees to help her find Sapphire’s killer. But as the strange and sometimes over-the-top coincidences stack up, Lo discovers that her obsession to solve Sapphire’s death may have nothing at all to do with her mental illness. While necessary to the story, sometimes Lo’s rituals become tedious for the reader, and the novel concludes on a very rosy note. Otherwise, the identity of the killer is hard to predict, and this makes the work a solid read.