Thursday, May 29, 2014

Deception's Princess by Esther Friesner

Set in Ireland (Eriu) during the Iron Age, Deception's Princess tells the story of Maeve, daughter of the King of Connacht. Eleven year old Maeve is the youngest of the King Eochu's six daughters and high-spirited.

Maeve lives within the ringfort of Cruachan, with her parents, Lady Clithfinn, King Eochu and her sisters, Derbriu, Clothru, Mugain, and twins Eithne and Eile. The stone entryway to Cruachan is framed with the severed heads of warriors who had fallen in battle to the king. The most recent trophy is the head of the High King of Eriu, Fachtna Fathach, who betrayed King Eochu and paid the price with his life.

Now that her father is High King, life changes dramatically for Maeve and her sisters. Her sisters are sent out to fosterage, a custom where highborn children are sent into other homes to learn skills that will prepare them for life as adults. However, Maeve is not sent because she is King Eochu's most favoured daughter. This came about becuase of what happened when she was a mere five years old. At that young age, Maeve demonstrated her courage and boldness by going out and cutting off the tail of her father's largest black bull, Dubh. King Eochu considers Maeve to be the son he does not have and  he decides to keep her at home.

Being left at home however, causes Maeve to despair. In her loneliness she takes long walks throughout the countryside. During one of these walks, she is saved from a wolf by Kelan, a fosterling boy at Cruachan. Soon Kelan and Maeve form a friendship that sees Kelan reluctantly agree to teach Maeve the art of sword fighting and other warrior skills. However, Maeve's skill is discovered when she is forced to defend herself during an attack by a wolfhound. Instead of being proud of her, King Eochu's is enraged that someone taught his daughter to be like a man. Several days later,  Kelan is murdered in a challenge by one of her father's men, Cailte.

Shortly after this, a druid priest Master Iobar and his son Odran arrive at Cruachan. Druid priests were to be given great respect and treated well. So when they arrive at the ringfort, King Eochu welcomes them with great honour.

Odran is a strange young man who keeps a fox around his neck and a stoat (a weasel) hidden in his clothing. Maeve discovers that Odran is a sensitive kind boy who loves animals and who wishes to care for them. But Odran does not get along with his father. Maeve and Odran develop a secret friendship that sees Odran teach Maeve how to care for animals. One of those animals turns out to be a kestrel whom they name Ea.

However, their friendship is not to last as Odran's father, Master Iobar, attempts to betroth Princess Maeve to Odran, against both Maeve and the King's wishes. From this point on, Maeve's life rapidly changes. Her mother gives birth to triplet boys, who will now inherit King Eochu's land, making Maeve a dead end to the high seat of Connacht. But in a ploy to remove King Eochu, one of his enemies, Lord Morann imprisons the king's bard, Devnet, and requests Maeve to be sent as a fosterling to Fir Domnann,  in exchange for the life of the bard.  King Eochu suspects that Morann's true intentions are to marry Maeve to Conchobar, the surviving son of Fachtna Fathach, in the hopes that they can gain lordship over Connacht.

Determined to meet Morann before he arrives at Cruachan, Maeve secretly leaves the ringfort. She wants to meet him on her terms and secure the Devnet's release without giving herself up. Eventually she does meet up with one group of her father's men who have been sent to find her. She also discover's Morann's camp. Can Maeve save herself and her father's rule, despite the terrible secret she's uncovered?

For historical fiction fans, Friesner has crafted another interesting and unique novel that is in her own words a mashup of myth and fiction. There was no Princess Maeve of Ireland, but there were undoubtedly strong, capable young women in Iron Age Ireland.

It`s a challenge designing a cover that is both appealing and accurate for teen historical fiction. The model on the cover of Deception`s Princess, with her mass of wavy, red hair and the style of dress, is reminiscent of Merida from the animated movie, Brave. While the cover for Deception's Princess is quite attractive, it is not historically accurate for Iron Age (Celtic) Ireland. Men commonly wore a tunic and trousers, while women wore dresses or long tunics fastened with brooches, not the more medieval dress pictured on the book jacket. As Friesner mentions throughout the novel, important members of tribes often wore torcs (torques) made of gold, silver or iron which the cover does not show.

Nevertheless,  Deception's Princess succeeds as a historical novel because it gives readers a good idea of family life and how society was structured in Ireland during the Iron Age.Not much is known about the Iron Age in Ireland but despite this, Friesner creates a believable setting for her story. Ireland was never invaded by the Romans and so much of its historical record begins with the coming of Christianity.  For example, little is known about the druid priests and their actual rituals in Ireland except that they had a high social status and that they could call down curses upon both kings and common folk alike. During the Iron Age, the people of Ireland were organized into clans but there was no real ruler over all of Ireland. Farming and hunting were the primary means of survival and wealthy men owned many head of cattle and also horses. Bards who sang of the events in the lives of these people, were highly esteemed. Friesner portrays all of this, giving her readers a strong sense of the Iron Age period. The map of Ireland at the front of the novel helps readers understand the geography of the setting and at the back of the novel is an interesting guide to pronouncing the different Celtic names.

The unusual time period alone makes Deception`s Princess an intriguing tale that is furthered by Friesner`s creation of a well developed female protagonist and several strong supporting characters. Maeve is physically capable, kind-hearted, brave and intelligent. She's also impulsive and a bit self-absorbed at the beginning of the novel. She doesn't want to be a fosterling. She doesn`t want to be married. However as a favoured daughter, she accepts (although reluctantly at first) that she will be married to a warrior from another tribe, cementing his allegiance to her father. As Maeve matures, she comes to see this as practical and necessary.

