Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review: The Bronze and the Brimstone

The Bronze and the Brimstone (The Verona Trilogy #2)What could go wrong in the 14th-century
for three time-traveling teens?
How about – EVERYTHING!
Hansum, Shamira and Lincoln, three teens from the 24th-century, are trapped in 14th-century Verona, Italy. They’ve survived many deadly experiences by keeping their wits about them and by introducing futuristic technology into the past. Principal among these inventions is the telescope, which brought them to the attention to the rich and powerful.
But standing out can get you into unexpected and dangerous situations. The nobles of Verona now believe Hansum is a savant, a genius inventor, especially after he brings them plans for advanced cannons and black powder. Being the center of attention is great, but the potential for trouble is now exponentially greater because people are watching Hansum’s every move.
Meanwhile, artistic genius Shamira has fallen for a Florentine artist with bloody and disasterous consequences. Lincoln, considered an incompetent back home in the 24th-century, has blossomed – at least until he’s shot in the head with an arrow. And Hansum, after secretly marrying his new master’s beautiful daughter, Guilietta, is offered the hand in marriage of lady Beatrice, daughter of the ruler of Verona. To refuse could mean calamity for all the teens.
Amazingly, none of this is their biggest challenge. Because a rash illness is spreading across Verona – and it is threatening to consume everyone.
Do they have a future in this past?
  • Publisher: The Fiction Studio
  • Release date: June 7, 2011
  • Page count: 336
This is book number 2 in The Verona Trilogy, and I have to say, the I was completely captivated at the start! In my review of book one, I mentioned how I thought the book was hard to get into and was slow starting. This was completely the opposite. By page 30 I couldn't put the book down. Kaufman nailed the pacing of this book. I was never bored.

Guilietta and Hansum are in love, and the Master, Guilietta's father, is aware of this because Hansum has asked her father's permission. Hansum and Guilietta, however, have arranged a secret elopement like any young couple in love who can't wait to be together. This is foiled when Hansum goes to see the Podesta, a rich and powerful noble who has been told of the invention Hansum introduced in the last book on the advice and plans of his genie, Pan. History may or may not be permanently effected, the Podesta is about to go on a greed overload using this new tool and Hansum's plans for advanced cannons and a new formula for gunpowder, and the Podesta knows he must keep this savant in his services. What better way than to offer up his daughter's hand in marriage? With Hansum as a part of his family, he could surely become an undefeated leader.

But Hansum refuses. Politely. Still...

No one insults the Podesta's daughter like that. Hansum had better look out.

So begins a plot full of twists, suspense, and even bits of comedy. As always, Lincoln, the younger teen who now has two young apprentices to look over, provides some rich dialogue. Shamira falls in love (hooray!). Lincoln, who has found his place assisting with making discs of the eyes, is shot! 

I liked the fact that right off the bat, Hansum has to experience an important situation without the assistance of Pan. I was cringing right along with Pan (who was stuck in Hansum's cap on the table, observing) and hoping he'd say the right things to impress an obviously treacherous man (mostly so he would avoid any type of torture or execution!). After all, the kids are living in the 14th century, the rogue History Camp guide who brought them there has been murdered, so whatever they do has the potential to effect (or even end) their lives.

You must pick this series up! The second book of a series tends to be a bridge that will simply lead to the end. Not so with this middle book! What a breath of fresh air. I can't ruin anything about what has happened to history-- have the kids changed it forever? Will they ever get back to the 24th century, see their families and their A.I.'s again?

Fall in love with these characters, the beautiful but not-always-so-pleasant ancient Verona, and a bond established between "orphans" and their master that is unusual for the time period. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review: The Lens and the Looker

"There's hope for the future, but what about the past?
It’s the 24th century and humans, with the help of artificial intelligences (A.I.s) have finally created the perfect post-dystopian society. To make equally perfect citizens for this world, the elders have created History Camps, full sized recreations of cities from Earth’s distant pasts. Here teens live the way their ancestors did, doing the same dirty jobs and experiencing the same degradations. History Camps teach youths not to repeat the mistakes that almost caused the planet to die. But not everything goes to plan.
In this first of a trilogy, we meet three spoiled teens in the year 2347. Hansum almost 17, is good looking and athletic. Shamira, 15, is sassy, independent and an artistic genius. Lincoln, 14, is the smart-aleck. But you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find his insecurities.
These three “hard cases” refuse the valuable lessons History Camps teach. But when they are kidnapped and taken back in time to 1347 Verona, Italy, they only have two choices; adapt to the harsh medieval ways or die. The dangers are many, their enemies are powerful, and safety is a long way away. It’s hardly the ideal environment to fall in love – but that’s exactly what happens. In an attempt to survive, the trio risks introducing technology from the future. It could save them – or it could change history."

