Review: The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

hereandnowTHE HERE AND NOW
Ann Brashares
Delacorte Press
Publication Date: April 8, 2014

From the back cover:

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

From Ann Brashares, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now is thrilling, exhilarating, haunting, and heartbreaking—and a must-read novel of the year.

I’ve never read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Okay. There. Admission made. I picked up The Here and Now because–TIME TRAVEL!!! I’ve always been fascinated with the idea and this one sounded not only interesting, but also like a high stakes thriller, which was a definite plus.

WHAT I LIKED:

Ann Brashares has a lyrical writing style that’s very easy to fall into. She keeps you turning the pages and before you know it, you’re halfway through and you suddenly can’t put the book down.

I really liked the character of Prenna. She’s strong and courageous and loyal and not afraid to question the rules her “society” has placed on her. She has a wonderful bond with Ethan that both thrills her and frightens her. She doesn’t want to put him in danger, and yet, when the truth starts unraveling, he’s the only one she can trust. Though their relationship doesn’t really grow, they start out in love and end up in love, the romantic subplot is a sweet and enjoyable addition to the book.

Ann Brashares does a good job of setting up the backstory of the time-traveling, a world full of destruction and blood plagues, a society desperate to find a way to save it before it’s too late. I thought this was a unique approach and Ms. Brashares added plenty of twists and turns that kept me invested in the story.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME:

While I enjoyed the world that Ms. Brashares created, I also found the whole “global warming/climate change/people are destroying the world” message to be a little heavy handed at times. It seemed to much like an agenda, and that detracted from the story for me.

Plus, while I really liked the character of Ethan, there were times when his actions became too far fetched for the story. He was good at everything. Need a ‘spy’ proficient in planting trackers and lasering out window glass? He’s your guy. Need a hacker capable of setting up secure servers? Yep, he’s your guy. Need a scientist capable of figuring everything out at the perfect moment? Well…you guessed it, he’s your guy.

I would have liked to see him have some flaws. Come to think of it, I’d like to have seen both him and Prenna have more weaknesses and face more setbacks. Everything seemed way too easier for them.

FINAL VERDICT:

Ann Brashares’ voice saved this one for me. Despite the flaws in the story, I still found myself racing through the pages to find out what would happen. I’d recommend The Here and Now to anyone who loves science and time-travel and thrillers and doesn’t mind having to suspend disbelief to enjoy a story.

 

 

 

Review: Spell Robbers by Matthew J. Kirby

spellrobbersSPELL ROBBERS (The Quantum League Book #1)
Matthew J. Kirby
Scholastic Press
Publication Date: January 28, 2014

From the back cover:

After Ben Warner is recruited to join a “science camp” led by the eccentric quantum physicist Dr. Madeleine Hughes, he quickly realizes it’s no regular science camp. Along with his new friend, Peter, Ben discovers the secret, powerful art of Actuation—the ability to change reality by simply imagining it differently.

When a mysterious group of men invade Dr. Hughes’s laboratory, abducting her and stealing her precious equipment, Ben and Peter are suddenly caught up in a turf war between dangerous actuators desperate for Dr. Hughes’s innovative technology. And as Ben and Peter are pulled into a perilous, hidden world full of impossibilities now made possible, will their combined powers be enough to save Dr. Hughes and vanquish their enemies before it’s too late?

From Edgar Award-winning author Matthew J. Kirby comes a fast-paced, boldly imagined tale of friendship, deadly adventure, and the infinite power of imagination.

My sons and I highly enjoyed the intricate plot and fantastic writing of Matthew J. Kirby’s historical fantasy, THE LOST KINGDOM, which prompted us to check out SPELL ROBBERS. SPELL ROBBERS is the first book in a new series entitled The Quantum League, and as such, a good portion of the book is taken up with world building and technology building. While I didn’t have a problem with this, my two sons at first commented that the book was starting to sound a whole lot like science class.

But we kept reading and once the action really got going, SPELL ROBBERS becomes a fascinating and explosive middle grade read filled with interesting characters and twists and turns. Think you know who to trust? Think again! Matthew J. Kirby keeps you guessing throughout and leaves readers on a bit of a cliffhanger, eagerly awaiting the next installment.

The paranormal super powers are cool and kids will love dreaming up exactly what they would actuate if they could. Evil villains abound that are slightly mysterious and big time odious. The Quantum League is well drawn and a bit elusive, which only adds to the intrigue and the need to read future books.

All in all, SPELL ROBBERS is a great start to a new series, one that will appeal to kids with a taste for adventure.

Review: Relativity by Cristin Bishara

relativityRELATIVITY
Cristin Bishara
Walker Childrens
Publication Date: September 10, 2013

From the back cover:

If Ruby Wright could have her way, her dad would never have met and married her stepmother Willow, her best friend George would be more than a friend, and her mom would still be alive. Ruby knows wishes can’t come true; some things just can’t be undone. Then she discovers a tree in the middle of an Ohio cornfield with a wormhole to nine alternative realities.

