Posts tagged ‘550-599 pages’

Illuminae

Illuminae.jpgTitle: Illuminae
Series: Illuminae Files (#1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, and Jonathan McClain, with a full cast
Book Design: Heather Kelly and Jay Kristoff
ISBN: 9781101916629 (book on cd), 9780553499117 (hardcover)
Pages: 599 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Borzoe Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015 by LaRoux Industries Pty LTD. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Interviewer: Tell me about yesterday.
Kady Grant: I was in class when it started. This is going to sound stupid, but I broke up with my boyfriend that morning, and he was right there on the other side of the room. I’m staring out the window and coming up with all the things I should say to the jerk, when these ships fly right overhead and all the windows start shaking.
Interviewer: Did you know something was up?
Kady Grant: No. You don’t jump straight to an invasion. […]
Interviewer: You evacuated at that stage?
Kady Grant: You make it sound way more organized than it was.
Interviewer: How was it?
Kady Grant: All kittens and rainbows. Apart from the screaming and explosions. (2-3)

Kady Grant and Ezra Mason are two teenagers who have just broken up, when their illegal mining colony is attacked by a competing mining corporation. Their hasty evacuation puts them on different ships, with a warship following close behind their tiny, limping fleet intent on finishing the job. But a virus has found its way onto one of the ships, and command is not sharing information in an attempt to stop rumors and panic. Hacking into the system, Kady is more knowledgeable than most, but even she is still in the dark about just how much trouble they are in. Forced to work with Ezra in order to piece together this puzzle, Kady has a hard time trusting anyone, including the supposedly unalterable AI system aboard the ship that seems to be updating itself with a mind of its own. And she’s unfortunately not the only one, as command  is conflicted regarding their course of action. With the odds clearly stacked against them, it’s anyone’s guess if they will make it out alive, and if they don’t what will finish them off first.

First, let’s talk design and production. In listening to the audiobook, you get a full cast narration, in which listeners can experience what it must have been like for people when War of the Worlds radio broadcast was first released. There are sound effects, there are harried voices talking over each other, there is the robotic monotone of the AI and other electronic system alerts. When a tremendous explosion rocks through the story, there is a pregnant pause in the audio of silence. Reminiscent of the Death Star explosion scene in Star Wars the audiobook stops completely and allows you to attempt to come to terms with desperately trying to overcome the shocking turn of events. You’re continually scrambling to figure out what is happening, and the audio allows you that time in its unhurried spooling of the story.

This brick of a book is designed beautifully, and some librarians were surprised to hear my raving reviews of the audio that it translated so well into an audio presentation. There are censored words throughout the book, blacked out with heavy marker. There’s paraphernalia paper clipped to reports. There are logos and letterhead for each of the ships involved, and spiraling script that conveys the chaotic events. I didn’t miss any of it, and in looking at the print version I am more thoroughly impressed with the quality of the audiobook. They took into account every detail and it shows.

The story itself reads like the Star Wars epic space opera/drama that it is. While there is a romance involved, for most of the story the two main characters are separated by space so there is very little PDA. Because the story is told in transcripts of verbal and textual conversations and summaries of surveillance footage, there is also surprisingly little technological jargon. The two primary characters, Ezra and Kady, don’t start out as soldiers or scientists or computer specialists, and that allows a very different story to take place than compared to other science fiction thrillers, like The Martian. The dialogue is riddled with censored swear words, incomplete sentences, and it’s refreshingly realistic. Kady is already sarcastic and suspicious, and her blatant disregard for authority is only amplified as the lies and secrets are uncovered. Ezra is slightly less skeptical than his ex, and is willing to go along with orders, until even he can’t ignore the writing on the wall. They play off each other extremely well, and their growing concern for each other evolves naturally as they cling to whoever they can as feelings of trust begin to dwindle. The other characters are fully realized, and everyone is struggling to reorient themselves in this ever-changing, perilous situation.

