Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Dead Reckoning by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

Dead Reckoning--Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
June 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
336 pages--Goodreads

Jett is a girl disguised as a boy, living as a gambler in the old West as she searches for her long-lost brother. Honoria Gibbons is a smart, self-sufficient young woman who also happens to be a fabulous inventor. Both young women travel the prairie alone – until they are brought together by a zombie invasion! As Jett and Honoria investigate, they soon learn that these zombies aren’t rising from the dead of their own accord … but who would want an undead army? And why?

A steampunk, wild west, zombie horror, gender bender adventure.  A book like this will either do really well or fail miserably.  Thankfully, Dead Reckoning did not fail.  It's nothing terribly serious, just a fun romp through all the genres.  It's not too gory, even for a zombie book.  No unnecessary romances.  Just sleuthing and sciencing and exploding, and escaping and actually very little gun slinging.  It is quick paced, easily read in just a day or two.

The characters are fun.  Jett is strong and lives her disguise.  She is always the gambling gunslinger outlaw.  Only every now and then does her femininity manifest, like when she fusses over her horse when he returns unharmed after a run in with zombies.  Gibbons is annoyingly committed to science and rationality even when the pursuit of science could get her killed, but that's what makes her fun.  White Fox, he actually isn't really fleshed out.  Side note complaint:  Why didn't Lackey and Edghill just make White Fox Native American?  I get the whole child-of-two-worlds-so-he-belongs-to-neither thing.  But seriously, why not just make him Native American?  Gibbons and Jett would have been fine with it.  Does the entire cast have to be white?  Don't start going off on whether it would be plausible or not; you have zombies, for crying out loud!  Plausibility no longer applies.

There is some major villain monologuing explaining just exactly how and why he accomplished his master scheme.  That could have been handled more skillfully.  And some loose strings are left hanging.  You inject Jett with a vial full of poison and we're not ever going to address that again?  That should have some effect on her even if it doesn't kill her.

Dead Reckoning is genre blending done well.  It's not the book for you if you're looking for a pure western or pure steampunk or a pure zombie horror, but it's a light combination of all three.  I see potential for sequels and would probably have to pick them up.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review: Sold by Patricia McCormick

Sold--Patricia McCormick
September 2006 by Disney Hyperion
263 pages--Goodreads

Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family.

He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution.

An old woman named Mumtaz rules the brothel with cruelty and cunning. She tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family’s debt—then cheats Lakshmi of her meager earnings so that she can never leave.

Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words— Simply to endure is to triumph—and gradually, she forms friendships with the other girls that enable her to survive in this terrifying new world. Then the day comes when she must make a decision—will she risk everything for a chance to reclaim her life?

Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs.

Sold is an unexpected gem.  Kudos to McCormick for managing to take on such a difficult subject as sex trafficking in a realistic way without making me feel uber depressed.  We see everything that happens to Lakshmi without it becoming gratuitous.  We see the victimization, the drugging, the violence, the disease, the crushing social stigmas, the hopelessness, and the hope.  
This book is real.  I come away from this book feeling like I know Laksmi's home life.  I know her life in Calcutta.  I know the other girls in the brothel.  The whole book just feels real.

I couldn't even bring myself to hate Mumtaz.  She's definitely the villain, but she's not demonized.  I wish McCormick had given her a back story.  I imagine she herself was sold when she was young and is just as trapped in this life as the other girls.

I cannot express how much I love the scenes with Monica.  I love her character.  I love how sharp she is on the outside to protect the teddy-bear-holding child on the inside.  I love her conversation with Lakshmi about their reasons for staying at the brothel.  Ignoring the fact that they cannot leave, they cling to the last shred of dignity this life leaves them.  Monica proclaims she is paying her daughter's school fees and Lakshmi tells of the tin roof she will buy for her family.  This life has torn everything from them, but they hold some small pride in order to survive.  I hate but recognize the reality that Monica is forced to return to the brothel when her family casts her out.  Prostitution is the only life society has left for her.  And when she leaves the brothel because she has contracted AIDS, we never hear about her again because we can never know what happened to this girl who slipped through the cracks of an unjust world.

Even though Sold is a short novel, it is just the right length for the story it tells.  The audio book is excellent, but now that I realize the book is written in verse, I wish I had read it in print. This is a beautiful novel.  It is a realistic portrayal of a horrible life that is still hopeful and appropriate for young adult readers.  Though, it's probably too much for most middle graders.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mini Review: The Templeton Twins Have An Idea by Ellis Weiner

The Templeton Twins Have an Idea--Ellis Weiner
August 2012 by Chronicle Books
232 pages--Goodreads

Suppose there were 12-year-old twins, a boy and girl named John and Abigail Templeton. Let's say John was pragmatic and played the drums, and Abigail was theoretical and solved cryptic crosswords. Now suppose their father was a brilliant, if sometimes confused, inventor. And suppose that another set of twins-adults-named Dean D. Dean and Dan D. Dean, kidnapped the Templeton twins and their ridiculous dog in order to get their father to turn over one of his genius (sort of) inventions. Yes, I said kidnapped. Wouldn't it be fun to read about that? Oh please. It would so. Luckily for you, this is just the first in a series perfect for boys and girls who are smart, clever, and funny (just like the twins), and enjoy reading adventurous stories (who doesn't? ).

