Breathe by Sarah Crossan Book Review

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

The trees have died. Humanity was saved by entering pods, dome like structures where oxygen is created and regulated by the organization Breathe. The terrorist organization RATS want to destroy their way of life. Alina is part of the resistance, but she isn't terrorist. Unlike Bea and Quinn, Alina knows the truth. Breathe is purposefully killing the trees, making life outside the pods impossible in order to secure their power. When Alina convinces Quinn to help her escape the pod, he and Bea are both sucked into a world that offers a glimpse of hope, but they will have to fight for it.

It is never a good sign when I have a difficult time getting through a book. Considering I can finish a book in only a few hours, when a book takes me nearly a month to make my way through, you know there is a problem. At first I couldn't really pinpoint why the story wasn't holding my interest. After all, despite some scientific implausibilities, the plot was fairly interesting and wasn't ponderous. The problem therefore lies with the characters. Alina and Bea, despite being two very different people often read exactly the same, meaning that I had to check the chapter headings sometimes to figure out which character I was reading. Quinn felt rather inconsistent. One minute he is the complete gentlemen and the next he is talking about staring at "Alina's ass". These moments felt forced, as if the author didn't want us to forget that this a teenage boy. Beyond inconsistencies though, none of the characters were very compelling. Alina is supposed to be a bad-ass, but it quickly becomes clear that she is just as incompetent as the rest of them. During the "battle" at the end, I found her new found training abilities to be rather laughable. Divergent this book was not. Of the three characters, Quinn turns out to have the most chutzpah, but a fighter he is not.

All that said, it would be interesting to see where the author goes with this. With books like Maze Runner, Hunger Games, Divergent, and Legend the characters are not just part of the resistance, they are fighters too. Bea and Quinn are definitely not there yet and I wouldn't exactly trust Alina to lead anything either, mostly because she doesn't think before she acts. If one of these three characters could be punched up a bit, I think the series (for a series it is going to be) may have hope.

How To Be Invisible by Tim Lott Book Review

How To Be Invisible by Tim Lott

Strato Nyman suffers from a bad case of shyness. Couple that with the fact that he a complete science geek and if that wasn't enough of a bully target, he's the only black kid in Hedgecombe. It's only at home that Strato blends into the background, mostly because his parents are too busy arguing to notice him. Then Strato comes across and old dusty bookstore and comes home with a book that suggests that it can make a person turn invisible. The ever logical and scientific minded Strato doesn't believe it until it actually happens to him. With this new found ability Strato sets out to discover the secrets his parents are hiding, why Lloyd Archibald Turnbull is gunning for him, why the bus driver is so weird, and why his Physics professor is so mean.

Currently only released as an audio book in the US, this novel is a fabulous mash-up of fantasy, real-life drama, adventure, and romance. Strato admits he is an unimaginative kid whose obsession with physics is littered throughout the novel. Everything is a science experiment and even when he turns invisible he approaches the situation as any good scientist would, through observation and testing. Strato is a good kid. He wants his parents to stay together, he can't help how shy he is, and he is desperate to get the school bully off his back.

There were a lot of things I loved about this book. First and foremost, the presence of a minority character was a huge plus. This wasn't an urban novel or historical fiction and frankly, there are so few books with black characters who aren't part of a civil rights movement, that it almost feels like a foreign concept. I also loved the presence of a different kind family unit. Strato's parents (who he calls by their first names for reasons that only happen in fiction) are not married. They love each other and live together but for some reason Strato's father has really dragged his feet with the whole marriage thing. Even so, when his parents' relationship begins to unravel, Strato is just as concerned as any child and divorce is just as real a word whether they are married or not.

The bully of the story felt a little shallow. Child suffers from a cruel abusive mother and a crippled limb, and thus takes his anger out on other people, like Strato. All Strato has to do is pretend to be a ghost and everything changes. I do believe there are children out their who are taking their pain out on others, but I also think there are also people who, despite having loving parents, can be mean and cruel. In other words, bullying is much more complex than this.

How To Be Invisible has a lot of heart, is somewhat didactic, but I was always rooting for Strato and was sure that no matter what happened, he was going to be all right, visible or invisible.

