Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: The Faerie Guardian by Rachel Morgan

The Faerie Guardian (Creepy Hollow, #1)
by Rachel Morgan

Genre: Fantasy/Fae
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: November 5, 2012
Source: Kindle store
Age Rating: 13+

Protecting humans from dangerous magical creatures is all in a day’s work for a faerie training to be a guardian. Seventeen-year-old Violet Fairdale knows this better than anyone—she’s about to become the best guardian the Guild has seen in years. That is, until a cute human boy who can somehow see through her faerie glamour follows her into the fae realm. Now she’s broken Guild Law, a crime that could lead to her expulsion.

The last thing Vi wants to do is spend any more time with the boy who got her into this mess, but the Guild requires that she return Nate to his home and make him forget everything he’s discovered of the fae realm. Easy, right? Not when you factor in evil faeries, long-lost family members, and inconvenient feelings of the romantic kind. Vi is about to find herself tangled up in a dangerous plot—and it’ll take all her training to get out alive.

My Review
Did I find a super awesome YA read with amazing characters and believable romance? And romantic tension? Lots of romantic tension? Did I? Oh, yes... Yes, I did.

This is one of my new favorites going on my “epic” shelf! Sweet babies, I adored this thing. Violet, the protag, is a very strong and snarky faerie—truly funny, and not just occasionally so. She's a tough chick and even a bit of a tomboy to boot, which makes her physical prowess that much more believable. And, she's a teenage girl with so little experience with boys, so she does allow herself to get involved with the human boy, Nate. But, she is not dreaming of their wedding day, nor thinking the fate gods had anything to do with their meeting each other.

She's a Guardian-in-training who goes out and protects people and fae folk from evil stuff that has the tendency to wreak havoc on innocent people's lives. She has a really sassy guy rival in her Guild named Ryn, an old friend-turned-enemy. A frenemy. He's just yummy and fun. I love characters like that!

Then, there's Nate who is really funny, too, and I don't know how I feel about him after having read the entire story, plus the bonus stories. He's just a complex character, I suppose, like any real person, so I'm left perplexed and wanting to know why he chooses to go down the path he does in the story SO badly. Why did you do it? Why, Nate?

Back to Ryn—delicious Ryn. Where you have an instant attraction between Violet and Nate, leading to a very immediate relationship worthy of high-schoolers, you have something far slower-burning with Vi and Ryn. They hate each other, but do they really? It feels like that kind of relationship where the two get off on making each other angry. Ryn certainly derives actual pleasure from doing so with Vi, as I learned from reading his POV story at the end. The potential for future romance between the two is seething through the words on the page and I cannot wait to read more about them. I totally ship it!

I think what makes this story work is that it goes deep and does it right away in Book 1. We find out why Violet has literally NO friends and why she and Ryn had a falling out. She starts out not having a clue as to why he hates her, but he fesses up and it really allows for the kind of character insight missing in a whole lot of novels I read, YA and adult. Because I can understand what makes these characters tick, I relate to them better and can now get hooked into their emotions, just like how they get hooked into each other, emotionally, after their big blow-up. It's something usually saved for a Book 2 or Book 3, but, seriously, why wait to put in the good stuff? This is why readers read!

My score: 5/5 stars. (Easily.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Novella Reviews: Throne of Glass Novellas by Sarah J. Maass

Throne of Glass Novellas (#0.1 - 0.4)
by Sarah J. Maass

Genre: Fantasy
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: between Jan 2012 – July 2012
Source: Kindle store
Age Rating: 14+

A Throne of Glass novella (synopsis for #0.1).

On a remote island in a tropical sea, Celaena Sardothien, feared assassin, has come for retribution. She’s been sent by the Assassin’s Guild to collect on a debt they are owed by the Lord of the Pirates. But when Celaena learns that the agreed payment is not in money, but in slaves, her mission suddenly changes—and she will risk everything to right the wrong she’s been sent to bring about. 

