Monday, January 28, 2013

Review of Casey Barnes Eponymous by E.A. Rigg

Amazon Digital Services
Casey Barnes Eponymous
by E.A. Rigg
3 Scribbles

Casey is a connoisseur of all things musical; she takes her knowledge of music and creates short playlists for individuals at her school.  Her goal?—To Help her classmates develop much-needed coolness or character; give them a “musical fish” so to speak and help those uncool peers of hers “feed…for a lifetime.” Her ability to diagnose the shortcomings of her classmates with obscure, yet typically spot-on, musical medication is eerie and ironic, especially since Casey has a thing for the highly toxic Alex Deal, and he’s rife with shortcomings. Alex isn’t exactly a prescription for the straight-and-narrow, but he’s hot, and he’s a rocker, just like Casey. How can she possibly resist him?
I must say that I didn’t find myself completely invested in this novel until the end of chapter four, when the reader learns about Casey’s previous hook up with Alex Deal and how it all went horribly wrong. That being said, the beginning chapters do give the reader a glimpse of Casey’s saucy and irreverent attitude, and introduce Casey’s best friend, Leigh, who is clearly a foil to Casey and Casey’s better half.  Once the Alex/Casey conflict heats up, however, I was hooked. I love how the novel examines the age-old question of why we gals seem to fall for jerks who only care about themselves. Given her sass you’d think Casey could see that Alex has the depth of a mud puddle, but alas, like most of us gals, she’s enamored by his pure hotness and gives him a shot (perhaps one time too many). The dialogue is exceptional, especially the dialogue between Casey and her brother Yull, and Casey and Leigh, so good that at times I found myself snickering out loud. Casey’s sarcasm is textbook teen, and I enjoyed her one-liners. Yull is perhaps my favorite character, protective big brother with a sophisticated, Yoda-like wisdom; and that’s a good thing, since Casey’s connection with and respect for authority is shaky at best.  She doesn’t realize it, but she needs Yull. Some of the scenes throughout the novel seem rushed and could be fleshed out more with dialogue and action rather than a summary of conversations or events, but chapter transitions work well and renew the readers’ interest with appropriate “teasers” that make the reader want to know what happens next. Some references to musicians and actors (i.e. Charo) may be foreign to readers, but it seems getting a musical education is a byproduct of reading this novel. In fact, I dare the reader to make it to the end without having to look up at least one band reference. While not a first pick for me, I think hard-rockers, wanna be band-members and those who love to enjoy less mainstream music will enjoy this novel and should give it a try—and certainly every girl can relate to the story, because there is an Alex Deals littering every high school landscape.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review of Angelfall by Susan Ee

Amazon Children's Publishing
Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, Book 1)
By Susan Ee
4 + Scribbles

Penryn and Raffie become unlikely companions when they are both attacked in the street by the same group of deadly angels.  There has been a war on Earth, and the angels, presumably sent by God on the word of his messenger, have brought violence, destruction, and hunger to humans.  Paige, Penryn’s beloved baby sister has been taken by the angel gang. Now, Penryn must find out where the angels have taken her. For leverage, Penryn has captured the injured angel Raffie in the hopes that he will lead the way—but the clock is ticking, and it’s doubtful the two can move quickly enough to reach Paige in time.
While angels are not unique to the YA genre, this fast-moving apocalyptic tale is fresh and exciting. Penryn is a protagonist readers will love. She has an idealistic, old soul.  Since her father left the family a few years back, Penryn has been the caretaker; her mother has paranoid schizophrenia, and her sister Paige is wheelchair bound. It’s obvious her family relies on her, and while Penryn is a highly responsible person, the loss of her sister brings out a recklessness in her born of desperation. Paige is fragile, helpless and sweet. Their mother is odd, has hallucinations, and behaves erratically—and Penryn will stop at nothing to protect them both.  On the flipside, Raffie is aloof, sarcastic and hostile (he is, after all, the enemy). He loathes humans and sees them as creatures but not equals. Yet, he seems to be alone in life. However, as the story progresses, there are cracks in Raffie’s iron exterior.  There is a reason other angels have attacked Raffie, and later those reasons begin to peek through the surface.  An improbable affection begins between this hostile pair, and the age-old theme of love between the forbidden seems imminent, although it may take another installment in the series for this relationship to develop.  Perhaps the most riveting part of the story is the setting and the strange mystery that appears in each new chapter. The world is a mess. Sleeper cells of humans are arming and awaiting the right time to attack the angel hoards; children like Paige are being abducted on a daily basis, never to return; strange, razor-toothed, flesh-eating mini-zombies are prowling the woods; and no one, it seems, knows where God is in the mix.  It is perhaps that absence of God that lends this otherwise, typical YA sci-fi a bit more depth, and what makes me really look forward to Susan Ee’s next novel, book two, due to be released in the Fall of this year, 2013.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Review of Reached by Ally Condie

