Monday, September 15, 2014

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

Publishers Weekly captures the my initial reaction to this series: "A cross between The Hunger Games (minus the blood sport) and The Bachelor (minus the blood sport)." While it doesn't have the action that the Hunger Games has, you see similar qualities in the main characters. This is a captivating trilogy that constantly pulls you in different directions but always back for more.

Book One: The Selection
In a future version of the United States (after two World Wars and now known as Illea), the Selection has been established to find a princess for the prince of Illea. Girls of a certain age are encouraged to enter a lottery to be one of 35 girls chosen to be candidates for the Prince's heart. America Singer, has no desire to be a princess. Although she is only a Five, she is currently in love with a Six - a boy named Aspen who is in the caste below her. Everyone knows, though, that getting chosen for the Selection would change everything for her family, so her boyfriend and family both urge her to enter. When she is selected and Aspen breaks up with her, everything does change and a trip to the palace is the perfect escape for her heartache, even though she has no interest in Prince Maxon - a fact she makes clear the first time she meets him. So rather than fighting for his heart, she becomes his friend, which seems to be the perfect solution until Aspen shows up at the palace as a guard and she realizes that she just might have feelings for the prince after all...

Book Two: The Elite
After the Selection was cut down to six, the competition became more serious, as does the conflict America faces between Maxon and Aspen. The decision of which man holds her heart faces multiple obstacle - just when she seems committed to Maxon, something happens that makes her question his true character, but then she also realizes the real consequences of what being caught with a guard in a compromising position. It doesn't help matters that five other girls are monopolizing Maxon's time and affections. How can she be certain of his love is he's also sharing his love with others? On top of the drama of the Selection, the rebels are unhappy with the palace and repeatedly attacking, leaving behind immense destruction and fear. Their displeasure is related to the caste system and how poorly the lower castes are treated, something America is well aware of being the only candidate from one of the lower castes. When given a chance to speak her mind, America finds herself making an enemy of the king who wants her out of the competition, but what about Maxon?

Book Three: The One
America's antics have her walking on thin ice as she has to prove she's worthy of being a princess, despite the fact that she's growing in popularity with the public. After Northern rebels (less violent compared to the Southern rebels) contact Maxon and America, the truth about how little they know about their country's history comes to light and what needs to be changes to create peace. With the king's displeasure mounting against America and the stress of running a country growing, it's time for the Selection to come to an end. While the answer seems clear, it won't be easy.

To be honest, I don't know what it was about this series that I loved so much, but it hooked me and I couldn't put the books down. Even thought the books take place in the future, it feels like the past with kings, queens, princes and a caste system. Whether past or present, it all works to create setting and drama. The first book does a good job of setting America apart from all of the other girls. Come the end of that book, there is the love triangle which initially made me fear that it would be a constant back and forth of who she chooses and it would just make her a wishy-washy character. I thought, though, that the series does a good job of making realistic obstacles for whatever wishy-washiness that arises. She's not just in love with two people, it's history with one and the responsibility of being a princess with another and the fact that he's sharing his "love" with a number of other girls. It's real to be torn and you sympathize with America's struggles. The first book felt the most fluffy - just a romance, but there hints that it would be more and the series delivers in the final two books. The stakes are upped and it's no longer just a competition to win the Prince. Before you know it, you're fully invested in all of these characters, wanting to see a happy ending for everyone and the just desserts for the enemy.

I really enjoyed the series. The first book is nominated for an Abe Lincoln award, which is why I picked it up in the first place. I'm glad I did. This was one of the most enjoyable series I've read in a long time.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

This is a beautiful story with wonderful language and romance and sorrow.  The last line in the book is I fell in love.  Em has been involved in theatre as a set designer for a couple of years while in high school, she's good.  She is just 18 and gets a chance to be the designer, not just an assistant for a new film  She gets a chance to perhaps launch a career.  This happens just as a relationship she thought was forever, she thought was love ends.  She was just finishing scouting estate sales for just the right items for her current job when she comes upon a letter in an drawer written by a recently deceased wealthy, famous actor.  It speaks of a granddaughter he never new and money in a fund set up for the girl.  Em sets off to find the girl, hopefully get her money to her and who knows what else.  It doesn't take long to find Ava in a shelter for homeless teens with the help of a friend.  There is an instant connection between the two girls and Jamal Ava's friend in the shelter.  The teens seek out additional information for Ava.  They gather for food and to watch old movies together.  The new movie is in need of a lead female and Em can see that Ava will fit.  Em's older brother has lent her his apartment while he is out of town telling her that she has to make something wonderful happen there.  Toby's apartment is just right for one of the sets in the movie so perhaps filming part of the movie there will be the something wonderful.  While she is scouting items for the sets of this new film, Filming Ava's audition for the movie, helping Ava find out more about her new found family and face her long time adopted mom who has rejected her, Em is also learning a lot about family, love and infatuation and falling in love for real, with Ava.  That, of course is the something wonderful that happened in Toby's apartment.   JDW 9/14

Saturday, September 13, 2014

This is W.A.R. by Lisa & Laura Roecker

(Soho Press, Inc.)