Suddenly, Ruby can access completely different realities, each containing variations of her life—if things had gone differently at key moments. The windshield wiper missing her mother’s throat…her big brother surviving his ill-fated birth…her father never having met Willow. Her ideal world—one with everything and everyone she wants most—could be within reach. But is there such a thing as a perfect world? What is Ruby willing to give up to find out?

I’ve always been interested in the concept of wormholes and alternate realities, which is what drew me to RELATIVITY in the first place. The idea of Ruby finding a wormhole in a tree in the middle of an Ohio cornfield (which is just about as mundane a place to put a wormhole with the power to change the future!) is so creative and once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down.

I loved that Cristin Bishara made Ruby a complete math geek. Let’s face it, embracing one’s geekiness is an uncommon characteristic in a YA heroine, and although it can also make Ruby a bit hard to relate to at times, the fact that she is so happy in her own skin made for a very strong, interesting character.  The other thing Ms. Bishara does so well is the world-building. The history of the wormhole, the rules for traveling through it, the tiny little threads that run through the book — all are seamless and well written.

The weak spots in this book, for me, come from the fact that there is so much going on that it becomes difficult to really connect with Ruby and the choices she makes. And while I understand this comes from the limitations of page count and format, I would have loved for Ruby to spend more time in each of the alternate universes to bring more depth to her character and her internal conflict. I also would have loved to see George as a bigger part of the book. He is such a huge part of Ruby’s life, and yet, his role almost feels more like an after thought. I also felt a bit let-down at the way the book ended. It wrapped up far too nice and neatly, with no real explanation of how Ruby’s experience changed her. The remaining chapters would have been better spent focusing on her appreciation for what she has with her dad, Willow, George and yes, even her step-sister Kandy, then showing attitude with her therapist.

However, the premise of RELATIVITY still remains genius. We’ve all wondered how our life would be different if we’d made different choices. RELATIVITY explores that idea with a unique twist, and makes us realize that while we may never have a perfect world, sometimes the imperfect one is even sweeter.

 

Review: Countdown by Michelle Rowen

countdownCOUNTDOWN
Michelle Rowen
Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: October 1, 2013

From the back cover:

3 seconds left to live. Once the countdown starts, it cannot be stopped. 

2 pawns thrown into a brutal underground reality game. 

Kira Jordan survived her family’s murder and months on plague-devastated city streets with hard-won savvy and a low-level psi ability. She figures she can handle anything. Until she wakes up in a barren room, chained next to the notorious Rogan Ellis. 

1 reason Kira will never, ever trust Rogan. Even though both their lives depend on it. 

Their every move is controlled and televised for a vicious exclusive audience. And as Kira’s psi skill unexpectedly grows and Rogan’s secrets prove evermore deadly, Kira’s only chance of survival is to risk trusting him as much as her instincts. Even if that means running head-on into the one trap she can’t escape.

GAME OVER

The premise of COUNTDOWN reminded me so much of THE RUNNING MAN, a 1987 film (yes, I’m dating myself!) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, where convicted criminals must compete on a television show to escape death at the hands of professional killers. (Note: This movie is loosely based on a book of the same name written by Stephen King under the name Richard Bachman). Because of the similarity, I had to step out of my normal contemporary YA comfort zone and give this book a try.

The story opens with Kira waking up in a dark, unfamiliar place. She’s handcuffed to the wall, disoriented, and also not alone. A boy has been placed in the room with her — a criminal that is said to have murdered girls in cold blood. Before she can get her bearings, the countdown begins. From that moment on, Kira and Rogan are on the run, slaves to the clock, and although they’ve learned the hard way not to trust anyone, they must rely on each other if they’re going to figure out who is behind the Countdown and how to stop it before it stops them.

I appreciated the fast pace of this book. There’s never a dull moment and the plot never suffers from stagnation. Kira and Rogan are likeable enough characters and we get just enough sense of the world they inhabit to where we can follow along without being confused.

However, there is a lot going on here, between the rules of Countdown, the technology, Kira’s psi ability, Rogan’s backstory, and a dystopian society that the story begins to have kind of a kitchen sink feel to it. Because of this, it lacks in the world building and I never fully understood how the society came to be, who the important players were and what this elusive ‘Colony’ where Kira dreamed of living out her life was all about. I would have also liked to see her psi ability as a more integral part of the plot. It seemed thrown in there at the last minute, and in all honesty, the story would have been the same without it.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book. It was fun to step out into a dystopian world for a change and I found COUNTDOWN to be a great weekend read, filled with just enough thrills, chills and romance to keep me interested to the very end.

NOTE: This book was originally published in 2008 as an adult novel under the name Michelle Maddox. COUNTDOWN is a refreshed edition, re-imagined for the young adult market.