Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tighter Prose Makes Cured Stand Out From Its Fellows

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(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Cured, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Stung.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

For those who do not qualify for life inside the safety of the wall, life is tough.  Rabid Fecs still roam the land, as do violent raiders.  People kill for any scrap of food they can find.  Women are an especially hot commodity in this dead, post-apocalyptic version of Denver.  Not that it matters—17-year-old Jacqui "Jack" Bloom stopped being a girl (at least on the outside) a long time ago.  It's safer that way.  Fashion makeovers and trips to the mall belong to a different world; her only concern in this one is helping her brothers keep the family's home safe.  With her rifle in hand, she spends hours on the roof, scanning the horizon for any hint of trouble.

Because she's so needed at home, Jacqui feels a little—okay, a lot—guilty for stealing away in the early hours of the morning.  But, she's got to find her older brother, Dean, who's been missing for a year and a half.  They haven't heard a word from him, so although Jacqui fears the worst, she also hopes for the best.  Because Dean left to escort a former neighbor to a rumored safe haven in Wyoming, Jacqui goes to her daughter for help.  Fiona Tarsis, now living inside the wall, brings along two others—her boyfriend, Bowen, and her brother, Jonah.  Cradled in Jonah's backpack are bottles of bee flu antidote, precious bargaining chips.  But when they're stolen, the group is left with few advantages.


When they're rescued by 18-year-old Kevin Emerson, who offers safety and supplies, Jacqui and company can't quite believe their luck.  Is it too good to be true?  The more Jacqui learns about Kevin, the less she trusts him.  Who is Kevin, really?  Why is he helping them?  These are mysteries Jacqui needs to figure out—before it's too late for them all.  

Originality is hard to come by in the YA dystopian genre, so it's really not surprising that the plot of Cured, the second book in Bethany Wiggins' Stung series, feels familiar.  Still, like I said about the first book, this one boasts stronger prose than many of its fellows.  So, while I got a little bored with the same ole, same ole, the characters and action kept me reading.  I would have liked more depth from the novel's cast as well as some plot twists I didn't see coming (Kevin's identity is pretty obvious from the get-go, although it takes Jacqui a long time to figure it out).  Overall, though, I enjoyed this one.

(Readalikes:  Stung by Bethany Wiggins; other zombie and zombie-ish YA dystopians)  

Grade:

If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs); violence; mild sexual innuendo; and references to rape

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Cured from the generous folks at Bloomsbury via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Not Surprisingly, It's a Meh From Me

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(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Slayers: Friends and Traitors, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Slayers.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

With one summer of dragon-slayer camp behind her—plus some on-the-job training—16-year-old Tori Hampton still doesn't feel ready to face the fearsome creatures.  A pity, since her ability reveals terrifying news: baby dragons are hatching.  Which means they'll be full-size, ready to terrorize America, long before the slayers can gain enough skill to control or kill them.  The slayers need more manpower.  Ryker Davis, a 17-year-old in Vermont, fits the bill.  Even though his parents have forbidden him to join the others, Tori knows they have to find Ryker.  The more fighters on the team, the better chance they all have of surviving a dragon invasion.

Meanwhile, Tori's learning more about her own abilities, which include an innate desire to protect the dragons.  How can she help her friends annihilate the creatures if half of her can't stand to see them hurt?  And speaking of hurt, there's her heart to consider.  With a traitor in the team's midst, Tori has to be careful whom she trusts with her life, let alone her heart.  

So, I have to be honest—I opened Friends and Traitors, the second installment in C.J. Hill's Slayers series, knowing I probably wouldn't like it that much.  Not surprisingly, I was right.  I had the same meh reaction to this one that I did to its predecessor, Slayers.  For me, Hill's dragon world just isn't that convincing.  Plus, the plot winds all over the place, too much explanation bogs down the story, and the characters are so flat I can't remember who's who most of the time.  So, yeah.  The books have lots of action, but little else.  For me, at least, that's just not enough.  Although I have to say, I quite liked Angel Moroni's cameo appearance :)

(Readalikes:  Slayers by C.J. Hill)

Grade:

   
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, intense situations, and mild sexual innuendos

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pivot Point As Clever As It Is Confusing

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As a Searcher, 16-year-old Addison Coleman doesn't have to wonder where her daily choices will take her.  She can conduct a Search and, voilá!, she knows.  Which should make tough decisions a snap.  If only.  Seeing too many possibilities, as Addie well knows, can be just as unnerving as seeing none.