It was good to see the author develop her character in a way that was probably realistic for the time period. There is a tendency in modern historical novels to portray young women as going against the gender norm of their culture and time period. While this appeals to modern readers, it is not always historically accurate and the sense of the era is then lost. This doesn't happen in Deception's Princess. For example,  even though Maeve goes against Master Iobar when he tries to marry her to his son, she does so in a way that is entirely plausible. She couches her refusal in terms of her personal responsibility towards her father, the High King. The saving grace for Friesner is that very little is known about Iron Age Ireland, allowing for some historical license and the blending of myth and fiction.

Although the novel drags a bit in the middle section, when Maeve and Odran are involved in their work to save injured animals, readers are rewarded with an interesting and very satisfying conclusion.

As with her other novels, Friesner plans a sequel, to be titled Deception's Prize. Look for the return of Odran and more about her three younger brothers,Bres, Nar and Lothar who now stand to "inherit the lordship of his lands".

Book Details:
Deception's Princess by Esther Friesner
New York: Random House    2014
324 pp.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Unforgotten by Jessica Brody

Unforgotten picks up Sera and Zen's story after they have transessed to the year 1609 in England to escape her pursuers from Diotech, the organization that is determined to re-capture her. They have found refuge with John and Elizabeth Pattinson and their family, who run a farm. Mrs. Pattinson and the farm animals do not like her, sensing that there is something different about her. Her violet eyes are disturbing to Elizabeth and when she sees the black line tattoo on Sera's wrist, she is certain it is the mark of Satan.

Their cover in 1609 is blown when Sera and Zen take the apple harvest to town and Zen falls deathly ill. He is hit by a wagon and horse in town and Sera uses her special physical abilities of superior strength and speed to save him from being crushed. When the villagers witness this display, they capture Sera, imprison and try her for witchcraft and burn her at the stake. However, as she is being burned to death, Sera is rescued.

When she awakens, Sera discovers that her legs have healed from the burns and that she is being held captive. She meets Kaelen, a genetically designed person just like her, who tells her that he has been sent by Diotech to retrieve information that they need. Kaelen tells Sera that the information is stored in her unaccessed memories known as TDRs or time-delayed recalls. These are memories that were installed in Sera's brain and programmed to activate by a specific trigger.

Not realizing that Kaelen is genetically superior, Sera attempts to escape but it unable to physically overcome Kaelen. Kaelen reveals to Sera that his one purpose is to serve Dr. Jans Alixter and to protect the interests of Diotech. Kaelen has Sera's locket which means she cannot transesse back to 1069 to get Zen. She learns that Kaelen knows what is wrong with Zen and how to save him. Sera agrees to help Kaelen find the information he needs through her memories if he goes back to retrieve Zen. Kaelen does this and brings a desperately ill Zen back to the house where she is being kept.

Kaelen tells Sera that she is now in New York city in the year 2032. Kaelen brought her to this year because this is what her memory dictated. As she and Kaelen experience her first memory, a second memory happens leading them to the next clue. However, Sera is horrified to discover that Kaelen can access her memories with his touch. She manages to conceal the third memory from Kaelen and disables him with the Modifier. Returning to the house, Sera takes Zen and travels to the GenZone Research Laboratory where she meets up with Cody Carlson - the boy she met in 2013. Cody, in 2032, is now a thirty-two year old research scientist, married with a child named Reese.

Using a special technology, Sera allows Cody to learn about how she was created and about the transession gene. Cody discovers that the transession gene is what is making Zen sick. His body is treating it as a virus and attacking it. The gene cannot be removed by any living scientist, but Sera knows who CAN remove it - Dr. Rylan Maxxer who is alive eighty-three years into the future.

Cody further deduces that Maxxer is also on the run from Diotech. Sera believes that Maxxer is the one who implanted a memory of her secret location in Sera's brain and that this location is what Diotech is seeking. Cody suspects the reason Diotech is searching for Dr. Maxxer is because someone else is also ill from the transession gene. When Kaelen reappears, having tracked Sera to Cody's lab, she confronts him with the real reason for his mission - to locate and bring the antidote to the transession gene to Dr. Alixter. Can Sera find Dr. Maxxer in time to save Zen, while outwitting Diotech's Kaelen who is determined to bring the antidote to Alixter?

Unforgotten is a much more interesting novel than its predecessor, Unremembered. Brody does several things in this novel; she furthers our understanding of the web of intrigue that Sera and Zen are caught in, she continues to develop her characters and she creates a bridge into the final novel of the series.

Brody builds the science in her world from 2013 onwards. This is filled in by the character of Dr. Maxxer who has to explain to Seraphina why she had fled her time and how she has transessed through various time periods to determine exactly what is going on. It turns out that a mysterious group of influential people known as the Providence has been in control of global politics and economics for decades. Genetic manipulation begun in the early 21st century will continue until people rise up against it. In 2032, an outbreak of white fever will be released by Providence. It is a dangerous virus capable of wiping out humanity, but the Providence will not allow that. Instead, they will provide a vaccine which will cure white fever but genetically modify everyone, making them susceptible to other less serious ailments. This will enable the pharmaceutical companies to sell more drugs and vaccines. However, when people begin rebelling against the pharmaceutical companies, the Providence will decide on a different tactic. They invest in an unknown start-up biotech company known as Diotech. Diotech is moved to a remote location and the Genesis Project is developed to create perfect human beings such as Sera and Kaelen. This technology will be marketed to people as a way to be smarter, younger, more beautiful, but it will come with an unknown effect. Nanotechnology will be used to control people, programming them to respond in certain ways and allowing a group of people to control all of humanity.

