Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Author: Ally Condie
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Everything is perfect in 17 year old Cassia Reyes’ world. And everything is perfect because everything is decided for her: what she will wear, what she will eat, what she may read, what her career will be, who she will marry: just as it is for every other citizen in the Society. She doesn’t question it. Not until the morning after her Match Banquet, at which she was assigned her life partner, chosen because his genes perfectly complimented hers and ensure healthy children. Cassia was lucky enough to be Matched with her best friend, Xander. The odds against it are staggering; it has been years since someone was Matched to a person they already knew. But when she puts Xander’s card into her portscreen at home, it isn’t his picture that appears; instead Cassia sees another boy. Another boy she knows.

Worry consumes Cassia. There must have been a malfunction, a glitch in Xander’s card. Why else would she have seen her neighbor, Ky Markham, instead? The Society does not make mistakes. It cannot make mistakes. Her fears are allayed when a high level Official tells her not to worry, that it was simply a malfunction. Ky could never be her Match. He will never be anyone’s Match. He is an Aberration, a lower caste and not permitted to mate.

But Cassia’s seed of doubt grows. A mistake has been made by the government she grew up believing infallible. What if Ky is supposed to be her Match?

A frightening cross between Huxley’s “A Brave New World” and our own, Matched dunks the reader into another reality, one that is conceivably not too far from our own. It is alive, it breaths, and before long Matched has the reader so pulled in that it isn’t hard to believe the Society actually does exist. It’s the strongest, most vivid character in the book. “They are giving us pieces of real life instead of the whole thing…” Cassia complains, wanting more than she has been allotted. For Cassia, scraps aren’t enough. Not after their mistake.

She is a compelling character, Cassia Reyes: curious and cautious, book-smart and street-ignorant, submissive and rebellious. Just the right blend for a teenager pushing her boundaries and deciding if it is worth the price she must pay to break them. But all the time it feels like Cassia is holding back, like we only get to view her through the portscreens in our homes, impersonal and impossible to touch. But the promise is there, the promise of so much more from Cassia and all of the others she interacts with.

Matched doesn’t bring quite the same intensity to the arm chair as The Hunger Games, another dystopian young adult novel, but the sentiments and themes it portrays are just as moving. No one should ever say that there is nothing to be learned from fiction. Novels like Matched show in graphic detail why we must fight for our freedoms, for the rights we take for granted and stay true to ourselves while doing so. To paraphrase Dylan Thomas’s poem, we cannot go gently into the good night.

Matched is told in first person with Cassia as the narrator.

My Thoughts:
This book felt like it went very slowly, yet I didn’t want to put it down. I would have loved to have felt more connected to Cassia and Ky, their relationship to each other and those around them. Perhaps this was partly due to the nature of their Society, the withholding of yourself because someone is always watching. Oddly enough, Xander was the character I understood the best. His motives were clear, as was his joy or pain. Over all I would say that it holds a great deal of promise, of things to come in the sequel. I just wish I didn’t have to wait to see how everything pans out.

Favorite Scene:
Cassia breaking the frame. Her thoughts on what it would sound like, the musings of someone who has never heard glass shatter, struck me as completely honest and perhaps one of the best written scenes I’ve come across. This line, in particular, has stuck with me because of the hope, loss and beauty contained within it: “I think the glass would make a glittery sound when it broke; I would like to see it burst into a million pieces and shine all the way down.”

Who this book is best for: 13 years old and up.

Stars: 3.5 of 5, edging its way up to 4 stars (despite its flaws) the more I think about it.

Violence: 0 of 5

Friday, June 11, 2010


Title: Mistwood
Author: Leah Cypess
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

The Shifter was born from the mist in the Mistwood. She can take any form she wants and move faster than the human eye can follow. She’s immortal, soulless and emotionless, sworn to protect the king of Samorna. Oh, and she’s lost her memory. Some time has passed since she last protected a king, and the Crown Prince has come to retrieve her from her home in the Mistwood. Because during peaceful years, sometimes twenty to a hundred years, there has been no need for the Shifter. But that’s not what happened last time, and peace isn’t the reason the Shifter returned to the Mistwood.

