Posts Tagged ‘review’


Corrie Wang’s novel, The Takedown, takes our current technological society and multiplies it by 1000. Take what you know about the Facebook currently works–if you post a photo, it scans the faces in that photo and suggests that you tag the person it thinks it sees in that picture based on some facial recognition algorithm that I can’t begin to claim to understand. In The Takedown’s equivalent, Connect Book, this idea goes to a new level via something called Woofer. Woofer scans the photos and videos EVERYONE posts and tags EVERYONE in them, and it’s completely legal due to the user agreement everyone signs when they create their account. Taking a selfie at the mall on the escalator? Woofer is tagging everyone on that escalator with you. Making a video of the latest and greatest subway musician? Well Woofer is tagging every person crowded on that train platform. Sounds fun, in theory, and protagonist Kyla Chang agrees. At least until a video surfaces of a teacher and a girl in a classroom having sex–and when that girl turns to the camera, it’s Kyla.

Only it isn’t. 

Someone has taken Kyla’s face and put it on someone else’s body in a perfect edit, and Kyla’s entire life explodes. Her school tries to suspend her; the organizations she belongs to disconnect from her, and no college will accept her. The video attaches to absolutely every aspect of her life, and Kyla has to figure out where the video has come from so that she can take it down before her life, and the lives of everyone attached to her, completely explodes.

I love this book for a lot of reasons. First off, Kyla. I want to hate her, but I also want to love. She’s that super popular girl in high school that all of us non-popular people want to despise. She’s written in a very two layered way–that girl we wanna hate is right there, but there’s also the girl below that that is every one of us. Kyla is just as insecure about her place in society as anyone else, just in a different way and for different reasons. It’s harder to be at the top than it looks, and Wang writes from this perspective masterfully. Audra, one of Kyla’s best friends, was, by comparison, underwritten. From a feminist perspective, she could have been played up much more. While the focus of the book is clearly Kyla, an opportunity comes with Audra (staying spoiler free!) that could be played up and written more. As women, what does in mean to be in control of our bodies? What does in mean to ask others to respect them? How does the gaze of others change us? There are a lot of questions here that, while responded to by Wang’s text, don’t go as in depth as they had the potential to.

The Takedown also makes some strides in terms of diversity. I love how broad it is in terms of race, but I more love how that’s absolutely not the focus. It’s more just how it is. Wang doesn’t make a point of saying “this person is white, this person is African American, this person is Asian.” They just are. 

The society in The Takedown is fantastic just because of how clearly it aligns with the path of our current lives. In a few years, this could be where we are. Many people still think that it doesn’t matter what you do online, that no one sees it. That’s just not true–people do see. And in the future, everyone will see, much like Kyla’s situation. This book is going to be great for teens in that, though it’s not tech currently available to us, it still promotes a message that will make people think. Think about what you say, what you do, what you post. You never know who’s watching. All in all, if you are a teen who uses the internet (every teen ever) or if you have a teen who uses the internet, pick this up. This isn’t us today, but it could be us tomorrow. 

5 stars.

cresswell.jpg

The Cresswells are a strict religious family living in a house governed by firm guidelines from the clothes they wear to what they read to the way that they’re punished. Father runs the show, pushing Castley, Hannan, Casper, Mortimer, Del, and Baby J to follow the scary universe that he himself created. In the beginning, the children follow along, accepting what is told to them and even agreeing to marry their siblings when they become adults. But the older Castley gets, the more she sees of the world, the more she begins to question her way of life.

This type of book is my favorite to read after my own religious background. I wouldn’t say that the topic is for everyone, but it is definitely fast paced and easy to get through. I read it in one day, getting on and off the subway. I enjoy real world suspense books without the fantasy, and I love anything that draws attention to the ways in which religion can be dangerous when left unchecked. 

Castley is great as a sympathetic protagonist. The way that she wavers back and worth between wanting to follow Father and wanting to explore her doubts is very strong—a cult follower is not going to simply jump out of the cult the instant someone snaps their fingers. The follower will need time to think, to disassemble the beliefs that have been engrained inside of them. Castley is a perfect portrait of that description. It was nice to see her evolution as she slowly grew out from under Father’s beliefs. It was also interesting to “watch” as she tried to balance being a regular teenager with being under Father’s wing, and the ways in which this forced her to fly on her own.

My only real problem with this is that I don’t really understand the motives behind Father’s creation of their religion. Why did he really choose to segregate them? Did he suffer a traumatic act in his childhood that made him shun the secular world? Or was he just completely insane? The book that the children read scripture from seemed largely created by Father with some aspects of the real Bible thrown in. I wanted to know more background, but the book didn’t give it to me. The ending (spoiler free) left me unsatisfied. The characters of the children were solid, but the religion itself was not carefully built.

