Monday, May 28, 2012

City of Ember

DuPrau, J. (2003). City of Ember. NY: Yearling.
Young YA Lit / Fiction / Dystopian
Fun story that relies on a lot of things just working out - lots of improbability, but it's an interesting premise, the main characters are interesting kids, and the writing is well-done. I enjoyed it and think younger kids would really like it -- after all, you complete your schooling, choose your job and start working at age 12!  Everyone's well-rested because when it's lights out for one, it's lights out for all.  (No reading under the covers with your flashlight 'cause there aren't any!) Light is not individually controlled and when it's dark, it's pitch black. And the lights are starting to fail from time to time.

******* SPOILER ALERT ***************
******* SPOILER ALERT ***************  ******* SPOILER ALERT ***************
There are a few things that bothered me. One was the lack of response to Lina's grandmother dying. This is all the family she and her baby sister have left, and there doesn't seem to be much grieving. Another bother is that the kids left a note and told everyone how to leave Ember, and they just did it.  I know there was some desperation among the people, but this seems weird to me. We're talking about adults. Wouldn't they send a scouting party first? Wouldn't there be much discussion? A vote? I dunno, that was just a bit hard to swallow. It definitely makes it convenient, but I think it would have been interesting if it were clear that not everyone left and that there was some divisiveness back in good ol' Ember.
There are a few things that bothered me.
 ******* END OF SPOILER STUFF *************** 

I continue my roll of having the books I read connected by some common thread. Here, the main character's parents are dead. . .the book I'm reading now, Skinny - the main character's mom is dead. . . and several of the books I read prior, including Rotters, Glitches, A Monster Calls, and Wonderstruck the main character's mom (and dad) is dead (or dying).  Is this a YA Lit thing or sorry coincidence?

I read this one electronically on my iPad, borrowed from my library. I'm starting to enjoy reading this way, but it's so frustrating that my library doesn't have any of the sequels available for download.  I'm too cheap to pay for a copy, so I'll wait my turn at the library for the hard cover, I guess. Or maybe just never continue the series. So many books, so little time. 

Here's a link to the movie trailer, though I have no idea if it did the book justice.

Heaven Is For Real

Burpo, T. (2010). Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Fiction? Non-Fiction? Memoir

I typically don't read these kind of books -- first accounts of paranormal experiences or encounters with God, Jesus, or angels.  Of course, this isn't actually a first account since the alleged experiences in Heaven were by a child too young to compile them into a book.  But therein lies the draw -- we are operating on faith and want to believe, while at the same time we want some proof!

There are plenty of reasons one could read the book and not be convinced that the boy spent time in Heaven: primarily, his father is an evangelical preacher, and it can be assumed that his message was preached at home as well as on the pulpit.  Children are sponges and it doesn't seem unlikely or outlandish that a four-year-old would be able to repeat what he'd heard at home or in Sunday school teachings.  The father asserts that the depictions  his young son gave were too specific and things to which the child wouldn't have possibly been exposed. Maybe.

At the same time, there were plenty of reasons to believe this child had spent time with Jesus and in Heaven, based on what the father says he said.  For example, [the father says] that the boy said he met his sister in Heaven.  The boy's mother said he told him he didn't have a sister, but the boy said his sister told him she'd died before she was born.   The mother had indeed miscarried a child but said they had never shared that information with the little boy. Compelling, but again, the reader must take it on faith that the boy never overheard or picked-up on it before. 

There was one event that did make me consider the possibility was real that the child had been with Jesus in his near-death experience.  I won't elaborate, but it has to do with the one painting (of hundreds he'd seen) which he claims looks just like Jesus.

The book was quick and easy to read, and it definitely is something to ponder. It doesn't really matter if we believe this child spent time in Heaven; he and his family certainly do and that's what's important.  If that helps them or others grow in their faith, then I'm all for it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Kraus, D. (2011). Rotters. NY: Delacorte Press.

First of all, straight up: this book has graphic depictions of grave digging, fresh and long-dead corpses, innuendo of necrophilia and at a minimum, disrespect for the dead.  Dark. Gruesome. Unsettling. The book is absolutely unforgettable – but is that good?