This is an interesting concept that takes in the current debate about vaccines, biotechnology, nanotechnology and genetic manipulation. How far should scientists go when it comes to genetic engineering? Can vaccines be used to fundamentally change the human body? Just because we can do certain things in the field of medicine, does this mean we ought to? Brody plays to our deepest fears and suspicions about modern science - that it might be used not for good but as a weapon against humanity.

Another dominant theme is that of identity as Sera struggles to come to terms with the fact that she was created as a selling point for new biotechnology. This new technology has the potential to do great evil. Sera is angry that she never had a choice in how she was created or how she is able to live her life. Instead, every aspect of her life seems to be predetermined by genetic manipulation including who she is attracted to. This makes Sera convinced that she must destroy Diotech before they can implement their plan.

Overall, Unforgotten is a good read, well paced with a strong, linear storyline. Brody fills in her future world enough to move the plot along and create a crisis that extends into the final novel. Fans of Scott Westerfeld's, Uglies, and Mary Pearson's, Adoration of Jenna Fox, will enjoy this series.

The third book in the Unremembered series will be published in 2015.

Book Details:
Unforgotten by Jessica Brody
New York: Farrar Straus Giroux    2014
399 pp.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Paige Rewritten by Erynn Mangum

Book Two in the Paige Alder series sees Paige dealing with interest from two young men while trying to decide if she should take a job at her church as a youth minister. Complicating this is the return of her younger sister, Preslee, who ran away from home years ago to live with her rocker boyfriend.

Although Paige has now managed to learn to say no to people in her life, so that at least she can have decent mealtimes and take time to relax and pray, her life still seems disorganized.

Luke Prestwick, the brother of her best friend Layla, is back in town and determined to restart his relationship with Paige. He strong-arms a lonely Paige into dinner on her birthday and then continues to show up on Saturday mornings bringing breakfast with him, even when Paige seems less than friendly.  Luke has all the trappings of success; a good job, his own apartment, is well dressed and immaculately groomed. Even more amazing, he has come back to the church.

Meanwhile her relationship with Tyler Jennings isn't faring much better. Tyler, whom Paige really likes, seems cautious and approaches their relationship as if Paige is made of glass. This makes Paige doubt whether Tyler is anything more than just a friend. However, as Tyler begins to ask Paige out to dinner and lunch more frequently, Paige begins to wonder about her own feelings towards him. His easy-going nature and quiet confidence are in contrast to Luke's more forward approach.

Added to this is Paige's jealousy over the return of her prodigal sister, Preslee, who has managed to turn her life around, become Christian and is engaged to Wes, the son of a minister and owner of his own realty company. Paige's feelings are understandable given that she was the one left to comfort their parents when Preslee vanished years ago. While Paige obeyed the rules and did what she was supposed to, Preslee went off and made plenty of mistakes and seemingly got rewarded for her disobedience and her rash ways.

I stayed. I was here. I was the one who followed all the rules, heard all the complaints, and dealt with the aftermath of Preslee's behavior. It was me who held Mom the years that Preslees hadn't even bothered to call on Christmas or Mother's Day.
Paige is now being asked to welcome Preslee back into the family, to rejoice at her upcoming marriage and her good fortune. It's a bitter pill for her to swallow despite the fact that she knows it's the right course.

Can Paige find the maturity to sort through her feelings about Preslee, can she discover what she truly feels about Luke and Tyler to choose between them and can she make a decision about whether or not to accept a job offer from Rick? There's plenty of opportunity for growth in Paige Alder's complicated life.

Paige Rewritten is mainly a story about a young woman's struggle towards adult maturity and the ability to take charge of her life. As a result, Mangum has not written a strong female lead character who knows her mind. Instead in this second novel, Paige Adler is presented as a fairly immature twenty-three year old who is somewhat of a pushover which is frustrating for readers. She doesn't seem to have learned much from her experiences in the first novel and hasn't applied it to any other areas of her life.  In the first novel she was a pushover for just about anyone - saying yes to anyone who asked her to do something. In the second novel, she struggles with the three most important relationships in her life, that of Tyler, Luke and Preslee.

Luke, the boy who left her five years ago is back and Paige simply watches as he waltzes into her life every Saturday morning with food, which seems to be the ticket to Paige's heart (and brain). Incapable of setting some firm boundaries from the beginning and telling Luke that they cannot simply pick up their relationship as if nothing happened, that she is interested in someone else, she does very little to discourage his behaviour. Part of this is the result of Paige not having worked through what happened between her and Luke, leaving her deeply conflicted. What Paige eventually discovers about herself is that she needs to forgive Luke, allowing them both to move on.

Luke is smooth, suave and polished on the surface but his actions and words make him seem insincere and creepy, especially in how he moves a few doors down from Paige, begins attending the same church as she does, and shows up unannounced at her apartment door on Saturday mornings. He does what he needs to, in order to attract Paige's attention again and admits as much; "I want you Paige. I want you back in my life. I've changed, I swear I have. I'm back at church, back reading my Bible, back to trying to walking with God." It's evident that Luke wants Paige's forgiveness, in fact, he apologizes to her many times. But Paige is not ready to hear him nor to forgive him. For her the relationship is over, but for Luke, it is not, leading to the shocking twist at the end.

