Review: Flying Blind by Deborah Cooke

 

Title: Flying Blind

Author: Deborah Cooke

Publisher: NAL Trade

ISBN: 978-0451233882

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The next generation of shape-shifting dragons from the popular author of the Dragonfire novels.

Zoë Sorensson is perfectly normal, except she’s been told she’s destined for great things. Zoë’s the one female dragon shapeshifter of her kind. But Zoë is at the bottom of the class when it comes to being Pyr and her powers are AWOL, so she’s sent to a Pyr boot camp.

Zoë quickly realizes that she has to master her powers yesterday, because the Pyr are in danger and boot camp is a trap. The Mages want to eliminate all shifters and the Pyr are next in line-unless Zoë and her friends can work together and save their own kind.

Review:

Flying Blind is a fun, fast-paced paranormal with one of my favorite mythical beings – dragons.  I enjoyed Deborah Cooke’s world, where Pyr, shape shifting dragons, live secretly among humans.  Zoe is fated to be the Wyvern, the one female of her kind.  She’s got a little problem though, and it’s playing havoc with her self-confidence.  When she was a baby, Zoe was the apple of her father’s eye.  She was displaying some of the magical abilities expected of the Wyvern, but once she started talking – poof! – no more powers.  No more magic, no more promise of greatness.  Now at 15, she is desperate to get her magic mojo back, only the harder she tries, the further away her magic seems to be. 

I love the concept of dragons.  Because they are passionate and quick to anger, it’s imperative that dragons learn to control their tempers.  Zoe must have skipped that lesson, because an unfortunately incident with her school’s resident queen of mean sends her in a rage.  Her inner dragon almost blazes out of control, and suddenly Zoe is in deep, deep doodoo with her parents for breaking Pyr rules  – using your dragon powers to beat up humans, even if you are defending your BFF, is a definite no no. What is Zoe’s punishment for breaking the code of conduct for dragon shape shifters?  She is sent to boot camp.  With a bunch of yummy guys.  Me?  I’d have confined her to her room for a week, but everyone does accuse me of being too harsh and unfeeling.

Boot camp isn’t quite what Zoe had envisioned.  Beautiful Isabelle is stealing her thunder, and she’s not even Pyr!  The guys, who have been her friends forever, seem to have forgotten that she’s alive whenever Isabelle walks into the room, and, as you have already guessed, this isn’t doing much to improve Zoe’s anger management issues.  When Nick, the Pyr she has loved forever, can’t take his eyes off of her new rival, Zoe’s day goes from bad to worse.   The tension between the boot camp participants had Zoe fretting and miserable, and kept everyone from stopping to wonder what happened to all of their fathers.  I really liked Zoe, and I found  her reactions to all of the conflict surrounding her believable.  She’s so confused about everything, and her support group has been torn apart.  It has her reeling and not sure what to do about anything.

If there was one thing that I didn’t like about the book, it was the pacing of the last 70 pages.  There is just so much thrown out there; kidnappings, blood, magic spells, singing, dragon scales, rescue attempts.  It had my head spinning, because it was just a bit too much to take all at once.  Some of the harrowing danger seemed to come in from left field, and it just felt like too much.  Zoe is thrown from one death-defying dilemma to the next, without pause, and I didn’t think the suspense was sustained through that segment of the story.

Despite my one quibble, I did enjoy Flying Blind.  I liked Zoe and sympathized with her confusion as she struggled to find herself and be comfortable with who she is.  I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard

 

Title: The Secret Year

Author: Jennifer R Hubbard

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 978-0142417799

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Colt and Julia were secretly together for a year, and no one ever knew, not even Julia’s boyfriend. Why would they, they were from two different crowds. Julia lived in her country club world and Colt . . . didn’t. Then Julia dies in a car accident. Colt is devastated but can’t mourn openly, and he’s tormented that he may have played a part in her death. And when Julia’s journal ends up in his hands, he is forced to relive their year together, just when he is trying to forget. The problem is, how do you get over someone who was never really yours to begin with?

Review:

This was one of my picks for the 2010 Debut Author Challenge, but I didn’t get to it in time.   It’s not a long book, but halfway through, I had to put it down and take a break from it.  This isn’t a light read, but because I never really connected with protagonist Colt, it left me ambivalent.  I love the premise, how keeping one secret from your friends and family can effect the rest of your life.  It would have had a greater impact on me, though, if Colt hadn’t been so emotionally distant.

