Friday, January 2, 2015

The National Average: Welcome to the Program by John Bryant

Received: Free physical copy from author in exchange for an honest review
This review was written by: B and C
Publication Date: September 2014
Pages: 258
Stars: 4/5

"I haven't started taking it (the test) yet. Aren't you scared?" asked Simone.
"No.  I figured I might as well go ahead and take it.  What's the point in being afraid when they control everything?  I dunno, it's weird.  They govern everything about this place, but just having some semblance of control of own fear.  It's kinda calming."-Marcus
-The National Average: Welcome to the Program

The Program has become a norm in the United States, and with it those who do not follow society's normalcy or written and unwritten rules are reported.  In a specified facility, in an undisclosed location, these called out individuals undergo a test to determine if they are going to manifest violent behavior in the future.  Are they going to be a psychopath or not?  No one really tries to question the system or realize what's going on.  It's simply been a part of their lives and history for so many years that it's as common as breathing.  See someone acting weird, just call a number and they will be taken care of, no problem.  Marcus and Simone, twin brother and sister, are reported by their own uncaring mother to the Program.

Marcus has a desire to feel what it's like to hurt someone.  His violence just takes him over, and he can't turn it off.  Simone is more indifferent to pain and violence.  She witnesses it without feeling much of anything.  However, she is willing to take strong action for the sake of her friends, even if it's crossing the line a little too far.  Of course, she has the ability to switch off the attitude and desire for brutality unlike her close sibling.  What happens if they are separated in the Program?  Will they have different outcomes?  The end result of the test only has two options: be put into the Culling Program or go to the military.  Neither option is good, and no one has ever escaped the Program before.  Once people are taken, they're never seen again.  Will the two be parted forever, or will they follow the same path?  Hopefully they will not have to go to the Culling Program, the worst fate for anyone...

Flashback to 1948, Noel Everett is beginning to create the program.  While he is married, his wife is supportive of him chasing his dreams, even if they include leaving her for an extended period of time.  The Program is supposed to be a revolutionary realization for him, but can he really choose between his career and his wife, and what happens when people try to twist his idea into something warped?  What happened to Marcus and Simone?  What is their fate?  Read The National Average: Welcome to the Program to find out!

"We've already been down some questionable roads, Noel.  You can't pick and choose your morality."
-Dr. Givens

Let us start off saying that the whole idea behind this book was brilliant!  The fascination surrounding this story when we heard of it was huge, and we were not let down when we read the book.  It's not only intriguing, but it is also alluring, compelling, and gripping.  We fell in love with the premise!  The execution to it was well done to top it all off.  Also, there were many characters to learn about and find interest in, but we'll get into that later!

The best part to The National Average: Welcome to the Program was how we got to see two sides to the separate interlocking stories.  I (B) love duel perspectives, point of views, and/or timelines, and was pleasantly surprised by some of these included in Bryant's impressive first work.  If we had to choose which part of the story we liked best, we'd both have to choose Noel Everett's path.  To see how everything started was thought provoking.  The struggle between what's right and wrong was evident and real within the pages.  Plus, we enjoyed how Noel and his wife interacted.  It was almost unbelievable how they could be separated from each other for so long and yet keep up a relationship.  His wife was so dedicated to him through thick and thin for so many years.  We really admired that.  While it was inevitable how it was going to turn out between them, by the way that Bryant wrote Noel's  path and history so fluently, it did not make it any easier on our hearts.  It was distressing and tragic nonetheless.

We were also delighted to see how the story continued on for quite some time after the two finished their test.  The lies and mystery were portrayed in a fluent fashion.  We had question after question from secrecy upon secrecy, that built up to mind exploding suspense, and when we reached the conclusion, we still wanted more!  One of our top characters, if not our favorite one, though, has yet to be mentioned, Vargas.  We don't want to give out too many details on him because he comes later in the story, and spoilers are obviously the worst, but his character was just so amusing and enjoyable to read about.  He had this quality about him of always showing up when people needed him the most, a most unique and distinctive trait to him which ultimately helped him out towards the end.  Those moments when he offered some comic relief were great, and everything about him was!

