Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Selection Stories: The Prince & The Guard by Kiera Cass

This book contains two novellas that accompany Cass's Selection series. The two stories offer up the same situations that happen in the original novels, but from a different point of view. 

The first novella, The Prince, takes place before the series begins, although the last few chapters overlapping the beginning of the first book in the series. This book is from Prince Maxon's point of view as he prepares for the Selection. You meet Daphne, who is mentioned in one of the later books, as the first girl who had been in his life, and you see his true feelings and fears as he embarks on this journey to find a wife. Then you witness his first reaction to meeting America who is nothing like he expected.

The second novella, The Guard, is from Aspen's point of view and overlaps the second book. It shows his struggle to do his duty and keep up with his feelings for America in response to what happened to Marlee and a fellow guard, as well as her conflicted feelings for the prince.

Both novellas do a nice job of showing the other side of the drama. Since it does take scenes from the original novels, it can feel repetitive and it would have been nice to see more beyond the book. Since it is just a novella, though, neither story is exceptionally long. These are really just a snapshot of what else is happening in this world. A longer book would have given more opportunity for depth and further exploration of these characters' worlds. 

For fans of the series, these are a nice treat to keep the story alive. Two more novellas are coming out (The Queen and The Favorite) and a fourth book is planned for next year.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Illusive - Emily Lloyd-Jones

The Meningococcas Krinotas or MK plague of 2017 began in Chad, then spread to Niger, Mali, Algeria, and Egypt.  It was only then when the rest of the world realized how bad it was going to be.  America became infected when one woman stepped into JFK International Airport off of a flight from Egypt.  The MK plague then spread like wildfire throughout the rest of the world.  Six months later a vaccine was developed by Fiacre Pharmaceuticals.  It was rushed through FDA approval and wasn't fully tested.  While there weren't any side effects in most of the people, it gave 0.003 percent of the population super powers.  Ciere is one of these few people with super powers.  She is an illusionist who can change her appearance, and a thief.  Kit, her "Uncle", took her in at the age of eleven and has been sending her out on jobs.  Her latest job, along with her friend Devon, was robbing a bank of $40,000.  On the way home Ciere and Devon run a fowl of the mob who want the money back, as the bank is in their territory.  Ciere agrees to pay back the money, but she needs time.  They put a tracking bracelet on her and give her a week to get the money.  When Ciere and Devon return they don't tell Kit about owing the mob money.  Kit has another job for them.  They are going to rob a lawyers office, and they need a mentalist to do it.  Kit knows someone, but they parted on bad terms.  He sends Ciere and Devon to meet with Magnus.  They meet his assistant at a bar and pay her.  They are taken to a hotel room to meet with him.  Just as the meeting begins SWAT teams pull up to the hotel.  They are looking for someone and Ciere fears it's her.  When an old man is taken everyone else is allowed to leave.  Magnus gives back the money they paid for the meeting and tells them to tell Kit he's sorry.  The next day Magnus shows up at Kit's house wanting to help.  They break into a law firm that holds the last will of Marie Louis and are to deliver its contents to Frieda Fuller.  After Kit and Magnus leave the SUV to head to the meeting point agents from the FBI and UAI (United American Immunities) start firing hitting the SUV.  Ciere runs into Daniel, their former associate, who she and Kit thought was dead.  She realizes he's working with the FBI and not by his choice.  After they escape Kit reveals that Marie Louis is an alias for Richelle Fiacre.  The will supposedly contains the formula to create more super powered people to be controlled by the government.  Ciere tells them that Daniel isn't dead and is working with the government.  They all head back to Kit's house to rest up and figure out what to do next.  Ciere comes up with the idea of selling the formula to the mob as payment.  Ciere and Devon pour over a copy of the will Devon wrote down.  They come across an address in Endicott, New York and go investigate.  Kit follows them and Ciere finally tells him about the mob and the payment she owes.  The house has been raided by the FBI, but their is a hidden room that was missed.  Inside that room contains not the formula, but the last supposedly dead member of the Fiacre family. 

I enjoyed this book.  It was a fun and action packed book to read.  It kept my interest all the way through.  When I got to the end, I wanted more.  According to the author's blog on her website there will be a sequel to Illusive.  When the book described the spread of the MK plague, it seemed very reminiscent of how Ebola is spreading from Africa to the United States and Spain in the last month.  I don't think there will be any super power side effects from the Ebola vaccine, but you never know.  


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

One death, Nine Stories edited by Marc Aronson & Charles R. Smith Jr.

This book is described as a novel told in stories. Each chapter is a separate short story, but they are all connected around one character's death and the idea of "initiation." This is an interesting concept, but I didn't feel it was as successful as it could have been.

Kevin Nicholas is dead and his death touches the lives of many people. There are the few who only know him in death, such as Morris and Nadira who work at the funeral home or Jackson who learns about his death through a cousin on Facebook. Then there are those who knew him intimately, like his sister Lydia or his first love Candy. There are his best friends and friends who had only just begun to know him. Either way, all of these people came in contact with Kevin in one way or another and they all have a story to tell.

While each character has a story to tell, I didn't feel as if there really was a central story. In the Afterword, the editor says this was a "Pick-Up Game, a cross between an anthology and a novel...individual stories written by different authors shifted character and story lines, making each one both a piece in itself and part of a larger whole" (145). While I can appreciate what they were trying to do, to me it felt too disconnected. The only connection was that Kevin died, nothing else. There were three chapters in a row ("Initiation," "Just Once," and "The Next Next Level") that flowed together as similar characters appeared in each story. In those three chapters you saw a history developing, a story forming. Even the next one, "Running Man," helped to build the damaged character of Kevin. After reading those four in a row, I thought it was building to something, the truth behind whatever happened, but then it just died and went off in another direction. I think that's my problem with this book - things are just disconnected and I don't feel that it goes anyplace. I don't feel as if this book gives any closure, even if the Afterword feels like the last chapter brings it all together. The editor also said there was a continual theme of initiation, and while I saw it strong in some, it didn't feel strong enough in others to say that connects the stories. I've read another book along the "Pick-Up Game" concept where multiple authors work together to write a novel - each chapter is a different author but it continues the story, sometimes taking it into a completely different direction, but all connected. I've also read an anthology where each author writes a different interpretation of the same event. This novel tries to combine those two concepts and isn't, in my eyes, successful.

It's not really a novel, but it's too connected to just be considered an anthology. However you want to classify this, is does open you eyes to see how one person's death can affect multiple people, even if it is in the most minor way, and the different situations in which we are initiated and learn something about ourselves.

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.