Isabel, they call her. She doesn’t correct them. They may be right; she can’t recall. And she can’t shift. Something has gone terribly wrong for the Shifter. She can still move faster than sight, grab a dagger or an arrow out of the air before it hits its target. But something’s wrong. When it comes down to a battle, will she be able to protect her prince? Will she even know who her prince is?

Rife with choices and confusion, Isabel screams off of the page; her uncertainty is as endearing as her desire to know the truth. Coupled with the reader’s desire to understand the strange currents around the throne of Samorna, it is a powerful mix. The choices Isabel makes and the desires she feels are just as new to her (she’s not supposed to have feelings, she keeps reminding herself) as they are to her audience. The shifting tides of the court and the loyalties and betrayals that everyone hides makes Mistwood an enthralling, if surprisingly light, read.

Mistwood is told in third person, mostly from Isabel’s point of view.

My Thoughts:
I wish this book had been longer. The story was delicious, but it wrapped up quickly. It’s an easy one-sitting sort of book that left me longing to know more about the Shifter, her country, her past and her future. Hopefully there are more tales from Samorna to come.

Favorite Scene:
I really enjoyed the shocker Isabel finds when she goes back to Mistwood that first time.

Who this book is best for: Girls will resonate with Isabel far more than boys will. Ages 11 and up.

Stars: 3.5 of 5

Violence: 0 of 5


Book Dame apologizes for the lengthy time since the last update! 2010 is obviously the year of crazy.

Title: Runemarks
Author: Joanne Harris
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2008


“Seven o’clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again…” is the first line of Runemarks, setting the stage for a world where Order and conformity is everything. No one wants to dream for it is shameful, and to have a ruinmark (a glowing birthmark) on your person is the worst sort of disgrace that can be imagined. This is the world that Maddy Smith was born into, and she’s never fitted in. She loves hearing stories, but no one will tell her any because having an imagination is a terrible crime. So she makes up her own, branding her as an outsider even more than the ruinmark on her palm does. Maddy’s only friend, the only person who has been kind to her in her fifteen years of life, is a wanderer. He’s only ever in town for a month or so and he won’t tell her his name. He lets her call him One Eye. And he has a ruinmark, too.

Maddy, and the friends she makes along the way, proves that life is full of phenomenal surprises and that it shouldn’t be gone through like a sleepwalker. That’s what you’ll do in Death. Trust her, she’s been there. Maddy is imaginative enough to turn her mistakes to their best advantage, learning to think on her feet and daring to stay outside of the traditional role she grew up in. (Not that she has a lot of choice. She did accidentally flood the cellar and get fired.) The Nine Worlds around her are full of wonder and magic, and deserve something in between absolute order and absolute chaos. But does Maddy have the courage to save the Old Gods? And can they stop squabbling enough to save her?

Runemarks is told from third person omniscient, switching regularly between characters to fully flesh out an amazingly constructed world.

My Thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. It has a catchy intro that doesn’t let you down…much. I lost interest a little when One Eye was chatting with the Parson and Examiner, but it picks up again fairly quickly. Maddy is fun and engaging, an interesting take on the person who gets to (has to?) restart creation. This romp through Norse Mythology after Ragnarok is one of the most enjoyable telling of legends I’ve come across.

Favorite Scene:
I loved when Loki and Maddy are seeing what Thor’s nightmare is. So surprising, and the dialogue is great.

Who this book is best for: anyone who likes Norse myths will get a kick out of Runemarks. It is entirely suitable for children older than 10 or advanced readers.

