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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Prairie Fire

By E.K. Johnston

Ignore the cover.  Ignore the summary.  Go straight for the first page of this book and start reading because this is the single most amazing, beautiful, heartbreaking, hilarious, emotionally compromising, pulchritudinous, SOUL TEARING sequel I have ever laid eyes on in my long history of laying eyes on books.  Or better yet, read the first book.  

Prairie Fire finishes the tale of Siobhan McQuaid and Owen Thorskgard started in The Story of Owen, where Siobhan becomes the bard of Owen, a dragon slayer.  The world building in this series is phenomenal.  Set in an alternate universe shaped by the existence of non-magical, carbon-consuming dragons, everything is pretty much the same as our world, but tweaked for the allowance of dragons.  For example, the United States is half the size as it is in our universe, Canada claimed all the extra land, and the Sahara Desert was created through an environmental disaster caused by a dragon war.  Driver’s Ed contains sessions detailing dragon evasion, and there is an international army of dragon slayers that work around the world to protect people from the dragons, called the Oil Watch.  

In the beginning of Prairie Fire, Owen and Siobhan enlist in the Oil Watch, proving to be difficult for Siobhan, who suffers from physical injuries after the events of The Story of Owen.  The book follows Owen and Siobhan’s experiences in the Oil Watch, with Siobhan struggling to overcome the limitations of her injuries, and Owen trying to do his duty to protect people, no matter the outcomes.  Everything is told through the voice of Siobhan, who proves not only to be subtly hilarious, but insightful and immensely entertaining.

The relationships between characters in these two books are extremely diverse and genuine for a young adult book.  The main female character does not end up dating the main male character, and said main female character does not have a rivalry with main male character’s girlfriend.  Owen’s aunt is married to another woman, and his father is not married to his mother, who chose to stay in her country, Venezuela.  The characters themselves are extremely well written and constructed, including the side characters, who do not get written out of the story.  Even in Prairie Fire, when faced with a potential love triangle, Siobhan does not feel pressured to start relationships with either of the love interests, but rather chooses not to engage in a romance at the time so she could work on her other issues, such as composing music of Owen’s deeds and staying alive.

The only things I did not like about these books have nothing to do with the content.  The cover art is rather atrocious, looking so badly photoshopped that I had decided not to read The Story of Owen when I first saw it (I later read it and discovered just how wrong my assumptions were).  The summary is no less convincing, a little cheesy and not at all compelling.  

Overall, The Story of Owen and its sequel, Prairie Fire, were both engaging, entertaining, hilarious, and magnificent.  The ending of Prairie Fire made me sob so much my family grew concerned.  I can not write enough to express my love for these two books.  If this review did not convince you to read it (I doubt it did, these books can not be explained and my writing does not do them justice), then just go, find The Story of Owen in your local site of book distribution, charge past the horrible cover and slightly better summary and read the first page.  These books are so beautiful that I place them on the same shelf as Harry Potter.  E.K. Johnston is an incredible writer, and I am looking forward to more books by her. 

If these books were food, they would be homemade apple fritters with vanilla sauce, still warm.
 Sweet, but not barf your face off sugary, kinda sorta healthy, filling and satisfactory, and so good that you have an emotional breakdown after finishing them because there are no more left and you need more because they were so amazing and huggable (though I do not recommend hugging apple fritters) and make you want to cry and sing Disney songs at the same time.  If by any chance apple fritters are not a favorite or an experience you have had yet, then these books are like your favorite comfort food.  I give both The Story of Owen and Prairie Fire five out of five stars.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Renegade (and Reckoning)

By Kerry Wilkinson

Despite the extreme popularity of the Hunger Games trilogy there were some serious flaws.  This book, Renegade, played into several of them.  One of my biggest problems wight his book was the extraordinary resemblance to Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  In order to fully explain my problems with this book I will be giving away part of the ending.  So there will be SPOILERS. Ok, I'll start at the beginning.  Renegade is the second book in the trilogy.  I read the first one, Reckoning, probably over a year ago.  I found it extremely similar to the Hunger Games when I read it for these reasons.  There is something called the Reckoning where everyone takes basically an aptitude test that nobody really understands how it works.  They get a status as a result of this test: Elite, Member, Inter, or Trog.  That's not the important part though.  Then, there is the Choosing.  It is basically the reaping from the Hunger Games.  A certain number of people are chosen from the North, the South, the West, and the East based on the status they got as part of the Reckoning.  (Just a note, the reckoning is a test that everyone takes when they are 16).  Silver Blackthorne, the main character, gets Member, which is very good for where she's from.  She has a friend, Opie, who she goes out hunting with even though it's illegal.  I'd say that's pretty similar to the Katniss Gale situation. Silver gets chosen as part of the Choosing which means that she has to go as an offering to the King.  King Victor is the king as a result of the war 17 years earlier.  Silver has a little brother, I'll come back to him.  Silver is torn from her mom (her dad's dead, a little like Katniss's), her little brother, and  her friend Opie.  She is brought to the Castle Windsor and makes some friends on the way.  So this all happens in the first book.  She also discovers bad things happen in the castle.  Most offerings die.  She gets them all (as in most of the offerings still alive) to escape after befriending Imrin, a male offering.  Imrin is basically Silver's Peeta.  Imrin is essential to the escape plan.

