Monday, April 14, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #7: Panic by Lauren Oliver

"Everything passed; That was partly why it was so beautiful. Things would get difficult again. But that was okay too.
The bravery was in moving forward, no matter what..."

In the rural New York town of Carp, everyone knows about Panic. Each year, the game is played by the graduating seniors. It's a game of escalating dares. Kids get hurt, even killed, all for the prize. The winner gets the pot, thousands of dollars collected from each senior throughout high school. That kind of money can change your life.

Heather was only planning to cheer on her best friend, Nat, but she ends up joining the game. She wants the money to move as far away from Carp as possible. Heather's life isn't great. Her mother takes drugs and drinks, and Heather struggles to protect her younger sister, Lily. One horrible night, their mother goes too far. Heather and Lily leave. They end up sleeping in their car in an alley. Heather needs the money more than ever. 

Dodge joined Panic for a much different reason: revenge. His sister was paralyzed while competing, and Dodge blames the boy who raced against her. Now, that boy's brother will be playing. Dodge wants him to suffer for hurting his sister, by killing his brother.

I found Panic to be a little unbelievable. Everyone knows about it, but the police or other adults can't do anything about it? I am skeptical. Granted, Panic is run under the utmost secrecy. The contests are presided over by secret judges. Anyone who breaks the rules faces swift retribution. I just feel that after so many years of Panic, someone who actually played the game must be in a position where they could make it stop.

Panic was full of sad stories. Sometimes the characters aren't easy to like, but you can sympathize with their situations. The writing was good, and the parts that depicted Panic were sufficiently tense. Still, I must admit that I am happy this ended up being a stand alone book, as I am not sure I would have wanted to read a second book.

I received my copy of Panic from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperCollins. It's available for purchase now.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #6: The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

"I noticed a similar thing with my dad, and it made me wonder if people, when they reach a certain age, forget how to be happy. Like maybe they grow up to become what they were once rebelling against, and it makes them sad without even knowing it..."

This is the story of a little-known band called the Scar Boys. It is narrated by Harbinger "Harry" Jones, written as an essay for a college application. He describes the most defining moments of his life. The first happened when he was 8 years old. Some bullies tied him to a tree, then left him outside as it started to rain, then storm. The tree was hit by lightning and caught fire. Harry was badly burnt and left with severe scars on his face and body.

Harry's scars made him subject to stares and fear from other children and even adults. He is understandably surprised the day that Johnny befriends him. Johnny is athletic, popular, and handsome. Him wanting to hang out with Harry is practically mind-boggling. The two boys start running together. Johnny gets Harry to go Trick or Treating, even gets him a date. He sounds too good to be true, and he was. Though Johnny was nice to Harry, actually his only friend, he also ended up using Harry to make himself seem better. He needed to show that he was able to have what Harry never could.

After Harry is rejected by the girl Johnny set him up with, Johnny suggests that they form a band. They got guitars, found a drummer and a bass player, and the Scar Boys was born. They practice, get better and better, and grow a following at their high school. They play parties, and even manage to get a gig at CBGB. Unfortunately, their bass player quits right before that huge gig. They are upset about missing the opportunity, but even more upset to have to audition a replacement.

They decide upon a cute girl named Cheyenne. To maintain the stability of the band, the boys vow that they won't hook up with her. One guess for who ends up breaking that vow.

Meanwhile, Harry comes up with the idea that the Scar Boys should go on a cross-country tour. Most of the members will be graduating. Johnny already has a scholarship and a place at college waiting next fall. The summer will most likely be the final chapter for the Scar Boys. The band is met with indifference at first, but they win over even the smallest audience. They had sent out singles to college radio stations, so their shows attract more and more people. They were on top of the world, and there was nowhere left to go but down (This feels very VH1 Behind the Music).

The Scar Boys was difficult to read sometimes, but it was really funny. It reminded me a lot of King Dork by Frank Portman. Every chapter features a song, and the song title relates to what happens. I made a playlist from the chapters, though I'm not sure if the songs relate past the title. This was one of those stories that made me want to start a band, though I am not especially musical. There is this really unexpected event towards the end, and it leads to a sweet ending. I'm always a sucker for a happy ending.

I received my copy of The Scar Boys from Edelweiss, courtesy of Egmont USA. It's available for purchase now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #5: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

I kill on order. I am everyone's assassin. I belong to no one but the grim reaper herself.

It's something of an urban legend. If you have a person who you would like to be killed, write a letter and leave it in a hole in the women's washroom of a particular cafe. Don't forget to include payment. The more you pay, the more likely that the Perfect Killer will answer your request. The murder scene is always spotless, no fingerprints. The letter is left behind as a calling card. There are dozens of murders attributed to the Perfect Killer, and the police have no leads to the killer's identity.