Impulse by Steven Gould Book Review

Impulse by Steven Gould

Cent lives an entirely unsocial life. Not surprising seeing as her parents are both on the run from both the government and terrorists for her entire sixteen years of life. Cent has grown up in a cabin in the Yukon, the nearest town being over 100 miles away. But they aren't cut off. Millie and David both have the ability to teleport, or "jump", and it is with this ability that they aid in relief work, go shopping in Paris, visit Australia in the middle of the night, get ice cream in New York City, and they can do so in the blink of an eye. Cent was not born with this ability, but when she is caught in an avalanche, she finds that a life threatening situation is just the jump start she needed to develop of new ability. And what does she do with such an ability? Cent wants to go to school. For the first time, the willful and too much like her parents Cent, will be with kids her own age. Soon though, Cent is the focus of the school bully and a simple schoolyard disagreement becomes a whole lot more than she bargained for. Meanwhile, Cent's parents must track down an old enemy who is bent on controlling all jumpers.

Written in 1992, Jumper was the first book in what has now become a trilogy, although the first book could definitely be considered a stand-alone novel. Unlike the travesty of a film that was made, Jumper really caught my imagination as a teenager. I appreciate its depth and complexities and especially love that even though it is about a young man who can teleport, it isn't a book about teleportation. The sequel, Reflex, published in 2004, has David kidnapped and subsequently tortured and his wife Millie develops the ability to "jump". Now this third novel is set 17 years after Reflex, and in the hands of Cent, jumping is a whole new world.

I have always debated whether Jumper would be considered young adult. Although I read it as a teenager and it was reprinted with a more YA friendly cover in 1995, there are definitely some elements such as rape, terrorism, murder, alcoholism, and abuse that can  feel rather adult. The second book goes easier on these subjects, but the characters have aged beyond their teens and are very adult. Impulse however, is entirely a teen novel. Although there are chapters with Millie and David narrating, it is Cent's story. She drives the plot forward with the rush of excitement that only a teenager can have.

Cent is incredibly smart, strong-willed, and despite her good relationship with her parents, she is feeling smothered by their protectiveness. Of course, they do have good reason to be protective, her father only has to pull down his shirt to show her the scars, but even so, Cent feels that it is high time she go to school and be allowed to make friends with people her own age. Cent also discovers a new way to jump, adding speed and velocity when she jumps so that she can fly through the air. I loved that new element as it gave Cent ownership over her jumping.

I loved the family dynamics in this story. The parents are not absent as in a lot of YA fiction, and their characters added to the story. Cent is brilliant and sassy, and although she claims to be unsocialized, she is quick to catch on and make friends....and enemies. The romance of the story (for you know there is one) was nice and organic in a way that made it believable. Oh, and she snowboards. The details about snowboarding sometimes left me reeling with all the technical terms, but it only added to the authenticity rather than create any confusion or boredom.

Cent is a fabulous heroine and here is the best don't have to read the other two books in order to Impulse. There are plenty of inferences of the last two books to understand their basic plots without unnecessary info dumps. Although, I do think you should Jumper, simply because it is awesome.

::sigh:: I just love great books, don't you?

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson Book Review

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Okay...see if you can follow me on this one.

Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen at the age of eight by the Master in a mysterious ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to breath life into chalk drawings. Rithmatists are warriors and scholars and are humanity's only defense against the Wild Chalklings who threaten to overrun all the American Isles. Joel missed his chance to become a Rithmatist and so he pines for the one thing he is not. At school, Joel sneaks into classes he shouldn't, searching for any answers to the mysterious world he can never be a part of. Then students start to go missing, leaving behind signs that they were attacked by thousands of wild chalklings. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

A mixture of parallel universe, steampunk, mystery, and fantasy, this book is all the reasons why I love Brandon Sanderson and fantasy in general. How creative. How original. How fun.

