Posted in All Book Reviews, Science fiction, Young adult

Book Review: Phoenix Island (By John Dixon)

I had added Pheonix Island to my TBR pile all the way back when the show Intelligence had come out, primarily because its theme was supposedly based on this book. Although I eventually learned that the two are pretty different (and Intelligence didn’t really take off), the book stayed on my list and I eventually got around to it last month.

Read on to know how it turned out.

Genre: 

Young Adult, Sci-fi

Length: 

320 pages

Blurb:

Carl Freeman is sixteen years old. He’s a champion boxer who has immense skill, but who finds himself repeatedly in trouble and being moved from foster home to foster home because of his short temper. Quick to jump in and defend weaker classmates from bullies, Carl’s distaste for those who abuse their strength leads to him ending up in court. And the judge sentences him to Pheonix Island, where repeat offenders like him – who have no home, no family, and no future – are sent for a Spartan-style boot camp until the age of eighteen. Phoenix Island was supposed to be where Carl would train to control his temper, to direct it better. But Phoenix Island turns out to be something completely different. Off United States land and untouched by its laws, the island is run by sadistic drill sergeants worse than any bully Carl has met. The children are pushed beyond their physical and mental limits, and those that break are sent to the ‘chop shop’ – ground zero for the latest in combat intelligence. Except, no one is a willing participant, and the technology is still evolving. When Carl’s inability to bow to bullies lands him in trouble yet again, he discovers that the island is hiding more horror than he knew before. And when Carl is sent to the ‘chop shop’ as part of his growing list of punishments, he knows that a transformation awaits him. But after everything he’s seen, he doesn’t know what they’ll transform him into… nor if he wants to become what they want to turn him into.

Overall Rating:

7 out of 10 stars

Plot:

8 out of 10 stars

Characterization:

7 out of 10 stars

Primary Element:

6 out of 10 stars for the science fiction, which was a given and not really explored

Writing Style:

8 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is Book #1 in the Phoenix Island series, followed by Devil’s Pocket.

Highlighted Takeaway:

An interesting premise, with a really likeable lead character, Phoenix Island is perfect for its primary, young-adult audience. Adults may find it less than perfect, but enjoyable nonetheless.

What I Liked:

There were three things that I really liked about the story and characters:

  • Attention to detail in the action scenes – John Dixon has been a boxer and his knowledge is evident in the details and specifics of the action scenes. If you follow any form of hand to hand combat, you will find the narrative very visual.
  • The story touches upon some serious moral and social issues (at both individual and wider levels), providing some great food for thought conveyed through character development and story advancement (instead of preaching prose).
  • Characterization was really good, with the evolution being easy to associate with.

What I Didn’t Like:

The only issue, I felt, the book had was its pacing – it was a bit slow, and I genuinely thought that just a bit more speed would have made it a page-turner.

Who Should Read It:

I would recommend Phoenix Island to anyone who enjoys young adult fiction (including adults who often or occasionally dabble in that genre).

Who Should Avoid:

Phoenix Island may not be the best choice for adults who are used to faster-paced, edge of your seat thrillers or those who haven’t read any young adult.

Read It For:

A very likable, warm-hearted main character whose story you will end up wanting to follow.

I don’t read a lot of young-adult, although I have found some quite enjoyable, such as David Baldacci’s The Keeper. Occasionally though, I do pick up a young-adult book, especially if it’s based around science-fiction or fantasy. Although I didn’t love Phoenix Island, I think it has many things that were highly enjoyable, and I definitely want to read the sequel and follow Carl’s story.

Share your thoughts on Phoenix Island or any young-adult recommendations in the comments below. And as always, thank you for stopping by and reading my review.

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews

Review: The Width of the World (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 455 pages

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Vega Jane, her best friend Delph, her dog Harry Two, and their new companion Petra Sonnet finally escape the Quag and its nightmare experience. But the place they end up in is much worse. Monsters don’t roam the peaceful streets. Instead, the people of the town they’re in are blissfully happy. When Vega Jane and her friends dig a little deeper, they discover that those very people are unaware of their true lives – their memories have been taken away, their lives erased, and their existences left as little more than blissful enslavement. The desire to help them and discover the reality behind all the lies she’s been told all her life drives Vega Jane to investigate what is happening in the strange town. But it isn’t going to be that easy. Danger lies at every turn; and the enemies against whom the people of Wormwood were protected by the Quag, the enemies that were little more than legend, suddenly become very real. History is about to repeat itself. War is inevitable. And Vega Jane is at the helm of it all. But how can she win a war that even her very powerful ancestors had lost, so many centuries ago? Can she find a way to face the enemy, when she has almost no hope of victory… or even survival?

The Bottom Line:

An entertaining read that is more similar in pace, style, and intrigue to the first part of the series than the less impressive second part.

My review:

The Width of the World is Book Three in the Vega Jane and The Finisher series. It is almost as good as the first book in the series, which has thus far been the best. It has similar elements of intrigue, fantasy, and the reckless but good-hearted actions of a very determined heroine.

It is fast paced and keeps you turning the pages, keen to know what happens next. It also brings together a lot of aspects of the first two books, tying many things up quite neatly. At the same time, it offers enough suspense and intrigue to mimic what the first book had achieved and take you into an interesting fantasy world.

A lot of the childishness that was existent in Book Two is, thankfully, missing from The Width of the World. There are childish elements, but there are also clear indicators that the characters are growing up, with the responsibilities they carry gaining prominence and the childishness diminishing. That growth is actually very refreshing and fits well with the storyline too.

The story itself is quite interesting and adds quite a few new angles to the fantasy world that Baldacci has built. It’s not the most unique of worlds, but definitely has its charms, making for an immersive read.

The book does have some problem areas though; one of the biggest ones being the parts where the otherwise very likable Vega Jane seemed a little too self-absorbed and obnoxious. She began to take herself a little too seriously as the leader whereas, until now, she had the utmost faith in her comrades. She definitely needed to be the leader, but there were times where her approach to the role didn’t seem to fit in with the character we’d seen until then.

In spite of its pace, the book does come across as a bit too long. There are sections – of introspection mainly – that could have been cut down. If it had been a finale, the length could be explained and even understood. But (and this really caught me by surprise) it isn’t the end of what I’d assumed to be a trilogy. It is more of a ‘preparation for the end’ kind of story. And definitely too long for that.

All in all, the book manages to keep you intrigued about the story of Vega Jane and its many other characters. It definitely keeps you interested enough to want to read the next book (whenever that may release). I’d recommend it to:

  • fans of young adult (young and adult, alike)
  • anyone looking for a quick read in the young adult genre (be prepared for some childishness)
  • anyone interested in fantasy (and doesn’t mind a little teenage drama)

Read, liked, or hated The Width of the World? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And, as always, thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews

Review: Wonder (By R.J. Palacio)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 316 pages

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

August Pullman has a condition that makes his face very different, and he knows it makes him unpleasant to look at. Numerous surgeries necessary to keep him healthy have kept him from attending a regular school. After being homeschooled for years, August joins Beecher Prep and is about to start 5th Grade. All he wants is for the other kids to treat him normally. But he knows how people react to him and his face. And he knows that that is going to make ‘normal’ very difficult. As he overcomes his trepidation and begins to enjoy school, August faces new challenges and makes new friends too. Told from multiple perspectives, Wonder is August’s story of stepping out of his comfort and safe zone, and venturing into the world.

The bottom line:

A sweet story that avoids the true realities of the world we live in and reminds you what it’s like to lose yourself in a tale of fiction where things are meant to make sense.

My review:

Wonder is written in the first person perspective of August, his sister, her boyfriend, and some of their friends. Each person’s character comes through easily enough and holds its own without seeming too much like the same person. The story moves along smoothly enough, although there do seem to be some jumps in the timeline that are a little too abrupt. Some additional details on certain events would surely have added to the book. There are also a few tangents that are begun but that don’t really go anywhere or even get mentioned again, leaving you wondering why they were there in the first place.

It is a feel-good book in which things that go wrong fall into place soon enough. However, I did feel that sometimes, these instances were a little too easy and a little too convenient. Often, behaviors that led to things getting solved aren’t explained and you just have to accept that it is the way it is. This is in stark contrast to the other angle of the book where people are shown to be hesitant in accepting anything different (as often seen in reality). That’s why the book comes across as an odd mixture of real-world view and fictional paradise.

Given this stand, I felt that Wonder is one of those books that you read to feel warm and fuzzy inside. It wasn’t completely realistic and that was a good thing. Sometimes, you want to read a book that helps you escape the reality that surrounds you every day. The negativity that the book has, at the same time, builds a strong case for the main character and gives you a reason to root for and against someone – which makes the book even more enjoyable.

The story itself is very sweet. August is quite likable, and all the other characters are easy to associate with too. All in all, Wonder is a good book and one that definitely has a lesson within its story. It is powerful enough in its prose to change minds and hopefully, will help make the world a little kinder by influencing the people who read it. And that’s why I would recommend Wonder to:

  • fans of fiction, including young adults and adults
  • fans of young adult books
  • anyone looking for a sweet, comfortable read
  • anyone looking to slip into a world that’s a little more black and white than the one around us, if just for a few hours

Have you read Wonder? Are you going to watch the movie based on it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

– Rishika

 

 

 

Posted in Being a writer

Review: The Finisher (By David Baldacci)

The Finisher Source: Goodreads
The Finisher
Source: Goodreads

Length: 506 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Vega Jane is a fourteen year old Wug – one of the many Wugs who live in Wormwood. Her village is surrounded by the Quag where dangerous beasts live and beyond which, nothing exists. She lives a difficult life, working hard for every coin earned and looking after her younger brother. But Vega Jane is not like the other Wugs – she has curiosity. When circumstances force Vega to confront everything she believed to be true about Wormwood, she finds herself fighting not only the people who want to keep the truth hidden, but her own limitations as well. Forces beyond her understanding begin to make themselves known and Vega is thrown into a pit of confusion as she tries to make sense of it all. And soon, she finds that the chaos is the least of her problems. Vega Jane is put into the midst of a competition so fierce that she has little hope of survival. But Vega has seen, heard and felt enough to know that there is something that she needs to discover, a truth that she needs to unearth, and freedom that she needs to attain. Without choice or option, Vega is forced to fight for her life, and her freedom. But at the end of it all stands one question – what price will she pay for that freedom and where will it take her?

My take:

The Finisher is David Baldacci’s foray into the genre of young adult fantasy. I have read a lot of his other books and am quite fond of his stories and style. So when I discovered that he’d written something so unlike his usual stuff, I knew that I would have to give it a shot; and so, The Finisher was my own foray into reading this genre.

The Finisher has many things going for it and some against it, all dependent on how much of this new Baldacci you are willing to accept. To begin with, the style is poles apart from his usual. In fact, even the language is more Scottish and English than the usual American style. Then there’s the fact that it is a young adult book and caters to a slightly different audience than for whom Baldacci normally writes. So you can either choose to dapple in young adult because you like Baldacci or in Baldacci’s work because you like young adult. Either way, it won’t be a loss.

The story was reminiscent of Hunger Games – I’ve seen the first movie and have not read the books, but the feeling I got from The Finisher were similar to the feelings the movie evoked. So if you liked Hunger Games, you will probably enjoy The Finisher, even if not to the same extent. The story also had a lot of twists and turns, throwing things that you really would not normally expect at you, and kept going at a really good pace. There was no dull moment as such and I found myself waiting for moments when I could get back to discovering things with Vega Jane.

The character development is consistent, doesn’t go through abrupt changes that could hamper the story line, and any changes in the lives of the characters happen in a manner that is easy to associate with and seemingly realistic. I found myself hating some characters while loving others, wishing that things would go a certain way in many scenarios; and that really made the reading experience, fun.

What I especially liked about the book was the language. I found the entire Scottish and English influenced lingo charming and thought it really added to the setting and brought the story out really well. The book describes something akin to a parallel world where concepts are very normal, but their names and understandings are different. One example would be how Vega is almost fifteen sessions year old, implying that a session is a year. So while you can draw parallels, you still have to get used to the odd names for time, people, animals and other such, regular aspects of life.

On the negative side, the story starts off being a little difficult to follow. With all those new words being tossed about, it can get a bit confusing to build a clear picture. But a few pages in and that sorts itself out as you get used to the lingo and the new concepts. The odd effect of the first few pages may be exaggerated because you don’t exactly expect something like that from David Baldacci. So if you haven’t read his work previously, it should take even less time to slip into comfortable reading.

All in all, I thought that the book was really good. It flows at an excellent pace, it keeps you turning the pages with the desire to know what happens next, the language adds to the charm, and the characters pull you into their own lives, making it all very personal. The plot twists were interesting, leaving you wanting more, part of which is satiated by the rest of the story and the left has probably been left unanswered intentionally. The Finisher seems to only introduce Vega and her world and it does a great job at leaving you waiting for the sequel.

If you’ve been a Baldacci fan, then you should probably give this a shot to just see his varied sides and styles, if nothing else. If you like young adult fantasy, this book is one you should definitely read. It may not become your favorite given the many options out there, but it has its own charm that shouldn’t be missed. And if you’re wondering whether to try the genre out for the first time, regardless of your age, The Finisher is a good option to take that first step. All in all, a great, fun, fast aced read that leaves you waiting for the sequel and the movie!

– Rishika