My Review

I read these novellas during the summer and they are fantastic! These are all prequels to the novel series, Throne of Glass, which is already out now. As of writing and publishing this review, I have yet to read the first novel, but reading these novellas completely sold me on buying the novel, so I have it waiting on my shelf.

These are fully realized, complete stories about the trained assassin, Celaena Sardothien, who is the number one assassin in her country of residence. There are, like a lot of fantasy novels, neighboring kingdoms and she does get to travel to some of the nearby kingdoms during her adventures in assassinating people. She's a funny girl and very much a girly-girl, despite being so deadly. She loves to wear pretty dresses and play the pianoforte. She starts out really spoiled and bratty at age 16, but, through her trials of these novellas, she matures.

I really like Sam, her childhood friend and rival assassin in the Assassin's Guild who becomes her love interest. Definitely no insta-love-upon-meeting-her-soul-mate-nonsense going on here. She just learns to see him a different way because they're both maturing before each others' eyes and he's become pretty darn good-looking in his young adulthood, ahem. I also hate, hate, HATE their boss Arobynn, who really is a truly worthy villain character. My lord, this man is so heinous and Machiavellian, it's sick. What he does to Celaena and Sam is beyond. I've never been so in hate with a villain character. It's pretty awesome.

Celaena doesn't spend a whole lot of time killing people because the stories are more about what she goes through that makes her become who she is by the time you read Book 1, and by then, she has spent some time as a slave/prisoner in the salt mines of Endovier due to the king's punishment. It really sets things up for the novel and I figure I'll have a much firmer grasp on it than would somebody else who just jumps into it without batting an eyelash at the novellas. I love having so much of the story set up and extra material for this amazing series. Check these out, people!

Average score: 4.5/5 stars.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review: Velveteen by Daniel Marks

by Daniel Marks

Genre: Paranormal/Horror
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Source: ARC from publisher
Age Rating: 16+

Velveteen Monroe is dead. At 16, she was kidnapped and murdered by a madman named Bonesaw. But that’s not the problem.

The problem is she landed in purgatory. And while it’s not a fiery inferno, it’s certainly no heaven. It’s gray, ashen, and crumbling more and more by the day, and everyone has a job to do. Which doesn’t leave Velveteen much time to do anything about what’s really on her mind.


Velveteen aches to deliver the bloody punishment her killer deserves. And she’s figured out just how to do it. She’ll haunt him for the rest of his days. It’ll be brutal... and awesome.

But crossing the divide between the living and the dead has devastating consequences. Velveteen’s obsessive haunting cracks the foundations of purgatory and jeopardizes her very soul. A risk she’s willing to take—except fate has just given her reason to stick around: an unreasonably hot and completely off-limits coworker.

Velveteen can’t help herself when it comes to breaking rules... or getting revenge. And she just might be angry enough to take everyone down with her. 

My Review

Velveteen is a book I've been waiting to read for about two years now because I found Danny Marks somehow through his YouTube vlogging. He's such a great personality and he'd vlog about editing Velveteen, getting it ready for his agent to go on out on sub with it, and then had a very quick sale of the manuscript to his publisher. Of course, I was really happy to have been approved for an ARC several months ago.

But, after reading Velveteen, it really wasn't a book that captured my attention for the right reasons. Sure, it's very different YA paranormal fiction from what you've likely encountered, and that is good. The world building is unique and well-detailed—it's interesting, and I had no trouble at all envisioning the world of purgatory and understanding the logic of how it operated. Still, this ends up not being enough to completely save this book for me.

First off, the writing is verbose—very verbose—so, it should have been pared down. It would have trimmed off 100+ pages, as this was a tad too long of a read. Velvet, being the protagonist, starts out with the goal to kill the serial killer, Bonesaw, who is her killer. I love that whole angle, but, weirdly, she doesn't do the most obvious thing and just grab one of his many precious knives and stab him to death in his sleep. As badly as she wants to kill him, I think her reason for not killing him doesn't work. She's too afraid, apparently. Meh....

