Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: THE CITY OF EMBER by Jeanne DuPrau

Rating: 5/5 stars

This is an older book that has been rather popular, but I never decided to read it until now. I've seen the movie before, so I already knew the story, but I wanted to give the book a chance, too. I am so happy I did because this book was awesome!

The City of Ember is a steampunk adventure story following Lina and Doon, two kids who live in Ember, a city of complete darkness except for the street lights powered by the generator. But Ember wasn't built to last as long as it has; the lights are beginning to go out for minutes at a time, and the generator needs constant repair. Everything in the city is broken and worn, and resources are nearly gone. Despite their circumstances, Lina and Doon are on the edge of hope that Ember is not the only source of life in the world, that another city lies beyond the blackness. One day they discover an ancient note, and as they attempt to decipher its message together, they begin to wonder if there really is more beyond Ember than darkness.

Something I really appreciated about this book was that Lina and Doon faced real problems on their journey, situations that actually had me wondering how they were going to proceed next. I think if this would have been a superficial young adult story where an issue surfaces and then magically resolves itself (which I've seen happen way too often before), I would have been so disappointed. But in The City of Ember, Lina and Doon really had to work through their struggles to reach a solution. (The scene where they discovered how candles work was my favourite. And that ending!) This book truly has a thoroughly crafted plot in a completely unique world. I was enraptured with DuPrau's storytelling.

I was left with a few questions that I hope will get answered later on in the series. First of all is why the Builders built the city of Ember in the first place and made people move underground to live there. We get a snippet of information about this, but not enough yet to be satisfactory. Second is how they managed to convince people it was necessary to move underground where they would never see the sun or trees again (because the first residents of Ember would have come from our world). I'm basically just interested in how the whole thing started and how they managed to build Ember. I'm very excited to read the rest of the series. Unlike this book, I know nothing about the next three books, but I'm sure the story will be just as exciting and the world-building just as rich.

Sidenote about the audiobook: This audiobook was amazing. There were sound effects all throughout the story. For example, whenever Lina or Doon was near the river, I would hear rushing water in the background. There were also sounds like scraping metal, cheering crowds, and chirping bugs. It was a phenomenal addition to the story that really had me engrossed in what was happening. I think all audiobooks should incorporate sound effects like these.

Review: THE HOUSE AT 758 by Kathryn Berla

Rating: 3.5/5

This book features a coming-of-age story about Krista, whose mother recently died. She hasn't yet gotten over the death and is still burdened with grief every day. Krista deals with her grief by periodically visiting a house, the house at 758, which has a significant meaning to her. We spend half of the story trying to piece together the mystery surrounding that house and its inhabitants, although I guessed rather early on what her reasons were for continually going there. In the latter half of the story, we learn about Krista's grandfather, who has come to stay with her for a short time, and his years spent in camps during the Holocaust. We hear stories from his life, so although this is a contemporary book, there are bits and pieces of powerful 1940s historical fiction.

Krista's grandpa's story is more than just a war narrative, though: it's a passionate story focused on the time we have left on this earth and making the most of that time. That is ultimately what the whole book is about, and the grandpa's stories tie very well into that.

The main emphasis of this story is the importance of family. Although there is a mild romance in this contemporary novel, it is like the third or forth sub-plot, which I found to be refreshing. The romance was the only part that I found to be slightly unrealistic. It moved a little too fast, probably so it could fit into the short book, but I did appreciate that it remained a clean romance.

The House at 758 is a simple story, calm and relaxing, but powerful. It's about how one small moment in someone's life can make a lifelong impact in someone else's life. These important messages are delivered through Berla's lyrical prose that was easy to enjoy. Although a shorter read, this book doesn't lack in characterization or depth, for the most part.

I really like Krista as a protagonist, and I'm going to miss reading from her perspective now that the book is over. I related a lot to her, and it was comforting to read about her and her life.

"Hate doesn’t hurt the hated person . . . it only hurts the person who hates.”

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: DISNEY AT DAWN by Ridley Pearson

Rating: 2/5 stars

I feel like this series as a whole had a lot of potential with its premise, but Ridley Pearson didn't capitalize on that potential. We hardly see any Disney characters in either this book or the first one. The only character who shows up is Maleficent, who happens to be the main villain in both books. Why are we not seeing more (and different) Disney characters? In book one, the kids briefly see Pooh and Piglet, and Chip and Dale. Why are they not seeing any more characters at the park (that is supposedly filled with Disney characters) or while being DHIs? Why are there not more villains working with Maleficent or who make appearances? I guess we get a short, silent cameo from Chernabog at the end, but does that even count? Is he even a real villain? What happened to the iconic Disney characters that I expected to fill these pages?

I'm just very disappointed with the direction this series went. It had the ability to be a great series about the Disney characters, but instead, we got a series about the six kids, and it just happens to take place in Disney World. I think they could have had the same kinds of adventures anywhere, and it wouldn't be that hard to make this story unrelated to Disney.

There were a plethora of inconsistencies in this book, and they completely disrupted my reading experience. I'm going to describe a few of them, which might include very minor spoilers ahead. The biggest inconsistency was that the point of view changes from character to character within the same chapter, even though it's supposed to be a third-person limited perspective to one character at a time. This happened throughout the entire book, and it was very irritating.