In contrast to Luke, is the patient and kind Tyler, who seems to respect Paige's uncertainty. He's willing to take the time to establish trust and to honour her heart. Maybe he's not too sure yet either, but Tyler's willing to safeguard her heart before he moves too far, too fast.

A great strength of this novel is the theme regarding life in general and the idea that a person can live their life in a righteous way, as Paige has done, but this is no guarantee for happiness or success. Bad things happen to good people and plenty of good things happen to people who have behaved badly. Sometimes this realization can lead to jealousy like what Paige experiences. The difficulty is in working through those feelings and coming to the realization that God has a plan for each of us (even when things don't go according to plan) and that our plan is unique. It takes Paige some time before she realizes that her sister Preslee overcame some bad choices and had to work hard to recover her life. Paige also realizes that although she did not make the mistakes Preslee did, she nurtured pride in her heart that she was a better person than her sister and that this hardened her heart towards her sister.

It's not surprising then that the theme of forgiveness is dominant in Paige Rewritten - hence the title of the novel. Paige has to rethink each of these relationships and how she views these important people in her life.

Readers will either be frustrated by Paige's paralyzing indecision regarding the relationships in her life, or empathize with the difficulty of coping with situations that require forgiveness and new outlook. Paige Rewritten is a novel that provides plenty of food for thought despite the sometimes annoying choices of the lead character.

The final novel in the Paige Adler series, Paige Turned is now available.

Book Details:
Paige Rewritten by Erynn Mangum
Colorado Springs: NavPress   2013
297 pp.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Hitler's Secret by William Osborne

William Osborne has written an exciting adventure novel with an unlikely but unique premise, two teenage operatives sent into Germany during the height of World War II to retrieve a girl of importance to both the Nazis and the British.Osborne weaves his adventure in the alternate voices of the two spies plus that of Reinhart Heydrich.

In June of 1940, a young German boy escapes from Europe during the Allied evacuation at Dunkirk. Meanwhile in London, a young girl, a refugee from Austria, helps deliver blood to local hospitals. Both are recruited by Admiral MacPherson for a very special mission. Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuhrer of the Third Reich is imprisoned in London Tower. He flew across the English Channel from Germany and parachuted into Scotland and is now a prisoner of the British. Hess claims that he has organized a plot to overthrow Hitler. In order to accomplish his plan, a girl from southern Germany must be retrieved and brought to England. MacPherson believes this girl will help the British win the war and he needs two German speaking operatives who are not known to Hitler's security services. MacPherson decides to send in two teens because he believes this will lead to a great chance of success. He reasons that the Germans will be expecting a man and a woman with a child, not three children.

The boy and girl, whose real names we are not given until the end of the novel, are provided with new identities; Otto and Leni Fischer. Their mission is to parachute into southern Bavaria to rescue a nine year old girl named Angelique from a convent. From there Otto and Leni are to take the child to a rendezvous point at Lake Constance on the Swiss border where the admiral will be waiting with a plane to fly them back to England.

Otto and Leni undergo two weeks of intensive training before they are flown in a Mosquito, a small fast plane, and dropped into Bavaria. As expected things do not go as planned, although Leni has no trouble getting Angelique to leave the convent. She is more than willing to escape her lonely prison. But from then on it does not take long before the Germans realize that Angelique has been taken by two teenagers.

When Hitler learns of Hess' defection to Britain he orders Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Reich Main Security and the General of the SS to go to Berghoff where Angelique is being kept, to retrieve her and move her to a more secure location. However, when Heydrich arrives he discovers that Angelique is gone. So begins a cat and mouse game between the three young people and the brutal Heydrich, determined to hunt them down at all cost.


Although the premise behind the story might be unlikely (Hitler was never believed to have had any children and it's likely that in Germany three children travelling alone WOULD invoke suspicion), Osborne has created an exciting adventure story with heroic, quick-witted teens and cruel arch-enemy who stops at nothing to try to apprehend them. Osborne doesn't spare his readers anything when it comes to portraying Heydrich as the cruel man he was known to be. He has no problem murdering people who fail him. He's portrayed as cold and calculating and completely obsessed with his quarry.

For the most part, Otto and Leni are realistic characters, at times courageous, at other times fearful, sometimes making bad choices and other times demonstrating cunning and intelligence. However, they do seem too well trained for the two week period they worked with British agents.  Although they have not been told the true identity of Angelique, Otto and Leni eventually figure out who she is and decide that she will likely not be safe with either the British or the Nazis. But Angelique takes matters into her own hands, providing a twist to the end of the novel.

Osborne includes a map outlining Otto and Leni's journey which is helpful to understanding the journey the two are undertaking. There is a short section at the back of the novel which provides brief information on various historical figures. For those interested in learning more about Reinhard Heydrich, the Jewish Virtual Library has a good entry as it also does for Rudolf Hess.

Book Details:
Hitler's Secret by William Osborne
New York: Chicken House    2013
333 pp.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Alienated by Melissa Landers

Seventeen year old, overachiever, Cara Sweeney, has been chosen over thousands of applicants to participate in the Leihr Exchange Ambassador Program (LEAP). The L'eihr's are an alien race who made contact with Earth two years ago and the program was developed to help humans and L'eihrs get to know one another better. Students from America, France and China will each get a student ambassador. Cara will host a L'eihr named Aelyx, in her home for eight months and then she will travel to L'eihr to live on their planet for period of time. Cara will be helping Aelyx take soil and water sample so the L'eihr scientists can analyze them for contaminants. Cara is completely overwhelmed but she eagerly agrees to participate. After all, the L'eihr scientists cured her mother of cancer, saving her life. This was a way to show her gratitude.

