Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review: Perfection by J. L. Spelbring

Title: Perfection
Author: J. L. Spelbring
Publication Date: July 16, 2013
Target Age Group: YA
My Rating: 4 out of 5

Book Jacket Blurb:

The personification of Aryan purity, Ellyssa's spent her whole life under her creator's strict training and guidance; her purpose is to eradicate inferior beings. She was genetically engineered to be the perfect soldier: strong, intelligent, unemotional, and telepathic.

Only Ellyssa isn't perfect.

Ellyssa feels emotions--a fact she's spent her life concealing. Until she encounters the epitome of inferiority: a dark-haired boy raised among renegades hiding since the Nazis won the war a century ago. He speaks to her telepathically, pushing thoughts into her mind, despite the impossibility of such a substandard person having psychic abilities.

But he does.

His unspoken words and visions of a place she's never visited make Ellyssa question her creator. Confused and afraid her secret will be discovered, Ellyssa runs away, embarking on a journey where she discovers there is more to her than perfection.

My Review:

I cannot say enough good things about this book. This one blew me away in terms of the characters, the setting, and also the eerie believability of the events portrayed in this book, as fantastic as they are.

It's hard to put a classification on this one.

1. It's part historical fantasy. It envisions a world where Hitler succeeded in his horrible plan of world domination and selective purging of the population.
2. It's part science fiction. It deals with topics of genetic selection and development of telepathic and other superhuman traits.
3. It's part fantasy. If you don't believe in superhuman abilities as natural, this could be categorized as fantasy. Also, the series seems like it could go in an almost superhero kind of direction. For those who HAVE read the book, you might understand what I'm getting at here. It's very apparent to me at the end.

From the very beginning of the book, Ellyssa's conflict is very clear. Everything she knows about her world (which is very twisted mind you due to her "father"'s world views having been pushed upon her) collapses when she meets a prisoner - someone who is not among the "perfect race" - who has the same telepathic ability as she does. This, along with learning the true nature of what she was created for, causes her to question her father and everything about the bubble she lives in. So she escapes the compound where she has lived her entire life.

The book hits the ground running at this point, only providing the background above as necessary. I love the action at the beginning of this story. Ellyssa is on the run, running away from the people who raised her and running toward some understanding of the conflicting views she has. I love her interaction with the world outside, especially the people. I love how the people are portrayed as ordinary people, who are twisted by the morals put upon them by Hitler's regime, but still ordinary people just the same. It shows the effects of propaganda and faulty values in upbringing very well through the storytelling.

The book then enters another stage, where the action almost slows to a crawl, but this is where Ellyssa's emotional conflicts begin. When captured by the renegades, the people she has always associated with inferiority and as the enemies, she realizes these people are no different than the "perfect race" her creator has been teaching her about. She becomes herself in this stage of the book, and I think it's executed brilliantly.

Here, unfortunately, is where I have to dock a few points from my scale, because I find this section is very similar to the middle of the book The Host, by Stephenie Meyer. Seeing as though I also enjoyed that book, I can't take TOO many points off though. And, the outcome of this section is very different in this book than it was in The Host, because whereas Melanie Stryder in The Host took a more passive approach to solving her problem, befitting of her character, Ellyssa takes a more active, kick-butt approach in J. L. Spelbring's book, which is befitting of HER character. Because once Ellyssa's discovers herself, she brings her knowledge and wisdom back to her father to deal with him. I won't say how the book ends, but the ending is very, very action packed and a cool setup for what I'm hoping will be a sequel to this book.

The only other place I would say is a bit of a disappointment is with the character development for the detective who is in charge of hunting her down and bringing her back home throughout the book. I was kinda hoping for some redeeming quality for this character, and it ALMOST seemed like that would happen, but it never came to fruition. Unlike the same type of character in The Host, who at the end you can almost feel sorry for her.

Finally, there is the romance element between Ellyssa and Rein. The two are from very different backgrounds. They learn about each other and move toward the center regarding their understanding of each other as the story progresses. I felt their connection was a little too strong by the end, however, given all they had to overcome. But other than that, I felt the romance was done very well. It's a bit of a Romeo and Juliet, with a much happier ending, at least for Ellyssa and Rein.

The book has definitely been left open for a sequel, which I will wait for impatiently.

I would highly recommend this book.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: The Listeners by Harrison Demchick

Title: The Listeners
Author: Harrison Demchick
Publication Date: December 17, 2012
Target Age Group: Adult
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Book Jacket Blurb:

It's a bit long to put the entire blurb here, so here's the beginning and end of it:

Before the plague, and the quarantine, fourteen-year-old Daniel Raymond had only heard of the Listeners. They were a gang, maybe even a cult, or at least that's what his best friend Katie's police officer father had said. They were criminals, thieves, monsters - deadly men clearly identifiable by the removal of their right ears.

That's what Daniel had heard. But he didn't know.


Daniel's mother went out for toilet paper. She never came back. He hasn't heard from Katie since the phones went dead. And with his real family gone and surrogate family unreachable, Daniel, scared and alone, has nothing except the walls of his apartment, the window shattered, the poisonous air seeping in.

That's when the Listeners arrive. Derek, the one-eared man with the big, soulful eyes, promises protection, and hope, and the choice not to sit alone and wait to die in some horrific way. He offers a brotherhood under the watch of their leader, the prophet Adam. He offers a place in the world to come.

My Review:

This book is called a literary horror novel, which is interesting in light of a recent post I put up regarding plot-based vs. character-based novels, or genre vs. literary novels. This book seems to work well on both sides of the fence. You get to know Daniel, his personality and his world, but then there's movement in this novel as well. Daniel travels down literal roads, moving from the instability of his own apartment into the care of the Listeners and then out into this apocalyptic world that Harrison Demchick has created, but Daniel also travels down a road in his head toward a grim understanding of himself and how he fits in this new world and the consequences of the choices he makes throughout the novel. This balance is brilliantly executed in this novel.

I love how the plague and the walking-dead-like people it's left in its wake is simply the vehicle in which to place Daniel, his family and friends, this group of people known as the Listeners, and the police in this lawless microcosm. It's very reminiscent of Stephen King's Under the Dome, which is another book I enjoyed that explores these same themes.

If I have to say anything negative about the book, it would have to be the places where the novel strays from Daniel's point of view. Harrison Demchick doesn't spend nearly enough time letting us get to know the other characters for us to have a vested interest in them. This fact ALMOST caused me to rate this a 3 or a 3.5 out of 5, but because the writing is so well done and the rest of the book is so well executed - even the appearance of these other characters reminds me of a Pulp Fiction kind of plot where characters have intertwined stories - that I feel more comfortable rating it a 4 out of 5.

If you're looking for a horror novel that is less horrifying because of the traditional horrors of a plague and walking dead (which this book does have as its backdrop) but more horrifying because of the experiences of a teenage boy trying to survive in a lawless, dangerous environment where nothing is quite as it seems and the truth of his situation is elusive and truly horrifying when finally known, then this is the perfect book for you.

Review: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Title: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Target Age Group: 8 - 12 yrs
My Rating: 4 out of 5

Book Jacket Blurb:

Since I have a BEA advanced reader copy, there is none on my copy. However, here's one I found on Amazon, which was taken from School Library Journal:

Flora, obsessed with superhero comics, immediately recognizes and gives her wholehearted support to a squirrel that, after a near-fatal brush with a vacuum cleaner, develops the ability to fly and type poetry. The 10-year-old hides her new friend from the certain disapproval of her self-absorbed, romance-writer mother, but it is on the woman's typewriter that Ulysses pours out his creations.

My Review:

First of all, I loved this book overall. It's a book about the very serious topic of divorce and how it affects both children and their parents, but told in a whimsical, heartfelt manner.

One of the things I love most about the book is how it mixes those very serious issues of divorce with the fantastical story of a squirrel that Flora names Ulysses who finds himself suddenly coming to terms with super powers bestowed upon him after being sucked into a vacuum cleaner.

The squirrel superhero element is cute, and I would say the most heartfelt parts of the book revolve around him. Ulysses has strange superpowers - he can fly, lift heavy objects, and is able to understand English and write poetry on Flora's mother's old typewriter.

Ulysses allows the main character, Flora, to do something she hasn't been able to do on her own throughout the divorce process: hope.

I love the quirkiness of all the characters in the book. They're all very distinct and endearing. The book's style is a little disjointed, however. Transitions between sections and character's POVs are not very clean. There are also insertions of comic book pages which tell parts of the story, which takes some getting used to, but the illustrations (they're rough ones in the copy I have) look very fun and they involve the adventures of Ulysses the squirrel. They also seem appropriate due to Flora's love of comic books and her belief that Ulysses is a superhero and destined for great things.

Overall, great book that I would highly recommend to your middle grader.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Welcome to the Other Side

Greetings, and welcome to George's Backlogged Book Reviews. The purpose of this is threefold:

1) To hopefully turn people on to some really amazing books

2) To give back in those cases where authors have been extremely generous to me

3) To stress the point that good writers should also be good readers

Hopefully I'll accomplish all three things, but especially the third. Through posting my own book reviews I hope I inspire other writers to read and review as well. As the master himself, Stephen King, says: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write."

So what's on deck? Well, I'm glad you asked. See, I've attended Book Expo America for the last 2 years, so I have acquired a number of books over those two visits. Those books will be the main ones I'll focus on for these book reviews, initially. Unfortunately I kinda dropped the ball getting to last year's in a timely fashion, so I'll start with the ones I got from this year and work my way back. Hopefully I'll get to all of them eventually.

The first reviews to come will be for the following books:

Indelible by Dawn Metcalf
Perfection by J. L. Spelbring
The Listeners by Harrison Demchick
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Stay tuned for those reviews.