All of these characters in the Program had such dark or almost gasp moments to them once we find out why they were forced to participate in it.  These were also some of the best moments in the book.  John Bryant created a stirring and refreshing read that made us ponder morals long after we flipped past the last page.  It's a great debut from him, and we can't wait to see what he comes up with next!  

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Plagued: The Rock Island Zombie Counteractant Experiment (Plagued States of America, #2) by Better Hero Army

This review was written by: B and C
Received: Free e-book from author in exchange for an honest review (we would love to give a huge thank you to Better Hero Army!)
Publication Date of Book: March 25, 2014
Pages: 188
Stars: 5/5

"What do you need me to do?” he had asked Kennedy. She hadn’t given him an answer, at least not a good one. She smiled and finished her drink before telling him she would be in touch, that she had to talk it over with the Senator, and that he should just keep doing what he was doing.

“What am I doing?” Mason asked.

“Blending in,” she had told him.

-Plagued: The Rock Island Zombie Counteractant Experiment

With six months left to serve, Lieutenant Mason Jones pulls the dreaded red card.   Being assigned to Moaning Coast's defensive duty at the Rock Island Prison Defense Facility isn't exactly the ideal placement for any given person, especially if you have the graveyard shift.  However, Mason doesn't have much of a choice after what happened in Egypt.  He has to take it.  Of course, Mason is not your typical all brawn and no brains type of guy.  He possesses high qualifications due to him being a medic, having expertise skills in hand-to-hand combat, plus experience in combat duty.  He's even a Ranger.  However, why would someone like that be given a red card?  You only receive one if you have caused trouble before and need a place to go as punishment.  It's a last resort.  Mason doesn't seem like that type of guy.

It's been ten years since the zombie outbreak ravaged the lands.  They're used in slave trading and some are held at the previously said Rock Island Prison Defense Facility.  Hundreds are placed here, originally for studying purposes.  Mason's job is to assist in cleaning out their "cells."  This occupation is, as some might describe it, hazardous.  One nibble from a biter and you're most likely a goner.  Intimidation and danger lurks around every corner.  Assigned to work with Matty, an eight year Navy Seal, their first night on the job together is not a good one...

What everyone fails to realize is that a Senator contacted Mason before his arrival to this forsaken place.  The Senator talked about ending the zombie plague, a near impossible task in everyone's eyes, and he needs Mason's help to do it.  What does he want with Mason?  What is Mason's new role supposed to mean or even do to help the Senator?  What happened in Egypt?  Read Plagued: The Rock Island Zombie Counteractant Experiment to find out!            

“Hardest thing to do is stare at freedom all day knowing you aren’t allowed to go near it.”

Whoever said that sequels never live up to the first book has obviously never read the Plagued States of America series! Better Hero Army definitely surprised us with this book!  We loved it even more than Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment.  This was largely due to Mason himself.  His character is ultimately our favorite out of the two books we've read thus far.  Even though this book is rather short compared to others we have read, we found ourselves understanding the characters very well and falling back into this world with ease.  He's smart, courageous, and daring.  Plus, while he was tough as tough can be, he also had a secret and sadness within him.  It was not a stretch to care for him.  All in all, we were not disappointed with Beter Hero Army's work to say the least.

One of our favorite aspects to this novel was its pace.  Once I (B) reached the middle, I had to sit down and read the rest without any interruptions.  The nonstop action that ensued was enthralling and packed with great writing and other noteworthy elements as well.  There was intrigue, mystery, suspicion, and, of course, zombies!  These are great combinations for sure!