  • Publisher: Fiction Studio
  • Date of release: March 16, 2011
  • Page count: 336
  • Format: Paperback
  • Unique elements: Book divided into three different mini-books, each one starts over at Chapter 1
Favorite Quotes:
"'Well, for a mouth breather like Ugilino, his sights can't be set too high,' Hansum snorted. 'This daughter must be a real dog too.'"

"'Oh, a thousand apologies, magnificent spawn of nobody-knows-who. The pot at this time does not have noble merda in it, only that of a peasant.' 'Whose?' Lincoln asked, his eyes burning. 'Me. It is mine from last night and this morning. Oh, it was a magnificent evacuation.'"

"'Father Aaron once told me that life is a dance. A dance where we live with one foot in Heaven and one foot in Hell. We dance back and forth between the two and are given a choice. Life is learning always to always dance back into Heaven.'"

The first in The Verona Trilogy, The Lens and the Looker was different than anything I've read. It seems a little more geared for middle readers, even though Hansum is 17. Still, I did enjoy it. I like the concept of History Camps-- the method the future society uses to reform unruly young people. At the History Camp based on old Verona, as Hansum, Lincoln, and Shamira discover, it is meant to seem like you are living back in the past when such luxuries as Aritifical Intelligence personal robots don't guide your every move. Hansum already knows how fake the camps are, and the kids hash out a plot to disrupt the play acting adults, so much so that they lose their accents in frustration. Everything changes when a man they think is another History Camp enactor, Arimus, comes on the scene and takes the three kids back to the real Verona back in 1347.  

I thought some of the descriptions of future life were interesting. It would be pretty cool to have a little brass lamp with a tiny mischevious genie inside that was all-knowing and appears as a holographic image. This book is divided into three books, and I couldn't fully immerse myself into the text until Book 2, which was page 87. When Arimus shows up and only speaks in rhyme, I could appreciate the hard work that author Lory Kaufman put into making the prose flow perfectly. I couldn't quite understand all the tecnical descriptions of the lens making machine, but Kaufman also did his research on the machinery and architecture of the time. There's even a moment when Ugilino (love that name, especially since he's ugly!) bites his thumb as an insult, which is true to the times! 

When the kids landed in the past and I didn't know what would happen next, that's when the story became intriguing. In the hopes that the History Camp elders will bring them back, they begin to tamper with history by introducing technology that has yet to be developed. Will changing time history erase them from existence?

At times, mostly in Book 1, I felt there was too much telling and not enough showing, or imagery, going on. I also thought that some of the chapters just ended; there was no true hook to make me keep reading. It was a nice touch that there were little hour glasses to separate sections within the chapter to go along with the time traveling theme. 

However, I did like the 3rd person limited narrative because I could experience different characters' thoughts. The fact that the reader doesn't get into the head of all the characters leaves a bit of mystery. The romance between Hansum and Guilietta developed at a nice pace. It's great to see the class divisions-- that Hansum, as an "orphan" lens maker's apprentice, would not be an ideal match for the daughter of a lens maker. Then there's the creepy Prince Feltrino who only has eyes for Guilietta, and mostly so he can treat her as a conquest. Hansum is not permitted to stand up for her with Feltrino because of his status. He's always held back by some adult, including a monk at one point. Starcrossed lovers are always an interesting element in any story. Lincoln's sense of humor and quirky jokes, even his future slang word "zippy," brought life to the story.

I came to enjoy the plot twists, especially the huge one at the end of Book 2. I actually remember gasping out loud! I'm looking forward to checking out Kaufman's second book, The Bronze and the Brimstone, because of the cliffhanger at the end of The Lens and the Looker.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Weeping Blog Tour: Review and Character Interview- O'Dell Hutchison

Welcome to a stop on The Weeping Blog Tour hosted by Book Twirps. You Can See the Entire Tour Schedule HERE.

O'Dell Hutchison's first novel, a paranormal thriller called The Weeping, is set for release in just three days! Below is an interview with two prominent characters from the story, followed by my review.

Character interview: Catherine

1. It is obvious that Phillip was the love of your life. You were just a freshman and he was a senior in high school when the relationship started. He was popular and athletic, you were more quiet -- a loner, as some might say. How did such a match come about?
Honestly, I didn’t expect it at all. I was always very quiet and didn’t really interact much with kids at school. I’d known Phillip for years — it’s a small town — but other than the occasional “hello” we’d never really talked. The first time we had a real conversation was over the 4th of July weekend before I started high school. He was carrying a bunch of stuff to the beach for a barbecue and his package of napkins was open and scattered across the beach. I helped him pick them up and he invited me to sit with him and his family. From there we started talking whenever we would see one another and then he asked me to Homecoming when school started and it just went from there.

2.  It is one thing to be in love, but another entirely to make that love the only focus of your life, especially as a teen. Did you ever think some of your actions -- showing up in the middle of the night and calling to Phillip outside his window, planning to follow him across the country, calling him all the time -- were too extreme? 
Looking back on it all, I would say yes, but at the time he was all I had. I was young and so alone. He was my world. I had no stability before I met him and when he broke up with me I didn’t want to go back to the uncertainty of my real life. It scared me.

3.  What prompted you to try out for Our Town? Why wait until your last year of high school to make theatre a hobby?
 Actually, I’d been involved with theatre before. I usually worked crew or helped paint sets. I also had a few small roles in some other shows. It was Ms. Marilyn who encouraged me to come out and audition for the show. I was in a really dark place at the time, and she thought it would be good for me. I never expected to get a lead role. 

4.  When the theatre building caught on fire, why did you not rush after the actors who were running off stage? 
It all happened so fast. I didn’t even know there was a fire. I remember we were performing a funeral scene. My character had died and was watching her funeral. All of the actors were on stage for that scene, so it was crowded. I thought I smelled smoke, and then I heard screaming. People pushed past me and I fell — I couldn’t get up. By the time I was able to stand the stage was filled with smoke. I didn’t know where to go…

Character interview: Heath

1.  Your parents sent you away for the summer to Uncle Vic's to recover after your accident. Did you have any hopes that you could heal there?
Well, at first I just wanted to get away. I was really willing to go anywhere. I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen when I moved. I guess, in a way, I hoped I’d get better. I hated feeling the way I did.

2.  Do you think your dreams were a portal to the spiritual world? 
I really don’t know. I was definitely connected to something. I just don’t understand how. It’s weird, ya know?

3.  When you first met Molly, you described her as having a dancer's body, but not breathtaking, just "normal." As you got to know her personality, did she become more attractive than just "normal"?
I didn’t mean that in a bad way at all. I always thought she was attractive. What I meant was she didn’t have to try to be pretty. She wasn’t all dolled up like she was trying to make an impression and she wasn’t dressed for attention like so many girls at my old high school. She was pretty without trying. 

4.  When you were working the light cues for the first time, you heard static and whispering that no one else, including the stage manager Luke, heard. Was there any point that you truly thought, "I'm going crazy?" 
That was kind of the clincher for me. At that point in time I knew something was up. I wasn’t dreaming — I was wide awake. That’s when I knew that whatever was happening was happening just to me and since I didn’t believe in ghosts, I thought for sure I had completely lost it.

5.  Why did Vic insist on restoring an old theatre that was rumored to be haunted?  
Hmm, I dunno really. I mean, I don’t think anyone thought that the place was haunted. Josie said there were rumors that people would hear things and occasionally smell smoke, but nothing major had happened. Not until I got there.

My review:

"Twenty years ago, Catherine Whitley was the victim of a horrible crime. Betrayed by her friends, including the boy she loved, she was left to die when the Rock Harbor Opera House caught fire, taking a disturbing secret with her to her grave.

Seventeen-year-old Heath Ingram was driving the night his Jeep careened off the road, killing three of his closest friends. Once a popular, outgoing athlete, Heath now suffers from severe depression and crippling anxiety. His parents decide to send him to stay with his uncle in Rock Harbor, Oregon for the summer, praying that by getting away he will be able to put this awful tragedy behind him.

When Heath starts working at the newly renovated Rock Harbor Opera House, he meets Molly, a young dancer who awakens in him a desire to start over and move on. But, when he begins having visions of a half-burned girl in a white dress, he starts to think he may be slipping even further over the edge.

