Friday, January 29, 2010

Midnighters: The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld

Midnighters by Scott Westerfeld.

Strange things happen at midnight in the town of Bixby, Oklahoma.
Time freezes.
Nobody moves.
For one secret hour each night, the town belongs to the dark creatures that haunt the shadows. Only a small group of people know about the secret hour -- only they are free to move about the midnight time.
These people call themselves Midnighters. Each one has a different power that is strongest at midnight: Seer, Mindcaster, Acrobat, Polymath. For years the Midnighters and the dark creatures have shared the secret hour, uneasily avoiding one another. All that changes when the new girl with an unmistakable midnight aura appears at Bixby High School.
Jessica Day is not an outsider like the other Midnighters. She acts perfectly normal in every way. But it soon becomes clear that the dark creatures sense a hidden power in Jessica . . . and they're determined to stop her before she can use it.
A story of courage, shadowy perils, and unexpected destiny, the secret hour is the first volume of the mesmerizing Midnighters trilogy by acclaimed author Scott Westerfeld. (summary from back of book)

As I mentioned before the hubby liked this one more than Uglies. I still liked the Uglies series better, but this was still an enjoyable read. It is interesting to watch each of the midnighters deal with their powers, and deal with the threat of the darklings. I also like the spin that the darklings have been haunting man since prehistoric times, and are ancient creatures. I think it is interesting that the characters have to learn about the prehistoric origins and history of Bixby as a result. It gives the series a different feel than a bunch of other stories. The beginning of the book was a bit boring for me, but I eventually got really into the story and enjoyed all the nerdy high school characters. Not as fun as Uglies, but still a solid entertaining read.

Visit Westerfeld's website

Friday, January 22, 2010

Once was Lost by Sara Zarr

Once was Lost by Sara Zarr

Samara Taylor used to believe in miracles. She used to believe in a lot of things. As a pastor’s kid, it’s hard not to buy in to the idea of the perfect family, a loving God, and amazing grace. But lately, Sam has a lot of reason to doubt. Her mother lands in rehab after a DUI and her father seems more interested in his congregation than his family. When a young girl in her small town is kidnapped, the local tragedy overlaps with Sam’s personal one, and the already-worn thread of faith holding her together begins to unravel. (*summary from author’s website)

I read Sweethearts earlier in the year and really enjoyed it, but I think I liked Once was Lost more. Early in the book Sam has to deal with the conflict of how exactly to tell people her mom is in rehab. It is slightly more awkward than just normal teenage embarrassment, as her father is the pastor, and the congregation passes a lot of judgment on her family. It doesn’t help that her father hasn’t announced the situation in church. Then a young girl from the congregation goes missing, and her dad is constantly gone trying to help the family. The novel portrays the search for the girl, the accusations and wild rumors that media stirs up, and the strain of not being able to trust the guy down the street.

The characters in the book have honest emotions and feelings. They are humans in a confusing world trying to deal with huge problems: a child being kidnapped, a wife/mother in rehab, the pressure to appear perfect. I think the author did a very good job with making all the characters rounded and human. I loved how the mother was never vilified into an alcoholic monster parent. I really liked was how the author showed how much Sam loved her Mom, and how she still needed her. Her relationship with her mom wasn’t perfect, but they still loved one another.

This book has so many small-threads that weaved it all together. I really enjoyed reading it. One of my favorite things was that, though it dealt with hard topics, the book was never graphic or full of gory details. It seems that we as a society revel too much in the dirty and sad details of tragedies. It really was refreshing to read a book that didn’t give into this temptation. It dealt with the difficult and honest emotions involved in the situation, but still remained a clean read.

Sara Zarr's Website

Friday, January 15, 2010

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Miranda starts hearing warnings that an asteroid is going to hit the moon. School and life go on as usual while everyone speculates about the upcoming event. No one expected that the moon would be knocked out of its place when the stray asteroid hit it. No one expected their entire world to change.

