Brand new review: The Murder of Adam and Eve by William Dietrich

By Ekta R. Garg

November 26, 2014

Rated: Borrow it

A teen gets drafted for a quest that could literally change the world and all of mankind: go back to prehistoric times, find Adam and Eve, and decide whether they should live or die. A teen girl joins the quest, and both young people must use their smarts and their knowledge about the twenty-first century to make their decision. Author William Dietrich challenges readers into thinking about the consequences of a reset of society in the sometimes frenetic, sometimes wandering young adult sci/fi novel The Murder of Adam and Eve.

In an effort to assemble a report for a chance at a college scholarship, Nick Brynner decides to explore an island that law enforcement has deemed “off limits.” Local lore dictates that everyone who has tried to explore the island has disappeared. Nick wants to be the one who comes back with information.

Before he can make the decision to return, however, Nick meets the mysterious Eleanor “Ellie” Terrell. They get sucked into a wormhole, and Ellie becomes his guide-cum-companion. She introduces Nick to Gabriel, the alien being who explains to Nick his mission.

Gabe belongs to the Xu, the intergalactic group responsible for overseeing Earth and other planets. After observing how humans have depleted Earth’s resources, the Xu have decided to give two of the planet’s representatives the chance to travel back in time and either eliminate Adam and Eve, the original ancestors of all mankind—thereby allowing for humans to get a fresh start—or else find some redeemable qualities in the couple and make the case to the Xu to allow them to live.

Despite his initial reluctance, Nick agrees to the quest. The Xu drop Nick and Ellie into prehistoric Africa, the accepted origin of mankind, in order to find Adam and Eve. As Nick and Ellie share experiences and forge their path in Africa, Nick begins questioning the entire mission. When Ellie begins to assert the value of eliminating their ancestors, Nick wonders whether he’ll ever have the chance to go home and return to his own life.

Author William Dietrich poses for YA readers questions to make them ponder not only the origins of life but also the responsibility all people have to take care of our world. Nick grapples with the advantages of the twenty-first century and the attractive prospect of starting the world from fresh to eliminate war and religious, racial and societal differences. Dietrich balances both sides of the argument well, allowing room for readers to come to their own conclusions.

Unfortunately readers might have to wade through some of the weak spots of The Murder of Adam and Eve to find those ponderous moments. Nick’s initiation into the Xu’s world comes at a frenzied pace, feeling rushed and shallow as a result. When he and Ellie arrive in Africa, the story slows down and readers may get the sense they’re treading water and just waiting for the climax…which doesn’t feel so climactic at all. While Dietrich saves a small surprise for the end of the book, it may just evoke a curious “huh” from readers instead of the “OMG!” he clearly wants.

The two main characters don’t always engage with readers either. Nick’s frequent references to pop culture and overuse of clichés, appropriate in some places, start to feel like substitutes for real dialogue. Ellie’s character development becomes a little uneven toward the end. Because these two carry the majority of the story, at some point readers may find their attention wandering.

Still, presented alongside the right prompts the book can act as a good conversation starter. For that reason I recommend readers borrow The Murder of Adam and Eve from their local libraries.

Newest book review: I Am the Lion by Andrew Toy

By Ekta R. Garg

November 12, 2014

Rated: Bordering on Borrow it

A young girl tries to deal with her mother’s violent death but finds it difficult with her father’s increasingly unstable state. When the girl’s fourth grade teacher intervenes, she finds some solace in his help. They begin to regain some semblance of a normal life, but when her father reveals a secret the girl must decide how much she can trust him again. Author Andrew Toy shares this story in the well-intentioned but ultimately lightweight book I Am the Lion.

Lydia spends her days trying to comprehend the loss of her mother. She no longer speaks to anyone, becoming mute and answering questions with a nod or a shake of the head. Her father, once a warm and ebullient person, now spends his days either snapping at Lydia or mourning his wife’s death. Lydia’s only sense of comfort comes from a stuffed lion her mother gave her several years earlier, but even the lion can’t ease the constant pain.

Her teacher notices that Lydia hasn’t made any progress in recovering from her grief and offers to help her by allowing her to stay after school for informal therapy sessions. Lydia’s father, Henry, doesn’t believe her teacher has anything of value to offer but agrees to the after-school sessions anyway. As part of the deal, Lydia’s teacher requests Henry to join the sessions. Henry agrees with reluctance.

The sessions do help Lydia to an extent, but they don’t contribute to Henry’s own healing. Frustrated and confused by Henry’s erratic reactions, Lydia’s teacher starts to press for answers. In a dramatic moment, Henry makes a startling confession and completely changes everything Lydia knows as truth.

Author Andrew Toy makes a gallant effort to share the depth of a child’s grief and succeeds to an extent. The portions from Lydia’s point of view will certainly touch readers’ hearts. The untimely death of a family member, handled well in a story, can evoke sympathy from readers, and Toy does just that.

The sections of the story focusing on Henry don’t quite achieve their full goal, however. Henry comes across as slightly manic; while some of the situations in the book might reflect real-life grief, most of them feel overdrawn, almost like a caricature of parents in this situation. The one saving grace of these sections is Toy’s sincerity in relaying them.

Also, readers might feel slightly discomfited by the head bobbing in many scenes. If Toy wanted to convey an omniscient point of view, he hasn’t quite accomplished it. Given the fact that only a handful of characters populate the entire story readers won’t have trouble keeping track of who feels what, but the head bobbing will pull readers out of the story enough to annoy them.

