Monday, August 31, 2015

The Jewel by Amy Ewing

This novel is the first of a trilogy that features a world of conflict between classes. With a romance brewing and desires to be more than your job developing, you can't help but root for the characters.

In a world where the royals are unable to carry babies, surrogates exist to continue the royal line. Not just any woman will do, though. Surrogates are special girls who have a power known as Auguries. There are three auguries - the power to change shape, color, and make things grow. Violet is a surrogate.When she was deemed to have these powers, she was removed from her house and raised in a holding facility. She has now reached her full potential and has been put up for auction for one of the royal houses to purchase. Once purchased, Violet becomes nothing more than the surrogate and her owner has big plans for her because times are changing and people are desperate to make their mark. While Violet may be nothing to her owner, she meets Ash, another person who is nothing more than the job he does. Despite the fact that their relationship is forbidden, together they find connections and life and desires that their positions try to strip away. At the same time, however, Violet meets a man who wants to save her from her life as a surrogate in an effort to start a rebellion. Going with him is not only risky, but it means saying goodbye to Ash. Violet needs to decide what is most important, especially when she learns more about future plans for surrogates. 

I picked up this novel because I enjoyed reading The Selection and felt this book had a similar vibe. It is definitely different (surrogates vs dating game), but there are a number of elements that are similar and classic to dystopian novels (at times I felt the novel was reminiscent of The Hunger Games, especially at the beginning - Lucien reminded me of Cinna). There are the different levels of society with The Jewel being the center and royalty, the Bank still being wealthy, down to the Smoke, Farm, and the lowest of low - the Marsh. Violet's rights are completely stripped away and she's put on display for the ruling class. Then, through it all, a rebellion is slowly brewing. You really feel for Violet and Ash. They're nothing more than toys to serve a purpose for the royalty and you want them to reach their full potential as people. It's easy to see the injustice in everything, especially when it doesn't have to be that way. 

The novel might be a little bit slow to get going - especially setting up this new world and way of life - but it is definitely worth the payout. I know that I'm anxiously awaiting the sequel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dawn by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel is probably best known as a Holocaust survivor and author Night which tells the story of his experience in concentration camps. While his novel is taught in schools, it is actually the first book in a loosely connected trilogy. While Night is biographical, the other two novels, Dawn and Day (sometimes titled The Accident) are works of fiction about experiences after the Holocaust. 

Dawn is a heavily philosophical book. The narrator - Elisha - is the sole survivor of his family after the Holocaust. He joins a group of Jewish terrorists trying to reclaim Palestine from the English. It seems as though part of their philosophy is that they were good people before the Holocaust, but that didn't save them, so what's the point of being good? Their movement has reached the point that one of their followers is being held hostage (David ben Moshe). In response to the English having one of their soldiers, they have taken an English officer as their hostage (John Dawson). Despite attempts to free David, the English plan on executing him, which has the Movement planning on executing John. Elisha is the one chose to pull the trigger, a fact that his conscience struggles with after everything he's already experienced. Dawn is Elisha's struggle to bear the weight of his role as executioner.

This book is very deep. Although it was written in 1961 and only 80 pages long, it is very powerful and still relevant given the world's constant state of conflict. It questions whether or not the Movement's actions are justified. It asks what right man has to kill and play God. Elisha thinks about how executing a man is different than killing a man in war. It also looks at the change of one's soul when one becomes a killer. There is a very powerful image of Elisha seeing the ghosts of his loved ones who with him because if he becomes a murderer, then they are murderers too. Is that how he wants his parents to think of him because he is essentially a reflection of them. This book only takes place within the hours before dawn - the time of the execution - but his internal battle is very thorough. The end results leaves him forever changed.

Dawn is not a book to be taken lightly. It may be small but it is very powerful. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Timeless and Timekeeper by Alexandra Monir

Timeless and Timekeeper are two books that tell the story of Michelle Windsor, a teen who discovers that she has the ability to travel through time. The first book, Timeless, is when Michelle discovers her ability while the second book, Timekeeper, reveals a sinister plot to take everything away from her.