When Addie's parents announce—completely out of the blue—their impending divorce, Addie's ordered world comes crashing down around her.  She can hardly imagine a life where she doesn't live with both her mom and her dad, let alone one that involves bouncing between the two of them.  Even more shocking, her dad will be moving to Dallas, where he will live among the "norms."  The Colemans have always stayed in their protected southeast Texas compound with other ability-enhanced people.  If Addie chooses to stay with her dad, she'll be attending a norm high school, hanging out with norm kids, and trying to be norm herself.  The thought is simply unfathomable.  Tantalizing, yes, but also insane.  Especially when she can remain with her mom in the safe, familiar world of the compound.  If only that didn't mean never seeing her father.

Tortured by the impossible choice, Addie does the only thing she can think to do—a Search.  But as the two paths her life could take spin out in front of her eyes, converging and diverging in surprising ways, Addie realizes just how complicated the future can be.  Both roads offer new challenges, new joys, new heartbreaks; the only question is, which should she take?

With such a clever premise, it's no surprise that Pivot Point, Kasie West's debut novel, is a fun, intriguing read.  It's fairly light-hearted and humorous, but also thought-provoking (as pondering the "What if?" question often is).  As entertaining as it is, though, the parallel story lines do get very confusing.  The action also takes its own sweet time getting started.  So, although I enjoyed the idea of this novel, I think it suffers a bit in its execution.  The problem, I think, is that while Pivot Point's premise is undeniably compelling, it's also a bit over-ambitious.  There may not be a way to tell such a story without tying the reader's brain in knots.  Still, I admire the attempt.  And, actually, I quite liked the novel.  It just left me with lots of unanswered questions.  Not to mention a headache.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs); violence; and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed my daughter's copy of Pivot Point.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lush, Succulent Family Saga Makes Me Pine for More Morton

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In 1913, a ship arrives in Maryborough, Australia from England.  When all the passengers embark, scattering to their various destinations, a small girl remains on the wharf.  Alone.  The child refuses to give her name, insisting she can't remember it or anything else about herself.  A shiny white suitcase containing clothes and a gorgeously-illustrated book of fairy tales is the only clue to her identity.  The lone witness to the girl's abandonment, portmaster Hugh O'Conner can't fathom how he's supposed to solve this dilemma.  Missing luggage he's dealt with before, but an unclaimed person?  The flummoxed, tender-hearted man takes the girl home to be fussed over by his wife, who's still grieving from her most recent miscarriage.  Nestled in the warm bosom of the O'Conner Family, little Nell grows into a young lady, remembering nothing about her auspicious landing in Australia.  

When Nell turns 21, Hugh knows it's time to tell her the truth.  His revelation, naturally, sends her into a tailspin.  Confused and angry, she turns away from the only family she's ever known.  It's years later, however, that she receives the white suitcase with its scanty clues.  Determined to find out who she really is—once and for all—Nell follows what little information she has to a grand old mansion on the Cornish coast.  As she learns more about the Montrachets, the colorful family who once lived there, Nell finds herself fascinated, but puzzled.  Unable to see a connection between them and her, she lets the matter drop.  

Decades later, when Nell passes away, her granddaughter is shocked to inherit a cottage in Cornwall.  Cassandra Andrews can't imagine why her beloved grandmother would own property in such a faraway place or why she never once mentioned it.  Armed with little more information than Nell had, Cassandra sets out to solve the mystery of her grandmother's true roots.  As she fits all the pieces into the puzzle, she finds her remarkable journey into the past leading to the one place that's always somehow eluded her:  home.    

You probably can't tell from the books I've been reviewing lately, but my favorite literary genre—hands down—is the family saga.  The thicker and juicier the better.  Given my taste for such lush, succulent tales, it's a wonder it took me so long to try those of Australian author Kate Morton.  Now that I have, I can't get enough!  The Forgotten Garden is a perfect example of why the writer is so popular among my fellow saga lovers.  It's rich, vivid, and absorbing.  With a setting that lives and breathes, characters who walk and talk, and a plot that twists and turns, it's a thoroughly engrossing tale.  Despite its length (a hefty 549 pages), the novel chugs along at a quick enough pace to keep the reader's interest.  The back-and-forth between time and narrators did get a little confusing at times, but that's my only complaint with The Forgotten Garden and it's a minor one, indeed.  Overall, I adored sinking my teeth into this luscious, layered feast of a family saga.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The House at Riverton and The Distant Hours, both by Kate Morton)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs); violence; and mild sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Forgotten Garden with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.