Stars: 4

Violence: 2 of 5 for some threat of torture and an army of undead.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Awards 2009 and Coming Soon in 2010

Best Release of 2009 Award:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. The sequel to The Hunger Games is fast paced, filled with surprises and more shocking than its predecessor. I can’t count the number of times that I gasped “WHAT?!” out loud while reading it for the first time. Many of the twists were as surprising as being hit in the face with a fish. Throw out any preconceived notions about Panem and the Districts when reading Catching Fire; as Katniss finds out, anything goes as far as her government is concerned, and no one is safe. As soon as I finished Catching Fire, I immediately went back and reread The Hunger Games looking for clues I might have missed. They were there in abundance, seemingly innocent comments that were in truth doublespeak worthy of 1984. I heartily applaud Ms. Collins’ world building, gripping plot structures and amazing characterizations.

Honorable mention goes to “The Thirteenth Child” by Patricia C. Wrede, “Going Bovine” by Libba Bray and “The Singing” by Allison Croggon.

The “Meh” book of 2009 Award:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Garahame-Smith. With an exciting twist to the classic work, I was expecting a great story that still incorporated what the world loved about the original. I was let down, like someone pulling the mattress out from under you in the middle of the night. The characters were flat and the romance between Lizzy and Darcy was as cold and lifeless as the zombies they’ve were trained to kill. If only they died and the book ended earlier, sparing everyone the lackluster finale. To make matters worse, P&P&Z will be coming to a theater near you in 2011 staring Ms. Natalie Portman as Lizzy Bennet. Do I hear a rounding “Huzzah”? No? Good.

Coming Soon in 2010:

March 2nd 2010-- Shadowrise (volume 3 of Shadowmarch) by Tad Williams. I haven’t read any of the Shadowmarch books yet because of Mr. Williams’ penchant for cliffhangers. I’m looking forward to being able to start the series as soon as the last book comes out.

March 16th 2010-- Lord Sunday (Book 7 of the Keys to the Kingdom) by Garth Nix. The conclusion to Mr. Nix’s stunning tale about the lackadaisical Trustees (Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, etc) and their battle for the House against the Rightful Heir of the Architect, asthmatic mortal Arthur Penhaligon will undoubtedly be as astounding and inventive as the first six.

September 28th, 2010-- The Fiend and the Forge (book 3 of the Tapestry) by Henry H. Neff. Max McDaniels sets off to retrieve the Book of Origins from archfiend Astaroth, who is busy wiping out all of mankind’s greatest discoveries

October 2010-- The Scorch Trials (sequel to The Maze Runner) by James Dashner. Thomas and his friends are up against the same enemy again, but this time out in the real world. (Thanks, Elysia, for pointing this one out to me. Review of Maze runner coming soon!)

Fall 2010-- Hunger Games book 3 (currently untitled) by Suzanne Collins. The conclusion to the Hunger Games and Catching Fire will (probably) set Katniss against her government. (Again, thanks to Elysia for recommending The Hunger Games!)

Fall 2010-- Pegasus by Robin McKinley. The princess of a kingdom shared jointly between humans and the Pegasai goes on an adventure.

TBD 2010-- Mastiff (Beka Cooper book 3) by Tamora Pierce. The conclusion to the Beka Cooper trilogy pits Beka against kidnappers who have abducted the heir to the realm.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Going Bovine

Title: Going Bovine
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2009

Cameron is a 16 year old high schooler who gets straight Cs when he doesn’t fail and smokes a lot of pot. It helps him keep his mind off of the fact that his family is falling apart, and that he doesn’t care. Or maybe he does care, but he can’t do anything about it. But recently his waking hours have become stranger than even the pot can account for, involving giant flame monsters controlled by an armed and armored wizard and a lady punk rocker angel. Of course only Cam sees any of these things. It comes to a head when he punches out an ex football star… during class. Even Cam has to admit something strange is happening. Turns out he has Mad Cow Disease. Oh, and it’s fatal. Bummer.

