12/29/2009

Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers of Skin Hunger, the first book in this series. If you have not read Skin Hunger, dash off to your local library as fast as you can and read it! Then you may read this review, and subsequently Sacred Scars, at your leisure.

When we left Sadima at the end of Skin Hunger, she, Franklin, and Somiss were in a cave with several orphan boys, kidnapped from Limori. Sadima is miserable living in the cave. She feels the fear and loneliness of the trapped boys, whom Somiss forces to learn how to copy the Gypsy symbols. Somiss is even more reclusive- and yet somehow even more frightening- than before. Worst of all, Franklin is gone all night, stealing food, and asleep all day, so Sadima has almost no time with him. As more and more time passes, she realizes that maybe he doesn’t even love her anymore. And slowly, she realizes something she knew all along. She cannot stay in this cave. She must escape.

Hahp, at the end of Skin Hunger, had made a pact with his roommate Gerrard to destroy the academy at all costs. They both realized the danger of their agreement, and as their fragile almost-friendship teeters on the verge of breaking, it seems to Hahp that Gerrard isn’t keeping his end of the deal. But that is far from being the boys’ only problem. As their lessons become more and more difficult, life becomes more painful. The wizards are acting even more strangely. Hahp’s sleep is haunted by dreams that blur the lines between fantasy and reality. Worst of all, the safety of all the boys is threatened by the violent, unpredictable, and dying Luke. As the pact between Gerrard and Hahp expands to include the rest of the boys, they are forced to make the most difficult choices of their lives. And as the connection between the story’s two plots becomes more apparent, the eternal question still nags at the reader: where is Sadima?

This book most definitely lived up to the precedent set for it by Skin Hunger. Although Sadima’s story lagged somewhat in the beginning of the book and at certain points throughout, most of that plotline, and all of Hahp’s, moved at a fairly brisk pace. There were numerous plot twists and unexpected events sprinkled throughout to keep the story moving.

Hahp’s story was definitely the more engaging of the two plots. There was so much story material there, weaving a rich, detailed plot, and as always, Hahp is a realistic and dynamic character. But this should not be taken to mean that Sadima’s story was not also compelling; on the contrary, since the action progressed somewhat more slowly for most of the book, it provided a nice complement to the tension of Hahp’s story, building up to the dramatic climax and cliffhanger ending in both cases.

Overall, Sacred Scars is a fabulous second installment in the Resurrection of Magic trilogy; I’m anxious for the conclusion. Four and a half magical daggers.






Yours in suspense,
Tay

12/03/2009

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

It is the peak of immigration in New York City, at the dawn of the twentieth century. Shouts in dozens of languages whoop through the air and smells from every dish imaginable waft through the streets of the Lower East Side. Tenements, rickety but home, climb the sky, fire escapes snaking down. The streets are crowded with pushcarts and calls. Thus is the setting for The Uprising, by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Bella is a young immigrant girl, fresh from Italy and weighted with the daunting task of providing for her family overseas. She is lucky to find a job, though the hours spent hunched over a sewing machine in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory are not quite what she expected.

Yetta has worked at Triangle for months. She lives with her equally rebellious elder sister, and, like Bella, sends most of her earnings home to her family in Russia. She is lively with life and pulsing with her want to change the world, to mean something, to matter. She wants women’s rights and safer conditions at work, shorter hours and higher wages. She is determined and fiery, willing to stand for months in the blistering heat and shivering cold, holding a picket sign and striking for union recognition in factories. Yetta is spirited and intense, gladly giving every bit of herself to her cause.

Jane, lastly, is a society girl with an intellectual spark. She is curious and compassionate, spending time with strikers and at rallies for no gain of her own, and finds herself swept up into this passionate world of striking and working and wanting and hoping. There is more to feel, she finds, outside of her ignorant, sheltered life. And these ardent factory girls so desperate for their cause accept her and love her—she finds a place with them that she cannot find at home.

Uprising is the story of these three girls. It is inspiring and adrenalizing (if that was not previously a word, I now deem it one), making me want to jump up and devote myself to a cause with all of my everything. On the other hand, the book does such a good job of enticing the readers into the world it creates, that it runs the risk of romanticizing poverty to some extent.

However, all in all, I love the way the book was crafted. The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory looms ahead for the entire novel. Right from the first chapter, we learn that two of the three best friends will die in the fire, though we do not know which ones they will be. This sets up an interesting dynamic--as I would read and get to know each character better, I would start to root for her to survive, before realizing, dismayed, that the other two would have to perish. It gave the book momentum and a reason for me to keep reading at the few moments the plot lagged.

Furthermore, the author was very skilled at weaving fiction and fact together, creating a story that haunts and perplexes, makes you think about the world and what you can do to change it, but also makes you care deeply for the three main characters. She succeeded in bringing life to a tragedy that occurred almost a hundred years ago. In making us care not only for the girls who died, but for the factory owners and the workers who survived as well. In painting a horrifying picture of flame and sky and the impossible choice—to jump or to burn? In making readers understand that if we want change to we have to fight for it, as the shirtwaist girls did in their months-long strike. The author wrote the story to make us understand what it was like to be a factory girl in 1911, with holes in her boots and tears in her dress and the incredible desire to change the world. The author wrote the story to give insight into life a century ago, to teach us to fight and question, and to warn us of the modern-day tragedies, today’s equivalents of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, that are waiting to happen unless we decide to fight for change.

Four and a half evil daggers.



Fervently yours,
Briar

12/01/2009

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

On her way home from school, Sophie Amundsen finds two notes in her mailbox. On each note is written a simple, yet infinitely profound question. "Who are you?" and "Where does the world come from?" These questions are the humble beginnings of Sophie's very own basic course in Philosophy being taught by a mysterious nameless philosopher. As Sophie progresses through the History of Western Philosophy, strange things begin to happen. Sophie gets letters intended for Hilde, a girl with the same birthday as Sophie. To unravel the mystery behind the letters, and the other strange events which occur, Sophie must use philosophy. However, the inevitable truth is unfathomable until it is finally revealed.

Sophie's World is a thrill ride. There is no other way to fully describe Sophie's World in such simple terms. Right from the beginning, the reader begins to ask themselves the same questions being faced by Sophie. Who are you? and Where does the world come from? are just the beginning. Sophie's anonymous teacher takes her from the Pre-Socratic natural philosophers, through the famous Greek trio of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, up to Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Hegel, Kant, Marx, even Darwin and Freud. These are just to name a few. The wealth of knowledge in this book makes Bill Gates look poor.

The most remarkable thing about this book? It pulls you in. It fascinates you. It makes you hunger and thirst for more. You cannot put it down. Ever heard of food for thought? Well this is a feast, only not just a feast. It induces a kind of intellectual high too. It's like flying. The mind is opened up to such a multitude of things. You're left feeling weightless, capable of anything. You feel all this, right from the beginning. Right from chapter one until you close the book, the intensity rises, the fascination grows. About two-thirds into the book, the most dramatic twist I have ever seen in any piece of literature occurs. From then until the end, the puzzle pieces begin to fit together into a big picture. It is impossible to summarize the twist, or its effect on the already mounting tension. Simply put, it is mind-blowing, earth-shattering, and totally wicked!

I give Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder 5 out of 5 daggers.






It is quite possibly the best book I've ever read.