She spends most of her time in purgatory because she's not even supposed to be in the world of the living at all. She is part of a Salvage team—a group of purgatory souls who go to 'daylight,' where living people live, and take care of problems caused by wayward purgatory souls messing up things and causing shadowquakes in purgatory. Apparently, doing anything in daylight causes shadowquakes in purgatory.

This is why Velvet feels guilty every time she haunts Bonesaw, or tries to free his victims. She has to do this all secretly. That's fine, hun, but could you just get your revenge over with already? It's kind of sucky having all these shadowquakes because you're so darn undetermined to kill your killer.

Next, I must move on to Nick, Velvet's love interest who just doesn't really need to be in the story because he seems like he could have been excluded and it wouldn't have changed the story much. Although, he does do some heroic things with his inexplicable specialness. He's a golden boy, perfect jock guy whose pretty funny, but still, not really layered with any depth. Neither is anyone else. Although, I suppose Bonesaw is the lone character with any hint of depth, oddly enough.

My biggest problem with this novel is that the real rub of the story, the story itself, doesn't emerge until the very end. Get this: a group of wayward souls, revolutionists, want to escape purgatory and possess the living bodies of humans in order to have a second life. That would make a cool premise for a story, if only it had been used as the actual story for this novel. But, we don't find out that's the motive of the revolutionists until it's nearly over, so it is mostly just a story about an unremarkable teen girl living in purgatory trying not to jump on the hot new guy in front of everybody. She has no purpose, no goal until the end and it's too late to keep the story engaging.

It's not a bad read, but one that doesn't engage the emotions much because life is too easy for Velvet until the very, very end and it's just too late to cop a care for her, or anybody else, by then. Depending on taste, you may find this a really fun story, so go ahead and try it if it sounds like your cup o' tea.

My score: 3/5 stars.

*I received a copy of this book as an ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

Such Wicked Intent (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, #2)
by Kenneth Oppel

Genre: Dark Fantasy/Gothic/Horror
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Source: hardcover purchase
Age Rating: 14+
Devotion turns deadly in this second Gothic thriller from Kenneth Oppel. When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again—just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother’s betrothed.

If only these things were not so tempting.

When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor’s twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return. 

My Review

This was another epic installment in The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series, arguably better than the first one. I really have no choice but to write spoilers, so don't read the MIDDLE of this review if you have any intention of reading the first book, This Dark Endeavor. The plot is centered around what takes place at the end of the first novel and, trust me, you don't want to ruin it for yourself!There are no significant spoilers for the second book.


Victor has found a way into the spirit world where his twin brother, Konrad, now resides because he died at the end of the first book. (See what I mean? I told you not to read the middle of this review!) Victor vowed to himself that he'd find a way to bring Konrad back because he just can't leave well enough alone. With a special elixir taken orally, he, Elizabeth and Henry all run amok in the spirit world, which is literally in the same location as Chateau Frankenstein. It's so cool how they simply take the elixir, close their eyes, open them again and they're in the spirit world where the spirits of those who once inhabited the chateau still linger until they can be 'gathered.'

Victor's dark library was burned down along with almost all its books, except one, and that surviving book gives him the key to discovering more secret attics and other secret passages. Once inside the spirit world, he finds that everything there is the spirit of what once existed, thus the dark library is fully intact there. He finds more answers to his questions about how to grow a body for Konrad in the world of the living and he sets out to accomplish it.

Of course, nothing Victor ever does goes according to plan and chaos ensues when he, Elizabeth and Henry tread down that path. Along the way, he faces his own inner demons, again, his continuing feelings for Elizabeth, and his new found jealously of Henry for Elizabeth's affections. Despite how much he says he wants Elizabeth for himself, he still has every intention of bringing Konrad, her fiance, back to life. Blood is thicker than water, I suppose.

There is another love triangle and, in fact, there are two! But, they are done exquisitely and shouldn't worry those who hate love triangles in YA fiction. No one strings anybody along just for the sake of it. Jealousies and rivalries arise organically and work just like how they do in real life. It's well done and adds so much good drama to the story and never overtakes the plot. The plot always remains centered around getting Konrad a body to inhabit in the living world again.


