Gated Book Review

Title: Gated

Author: Amy Christine Parker

Genres: Young Adult, Physiological Thriller, Contemporary

Release Date: August 6, 2013

Format: Hardcover

Synopsis: When Lyla was 7 years old, she and her sister Karen were playing outside and Lyla went inside to tell her mother that Karen wasn’t playing fair. When she came back only Karen’s bright red shoes remained. A few weeks later airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11 and the police stopped looking. With no extended family or close friends for comfort, Lyla’s family fell into despair, but then came Pioneer with his visions of the Brethren and the end of the world. He told them that they were among the Chosen and meant to be saved. With Pioneer the world seems bright again and things are finally looking up.The whole family packs their bags and moves to Mandrodage Meadows to prepare for the end.

Now 17, Lyla believes that life in the community is perfect. Pioneer makes everything run smoothly and he is always right. With the end of the world only 3 months away, Lyla can’t afford to allow her faith in Pioneer and the Brethren to falter now, but that was before she met the mysterious outsider who made her question everything.

Review: I have a confession to make: I’ve never read a physiological thriller before, or a book about doomsday cults but as soon as I saw the signed copies on display at my local bookstore I knew I had to have one. I kept seeing this book everywhere, but was hesitant to read it because I thought it was just another dystopian. I could not have been more wrong.

In fact, this book seems almost like a slap in the face to all the YA apocalyptic books out there. I say this because in typical young adult literature the people predicting the end of the world would be the ones with the right idea, but in this book they have the the wrong one. It might even be for the best to come into this book unsure of what to expect, because most of the details I could share are spoilers.

It had a slow beginning, but as the book progresses the pacing and action picks up. Despite this, at no point did I feel that the book was boring and I was hooked from the beginning to the end (but especially at the end). Perhaps my biggest complaint is not with the book itself, but that I made the mistake of reading this book on my first day of school. How could I possibly focus on my classes while I was reading such an awesome book?

The romance was a little rushed and there was a love triangle present, but with the way that Lyla’s isolated cult lived I don’t feel that a slowly developed relationship would have been possible. Romance was also complicated by the presence of “Intendeds” which were basically whoever Pioneer (the cult leader) had arranged for for the teenagers in his cult to be married to.

As the story progresses our protagonist, Lyla, begins to question certain aspects of cult life including whether or not the end of the world is in fact drawing near and chalange Pioneer himself. I found this gradual shift  in her character to be realistic as ideals that someone has held for their whole life don’t change overnight. It should be noted, however, that not much time was spent developing the personalities of side characters so a few of the characters felt a little flat.

As this was a standalone, the ending wrapped just about everything up rather nicely, but there were enough story elements left unexplained that I feel like there is room for a sequel (i.e. What was in Pioneer’s room?). All in all, I enjoyed Ms. Parker’s debut novel and will keep an eye out for her future writing.

Quotes: “I thought that we came here to get away from all of the ugly in this world. This was supposed to be our haven. This was supposed to be better. We were supposed to be better. But this, right here, is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. And there isn’t a shelter insulated enough to protect me from it.”

“None of this will ever make sense. I thought we came here to escape all the ugliness out there, but we can’t, can we? It’s here too. We pretend like it’s all okay–this place, our routines– but it’s built on lies.”

“It comes down to whether or not you’re ready to die today. I’m not. If the world ends, we can’t fight it, but we can fight one man. We can choose to live this day and every day after it that we have left.”

“The weird thing is that it still could. I mean, it won’t, of course, but on any given day anything’s possible. It’s what makes being here–on this planet–scary. We can’t predict what will happen. We can’t control any of it. Good things. Horrible things. We can only deal with it as it comes.”

“If a sky this dark can still be peppered with so much light, maybe this world can be too.”

Rating/Recommendations: This is a great gateway book for those who have not read books about doomsday cults before. However, I have a feeling that it was on the less intense side of the sub-genre so I’m not sure what people who already enjoy this variety of books will think. On the other hand, I also recommend that readers searching for a happy book look elsewhere because this is one of those books that makes readers consider the shadier side of human nature. I give Gated a 4/5 rating for being a unique edition to the Young Adult genre but with some minor issues with pacing, a rushed romance, and side characters that could have used some depth.

4 blue jays

The Darkest Minds Book Review

Title: The Darkest Minds

Author: Alexandra Bracken

Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian

Release Date: December 18, 2012

Synopsis: When the illness that killed most of America’s children struck, Ruby was more concerned with arranging her stuffed animals than the possibility that she might not live to see her tenth birthday. Ruby survived, but at a cost. Like all of the survivors, Ruby developed strange  abilities that could not be explained. Ruby was taken away to one of the “rehabilitation” camps to be “saved” but little did anyone know: Ruby was more dangerous than anyone was led to believe. “The Darkest Minds tend to hide behind the most unlikely faces.”