Ok, onto the second book.  This book is essentially a linking book.  It is bringing together the first and third books.  It doesn't really have a plot of it's own and Silver really doesn't have any character development.  So the Gale/Peeta or Opie/Imrin romance thing happens, which was not done well.  It was more of an annoyance and was never really dealt with in this book.  Silver worries about it but never does anything about it.  If you've read Catching Fire, then you know there is a second Reaping.  Guess what! There is a second choosing in this book and it is made especially to get at Silver, the same way the Quarter Quell reaping was to get at Katniss.  The rules are changed so that Silver's brother is chosen.  And then some more stuff happens and Silver realizes she is being used.  All I have to say is that at least she notices because Katniss didn't catch on this quickly.  Then at the end Silver, Imrin, Opie, and one of the other offerings, Faith, return to Castle Windsor to do some stuff and on the way out Imrin gets caught.  He is still caught at the end of the book.  Basically, the same thing happened to Peeta.  As I said, Imrin is basically Silver's Peeta.  So my prediction is that when she chooses, Silver will choose Imrin because Katniss chose Peeta.  There were more similarities as far as plot and characters go, but those were the most glaring.

You probably assume I didn't like this book because my review isn't exactly praising the book.  But I do have to say that I enjoyed reading it and plan to read the third.  I don't think it was that interesting as a whole, but it held my attention until about the last 100 pages.  Something was almost always happening, which was why I could tolerate it.  Also, the writing was pretty good.  There were some stylistic things I didn't like, but that's just me.  I personally think she uses the word "as" too much but I don't think that's really something to complain about.  As a whole, the writing portrayed what it was supposed too in an interesting way.  There were some places where I would have preferred a little more description, but that was about it.  Overall, the tone and style matched the subject matter and age group the book was targeting.  In general, I also liked the characters and whatever was happening at the moment.  More happened than I explained and what actually happened was interesting enough. It was exciting, if a little predictable, but still enjoyable.

I'd say this book (Renegade, that's the book I'm actually reviewing) is like chicken.  It's a pretty generic flavor and a lot of people say "tastes like chicken" about other things.  That doesn't always means its bad, it's just nothing special.  This book is a 2.5.  Strong in some ways, weak in others.  Enjoyable to read but not super exciting either.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Paper Things

by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Normally when books are about elementary school children, they show how stupid some people think these children are.  Even when these characters are supposed to be "smart" the book portrays them as stupid and overly proud of dumb achievements.  This book was different.  Ari, the main character, is a smart, thoughtful fifth grader.  Ari's brother, Gage, is 19 years old and he doesn't get along with their guardian Janna.  Gage decides to move out and Ari moves with him.  Janna was their mother's friend from high school and when both of their mom dies four years previously, their last living parent, they had to move in with Janna.  Gage tells Janna that he has an apartment set up for him and Ari, but it isn't until after they leave that Ari finds out this isn't true.  Ari's mom's dying wish was that Gage and Ari stay together always and that Ari go to Carter Middle School, a competitive school to get into.  Ari is just 11 years old, yet she learns what it is like to be homeless.  However, she never thinks of herself that way because her brother takes good care of her.  Unfortunately, it is hard for her to keep up her grades when she doesn't have a place to do her homework and she doesn't know where she'll have dinner or sleep each night.  Her best friend ditches her, but she makes friends in other surprising places.  She has paper dolls, which she cuts out of magazines, and she takes them everywhere she goes.  She carries around everything with her because she has no home to leave her stuff at.  Her paper dolls, for a while, seem to be the only thing grounding her.  They have a home, so she has a home.  This story was beautifully written, and I'm certain I didn't quite get across what it was about.  It's not a search for a home, but a search for a place to put her home.

What I really loved about this book was how realistic it was.  When she brings up the paper dolls she used to play with with her best friend, Sasha, Sasha starts out thinking about them in a positive way.  And as the reader, I was right there with Ari being proud that she liked them still.  And then Sasha turns around and says "God, we were such dorks."   While Sasha had no intention of hurting Ari, Ari still feels the bite, and I could too because I had already come to appreciate and love her paper things.  Small incidences like this build up the entire book.  Everything was entirely natural and Ari was such a beautiful person.  She was grateful for what she had and always tried to help those around her.  I also really liked Daniel, one of the friends Ari makes during her experiences.  He was such a great person and, like Ari, was believable.  He pushed  her to be brave in ways that she wasn't already and supported her when she needed it even though he had no reason to.