(Okay, now you can read this review again.) Does Victor obtain his goal? Well, you'll just have to read the book and find out for yourself. It's so beautifully written and such a well-told story with amazing characters, I can't see anybody not liking this unless you just don't like good storytelling and great drama. It's exhilarating and adventurous, although not adventurous in the same way as the first book, since they never really leave the chateau. But, I think I might have liked this book better because they journey, in a manner of speaking, so much farther away, despite never leaving home. Really cool little paradox there.

This is possibly the last book in the series, meaning it's a duology. Which is fine with me, if that's all the author has to say about the characters and the story. As much as I'd love another book, I'm all for authors writing only what really needs to be written and avoiding filler fluff as best as possible. At any rate, even if this truly is the end of this series, the story most definitely continues in the original classic Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

My score: 5/5 stars. (Total fave!)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sulan Blog Tour: Author Camille Picott Guest Post

Today is Day 2 of Camille Picott's Sulan, Episode 1: The League Book Tour and we have a special guest post by her. Her post is about the evolution of her very intriguing book cover and how the process of creating it developed....

Evolution of a Book Cover

For me, cover creation is the most exciting and most terrifying part of publishing a book. I know from my own shopping habits that readers do judge books by their covers. I spend a lot of time thinking about my book covers and working with Joey Manfre, an amazing illustrator and graphic artist. 

Before Joey begins a cover design, we sit down and discuss concepts. We talk about main characters, setting, target audience, and the overall feel the cover needs to have.

For Sulan, Episode 1: The League, I wanted the cover to target a YA audience with a potential crossover into adult. The story has a strong blend of cyberpunk and fantasy, both of which I wanted to be conveyed in the final piece of art. It was also important for the name SULAN to be prominent. SULAN is the central brand for this book, so it needed to stand out on the cover and catch the eye of readers.

1st Draft:
I really love the strong font Joey chose for SULAN. It really stands out and draws the reader’s eye. For a branding image, it’s hard to miss. I also love the way he worked in the cyberpunk theme with the stylized circuit board in the background. The central image of Riska (the winged tiger) also brings in the fantasy element I wanted to convey.

2nd Draft:
I have to admit, I freaked out just a little when I saw the bright green wing. LOL. But, I also saw what Joey was trying to accomplish. Giving Riska a black wing, which he has in the book, really caused him to disappear into the circuit board background. The green wing helps him visually pop. Once I saw the image of Sulan the character in full cover, I also wasn’t sure she was the right image for the front cover, either. The overall feel was too adolescent with an anime sensibility, which is not the audience I wanted to target.

3rd & Final Draft:

In the end, we decided to move the image of Sulan and Riska to the back cover. For the front, we opted for a simpler, more streamlined image of a blue sea serpent, which maintains the fantasy element that I wanted to include. You can see that Joey tied the serpent to the circuit board theme. If you look at the back cover, you can see he also used the serpent image on the background. Thematically, this really tied the front and back covers together.

Another thing to note is the purple border that surrounds the entire cover. Joey did this for a technical reason. In print-on-demand, there is a certain amount of drift tolerance with every print run; the paper moves on the press as it shoots through. In other words, your graphics will shift. No book cover produced on a POD press will ever be perfectly centered. Joey compensates for this by implementing the border, which helps disguise the tolerance. If the art went all the way to the edge, the shift would be much more obvious.

It is very common for Joey and I to do lots of tweaking as we work toward a final piece of art. (We actually had a lot more drafts, but this guest post would be WAAAAY too long if I included all of them!) We toss ideas back and forth and try different things as we work toward the ideal cover. For us, it’s all part of the creative process, which is very engaging and a lot of fun. It always yields a cover that I love.

Thanks, Cathy, for hosting me at Abnormally Paranormal! 