The Perfect Killer is actually a high school girl named Kit. She has been trained to kill by her mother, who committed a good number of murders herself before passing the "tradition" on to Kit. Kit works hard to blend into the crowd, as you never suspect someone that you don't notice. It seems like a major misstep when her mother invites the young detective working on the Perfect Killer case over for dinner. It's even worse when Kit befriends Alex, actually giving him hints to her identity.

Kit receives a letter that has ramifications on her whole world. It is a request to kill a classmate, Maggie. Maggie used to hang out with a popular group, but has lately been on her own. The rumors are that she rejected one of the boys, Michael. He wrote the letter. In order to get close to Maggie, Kit befriends her. The girls are inseparable for months. Kit actually starts to like Maggie. She learns about the Michael situation. He is a horrible sociopath, and Kit can see the anger in his eyes. Before this, her world had been easy, black and white. Now there is so much gray.

I really liked the premise of Dear Killer. However, a lot of the forensic and judicial aspects seem suspicious. It seems unlikely that Kit wouldn't have been caught. There was some explanation for why the letter writers wouldn't be prosecuted, but I think that police could find something to charge them with. Then, a simple deal to find the "mailbox," a sting operation, and the Perfect Killer is off the streets. I'm not as familiar with British law (The book's set in London), so this all may be perfectly fine across the pond. I'll give the benefit of a doubt.

I felt bad for Alex. He just wanted to solve his case! Although, it was weird that he discussed classified information with a high school student. And, he let her examine a crime scene! Kit was a scary, scary girl, and the more you read, the scarier she gets. I'm talking split personality scary. You can't really root for her character. There is a little room for sympathy, because she is who her mother made her. However, Kit's actions condemn her. When she starts to question her life during the Maggie situation, the solution is to keep killing. You actually want her to get caught. Thankfully, there is a satisfying ending to the book. You just have to get through all the blood and moral ambiguity first.

I received my copy of Dear Killer from Edelweiss, courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books. It will be available for purchase April 1, 2014.

Caitlin's CBR VI #4: Avalon by Mindee Arnett

The universe was a terrible, fucked-up place, but he didn't make it that way. He just had to live with it...

Avalon is ultimately a story about freedom. The main character, Jeth, wants to be able to fly away from Hammer, the mob boss who owns him, his ship, and his crew. He wants to take Avalon and escape to some far off galaxy and be free. His parents were executed as traitors, leaving Jeth and his sister Lizzie in the care of their uncle. Uncle Milton promptly gambled and lost Avalon, which is also their home, to Hammer.

Hammer is the big boss, owner of a great big space station and casino. He runs a gang of soldiers, most of whom are mindless slaves thanks to an implant in their brains. One of his organizations is the Malleus Shades, Jeth's crew. They are a bunch of teenagers who pull heists to steal ships and metadrives. The metadrive is the technology that allows them to travel light years through space. This technology is highly in demand, so the Shades are busy. Jeth is working for Hammer in hopes of buying his ship back. His profits all go towards Avalon, but he still has years left before he'll be free.

At the beginning of the book, the Shades are running a heist. Everything is going according to plan when they get an unexpected visit from an ITA agent (Like space FBI). He wants them to venture into the Belgraves, the space wasteland where weird stuff happens, in order to retrieve a wrecked ship, the Donerail. In return, Jeth will regain full ownership of Avalon.

Jeth is obviously suspicious of the man, as the ITA killed his parents. He refuses the deal. Soon after, Hammer offers them the same job. After some negotiation, Hammer is willing to give them half the money beforehand...and he will sign the Avalon over to Jeth. The only condition is that they are not supposed to set foot on the abandoned ship.

That seems easy enough. The Donerail has been stranded for two months. There's no way that anyone could have survived. When they reach the ship, however, there are signs of life. Once on board, they notice how it is covered in mysterious holes, some through walls or equipment, even through the crew. They meet the survivors, a teenaged girl and boy, and a younger girl. Jeth takes the trio back on the Avalon. Once there, the mysterious holes start appearing in Avalon's walls and equipment. Soon enough, they are stranded in the Belgraves. They have two choices: call Hammer for help, or call the ITA. The only question is which is the better risk.

I really loved Avalon. A lot of it had to do with how much I loved Jeth. He was such a nice guy, always sacrificing himself to protect his crew. There were times when he brought tears to my eyes, when he was broken down and believed that he would never regain Avalon, would be stuck with Hammer, and worst of all would become one of those brainless soldier. So, I may as well say that Jeth is the best and almost single-handedly made this book great. I'm really looking forward to further adventures from the Malleus Shades, which should be interesting given the plot twists and spoiler action at the end of the book, which I cannot talk about here. I'll just say that it should be interesting and leave it at that.

