Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (Darkest Powers #1)

Story Synopsis

 My name is Chloe Saunders and my life will never be the same again.

All I wanted was to make friends, meet boys, and keep on being ordinary. I don't even know what that means anymore. It all started on the day that I saw my first ghost - and the ghost saw me.

Now there are ghosts everywhere and they won't leave me alone. To top it all off, I somehow got myself locked up in Lyle House, a "special home" for troubled teens. Yet the home isn't what it seems. Don't tell anyone, but I think there might be more to my housemates than meets the eye. The question is, whose side are they on? It's up to me to figure out the dangerous secrets behind Lyle House...before its skeletons come back to haunt me. (from Goodreads)

My Review:

I have a confession to make. When I first heard about this book, I thought it was going to be a paranormal romance along the lines of a certain other series which I hate and which will remain unnamed. So I wrote it off my book list and forgot about it...until my fellow blogger Lisa recommended it to me. Lisa's recommendations tend to be spot-on, so I swallowed my skepticism and picked up this book. And guess what? Lisa was right. This book is great. Lesson learned.

The main character, Chloe, is full of endearing quirks, including a stutter and a tendency to see the world from behind the lens of an imaginary film camera. All the secondary characters are well flushed out, especially the awkward, intelligent Derek. The plot is gripping, the pacing excellent, and the writing is clean and fun.

All of these are reasons why you should read this book. But none of them are the main reason why I loved this book.

That came in the form of a five-page scene between Chloe and the psychiatrist Dr. Gill. I've mentioned before that in my real life, I'm a neuroscientist. WARNING: I'm about to nerd-out. Okay? Here we go.

The set-up for the scene is that Chloe has just had a run-in with a dead janitor that no one else could see. Dr. Gill is telling Chloe that she might be schizophrenic. What follows is one of the most honest discussions of schizophrenia I've ever seen in a fiction book, let alone a YA paranormal. While Chloe freaks out over the possibility of being "schizo", Dr. Gill calmly and concisely lays out what schizophrenia is, what it is not, what is myth, and what is real. In our society, schizophrenics are subjected to a stigma that is undeserved. That Armstrong devoted a chunk of her book to pointing out and responding to that undeserved stigma is amazing. As soon as I read that scene, I knew that it didn't matter what happened after in the book, I was going to like it. This book gets a big, fat, Neuro Seal of Approval.

But if you don't base your opinions of books on five-page scenes that actually have little to do with plot or character development, that's okay, because there's lots of other reasons why this is a fun and gripping read. It's several years old now, and paranormal is drifting out of the YA market, but if you missed this one when it was first released, I highly recommend you pick it up now.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Rated by: Blair

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner (Maze Runner #1)

Story Synopsis:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

My Review:

Do you ever read a book, and you know it isn't great literature, or even great writing, but you're willing to overlook the technical faults because it's a fast-paced mystery that's easy to get in to and fun to read? That's what I felt when I read The Maze Runner.

This book follows a group of boys, and one girl, who are trapped in a maze with no memory of how they got there. Escape attempts are often deadly. The mystery behind the maze got me into the book; tiny hints of a broken outside world kept me gripped. I was drawn into the story and the action, and dying to know what happened. The pages flew beneath my fingers, but not so fast that I didn't find faults.

The writing is cliche-ridden and choppy, with some weird phrasings that made me go, "huh??" I'm not as anti-adverb as some people, but this text is drenched in -ly to the point where even I noticed. On the plus side, the description of the memory loss was not outside the realm of scientific plausibility, and I appreciate that. Another plus is a story and writing style appropriate for both older middle grade readers as well as teens, so there's a wider range of appeal.

If you like strong female characters, this probably isn't the book for you. It features one single female character, and she is, for one reason or another, absent for most of the book. Once she does start taking part, she mostly limits her interactions to the main character. They question of why there was only one girl bothered me a lot, especially once I reached the ending. There's two more books in the series, so maybe that question will get answered. But I tend to be less fond of books that don't provide a strong female character in at least a secondary role, so for me this one one of the book's more glaring issues. How you respond to it will likely depend on your own personal tastes.

