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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: The Tomorrow Series by John Marsden

The premise here is pretty simple. Ellie Linden and her five friends go off for a weekend in the Australian bush. No parents. No rules. Just time spent with friends and some fun exploring. But when Ellie returns home, she discovers her parents gone, her farm destroyed, and her town invaded. Australia is at war, and Ellie must go into hiding to save herself.

Or you know, get some revenge.

The Hunger Games has no hold over The Tomorrow Series when it comes to killing and violence. NOT that I'm all gung ho over death and destruction, but just so you know, there aren't a lot of pink posies in this series. People die, buildings get blown up, and crimes of war are committed. The things these characters face will make you forever grateful that you live in a peaceful society and maybe a little guilty that some others don't.  For most of all 7 books, we don't know what Ellie will face when the war finally ends. Will her parents be alive? Will she lose her home? Will the fact that she's killed someone mean that she'll never be herself again? Ellie spends a lot of time asking these questions and dozens of others. I enjoyed that aspect of it because they're the type of questions you don't normally get in a young adult novel. Yet, if I were to pinpoint the one thing that made me continue with the whole series, it would have to be Ellie's character.

Not to say that city people are soft, but if I were in a situation where I had to survive on my own, outsmart my enemy and maybe even take a few down, I'd want someone like Ellie on my side. As the daughter of a sheep farmer, she KNOWS things, like how to drive a big payload truck, start a dirt bike, build a fire, and especially how NOT to get lost in the bush. Nothing unnerves this girl, and while at times it may have seemed like things always went her way, I never felt that her knowledge was beyond her background. Aside from her capabilities though, Ellie's just got loads of strength. Her courage is tested again and again, and somehow she always manages to dig up a little more when it seems there shouldn't be any left. I know that I would have just given up, given myself over to the enemy or to God in that situation. Ellie doesn't. She fights on. She's a character worth cheering for.

The supporting characters in this series are also well-crafted with memorable personalities and yes, flaws. Lots of them. Homer is a bit of a male chauvinist and a know-it-all, but he's also a terrific co-leader (the picture above is of Ellie and Homer from the movie, which I haven't seen yet, but oh do I want to!!). Fi is about as girly as her name implies, but her tender heart is sometimes just what the gang needs. Lee. Whoa. What a love interest. He's hot and then he's not. He's sweet but then sometimes he's the king of all jerks. And just when you think you're done with him, he turns Casanova again. Definitely tops on my list for swoon-worthy male characters. Then there were the minor characters, some in the beginning of the series and others who came later in book 6 and 7. I enjoyed them all. Unfortunately not all of them make it through Marsden's war, but that's also what gives the book a feeling of reality that I appreciated.

The war itself - it's interesting how Marsden was able to build an entire series around an enemy who is never named. There isn't much to say about them except that Mardsen did his best to make us hate them, perhaps a little too much. There were times when I thought the enemy could have been given more depth instead of making them into THE BIG EVIL. The initial act of invading another country for the soul purpose of stealing their lands was enough to make the reader dislike them, but Marsden always seems to be inventing new ways of making us hate them even more. Small aside: I suffered more than one moment of the giggles when the enemy called the kids "naughty" for doing some heinous act of sabotage. They blew something up, they were naughty. They wrecked thousands of dollars worth of aircraft and they were "naughty". It was a little thing, but one that made me laugh every time I heard it.

The series is 7 books long, and although I loved the series as a whole, the first book was probably my least favorite. It's very repetitive, slow moving, and often we get information second hand so that much of the excitement is lost. This bothered me in the first book, but in the other books I didn't notice it as much. As the series progresses though, the guerrilla attacks staged by the kids become more destructive and ultimately more exciting. They don't win every time, which is a good thing for reality's sake, and there are some other events thrown into the mix (such as rescuing orphans) to shake things up a bit. I appreciated that. Not every book was the same and I was always getting thrown surprises. I did always know that Ellie was going to come out on top - it was written in 1st person so that was kind of a given - but I enjoyed the ride nonetheless. Ultimately, the series has that special something that equates it to other save the world type series that make the kids into heroes, only in a contemporary setting. I haven't seen many YA books of that type, and I appreciated Marsden's attempt to do it. It was a bit predictable, but then again, so was Harry Potter. The ride was definitely worth getting to the ending.

