October 1, 2014

Review: Sacrifice

Sacrifice Book five in the Elemental series
By Brigid Kemmerer
Available now from K-Teen (Kensington)
Review copy
Read my reviews of Spirit and Secret

SACRIFICE is the fifth and final book in the Elemental series.  The Merrick brothers - Michael, Gabriel, Nick, and Chris - have fought off several guides and proved to some former enemies that they aren't a danger.  They're building a pretty good life with their significant others and Hunter, the former Guide-in-training who moved in.  But an enemy is closing in, and their methods are deadly to bystanders.  Michael is determined to stop whoever it is, alone, without risking his brothers.

Michael is the oldest and has felt the burden of responsibility since their parents died.  SACRIFICE is the perfect title for his book.  It's a title with several meanings, in fact.  Given that the Merrick brothers are strongest together, his determination is a little silly.  At the same time, it makes perfect sense from a parent's point of view.  And it makes waves with his girlfriend (an actual parent), who doesn't appreciate being out of the loop when her boyfriend keeps showing up in mortal danger.

Hannah and Michael have been dating in the background of previous books, so I was curious how the vibe of an established relationship would affect the book.  But Hannah is almost a non-entity.  Her chapters are rarely about the actual plot, and she's even given a secondary love interest like a love triangle was needed.  Hannah and Michael rarely interact.  Given how vibrant the romances in the Elemental series have been, it was a bit of a letdown. 

The plot, however, is thrilling.  The reveal of the Guide who has been harrowing them is simply brilliant.  There's a real sense that the heroes are in danger, and the effects of the violence aren't disposable.  There is a lot of pain in SACRIFICE.  If this was just another book in the Elemental series, it wouldn't be my favorite, but I would be very happy with it.

Having said that, I found that SACRIFICE was not a satisfying series finale.  There are a number of threads left dangling, including what I felt was the most important thread of the series.  The conclusion of SACRIFICE has about as much impact as the conclusion of the other four books.  I feel like I should still be expecting the next chapter to come out next year.  I thought this was a very fun series, but people considering picking it up should expect a very open ending.

September 30, 2014

Review: The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth

The Stratford Zoo By Ian Lendler
Art by Zack Giallongo
Available now from First Second (Macmillan)
Review copy

At night, at the Stratford Zoo, the animals escape their enclosures - some put on a play, others watch.  In THE STRATFORD ZOO MIDNIGHT REVUE PRESENTS MACBETH, a lion stars as a Macbeth who keeps eating his enemies and a lioness as a Lady Macbeth who has very stubborn laundry.

This kid-friendly retelling of Macbeth is vibrant and funny.  Artist Zack Giallongo (BROXO) delivers bright art with creative use of panels and frequent side gags.  Author Ian Lendler distills Macbeth to its essence and adds a bit of ketchup.  The frame story, of the other animals reacting to the play, inject some humor to the tragedy, which is a great way to keep the younger audience interested.

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's greatest plays and THE STRATFORD ZOO MIDNIGHT REVUE PRESENTS MACBETH does it plenty of justice, even if it is an irreverent take.  All of the famous moments are translated, even though the page count is quite lean.

I thought THE STRATFORD ZOO MIDNIGHT REVUE PRESENTS MACBETH was absolutely hilarious and charming.  I certainly hope it is the beginning of a series of graphic adaptations of Shakespeare.  It's a crowded field, but this effort stands out.

September 29, 2014

Review: Transgender Lives: Complex Voices, Complex Stories

Transgender Lives By Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Available now from Twenty-First Century Books
Review copy

TRANSGENDER LIVES: COMPLEX VOICES, COMPLEX STORIES is a brief introduction to trans* and genderqueer issues, history, terminology, and experiences.  When I say brief, I mean less than a hundred pages.  It is a topic that  could  easily fill a much larger book, so some sections are short-changed.

I would say the history section is most disappointing.  Author Kristin Cronn-Mills really reaches, throwing in any bit and person of history that is slightly non-gender conforming.  Given the limited page space, I think the section would've benefited from a tighter focus.

Where TRANSGENDER LIVES shines are the sections based on individual's accounts of their own lives.  The people interviewed vary in age quite a bit, which is nice, but don't really vary in race.  Each person prefers different terminology and has a very different personal history and relationship with their body, which was fascinating to read about.  Fans of these sections should read BEYOND MAGENTA.

I also liked the little facts that are sprinkled throughout the other sections and the discussion of terminology.  The vocabulary is changing all the time, and no doubt TRANSGENDER LIVES will soon be outdated in that respect.  But how and why the language changes is truly interesting.