Author Bio

Camille Picott is a mom, wife and writer. She writes and self-publishes speculative fiction with Asian-inspired settings and Asian main characters. She is the author of the Asian inspired middle grade book series, Chinese Heritage Tales, Raggedy Chan and Nine Tail Fox as well as a short story "Warming Demon" and the first in her latest YA dystopian series, Sulan, Episode 1: The League. Visit her website at

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sulan Blog Tour: Book Review of Sulan by Camille Picott

Hey, everyone! Today is the first day on my stop of the Sulan, Episode 1: The League Virtual Book Tour and I've got a review for you all. Tune back in tomorrow for a guest blog post by the author of Sulan, Camille Picott, as she discusses her process of designing the lovely cover of her new novel.

Sulan, Episode 1: The League
by Camille Picott 

Genre: Dystopia/Cyberpunk
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: June 2012
Source: review copy by author
Age Rating: 14+

Sixteen-year-old Sulan Hom can’t remember life before the Default—the day the United States government declared bankruptcy. As a math prodigy, she leads a protected life, kept safe from the hunger and crime plaguing the streets of America. She attends the corporate-sponsored Virtual High School, an academy in Vex (Virtual Experience) for gifted children.

Beyond the security of Sulan’s high-tech world, the Anti-American League wages a guerrilla war against the United States. Their leader, Imugi, is dedicated to undermining the nation’s reconstruction attempts. He attacks anything considered a national resource, including corporations, food storage facilities—and schools. When Sulan witnesses the public execution of a teenage student and the bombing of a college dorm, she panics.

Her mother, a retired mercenary, refuses to teach her how to defend herself. Sulan takes matters into her own hands. With the help of her hacker best friend, Hank, Sulan acquires Touch—an illegal Vex technology that allows her to share the physical experience of her avatar. With Touch, Sulan defies her mother and trains herself to fight.

When Imugi unleashes a new attack on the United States, Sulan finds herself caught in his net. Will her Vex training be enough to help her survive and escape? 
My Review

Sulan Hom is a math genius who pretends to be a slacker, but gets tricked into being accepted into a prestigious high school for gifted students. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her former mercenary mother at an undetermined date in the future, after the United States had so much debt, it defaulted and systematically plunged the country into mass unemployment and poverty. A group of terrorists called The League are made up of foreigners bombing and killing innocent Americans for their anti-American cause. After Sulan witnesses The League leader, Imugi, kill a college student on live TV, she decides she's going to train to become her own bodyguard.

Despite her mother's former life as a well-honed mercenary, she refuses to train Sulan to become physically capable of taking care of herself in a fight. Sulan sneaks into the online virtual world of Vex, a place where she can enter cyberspace with an avatar. In there, she meets Gun, a big tough guy who decides to train her for suspicious reasons, but she learns to trust him and they become good friends. Even in a virtual environment, she can train her real muscles to fight with the technology available in her era.

I really like this world of Vex and how a lot of the story takes place in this online, virtual world. Sulan would put on a pair of goggles and it was like she was literally entering a world made up of pixels and 3D images and doing all this through an avatar that looked exactly like her real body. She went to school this way and made friends with people who lived hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. She could go to other locations as well, just like surfing the internet, and spend time doing things people do in real life. So cool! Too bad we don't have anything like this now.

Sulan's goal is to not be weak and vulnerable to the threats posed by The League, who are pretty serious killers on the loose. The world in this story became a dystopia not because some lunatic got too much power, but because the world is so unsafe, the only way to protect regular citizens is to patrol them as if they were prisoners in a camp. I like this very different approach to dystopian world building, if anything, because it could happen in reality.

Sulan gets her opportunities to fight physically, but also to use her unique math genius skills to get an edge on The League enemies, and it's cleverly done. Kind of ironic that she tries so hard to be physically capable when being a math genius serves her better in combat situations.

As for characters I liked, I really thought Billy's uncle was hilarious, but it might be too spoilery to name him in this review. He's kind of crazy, but he really livens up every scene he's in. I also think Taro, a mercenary boy her age, is a pretty cool character, as is Riska, the tiger-bat pet that Sulan takes with her everywhere, which also serves as her protector. Sulan, her parents and Taro are the most prominent Asian characters in this story, which is meant to highlight Asian characters that English language YA literature so often does not feature prominently, if at all.

