Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sci-Fi Saturday: Human.4

Human.4, by Mike A Lancaster

Publisher: EgmontUSA
Pages: 240 (hardcover)
Reading Level: 12 and up
Enjoyment Level: High

Egmont has really been hitting home runs for me lately.  This is no exception.  I loved getting this one along with a few other ARCs from them.  Not only did I get to read it, but my brother really liked it, as well, so that’s another plus for the book.

From GoodReads:

Kyle Straker volunteered to be hypnotized at the annual community talent show, expecting the same old lame amateur  acts.  But when he wakes up, his world will never be the same. Televisions and computers no longer work, but a strange language streams across their screens. 

Everyone’s behaving oddly. It’s as if Kyle doesn’t exist.

Is this nightmare a result of the hypnosis?  Will Kyle wake up with a snap of fingers to roars of laughter?  Or is this something much more sinister?

Narrated on a set of found cassette tapes at an unspecified point in the future, Human.4 is an absolutely chilling look at technology gone too far.

The premise of this book grabbed my attention while at the same time giving me an eerie feeling, right from the start.  The story is narrated by Kyle Straker, who has a nice but bold voice that I think can easily resonate with teen boys.  He’s introduced to us as a normal kid who has a pretty normal life in his small town.  And he’s strong enough to keep it together as events and people around him become more difficult to handle.

After the hypnotism, Kyle and the other characters who were under band together and try to deal with what happened as a sort of hodge podge team.  They have their hard times, but I liked the dynamic of all the characters together, working towards their goal of figuring out what has suddenly happened to their world.  They’re all interesting characters separately, as well, so that helps with their chemistry together.

Although there aren’t many big action scenes, I did feel the tension and suspense of the story.  I kind of knew what was going on the whole time, but still found myself anxious as I read because the characters were so real to me that I worried for them.  The book blurb promised me chills, and I found them, although this is not a horror story.

What a great book for boys.  And it’s a great sci-fi read and should have you turning the page to make sure Kyle gets through safely on the other side.

Until next time, go read something!

~ Vilate

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Teen Fiction Tuesday: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 374 (paperback)
Reading Level: 14 and up
Enjoyment Level: Low

Yeah, I'm just reading this now. And only because my book club decided this was one they wanted to discuss. I'm telling you, getting through this was kind of torturous for me. But now I can tell people exactly why I don't like this book. I know a lot of people love this series. I'm not one of them, so I'm going to do my best to explain my opinions.

From GoodReads:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister Primrose, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before — and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

I really don't understand how anyone got through this book the first time in order to give it to someone else to read. The pace was so slow up to chapter 15 that I had to put it down just to psych myself up to keep reading. The story didn't feel like it even started until Katniss and Rue allied together. Part of the feeling came from Katniss - I didn't like anything about her and couldn't get a read on her as a character. Up until she really started interacting with Rue in the game, Katniss felt one-dimensional. There was nothing redeeming or likeable for me. She wasn't particularly strong-willed or kick-ass, and I was led to believe she was. I could say that in the first part she was dazed by being chosen for the game, but to me that's no excuse for not taking the opportunity to build up her character. It was like I suddenly had a new character in chapter 15 and the old Katniss disappeared, instead of gradually giving Katniss dimension and building her up. I have to compare her to characters that I do love, like Rhine from Wither, and Beatrice from Divergent. Both of those strong, female leads came on fully fleshed out and ready to move their stories along. Katniss just coasted along for most of the first part of her story.

I also mentioned that the pacing is slow. The writing just didn't grab me. Over the past few years, I've had the opportunity, as a reviewer, to read some beautiful writing. This didn't do it for me. There's nothing spectacular about the style, and you add the fact that nothing really happens in the first part (it's all just gearing up for the game, and there's a lot of that), and that Katniss is boring, and I can't make the claim that this book is some sort of stellar piece of fiction.

It would have been better to skip over most of the first fifteen chapters of this to get right into the actual action. To me, now that I've finished it, the story wasn't even Katniss in the game, it's what happens afterwards. Things start to change and develop after Katniss and Peeta "win" together. The book would've been much easier to take if I'd gotten to skip most of the game and gone right on to the consequences of the outcome. So maybe that means the second book is better??

I admit that I also have a real issue with reading about kids killing kids as a sport for the adults in their world. The premise is gruesome, and it's really not my style at all. I love a good dystopian, and I know there's killing in the books I like, but there's something more disturbing about putting the kids into an arena and watching them murder each other. I realize that's the point, and that we're not supposed to think it's a good thing, but I don't really like reading about it at all. I find it strange that we're condemning those people for watching kids murder each other, but we still find entertainment in reading about it...

