penmage: (editing like an editor)
2013-01-06 04:25 pm
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2010-12-31 06:48 pm
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Books read 2010

In 2009, I read 201 books. Let's see how many I read in 2010...

2010 Book Log )
penmage: (reading gnome)
2009-12-31 04:43 pm
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Books read 2009

I am going to try and keep track of all the books I read over here, along with the date I finished them and star reviews. If I review them, I'll link the review here.

2009 Book Log )
penmage: (bsg monsters (grass_stained))
2009-08-28 07:13 pm
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Book Log: Soulstice

Soulstice by Simon Holt

Six months after the events of The Devouring, Reggie Halloway is still haunted by nightmares of Vours and fearscapes, but aside from the terrifying dreams, she hasn't seen anything of the Vours since she saved her little brother from possession.

But the memory of her awful encounter haunts her daily. Her little brother Henry is still suffering from nightmares and having violent episodes. Her best friend Aaron is worried about her. And the investigation into the disappearance of town golden boy Quinn Waters--who is currently drowned at the bottom of a lake after being possessed by a Vour--is getting closer to home every day.

And that's when the Vours begin to attack again. First it's terrifying visions. Then they move on Aaron.

That's when Quinn shows up. Turns out he survived being almost frozen and drowned, and now the Vours are after him, because he's so imperfect. He suggests a dangerous team-up to Reggie, and she has no choice but to accept.

As Reggie investigates deeper and deeper into the current resurgence of Vour activity, she learns some frightening things about the origins and true nature of the Vours. But will her newfound knowledge be enough to save her from a second Vour attack?

This book starts MUCH stronger than the previous. There is already a palpable sense of tension in the air from the first page, and Reggie is an exhausted but valiant warrior against horror. In some places, Reggie begins to remind me almost of a sort of Buffy character--only instead of being chosen, she's made her own choices.

There are plenty of twists and turns in this book, as well as actual new information. Too many times, a series feels drawn out and like you aren't really discovering anything new with each additional book. This may be the second book in a series, but it definitely feels meaty and weighty on its own. The details we learn about the Vours are fascinating and compelling, and raise this from a bloody, gory horror novel for the sake of being gory to something fascinating and compelling (with plenty of gross-out creepiness, don't worry.)

This is another strong, top-notch teen horror novel that's actually gross and scary enough to compel serious horror fans. And you've got to love the packaging! The jacket images for this and The Devouring are both so eye-grabbing. I gulped it down, and I'll continue to wait eagerly for the next installment.
penmage: (fairy tale innocent [art by John Bauer])
2009-08-12 10:30 am
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Book Log: How It Ends

How It Ends by Laura Wiess

Hanna knows what she wants, and what she wants is Seth. She's wanted him since she noticed him on the first day of sophomore year. So what if he sometimes acts like a jerk? So what if he seems to prefer vacuous girls who wear ankle bracelets? Hanna pursues Seth--and she gets him. But having Seth isn't quite as wonderful as she imagined it would be. Seth can be loving, warm and affectionate--but he can also be as jerky and mean to her as he was before--only now it hurts more, because he also tells her that he loves her.

Confused, Hanna seeks refuge with her elderly neighbor Helen, who has been her surrogate grandmother since she was very small. But Helen, who is slowly dying from a terminal disease, can't provide the same advice and comfort Hanna is used to. Instead, all she can offer is an audiobook, a memoir of a life. Hanna gets drawn into the story, but before long she begins to question what is fiction and what is history--and how it all connects to the present day and the people she loves.

Wiess's writing is strong, strong, strong. She's got the complex teenage girl down pat. Hanna is a fascinating, multifaceted character, with lots of different angles. I love the portrayal of a party girl who is also a good girl. Hanna goes out and drinks, but she also loves her parents and spends time with her elderly neighbors. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Some writers forget this, but not Laura Wiess.

What doesn't work as well is the pacing. The first half of this book alternates from Hanna's POV to Helen's, but mostly Hanna's, mostly the pursuit of Seth which is so frustrating because Hanna seems to be the only person who does see that Seth is a jerk and won't stop being a jerk ever.