Colt’s ability to keep his secret and remain detached is what allows the secret to exist in the first place.  He is caught up in a forbidden affair with Julia, a rich girl who hangs out with all of the beautiful, privileged kids at their school.   Colt is one of the poor kids, he’s not remarkable for anything, and he kind of likes it that way.  A chance encounter with Julia leads to a year-long relationship with her, which ends when she is tragically killed in a car accident.  Colt is left reeling; he can’t mourn her death publically, because nobody knew about their clandestine meetings.  Not his best friend, not her best friend, and certainly not Julia’s rich boy friend, Austin.  Instead, Colt is left to reconcile Julia’s absence by himself, and he’s not doing a very good job of it.

The Secret Year reads like a slice of life novel.  Mundane episodes from Colt’s life, both with and without Julia, are examined in depth as he struggles to make sense of it all.  He can’t, and that leaves him running in place, unable to move forward with a new relationship, or to get over the emptiness he’s left with.  He feels cheated that he has to grieve in silence, but his quest for answers leaves him asking the wrong people too many questions.  He yearns to know if he meant as much to Julia as she meant to him, but he doesn’t know where to find the answer. When he comes in possession of her diary, a journal that she seems to have written to him, he thinks he’s found what he’s looking for.

The book didn’t effect me as deeply as I had hoped, and it’s all because of Colt’s inability to express his feelings.  He keeps his emotions carefully guarded, and this standoffishness kept me from being engaged in his narrative.  Neither Julia nor Colt ever came clean with their feelings, and that left me so frustrated.  Though I was a bit disappointed, The Secret Year has a great premise, and it left me with a lot to think about.

Grade: C+

Note: I read the hardcover, but the paperback is now available in stores.

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Review: The Line by Teri Hall

 

Title: The Line

Author: Teri Hall

Publisher:  Dial Books

ISBN: 978-0803734661

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

An invisible, uncrossable physical barrier encloses the Unified States. The Line is the part of the border that lopped off part of the country, dooming the inhabitants to an unknown fate when the enemy used a banned weapon. It’s said that bizarre creatures and superhumans live on the other side, in Away. Nobody except tough old Ms. Moore would ever live next to the Line.

Nobody but Rachel and her mother, who went to live there after Rachel’s dad died in the last war. It’s a safe, quiet life. Until Rachel finds a mysterious recorded message that can only have come from Away. The voice is asking for help.

Who sent the message? Why is her mother so protective? And to what lengths is Rachel willing to go in order to do what she thinks is right?

Review:

I enjoyed The Line, but it left me a bit disappointed at the same time.  This is another case of the book not having a concrete ending, and it feels very incomplete because of it.  Many more questions were raised, especially at the end, than were answered, and that left me feeling a little frustrated, knowing that I will have to wait until September to pick up where the author left off.  I don’t feel that the book stands well on it’s own, so if you are interested in reading it, I would suggest holding off until Away, the next book in the series, hits store shelves later this year.

Rachel is a great character.  She is intelligent and hard working, and she wants to understand the world that she lives in.  That’s not going to be an easy task, because the government censors and controls most of the information available to her.  Her mom home schools her, and tries to keep her curiosity in check. Rachel’s mom has a few secrets that she is desperate to keep from everyone. When her past starts to catch up with her, it’s Rachel’s turn to be supportive  and brave, and believe me, she is.  At first she is upset with the furtive, almost cowardly woman  her mother has become, but then she realizes that all her mom is trying to do is protect her.  Everything she has done since the death of her father was all designed to keep her safe.

I found the world of The Line a very fascinating place.  To keep the border closed from an invading army, the government secretly erected a barrier to keep everyone out.  It also serves to keep everyone in.  All the better to oppress the populace.  The people on the other side of The Line were abandoned in Away, left to deal with a war that they were not expecting.  Terrible things happened in Away, and that is the story that interested me the most.  Too bad I have to wait for the next book in the series to have some of my curiosity satisfied.

The events unfolding in The Line are all character driven, so it is a good thing that I liked all of the main cast.  Even the stern Ms. Moore became more sympathetic, after bits and pieces of her past are slowly revealed during the course of the narrative.  Though the pacing is a bit slow and the narrative a tad dry at times, my attention never wandered from the story.  I thought The Line was a very compelling dystopian, and I am looking forward to reading more about Rachel.

Grade: I am waffling between a B and a B- because I was disappointed with the abrupt ending

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Review: The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by Rhonda Hayter

 

Title: The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams

Author: Rhonda Hayter

Publisher: Dial

ISBN: 978-0803734685

 

You can enter to win a copy of The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by clicking here – contest ends January 9th!

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Abbie Adams and her family come from a long line of witches, and she’s having a tough time keeping it a secret from her best friend and the rest of her school. Especially the day her little brother morphs into a wolf and tries to eat his teacher.

That’s also the day her father brings home a kitten. Abbie’s been begging for a cat for months, and she falls in love with that fluffy fuzzball right away. But there’s something peculiar about this kitten, and it just might take a witch like Abbie to figure out what it is.

