Friday, September 30, 2011

Creepy Creeperson

The third galley I snagged on Net Galley the first time around was the one I was looking least forward to reading and, of course, ended up being the best of the bunch.  I loved Variant by Robison Wells.  What I thought would be the same ol', same ol' was truly a treat:

Benson Fisher thinks he has found the solution to his problem in Maxfield Academy.  A loner shuffled from foster home to foster home,  Benson finds Maxfield's promise of a prep school for social outcasts to be a perfect setting for his needs.  When Benson arrives, however, he discovers that advertising is not always truthful.  Instead of a prep school, Benson finds himself in a life-size maze complete with human rats.  The school is populated by teens only - there are no adults except for the daily broadcasting of a bodiless male who informs the 74 "students" of what the day's schedule will be.  Society, one of the three gangs at the school, runs the show:  turning in deviants who fail to follow the strict rules, teaching classes, and administering medical care.  Havoc, another gang, runs the physical side of the school and enforces who may leave the building and who may not.  Clad in heavy chains and self-made tattoos, Havoc's rough demeanor intimidates and subdues the inhabitants of Maxfield.  Benson finds himself a member of the Variants, a gang populated by those who still believe there is a way out of Maxfield.  Benson's determination to find out the secret behind the television screen is the catalyst that shakes up the experiment that is the school and reveals more deception than anyone had previously believed existed in the stately realm of the institution.

Although the beginning of the book is somewhat slow and familiar, Wells soon shifts the action into high gear by dropping bombshells of revelations in the middle of the plot.  Reader's reactions will race from "No way - can't be!" to "Don't leave me hanging!"  But leave us hanging is indeed what this first in a series does.  Wells creeps through the grounds of a creepy, plastic setting, knocking over facades and throwing bombs that destroy assumed plots, creating a suspenseful and engaging book that readers will have a hard time putting down.  I groaned inwardly when I read the last line and realized I would not know the secret of Maxfield Academy and I eagerly await an inevitable sequel.  Wells book is a winner and is sure to draw in young adult readers of fantasy and suspense.



The downside is that I read an ARC which means I will have to wait even longer than most for that second book to come out.  Of course, there is always Net Galley.  I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed that the ARC is up for grabs there!

Happy Reading Friends!!!!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ho-Hum

Liesl & Po 
by Lauren Oliver

Can I just say that I loved Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver?  That was a freaking awesome book, so I was stoked to see this title up for grabs on Net Galley.  This is my review for Liesl and Po, the one that I sent to Harper Collins.  And this is a reminder to publishing companies:  Just because an author is darn good at writing a certain genre, doesn't mean she will be good at another.  But in the publishing world, it isn't always about being good.  It's about the money...which I am sure L&P will make.  It has a great cover and a great author.  For what it's worth...
Liesl lives in her attic, tucked away and silent.  Her father has died and she has been sent there by her stepmother to live.  She is alone except for some very strange visitors.  Po is a ghost who finds himself drawn to Liesl.  Po brings with him Bundle, who is neither a cat nor a dog, but something in between.  This is the case for all souls who find themselves on the Other Side.  Things are blurrier there, which explains why Po is neither boy nor girl.  Po just is.  When Liesl asks Po to carry a message to her father to the Other Side, Po agrees as long as she will draw it a picture of a train.  With this bargain, the lonely girl and the ghost become partners.  In the midst of this deal, another lonely child, Will, is about to make a mistake that will not only put him in danger, but also bring Liesl jeopardy as well.   As the children flee from angry adults, they must rely on Po, invisible to the world, to help them reach their destination and a chance for happiness.  Oliver wrote this book while grieving for her best friend.  Knowing this while reading will reveal quite a bit of the motivation for writing this juvenile fantasy, a change from Oliver's usual young adult offerings.  It may have been cathartic  for her to write this, but the characters and storyline seem all too familiar.  Liesl and Will are like too many other children found in fantasy quests, and they lack any development or depth.  Adult characters suffer from the same predicament and I found myself thinking of characters from a Kate DiCamillo novel or Jon Berkeley's Wednesday Tales.  Oliver's story follows the juvenile fantasy formula too closely and never strays into orignal territory.  Instead, I found myself re-reading a story that appears in far too many juvenile books.  There were some endearing elements in the book to be sure, and young readers may enjoy the escapades of clown-like adults and cheer for orphaned underdogs.  In the end, however, those few moments of merit will not be enough to make this a classic read.