Meanwhile eighteen year old Aelyx, along with fellow L'eihr clones, Syrine who will go to France, and Eron who will stay in China, discuss their assignments to families on Earth. They also allude to their plans to sabotage their mission which is to begin work towards an alliance with humans.

This alien exchange story is told by Cara and Aelyx. When Cara sees Aelyx for the first time she is immediately attracted to his unusual appearance;  Aelyx is tall, with honey brown hair and strange silvery gray eyes. Despite his good looks, predictably, Cara finds Aelyx extremely strange; he refuses to eat or drink, only speaks when he's asked a question, avoids physical contact and his gorgeous eyes have an unsettling emptiness to them.

For Aelyx, Earth is shockingly vibrant; it strong colours and smells overwhelming in comparison to  L'eihr's muted greys and browns and its quiet, organized lifestyle. He finds Cara's actions puzzling - her penchant for singing and listening to loud music. Both Cara and Aelyx must learn to put aside their assumptions about each other and develop a mutual understanding of each others culture.

The mission of the L'eihrs is gradually revealed throughout the story. The L'eihr's who are an ancient and advanced people, want to form an alliance with the humans. We learn later on in the novel that the L'eihr's were once like humans, violent and passionate. The Way, a group of the wisest leaders,  eventually came to rule L'eihr. In an effort to control and eliminate the violent and stronger tendencies, The Way began a selective breeding program where only the most intelligent and emotionally stable citizens were allowed to breed. As technology improved, natural breeding was replaced by technology that combined genetic material from male and females, with embryos grown in artificial wombs. For the past 900 years the L'eihrs have bred in this manner. Sexual interaction was avoided by the use of hormone regulators.  However, the result of all this is that the passion and creativity which drives innovation and makes life interesting was gradually bred out of the L'eihrs resulting in a people who are lethargic, depressed and who live shorter lives. In an attempt to reverse this, the Way began cloning people using material from the archives. Aelyx is one such clone. HOwever the Way realized that this was not enough. They needed the stimulation provided by another species to help them recover what they lost so they began searching the galaxy. They discovered Earth and have set up this exchange program which they hope will help the three clones recover some of their emotion and passion. Eventually they hope the two races will interbreed. In exchange for recovering their passion for life, the L'eihrs could provide Earth with advanced technology.

However, Aelyx's generation does not want an alliance with Earth. To thwart this alliance they have brought along the sh'alear, a parasitic tree that robs the soil of nutrients, to plant in the three locations the student ambassadors will be living. The three L'eihr ambassadors are afraid that the humans, with their uncontrolled breeding, would soon overrun L'eihr if they were to colonize their planet, destroying it.

Gradually Aelyx begins to adapt to life on Earth, especially with Cara's help. Although he has judged Cara and her family, he begins to recognize in Cara, a caring ally who is very loyal. Cara is determined to make Aelyx's experience on Earth a positive one. She tries to learn how to make larun for Aelyx and eventually she discovers foods he can eat.  She also stands up for him at school as he opposition to his presence on Earth grows. Gradually Aelyx and Cara's relationship moves from one of friendship to a blossoming romance.

Despite the increasing opposition to the L'eihrs on Earth, Aelyx begins to find himself becoming conflicted over having planted the sh'alear tree. Eron who has been sent to Japan also begins to doubt their attempt to sabotage the alliance, because of the kindness of his family. Only Syrine remains committed to their mission. Aelyx is further convinced it is wrong when he makes the discovery that Earth's water supply is gradually being destroyed and that only the L'eihr technology can save the planet. As racial tensions and paranoia increase on Earth Aelyx must decide who his loyalties lie with; his people or the human girl whom he loves.


Alienated is a refreshing new addition to young adult literature, with an interesting premise and two likeable, realistic characters. Landers draws out her story well, pacing both the human's gradual disillusionment and paranoia over the alien L'eihr race with the blossoming love between Aelyx and Cara. Woven into all this is Aelyx's increasing conflict over what he considers his duty to protect his planet from humans and his growing attraction to Cara. Destroying the alliance between humans and L'eihrs means he will  never see Cara again. In addition to this, the discovery that Earth is irreparably damaged and will die without the intervention of the L'eihr, means that he has doomed Cara too.

One of the novel's strongest themes is that of tolerance. It is human nature to be afraid of those who are different. But this is seen in both humans and the L'eihr ambassadors. The humans believe the worst of the L'eihrs probably because the balance of power lies in the alien's favour. The L'eihrs are prideful and dismiss the human's emotionalism as primitive and a sign of weakness. But they have forgotten how to truly experience life.

Cara is a strong female character, not afraid to stand up for what she believes in as well as tolerant as she struggles to understand Aelyx's perspective. It is her open-mindedness and courage that wins Aelyx over to the humans, just as it was Eron's little brother's love and compassion that changed his views. The lesson here is that acceptance and compassion win the day over hate and bigotry.

Perhaps the only thing that appears to mar this novel are the occasional strange statements that seep into the storytelling from time to time. For example, this piece of commentary by Aelyx: "The child bore a slight resemblance to the girl, but considering China's population restrictions, he probably wasn't a sibling. Too bad Earth's other nations hadn't implemented similar policies. With their limited resources, humans were mating themselves into extinction." Perhaps Melissa Landers is unfamiliar with the problems China's one child policy has created in terms of gender imbalance, the trafficking of women in China, and the inverted population pyramid that will see many elderly without the children to support them. Advanced aliens like the L'eihrs who are struggling with what they've done to their society, especially by restricting just who could reproduce, would likely be very aware of the problems inherent in China's one child policy. They would also be aware that vast areas of Earth are not yet populated and that the problem is not too many people but poor distribution and use of our planet's resources.

Despite this, Alienated is a fun, light read, with plenty of typical teenage drama and a dash of romance all blended into a neat science fiction story. These are the aliens we want to contact Earth, needing us as much as we need them.

The next book in the Alienated series is due out next year.

Book Details:
Alienated by Melissa Landers
New York: Hyperion     2014

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

One heartbeat, two heartbeats, three heartbeats, more, and you never know when you have used yours up.
That's the thing. You don't know.
How long will your heart beat for? How many heartbeats do you have?

Scott tackles an unusual ethical dilemma in her latest novel, Heartbeat. Seventeen year old Emma's mom, Lisa has "died" and is being kept alive on life support by her mom's new husband, Dan, so that their unborn baby son can continue to develop in-utero long enough to be delivered. Emma is horrified by Dan's apparent unilateral decision, believing that this is not what her mother would have wanted.

"I mean, I know it's a baby and it's partly Mom, but I wish Dan had just once thought about what Mom would have wanted." p. 15

Shortly after her mother and Dan married, Emma's mom began taking fertility treatments. She spent two years in fertility treatments before she finally succeeded in becoming pregnant. However as Emma's mother had previously had a blood clot in her leg, her pregnancy was not without some risk. Then one day, at twelve weeks into her pregnancy, Emma's mother was reaching for a piece of toast and collapsed.  She had a massive embolism in her brain.

Dan was given the option to turn off the ventilator or keep Emma's mom on it and save their unborn baby. He chose to try to keep his wife alive to save their unborn baby believing that this is what she would have wanted. But Emma is distraught because she feels Dan has chosen the baby over her mom, who has now been on the ventilator for almost four weeks.

Emma's anger over her mother's situation is so overwhelming that it threatens to destroy her entire life. She isn't on speaking terms with her stepfather, Dan, and spends most of her time at her friend, Olivia's home. Emma was an excellent student working towards gaining admission to one of the top ten schools with the goal of obtaining her PhD in history. Now she doesn't care about school, her assignments are late or not completed at all. And most of all she doesn't care about her ex-boyfriend, Anthony, the self-absorbed boy who made out with her and then dumped her.

But then Emma meets bad boy Caleb Harrison. Emma has already formed an opinion about Caleb who has a reputation at school for being a "total druggie" and who steals cars. He drove his father's limited edition Porsche into the lake and watched it sink. When Emma goes to the hospital to see her mom, she runs into Caleb doing volunteer work. But when Emma really looks at Caleb she realizes that he is sad, although she doesn't know why.

Emma continues to encounter Caleb at the hospital and when they talk she realizes that he understands how she feels. As their relationship develops amid a shared loss, Emma discovers that Caleb empathy and understanding give her the strength to confront her stepfather about what she's feeling and about what happened to their family.

Heartbeat considers a very specific medical situation, one which has been in the media recently, involving keeping a pregnant woman who has been diagnosed as "brain dead" on life support so that her unborn baby might have a chance to survive to viability.The concept of brain death is something Scott never directly addresses in her novel but it is central to the story and important to understand.

A person is declared brain dead when a specific set of criteria have been met. These criteria were  developed in 1968 by the Harvard Medical School specifically so that organs could be retrieved from living donors for transplantation. What many people do not know is that organs "harvested" from a dead person without a beating heart are unsuitable for transplantation because they deteriorate within minutes of death. For organs to be suitable for transplantation, the donor must have a beating heart and continue to breathe and must do so until the last organ, usually the heart, is removed.

While most doctors have accepted the brain death criteria, some doctors are now questioning both the neurological criteria for declaring brain death and its use. One of the main criteria used in declaring brain death is the apnea test where the patient is removed from a ventilator to see if they can breathe on their own. This inability to breathe is not necessarily a sign of death. A ventilator might be needed to aid in the patient's recovery and in some cases removal either causes more damage or results in the patient's death. Complicating the brain death issue is the fact that patients who have been given a diagnosis of brain death continue to behave as a living person; hair and nails grow, food is digested and expelled, unborn babies continue to grow. Are these patients truly dead?

Further complicating this issue are the countless situations related in the media over the past thirty years, of people declared brain dead, who regain consciousness sometimes immediately prior to having their organs removed. It seems that we do not fully understand injuries to the brain and how the brain heals from these injuries.

Recently there have been several situations which have re-ignited the discussion around brain death - namely pregnant women who have been kept alive so that their unborn babies might grow to 24 weeks and be delivered. There is no doubt that these situations are terribly traumatic and complicated for the families involved. Each case must be taken on an individual basis as each pregnancy is different.

While this short novel doesn't go into all this detail, Scott does a good job of demonstrating how traumatic this situation is to Emma and her stepdad. It rips apart their relationship as both make assumptions about how the other felt about the wife and mother they loved and lost and what she was experiencing during the pregnancy and what she would have wanted for their family.

As Emma's life disintegrates, it is her relationship with Caleb that ultimately helps her get back on track, confront Dan about what happened when her mother collapsed, and what their relationship will be in the future. Although Emma's situation is difficult, Caleb's is tragic as his parents seem unable to cope in any way with the death of their daughter, Minnie. Their personal tragedies allow Caleb and Emma to forge a bond and develop a relationship that is both affirming and supplies mutual support. With Caleb, Emma can begin to grieve and this helps move her forward to the next steps of acceptance and hope.

