Monday, May 30, 2011

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Article first published as Book Review: Shine by Lauren Myracle on Blogcritics.

I know that it’s been said over and over again never to judge a book by its cover, but I have to admit that I picked up Shine by Lauren Myracle only because I was attracted by its cover.

I have never heard of the author and I had no idea what this book was about. I read the synopsis, and gathered from it that a boy named Patrick is a victim of what looks like a hate crime and is now in a coma, and sixteen-year-old Cat, his former best friend, is investigating what really happened.

It sounds pretty clear-cut, but it’s more complicated than that. There’s all sorts of relationship dynamics between the inhabitants of this small town, and of course, there’s the small-town mentality that Cat needs to overcome, especially considering that Patrick was supposedly attacked because he’s a homosexual.

Cat is threatened when she asks too many questions, but the threats only make her angrier and more determined to find the answers. In the process of digging up information about Patrick’s attack, Cat also has to dig up her own past and the emotions she buried a long time ago.

This is the town that Cat grew up in; these are people that she knows and have relationships with. Some of them she’s had bad experiences with; some were her former best friends. What do you do when you suspect that one of your friends have hurt another?

I was very impressed with how well-written Shine was. It’s kind of like a Nancy Drew crime/mystery novel in the sense that it has a teenaged sleuth who’s solving a crime by asking questions and piecing the answers together, except it’s so much more subtle than a Nancy Drew novel, and yet so much more intense and emotionally involved.

You get to know the characters well, and then you see a different side of them. I think that’s one of my favorite things about this book. Nothing and no one is really what they seem. It’s ironic that I was drawn to this book because of its cover, and then when reading it, find that the prevalent theme in this book is about not taking things at face value.

Shine is one of the most engrossing books I’ve read so far this year, and I’m so impressed by Myracle’s writing that I’ve added her other books to my To-Be-Read list.

Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy) by Lauren DeStefano

Article first published as Book Review: Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy) by Lauren DeStefano on Blogcritics.

I had been seeing Wither by Lauren DeStefano a lot in bookstores and was intrigued by the premise. A genetic experiment gone wrong has given all newborns a fixed lifespan of 25 years for males and 20 years for females. How could I not get hooked?

Apparently, it happened when scientists were trying to discover a cure of cancer and other degenerative diseases. They found a way to genetically engineer fetuses so that all the babies would be born strong and healthy and immune to any disease. It worked great, and the first generation all grew up and grew old and never got sick.

Unfortunately, their children and their children’s children all started dying at the age of 20 and 25, and they’ve been looking for a cure since. In the meantime, it was important not to let the human race die out, so they started kidnapping girls in their teens to become child-brides and produce babies.

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is one of the child-brides, but although her husband Linden loves her and she gets along well with her sister wives, she longs for her freedom and the love of a servant, Gabriel, who is as much a prisoner as she is. It’s a bittersweet story, and I can’t help but root for Rhine and Gabriel even as I’m rooting for her husband, Linden.

Reading this book makes me think of all the reasons people are against cloning, genetically modified foods, genetic engineering, and anything that interferes with the natural order of things.

It’s hard to say where I stand on this issue, because on the one hand, I can see all the benefits that could be achieved, but on the other, who knows what kind of effects all these experiments could have on us in the long run?

People have been saying for a while now that our lives are getting longer, but they haven’t considered the fact that these statistics include a lot of terminally sick people whose suffering are being prolonged by drugs and surgery. In contrast, the inhabitants in the world of Wither are all healthy and strong until they reach their curtailed life expectancy, then they get sick and die quickly.

In my opinion, if our lives were limited to 20-plus years, we wouldn’t be spending so much of our childhood learning lessons we’re never going to use, playing video games, and wasting time. We’d probably be living hedonistically and we’d definitely be having children as soon as we’re able to - we wouldn’t have time to read or do anything that didn’t contribute to our survival. We’d basically be living like animals.

The only thing that keeps the inhabitants of Wither from living like animals is the fact that the first generation of genetically engineered humans are still alive, although the youngest of them are already seventy years old. They are the ones that try to keep a semblance of a normal society intact, but what’s going to happen in a few more decades when the first generation dies and they still haven’t found a cure for the younger generation?

I’m interested in seeing what happens next with Rhine, Gabriel, and Linden and I want to know more about what happens to the people in Wither. Will they ever find a cure? What will happen when the first generation dies out? Wither is the first book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy, and I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the trilogy.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wild Roses by Deb Caletti

Article first published as Book Review: Wild Roses by Deb Caletti on Blogcritics.

Wild Roses tells the story of 17-year old Cassie Morgan, and the way she and her mother handle living with a temperamental and, at times, almost insane musician.

Dino Cavalli is a world-renowned violinist, and he’s also Cassie’s stepfather. At first, he seems like only a bully and an egomaniac, but when he goes off his medication because it blocks his creativity, he becomes manic, paranoid, and destructive.

