Monday, July 30, 2012

Review of Blood Zero Sky by J. Gates

HCI Books
Blood Zero Sky
by J. Gates
3+ Scribbles
To be released, October 1, 2012.
May Fields never doubts that The Company is good. Thousands of Company employees have risen from poverty’s clutches, millions have embraced Christ, and innovation continues to create newer and better products for humanity. Proudly, she is part of the mechanics of The Company that makes such prosperity happen. But why then, does May long for something more? May isn’t sure--that is until she is kidnapped by an organization that wants more—but does she want what they are offering?

The narrator of the novel and protagonist, May, is very difficult to identify with. She is jaded, empty— and in case the constant reminders in the text don’t help you to remember—homosexual. Yet, her vapid nature and her vacillating values are reflective of the culture that she lives in—she is less heroine and more caricature, and her homosexuality opens the door to addressing sexuality in the eyes of the Christian church; so, in a clumsy way, her character works, so long as the reader remains open to the idea that the plot of the novel is more theme-driven than character-driven. “God, science and company policy” are intertwined in this novel, which can be somewhat jolting, especially when the narrative touches on so many issues, albeit timely ones, relevant to readers.  Whereas individual problems with society have been addressed by numerous authors before, such as implanted net-links and consumerism (M.T. Anderson, Feed), the decline of literacy (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451), discrimination (Shine by Lauren Myracle for one), and Big Brother government (1984, George Orwell), no other novel has combined all of these issues with the corruptive nature of a prosperity-based theology and tossed in gay rights to boot; perhaps such all-encompassing commentary is a bit overwhelming.

However, there is much to be admired in this work. Without a doubt, Gates nails the dystopian genre, and uses current trends to predict the direction the globe might be heading. Standing apart, each issue seems slightly disturbing, but mixed together in an ever-simmering mixture of reality stew it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to anticipate that our world pot might soon boil over. After all, aren’t larger corporations gobbling up smaller businesses? Aren’t some Christian religions now touting prosperity and blessings as the earthly benefit of being a follower? Don’t our youth (and adults) crave the next latest “thing” that is quickly trumped by the next, slightly-improved gadget?  Aren’t the same companies that finance us, also producing the gadgets that we slave to obtain? Aren’t politics and religion, slowly merging their lines into a muddled picture, with liberals being accused of secularism and conservatives holding the keys to the kingdom?” How much farther then until church and state become married?  Thus, is it really much of a stretch to see a world where The Company displaces government?  One where Company “bystanders” allow those who have acquired too much debt to be sent off to Company work camps? Or a world where “…experts agree that debtor-workers across the globe stand to benefit greatly from what’s being called the final consolidation” (and hasn't this sort of happened before)?

Yet, despite a few quirks, this intricate weaving of apparent flaws becomes its own clever style of “propaganda”—one that might achieve the writer’s purpose—a “call to awareness” that all people should stand up and take notice of.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review of Eona by Alison Goodman

Viking Juvenile
Eona: (Eon: Book 2)
Alison Goodman
4 Scribbles
spoiler alert!
Eon returns to the stage as her true self, Eona, female Mirror Dragoneye in the service of the Pearl Emperor, Kygo, who is fighting to regain his throne. In order to win the fight against the imposter Emperor, Lord Sethon, Eona must discover how to control her connection with the Mirror Dragon and her power, otherwise, innocent people nearby will die. In her quest for mastery, she and her companions discover that the struggle for the throne might not be the only battle they face.

From the start, Eona struggles with sharing secrets and with each choice she makes, partly because she lacks trust in other human beings; clearly her lack of trust is understandable given her childhood and maiming. Although the reader may find it frustrating that she cannot share everything with Kygo, especially since she is fighting for him, it does show a more human side to Eona—that just because she is the heroine, she doesn’t have to be decisive and perfect—being loyal is enough. What the reader may not understand is the relationship that develops between Eona and Ido. The reader will be shocked to see that Goodman develops the theme "absolute power corrupts absolutely" by causing Eona to be physically attracted to Lord Ion. It seems a bit far-fetched that any woman, especially one so badly abused as Eona, would choose to become intimate in any form with someone who previously tried to rape her! Thus, the love triangle between Eona, Kygo and Lord Ion that the author attempts to develop is unconvincing at best. As in book one plot twists abound, sword fights and bloodletting are plentiful, and the tension builds in every chapter. Those who have not read book one will likely want to read that book first; it might be difficult to jump into the story and understand its complexity without the background. And, just as in the first book some characters are cross-dressers or eunuchs, so it may be a bit controversial to those not comfortable reading Asian-themed action epics. Overall, Eona is a satisfying conclusion to this epic action adventure.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review of Erebos by Ursala Poznanski

