Book Review: Article 5 by Kristen Simmons

Beth and Ryan were holding hands. It was enough to risk a formal citation for indecency, and they knew better, but I didn’t say anything.


Article 5 (Article 5, #1)

Article 5 by Kristen Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There was a war. It destroyed the major cities and left the United States of America under the control of the Federal Bureau of Reformation, its citizens policed by soldiers nicknamed the “Moral Militia”. The guiding laws of the country are the Moral Statutes, which demand compliance with the Church of America, strict gender roles, and an even stricter definition of family. At seventeen, Ember Miller has been caring for her rebellious single mother for years. She keeps quiet and gets what they need. But when Ember’s very existence is deemed “noncompliant” and her mother is arrested by a group of soldiers including the boy Ember once loved, her world is quickly turned upside-down.

I went back-and-forth a bit in my feelings for this book. It started off strong, dropping the reader straight into a world reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale in its government-enforced religious beliefs. Since she is old enough to remember how things were before the war and the rise of the FBR, she can detail the changes with a minimum of awkward exposition. I found her wry humor endearing. And then came the line that never fails to yank me right out of a good immersion in a fictional world: “I felt as if I were in a science fiction story.” (45)

Well, yes, I can’t help but think, that’s because you are a character in a story. And then, just a couple paragraphs later, she looks in a mirror before describing herself for the reader. That particular cliche moment is a pet peeve ingrained from college fiction-writing workshops. There is also the fact that the news that so utterly shocks Ember toward the end of the book came as no surprise to me, but I think the reader was supposed to figure that bit of information out long before Ember does.

I kept on with the book, because I was intrigued by the world Simmons created, and I wanted to know what would happen next. The plot moves along at a thundering pace, carrying the reader right on past the fact that the backstory is really quite vague. Who exactly were the sides in the war? Why do the Statutes seem to be so unevenly enforced? Who are the players in power now? And why is Ember so clueless?

In the end, I enjoyed the book, and I’ll definitely be seeking out the sequel. There are (clearly) plenty of open questions to be addressed in the middle and final parts of the trilogy.

Final Word:
A decent debut in the crowded post-Apocalyptic teen genre.

Checked out from the public library

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Book Review: Starters by Lissa Price

Hearing his words made it all too real. Creepy old Enders with arthritic limbs taking over this teen’s body for week, living inside his skin.

Starters (Starters, #1)
Starters by Lissa Price
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A year ago, Callie lived the life of an average teenager in Southern California. She lived in a house with her mom and her dad and her little brother, Tyler. Then the war that had been raging so far away hit home with the detonation of a Spore missile and the subsequent disease that killed almost everyone between the ages of 20 and 60. Without older living relatives to claim them, Callie and Tyler have been on the run from the authorities, squatting in abandoned buildings and fighting off dangerous Renegades. They are running out of resources, and Tyler is ill. But in Beverly Hills, there is a place called Prime Destinations, a company that will pay handsomely if she will do the nearly unthinkable: allow them to use her body as a rental for elderly “Enders” to experience being young again. Desperate, Callie signs on, only to learn that both Prime Destinations and her final renter have plans worse than she could have imagined.


A post-apocalyptic Los Angeles is the setting for this entry in the popular Dystopian YA genre. In Price’s version of the near future, the “sandwich generation” is gone, leaving a world populated by elderly “Enders” who now live well in their second century and under-20 “Starters”, who have no rights at all until they come of age at 19. The lucky ones are those with grandparents, great-grandparents, and other senior relatives to “claim” them. The unlucky ones are on the run, scrounging for food, hiding out in filthy squats, hoping to run out the clock to age 19 before getting picked up by the authorities and locked up in an Institution. Prime Destinations is strongly reminiscent of the eponymous location in Joss Whedon’s short-lived series Dollhouse, with the twist that the clients are actually inhabiting the “dolls”.

The interesting premise is undermined by some shaky world-building. With people living to 200, it seems like there would be more living grandparents, great-grandparents, great-aunts and -uncles, and other relatives available to claim kids like Callie and her brother. What happened to their own grandparents (and great-grandparents) is never explained. The only Enders and Claimed Minors Callie encounters are wealthy; what happened to the middle- and working-class kids who had living relatives to claim them? Finally, while it is clear that the post-war world is a huge change for Callie (and everyone else), life before the war was clearly different from what we know, but it is unclear how things got from here to there.

The characters populating this world are also problematic. Callie’s fierce determination makes her an appealing heroine. Unfortunately, she is the only character who really gets any development. After Tyler and Callie’s friend Michael are introduced early on, they spend most of the novel “off-screen”, as Callie is separated from them. Even secondary characters who are more involved in the plot are left static. Complicating this, of course, is the whole body-switching issue; after first meeting someone, he may be quite literally a different person the next time he appears! There are several supplementary stories slated to appear in addition to the sequel that look like they might explore the characters a bit more.

Despite the flaws, this is a promising debut novel. The plot is compelling enough to distract from the sorts of questions that make it impossible to suspend disbelief (at least, until putting it down), and a final twist keeps the reader on the hook for the forthcoming sequel. This is an enjoyable, entertaining read. Just try not to pick at the details.