While Dino never actually hurts Cassie or her mother physically, there are times in the book where the scene is so intense and frightening that I tense my muscles in expectation that he might. Fortunately, he never crosses that line, but unsurprisingly, he does finally hit someone towards the end of the book.

The more interesting story in the book though, is the romance between Cassie and Ian Waters, who happens to be Dino’s student. Ian is an extremely talented violinist who might have a chance to get a full scholarship into the most prestigious school for musicians.

Of course, his romance with Cassie gets in the way of his music, or you could say that his music gets in the way of his romance with Cassie. Either way, Dino isn’t happy, and the situation is full of difficult choices for Ian and Cassie.

Van Gogh Wild Roses

It’s interesting to note how the book portrays how difficult it can be living with and loving talented musicians. Both Cassie and her mother have to cater to the needs and the moods of the musicians they love, letting go of what they want in deference to what talent and genius need.

I relate to this on a personal level because I married a very talented musician after making a promise to myself a long time ago that I would never get involved with musicians! I had dated musicians before my husband, and I always felt like I wasn’t important and that their needs always came first.

To be fair, it wasn’t so much that they treated me badly, but more that they were oversensitive and I always had to be careful what I said and did so that I wouldn’t hurt their feelings inadvertently. It got so tiring that I gave up dating musicians until my husband came along.

What drew me to him and what made me forget my promise of not ever getting involved with a musician again is the fact that he’s the most amazing musician I’ve ever met, and he’s still as down to earth as anyone with his measure of talent can get. He’s sensitive but not overly so, and a lot of the time, he puts my needs before his.

Obviously, living with my husband is nowhere near as dramatic as Cassie and her mother living with Dino, but what I relate to is the deference to genius. My husband never expects this accommodation, and in fact, sometimes will cancel a gig for my convenience instead, but always to my disapproval.

There’s this feeling that I, as a mere mortal, get about not getting in the way of genius. I think my husband is amazing, and I think he’s got potential for huge success, and because of that, I always insist that his music comes first.

So reading this book, while I feel that Dino is too volatile and definitely not someone I’d like to live with no matter how talented he is, I started wondering about my own life with a musical genius and why I so naturally defer to his music.

Wild Roses mentions many times how everyone is moved to tears when they listen to Dino’s music. No matter how horrible Dino is as a person, and no matter how much people may dislike him, all is forgiven when they hear his music.

I think that’s the key; we yield to talented musicians because their work touches us and makes us feel things we otherwise would never feel, and somehow our instinct is to do whatever we can to make sure that the music survives.

Wild Roses is an engrossing book and I like that it made me think about my own relationship with a musician and how we all need music in our lives. Deb Caletti is an excellent writer and I will definitely be reading more of her books.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan

Article first published as Book Review: Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan on Blogcritics.

One of my all-time favorite books is The Third Eye by Lois Duncan. I’ve read this book at least half a dozen times since I first read it in high school. Funnily enough, I haven’t read any of Duncan’s better known books, like Stranger with My Face, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Killing Mr. Griffin.

I finally got a hold of a copy of Stranger with My Face, and it was so exciting that I finished reading it in one day. At first glance, the plot sounds like a cliché; Laurie Stratton is a sixteen-year-old girl with an evil twin who wants to take over her life.

It's an overdone plot, but consider the fact that this evil twin can astral travel and is strong enough in astral form that she can cause harm to others, and factor in that it was written in 1981, and you can’t help feeling really impressed with Duncan’s vision. As far as I know, no one else has ever told this story with a paranormal twist, and again, remember that it was written thirty years ago.

Stranger with My Face

I’ve loved her writing ever since I read The Third Eye, and now I can add Stranger with My Face to my ever growing list of favorite books.

This new edition of Stranger with My Face also features a Q&A with the author that, to be quite honest, was my favorite part of the book. I never knew before that she had a teenage daughter who was murdered in 1989, and that psychic detectives played a big role in discovering information about her murder.

It must have been devastating to Duncan and her family, but it sheds a new light on her books and their subject matter. She has also written a book about her daughter’s murder, Who Killed My Daughter?, which I am definitely going to read.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman

Article first published as Book Review: Thirteen Days To Midnight by Patrick Carman on Blogcritics.

If you could have only one superpower…what would it be?

This question is asked over and over again in the book, and I have to admit, I still don’t know what my answer would be.

In the beginning of the book, the protagonist, Jacob Fielding, ponders the possible answers to this question and he discusses the pros and cons of a couple. Flying would be dangerous, for example, and invisibility seems to be the best superpower, except that it would lead to all sorts of temptation since you’d basically be able to do almost anything without consequence. So he decides that invisibility isn’t a superpower, it’s a “lose-your-soul-to-the-devil power”.

He has a point. With great power comes great responsibility, famous words from another superhero story, and true, because power can be used for good but it can also be abused. Jacob, his girlfriend Oh, short for Ophelia, and his best friend Milo, find out the hard way what happens when they abuse a power that they don’t understand.

