Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #36: The Compound July 7, 2010

The next entry on my dystopian fiction reading list is S. A. Bodeen’s The Compound.  I was pulled in by the back cover excerpt, definitely not by the less-than-inspiring cover…

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The Compound by S. A. Bodeen

Feiwel and Friends, 2008

b

The use of the manhole cover doesn't match the "compound" idea. I'd have preferred to put the door of a vault instead...

b

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bodeen, acclaimed as the writer of such picture books as Elizabeti’s Doll, turns out a high-wire act of a first novel, a thriller that exerts an ever-tighter grip on readers. Eli, the 15-year-old son of a billionaire techno-preneur, has spent the last six years with his family in the massive underground shelter his father has built, knowing that nuclear war has destroyed the world he knows—and killed his grandmother and his twin brother, who couldn’t reach the compound in time. With nine years to go before the air outside will be safe to breathe again, the food supply shows signs of running out, but Eli’s father has a solution—provided they jettison all morals and ethics. Repulsed and already suspicious, Eli begins investigating his father’s claims, and sets up a family death match against a man who grows increasingly irrational and sinister but no less powerful. As far-fetched as the premise may be, Bodeen keeps Eli’s actions true to life and uses clues planted fairly and in plain sight. The audience will feel the pressure closing in on them as they, like the characters, race through hairpin turns in the plot toward a breathless climax. Ages 12-up. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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This is probably one of the best summaries I’ve seen for a book.  This really encompasses the major elements of the plot.

Strengths: This definitely IS a thriller, and a good one.  Bodeen creates a disturbingly real vision of a frightening question:  how would you survive if you were the ONLY survivors of a nuclear winter, and would you even WANT to?  It’s an uneasy question that hovers over the entire story, particularly when the mysterious “Supplements” enter the plot.  In some sense, the ending does seem a bit predictable; I saw it coming, but it was well-written enough that it didn’t bother me.  The real shock of the book hits you from nowhere in the MIDDLE of the story.  From that point, there’s a constant building of tension that is very well-crafted.

Potential Flaws: Superficially, the cover art doesn’t do the story justice, in my opinion.  A more fickle reader might walk by this one.  Covers are important.  And where I usually stumble across multiple versions of a cover, my searches only turned up this one.  As far as the story is concerned, there’s a bit of unbelievability about the ridiculous wealth Eli’s father must have.  However important it is to the plot (there’s no way the compound would exist without it) it’s just a little too convenient.

My Rating:

A tightly constructed, tense thriller.  A little too real for comfort, but hard to put down.

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What I’m Reading #35: Leviathan July 5, 2010

I’ve always had a penchant for beautiful books.  Beautiful writing, beautiful illustrations, etc.  In this case I was absolutely NOT disappointed.

I’ve had Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series in my TBR pile for quite some time.  After I moved to Arizona, they were lovingly boxed and are still in my storage unit.  I turned my attention to the books I DON’T have in storage and the books I stumble across in used bookstores.

I found a copy of Westerfeld’s Leviathan on Saturday.  I’d finished it by Sunday night.  All 440 pages of it.  What Ellen Hopkins does for verse novels, Westerfeld does for Steampunk.  I’m officially in love with it.

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Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Simon Pulse, 2009

B

Lovely metallic touches here...

B

This is one of those covers that begs to be touched.  It’s rich and dark and steely.  I couldn’t keep my hands off it.  And when you open the book, the inside cover presents you with this:

B

This is the kind of art that makes me want to STEAL books. But I resisted the temptation and paid for it…


Synopsis: (from jacket flap)

“It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up.  The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition.  The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry.  Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

“Aleksander Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run.  His own people have turned on him.  His title is worthless.  All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

“Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service.  She’s a brilliant airman.  But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

“With the Great War brewing, Alek’s and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure.  One that will change both their lives forever.”

See more of the delicious artwork (by Keith Thompson) on Westerfeld’s website.

Other cover art:

An ARC cover, perhaps?