The characterization was inconsistent as well. Jez became Jess at the end of book one, but book two starts with her as Jez again? Why did this happen? No one knows, as no explanation is ever offered for it. There is also a quotation that said, "Maybeck always called Finn by his last name." Since when? Did this happen all throughout book one, too, or am I missing something?

Finn's phone rings while he is in the theatre (the only time it ever rings in the book), and we never find out who called (probably his parents). He doesn't ever call his parents though, and that seemed unrealistic. Wouldn't they be calling more? Later on, he addresses that he should call them, but it felt like a last-ditch effort to include parents in a book about fourteen-year-olds because he never actually calls them.

In a scene toward the end of the book, Philby says multiple times that he "can open the hatches." Plural. More than one hatch. But a few chapters later, Finn is wondering who opened the second hatch? Uh, Philby did. We already covered that. It is these small details being inconsistent and wrong that makes me the most frustrated with the series. There are so many examples in this book of poor editing, and that is just one of them.

Another poor editing example is this quotation: " 'The black door!' Maybeck called out calmly." Tell me how you calmly exclaim something (see that exclamation point?) when you're in a predicament and fighting for your life. That doesn't happen. Even the tiniest of details like that were getting on my nerves in this book.

Here's another one: "Two of the tigers and several of the monkeys and apes had been holograms. No wonder his blows with the stick hadn't done much." There's a big difference between not doing much damage with the stick, and the stick going right through the being because it doesn't exist. In this case, Finn should have been able to figure out the animals were DHIs way before they vanished.

I also saw quite a few textual editing errors and visual spacing errors in this book. That, combined with the times the author contradicts himself with inconsistencies and the constant repetition of details throughout the story (it's like he thinks I've forgotten what he wrote only five pages ago), has me wondering how this book managed to be published at all.

One thing I did like about this book was that the kids were in the Animal Kingdom instead of in the Magical Kingdom like book one. Switching to different parks every book adds some variety, and it's nice that they go to a new park every book throughout the series (from my understanding). However, I thought only the Magic Kingdom was wired for DHI projection. Did they change this technical roadblock in a matter of a few months? There is also no explanation as to how or why the kids can cross over and become DHIs while being awake, but it felt too easy and convenient for the plot, like the reasoning didn't matter as long as the could become DHIs to solve all their mortal problems.

I enjoyed book one, and I finished book two, but I will not be reading any more books in this series. I think my ultimate problem is that I don't like Pearson's writing style. I read a detailed and spoilery synopsis for books three and four, and my eyes about rolled out of my head. The same exact kinds of predicaments and revelations happen in every book. It honestly felt to me like the story repeats itself every book, but the kids are in a new location each time. I'm just not really interested in reading about these kids and their antics anymore.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: DISNEY AFTER DARK by Ridley Pearson

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

This book pleasantly surprised me. I didn't initially want to read it, but a friend lent me her copy and asked me to read it, so I did.

This story follows Finn and four other kids as they are selected to be Disney Host Interactives (DHIs) for the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. One night, Finn winds up in Disney World in the middle of the night, but he isn't dreaming. He was transported there, along with the other DHIs, and together they must stop the Overtakers (A.K.A. Disney villains) from gaining control of Disney World.

I actually really enjoyed this book, but I just felt a little too old for it. I think if I were in middle school, or even high school, this story would have been an even more amazing story to me. The biggest problem I had with the book was that some details were over-explained when they seemed obvious to me. For example, there was a detail brought up early in the book (this happened more than once), and I thought it was an established fact at that point. But then that detail kept being brought up and clues were dropped about it until a big reveal later on in the book, but I had already guessed what was going to happen at the first mention of that detail. One example of this is [SPOILER: that Jez was working with Maleficent. I thought that was obvious during the car wash scene, but there was still a big reveal about it at the end of the book.]

Contrary to this, there were other details I kept waiting to read about again, thinking that they were important facts that would pertain to the story, but these details never resurfaced. An example of this is [SPOILER: that all five kids were from different schools. I thought one of them would say something about this fact, how it made it harder for them to get in contact with each other. That maybe that was the Overtakers' plan all along, that they weren't supposed to get together to solve the mystery, or something like that. But this bit of information wasn't brought up again.] I was just a little bit bothered by events happening this way, and to me, it felt like that created minor plot holes. Thankfully, this didn't detract too much from the overall enjoyment of the book.

I love that the parents were a part of the story. At thirteen years of age, of course your parents are going to start asking questions if you wake up in dirty clothes and it looks like you've been sneaking out at night. The concerned parents added a more realistic element to the story that I appreciated.

Despite my enjoyment of this book, I am at a disadvantage in reading it because I know very little about Disney. I have been to Disney World once before when I was five, but I do not remember much at all. I also haven't seen very many classic Disney movies, so I am not in a position to say how accurate the setting in the story was, although I would like to know anyway.

Overall, this book's plot and setting were highly original and enjoyable to read about. I do wish we got to see more of the "good" characters after dark instead of just the villains, though, but maybe they will come in a later book. I do plan to continue on with the series, and I hope that it only gets better.