Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

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

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.

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What I’m Reading #9: Candor February 7, 2010

When I go browsing for new reads, I tend to gravitate towards unfamiliar titles.  I’m sure that some of the current popular titles are excellent (SOME, not all).  But I like looking for buried gems.

So when I picked up Pam Bachorz’s Candor, it was out of sheer “I’ve-never-heard-of-this” curiosity.  I was pulled in by the tagline:  “In this town, you are what you hear.”

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Candor by Pam Bachorz

Egmont USA, 2009

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

Product Description

In the model community of Candor, Florida, every teen wants to be like Oscar Banks. The son of the town’s founder, Oscar earns straight As, is student-body president, and is in demand for every club and cause.
But Oscar has a secret. He knows that parents bring their teens to Candor to make them respectful, compliant–perfect–through subliminal Messages that carefully correct and control their behavior. And Oscar’ s built a business sabotaging his father’s scheme with Messages of his own, getting his clients out before they’re turned. After all, who would ever suspect the perfect Oscar Banks?
Then he meets Nia, the girl he can’t stand to see changed. Saving Nia means losing her forever. Keeping her in Candor, Oscar risks exposure . . . and more.

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Strengths: LOVED this book.  It was a bit of a mash up of some of my favorites–a little bit Stepford Wives, a little bit 1984, a little bit M.T. Anderson’s Feed, and a protagonist with a little Robert Cormier edge.

Oscar Banks is cut from my favorite cloth–he’s genuinely smart, likable…and flawed.  Knowing that those who live in Candor are being slowly but surely brainwashed by the “messages,”  Oscar views himself as a rogue, a savior.  He helps teens (new ones) escape Candor, but is pulled into using the same underhanded methods to do it.  It’s all in a day’s deception that he meets Nia, the beautiful new rebel in Candor.  The evolution of his relationship with her, and his struggles to come to terms with his methods show an incredible depth of character.

Bachorz also creates more characters you will love–Nia–and still others you’ll love to hate.  Her pacing is effective, and her build-up to the ending is masterful.  It’s a stunning debut novel–futuristic, but just present-day enough to make your skin crawl.

Potential Flaws: Flaws?  What flaws?

My Rating:

An incredible, disturbing read.  Great characters, intriguing story.

 

What I’m Reading #8: Genesis February 3, 2010

As promised, I took a break from my historical fiction streak.  I decided to turn to science fiction, a genre I’m usually not too excited by.  Not sure why, but it’s never been my preference.  Something got me interested in Bernard Beckett’s book Genesis, though–I couldn’t say exactly what.

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Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

Anax, the dedicated student historian at the center of Beckett’s brutal dystopian novel, lives far in the future—the distant past events of the 21st century are taught in classrooms. The world of that era, we learn, was ravaged by plague and decay, the legacy of the Last War. Only the island Republic, situated near the bottom of the globe, remained stable and ordered, but at the cost of personal freedom. Anax, hoping her scholarly achievements will gain her entrance to the Academy, which rules her society, has extensively studied Adam Forde, a brilliant and rebellious citizen of the Republic who fought for human dignity in the midst of a regimented, sterile society. To join the Academy’s ranks, Anax undergoes a test before three examiners, and as the examination progresses, it becomes clear that her interpretations of Adam’s life defy conventional thought and there may be more to Adam—and the Academy—than she had imagined. Though the trappings of Beckett’s dystopian society feel perhaps too Brave New World, the rigorous narrative and crushing final twist bring a welcome freshness to a familiar setup. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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The best word I can think of to describe Beckett’s book is “cerebral.”  For a short book, it certainly made me think.

Strengths: Beckett puts a lot into 150 pages, but it’s well-paced.  I will admit that for a large portion of the book, I found the philosophical discussions bordering on tedious–but when I read the ending, it knocked me sideways.  The book had an ending I absolutely did not see coming, which is a rare treat.  This strikes me as a book that will benefit from a second read.

Potential Flaws: As I mentioned above, I found myself bogged down in the cycle of philosophical conversation that took place.  Not all readers will have the fortitude to press through to the ending, which is worth the effort.

My Rating:

Beckett’s masterful ending earned it an additional star at the end.