Sanderson creates a world that is just barely recognizable as our own. The Americas at the turn of the century but for some reason in this universe, it is a series of islands and they are not united. They have strange names like Nebrask, Texahoma, and West Carolina. (don't worry there are illustrations and maps to help you as you read) Europe was taken over by the Chinese centuries before and they kicked out all the Scottish for some reason. Due to the Wild Chalklings there are not Native Americans, only their warnings have been left behind. The Dark Ages appear to be a blip due to the discovery of Rithmatism. Christianity and the church is different for it is believed that God is the one who grants power to the Rithmatists, a power that cannot be refuted and thus God is not refuted. 

Joel is smart and desperate, wanting the one thing he can never have, which I think many readers will be able to relate to. An outcast, Joel is troubled when he begins making friends with Melody, a Rithmatist student who absolutely hates her birthright. There is a hint of mystery surrounding Melody too (one that will hopefully be answered in the books to come). How can Melody come from a family with six Rithmatists? Isn't it supposed to be random? All the studies show that bloodlines do not matter...right? 

This is a world that you get sucked into and there are so many little things that would simply not make sense if I mentioned them in this review, but as you go deeper and deeper into the story, things like chalk line theory and chalklings and new chalk lines and duels all begin to make sense. 

I am so terribly excited about this book because I find it so original and engrossing and it is books like this that remind me why I love this genre so much.

Below by Meg McKinlay Book Review

Below by Meg McKinlay

On the day Cassie was born, Old Lower Grange was buried five thousand swimming pools' worth of water. Twelve years later, Cassie is still haunted by that day, by the town she never knew. Everyone seems to have a story about the old town, the old house, their old life, and Cassie feels left out. As the summer progresses, Cassie finds herself drawn to the lake and its mysteries. And as a drought grips their town, pieces of Old Lower Grange begin to emerge from the water. With the help of Liam, a boy whose life was also changed on that fateful day twelve years ago, they begin to realize that not even a lake can hide its secrets.

Haunting and tightly woven, Below felt original and authentic. The characters were interesting in a way that only two twelve-year-old can be and their hunt for something that was lost to them was something that I could relate to, although my obsessions were slightly different. The image of this town, 200 feet below the surface and the children swimming the streets from above was absolutely beautiful and terrible. It reminded me of a documentary I once watched about Dana, Massachusetts in which the town was put underwater to make room for a resevoir. Once a year, the residents of the town have been allowed back in to reminisce, share some food, and mourn the loos of their town. There aren't many left who remember. Cassie refuses to allow her town to stay buried.

The plot driving element is of course the mystery. The town's mayor is clearly worried about the water's low levels, but his concern seems to be more than just drought worry. What is he hiding? Cassie thinks she may know.

I loved this little book. It reminded me a lot of Homesick, quite, dark, but also beautiful and hopeful. A definite plus for any bookshelf.

Viva Jacquelina! by L.A. Meyer Book Review

Viva Jacquelina! Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Over the Hills and Far Away by L.A. Meyer

In the tenth installment of the Bloody Jack series, we find Miss Jacky Faber once again under the thumb of British Intelligence. Sent to Spain as a spy, Jacky soon finds herself in her usual mess in the company of guerrilla freedom fighters, eating hallucinatory mushrooms, posing nude for the famous artist Goya, running with the bulls, being kidnapped by the Spanish Inquisition, and traveling with a caravan of gypsies.

It is difficult to believe that this is the tenth installment in the tales of Jacky Faber. Perhaps this is because I have chosen to believe that Mississippi Jack didn't happen or simply because I enjoy this series so much. Jacky is vivacious and intense, flirty yet reliable, strong-willed and grand. She captures the imaginations of everyone she meets and produces in them a fierce love and loyalty. Yet, sometimes she can be a bit too much. When is she ever going to be with Jaimy? Perhaps she should just give up and move on, after all there are plenty of young men who have shown a great interest in her, and she does seem to have more opportunities to see Lord Richard Allen. (who I like better than Jaimy by the way)

This installment in the Jacky series felt sort of gimmicky and although Jacky was as true to herself as always, it did little in the way of moving the overall plot forward. It just felt like a chance to put Jacky in Spain where she could meet a famous person or two (as she does) and then run with the bulls, which any good street urchin would do of course. Jacky becoming a painter's model was a rather lucky break. Also, a chance for Jacky to be part of history once again for she poses for a rather famous portrait. (See picture below: we are supposed to believe that this is Jacky in a dark wig. I chose the image of the Maja clothed)

I don't know. I do so love Jacky, but the series is starting to feel rather drawn out and disconnected and her adventures, which have always been rather ridiculous, are beginning to feel completely contrived. Whatever happens, I will keep reading and smiling and hoping one day Jacky manages to settle down, and not at the end of a hangman's noose.