Power is lost, phone lines go down, gas shortages, grocery store raids, and other mayhem occurs as people prepare for the worst. News that tides have turned into tidal waves and previously dormant volcanoes have erupted only make the situation more dangerous. Miranda and her family will have to find a way to make it through one long dark winter, together.

This is a really compelling read, and it is hard to put down. I loved how the story was told in first person journal format, and I really related to Miranda’s character. I loved how honest she came across in her journal entries. At the beginning of the book she sounded so similar to my thoughts about life when I was her age. Then you get sucked into worrying about how she and her family are going to survive this apocalyptic type situation. The entire world is affected by this natural disaster of epic proportions, but there is a sense the world is still moving on. Everyone is still trying to survive, and her family becomes the most important thing.

This one will definitely have you taking stock of the food in your cupboards, and pondering what you would do when the worst happened. This is an excellent book that I would recommend to all. The Sequel This World We Live In comes out in April and I'm way excited to read it.

Visit Susan Beth Pfeffer's blog

Friday, January 8, 2010

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

So, I’ve been curious about Westerfeld’s latest release Leviathan, first, because I loved his Uglies series, and second, because I heard it was steam punk. All my friends tell me they love steam punk, and I have no idea where they were finding all this steam punk stuff to love. It’s like the invisible genre everyone loves, but won’t let you in on the secret of where they are finding all this stuff. So, finally an easily accessible steam punk novel from an author I really like. Score! It gets better though because the book is awesome in many ways. First, the cover is unique and kind of shiny, and the map inside looks cool too. The illustrations throughout the book just add to the whole effect. This is a heavy, nicely presented book that I love to see on my shelf or heft in my hands.

The setting has an alternate history feel to it, as it begins just as WWI is about to break out on Europe. This Europe is technologically different from traditional history. The British Darwinists war machine is based off of genetically engineering “life strands” (DNA) of animals and creating fantastic beasts. Jelly Fish are altered to breathe hydrogen and float into the sky. A living, breathing whale becomes a zeppelin war machine. The German and Austro-Hungarians wage war via huge technological robot creatures called walkers. So there is there cultural warfare of biology vs machinery threaded throughout the entire book.

The book opens as Aleksander Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, confronts the tragedy of his parent’s assassination, the event which sparked the beginning of WWI in our history books. It also sparks war in Aleksander’s world, and turns him into a fugitive. A few of his father’s loyal men help him escape out of the palace in a walker. They evade Germans capture, trying to enter neutral territory where they will be safe to hunker down and wait out the war.

The other story thread involves Deryn Sharp, a girl who has disguised herself as a boy so she can join the British air service. She has a true passion for flight, and disguising herself is the only way to reach her dream. She becomes a mid-shipman aboard the Leviathan, a huge whale-zeppelin hybrid ship. The captain has orders to take a mysterious Dr. Barlow and her precious cargo to the Ottoman Empire as quickly as possible.

So, I adored this book! It was so much fun to read. The book is as much as about exploring this interesting, dynamic setting as it is about these two unique characters. I thought Deryn was hilarious, and I loved her. She takes no crap from anyone, and her comments on the strange practices of boys are hilarious. Aleksander is also a fascinating character, as a noble he’s proud and arrogant, but he’s also smart and clever. He has a knack for running Clanker technology, and it’s fun to watch him master the controls of his walker under the tutelage of his trustworthy crew. Yet, he is also headstrong and stubborn and this trait leads him into trouble when he risks everything to help Deryn’s crew.

I’ve already written a ton and I haven’t even told you half of what I liked yet! As with his Uglies series, Westerfeld masterfully weaves slang, and witty dialogue into his novel to make his imaginary world feel authentic and complex. His characters feel natural and realistic in their settings, and truly this book is an example of why I love to read fantasy. I would recommend it to everyone. I can’t wait for the next book in the series to come out! Behemoth 2010!