Jacob and his friends discover that he has the power of indestructibility, and that he can pass on that power to others and use it to save lives. It would be a really cool power to have, except how do you decide who gets to live and who dies?

They experiment with it, get into fights with it, save a few people with it, and let some others die because the power can only be given to one person at a time. Unfortunately, all those deaths that didn’t happen, have to go somewhere, and so Oh becomes home to all that darkness. Jacob and Milo have to kill her to save her, but how do you kill someone you love?

I enjoyed the story itself because it was well-written and has an interesting plot, but what I really liked about it is that it makes you think. Obviously, there’s a moral to this story and it’s telling us not to abuse power because there are always a consequences. But here’s the thing, what if there are no consequences?

There Jacob is, telling us about invisibility being a temptation at the beginning of the book, because nothing would stop you from doing anything you want with it if you were never caught. Then he tells us the story of what happens with his own superpower, of how he and his friends abused it, only to find out that there is a consequence, and when they realized it, they stop abusing the power.

My question is, if there was no consequence, would they have gone on abusing the power forever? Are we all “good” citizens because we’re afraid of the consequences, of getting caught, or are we good because we want to be, because we believe it’s the right thing to do?

It really makes me wonder; if you knew you would never ever have to face any consequence of your actions, would you lie, steal, cheat, murder? How far would you go and where would you draw the line? Or would you still be a “good” person simply because you choose to?

Now, I’m not sure if the author intended for his readers to ask these questions, but it was written for the young adult audience and most young adults are naturally inquisitive and imaginative. I’m sure they will enjoy this book on many levels.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Comments are back!

I tried, I really tried, but I don’t know how to fix the glitch with the comments. After troubleshooting, it seems to be a Disqus integration problem. I don’t know how to fix it, so I’m going back to the Blogger commenting system for now.

I might or might not try again with Disqus. I do like Disqus and all their features, but it might not be worth all the trouble I’m going through with it right now. =(

We’ll see!

In the meantime, we’re back! =)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Look and Glitches

As you can see, I’ve given my blog a new look. Well deserved, after so long with the old layout. =)

There’s a problem with the comments though. There’s always something to fix every time I change to a new layout. Any wonder why I do it so little.

Anyway, when you click on the comments you don’t get anywhere, but if you click on the post itself, it will bring you to its own page and you’ll be able to comment from there. I’ll try to fix it within the next couple of days. At this moment I’m not sure if it’s a Blogger problem or a Disqus problem, so we’ll see.

Sorry for the inconvenience and thanks for your patience. =)

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Article first published as Book Review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore on Blogcritics.

This book is the first in the Lorien Legacies series about nine alien kids with special powers, or Legacies, from the planet Lorien, who are hiding on Earth from the Mogadorians.

The Mogadorians are sinister beings who wants to kill them and destroy Earth like they destroyed Lorien. Three of the nine kids have been killed, and Number Four, the protagonist of this book, is next.

The mysterious author, Pittacus Lore, is described on the back cover of the book as Lorien’s ruling Elder and having been on Earth for the last twelve years, preparing for the war with the Mogadorians.

Now obviously this book is a work of fiction, but I like the idea that it could be true. Do I believe that there are aliens? Of course I do. The universe is so vast, I think we’d be arrogant to think that we’re the only intelligent life forms living in it.

Do I think that this particular story about the Loriens and the Mogadorians is believable though? Not so much, even factoring in suspension of belief and all that. I mean, forget about all the super powers, healing stones, shape-shifting animals, and all that stuff for a moment. It’s the simple details that gets me.

Firstly, every time Number Four and Henri, his guardian, had to move, they move within the United States. Why? Why can’t they move to some other country in some other continent? Wouldn’t that be more effective if they really wanted to hide from the Mogadorians? I understand that there are nine other Lorien Legacies and if they meet each other, the spell that they can only be killed off in the order of their numbers will be broken, but I’m quite sure that there are more than nine countries on Earth.

Secondly, just how clueless can Number Four be that he fails to notice that Bernie Kosar isn’t a regular dog? The dog runs into one part of the woods and then appears from the other side, don’t you think that’s more than just “peculiar”? Wouldn’t a supposedly intelligent person have guessed that there was more to Bernie Kosar, especially since he had already seen the Lorien animals in his dream-memories?

Also, the way the Mogadorians were described, and the way they killed so easily and so quickly before, with Numbers One to Three, you’d think that with so many of them surrounding Number Four and his friends, that they’d be killed just as easily.

Sure, the difference is that Numbers Four and Six have gotten their legacies already, but seriously, as ruthless and strong as the Mogadorians are, how are Mark and Sarah able to get close enough to hurt them, much less kill them, so extremely easily and without getting hurt themselves?

I won’t even go into character development, except to say that most of the characters were shallow and not very likable. I liked Bernie Kosar though; I thought he was the best character in the book.

There are so many problems with this book that make it hard for me to really enjoy it, but I won’t go into all of them. I’m sure it will make for a great movie with all the special effects and all, but I expected a lot more from the book.

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