Book Reviews, Books, Reviews

Series Recommendation: Bran Hambric

I am going to have the pleasure of interviewing author Kaleb Nation in the near future, so I thought it would be wise to post a review of his books, for those of you who aren’t familiar with his work.

As of now there are two books in the series, Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, and Bran Hambric: The Specter Key. Kaleb started the series in 2003 when he was fourteen years old, and book one was published in 2009. They are fun reads, and I’d recommend them for anyone who wants an adventurous book. WARNING: There are some small spoilers for the series.

Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse

Release Date: 9/9/09

When Bran Hambric was six years old, he woke up one morning in a bank vault. With no idea how he got there, and only a slip of paper in his hand with his name on it to tell him who he is, Bran starts a new life with one of the bank employees. The Wilomas family lives in the town of Dunce, the one city in the world where magic is outlawed, mages are feared, and the largest prejudice is against gnomes.

So imagine Bran’s fear when, eight years later, he magically stops a runaway truck from killing his friend. Luckily things aren’t as mage-proof in Dunce as they seem on the surface, and with the help of an underground group of magicians (and one awesome gnome), he begins to realize his powers.

All of this is happening though while he’s searching for the truth about his mother and his life before the Wilomas family. He gets attacked one night by a mysterious and thoroughly creepy monster that happens to mention his mom. Bran discovers he’s being hunted, and once he finds out that it is tied into a curse his mother supposedly participated in creating, his life becomes focused on learning the real truth about his powers, his past, and how they are intricately connected.

This was a fun and easy novel to read. Bran’s journey was an atypical coming of age story, which was a nice change from the standard fare that seems to crop up often in books with characters this age. His unusual beginnings help with that, and the discovery of his own magic in an anti-magic city adds nice tension. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t from time to time remind me of Harry Potter, but Nation is able to add enough unique elements that those thoughts are just a small blip in the radar that is this tale. Some parts moved a little slower than others, but not enough to really drag, and my curiosity about Bran’s past and his mother’s connection to the Farfield curse kept the pages turning. Nation’s language was a bit on the younger side—he did write the book when he was fourteen—so I’d recommend this to a more juvenile audience, probably in the eight to fifteen year-old range. But overall I liked it, enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot, and the interspersing of witty humor that had me chuckling out loud. Definitely a fine introduction into the literary world by this young author.

Bran Hambric: The Specter Key

Release Date: 10/01/10

Author Kaleb Nation seriously ups the ante in the second book in his Bran Hambric series, Bran Hambric: The Specter Key.

While helping Sewey Wilomas clean out the bank vault one day, Bran Hambric and he stumble across an old safe-deposit box with his mother’s name on it.  Dusty and long-forgotten, Bran takes it home to try and figure out what it is. Inside is a wooden box, sealed by magic, and though it seemingly can’t be opened, it begins to have an effect on all those around it, including destroying his house one night and killing his best friend.

But Bran doesn’t think Astara is dead. Before the disaster, specters spoke to him through a typewriter, talking about needing to be freed from their prison. Bran believes they are linked to the box and that they took Astara’s soul. So Bran sets off on a journey to discover the truth about what is in the box, all the while racing against an evil mage (the same one that killed his mother, incidentally) who wants the contents of the box for herself.

This book was leaps and bounds above the first one in the series. I enjoyed book one, but I loved book two. I found myself getting lost in Bran’s journey as he ventured to various places, near and far, looking for the truth about the box and its contents, all the while trying to save his friend’s life. Some very interesting characters appear that I wasn’t expecting, and it added an entirely new level of awesome to the plot. Also, I am always a sucker for mazes and labyrinths in stories, the need for the character to get from A to B, the things they encounter there, and the one Nation created for the climax of the book was thoroughly enjoyable.  I breezed through this book and before I knew it I had finished. The writing is still not overly-complex, so it is a perfect story for the eight to fifteen age range, but I have a feeling that, if you like action-driven adventure stories  you’ll enjoy this, no matter your age. One word of advice though: make sure you read book one first; Nation builds well on top of what he established in the first story, and I fear readers would be lost without it.

Book Reviews, Books, Reviews

Recommendation: “Incarceron”

Recommendation

Title: Incarceron

Author: Catherine Fisher

Released: 01/26/10

Prison is never fun. But Incarceron is truly hell, because it is alive, watching you, waiting to destroy you, and enjoying the process. Catherine Fisher creates a vivid, wonderfully written dystopian world in her new YA book Incarceron.

The creativity of this book is what struck me strongly from the start. The prison is alive. Not alive as you or I are per se, but it thinks, watches, and plans. There is even a creepy laugh that can be heard from time to time. The story hits the ground running, with the reader being thrust into a tense situation with the male protagonist Finn. He is trapped and about to get run over from a group of people he doesn’t know. But they stop, and are ambushed. Before everything can truly be carried out, the prison decides to shake things up, shooting laser lights that kill, tearing down walls and re-forming rooms, and basically sending the prisoners to their deaths if they don’t move fast enough to get away.

Finn was born in the prison, created from recycled flesh (gross!) as a teen with no memory of how he got to be that age. But there are those who doubt, who think he might have been born outside, confirmed by Finn’s vivid visions of a foreign world with stars in the sky that leave him collapsed and in a weakened state. He also has a strange tattoo on his wrist, which he knows is connected to it all somehow, and when he encounters a woman who might have information about what the image could be, he does everything he can to talk to her.

The story jumps to Claudia, whose father is the warden of Incarceron. They are on the outside, living in a simplified society, and Claudia and her friends have the impression that Incarceron is a paradise for its prisoners. But Claudia wants to know what is really happening behind the doors of her father’s study, and the path she takes connects her to people and a world that are completely unexpected from everything she had been told.

What I thought was going to be the major secret of the story was reveled pretty early on, and at first I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I was worried the rest of the tale was going to be predictable and hard to get through because I’d be bored. But in actuality it worked out great. The info revealed was vital to telling the true story, and there were definitely some secrets at the end that completely caught me off guard. I really enjoyed the way the story traded off between Claudia and Finn. There were two complex, interesting stories happening at the same time, slowly becoming interconnected. Plus, all the different ways the prison functioned, the humanness of it, was incredibly well done.

I’ve never read anything like this book. The complicated, interwoven plot layers, the wonderful characters, and the tense adventures happening on both ends made this an easy book to get through. It was a great reading experience that I hope you also get to enjoy!

Reviewed by: Lauren Z.

Book Reviews, Books, Reviews

“Matched” Book Review

Book: Matched

Author: Ally Condie

Release date: 11/30/10

In Cassia Reyes’s world, everything is designed for living an optimum life. People eat specially prepared healthy food full of vitamins and minerals. Their physical and mental status is monitored to make sure they are functioning at their finest. They die on their 80th birthday, the best possible age that allows a fulfilling life without deterioration from being too old. And, if they want to get married at twenty-one and have children before the most favorable cut off age, they’ll need to be Matched to their best genetic option at seventeen.

The story starts out with Cassia heading to her Matching ceremony, excited to see the man she is destined to be Matched with. But imagine her surprise when she gets paired to her longtime childhood friend, Xander, which is almost unheard of. She’s given a disk of information about him to view, like all the Matched, and even though she knows pretty much everything about Xander, she decides to watch it. Xander’s face appears on the screen, but after a few seconds it disappears, to be replaced with another boy’s face. A boy she also knows, named Ky Markham. What does it mean? Who can she talk to about this? And why, even though Xander is her true match, does she find her thoughts continuously drifting back to Ky?

The Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) I received for this book has a black cover that is plastered with recommendation blurbs all over the front and back. I had absolutely no idea what it was about, but after doing a little research I thought it sounded intriguing. I wasn’t sure about the dystopian subject matter, especially one that is reminiscent of The Hunger Games in some ways. But, even though there were some familiar themes I’d seen done before, the development of the characters, and the way the true details of this seemingly perfect society are revealed, made it a page turner.

One of the major themes that I loved was about freedom of choice. In this world, everything is decided for you, eliminating most of the dangers that caused humans stress and early death prior to this shift in society. And throughout the book, the author writes this life in such a way that you can definitely see the perks to some of them. I mean, who wouldn’t want the option of being able to have your ideal mate, both emotionally and genetically, chosen for you? It’s definitely an intriguing thought. But even in that sentence, I state that which is never actually available to Cassie: option. If she wants to get married and have kids, then being Matched is her only choice. And as the story progresses we learn that maybe she doesn’t want to go gentle into that good night after all.

This book was well-written, complex, and interesting. The love triangle aspect was handled beautifully, and the development of Cassia’s desire for personal freedom was wonderful to watch. It will definitely have you thinking about choice and ultimately what is right for all of us.

Reviewed by: Lauren Z.

*Check out an interview with the Author!