There was one teeny tiny flaw: Sasha's ending.  This might give a little bit away so if you don't want to read it, you can just skip this paragraph.  Sasha is quite mean to Ari.  I just can't believe at the end that Sasha was so willing to go back to Ari without a real apology.  I understand why Ari took her back, it just speaks to how great of a person Ari is.  I just don't like that Sasha didn't take responsibility.  She didn't know what Ari was going through, but she should have been able to see that Ari needed help, and yet she did nothing.  Well, that's not true.  She ditched her and found new more popular friends.  I guess I was sort of justice that Sasha was waitlisted at Carter, especially after she told Ari they would be going to different middle schools (implying at the time Sasha would be going to Carter and Ari would not be).  I think that Sasha should have been a little bit more responsible for what she did.

Also, just a quick note.  What a beautiful cover! I just love it and it matches the simplicity and beauty of the Paper Things in the book.  The paper things's meaning is hard to get across without reading the book, but the cover does a nice job of portraying what they mean.


This book was sort of like french onion soup.  The characters are the crouton on top, that really absorbs the rest of the plot, setting, and writing style.  They pull everything together so that you can take a bite of everything at once.  The combination is rich and almost creamy so that it makes your mouth water, or tears run down your cheeks.  The spices and herbs that help flavor the onions are the small incidences that make up the characters history.  The onions and other main ingredients are the plot and major events that make up Ari.  I would give this book a 4.75 because it was so beautifully written and extraordinarily heart warming.  The warm soup, just like the plot and characters, warms you up from the inside.  Both french onion soup and Paper Things are real treats.  A surprisingly good experience no matter when you take a bite.  I couldn't get everything across in this review, but I could suggest this book to everyone because it isn't a typical realistic fiction book.  I don't want to give away the ending, but Ari's journey is beautiful and comes to a fulfilling conclusion.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Shutter

By Courtney Alameda

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat, she can see ghosts, and she uses her abilities to hunt ghosts with her friends Oliver, Jude, and Ryder. Micheline is the only heir to the Helsing corporation, a business that goes after the different kinds of ghosts and hunts them down before they can kill anyone. When a ghost hunt goes wrong, Micheline and her friends are infected with a soulchain, a ghostly disease that is slowly killing them from the inside. Now Micheline has to go against her father's wishes in order to save herself and her friends before they all die.

The way this book was written was not what I expected. There was a lot of detail and description and while it did show instead of tell the amount of descriptive words really threw me off of the actual plot that was going on. For instance: "I followed Damian out into the anemic, waning night. Spindly trees lined the wide avenue, shedding the gangrenous leaves of fall." (p 62). Read that sentence. Then read it again. Can someone please explain what that actually means? "anemic, waning night." Is it sick? Most of the book was written as if the author had written it, then edited it while going through a thesaurus and changing words to any synonyms she could find.

Another thing that bothered me about this book was the fact that Micheline's father, Leonard, was abusive. He hit her only once during the story, but it is showed that it was not the first time he had hit her. He also destroyed all of her cameras after a failed ghost hunt, locking her up in the bathroom while doing so. He then proceeded to get drunk and passed out, leaving her locked in the bathroom. While I understand that having an abusive parent can act as a plot point, the way it was written made it seem ok that her father hit her. Micheline managed to sneak out of her house and brushed off the incident as if it was nothing, and at the end of the book, she and her father make up as if nothing happened. While I can understand that having an abusive father is part of her character, I do not understand how the author has the two just make up and be all lovey-dovey at the end. Micheline would not have made it up to her father just like that with no second thoughts, he had abused her! And in the end they just go about like it was nothing.

The fact that Courtney Alameda made up her own mythology for this book was impressive and confusing. Every time there's something new coming in Micheline has to explain it and the amount of names for things and different kinds of hunters got me very confused. It was very impressive that she managed to create basically an entire mythology and incorporate it into a book.
The overall concept of the book was good, it was a good plot idea and there were many sections, especially dialogue-heavy sections, that were good. Some serious editing could really help this book and improve it by a hundred times.

I liked the fact that Alameda did not make a love triangle. With Micheline and Ryder having forbidden love and Jude being the one Micheline was supposed to marry there could have easily been a love triangle, but she did not put that in the book and I am grateful, too many YA novels have love triangles.
However, the other characters could have been more fleshed out. Ryder, Jude, and Oliver are her friends, but we never get an explanation for why they are friends, they don't seem to have much in common other than hunting ghosts. Oliver in particular is a very flat character, his entire character revolves around being the smart one that stays out of fights because he's hurt and everything. Jude is the stereotypical tough guy who can't show his feelings so he sleeps with a bunch of girls instead. And Ryder is the run-of-the-mill forbidden love interest, really strong and manly, the one Micheline really connects with and has feelings for, but she can never have him because she is destined to marry Jude instead. Do you see where I'm going with this? It's a pretty stereotypical friend group, the geek, the brooding one, the jock, and the quirky but lovable girl. It's like the Breakfast Club except the Princess and the Basket Case are melded into one character.

