Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: The Glass Gauntlet

Book Review: The Glass Gauntlet by Carter Roy

Goodreads Description: Ronan Truelove barely survived his first encounter with his father and the Bend Sinister. Now, he’s determined to become one of the Blood Guard, a sword-wielding secret society sworn to protect thirty-six pure souls crucial to the world’s survival.

Eager to prove he’s got what it takes, Ronan is sent on his first mission with his friends Greta and Sammy to visit a weird-sounding school and take a series of tests called the Glass Gauntlet. Paper and pencils and nerdy scholarship—where’s the life-or-death challenge in that?

But the Glass Gauntlet is actually something much more dangerous: head-to-head competitions against ruthless opponents. Nothing and no one are what they seem. Who can he trust, and who will kill him? Ronan has to figure it out fast because his enemies are multiplying, and soon he will have to pass the ultimate test: facing his father again and standing up to those who threaten not only him and his friends but also the world.

My Review: An ARC of the Glass Gauntlet was given to me by MB Communications, but my opinion is entirely my own.

I hit the ground running when reading THE GLASS GAUNTLET as I had not read the first book in the series. I could have taken the time to read the first one, but I more wanted to read TGG on its own to see how well it stood up as its own story. After all, even though we write a series, aren't we told to make each book able to stand on its own? Its with that thought that I dived into these pages, and I gladly wasn't let down.

The beginning of the book is a little bogged down with some telling of what occurred in the previous book. As I had not read the first book, I found this information helpful, though many other readers could quickly grow tired of the explanations. Besides that, the book starts right into action, begginning with training in the Blood Guard's base camp before moving out to the estate of Agatha Glass to compete in some sort of 'test.' At first glass, Agatha's test could be seen as a refinishing of the Hunger Games trope-- a competition with life threatening challenges that runs the majority of the plot. Thankfully, this is not the case, as the "test" is not what the story focuses on, but rather everything going on outside of the test, which was refreshing. The tension and voice kept the story moving fluidly until all the tipping points are in place. It was nice to see that the major complications that Ronan faces in this story is caused by his own actions. Rather than being dragged along as a tool of the plot, Ronan instead makes choices both in the beginning and at the end that greatly shapes the outcomes. I especially liked how his decisions made things worse rather than better, as it keeps the tension high and the main character in the action seat.

The entire book had a definite feel of Rick Riordan's books, and many mirroring ideas. But where Riordan's stories focus more on magic, the GG is more focused on tech. The main mystery focuses around the glass gauntlet, what it can do, and how they were going to make it work. The writing is smooth and rather descriptive without going on for paragraphs and paragraphs. The way Carter Roy described scenes and actions made it very easy to visualize. His writing style keeps the pace swift and with deliberate details that are easy to latch onto.

One of the downsides was the lack of serious character changes or development over the course of the novel. I figure that more characterization of the main three characters took place in the first book, and the second is now more focused on plot than building up characters. It was nice to see some of Ronan's struggles-- how he dealt with thinking of his father and his responsibility to Greta-- but outside of him there's not much there besides showcasing character skills to convey personality. The character I was most interested in was Jack Dawkins, mostly because the mystery of his history and the emotion brought out of him, having to face friends he hadn't seen for many many years.

All in all, The Glass Gauntlet made for an enjoyable and fast-paced read. It definitely feels like a book that would appeal to boys, especially those interested in things like the Percy Jackson series. I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did and was delighted with the ideas and plot elements Roy brought to the table.

TL;DR: 3/5 stars. A good adventure story for those who dream of being a hero.

Book Review: The Girl in the Torch

Book Review: The Girl in the Torch by Robert Sharenow

Goodreads Description: At the dawn of the twentieth century, thousands of immigrants are arriving in the promised land of New York City. Twelve-year-old Sarah has always dreamed of America, a land of freedom and possibility. In her small village she stares at a postcard of the Statue of Liberty and imagines the Lady beckoning to her. When Sarah and her mother finally journey across the Atlantic, though, tragedy strikes—and Sarah finds herself being sent back before she even sets foot in the country.

Yet just as Sarah is ushered onto the boat that will send her away from the land of her dreams, she makes a life-or-death decision. She daringly jumps off the back of the boat and swims as hard as she can toward the Lady's island and a new life.

Her leap of faith leads her to an unbelievable hiding place: the Statue of Liberty itself. Now Sarah must find a way to Manhattan while avoiding the night watchman and scavenging enough food to survive. When a surprising ally helps bring her to the city, Sarah finds herself facing new dangers and a life on her own. Will she ever find a true home in America?

My Review:  I was sent an ARC of The Girl in the Torch, but my review is entirely my own opinion.

Right from the beginning of this book, I was pulled into Sarah's struggles and admired the way the author set up each conflict and could make every little problem feel like the end of the world for Sarah. As a new American immigrant arriving around the turn of the century, Sarah faces many varied challenges, from losing her mother, to choosing to jump from the boat to avoid deportation, to scavenging for food and a place to sleep among the Statute of Liberty. Through all of this Sarah remains resilient and hopeful, which is part of what made this book so special. Though Sarah undergoes horrible tragedies, she is always trying to move forward and overcome her next challenge. She doesn't dwell on things and remains optimistic and kind to those around her. Moreso, what made me admire Sarah's character is she was actually smart. The author, Robert Sharenow, didn't have her ignore red flags and walk blindly into danger. She could realize when something wasn't quite right, stand up for herself, and get out instead of allowing herself to be dragged into serious trouble. This is balanced well with a bit of the meekness and naivety that one would expect of a young girl on her own. The balance made her not only a realistic girl, but one that young readers can really look up to.

The pacing of this book is slow at first, but is in no short supply of tension. Each problem that Sarah has to overcome is presented in a way that makes it hard to look away, and each step builds upon itself. The last third of the book runs through like a thrill ride as Sarah has to find a way to rescue her new found friends and family from getting sent to prison because of her, while still find a way to stay in America. It was delightful to see all the pieces come together by the end. The epilogue definitely has a bit of sugary sweet cheesiness to it, but the overall ending to the story was very delightful. I can't think of a better word for it than that, since I was just delighted reading it.

The book had a very diverse flavour to it, since the story is of American immigrants. Sarah rooms with Chinese people and a black couple, befriends an Irish orphan, is rescued by a half-native man, not to mention encounters a variety of cultures settling throughout New York City. It definitely reminded me of something I would have read in school. It would be perfect for young readers to discuss in a classroom setting, as it does touch lightly on things like racism and life for immigrants to the USA.

I highly encourage teachers and librarians to pick this one up for their students. It would also appeal to those who enjoy a historical tale as well.

TL;DR: All in all, 3.5/5 stars. A very sweet and diverse tale, and one to savor.