All in all, this gets a 3.5 from me. The prose was great and I mostly enjoyed the characters, but I was left with a lot of questions with no answers. This could have easily been a much longer book.

**I received The Cresswell Plot, by Eliza Wass, as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The Cresswell Plot is expected for publication June 7th, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion.

kalahari

I read Jessica Khoury’s Kalahari pretty much in one sitting. It is fast paced and continuously moving, with twists and turns that will draw in the reader and keep them there until they finish the book. Kalahari tells the story of Sarah, a teenage girl who grew up with her scientists parents at research camps across Africa. After the death of Sarah’s mother, their current research project is struggling. Sarah’s father arranges to have a group of American (and one Canadian) teens travel to visit the camp, see how they live, and experience the Kalahari. In exchange, the camp will receive funding to continue their research. However, when Sarah’s father disappears after investigating a group of poachers, it is up to Sarah to both find him and take care of the teenagers left behind at their camp.

The research that went into this novel is far above average. It is obvious that Khoury put a great deal of effort into building the environment of the Kalahari properly, and that pays off by making this a very realistic read. The plot moves very quickly, making the book hard to put down even though there are parts that are mildly frustrating. The level of detail describing the desert and the animals within it really makes the environment come to life.

I love the character of Sarah. I found her grit and determination to be on par or above many other YA heroines of late. It is always nice to read a strong female protagonist. The voicing of the six different teenagers was very on point, separating the group into distinctive characters that I really wanted to root for. We have the “outcast” kid, the weird kid, the poor kid, the smart kid, and the rich kids. All of them have enough layers that they really work as characters, helping to advance the plot and pull in the reader. In short, the characters, as in all of Khoury’s work, were so well constructed that they made me care about them and sit and read until I knew how things would end.

However, the romance in this didn’t work for me. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t include specifics. But I found Sarah’s romance with Sam to be incredibly contrived and hard to swallow. I wanted to root for the pairing, but it just came across as too formulaic for my taste. Boy reads about girl. Boy travels all the way across the world to meet girl. Boy automatically likes her as much as he liked book. And they all live happily ever after, the end. So many YA books focus on the love aspect in order to advance the plot, which it seems like Khoury did here. However, she didn’t need to. The character of Sarah was strong enough to tell the story without being in what reads as a forced relationship. Sarah could have moved through the adventure and solved her problems without the romantic relationship as a catalyst. Her love for her family and the strength of her character would have been enough.

All in all, this book was a 3 for me. While the story was interesting, the characters were excellent, and the environment was fantastic, the Sarah/Sam pairing just didn’t work for me and really detracted from the story.

**I received Kalahari, by Jessica Khoury, as an ARC from firsttoread.com. I was not paid to write this review. Kalahari is expected for publication on February 24th, 2015, by Razorbill.

dove arising

Dove Arising, by Karen Bao, is a typical dystopian novel that tells the story of Phaet Theta and her struggle to save her family. The setting is an elaborate location on the Moon; six separate bases exist to house the Lunar people and protect them from what they refer to as “earth-dwellers.” Phaet goes from working in a greenhouse to training for the Militia—the Lunar equivalent of an army—in order to save her siblings from being sent to Shelter after their mother is arrested.

The world building in this novel is terrific. We got to know a lot about the land on the moon, and Phaet’s base in particular. I enjoyed learning about the Militia system and the way the different levels operate. Bao created very different sects within society, from the people in Shelter (the base’s poorest living quarters) to those at the highest ranks of Militia. People on the base have to pay for everything, from rent to food to sheer stuff, but the level of control that their government has in their everyday living makes it difficult for most people to survive beyond a minimal stage of living. Bao made it easy to hate the government she created, easily displaying strong themes of race, gender, and social inequality parallel to that of real life—but with just enough differences to make them intriguing. This is a huge part of what makes a great dystopian.