Willa Ames-Rowan is dead. After climbing into a boat with James Gregory, she is dead. Everyone knows he killed her but since the Gregory family, specifically James’s grandfather the Captain runs the town and the Hawthorne Lake Country Club, no one dares say so. The Gregory family is great at throwing money at their problems to make them go away. Willa’s best friends: Lina, Sloane, Rose & Madge now seek to destroy the Gregory family, not just James but his reckless brother Trip too. They start a war…

Feeling mixed on this book. I was hoping for some more suspense than you really get from it. A few chapters in you know who really killed Willa, it was just too clear. The most frustrating thing is when the girls got together to start their plans for revenge, never did they go over what happened that night to each of them. That would have saved them so much trouble and would have ultimately saved them from some really dumb plans to “destroy” the family. What is beyond dumb is that Madge knows who the real killer is but lets the girl keep thinking its James. Money is thrown around like nothing. The girls are supposed to front $25,000 to enter this war against the Gregory family. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that these teen girls can get a hold of $25,000 without parent permission or interference, insert eye roll here. The author gave the girls each part in the book to sort of dive into who they were. The most likeable characters, in my opinion, are Lina and Sloane. I think they embody and say things that are very relatable for teen girls, but they also grow to accept themselves which is always a good message. The best I can say about this book is that if you like soap operas, this is for you. You’ll get frustrated at characters for not doing the obvious thing and you have the made for TV drama of the scandals at the rich country club.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Sanctum is the sequel to the creepy novel Asylum. This novel continues the creepiness and successfully puts all of the pieces together.

Dan, Abby, and Jordan cannot forget the horrors they experienced in Brookline. If their memories weren’t bad enough, now they’re getting creepy photos in the mail and mysterious messages from Felix who the ultimate victim of the Brookline experience. Determined to put an end to the madness, the three head back to the New Hampshire College to find answers. There the hallucinations increase, but the clues to the truth start piling up. Unfortunately, so do the threats against them, especially Dan who is linked to the horrible warden responsible for the terrible history of Brookline. Now even the college students who are hosting these visitors can’t be trusted and a mysterious cult appears with plans to do away with Dan. If they can survive the weekend, they just might be able to find the answers to all of their problems and how the threats today connect to the past.

This novel, like the first, sucks you into the story. Something is definitely amok around these kids and the novel does a great job building the mystery, suspense, and creep factor. It is a steady stream of twists and turns that keeps the story going. At first all of the references to the circus seemed a bit disjointed - I didn’t know where it was going - but then it all fit together flawlessly. Once again the novel is littered with photographs. These aren’t as eerie as the first novel, but their mere presence enhances the reading experience. When I picked up the novel I was worried about not remembering enough about the first novel for this one to make sense. However, the novel gives enough background to keep the reader informed in case it has been months since they read the first one. I don’t think, though, that the novel would have enough impact if you read it without the Asylum experience.

This is the perfect companion to Asylum. It wraps up the mystery and stops the terror of the past. It seems as if this is the end of the series (not a trilogy) but if the author gets creative, I’m sure there’s enough intrigue to whip up a third. Anyone who enjoys creepy novels that are more psychological than blood and guts should definitely pick up these two books.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

The Abraham Lincoln award books are books chosen by teens and for teens, which is why I'm surprised to find Unbroken on the list. While this is by no means a bad book, it does not seem to have any teen appeal.

This biography tells the story of Louis Zamperini. It begins in his childhood and how he was a daring young boy prone to getting in trouble. Most of that changed when he got involved with track. Before long he began setting records and was on his way to the Olympics.While he did not medal in the Berlin Olympics, his experience was filled with adventure, including meeting Hitler. His plans for the next Olympics, however, were put on hold as World War II erupted in the United States. He became an airman. Although he survived one experience where his plane ended up with 594 bullet holes, his team eventually succumbed to engine problems and crashed at sea. Only Louie and two others survived the crash. They were lost at sea for over forty days, only to be rescued by the enemy. Louie then faced struggles as a POW, including being targeted by one of the camp officials. He would be a POW until the end of war, but the battle was not over as he struggled to adjust to life with the demons of his past. Come the end, though, Louie was a survivor with an inspiring story to tell.