And then you have the second half of the book, which alternates between Helen's audiobook, and Hanna listening to it (and thinking about Seth)--but mostly the audiobook story. It's a fascinating, horrific, compelling story, and you just want to hear it through to the end--and it doesn't disappoint. But it feels only loosely connected to the first half of the book. Hanna's own tribulations just don't feel like enough to connect them.

As Hanna complains to her mother, before she realizes the full import of the audiobook, it was hard for me to know what kind of story this was. A love story? An abusive boyfriend story? A family story? A horror story? It felt like all of them, but not in the beautiful inclusive way--more in the patchwork way.

I think the ending was supposed to be shocking, but to me it just felt--expected, almost, and the only possible proper ending to one of the story threads.

There's one thing I can say about Laura Wiess, and that is that she always makes me think. I like that in a book. I just wish this one was a little surer of what kind of book it wanted to be.
penmage: (fairy tale innocent [art by John Bauer])
2009-07-07 10:03 am
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Book Log: Shadowed Summer

Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell

Iris Rhame and her best friend Collette are hunkering down for a long summer of more of the same--hot, sweaty days, ducking out on chores at the diner where Collette's mother works, and spending time in the cemetary, playing at being psychic and summoning the dead. They aren't expecting any surprises, because nothing ever happens in their small town of Ondine, Louisiana.

But this summer, things are different. This summer, Iris and Collette are fourteen, which shouldn't mean anything's changing, but somehow, things are. Collette is suddenly very interested in boys, and has started bringing her new boyfriend Ben into her and Iris's private games of make-believe. But even more unsettling is the fact that make-believe has suddenly gotten very real. Because Iris has contacted a ghost. A real ghost.

It seems to be the ghost of Elijah Landry, who disappeared years earlier. At first, Iris is thrilled by the adventure, but she soon decides that ghost-hunting, when it's real, is a lot scarier and a lot less exciting than she had always thought it would be. But it's too late to back out, because now she has Elijah's attention--and she won't be able to rest until Elijah can, too.

From the flap copy and the awful cover, I assumed this would be a supernatural gothic like the Betty Ren Wright books I read when I was younger, and it certainly started out that way. Two kids, a quiet town, a lazy summer, nothing much to do, and then a haunting.

But it became much more than that. A ghost story became the backdrop for a coming of age story that feels so honest and real it's heartbreaking. Watching your best friend grow into boys when you're still comfortable with everything staying the same. The thrill of make-believe, and the embarassment of having your games shared with an outsider, even if he's someone you've known your entire life. And the moment where you realize that everything can't stay the same, that you're growing up and that's as it should be, and that sometimes that means leaving parts of yourself in the past.

The plot of this book is a ghost story, but the heart is a moving story about the pangs of growing up and struggling to understand your way from childhood to teenagerhood.

And I have to say--the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of Elijah Landry is resolved in a way I never would have guessed or expected. It's a quiet thing, but it shows how far the world of junior supernatural gothics has come--or maybe just that this one is a standout.
penmage: (dr who - romana saves the universe)
2009-06-30 12:06 pm
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The next adventure

The next stop for The Miles Between's road trip will be [ profile] g33kgrrl and Chicago!

It's embarking on its next adventure this afternoon, so watch [ profile] g33kgrrl's journal for more pictures and maybe anther chance to play.

And the journey continues...
penmage: (ds9 baseball)
2009-06-29 08:33 pm
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Road Trip!

The fabulous [ profile] marypearson wrote this book, The Miles Between, which happens to contain a road trip. A fabulous, remarkable road trip, where anything can happen--and does. A road trip in search of one fair day, one perfect wonderful day when good things actually do happen to good people.

And in celebration of this book, [ profile] marypearson has sent four copies of the ARC on a road trip of their own. One of those copies came to me, by way of [ profile] sartorias, which instructions to take a picture of it in my hometown, and then to pass it on.

So naturally, I did. There are all sorts of cool and interesting things to see in Stamford, CT.