Cam is taken out of school and put into the hospital for testing, hoping that they’ll come up with a miracle fix before his brain turns into a sponge. That’s when his angel comes back and tells him he has two options: Stay in the hospital bed and die, or go on a quest reminiscent of Don Quixote to find Dr. X, the only man who can cure him.

Cameron chooses the quest and drags along his hospital roommate, an asthmatic Mexican-American dwarf video game aficionado (not named Sancho) he met once in the druggie bathroom at school, because the angel claims the dwarf has to come along if they’re going to succeed. Along the way they’ll play jazz with the greatest horn player in the Big Easy, assist a Norse God trapped in Lawn Gnome form who is tired of being urinated on, and countless other things as they learn what it really means to be alive.

The characters Libba Bray uses are some of the most interesting ones I’ve run across. Even if you’ve never been the high school druggie, even if your family is the most tight-knit happy-go-lucky group out there, you can relate to Cam’s existence and feel what it must be like to have everyone give up on you. To give up on yourself, as Cam has. But through it all, despite the despair of Cam’s situation, despite his family problems, his intense internal and personal issues and drug abuse, there’s always hope. And that’s one of Ms. Bray’s best talents, is the constant infusion of hope into her novels. The sense that “yeah, it sucks now, but things will get better if you just keep trying and wait” is enough to keep everyone going. And it’s an important life lesson to remember.

Libba Bray’s Going Bovine plays with a reader’s mind, constantly making one question whether any of it is really happening. Is it, perhaps, all in Cam’s mind? Is he on a fantastic journey or is he hallucinating in his hospital bed, doped up beyond belief? Playing with the idea of parallel universes and death, Ms. Bray sets her reader on a path of enlightenment and discovery, dragging them to the lowest points possible and then offering up the best that life can offer. In that, it is an honest reflection of high school and adolescence, where one second is the worst a person can imagine and then, with a pop of a mystical bubble, life is better than it’s ever going to get. She reminds everyone, as Cervantes says, “Take my advice and live for a long long time, because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die.”

Going Bovine is told in startling first person, dictated by Cameron as though you were sitting in a room with him as he told you his story. It’s masterfully done.

My Thoughts:
This book had me laughing from the acknowledgments that Ms. Bray writes at the beginning (because everyone should thank Pete Townshend and the makers of Rock Band®!) and crying (because no one should have a relationship with their father’s back, you know?) and everything in between. I was really hesitant going into the book because, well, it’s about a kid dying at 16. How fun can that be to read? But I was more than pleased with the way it all turned out. It was a book that made me think, made me reread things to see if I’d got them right, and made me look at the MTV world that is spoon-fed to our high schoolers (I should know, I was one) as what they should be doing/liking/etc in a new light. This book deals with a kid dying. Yes. But it’s about so much more. It’s about learning to live and making the best of the time you’re given.

Favorite Scene:
I love the conflict and eventual friendship that formed between Gonzo (the dwarf) and Balder (the Lawn Gnome) at the pancake restaurant. However, the first chapter, where Cam’s describing his best day ever (“happened when I was 5 ... I’m 16 now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage.”) stands out even when you’ve finished the whole book.

Who this book is best for:
High School age kids will adore this story, if they can cope with some of the strange stuff that happens and I’d hazard that 7th and 8th graders would like it, too. Really though, adults can enjoy the book just as much if they don’t mind their main character being 16. There’re some references to sex later (but nothing gratuitous) so if you’re uncomfortable with your children reading about that, be aware.

Violence: 3 out of 5. The bad guy likes to blow things up and set things on fire. What do you expect when his henchmen are pillars of flame?

Stars: 4 of 5

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2008
Series: The Hunger Games
Next in Series: Catching Fire


Panem: a dystopia that rose from the ashes of what used to be the United States of America and Canada, formed by twelve districts which are completely subservient to their Capitol. One district reduced to ashes in a civil war 74 years ago. As retribution for that war each district is required to draw by lottery the names of one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to compete in the Hunger Games, the ultimate in reality TV, with all citizens required to watch. There the tributes must fight to the death, for there can only be one victor in the annual Hunger Games.

Katniss: cold and calculating, yet vulnerable and scared, sacrificed herself to save her twelve year old sister. The female tribute from district 12.

Peeta: son of the local baker, unused to finding his own food or being hungry, has loved Katniss since he was five. The male tribute from district 12.

Haymitch: drunk and vicious, victim of post traumatic stress, coach to the tributes from District 12. The only surviving victor from district 12.

Gripping to the point of obsession, The Hunger Games draws a reader in like a moth to a flame. From chapter one on, it’s near impossible to put down. Don’t think that getting to the end of a chapter will help, because it each one ends in such a way that it would be easier to rip out a tooth than to stop reading. Katniss does what she has to do to survive. But it’s Peeta who really stands out as the moral character, who does what he must to save those he cares for. Unheralded, but with the potential to be the next “Harry Potter”, The Hunger Games is unlike anything I’ve read, where no one is exactly what they seem and everyone has a deadly secret.

The Hunger Games is told from Katniss’s point of view, in first person.

My Thoughts:
This book literally blew me away. I stayed up reading until 2 am, which is a bad thing when you have work at 7AM, and couldn’t sleep after I put it down because I was still thinking about it. The Hunger Games will work themselves into your life and into your dreams. The fascinating world developed by Ms. Collins is as captivating as it is terrifying.

It is, hands-down, dominating the top five books I have ever read, and I couldn't wait to get the second one.

Favorite Scene:
This is a toss-up between Katniss and Peeta in the cave when they’re both wounded and Katniss’s response to Rue’s death. Both had me near tears, but for very different reasons.

Who this book is best for:
Teenagers will relate immediately to both Katniss and Peeta, but people of all ages can enjoy this book.

Violence: 4 of 5. The tributes are there to kill each other, and death happens in some extremely unpleasant ways.

Stars: 5 of 5. Outstanding.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Murder at Longbourn

Title: Murder at Longbourn
Author: Tracy Kiely
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2009

Elizabeth Parker isn’t sure what to do for New Year’s Eve. Her boyfriend turned out to be a cheating dirt bag, so that’s out. Her sister means well but likes to remind her that she isn’t getting any younger, so that’s out too. Her best friend Bridget and Bridget’s boyfriend Colin are going to NYC, but Colin is going to propose, so that’s three strikes. When Aunt Winnie’s invitation to her Cape Cod B&B for a Murder Mystery New Years comes in, it seems like a blessing.

Then Elizabeth gets there and finds out her school-hood nemesis, Peter, is helping run the B&B and things sort of take a turn downhill. This only continues to spiral down when someone actually does die during the Murder Mystery. Suddenly the party at her sister’s place doesn’t seem like it would have been so terrible after all. At least then she wouldn’t have been a suspect in a murder case. But on the other hand, she wouldn’t be there to help keep the police from arresting an innocent Aunt Winnie.

Filled with tons of Jane Austen allusions and other jokes for “well read” readers, this book was a page-turner from start to finish. Elizabeth was fun and easy to relate to. The descriptions are well done. (My favorite being the detective’s voice being similar to that of the chain-smoking aunts from the Simpsons.)

Murder at Longbourn is Elizabeth’s story and she’s the one who tells it. First person all the way.

My Thoughts:
Just as I was told I would, I loved this book. I enjoyed checking various characters to see if they’d be spoofs of Jane Austen’s characters or catch the lines from Pride and Prejudice before they told you where it was from.

Favorite Scene:
I really enjoyed Elizabeth’s chat with the Detective at the teashop. It was hilarious and disturbing at the same time.

Who this book is best for:
Any adult who enjoys mysteries would like this book, but it’s best for those who also enjoy Jane Austen and other classic literature.

Violence: 2 of 5. It’s a murder mystery, so there’s some death and violence.

Stars: 4.5 stars