Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Dutton Juvenile
The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
5 Scribbles

Hazel is a grenade. She lives under the constant pressure that any day could be her last. She has terminal cancer held in check by experimental drugs—cancer that will eventually explode and destroy her weakened body. Hounded by her parents to be more active, Hazel meets cancer survivor Augustus Waters in a weekly support group, and soon the two teenagers are on the verge of something more than friendship; yet, Hazel doesn’t want to be loved, not when at any moment her cancer may ignite, and those loved ones she leaves behind will be forced to pick up the pieces.

Only John Green can take two teenagers whose entire lives, whose circle of friends, whose very experience of life revolves around cancer—and make it funny.  For the first half of this marvelous novel I chuckled at the quirky dialogue and quips exchanged between Hazel, Augustus and their friend Isaac, and enjoyed the cynical sense of humor shared by these three cancer victims. Despite their weekly visits to the “literal heart of Jesus” where they listen to a social worker discuss his earlier bout with testicular cancer (insert ball jokes here) the three seem to have an incredibly positive and realistic outlook on life.  Imagine going to a meeting every week where you are reminded of your mortality, given a list of the recently deceased children who’ve gone before you, and generally soaked in the presence and culture of death. How many of us could smile, let alone laugh? As the story develops and through the voices of Hazel and Augustus, who clearly love one another but fight the attraction, we meet Peter Van Houten, author of Hazel’s favorite novel, An Imperial Aflliction.  It is Van Houten’s work, his voice, who in many ways bring the two “star crossed” lovers together. In fact, it is Van Houten who first points out that that the fault of a future that “sucks” may have nothing to do with us, or our choices. Sometimes fate decides. Good people have bad luck, young people get sick and die. It happens. The fault is not in ourselves (a reference to lines from the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar), it really is in our stars. This honesty is what makes the novel so tragically wonderful, so incredibly moving, and the unexpected twist so heart wrenching. And yet for each tear I shed in the novel, I laughed twice as much. And isn’t that really what life is supposed to be about, no matter how brief that life might be?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review of The Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead

Last Sacrifice
by Richelle Mead
4 Stars

Rose stands accused of murdering the queen of the Moroi, and only has weeks before she must face her possible execution. On the run for her life, she seeks shelter with an odd group of Moroi, Dhampir and humans who live in West Virginia and who inter-marry and live by the old ways of the Moroi. These people can keep Rose safe. But when she hears there may be a secret Dragomir sibling, will the promise of answers cause Rose to compromise her safety yet again?

I’ve been a fan of this series since book one when I had the pleasure of meeting quirky, bull-headed, impulsive and exasperating, Rose Hathaway and her dear sweet best friend Vasilisa Dragomir.  Why do I continue to read on? The same reason I loved this sixth book in the series. First off, I’ve grown to love the characters and am highly invested in what happens to them—even Rose, who I sometimes want to strangle. She’s all the things I am not—thin, physically fit, sexy, a warrior, decisive to a fault, and dating the hottest guy around. Note: I am not talking about Dimitri Belikov either, although there is some delicious conflict in this novel between Rose, Adrian, and Dimitri. Despite all of those things I envy about her, I adore her! Rose is her trademark self in this novel, jumping into highly dangerous situations in order to discover the mysterious possible hidden sibling of her BFF Lisa Dragomir; Lisa has lost her place on the royal council since council members must have living relatives, and a sibling could help her and the Moroi kingdom—since Lisa might then be eligible to become queen. And let’s face it, with the increasing danger from Strigoi, the kingdom could use a gentle-hearted and courageous queen like Lisa—but I digress. Rose, worried more about empowering Lisa than her own possible death by execution, displays her typical bravery, and readers will love her for it. A new/previously introduced character has a bigger role in this novel, Sydney Sage, who introduces Rose to the Keepers, a group of “backwoods” Moroi, Dhampir and humans who live together in peace while keeping the old ways of the ancient Moroi. I’d like to see more of this group, frankly, because I found them primitive, yet insightful. The mystery of the queen’s killer takes precedence in the novel, and while I sort of suspected who the killer might be early on, I still enjoyed the character development and the kick-butt battles along the way. Hats off to Richelle Mead for another VA hit!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review of The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Greenwillow Books
The Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Rae Carson
5 Stars