One Plus One Equals Blue by M.J. Auch Book Review

One Plus One Equals Blue by M.J. Auch

Twelve-year old Basil has a secret, one that he has never shared with anyone, not even his well-meaning grandmother. Whenever Basil sees a number he associates that number with a color. After being homeschooled since he was small, Basil finds school to be a lonely place, until he meets Tenzie. Tenzie is annoying and overly talkative, but she too has synesthesia and Basil finds himself drawn to someone like himself. When Basil's estranged mother returns, she throws everything into chaos and Basil is forced to find truth and happiness, just like colors, are not always black and white.

This book truly felt like two different books. The first half, dealing with Basil, his grandmother, and Tenzie read like a very nice book about friendship and understanding. Tenzie is a latch-key child whose parents always seem to be away. She immediately begins calling Basil's grandmother Grams, which annoys Basil and begins inserting herself into his life. She sits with him at lunch even though he does not want her to, stands up to bullys for him, and takes over the special times he used to share with his grandmother. The synesthesia is an interesting element to the story, but takes a back seat to the plot, which is important whenever presenting any kind of disorder or disability into a book. And then....

Then Basil's mother shows up and this becomes a completely different book in tone and plot. Quickly, the story shifts into love, forgiveness, righting wrongs, finding the truth, and understanding ones place in the world. The second story was admittedly far more interesting to me, but rather jarring in comparison to the first half of the book. Basil's mother, Carly, is a wholly selfish woman, whose primary concern is for herself. Her inability to care for or even show love to her son is heart-wrenching, made even more so by Tenzie's absolute desire to escape her own life and become an actress like Carly. (a failed actress I should add)

I waffled back and forth as to whether I liked this book. One the one hand there are the typical stereotypes and tropes. Homeschooled kid doesn't know how to make friends and is a loner. As a former homeschooler, I absolutely hate this image. Not that these kids don't exist, but this seems to be the only image of homeschoolers I see in fiction. Basil complains about the children in the neighborhood beside his, never coming outside to play, yet it doesn't appear that he ever did either, because even suburban kids do go outside sometimes, crazy as that sounds.

Carly is your atypical neglectful mother. As far as I could tell, she has absolutely no love or compassion for Basil, even reaching the point where she would abandon he and Tenzie with no money. This made her flat and a terrible villain and an unforgivable character in my book. I am not saying mothers like this do not exist, but it sure made it easy to hate her, which seemed to be the only reason she was around.

On the other hand, Basil's search for the truth and for Carly's affection was engaging and honestly, if the whole book had been like the first half, I probably would have stopped reading. So I think I am going to middle of the road with this one. It was a 2.5 out of 5 stars for me. As for the disability...this was interesting element, but didn't add or take away anything from the story, and yet whenever I think about it, it will always be that book about colors. I am still unsure as to whether that is a good or a bad thing.

The Tell-Tale Start : The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe by Gordon McAlpine Book Review

The Tell-Tale Start: The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe by Gordon McAlpine

Edgar and Allan Poe are identical twins and the great-great-great-great-grandnephews of the famous Edgar Allan Poe. Identical is almost every way, it is almost like the two boys are one person, and it is this very concept that drives them into a trap so dark that not even their granduncle in the Great Beyond can stop it. 

Although highly predictable, The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe was a wry twist of humor, literary analogies, mystery, and the paranormal. However, I wonder if some of the funny asides relating directly to the renowned author Poe will be lost on young readers. I am not entirely sure when children are assigned to read The Fall of the House of Usher or The Tell-Tale Heart, but without a basic working knowledge of these works the book may be a little over the heads of its readers. That is not to say that they may not enjoy it, like a kids movie that has adult jokes in them, but there are a number of references they just won't get. 