Soooooo. . . . I loved the start of this book and how the kid was absolutely certain that his mom would be dying at any given time for any given reason. I laughed a little because not knowing our main character, Joey, yet, I wasn't sure if it was neurosis or humor or practicality. Still not sure of the answer 0 and this is one of the things that bothered me about this book. This seemed significant and like it should be revisited or explained or referenced at some point, and it wasn’t.  

Throughout the story, over and over again, my heart aches for this boy, Joey.  Apparently I'm on a roll with books about boys losing their moms (just finished A Monster Calls) and didn't know it.   I was convinced that surely he had to get a freakin' break at some point.  He really didn’t, though some might argue he did at the end of the book by way of the Epilogue.  Eh. But along the way, Joey’s actions confuse me and go against what seems to be his personality and his teachings from both mom and messed-up dad.  Yes, I’m vague here because I don’t like spoilers, but the inconsistency with his character bothered me.  To hint – I hated the bullying Joey was subjected to and was thrilled that Joey was planning his revenge, but the revenge put Joey on a different level for me.  The revenge was obscene and didn’t seem to fit Joey, but then maybe I didn’t really understand Joey after all.

This book has language in it, but sadly, it’s probably realistic to a teenaged boy that age.  Most boys from junior high on up wouldn't blink an eye at the language; it is firmly a part of their culture now, and they often hear worse on the football field and Xbox.

Language is one thing, but the situations explored and graphically detailed are another.  It’s beyond gross.  The SMELLS stick with me, the IMAGES stick with me, the ACTIONS stick with me, and for the most part they are nose-wrinkling, vile, and twisted. But did I like this book? I can't say for sure.  Clearly the author is talented (though it freaks me out to think about where/how he got his information to write about this).  But I really can't say who I'd recommend it to because it’s just wrong on so many levels.  Would a boy like this? Yeah, probably. But should it be suggested to him?  My gut says no. It's adult horror with a teenaged main character.

 Here’s the official book trailer for Rotters, straight from author Daniel Kraus’s website, CREEPY.

The Diviners

Bray, L. (COMING SEPTEMBER 2012). The Diviners. NY: Little, Brown & Company. (ARC)
YA Lit / paranormal / fantasy
Thank you, TLA Conference and Little, Brown & Company for this free Advance Reading Copy!
UPDATE!!!!  This is an absolutely amazing fan-made (DayIn3 on YouTube) book trailer, and it makes me want to read the book again. Was I too harsh?? Was I just in a mood?  Check this out:

When I started reading this, I was immediately bugged by the main character, Evie, but I stuck with it and I definitely got caught up in the story. The story is a mix of Ghostbusters (The Bennington, where everyone lives, is a conduit for the spirits) and Seven (ehh. . .not going to elaborate there) and The Stand (creepy man with the tall black hat) and I'm feeling slightly disturbed that I picked-up and read two books, back-to-back, without any prior knowledge, and they both included digging up the dead. (other book Rotters, which still weighs heavily on me.) 

I was disappointed in the ending -- way too many loose ends and very little closure -- and though the 20s lingo was fun (sorry, it was the bees knees), I would feel compelled to smother any teenager who spoke in nothing but street lingo. Evie didn't need to do that to be hip; it just made her slightly annoying.  Clearly this is designed to be part of a series, but it would have made a nice stand alone by removing a whole bunch of "new" information at the end and just reconciling some stories.

And the stories are many -- there are a ton of characters and many have "gifts" that indicate we haven't heard the last from them.  Not sure how the author can weave all of them in to the next book without it becoming jumbled. We'll just have to see how good she is!

This is a pretty fun video (posted by YouTube user MrRoccoA) that has the author acting out (with action figures) and singing some of the book.

Ruby Red

Gier, K. (2011). Ruby Red.  NY: Henry Holt & Company.
YA Lit / fantasy

First, I will admit that I was completely put-off by this book because of the cover. Ick. I am definitely not into any Victorian Era stories and the cover on this one would not in any way entice me to read the story.  It has a very Somewhere In Time /Jane Seymour feel to it (which, as a side note, is one of the best movies ever made and similarly about time travel).  At the end of this blog are a couple of other covers, (different countries, different formats, different titles) but I'm not sure any of these is right for this book, either. . . thoughts?