My own personal reading preference worked against this book from the beginning. I am not a fan of non-fiction or war stories. However, the sign of a good book is the ability to overcome that preference and hook the reader. This book failed to do that. One problem is the length of the book. As one reader who I discussed this book with said, "How many times to we have to hear about the shark attacks?" While the stories were entertaining, you felt as if you were trapped in that raft for the forty-plus days along with them. You knew that he survived - at sea and again through the POW camp experience - that at times you almost wanted to get on with the story. The pacing of the story really worked against it at times because there really were some intriguing moments in this biography, but they got lost in everything else. The author does a great job, though, of bringing his experiences to life and informing the reader about the history of the time.

Since this isn't my ideal type of book to read, I don't feel that I'm fit to really judge it. I simply don't think it fits with what the Abe Lincoln award nominees because it seems to have a limited audience and I don't see many teens picking up books like this. It is a great survivor's story and if war biographies are your thing, it might be worth giving this one a shot. 

Friday, September 05, 2014

Android Angels by Kosuke Kabaya

We all dream about the perfect woman or man. What if you could get them in the future!?

Android Angels is a collection of short stories of a land far into the future. Here you can rent your own android butler or maid to live with you, or you can show them off to friends and/or family. But here is the catch, you can only do so for the span of three years, at most, four. Not only do we get an insight of the people who rent such luxury but also a morality battle. What happens after the four year lease? The memories of yourself get erased from the android. Is it wrong to erase and artificial life's memory. What happens to the person after the four year relationship is broken? Find out in the book!

Cute and simple art, this book is sure to drag into the story!

The thief of always by Clive Barker

I know what you are thinking. Cliver Barker is more well known for his horror novels than fables for children. Well this book is aimed for both groups, children and adults alike. So don't shrink at the side of this book, it is actually pretty interesting.

10-year-old Harvey finds no joy in his life. Boring teachers, classes, games, everyday of his life is ruled by boredom. That is, until one stormy night, a strange man name Roctus comes to his aid. Offering him an offer he hopes Harvey can't refuse. Rictus persuades Harvey into leaving home and visit the Holiday House. Thinking there is nothing to lose Harvey accepts and begins what will be a long journey.

Arriving to the House, Harvey meets Wendell and Lulu. Two people that would become his best friends and allies as they discover many of the secrets of the Holiday House.

Imagine having halloween every night and wake up to Christmas! Have lunch during spring, play during summer and prepare for fall.

Not only does the story drags you in but there is art at the end of each chapter. The Thief of Always is a must read!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Find Me by Romily Bernard

This teen mystery/romance fiction tale received a couple of state awards in the author's native Georgia.  It is not bad.  For me it was a little predictable but for a teen perhaps it might not be so.

Wicket and her sister Lily lost their mother to suicide (her escape from an abusive, criminal husband) and their father is running from cops.  They have bounced around from one foster home to another until their lives stabilized with Bren and Scott.  Lily is settling in nicely and enjoying new clothes, new friends, a safe environment.  Wick, who had become a hacker partly to protect herself from her father by helping him and partly to help others receives a message and a diary of a girl who recently committed suicide.  The message simply says find me.  Through a series of traps Wick finds out Lily told Tassy, the dead girl's sister about Wick.  Wick finds out the dead girl committed suicide because an older male "friend" then rapist has his sights set on Lily.  A cop, Carson and the father of the dead girl are both watching Wick's home.  Wick believes Carson is hoping she will lead him to her father.  Wick believes the father is watching Lily.  Wick, not trusting the foster parents, not trusting the law, not trusting anyone but herself has taken it upon herself to protect Lily from the rapist and their father, to find the rapist, to keep whatever Carson is trying to find out secret and to help her father's friend Joe with the latest scam believing she must to keep herself safe.  Enter Griff, who truly finds her fascinating and truly cares about her and truly tries to get her to trust him.  Griff knows Joe and is somehow in on the scam.  Griff keeps insisting on seeing Wick and inserting himself into all the twisted issues in her life.  How can she trust someone who is helping Joe?  All the different threads eventually untangle quite satisfactorily but not before Wick and Lily are both nearly killed by the rapist who has stolen Lily.  I'm kind of annoyed by all the teen girls taking on dangerous crime solving solo rather than trusting someone but this time it makes for an exciting storywith a happy ending.