It all begins after Michelle's mother dies and she's reunited with her grandparents that she's never known about. Within her mother's belongings, she discovers a mysterious key. When she holds the key and the diary of her one ancestor, she finds herself suddenly transported in time to that of her ancestor. In this new time, she discovers that only certain people can see her, including a young man named Phillip. She and Phillip for an instant connection, but the fact that she's from a completely different time and can't control her time travels puts a huge damper on their relationship. Worried that their unattainable romance might destroy Phillip, Michelle races against time to make things right.

In Timekeeper, Michelle's world shifts when a new boys appears in school looking exactly like Phillip from the past - he even has the same name and signet ring. If he is the Phillip she'd fallen in love with, why doesn't he remember her? Helping Phillip remember their connection, though, is only half of her battle as she discovers that a woman from her father's past (Rebecca) is determined to destroy her. She now has seven days to make sense of her time traveling abilities and figure out how to stop Rebecca. 

In the realm of sequels, sometimes you can get away without reading the first book. In some ways you can with this book, but things will make a lot more sense if you read the first book. Personally I thought Timeless was a stronger book than Timekeeper. Given that both books are about time travel, there is a lot of shifting between the years. The first novel does a better job of making the timeline clear. There were a number of times in the second book that I became confused about which time and what happened in this time. There were characters overlapping because she's visiting Phillip but sometimes he young and then he's an adult but there's also her father and he's around at the same time as Phillip. Years might be mentioned and I couldn't figure out who was at what age at what point in that year. At times it made my head hurt. I almost wanted an actual time line of the character's past to visually see it all work out. But that might just have been me. The second novel also spent a ton of time explaining the logistics of time traveling, all of the rules and explanations as to how this happened. This is another thing that became very confusing, but again I might have just grown too frustrated to put in the brainpower to sort through it all. Both novels have a good plot, but I felt something was lost in the second book that didn't make it as enjoyable as the first novel.

If you're looking for a romance that is not by-the-books but doesn't involve paranormal crossovers (vampires, zombies, etc) this book is worth a shot. The author cares about the history she's recreating and thoroughly researched each era to vividly describe the past. So if you'd like a little taste of history without being stuck in the past, give these books a shot.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

we all looked up by tommy wallach

A strange light appears in the night sky.  As days go by reports begin.  This is a meteor.  There is over a 90% chance it will hit earth and devastate the land, the people.  It will hit in about two months time.  Named Ardor, it is a pretty good reason to act uncharacteristically.  And so we meet a variety of high school kids, athletes, slackers, overachievers, and some of their parents and a few other adults.  For some this is opportunity to step out of their usual and try things they always wanted to try, to free themselves from  over controlling parents, to plan a party for the end of the world.  Others, try to continue as if nothing is happening, even with reports on TV, in blogs and with infrastructure slowly breaking down.  And, some up their bad guy behavior rioting, vandalizing and the like.  Whatever they do, there is a lot of philosophy behind it, a lot of serious thought, and well what would you do?  What would it be like to know that the world as you knew it would surely end and you with it?  The end hasn't come yet as the book ends leaving readers to speculate  on the fate of the world.
This is tougher than many teen books today but well worth the read and I hope Wallach writes more substantive books for teens.

Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Since we can't know exactly what folks said over a hundred years ago, this otherwise factual book is often considered fiction.  Still the people really existed and there really was a plot to still rob Lincoln's grave and hide the body to use as ransom to get a well know expert counterfeiter out of prison.  So, we get to meet all the coney men and counterfeiters in business at the time of Lincoln's assassination.  There were lots, counterfeiting and getting the fake money into circulation was big.  It made lots of real money for the criminals.  Coney men were the folks who put the fake money into circulation.  These criminals were not always the brightest and sometimes they were a little scared of getting caught and did get caught.  How they almost got away with robbery and how the secret service saved the day is an exciting way to get a bit of history.
JDW 8/22

First Frost by Sarah Adddison Allen

I think fans of Nicholas Sparks and the Good Witch Movies on Hallmark would really enjoy this magical romantic story.