Dutton Juvenile
Reached (Matched Trilogy: Book 3)
By Ally Condie
1 Scribble

Cassia, Xander and Ky are all members of “The Rising,” the rebellion that threatens to topple “The Society,” who rule the people of this world and decide their futures from birth to death. Now, a deadly plague threatens to kill the people, and The Rising, assisted by this trio of protagonists, may have the only cure.
I wanted to love book three in the trilogy, I really, truly did. I remember being riveted to the first novel, Matched, which was an even and well-balanced blend of action and eloquent prose. I stuck through the second book in the series, Crossed, which was slightly less thrilling than book one, but which still offered a bit of movement to keep me reading, despite the fact that I was disappointed in the book overall. However, since book one was such a hit, I decided I simply must finish the series. Alas, Reached did nothing to redeem the feelings of disappointment I endured during the second installment. Reading this novel was like reading an epic poem that lacked the heroism. The entire action of the 384 pages could have been compacted into a quarter of the length. Most of the story consisted of a characters’ stream-of-consciousness following this pattern:

1.       Have a thought
2.       Create a metaphor illustrating the thought
3.       Create a hyperbole or, as an alternative, a simile illustrating the thought
4.       Reflect on how other characters might feel about this thought
5.       Explain how either The Rising or The Society may perceive the thought
6.       Recall a past event that relates to the thought and explain the connection

Using this template, each chapter (which rotates perspective between the characters) manages to expand and grow from an outline to a novel.  It as if Condie’s success in Matched gave her license to wax poetic and she ran with it.  This running stream-of-poetic-consciousness in the minds of Cassia, Xander and Ky is exhausting and brutal for the reader hoping for more of the magic in book one.  Thus, unless you are a hard-core Condie fan, skip book three and use your imagination to form the conclusion—you’ll likely be more entertained.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review of The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Hyperion Books
The Darkest Minds
Alexandra Bracken
5 Scribbles

A virus has decimated the childhood population of the United States, and those children who remain alive have been infected with strange, paranormal abilities.  Just like in Nazi-era Germany, children are taken from their families once the aftereffects of the virus become evident, and the family is told the surviving children are getting treatment, medical attention, proper exercise and mental stimulation.  And while not all parents agree with the action, parents are in no position to argue—the government has changed, the economy is in shambles, and even Canada and Mexico have built walls to lock out U.S. citizens.  Ruby, taken from her home on her tenth birthday and imprisoned inhumanely for six years, is desperate to escape her concentration camp and find her way back to her grandmother.  Little does Ruby know that it isn’t just the government who wants to hold her hostage; there is war going on, and opposing factions are all on the prowl—collecting children as their weapons.

A major strength of this futuristic work of sci-fi is its unique setting—a United States in the midst of an economic apocalypse where citizens are so focused on the economic situation, they stand by and allow their children to be taken. Even though this may sound unlikely, one must only look to history to know such events are possible (Nazi Germany). What is slightly less unique to this novel is the virus that results in random paranormal abilities—a condition which feels suspiciously, very X-Men. However, strong writing brings a less comic book and more real-world feel to this work. The work is largely plot-driven. Blood soaked chapters in the first half of the novel move quickly and create a sense of desperation for the main characters, Ruby, Liam, Chubs and Suzume, all teenagers who have escaped camps and must hide out (since children are no longer seen in the public at large). Yet while the plot and conflict are center stage for the work, it is impossible not to bond with the main characters. Ruby, Liam, Chubs and Suzume ,a sort of rag-tag family despite their mistrust of others, a family that is seen largely through the eyes of the protagonist, Ruby. Readers will fall in love with Suzume, the pink-clad, silent little girl who desperately needs a female role-model, enjoy Chubs, whose quirky sense of humor and snappy one-liners will make the reader chuckle at the same time they are horrified, and idolize Liam, the rock of the group. And while suspicion and mistrust lace the novel, especially in the second half, when political intrigue multiplies, these characters remain true. The layers of political intrigue that form a sort of underground war that are created in this novel are admirable. In fact, they lay the groundwork for a series of possibly epic proportions. Factions have formed in the U.S. who all have a particular agenda, like the Skiptracers who earn bounty from captured teens, the Children’s League, who “rescue” children, and the Red Army, or the President’s secret, specially-trained forces. No individual or faction in this novel is as they first appear, and perhaps that is what makes this new release such an engaging and enjoyable read.  And since I don’t want to give away any big spoilers in the novel, I certainly cannot elaborate much on the juiciness in part two, which had me a bit skeptical in parts (particularly about Ruby’s behavior), but which absolutely sucked me in! Undoubtedly everyone who reads book one will be waiting to see what the next installment holds.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review of Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy
By Ruta Sepetys
4 Scribbles
To Be Released, February 12, 2013

Josie Moraine longs to live a life free of her mother’s reputation—to start fresh, get an education, and be counted among the “uptown” folk.  Yet, that’s not likely to happen as long as Josie lives in New Orleans, where her mother works as a prostitute in scrappy Willie Woodley’s brothel. And even though Josie has lived alone since she was ten years old in a small room above the bookstore where she works, everyone knows what a scoundrel Josie’s mother, Louise, is. Now Louise’s criminal ways may not only cast a shadow over Josie’s dreams, they might also get Josie killed.