As for the whole Gale/Katniss/Peeta thing - I don't see how either boy likes her. She's boring. That being said, I didn't get any real feel for their relationships anyway. The whole time Gale and Katniss were together, they were just friends and it felt that way, and then she was acting with Peeta when they were together. So I saw no real romance at all.

To be fair, there were a few chapters I thought were well written. Katniss, once she got to be a real person, interacted beautifully with Rue and even with Peeta. The dialogue and action once we hit chapter 15 kept me interested, for the most part. Rue is a wonderful character who deserved more page time. I really would've loved if Katniss had allied herself with Rue much earlier on. I might've had more good things to say about the book if that were the case. The other characters were mostly just so-so, although I liked Katniss's interaction with Thresh. He showed more will, poise, conviction, and grace than Katniss did throughout the entire book, and I kind of wish he'd been the main character.

The author did get across that the Capitol was full of horrible people, so mission accomplished with that. I'll give her credit for her descriptions. I got a good picture of what was happening. The people in the Capitol were probably described the best, although once Katniss allied with Rue, I really liked the imagery from then on.

But....... zombie werewolves created from the bodies of the other tributes????? That was probably the most ridiculous thing I've read in a book in a very long time. I can't even begin to explain - my brain seriously had to shut down for a moment when they first showed up. I think that, out of everything I didn't like about this book, this was the absolute worst. Nowhere in the entire book did this even get hinted at, and suddenly, it's thrown in at the end for... what? Shock value? Come on. There was no reason, at that stage in the game, for the author to use some weird creation to facilitate the last tribute's death. Honestly. The dumbest thing I've read in a very long time.

One last good point, though, so I don't end completely negative. I was disappointed when they told the tributes that two tributes from the same District could win - I thought it was a cop out so Katniss wouldn't have to actually take a stand. So I was very satisfied that the Gamemakers changed their minds again at the end. Giving Katniss that choice showed her as a much more developed character. And, I'll say it again, that's when the real story starts.

Until next time, go read something!

~ Vilate

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

MiddleGrade Monday and Contest Winners

First up, I'd like to announce the winners of the first ARC grab bag giveaway. These folks were chosen at random and they will need to contact me at blogger at to claim their prizes. The four winners are: Kristin, Braine @ Talk Supe, Dorine White, and Eric at YAvolt. Watch for another contest this Wednesday - all about signed copies!

Middle Grade Monday: The Pen Pals Series, by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Publisher: Yearling
Pages: 144 (varies - paperback)
Reading Level: 10 and up
Enjoyment Level: High

This is one of the series that I loved growing up. I didn't get to read them all, but I devoured the ones I did have. And reading them made me want to go away to boarding school.


Four girls at boarding school meet, become friends, and run an ad in the neighboring all-boys' school newspaper for pen pals.

While I think writing for kids has kind of come a long way since the late 80s, this series is pretty well-written. There are details here and there that make me cringe a little, reading them now. But I also remember how it was to read them the first time, and as a kid (which might be more important), I never would've found anything to critique. I had characters I liked, and some that I didn't, but I never had any trouble loving the stories.

As an adult, I feel like several plots could be cleaned up, and the characters are definitely not as modern now as they felt then, although unlike some books, even the references to electronics (records, tapes, and VHS!) and other pop-culture things don't date the series for me. And, if they were to re-release these (like they are with some BSC books) it wouldn't be difficult to update the various details.

The characters always seemed older to me, but then, I was reading them as a 12-year-old. I can't say that they are realistic for 13 and 14-year-old girls. The dialogue sometimes comes off as forced. They get into trouble and have reactions that sometimes don't make sense to me.

But whatever they are to me as an adult, they were successful for me as a kid, and the books still have me reading easily as soon as I start page one. I miss having a series like this to read - the kids' market has changed so much that a lot of long-running series aren't as successful as some from back in the day.

This series is still a good one to share with middle grade girls. They might want pen pals and to go to boarding school after reading them, but there's nothing wrong with that, right?

Until next time, go read something.

~ Vilate

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Super Holiday Giveaway 2

It's that time again! Time to announce another giveaway for the holidays! This is the "I'm Thankful for Awesome Authors, the Melissa Walker Edition."

Yesterday, I posted my review of Small Town Sinners, by the fabulous Melissa Walker. And on the podcast, we have my interview with her from the Austin Teen Book Fest. Now it's time to give you the chance to win a signed copy of Small Town Sinners.

To enter, be a follower of the blog. Leave a comment on the review entry. Deadline to enter is November 30th. The winner will be chosen randomly.

Good luck!

~ Vilate

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Teen Fiction Tuesday: Small Town Sinners

Small Town Sinners, by Melissa Walker

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 288 (hardcover)
Reading Level: 14 and up
Enjoyment Level: mid-high

I meant to read Violet on the Runway and review that with my Melissa Walker interview, but this is her newest book, and I thought it’d make a better giveaway, lol. Also, the blurb for Small Town Sinners caught my attention even before I heard Melissa Walker talking about the book at the Austin Teen Book Festival.