I received my copy of Avalon from Edelweiss, courtesy of Balzer & Bray. It's available for purchase now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #3: Landry Park by Bethany Hagen

"No matter how small I felt, how infinitesimal my feeble gestures seemed, I was part of a larger chain, a larger system, and so help me, I would bring order to this chaos..."

This dystopian story had a background story very similar to The Hunger Games. There was a war hundreds of years ago. What once was the United States was attacked by the East (Asia). Afterwards, they were left in ruins. The West Coast fell. As a result of the war, the United States were no longer allowed to use fossil fuels. Jacob Landry saved the country by introducing his Cherenkov lantern, which paved the way for personal nuclear reactors in every home. Of course, only the upper classes, the Gentry, are able to take advantage of nuclear power. As punishment for not fighting hard enough during the war, the lowest class, Rootless, must perform the deadly task of handling the radioactive cores. The Gentry make sure that the Rootless receive lots of medical care for their breedin' parts so that they can make more Rootless to handle the reactors. They pay no attention to them dying painful, early deaths from radiation poisoning.

Now let's go from the poor down-trodden masses to a poor little rich girl. Madeline Landry is unhappy with her life. She wants nothing more than to attend university. As the first (And only) heir to Landry Park, their sprawling estate, her job is to marry rich and produce an heir. Unfortunately, Madeline has no interest in the parties and usual bunch of eligible bachelors. That is, until David Dana comes to town.

David is the son of her father's old girlfriend. The two hit it off, but their relationship is complicated. He acts affectionately towards her when they are alone, but ignores her when they are in public. It just gets weirder when he asks her frenemy, Cara, to debut with him. This means that David and Cara are practically engaged. David definitely puts out a lot of mixed signals, and Madeline has no idea what to think.

Back to class warfare! After Cara is attacked at a party, she blames a member of the Rootless. Soon, Mr. Landry and the Gentry government are severely punishing all of the Rootless. Madeline can tell that Cara is lying about the attack. She takes it upon herself to find out the real culprit, whom she suspects is one of the Gentry.

One day, she follows David into the Rootless side of town. While there, she learns of the suffering of their people so that the Gentry can live in comfort. She also learns that the Rootless are planning a revolution, and they have the East on their side to fight. Madeline eventually learns that the history of the country is a lie, and she must turn her back on her family and Landry Park in order to help the people who need her most.

The background of the book really interested me. I'm a big fan of Downton Abbey and Jane Austen, and the Gentry system of courtship was similar. When the regency drama is combined with the dystopian, I am very excited. I wasn't disappointed with the actual contents. It was a great story. Madeline could be annoying at times, but I'll forgive her as her entire world ends up falling apart. I won't forgive her for the love triangle, especially since I thought she'd stop whining about David once she starts a relationship with Jude(David's friend, doesn't matter that much). But, no, she still goes on and on about David Dana. I appreciated that they didn't make Jude be evil incarnate just to make Madeline and David seem inevitable. Cara amused me greatly, because she was bitchy in an amusing, Cordelia Chase way.

I thought that Landry Park was a really good start to the series. It ends cleanly, while leaving space for the next installment in the series. I'd like to read more, but I'm not freaking out because of a horrible cliffhanger.

I received my copy of Landry Park from Edelweiss, courtesy of Dial and Penguin. It's available for purchase now. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #2: Champion by Marie Lu

"Sometimes the sun sets earlier. Days don't last forever, you know."

If you like, you can read my reviews of Legend and Prodigy. There's going to be spoilers of the first two books, but no Champion spoilers.

June and Day met in Legend, one of those typical love stories where girl thinks boy killed her brother, so girl hunts boy down undercover in the streets. June was a super soldier, the best that the Republic ever saw. Day was a legend, a nondescript shadow who robs from the government and gives to the poor and downtrodden. He was actually a young man who was supposed to have been killed after failing his Trials, a test every child takes that determines their entire future. They eventually gain an understanding of each other, then it blossoms into love. Despite some, um...misunderstandings along the way. By misunderstandings, I mean that June leads Republic officials to Day's door, where they murder his mother. Then, they are going to kill Day, but his older brother takes his place. And, the Republic kidnaps his younger brother, Eden, to try to find a cure for the disease that is spreading throughout the Republic. June learns that the Republic is full of corruption, her brother's murder was an inside job, and everything is pretty much the worst.

Then in Prodigy, June and Day team up with the Patriots, a group working with people from the Colonies (Divided USA, Colonies vs. Republic) in hopes of rescuing Eden. After the elector primo dies, his son inherits the role. The Patriots plan to assassinate the young man for the good of the people. June is working inside the government, and she gets close to Anden. She learns that he will help the Republic, so she decides to stop the assassination. It turns out that members of the Patriots were members of the government, who were working with the Patriots to kill Anden. Also, the Republic is claiming that Day was executed. Nobody believes it. Because of this, Day turned into a political symbol, and he rallies the people around Anden. On a sad note, Day finds out that he is dying because of what they did to him after his Trials.