I think this type of YA dystopia is simply not represented anywhere else, so you'll be reading a unique story that doesn't smack of all The Hunger Games-esque books out there. Although, it's overly saturated with info-dumping in the first 50 pages, get beyond that and you'll enjoy the story just fine. It's a little violent, but much less so than The Hunger Games, for example, so it should be fine for its intended audience. It sets up the next volume well and gets you asking questions about Sulan's mysterious friend and trainer, Gun.

My score: 4/5 stars.

*I received a complimentary copy from the author of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)
by Veronica Roth 

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Source: hardcover purchase
Age Rating: 13+

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

"New York Times" bestselling author Veronica Roth's much-anticipated second book of the dystopian "Divergent" series is another intoxicating thrill ride of a story, rich with hallmark twists, heartbreaks, romance, and powerful insights about human nature. 
My Review

Wow, it took me a long time to finish this one since it's so long and I had family visiting for a good chunk of the time I spent reading it. All I can say is that I didn't like this one as much as Divergent. Tris spends so much time bouncing from one thing to the next, one place to another, all without any direction or purpose. She finds out very early on from Marcus, Tobias' father, that he knows why Jeanine attacked the Abnegation faction at the end of the first book, but Tris doesn't get that answer at that time. She doesn't even feel it's all that significant of information to go after until the end of the book.

I just feel like it should have been much shorter and it would have been easier to get through. There are a lot of unnecessary scenes and lengthy descriptions that could have been left out completely. It bogged down the flow of the story and made it soupy to tread through. Shouldn't this story be more action-oriented and adrenaline-pumping? It is for a few short scenes, but that's all in its entire 525 pages.

For some reason, I sometimes find the second book in some trilogies to be “the sagging middle” books, and Insurgent seems like that to me. There is a plot twist at the very end that leaves you wanting to read the third book because it promises to answer the overarching, pink-elephant-in-the-middle-of-the-room question, why are all these people living in factions in Chicago, Illinois and are completely unaware of the outside world? So, I'll likely read Book 3 just to find out, but it better be more focused, more action-oriented and less cluttered with meaningless prose so it's not such a pain to get through.

To authors: Please remember you need to write a real story even in Book 2 of your trilogies. If you can't, then save us the pain and write duologies, instead. 'Kay, thanks.  

My score: 3/5 stars.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Novella Review: Weighted by Ciara Knight

Weighted (The Neumarian Chronicles, #0.5)
by Ciara Knight 

Genre: Science Fiction/Steampunk
Reading Grade: Young Adult (Novella)
Publication Date: August 2012
Source: review copy by author
Age Rating: 13+

The Great War of 2185 is over, but my nightmare has just begun. I am being held captive in the Queen’s ship awaiting interrogation. My only possible ally is the princess, but I’m unsure if she is really my friend or a trap set by the Queen to fool me into sharing the secret of my gift. A gift I keep hidden even from myself. It swirls inside my body begging for release, but it is the one thing the Queen can never discover. Will I have the strength to keep the secret? I’ll know the answer soon. If the stories are true about the interrogators, I’ll either be dead or a traitor to my people by morning. 

My Review

This is a short story prequel to a series of steampunk novels coming out in 2013 called The Neumarian Chronicles. From this story, I can gather some aspects of the world building and that there are two types of people against one another, Slags and Neumarians. I don't know why they fought a war or why they hate each other so much, but what happens to the protagonist, Raeth, happens because of these feuding societies.

Raeth is a Neumarian and seems to be around 12-years-old. She has some sort of ability that she needs to keep hidden from the Slags who captured her in order to find out what it is. The Slags are people with bionic body parts—cyborgs, basically. That is so cool, but they are the bad guys and they are very not cool, not even towards each other. The Queen is execution-happy and everybody smacks everybody's faces all the time. Raeth suffers torture and near death at the hands of the Queen of the Slags who is completely evil and one-dimensional, but successfully strikes fear in you.