First, I took The Miles Between on a trip with me this weekend to a local vintage car show. I read a chapter or two next to all sorts of interesting cars, and imagined taking a trip in one of those babies--just jumping into the car and driving off in search of something wonderful. It seemed like an appropriate place for The Miles Between to visit.

There were all sorts of cool old cars. )

Then, I took The Miles Between into town. Every year, Stamford puts sculptures up around town with a theme for the summer. It's a lot of fun to wander around and find them all--it's one of the really charming and cool things about my hometown. This year's theme is animals.

This buffalo's head is movable--it nods in the wind. He looked agreeable enough to hold The Miles Between on his head.

More metal animals meet The Miles Between )

So now the fun part. The Miles Between needs a new destination for the next leg of its road trip! Do you want to read it? Want to take some pictures of it in the places you love? Then drop a comment here with your location, and I will very scientifically pick a name out of a hat and drop it in tomorrow's mail, off to its next adventure with you.

So who wants to play?

The rules of the game. )
penmage: (fairy tale innocent [art by John Bauer])
2009-06-18 05:14 pm
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Book Log: Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Dashti has only just started her service as Lady Saren's lady's maid when Lady Saren is condemned to seven years bricked up in a tower for her refusal to marry a man she despises. Seven years shut in away from the sky and fresh air, seven years of rationing food and fighting off rats and cold and loneliness, is more than Dashti signed up for. But she is determined to keep her oath and remain at her lady's side.

But life in the tower soon turns from miserable to life-threatening, and it is up to Dashti to make the choices that will save or damn her and Lady Saren both. And before she knows it, it seems her choices will not only determine the fate of herself and Lady Saren, but that of everyone in her country as well.

I really loved this book, and it's all because of Dashti. She is just one of those characters you want to hold onto tight and tell her that things will be okay, even when there is no logical reason that they will. She is brave in the face of odds. She is determined and loyal and clever very human and so very brave and I adore her.

The bits in the tower are okay, but it really gets good in the second half of the book. This is one of those rare books where the romance really really works for me and makes sense, and every time a niggling objection arose in my head, it was dealt with and answered in a really satisfying way.

Also, the ending made me cry. In a good way.
penmage: (fairy tale innocent [art by John Bauer])
2009-06-15 09:08 am
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Book Log: Once Was Lost

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Samara Taylor is the daughter of popular, charismatic Pastor Charlie. Everyone loves Pastor Charlie, who always knows the right thing to say and always has time for everyone. Everyone except his family. Everyone except Sam, who is alone after her mother's quiet drinking problem resulted in a DUI which landed her in rehab. Sam, who is not even sure if she believes in the God she always took for granted anymore.

And that's when tragedy strikes. A girl goes missing from their small town, and suddenly, nothing is the same. Things that Sam took for granted as safe suddenly seem threatening. And her father--and her faith--feel more distant than ever.

Sara Zarr is a master at the quiet novel that grips your heart. Even in this book, where the plot revolves around a sensational story of a missing girl, the heart of the book is still Sam's very personal and very real struggle with her faith, her family and herself.

The realistic portrait of a small town marred by tragedy--the way it changes everything, makes you mistrust things you once took for granted--it comes alive in this book. More importantly, while the central mystery never loses its hold on the reader, it also never overshadows the more interesting story--Samara's crisis of faith. It takes a very skilled writer to weave a novel that has room for both plotlines and lets the much quieter story be the more significant one.

I devoured this book in a few hours. It's a very quick, compulsive read, and Sam's honest voice pulls you in and doesn't let go. This is one of the more honest teen novels I've read in a long time--I can't recall another novel that dealt so frankly with a genuine crisis of faith. I think this is going to be a book teens come back to.
penmage: (holy stupid ideas batman)
2009-05-14 09:17 am
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Book Log: Deadly Little Secret

Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Camelia (sounds like Chameleon) almost died three months ago, when she bent down to pick up her earring in the parking lot and nearly got hit by a car. Before she knew what was happening, a mysterious hot guy had shoved her out of the way, saving her life, before running off when she tried to thank him.

She is, of course, determined to find out more about Ben, the mystery guy. But when she confronts him in the hall and tries to thank him, he pretends he doesn't know what she's talking about.

Camelia's chemistry teacher has an annoying practise of decreeing that whoever you're sitting next to on your first day will be your lab partner for the rest of the year. As luck would have it, the last empty seat in the room is next to Camelia--and then Ben walks in. At first, he acts like he can barely sit next to her. But then he starts to warm to her--even though he warns her that she shouldn't be friends with him, it's too dangerous.

Sound familiar?

Yeah. The plot diverges after this little bit of prettied-up plagiarism, and turns into a Mysterious Stalker novel (Camelia has a stalker. Ben wants to help her) but still--did it seriously have to rip off the most famous crappy YA novel of our time?

Camelia and Ben's relationship is hot, I'll give you that much, but seems to be based on nothing more than his looks (she describes him looking yummy and delicious and hot hot hot as often as Bella described Edward as a marble statue of a Greek god) and her fascination with his bad boy reputation (he reportedly killed his girlfriend back at his old school.)

The writing is not amazing--I get the sense that we're supposed to care about and like Camelia's neglected best friends (she ignores them in her fascination with Ben) but they're really not that interesting--they're actually kind of annoying. And Camelia's family drama is contrived.

This book would be a mild "pass" for me if it didn't rip off Twilight in an unbelievably derivative way. That elevates it to a "can you believe this book?"

Sigh. I feel like I've been disappointed by every book I've read recently. I'd really like to read a good book again.
penmage: (peter and susan isn't this exciting?)
2009-05-02 09:46 pm
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Book Log: A Drowned Maiden's Hair

A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz

At the Barbary Asylum, every child was strictly classified: a girl was pretty or plain, clever or stupid, good or bad. Maud knew quite well that she was plain, clever and bad.

Maud Flynn, growing up in the Barbary Asylum, knows exactly how much she's worth: not much. She's willful and plain, and gets into too much trouble to be ever considered for adoption. So when Hyacinth and Judith Hawthorne waltz into Barbary Asylum looking for a child and insist on leaving with Maud, it's hard to tell who is more surprised--the headmistress or Maud herself.

At first, life with the Hawthorne sisters is a dream come true. They buy her new clothes and books, and feed her delicious food. But after the novelty of life outside the Asylum wears off, Maud begins to question the strangeness of her situation--because she is a secret child. The Hawthornes keep her confined to the third floor, and don't let anyone know that they had adopted a child.

Soon, Maud discovers the truth. The Hawthornes are mediums, and they need a child in order to bilk a wealthy woman out of her money as she tries to contact her dead daughter. Maud is willing to do anything to keep her new home and make the Hawthornes love her--but how far is too far?

There is a great idea for a story here, but the thing that really makes this book is Maud. She is just so genuine--she leaps off the page and feels like a real little girl. She's tough and proud and fiesty, but also broken inside. She rarely lets it show, but there are moments when I just wanted to wrap her in my arms and hold her. Maud broke my heart into teeny tiny pieces.

This book also has a chillingly deceptive villain, and what's so impressive is that you only see her through Maud's adoring eyes. Maud is not stupid, but she is desperate for love and desperate to be wanted, so the picture we see of the Hawthornes is colored by what she wants so badly--and yet we still have a very complete, well-rounded picture of the Hawthornes.

That's another thing I love about this book. No one--including Maud's enemies in the Barbary Asylum--is one dimensional. They are all so well-rounded and three dimensional--the villainous characters have their good moments, and the good characters sometimes have a temper and make hasty unfortunate decisions. Everyone is real.

This is the second time I'm reading this book, and the second time it has made me tear up at the end. It's a quiet book, but it's the kind of book that burrows into your heart and finds a permanent home there.
penmage: (fairy tale innocent [art by John Bauer])
2009-04-06 03:25 pm
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Book Log: Princess of the Midnight Ball

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Rose is the oldest of the twelve princesses of Westfalin. She and her eleven younger sisters and the beloveds of their father and kingdom, but they don’t live a charmed life. Instead, they are cursed to spend their nights dancing at the Midnight Ball of the evil King Under Stone. Galen is a young soldier-turned-gardener, returned from the front after a long war to live with the only family he has—and to work as a gardener in the king’s garden. It is there that he meets Rose and her sisters—and there that he begins to see the dark cloud hanging over the princesses. And while the king and his court try in vain to discover why the princesses’ dancing shoes are worn out night after night, and why the girls are always so exhausted, Galen may be the only one who can learn their secret—and the only one who can save them.

This is a really engaging retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” fairy tale. The burning question in that story is always, why? Why do the princesses dance? It always bothered me that the soldier revealed and stole away their secret paradise, and in exchange got to marry one of the girls. How dare he!

So I liked the curse twist in this retelling. Here, the princesses are trapped in a truly horrific curse. Early in the book, when Rose has to go dance when she’s sick, I really felt sick to my stomach for them—I felt the awfulness of their curse in my bones. So Galen’s finding their secret is a good thing—a very good thing.

Things I didn’t like: it always bothers me a little bit when an author co-opts real geography and gives in a slightly different-sounding name. Espana for Spain. Breton for Britain. Etc. And Westfalin was clearly Germany, or at the very least Germanic. If you’re going for a fantasy world, make up your own country names and geography and religion. If you’re placing your fairy tale retelling in a real time and place, then use the real names. I don’t like the wishy-washy, can’t make up her mind version of places.

Also, I know it’s a fairy tale, but the ending felt a little too happily-ever-after for me. Really? Galen the solder/gardener gets to be the king? I would even be okay with Galen getting to marry one of the princesses, but not getting the throne, but politically—he gets to be king? Really? How does that even make sense?

Maybe I am too much of a realist. Don’t get me wrong, I like happy endings just fine—but I think this ties in to my previous complaint. If you are going to model your kingdom on real places and cultures from our history, then follow through. I can’t imagine any king willingly handing over his thrown to a commoner, no matter how grateful he was. It just feels too tidy and Disney.

I think it’s very interesting to compare this retelling with another I recently read, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Mariller. In that story, the dancing was a wonderful thing, something to look forward to, and the danger came not from the fae but from fellow men.

Wildwood avoids the major pitfall of Princess--it is solidly based in time and place, in a Transylvania that feels real and right. The gender politics in that book made me bristle, but for the characters, not against the illogic of it. There, control over the business is wrested from Jena by her domineering cousin who thinks girls are not capable of a business mind. Here, Rose and her sisters are treated like full-fledged people by their father, the king.

Overall, I think Wildwood Dancing is the better book. The details hold together better—it feels more researched, more nuanced, more anchored in place and time—-more real. And the lush writing is gorgeous and captivating. That said, I enjoyed reading Princess of the Midnight Ball a little bit more—-probably entirely because Rose and Galen both were more likeable characters, and I didn’t want to shake either of them.
penmage: (wicked stepsisters [ever after])
2009-03-23 11:56 am
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Book Log: Fall of Light

Fall of Light by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Opal LaZelle is a makeup artist, specializing in monsters and the grotesque. She’s excellent at what she does—partially because she applies more than makeup to her creations. Because Opal comes from a magical family, where every member has magical gifts and abilities—and Opal can change someone’s face with a touch and a thought.

On the set of the horror movie Forest of the Night, Opal is in charge of Corvus Weather, the Dark God of the movie. But it soon becomes apparent that Corvus is sinking too deeply into the role, and Opal realizes that something is possessing him. There is an ancient power in this town, a power that wants to rise again and is using Corvus—and the movie—as its vehicle. And while Opal may be the only person on the set who realizes the enormity of the danger, she may not be strong enough to stop it.

A Fistful of Sky is my favorite Nina Kiriki Hoffman book, and one of my favorite books in general, so I had high hopes for Fall of Light. Unfortunately, I really didn’t like it very much at all. I think it was missing a lot of what I loved about the LaZelles in Fistful—the introspect of the way their family magic works, and the interplay of the family and magical people and magic being common and accepted. It DID have the other trademark of Nina Hoffman’s work that I love so much—the way normal, nonmagical people accept magical events pretty easily.

I know it’s not fair to expect it to be the same book as Fistful, especially because Hoffman, maybe more than any other writer, never writes the same book twice. But I felt like it was missing some of the elements that made me love Fistful so much.

Cut for spoilers... )

I don’t need every question answered in my fiction—sometimes you just don’t get to know the answer, and I like that. Not every loose end is tied up—that feels honest and real, even when it’s frustrating. It’s just when NONE of the loose ends are tied up that I’m left feeling out of sorts.

I will definitely keep eagerly devouring Nina Hoffman’s new books as quickly as she can write them, but I think she really missed the mark with this one. Hopefully there will be more books with the LaZelle family to make up for it. Dare I hope for a book featuring Flint?
penmage: (queen of narnia (rage_my_darling))
2009-03-20 03:13 pm

Book Log: Girl of the Moment, Shift

You still have a few more days to comment to win a signed copy of The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor book!


Girl of the Moment by Lizabeth Zindel

Lily Miles thinks her life is over when her prestigious internship at MOMA falls through. She was banking on the internship to help her stand out on her Brown application. Then, Lily is offered the chance of a lifetime—an internship with Sabrina Snow, hottest starlet in Hollywood.

But life among stars isn’t as amazing as Lily had hoped. Sabrina is selfish and spoiled, full of outrageous demands and totally fickle. Lily has her hands full walking Sabrina’s pampered dog, finagling tickets to a sold-out Yankees game, and trying not to fall for Sabrina’s gorgeous boyfriend—who seems to be falling for her, too.

Can Lily juggle the pressures of Sabrina’s life and her own? Or will she let star fever lead her into disaster?

The first two thirds of this book are great. Lily is a fun character, and there’s something undeniably appealing and having a front row seat into the life of a Hollywood starlet. There’s a hugely entertaining sense of voyeurism and getting the inner track. And I like that Lily doesn’t have it too easy—she screws up, she makes dumb mistakes, and she struggles.

But in the last third, the plot gets a little clichéd. Lily’s fight with her father is straight out of cliché city—and there’s no real buildup to it. It just kind of erupts, as if Zindel figured, “okay, now’s the time to insert some external conflict.” And the plotline about Lily’s mom’s pie business, which is given so much attention and is dragged in to Lily’s fight with her father, is never resolved. Is the business successful? Does it fail? Does it eat all the money in Lily’s college fund, or does it replenish it? It’s a minor plot point, but it seems to me that if you’re going to introduce it, you should resolve it.

Finally, Sabrina never really gelled for me. Her actions in the end of the book made her seem much more like a caricature than a real person.

And the prologue page at the beginning made me think that Lily had done something awful to Sabrina—had violated her privacy, or something. I was waiting the whole book for Lily’s awful crime to be revealed, and then…nothing.

I read Zindel’s other book, The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies, and she seems to be following the same pattern: great concept, great start, and then it all falls apart towards the end. She has these great concepts and ideas, but doesn’t seem capable of seeing them through to an equally satisfying conclusion.


Shift by Charlotte Agell

Adrian Havoc is tired of toeing the line. He is sick of following the rules, sick of being indoctrinated with Rapture propaganda, sick of not knowing what happened to his father who went to the moon and stopped writing to him. When his mother, a prominent scientist, goes off on a mysterious government mission, Adrian is tired of sitting around. One thing leads to another, and he finds himself on a mission to rescue an aged penguin, along with a very attractive zookeeper and his somewhat psychic little sister.

But what they find in the North is far more dangerous and shocking than any of them were expecting. Before he knows what's happening, Adrian finds himself involved in a dangerous mission that might be the key to saving his family and the world--or destroying it.

What a strange little book. I'm not sure what it was attempting to do, but I certainly don't think it accomplished it. Was this a post-apocalyptic novel about a world ravage by nuclear accident? A dystopian novel about a society ruled by a strict Christian government? An buddy novel about three kids and a penguin traveling across and nuclear wasteland to find a better life? An action-adventure story full of disguises and heart-pounding moments? It was all those things in part, but none of them really successfully. It seemed to changed tones every thirty pages or so.