The Maze Runner is a fast-paced, action-packed mystery. It's not fantastic prose, but that's okay. It's the sort of book you read when you want fun and entertainment; the quick pleasure of a good summer read. And who doesn't need that sort of book from time to time? I certainly do.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Rated by: Blair

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Matched by Ally Condie


Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

From Goodreads.

My Review:

Matched is a hard book for me to review, because I really, really loved it. At first, I picked it up to get over another book I read (which shall remain nameless) that truly upset me, and I was delighted by how quickly I got into it.

Cassia lives in a world that is perfectly organized by the data that been collected about people their entire lives. In this world, disease has been prevented and people know exactly how long they will live. Even their mates are chosen for them, and behavior is predicted based on probability. Everything is sorted and accounted for, leaving nothing to chance. In the Society's world, creativity is not an option.

As the synopsis suggests, Cassia, the main character is presented with not one, but two possible matches: one sanctioned by the state, and the other an 'error in the system'. The idea that a perfectly structured world could have errors opens Cassia's eyes to new possibilities and the idea that the world she lives in is not in everyone's best interest after all.

Condie creates a remarkable world, one whose presence I felt through the characters. The dilemmas she brings up are universal: how much can data predict behavior? are we being watched? is it wrong to question authority? and what is the essence of creativity?

To some, this story is evenly paced. However, with this pacing, Condie gives us time to feel the experiences and breathe the air of Cassie's world, while I fell in love with the characters. As a writer, I greatly admire Condie's writing style. Her pacing gave me time to stop and admire the scenery, without bogging me down in the slightest. I found the story, its characters and the adversarial world they live in, strong and compelling enough to draw me in. It kept me engrossed from start to finish. 

My rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by: Lisa

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

Story Synopsis

The New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments continues—and so do the thrills and danger for Jace, Clary, and Simon.What price is too high to pay, even for love? When Jace and Clary meet again, Clary is horrified to discover that the demon Lilith’s magic has bound her beloved Jace together with her evil brother Sebastian, and that Jace has become a servant of evil. The Clave is out to destroy Sebastian, but there is no way to harm one boy without destroying the other. As Alec, Magnus, Simon, and Isabelle wheedle and bargain with Seelies, demons, and the merciless Iron Sisters to try to save Jace, Clary plays a dangerous game of her own. The price of losing is not just her own life, but Jace’s soul. She’s willing to do anything for Jace, but can she still trust him? Or is he truly lost?

My Review:

I have to admit that going into this 5th book of the Mortal Instrument series, I didn't have high hopes. A devout fan of the first 3 books, I was enchanted by the Shadowhunters and their bittersweet world fighting demons and Cassandra Claire fast pace with equal amounts of action and romantic tension. Once the 4th book came along, I was already distanced; I actually think I put it down for a few months before finishing it. I was hoping to be refreshed by City of Lost Souls, and while it had some great conflict and story development, overall, I found it lacking intrigue.

Not to say it wasn’t fun, Claire gives new pieces to the parameters of the world, the evils of Sebastian and the various romantic plotlines of the story. Her writing continues to be engaging and wise, but the pacing at times seemed off, with some slow periods that would then speed into action that lacked a proper build up.  I wonder if it’s the absence of “the real Jace” in this novel, which made me appreciate how a smart-ass bad-boy can take a story from good something special (fellow writers, take note).

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been loving the prequel series, Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince so much, that City of Lost Souls felt a little watered down. And while the book feels loyal to its progressive, modern take all the way through, I admit the cheese factor of the ending made me want to rip open the book and throw in some hot sauce. But maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that means I care so much about the characters and their realization that I wanted more.

And I will get it - we all will. I know I will not hesitate myself to read the final book when it comes out despite my less-than-romance with the last two. If you are a fan of the series, I don’t doubt you will enjoy City of Lost Souls, if anything to keep you in the loop for how the epic series will close.

Review by: Elinor
3 out of 5 stars