Yours in wonder and awe,
Gabriel Gethin


P.S. I apologize in advance for sounding like a screaming schoolgirl in the front row of a Jonas Brothers concert for the majority of my review. The fact of the matter is, this book is just fantastic. I loved it. Therefore, it is impossible to separate emotion from my own personal reading experience.

11/06/2009

Double Helix by Nancy Werlin


Eli Samuels, high school senior, soon to be high school graduate, is looking for a job. On a drunken impulse, he writes an embarrassing email to Dr. Quincy Wyatt, the most famous geneticist in the world, asking for a job at Wyatt Transgenics, Dr. Wyatt’s company. Eli regrets the email as soon as he sends it. He does not expect that he will actually get the job- after all, he hasn’t even graduated yet, and he’s planning to take a year off before going to college.

Incredibly, Dr. Wyatt gives Eli the job. For a while, it seems too good to be true. Though it’s only an entry-level, lab-assistant job, the work is exciting and the pay is fantastic. Best of all, Eli begins to get to know Dr. Wyatt, a genius scientist, and learns about Dr. Wyatt’s current and future projects. He divides his time between his job, his girlfriend, and spending time with Dr. Wyatt.

But Eli’s dad urges Eli to quit the job, and he won’t say why. He is simply adamant that Eli should not be working for Wyatt Transgenics. Eli knows that his parents used to know Dr. Wyatt, and he suspects that his father’s opposition to his new job has something to do with his mother’s Huntington’s disease, which has left her a ghost of her former self, living in a nursing home. But why exactly, he doesn’t know. And Eli has some secrets of his own- he’s never told anyone, not even his longtime girlfriend, about his mother’s condition, or that he has a fifty-fifty chance of developing the disease himself.

The longer Eli works at Wyatt Transgenics, the more certain he becomes that something is wrong, and the less certain he becomes of everything else.

This book was a fun, quick read. The premise was original and highly intriguing, and there were sufficient unexpected plot twists to keep me interested. Since I am a huge science geek, I was very interested in the work on genetics being done at Wyatt Transgenics, and the idea that someday, direct and deliberate genetic manipulation might be possible. This book made me think about the ethical ramifications of such manipulations, and of the study of genetics in general.

Initially, I was a bit confused about whether this book was a sci-fi or a mystery, but the mystery aspect soon asserted itself. The mystery was okay. It was an extremely interesting concept, and all the essential elements were there, but I was annoyed by the fact that it seemed to progress in two stages. First there was very limited information, and the mystery was more of a hanging uncertainty than an actual mystery. Then suddenly, there was a sharply defined question with lots of evidence, and the outcome was disappointingly predictable. I felt that some of the plot elements could have been spaced out better throughout the book. Also, at times I wanted to scream at the main character for being an idiot and/or a total jerk.

Overall, I give this book three and a half daggers, for thought-provoking elements, an interesting plot, and science.





Genetically yours,
Tay

10/19/2009

The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld


Millennia in the future, light-years away, the Risen Empire spans eighty planets. To the people of the empire, the Risen Emperor, inventor of immortality, and his eternally young sister, the Child Empress, are more than rulers- they are gods. They have ruled for sixteen hundred years, and the empire seems as immortal as they are.

But the empire is not alone in the galaxy. The Rix are a civilization of cyborgs, and their domain lies just outside the Risen Empire. The Rix have no leader and no culture. They are a Spartan civilization with only one goal- to propagate an artificially intelligent “compound mind” across the digital network of every populated planet. They worship these minds just as Imperial citizens worship their emperor. Because of this, the Empire and the Rix are constantly on the edge of war. As the novel opens, the Rix have succeeded in capturing the Child Empress, and in planting a compound mind on the planet Legis XV, the location of the Imperial palace.

Captain Laurent Zai is in command of the most powerful starship in the Empire- the Lynx. He has been assigned the task of rescuing the Empress, and the penalty for failure is death by ritual suicide. Light-years away, a senator named Nara Oxham is also becoming entangled with the Rix conflict. Together and apart, destinies closely intertwined, they must both find a way to succeed, or perish in the rising tide of war.

What can I say? It’s by Scott Westerfeld; therefore, it’s amazing. The plot was truly original, which is hard to find in sci-fi these days, and the major cliffhanger at the end left me craving the sequel. Though I don’t think The Risen Empire is actually YA, it reads like one, with cool plot twists and exciting action. The book also makes use of flashbacks and multiple points of view- both common narrative devices, but this time, they’re actually done well. All the events in the book- military, political, dramatic, and romantic- are well executed and convincing.

The real genius of this book, though, was in the details. Scott Westerfeld has managed to convey a vast world with minute precision. Everything, from microspaceships to smartalloy bullets to induced synesthesia to the four types of gravity, is described with a ridiculous amount of detail. While reading this book, I didn’t just feel like I was there. I felt like I knew absolutely everything there was to know about the Rix, the Empire, everything. I was a military officer, a scientific expert, a master pilot, a Rixwoman, and a politician. The world that Scott-la has created is so real, down to the last nanometer.

Strangely enough, this book’s biggest strength is also its biggest downside. Plotwise, it tended to forgo explanation in favor of action, and several times, I found myself rereading the same passage three or four times, trying to figure out what in heaven’s name it was talking about. Most of the cool made-up technical and political jargon is just thrown in there, and explanation comes much later, if at all. I have to admit, the book was more than a little hard to follow. And be warned- it’ll be even harder to follow without a little knowledge of physics, relativity and quantum mechanics.

Still, though, once I figured out what was going on, I enjoyed The Risen Empire enormously. This book has it all- futuristic technology, political intrigue, romance, secrets, lies, cyborgs, undead cats, and obscure, geeky allusions, all woven together in a captivating story. I loved Laurent Zai, Nara Oxham, Rana Harter, H_rd, Alexander, and yes, even the Emperor. I loved it all. I can’t wait for the sequel. Four and a half sixteen-molecule-wide monofilament daggers.

Yours,
Tay



10/04/2009

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

How to Say Goodbye in Robot, by Natalie Standiford, is the story of Beatrice Szabo and her very unique friendship with Jonah “Ghost Boy” Tate. Bea’s family moves all the time, so when Beatrice is told that they are moving to Baltimore for her senior year, she readies herself for yet another year of gossip and parties and shallow friends. Instead, she meets Jonah, nicknamed “Ghost Boy” by his taunting peers, and the two of them embark on a relationship that cannot appropriately be pinpointed by words such as “friend” or “boyfriend.” To Bea and Jonah, their togetherness is much more than that. It is sharing a love for a late night radio show, talking over beer and music in their favorite downtown hang out, and planning secret visits to Jonah’s sort-of-dead twin brother.

Quite honestly, I didn’t feel it. I liked the idea of a friendship above words and gossip and shallowness, but I felt that the author didn’t develop the characters or the relationship enough so that when the friends had a falling out, I didn’t care at all, really. When Bea’s parents had problems, I didn’t feel for them or for her. Overall, I got the impression of a sort of bleak world filled with chickens, greasy hair, and beer, and it was not a world in which I particularly wanted to stay. Not in a good way, either—some books paint a bleak world intentionally and the darkness can be powerful, but in How to Say Goodbye in Robot this was not the case. There were certainly a few touching moments, and the themes of loss and death and how thinking about them is not necessarily a bad thing were very nice, but I didn’t feel any sort of real connection with the characters.

