Review of Candor, by Pam Bachorz


by Pam Bachorz

Egmont USA, New York, 2009. 249 pages.
Starred Review.

Candor is a town full of perfect teenagers. They do their homework. They study for their SATs. They respect their parents. They don’t lie. They don’t stay out late. They don’t use drugs or alcohol.

Oscar Banks is the model teen for them all, the proof that his father’s Messages work. Except his father doesn’t know that Oscar has learned how to thwart the Messages.

Oscar’s father founded Candor, and desperate parents pay top dollar to live there — where night and day, ever-present speakers play music full of subliminal messages. Telling them how to think and what to do.

The book opens when Oscar meets a new girl, a girl who can still think for herself.

“Not that she’ll make it past two weeks. Nobody does.

“Not unless I get them out. That’s my business. I get new kids out of Candor before they’ve changed. Back to the real world. It’s not cheap, but it’s the best deal of their lives.”

The girl, Nia, is an artist. Oscar knows that will change if he doesn’t save her from Candor. Somehow, he finds himself not wanting that to happen. But does he want her to leave Candor? And if not, couldn’t he use some of his own messages to catch her interest? But then he can’t really tell her about them, can he?

Candor is an excellent first novel, full of tension and thought-provoking ideas. I didn’t quite believe that people would go crazy if suddenly deprived of the Messages, but the basic scenario is pretty easy to imagine happening, given the right technology. And if it did, there would be sure to be some teens who would find a way to rebel.

This is a fun and engaging story, though like most dystopian novels, a bit depressing in the end. It will get you thinking about Art and Individuality and what is important about you as a person.

This review is based on an Advance Readers’ Copy I received at the Kidlitosphere conference.

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Review of The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

lost_symbolThe Lost Symbol

by Dan Brown

Doubleday, New York, 2009. 509 pages.

It took me a long time to get through The Lost Symbol, because I felt like I read it before. The formula is the same as for The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Once again, we’ve got a supposedly earth-shaking secret with layers upon layers of clues that Robert Langdon is trying to solve before a crazy killer does something catastrophic.

Dan Brown has a habit of short chapters, where people discover something that shocks them, and then it cuts away to something else. The reader doesn’t learn the shocking secret until later. That worked to keep me reading in The Da Vinci Code, but two books later, I find it a little bit annoying.

I also had to laugh right at the beginning when secret government experiments in Noetic Science were discussed. It reminded me far too much of a nonfiction book my son recently had me check out for him titled Men Who Stare at Goats about secret government military experiments on the power of the mind, which have not borne much fruit at all. Having heard of that book ruined my ability to take the experiments in this book as seriously as they were intended.

However, even with all that said, even though my emotions weren’t fully engaged in this book, I do like puzzles. And Dan Brown is exceptionally good at making puzzles, and puzzles that have layers and layers. So for the puzzles alone, this book was worth reading.

I also thoroughly enjoyed that this book was set in Washington, DC. I have been to the Louvre, which was important in The Da Vinci Code, and I was in Rome right after the Pope died, which was the setting of Angels and Demons. And now I live near Washington, DC. Last February, I was in the new Capitol Visitor’s Center, which is where the story starts. And I have been at some of the other sites mentioned — and they are always real places, described in detail, including details you probably didn’t notice when you were there. So I will be looking at Washington, DC, with new eyes.

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Review of Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

catching_fireCatching Fire

by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press, New York, 2009. 391 pages.
Starred Review

Wow. The Hunger Games was gripping, heart-wrenching drama, but in this sequel Suzanne Collins has turned things up a notch.

Katniss’ troubles and her family’s troubles should have been over at the end of The Hunger Games, but she challenged the power of the Capitol, and those in power were not pleased with her.

What’s more, Katniss has become a symbol of rebellion. Could that rebellion be spreading? One thing is sure — if it is, it will be brutally squelched. And if Katniss can’t convincingly quiet the uproar she started, she knows her own loved ones will suffer.

This is definitely not light, cheery reading. As if all this weren’t enough, we’re stuck reading about the next year’s Hunger Games, this time a Quarter Quell, for the 75th year of the games, with its own fresh horror.

The story is not complete with this volume. I will definitely be one of the people clamoring for the third book. I do join with my friend Farida to say that it had just better offer some happiness and hope for these people!

Even though the topic is unpleasant — a future repressive and brutal government — the story is transcendent and definitely worth reading. The story has a love triangle, life-and-death drama, and people risking their lives for freedom and justice. The book will keep you reading and then stick with you when you have to put it down.

The only awful thing about this book is how long we’re going to have to wait before we can find out what happens next.

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Review of Still Life, by Joy Fielding

still_lifeStill Life
by Joy Fielding

Atria Books, New York, 2009. 369 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #6 Fiction

This book is wonderful. Richly textured and thought-provoking, it also includes life-or-death suspense.

Casey Marshall has a perfect life. Having lunch with her best friends, it’s clear that one at least thinks it’s a bit too perfect. Casey and her handsome husband are even talking about starting a family soon.

But after lunch, something happens. Casey wakes up in darkness, only able to hear voices. They are talking about a terrible accident that happened to “the patient,” run down by an SUV. She begins recognizing distraught voices of people she knows and loves, and it dawns on her that the accident happened to her.

Nobody knows that she can hear them. People tell her husband that he should get on with his life, but he says he can’t stay away from her, he loves her too much. Her sister Drew is mad because Casey’s the executor of their parents’ estate, and Drew wants her allowance. A nurse’s aide talks about how handsome her husband is, and how she thinks she’ll be able to seduce him. Casey hears her making progress.

Then a detective comes along. He suspects the accident was not an accident after all. Now Casey has memories of all her friends and wonders who would want to hurt her.

Eventually the book becomes like the old classic Rear Window. Casey knows who wants to kill her, even though they have everyone else completely fooled. She knows when that person is planning to do it. But she is absolutely powerless to stop them. Or is she?

I would love to say more, but I will settle for saying that I loved this book and found the ending thoroughly satisfying.

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