de la cruz-Gates of ParadiseIt is New Year’s Eve and the world is celebrating. For Schuyler Van Alen, however, that is a luxury that she cannot afford. In her world – the world of angels and demons, Heaven and Hell, Blue Bloods and Conduits – there is no reason to celebrate; and less time. Jack Force, the boy she loves, has been missing for months and might well be dead. Even that is not something that Schuyler has time to dwell on because Lucifer is moving against those who would oppose him; and Schuyler tops that list.

She is the key to unlocking the Gate of Promise and leading her people to Paradise, if only she can figure out how. And she has to figure it out soon, or Lucifer will destroy the gate and take away the only chance she has. Luckily she is not alone. Her best friend, Oliver, is with her as always, and she has allies with the werewolves. She may also have friends who are closer to Lucifer than to her.

Gates of Paradise is the seventh and final book in the Blue Bloods series. For a series that has been running since 2006, you would expect an epic finale. And, in some ways, you get it.

Gates of Paradise brings together all of the characters that the Blue Bloods series has been built on. In their own ways, they are all working toward winning the looming final battle. Whether they are rallying their forces, trying to solve the puzzle of the key to the gate, or weakening Lucifer, each person has a part to play.

This strategic team-work coupled with the flash-backs to mistakes made in the past – or in past lives – builds a solid foundation for an epic showdown. But, for all the build-up towards it, the final battle is a disappointment. It’s an almost blink and you’ll miss it affair. This would be fine if there were few or no repercussions to the battle; but well-known characters are cut down in a casual sentence and entire clashes of powerful foes are summed up in equally few words. It feels as though de la Cruz is racing toward an invisible finish line. It’s a pity because the ideas touched on in the final scenes – love, sacrifice, weakness – are handled well; they’re just not as fleshed out as they should be.

Ultimately though, I think that fans will get what they would have wanted out of the end of this series. A final journey with the characters they have loved through previous books – Bliss, Lawson, Schuyler, Jack and Mimi Force, Kingsley and Oliver – a chance at seeing how the battle changes them and a look at how the survivors adapt to their new lives without the threat of death hanging heavy over them.

 

Gates of Paradise – Melissa de la Cruz

Atom Books (January 15, 2013)

ISBN: 9781907411502



brody_UnrememberedWhen a plane goes down in the ocean, only one survivor is found – a sixteen year old girl who has no memory of her past.

She cannot recall her name, her face or her life before the accident. When a mysterious boy shows up, claiming to know her, she doesn’t know what to believe. But believing him means giving up any illusion of safety she has.

Usually, I try to keep reviews relatively spoiler-free, but the main premise of Unremembered doesn’t begin until about half-way through the book; so, it’s impossible to discuss without giving away some major plot-points: be warned!

I wouldn’t say that Unremembered starts out slow; but, it does explore a lot of Violet/Sera’s reactions to everything around her. When no one comes forward to claim her, she has to try to understand the way the world works with the help of her new foster family. This is one of the most interesting parts of the story, seeing how she struggles with everyday words and ideas, while being able to solve complex puzzles in record time.

Unremembered has an amazing premise. Amnesia, a super-smart girl, a shady organisation and a mysterious boy who may or may not be a friend. Unfortunately, there is something lacking in the execution of the story. For my part, I think it is complexity. Brody is playing with some serious ethical dilemmas here, but instead of delving into the mess, she sweeps it aside to follow a basic story-line. This isn’t a problem. Some of the best stories are uncomplicated; but, considering the moral issues that Unremembered stirs up, I would really love to see more analysis in that regard.

Violet/Sera’s abnormal intelligence and lack of understanding of current trends, along with the fact that she initially thinks that the year is 1609, makes it clear from not-very-far-in that this is a time-travel novel, though the reveal doesn’t come until much later. This too, Brody could have handled with more intricacy. Time does not merely change technology, it changes entire mindsets. The whole structure of the social and political world should alter with time, but Brody’s characters all seem to be in keeping with our time, not theirs.

Unremembered is in no way a bad novel. It’s beautifully crafted, compelling and easy to read. However, it could have been so much more. It has all of the ingredients for a gripping dystopian action-adventure; it just comes out a bit fluffier.

Unremembered would best suit YA readers who liked their romance with a side of fantasy, rather than liking fantasy with a dash of romance. While there are heavy sci-fi elements to the story, none of them are explored deeply. It’s more of a romance-action-adventure with a little mystery thrown in. Anyone who has read and loved Lauren Kate or Becca Fitzpatrick should relish this one.

