Monday, March 18, 2013

Review of Ashen Winter by Mike Mullen

Tanglewood Press
Ashen Winter (Ashen Book 2)
by Mike Mullen
4 Scribbles

In this second installment of the Ashen series, Alex and Darla have found a home on Alex’s Uncle’s farm.  The first chapter starts with action and the excitement doesn’t pause until the end. The farm is attacked by bandits, and while Darla and Alex fight the bandits off, they discover that one of the bandits is in possession of Alex’s Dad’s gun. With renewed hope that his parents might still be alive, Alex and Darla decide to embark on a new quest to find them.
About a year after the volcanic eruption that sent the world into chaos, the environment beyond the boundaries of the farm have further deteriorated. Food is nearly non-existent. Cannibals, aka, “Flensers” have become the norm, and girls are being captured by gangs to be raped and used as slaves—all circumstances proving that humanity will descend into depravity given the direst of conditions. Yet, Alex and Darla continue to believe that a future is possible, a future with family and morality, despite the gruesome happenings they see as they follow the clues to Alex’s parent’s whereabouts. And it isn’t just the ex-convicts that have gone rogue. At one point, a former bookkeeper admits to his sins, and without spoiling too much, Alex even discovers that members of his own family have become ruthless to the point of brutality in order to protect their own. This bedlam rings true; no doubt the world would descend into such base actions if starvation and want ruled. However, what does not ring true in the novel is Alex. Alex continues to make choices that endanger Darla out of his idealistic need to do what’s right; this works. Alex feels guilty for putting Darla in danger; this works. Alex becomes a foil to the world around him and a model for what we’d all like to be in such conditions; this works. What does not work is Alex’s superhuman body. Indiana Jones step aside. At one point Alex, despite having a recovering bullet wound in his shoulder, hangs by his hands from beneath a moving vehicle from one town to the next. And the fun doesn’t stop there; time and time again Alex performs feats that are physically impossible for a guy in his poor condition. After a few of these stunts in a row, I caught myself sighing and rolling my eyes, wishing I could suspend my disbelief just a bit longer. Additionally, Darla’s survival without molestation after being taken by the gangs does weaken the believability of the plot. Perhaps the author chose to avoid this outcome given the violence in the rest of the novel.  Despite these weaknesses however, I still stuck with the story. Alex is loyal land kind, Darla is street-smart and strong, and I am totally invested in the lives of both. Let’s face it—I wanted to know how things turned out! I wasn’t disappointed in the exciting cliffhanger conclusion, and I look forward to the next installment, which, by the looks of things, will be just as exciting as book one.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review of Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi

Through the Ever Night
by Veronica Rossi

4 Stars

After reading book one back in February 2012, I remember saying that the first book, Under the Never Sky, laid the foundation for a “hopefully even stronger books two.”  Alas, Rossi has met my expectations, and I have rated this second installment a full star higher!
As new Blood Lord for The Tides, Perry is expected to provide for his people and keep them safe from the ever-increasing danger of the Aether storms; but, how can he do this when it is clear that not everyone trusts his judgment? Meanwhile, under threats from her old enemy, Hess, Aria must find the Clear Blue or Perry’s beloved nephew, Talon, may die at the Governor Hess’s hand.

Installment two has only slightly less action but far more sophisticated character development than book one. The results are that readers quickly become highly invested in the lives of the characters. Rossi has effectively exposed the heart of leader as he is made, and it is an enlightening picture. The reader sees what it must be like for Perry, whose control over his people is tenuous at best. He faces betrayal from some of his tribesmen, especially when he wants to bring Aria to his people as his chosen bride. Perry’s idealistic nature drives him to test the patience of his people again and again, and he learns that hard choices often have to be made to preserve the tribe.  Should he bow to the will of his people or rule from his heart? In addition to suffering the pain of betrayal, Perry must face the uncertainty of choices. Should he prepare the people to leave or prepare crops for a coming year? How will he face his own self-doubt and at the same time inspire the confidence of his people? Should the love of his people trump his love for Aria? No less significant is Aria’s growth. Her relationship with Roar is refreshing—a male-female friendship based on mutual trust and respect without any romantic overtones—the type of relationship not often seen in YA fiction but a healthy relationship nonetheless. Aria is no longer the meek, helpless dweller she was when she first came from the dome, and her willingness to embark on a dangerous mission without Perry to save the life of a stranger proves her resourcefulness. She also faces former enemies, like Soren, with a new perspective that allows her to see him for what he is and not what she imagined him to be.  Aria has evolved into a young woman finally capable of surviving reality—something necessary in this changing world. It will be interesting to see if Aria becomes Perry’s counterpart in book three, the leader of the now-abandoned Dwellers, or if the two will reunite and pursue their romance once more. Either way, my faith in Rossi has been redeemed. I look forward to reading book three, and hope that it earns yet another coveted Scribble!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Review of Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Feiwel & Friends
Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2)
y Marissa Meyer
5 Scribbles +

Book two of the Lunar Chronicles kicks off by introducing a few new characters to Cinder’s world. Feisty, outspoken and self-sufficient, red-head Scarlet is determined to find her missing grandmother, a skilled ex-military pilot who disappeared from their small farm in France only weeks before. And when a gruff street fighter named Wolf shows up in their little town, Scarlet suspects he might have the answer to her grandmother’s whereabouts. Meanwhile, Cinder is faced with escaping the prison where she awaits her execution; and she may find an unlikely ally in the rogue “Captain” Thorne—a fellow prisoner. Yet, despite being a wanted criminal, Cinder still mistrusts Queen Levana, and hopes against all odds that she can save Prince Kai and the Earth from Levana’s evil intentions. How will the fates of these four intertwine?

What I admire and enjoy most about this phenomenal series is the author’s ability to take a fairy tale and not just retell, or “fracture” it, but take the shell of the classical tale and weave a whole new story for modern readers. The chapters in both installments have cliffhanger endings, near misses, tantalizing hints about the future (and past), and mystery upon mystery. Quite simply, the story is brilliant and promises to be a staple in YA literature for years to come. The writing is riveting, family-friendly and wholesome, and will no doubt be made into a motion picture. There is talk that the series has already been optioned for a movie. I was equally impressed that book two is as wonderful as book one—sometimes that isn’t the case in a series—but no worries, I could not put this novel down! I adored the sassiness of Scarlet, and even grooved on her unlikely relationship with Wolf—sort of Little Red Riding Hood turned on its head thing. Captain Thorne is a welcome comic element and Cinder’s precious robo-companion Iko comes back! Yahoo! Let’s face it—who doesn’t love to hate Queen Levana, so of course she has to bring her bad self back to Earth for a nasty little tête-à-tête with Prince Kai. The only weakness I can see in this installment (and not much of one to tell the truth) is that I missed Prince Kai; while he makes a cameo or two, he doesn’t factor much in the action of the story. Here’s hoping he appears a bit more in book three.  I wouldn’t be doing the series justice without mentioning the varied settings either. I like that we’ve been to China (I think) and now France, and with the appearance of Captian Thorne, who knows, readers may find themselves visiting the United States?  But anxious fans will have to wait awhile, because book three, Cress, is said to be set in the Sahara Desert, and won’t be out until 2014. Readers of the world, let’s unite, and see if we can’t get Meyer to write faster!