On shelves March 13, 2012.


Final Word:
An intriguing premise and compelling plot compensate for some shaky world-building in this promising Dystopian YA debut.


e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request


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Book Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

August Pullman has had 27 surgeries in his 10 years of life. Because of the hospitalizations and other health problems, his mother has homeschooled him. But now his parents have enrolled him in the fifth grade at Beecher Prep. He knows he is just an ordinary kid, but he also knows that his face is different, and it is the first thing anyone will notice. Will he be able to get his new classmates to look beyond his appearance and get to know the ordinary kid inside? Or is he, just maybe, more extraordinary than he thinks?


Auggie’s first year of mainstream school is described in short chapters from several perspectives. Besides Auggie himself, his sister and four other characters get a chance to tell their sides of the story. Palacio does a fantastic job giving each character his (or her) own distinctive voice. The multiple perspectives also allow the reader to know more than any one character does, even (especially) Auggie. As Mr. Tushman points out, “there are almost always more than two sides to every story.” The characters are complicated. No one, not even Auggie, is all good or all bad. The situations are realistic, from the bullying in the halls of Beecher Prep to the small family dramas in the Pullman home. This is an amazing story told with empathy and humor. Kids and adults alike will love this stellar debut. Highly recommended.

On shelves February 14, 2012.


Final Word:
A beautifully written, heart-breaking but uplifting tale of one (extra-)ordinary kid.


e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request



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Book Review: The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark

Mom and Dad were in their room with the door shut. Again. Cautiously, I pressed my ear against the wooden frame. Hakuna Matata, no Discovery Channel-like sounds could be heard. Only two mammals speaking so quickly and intensely that their voices were nearly inaudible.


The Edumacation of Jay Baker

The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Jay Baker’s world is starting to crumble on all fronts. He has to face his mortal-enemy-since-the-seventh-grade in a Freshman Class Presidential debate. He only decided to run for class office to impress cheerleader Cameo Appearance Parnell, his best friend and unrequited crush, but she’s still dating the jocks who’ve been bullying Jay for years. His parents’ 19-year marriage is clearly not doing well; he just found out his mom has been sleeping with Some Dude Named Keith. It’s all enough to push a smart-mouthed, IBS-prone kid to the breaking point. Jay can try to cover up his worries with a fast-paced monologue of quips, puns, and pop-culture references, but, at some point, he’s going to have to figure out how to just be himself.


With a quick-paced narrative filled with snarky, coarse humor, this should be a hit with middle-school boys. Jay’s problems are instantly recognizable: he wants to impress a girl or two, he wants football-player Mike Hibbard to quit bullying him, and he wants his parents to get their act together. Jay and his older sister, Abby, make quite the sarcastic comedy team, leavening the mood whenever it seems in danger of turning serious.

Overall, this is a decent contemporary realistic novel with plenty of boy-appeal, appropriate for the younger range of YA. Jay’s heavy reliance on pop culture references will probably endear him to some teen readers, although they may date the book as pop culture moves ever onward. The narrative veers perilously close to “too clever” from time to time; maybe Jay is trying to impress the reader just as he tries to impress Cameo and Caroline. Clark’s debut novel won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but readers looking for light realism (no big issues here, just the everyday problems just about every teenager faces) served up with a heavy dose of snark will find it hits the spot.

On shelves January 31, 2012.


Final Word:
Middle school boys seem to be the ideal audience for this light contemporary realism that’s heavy on the snark.


e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request.


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Book Review: May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

I watch a bird balance
on a blade of grass
bent low toward earth
to find a meal.
All creatures must work for their keep.

May B.
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Life on the Kansas prairie frontier is tough, and 12-year-old Mavis Betterly – May B. – knows it. A learning disability makes school especially challenging, but she is determined to do well, hoping to become a teacher herself one day. Instead of going to school this winter, though, May is headed to a stranger’s homestead 15 miles away. She will help his wife, newly arrived from the East, with the chores, earning a little money to help her own parents as well. “Just until Christmas,” they tell her. Just as May begins to settle in at the Oblingers’ sod house, both adults head into town, and they don’t come back. Trapped by a blizzard, May faces the brutal winter outside while confronting her own haunting memories inside. It will take all her toughness to make it home again


Novels in verse are a tricky thing. As a reader, I always ask what the verse form adds to the story that the author couldn’t have accomplished with prose. In May B., the short, spare poems work. They let the reader straight into May’s thoughts, creating vivid images of life on the frontier. May is a frontier girl, plain-spoken and hard-working, but she is also just twelve years old. One of my favorite passages captures her petulant voice as the gravity of her situation becomes apparent:

I am going to stay here,
wrapped in these quilts,
let the fire die,
and freeze to death
or maybe starve,
whichever comes first.
Then Pa will be sorry
for sending me here.
Was it worth
those few dollars
to find
you daughter dead?

She knows she has to get down to the business of saving herself, but what adolescent (or grown-up, for that matter) could resist having a good wallow in self-pity first?

May is a sharp observer, and the details she notices about the other characters bring them to life while keeping the focus squarely on her. Rose evokes May’s physical and emotional struggles with simple language and poetic rhythm that keep the reader in her world until the very end. A striking debut.