 

 

Unremembered – Jessica Brody

Macmillan (February 28, 2013)

ISBN: 9781447221128



Black_dollZachary, Poppy and Alice are best friends and spend their afternoons making up elaborate worlds for their dolls and action figures to play in: a world ruled by a creepy and ancient Queen – a terrifying doll that is locked inside Poppy’s mother’s cabinet. For Zach and Alice, it’s an escape from the demands their families make on them while; for Poppy, it’s a good outlet for her imagination. Everything changes when Zach’s father decides that he’s too old to be playing with toys and throws them all out.

Zach doesn’t want to tell his friends what has happened, deciding to quit the game instead. He hadn’t reckoned on the Queen. When she starts invading Poppy’s dreams, claiming to be made from the bones of a murdered girl, the three children must take up a quest to set her to rest.

Doll Bones is an epic fantasy quest in the guise of middle-school urban fantasy. It is aimed at a younger age group than the Tale of Modern Faerie or Curse Workers books; but slightly older than the Spiderwick Chronicles.

While the fantasy element of Doll Bones is fascinating, as always, it is the wider social politics that kept my interest. All three children are on the quest to prove something in their real lives. Each of them has their own character arc and as the story unfurls the tensions between them rise. Zachary is hanging on to childhood while his father tries to force him out of it. Alice is struggling against her grandmother who, while her sole guardian, hails from a different generation and background. All of them are keeping secrets and, as with any good quest, those secrets will come out.

With its twelve-year-old protagonists and their interest in toys, Doll Bones is entrenched in middle-grade literature, but it has enough elements that surpass that to appeal to teens and adults. Rather than the often explored dynamic of adults who don’t understand the children – or adults having the answer to everything – the parents and guardians in Doll Bones are just as lost as their kids.

Doll Bones perfectly captures the imaginative fantasy realms that children create while addressing more mature issues like family dysfunction and growing up. It is a deliciously creepy read with characters that you can root for, even when they are in the wrong.

 

Doll Bones – Holly Black

Doubleday (May 7, 2013)

ISBN: 9780552568111



carter-pawnKrista:

Cover

Pretty plain cover. I appreciate it because it’s one that doesn’t have a girl in a dress on the cover, even though it could with this story. It’s nice to see something simple.

Characters

There are actually a lot more characters than I was thinking there would be when starting the story. Not only do we meet those people most important in Kitty’s life, but all of the Hart family and their closely trusted circle.

Favourite

By the end of the book my favourite character was Benjy. If I were stuck in this situation, I would want him as my sidekick: dependable, honest, and trustworthy.

Least Favourite

There were more people I didn’t like than I liked in this one! It was very surprising that the further I read, the more dislike I had for each member of the family and their actions. This took me off guard. I would have to say the most hated from the first time we were introduced to her was Augusta, the oldest surviving member  of the family line.

Beginning

Kitty has just taken her test and rated lower than she expected in the cast system her world so depends on. She has just turned 17 and feels that her life has just plummeted to nothing and she would rather die. Her boyfriend Benjy and her “mother” encourage her to live and convince her that she is destined to help the population fight the unfair ranking system.

Storyline

Kitty is picked up off the streets because of her similar look to Lila Hart. Given no reasonable choice, she is forced into pretending to be Lila after being “Masked” to look exactly like her. As she stands in for Lila, the family slowly begins revealing secrets of how they really rule the land and the operate the ranking system. She soon gets caught up with the political labyrinth players and the rebellion.

Ending

You thought you could see what was coming, but I never expected things to go the way they did! It was like being on a roller coaster where you were expecting to drop downwards but it pulled you sideways instead.

Thoughts

I can honestly say that I have not read a teen book with so many twists. I think there were so many big revelations throughout the story that I could actually feel my head spin. I am usually a huge fan of books that are just as fast paced and action packed as this one, but at the end I felt pounded with so much to take in. I felt out of whack, needing to still take it all in. It was a pretty dark and powerful read if you look at it in a more critical way — politically and socially.

Quote

“But the world is out there, and it understands that the illusion of knowledge and freedom is not the same as the real thing. Eventually, it will fade, and there are those who will do whatever it takes to make that happen sooner rather than later.”

 

 

aimee carterBel:

Cover

I borrowed the audio book from the Brisbane City Council Library and Bolinda Online audio books. The cover art is a round maze with an eye visible though most of the paths. A blue chess piece sits in the top right hand corner of the slate grey background. The book is read by Lamecce Issaq.

 Characters

There are so many characters to hate in this book. The lovable ones are certainly a catalyst to continue reading the series.

Favourite

Kitty. Kick ass, and brainy. Some of her decisions are a little questionable but her motivations make sense.

Least Favourite

Hmmm. Augusta. Again you can understand her motives, but that doesn’t make them right, or forgivable in any way.

Beginning

Kitty is given a really low score on the standardised test to see where she will fit into society, which means a menial job and having to move away from the love of her life Benji.