The Quarter is a neighborhood filled with predators and prey; and Josie, with the help of Willie, who owns and operates her mother’s brothel, is determined not to become prey.  Rarely do characters like Josie, who embodies idealism and innocence combined with a “salty” edge, exist and thrive in conjunction with cantankerous individuals like Willie. Yet, not only does the relationship between these two individuals work, the relationship is fundamental to Josie’s personality. Who would Josie be without hard-nosed Willie, who is more of a mother to Josie than Josie’s own narcissistic, parasite of a mother, Louise?  Other characters in the novel function as Josie’s surrogate family, like gentle limo-driver Cokie who supports her dream of an elite college, Josie’s beloved best friend Patrick and Patrick’s critically-ill father who provides Josie with a home.  Contrast those individuals with the novel’s despicable predators in the story, like felon Cincinnati, who has threatened Josie’s life, and the revolting Mr. Lockwell, and it seems that everywhere Josie turns she meets a roadblock to her goal of education and success. Short chapters in the novel move the conflict expertly forward, and a level of mystery over an unexplained death permeates the entire text without distracting from the complicated relationships that are constantly developing throughout. Readers who have never been to “The Quarter” in New Orleans will get a realistic, first-hand view of this community and its culture through Josie’s eyes. Instead of the splashes of cool color, delicious cuisine and endless parties most readers might imagine, Josie describes hot neighborhoods riddled with poverty, secrecy, shady characters, and staunch tradition. Sepetys has created a rich, layered story of a girl who desires more than she has been given, and one that will please readers of historical fiction, and fans of her first novel, Between Shades of Gray.
Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Review of Timekeeper (Book 2, Timeless) by Alexandra Monir

Delacorte Books 

Timekeeper (Book 2, Timeless)
Alexandra Monir
3 Scribbles 

Michele barely has time to register that the new guy at school looks exactly like Phillip Walker, her beloved Gilded Age boy, when a ghostly woman in black appears. Worse, it seems the menacing woman is stalking her. Phillip promised he would find a way back to Michele so that they could be together; why does he avoid her now?  And does this dark, sharp-eyed woman have something to do with that? Using her father’s time-traveling key and diary Michele must discover the reason for the woman’s increasing presence—otherwise, Michele’s time to be with Phillip may run out all over again.
The intense relationship between Michele and Phillip introduced in book one is somewhat overshadowed (no pun intended) in book two by the appearance of the mysterious woman in black. But readers will find this a good thing because her appearance in the series adds a welcome tension and yummy spook factor; this, combined with time-crossed romance between Michelle and Phillip, makes for a conflict-filled and engaging read. As in book one, the time travel is very well written; the plot leaps between the decades from 1885 to the year 2010 seamlessly—the reader never gets confused about what period they are in even though they may jump a century within a few pages. New York City is so well described in the Gilded Age and the World War II era that I spent time online looking at old photos of NYC. When a book pulls me in that far, well….let’s say I’m hooked. I do have a little issue with how quickly Michele seems to accept her father, how quickly Michele connects with people overall really, and the loose ends in the novel are a bit too conveniently wrapped up in my opinion, but the readers who enjoyed book one, and those who love time travel sagas, are going to enjoy this installment.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review of Timeless by Alexander Monir

Random House
Children's Books
Timeless (Book 1)
Alexandra Monir
3 Scribbles

Michele Windsor is just like every other teen aged girl—that is until tragedy strikes. Now her world is turned topsy-turvy; she has been transplanted from California to a posh mansion in NYC, is heir to the throne of the great Windsor legacy (and millions), and is meeting her grandparents for the first time.  And it doesn’t take Michele long to realize that her grandparents are keeping something secret from her; she’s determined to discover what that secret may be. Little does she know that her snooping will uncover a century-old diary, a key, and the ability to travel back in time—where the love of her life awaits.

Writing novels in the first person present tense seems to be a trend, so it was a bit jarring at first to read a novel told in the third person.  However, after a brief period of adjustment, I began to sink into the story line, and I found that the narration works. Happily, this is anything but a rags-to-riches tale. Not only does Michele not care about her newly inherited fortunes (refreshing), she is mainly focused on connecting with another human being. I liked this aspect of her character very much, even if I found her sudden romance with Phillip Walker, the young gentleman from the turn of the century Gilded Age, rather quick to develop. But perhaps there are souls that recognize one another and are inherently matched? I suppose that love at first sight is less difficult to swallow than the possibility of time travel, yes? At any rate, while I appreciated that Phillip and Michele were meant to be together, what I really liked about the story was the time travel. It’s phenomenal how Monir manages to keep all the back-and-forth events in order without missing a beat, and I adored learning more about New York City, and the events and culture of the United States during that period through Michele’s modern eyes. The novel was fun, and I am glad that book two, Timekeeper, is being released today!