Verdict: Recommended!

ETA: I changed my ending a bit here after DD's comment. I didn't want to come off as saying that the series was a realistic portrayal of war because as DD pointed out, it's more of an adventure series.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The YA curator

This post is to draw a little attention to a new blog that I'm a part of, called The YA Curator. It's a review site for indie books, but more particularly it focuses only on indie books that us (the reviewers) thoroughly enjoyed. Essentially we're slogging through the myriad of indie books out there to recommend to you only the best. Please follow along!!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Back to school means back to cruel? Some words of encouragement...

It's September, and for many here in the United States that means back to school. For some kids though, that also means back to cruel - back to the bullies, back to the teasing, back to feeling out of place and alone. I've heard so many stories from my friends these past few weeks about incidents of teasing and such that it's made me sick to my stomach. I hate that my friends' kids go through that. I hate to think that my kids are going through that. I hate to think that my kids might go through that when they get older. My anxiety was cooled somewhat though when I went to my son's connection night at his school. Connection night is sort of like a curriculum night where we meet the teacher and find out what the kids will be learning that year. But it's a lot more than that. Part of it is learning about the school's (and the teacher's) philosophy. I can't convey to you how relieved (and proud) I am to know that our school is actively committed not only to enforcing rules about bullying but also to preventing it in the first place. I was thoroughly impressed with everything my son's teacher had to say, and I'd like to share some of these thoughts with you over next few days.

One thing that really struck me was when Mr. Hanson was talking about the old saying, treat others the way you want to be treated. I've heard this quote a million times, as I'm sure everyone has, but I hadn't heard it put quite this way before:

Treat others the way THEY want to be treated.

Huh? Wait. What does that mean, you ask?? How am I supposed to know how someone else wants to be treated? Well, you don't. Not for certain, and that's kind of the point. Wording the phrase this way takes the focus off of YOU, off of self, and puts the focus on the other person. When you inherently focus on someone else, you begin to realize that people are different. They have different needs, different ways of thinking, and different ways of reacting. And all of that is just as important as how you think and act.

Some examples:
1. Maybe if you're angry and upset, you need a hug. But for someone else, maybe they need space and distance.
2. Maybe you wouldn't take offense to being told your clothes look funny. But for someone else, hearing such a comment can be devastating.
3. Maybe you wouldn't care if someone criticized the way you throw a ball, maybe you'd even appreciate their honesty. But someone else might take such criticism to mean you don't like them.
4. Maybe in your culture it's common to compare your accomplishments or monetary status (I know some cultures where this is very common, particularly for parents to brag about their kids). But others may think this is extremely rude.

The point here isn't to be so afraid of offending someone that you don't say anything at all. Rather the point is to increase your sensitivity to those around you, and one way to do that is to take the time to get to know other people (and other cultures) better.

Which brings me to another point that my son's teacher made. It's not enough to say that we will treat all people the same or that will "tolerate" others who are different than us. A better philosophy to adopt is that we will celebrate the differences and see them as something fascinating, unique and worthy of our time to study.

I don't pretend that hearing these mighty words will change everything. People are people, kids are kids, and in some sense we're fighting against nature (survival of the fittest) here. But I like to think about the other component of nature, that diversity drives evolution. Without diversity our world wouldn't be such a fascinating and beautiful place to live in.

Think about it.

ETA: Please tweet if you like this post - just click on that little birdy at the bottom there. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two for Tuesday!! Past Perfect and Wanderlove reviews

I have a treat for you today - two reviews for the price of one!! Meaning you only have to listen to me once. HA! Why am I doing this, you ask? Doesn't each author deserve her own moment in the spotlight? Well, er, yes, but this is going to save me (and you) time, and don't we all love saving time these days? Thing is, I read these two books within a week of each other, and they're so similar, I think it will benefit both to do a little compare and contrast. That way if you like one, you'll know exactly what to go for next. Sounds good, eh? So here are our two books:

Title:Past Perfect
Author: Leila Sales
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: October 4, 2011

An abbreviated Goodreads summary about Past Perfect:

All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra’s working there too. Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off limits, all Chelsea knows is that she’s got a lot to figure out about love.