Although, a lot of the story is confusing, it still has elements I usually am drawn to: cyborgs, a mad scientist (Raeth gets tortured by a man in a gray coat at the behest of the evil Queen), sci-fi technology and even a fantasy element in Raeth's supernatural ability. It's quite an intense read for all it's worth and really gets your appetite whetted for the future subsequent novels.

My score: 4/5 stars.

*I received a copy of this title from the author in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: The Annihiliation of Foreverland by Tony Bertauski

The Annihilation of Foreverland
by Tony Bertauski 

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: December 31, 2011
Source: Kindle store
Age Rating: 15+

When kids awake on an island, they’re told there was an accident. Before they can go home, they will visit Foreverland, an alternate reality that will heal their minds. Reed dreams of a girl that tells him to resist Foreverland. He doesn’t remember her name, but knows he once loved her. He’ll have to endure great suffering and trust his dream. And trust he’s not insane. Danny Boy, the new arrival, meets Reed’s dream girl inside Foreverland. She’s stuck in the fantasy land that no kid can resist. Where every heart’s desire is satisfied. Why should anyone care how Foreverland works? Together, they discover what it’s really doing to them.

My Review

This is a pretty interesting sci-fi novel with a decidedly different type of dystopian “society” portrayed compared to all myriad The Hunger Games-eqsue novels being published. The story takes place on a remote island closed off from the rest of the world and these boys, ranging from ages 13 to 18, all live there not having a clue as to why. But, they just do what they are told by the people who run the island—a bunch of old dudes about to croak from old age. The boys have virtually no memory of who they are. They get to study without doing homework, or taking tests and they get to play video games as much as they want.

It's practically paradise for boys and young men, minus the presence of any females, except that every couple of weeks or so, they must endure torture for about a day so that they will want to voluntarily plug into a network that will allow them to escape into a virtual reality that takes them away from their physical suffering. I know—that makes no sense, but as you read the story, it starts to make sense. Like a mystery novel, this one unravels piece by piece and answers (almost) all of your questions by the end.

The story mostly follows a 13-year-old computer hacking genius named Danny, or 'Danny Boy' as he is typically called. He has been acquired by his Investor to live on the island for unknown reasons, just as every other boy on the island has been. All of them have their own Investor, an old man with creaking bones who seems to take care of them and looks after them. The boys are told that they are on the island to rewrite their minds, like rewriting a faulty computer program, because the boys' lives had been so awful, they need new mental programming. That's why they go into the needle—the way into the network that leads to the alternate reality they call Foreverland.

Each boy has a hole in his forehead in order to insert the needle, which then causes them to enter Foreverland. Foreverland is like being in a lucid dream. You can do anything and everything you've ever wanted to do. It's super fun and addicting, and the boys all look forward to it, even when not stripped naked and cold water-tortured. But, there's one boy named Reed who simply endures the torture and never takes the needle, no matter how much they torture him. Reed says he dreams of a red-haired girl who tells him not to take the needle—never to take it because they'd never get to be together otherwise. He doesn't remember who she is, but it's enough that he believes he once knew her.

Danny starts going into Foreverland, but because of Reed's abstinence, he starts to get suspicious of everything going on with the program. Why are they all there? Who were they before they came to the island? Why do they need to be tortured just to take a needle and why do they need to go into Foreverland? What really happens to the boys when they graduate? Why do the graduate's Investors suddenly disappear? Danny uses his computer hacking skills to dig deeper into the truth and the truth is shocking! This makes for a pretty great unraveling mystery and I can easily see this as a future film.

Despite how cool this novel is, it isn't perfect. There are too many POVs going on and sometimes they hop around in the middle of paragraphs without any transition. My biggest reading pet-peeve. Also, don't expect too much character development because it's not much of a character driven story. Although, I love the issues and themes this novel addresses—what is the nature of reality? Is reality real, or is our dream life the reality? Men will stop at nothing to satiate their own greed—stuff like that. But, I wanted to see how these issues affected the characters themselves. Getting inside their emotions would have allowed me to empathize with them and really feel their problems for what they were worth.