It's only been one month after the fiasco at Biter's Hill took place from the first installment, and for this we were grateful.  A continuation of the story through a new character's eyes was surely welcomed.  The world building was once again excellently done, and the twists and turns that occurred were definitely not expected and unpredictable from the start.  We particularly enjoyed the flashbacks and italicized parts in the story that relayed important information about the characters.  We've already excitedly began the third book, and can't wait to see where we're taken next!  We're sure not to be disappointed.                                                          

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The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1) by Jordan Stratford

This review was written by: B
Received: Free ARC from contest
Publication Date of Book: January 6, 2015
Pages: 240
Stars: 4.5/5 

Ada is a peculiar girl.  Her intelligence is spectacular for her age, and the inventions that she conjures out of her own ingenuity are breathtaking.  However, despite being the smartest child I have ever read about, her people skills leave little to be desired.  Whatever she is thinking pops right out of her mouth even if it is rude or curt.  With her late father obviously not a part of her life, a mother who is constantly away from home for months, a silent butler, two maids whose names always escape her mind, and a dear governess ripped away, Ada is not extremely friendly.  The addition of the odd Mr. Snagsby, the tutor (also called Peebs by Ada) hired to replace the governess, and a girl named Mary who is to study with her, makes Ada even more upset.

However, despite Miss Ada's less than warm disposition, Mary befriends this younger girl and together, under certain circumstances,  they decide to put their brains to use and become detectives in their own secret agency known as the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency.  While Mary is not too picky about who they help, Ada pours over the letters from those who send pleas of help to them in hope of their assistance (even though the letter writers believe these so called detectives to be more than just children).  Finally, she comes to just the right case.  Rebecca has recently turned sixteen years old.  Her late uncle left her a necklace in his will that was to be given to her on this birthday, a beautiful pendant that is shaped like an acorn.  During the night of her coming-out party, the priceless gift was stolen soon after it was gifted to her.  The maid Rosie confessed to the thievery, but Rebecca knows that she is innocent.  It is now up to Mary and Ada to discover the true culprit and why Rosie lied about the crime before time runs out and the pendant is lost to their client forever.

My thoughts on the book:
The Case of the Missing Moonstone was a pleasantly enjoyable  read.  I ended up loving it and flipping through the book in practically one sitting.  Ada was so fun to listen to and read about!  She was truly unique.  While she began as a closed off individual, her journey to try and start to open up in this first installment (in what will undoubtedly be an amazing series) was cute and heartwarming at the same time.  Her dialogue and nickname Peebs made me smile over and over again. The whole thing was honestly charming.

The historical aspect to this book was definitely captivating and a huge plus for me.  Ada Lovelace is credited for being the world's first computer programmer while Mary Shelley is the author of Frankenstein.  When these two collided in this fascinating work of fiction, I instantly fell in love with them.  Sure, I realize that it's not perfectly historically accurate, and that's what makes the story so captivating.  It's an earnest book based on two strong and amazing girls, even if the facts aren't perfectly on the dot.  Bringing these two together was a brilliant idea.  The characters immediately came to life.  Middle graders will love this dynamic duo.  In fact, people of all ages can take something away from Stratford's work.  (I did anyway!)

I personally have so much respect for The Case of the Missing Moonstone.  It promotes an interest in history, young girls achieving whatever they want even if society isn't ready for it, doing what you believe in, and friendship.  Plus, at the end of the novel, there is a section for what really happened to the historical figures mentioned throughout the book during their actual lives so you can see the changes made by Jordan Stratford.  Kelly Murphy even illustrated beautiful pictures that were nicely dispersed amongst the pages.  What more can one possibly ask for?

The only reason that I took off a half star was because sometimes a fact would be stated and then the character would voice that fact right after it was stated.  This threw me off for a minute while reading because of its repetitiveness, but this only happened a few times.  I still highly recommend this book!  

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Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

This review was written by: B
Received: Library
Date of Publication: July 15, 2014
Pages: 208
Stars: 4.5/5

"It's cold where I am and so lonely, but in loneliness I will remain, unloved, unavenged, and forgotten, until I am whole once again."
        -A Lady's Hands are Cold (Through the  
          Woods by Emily Carroll)

Through the Woods is a graphic novel littered with a collection of five short, spine-tingling stories.  Emily Carroll was able to create an equally disturbing yet equally breathtaking creation that made me want to keep the lights on all night long for days after finishing this great read.  The artwork was stunning and mortifying to the point where it fit the stories perfectly.  The black colored theme incorporated throughout a lot of the stories also created an atmosphere of darkness that surrounded me wherever I looked.