Author: Kirsten Hubbard
Publisher: Random House Children's books
Release Date: March 13, 2012

An abbreviated summary about Wanderlove: 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be a global vagabond. In a quest for independence, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America— one filled with middle-aged tourists and fanny packs. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his  humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path. Bria's a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan's a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they've got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. But Bria comes to realize she can't run forever, no matter what Rowan says.

Now these two books may sound quite different, but they actually have a lot in common. Both books:

1. Are set over the summer
2. Are about second romances/loves.
3. Have deliciously witty and engaging voices that had me smiling the whole time.
4. Have unusual settings - one a colonial America re-enactment site, the other Central America. I found myself wanting to visit both.
5. Have a swoon-worthy male love interest.
6. Hooked me within the first 2 paragraphs.
7. Both authors share a personal interest/hobby through their story, and both left me thinking how cool those interests were.
8. Include a theme wherein the MC has to get over a past love who didn't show her the respect she deserves.

Some differences about the two:
1. Wanderlove includes some very lovely drawings by the author, Kirsten Hubbard.
2. Past Perfect has a slightly younger main character than Wanderlove (16 rather than 18). I think that Wanderlove will really hit home for those looking for something in the "new" adult category.
3. We don't hear much about Bria's friends back home in Wanderlove, but the friendship between Chelsea and Fiona (love that name, btw) in Past Perfect includes just enough detail to make it stick in your head while not becoming an obtrusive subplot.
4. Wanderlove was maybe a little on the long side. I didn't have any problems getting through it in 2 days, but I think it could have been tightened a bit more or a scene here or there nixed. I'm all about condensed writing these days (after trimming my own WIP), and I'm learning to appreciate shorter manuscripts.
5. I love both covers, but I have no idea how the cover for Past Perfect fits with the story. *shrug*

I DO DO DO recommend both of these reads, but if I had to pick one over the other... ah, forget it, I won't do that. You'll just have to read both and make your own call! :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Books of August

13 books this month! I think that's what I managed last month too, but this time,  I actually did manage to finish my revisions for my own book. Of course now I have all those pesky query letters to deal with. Grrr... I also finished off 3 series that I had been working on - will have more to do next month. I also managed to do some reviews. Hope you find something here you like, and yes, I'm almost to 100 books for the year!!!!!!!!! Unless I get in a freak accident (knock on wood), I will make my reading goal for the year. Heck, I might even tack another 30 books on before Jan 1 if I keep up at this pace. I think a celebration will be in order. Any suggestions?  Contest?  Other? Let me know what you read this month - always looking to expand the ever-growing TBR list.

80. The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams** The tension in this book was so extreme that I had knots in my stomach the whole time while reading it - and that's why I read it front to back in one night! I haven't been this swept up by a book since Some Girls Are (though this book is very different).
81. Ashes by Ilsa Bick Review here. Loved the beginning, got a little slow in the middle. This book is getting a lot of hype, but I'm sort of on the fence about it.
82. Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton Interesting take on witches and magic. I thought the LI was very sexy, but beyond that I had trouble getting into it.
83. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley ** OMG read this!!! Once again, the Aussies have blown me away. Review here.
84. Specials by Scott Westerfeld This is #3 and the conclusion of the Uglies series (though there is a 4th, separate book). Wasn't as good the second one. I didn't love the MC as much this time around.
85. Where She Went by Gayle Forman** I was really surprised by how much I loved the sequel to If I Stay. The male voice here is just phenomenal, though I was kind of surprised by the ending. Not sure why.
86. Entwined by Heather Dixon This is a sweet, though long, book that could be easily categorized as middle grade. There's lots of dancing, fancy dresses, gentlemen and fiesty girls. It gave me Little Women flashbacks. :)
87. Split by Swati Avasthi** A very honest and real look at domestic violence told in an authentic male voice. And the author is from MN! Yay!!



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