Storyline

Kitty takes an offer to go from a 3 to a 7 with the intention of being able to stay with Benji. Strings are attached however, and what would a good dystopian book be without some totally corrupt political themes.

Ending

I didn’t pick it, and I am desperate to read on.

Thoughts

With the standardised testing in Aussie schools becoming such a focus, the thought that a single exam determines the rest of your life is just a little too close to home.

I was a little weirded out by the masking process and how easily it seemed to be to recover from such dramatic procedures. Anyone who’s ever seen that gosh awful make over TV show The Swan… that’s what I pictured through this section of the book. EWWW!

I was a little perplexed about the lack of reaction from the character Celia over Kitty’s new circumstance. As a Mum, if this happened to me, I’d be beyond not okay with it.

I did LOVE the book. I’ll be looking to read on throughout 2015.

Quote

I picked this quote because it is pretty much the pivotal argument through the whole book, and I would hazard a guess as to the inspiration for the title of the book.

“They may be weak when the game begins, but their potential is remarkable. Most of the time, they’ll be taken by the other side and held captive until the end of the game. But if you’re careful—if you keep your eyes open and pay attention to what your opponent is doing, if you protect your pawns and they reach the other side of the board, do you know what happens then?”
I shook my head, and she smiled.
“Your pawn becomes a queen.” 
~ Kitty having a conversation with Celia about chess.

 

Carter_captiveJoelene:

Cover

A brilliantly blue eye framed by something that resembles machinery. Fits the futuristic dystopian theme.

 

Characters

The cast of characters isn’t huge in Pawn, so it’s easy to keep track of who everyone is. The Prime Minister’s family make up most of the players and it ends up seeming a bit like a political family drama.

Favourite

Greyson. He’s probably the smartest guy in the book. Trying to sort out that mess of family is way too complicated. He’s also more empathetic than the others; accepting people as they are rather than forcing them into what he wants them to be.

Least Favourite

Kitty. She really does live up to the book title. She never risks herself; she just lets the larger players push her to where they need her to be.

 Beginning

When Kitty scores low on the test that will decide her future, she thinks that any chance of a good life is forfeit. Then the Prime Minister makes her an offer that she can’t refuse.

Storyline

In a futuristic dystopia, Kitty is an unwanted extra child. When the Prime Minister offers her a chance at more than she could have dreamed, she takes it. What she doesn’t realise is that taking the offer might mean losing herself and becoming someone else – specifically the Prime Minister’s niece, Lila Hart.

 Ending

There’s more upheaval in the end of Pawn than I was expecting. The game is going to change drastically in book two!

Thoughts

Carter took a lot of the issues with growth and technology that worry us today and incorporated them into Pawn. What if technology existed that meant we could replace one figurehead with another without anyone knowing? If humans don’t regulate the population now, what will it mean in the future?

There are also some truths in the novel. Even now the world is told to believe that if a person works hard enough – wants something desperately enough – they will achieve it. We believe the lie, and don’t question the ugliness beneath it. Pawn builds its foundation on that unpleasant notion with the idea that a test given to the poor and rich alike is not equal.

Quote

“On my birthday, you gave me a present,” I said. “It was a purple flower from a vendor selling perfumes. A violet. You said – you said they never gave up, like me.”

 

 

Carter_TestLisa:

Cover

I absolutely love this cover. If you have the US hardback version, the book jacket slips off, and reveals something even more beautiful. Looking at this cover before indulging in the book, it completely suckers you in. It’s mysterious, different, and bold in a strange way. After reading Pawn and looking back at the cover, you find a whole new meaning to it and each of its elements. Gorgeous!

Characters

There are quite a few characters in Pawn, but each and every one of them is unique and interesting. Obviously, some are meant for you to hate, but I can appreciate an amazing villain!

Favourite

Of course my favourite character would be Kitty, and I’m sure many of you will agree with me. She’s totally kick butt and doesn’t let anything scare her. She’s the perfect character for this role; she’s someone strong who won’t back down on her beliefs.

Least Favourite

As I said before, I can appreciate an amazing villain. When I think of my least favourite character, my mind automatically goes to Augusta or Daxton, simply because the reader is made to despise them. But looking back at them, they are perfect. Daxton is crazy in the head, and does some really messed up stuff, while Augusta is the older lady, who thinks she can still rule a modern world in the old ways.

Overall, I LOVED these two characters, but if I had to choose my “least favourite” it would be them.

Beginning

Pawn follows the story of a teenage girl named Kitty Doe. Anyone with the last name “Doe” is the child that was illegally born, because there is a one child minimum law. While most Does are sent to a place called Elsewhere, some are lucky enough to go to local group homes.