I liked the never-quite-shot-down ideas of inhabitants from the future living in our time thread, and I found the radio show, The Night Lights, very sweet and quirky. I liked the idea that one could have a whole sort of radio community of friends, and that there can be friendship based on more than just gossip and the troubles of this world. Unfortunately, the author didn’t quite portray the sweet world of their friendship, so there was no basis to build off of.

If you care to do your homework and go all the way back to my Toad Hill days, you'll know what this means: How to Say Goodbye in Robot was a bit less than crinterprood.

And that's that.

Briar.

9/24/2009

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman is the tale of a world with a clear class distinction, an alternate universe in which racial and social roles are completely reversed. The world is run by the dark-skinned Crosses and served by the white Noughts—hatefully called daggers and blankers, respectively.

The story is that of Sephy Hadley and Callum McGregor , whose love and friendship struggle against the wide gap between their social standings. Sephy, a Cross, is the daughter of one of the most powerful politicians in the country, while Callum is a low-class “blanker,” and would never have met Persephone had his mother not been working for hers. Still, Sephy and Callum build their friendship in secret hours on a strip of beach and midnight meetings in a rose garden. To them, it doesn’t matter that she is a Cross and he is a Nought; they are both simply people. But when Callum is accepted as one of the first Noughts into Sephy’s all-Cross school, everything changes. And as Callum’s family gets more wrapped up in the violent civil rights terrorist organization known as the Liberation Militia, the stakes get even higher. The story whirls into a fast-paced tale of love and trust and hatred and hurting, race and rights and human nature, all tying into the breathtaking climax; a ending no one could have predicted.

Noughts and Crosses is possibly one of the best books I have ever read.

It could easily have been a simplistic story about how racism is bad and all are equal (which is perfectly good and true, but makes for a rather predictable novel), but Noughts and Crosses delves into the deeper, rawer side of that. Rather than simply black-white racism itself, the story examines human nature and the foundation of prejudice. I think the most important thing was the reversal of who had the power. With the dark-skinned people in charge rather than the light-skinned, real-life politics and pre-formed notions are stripped away, and we are left with simply a picture of prejudice.

What was interesting was how false notions about African Americans that have mostly died out the idea that they smell bad, are less clean, and so on, translated to the blacks’ perception of whites. And it fit perfectly! In this scenario, the whites were portrayed as the dirty second class, and all of the terrible racial stereotypes people held and still hold about blacks are given to the whites in this book. One can see that they have nothing to do with a particular skin color, merely the fact that the color is different and perceived as inferior.

The book studies these ideas far more naturally and subtly than I do, giving them a pronounced presence in the story without ever having to state them bluntly as I have just done. Truly, this book is excellent. It does delve into really interesting questions and ideas, but it also paints a picture of friendship and love startlingly well.

Noughts and Crosses is the first in a trilogy, and I give it five out of five daggers. And no, I don’t mean the fictional slur for the Cross class.

Thinking and mind-blown,

Briar

9/01/2009

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was the wildly popular dystopia novel released last year. Catching Fire, the eagerly awaited sequel, was equally as riveting—full of extraordinary twists and turns as well as further fleshing of conflicts introduced in its predecessor.

For those unfamiliar with The Hunger Games, the story centers around Katniss Everdeen, who takes her young sister’s place in the The Hunger Games. The Games consist of twenty-four “tributes,” or teenage citizens, who are put in an arena and forced to kill each other off in the hopes of being the last one standing. The book finishes with the end of the Games, and Catching Fire picks up a few weeks after it is all over.

I received this book in early summer as an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) from Scholastic, and positively gobbled it up. The second installment is just as fast-paced and riveting as the first, with even more surprise twists and deeper exploration of the legend of District 13. Katniss grapples with more ethical issues and discovers that whatever she started with the berries in the arena is far from over. A rebellion is stirring, and Katniss finds herself, willing or not, the rallying point of a revolution.

Catching Fire was wonderful. The characters were genuine, and the alternate universe was just as thrilling as it was the first time around. There is the constant, looming threat of the Capitol, and this not-quite-fake charade of love that must be kept up at all times. There is the uncertainty of which boy Katniss should choose, and this whispered revolution that is putting everyone Katniss cares about in danger.

The first half focuses on Katniss’s life in District 12, as well as the victory tour that she and Peeta must go on. There is one massive twist that dictates the second half of the novel so I dare not describe it further, though I will say that the book ends with a huge cliffhanger.

One aspect of this book that did not flow as smoothly as it might have, was that the twists seem a little forced and deliberate—like the novel was so keen on making startling twists that it failed to have the effect of a change that is unexpected.

All in all, however, I think Catching Fire will live up to expectations. There is still the horrifying presence of a “game” in which children are encouraged to kill one another; something I still find difficult to think about. Both books provide originality in a genre that is prone to clich├ęs, and both are well written with genuine characters who suffer real human dilemmas. Five evil daggers, without a doubt.

Yours, Briar

8/12/2009

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A while back, the wonderful Tay posted a review on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I read the book, and thought it was so wonderful and special that I simply had to review it myself. Tay's awesome review can be found below mine, so you can compare our experiences with the book.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is the inspiring story of a young German girl who is growing up in the midst of World War II. Abandoned by her mother, underfed and constantly reprimanded by her loving but fierce foster-mother, Leisel Meminger is a girl who finds all the brightness of life in words. Words are her greatest love and her most infuriating enemy—words are the things that allow her to live but Hitler to control and rule.

Hitler, Leisel realizes, can change a country’s image of Jews by using words to warp them into something disgusting, malicious, and sub-human. He can take a country that is scared and off-balance, and use words to soothe and hypnotize. Hitler uses words as his single greatest weapon, and without them, he would be powerless.

On the other hand, Leisel uses words to explore and grow. She uses words and books as her sanctuary in the fear-filled world of Nazi Germany. She uses words to light the eyes of the frail Jewish man in her basement, reminding him of sunlight and happiness as she describes clouds that resemble ropes and a brilliant dripping sun. Leisel uses words to spark happiness and gain knowledge—without them, she would be powerless, too.

This tale of words and power is told in the point of view of an unlikely narrator—Death himself. Death is not God, nor does he even decide when one will die; his job is simply to carry away the souls of the deceased. The best souls, we learn, sit up to meet him, reluctant to die but accepting all the same. Death is in the perfect position make to such striking observations about death and war—he likens himself to the best Nazi, killing and killing and yet still being asked for more.

For the first half of the novel, I was fairly interested in the subject of the story and intrigued by the unorthodox choice of narrator, but was not bringing the book with me everywhere as I later would. It was no chore to read, but it was no great treat either. However, once half of the book was finished and I was now fully acquainted with the cast of characters and the author’s writing style, the story began to pick up. I found myself increasingly interested in the events that took place and by the end of the novel I was practically ripping at the pages, shaken and moved by the beautiful description and the heartfelt dialogue. The author introduced the story’s ending about three quarters in, but the warning did not dilute the power of the end, it made it more poignant. Somehow both times the ending was explained (the first merely an outline, the second fully fleshed out) it was shattering and breathtaking.

The Book Thief takes a while to get started, but once you’re hooked, you simply can’t stop reading. It’s a powerful story of loss and happiness, love and heartbreak, reading and rule and life. Four and a half evil daggers.

Yours,

Briar


Set in Germany in the early 1940’s, The Book Thief is the heartwarming and heartbreaking story of a foster child, fourteen books, many colors, an accordion, death, a Jewish fist fighter, a basement, two wars, a kiss, and a boy with hair the color of lemons.

Liesel Meminger has witnessed more than her share of horrors. Her father disappeared when she was little, and an aura of mystery still surrounds his name. Her brother died on a train on the way to their foster home in Molching, Germany. And there are more horrors to come, though Liesel has no way of knowing. Through it all, Liesel turns to books as a refuge from the death, abandonment, and fear that fills her life, and the lives of all those around her.

Liesel’s long and illustrious career in book thievery begins with The Grave Digger’s Handbook, stolen from the snow at her brother’s burial. Next comes The Shoulder Shrug, stolen from fire. Liesel continues to steal books wherever she can find them. But her personal peace cannot last, and soon the danger of the war looms closer, lurking even within her own home, drawing her always closer to the inevitable. Liesel’s life becomes one of secrets and lies, and truth comes from the most surprising places.

This book is simply amazing. The author has a way of making the smallest details- the color of someone’s eyes, or the texture of their hair- the most important, and mystery is interwoven with every event, no matter how tiny. The unusual format, cavalier use of foreshadowing, and, shall we say, unconventional narration make the book a bit confusing in places, but really drive the point home. On the whole, this is a fabulous, yet absolutely heartbreaking book, and an unusual perspective on World War II. I give it the full five daggers, reluctant that there are no more to give.







Yours,
Tay


8/09/2009

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Spoiler Warning: If you have not read all 7 Harry Potter books, read at your own risk. (I may be an evil cousin, but no one should be robbed the experience of reading the Harry Potter series.) However, if you haven't read them by now, shame on you. Stop reading this review and go read the bloody series!

We've all heard such timeless (Disney) classics as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. These are our beloved childhood bedtime stories, our fairy tales. Well, Wizards and Witches have classic fairy tales too! Five of which can be found in the Wizarding classic The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Just like Muggle fairy tales, each of the five stories deals with a different theme and teaches a lesson. However, as a Muggle, it may be difficult to truly grasp all of the lessons taught by Beedle the Bard. To help us better understand these magical tales, Albus Dumbledore has kindly given extensive commentary on each tale. (The commentary was published without Dumbledore's consent. It was found among his other belongings after his dead.)

Anyone who has read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is at least vaguely familiar with this book of tales. Hermione receives a copy, from Dumbledore if I am not mistaken. Well, Rowling decided to publish a copy of Beedle's tales for Muggle enjoyment. All the sales go to the Children's High Level Group, a charity that provides support to children in need. The children tend to be poor, disabled, or from ethnic minorities. If you want to support a lovely charity AND get a little light-hearted reading on the side, or vice versa, this is definitely the book for you.

If you are still not convinced that this book is worth the buy, here is my criticism of the book (which happens to be mostly good).

The tales themselves are nothing special. They're mostly just cute. The stories are imaginative, but they're nothing like the books. The books are very long, detailed, and everything mentioned seems to have some significance before the series ends (which is one of the reasons I love Rowling's writing so much). These tales are short. There's no time for that kind of no-loose-ends writing. However, Rowling makes up for it by adding Dumbledore's commentary. His words are thoughtful, witty, and all around awesome! Not only does he add insight into the theme and lesson of each story. He also rambles on about little side notes (from letters between himself and Lucius Malfoy to his criticism of Madam Bloxam's revised version of Beedle's "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot"), both of which were quite humorous to say the least. Dumbledore will keep you alternating between the thinker pose (hand stroking the chin) and simply laughing uncontrollably and a variation of a giggle fit.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Beedle's tales. The book is a very quick read, which was rather disappointing to me, but it's still a great little book.

I give The Tales of Beedle the Bard a respectable 3.5 daggers out of 5.







Yours without magic,
Gabriel Gethin

7/18/2009

Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecelia Galante

Honey and Agnes have lived all of their lives in an isolated religious commune, Mount Blessing, in Connecticut. Electronics are forbidden, and the commune is serene and free from outside temptation or sin. However, underneath the holy and placid surface, there lies Mount Blessing’s best kept secret: the Regulation Room, a room in which sinners are beaten and humiliated by the godlike commune leader, a practice meant to strengthen them and reorient them toward the holy.

Upon discovering this room, Agnes’s skeptical grandmother resolves to take Honey and Agnes out of the commune at her first opportunity, but an accident ending in near-severed fingers and a misguided “miracle,” makes escape urgent and imperative. Honey, Agnes, and the latter’s younger brother are pulled into their grandmother’s car and driven as far from the place as possible, beginning a journey of self-discovery and faith that lasts the entire book.

As the story weaves on, one discovers the day-to-day horrors that consume the lives of the commune’s patrons. Girls starving themselves as they fast for sainthood; tying strings around their waists so tight it is all they can do to keep breathing; hurting, hating themselves for being flawed—always striving for an unattainable perfection, in the name of assimilating to the near-fictional saints of a storybook.

This book was quite realistic, aided most likely by the fact that the author herself had grown up in a religious commune not unlike Mount Blessing. It examines the role of parents—how can they stand by when their children are being beaten, even if they accept that it is in the name of religion? It asks if a child can find it in herself to speak up, even if it means getting loved ones in trouble. It looks at the flaws of organized religion—comparing it to an abstract spirituality or belief in God; questioning if the former is always as holy as it claims. It ponders if one can shed the skin of a twisted childhood, drop the warped habits and viewpoints learned, and heal. But most of all, Patron Saint of Butterflies explores the theme of friendship: how two girls with utterly different outlooks on life share the capacity to heal together and be equals.

I really liked this book. Upon finishing it, I was full of praise, and in the days after I found myself bringing it up again and again. While it examines complex themes and dives into some heavy material, the characters are teenage girls and the storyline is straightforward—making it a simple book to read, but one that forces the reader to confront challenging concepts once the story is over.

I give Patron Saint of Butterflies an evil four out of five daggers.





Briar

6/25/2009

Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey

Skin Hunger, the first book in the Resurrection of Magic trilogy, tells two stories, centuries apart but mysteriously linked. The first is the tale of a rural teenager named Sadima, who lives in a world where magic exists but true magic is forbidden. At the time of Sadima’s birth, a “magician” assisting with the birth stole her family’s valuables and left her mother to die. As Sadima grows, she discovers a talent for speaking to animals, but conceals it for fear of arousing her father’s bitterness towards magicians. One day, an enigmatic visitor to Sadima’s family’s farm, introducing himself as Franklin, recognizes Sadima’s ability and offers to take her away to the city, but Sadima, frightened, declines. Secretly, though, Sadima yearns for freedom, and years later, she decides to seek Franklin out.

She locates him in the city, working as a servant to a brilliant but arrogant and ruthless young man named Somiss. As time goes on, her relationship with Franklin becomes more than just a friendship. Somiss, meanwhile, spends every day shut away in his study, working obsessively. Slowly, Sadima learns what he is trying to do: bring back magic.

The other plotline, which takes place centuries later, tells the story of Hahp, the son of a wealthy merchant. In Hahp’s world, magic has returned, but can only be used by a select few people, trained at special academies of magic. Hahp’s father sends Hahp to one such academy, where he hopes that Hahp will emerge from the school as a wizard. But Hahp soon finds that only one of the ten boys admitted to the school will graduate, and that the only requirement for graduation is survival.
At the academy of magic, under the wizards Somiss and Franklin, Hahp lives a terrible life. He and the other boys are starved, deprived of basic necessities, forced to perform meaningless tasks, and completely isolated from the outside world. As Hahp struggles to survive and learn the secrets of magic, he forms an unlikely partnership with a peasant boy named Gerrard. But they must exercise the utmost caution, for collaboration among the boys is punishable by death.

Skin Hunger is a riveting novel that tells a deliciously sinister story. Evil lurks in the shadows around every corner, innocent characters are caught up in a web of cruelty and spooky secrets. The whole tone of the book is very eerie, dark, and enigmatic, very different from that of other books I’ve read about magic. Quite refreshing to an evil cousin such as myself.

Skin Hunger’s two-story plotline is definitely unusual, but surprisingly, I didn’t think it detracted from the book at all, because both stories were so good. Reading the book, I searched for the connection between the stories of Sadima and Hahp, and did not find it; nor did I find answers to the many questions that still lingered at the end. Skin Hunger is by no means a complete story in itself. The ending is, somehow, very satisfying, yet leaves the reader hungry for more (no pun intended.) This book made me really want to read the sequel.

And of course, the greatest thing about this book was the compelling storyline. I was completely swept up in the sagas of Sadima and Hahp. I read the book in a single day because it was practically physically impossible to put down. The only thing I didn’t really like was the awkward semi-romance between Sadima and Franklin, which, although it was an interesting plot twist, I felt was rather unnecessary. Still, though, since it was a minor element, the overall book was excellent.

I award this wickedly clever book four and a half scintillating daggers.



Yours,
Tay

6/14/2009

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

In Katherine Howe's new mystery "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane," Harvard graduate student Connie is working on her American History Phd dissertation when she gets roped into renovating and selling her grandmother's old house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. When she finds the name "Deliverance Dane" scrawled on a piece of paper tucked into an old Bible in the house, Connie looks the name up and finds that Deliverance was one of her ancestors, a woman who was involved in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Connie first begins researching Deliverance's story thinking it will lead her to a great primary source for her dissertation. But soon she becomes entangled in a 300-year-old mystery involving witchcraft, strange family secrets, and a mysterious "Physick Book" that once belonged to Deliverance Dane.

When Connie meets Sam, a fellow history fanatic who works repairing church steeples, the two join forces to search for Deliverance Dane's "Physick Book." It is no easy task to try and track where the book has gone for the past three hundred years. Connie and Sam must dig through numerous historial collections throughout Salem, Mass, trying to track the book's previous owners, and in the process, Connie discovers some surprising details about her family's past.

But what begins as a simple search for a historical book becomes a race against time when it becomes apparent that someone is working against Connie--and it's putting Sam's life in jeopardy.

"The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" is unlike any other witchcraft story I've read because of its ties to history, and actual facts behind the Salem Witch Trials. It may be a witch-themed book, but the focus is not really on spells and magical abilities. Instead, as the book progresses, the reader finds more and more about Connie's family history, and what life was like for women in Salem in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Not only is "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" an intriguing mystery, but it really brings the victims of the witch trials to life, describing the emotions of them and their families as their friends and neighbors turned on them.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The author is really a very talented writer. My only criticism is that the story lacks action in places, and the plotline could have used a little more variation. You'll find this book very interesting if you're into history and mysteries, but if you're looking for a more traditional witchcraft/fantasy tale, this may not be the book for you.

I award this book 4 out of 5 daggers.



6/08/2009

Godless by Pete Hautman

Jason Bock has had it with Catholicism. His parents are always dragging him to Mass on Sundays and forcing him to go to Teen Power Outreach (TPO), a "weekly brainwashing session for teenagers." In response to their overbearing religious authoritarianism, he decides to create his own religion with his own rules. Called Chutengodianism, it is centered around the idea that water is the source of all life. Therefore, the St. Andrew Valley water tower must be God because it is the source of water, and life. His first convert is his best friend Shin, a dorky snail-farmer. He also converts the strikingly beautiful, Magda Price, a preacher's son, Dan, and the chaotic and wild, Henry Stagg. As the religion grows, conflicts emerge. Jason struggles to control his own religion. Shin obsessives over the religion and begins neurotically working on writing a Bible. As Henry begins gaining power within the religion, he turns it from a harmless fantasy, into a dangerous reality. Before long, the Chutengodians are in grave peril, not to mention violating several city laws as they hold mass atop the Great Ten-Legged One. Jason seeks to control his new faith before it ends not just his friendships, but his friend's lives as well.

Let's start with the good stuff. This book is honest and refreshing. Jason is just a normal teenager who's questioning the existence of God and the importance of religion. In that sense, he's very easy to relate to. I would not go as far as to classify Jason as insightful because he does not truly understand certain things. Although I would normally dislike a narrator that lacks insight, I think Jason's lack of insight enhances the experience. It is his lack of understanding that makes him a good narrator. He is young, he is questioning tradition, and he is learning firsthand what can happen when you break tradition.

Another positive is Hautman's contrast of young vs. old. Chutengodianism is young, Catholicism is old. Jason and his friends are young, their parents are old. There is a clear dividing line between the ideology of the young vs. the ideology of the old. The parents are, for the most part, very religious. Jason's parents go to church every Sunday and Jason's dad is especially fanatic. Dan's father is a preacher. Magda's parents send her to TPO every week to help deepen her faith because faith is important to her parents. The children, on the contrary, tend to reject Catholicism for a variety of reasons. Jason doesn't really believe in God. Magda joins the Chutengodians because she doesn't like to be left out of things. Dan is just easily persuaded. Shin seems to latch on to the religion like a leech. I personally think that it gives him a sense of power over other people, which he falls in love with, which is why he so ardently believes in Jason's religion. All in all, their lack of common purpose further highlights their naivety.

On the negative side, I felt that Jason's crush on Magda, although totally common among teenagers, just wasn't all that important to the story. Sure, it highlighted the conflict between Jason and Henry, but their conflict over the religion and over control of the religion was much more prominent to the plot. Also, Jason sometimes imagines himself as doing something he's not, or being someone he's not. His fantasies are short and the story returns quickly but, they're awkwardly placed. I often found myself rereading a passage over again because of confusion. Naturally, it is a minor flaw, but I felt compelled to mention it. I am an evil cousin.

Bottom line (not literally), Godless contains a compelling storyline, an intriguing cast of characters, and a contemporary story regarding an ageless question, why be religious?

I give Godless by Pete Hautman a deadly 4 out of 5 daggers







Faithfully skeptically yours,
Gabriel Gethin

5/12/2009

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda is entering Merryweather High School with no friends, no voice, and seemingly no hope. During an end-of-the-summer party, she called the cops. Now, all her old friends won't talk to her and all the people she doesn't know hate her blindly. Since Melinda feels that her parents wouldn't understand, the safest place to be is inside her head. Melinda at first finds a sort of comfort isolated within herself, but it doesn't last. Lurking in the depths of her own mind is a demon. A memory, of the party, which she dare not remember. A thought which she dare not say. Slowly, it eats away at her, threatening to swallow her from within. Slowly suffocating, Melinda is faced with a choice. To speak, or to surrender to the spectre that haunts her thoughts.