There is so little true science fiction available for teens, regardless of the quality this title would have been included on reader’s advisory lists. But because it exceeds all expectations that I had, I’m placing it as one of my favorites. The sequel Gemina is already available, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series and finishing the trilogy when the third one arrives at the end of the year. Highly recommended.

Echo

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

EchoTitle: Echo
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrator: Dinara Mirtalipova
IBSN: 9780439874021
Pages: 590 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2015.

<blockquote>Otto looked at the sisters, now despondent. “If I could get home, <em>I</em> could help you,” he offered.
“Do you have a woodwind?” asked Eins.
Zwei leaned closer, “A bassoon?”
“Or an oboe, perhaps?” asked Drei.
Otto shook his head. “I only brought on other thing.” He began to unroll his sleeve, which had been folded to the elbow. “This morning, when I bought the book, the Gypsy insisted I take this, too, and did not ask for an extra pfenning.”
He held up a harmonica. (21)</blockquote>

There once were three princesses, spirited away for their own safety to the home of a witch, who became resentful and locked them in a spell. In order to escape, they placed their spirits into a boy’s harmonica, entrusting him with the task of passing it along to the person they were meant to save. First to a young German boy, requiring courage to face down the rising Nazi party and rescue his family. Then to an orphaned American boy, desperate to care for his brother, even if it means separation. Finally to a young Mexican-American girl, whose migrant family might have finally found a home, if they can only fight the prejudices surrounding them. These families are pulled together by the strings of destiny, but will the three princesses finally be released from their captivity?

This hefty tome contains three equally compelling narratives that take readers to the climax of each of these stories, and then drops them like a stone, maintaining the suspense until things resolve at the very end. Readers are invested in the welfare of the characters; the German boy disagreeing with Nazi propaganda, the orphaned American boy trying to maintain his family, and the Mexican-American girl fighting prejudice. These slice of life stories are rich in details, evoking the fears each faces and sharing information about the rise of blues and obscure references to segregation efforts. But those details can also withheld to supply tension, as you never know quite what direction the characters will take at their individual crossroads until it’s actually happening. I can’t say too much without spoiling the stories, but suffice it to say I haven’t been this emotionally engaged while reading in a while. Bravo!

Discovery of Witches

Discovery of WitchesTitle: A Discovery of Witches
Series: All Souls trilogy #1
Author: Deborah Harkness
Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda
ISBN: 9781449823863 (audiobook), 9780670022410 (hardcover)
Pages: 579 pages
CDs/Discs: 20 CDs, 24 hours
Publisher/Date: Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2011.

“What is happening to me?” Every day I ran and rowed and did yoga, and my body did what I told it to. Now it was doing unimaginable things. I looked down to make sure my hands weren’t sparkling with electricity and my feet weren’t still being buffeted by winds. […]
“But I didn’t ask for it. Do these things just happen to witches–electrical fires and winds they didn’t summon?” I pushed the hair out of my eyes and swayed, exhausted. Too much had happened in the past twenty-four hours. (210-211)

Diana Bishop, a professor visiting and conducting research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, requests a manuscript called Ashmole 782, skims the contents, and then sends it back into the storage. But Diana, who never invested in studying the witchcraft that has flowed through her family’s blood for generations is quickly informed that Ashmole 782 contains secrets that other witches, vampires, and even daemons have been searching for over a century to find. Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist vampire also residing at Oxford, takes a special interest in protecting Diana as her dormant powers burst forth and refuse to be ignored. Although their growing relationship and interest in each other has long been deemed taboo, historical documents may be linking both of them to the manuscript. Loyalties are questioned and alliances are formed as it becomes a race against time to determine the manuscript’s origins and purpose and who should ultimately gain ownership.

A friend of mine has been trying to get me to read this for years. She loves the series, raves about the series, and thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread. And I’ve seen it mentioned in blogs and journals with increasing regularity as the series continued to be published and it became a New York Times bestseller. But I disappointingly can not join her on her fan-wagon, and I’m apparently not the only one. Jessica Day George reviewed on Goodreads that she was torn as to whether or not to read the second one, and I think she described it really well, so I’m going to direct you to her review and I’ll wait for you to come back.

Back?

Good, because I totally agree with everything she said. Two hundred pages into the book, Diana and Matthew have eaten dinner together, gone to a yoga class together, studied old manuscripts together, and discussed creatures together. Oh, and everyone, not just the vampires, have incredible noses and knowledge of scents. They smell cloves, cinnamon, flowers, carnations, nuts, and other ingredients that I had to Google to figure out what they were talking about (malmsey? say what? Oh it’s a grape, thank you Wikipedia). Something FINALLY happens that forces both of them into hiding, where it takes another 150 pages of talking and multiple info dumps of relevant back story and plot points before climatic event number two happens, lasting only 40 pages before they go into hiding again and talk some more.

Matthew constantly withholding information from Diana and everybody else, even after being asked point-blank. I was so tired of Diana’s naivety, which seemed more and more unrealistic as the story continued and we learned more about her past and her family history. Is it any wonder Diana is so naive when her own family cuts her out of teachable moments and neglects to give her relevant information? Matthew is cold, distant, removed, and overprotective to the extreme. I found myself comparing this book to a Twilight for grown-ups, with a moody, brooding, know-it all vampire “protecting” a naive woman who is being chased by other mythical/fantastical creatures while she may or may not have special powers that she doesn’t know how to use, can’t be taught, and is not bothered by the overbearing nature of her boyfriend.

The one thing that saved this overly long, excessively descriptive, audiobook was Jennifer Ikeda’s narration. She brings life to the characters, especially all the accents and inflections that the secondary characters require.

Afterworlds

AfterworldsTitle: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Narrators: Heather Lind and Sheetal Sheth
ISBN: 9781442372467 (audiobook),
CDs/Discs: 12 CDs, 15 hours 16 minutes
Pages: 599 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, c2014.
Publication Date: Sept. 23, 2014

“The thing is, I want to defer college for a year.”
“What?” her mother asked. “Why on earth?”
“Because I have responsibilities.” This line had sounded better in her head. “I need to do the rewrites for Afterworlds, and write a sequel.”
“But. . .” Her mother paused, and the elder Patels shared a look.
“Working on books isn’t going to take all your time,” her father said. “You wrote your first one in a month, didn’t you? And that didn’t interfere with your studies.” (15)

This is the story of Darcy Patel, a newly graduated high school student who forgoes college in order to move to New York and focus on her publishing career. This is also the story of Elizabeth, a high school senior and the only survivor of a terrorist attack at an airport that leaves everyone else dead and Lizzie seeing ghosts, including a hunky Hindu god named Yamaraj. Elizabeth is the character in Darcy’s story, written over the course of a month-long writing challenge and then rewritten and revised over the next year. Each girl suffers from distractions of their first romance, life’s interference, and their own insecurities about their ability to handle their situations.

First, the negatives. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, which impedes the flow of each story. Elizabeth, or Lizzie, will be running away from a ghost at the end of one chapter, and then readers are flung back to Darcy’s substantially tamer life. If there were parallels between the plots it might have made more sense, but the transitions are disconcerting and seem arbitrary in nature. In one instance, a plot point is portrayed in Lizzie’s story before Darcy finishes the rewrite of it, which makes it all the more jarring when the subject is broached in Darcy’s because we already know what she decides.

I think this may be the first time that the audiobook quality negatively impacts my enjoyment of the book. Each chapter gets only one track, making the tracks close to 30 minutes long, and quite frequently running onto a second disc. That proves frustrating when you’re listening in your car and reach your destination before the track ends. There are also small clicks in one narrator’s enunciation for Darcy’s parts, which may have been included intentionally to emphasize her accent, but are occasionally distracting.

The parts I enjoyed the most are the exposition on the publishing process and the thought-provoking asides as a result. Darcy’s advance, rewrites, edits, marketing efforts, and fearful expectations are all covered, although we aren’t privy to the actual release of her book. There is a well-quoted portion where Darcy’s friend introduces the Angelina Jolie paradox, which forces your mind to really think about how much suspension of belief we have when reading or watching movies. Darcy is questioned about her appropriation of cultural figures for her novel, and she revisits those thoughts again and again. Darcy’s friend Imogen also reveals that some symbolism in a writer’s work may not be as intentional as you might think, pointing things out that Darcy never realized she was doing. There are beautiful turns of phrases throughout the novel that capture your attention.

“Their bodies fit perfectly like this, two continents pulled apart eons ago but now rejoined.” (264)
“The surface of the snow was frozen into glass. Wind-borne flurries uncoiled across it, the high sun casting halos in them, like gray rainbows.”(428)

But the dialogue in places seems stilted and the characters’ reflections make them seem wise beyond their years, even while you’re waiting for character development to happen. Westerfeld even addresses this, when Darcy realizes that her book characters can be boiled down to a few pithy adjectives. It also strikes me as odd that Darcy, on her own for the first time, receives so little parental supervision or inquisition, especially as she keeps stressing the strictness of her immigrant parents. One bright spot is we refreshingly see a character out of school who is forced to make her own decisions and mistakes about budget, including food and living arrangements, no matter how pie-in-the-sky that life may be after Darcy’s six figure advance is paid out.

Personally, I think Westerfeld should stick with the science fiction/fantasy genres. I’ve raved about his Leviathan trilogy several times on this blog, and this seemed like a disappointing departure from what he does well. However, it’s a “chicken and the egg” thought process, because any complaints about the writing style could be attributed to Westerfeld’s portrayal of Darcy’s inexperienced writing and faults, as when someone falls on the ice and claims they meant to do that to show other people the sidewalk is slippery. Tasha Robinson says it better in her NPR Review:

And Westerfeld has an easy out for any flaws in Lizzie’s side of the book: Darcy is a young, inexperienced author. For instance, her relationship with Yamaraj seems insubstantial and heavily romanticized because it’s being written by an 18-year-old who’s just learning about love herself.

If you’re interested in trying your own hand at the National Novel Writing Month challenge, which takes place in November, try visiting their website. For more fulfilling books with a writing themed plot, try Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

The Lost Hero

Title: The Lost Hero
Series: The Heroes of Olympus, Book One
Author: Rick Riordan
Narrator: Joshua Swanson
ISBN: 9781423113393
Pages: 557 pages
Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion Books, c2010.

“So, a crash course for the amnesiac,” Leo said in a helpful tone that made Jason think this was not going to be helpful. “We go to the ‘Wildnerness School'” –Leo made air quotes with his fingers. “Which means we’re ‘bad kids.’ Your family, or the court, or whoever, decided you were too much trouble, so they shipped you off to this lovely prison–sorry, ‘boarding school’–in Armpit, Nevada, where you learn valuable nature skills like running ten miles a day through the cacti and weaving daisies into hats! And for a special treat we go on ‘educational’ field trips with Coach Hedge, who keeps order with a baseball bat. Is it all coming back to you now?”
“No.” Jason glanced apprehensively at the other kids: maybe twenty guys, half that many girls. None of them looked like hardened criminals, but he wondered what they’d all done to get sentenced to a school for delinquents, and he wondered why he belonged with them. (7-8)

Jason wakes up on a bus that’s winding its way to the Grand Canyon on a school field trip. Problem is, that’s one of many things that he doesn’t remember. His friends Piper and Leo fill in him, but all three quickly learn that even they don’t know everything, as wind spirits attack their group and they are rescued from demigods Annabeth and Butch who take them to Camp Half-Blood. It turns out that Jason and his friends have a quest laid out ahead of them; to find and rescue Hera, the queen of the Greek Gods. Along the way, they might find clues to help the search for a missing camper. First though, they have to learn to trust each other, even as they realize that each person has secrets that might jeopardize their mission.

