April 20, 2012

Book review: Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris

For Janelle Tenner's life to change, first she had to die. She's certain that's what happened to her after being hit by a speeding truck that appeared literally out of nowhere. And she's absolutely sure that Ben, a boy who's been around for most of her life but to whom she's never spoken, has everything to do with why she's still kicking it with the living. But something else is going on too. What's behind the mysterious deaths her FBI father is investigating, where the victims appear to suffer from radiation burns so severe that their skin is literally melting off their bodies? After snooping in her father's files, Janelle also discovers evidence of a mysterious countdown--but a countdown to what? And why is it starting to seem like Ben has something to do with all of it?

In a solid debut, author Norris presents a tense, compelling tale that is part X Files, part Roswell, part Heroes (tagline "Stop the countdown, save the world" sounds VERY familiar) and part every other teen novel where romance is mixed with something way not normal. The countdown heading of every very short chapter moves the story along at a breakneck pace but not at the cost of character depth or solid dialogue. Norris also doesn't flinch from sacrifice. There may have been a miracle involved in saving Janelle, but it doesn't mean she's spared from devastating loss. The ending while satisfying to the story at hand is also frustrating enough that fans of the book will clamor for a sequel.

The major complaint I had with the advanced reader's edition that will hopefully be resolved with the published version is the very liberal use of the f-word. While I don't have a problem with its use in an organic nature (teens in a given situation who would actually talk that way in real life), with Unraveling, it seemed more like an agenda on the part of the author. And it seriously diminishes the resonance of the one instance of the story where the f-word would hold power and poignancy. Again, I'm hoping further edits have resolved that problem. Other than that, Unraveling's 400+ pages riveted this reader until the very last one, and I look forward to what Norris writes next.

Check out the book trailer!

April 5, 2012

Book review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

It isn’t easy being a woman in Born Wicked’s oppressive alternate version of 1890’s New England. The religious Brotherhood rules society with an iron fist. Women are expected to dress a certain way, behave according to a strict code, read only certain books. Even their futures are limited: marriage or the Sisterhood are essentially the only two options. Being a woman is a definite hardship. But it’s even worse if you’re a witch. The Cahill sisters have much to fear because this is exactly what they are.

Cate Cahill, the eldest of three sisters and still grieving over the death of her mother, struggles desperately to hide her and her sisters’ secret from those who would destroy what’s left of her family. Tess and Maura embrace the magic they possess and wish to hone their power, but Cate considers it a burden she would rather be rid of. There’s also the matter of her romantic future. A childhood friend has offered a proposal of marriage, which would shelter her from the disapproving eyes of the Brotherhood but also take her to New London and away from making sure her sisters stay out of danger. And what of her growing attraction to Finn, the scholarly gardener whose family owns a bookstore that dances on the edge of forbidden? A relationship with him would be completely inappropriate, but she finds him harder and harder to resist.

Jessica Spotswood’s debut novel, the first in the Cahill Witch Chronicles series, is a fine addition to the teen historical fantasy shelves. The female characters are well-drawn and alive on the page. The constant threat of the Brotherhood discovering the family secret maintains a tension-filled feeling of dread throughout the book. The mysterious prophecy that presages a trio of sisters (maybe the Cahills!) affecting the future of this world is tantalizingly introduced and sure to be developed in future volumes of the series. Cate’s romantic future is also uncertain with some unexpected twists at the cliffhanger ending. It’s an enjoyable debut, and teen fans will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Check out the book trailer!