Review:

Gosh, I enjoyed this book!  I didn’t even mean to sit down and read it, but when it fell out of the TBR stack, I couldn’t help myself.  I got caught up in Abbie’s witchy worries from the first page!  The poor girl is a great kid, and she was doing double time trying to keep her unruly younger brother under control at school, and keep the fact that she’s a witch a secret from everyone, including her BFF.  I was totally charmed by Abbie, and I hope there will be more chances to spend time with her.

Rhonda Hayter’s characters cracked me up.  Abbie’s dad gets as excited as her little brother, and colored smoke puffs out of his ears, or he zooms around the house in a fit of excitement.  Her mom is calm and cool next to the rest of Abbie’s family members.  Though stern, she is also so understanding, which makes Abbie’s rare lapses in judgment even more compelling.  Abbie knows that she is making a mistake, but she is so overwhelmed that she can’t help herself.  I adored the relationships and the family dynamics in the book.

Abbie’s world is one of wonder and magic.  She goes to a regular school so she can better understand her non-magical peers, but she also has to study up on her witchy skills, too.  She is one busy girl!  She also is not perfect, and that is what I liked best about her.  She gets in trouble for not doing her homework, trying to cover for her brother Munch, and for inadvertent discharges of built up magic.  She even gets sent to the Principal’s office!  More than once! 

When a stray kitten causes new complications in her life, her entire family gets involved to solve the tiny black feline’s problems.   For a light-hearted MG read, flush with magic and great characters, look no further than The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams.  It really is a lot of fun to read.

Grade:  A-

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

 

Title: Matched

Author: Ally Condie

Publisher:  Dutton

ISBN: 978-0525423645

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Look for CROSSED, the sequel to MATCHED, in Fall 2011!

Review:

I was transfixed by this book.  For me, it lived up to the hype.  Cassie’s utopian world is sterile and orderly, with the Officials making all of the decisions for everybody.  Cassia is content with her regimented life, and she is excited to attend her Matching banquet when she turns seventeen.  She is shocked and delighted to learn that her best friend Xander has been chosen by the Officials to be her Match.  Life couldn’t be any more perfect, she thinks, until a computer blip makes her question everything she has ever known.

Like the Society she lives in, Cassia’s narrative is sterile and unemotional.  She doesn’t know how to be anything else.  Emotional outbursts are not acceptable, and could very well get you branded a social deviant.  Obedience is everything, and independent thought is expected to be quickly squelched.  In a Society where Officials dictate everything about your life, from who you will marry, to where you will work, to when you will die, individualism brings immediate, unpleasant repercussions.

I liked Cassia a lot, despite her robotic narrative.  As she begins to see her world for what it really is, she begins a subtle rebellion against the dictates of her Society.  This took so much courage.  Punishment, swift, immediate, and unpleasant, would extend to her family as well as herself.  It’s this fear, of condemning your family as well as yourself, that kept her actions in check for so long.

My one quibble about Matched is with the ending.  The pacing felt off; rushed, abrupt, unsatisfying.  This is the first in a trilogy, so I expected to not be happy with the ending, but I was still unprepared for it.  It will be a very long wait until the next book!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher


Review: Che Guevara: A Manga Biography by Chie Shimano & Kiyoshi Konno

 

Title: Che Guevara: A Manga Biography

Author: Kiyoshi Konno & Chie Shimano

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN: 978-0143118169

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

An extraordinary illustrated graphic novel about the legendary political figure Che Guevara.

His name is equated with rebellion, revolution, and socialism. His face is on tee-shirts all over the world. Che Guevara’s life has been explored and portrayed in numerous books and films, including The Motorcycle Diaries, and he continues to captivate the public imagination more than forty years after his death. Guevara became politically active in his native Argentina, but gained notoriety after he met Fidel Castro and became instrumental in Castro’s efforts in Cuba. Guevara then went on to Bolivia, where he was captured and killed by the Bolivian army while trying to incite revolution. This illustrated biography tells the riveting story of Che’s life and death through the popular Japanese art form manga.

I didn’t know anything about Che Guevara before I read this book, and I once again despair at our public education system, which whitewashes and censors what bright-eyed and bushy tailed students are allowed to learn.  The legacy of colonialism is not a pretty thing, but pretending that the injustices and inequities didn’t happen doesn’t make them go away.

Like Penguin’s other manga biography that I have read and reviewed (The 14th Dalai Lama), I found this depiction of Che Guevara’s life to be an interesting read.  It’s always fun to learn new things while enjoying your hobby.  Highlights from Guevara’s life are presented with dramatic detail, following his illness plagued childhood,  his friendship with the Castros, and his death in Bolivia.  As a young man he was troubled by the exploitation of the masses by foreign corporations, and he vowed to fight the crippling poverty that brought so much suffering to so many. 