Rick Riordan has done it again. A fast-paced adventure thrill ride that weaves Greek and Roman mythology together into one cohesive story. The cross-country quest involves a flying metal dragon, a high-security house, fiery inferno, and a “stolen” helicopter ride (although Piper might object to that description). As a Michigan person my whole life, I did take a little offense at Leo’s assumption that a closed car plant automatically meant they were in Detroit, since Detroit has a lot of other things to offer. The other annoying thing was that the final twist took a REALLY long time to come to light, and I’d figured it out WAY before the characters finally figured it out. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know, but their cluelessness got on my nerves, the way they kept reiterating all the pieces but couldn’t put them together.

All three of the main characters have a difficult pasts that slowly come to light. Leo seems to have suffered the most difficulties out of the three, although it surfaces that Piper was a problem child. Another commonality is that it seems like all three of the main characters have a special ability that sets them apart from others like them, although I’m kind of surprised Jason is seen as the “leader” of the trio since he seems to have the least knowledge about what to do and has the least skills. Riordan spells out the character’s motivations in clear detail, which might annoy some readers and might delight others to be so clearly inside the characters heads. That’s a big difference with these books, is the fact that the point of view shifts consistently, sometimes painting events in multiple lights in order to understand everything that’s happening. This also allows the action to continue even when someone is asleep, frozen, or knocked unconscious, which happens quite frequently. However, it does cut down on the surprises, because readers know ahead of everyone else each character’s secret. The trio reminded me a lot of the Harry Potter, with Piper being Hermoine, Jason being Harry, and Leo being Ron.

Joshua Swanson does an excellent job narrating, distinguishing the raspy, cocky, and wise-cracking sarcasm of Leo (which he NAILED in my opinion) from the more sincere tones of Piper and the honest but clueless Jason. His bad guys also have otherworldly voices, ranging from guttural, terse questions like “Smash now?” to seductively persuasive. I found myself laughing out loud at some parts, and his timing was spot on. Fans will not be disappointed, and considering I haven’t finished the Percy Jackson series and wasn’t lost, I think new fans can enter the series without missing much.

Peter and the Shadow Thieves

Title: Peter and the Shadow Thieves
Series: Sequel to Peter and the Starcatchers
Author: Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9781597374583
Pages: 556 pages
Discs: 9 CDs, 10 hours
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books for Children, c2006.

James studied Peter, frowning. “Peter,” he said, “what did you mean when you said there isn’t much time?”
Peter looked at his friends. He felt a tightness in his throat. “I have to go to England,” he said.
“What?” said all three. Peter looked down, not wanting to see the fear on their faces.
“But how?” asked James. “Even if you could fly all that way, how could you find it? The sea is enormous.”
“I know,” said Peter. “I’ll have to follow the ship.”
“The ship?” said Thomas. “The very bad men’s ship?”
Peter nodded.
“But what if they see you?” said James. “What happens when you get tired? Where will you sleep?”
“I dunno,” said Peter. “But I have to try. I have no choice. I can’t just stay here and do nothing while they go after Lord Aster and . . . and Molly.”
Tink made an unpleasant sound. She did not care for Molly. (88-89)

In the second installment of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s prequels to Barrie’s Peter Pan, Peter finds himself returning to London as a stow away on the ship of some very bad men. These men include some old faces, like Slank, but the biggest, baddest of everyone is Lord Ombra, who is capable of controlling people by stealing their shadows. After tracking the large collection of starstuff to Mollusk Island, they follow the trail to Lord Aster. Aster has received word of their impending arrival and has fled with it to the sight of the return, leaving Molly and her mother under the watchful care of three guards. But it is Peter who must find her in time in the filthy and foreign street of London, come to her rescue, and save the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the first book as an audiobook, and the second book in the series of (currently) four was just as enjoyable. If you have never heard Jim Dale narrate, then this is a wonderful introduction, and it’s no wonder that he has won the awards that he has. You get carried away on this magical, starstuff enabled ride. With short chapters, some not even a page long, and multiple instances of foreshadowing and suspense, it’s one you’ll want to listen to long after the lights go down or the car has stopped.