I think this book is like a slightly stale piece of plain bread with some raisins in it. It's not all that new of a concept and some of the tropes are overused, but there are some good aspects to it as well. I would rate it a 2.25.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Hit

By Delilah s. Dawson

Patsy is an indentured servant of the United States government, which has turned into the Valor National government. Valor National was a bank that got the United States out of debt by adding a clause in a credit card application which allows them to demand all the money owed on the spot, have them be killed, or have them be turned into a hit man. Patsy's mother had taken out a huge loan and now Patsy has to either kill ten people in five days or her mother dies.

This book had a good idea, but the way it was executed was a little boring. The entire book focused on Patsy and Wyatt, the son a man she just killed, riding around in a van and killing people. Their relationship was very implausible, considering Patsy killed her father and they met when he was about to get revenge by killing her, and a chapter later they were making out. Overall their relationship was not very fleshed out, and the pretense the book was set in was a little implausible. On one hand, what is the chance that a bank can manage to set up a dictatorship that allows them to take people as assassins, and on the other hand the entire plot hinges on no one saying anything. I find it very hard to believe that people would be dying and getting shot and no one connects the dots and makes a conspiracy theory. Another thing I had a problem with was that there was supposedly a rival bank that was competing with Valor National and both were using the same tactics to get people to kill others, the rival bank was mentioned two or three times in the book, and I get that it's a series and the confusion might be to have the reader want to read the next book but honestly it confused me more than made me interested. One thing I really liked about the book was the dog, Matty, and the dog never dies so I'm very happy about that.

Overall I thought the book was ok, it had a good idea but certain parts took away from it. This book was like bread with butter and a little bit of cinnamon sugar. Good, but not so special that it could be its own meal and similar to other books. I'd give it a 3.25

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bloodwitch

by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes


     Vance is a quetzal shapeshifter who lives with the vampires of Midnight in the 19th century.  He has had everything he could want, but when a man visits the vampires and speaks with Vance, his dreamlike life starts to crack as Vance begins to question the actions of his beloved guardians and rulers of Midnight.
     Vance has good conflicts, and even when he starts doubting, the vampires don’t change their characters.  The consistency is nice because it makes it harder for Vance and easier for the reader to understand him.  I did not like Vance as a character, though, and I felt that a lot of his thoughts and doubts were forced.  He would arrive at a state of mind suddenly and then sit there for a while instead of gradually coming to realizations, and, given what happened to him throughout the book, I’m not sure Vance really would have gotten to where he ended up mentally at the end.
     The world it is set in is well developed with indications of other countries and the depth of an entire world, not just the city it takes place in.  The relations between the different types of shapeshifters are interesting, as are the different talents they all have.  The characters represented different types of thought to make Vance think about what was best and what needed to be fixed.
     This is a 4.2.  There was a good plot, solid writing, and I liked all the characters except for Vance.  It is a soft, dense cookie, with nothing in it to interrupt the texture.  Things happened as expected without much surprise.  It is not large, but it is filling and afterwards, you feel satisfied with what you’ve eaten.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Curses and Smoke

by Vicky Alvear Shecter



   Set in Pompeii just before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, Lucia is about to be married off to a much older man so her father can get money for his gladiator school.  Just weeks before the impending marriage, however, Tag, one of her father’s slaves, returns from Rome where he had been studying medicine so he could heal hurt gladiators, and an old friendship rekindles between them.  The relationship blossoms into something more, but both Lucia and Tag know it wouldn’t be able to cross their class difference even if Lucia weren’t already engaged to someone else.
     I liked the story and found that I was engaged in the characters and the story and wanted to know what would happen even without the element of Mt. Vesuvius adding the sense of impending doom.  Although I’m not an expert in Ancient Rome, from what I’ve read of other reviews, the book is historically accurate and should appeal to those interested in historical fiction.
     Tag was a good counter viewpoint to Lucia.  Lucia was somewhat ignorant and probably would have come off as whiney if the reader were not also given the other side of the story to balance it out.  Tag could point out her mistaken assumptions and he broke many of her beliefs about her father that were fairly clear to the reader as wrong.
     This is a 3.8.  I liked the story right up until the end.  I won’t give details because it’s the end, but I felt cheated and it wasn’t what I wanted at all.  But the writing and story were good and the setting was made well.  It is whipped cream.  It’s tastes good as you’re eating it, but when you’re done, it has dissolved away without leaving much

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