Still, this is great science fiction and the perfect dystopian novel for anyone who wants to read something different from The Hunger Games-type of dystopia. Since it's self-published, I wasn't surprised to see a lot of missing words, indicating lack of proper editing, but they were words I could fill in on my own. This is the type of YA literature that may leave you contemplating human existence and reality itself. 
My score: 4/5 stars.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Maximum Ride, Vol. 1 by James Patterson

Maximum Ride, Vol. 1 (Maximum Ride: The Manga, #1)
by James Patterson; NaRae Lee (Illustrator) 

Genre: Fantasy/Sequential Art (Manga)
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: January 27, 2009
Source: paperback purchase
Age Rating: 15+

Fourteen-year-old Maximum Ride, better known as Max, knows what it’s like to soar above the world. She and all the members of the “flock”—Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gasman and Angel—are just like ordinary kids—only they have wings and can fly. It may seem like a dream come true to some, but their lives can morph into a living nightmare at any time... like when Angel, the youngest member of the flock, is kidnapped and taken back to the “School” where she and the others were experimented on by a crew of wack jobs.

Her friends brave a journey to blazing hot Death Valley, CA, to save Angel, but soon enough, they find themselves in yet another nightmare—this one involving fighting off the half-human, half-wolf “Erasers” in New York City. Whether in the treetops of Central Park or in the bowels of the Manhattan subway system, Max and her adopted family take the ride of their lives. Along the way Max discovers from her old friend and father-figure Jeb—now her betrayed and greatest enemy—that her purpose is save the world—but can she? 

My Review

Just to start, I've never read the original books this manga is based on. I really wasn't expecting to like it, but I did. The story starts out with 14-year-old Max Ride living with her younger friends as she protects them all from the School they escaped from four years earlier. They are all experiments in genetic engineering, humans who have been given a bit of bird DNA in order to make them flight-capable. One day, they get attacked by a pack of wolf-men called Erasers and they take the youngest in Max's care, 6-year-old Angel. They all vow to get her back and decide to head out to the School in California from their hideout.

I really liked these characters. Max is kind of impulsive and does get herself into what appears to be a silly mess when she saves a helpless girl from some bullies, but she meets the girl's mother who is a sweet lady and even gives her some cookies and cash. Fang might just be the next oldest character at age 13, he being a very intuitive thinker type, quite the opposite of Max. Then, Iggy is 13 and blind, but can somehow fly around with no trouble, then Nudge age 11 or 12 who is way too talkative, but cute, then gassy Gasman is 9, and doll-like Angel is his little sister at age 6. Silly names, but all of them are unique and have distinctive personalities. Also, they each either have individual goals to achieve, or disadvantages to overcome.

The story is straight-forward and simplistic, but it works. It's just like shonen (boys) manga with a female main character, which is rare. I happen to love shonen manga, so I have to say I enjoyed it. It kept me entertained with plenty of action and scenes that revealed the characters' personalities and relationships with each other. Also, we find out a little about how these kids are able to fly. Just having wings alone wouldn't really allow for human flight.

The writing is done through captions and talk bubbles, and it's an effective way to tell a story as it's happening. I will say that the actual dialogue seemed a little unrealistic—too 'Hollywood.' I would have preferred that they talk like normal American teenagers, but it didn't ruin the experience for me. As for the art, the characters all look way older than they ought to and are super, super pretty, but that's the manga art style in play. Everything is quite beautifully illustrated and I have no complaints about it.

I can't compare it to the novels, but it was quite enjoyable and never took itself too seriously. There are a lot of silly moments meant for comedic relief, which is typical of manga. There's even an intriguing plot twist towards the end and it ends on quite the cliffhanger, although it's really an overused trope. Still, it makes me wonder what's going to happen in the next volume. And, just so you know, this manga volume comprises the first half of Volume 1 of the Maximum Ride novel series.

My score: 4/5 stars. 

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