What makes Speak such an original work of art is its dynamic mood. At the beginning of the novel, Melinda has clearly been through something major. She also has no friends. This combination has given Melinda a depressed, cynical, and sarcastic view on high school and life in general. What makes this a good thing is the fact that Melinda presents high school in a refreshingly candid, satirical way. My personal favorite example of this is her "The First Ten Lies They Tell You In High School" list. I choose not to give them all away but among them is, "No smoking is allowed on school grounds" and my personal favorite, "These will be the years you look back fondly." This book will make you laugh, unless of course you have no sense of humor at all, which would be a shame since the comedy in this book makes really good points on high school sociology.

Dynamic means characterized by constant change, activity, or progress. So clearly, the book is not just a long satirical attack on high school. There are others moods involved. The opposite mood stems from Melinda's own subconscious. There is conflict within her. She is trying, vainly, to suppress a thought, a memory, in her mind. Doing so arguably drives her insane. She experiences agonizingly acute anxiety, dangerously deep depression, and stifling self-silence. As the book progresses, the emotions Melinda feels become more potent. In the end, the book becomes very very intense so be warned. This book is not a fairy tale filled with rainbows after storms and kisses after poison-apple-based "death."

Bottom line (figuratively, not literally): Speak is powerful. Speak is intense. Speak is witty. Speak is dynamic. Speak is a good book. It is well-rounded and it relates well to teenagers. I advise reading it at least once just for the experience of it. Even if you're not a depressed person, it's good to see the world through Melinda's eyes because there are a lot of people who see the world a similar way.

I give Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson a (relatively) unheard of 5 out of 5 stars.







Acerbically yours,
Gabriel Gethin

5/02/2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Somewhere in the expansive throes of the future, across a land once known as “North America,” lies a country, Panem. Led by the power-mad and appearance-obsessed Capitol, the country’s twelve districts are forced to offer up two “tributes,” or teenage sacrifices, to partake in the country-wide battle called The Hunger Games. The tributes are chosen by lottery (although one’s name can be entered as many times as one likes, in exchange for a tessera—a year’s worth of grain and oil to help support a poor family). In some countries, participation in the Games is an honor, as one’s district gets showered with money and food for an entire year, and eternal glory is thrust upon the winner. But when Katniss Everdeen, a poor but fiery citizen of District Twelve (the country’s poorest district), finds herself a tribute, her entire world comes crashing down. For you see, the Hunger Games are no ordinary reality show—the twenty-four tributes are placed in an arena in which they must fight to survive not only against the environment, but most of all, their fellow tributes. It is the duty of each tribute to kill as many of each other as they can, for the winner will be the one that is the last to survive as all others are dead.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was a positively riveting book. I felt my eyes were actually glued to the pages, and I finished it in a matter of hours because I found it so difficult to pry myself away. Filled with some astonishing twists and turns, the games themselves were nerve-wracking and heartbreaking, as Katniss would constantly have to remind herself that trusting anyone would result in pain as only one could win, but moreover, a smile and a knife in the back.

The scariest part, perhaps, is that the whole thing reads like a glorified reality show. Sure, it is government run and mandatory to watch—the government likes to remind the citizens just how at-their-mercy they are—but one has to think about how easily we watch reality shows that, by a stretch, were born from the same seed as the Hunger Games.

For Katniss and her fellow tributes, the reality show aspect means that they must be constantly putting on a good face, proving themselves to the audience who have placed bets on their lives, as well as trying to win sponsors who can send them gifts in dire situations.

I was so impressed by this book. It managed to effectively weave a futuristic sci-fi setting with a reality show that is hard to stop turning over in your head, with a commentary on image, as well as a love story. I can’t even weave that sentence to sound ordered or clear, yet Suzanne Collins managed to do so beautifully, creating a book that is a package of sheer suspense and delight.

The first of a trilogy, it has certainly caused a stir among both readers and professionals. Stephenie Meyer and Stephen King both gave rave reviews, and the rights to a movie have been already bought, with the author herself adapting it as a screenplay.

But even more exciting—there is something in which YOU can get involved! The author is hosting a competition in which teens can enter to win an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of the book’s sequel, Catching Fire. The entry consists of writing, in 500 words or less, how you would survive the Hunger Games. For more information, check out their website here.But hurry, because the contest ends May 15th!

Again, I absolutely loved this book, and am under the impression that everybody should read it. Unsurprisingly, I give it a whopping and wonderfully evil (oxymoron? no way-- Evil IS wonderful!) five daggers.



Relieved that OUR kind of evil is delightful rather than murderous,
Briar

4/22/2009

How to Be Bad: Home Movie

E. Lockhart just sent us this BAD home movie, with some Bad singing and dancing by two of the original 3 Evil Cousins, Avery and Aislinn.

4/16/2009

The Poison Apples by Lily Archer

Mother dies, father marries an unforgivably evil stepmother, and young daughter is stuck with a melancholy tale, waiting for her prince to save her. Sound familiar? Sound like every fairy tale in the book? Well—Poison Apples by Lily Archer is indeed like a fairy tale, but with modern setting and a delicious twist.

Three girls—Alice Bingley-Beckerman, Reena Parachuri, and Molly Miller—come into wicked stepmothers, and, one by one, are banished to a private boarding school: Putnam Mount McKinsey. There, by a mix of misunderstandings and pure chance, the three girls meet, and share their stories. Surprised at the similar horrendous fate that has befell each of them, they decide to form the Poison Apples— a secret society known to only them, committed to getting revenge upon their evil stepmothers. With prince charmings, small towns, little sisters and even a penguin or two, Poison Apples is certainly a fully packed and entertaining read.

I definitely enjoyed reading this book—for the most part, the characters were likeable and their scenarios amusing.

I liked the beginning especially, when the author was setting up each girl’s scenario. I found it well developed and interesting, with some funny insights on yoga and parents and clothes. I liked the natural way each found her path to the boarding school, but once there the book lost a bit of its spark to me. As the girls’ stories began to weave together, I found myself confused at times, but for the most part it was pretty good. I felt that the plots became a bit thinner, yes, but it was still enjoyable and funny. This was how most of the book continued—entertaining and witty, but dipping into too many sub-plots to fully commit to any of them.

The ending was the biggest fault, to me. Each girl embarked on a plan of revenge for their evil stepmothers, but the plans were weak and the execution weaker, and I felt that the ending was rather rushed.

On the whole, I identified with the three main girls very easily, I found the stepmothers deliciously evil, and I really, really liked the idea of a modern fairy tale, but at times the plot was weak and confusing.

I’d say three and a half evilistic daggers.

As a first novel, it showed a lot of potential, so I’d definitely watch for Lily Archer’s next book!



Happy that I am the evil one and not my mother,
Briar

3/29/2009

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Clay Jenson was hit pretty hard by the death of Hannah Baker, the suicide of Hannah Baker. They worked together, they had class together, but the real reason he was hurting was because he had always liked her but had been too afraid to do anything about it. When a shoebox-sized package arrives at Clay's front door, he has no idea what he is about to get himself into. The package contains seven audiotapes, each tape has a dark blue number painted in the upper right-hand corner. The tapes are numbered 1 to 13. As he begins listening to the first tape, Clay hears Hannah Baker's voice telling him that she made these thirteen tapes about thirteen different people and if you're on the tapes, you are somehow responsible for her death, her suicide. Once you finish listening to the tapes, you are supposed to pass them on to the next person on the list. If you don't, she made a second set of tapes, which she threatens will be released to everyone if the chain is broken. Clay definitely does not want to be a part of this, but he feels compelled to know what he did to make her want to kill herself. So the journey begins, Clay follows her story all around town, tape by tape. What he discovers will change him and his view of the people around him forever.

Make sure you have ample time to read this book before you pick it up because once the tapes start, you can't stop. It was painful to put this book down. Every fiber in my soul wanted to continue reading to find out what made poor Hannah kill herself. Jay Asher does an excellent job of making the reader sympathize with Clay. Every feeling of confusion, of guilt, or of sorrow that Clay experiences is not only felt by Clay. The reader can not help but feel it too. I cried when Clay did and when Clay was furious and wanted to throw a rock, so did I (only I threw a capped pen at a wall instead because I figured it would do less damage). Stories about death, especially suicide, bring out strong emotions in all of us, whether those emotions are grief, anger, or indifference. It's interesting to see what characters have reactions similar to our own. Are we like Clay, who regrets not trying harder to help her with a passion that burns stronger than a thousand wildfires. Or, are we like certain other characters, who just wish they could move on with their lives with out having to worry about Hannah's tapes trashing their reputations. It is enlightening to observe our reactions to the handful grievances that, unfortunately, led to Hannah's death.

All in all, this book is a thrill ride from start to finish. I don't mean like roller coaster thrills or scary movie thrills, more like intense events that make the reader want/need to continue reading. The book, unfortunately, seems to blow by in a heart beat, but it is totally worth all of our time. It is insightful, it is eloquently written, and its message will never be forgotten.

I give 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher a killer (No pun intended. Well... maybe a little pun)

5 out of 5 daggers





Questionably yours,
Gabriel Gethin

3/11/2009

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

A group of girls are playing, laughing, dancing in the woods. They are caught, and as their village is strictly Puritan, they are to be chastised and shamed for doing something so forbidden and taboo as dancing. The only way to evade punishment is to place the blame on someone else, so they concoct a tale that involved them being possessed and influenced by a witch who was in contract with the devil. Intended as a onetime way to get out of trouble, the accusation of witchery worked all too well, and it soon became a trend that took a life of its own, and, over the course of a year, destroyed the trust and shattered the foundation of a run-of-the-mill pre-American Puritan town.

These were real events, portrayed in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. And yes, I understand that this is far from a new book, but it is such a wonderful classic that I think it deserves to be reviewed and read and read and read.

It is pretty widely understood that those prosecuted in the witch trials of 1692 were far from magical or devilish. But in a way, the Crucible shows the devil as a facet of personality, showing itself in times of great distress and pain, such as the witch trials. The ironic part is, the devil is more seen in those who did the accusing than the ones who had been accused.

While The Crucible never comes out and is explicit in its meaning, it is written in such a way that is open to dozens of different interpretations, all centered around the idea of human nature and what being frightened and pressured can do to a person

If one is about to be hung for witchery and the only way to save oneself is to “confess” and accuse another, isn’t it the natural thing to do? At the same time, one is struggling between their faith and their life, because the Ten Commandments are clear in their message to never, ever lie.

Psychology of a sort comes into play as well, when one considers the idea that if people are constantly acting possessed and placing blame on others, they begin to believe what they are saying and that they are truly being hurt and targeted.

I loved having the opportunity to explore these questions and ideas, and The Crucible provided me with a perfect reason.

In short, it is about a group of girls caught dancing in the woods, who use witchery to evade trouble, and the aftermath that shattered an entire town. It is not a novel, it is a popularly performed play, but still provides an amazing read—perhaps even more striking because it is all in dialogue. It provides a chance to see what tremendous power an accusation can have, and the effects of power on everyday people. It is a quick read, but the experience of having read it stays with you a long time.

The Crucible goes beyond ratings, but if asked, I would have to say five daggers.



Briar

3/06/2009

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

It's not every day you read a book that officially makes it to the top of the list of "best books I've ever read." But for me, Unwind by Neal Shusterman did just that.

The sci fi-slash-horror story-slash-adventure-slash-romance tale takes place a few generations in the future, after a second civil war in which Pro-Life and Pro-Choice armies battled over the abortion issue. The war ended in a stalemate, and a new compromise was made: All babies had to be delivered and raised to age 13. However, between the ages of 13 and 17, parents could choose to "abort" their children by having them "unwound"--a process in which all of the organs are harvested and donated to hospital patients. In other words, 100% of the "unwind" stays technically alive, just in a divided state.

And although the process sounds shocking and unbelievable, in the story, it has become a common and accepted part of American society. Unwind follows three runaway "unwinds": Conner (who's being unwound because his parents think he's a troublemaker), Risa (a ward-of-the-state who's being unwound to cut costs), and Lev (who was promised to be an unwind at birth as a part of his family's religion, and who has been brainwashed to believe that unwinding is okay because it helps people). And when the government is desperate for organ donors, they will stop at nothing to find runaway unwinds and make sure they don't escape their fate. Lucky for Conner, Lev, and Risa, a secret society of runaway unwinds is just around the corner...if they can only survive to make it there.

Although Unwind is thoroughly packed with action from start to finish, that's not the only reason I loved it so much. In a YA room full of Cliques and Gossip Girls. Unwind really makes the reader think about deep, life-or-death issues. Like, who has the right to say when someone's life is going to end? Is it really okay to commit an act like murder in the name of religion? How far can you go in order to "protect the greater good?" And which is better: aborting thousands of babies that someone could have loved, or having an orphanage full of thousands of babies that no one loves? Unwind explores all of these and many more. Throughout the main story, Neal Shusterman intertwines many different subplots that get you thinking about the values in America and the value of your own life. There's even some laughworthy satire thrown in here and there. I'm warning you now, it's extremely intense, and many of the ideas suggested in the book may upset you. But if you're looking for some meaningful, thought-provoking reading that really changes the way you look at life, death, and your place in the world, then I strongly consider Unwind.

I definitely give this book the full 5 out of 5 daggers.


Misty

3/01/2009

Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis

Young Mazzy is living with her mother while her dad is on a week long business trip. Everything is fine... except that Dad left about a month ago and Mom never gets out of bed. Mazzy thinks she can handle it. She takes care of her mom and people bring them food too, but when the government gets involved, Mazzy is forced to talk to her dad. Mazzy knows everything is fine, but when the government disagrees, everything is not fine. 

Mazzy, as a character, is very human and believable. Her denial of her family's problem is completely normal and human nature. What makes this book intriguing is watching the story of her family unravel. At first, the reader only knows that Mom is sick and Dad's never home. The reader has no idea why or how things got this way. Throughout the book, flashbacks as well as Mazzy's thoughts and encounters slowly enlighten the reader to the truly dark and dismal family past. Since this revelation encompasses most of the book, it is exciting to slowly, but surely, figure out what led to such a dreadful situation.
Another interesting thing about this book is that it is written in what I like to call "mini chapter things." They are usually Mazzy's thoughts, a conversation between Mazzy and someone else, or a flashback. They can be as short as a single sentence and as long as two or more pages in length. These "mini chapter things" make the book especially easy to pick up and read. You can pick it up and easily read a whole "mini chapter thing" in between all the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Another attractive aspect of this book includes the way conversations are written. When Mazzy talks to someone, Ann Dee Ellis exposes the reader to not only the words coming out of Mazzy's mouth, but also the thoughts in her head. This creates an entertaining discord between what Mazzy says and what she thinks. Unfortunately, it also makes conversations choppy and slightly awkward because Mazzy's thoughts interrupt the conversation's rhythm. This setback is completely worth it though because Mazzy tends to say either nothing at all, or the actual word, "nothing" when she responds to simple everyday questions. 

I give Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis a slightly less than deadly 3.5 daggers out of 5.







All in all, the book is entertaining and pretty unique in the way it was written but, it's really short and the ending is rather unsatisfying.

Yours truly (but only in mini chapter things),
Gabriel Gethin

2/21/2009

First Daughter by Mitali Perkins

For the past year and a half, America has been caught up in the whirlwind that is the election of a new president. And the book that I just read goes along quite well with the thoughts that have been on everyone’s minds during the whole election process.

The book I read was First Daughter, by Mitali Perkins.

Sameera is Pakistani American, having been adopted from her home country when she was three years old, by an American politician and his activist wife. She’s sixteen now, and is joining her parents in the dog-eat-dog world of the campaign trail.

Her father is running for president.

She’s excited to receive a paparazzi-pleasing makeover, excited to spend more time with her family, and excited to plunge into the campaign—that is, until she learns what her father’s campaign people have in store for her. Eager to make her seem more “American” to voters, they coach her in speaking “teenager,” create a blog for her that she has nothing to do with, and rename her ‘Sammy.” Sameera is now caught between staying true to herself and hindering her father’s chances of being elected, or sacrificing her personality and ethnic pride, in order to promote her father .

This book was ridiculously eviltastic. It delved into American culture and asked questions about ethnic identity. For instance, one of my favorite thoughts from the book was this: How soon after your family has lived in America, can you take off the ethnic word that precedes “American?” For a German immigrant, it takes only a generation or two, but for African Americans, Thai Americans, Pakistani Americans... the first word almost never wears off. I just loved how the book explored questions like this.

Another cool thing was the fact that Sameera, the heroine of the novel, would experiment by putting on a burka (a Muslim woman’s full body covering) and wandering the streets of Washington. She found herself almost invisible, and was amazed and interested by the reactions of passers-by when she asked them for directions, et cetera. Sameera got the chance to talk and think about cultural identity and different types of people, and we, as readers, got to listen and think about it ourselves.



Trying to dig up my old family tree to see if I have any cool ancestry (well, asides from the BEST grandparents ever that made it so that I have so many wonderful evil cousins),

Briar

1/28/2009

The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Allegra Shapiro was looking forward to a nice relaxing summer, free of school, free of softball, and free of worries. Her plans were abruptly changed when she found out that she had been selected to perform at the finals of the prestigious Ernest Bloch Competition for Young Musicians of Oregon.  She was one of only a few finalists to have been selected from eighty five initial contestants! To make matters even more nerve-racking, Allegra was only 12 and her music teacher told her that he expected the average age of the finalists to be 17. Clearly an underdog, Allegra spends her entire summer practicing Mozart's Fourth Violin Concerto. She knows that she has to find some way to make her rendition of this piece mean something more than the notes on her sheet music, but this is easier said than done.

What I love most about this book is Allegra herself. She is such a rich, genuine character. The way this book is written causes us to spend most of our time listening to Allegra's thoughts. Therefore, we get to know Allegra very intimately. We watch her grow throughout the story and it's a beautiful thing to watch. She is very easy to relate to. She, like many other young girls, has a huge crush on a famous person, in her case it is Joel Smirnoff, the second violinist in the Juilliard Quartet. This is just one example of the many things that distinguishes Allegra as just a simple girl with great ambition.
Another thing that I love about this book is the role that music takes in it. Any musician would love this book simply because of Wolff's portrayal of music. To Allegra's family, music is essentially a way of life. To Allegra, music is her connection to her dead great-grandmother who died at Treblinka, a concentration camp in Poland. During her final performance, as she plays, she envisions her great-grandmother and feels one with her through the music. This conclusion is a truly beautiful moment. In my opinion it, is one of the most serene, most tranquil, and most heart-warming as well as heart-wrenching moments in any book I have ever read. It is simply beautiful.

I give The Mozart Season as a whole a 4 out of 5 daggers (the ending itself deserves 6 out of 5)






Musically yours,
Gabriel Gethin

1/08/2009

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman

The Other Side of the Island, by Allegra Goodman, is the story of a girl by the name of Honor. But her name is an anomaly, you see. Though she was born in the year H and Honor is a perfectly approved government name, the H is silent, so it sticks out. Her school isn’t worried, however. They know they’ll train her to change it, because what fun is life if you’re different than everybody else?

But Honor’s parents seem to think her name is okay. They dance and sing and laugh and read and draw, push limits, go on adventures, take midnight strolls to the forbidden ocean, betting on dark and serendipity. They even go so far as to have a second child, something rare and frowned upon. No, they seem to be just fine with Honor’s name.

Honor, herself, however, is a different story. After her family was relocated to one of Earth Mother’s controlled islands, she has been in a class with Helixes, Henriettas, Harrys and Harmonies. She’s not sure how she feels. On one hand, she lives for the forbidden excitements she and her family enjoy, but at the same time, she’s frustrated. Because really—why can’t her parents just obey Earth Mother and the Government? Why can’t they just be like everyone else? The last thing Honor would ever want would be to lose her parents, and she knows that if you’re too different, you might just disappear.

Though the book was rather predictable in places, The Other Side of the Island was surprisingly good. It was suspenseful with some nicely original aspects. The characters were relatable, and there were some quite cool notions about weather and religion. “Earth Mother” combined God and Mother Nature, and the religion was centered around her. Scientists had found a way to control the weather, so that Unpredictability could be avoided whenever possible.

I liked this book a lot, it was a pretty quick read—not too hard, along the same lines as a lot of other science fiction/distopia sort of novels, but with some parts that were truly new and quite interesting.

I would give it four out of five ridiculously evil and futuristic daggers! Twas a Very Good book, edging on great.



Bowing down to Earth Mother,

Briar

P.S – How coincidental that my name works! Awesome!

1/06/2009

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

When Colin Singleton, amateur anagrammer and noted child prodigy, was eight years old, he was kissed by a girl named Katherine. Three minutes later, she dumped him.

Nine years later, Colin has just been dumped by a girl named Katherine. For the nineteenth time. Seeing him devastated, Colin’s best friend, Hassan, pulls him out the door and into the car, on a road trip that eventually winds up in a small town called Gutshot, Tennessee. Colin and Hassan soon land a job with Hollis Wells, factory owner and lover of everything pink, and begin to hang out with her daughter Lindsey.

Seeking to get over Katherine XIX, as he refers to her, and to finally “matter,” Colin conceives the Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, a mathematical formula for predicting the course of a relationship based on five personality traits of the people involved. Lindsey and Hassan offer their help and advice, and soon a road trip becomes an extended vacation in the middle of nowhere.

This book is a bundle of fun, funny, and fantabulous. Colin is a totally relatable character (if a bit pathetic at times.) It absolutely cracked me up. The book makes occasional attempts to be thought-provoking, and does not entirely succeed, but that doesn’t detract from its coolness. I give it four out of five daggers.


Anagrammatically yours,


Tay Darramont