Six years later, Ruby knows that her life can never be the same no matter what anyone tells her. When Ruby is rescued by a mysterious organization she has to think fast: can she trust these people, or do they plan to use her for their own devices?

Book Trailer: *Note: I did not make this trailer, Hyperion Teens did.*

Review: The Darkest Minds was the type of entertaining, yet somewhat depressing story that will keep readers hooked from beginning to end. At 488 pages this was not a short book, but it was extremely addicting. That was perhaps my favorite aspect of this story, it’s the type of book to get lost in.

The characters were a diverse group with some of the characters utterly lovable and others utterly hateable. As for our main character, Ruby, she was at times appropriately depressed for someone in her situation. On the other hand, I can see how this character trait might come off as annoying to some readers. At other times however, the author deviated from how I might expect someone as uneducated as Ruby to act in the of using cultural references  Ruby likely would not have known to improve the writing. I’d like to point out that it’s difficult to write from the perspective of a character whose day to day experiences or culture is almost entirely the reverse of the writer’s own. All the same, I would have enjoyed an explanation for Ruby’s extensive pop culture knowledge that ten-year-old me most certainly would not have possessed.

As for the three main side characters, Zu, Liam, and Chubs, I enjoyed their characters more than Ruby’s, however, their entrance into the story made me roll my eyes. I’m not going to spoil anything but it just felt like the author had decided the time was right for her side characters to enter and suddenly there they were.

Most of the story line was largely predictable and hard to follow (particularly at the beginning). I hate an info dump as much as the next person but some more explaining was definitely needed as some of the back story and motives of characters simply didn’t make sense to me (ie How does this society expect to sustain itself when having children is illegal? Why was the disease called Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Nerodegeneration when everyone it effected was a child or preteen? Was that a rape scene?). As a matter of fact, until I went back and read the synopsis of the book I was almost completely lost. But, I suppose that might be Ms. Bracken’s way of leaving the story open for book two or keeping readers engaged and constantly questioning story elements.

It should be noted that this book did end with a cliffhanger. Although this ending was largely predictable, it was still a bit heart wrenching. So I recommend that readers who hate cliffhangers wait for the release of book two or three before reading this one. The story was not perfect, but I felt as though it could have appeal  to a relatively diverse reading demographic which is always a plus.

Quotes: “You can destroy a factory, and they’ll build another. But once you destroy a life, that’s it. You never get that person back.”

“The Darkest Minds tend to hide behind the most unlikely faces.”

“We’ll just have to try to make better mistakes tomorrow.”

Rating/Recommendations: I’ve been going back and forth with this one on whether to give it a 3.5 or a 4. In the end I decided to go with 3.5/5 for a highly engaging story line but some elements that fell short of my expectations. I recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read many dystopian novels and is looking for a book that has a similar mood to The Hunger Games but with enough original elements that it doesn’t feel like a copy. 

3.5 blue jays

The Raven Boys Book Review

Title: The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle Book 1)

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Release Date: September 18, 2012 (US)

Format: ebook

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary Fantasy

Synopsis: For anyone else Saint Mark’s Eve would pass by just like any other night, but not if you’re related to a family of seers. Every year Blue would spend April 24 out in a graveyard with her family surrounded by the soon to be dead, but Blue never saw anything. Blue’s no seer and when a non-seer sees a spirit on Saint Mark’s Eve it can mean only two things: he could be her true love, or she could be the one who kills him.

His name is Gansey and he’s a Raven Boy: AKA a rich Aglionby snob, but is it possible that there’s more to Gansey and his friends than meets the eye?  Blue learns that the Raven Boys (Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah)  are on a mysterious quest involving dangerous magic that could quite possibly get them all killed. Blue has always been told that she would kill her true love with a kiss, but she’d never believed it might become an issue . . . until now.

Book Trailer: *Note: I did not make this trailer. Credits are played at the end.*

Review: Unlike Ms. Stiefvater’s writing style in The Wolves of Mercy Falls and The Scorpio RacesThe Raven Boys is told in a third person omniscient point of view. The author did a great job switching between characters and it seemed to add to the plot and develop the many major characters in a way that would not otherwise be possible. However, not all of the characters motives are revealed at the beginning, leaving the reader to wonder what motivates them resulting in a mysterious undertone. I will admit that the pacing at the beginning was a bit slow and that I struggled to remain interested, but the book picked up in the last several chapters. As usual, Ms. Stiefvater’s writing was very descriptive and I could see why some people might find that distracting. I for one found it to be slightly overdone at times but overall enjoyable.