My problem with this novel was that I struggled with the characters. I really wanted to like Phaet, because she comes across as a unique dystopian protagonist at the outset of the novel. But she was hard to grow attached to. For a large portion of the story, she doesn’t talk to anybody or respond when they talk to her. I found this aspect of her personality difficult to swallow. I understand the message of “the government is always listening,” but there are other ways to communicate and respond to others, such as the language Phaet created with her best friend, Umbriel. There are even gestures—hand waves, head bobs. Phaet’s reasons for a lack of response are never totally sold to us. So then, when she suddenly is responding and talking, it’s difficult to buy because we don’t understand completely why she wasn’t in the first place. Thanks to Bao’s skill at deep point of view, we are so inside of Phaet’s head that it seems this understanding should come easily. I also really struggled with Phaet’s time in the Militia. She began doing as little as she had to to get by, but then suddenly she was skyrocketing to the top. It seemed like a convenience to advance the plot rather than a merit that the character actually earned. These things combined to make connecting to Phaet difficult.

The timeline in Dove Arising is interesting. Phaet jumps from situation to situation with little time in between, making the read anything but smooth. The movements between scenes are, at times, quite abrupt. Several scenes, without giving spoilers, seem inserted to simply get to the next scene—particularly in the final half of the book.

However, I have to say that I love that, once again, a YA author has been brave enough to let a love triangle sit in the background over taking center stage. That subtle tension may have been my favorite part of this book.

While the ending of this story definitely paves the way for a sequel, it felt incredibly rushed. Bao took her time with the rest of the story, and the pace of the ending didn’t seem to fit.

All in all, this one is 2.5 for me. I almost DNF-ed it around the halfway point. The ideas are there, and they’re good. But the book was slow and hard for me to get into. I’m not sure I would go for the sequel.

**I received Dove Arising, by Karen Bao, as an ARC from Penguins First to Read program. I was not paid to write this review. Dove Arising is expected for publication on February 24th, 2015, by Viking Juvenile.

zodiac

Rhoma Grace is a sixteen year old with a gift; as the protagonist of Romina Russell’s Zodiac, Rhoma can make predictions from the stars without the traditional use of helping instruments. Her natural skill warns her that a danger is approaching, a threat to the entire zodiac. But no one believes her because their instruments do not see the threat. It is up to Rhoma, or “Rho,” to unite and protect the entire zodiac.

I wasn’t sure, upon reading the blurb, that I would like this book. As it turns out, I did. I found myself incredibly interested in the world that Russell had constructed. Her use of the different houses of the zodiac built on everyday knowledge of said houses and used it to create an intricately woven world. The large amount of detail put into the different worlds kept me interesting right up until the conclusion of the book. I’ve read a great deal of YA dystopian/fantasy, and I feel like Russell’s work really pulls ahead in many ways. I found the plot to be original, with many surprises throughout. I found myself caring about the characters; their construction was solid—particularly the characters of Rho and Mathias. There was a love triangle in this, but it didn’t seemed forced. The two men in question did not take Rho away from her main goal of uniting the zodiac. Plus, with several unique plot devices that I won’t get into lest I drift to the realm of spoilers, the love triangle has the capability to become incredibly interesting and unique. The dialogue in the this came off as incredibly natural, something that I’ve always been big on.

Things I didn’t love. I wanted more. This book reads like a 400 plus page novel crammed into 300 pages. There were so many details that were skipped over or told to us rather than shown to us. I also didn’t care for the villain. It seemed like he had so many opportunities to take Rho down, but his reasons for not doing so were not firmly supported. There was a lot of chase, and a lot of missed opportunity on the part of said villain. And while this allowed a welcome opportunity to get to know the other characters, more back story to the villain would have been great.

All in all, I quite enjoyed this. I look forward to the next installment. 3.5 stars.

**I received an ARC copy of Zodiac through firsttoread.com. I was not paid to write this review. Zodiac was published December 9th, 2014 by Razorbill.

seed

“Nature, we thank you for leading Papa S. to Seed. He saved us. He protects us. In return, we give you everything … Because we need nothing more. We have Kindreds to guide us, we have food, we have love. We listen to you, Mother Nature, only you.”

Lisa Heathfield’s Seed is the type of book that may offend some. As a matter of fact, it will definitely offend some. But the best books are those that make people think and form opinions; Seed is one that will be purchased and housed on my bookshelf for a long time to come. This book, just from reading the blurb, had the potential to be an incredible cheeseball. However, it is anything but. Once you pick this up, you won’t want to put it down until the conclusion—and you will be itching for the final book.

Seed tells the story of a fifteen year old girl named Pearl. Pearl lives with her ‘family’ on a compound they call Seed. They are isolated there, living off of the crops they grow and money they get selling their wares on the Outside. Pearl finally becomes a woman, and eligible to Papa S’s companion, at the same time as a new family is welcome into Seed—a mother and her two children. As Pearl gets to know the son, Ellis, she realizes that there is a lot she does not know about Outside, and much of what she does know is a lie. Pearl is forced to make a decision—will she believe what she has always been told, or will she accept her strength and form her own beliefs?