Annick Press
by Ursala Poznanski
4 Scribbles
Kids at school are huddled in corners whispering, and most of Nick’s friends are refusing to answer the phone. Nick suspects that something exciting is going down and he’s ticked off that he’s not invited—that is until a friend of his hands him a disk and invites him to experience the game of his life…so long as Nick remains sworn to secrecy. Once logged in, Nick discovers a gaming world unlike any for sale at the local game store. The game, Erebos, is uber-realistic, insightful to the point of mind-reading, and incredibly graphic and thrilling. Suddenly, Nick is one of those whispering in corners , avoiding responsibility, and falling asleep in class, all so he can spend just a few more minutes in the game. But is the game just for fun, or does it have more sinister ideas in mind?

Gamers will enjoy reading about Nick and his epic battles online, but what will really catch the reader’s attention is the way Nick and his friends are sucked into the game both online, and in the real world. Nick’s enthusiasm borders on obsession, and his obsession is contagious; the reader will want to return to the book as quickly as possible to see if Nick is still in the game. They too will wonder about the Erebos players’ real-world counterparts, and they will ponder the mystery of a game named after the God of Darkness. Yet, in a more subtle way, this book is about choices and consequences; eventually, all players are faced with decisions that could lead to the death or injury of someone in the real world. What will Nick choose, and will his choices make his character more or less likeable? While Nick is not the most likeable character, he is an appropriate choice for the protagonist in this story. Nick is not particularly moral—he thinks he is better than the geeky kids and feels especially good about himself when he abstains from bullying others. In fact, at one point in the story he is offended when his everyday common decency isn’t seen as a grand kindness by one of his classmates. He lies continuously to his parents, and doesn’t seem to feel at all bad about this. In short, he’s just an average kid, no better or worse than most kids. In the end, I was pleased that Nick chose the path he did, but I was really disappointed that a book so clearly concerned about the consequences of a person’s actions allowed Nick to escape this book with even one negative consequence. Overall, however, the plot was enticing, the action riveting, and the mystery nearly impossible to figure out before the conclusion. A fantastic read that fans of Epic by Conor Kostick and Brain Jack by Brian Faulkner will groove on.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hallowed by Kelley York Cover Reveal!

An author I have previously reviewed has just selected our site as one of the first to reveal the cover of her new book! I am honored to publicize it! We have also been selected to recieve a copy of her new book before it is released. I will be reading and reviewing the novel here!
All 18-year-old Briar Greyson wanted was to figure out this whole living-away-from-your-parents thing. Apartment, steady job, cool roommate? Check. Noah, her adorable (albeit elusive) boyfriend? Check. Everything in the life of Briar was pretty good.
Then she and her roommate are attacked on their way home one night. Briar wasn't supposed to survive.
Instead, according to the two guys who saved her, she's turning into the things that attacked her: a vampire. Totally crazy and Not Okay. Now Noah's secrets are coming to light, and he wants Briar dead. Then there are the vampires who attacked Briar to lure out her sister.
Her sister...who died years ago.
(Didn't she?)
The city's body count is rising, and Briar wants to help put a stop to it. But first, she has to figure out who the real enemy is: the vampires, the boy she loves, or the sister she thought she'd lost.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review of The Shifter by Janice Hardy

Balzer + Bray
The Shifter: The Healing Wars Book I
by Janice Hardy
4 Stars
Some would argue that humans have the power to heal through touch—and in this story orphan Nya has harnessed this miraculous power. But the pain Nya takes when she heals another does not simply dissipate once it is taken; pain must be endured by the taker or disposed of. Unlike the healers at "The League," who can dump the pain of sickness and injury into a charmed block of rock called Pynvium once they have removed it, Nya must either endure the pain she takes or "push" it into another human being, two options that both have terrible consequences at best! Thus, her "gift" is no more than a curse that might get her killed by the ruling powers, and so she keeps her gift hidden—that is until her sister, Tali goes missing from The League, and Nya must risk exposure to find her.

