Book Review: Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl #1) by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl (Viking Press, 2001) by Eoin Colfer is the first in an eight-book children’s science fiction series. Born in Ireland, Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old boy genius. With the muscle of his manservant, a trained killer called Butler, young Artemis is the criminal mastermind behind innumerable schemes to regain the Fowl family fortune.

When Artemis embarks upon an elaborate scheme to take an elf captain hostage in exchange for a ransom of fairy gold, Fowl Manor is soon under siege by LEPrecon, the reconnaissance division of the “Lower Elements Police.” While the smugly brilliant Artemis is by far the most interesting and entertaining person in the book, the titular character definitely seems to take a backseat in the story and – in my opinion, unfortunately – the book focuses far more on Captain Holly Short, Commander Root, and the colorful, mythical cast of the LEPrecon unit than I would’ve preferred.

All the same, this was a fairly entertaining YA fantasy heist. There were some rather low-brow plot mechanisms that I didn’t think were altogether necessary; then again, I’m a 30-year-old woman, not the book’s intended audience of a 12-year-old boy. From a writing perspective, I was confused that the author wrote in omniscient voice; generally speaking, this practice is avoided. The narrative frequently head-hops between characters, often from sentence to sentence.

The bulk of my enjoyment of this novel stemmed mostly from the lively delivery and delightful array of accents performed by the audio book’s narrator, Nathaniel Parker. I’m looking forward to continuing listening to Mr. Parker’s performance of the series on audio.

Netflix Review: Stranger Things Seasons 1 & 2

StrangerThis is my first TV series review on this book blog. I read far more than I watch TV, this is true. In fact, I don’t watch television at all, unless it’s late night political satire (think Colbert, Bill Maher, John Oliver), and I watch those via YouTube, so my TV is mainly for films. (I’ll admit to being a film junkie –  I’ve watched waaay more movies than I could ever review here.) When several friends and relatives of mine began recommending Netflix’s Stranger Things series to me, I decided to go for a free trial of Netflix and give the first 2 seasons a shot.

I have since watched both seasons twice and, in the last few weeks, have become an all-out obsessed fangirl. My friends say I need an intervention. So, what makes Stranger Things, in my opinion, so flippin’ amazing?

Once upon a time, the Duffer Brothers apparently had the brilliant idea to mash elements of a Steven Spielberg eighties film with child actors, the X-Men, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Alien, Dungeons & Dragons, quantum mechanics, and a frightening government conspiracy all together to create an original series that is every bit as creepy, fascinating, funny, suspenseful, disturbing, and endearing as it is entertaining. The story follows a band of lovably geeky eleven-year-old boys in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. When one of their party, the sweet Will Byers, suddenly goes missing on the same night we, as the audience, see some kind of mysterious emergency breaking out at a nearby lab, Will’s friends and closest family will stop at nothing to find him. Will’s struggling but devoted mom, Joyce – portrayed by Winona Ryder, who completely embodies the role – solicits the help of the gruff and grieving but (IMO) smokin’ hot sheriff Chief Hopper (played by David Harbour…drool…) to find Will. Meanwhile, his friends sneak out of their homes to search the woods for him at night.

At the same time Will goes missing, a strange girl of the same age with a shaved head appears in the woods, wearing nothing but a hospital gown. Eventually, Will’s friends – Mike, the leader-type; Lucas, the skeptic and voice of reason; and Dustin, the hilariously adorable comic relief – intercept the girl, who barely speaks and whose only identifying factor is a tattoo on her wrist that says “011”. Mike decides to hide Eleven, or “El” for short, in his basement to take care of her. They soon learn El possesses incredible psychic powers. El’s appearance and Will’s disappearance are linked…the kids just have to find out how.

The characters branch out from the kids’ siblings and parents and their relationships and connections to the case, to the villainous government scientists and spies. Don’t let the ages fool you; this show definitely features some R-rated gore, violence, and horror – or at the very least, PG-13. I think it would’ve been way too scary/intense for me at age eleven; then again, every kid is different. Also, there is just as much focus, if not more at times, on the older cast members, making this a fantastic watch for older teens and adults alike.

Both seasons are equally haunting and addictive, featuring terrifying monsters, major eighties nostalgia, characters you really become attached to, super powers, a wickedly epic eighties soundtrack, a somewhat dysfunctional yet charming small Midwestern town, a creepy Twin Peaks vibe, and the perfect blend of humor, drama, horror, romance, adventure, mystery, and sci-fi to keep me utterly invested in every scene. It’s even better the second time around, because I could really appreciate and savor the writing and foreshadowing even more. The only thing that depresses me is that it’ll likely be an entire year before Season 3. Season 2 has a happy pseudo-ending, but the very last shot is a major cliffhanger, so I can’t wait to see what the Duffer Brothers have in store for us next year. Until then, I guess I’m stuck waiting in the Upside Down… Five stars from an alternate dimension to Stranger Things!

Book Review: Forewarned (Book 2 of the Near Deaths Series) by Holly M. Campbell

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

I have been waiting over a year for this novel. I could say that it delivered, it didn’t disappoint, that it was even better than Book 1, Foreshadowed – but those would be understatements. To put it simply, this book floored me. Holly M. Campbell is a talented YA paranormal/suspense writer whose career is going places. This is the third book I’ve read by her. Her writing is professional, consistent, and totally compelling. If you’re going to pick up any of her books, make sure you don’t have other plans for the day, because I guarantee you won’t be putting it down till you’re done.