The Waverly family is the center of most of Allen's stories and the years do pass so readers might want to start at the beginning, but it isn't absolutely necessary.  Its October and everyone is waiting for First Frost and hoping for the party filled with food cooked by Claire Waverly who has a magical touch with food.  But Claire is deep into candy making and doesn't think she will get round to it.  Her daughter and husband pretty much lead their own busy lives.  Bay, helps her aunt even as she dreams of an unreachable boy in school.  Now, Claire has a talent for evoking emotions with her cooking whether it be peace, joy or something else altogether.  Bay is someone who just knows what goes with what and where so she knows which kids belong in college and belong together dating wise.  Bay's mother Sydney is known for creating the most fantastic and original hair do's.  Her husband Henry is from a family known to produce the strongest men in town and so it goes.  Part of the picture in this book is a receptionist at the hair salon who is most unreliable and has an out of wed-lock baby and a man in a suit who seems to be haunting the Waverly sisters and of course the apple tree in the backyard that lobs apples at people trying to entice them into eating and finding out their future.  Don't forget the house that needs a good talking to occasionally.  Romance prevails, Claire, creates a feast, more folks discover and embrace their quirky gifts and all ends quite well. 
Wonderful quick read.
jdw 8/22

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

This story follows One Crazy Summer and P.S. Eleven.  It is the continuing story of three sisters
Delphine, Vonetta and Fern.  The girls fight, tease, and otherwise get in trouble till everyone is on their last nerve.  Their father and stepmother send them to Alabama for summer vacation with their grandmother and other elders in the family, probably to get a much need break themselves. They learn their family's story including their start as slaves.  Tragedy strikes when Vonetta disappears into a tornado that damages a lot of property. Vonetta is found and all the girls grow up a bit.  I especially loved the greats and grands in this story who are so wise to the way of young slightly unruly girls and know just how to handle them.  You don't need to read the other books to appreciate this mostly fun and funny read but you're going to want to go back and read them too.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Six - Mark Alpert