UK Hardcover

New Cover Art

And, not to be missed, the sequel, Behemoth:

Coming October 2010

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Ok.  Here goes:

Strengths: This book is like your favorite food; you want to wolf it down but know you need to savor it.  I wanted to sink my teeth into it and devour it.  Westerfeld creates his alternate reality, Steampunk vision of WWI in epic proportions.  Meticulously detailed, the two main plotlines converge upon each other without losing their individual character and strengths.  Seamless melding creates an even richer narrative, aided by Keith Thompson’s outstanding illustrations.  It’s visually sumptuous.  [As an aside here, I’d label this as a hybrid novel–your experience of the book is critically dependent upon the illustrations, but it’s FAR from being a picture book.]  Alek shines as a flawed and impetuous youth forced to become a man by circumstances wholly beyond his control.  Deryn is a spunky, edgy heroine with more courage than most of the men with whom she serves on the Leviathan.

Readers will find the world of the Clankers and the Darwinists irretrievably interesting.  Fans of Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars will be intrigued by the mechanical war machines of the Clankers.  The creations of the Darwinists, or “beasties,” as they are frequently referred to, pull the ideas of the present day back into a bygone era.  Further, the historical timelines of this period remain largely intact; the war is in fact started with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the alliances of the different powers mirror the reality.  As fantastic as the ideas are (particularly with the notion of the whale-ship Leviathan as a floating ecosystem), anyone who picks this book up will be sucked in.  Westerfeld combines historical accuracy and utter fantasy with amazing skill.

Skillfully written and richly envisioned, with effortless flow, particularly in action scenes.

Potential Flaws: I’d have to be reaching to find much wrong with this book.  On a superficial level, I’ll say I prefer the 2009 cover art to the new art which is designed to match Behemoth.  The new art makes me want to go watch Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

The only hiccup in my reading dealt with the age of the characters.  Throughout the book, despite being told the age of the hero and heroine (15-16), I simply could not see them at that age.  It seemed more appropriate to view them as younger, perhaps aided by Thompson’s illustrations.  I was quite happy to envision them as younger, so much so that when Deryn begins to react differently to Alek, I was knocked a bit askew.  Call it a continuity problem.  To me, this was the only wrinkle in an otherwise outstanding tale.

I know.  I’m reaching.

My Rating:

Rich and gritty at times, solidly constructed on a fascinating premise, and full of believable characters.  A delightful balance between fantasy and reality and Steampunk.

 

What I’m Reading #34: Dusk July 4, 2010

When this one showed up on the shelf at my favorite used bookstore, I had to grab it.  It’s a really striking cover.

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Dusk by Susan Gates

Putnam Juvenile (May 19, 2005)

B

The US cover. I love the colors and the double helix dissolving into feathers.

The UK cover. Not so eye-catching...

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Grade 7-10–SERU (Sensory Enhancement Research Unit) is a secret facility devoted to enhancing military capabilities. Among its genetically mutated experiments are extremely clever and dangerous rats; a killer guard dog; and Dusk, a human girl who possesses hawk genes, the result of a failed attempt to create perfect night vision. When a fire erupts and destroys SERU, all of the specimens escape to a nearby deserted town. The military pulls out to cover its illegal operations, and the escapees live there under a strict, and very tense, state of peace. Two years later, a boy enters the village and disrupts that truce. It is then that Dusk has to take sides: is she human or animal? Gates creates an interesting science-fiction story, weaving in elements of survival and family dynamics. The mutated animals are just plain scary (the dogs are slightly reminiscent of Stephen King’s Cujo [Penguin, 1981]), and the genetic mutation issue makes readers wonder if this could really happen. At times a bit confusing (there’s a lot going on in the first chapter), this is a decent novel that leaves readers still concerned about the future of the title character. Will she ever really be free? But, perhaps, that’s just an excuse for a sequel.–Carly B. Wiskoff, Great Neck Library, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Strengths: This had such a unique and spooky premise I couldn’t resist it.  Particularly with the debates going on regarding cloning and genetic research.  I definitely agree with School Library Journal; you really are left uneasily wondering if this could really happen.  Gates’ narration keeps Dusk remote from us, only showing us the animal side of her at first, with increasing glimpses of her humanity as the story progresses.  The inner struggle she feels between her human and hawk genes becomes more and more palpable.