Forewarned (48fourteen Publishing, 2016) picks up seventeen-year-old mind reader Hope Murdoch’s story within a few weeks of where Book 1 left off. Hope and her death-seeing boyfriend, Lance, have thwarted a serial rapist/murderer and rescued their friend from a horrific fate. Doing so has changed Hope’s future…but this time, her predicted death is even worse. The mystery of the sociopath’s identity drove me insane with burning curiosity throughout the book as the teens secretly conspire to cipher who he is. Though Hope and Lance have every intention of continuing to combine their psychic gifts to prevent more kidnappings and deaths, Hope comes to learn that it’s not so simple, that not every death can be avoided and, sometimes, by changing one outcome, worse outcomes may unintentionally result for others .

Making matters more  challenging are Hope’s parents, who’ve understandably grounded her and don’t trust Lance, an unhelpful detective and skeptical school newspaper reporter, the painful return of Lance’s ex-girlfriend, and the fact that even the potential victims whom Hope tries to warn don’t believe her – or don’t want to. While the book started out with plenty of laughs from Hope’s trademark sarcasm, it definitely took a turn for the darker, creepier…until twisting into an unexpected ending that totally tore my heart out.

Reading this book reminded me so much of my high school summers curled on the basement couch watching “Twin Peaks” (Frost/Lynch, 1990)  reruns with my big brother. Between the murder mystery of a beautiful high school girl, Hope’s creepy David Lynch-like dreams about Death and her Spirit Guide, and the spooky mood, “Twin Peaks” fans, plus readers of teen suspense will adore this book. The paranormal aspects of the story are so natural and realistic, I almost forgot I was reading a paranormal book. I give Book 2 of the Near Deaths Series five enthusiastic stars. My only plea is that we don’t have to wait a whole year again for the third and final volume! 🙂

Book Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

The Selection (2012) by Kiera Cass is a teen dystopian romance, and is pretty much as close to perfect as you can get. This novel has everything: world-building without the crutch of magic, royalty, a futuristic dystopia-lite U.S., a love triangle, tons of clean romance, and a protagonist who’s a phenomenal role model. Not to mention, Cass’s writing is like candy; it’s so easy to read, impossible to put down, and non-stop gripping, though without being too action-oriented. The tempo of the novel is perfect, maintaining a seamless, well-paced rotation between the main character’s inner thoughts, her relational interactions, and a mild but fascinating political plot brewing in the background.

For the synopsis: America Singer is a teenaged musician living in a futuristic version of the U.S., called Illéa. In this world, the country operates on a caste system. Being in the artists’s caste, America’s family often find themselves hungry and having to go without. Meanwhile, America is deeply in love with her secret boyfriend, Aspen, but he’s in a caste even lower than her family’s. Her mother would never permit their matching.

America’s world is about to change, however, when it’s announced that the Prince of Illéa, Maxon, has come of age, and the royal family will be hosting a Selection for him comprised of 35 girls, from whom he’ll choose his bride and future queen. America thinks the whole ordeal sounds shallow and pathetic. But Aspen persuades her to enter the competition for a shot at a better life. To their amazement – and devastation – America is chosen as one of the Selected.

I LOVED the concept that, of the 35 girls competing to marry the Prince, our protagonist doesn’t want to win! Even more, I adored the scene when she finally meets Prince Maxon, and discovers he’s not the stodgy, spoiled little stiff she’d been expecting. What proceeds to unfold is the beautiful and honest friendship between America and the Prince. Another of my favorite aspects about this novel is that the author doesn’t let stupid misunderstandings hang between her characters, which is a trope in so many novels and movies (I’m probably guilty of it , too!). Instead, America and Maxon are always quick to EXPLAIN THEMSELVES and clarify things to one another, so the reader isn’t tortured by silly misunderstandings that could be fixed, if only the characters would have a normal conversation. Author Cass was brilliant in avoiding that trope and making all of her main characters act like completely normal, three-dimensional and sympathetic people.

But what I loved about this book most was America herself. She’s assertive, loyal, and says what’s on her mind. America Singer is, in my opinion, the best female protagonist in YA literature that I’ve read so far. She’s not helpless, but is unafraid of her own vulnerability. She doesn’t want to wear a lot of make-up or be in any way fake or inauthentic. She puts others before herself, but not to the degree of self-sabotage or stupidity. She seems very comfortable with her femininity, but she’s not vain or catty. She strongly believes in the value of people regardless of their caste, and she’s not afraid to stand up to anyone in defense of her convictions. She’s an individual who’s comfortable in her own skin and doesn’t try to be anyone but herself; she is natural. This is so incredibly rare to find in YA, where so many heroines either seem so unsure of themselves, or else are callous warriors who are way too tough for me to relate to.

If you like chick lit and romance, I can’t recommend The Selection enough. And of course, it’s the first in a trilogy, so I’m eager to devour the next book, The Elite, very soon. A fun, heartwarming and wonderful escape. Yes, yes, yes!