The events flow at a steady clip, focusing on the big moments in Guevara’s life.  The art is serviceable, but I didn’t really care for it.  It was very uneven and not consistent throughout.  While it gets the job done, the visuals don’t stand out or enhance the reading experience.

There were many typos and the translation felt very awkward to me, which is the main reason for the grade given to the book.  The dialog seemed very clunky, and I had to reread several passages to make sense of them.  The localization left me disappointed.

Che Guevara: A Manga Biography offers an interesting starting point for further reading about Guevara, Castro, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Guevara’s idealism and undying resolve to end poverty and human suffering are admirable, though his methods were often troubling.

Grade:  B-

Review copy provided by publisher

The 14th Dalai Lama by Tetsu Saiwai Manga Review

 

Title: The 14th Dalai Lama

Author: Tetsu Saiwai

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN: 978-0143118152

 

May Contain Spoilers

Since I have been reading more non-fiction than normal, I was delighted to receive this graphic novel about the Dalai Lama.  I realized that I didn’t know anything about him, and the plight of Tibet was another subject that I am woefully ignorant about.  Reading this manga about the Dalai Lama filled some gaps in my knowledge, and I found it an interesting read as well.

This biographical graphic novel tells the life of Tenzin Gyatso, a child who was declared the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.  The Dalai Lamas are believed to be living manifestations of the Buddha, and they become the spiritual and political leaders of Tibet.  The entire time I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think what a tremendous burden Tenzin Gyatso was asked to bear.  When he was 5, he was taken from his home and moved to the palace, where he began his studies to prepare for ruling his people. 

With his enormous responsibilities, he didn’t have much of a childhood.  Kept separate from boys his own age, he could only watch from his window as they played.  As he was tutored in his duties, a new threat made itself known.  The Chinese began to subtly take control of Tibet, and there was little the Tibetans could do to stop them.  Just their overwhelming numbers gave the Chinese an almost insurmountable advantage.   It was like a cat trying to take on an elephant.

The book avoids the Dalai Lama’s more controversial decisions, but it does an effective job of introducing a very complex social and political issue.  The Chinese steam-rolled into Tibet, and the young leader was helpless to protect his people or his nation.  It is sobering to think that the Dalai Lama has lived in exile for decades, far longer than he actually resided in his own country, and it is doubtful that he will ever be able to return. 

While I didn’t like the art, facial expressions effectively communicated the tense reactions of the unfolding events to the reader.  There is a lot of dialog, and it flows smoothly and seems natural.  There are some very intense emotional moments, and the young Dalai Lama’s frustration at his inability to drive out the Chinese rings true.

As a springboard for learning more about Tibet, The 14th Dalai Lama provides an interesting, easy to digest look at the Tibetan/Chinese conflict.  

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Penguin Teen Upcoming Summer Releases – Random Cover Shots

Man, Penguin Teen has been posting up a storm over on their Facebook page.  I hadn’t even heard of most of these, but I added them to my wishlist.  Warning – random cover spam to follow:

 

The Outside of a Horse by Ginny Rorby looks awesome! Maybe I am biased because it has a horse on the cover??  Nah, it still looks awesome!

 

 

Zombiekins by Kevin Bolger has a stuffed zombie bunny, teddy bear thing! It’s for MG readers, and it’s about a zombie plague unleashed on the 4th grade! Want!

 

 



Gamer Girl by Mari Mancusi is getting a June paperback release.  The protag likes manga and video games.  Sold!

 


My Double Life
by Janette Rallison looks like the perfect title to take to the beach.  Pop star look alike Alexis gets to live the life of a celebrity when she doubles for popular Kari Kingsley.

 


I love the cover to Illyria by Elizabeth Hand.  A theater setting?  Forbidden love? Not sure, but I’ll find out when this hits stores in May.

 

 



Thresholds
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman is  MG fantasy with fairies and magic portals to other worlds. 

 




Magic Below the Stairs
by Caroline Stevermer is full of magic and has a cover that begs me to pick it up and learn more about it.  Alas, I have to wait until June for that.

 




Betti on the High Wire
by Lisa Railsback is the story of an abandoned girl who has to learn to trust again.  It’s due out in July.

 




The Grimm Legacy
by Polly Shulman looks intriguing and makes me happy that my afterschool job was working in a used book store.  No magical items, just the magic found in books.  Hope this one is magical, too.

 

 

 

Super Human by Michael Carroll has an eye-catching cover. Can a group of young heroes defeat a super human before he enslaves the world?