I don't want to go into details about the stories in fear that I will ruin the entire thing for you, but I will say that I was deeply disturbed after reading this book.  There are ghosts, creatures that cannot possibly be named for I have no words to describe them, deaths, murders, lies, deceit, despair, and a boarding on insanity suspense factor that wouldn't let me put down this book even if I had wanted to.  Lights are definitely necessary when reading Through the Woods unless you are brave enough to flip through this in the dark!  Family members disappear one by one, a husband has a sick and sinister history hidden from his new wife, the dead come back to life, a girl claims she can communicate with the deceased, and a terrifying creature comes from the woods....the strangeness continues on.

The only thing that I will say about these stories, though, is that a lot of them are open ended.  For some reason, I'm always bothered by these non-conclusions!  I want definite facts and endings that will officially bring closure to a piece even if they are horrible.  Mysterious closings are hard to handle because you have to decide for yourself the true meaning behind what happened which basically says that I may never know what actually took place.  Of course, I can easily see that this was purposeful for a further scare factor which I definitely respect.  But still... I prefer closure or else I go crazy!

Through the Woods was a great yet quick read that grabbed my attention from the first page.  I actually ended up reading a couple of the stories multiple times because I just couldn't get over them!  So, are you brave enough to walk through the woods and encounter what waits for you in the deep, dark blackness?

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Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King (The Guardians, #1) by William Joyce

10886703This book was reviewed by: C
Received: Library
Publication Date of Book: October 4, 2011
Pages: 228
Stars: 4/5

“The possibilities were endless. Battles would be
fought. Wonders revealed. Many journeys. Many lands. Many joys. Many sorrows." -William Joyce, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King (The Guardians,#1)

In the center of a large forest, protected by a spirit that tempts trespassers with glittering jewels, and guarded by a ferocious bear that stalks the shadows, lies the hidden village of Santoff Claussen. This strange place is hidden from the world and is home to an odd group of individuals, including families with children that are capable of speaking to insects and an old wizard from Atlantis, Ombric Shalazar, who is able to perform amazing magical feats. Deep within the shadows an evil stirs, an evil that is both ancient and terrifying. Pitch, the Nightmare King, and his Fearlings have awoken and Ombric cannot defeat them on his own. He needs the help of a brave warrior, who may not know just how special he is. This is where Nicholas St. North enters the picture. A bandit who knows the way of the sword is the only one with the power to help save Santoff Claussen and destroy Pitch once and for all. The only problem, however, is getting North on their side. North loves adventure and is soon lured to the illusive village. His men all easily fall to the traps that protect the people and North is the only one who enters Santoff Claussen. This one man is pure of heart and becomes Ombric's apprentice. North begins to display some interesting talents and builds a creature unlike any other, a mechanical djinni. This creation may be his undoing, as Pitch will use anything to rid the world of Nicholas St. North. Will North be able to defeat the Nightmare King or will his own handiwork be his undoing?

William Joyce has crafted a delightful children's story filled with adventure and inspiring characters. He removes all previous notions of how old St. Nick should be portrayed. North is nothing like the jolly, white-bearded, elderly gentleman that we often picture as Santa Claus. He has crafted North in such a way that he is seen as a warrior, but a warrior that still holds the desire to save children and their happiness within his heart. I love the fact that Joyce has created such interesting origins for famous holiday icons and beings that many children believe in. The series itself is a great concept and I cannot wait to read the stories of the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Sandman. I have to say that this series definitely piqued my interesting after I was able to see the movie The Rise of the Guardians. Both are severely dissimilar, but it's great to be able to see where the movie's inspiration arose. My only qualm with this book, however, would be the fact that it was not as in depth as I had hoped it would be. It is a Middle Grade novel, therefore the characters are not  as deep and the adventures are quite short. I wonder what the story would have been like if it had been a Young Adult novel?Overall, it was a great book and it head breathtaking illustrations!

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