Pearl is a complex character who is built up quite well by Heathfield. We get to know her slowly, starting first with establishing her belief system and why she believes the things she does. By giving us this deep understanding of Pearl’s beliefs, Heathfield ensures that Pearl is a character readers will care about from start to finish. Pearl embodies many of the psychological issues, for lack of a better word, that anyone in her situation would, but they are all subtle and below the surface. The build up of her character allows for a greater pay off when her beliefs, and thus her world, finally start to unravel. Ellis is also incredibly well written. We can see in him his Outside beliefs, making him a strong foil for Pearl. But we can also see his love for his mother and sister, and his reasons for coming to and staying in Seed. I can see a romance forming between Pearl and Ellis in Book Two of this duology, but their relationship has been slow and winding, not at all forced, in this first book. That’s just the way I like it. The character development in Seed is strong all around; I cared about these characters from start to finish and wanted to save them, to show them how wrong they were.

Heathfield strongly establishes the belief and hierarchy systems within the Seed community. Papa S. has complete control over the members of Seed, and they don’t even know it. There are so many things in life that Pearl doesn’t know, and the more we realize these things as readers, the more we hurt for her. However, by showing Pearl trying desperately to adhere to her beliefs, we get to see how few choices the people in the community actually have. What seems logical to us, on the outside—leave, run away, don’t trust these people—is the opposite to Pearl and her family. And because of that, we want to root for them. We want to see them survive; we want to see them be successful. Heathfield paints a beautiful picture of how easily people who are isolated can be manipulated, but also how strong the human spirit really is when they finally fights back.

Heathfield’s dialogue, pacing, characters, and general prose are spot on for the type of book this is. If you pick Seed up, you won’t be sorry. This one gets a resounding five stars from me. I can’t wait to get my hands on the final book.

**I received Seed as an ARC from Netgalley. I was not paid for this review. Seed is expected for publication March 10th, 2015, by Running Press Kids.

vanishinggirls

Lauren Oliver’s newest book, Vanishing Girls, is an amazing read. Oliver tells the story of two sisters, Nick and Dara, and weaves their lives before and after a terrible car accident with the story of missing nine year old, Madeline Snow. When Dara turns up missing on her birthday, Nick assumes that Dara’s disappearance is somehow linked to Madeline’s, and Nick becomes determined to find her sister at any cost.

Oliver’s characterizations are spot on. Nick and Dara are built up very well, with very distinctive personalities and characteristics, that blend in the right ways at the right moments. The story is not so much about them individually, but them together. Oliver tells a realistic tale of how when you are so close to someone, you can really become them in a lot of ways—and they can become you. Nick is the quieter sister, while Dara is more of the wild child—but neither of them can fully exist without small aspects of the other. The bleeding of Nick into Dara and Dara into Nick is never overwhelming or too much; their voices are distinctive, yet the same when they need to be. It’s simply perfect, an illustration of what it is really like to be family.

Of great secondary interest in Vanishing Girls are the characters that surround Nick and Dara. Their reactions to the two sisters are spot on and very appropriate, while giving nothing away. The characters all exist within two very separate worlds of sisters who aren’t speaking, but they also exist within the same world. It makes for a very interesting dynamic that kept me up much too late reading this book. On a side note, it is always nice to read a YA author who lets her characters tell the story and advance the plot without forcing romance down the reader’s throat. There was romance in this, and while it was a major part of the story, it wasn’t forced. The romance was more a side effect of Nick and Dara’s relationship than the relationship being a side effect of the romance (as in much YA of late), and I loved that.

I’m not sure, however, that I needed the missing child story alongside the main characters. It isn’t badly written, I just feel that Nick and Dara’s story could have stood on its own. Madeline’s disappearance neither added to the story nor took away from it for me, besides the obvious symbolism at the story’s conclusion.

I’ve seen this compared a lot to We Were Liars. While there are definite similarities between the two, Oliver’s writing wins, hands down. The careful layering of the prose allows Oliver to lead the reader through the tangled web of sisterhood right up to her stunning conclusion. The level of detail woven into the befores, afters, and text exchanges demands a second, or even third, read. It is a difficult task to compose a strong, nonlinear, narrative, but Oliver more than tackled the challenge.

In short, I devoured this book. Another solid book by Oliver, and another five stars.

**I received Vanishing Girls as an ARC from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline. I was not paid to write this review. Vanishing Girls is expected to be published March 10th, 2015, by Harper Collins.