October 20, 2013

Book review: The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

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Individuality vs. conformity. Identity vs. access. Freedom vs. control. The bar code tattoo.

The bar code tattoo. Everybody's getting it. It will make your life easier, they say. It will hook you in. It will become your identity.

But what if you say no? What if you don't want to become a code? For Kayla, this one choice changes everything. She becomes an outcast in her high school. Dangerous things happen to her family. There's no option but to run . . . for her life.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

The theme of freedom from a Big Brother entity is common in dystopian fiction, and The Bar Code Tattoo is just the latest in the line of such books that I've read. Unfortunately, nothing about this book stands out. The source of this society's problems, the titular bar code tattoo and the global company behind it, doesn't seem so scary compared to other dystopian threats. To me, there's nothing more nefarious about these tattoos than what we already have today with credit reports, browser cookies, and companies like 23AndMe. The problem is that everything the main character feared could still come to pass without bar code tattoos.

The characters and dialogue were also bland, as if they were written by a high school student. At least there wasn't (much of) a love triangle, but the relationships in this book also happened so easily that I wondered if the author was trying to simplify it for young kids who might be reading the book.

The topic of The Bar Code Tattoo carried a lot of potential. However, the execution was botched with the underdeveloped level of story telling. This is really a 2.5 star book that's rounded up to 3 stars.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: The Cave Man by Xiaoda Xiao.

October 12, 2013

Popular YA SF/Fantasy books I never got into

With the recent movie release of City of Bones and the upcoming releases of Catching Fire and Divergent, millions of people will be introduced to these new YA SF/fantasy series. Having read all three books, I have very different opinions about these movies. I highly anticipate Catching Fire and the Divergent movie because I enjoyed the books, but I could do without City of Bones.

It's true, not all YA books that become movies are good. That said, let's take a look at some popular YA SF/fantasy books and series that I never got into. These all have movie adaptations or are rumored to be adapted to film.

In no particular order:
  • The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare - City of Bones is the first book in the Mortal Instruments series and the only one I've read. I haven't read any other books in the series because City of Bones just wasn't good. It's a derivative of every cliche YA paranormal book out there, which means the characters are nothing special and the romances don't make any sense.
  • Matched by Ally Condie - Matched suffers from the same problems as City of Bones, but it was a better written book. The love triangle in Matched made absolutely no sense to me, and as a result, I haven't read any other books in the series and don't plan to.
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld - I'm a big fan of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, but Leviathan just didn't do it for me. I think the problem may be that it was written for a younger audience than I like because I felt the story was shallow and the characters uninteresting. On the other hand, Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles are targeted to the same or younger age group, and I like those books, so who knows.
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin - I'm not sure if The Passage is a YA book or an adult book, but since it shows up in many lists with other YA books, I'm including it. This book had a good premise and showed promise, but it was just way too long. If it was 300 pages instead of 800, I bet I'd like like it a lot more.
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer - I admit that I've never read any of the Twilight books, and I don't plan to. I blame this series for the popularity of YA paranormal romance and the stupid love triangles that you find in too many YA books today. While I will avoid Twilight, I have nothing against Stephenie Meyer as an author. I've read The Host and liked it, as well as its movie adaptation.

October 5, 2013

Book review: Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

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In the virtual reality game Heir Apparent, there are way too many ways to get killed--and Giannine seems to be finding them all. Which is a darn shame, because unless she can get the magic ring, locate the stolen treasure, answer the dwarf's dumb riddles, impress the head-chopping statue, charm the army of ghosts, fend off the barbarians, and defeat the man-eating dragon, she'll never win.

And she has to, because losing means she'll die--for real this time.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Heir Apparent is the second book that takes place in a virtual reality game I've read for the Authors A to Z reading challenge. In May, I reviewed Epic by Konor Kostick. I liked Heir Apparent much more, despite the fact that Epic sounds like a game I'm more likely to play.

Heir Apparent is a bit like Groundhog Day. Giannine's game character, Janine, starts off the game at her foster parents' farm, where she learns that the king has died shortly after naming her the heir to the throne. In her quest to survive until her coronation, Janine runs into other characters who try to kill her. Every time she dies, she restarts the game back at the farm. Through trial and error, she learns what she has to do in order to "win." When done well, I find Groundhog Day stories entertaining, and it was certainly the case with this novel.

Unlike Epic, Heir Apparent takes place almost entirely within the game. I think that's a plus, because it's what happens inside the game that's most interesting. The other characters in the story were also interesting, and the author did a good job with giving each of them distinct personalities that evoked different reactions from me. Janine/Giannine also grew on me because I shared her frustration whenever the game restarted and I could sympathize with the decisions she made in the game.

Overall, this was a very good book, and now I want to read other books by the same author.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn.