blog about reviews writing

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dear Killer, Guardian, Eve & Adam, and The Archived Mini-Reviews

Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell 
Kit takes her role as London’s notorious “Perfect Killer” seriously. The letters and cash that come to her via a secret mailbox are not a game; choosing who to kill is not an impulse decision. Every letter she receives begins with “Dear Killer,” and every time Kit murders, she leaves a letter with the dead body. Her moral nihilism and thus her murders are a way of life—the only way of life she has ever known.

But when a letter appears in the mailbox that will have the power to topple Kit’s convictions as perfectly as she commits her murders, she must make a decision: follow the only rules she has ever known, or challenge Rule One, and go from there.

Katherine Ewell’s Dear Killer is a sinister psychological thriller that explores the thin line between good and evil, and the messiness of that inevitable moment when life contradicts everything you believe.

Released: April 1st 2014                 Pages: 359
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books   Source: Library

Dear Killer presents itself as an exploration of morality from the point of view of one who has none, a "sinister psychological thriller", as it claims to be.  I just didn't get this feeling from it.  It seemed like it would be an interesting character study, and had the premise for it--a teenage serial killer who kills not for revenge or any other internal motive.  Instead, Kit simply kills who people tell her to kill, making no judgments on herself or those who request the murders.  You'd think a character like this would be fascinating, if not scary, but she somehow becomes bland.  Her detachment from emotions is an important part of her, but it's almost too much.  For too much of the book, her personal stakes are almost nonexistent.  She strays too close to Mary Sue territory, somehow succeeding at pretty much everything she does with little conflict.  And she's a serial killer.  How does a serial killer become a Mary Sue?

The other main drawback is the writing.  It's full of annoying clichés like the lazy and overused mirror description trick.  At times, awkward phrasing throws off the flow of the story.  Occasionally, it's even condescending--do we really need to include a clunky, ill-disguised infodump paragraph on the definition of nihilism?  The narration stays distant from Kit, never allowing me to get into her head as much as I would have liked.  This might be partly due to her lack of emotion, but not completely.

The book begins to discuss the issues with Kit's morality, but never fully explores them.  The predictable ending doesn't help, and just left me wanting more, but not in a good way.  Overall, it's an okay book, but I'm disappointed with it.

Similar Books: It's a YA thriller involving serial killers like I Hunt Killers and Project Cain.  It's a high school-centric thriller like Boy Nobody.

Guardian (Proxy #2) by Alex London
In the new world led by the Rebooters, former Proxy Syd is the figurehead of the Revolution, beloved by some and hated by others. Liam, a seventeen-year-old Rebooter, is Syd’s bodyguard and must protect him with his life. But armed Machinists aren’t the only danger.

People are falling ill—their veins show through their skin, they find it hard to speak, and sores erupt all over their bodies. Guardians, the violent enforcers of the old system, are hit first, and the government does nothing to help. The old elites fall next, and in the face of an indifferent government, Syd decides it’s up to him to find a cure . . . and what he discovers leaves him stunned.

This heart-stopping thriller is packed with action, adventure, and heroics. Guardian will leave you breathless until the final page.

A fast-paced, thrill-ride of novel full of non-stop action, heart-hammering suspense and true friendship—just as moving as it is exhilarating. Fans of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series, James Dashner's Maze Runner, Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series, and Marie Lu's Legend trilogy will be swept away by this story.

Released: May 29th 2014      Pages: 352
Publisher: Philomel               Source: Library

Proxy was one of my favorite dystopian novels of last year, and for good reason.  It has a fascinating premise, three-dimensional characters, and is full of emotion.  For the most part, Guardian is on par with this.  Instead of Knox and Syd, the story now focuses on Syd and a new character, Liam.  Since Syd was already an established character, I already liked him and had a sense of his personality.  It took me awhile to pick that up with Liam, but once I did, I liked him more than Syd.  He's honest, loyal, and determined, and I genuinely felt for him.  I loved how his relationship with Syd develops and changes over the course of the novel.  They aren't quite friends, not quite something beyond, but they're more than mere allies.  I'm eager to see how Alex London will continue developing this in the next book.

For some reason, I had forgotten about many of the plot points and minor characters since I read Proxy, more than I usually do.  I'm not sure why this happened, but in any case, it took me a few chapters to reorient myself.  Once I did, though, my interest never wavered.  Guardian is more political in nature than Proxy, but it's equally engaging, and still raises important questions.  It looks at the flaws of both unchecked capitalism and unchecked communism, showing a dark side to both.

My only major issue is with the omniscient narration.  Instead of dividing the point of view chapters between Syd and Liam and focusing on only one in each, the narration shows both Liam and Syd's thoughts with no divisions between.  It is possible to use this type of narration successfully, but in this book, it didn't work for me.  It was easy to lose track of whose thoughts I was reading, and they switch back and forth often enough to become disorienting at times.

Overall, though, I enjoyed Guardian almost as much as its predecessor.  I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a novel set in a unique, fully-realized dystopian world.

Similar Books: It asks questions about the value of human life like Unwind or The House of the Scorpion. It has a near-future, high-tech setting like Ready Player One, Legend, or even The Maze Runner.

Eve & Adam (Eve & Adam #1) by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate
And girl created boy…
In the beginning, there was an apple—

And then there was a car crash, a horrible injury, and a hospital. But before Evening Spiker’s head clears a strange boy named Solo is rushing her to her mother’s research facility. There, under the best care available, Eve is left alone to heal.

Just when Eve thinks she will die—not from her injuries, but from boredom—her mother gives her a special project: Create the perfect boy.

Using an amazingly detailed simulation, Eve starts building a boy from the ground up. Eve is creating Adam. And he will be just perfect... won’t he?

Released: October 2nd 2012      Pages: 291
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends       Source: Library

Eve & Adam takes a long time to actually get started, despite its lightning-fast pace.  As soon as we're introduced to the main character, Eve, she's already getting in a serious car crash.  Still, for the first half or so, there's almost no real conflict.  Eve is recovering, and she's recovering suspiciously well, but she has none of the personal stakes that give plots depth.  Even as she begins to create Adam, the so-called "perfect boy", the biggest problem in the story is her best friend's boyfriend issues, not hers.  This is probably why I had trouble connecting with her or caring about her, despite the fact that she is a decently well-developed character.  

Solo, the ward of Eve's mother, is more interesting.  His backstory comes out slowly, but it gives him depth and explains his actions.  Half the book is in his point of view, though you wouldn't know it from reading the back cover description.  He has more to lose than Eve, which makes his half more compelling.

When the actual plot does finally get moving around halfway through, it moves fast and gives little chance to keep up.  It felt rushed, and at 291 pages, there was room to expand upon certain plot points, but evidently this space was ignored.  The issue of the ethics of human creation is discussed, but briefly.  This book could have spent more time exploring these topics, but instead it devotes more words to the best friend's boyfriend subplot (which is, admittedly, important, but not the main focus) and the awkwardly-forming romance between Solo and Eve.  
Overall, it's interesting, but it had the potential to be so much more.

Similar Books: It's a high-tech novel about the implications of advanced, human-modifying technology, like The House of the Scorpion and Unwind.  It would also appeal to fans of past-paced thrillers like another of Grant's books, BZRK.

The Archived (The Archived #1) by Victoria Schwab
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what she once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

Released: January 22nd 201     Pages: 328
Publisher: Hyperion                 Source: Library

So many reviewers on Goodreads love this, but it just left me bored.  The premise is interesting in theory--the dead not being lost, just held in a, well, archive.  In practice, it isn't as cool.  I'm not sure what it was, but the concept of the Archive never quite "clicked" for me.  It made sense within the story, but I felt like there was always something missing.  For the longest time, there is no direct threat to the Archive in itself, and maybe this is part of the problem.  Also, there is a lot of term-dropping, with titles like Librarian, Crew, Keeper, etc., but we only ever really see Keepers in action.  I still haven't figured out what exactly Librarians do, other than patrol around and make things difficult for Mac.

Mac herself is the strongest part of the book.  Her emotions came through clearly, and her grief over her brother's death and trying to adjust to a new home made her feel real and relatable.  Her relationship with Wesley, another Keeper, feels natural and brings out a brighter side to her personality, even if it does come out of almost nowhere.

This might've earned four stars, if not for the plot.  The plot is a bit slow for my taste.  The conflict is there, but the tension or feeling of urgency isn't.  There is a problem, yes, but why should I care?  It flashes back to Mac's training with her grandfather on a regular basis, which didn't help, and I don't see why these scenes are necessary.  Also, it's confusing to have a character named Da (Mac's grandfather) and another named Dad.

Overall, I don't see why this book gets so much praise.  It's not a bad book, but I never felt invested in it.  

Similar Books: It's a paranormal novel that deals with death, like The Everafter.  It also reminds me of The Raven Boys and The Secret Hour.

PS: The Midnight Garden, another book blog, is hosting a giveaway of Patrick Ness books.  If you haven't read any Patrick Ness, you definitely should.  You can enter right here.
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