The third installment finds June and Day once again divided. Now Day has a comfortable apartment that he shares with his brother. Unfortunately, his headaches have been getting worse. The doctors think that Day will only live for about two more months. June has been training to be a top government official. Anden believes that she is qualified for the job, despite her being 16 and up against two much more qualified candidates.

The Republic is having more issues with the Colonies. The Colonies have been suffering from that terrible sickness and blame the Republic for spreading it across their borders. They also believe that the Republic has a cure and will attack and overthrow the Republic if it is not turned over. Anden has been trying to find a cure, but nothing has worked. His last resort is having June ask Day to give Eden back to the Republic, in hopes that his blood contains a cure. Day would obviously be against this plan, but if June asks...

There's all kinds of drama happening. Anden obviously likes June, but she's still all about Day. Day still likes June, but he's pushing her away because he's dying and doesn't want to hurt her. June doesn't even know that he's dying. I know that I complained about romantic triangles before, but this isn't really a triangle. Anden barely factors at all.

Overall, I felt that Champion was a fitting conclusion to the series. There was lots of action and drama, which was very satisfying. I'll admit that the ending had me sobbing like a baby, both the ending and the prologue (For both happy and sad reasons). The entire series has been fantastic, so I am happy to see it go off on a good note.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #1: No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

Ruth was the only person I ever knew who wanted to be somewhere else as much as I did. The only one who got what I meant when I said, "Friendship as in you and me is great, but Friendship, Wisconsin sometimes feels like a bad dream that's too boring to be called a nightmare..."

One of my favorite scenes in No One Else Can Have You is when the main character, Kippy, asks her father for a salad for dinner. He doesn't understand what that even is. Then he throws some frozen green beans, canned tomatoes, bacon bits, and shredded cheese in a bowl and microwaves the whole thing. It sounds absolutely disgusting, but it made me laugh out loud. That special Midwestern flavor is all through this book. There is a lot of regional dialogue, you betcha. It can be too much, but it mostly made me giggle. Which is itself funny, as the book deals with a brutal murder.

No One Else Can Have You is set in the small town of Friendship, Wisconsin, population 689...make that 688. The community is shaken when the body of Ruth Fried is found hanging in a cornfield. Her football star boyfriend, Colt, seems like the obvious suspect, so he is arrested for the murder. Friendship is safe once again...or is it? Ruth's brother, Davey, doesn't think so. He recently returned home from Afghanistan after injuring his hand, and he starts to investigate his sister's murder. The sheriff isn't a big fan of Colt, as he had a fling with the sheriff's daughter.

Ruth's best friend Kippy starts to look into the story. She keeps imagining her hero, Diane Sawyer, guiding her along. After talking to Colt, she decides that he is an a-hole, but not a murderer. He also has an alibi: he was destroying a mailbox when the murder was taking place. Kippy visits the woman who owns the mailbox, an alcoholic and rumored witch. Soon after the visit, the woman is found dead. The police rule the death a suicide, but Kippy doesn't believe it.

Ruth's mother found her journal and gave it to Kippy, hoping that she would cross out any sex parts and give them back. The journals reveal Ruth to be kind of bitchy, but also pretty funny and awesome. She had been seeing an older guy, one who had said he wanted to kill and mount her. Ruth works together with Davey, but they meet a lot of resistance. Sheriff Staake refuses to consider any other suspect, to an infuriating degree. An overly religious girl, Libby, starts an organization in Ruth's memory at school. She tries to recruit Kippy, who she keeps calling Katie. Libby considers Kippy's efforts to find a killer as offensive to her and the organization. As they get closer to finding the suspect, they get closer to becoming victims themselves. I love ending on statements like that.

I was a pretty big fan of No One Else Can Have You. The characters are really detailed in the book. There's Ruth, who I already mentioned a little. I really liked the journals, which helped show more of who Ruth was. It reminded me of how Veronica Mars had all those flashbacks of Lilly Kane, or how everyone has flashbacks of Alison DiLaurentis on Pretty Little Liars. Kippy is sort of all over the place, but I loved her. She was a weird one. Her mother died when she was younger, and she only has her father. Her father tries really hard, which is adorable. There are also many, many background characters, of varying degrees of likeability. The book was pretty funny, as I already mentioned. Lots of Wisconsin humor abounds. The mystery was compelling, though I did actually guess who did it. All in all, it was a good time, don't cha know.

I received my copy of No One Else Can Have You from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.