That it was on the Texas Library Association’s 2012 Texas Lone Star Reading List did pique my interest, but what got me reading it was that my daughter brought it home as her next book club read.  Since she was conveniently finishing another book, I snagged it. 

The main character, Gwenyth, is very believable, as is her best friend Lesley and the BFF relationship they share.  That Gwenyth shares all the most secretest of family secrets with Lesley makes it even more realistic (‘cause this is what real teen BFFs do), and Leslie provides a convenient and plausible source of historical information for Gwenyth.   

Though Gwenyth is supposed to be a sixteen-year-old, she initially seems a bit younger.  This could be intentional by the author to show that she may have been babied some at home and to show the contrast at how she steps-up and acts maturely when thrown into time travel and the family drama surrounding it. I dunno. 

As expected, there's a drop-dead gorgeous nineteen-year-old boy who also carries the time travel gene, and as expected, sparks fly.  This was one gripe about the story -- clearly we have a trilogy (at least) coming out of this, so I think I would have preferred some tension and mixed signals to prevail throughout this story and a hint of potential romance to come.  Not the case. 

I was most appreciative of the several illustrations and explanations of family trees and connections between the time travelers.  LOTS of characters roll across the pages, but the charts kept it manageable.  There are numerous candidates for bad guy of the book, but there's definitely one REALLY bad guy who makes me think of Rasputin in the Anastasia movie out some years ago.  He's a creeper, and his presence really adds to the story.

sassy girl and sassy title

sophisticated girl. . .favorite

Mysterious girl in spookyland

I found this delightful trailer (narrated by a young lady with a delightful accent).  It's very lighthearted but readers, there are SINISTER AND DARK forces in this book. . .Enjoy!


UPDATE: See my review of Sapphire Blue, the next installment in the Ruby Red Trilogy.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Roth, V. (2012). Insurgent. NY: Katherine Tegen Books.
YA Fiction / Dystopian
ALA Best Fiction for Young Adult Readers,

I was able to snag this Advance Release Copy at the TLA Conference in April, and YES, I got it signed and below is a picture of me with the author, Veronica Roth, signing my book. YESSSSSS again!  As I waited in line to be one of the first to get this yet-to-be-published sequel to the most awesome Divergent, I wondered what it must be like to be Ms. Roth. At the tender age of 23, she's set for life and can look out amongst the middle-aged people like me, who jockeyed for a place in line, and think, "Dang, I hope I never have to sink to that level."

So the book. . .  you know I'm not really into spoilers, but man, could I spoil this one for everyone.  I will say that divergence (what it is to be Divergent) is more fully explored and explained, and that makes for some interesting twists and turns in the story.  Tris is really dealing with the implications and emotional destruction of what she did in the first book, and at times I got impatient with that. Deal with it! Talk to someone! Work through it already!  I really thought the book started off a bit slow, but it may have just been my impatience at getting the story rolling so I could find out where it was all going.  I dunno.  It was worth wading through the slowness to get to the meat of the story. Talk about conspiracies and confusion and the shaking up of everything that had been accepted as truth in their society. Good is not necessarily good, bad might be good, evil may not be in the form it seems. And trust is not easily given or received.

I was happy that this didn't turn into a cheesy romance between Tris and Four, and truly I was surprised that their relationship was survived in spite of the hardships and the psychological scars they both have.  At times, they both displayed very real teenager-ish behavior, which can be the kiss of death. But they continued to be drawn back together and were really pretty patient with each other, considering how messed-up they each are.  I was very glad that the romance aspect was not the focus and did not take away from the story.

For the careful reader, there are plenty of hints and a bit of foreshadowing about where the book ends.  I was not totally surprised by the ending -- maybe a bit by the specifics of it -- but I thought it was great because Roth hasn't boxed herself in.  There are many directions she could go with it.

And here's a cool little trailer about it. . .