I wanted The Templeton Twins Have an Idea to be one of those fun books with a very present, snarky narrator who comments on all the character's doings, but Weiner just doesn't pull that off. Instead of narrating skillfully like Lemony Snicket does, this narrator is over the top with his complaining gets quite condescending in some parts.  Half the time it annoyed me and half the time I just didn't care.  
The plot is simplistic and dull.  The characters are one dimensional and uninteresting.  Maybe if I had read The Templeton Twins in a different mood I may have liked it, but this time around it was just meh.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium--Lauren Oliver
February 2011 by HarperTeen
441 pages--Goodreads

Ninety-five days, and then I'll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It's hard to be patient. It's hard not to be afraid while I'm still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn't touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.

I can't decide If I like the writing in Delirium or not.  In some places it seems overly emotional to the point of being sappy, but in others it's quite skillful.  I like Lena a lot as a narrator.  Her mannerisms are just funny, but that could have just been the style the reader spoke in.  Alex doesn't have any of his own drives or goals or even a personality. He's just there to fall in love with.  The book contains more language than I'm comfortable with.  And I kept waiting for someone to pop out and stab everyone in the back a la Uglies, but it never happened.  

wish I had known from the beginning that Delirium takes place in an alternate present.  I thought it took place in the near future and there's no way our culture would accept such a drastic change (love being a dangerous disease) in so little time.  It makes much more sense in an alternate present with its own culture.  Oliver should have made that clearer. 

Delirium doesn't quite make it as a dystopia for me.  Dystopias need to explore the what if's and the how's and the how could we get there's of our present society extended to the extremes of the book's world.  Delirium is too big a jump to be plausible.  So while it is an interesting enough premise, it doesn't do what a dystopia is supposed to do.  Matched did a better job of bridging that gap to a similar premise.

And I get the whole "resist the evil oppressive government to and with your last breath and never submit" thing, but I don't think conflating martyrdom and suicide is going to help our teen population at all.

But my biggest pet peeve is that Oliver completely misunderstood Romeo and Juliet.  English Major Hulk Smash!  Yes, Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story, but it is NOT the greatest love story ever.  It's a play about two twitterpated preteens who make horrible decisions and their families who also make horrible decisions.  Come on!  Romeo begins the play head over heels for Rosalind.  That's why he goes to the Capulet party in the first place.  When he sees Juliet, he forgets Rosalind ever existed.  Given a few more days, he may have moved on to another girl.  And Juliet was only 13.  Do you know how many crushes I had when i was 13?  A lot.  Does not equal true love.  This is not the play to base your romantic relationships on.

So, not an awful book, but not a great one either.  Oliver got me more involved in the plot of Delirium than Roth did with Divergent, but I was still just so so in the end.  I cared how the book ended, but I don't feel at all driven to finish the series.  2.5 stars.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mini Review: Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Sweetly--Jackson Pearce
August 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
310 pages--Goodreads

As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too.

Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.

Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls every year after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.

Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.

Sweetly is a slow paced novel, but it drew me in and wouldn't let me go, so I finished it in two days.  It's a compelling read. Each of the characters has depth, but I particularly like Gretchen's development.  The angle Pearce takes on the villain is also interesting.  Not something I expected, but something I'm still thinking about.  I like Pearce's writing.  She keeps that slowly growing unease feeling going the whole time and some parts just sent chills up my spine, particularly the prologue.  And so many different kinds of chocolate described in such detail I could practically taste them.

Sweetly is by no means flawless.  The Samuel romance thing felt a bit unnecessary, and how did Gretchen become such a marksman over the course of a week?  But I'm willing to forgive those things for the rest of the book.  And the cover is so wonderfully creepy.  I will definitely have to read Sisters Red and Fathomless (which happens to be on sale this month for Kindles).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mini Review: The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle--Christopher Healy
April 2013 by Walden Pond Press
477 pages--Goodreads

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You remember them, don't you? They're the Princes Charming who finally got some credit after they stepped out of the shadows of their princesses - Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Briar Rose - to defeat an evil witch bent on destroying all their kingdoms.

But alas, such fame and recognition only last so long. And when the princes discover that an object of great power might fall into any number of wrong hands, they are going to have to once again band together to stop it from happening - even if no one will ever know it was they who did it.

I won a copy of The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle in a giveaway from Walden Pond Press.  Thank you, thank you thank you.  This book is a lot of fun.

The characters reverte back to where they were at the beginning of the first book.  Frederick goes back to being a scardy-cat.  Liam loses his confidence.  Etc.  They do grow again, but I don't want them to start over at the beginning of each new book.  They could have kept their distinct personalities without losing all the progress they made in the first book.

I like the growth from Briar Rose.  In the first book, she was just a spoiled brat.  Now, she's starting to show that all she really wants is friendship; she just doesn't realize it yet.  I see a lot of potential for her in future books.  Lila is still the best.  I want a side book just about her adventures with Ruffian during her bounty hunter training.  Troll is even funnier this time around.  I love Gustav's nicknames for everyone, particularly Tassels for Frederick.

This series is just a whole lot of fun.  Clever in some places, like the henchman Redshirt who is thrown out a window a couple paragraphs after we meet him.  I can't wait for the next installment.  And we'll finish off the review with a couple more quotes, just for fun.

"The element of surprise can offer a hero great advantage in battle. The element of oxygen - also important."

"Some people say Rundark was born out of a mad alchemist's attempt to distill the essence of pure evil. others clam he emerged fully grown from an erupting volcano. although it's also possible that he was the son of a used cart salesman from Nebbish Villiage--they didn't keep very good records in Dar."


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