Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Empty by Suzanne Weyn

I must confess: I am a bit obsessed with dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA fiction. For me, as with many people, it started with THE HUNGER GAMES, and grew from there. Soon after reading THE HUNGER GAMES, I found Carrie Ryan’s haunting, claustrophobic THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, and I was hooked. Though those two series are very different, they share a kind of raw desperation that I found compelling, and I’ve been searching for more of it ever since.

I started Suzanne Weyn’s EMPTY with high hopes. The cover is well-done, and the premise sounded timely. I think we’re all aware that our connected modern lives are powered by a non-renewable resource, and I was excited to find a YA book addressing what might happen once that resource starts running out.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I tried to like the book, but its flaws were numerous and glaring enough to keep me from getting absorbed in the story. The writing is stilted and amateurish, and the characters frequently spout awkward, paragraph-long info-dumps. So many anvils drop that I’m surprised I finished the book without a concussion. I love books in which the message is a organic part of the story; in EMPTY the message has been shoe-horned in as frequently and loudly as possible.

Then there were the flat, cliché characters. The worst offender was the cheerleader, whose “character growth” moment was deciding it was okay to wear glasses instead of contacts. (Not even because she had come to understand that appearance mattered little in a world gripped by crisis—more because she realized she still looked pretty in glasses.) A few of the second-tier characters had the potential to be interesting, but they got little attention.

To my total lack of surprise, the ending was incongruous, bordering on deus ex machina. Spoiler (highlight to reveal): The main female character finds a random abandoned house in the woods, complete with garden and self-sustaining energy source. Hallelujah, we’re saved!

I still think the premise of the book is interesting, but the execution leaves much to be desired. My advice: read Paolo Bacigalupi’s excellent SHIP BREAKER instead.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: Children in the Night by Harold Myra

I'm going to start off my book reviews with an old favorite. Sadly, almost no one has heard of Harold Myra's CHILDREN IN THE NIGHT. It was published back in 1991, and the author spent more than 10 years writing it. At first glance, it's hard to see why--the book isn't particularly long. But once I started reading, I understood. The world Myra creates is intricately constructed and utterly unique: it is completely dark, in the literal sense. The whole story is related using the characters' senses of taste, touch and smell, because they are all functionally blind. Their world is subterranean, and too damp for fire; the only light they ever see comes from sparks and luminous sea creatures.

Within this world, CHILDREN IN THE NIGHT follows two main characters, members of the Askirit people group: Yosha, a tormented boy caught between his longing for light and his desire to avenge his father's death, and Asel, a strong-minded elite female warrior who challenges her people's isolationism and fear of the "barbarians" who live outside their land. "Children in the Night" spans many years, despite its modest length, sometimes skipping considerable periods of time. It starts off a bit slowly but doesn't take long to pick up the pace.

I first read the book as a young teenager, and I strongly identified with the story of two young people seeking truth, challenging what they had been told, and fighting for their freedom and that of their people. I got caught up in the worldbuilding, the characters, and the overarching story. Yosha and Asel fascinated me, as did the trio of orphan children Asel rescued from the "barbarian" lands--and Auret, the battered, disabled boy who changes every life he touches.

Today, some 12 years after I first read it, this remains one of my favorite books. I have convinced most of my friends to read it, and all who read it have enjoyed it. The book is a Christian allegory (the Askirit's search for literal light represents our search for spiritual light), but I would have enjoyed it anyway as an engaging fantasy story.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Who in the world is Briar Rose?

Hello everyone! I've been wanting to start a book blog for a while now, and this is my first post. A brief introduction: I've been reading voraciously since the age of 5, and if I ever stop, it will probably be because I'm dead.

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as severe migraines, both of which are an ongoing adventure. I consider myself blessed to have a great family (including 3 beautiful nieces and 2 adorable nephews), too many friends to keep up with, a bookshelf full of books, and access to a public library.

I'm also a writer--of short stories and poetry mostly, and also of a few wretched novels when I was in my teens. I love writing, but have no illusions of being good enough to make a career of it. I would like to finish a novel someday, mostly just for my own sake.

I have a special love for young adult books, though I read quite a bit of adult literature as well. My favorite genres include science fiction, high fantasy, urban fantasy, historical, mystery, thriller, dystopian, steampunk, and many others. I am a Christian, so it's especially thrilling for me to find a well-written book that happens to also be Christian--Karen Hancock's ARENA comes to mind. I read books about, and aimed at, all different faiths and creeds, however. I'll read just about anything--including nonfiction--that catches my attention. The one genre that never catches my attention is straight-up romance. I can take romance in small doses combined with a good story, but romance being the story does not hold my interest at all.

I was raised by a single father, who is one of the kindest people I have ever known. I've been financially poor my entire life, so I tend to relate most easily to those in the working class and below.

And now that you know a little about me: on to the books! :)