Lady Elisa is special. She is the bearer of the Godstone, a stone placed in her navel by God which marks her as someone who will perform an important act of service during her lifetime. Elisa loves God and studies constantly to know God’s will for her life. But she has been sheltered, and there are things she doesn’t know about the Godstone. There are enemies that would happily kill her to harness its power, and Lady Elisa is in danger. Now, married to the handsome King Alejandro of Joya d’Arena as the seal to a bargain that will provide troops against the enemies of both countries, Elisa wonders, when will her act of service occur, and will she, like most Godstone bearers, die young?

Before I go on and on about how pleased I am to find a tough, independent, resilient, and overweight protagonist who is also a princess, let me first give an enthusiastic shout out to the author of this phenomenal novel; hello and thank you, Rae Carson (OH-IO)! I feel certain that Ms. Carson is going to be one of those YA novelists from the great state of Ohio who stands arm and arm with other gifted YA writers from this state—Cinda Williams Chima, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Sharon Creech, Angela Johnson, Sharon Draper to name a few—all of whom make me proud to be a Buckeye.

First, let me say that while the synopsis of this book (above) makes it sound like a religious book, I would argue that the religious overtones do not at all come off as overly didactic. In fact, when religion is referenced at all, it comes off as highly generic in nature; faith becomes the greater theme that Lady Elisa deals with. Lady Elisa’s character seems naturally concerned with faith, it suits her—especially at the start of the story when she is married off to a handsome stranger who doesn’t really desire her at all, and she is taken to a strange country. Faith is all she has. Will King Alejandro ever desire her? After all she is very, very fat. Like many of us, when Elisa becomes stressed out, concerned, or simply bored, she eats—and because of this, she is a fat bride. Thus, her self-confidence suffers, at least at first, but her faith and intelligence trump her insecurities and help to make her a formidable future queen against her enemy—the neighboring country Invierne. The dynamic changes Elisa goes through during the action in this novel (and the action and conflict between Joya d’Arena & Invierne is the primary focus of the work) make her perhaps my most favorite female protagonist ever!

The secondary characters in the novel are equally interesting. It’s not hard to see early on that the handsome King Alejandro, who Elisa worries over in the start of the novel is a flake. He is spineless and cannot take a stand, even when it comes to acknowledging his own marriage. Indecisive, adulterous, cowardly, and inexperienced, Alejandro cannot hold a candle to Elisa.  Equally as interesting, but not nearly as spineless, are Elisa’s devoted nurse, Ximena, who clearly has a secret past, and the spiteful Cosmé, the handmaiden to her husband’s mistress who seems hell-bent on Elisa’s destruction. But perhaps the most endearing character is Humberto—a humble desert boy who treats Elisa with love and honor, whether she is obese or thin. Who doesn’t love a guy like that?

The writing in the novel is incredibly strong. Unlike many other YA novels that include such disturbing plot twists as arranged marriage, espionage, and war, as this novel does, sensitive situations are dealt with tactfully, and there are absolutely no sexually explicit scenes.  The author uses Spanish (or perhaps Italian?) words to add an exotic feel to the narrative, and this, coupled with the fantastic descriptions of deserts and sandstorms made this Ohio native feel like I’ve traveled to lands far away. Each chapter was short and punctuated with enough action and intrigue to keep me on the edge of my seat.  

Happily and in her own words, “God is not done with [Elisa] yet”—book two, Crown of Embers is already on the shelves, and I’ve just ordered my copy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review of Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Little Brown Books for
Young Readers
Beautiful Chaos
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
4 Stars

Some powerful, otherworldly force is out to destroy Gatlin and the residents who live there. Lena’s Claiming has disturbed the natural order of things, and Gatlin is experiencing apocalyptic events that have the whole town terrified. Under the devastation of locusts, raging storms and stifling heat, the landscape is changing. Worse, Ethan doesn’t feel quite right, and he suspects the town is not the only thing changing.  How can Ethan, Lena and their friends stop the coming end? Will they discover the correct offering in time to save the town and their loved ones, and more importantly, who will have to pay the ultimate price in exchange for the town’s salvation?

This is one of those series that has made me an avowed fan of the authors. The third book in the Beautiful Creatures series is, I am happy to proclaim, just as satisfying as the first two. All the creeptastic characters from earlier books make an appearance, the spooky town is rendered somewhat spookier given the paranormal attacks that are taking place, and a new, more powerful force from beyond the tunnels rears its head. What’s really satisfying is the fact that the authors recognize the need to lose important characters in a series from time to time, and they seem to be willing to do this in this installment (l’m not telling who!) which ups the ante for book four. And unlike in former books where some characters were resurrected after their deaths, I’m pretty sure these characters aren’t coming back. Ethan and Lena still take center stage—their chemistry as hot as ever—Link is still pining for Ridley, which makes for some interesting, charged scenes, and a surprising new couple emerges. The cliffhanger ending is a bit frustrating, but guarantees a repeat customer (not that I wouldn’t have finished this incredible series anyway).  So for those on the fence about whether or not this series will continue to go strong, pick it up! At least then, you’ll be prepared for the movie franchise which will be releasedFebruary 2013.
This reader predicts that this movie franchise, given its Southern flavor and spooky charm, will outsell Twilight. Why? There’s something for the male element in this series—after all—the main character is a guy!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review of Speechless by Hannah Harrington

Harlequin Teen
by Hannah Harrington
5 Stars

Chelsea loves secrets, precisely because she never keeps them. In fact, sharing the secrets of other people has put her at the top of the social food chain. Chelsea is one of the most popular girls at school after all—everyone wants to bask in the spotlight with her and Kristen, Chelsea’s best friend—so, she’s not planning to clam up any time soon. But one night at a party Chelsea has too much to drink, and before she knows it she shares a secret that threatens the life of a student at her school, and threatens to make her a social outcast in the process.

The perspective in this edgy novel is what makes it so very powerful. At first, the story seems to be told from a villain’s point of view; let’s face it, Chelsea comes off as a heartless human being. Yet, it doesn’t take long before the reader starts to sympathize with her—to imagine what she must be going through. This story could take place in any high school, and we all know high school is a warzone. Like most people, Chelsea would rather feed on the misery of others than be a nobody, or worse, a meal for the social elite. And let’s face it, Chelsea loves that she matters and that people are jealous of her. Who doesn’t want to matter? So when Chelsea finally chooses to speak out for the right reasons and is (ironically) punished for it, it’s hard not to jump in her corner.  

The secondary characters, Asha, Sam, Andy, and even Noah are equally interesting; they all work at a local diner and have a tight bond. When Chelsea meets Asha in detention and starts hanging out at the diner with her, each of these characters begins to guide Chelsea without even realizing it, towards much-needed healing. Through each meal served and dish washed, Chelsea learns that forgiveness is a gift, “hate is easy,” and love “takes courage” especially love for self. Perhaps most amazing of all is that Chelsea remains quiet (or “speechless”) through the majority of the novel, and in her silence the author allows the reader to become her voice, to speak, and feel, for her as if by magic; it’s hard not to walk in Chelsea’s shoes and want to be her advocate—to fight for her. This is the brilliantly crafted story of a girl who learns from her mistakes and changes, really changes, by standing up for what is right.  And while the message is important, this is not simply a morality tale. Harrington takes the reader on an entertaining journey with truly interesting and relatable characters, funny dialogue and a little romance for seasoning –the message is just gravy.
Applause to Harlequin Teen for picking another winner!