On shelves January 10, 2012.


Final Word
Sharp writing, engaging characters, and a thrilling survival story – what’s not to love?

e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request.

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Book Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

They called the world beyond the walls of the Pod ‘the Death Shop.’ A million ways to die out there.

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Aria has lived her whole life within the walls of Reverie. She spends most of her time physically seated in the lounge while visiting a variety of virtual Realms via her Smarteye patch. The Realms are, the advertising slogan goes, “Better than Real”. Outside, the world is a largely barren wasteland under a sky of swirling Aether populated by tribes battling for survival.

One of those tribes is the Tides, led by their Blood Lord, Vale. Vale’s younger brother, Peregrine, is gifted with extranormal senses of sight and smell, making him an excellent hunter. His devotion to his nephew, Talon, keeps him from challenging Vale for Blood Lord.

When Talon is kidnapped, Peregrine sets out to get him back. Along the way, he finds Aria, who has been thrown out of Reverie for a crime she didn’t commit. The two form an uneasy partnership that slowly blooms into something more.


From the opening scene, in which Aria hesitantly goes along with a group breaking into a Service Dome, Rossi throws the reader right into her created world. The world-building is beautifully done, revealing necessary information at just the right pace to keep the reader from feeling lost without doing an info-dump. The sheltered (in both senses) society of Reverie and the brutal Outside are drawn with rich detail, while details of what happened to create this world are shared sparingly. The third-person narration alternates perspective between Aria and Peregrine in a natural rhythm, allowing the reader access to important information about each one without requiring Awkward Expository Dialogue.

The romance between Peregrine and Aria develops at a slow burn; there is no Love At First Sight for these two. Instead, these two complex characters bond in the course of a dangerous quest that keeps offering thrilling twists and turns. Rossi balances a strong plot with engaging (if not always likeable) characters with a deft touch.

On shelves January 3, 2012.


Final Word:
Clever sci-fi dystopian romance from a promising new author. Looking forward to the sequel!


e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request


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That Wonderful Time of Year

No, not that one.

It’s Reading Challenge (Planning) Time! I’ll do a wrap-up on my 2011 Challenges sometime later this month, but the time has already come to start planning those 2012 TBR lists.

First up, the challenge that started me down this merry path: The Story Siren‘s Debut Author Challenge!

I had a lot of fun with this one in 2011, and I’m looking forward to finding more great new MG/YA authors in 2012. My preliminary reading list:

    1. The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet (January 3, 2012)
    2. Shadow’s Edge by Maureen Lipinski(January 8, 2012)
    3. May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (January 10, 2012)
    4. The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards (January 17, 2012)
    5. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth (February 7, 2012)
    6. Above World by Reese, Jenn (February 14, 2012)
    7. Article 5 by Kristen Simmons (February 14, 2012)
    8. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen (February 14, 2012)
    9. Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould (March 13, 2012)
    10. Child of the Mountains by Marilyn Sue Shank (April 10, 2012)
    11. You Can’t Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, Please by James Mihaley (April 10, 2012)
    12. The Mapmaker and the Ghost by Sarvenaz Tash (April 24, 2012)
    13. The Selection by Kiera Cass (April 24, 2012)
    14. The Rock of Ivanore by Laurisa White Reyes (May 15, 2012)
    15. Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy (June 14, 2012)
    16. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin (August 21, 2012)
    17. Touched by Corrine Jackson (December, 2012)
    18. The Marble Queen by Stephanie J. Blake (??, 2012)
    19. The Nightmare Factory by Lucy Jones (??, 2012)

Subject to change, of course.

Next up, the EBook Challenge, hosted this year at Workaday Reads. My poor little Nook has been underused of late, since my focus has been on the deluge of Cybils books. I’m going to shoot for the “DVD” level – 25 e-books. No reading list yet, though.

I’m going to take another crack at the Off the Shelf Challenge, hosted at Bookish Ardour. I was clearly too ambitious last year (or maybe distracted by all those shiny new e-books and debuts), so I’m just committing to the “Tempted” level. Five books. Just 5 of the many unread books on my shelves. I can do that, right?

My working list is really just a repeat of last year’s list. Don’t judge.

  1. Crossword Obsession: The History And Lore of the World’s Most Popular Pastime by Coral Amende
  2. Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity edited by Anna Camilleri and Chloë T. Brushwood Rose
  3. Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein
  4. Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez
  5. We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands by Rachel Shabi

I couldn’t help but add one more this year, but it overlaps quite a bit with some of the other challenges. It’s the YA/MG Fantasy Reading Challenge, hosted at The Book Cellar.

My working list so far:

  1. Above World by Jenn Reese
  2. The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards
  3. Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
  4. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
  5. Shadow’s Edge by Maureen Lipinski
  6. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin
  7. Stolen Away by Alyxandra Harvey
  8. Touchedby Corrine Jackson
  9. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long
  10. Winterling (Winterling, #1) by Sarah Prineas

I’m thinking that quite a few of the titles will cross over into the e-book challenge. I can hardly wait!

But, for now, Cybils nominees are calling my name….