TRANSGENDER LIVES is a nice little introduction, sure to be helpful to teens struggling with their identity and families seeking to learn more to support them.  More in-depth books are needed, but that doesn't mean there isn't also a need for something as approachable as this slender volume.

September 26, 2014

Review: Horrorstör

Horrorstör By Grady Hendrix
Available now from Quirk
Review copy

Welcome to Orsk, an obvious Ikea knockoff.  There is one path through the store, a bunch of disaffected employees, and a few employees who really buy into the store and its policies.  One of the locations in Cleveland has been suffering from nightly break-ins and damage, so the manager decides to stay behind with a couple of employees to catch the culprit.

HORRORSTÖR is a haunted-house story with a little satire of minimum wage work for greedy corporations.  I really enjoyed the slow build in the first half, with small things going wrong like a camera showing something different than what a person sees or walking in a circle in a place with one path.  The shifting geography reminded me of HOUSE OF LEAVES in a good way, although
HORRORSTÖR is a much less ambitious novel.

HORRORSTÖR is sized like an Ikea catalog (down to the thickness), and each chapter is named after a piece of furniture and started with a drawing of that item.  As the novel continues, the furniture gets more sinister.  I liked the idea of this signpost, but thought the change from benign to cruel furniture was very abrupt.  Honestly, the whole second half is much quicker than the first.  The denouement and set up of the next novel, PLANET BABY, happened so quickly I felt like I had to have missed something.

But HORRORSTÖR is an effective bit of horror populated by fairly likeable characters.  Horror has a tendency to star jerks, so that you enjoy it more when they die off.  It seemed like HORRORSTÖR might go that way, but even the by-the-book manager becomes more friendly and appreciated by the other characters as the story goes on.  Protagonist Amy is a once-promising student whose life plans went awry.  I'm sure many readers can identify with her.

HORRORSTÖR never quite uses its premise to its full extent, but it has a great atmosphere and a chilling ending.  I really enjoyed how well-constructed it was (like a good piece of furniture).  Little things from the beginning, like the tools the employees carry and which shelves have weaknesses and mysterious phone calls, come back to be important.  Grady Hendrix definitely thought the story out.

September 25, 2014

Review: Afterworlds

Afterworlds Book one of a duology
By Scott Westerfeld
Available now from Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy

AFTERWORLDS, the latest effort from the hugely popular Scott Westerfeld, is two books in one.  Darcy Patel's story will appeal to fans of contemporary novels, while Lizzie's story will appeal to paranormal fans.

Darcy is moving out thanks to the huge advance she just got for her first novel and unwritten sequel.  She's going to live in New York where the writers are.  There, she discovers that maybe it wasn't best to rely on her younger sister to budget (because who knew how many mops she would need?) and falls in love with another author, who is also making her YA debut.  It's a bit fairytale, except for the fact that Darcy's girlfriend has secrets.

Lizzie just survived a terrorist attack by pretending to be dead.  In fact, she pretended so well that she crossed over to the world of the dead and became a psychopomp.  There she meets Yamaraj, who starts teaching her what she needs to know to survive.  But an encounter with a pedophile's victim inspires her to start getting more active with her new powers.  Her story is gripping from that first, horrifying chapter.  It's no wonder that a publishing company would pay the big bucks for her story.  (It made me think of the first chapter of Beth Revis's debut book, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.  It is only similar in how gripping and terrifying it is, but it's easy to envision how a publicity campaign could be enacted around it.)

Lizzie's story is AFTERWORLDS, the book Darcy wrote.  As Darcy's section progresses, it becomes clear that we're reading the edited version of the in-story AFTERWORLDS.  We also learn the twist: the original draft has an unhappy ending.  Darcy's dive into the world of publishing - editor's letters, meeting other authors, agents - will determine whether she changes the ending or keeps it.

Each girl's story is entertaining on its own merits, although most readers will prefer one or the other just based on their own preferred genre.  Either the odd chapters or even chapters can be read on their own, if that is preferred, although the two stories go together in interesting ways.  Lizzie's story has more action and terror, with a hint of romance.  Darcy's story has more romance, with lots of meta discussion  about Lizzie's story.  For instance, is Darcy appropriating her own culture by making Yamaraj the romantic hero?  Both heroines grow in interesting ways throughout their stories.  I took longer to warm up to Darcy (that terrible budget!), but by the end I liked both girls.

I'm sure I'll be back for UNTITLED PATEL next year.  (There is going to be a sequel, right?)  AFTERWORLDS is a different sort of book, and for me it was a successful experiment indeed.

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