Synopsis: After some undefined war, the United States has been taken over by an extreme religious right government a...moreReading Article 5 is NOT mandatory!
Synopsis: After some undefined war, the United States has been taken over by an extreme religious right government and the Bill of Rights is replaced by the "Articles of Reformation". The new moral laws are enforced by the militaristic Federal Bureau of Reformation, known to the general public by the derogatory term Moral Militia. Ember Miller, a seventeen year old girl, is taken into custody as her mother is arrested for violating Article 5 by conceiving a child outside of marriage. Among the unit sent to arrest them is Ember's childhood friend and first love, Chase Jennings. Ember is taken to a rehabilitation center run by the Sisters of Salvation, from which she plots her escape. Her only goal is to find and rescue her mother, and the entire story revolves around her attempts to do so and her now conflicted feelings for Chase.
Review: I couldn't wait to read this book. A tyrannical government is imposing its views of morality on the populace? A small band of resistors are fighting back while a young woman finds herself thrust into the middle of the fight for human liberty? Count me in! I just love me some dystopia!
Make that: I just love me some good dystopia! And that's where Article 5 loses me.
The concept is a good one. And considering the way our governments continue to shred our liberties and trample on our human rights, the topic is timely and important. But the execution just wasn't there. Simmons doesn't give enough detail to construct a real, tangible world. There wasn't enough action to make it a quality adventure story and some aspects of the story weren't quite believable.
But most importantly, the heroine was not very likeable. Ember Miller didn't seem to be a particularly strong or logical character. She keeps mistrusting Chase even after he rescues her again and again. And since the novel is written in first person from her perspective, the reader is stuck inside her mind, constantly subjected to her irrational and downright whiny thoughts.
I'm usually pretty easy to please when it comes to books and movies. It doesn't take a whole lot to draw me into a story as I willingly suspend disbelief and let the storyteller carry me where she will. But I've got to like the character enough to care what happens to her. When it comes to Ember Miller in Article 5, I just didn't care.(less)
There is absolutely nothing that I dislike about Black Heart or the rest of the Curse Workers series! Holly Black is one...moreHolly Black is a Curse Worker!
There is absolutely nothing that I dislike about Black Heart or the rest of the Curse Workers series! Holly Black is one of my favorite authors. She hooked me with the Tithe series and gave me no room to wiggle off the line with her current film-noir-mixed-with-some-paranormal crime drama.
****Alert: Since this a review for book three of a series, it contains spoilers for anyone who hasn't read White Cat and Red Glove. If you find yourself in that unenviable position, you need to immediately step away from your computer, use the fastest means of transportation available to you, and get yourself to a bookstore so you can begin reading what is sure to become one of your favorite series. (If you're new to Holly Black, then you've got even more catching up to do. Don't miss out on Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside!)
Now back to the review. Cassel Sharpe is an eminently sympathetic character. He's a loyal friend/brother/son. He has a surprisingly strong sense of right and wrong, considering he was raised in a family of supernatural thieves and con artists. A family which lied to him and made him believe he was the black sheep without the power to alter people's memories, make them fall in love, or kill them with a single touch. He was the outcast since he wasn't a "Curse Worker". Just one problem: He is a curse worker. And not just any curse worker, but a transformation worker. He has the ability to turn you into anyone or anything he wants. So they used him to commit murders and to transform his best friend and only girl he ever loved into a cat, then erased his memory of it (White Cat). In attempt to set things straight his mom, the emotion worker, curses the girl to fall in love with him. So now he can't be with her because he knows it's not real and refuses to take advantage of the situation (Red Glove). It's amazing that he doesn't go on a psychopathic rampage transforming everyone into beanbag chairs!
In Black Heart he's got the Feds hounding him to join their Licensed Minority Division so they can have the rarest and most feared type of curse worker as their own weapon. Then there's the crime boss (and father of the girl of his dreams) who's holding his mother hostage until he can retrieve a diamond she once stole from him. And just for fun, let's throw in a terrified girl from school who begs him to help her deal with a blackmailer, while clearly holding back some vital information. There's just so much being thrown at this kid from every angle. But he just takes it all in stride and stays one step ahead while everyone thinks they're playing him.
Black Heart is a fast paced, fun, and extremely well written novel. The characters and situations are completely believable. The setting is beautifully constructed. The plot is well thought out and perfectly executed. Exactly what I've come to expect from Holly Black, who clearly works her magic by touching her fingers to a keyboard. For writing this solid, the blowback must be crazy!(less)
Advisory: This book would definitely be rated no higher than PG, possibly G. There are no language or sex...moreRead Ender's Game or The Virtual War instead.
Advisory: This book would definitely be rated no higher than PG, possibly G. There are no language or sex issues. And despite the title, there's no violence either.
I love a good dystopian novel. Give me a protagonist ready to break through the drab, gray malaise of her life and defy a tyrannical government and I'm usually hooked. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those times. Especially given the current state of our own society - groping TSA agents, inane terror alerts, etc. - I was excited to read a story about a society governed by the constant fear of enemy attack and mandated vigilance. Haddix does manage to capture the malaise, describing a people broken down by war weariness. Many of the scenes are, however, a little too unbelievable. To the extent that there are any adults in the story, they are unrealistically incompetent. The child protagonists are, on the other hand, far too sophisticated. Tessa and Gideon are, at best, high school aged and Dek is viewed by them as a mere child. Yet these three are much more intelligent and capable than any of the adults they encounter. There is simply no satisfactory explanation for why this should be the case. There are really no adults in the society who were as capable as the children of finding out the truth?
The characters don't really grow throughout the book either. Tessa's self-confidence does grow by the end as she begins to trust her own knowledge and abilities, but Gideon and Dek don't really grow much at all. Granted, the story occurs over a short period of time, but there just isn't a whole lot of depth to those characters.
According to the publisher's website, The Always War is aimed at those 7th grade and up. I think they've got that backwards. It should be 7th grade and below. There's nothing objectionable for younger readers and I think older readers would not find the plot credible. This could be a decent dystopian for upper elementary/ lower middle grade readers. It's similar to The Virtual War by Gloria Skurzynski or Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, though it's more tame than those books. But I would definitely choose those titles over The Always War. I'll give it three turntables. I'd rate it lower for myself, but since it's geared for a younger audience, I think it's decent for that age group.(less)
Advisory: This book would probably be PG-13. There are no language or sex issues. The violence raises this to PG-13, but no higher.
Synopsis: Kali D'Angelo is just your average teenage girl...except when she's not. Every other day, Kali is something else, something stronger. A nearly indestructible hunter who is driven to slay monsters, despite all the governmental regulations protecting preternatural creatures. Then she meets Bethany Davis: daughter of her father's boss, cheerleader, high school queen bee, soon to be victim of the chupacabra which has marked her for death. Kali has less than a day to save this girl. Unfortunately it's the wrong day.
Review: I thought the concept for Every Other Day was clever. I've seen plenty of inhumanly strong heroines, but I've never met a character who alternated between human and superhuman. And Jennifer Lynn Barnes executes the concept very well. It's got a good mix of action, character development, and world building. I'm not a huge fan of the alternate history element in this story, but that wasn't a major sticking point for me.
The book is written in the first person from Kali's perspective, which I've found in other books has led to whiny, snarky, or otherwise unlikable protagonists. Barnes doesn't fall into that trap with Kali. In fact, I found all three primary female characters to be very likable and believable. "A little bit psychic" Skylar was particularly endearing. For me, one mark of a solid character is when I start picturing an actor to portray him or her in a movie version of the story. From the beginning I had no trouble casting Ashley Greene (Alice Cullen from Twilight) in the role of Skylar. Bethany's character was deeper and more interesting than I expected at first. Not your stereotypical cheerleader after all.
I wasn't quite as happy with the male characters in the story. Zev, Elliot, and Kali's father all seemed a little flat to me. But once again, it didn't detract too much since the ladies were asked to carry the load and they were more than capable of stepping up to the challenge.
Overall, Every Other Day is a very entertaining novel. If you're hunting for a story with intense action and strong lead characters, then your literary bloodlust should be satiated by this story which is part Buffy and part Blade.(less)
Advisory: This book would probably merit a PG-13 rating based on violence, though a film version could ramp that up a bit. There's no language which would raise this above PG-13. While there's mention of sex, what's actually depicted is pretty chaste, though that might potentially be ramped up in a movie version as well.
Review: Angels, demons, monsters. Seems like Prague is teeming with all these beings/ An artist with a heart that’s feeling a loss that she can’t even possibly reason/ Raised in the workshop of a dark wishmonger, adopted father, demon/ Orphan daughter apprentice running her errands shot by some mobsters for teeth and/ All the while in the dark for a reason. What secrets these monsters are keeping/ Family you just gotta believe in but why can’t she seem to just squash these feelings?/ Enter a stranger with a scheme. Things start to come apart at the seems/ Real life is colliding with dreams. Two worlds, two souls fighting for peace/ Taylor’s words draw a thousand sketches. Gothic cathedrals and haunting legends/ Markets filled with Moroccan peasants. Bargains with grave robbers over dentures/ Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a tale well told that will make you long/ For the next installment. You’ll be enthralled with this haunting story of blood and hope/ (less)
Advisory: This book would probably be PG-13 by film industry standards. Possibly PG. Despite the subject matter (teenage substance abuse), there's almost nothing in this book to be concerned about. Basically a few curse words, the aforementioned underage drinking, and some allusions to sex (no actual sex scenes in the book).
Review: I won my copy of this book through a website started by another YA author, Jessica Brody. The website is Free Book Friday and every Friday they give away one book in each of four categories: Fiction, Romance, Teen, and Indie. The first week I entered, I won the book for the teen category. Let's just say that Friday was definitely my lucky day as I was able to snag a copy of Burnout! I urge everyone to go there and sign up (even though it lowers the odds that I'll win another awesome book like Burnout.)
Before I entered the drawing on Free Book Friday, I had never heard of Burnout. I owe Jessica Brody a big thank you for enlightening me as this is one of the best books I've read in a while. It's short, but it could have been twice as long and it still wouldn't have taken me long to read it. I'm not a particularly fast reader, but Burnout is one of those can't-put-it-down kind of books. Vrettos keeps you on the edge of your seat, just itching to find out what happened to Nan the day before, why she can't remember anything about it, and why she's having blackouts.
Besides the suspense, I really liked how Vrettos developed her characters. Not only is the book short, but the primary story unfolds over the course of a single day. Not much room for character development. But the chapters alternate between the current day and memories of Nan's past. Vrettos uses those memories to paint a rich picture of a girl who faced some difficulties in life and had made some poor choices, but had taken steps to correct her life's course. But every new piece of evidence Nan uncovers about the previous day is another knife slash through her portrait of redemption. Add in growing concern for her friend's safety and you've got a recipe for a great book.
The biggest downside to Burnout is that it's so short. Don't get me wrong, Vrettos accomplishes everything she needed to in those 200 pages. But I could have easily devoured another 200! I'm giving Burnout five turntables and immediately adding all of Adrienne Maria Vrettos' other books to my reading list!(less)
Hunger Games meets Zombieland...but with Vampires!
Survival Rule #1: Don't do anything to stand out. Oh well, nice try Andrew Fukuda, but I'm afraid yo...moreHunger Games meets Zombieland...but with Vampires!
Survival Rule #1: Don't do anything to stand out. Oh well, nice try Andrew Fukuda, but I'm afraid you blew it on the very first rule! Now that Mr. Fukuda has made the mistake of distinguishing himself through his excellent writing, dangerously drawing vampire attention to himself, I'll continue sharing the survival rules with the rest of the class.
Rule #2: Read The Hunt, by the aforementioned Andrew Fukuda!
The Hunt is the second vampire book I've read that doesn't actually use the word "vampire". (The other one is Peeps by Scott Westerfeld.) And both are among my short list for tops in the genre. Though, aside from the existence of blood suckers, neither book shares much in common with say, Twilight. The Hunt really is more like the movie Zombieland - the world is overrun with the undead and almost no humans remain. The human protagonist shares his rules for surviving in such a deadly world. In this case, he has to try to blend in and pretend that he is actually just a regular vampire like everyone else. Like Zombieland, Fukuda's story maintains a sort of surreal lightheartedness in spite of the fact that death is literally just a sneeze away. (Click here for your "Real Vampires Don't Have Allergies" T-shirt!)
Almost all joking aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. And I don't want to give the wrong impression about the book's tone. There isn't a single moment when you forget that the protagonist is surrounded at all times by people who would rip him to shreds in two seconds if they knew what he was. Not when he's at swim practice with the blood suckers. Not even when he's playing spin the bottle and is forced to go into a closet and neck with the hottest girl in school who also happens to be a spawn of Dracula. He is always on guard and so was I when I was reading it.
The concept is unique. Intricate details really make the setting and characters extremely realistic. (FYI, vampires don't laugh, but you'll have to read the book to find out what they do instead. Oh, and they're not "vampires" remember? They're just "people"! Don't make me send you to sensitivity training.) Not that vampires, I mean "people", are very sensitive. To them, we're all just a bunch of "hepers". And the Heper Institute for Refined Research and Discovery is exactly where our protagonist is headed as he's chosen at random to take part in a Heper Hunt. Turns out they're not extinct after all. The government's been raising a few on the down low and is ready to let a handful of lucky citizens have a chance for their first taste of genuine heper blood! I'm sure it's a coincidence that the announcement is made at a time when The Ruler's approval rankings are sagging due to the anemic state of the economy!
It's great that our hero has been able to fool his classmates and teachers, but now he'll have to test his wits against an institute filled with researches who specialize in heper studies. He'll also have to stay clear of the other hunters who would love nothing more than to rip out his jugular vein. It's an exciting book and it won't take you long to read it. But then you'll be like me, hanging around in your sleep holds, waiting for the sequel! (less)
Advisory: Violence: Gory descriptions of action scenes; dismemberment; potentially frightening creatures. Language: Some graphic language. Sex: Some discussion of sex; no description of sex scenes. Rating: By film industry standards I think the book would be rated "R" based on strong language/violence.
Review: I didn't really know what to expect from BZRK. Didn't have any preconceived notions. It's a good thing I didn't waste time thinking about it because I would have been wrong anyway. The only thing you should expect is to feel your pulse pounding a mile a minute, which is roughly how fast the action happens in the story. You should also be prepared for some graphic, often gory, descriptions of battle scenes at the macro and the micro levels. There's everything from human limbs being blown off to close up views of blood cells and bacteria. At times you'd almost think Grant was describing a documentary film about the inner workings of the human body, that is until you see microscopic killer robots battling genetically engineered spider/scorpion/human hybrids.
One of the more impressive feats in this book is the way in which Grant explains all of the complex biological and technical details of the story without making you feel like you're sitting in science class. He introduces and uses slang and technical jargon in a way which is easily accessible to the reader. It's almost as if the terms had always been part of my regular vocabulary.
I also like the way Grant develops the theme of shifting realities balanced on the knife's edge between sanity and madness. Whether it's the opening scene in the insane asylum, the moral ambiguity surrounding the tactics of the warring factions, or shifting perspectives of the narration, Grant successfully manages to keep the reader off balance.
By changing the perspective of the narration, Grant allows the reader to delve a little deeper into a wider pool of characters. Instead of just focusing on one or two protagonists, the reader has the chance to understand some of the fears and motivations of other characters they might not otherwise. It had the added fact, at least initially, of making me wonder who exactly the protagonists were. But the downside is that I never felt fully connected with any of the characters. Perhaps that will change as I read further installments in this series, but right now I just don't completely sympathize with the protagonists. Instead of having a 3 ft. shallow end and a 10 ft. deep end, the entire pool is 5 ft. And that's just not quite deep enough to fully submerge my 6'2" frame.
There were a couple of scenes (I won't get into any details here) which I didn't find completely believable. Either I felt the characters would have acted differently or the scene just needed more detailed explanations. The problems aren't major, but they did keep me from giving the book 5 turntables.
The book's concept is original. The plot is fast paced and believable. The dialogue, settings, and action sequences are all gritty and raw. Overall BZRK is one of the most entertaining books I've read recently. It's also the first book by Michael Grant that I've read and if it's any indication of his skill as a writer, then I definitely have to read the Gone series. I'm not a particularly fast reader, but I knocked this one out in two days. So I definitely recommend you give it a try. (less)