Does anyone else find it ironic that Dave Barry is writing about characters first created by J.M. Barrie? In any case, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have created comical and memorable characters, like the drunk that Peter encounters upon first arriving in London.

“A good name, Peter,” said Old Trumpy. He raised the bottle to his lips and tried to take a swig, only to discover that it was empty. Disappointed, he set the bottle down again, then continued: “I had a dog once named Peter. Or maybe it was a cat. It was an animal of some kind, that much I recall. But it might not have been named Peter.” […]
“What did you say your name was again?” he said.
“Peter.” […]
He raised the bottle to his lips again, only to discover that it was still empty. […]
He attempted another swig from the bottle. Empty still. […]
Then he tried another swig from the bottle, which, to his mild surprise and considerable disappointment, remained empty. (168-172)

The city streets of London and the world of Mollusk Island come alive for readers with in-depth descriptions of the climate and location. I thought the character development was handled deftly, with each of the characters given a lot of personality. Several of the characters are remarkably incompetent, which makes them all the more entertaining. The suspense filled drama carries readers away. Tink saves the day more than once, which will have girls cheering on the feisty little pixie — I mean fairy, I mean birdgirl. A great family adventure for long car rides.

Magyk

MagykTitle: Magyk
Author: Angie Sage
ISBN: 0060577312
Pages: 564 pages
Publisher/Date: Katherine Tegen Books, c2005.

Silas went in with a heavy heart. He saw Sarah surrounded by six white-faced little boys, all too scared to cry.
“She’s taken him,” said Sarah hopelessly. “Septimus is dead, and she’s taken him away.”
At that moment a warm wetness spread out from the bundle that Silas still had hidden under his cloak. Silas had no words for what he wanted to say, so he just took the bundle out from under his cloak and placed her in Sarah’s arms.
Sarah Heap burst into tears. (6)

The night that Silas and Sarah Heap’s seventh son Septimus was born, Silas found an abandoned baby girl in the snow. When the midwife wisked away the dead body of Septimus, Silas and Sarah decided to keep the girl, and named her Jenna. Little did anyone know that Jenna would play a role in a battle between good and evil ten years later. Because Jenna might be the key to overthrowing the man who killed the Queen and the head wizard ten years before, on the same day Jenna was found. With the help of some of the Heaps, the current head wizard, and a mysterious Boy 412 who deserted from the enemy army, Angie Sage begins the series with Magyk.

I have to admit, I sort of predicted the ending. Septimus Heap makes an appearance by the end of the book (I hope that doesn’t ruin the ending for anyone) and I’ve heard from other readers that they expected it as well. There are some wonderful hillarious parts in the story however, especially after they cast a memory spell on the bounty hunter who is chasing him, convincing him that among other things he had pimples as a child. What’s also unique for this book is that the author provides conclusions to the minor characters introduced throughout the story, so we find out what happens to the dishwasher and the messenger rat, among others. She casts allusions to what will happen in the second book, which makes readers anxious to confirm their suspecions and predictions. Two sisters just left as I was writing this at work raving about the audiobook version of it, so be sure to check this series out. I’ll be the first to admit that it is on the long side, but the pages are small and the font is large, and the story just makes it a page-turner.

Just one ironic turn of events, I actually read this book the same week as Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, both of which deal with the seventh son of a seventh son myth. I’ve never heard of this myth before, so it was a suprise to me. Does anyone else have any other books where the “seventh son of a seventh son” is a plot point?

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