November 9, 2014

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman (#4 of the UnWind Dystology)

It's hard to believe that it has been six years since I wrote the review for UnWind. When UnWholly came out, I felt that a sequel was unnecessary, but after reading it, I was singing the Shusterman praises. UnSouled was a disappointment. Not because of the writing, but because it was supposed to be the last book of a trilogy and became the third book of a dystology (whatever the heck that is). I was screaming! And now, we have UnDivided, the final book of the series.

UnDivided is one of the best written, best conceived, and most satisfying final book of a series that I have read (including Potter). The way Shusterman weaves the story, manipulating the reader, without ever giving a clue as to where the story is going is masterful. The ending is quite satisfying, but probably not what you'd expect. There are small tidbits from past books woven into the story that remind the reader what the entire journey has been (seven years is a looooong time).
I am not going to go into the storyline, just read the book. All the characters will be back, with a few new ones that are quite sinister. Sit back, and enjoy a truly outstanding ending to a fantastic science fiction series that leaves much to ponder and discuss.
Reed Reads Score: 5

October 10, 2014

Fantasy League by Mike Lupica

Charlie Gaines loves football. He is 12 years old and is already at the top of his game in fantasy league football. He is a football genius, with a depth of knowledge and ability to call plays that is well beyond his years. His talent doesn't go unnoticed. While not a star player in his pop warner team, the Culver City Cardinals, his coach has made him an assistant coach to call difficult plays. Even more fantastic, is his relationship with Anna. She loves football as much as Charlie, and she happens to be the granddaughter of the man who brought NFL football back to Los Angeles, the owner of the L.A. Bulldogs. Recognizing Charlie's talent, Anna encourages him to start a fantasy football podcast. His first podcast snowballs into a relationship with Anna's grandfather Mr. Warren, where Charlie advises him to sign players that he thinks will improve the Bulldog's dismal record. Charlie and Mr. Warren become good friends, but difficulties with the press, Mr. Warren's health, and Anna become unexpected issues.

As with most books centered around sports, the real issues, resolutions, and character growth go deeper than the sport. Charlie has a very supportive mother, but misses having a father around. His relationship with Anna grows to be something more than a football buddy. The relationship that grows between Charlie and Mr. Warren becomes one where each fills a void in their lives. The writing is simple and straightforward, the football segments are detailed and at times exciting, perfect for the target audience; middle school boys. While somewhat predictable, and a rather contrived plot (Charlie just happens to have a friend whose millionaire grandfather owns a sports franchise), it was an enjoyable read.
Reed Reads Score: 3

September 5, 2014

The Whisper by Aaron Starmer (The Riverman Trilogy #2)

The tragic ending of The Riverman, the first book in The Riverman Trilogy, finds Alistair Cleary reeling from the events. Alistair needs to find Fiona Loomis whom he believes is lost in her "made up" world of Aquavania. Bursting into her basement and touching the suspended column of water, he is transported to an incredible world, where his search for Fiona takes him from  one fantastic adventure to the next. There's are lessons here, some forcing Alistair to look at his own life, and confront mistakes he has made. The repetitive story of Una, and the guilt she feels for lying about her brother's accidental death might be a reflection of Alistair's pain. Is this a dream? Is this a coping mechanism for Alistair? Is this simply a true fantasy? Sorry, but none of those questions will be answered here.

The Whisper is an incredible ride. The writing is typical Starmer; lyrical and poetic. The story is unusual, like nothing else. Alistair's adventures will remind you of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Only, these are even more fantastic. The environments and characters from the tribal bush to underground caves and astronauts to the Riverman (who calls himself the Whisper), challenge Alistair and force him to think and evaluate himself in his search for Fiona. The issues that Alistair is dealing with are dark and adult. The many references to trust and good vs. evil, are a reflection of the torment Alistair is dealing with.  The ending is a powerful lead-in to the next book. My problem is, is how long must I wait? This review is from an ARC, and the Whisper is not being released until March 2015. I have a year and a half to ponder and anticipate...
Reed Reads Score: 4.5

July 25, 2014

For What it's Worth by Janet Tashjian

Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles (part of Reed's community) was a music hot bed in the 60's and 70's from Carole King, Frank Zappa, James Taylor, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Joni Mitchell, to the Mama's and the Papa's, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the Doors. Add to this the changing social mores, and the Vietnam War, and you have a novel centering around Quinn, a middle schooler who, growing up in Laurel Canyon, is addicted to knowing everything about the music of the period.

Quinn writes a column about music in his school newspaper, and has recently formed a band. He meets Caroline who is new to L.A. and is fascinated by the culture and lifestyle. Playing on his Ouija board, he starts getting cryptic messages from the 27 Club...musicians such as Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison that died too early at the age of 27... which Caroline suggests they turn into a money making venture. Add to this, a draft dodger friend of his sister whom he is secretly assisting, his first relationship with a girl, and the deteriorating marriage of his parents, and you have a story that tries to do too much.

Despite the weak story, I enjoyed the book. Growing up in this era, the book brought me back to my teen age years. The book is filled with music trivia, each chapter beginning and ending with a list, such as best album covers, or facts that quite honestly had me going to iTunes or putting on an old album to listen to music I haven't heard in years. My question was, how would young readers relate to this, with no real knowledge or experience in the time period? To my surprise, those that read it enjoyed it, but not for the story... they too had their headphones on, searching and listening to the music!
Reed Reads Score: 3.5

June 6, 2014

The One and Only Ivan by Catherine Applegate

Ivan sits in his glassed cage at the Big Top Mall where most of the day he watches TV or creates works of art which customers can purchase in the mall store. A silver back gorilla who was ripped from his home in Africa with his twin sister by poachers, Ivan remembers little of his past. He is intrigued by a little girl, Julia, who draws and does homework while waiting for her custodian father at the mall. He is close to Stella, an old elephant, who after years of abuse, passes away.

A young gorilla, Ruby, is brought in to replace Stella. Ruby is unhappy, longing for the freedom of the wild. Ivan makes a promise to Ruby; to get her her freedom...

I need to be up front here. I don't like animal novels that are told from the POV of the animal. For me, it seems very contrived to hear the thoughts of an animal in the first person. I felt the same way with Michael Morpugo's War Horse. Not that they are both well written, well received books, they are just not my cup of tea. If you enjoy a warmly told tale with a lot of heart, then The One and Only Ivan is a read you might want to pick up. For me, classic stories about animals, such as Wilson's Where the Red Fern Grows, grab my heart and soul. I scored Ivan a bit higher because of my own personal bias.
Reed Reads Score: 3 

May 23, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

The Sinclair family is rich and privileged. Harris Sinclair made his fortune with his wife Tipper. They had three daughters whom they loved dearly. On Beechwood, a private island, Harris has built each one of his daughters a home. The Sinclair family meets at Beechwood every summer...

The Liars; Cadence, the eldest grandchild and heiress to the Sinclair fortune, her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and Johnny's friend, Gat, met every summer on Beechwood...until Cadence's accident. An accident so horrific that she has no memory of it, and her family won't speak of it. She has terrible headaches and fits of depression. Her mother is overly protective of her. She has missed her sixteenth summer on the island, and misses the Liars. She can't understand why they haven't written or called. Her mother relents, and allows Cadence to go back to Beechwood for her seventeenth summer. Cadence hopes that she will rekindle her relationship with the Liars and help her remember what happened that fifteenth summer.

"Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE." (from the publisher) is an apropos quote here. Lockhart has built a suspense tale that is well written and unfolds slowly. But have patience. The ending is well worth it. For mature readers.

Reed Reads Score: 4

April 30, 2014

Half Bad by Sally Green

Nathan is the son of a white (good) witch, and a black (evil) witch making him a half-blood. Nathan is caged, hand-cuffed, and beaten. He is watched over and contained because he is feared.

Nathan is 16, he needs to receive 3 gifts from a blood relative so he can realize his powers as a witch. If the gifts are not received by his 17th birthday, he will die. His mother, a white witch has died. His father, Marcus, is the most feared, evil black witch. Raised by his grandmother with his siblings, each from a different father, Nathan has been scorned and despised. His close relationship with Gran, his younger brother, Arran, and the girl he fancies, Annalise, has kept him going. White witches fear Nathan because of his father, and the possibility that he is a black witch. He is taken from his home, caged, and closely monitored so that he cannot receive his 3 gifts, especially from his father. Nathan escapes and begins the search for his father, from whom he wishes to get his 3 gifts.

Sally Green creates a world where witches live alongside "fains" or mortals, places it in modern Great Britain, and gives us a fantasy world that makes it easy to suspend your disbelief to immerse yourself in a tale that is both a coming of age story and a look at racism in today's society. A pretty good read, but is the typical YA first book of a trilogy. Yawn. I have to wait two more years to finish this one.

Reed Reads Score: 3.5

April 24, 2014

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The first wave...the world is being infiltrated by an alien life form in a most heinous entering the fetus of an unborn child. The opening chapter provides the background for the eventual removal of the human race. The story begins in Dayton Ohio, where the fourth wave of the alien take over is a massive viral epidemic that has killed most people. The Sullivan's have lost their mother to the virus, but some how Cassie, her 5 year old brother Sammy, and their father have survived. With most of their town decimated, the Sullivan's decide it is time to move on. Distrust is rampant, and the family must learn to protect itself. They find some protection in a small group of remaining survivors, but the group is visited by what they think is the US military, and are coerced to release all the young children, including Sammy. The remaining group is then decimated but Cassie escapes and is now alone. She can now trust no one, must protect herself, and rescue her little brother. The story unfolds as told from several perspectives; primarily from Cassie, Ben Parish, Cassie's high school crush, and Evan Walker, an alien, who's relationship with Cassie is questionable and filled with mistrust.

If you have read my other reviews, you know that I'm a fan of dystopian novels - but not this one. The writing is just okay, but I couldn't help but constantly feel that I was being manipulated by something extremely commercial, attempting to be the next Hunger Games. Rather than writing a story that the author needed to tell, this seems more a case of creating a story that will pull together elements that will sell books, become a movie, and make the author tons of money. Many of you will enjoy this, but I have to give this one a score of two for being so commercial and manipulative.
Reed Reads Score: 2

April 13, 2014

Counting by 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan

An affinity for plants, the ability to diagnose any disease or illness, and an obsessive compulsive love of the number 7, constitutes most of Willow's day. Willow is not your average 12 year old. She has no friends, no social life. About to start middle school, Willow's parents decide to send her to a new school for a fresh start. When she gets a perfect score on a standardized test, she is accused of cheating and is sent to Dell, a district therapist. While Dell recognizes Willow's genius, he is unprofessional and inept, which Willow sees right through. At her therapy sessions she meets Young Quo, a troubled teen who must be accompanied by his younger sister, Hallie, to be sure he makes it to his sessions with Dell. Willow strikes a friendship with Hallie which makes her feel special as Hallie is a high school student. When Dell decides to take them for ice cream, and a ride home, the police are at Willow's house. Willow's parents have been killed in a tragic automobile accident. Young and Hallie immidately contact their mother to convince her to temporarily take in Willow so she can avoid foster care. The heartwarming story that follows tells of Willow's coping with loss and grief, dealing with her difficulty of letting people in, and of how the people around her find hope and direction from the intuition, and honesty that is all Willow.

This is one of those reads that stays with you long after the last word. If you are a teacher, or work with children, you know Willow. Gifted, autistic savant, whatever label the institution puts upon them, these kids are often ignored, and brushed aside by their peers as being "weird." In reality, they are complex people, who if you take the time to make a connection with them, can make a difference for both of you.

Reed Reads Score: 4.5

March 21, 2014

Cress by Marissa Meyer

First Cinderella (Cinder), then Little Red Riding Hood (Scarlet), and now enters Rupunzel as Cress in the third entry of the sci-fi thriller series, The Lunar Chronicles. In this third entry, Cress is a love struck, powerless lunar (called a shell), who has been banished to a satellite orbiting high above earth to spy for the evil Queen Levana. Her computer hacking skills have allowed her in on every aspect of human culture especially the Cinder, Prince Kai, and Queen Levana scandal that has her head-over-heels for the handsome Captain Thorne, who helped Cinder escape from prison. When Cress has the opportunity to leave the isolation of the satellite, to join forces with Cinder, Thorne, Scarlet, and Wolf, she sets in motion a series of events that will create havoc in Cinder's quest as rightful heir to the lunar throne. Battles, romance and unexpected plot twists will have you turning the pages quickly.

What I enjoy most about this series is how well each book is crafted and what it brings to the development of the plot. In the typical series, the first book is excellent, but those that follow fill in, with the last book often bringing an unsatisfying conclusion. Meyer, in her Lunar Chronicles, has made each book unique in the way it carries the story, and is excellent on its own. This is outstanding science fiction, and has appeal for all genders and ages. There are plenty of hints of what lies ahead in the fourth and final book, Winter (Snow White) in 2015!

Reed Reads Score: 4.5

February 22, 2014

Every Day by David Levithan

'A' has learned to live with life the way it is. Waking up every day in a different teenager's body. Sometimes a guy, sometimes a girl. Sometimes a narcissistic jock, sometimes a soul in such pain, they are close to suicide. 'A' has created rules, so that whatever happens while visiting, nothing will influence or drastically change the host's life. We start on day number 5,994 when 'A' is now Justin, a jock who is abusive to his girlfriend Rhiannon. 'A' decides to make this day different, taking Rhiannon on a romantic picnic where 'A' falls in love with her. How can 'A' maintain a relationship with Rhiannon if 'A' is a different person everyday? How can 'A' maintain the set of rules created to prevent problems? How could this possibly resolve itself?

David Levithan has taken an original premise and with thoughtful, finely crafted writing created a story that goes well beyond the romance. With 'A' being neither male or female, gay or straight, black or white, the character provides an unbiased platform to discover life as we all live it. Levithan has created a variety of characters that are real, varied, and sensitively drawn. Each becomes a short story tied together by the love of Rhiannon. Some are light hearted and some will tug at your heart. Some are short and simple, some more detailed. But, all will provide a lesson, or at least provide insight into how different people live their lives. This read is for more mature readers as the illuminating writing would be lost on those not ready and there are some mild sexual references.
Reed Reads Score: 5

January 27, 2014

Champion by Marie Lu

Book three of the Legend Trilogy. this review of Champion has some spoilers, so if you haven't read book two, Prodigy, stop reading now!
After the failure of the assassination plot to kill the new Elector, Anden, Day is now even more beloved by the republic and provided a high level military assignment. June has integrated back into the politics of the nation, by serving as  a nominee for the Princeps position. On the brink of a peace treaty with the Colonies, negotiations fall apart when the Colonies claim that the Republic has intentionally infected them with a plague. The Colonies have joined forces with Africa, and are breathing down the neck of the Republic, demanding a cure or face attack. The Republic needs to use Day's brother, Eden, to find a cure, but Day will not allow it. Anden brings a team to the technology rich Antarctica to appeal for their help in resisting a combined attack from the Colonies and Africa. Intertwined is the relationship between Day, June, and Anden. While the ending is satisfying with some surprises, for me, this was the least satisfying book of the trilogy. The writing at some points became trite for me. The voice given to Day became less believable for me. The narrative that internalizes June's love for Day, and Day's for June was a distraction. I enjoyed the sections that were science-fiction in nature, especially the sections taking place in the technologically superior Antarctica.
Reed Reads Score: 3

January 4, 2014

Best Books 2013

Well, I just read last year's "Best Books" and with disdain, did not meet my resolution of reading more. In fact, I read less. Where does the time go? Having read less, my list is shorter. Again, science fiction/dystopian dominate but there are two standouts one realistic, and the other so unique, it can't be categorized. I have fun with this end of the year exercise, and I'm sure you have your own opinion, which is what this is about; exchanging our thoughts, ideas and spreading the word about what we love!

Posted March 2, 2013
The second book in Marie Lu's Legend Trilogy doesn't disappoint. Plenty of action, some romance, plot twists and some surprising social commentary make this an unusually good middle book of a trilogy.

Posted April 18, 2013
The interweaving of fairy tales with science fiction is unique, but Marissa Meyer handles it deftly in her Lunar Chronicles series. Scarlet, Little Red Riding Hood reincarnated, is a head strong, saucy character that I loved reading. 

Posted June 8, 2013
The best realistic fiction tackles a problem in a way that makes it real, but not preachy. Wonder takes the issue of disfigurement, and how people treat and deal with the issue from many different levels. It will tug at your heart, but will not manipulate you. 

Posted August 3, 2013
While yet another dystopian novel, this one has a strong female protagonist, yet no romance. This one is purely about survival and will leave you wondering where it is going and could this happen?

Posted November 17, 2013
For years House of the Scorpion has been one of my go-to science fiction novels, with rarely a student disappointed. There must have been pressure for a sequel, and so we have Lord of the Opium. Even with many years between books, this picks up Matteo's story flawlessly and tells his story as only a master storyteller can.

Posted December 31, 2013
Saving the best for last, but unfortunately you can't read this until March 2014, when it is officially released. This story will slowly pull you in, and then with beautiful writing, takes you to places you never expect to go.

January 2, 2014

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman

A brother and sister are left at home under the care of their father, as mum attends a conference. Dads are often portrayed as bumbling idiots that haven't a clue as to how to care for their children, and one might think that this is another blatant example of that, until you get to the end. A father leaves the kids alone, so he can fetch some milk for their morning cereal. As he is returning home with milk in hand, he is abducted by an alien spaceship. This leads him to a series of encounters and adventures,  as he attempts to get home with the milk.  A light, quick read, that for me was a bit ho hum. Bring this home to read aloud to your younger brothers and sisters...add a little drama to it, and they will really get a kick out of it! The illustrations by Skottie Young are fun pen and ink drawings that are integral to making the story a humorous romp.
Reed Reads Reviews: 3