Lacey Anne Byer is a perennial good girl and lifelong member of the House of Enlightenment, the Evangelical church in her small town. With her driver's license in hand and the chance to try out for a lead role in Hell House, her church's annual haunted house of sin, Lacey's junior year is looking promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside her. Ty Davis doesn't know the sweet, shy Lacey Anne Byer everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for Ty make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question her religion.

I’m glad I felt drawn into this book enough to want to see what happened in the end. Lacey Anne, the main character, has an innocent voice that carries the story well and makes you want to get to know what’s going on. While at times she seemed younger than sixteen, I can chalk that up to the character being from a small, evangelical town, and to the innocence that is so obvious from the beginning. Lacey Anne has a good, strong development through the story and I liked the highs and lows she experienced. They felt like a natural progression, leading her to discover things about herself without seeming overdone.

The details about the Hell House had me creeped out, which might not be what the author was going for, but I believe she portrayed the whole idea realistically. That goes along with Walker’s treatment of the religious beliefs of the characters – I do feel like she tried to write this book while respecting the evangelical religions, and by the end of the book, Lacey Anne hasn’t given up her faith but also hasn’t submitted wholly without getting her questions answered. I felt that it was fair and it shows a respectfully open mind.

Overall, the story kept me interested. The characters are definitely done well. I did have some issues with some of the dialogue at times seeming unnatural or forced. While there wasn’t any time where I felt a “message” was being shoved at me, some of the conversation the kids have at the end felt stilted, as though a “moral” was being given and being unsuccessfully hidden in a page of dialogue.

Of course, that didn’t keep me from enjoying the book as a whole, and I still recommend it as great reading. The title may make you think it’s deep and hard to get through, but the writing is light and very easy to like and connect with.

Until next time, go read something!

~ Vilate

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Super Holiday Giveaway 1

Today kicks off my season of giving stuff away! This is my "I'm thankful for all my ARCs" grab bag giveaway. You won't know what you get until you get it, but some of my ARCs include:
  • Tempest Rising, by Tracy Deebs,
  • The Lost Saint, by Bree Despain,
  • Trial by Fire, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and
  • Drought, by Pam Bachorz.
Someone may get my ARC of Crescendo, by Becca Fitzpatrick as well. For this first giveaway, there will be up to four winners.

Just be sure to follow the blog, tweet about the contest, and leave a comment on this blog post, and that enters you to win! Winners will be chosen at random after November 15th, so you have until then to enter.

Good luck and thanks for being part of my blog!

~ Vilate

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fantasy Friday: Sisters Red

Sisters Red, by Jackson Pearce

Publisher: Little, Brown
Pages: 324 (hardcover)
Reading Level: 14 and up
Enjoyment Level: mid-high

If you haven’t already, check out my interview with the lovely and talented Jackson Pearce from this year’s Austin Teen Book Festival:

From GoodReads:

Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris--the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She's determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls' bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an axe and Scarlett's only friend--but does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they've worked for?

Of course I failed to read this one before ATBF and my interview with J.P. I didn’t actually finish it until about a week ago. Partly because I had a hard time finding time, and partly because it took me a while to get into the story. The beginning was slow for me, but I felt the action and plot pick up about midway through. So where the first ten or so chapters took me almost two weeks, I finished the rest of it within two days.

I had a really difficult time liking Scarlett March, one of the two sisters and voices in the novel. She was overbearing and extremely rigid for a main character, and I think she reminded me of someone I know who I consider a little insane and hard to get along with. However, as a character, she’s very rich in personality and history. I saw why she had developed her particular personality quirks and I understood, even though none of it made her a sympathetic character for me.

On the other side of that is Rosie March, and oddly enough I also didn’t like her much until about halfway through the story. I found her weak-willed and sappy. Again, she was very well-written. I just couldn’t seem to like her, and that made it difficult for me to really get into this tale.

I’ve put books down for less (Beautiful Creatures will never leave my to-be-finished pile!), but the premise of the story was too interesting, and I stuck it out to the halfway point before deciding my fate with the book. Luckily, Rosie became more interesting and J.P. added depth by moving the characters to a different city with new problems to overcome. The added tension caught my interest more, as well, and little details started coming in as mystery and intrigue for me.

And one huge detail had me on the edge of my seat – I thought I knew what would happen, but J.P. effortlessly turned my attention elsewhere, only to reveal that I was right in the first place! I love mysterious details like that.

So overall, I liked this one, and I would recommend it. Not everyone will feel the same way I did about the characters, and it wasn’t enough to stop me from reading. The ending was well worth the slow beginning.

Until next time, go read something!

~ Vilate