Adam has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair.  He uses VR programs to escape reality.  One day he is in his dad's office using one of his programs when a hacker named Sigma invades the program.  Sigma tells him that since he is dying the government has selected for the Pioneer Project.  Sigma exits the program just as his dad and Colonel Peterson return.  Adam tells him about the hacker, and then asks his dad about the Pioneer Project.  Just as his father begins to explain a big boom rocks the building.  Adam, his dad, and the Colonel escape and his dad asks again who the hacker was.  Adam tells him it was Sigma, his dad starts to tremble and uses and axe to cut the communication lines.  It is to late though, as Sigma has escaped and gone into the Internet. Sigma is a AI program designed by his dad to be smarter than all other AI's, and was buried in the computer system of the Department of Defense.  While Adam is recovering in the hospital he meets Shannon who was a year behind him in school.  She gives him updates on Ryan Boyd, who was his best friend, and Brittany Taylor, the girl who he had a crush on.  His mom bursts into the room crying because they are putting him in the Pioneer Project.  He won't be Adam in the flesh anymore, he will become Adam in the machine.  The next day they make their way to the Pioneer Base in Colorado.  In an auditorium twelve teens and their parents are told the AI program Sigma has taken over a Russian lab along with missiles to defend the lab.  Adam's dad then talks about the Pioneer Project and how they want to transfer everything that makes someone human into a robot body.  The drawback to all of this is once the memories, emotions, intelligence, ect. is transferred the human body will die.  Everyone is given two days to make their decision.  As Adam rests at home his mom tells him she doesn't agree with what his father is doing.  In her view he is playing God, and Adam in a robot body would take away his soul making Adam not Adam anymore.  The next day his dad takes him to see Ryan after school gets out.  Ryan is sorry for not keeping in touch, but he's had other things going on.  Things begin to get heated between them and Ryan says he has to go.  After this conversation Adam decides to be part of the project.  Adam and his dad head back to Pioneer Base they encounter Shannon who has also decided to take part.  Shannon introduces him to Jenny and DeShawn, two of the other volunteers.  Later that night he meets the other two volunteers Marshall and Zia.  Zia and Adam get off on the wrong foot as she thinks she should be first to have her mind transferred, and thinks Adam's dad is playing favorites.  Adam's dad says he is going first because he knows Adam can handle it.  The next day the procedures begin.  Adam is panicked and confused after the transfer.  When he spots his body he runs toward it, and seeing himself cold and gray makes him want to be human again.  He is confined to quarters as his dad and the other scientists make sure the transfer has gone smoothly.  Shannon tries to see him, but he won't let her in.  A few days later Jenny begins her transfer.  She is freaking out during the transfer and there is the risk of loosing her.  Adam transfers himself into her Pioneer.  He sees a memory of Jenny's brother locking her in a closet when she was two.  Once he transfers the memory from her to him she calms down.  Adam is present at the rest of the transfers in case he's needed to help like he did with Jenny.  Once all the transfers are done the Pioneers head to the gym for training the next day.  They are testing out the Pioneers by tossing a football around.  When Zia comes into the gym she and Adam have words.  She threatens him with the blowtorch she added.  It is then General Hawke interrupts and says they are going to begin training.  All the Pioneers go through an obstacle course to determine who becomes the leader of the group.  Adam and Zia are the two who complete it, and the tiebreaker is a half-mile sprint.  Zia wins by intercepting Adam's wireless sensors to make him feel pain.  Zia is placed in charge and Adam is second in command.  Shortly there after Adam is told Ryan has been kidnapped, and the General believes Sigma had human help.  Adam wants to find this person and hurt them.   He calms down by hanging out with Marshall and DeShawn.  The next morning they learn how to transfer themselves to RQ-11 drones.  Adam shows off a bit and Zia doesn't like it at all.  After the exorcise Adam finds Jenny in his quarters and she wants the memory back.  He gives it back and they spend time in another memory with human bodies.  The next day they are to practice transferring to the Russian T-90 tank and practice driving and firing the gun.  His dad finds him and says that they will be on a plane to Russia tonight to confront Sigma.  Adam is shocked as General Hawke hasn't said a word to them at all.   After the tank exorcise Zia orders them to practice transferring to their secondary Pioneers at different distances.  When DeShawn figures out how to control both at once he gives the instructions to Adam.  He dances to a Kanye West song.  Zia comes over and isn't happy about him screwing around.  She attacks him and he enters into Zia's Pioneer to stop her.  While inside of Zia's Pioneer he sees a memo saying Ryan has been killed.  When he exits Zia's Pioneer he sees she has damaged his main Pioneer beyond repair.  Adam is angry at Hawke for keeping Ryan's death a secret.  When he shoves the General in anger the General pulls out the Pioneer kill switch.  Is this the end for Adam, and is the mission to confront Sigma in jeopardy?

I really enjoyed reading this book.  I thought it was an interesting look at how humanity could preserve itself after the physical body dies.  How many of us would jump at the opportunity to live forever even if it is in a robot body?  This book also reminded me of the show Caprica where Dr. Daniel Graystone created the Cylons as part of a government defense contract.  His daughter Zoe Graystone, a computer genius, created an avatar of herself in virtual reality with all of her memories and emotions.  When she is killed in a terrorist bombing her avatar feels everything that happened.  Zoe's avatar is captured by her father in virtual reality and downloaded into the first cylon.  This is very similar to when Adam and the rest of the six are transferred into the Pioneer bodies.  The difference is they went willingly while Zoe's avatar was forced into the cylon body.