Archive for the ‘ Book review ’ Category

Falling into Place–Book review

There is a trend in Young Adult fiction to use dark themes and or characters. Falling into Place by Amy Zhang would definitely be part of that category, although it is an overly simple categorization.

Falling into Place is the story of Liz Emerson, a popular, well-liked high-schooler. However, not all is as it seems on the surface. The story is told in pieces, often out of order, but it’s not distracting. It actually helps the reader get a bigger picture of what’s going on. Liz may be popular, but she has problems, many of them caused by her popularity or what she’s done to become and stay popular.

It is a dark and often harsh story, but one that probably needs to be told more often–about consequences and broken people. It is not all dark, though, which makes Falling into Place an even better book.There is hope and forgiveness, as there can be in real life.

I would recommend this book, especially for anyone who thinks they’d like to be popular. We never really know what’s going on in someone else’s head. Perhaps it’s best not to summarily judge and mock others.

If there was more proof necessary that Jane Austen is beloved and still popular, one can point to the recent young adult “retellings” of Austen’s stories. Diana Peterfrend’s For Darkness Shows the Stars is one such book. It is basically a science-fiction teen version of Persuasion. I was skeptical, but I read it anyway and discovered that I enjoyed it.

The entire premise is interesting, and there is enough similarity to the original story line to be able to follow it through. However, it doesn’t seem like simply a parody of Austen (like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). It is an engaging and clever story, and one that teens will enjoy even if they’ve never heard of Jane Austen. Maybe they will even read some Austen after reading this book. One can always hope.


James Dashner did what seems to be increasingly popular in Young Adult fiction–he wrote a dystopian trilogy. I have only read The Maze Runner so far, since I wanted to read it before seeing the movie.

The Maze Runner, as many books do, seems to draw on previous stories and change things about them. I specifically felt there were similarities to Lord of the Flies. That’s not a bad thing, since Lord of the Flies is one of the classics.

Where The Maze Runner differs is in the setting, the time period, and the conflict. The kids in The Maze Runner are stuck in a glade that’s inside a giant maze, and the main conflict results from them trying to find a way out and avoid the monsters in the maze. In the movie, a lot of this action–the time spent studying the maze–is either fast-forwarded or not even discussed. I understand movies have to be condensed, but it didn’t seem to be handled well. I walked away with the feeling that the director was banking on people having read the book.

The movie is still entertaining, even if the fighting action sequences were too blurry to follow well. It does stick to the book in most essentials. Of course, it has a cliff-hanger ending since it’s based on the first book of a trilogy. This was still a novel (no pun intended) thing way back when Peter Jackson directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Is it going old? Well, it’s making money, so I don’t see the practice changing anytime soon, but it gets tiring sometimes.

The book has interesting ideas and presents them in an entertaining format. I wish the movie had followed it a little better, but it was still entertaining as well. It remains to be seen how strong the whole trilogy will be.



Divergent–Book Review

Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy has been compared to Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy. So far, I’ve only read Divergent, but I can see why people would make that comparison. However, I don’t think the two are similar much beyond the fact that they are both young adult dystopian trilogies.

In Divergent, there is a world that is both more familiar and more unique. What makes it familiar are the location–Chicago in the future–and what is different is the idea of all people being divided into five factions, and each faction having a specific set of jobs.

The main character, Beatrice or Tris, changes factions, but finds she still doesn’t fit in. This is something that most people can relate to, at least in some point in their lives. Roth may play the concept up a lot, but it’s important to the story line. What is interesting is that the “outsiders,” those who don’t fit in, are also those who can’t be controlled like everyone else.

Maybe being the odd one in the crowd is better than you think.

Odd Thomas

A while back, a friend recommended Dean Koontz to me. I added him to my mental list of writers to read, and eventually I picked up a couple of his books from the library. I wasn’t impressed by one of his books–Velocity, I believe–but I went on to read Odd Hours anyway. I enjoyed the main character, Odd Thomas, so much that I went back and started reading the series at the beginning, with the book Odd Thomas.

I’m still not entirely sure why I enjoy the series so much, especially since I still don’t care for Dean Koontz’s other books. It’s probably due to the character Odd. The books are strange, bizarre even, with a lot of paranormal themes, but Odd’s narration and wit carry the story through any difficulties. He is a believable character, sometimes stuck in unbelievable situations. And yet I continue to read the stories.

There is now a movie out, also called Odd Thomas, and based on the first book. Anton Yelchin plays Odd, and does a good job of portraying the character without making the story silly.

I would recommend both the books and the movie to anyone who wants to enjoy a humorous, engaging story told by a likable chap. Even if you’re not a fan of paranormal stories, you should give Odd a chance!

Rose Under Fire–Book Review

Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein, is a sequel of sorts to Wein’s Code Name Verity, although one does not have to read one to understand the other. The style is similar, since both are told predominately through the eyes of a girl (or girls) writing a journal. The form might sound tedious, but it is well done and engaging.

I enjoyed Code Name Verity, but I think Rose Under Fire is better. It is more believable, yet more horrible in subject matter. It is the story of Rose Justice, an American civilian pilot, who is captured by the Germans and sent to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp.

Rose Under Fire is Rose’s story of her time in Ravensbrück, who she met there, and how she survived. It is similar to many other stories, but it is geared toward a younger audience. As such, it is not as graphic as some books in descriptions of what happened, but still doesn’t shy away from depicting what went on.

I would recommend that young people, especially, read this book, so that they never forget what happened during World War II.


Code Name Verity–Book Review

There are a lot of books written about WWII, but not that many for young adults, especially not with girls as the protagonists. Elizabeth Wein, however, has written an excellent book called Code Name Verity. The story is mainly about two girls who become friends and help out in the war effort, in different ways. They have different backgrounds and personalities, but they work together and form a lasting friendship.

Code Name Verity is written most in journal-type form, but done well so the story moves along and holds the reader’s interest. It is well-written and definitely worth checking out.

A Soldier’s Secret–Book Review

Marissa Moss published a young adult novel last fall, and it lands in the genre of historical fiction. The title is A Soldier’s Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero.

The book, obviously, is about the Civil War era, and particularly Sarah Edmonds, who pretended to be a man and joined the Union army. The book does take some liberty with facts–as any dramatization does–but bases most of the information on journals of soldiers who fought with Edmonds.

It is an intriguing story, and one that parents and children might both enjoy. It is a refreshing break from all of the YA books about monsters and vampires and other paranormal entities. It is fast-paced and easy to read, and incorporates real American history.

I would recommend Moss’s A Soldier’s Secret. It deals with an fascinating aspect of American history in an engaging manner.

The Cruel Sea–Book Review

The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat was published in 1951 and is called “The classic novel of the North Atlantic in World War II.” Monsarrat served in the Royal Navy during WWII, so I’m sure a lot of the book is based on his experiences.

The Cruel Sea is about the British Navy in WWII and how they tried, and in the beginning mostly failed, to protect convoys of merchant ships from German U-boats. It can be pretty horrifying at times, especially the descriptions of how many soldiers and merchant sailors drowned when their ships were torpedoed.

It is a slow-starting book, since a fair amount deals with new ships being fitted and sailors learning new jobs. However, it is quite fascinating in the depiction of sea life during WWII, and how low the survival rate was for any of the sailors. It is not quite as compelling of a read as, say Unbroken, but in that book the focus is on one man, whereas in The Cruel Sea there are many more characters.

The Cruel Sea is a book well worth reading, especially for anyone who enjoys history, topics of WWII, and naval issues.

Young Adult fiction writer Maureen Johnson has a new series set in London (hence the series title of “Shades of London”). The first book, The Name of the Star, has been nominated for an Edgar Award.

What I found interesting about both The Name of the Star and its sequel The Madness Underneath were that they are set in England, but are from the point of view of an American. In fact, the main character, Rory, is from Louisiana, and suffers a lot of culture shock when she decides to try an English boarding school for a year.

The main conflict of the first book, The Name of the Star is that what seems to be a Jack the Ripper copycat is on the loose in London, and Rory gets drawn into trying to solve the mystery surrounding the murderer.

Although I found parts of the plot to be quite predictable, the characters were interesting, and the books were well-written. Both books in the series are worth reading, especially for younger readers.