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Review: The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking Trilogy, Book Two) by Patrick Ness

(this is the second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. there will be spoilers for the first book, "The Knife of Never Letting Go", but not for "The Ask and the Answer".

in a sentence or so: Todd and Viola finally arrive to Haven, only to discover that Mayor Prentiss has beat them there, and taken over the town. they are immediately separated, the town is divided over whether to trust the new leadership or to revolt...and then the bombing begins.

this book begins right where the first book left off. like, within seconds of the first book. Todd and Viola finally arrive at Haven, a place they weren't even sure actually existed, just to have their hope and their victory snatched out from beneath them and forced - yet again - into a painful, confusing existence. the antagonist of the first book, Mayor Prentiss, has made himself president of Haven and changed the name to New Prentisstown (a bit of an ego, that guy).

within moments of their capture, Todd and Viola are separated and questioned. told from first person perspective in alternating chapters between Viola and Todd, we learn that Todd is forced to work alongside Davy (president's son, shot Viola, not the best friend of Todd) managing the Spackle, the world's native population. Todd is faced with constant challenges to who he is, how he will treat these slaves, and what choices he will make in order to stay true to the man he has become and the man Viola knows him to be. however, being bullied by Davy and managing a silent work force come with extreme challenges...and that's on top of the loss of Viola and the uncertainty of what the heck is going on in New Prentisstown and what big plans the president seems to have for him.

Viola is sent to a healing center where Mistress Coyle cares for her, and begins to train her as a healer. during her time there, Viola learns that Mistress Coyle has a history of rebellion and fighting against unruly authority. when Mistress Coyle disappears and the bombings start in New Prentisstown, Viola not only connects the dots but is also pursued by Mistress Coyle from the outside of town. eventually, Viola chooses to join the resistance - called The Answer - and reluctantly leaves her broken Todd behind.

to describe this book as heavy and violent is an understatement. President Prentiss is relentless in his desire to rule, manipulate, and gain information from the people of New Prentisstown. however, he is sneaky and manipulative in his methods and seems to have mastered his Noise and the art of influencing other's Noise. perhaps that is why the President is able to slowly get away with segregating the men from the women, enforcing strict curfews, and - when things really start to heat up - banding the women with ID tags used for livestock and torturing potential informants.

the middle book of a series has a tough job - advancing the story, sustaining interest, and being a solid stand alone read. the ask and the answer does that and more. this is highly character driven, emotive, heavy, bursting with hard choices and broken characters where even the good guys aren't squeaky clean. there is a bit of a holocaust-ish feel with the numbering and the torture and the slow acceptance of the people in New Prentisstown to just accept the leadership to stay alive, but this alternate reality created by Ness is original and creative and his characters are so raw and so real that, despite being the middle book of a trilogy, i found myself learning new things about them and wanting to keep reading and keep learning more. the true intentions of others are difficult to determine and deliberately revealed.

i cannot WAIT for the conclusion of this series due to excellent writing, heartfelt characters, and a solid cliffhanger. may 2010 cannot come soon enough.

fave quote: "They treat me as if I'm a little dangerous. I'm slightly surprised to find I kind of like it" (Viola, 257)

fix er up: this is a big ole hunk of a book. at just over 500 pages, this was no easy quest. that may turn some readers off - but if you are into the kind of story that Ness weaves (and believe me, you would be) then clear your schedule and make this happen.

title: The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking Triology, Book 2)
author: Patrick Ness
genre: Adventure, Edgy, Lisa's Faves, Dystopian

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #1) by Carrie Ryan

in a sentence or so: think "the village" meets "the giver" set in the context of a zombie apocalypse while fighting for survival, forbidden love, and hope for life beyond the fences.

Mary lives in a village surrounded by a fence. on the other side of the fence are countless number of Unconsecrated (zombies). Mary's dad is missing, and has been for a long time. her mother wanders to the fence to look for him - hopeful that he won't be there (meaning he might have escaped turning into an Unconsecrated) and fearful that he won't be there (at least if she saw him as an Unconsecrated, she would know what happened to him). one day, when Mary is washing clothes in the river and is being asked by Harry to the Harvest Celebration (read: pre-courting ritual), the sirens go off. Mary knows in her core that her mother wandered too close to the fence and that she wasn't there to stop her. sure enough, Mary's mother turns into an Unconsecrated and joins the rest of them in the forest.

Mary's brother blames her for their mother's death, and banishes her from the house. she is unspoken for (apparently Harry rescinds his invitation to courtship) and she has no choice but to live with the Sisters in the cathedral - the mysterious secret keepers who clearly keep knowledge from the rest of the village and are the ultimate authority. it is in her short time there that she mourns the loss of her mother, her father, her relationship with her brother, her future as a Sister, and all of the uncertainty of her life. when Travis, Harry's brother, comes into the cathedral with a broken leg and requires prayers , it is Mary who spends her days with him telling him stories of the ocean, of the buildings so high they touch the sky, and other stories her mother shared with her about a world beyond the fence. a forbidden love starts to blossom just as an Outsider shows up to the cathedral - proof of life beyond the village. almost instantly the Outsider is gone, and reappears as an Unconsecrated on the other side of the fence. why did the Sisters keep the Outsider a secret? did they turn the Outsider into an Unconsecrated? what other secrets are the Sisters keeping?

there is a pretty good amount of set up by the author in developing the characters, the village, the Sisters, the Guardians (the protectors of the fences), and the post apocalyptic life. i was surprised when a bulk of the book was spent on their journey OUT of the village and scrambling for life outside the fence.

Mary is selfish. like, really selfish. it was difficult for me to connect with her personally given the choices she makes and the sacrifices she expects from others. however, i loved her voice, her emotions, and the style of the book overall. Ryan evokes a unique feel for this book that i was totally engrossed in. the book was spooky, unsure, violent, tense, romantic, fragile, and dark. if you're in the mood for a zombie apocalypse attempt at survival bursting with broken relationships, this is for you.

fave quotes: "We know nothing beyond our village except the Forest, and nothing beyond the Forest at all." (27)

"Outside, pure white snow covers the trees and fence, blanketing the Unconsecrated. It is a bright clear day, the sun sparkling off the ice crystals. One of those days when you can't understand why there is such beauty in a world that is nothing but ugly. It is almost too much to bear." (69)

fix er up: for me, Mary's selfishness far outweighed her hope and purpose. i kept expecting she would finally snap out of it...nope. she experiences so much loss and she just endures to get what she wants.

title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
author: Carrie Ryan
genre: Horror, Adventure, Dystopian

image from http://www.wordle.net
Wordle: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Review: Evermore (The Immortals, Book One) by Alyson Noel

in a sentence or so: Ever is a psychic. she wasn't always a psychic though - not until after the death of her entire family and her own near-death-experience. just as she's learning to cope with the weirdness of knowing someones entire life story by touch, hearing their thoughts, and seeing their aura, in comes super hottie Damen - who lacks readable thoughts AND an aura AND seems to have quite an interest in Ever.

Ever, a junior and recent transfer student from the rainy northwest to the permanent sunshine of Orange County, is not the girl she once was. before the car accident that killed her mother, father, sister, and golden lab, Ever was the stereotypical blond, popular, cheerleader. since her time CA living with her aunt, she's committed do dressing in jeans, hoodies, and hanging with the less-than-cool kids. her two best friends, Haven and Miles, are what you might call socially awkward. Haven is currently cycling through a serious goth phase (although she's nowhere near legit goth) and Miles is absorbed with his Sidekick, trying out for local plays, and talking about his latest boyfriend. i guess you could also count her sister Riley as a friend...as she's been visiting her from beyond the grave ever since the accident.

Ever is getting used to this routine when the aura-less Damen strolls into her life. the more she gets to 'know' Damen, the more mysterious he becomes. no aura, has lived everywhere by the age of 17, and is emancipated from his parents. his mystery only increases when he plays hot and cold with Ever - delivering smoldering looks one minute and giving rosebuds to other girls the next. and THEN there's his mysterious acquaintance of Drina who is also aura-less, drop dead gorgeous, and clearly not a fan of Ever.

a good bulk of the plot is figuring out just who Damen and Drina are, and why they're focused on Ever. another chunk of the plot is Ever wrestling with knowing too much about people and their lives from her psychic ability and spending time with Riley (dead little sister). i felt like the plot moved along nicely, spending equal time on both segments of discovery and awareness. especially how Noel was able to portray how Ever tried to keep it all together, but eventually Ever realizes that her life is a precarious balancing act she isn't able to maintain.

Evermore has elements of healing, forgiveness, acceptance, trust, guilt, addiction, and need. i really liked Ever's battle between inward emotions and how she chose to express those outwardly. so real. i also felt like her friends were lighthearted, funny, and authentic which helped to ground this book and kept it feeling real.

fave quote: "I turn my head and look away. Knowing I do, knowing I love him with every strand of hair, with every skin cell, with every drop of blood, that I'm bursting with love, boiling over, but I just can't bring myself to say it." (262)

fix er up: Damen felt two dimensional for about 80% of the book. i think part of that is because he was intentionally mysterious, but it was still weird to have Ever so entranced by him and not really know what he was about (other than smoldering). also, i felt like this was wrapped up so well that i'm not really sure i'm interested in reading the other books in The Immortals series.

title: Evermore (The Immortals Series)
author: Alyson Noel
genre: Fantasy (Supernatural), Mystery, Romance

image from Wordle.net

Wordle: Evermore by Alyson Noel

Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore

in a sentence or so: Fire is the last of the human monsters, which means her beauty and her mind can take over and manipulate the minds of others. after growing up in relative isolation and seclusion, Fire knows it's only a matter of time before those who have been trying to kill her, use her, control her, and love her will close in.

the novel is broken into three parts, the first of which is Monsters. we discover that Fire has the power to manipulate, both with her mind and her beauty, but that she knows (based on the awful example of her father) she will not live her life serving others by manipulating those around her. a good chunk of this first part is discovering who she is, what her purpose is, and how she fits in a world that simultaneously adores and hates her.

part two, spies, develops as a result of a life-changing decision by Fire. she begins to grow confident in herself and recognizes her independence, albeit in a non-traditional way. she begins to serve the royal family by trying to get information from spies regarding the uprising in the corners of the kingdom. during her time in the court, she becomes increasingly aware of the multi-dimensional characters that surround her...for better or for worse.

part three, dells, is a fitting conclusion. as with Graceling, Cashore doesn't insult the reader or the characters by wrapping everything up in the best possible way. there isn't 100% happiness with everyone, death does happen, people let Fire down, and there is much suffering. however, that doesn't mean that the conclusion to this war-heavy story is bleak - rather it is heartwarming, purposeful, and satisfying.

Cashore seems to have a thing for non-traditional gender roles and relationships, and i dig that. for Fire, one of her biggest frustrations is that people are always amazed at her outward beauty and aren't even aware of her inward emotions and scars. the characters in the book are often in relationships that are far from cookie-cutter; children from affair, children from rape, partner's with children, etc... and going along with the non-traditional relationships are the explorations of tough decision making that many characters have to make where there is no easy or clear answer. there are many 'right' and 'wrong' choices, and Fire continually struggles with what to do, when, how, and why.

overall, i wasn't totally head-over-heels with the war heavy aspects of this book. but what i did love was Fire as a main character, and Cashore's (seemingly) signature quirky take on relationships (including relationship to self) and purposeful resolutions.

fave quotes: "It did not surprise Fire that the man in the forest shot her. What surprised her was that he shot her by accident" (19)
"'I think', she said, 'that sometimes we don't feel the things that we are. But others can feel them...'" (434)

fix er up: with so much of this book being focused on war, i didn't feel the urgency and the reality of the impending showdown. granted, a lot of that was because it was all shrouded in mystery for so long...but i did find myself a little annoyed at the pace of plot revelations.

title: Fire
author: Kristin Cashore
genre: Adventure, Fantasy

image by Wordle:

Wordle: Fire by Kristin Cashore