Perhaps this one may have to go into the category of 'Book that adults will love more than kids.'

Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer Book Review

Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer

Initially, it was the illustrations by Josee Masse that made me want to pick up this book, but once in my hands I found myself staring at these poems in fascination. Being a terrible poet myself, I am completely amazed as to how Singer managed to create a vignette of poems, all centered around classic fairy tales, in which the poems structure literally creates two different stories with the exact same words. The thought that must have gone into something like this. Reverse poetry my be my favorite kind of poetry so far, or at the very least it is as good as poetry for two voices.

An exert of the book follows:

In Reverse
it’s true–
the only view?
If you believe that,
this poem
will challenge
something new.
Something new
will challenge
this poem
if you believe that
the only view
It’s true.
Says who?

For more of this author:

The Navigator: A Study in Character Development

I devour books at an astounding pace. When I feel like I have "slowed down" I often mean that I was only able to get through 4 or 5 books in a month as opposed to my 15-20 that seems to have become my average. When I tell people how many books I read in a month, they usually give me a rather bizarre eye-popping stare followed by a quick exhalation of breath and some statement about not having read anything but blogs (or nothing) for the past month. This is good for me, or at least it would be as long as I keep up the blogging. I know I sound like I am rambling, which most of you aren't used to since I mostly write reviews, but I have felt rather cooped up by my blogging format and have decided that if I am to maintain any sanity in the next few months, my blog may have to reflect my brain, which is currently stuck on characterization.

To be more specific, consistency within characterization. I recently read a fabulous adult sci-fi called Ready Player One. This was everything a sci-fi should be.

Except for the first chapter.

See, the author had a terrific plot involving a virtual reality treasure hunt with the 1980's as a focal point. There were War Games, Dungeons and Dragons, virtual reality wars, Pacman, and a great mystery. For the haters, it basically name drops the 1980's all over the place, which was fine by me. It is one of the better books I have read of late. However, that first chapter was like the author's own personal soapbox and sadly, the character in chapters 2 through whatever was not the same in numero uno. In that first chapter there are a number of character inconsistencies. For example, Wade Watts (our protagonist) is against religion and states that he finds it useless along with its worshippers. However, just a few paragraphs later he tells the reader that one of the nicest and best people he has ever known is a religious women who lives below him. An interesting dichotomy in character that would have been a good jumping off point, but here is the crux, the author never mentions religion again. Not in the entire book. Which leads me to believe that the author has a problem with religion and simply couldn't let his book go without mentioning it, to the detriment of the character since it really has nothing to do with the character or his story.

This is an issue that I have seen in a number of books lately. Shades of Earth, Hunger Games, Insurgent, The Navigator,  in a world in which less and less authors and by extension books are being published, one would think that the editors and agents would be quick to point out these major character flaws and authorial intrusions. Something along the lines of:

Dear author, I understand that you don't like organized religion, but it doesn't seem like it matters at all to your character so can we leave that bit out?


Dear author, it is our understanding that your character is a rather logical person, so why would you make her an emotional wreck in the second installment of your series?

I expect such letters from my beta readers and eventually editors. One such beta reader recently pointed out that my fantasy characters are all rather defeatist, a trait that I had not really noticed until she pointed it out. Reading through it again, I realize that yes, they are, and really only one of them should be such a cynic and not because of a lack of training but because of a lack of trust, which are really completely different things.

As the title may suggest, I read The Navigator and City of Time series and found that the character in book 1 was nothing like the one in book 2 and sadly this was not because the character had changed all that much by the end of the first book. I felt like I was meeting an entirely new character in the second book, one who made choices that seemed more like plot points than actual character development and as a reader that is frustrating. Don't get me wrong, I am okay with the occasional plot driven action adventure, but for the most part, I am a character girl. Give me a good engaging character and I may forgive a slower plot simply because I love the character so much. And as authors, sometimes it is important to remember that not all our characters are like us and sometimes we must step aside in order to let our characters shine through.