The main character, Nya, jumps off the starting block on page one courting trouble and running from the authorities for her life, and this frenetic and exciting pace continues throughout. Hardy is a master at making every chapter end on a cliffhanger, thereby forcing the reader to plow on in anticipation of the next action scene or plot twist. Meanwhile, the circumstances of Nya’s childhood and the country’s past war are artfully and naturally woven into the dialogue, building a world where innocent Nya and her sister are hated underdogs and social outcasts. Perhaps it is this or Nya’s courage that endears readers to her, but regardless, Nya’s character is easy to identify with and love. Nya struggles with her choices like we all do, and discovers that sometimes circumstances don’t always allow for a perfect solution. Sometimes one must choose between options that are less than ideal. Couple the events in the story with an ironic twist near the end, and readers will be anxious to read the next two books in this series already on the shelves. Book Two, Blue Fire, and Book Three, Darkfall.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review of Torment by Lauren Kate

Delacorte Books
for Young Readers
by Lauren Kate
3 Scribbles
Book two picks up where book one in the series, Fallen, leaves off; Luce is whisked away by boyfriend Daniel to a temporary, yet safer, secret location to continue her schooling. Where Sword and Cross was all cobwebs and shadow, her new school, Shoreline, is sunshine and designer shades, but the bright setting does little to resolve Luce’s mysterious past. Here too, characters are not all that they seem. Shoreline is a school for Nephilim, kids with part-angel lineage, who serve to hide Luce from the dangerous "Outcasts" who are hunting her. A clever hiding place, but what Daniel doesn’t expect is that Luce might learn more than he ever wanted her to know, and this knowledge might cost him her love, and Luce’s life.

The strength in this novel is the illumination of the elusive "shadows" and what they actually begin to reveal to Luce about her history with Daniel. The flashbacks to Luce’s prior lives are interesting, although they would have been richer if they had delved even farther to Luce’s past (say, a thousand years back). Additionally, Luce’s roommate, Shelby, whose gruff snobbery at first seems off-putting, is a nice touch to the story and actually becomes a beloved character—someone who grows on the reader and enamors herself to readers through her sharp wit. What suffers in this story is the relationship between Daniel and Luce. Daniel comes off as a real jerk, always bossing Luce around and treating her like she’s fragile; who would want someone like this for a boyfriend even if he looks good and has supernatural powers? The chemistry between the two simply disappears in the midst of their constant bickering, and the new love-interest, smokin’-hot classmate Miles, isn’t a well-developed enough character to be a convincing temptation for Luce. Perhaps most disappointing is Luce herself. I understand that her love defies the ages and all, but I cringe when she actually says, "who am I without [Daniel]?" Ouch. Of course, those who adore Luce’s character (like every single supporting character in this novel) will forgive Luce her sappery and look forward to book three. But those who didn’t bond with Luce in book one might opt out of the next installment.

Review of Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Dial Books for
Young Readers
Three Times Lucky
by Sheila Turnage
5 Scribbles
Sixth grader Mo (Moses) Lebeau is a sleuth by nature—she’s been searching for her birth mother, the woman who tied her to a billboard post when she was an infant during a hurricane, by launching messages in a bottle addressed to her "Upstream Mother." It’s a good thing she’s a super-sleuth too, because Mo’s skills come in handy when her neighbor is found murdered, and it’s Mo Lebeau on the case, (with the assistance of big-city detective Jo Starr that is)!

While the murder mystery in the story is enough to keep readers hooked, it isn’t the mystery alone that will keep the pages turning in this charming story. Mo’s voice is so unique, so touching, and so hilarious that it’s simply fun to follow along to see what laugh-out-loud phrase or idea she’s going to come up with next, and yet— she’s still plenty intelligent. Her voice and her actions display a special spirit and a sensitivity that is beyond her years, especially when it comes to her best friend Dean and the pain he endures at the hands of his alcoholic father. And Mo alone isn’t the only exceptional character—each character in the story is quirky, interesting, and with just the right amount of Southern flavor. Take the Colonel and Miss Lana, Mo’s adoptive parents, and Miss Rose, Dean’s mother who despite their eccentricity, or perhaps because of it, illustrate that blood doesn’t make family, and it does indeed take a whole community to raise a child. Readers who enjoyed Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool and Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos will gobble up this tale and beg for more tales of Mo. And in my humble opinion, this one may be a contender for the Newberry folks!