With some editing Toy’s story could indeed have a deep impact on its intended audience. Readers may want to read I Am the Lion keeping its limitations and its potential for improvement in mind.

Latest book review: Beyond the Last Star: A Novella by R.G. Howard

By Ekta R. Garg

October 29, 2014

Rated: Bordering on Borrow it

A young woman receives a mysterious journal on her birthday. The journal begins giving her instructions, and before she can wonder what the messages means her life takes a dramatic turn. The journal’s directions save her from the chaos and take her to a brand new place full of new challenges. Author R.G. Howard shares with his readers the somewhat rough-edged but interesting science fiction novella Beyond the Last Star.

The year is 2861 and Washington D.C. resident Icara Movado skips part of school on the day before her birthday to visit Sophia De Lancey, the owner of Icara’s favorite bakery. Sophia gives Icara a blank journal as a gift, but when Icara starts leafing through the pages she finds a mysterious message on the last page.

“It is very important that you listen to everything I say from here onward,” the page instructs. “Within our grasp are entire worlds ready for exploration. I’ll be with you every step of the way, but what you need to do right now is run outside the wall.”

Icara understands the cryptic message minutes later when a bomb detonates in the bakery. She escapes by crossing the forbidden boundary that edges the city, meeting other teens along the way. Again and again Icara consults the journal for guidance, and it takes her and her new friends to an abandoned spaceship. The journal directs her to use an unusual device in the spaceship to transport herself to a new place—to a new decade in time, in fact, and to a ship in space.

Author R.G. Howard gives readers a familiar but likable science fiction premise in Beyond the Last Star, the first novella in his Traverse Series. The book, however, would improve with another round or two of editing, both for content as well as proofing errors.

Howard doesn’t wait for his readers to fill in the lines of the story, offering all of the information via narration and dialogue and taking away the need for the readers’ imagination. Die-hard science fiction fans may not like being taken for granted in this way. Also, Howard’s facts don’t always line up; in one paragraph he implies that Icara is 12 years old. In another a character states Icara is 11.

Given its drawbacks, however, Beyond the Last Star does offer some nice moments. Readers will like Icara, and Howard drops intriguing plot points throughout the novella. With some tinkering Howard will have a wonderful start to his series of stories.

I believe Beyond the Last Star borders on Borrow it.


Brand new review: Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

By Ekta R. Garg

October 22, 2014

Rated: Borrow it

A young boy learns about his destiny as someone who can communicate with ravens. When he tries to use his special power to find the father who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, the boy realizes he will need his friends to help him figure out the problem. But several adults might have what it takes to stop them. Author George Hagen offers readers his first children’s book in the mostly charming Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle.

Eleven-year-old Gabriel Finley loves riddles, although he knows other kids don’t. Gabriel grew up with a father who challenged him all the time with riddles, helping him figure out the harder ones and celebrating with him when he got them right. But three years ago Adam Finley disappeared. Although Adam’s sister and Gabriel’s aunt, Jasmine, has become Gabriel’s guardian and loves him, Gabriel misses his father and wants him to come back.

Across the street from Gabriel’s New York home, a mother raven nurtures her young chick and protects it from the valravens, the sector of birds that have accomplished their bid for immortality by acting in their own selfish interests. As the chick gets bigger and stronger, he comes to understand that he has a special place in the world of the ravens. More than that special place, the chick learns he may harbor the abilities to help his own species and the human race at the same time.

Events bring Gabriel and Paladin, the young raven, together. As they teach one another through their special communication, they begin to figure out that Adam Finley’s disappearance may serve as a link between ravens and humans. By building a slightly questionable alliance with another human/raven pair, Gabriel and Paladin (accompanied with gusto by Gabriel’s friends) embark on a quest to bring Adam home and save the world.

The book marks author George Hagen’s debut as a novelist for children; he has published books for adults with success. Several elements in Gabriel Finley… may also lead to a modicum of success in this target audience. His main characters come first on that list of elements.

Hagen has created in Gabriel a likeable protagonist, invoking a sense of sympathy for the child without tipping the balance in favor of melodrama. Gabriel’s friends, too, will make readers smile. Abby, the next-door neighbor, becomes a steadfast companion for Gabriel, encouraging him and never questioning the facts he shares about his connection to the ravens. Pamela, the violin prodigy, stands in as the reluctant participant. Somes, the boy who bullies Gabriel, turns into the ally who helps when it counts the most.

Pamela’s appearance in the book might feel slightly off track, however. Gabriel’s Aunt Jasmine offers Pamela and her mother, Trudy, shelter after a fire destroys their home. The link between Gabriel’s family and Pamela’s feels tenuous, and some readers who excel at anticipating the story might keep looking for Trudy to be more than an annoying houseguest. She never really turns enemy, leaving that issue somewhat unresolved.

Also, some might question whether Gabriel really needed three friends to help him on his quest. Hagen may have wanted to offer his readers familiarity in stock characters, and for the most part the children perform their parts well. An ending that feels a little abrupt might leave readers wondering exactly what happened, but Hagen may have left it open for a possible sequel.

The story will keep readers engaged, however. It goes from one scene to the next with somewhat predictable movements. For its target audience predictability may not count as a negative factor.

The highlight of the book comes in the riddles. Hagen has offered a variety of them: some in verse, some humorous, several puns. By the end of the book readers may look forward as eagerly to the riddles as they will to the book’s conclusion.

For the most part, I think readers in Hagen’s target audience will enjoy Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle.