Tag Archives: review

Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must Die
Dorothy Must Die, Book 1
Danielle Paige
Juvenile Fiction
HarperTeen
2014-04-01
432

 

Review:

Amy is a girl with a less than stellar life in her little Dusty Acres trailer park in Kansas.  That is, until a tornado picks up her and her mother’s pet rat and unceremoniously deposits them in Oz.  Of course, every girl from Kansas knows the story of Oz, and Amy is more than a little shocked to discover that it is nothing like the beloved movie of her childhood.

Believe me, this book is the last thing you want to pick up if you’re looking for a feel-good story featuring Dorothy and Toto.  This is a brutal story with violence that will churn your stomach and quite possibly give you nightmares.  And yet, it is intensely enjoyable and loyal to the lore of Oz created by Frank L. Baum.  Purists may or may not like it depending on their stomach constitution.

For my part, I loved it.  Amy and Knox are excellent characters you want to know more about, though in this first book of the series, Knox remains for the most part a mystery.  While there is some romance, the author has chosen to make us wait for it to be more than a feeling in the background.  Along with Knox, there is a cast of other fascinating characters who play into the current political climate of Oz and leave you wanting more.

Unfortunately, we all have to wait for that more.  This was a good set-up to the series, giving us a background without any resolution whatsoever.  It left us with nothing but questions and the suspicion that nothing is what it seems.  I recommend it for those who like their Oz mixed with some horror and gore.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Gore

 

Top Secret Twenty-One

Top Secret Twenty-One Book Cover Top Secret Twenty-One
Stephanie Plum, Book 21
Janet Evanovich
Fiction
Bantam Dell Publishing Group
2014-06-17
320

Stephanie Plum is back in an all-new adventure from #1 bestselling author Janet Evanovich. This time Stephanie's in deep. To get to the bottom of the mess, she's going to have to keep things Top Secret.

 

Review:

I read Janet Evanovich’s novels for the same reason I read the late Lillian Jackson Braun’s:  They are comforting and easy, much like sitting down with an old friend once a year for coffee to catch up on each other’s lives.  We share a history, and no matter what the next book brings, I am too attached to stop now.

All of the old cast is back, and as always, they bring with them quite a few laughs along with the somewhat formulaic plot.  I feel like there needs to be no spoiler warnings when I say that we always know her car will meet a demise, Lula will want some Cluck-in-a-Bucket, and there will be some happening at the funeral home.  It wouldn’t be Stephanie Plum without them.

I’m very happy to see Ranger and his feelings being more fleshed out in this and the previous book.  It feels like it’s been a long time coming.  Readers always knew there was more to him, but it’s nice to finally have it acknowledged.

Unfortunately, that brings me to my main complaint.  There is not enough focus on him.  Morelli has become somewhat boring and Stephanie herself has been acknowledging this.  It seems like either their relationship needs to move forward or Ranger needs to get his chance.  The formula for them is getting old and needs some shaking up.

I’ll still never quit you Stephanie, no matter how predictable you become.

Paper Towns

Paper Towns Book Cover Paper Towns
John Green
Juvenile Fiction
Puffin
2009
305

One month before graduating from his Central Florida high school, Quentin "Q" Jacobsen basks in the predictable boringness of his life until the beautiful and exciting Margo Roth Spiegelman, Q's neighbor and classmate, takes him on a midnight adventure and then mysteriously disappears. An ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Reprint.

 

Review:

I love John Green.  No other author can turn a phrase quite like him, and I greatly respect his refusal to create novels that assume teenagers are not capable of reading about real issues they face in a frank manner, even if that includes sex and questionable language.  I expect excellent work from him, and he did not disappoint me with “Paper Towns”.

Part of the brilliance of this novel is that a teenager can read it and get an entirely different story from it than an adult who reads it.  Neither are inferior to the other, it’s simply that some of it is viewed differently when time removes you further from the days of high school.  I literally cried from the overwhelming sense of nostalgia it created.

Quentin Jacobsen is the “every man” of high school.  He is not popular, nor is he quite on the bottom rung of the social ladder.  In short, he is smart, but average.  Then there is Margo Roth Spiegelmen, the girl who was larger than life in Quentin’s mind.  The girl on the pedestal. Haven’t we all had that person in our lives at one point or another?   Of course, eventually we learn that they are just as human and average as the rest of us, and that is the point of the story.

The lessons to be learned in “Paper Towns” are good for teens and adults.  People are not always who they present to the world.  Some are better than they let on and some are worse.  The best memories aren’t what you think they will be.  Everything has a beginning and an end.  All of this is woven into a thoroughly entertaining story that is filled with humor and tenderness.  I highly recommend it for those who like Green’s style of writing.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Brief Sexual Content

The Registry

The Registry Book Cover The Registry
The Registry, Book 1
Shannon Stoker
Fiction
William Morrow Paperbacks
2013-06-11
336

Welcome to a safe and secure new world, where beauty is bought and sold, and freedom is the ultimate crime The Registry saved the country from collapse, but stability has come at a price. In this patriotic new America, girls are raised to be brides, sold at auction to the highest bidder. Boys are raised to be soldiers, trained to fight and never question orders. Nearly eighteen, beautiful Mia Morrissey excitedly awaits the beginning of her auction year. But a warning from her married older sister raises dangerous questions. Now, instead of going up on the block, Mia is going to escape to Mexico—and the promise of freedom. All Mia wants is to control her own destiny—a brave and daring choice that will transform her into an enemy of the state, pursued by powerful government agents, ruthless bounty hunters, and a cunning man determined to own her . . . a man who will stop at nothing to get her back.

 

Review:

I am being somewhat generous with the three stars, but do hold out some hope for the series.  The idea is a good one, with there being handbooks and guides to marriage and military service that are controlled by the government.  Women are bought, and while men ultimately end up in control, as boys they are all but abandoned due to not having a monetary value to their fathers.

The world is interesting, but there is a problem with how it is presented.  The problem being that we have very little explanation about why it came to be that way.  There is something offered, but it doesn’t explain anything, even though I believe the author meant it to.  It made what could have been a straightforward plot a bit of a mess and distracts from some issues raised that are more than worthy of in-depth exploration.

The writing is stilted, but that may be on purpose, as Mia has been protected her entire life from most knowledge and education.  It’s difficult to tell at this point in the series.  There are also quite a few typos that can easily be fixed and can be frustrating to see.

I’m not certain whether or not to continue on with the series, as I have been burned in the past by novels with promising plots but technical problems.

 

Content Warning:

Violence

Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky Book Cover Under the Never Sky
Under the Never Sky, Book 1
Veronica Rossi
Juvenile Fiction
Harpercollins Childrens Books
2012-12-04
400

When Aria is exiled from the enclosed city of Reverie, she forms an unlikely alliance with an Outsider named Perry, who could be her only chance of survival providing they can overcome their prejudices.

 

Review:

Before I begin the review, I have an embarrassing confession about a misconception I formed at the beginning of the book.  Between the cover and the multiple mentions of Perry being shirtless and in leather pants, it became set in my mind that I was somehow reading a Harlequin Romance fantasy.  Obviously, this was wrong, but nevertheless I breathed a sigh of relief once he finally put on a shirt and things got going in earnest.

The reason for the three instead of four stars in my rating is the fact that it took me a full third of the book to really get into it.  Being a fan of how the worlds are built in dystopian novels, I found this one lacking.  There was very little to go on at the beginning, and while this may be intentional, it made me apathetic to what happened to them one way or the other.

That being said, once the two main characters were together, things picked up quickly.  The world and characters become more than one-dimensional and I began to care what happened to them and everyone else.  Perry and Aria are both very interesting and complex, and the ultimate love story evolved beautifully.  It was nice to see a book lacking a love triangle and keeping the complications to what they were going through, as opposed to which boy Aria should kiss.

In the end, I was so drawn into their world that I immediately ordered the next in the series and expect I will not have the difficulty getting into it that I had with this one.  If you find yourself wanting to give up at the beginning, I encourage you stick with it.  It’s worth it.

Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations

The Darkest Minds Never Fade

The Darkest Minds Never Fade Book Cover The Darkest Minds Never Fade
The Darkest Minds, Book 2
Alexandra Bracken
Juvenile Fiction
Hyperion
2013-10-15
512

"In the second installment of The Darkest Minds trilogy, Ruby joins forces with the revolutionary Children's League to find critical information about the epidemic that has torn both her life and America apart"--

 

Review:

Ruby and friends are back, with the book picking up only a few months after the first one left off.  The sacrifices she made at the end of “The Darkest Minds” become immediately clear as far more than even she thought they would be.  It jumps right into the action and never really stops.  In other words, this book is intense, so be prepared.

Typically second books in trilogies are the weakest link.  I was prepared for that to be the case with this one, because it really did seem impossible to make it on par with the first.  In my opinion, this one was even better, though I was disappointed in seeing so little of my favorite character, Liam.  That is bias on my part though and was necessary to the plot.  When he does come back, the result is perfectly believable and flows well with how he left off at the end of the first book.

We are introduced to quite a few new characters, and just like in “The Darkest Minds”, they are fleshed out with complete and compelling backstories gradually revealed over the course of the book.  Alexandra Bracken is a genius when it comes to character development.  All of their actions fit with their backstory.

One of my favorite things about this novel is the fact that teenagers actually speak and act like teenagers.  Vida is the most shining example of this.  Her language is vulgar, she is full of attitude, and can be volatile with her moods.  I think we’ve all known at least one Vida growing up.  All too often authors shy away from the way teenagers actually speak, and the fact that Bracken is not afraid to go there speaks of both her talent and her respect for her readers that are of that age.

The world is expanded in a wonderful way.  We get to see the inner workings of the mysterious Children’s League as well as learn more about how the government is currently functioning.  It adds a perfect balance to what we learned in the first of the series of how the children are living and gives us a much more complete view of the world Ruby lives in.  All of it sets up for what is sure to be an exciting conclusion.

As with “The Darkest Minds”, “Never Fade” has become one of my favorite books of all-time.  The world and characters are so well-developed that I feel like Alexandra Bracken needs to teach a class in creative writing.  She is a true natural talent.  Again, if I were wealthy I would buy everyone a copy.

My only question is how am I supposed to wait until October 28th?  I feel like I may go into withdrawal and need some sort of rehab.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations

 

The Darkest Minds

The Darkest Minds Book Cover The Darkest Minds
Alexandra Bracken
Juvenile Fiction
Hyperion
2012-12-18
496

"Sixteen-year-old Ruby breaks out of a government-run 'rehabilitation camp' for teens who acquired dangerous powers after surviving a virus that wiped out most American children"--

 

Review:

To put this out there right up front, this is one of my favorite books ever and the beginning of one of my top three favorite dystopian series.

Ruby and company are part of a generation of children who have developed various powers, each given a different color code. The government locks them into camps to try to “cure” them. Obviously, this is not how it goes, because if they just went to camp and were cured there would be no plot to speak of. I’ll leave it to you to read the book and find out what happens.

Ruby is a refreshing character in the world of young adult dystopias. While she does have quite a bit of naiveté when it comes to interactions with the outside and boys due to being sent to the camp when she was ten, she is certainly not slow to pick up on things. She takes help and needs help but is by no means a damsel in distress. Others need her just as badly as she needs them. All too often these types of novels leave the heroine in somewhat of an intellectual fog when it comes to adaptation to their new environments, but Ruby does not suffer from that. This is part of why I love it so much.

The other characters are all wonderful. Each one has a well-developed back story that is compelling and heartbreaking. This is not a novel where you find anyone with an easy life. Getting to know them on such an intimate level made me become invested in the novel as whole, not just as it related to Ruby, and made me feel genuine panic when the fates of some became unknown.

The author clearly thought out the motivations of every character in a scene before writing it. None of it is muddled, and it all fits perfectly with their history and current circumstances. None of it seems out-of-place and it makes the plot flow beautifully leaving no room for holes in a character’s plot line. It’s an excellent example for those looking for what to do when it comes to character development.

There is one scene that is particularly disturbing in a sexual consent and control issue way. It’s intense enough that I feel it warrants a description here rather than a brief mention in the content warnings. One character takes advantage of another by using their powers. It’s somewhat ambiguous as to the exact nature of what occurred, but it is definitely creepy and a possible trigger for some. That being said, it is in no way gratuitous and does serve to further both character development and plot. In my opinion, it’s a delicate subject that is handled well.

I cannot end this review without mentioning the world-building aspect. That is my favorite part of any non-realistic fiction type novel and Alexandra Bracken does not disappoint. It’s a world still very much like how we live today, but one going downhill fast. The best parts of the small details that make perfect sense but many would not even think to add. For example, what would the radio play in an absence of teenagers? Oldies. Don’t even get me started on how they are used, because as a combined biblio- and audiophile I may never stop speaking.

Overall, I recommend this book to the point that were I a rich man I would buy all of you reading this review a copy. Well-written, well-developed, heartbreaking, and really darn fun.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations, General Intense Situations

Reborn

Reborn
Born Trilogy, Book 3
Tara Brown
Survival
2013
252

 

Review:

I did this to myself.  Part of me really wanted this to be good and fix the problems in “Born to Fight”.  The series had so much potential, in spite of some flaws, and got progressively worse.

The typos and sentence structure were so bad in this one that it felt like it had been translated from another language by someone a translator who barely knows English.  This should not happen in something sold to the public.  A few are normal, though should try to be avoided.  At least run spellcheck.

The plot is another issue altogether.  There were so many things going on at once that none could be properly explored beyond a surface level, thereby making it a complete mess of ideas that didn’t quite connect.  Add to it an ending that came from nowhere, and it becomes a ridiculous mess.

I already ranted in the review of “Born to Fight” about my anger toward the unhealthy relationship found in the series.  This one continued that.  In the interest of my blood pressure, I will say no more.

What makes me sad is that this story had so much potential.  The first one needed some work but with a good editor the series could have been something unique and special.  Had Tara Brown not wanted to cut out some of the plot points, it would have been better to be extended beyond a trilogy and focus a book on each one.  Then the reader could make some sense out of it all.  Not a recommended series at all.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations

Born to Fight

Born to Fight Book Cover Born to Fight
Born Trilogy, Book 2
Tara Brown
Survival
2013-04-08
252

Ten years ago when the world ended she ran for her life. Five weeks ago the world she'd hidden from came knocking on the door of her secluded cabin. Ten days ago she found salvation hiding amongst the dead. Yesterday she went back for the living. Today she wonders if she will live to see tomorrow."--P. [4] of cover.

 

Review:

In an effort to be fair, I am going to begin with the good parts.  There is a part of the plot about a government-run facility that I really enjoyed.  The entire idea of the place was horrifying, the author provided great details that cemented the place in my imagination like it was real, and it really provided great insight into how the world was falling apart.  It meshed well with the back story and experiences we learned about Emma in “Born”.

I also enjoyed the comic relief of Emma having absolutely no social skills whatsoever.  Sure, she was rude, and she often knew it, but it was still fun to see how other characters reacted to her.  When people who are rapists, live with zombies, and/or are part of some strange commune in the woods think someone is  uncivilized, you know that the person has some issues.

Now for the bad.  I think we all need to take up a collection to help the author find a good editor.  There were entire paragraphs repeated, misused words, misspelled words, and an ever-annoying tendency to have a scene with multiple characters having a conversation that includes no names.  It would simply be denoted by “he said” or “she said”.  Who is he?  Jake?  Will?  The dog?  Casper the friendly ghost?  The entire process of decoding large parts of the book was an exercise in frustration.

Since we have a good and a bad, it seems fitting to have an ugly.  The ugly in this is the completely contrived and horrific love triangle.  Firstly, one of the love interests is barely in the book, and although an altogether decent human being, this seems to be some sort of sin in the mind of those around him.  Granted, I know he is a liability to survival, but at least he is not violent.

Which brings us to the next love interest, Will.  He is an abusive jerk of a person and he knows it.  It is like he was made to fit the list of “signs of an abuser”, and the main character keeps thinking that he is one, and yet the author portrays the entire thing as some sort of excellent antagonistic love story.  The entire thing makes me so angry that I am literally shaking.  Younger women may read this and take it as healthy and romantic.  Why is it ok to know someone makes you feel bad about yourself and hurts you, but you still forgive them?  It is not.  Not even a little bit.  Romanticizing it is absolutely irresponsible and reprehensible on the part of the author.

Strong words?  Yes.  I don’t regret them.

I will read the next one because I’m worried about the wolf.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations, Romanticized Abuse

Born

Born Book Cover Born
Born Trilogy, Book 1
Tara Brown
Survival
2012-11-01
260

Ten years ago when the world ended she ran for her life. Five weeks ago the world she'd hidden from came knocking on the door of her secluded cabin. Ten days ago she found salvation hiding amongst the dead. Yesterday she went back for the living. Today she wonders if she will live to see tomorrow."--P. [4] of cover.

 

Review:

I bought this book for my Nook because it was on sale, and I am a sucker for any dystopian type of novel.  It was a choice I am glad I made.  It’s different from all of the others I have read in the blending of elements and tropes.

The basic premise is that a girl has been taught to survive by her father before a type of New World Order world conspiracy occurs.  This leaves her alone and without human contact for ten years of her life.  Add into the mix people who are almost like zombies, human hunters, rapists, food scarcity, and other various dangers and it becomes quite a thrill ride.

I loved the world building aspect of this book.  Since she was completely isolated before others became involved, it was almost as if there were two different worlds to explore.  The first is Emma’s in isolation, and the second is introduced through two characters who arrive at her door and pull her back into the lives of others.  Her learning about them and how to interact was my favorite part.

Unfortunately, it began to lose me at the end.  Things seem to move too quickly and a third character is introduced who gives me the creeps.  I am afraid I can see where the next book is going, and it makes me nervous.  Along with it, the writing of many of the personal interactions is stilted and awkward almost to the point of distraction.  I enjoyed it at first, because it seems natural that someone who has had so little human contact would speak that way, but as the book progressed it became apparent it was due to the writing itself, not the portrayal of a character’s limitations.

Overall, the premise was enough to make me enjoy this book and read the rest of the series.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations