Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

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Title: Birthmarked (Birthmarked, #1)

Author: Caragh O’Brien

Published By: Roaring Brook Press (2010)

Synopsis: In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be “advanced” into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying. (Taken from Goodreads.)

Review:

Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien was an excellent read. It was very well written, full of rich descriptions, great-structured sentences, and easy-to-love characters. The plotline was just enough action, twists, and excitement to keep me reading and I never lost interest. Unl

ike other books, this book did not appear dragged out to me. The characters were extremely well developed, and the twists and turns in the end were well written and I did not see them coming.

As a whole, however, the story was geared towards an older audience. There were a few confronting birth scenes (our main character is a midwife) that I skipped over. It was written to further drive the point, as this is a very deep book, but it was too much for me in those few scenes.

The storyline and the writing were definitely not for a young reader. The romance between Gaia and Leon was realistic though not inappropriate, and was not the focus of the story—it was more like a background thing going on (always a plus for me!).  As for the characters themselves? While they were wonderfully described and developed, at times they seemed flat and one-dimensional, and did not react enough when things are revealed. Yet, Gaia was an easy character to love.

Negative Content/Notes:

A few confronting birth scenes described in detail. I don’t recall any inappropriate romantic scenes.

Overall:

I enjoyed reading this book; I’d say it’s a great dystopia with a fun plot!

Recommended to: Ages 13+.

The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle

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Title: The Sky Inside

Author: Clare B. Dunkle

Published By: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2008)

Synopsis: Martin lives in a perfect world.
Every year a new generation of genetically-engineered children is shipped out to meet their parents. Every spring the residents of his town take down the snow they’ve stuck to their windows and put up flowers. Every morning his family gathers around their television and votes, like everyone else, for whatever matter of national importance the president has on the table. Today, it is the color of his drapes. It’s business as usual under the protective dome of suburb HM1.
And it’s all about to come crashing down.
Because a stranger has come to take away all the little children, including Martin’s sister, Cassie, and no one wants to talk about where she has gone. The way Martin sees it, he has a choice. He can remain in the dubious safety of HM1, with danger that no one wants to talk about lurking just beneath the surface, or he can actually break out of the suburb, into the mysterious land outside, rumored to be nothing but blowing sand for miles upon miles. (Taken from Goodreads.)

Review:

Some background: I didn’t like The Hunger Games, and couldn’t get into Divergent. I am not a fan of most popular dystopians, but dystopian is my favorite genre. I was desperately looking for an actually good dystopia when I stumbled upon The Sky Inside. And while it didn’t blow me away, it definitely filfulled my expectations for a “good dystopian story.”

What did I like about it?  I liked Martin’s world, and all the details associated with it. While the characters were somewhat one-dimensional,  I did care about them, about what happened to Cassie and the other characters. For me, it is the details that make a dystopia, and this book was rich in descriptions and details for every last thing. I really enjoyed the way this novel portrayed kids hating having to watch television, and there were several laugh-out-loud moments for me. The mystery behind it all had me turning page after page, wondering what exactly would happen next.

On the downside, I found the plot somewhat hard to keep track of. The author’s ideas were very complex, and she seemed to have trouble describing and putting them to paper, and I found myself, on few occasions, rereading page after page to find out what exactly Martin is doing, and why. It did not affect the whole scheme of the book, but as a reader it became irritating to have to keep rereading things. The plot proved to be somewhat predictable as well.

As for Martin as a character, I felt he did not truly feel enough when things happened in his life. Also, the ending was not at all what I was wanting—or expecting. It was waaaaaaay too simple and easy. ** SPOILER ALERT ** Martin is convinced—along with us readers—that Motley, the guy who took his sister away to a “school”, has not taken her to a school, but to a place to die. So Martin embarks on this epic journey until he reaches the so-called school, and who knew? It actually was just a school, just like Motley had said. I get the idea of a plot twist, but this just seemed too simple of an answer. **SPOILER OVER**

On the other hand, though, I did like the ending in the sense that it was open for a sequel without being a cliffhanger or leaving too many things unanswered. While enough is resolved so we are content, enough is left open to be resolved in the sequel, so even though the ending is abrupt, we are satisifed. (Well, despite that sudden need to read the sequel.)

Negative Content/Notes:

No negative content. One note: I’ve seen other people compare it to The Other Side of the Island (Allegra Goodman) and I will say, after reading the reviews, the similiarities are definitely there; however, I completely missed it during the read and it didn’t even enter my mind. I am a big fan of Island, and this didn’t even strike me as close to copying.

Overall:

To summarize, even though there were things I disliked, the good things outweighed the bad things by far. Very intriguing, suspenseful, and just overall a good book!

Rating: 4.5 

Recommended to: If you are a dystopian-loving person like me, but you won’t take just any dystopian (example, you don’t like Hunger Games), then I’d recommend this for you. Clean, mysterious, and intriguing, I’d recommend this for 8+.

Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers

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Title: Finding Ruby Starling

Author: Karen Rivers

Published By: Arthur A. Levine Books (2014)

Synopsis:

When Ruth, age 12, finds pictures of herself online—except her in different places, wearing different things—she begins to search and finds out that this person is a British girl named Ruby who has her same birthday and looks exactly like her. Translation? She’s found a long-lost twin!


Review:

  Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers was overall a very interesting read. Being told completely by emails and other computer data gave a good grasp for the characters, but left me unable to truly connect or relate. I loved the writer’s creativity at making it an all-email-told story, but sometimes it just seemed unrealistic, such as when Ruth’s parents email her from downstairs, “Come down, honey. Your ice cream’s melting. We have something to talk about,” and she responds, “I’m coming down. Don’t let the dog eat my ice cream….” and goes on for seven more sentences. Or when she relates an entire conversation of her parents, word for word, from memory to Ruby in an email or vice versa. Still, it wasn’t badly done.

I really liked the way this storyline developed between Ruth and Ruby, trying to figure out the mystery behind the seperation. When Ruth mentions it to her parents, I felt their reaction was written perfectly, with worry for their daughter, who’s trying to locate, in a way, her birth family. Ruth did overdo it a lot, but it is all emails, and emails are going to have sentences in all caps, texting shorthand, and the such, so what else can you expect?

And it did captivate me—I had to keep reading to find out what happened. How did they get seperated? Why are they not together? Will they end up together?

On the other hand, I did not like the email idea in the sense that it skimmed over other important events, and I was annoyed that such crucial scenes got barely two emails, considering the rest of the events that happened got almost too many emails. Also, I was not very

satisified with the ending. I guess the answers were clear and sensible, but I did not like how the story itself ended, for reasons I’ll leave out so I don’t have any spoilers.

Negative Content/Notes:

There were references to Buddism—not that many, but there were some, as our main character’s dad was a Buddhist—and despite the fact it didn’t dive too deep, it did bother me.

Overall:

I guess I’d say it was a pretty good read. I doubt I’ll read it again, but it was fun while it lasted.

Rating: 3.5 ★★★☆☆

Recommended to: Not recommended.

 

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

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Title: The City of Ember (Book of Ember, #1)

Author: Jeanne DuPrau

Published By: Yearling (2004)

Synopsis: Many hundreds of years ago, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to contain everything needed for human survival. It worked…but now the storerooms are almost out of food, crops are blighted, corruption is spreading through the city and worst of all—the lights are failing. Soon Ember could be engulfed by darkness…

But when two children, Lina and Doon, discover fragments of an ancient parchment, they begin to wonder if there could be a way out of Ember. Can they decipher the words from long ago and find a new future for everyone? Will the people of Ember listen to them? (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

While the reading level was probably for a bit younger age, I found it not to be a hindrance at all to my enjoyment of this thrilling tale. The characters were well developed, and the writing extremely compelling. I read it in nearly one sitting, I couldn’t wait to see what came next!

On the downside, I found the plot very predictable and everything happened just right for the characters to get where they needed to go, do what they needed to do, etc. Every single time I wondered, “How’re they gonna do that?” something “magically” showed up to help them—though, to be fair, if it hadn’t, I would have felt disappointed, for of course I’m rooting for the characters to succeed! I just thought there might have been a better way to give the characters what they needed than having it just appear right at the right time.

Otherwise, the story was, like I’ve said, extremely compelling and full of mystery.  Some people have been comparing this to The Giver—one of my favorites of all time—and saying it copied some of the elements, and I can agree with that, but on a different level. While a lot of the concepts also were in the Giver—a society away from other life to be “safe”; assignments given at age 12; and their escape to the true world—the plotline varied so differently from the Giver that it was hard, at least for me, to notice.

Negative Content:

None.

Overall:

The City of Ember was done beautifully. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a quality dystopian story.

Rating: 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 8 and up

 

In Between by Jenny B. Jones

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Title: In Between (Katie Parker Productions, #1)

 Author: Jenny B. Jones

Published By: Think (2007)

Synopsis: 

Can we overcome our past? Katie Parker is about to get a new life—whether she wants one or not. With her mom in prison, and her father AWOL, Katie is sent to live with a squeaky-clean family who could have their own sitcom. She launches a full-scale plan to get sent back to the girls’ home when she finds herself in over her head…and heart. When Katie and her new “wrong crowd” get into significant trouble at school, she finds her punishment is restoring a historic theater with a crazy grandma who goes by the name of Mad Maxine. In the midst of her punishment, Katie uncovers family secrets that run deep, and realizes she’s not the only one with a pain-filled past. Katie must decide if she’ll continue her own family’s messed up legacy or embrace a new beginning in this place called In Between. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

Is there anything about In Between that I disliked?
No. No, there is not.

I loved everything about this book. The characters, the set, the plotline—everything! There was just enough twists, turns, and mystery to keep me wondering, but that put aside the characters were enough to make me want to finish it. It was a true story of a girl adapting to a new home.

Katie is a hysterical main charater. I LOVE KATIE. She is easily the best fictional character I have ever read. Ever. And I don’t say that about every character. She’s real. She’s always got another sassy comment or thought, another idea, another opinion of the world. I laughed out loud several times thanks to Katie’s witty remarks. I laughed my way through this book, in fact. Jenny B. Jones has got to be the funniest, sassiest person alive.

While her backdrop paints a picture of more criminal activity, Katie knows right from wrong and after an incident at the theatre, she is more than determined to be a good kid. For example, at first she’s totally opposed to “perfect girl” Frances Vega, but soon, that changes when she realizes her crazy friends are no-good and out for trouble. Full of questions and out for adventure, I loved Katie. All together, Katie’s life is nothing but ordinary.

“Mad” Maxine, Katie’s “evil” foster grandma, was another character altogether. She had me laughing at times and grimacing at others. She’s another one of those best-fictional-characters-ever. Katie, very, very wary of the woman, was certain she was pure evil, but to me, she mostly seemed plain out crazy. Which she was.

James and Millie Scott, Katie’s foster parents, are wonderful. They play the role of the encouraging parents while still worrying for Katie and her safety. James, a pastor at the church, aids Katie in her search for faith and for God. Pretty early on we learn of Amy, the Scotts’ daughter, who, for some reason, doesn’t live with them anymore—or anywhere around. Whenever she is brought up, there is tension and silence in the house, providing another occasion for Katie to wonder on.

I really can’t elaborate too much I love this book and series. Jenny B. Jones has got to be the wittiest, sassiest, funniest person alive to have come up with all these shenangains and characters who, like I’ve already said multiple times, are alive and real and literally the best characters I’ve ever read about.

Negative Content/Notes:

No negative content. However, Katie has a criminal background and sometimes has less-than-honorable thoughts: everything stays clean, yes, so it’s mostly just immature thoughts, but they aren’t always squeaky clean and perfect like some people expect Christian books to be.  However, I didn’t have a problem with it. It was who Katie was, and it wasn’t like she had bad intentions. She was just absolutely transparent to the reader, if that makes sense.

Overall: Read it. Read it. Read it.

Rating: 5.0

Recommended to: Teenage girls 13+.

 

Matched by Ally Condie

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Title: Matched (Matched, #1)

Author: Ally Condie

Published By: Dutton Juvenile (2010)

Synopsis: 

In the Society, officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one…until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review: 

When I first read Matched, I somewhat enjoyed it. Cassia, a 17-year-old, goes to the Matching Banquet/Ceremony and finds out she’s Matched—designated to be married—to her best friend Xander. But then she sees another boy’s face before the screen fades. They tell her it’s a glitch, but she’s not so sure. Suddenly now Cassia is on a desperate, life-risking, lovestruck, amazing, and touching journey to figure out who she should be with and who she loves. (By the way, I was being sarcastic in the last sentence. That’s how the book is portrayed, not how I felt about it.)

The aspect of the Society that controls everything is a fantastic idea and results in a great storyline. At least, I thought it was so until I read The Giver, which released more than 10 years before Matched. I discovered that the whole set for the book had pretty much been lifted right from The Giver itself.  The ceremony? From Giver (the December Ceremony). The Society? From Giver (the Committee). Even the Matching part. The phrase “matching of the spouses,” appeared in The Giver first. (Needless to say, I loved the Giver—one of my favorite books of all time—so once I found out all the copying this book did, I decided I no longer liked Matched.)

Forgetting the whole copycat element: The storyline and the reading level were easy enough that a fourth or fifth grader could easily read and comprehend. For me, there was waaaaaaaaay too much romance and kissing for my taste. Yes, I get that this is what the book is about, but it was way too much. Not to mention that even though our main character and narrator, Cassia, is 17, her voice sounds no different than a twelve-year-old. The romantic scenes didn’t get inappropriate minus the constant kissing; the story itself sounds like a cute little love story, nothing more.

Negative Content/Notes:

Lots of kissing, but nothing inappropriate or weird. It was actually surprisingly clean for being popular YA. I don’t know if I can say that about the next 2 books though—I never read them.

Overall:

To sum it up:Putting the whole concept with copying The Giver aside, because I totally get that that it could be a crazy coincidence, it was really just a cute little immature love story —though clean—and really nothing more.

Rating: 2.5

Recommended to: I really wouldn’t recommend it. If you love YA romances, you may like it. Probably ages 12+.