The timeline regarding Lisa's pregnancy seems confusing in the novel. Emma tells Caleb in Chapter 15 (p. 74) that her mother died "a little past twelve weeks pregnant" and that she is now on life support at sixteen weeks. But at the end of the novel, in Chapter 50, Emma states that is been "forty-three days since Mom died" and that she is now twenty-five weeks pregnant. However, forty-three days is a little over 6 weeks which would make her mother only 18 weeks pregnant, unless Scott means that is was forty-three days since Lisa's 16th week.

Fans of Elizabeth Scott will enjoy the emotional drama in this novel, as will those readers who read Lurlene McDaniel's novels which focus on characters struggling with a chronic illness.

Book Details:
Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott
Don Mills: Ontario  HarlequinTeen    2014
244 pp.l

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

A regular girl and her best friend, a dog, do all kinds of things together, including making things. One day this regular girl decides she will make something magnificent. So she hires an assistant, gathers the supplies she needs and begins work on what will be something magnificent. Except the making just doesn't quite go as planned. No matter how hard the regular girl tries, the thing she is making just doesn't come out to be magnificent. But finally the girl works it all out and her creation truly is magnificent and original.

The Most Magnificent Thing is yet another wonderful picture book about creativity and persistence in difficult situations. A good lesson for all little people to learn.

Ashley Spires is the award-winning author and illustrator of Larf and Binky the Space Cat series. As Spires claims in her book, "the artwork in this book was rendered digitally with lots of practice, two hissy fits and one all-out tantrum." Spires who grew up in Tsawwassen, British Columbia won the Silver Birch Express Award for Binky the Space Cat.

The Most Magnificent Thing is ideal to read to older children and those participating in Reading Buddies programs.

Book Details:
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Toronto: Kids Can Press     2014

Monday, May 5, 2014

The World Outside by Eva Wiseman

Wiseman has crafted yet another compact novel that informs and engages young readers about a forgotten event, in this case, the Crown Heights riots of 1991.

Seventeen year old Chanie Altman belongs to the Lubavitcher Hasidic community in Crown Heights, New York. She lives in a huge home with her Babba, her mother and father, her twin brother Moishe and her older brother Yossi. Chanie spends much time caring for her twin brother who was disabled during a difficult birth.

Chanie's family along with others in the Crown Heights Hasidic community follow the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.  Hasidic Jews live by strict rules; boys and girls do not mingle, there is no television and they do not go to movies, they only listen to Jewish music, and they never read non-religious books. The boys do not continue secular schooling after grade five while the girls attend seminary and then marry.

Chanie and her friends, Deborah Leah and Faygie Kauffman are in grade twelve at Bais Rivkah, a Lubavitcher high school in Crown Heights.Chanie is different from her friends, she loves music and especially wants to sing, which is forbidden to Lubavitcher girls. She also is beginning to question all of her beliefs.

One Sunday in March, Chanie, Deborah and Faygie, go to the mall to hand out candles and prayer leaflets to Jews.During this outreach, Chanie meets David Goldberg, a handsome young man with beautiful blue eyes. Although Daniel is of Jewish background, he is not religious.Chanie feels instantly attracted to him, something she terms the "Evil Inclination" which she tries to resist.

Shortly after this David begins coming to her home to study the Torah with Yossi. Chanie is shocked to see him at her house. Soon afterwards, she and David begin to secretly meet one another. At first Chanie plans to tell David she cannot meet him again as it is forbidden. When David overhears her singing to Moishe, he is impressed by her beautiful voice. Believing her to be very gifted, David encourages Chanie to apply to Julliard, despite that fact that singing is forbidden.

Meanwhile Chanie meets a black girl, Jade, who is from Boston and is staying in Crown Heights with her Aunt Rita Mae. Jade has taken the semester off from her studies at Vassar to decide what she wants to do with her life. Chanie is warned by her mother not to mix with the blacks who do not trust their Jewish neighbours but Chanie has other ideas. Soon she and Jade are meeting at Yoni's Yummi Pizza Parlour where Jade encourages Chanie to discover what she wants from life. Chanie explains to Jade that members of the Lubavitch Sect believe they must do what the Rebbe tells them to.

Unknown to her parents, Chanie continues to see both Jade and David, developing a strong friendship with Jade and following through on David's suggestion to apply to Julliard. Events come to a climax when a black boy in Crown Heights is struck and killed by one of the cars in Rabbi Schneerson's entourage. Set against the riots against Jews in Crown Heights, Chanie must decide her path in life and determine what matters most to her. Will she follow her dreams or will she remain true to her beliefs?


Chanie is a character filled with conflict over the beliefs her Hasidic sect hold dear and her desire to see some of the outside world. Chanie's choice might dismay some readers, but the truth is that for the type of sect that Chanie belongs to, her beliefs are deeply ingrained and the ties to her large family are deeply held. Wiseman does a wonderful job of portraying the internal conflict Chanie struggles against. Readers will suspect that Chanie's difficult and uncompromising mother has likely faced similar choices in her past.

Many of the other characters in the novel are well developed and interesting; Chanie's strict and forceful mother, Jade who is open and welcoming with her friendship, and David who falls in love with Chanie and who demonstrates his love for her by his care for her family.

Taken from
It was interesting reading about the beliefs of this Jewish sect and also about life in the Crown Height suburb, where mutual distrust between two marginalized ethnic groups eventually led to tension and conflict. The Crown Heights riots occurred over a three day period in August of 1991. Black residents and Orthodox Jewish residents of Brooklyn, New York who were already distrustful of one another, fought each other in the streets. The riots were instigated when Menachem Mendel Schneerson's motorcade accidently struck two black children, killing one and seriously injuring the other. The black residents believing police favoured the Jewish residents began rioting. On August 20 an Australian Jewish student was stabbed and beaten to death.

Chanie's application to Julliard was unrealistic especially given that Chanie had no formal music training and could not read music. Julliard auditions are rigorous and likely included submitting a prescreening audio recording even back in 1991.

Overall though, this book will be of interest to readers who enjoy historical fiction or fiction about little known contemporary events. Themes of rebellion, reconciliation, love, hatred, and coming of age can be found throughout the novel.

Book Details:
The World Outside by Eva Wiseman
Toronto: Tundra Books    2014
232 pp.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ruins by Dan Wells

The final novel in the Partials series picks up where the second left off. The humans on East Meadows have been ordered to surrender Kira Walker. The message by Dr. McKenna Morgan blares on radios constantly but the residents of East Meadows cannot turn her in because she isn't among them anymore. The penalty for not presenting Kira is the death of another human each day and continuation of the occupation of East Meadows.

On Long Island, Senator Owen Tovar, Mkele, Haru, Senator Hobb debate the use of a recently discovered nuclear warhead aboard a sunken warship. The nuclear warhead is in the hands of Marisol Delarosa, head of the only successful group of human resistance fighters, known as the White Rhinos. Delarosa believes that as long as the Partials exist, the human race will never recover itself and therefore, she's determined to exterminate all Partials. Tovar, Hobb, Mkele and Haru believe her plan is to take the warhead to the Partials homebase in White Plains only forty miles north of East Meadows and detonate it there. The group debates whether this is a justifiable use of such a deadly weapon. They decide that if this is a likely scenario, they need to evacuate East Meadows quietly and quickly. To that end they decide to create a military distraction, while another group leads the humans out of East Meadows.

Unknown to both the humans and the Partials, Kira Walker has returned to Dr. McKenna Morgan to be experimented on to see if she holds the key to turning off the Partials expiration date.

Samm and Heron are in Dr.Vale's old laboratory near the Preserve outside of Denvery, beginning the process of awakening the nine Partials who have been sedated for the past thirteen years. They have been used to provide the Lurker chemical which is the cure for the RM disease that has decimated the human population. Now Samm and Heron are removing the Partials from the basement and taking them to the humans who live in the Preserve. The tenth Partial who has been irreparably modified to produce the sedative that disables any Partial who enters the complex is left.

On Long Island, Nandita Merchant who created the Partials and the RM virus and who kidnapped and experimented on the Partials, Ariel, Kira and Isolde, is preparing to leave the Island. Accompanying her are Ariel, Isolde and Isolde's half-Partial child, Mohammad Khan, Xochi and her adoptive mother, Senator Erin Kessler, Haru's wife Madison and their daughter, Arwen, the first child in the Long Island community to survive in thirteen years.

General Shon, leader of the Partial invasion force on Long Island is watching as his Partial soldiers begin dying from a new bioweapon he believes the humans have unleashed in East Meadows.  The Partials develop boils which turn into rough scaly skin. Shon is told that the illness is a contagious genetic disease. At this time General Shon receives a visit from a strange and terrible creature, hairless, a bruise red and covered in plates of hide like a rhinoceros. It warns them to prepare for snow and then leaves.

Marcus, Commander Woolf, Galen and a Partial named Vinci have failed in their diplomatic mission to the Partials, hoping to form an alliance with friendly Partials to fight back against Dr. Morgan. They need the help of Delarosa's White Rhinos whom they are trying to find in the woods.

After all her tests on Kira, Dr. Morgan realizes that Kira's body does not hold the key to saving the Partials. During her time in the lab, Kira comes to the realization that it is possible the Partials and humans might be linked together through biology and that the cure lies in their mutual cooperation. She theories that while the Partials breathe out the cure for the RM virus, the humans might also provide something to the Partials which will disable the expiration date. When Kira suggests to Dr. Vale that they need to bring a human into the lab to test her theory, Vale refuses. He tells her that Partials and humans can never live together.This leads Kira to slip out of the lab and head north to try to find a group of Partials who might consider working with humans to prove her theory and save both races.

As Wells weaves his complicated storyline which includes these six major threads, the truth about saving both Partials and the last of the humans gradually becomes evident. For Samm and Kira it becomes a race against time. Can they make both factions understand that their only hope lies in living together peacefully?

At times Ruins becomes bogged down by the numerous story lines but eventually Wells ties them all together in an ending filled with hope. There are a few twists along the way but mostly this story plays out in a predictable manner that will leave readers satisfied.

Wells effectively portrays a world that is almost completely in ruin, with the last vestiges of both humans and Partials battling it out, convinced each has no hope but to annihilate the other.  The snow, a last attempt to re-engineer the world back, is a symbol of the hope and rebirth about to occur in this devastated world.

The Partials series is probably one of the more under-rated dystopian series and a pleasantly readable and interesting set of novels. There's a touch of romance, plenty of action-adventure, and a storyline about genetically engineered soldiers that is unique.

Fans of Hunger Games and Divergent will enjoy the Partials series. Once again, a map of the novel's setting would have been beneficial. Nevertheless, Ruins is a well written and fascinating conclusion to Well's series.

Ruins by Dan Wells
New York: HarperCollins Publishers    2014
453 pp.