As the apparent hauntings become more intense, Heath begins to fear for his safety. With the help of his friend Josie, Heath discovers an unsettling secret that ties the mysterious girl to both their families. When two of their friends die unexpectedly, Josie and Heath realize that something, or someone, is after the children of those who wronged Catherine, and they are next."

- Goodreads

  • Publisher: H, C & B Publishing
  • Date of release: March 6, 2012
  • Page count: 282 (hardcover)
  • Format: Kindle ebook
This novel grabbed me right from the start, made me want to learn more. Why is Catherine alone in the smoke? Why is her brain telling her she's stupid for thinking a boy named Phillip cares for her, that he won't come back? As part of the stage crashes to the floor, why does no one come to rescue her from the deadly flames?

Flash forward several years. Heath is in a car with his parents, traveling to Oregon to stay with his Uncle Vic for the summer. Heath needs to get away, get his mind off the memories of flipping his jeep with his best friend next to him and two girls in the back seat. But he relives these nightmares in his sleep, Jake's lifeless, bloody body, frightened cries for help that turn to nothing.

Vic puts Heath to work right away in the town's old theater that he is reopening. Strange occurences begin happening, but Heath is the only one who seems to notice-- weeping from the stairwell, a whispering voice on the headset, even a ghostly figure with a burned face.

Heath's new friends try to help him investigate. Molly, the petite dancer who's super sweet, captures his attention from the start, even though he knows Luke, the stage manager, has a crush on her. Then there's Josie, the punk costume designer. They have an instant bond, and she believes in ghosts and even helps conduct a seance. It is obvious the ghost is Catherine, but what does she want, and more importantly, who is she after?

The secondary characters were well-developed, and Juda was an entitled rich kid I loved to hate.  There are quite a few secrets about Catherine the reader discovers along the way, as well as the adults who were part of her high school life. The only part that truly shocked me was ending, which I felt was too abrupt. I wanted a more definitive resolution and also for the story to go on longer.

Heath was a great narrator. I actually felt that some of his thoughts about Molly were much cleaner than I'd expect of a 17 year-old boy. At times, I wondered why Heath didn't make connections faster when certain facts (for example, bits of Catherine's diary) came to light. Even though I liked Luke at the beginning of the story, I felt he was way too possessive of Molly. However, this shows a vulnerable, jealous side of a teenage boy in love and isn't an inaccurate portrayal.

It was crazy how clingy Catherine was. I guess when the love of your life up and leaves you, even if he didn't feel the same way, it's heartbreaking. Her focus was always on Phillip and how she could mold her life around his. Again, not an untrue representation of an infatuated woman blinded by love.

Final verdict:
Hutchison mixes suspense and mystery in the right portions to create genuine intrigue. He builds believable character relationships that will make you truly concerned for the well-being of each character, especially when death starts invading the small community of Rock Harbor. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fabulous First Lines

Since I don't post a lot of book discussion type things on here, I thought I'd do a short post on first lines today. Here is one that still stands out in my mind as being so crazy that I had to read more:

Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott
"Everyone's seen my mother naked."

Talk about a hook!

I went through the books on my shelves to see what other amazingly creative, suck-you-in first lines I could find and why they made me keep reading.

Falling in Love with English Boys by Melissa Jensen
"Airplane bathrooms are only a step above the ones found in gas stations."
(Don't we all know this is true. I actually think airplane bathrooms are worse. And don't get me started on toilets that flush automatically.)

Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn
"It wasn't the fact that Starbucks did not--would not--serve Guinness with a raw egg followed by an espresso chaser that was ruining Very's hangover."
(Why does this girl want beer to nurse a hangover? This girl must be a partier and have an attitude.)

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
"I was buried alive."
(And how did that happen exactly?)

Incarceron by Catherine Fischer
"Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway."
(If Finn doesn't figure out a way to get up, he's about to get run over.)

The Unidentified by Rae Mariz
"If reality TV cameras were installed in my high school, they would be focused directly on the Pit."
(Is the Pit some sort of place where they fight to the death? Maybe I'm just in Hunger Games mode.)

Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan
"Okay, I'm pregnant, and so here's what I'm scared about."
(Love her honest personality/attitude right from the start.)

The Big Game of Everything by Chris Lynch
"You have to love your family."
("Have to" implies obligation. Some serious family drama is about to go down, and I most likely can relate to some part of it.)

Have you read any first lines that sucked you in? If it isn't the first line, what about a book grabs your attention?