This book felt like a much needed introduction to the strange world of Henrietta, Virginia and the characters who lived there. There was Blue, the daughter of seers who is not a seer herself, Gansey, on a quest to find the mysterious King Glendower and the ley lines for reasons not relieved until late in the book, and his three friends Adam (the scholarship student) , Noah (the reserved one), and Ronan (who hasn’t been the same since his father’s passing).

It has come to my attention that in Ms. Stiefvater’s later books she seems to have developed a gradual trend towards more unusual names. Names like “Sam” and “Grace” in Shiver did seem too common but I think that the author might be trying a little to hard for originality as the names like “Gansey” and “Blue” can take the focus away from the storyline. I also enjoyed that like most of Ms. Stiefvater’s work The Raven Boys remains untainted by the traditional YA love triangle cliche (although I wouldn’t be surprised if a love triangle develops later on in the series). Romance is there, but it remains on the periphery as opposed to the focus.

Perhaps the most confusing part of this book was the ending. It came abruptly and left the story with an incomplete feel. Makes me wonder if Ms. Stiefvater was lagging behind on her deadline for this book . . . or maybe there was simply no good way to wrap the story up. Regardless, I expect great things from the sequel The Dream Thieves.

Quotes: “My words are unerring tools of destruction, and I’ve come unequipped with the ability to disarm them.”

“Adam had once told Gansey, “Rags to riches isn’t a story anyone wants to hear until after it’s done.”

Rating/Recommendations: I recommend this book for fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s previous books or anyone who reads YA and wants to read something mildly creepy and unusual. I give this book 4/5 for originality, but some minor flaws and pacing issues that were easy to overlook.

4 blue jays

 

The Spindlers Book Review

Title: The Spindlers

Author: Lauren Oliver

Release Date: October 2nd 2012

Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary Fantasy

Format: Audio Book

Synopsis: When Liza wakes up one morning to discover that her brother’s soul has been taken by the spider-like spindlers she knows that the only way to save him will be to descend Below. The only problem is that in a land so strange and vast as Below how can Liza possibly hope to rescue her brother’s soul in time?

Review: Before reading The Spindlers the only books I’d read by Lauren Oliver were the Delirium Trilogy. I was nervous about having expectations that might be too high for this book as it was middle grade and I had feared aspects from the author’s YA writing would not transfer, but thankfully Lauren Oliver did not disappoint. Another concern of mine was that the whole concept of “Below” sounded too much like the underland from Suzanne Collin’s The Underland Chronicles. Thankfully, the characters and the overall feel of Below differed enough that the two settings ended up feeling separate and not at all like copies of one another. This book was reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland with the whole concept of a young girl finding her way to a somewhat creepy and complex world she previously knew nothing about.

I enjoyed the whole concept of Below. The world Lauren Oliver crafted with all of the creatures living underground felt extremely complex and well thought out. There were  nids, troglods, scawgs, and of course spindlers. Additionally, there was also a talking, makeup wearing rat named Mirabella who was Liza’s constant companion on her quest for her brother Patrick.The relationship between siblings was portrayed extremely well through Liza and Patrick in Liza’s flashbacks of their interaction. Liza’s determination to save her brother was admirable and brought out her character.

As usual, Lauren Oliver’s prose was beautiful as illustrated by my favorite quotes from this story which I plan to share below. Unfortunatly, I found the overall story line to be predictable, but that’s not an unusual characteristic where the story lines of most middle grade novels are concerned. Overall though, this was a very fun read.

I listened to this in audio book form with my younger brothers who normally hate reading. They both found the story intriguing and to my surprise the youngest of the two (who falls into the recommended age range for this book) was soon asking for the audio book to play more and more. Listening to the book with them was very appropriate considering that this is a book about a girl on a quest to save her younger brother and I think that aspect made me have a greater appreciation for the story as a whole. Experiencing the book this way also supported the notion that this book would be found enjoyable by the intended audience.

Quotes: “Liza made a sudden decision. “I’ll be your friend,” she announced. she had trouble speaking the words but was glad once she had spoken them. She did not really want to be friends with an enormous rat of questionable sanity, but it seemed the right thing to say.”

“That was what her parents did not understand—and had never understood—about stories. Liza told herself stories as though she was weaving and knotting an endless rope. Then, no matter how dark or terrible the pit she found herself in, she could pull herself out, inch by inch and hand over hand, on the long rope of stories.”

Rating/Recommendation: I recommend this book to children between the ages of eight and twelve or anyone who simply cannot get enough of Lauren Oliver’s beautiful writing style. I give this a 4/5 rating for good prose, and creativity, but a predictable story line.

4 blue jays