Once teenagers turn seventeen years old, they take an aptitude test, that determines what their ranks are in society. Ones and twos are usually sent to Elsewhere, while threes do the dirty work, fours and fives live comfortable while sixes and sevens are royalty.

After taking her test, Kitty scores low, and is tattooed a three on the back of her neck. She knows she will spend the rest of life working in the underground sewers, or renting out her body to disgusting men for money.

Middle

But when Kitty is approached by a man, who she later discovers is part of the royal family, with an offer to become a seven, Kitty can’t turn it down. She doesn’t know what the catch is, or what he expects of her, but becoming a seven is much better than staying a three, or being sent to Denver, or Elsewhere.

End

While I wish I could give you as much detail about the end, as I did with the beginning, I can’t. I want you to feel the same excitement, nervousness, and anxiety I felt with I was completely wrapped up in Pawn.

All I can tell you is that this story was absolutely amazing! And I’m dying to go out and buy myself a copy of the second book in The Black Coat Rebellion series: Captive.

Overall

I love Aimee Carter and have read all of her books, so this month’s read was a very exciting one for me!

When I first started Pawn, it reminded me of The Selection. Obviously, there are thirty-five girls standing here, to fight for the position that Kitty is in, but the general idea of a poor girl comes into the kingdom and starts to change this in their society is the same. Pawn also had different rankings in society. In The Selection, the higher numbers where lower ranking, in Pawn the lower numbers where lower ranking.

Overall, I enjoyed Pawn, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed The Selection series as well as The Chemical Garden trilogy.

 

 

Discussion Questions

Kitty has dyslexia and it has an affect on her test results. How do you feel about the very generalized way of ranking people this book has
Would you sacrifice yourself for the greater good?

How does the book compare to Kiera Cass’s The Selection?

Do our other club members use audio books often, and out of the three formats (ebook, physical book, audio book) which did they use for this month’s pick?

How close are we, as a global society, to using standardised testing to ‘match’ people to their ideal jobs?

Feel free to take the discussion to out GoodReads home.

 

 

 



almond_Song for Ella GreyIn the Easter holidays, Clair and her friends go to Northumberland to escape parents, the icy cold of the north and mundane life. Claire’s best friend, Ella Grey, was meant to join them but her strict parents forbade it at the last minute. Still, when a strange and gorgeous lyre-wielding man shows up to play music for the group on the windy Bamburgh beach, Claire’s first thought is of Ella. She calls her; and Ella, hearing the magical music through the phone, falls in love.

A Song for Ella Grey is a modern retelling of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. As such it works. The writing is lyrical and the story follows the themes of the original tale faithfully. Orpheus is a musician who can charm the earth itself, but cannot protect the woman he loves. He and Eurydice – or Ella – are fated to be torn apart before their time.

Tragedy soaks this book from the opening lines, ‘I’m the one who’s left behind. I’m the one to tell the tale. I knew them both, knew how they lived and how they died.’ The tone of the novel is melancholy and relentless. As in the epic tales, the fate of Orpheus and Ella is ordained from the outset. There is no escape; the only option is to see how the fate unfolds.

On most levels, A Song for Ella Grey follows epic tradition. Emotionally the characters are obscure rather than distinct. They are more akin to characters in myth and fairy-tales where the emotions are told rather than shown, and there is little subtlety or complexity to them. This is the part of the novel that didn’t work for me, though I think it is one of those ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ things.

What I look for in a modern retelling is very different to what this retelling is aiming for. I love fairy-tales and original myths, but I don’t expect to understand all – or any – of the character’s emotions or decisions. The story is about the magic and the imagination – there’s so much of it that I don’t need to ask why a man would send his daughter off to a beast or why a woman would turn men into animals.

In a modern retelling, I love the humanity that characters develop. Even if the basic story line is exactly the same, I expect the love to be deeper and more complex. I expect characters to explore the confines of their myth or fairy-tale with a modern perspective. A Song for Ella Grey stuck much more closely with the original myth. However, there is some wider exploration of Ella/Eurydice’s character. Her parents and best friend play a much larger part than they ever did in the myth, providing the scope to explore why she was so exceptional that someone could breach the underworld to try and find her. But even though everyone says how much they love her, the why is not explored.

Ultimately, David Almond wrote a different story to the one that I expected. As the tragic legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, A Song for Ella Grey more than succeeds. It stays true to the original myth even with a new setting and new characters. The voice is lyrical and the tone melancholy in keeping with the epic nature of this tale. If you have an interest in Greek mythology and know the Orpheus and Eurydice myth then this is a must read. Without a back-ground knowledge however, the story may be far too surreal to attempt.

A Song for Ella Grey – David Almond

Hodder Children’s Books (October 2, 2014)

ISBN: 9781444919547



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