   

Thursday, April 10, 2014

In a Word: Meh

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Not a lot happens in the small town of Mount Pleasant, Utah.  Even on Homecoming night.  So, the very last thing Aubrey Parsons expects to encounter at her first high school dance is a team of soldiers intent on detaining all the teenagers.  With groups of adolescent terrorists causing havoc all over the country, Aubrey understands why she and her peers are being questioned.  And she totally gets why the government wants to know about kids like her—kids with a virus that gives them superhuman powers—but that doesn't mean she's going to go willingly.  Jack Cooper, an old friend of Aubrey's, has his own reasons for avoiding the round-up.  Working together, they hope to avoid capture.

As a "Positive," Alec Moore's using his new-found abilities to send a message to the government.  Along with his team of special teens, he travels the country destroying national landmarks and other key sites, showing everyone who's in charge now.  The government might think it can turn the super-teens into subservient soldiers, but as Alec's group is proving, that's a whole lot easier said than done.

When Aubrey and Jack meet Alec, they must decide which side of the conflict they're on and what that means for their increasingly uncertain futures.  

As unoriginal as Blackout—the first book in a new dystopian series by Robison Wells—is, it's still kind of tough to describe.  Plot-wise, there just isn't much.  And what is there sounds like every other novel in the YA sci-fi/dystopian section.  I can forgive a familiar plot if its coupled with a vibrant setting, intriguing characters or vivid prose, but I found none of that in Blackout.  What the novel does have is action.  Lots.  And while the intensity was enough to keep me reading, the story really didn't impress me otherwise.  In a word:  meh.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a bit of the Gone series by Michael Grant [Gone; Hunger; Lies; Plague; Fear; Light])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, April 07, 2014

Dream-Walker Novel As Confusing and Unfocused as, Well, a Dream

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As a Watcher, 16-year-old Parker Chipp has the ability to walk through other people's dreams, unnoticed by the dreamer.  It's not a pick-and-choose kind of thing—he haunts the dreams of the last person he made eye contact with before he fell asleep.  Roaming through the night visions of strangers and friends—experiencing their fears, frustrations and unexpressed desires—might sound like a cool super power, but it's not.  Not really.  Parker hasn't enjoyed a decent sleep in four years and it's killing him.  Literally.  

Then, he meets Mia Greene, a foster kid who's staying with a local family.  Parker's stunned by what he finds in her dreams.  Inside her unconscious mind, he finds only peace and calm.  The sensations are so unfamiliar, so soothing, that he's able to sleep deeply for the first time in years.  Parker craves more rest, needs more to live.  The only problem?  He can't get it without Mia—and she thinks he's a crazy stalker.  

When Mia begins receiving threatening emails, her suspicion naturally falls on Parker.  The thing is, she may be right.  He's so desperate for more of the peace only she can give him that he'll do anything to get it.  Anything.  But is he the one scaring Mia?  Would he really do her harm?  As Parker's need for Mia becomes more desperate and all-consuming, he realizes he doesn't know himself at all.  How can he keep Mia safe—especially if he's the one from whom she needs to be protected?  
I've always found dreams fascinating, so I'm drawn to tales with premises like the one that drives Insomnia by J.R. Johansson.  Having read novels similar to this one, I was happy to discover some fresh elements in this debut novel.  As much as I appreciated these novelties, however, they didn't do enough to save this story from being confusing, unfocused, and melodramatic.  Poor character development and a flimsy plot just made things worse.  In the end, I liked the idea of this novel a whole lot more than the novel itself.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of the Wake trilogy [Wake; Fade; Gone] by Lisa McMann)  

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence/scary images, and depictions of underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  I received a copy of Insomnia from the generous folks at Flux via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Friday, April 04, 2014

New Bethany Wiggins Dystopian: How Did I (Almost) Miss This One?

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So, I'm still trying to figure out how I missed the fact that Bethany Wiggins wrote another book (actually, two).  I enjoyed her debut, Shifting, then somehow lost track of her.  When I discovered Stung, the first installment in her YA dystopian series, I was shocked.  As far as I can tell, the novel's received very little buzz.  Which is a crying shame, since it's a taut, well-crafted post-apocalyptic thriller.  Original?  Well, okay, it's kind of the same ole, same ole plot-wise, but still, it's better written than many of its contemporaries.  