Potential Flaws: Not much aside from a woefully abrupt ending, as though the story is only half-told.  Readers will want to know more about Dusk’s transition from her wild existence to a more human one.  It’s been 5 years and no sequel appears to be forthcoming.

My Rating:

An intriguing read with a unique premise and disturbing realism.

 

You Know You Want It July 3, 2010

Filed under: Wish/Want List — mezzowriter @ 9:05 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Excuse me as I lapse into book lust for a few moments…

Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your...Brains by Ryan Mecum (2008)

Werewolf Haiku by Ryan Mecum(2010)

YOU KNOW YOU WANT IT.

 

What I’m Reading #33: Vampire Haiku

I will be the first to admit it: the craze surrounding the Twilight Saga mystifies me.  I can appreciate that the books get kids to read.  Really.  But the premise of the books themselves drives me absolutely nuts.  For that reason, it will be a warm, sunny day in Forks before I post a review of any of Meyers’ books on here.

So instead, I find subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways of poking fun at them.  I suppose it’s a little childish and not very professional of me, but there’s no shortage of tongue-in-cheek titles out there that pander to my petty grudge.

B

Today I stumbled across a title by Ryan Mecum and thought, why not?

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Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum

How (August 14, 2009)

B

B

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

Product Description

You hold in your hands a recently discovered poetry journal – the poetry journal of a vampire. William Butten was en route to a new land on the Mayflower when he was turned into a vampire by a fellow passenger, a beautiful woman named Katherine. These pages contain his heartbreaking story – the story of a vampire who has lived through (and perhaps caused) some of America’s defining events. As he travels the country and as centuries pass, he searches for his lost love and records his adventures and misadventures using the form of poetry known as haiku.

As Butten documents bloody wars, a certain tea party in Boston, living the high life during the Great Depression, two Woodstock festivals, the corruption of Emily Dickinson, and hanging out with Davy Crockett, he keeps to the classic 5-7-5 syllable structure of haiku. The resulting poems are hilarious, repulsive, oddly romantic, and bizarre.

Read along, and you just may find a new appreciation for – and insight into – various events in American history. And blood.

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Strengths: I don’t know who wrote the product review on the Amazon page.  But they were DEAD on (no pun intended):  “hilarious, repulsive, oddly romantic, and bizarre.”  It’s a lightning fast read, beautifully published (full color throughout), and fabulously addictive.  It’s Interview with the Vampire in Haiku.  The wit in Mecum’s poetry is delightful, and yes, he even gets a little dig in at Twilight: “Those were not vampires./If sunlight makes you sparkle,/ You’re a unicorn.”  But honestly, I was already in love with it before I got to that point.  It sent me scrambling to the internet to find Mecum’s other works.

Potential Flaws: For heaven’s sake.  I’m not picking this one apart.  I loved it.

My Rating:

Witty, wild, and wonderful.  One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time, purely for the fun of it.

 

What I’m Reading #32: The Hand of the Devil

To preface this post, I need to share  bit about a couple of my favorite authors:  Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

In 1995, Preston and Child released Relic, a delicious thriller built on archaeology, legend, and science.  They followed this bestseller with Reliquary and 8 other sequels, tied together with the same threads: a fantastic cast of characters, scientific/archeological realities, and various legends of strange phenomena/creatures.

*

*

It appears, to my excitement, that I’ve found a YA equivalent to my Preston/Child obsession.

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The Hand of the Devil by Dean Vincent Carter

Bodley Head Children’s Books; First Edition edition (February 2, 2006)

(Isn’t this a deliciously wicked-looking cover?)

*

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up—As a journalist for the weird science magazine Missing Link, recent college graduate Ashley Reeves has dealt with his fair share of crackpots and phony tips, but the letter from Reginald Mather seems genuine. Mather claims to have in his possession the only known specimen of a particularly large and deadly variety of mosquito known as the Ganges Red, a legendary creature believed by some to have supernatural abilities. Ashley quickly departs for Mather’s isolated cabin on Aries Island where, of course, he is promptly cut off from civilization and finds himself in the company of a very unpleasant insect and at least one madman. (A portion of this review deleted due to spoilers.) Carter’s novel contains a fair helping of gore, but never generates much tension or atmosphere. Although large portions of the novel are devoted to people explaining various back stories to one another, none of the characters (with the possible exception of Mather) really emerges as an individual. Suspense and horror fans will probably find Lois Duncan and Darren Shan more satisfying.—Christi Voth, Parker Library, CO
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Description

When young magazine journalist Ashley Reeves receives an intriguing letter, he leaves his London office in the hope of reporting on an unusual species of insect – the Ganges Red. That evening he arrives on Aries Island and encounters the writer of the letter – Reginald Mather. At first Mather seems no more than an eccentric collector, happy to live in isolation on the island. But when Reeves unearths the horrific truth he finds himself thrown headlong into a macabre nightmare that quickly spirals out of control. His life is in danger …and Mather is not his only enemy …Both gruesome and compelling, chilling and page-turning, this much-anticipated thriller from Dean Vincent Carter will delight older readers.

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Ok, so I’m not in full agreement with School Library Journal.  I really thought this was a refreshing departure from typical teen thrillers.  It felt more like a YA Stephen King novel.  It’s definitely not for younger readers; I wouldn’t recommend it below 9th grade, unless the reader was particularly precocious.

It’s definitely a little more raw in content than say, Christopher Pike.  I didn’t find this to be a pale book by any stretch of the imagination; I tore through it in less than a day (and I usually don’t sit and read for HOURS at a time unless the book is REALLY fantastic).  So…

Strengths: As I’ve said, a definite change of pace from some of the tamer, more diluted teen thrillers out there.  Its similarity to Preston/Child books (if you read this and like it, I strongly suggest finding a copy of Relic) was more than enough to pull me in.  Mathers is wonderfully creepy as the villain.  The ending of the book does, IMO, build up quite a bit of tension through a series of confrontations that pile up on each other.

Potential Flaws: I did find one element to be lacking: the addition of  Reeves’ love interest.  She appears too late in the novel and without enough build-up to make Reeves’ feelings for her believable.  It’s a rather afterthought-ish way to add the romance in, which ends up being critical to the climax.   Definitely needed refining in that area.

My Rating:

Carter’s book is fast-paced, gruesome, and intense.  Thoroughly enjoyable and uniquely plotted.  Good for reading late at night.  🙂

 

What I’m Reading #31: Growing Wings June 13, 2010

So life happened.  I took an unplanned hiatus from reading.  Just lost interest in it for a while as the rest of life’s drama continued.
Today I went back and picked up a book I started several weeks ago…

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Growing Wings by Laurel Winter

Sandpiper; Reprint edition (January 18, 2010)

I had never heard of this, and only picked it up because I thought the cover was fabulous.

Sweet and whimsical, I think this cover really captures the essence of the story.  The other covers I was able to track down pictures of (much more easily, I might add) aren’t nearly as good a fit, in my opinion…

This one is from the first edition, and looks darker, with a heroine that’s maybe a bit older and more worldly than Linnet (the main character) actually is.  Plus, it makes her look like she has wings INSTEAD of arms, which isn’t the case.  Not my favorite.

The original hardcover is my least favorite cover.  I just don’t like it.  It looks like a poorly lit Christmas decoration.  I MUCH prefer the new edition’s cover.

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

Amazon.com Review

When 11-year-old Linnet discovers she is growing wings, her bewilderment is confounded by her mother’s obvious distress. As it turns out, her mother also grew wings on the cusp of adolescence, only to have them cut off by her mother. Linnet’s life seems to speed up rapidly after her shocking discovery; she soon finds herself alone on her estranged grandmother’s doorstep, and shortly thereafter, at a type of secret residence for winged people like herself. As she tries to adapt to a life she never expected, Linnet struggles with desires common to anyone who has ever wanted desperately to fit in, while simultaneously seeking to embrace uniqueness.

This unusual novel will strike a chord with young readers who long to both blend in and stand out. Linnet is a sensitive, strong, fallible girl, easy to relate to (in spite of her unusual physical traits). Her adventures as she tries to learn how to fly (just having wings isn’t enough–it takes hard work and practice), make friends, find her mother, and, with her winged community, avoid being noticed by the media, make for an entirely new kind of science fiction-fantasy story–one that soars. (Ages 9 to 12) –Emilie Coulter –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Grade 5-8-When 11-year-old Linnet begins to grow wings, her single mother explains that she, too, experienced the same changes as she approached puberty, but her mother brutally cut off her wings, leading to their eventual estrangement. When Linnet’s mother inexplicably abandons her, the girl finds her grandmother, the only other person she thinks might be able to give her information about her wings. The woman then takes her to a secret sanctuary of winged people and cutwings-those who have lost their wings-in the wilds of Montana. As she and the other young people who live there experiment with flying and have some scary brushes with nosy reporters, Linnet begins to understand that she is not alone in the world and learns some secrets that will help her survive and thrive. Eventually her mother finds her and the residents of the sanctuary make plans for their future. While readers will relate to a preadolescent girl on the brink of big changes questioning her place in the world, the theme often overwhelms the plot, which is driven by several unbelievable contrivances, including Linnet’s mother’s disappearance. Wooden and unrealistic dialogue slows down the first chapter, but after that youngsters will discover a fast-paced and suspenseful fantasy.
Ellen Fader, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Gr. 4-6. Eleven-year-old Linnet does not know why her shoulders itch and ache, or why there are weird bumps on them. But Linnet’s mother, Sarah, does: she once grew wings, which her own mother cut off. Now that Linnet’s wings are unfolding, Sarah must find another solution. Linnet winds up in Montana, abandoned by her mother, but taken in by a group whose members have wings or are “cutwings.” This is Winter’s first novel, and there’s some awkwardness in the narrative, including an ending that discloses the existence of a worldwide network of winged people, who send a helicopter, no less, to save Linnet and her roommate, Andy, who are lost in the wilderness. Growing wings is a fascinating premise, but the book is at its best when it is revealing relationships: especially the rivalry between Linnet and Andy, and the jealousy between the winged Linnet and the scarred Sarah. The title and an evocative jacket will draw readers in. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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I’ve included a rather overwhelming amount of reviews here, but mostly because I am on the fence about this one.  I agree with some of these reviews in parts and not in others.  (Unlike Booklist’s review, I don’t find the hardcover’s jacket in the SLIGHTEST bit evocative, but that’s irrelevant at this point.)

Strengths: I thought the premise of the story was charming and original, and quite different than anything else available right now.  Winter characterizes Linnet (I really loved this choice of name) remarkably well, and she fits easily into what I would expect of an eleven-year-old.  Too often authors that try to create younger characters make them a little too worldly for their age, I find.  This was not the case in Winter’s tale.  Linnet’s teenage friend Andy is also well-conceived; she’s a much darker girl, frustrated and confined, hoping for something better, and her antagonism toward Linnet and on-again, off-again friendship with her fit perfectly with her personality.

Potential Flaws: While I don’t find the level of weakness in the plot that School Library Journal does (Unbelievable plot contrivances?  Not so much.), I do think there were points of instability in the plot.  The ending is a little abrupt and leaves the reader hanging, and I found myself craving the backstories of the other characters and was disappointed not to get them.

My Rating:

For a charming, original story.

For a story that deserved a little more fleshing-out.

Overall, 3.5 Stars.  Enjoyable to me and most likely to younger readers, esp. young girls.