The publisher's plot summary describes the book well—and in one concise, compelling paragraph, no less:


Fiona doesn't remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered-her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right wrist-a black oval with five marks on either side-that she doesn't remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. And she's right. When the honeybee population collapsed, a worldwide pandemic occurred and the government tried to bio-engineer a cure. Only the solution was deadlier than the original problem-the vaccination turned people into ferocious, deadly beasts who were branded as a warning to un-vaccinated survivors. Key people needed to rebuild society are protected from disease and beasts inside a fortress-like wall. But Fiona has awakened branded, alone-and on the wrong side of the wall . . .

I love the whole Sleeping Beauty aspect of this novel.  It brings a new spin to an overly-familiar storyline, while introducing the reader to the rules of Fiona's dystopian world in a way that feels both natural and suspenseful.  Fi's a sympathetic character, one who's easy to relate to and root for.  As you can imagine, Stung offers plenty of action, intensity, and zombie gore.  A bit of romance, too.  Overall, it's a fast-paced, engrossing tale that stands out from its peers (at least for me) because of its tight prose, interesting characters and heart-pounding action.  So what if Stung's nothing we haven't seen before?  I enjoyed it.  A lot.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Ashes and Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick; Ashfall and Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin; and, of course, its sequel, Cured by Bethany Wiggins)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs); violence/gore; and references to rape

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
  

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

YA Novel Tackles the "Real" in Reality TV

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Bonnie Baker knows better than most how little real exists in reality television.  As a former star of the hit series Baker's Dozen (think Jon & Kate Plus Eight), she spent most of her childhood in front of a camera.  The crew filmed her every trial and tantrum, stealing private family moments to air for all the world to see.  Until Bonnie snapped.  Her breakdown caused an international scandal, shut down the show, and turned her personal tragedy into nothing more than a juicy piece of celebrity gossip.  

In the four years since the show went bust, Bonnie's done her best to move on.  She re-named herself, changed her look, and enrolled in public school.  None of Bonnie's friends or classmates know her true identity—and she intends to keep it that way.  Chloe Baker prefers a quiet life, filled with nothing more exotic than trig homework and game nights at home with the family.  

Unfortunately for Bonnie/Chloe, the normal life she's so carefully constructed for herself is about to explode.  To see the stunned 17-year-old's reaction to this shocking turn of events, you just have to tune in to Baker's Dozen: a Fresh Batch.  It's true, Chloe's worst nightmare is coming to pass.  A new spin-off of the original series has been created.  Once again, she's a t.v. star.  Once again, her every move will be tracked by camera crews and paparazzi vultures.  Once again, she has no choice in the matter.  

Except this time, maybe she does.  What will Chloe's rebellion cost her?  Everything.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  Probably.  Maybe.  The more she tries to stand up for herself, the less sure of herself she becomes.  Will Chloe cave under all the pressure and guilt being stacked on her shoulders and cooperate with the show's producers?  Or can she save herself and her siblings from the insanity that's already ruining their lives?  There's only one thing Chloe knows for sure:  whatever happens, Fresh Batch will end in a tear-jerking, drama-filled, Hollywood-worthy finale.  

Unlike a lot of people, I couldn't care less what happens on The Bachelor.  Or Big Brother.  Or Iron Chef.  Case in point:  I had to Google "popular reality shows" to even come up with those titles!  I am, however, fascinated by the psychology behind the phenom that is reality t.v.:  Why would anyone agree to have a camera record every step they take, broadcasting their private struggles to the world?  Why are viewers so obsessed with watching the petty dramas of someone else's life—especially when we all know none of it is real?  And what kind of damage does this do to the stars of such series, especially the children?  

These are the questions Heather Demetrios explores in her debut novel, Something Real.  Although the story involves plenty of the kind of drama you'd expect—dodging the paparazzi; dealing with unwelcome, often engineered surprises; having your newest zit broadcast on national television, etc.—at its heart, the novel is about family.  And finding your place in the world, even when asserting yourself means hurting other people.  Told in the funny, sarcastic voice of Bonnie/Chloe, the story still manages to be both thoughtful and hopeful.  I had my issues with Something Real, of course, but overall, it's a compelling, well-written tale that's every bit as riveting as any episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians (at least, so I'm told).  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for strong language, depictions of underage drinking/partying, and sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Something Real from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  
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