Book Review: Unraveled by Kate Jarvik Birch

Unraveled
Perfected #3
Kate Jarvik Birch
Entangled Teen, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63375-913-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Ella isn’t anyone’s pet anymore, but she’s certainly not free.

After exposing the dark secrets about NuPet’s breeding program, forcing them to repeal the law that allowed genetically modified girls to be kept as pets, she thought girls like her would finally be free. She never dreamed that it would backfire. NuPet may have convinced the public of their intentions to assimilate pets back into society, but Ella knows it’s a lie.

They aren’t planning mass rehabilitation…they’re planning a mass extermination.

Now, with the help of a small group of rebels, Ella and Penn, the boy she’d give up her life for, set out to bring down NuPet for good. But when her group gets implicated in a string of bombings, no one is safe. If she can’t untangle the web of blackmail and lies that extends far beyond NuPet’s reach, she won’t just lose her chance at freedom, she’ll lose everyone she loves.

The author of the Perfected trilogy, Kate Jarvik Birch, created a world and story in which girls are raised to be pets, a glorified form of slavery, and I was enthralled by the first two books, especially with the innovative ideas Ms. Birch had. This third and final entry is just as creative and I was fascinated with the twist on our own animal rights activists’ dramatic, sometimes deadly, attacks on the facilities where animals are held. In those circumstances, the animals are often freed in order to save them from experimentation and imprisonment; in Unraveled, it’s the “animals”, the genetically modified girls, who are determined to stop the travesty.

In the US in current times, there is a lot of discussion about the members of congress and whether they are competent, decent, judicious people with good intentions but they don’t hold a candle to the one in this story, the man who owned Ella and father to Penn, the young man Ella loves. Many young adult stories overdo it with the romance, in my opinion, but this love story that has developed over three books is natural and organic, the way it should be.

Ella and Penn, especially Ella, have been fighting for the rights of the pet girls but now face a new betrayal, one that forces them to lead a small group in rebellion. Ella has grown, mentally and emotionally, by leaps and bounds since her time as a pet and has become something of a heroine, always with justice as her goal. Tension rides high on nearly every page in this tale and I think this was a fitting end to a terrific series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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An Excerpt from Unraveled

No one glanced up at us as we left. We were inconsequential, just two kids leaving a pizza place. And that’s exactly what we felt like—kids. Powerless. Weak. Alone.

The bell on the door jingled lightly once more, and we stepped back out into the night. Once again, the sound of jazz music drifted out of the bar next door. I paused, listening to the soulful cry of the saxophone. For a moment, I closed my eyes, focusing on the full, round tone.

And then, just as the last note of the song died away, the bomb went off.

One single note rang in my ears.

High pitched.

Whining.

The saxophone… It had just been playing, wasn’t it? I could remember the low, sweet crooning, but that wasn’t what this sound was.

I shook my head and tried to bring a hand up to my eyes, but something held it clamped down at my side. I tried to wiggle free, but there was something pressing my back, too, making it hard to breathe.

I coughed. My mouth was dry, thick with dust and the taste of metal.

“Penn,” I croaked. “Penn?”

I blinked, trying to turn my head.

In front of me the ground spread out like a battle field.

Red and blue lights blinked behind a cloud of dust. Dark forms moved left and right, up and down. Long limbs waved to one another.

My cheek pressed against something rough.

“Penn!”

“Here’s one,” someone said. They sounded far away, a voice inside a bubble floating somewhere high above my head.

The weight on my back lifted, and a hand slipped beneath me, lifting me from the ground. I choked in a deep gulp of air and balanced on my wobbly legs. Even with the world tipped vertically once more, I couldn’t make sense of it.

“Ella!”

I turned.

The dark outline of Penn stumbled toward me.

Behind him, the building crumbled in on itself. Brick and cement.Wire and steel.Here and there a tipped table, a smashed chair. Broken glass littered the ground, glittering with the orange light of flames that glowed inside the hole where a door had just been. A door. A door. The door that had just jingled shut behind me.

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About the Author

Kate Jarvik Birch is a visual artist, author, playwright, daydreamer, and professional procrastinator. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be either a unicorn or mermaid. Luckily, being a writer turned out to be just as magical. Her essays and short stories have been published in literary journals, including: Indiana Review and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and three kids.

Find Kate at:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram

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Giveaway
Signed copy of Unraveled

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Book Review: A Silver Medallion by James R. Callan

a-silver-medallionA Silver Medallion
A Crystal Moore Suspense #2
James R. Callan
Pennant Publishing, May 2016
ISBN 978-0692679227
Trade Paperback

A Mexican woman shows up at Crystal’s grandmother’s house saying that she’s escaped from a man’s house where she was kept as a slave. There’s another woman who won’t leave the slave situation because she’s been threatened with harm to her children who are being kept captive in Mexico. Crystal’s parents died when she was only seven, and the thought of the youngsters being separated from their mother won’t let her sleep. She sets out, without much of a plan, to free the mother and her children.

Crystal Moore is one of those heroines you just want to yell at, “Don’t do that! Don’t go there! Listen to your best friend, your grandmother, your boyfriend, the police, and that big, tough guy and his wife in Mexico. You’re going to get yourself killed!”

It’s the reader’s good fortune that James Callan’s sleuth doesn’t listen. We get to follow her quest into danger zones. She’s the heroine, and we know she’ll escape or be rescued, but wait… How will she survive when she gets herself into such impossible predicaments?

We almost have to create a new category for this mystery—cozy thriller. We love the main characters. There is an amateur sleuth, and her job is an important aspect of the story. But the lurking danger creates suspense as Crystal tries to save these young Mexican women and children who have been coerced into slavery. Read A Silver Medallion in order to experience delightful, cozy situations in towns and rural areas in southern Texas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Don’t expect all relaxation, though. Your fingers won’t have a minute’s rest as you turn pages, and your shoulders will tighten from the suspense every time Crystal turns a corner.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, September 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: Tarnished by Kate Jarvik Birch

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Book Review: Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch

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Title: Perfected
Author: Kate Jarvik Birch
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: 07/01/14

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PerfectedPerfected
Kate Jarvik Birch
Entangled Teen, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-62266-268-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Perfection comes at a price.

As soon as the government passed legislation allowing humans to be genetically engineered and sold as pets, the rich and powerful rushed to own beautiful girls like Ella. Trained from birth to be graceful, demure, and above all, perfect, these “family companions” enter their masters’ homes prepared to live a life of idle luxury.

Ella is happy with her new role as playmate for a congressman’s bubbly young daughter, but she doesn’t expect Penn, the congressman’s handsome and rebellious son. He’s the only person who sees beyond the perfect exterior to the girl within. Falling for him goes against every rule she knows…and the freedom she finds with him is intoxicating.

But when Ella is kidnapped and thrust into the dark underworld lurking beneath her pampered life, she’s faced with an unthinkable choice. Because the only thing more dangerous than staying with Penn’s family is leaving…and if she’s unsuccessful, she’ll face a fate far worse than death.

For fans of Keira Cass’s Selection series and Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden series, Perfected is a chilling look at what it means to be human, and a stunning celebration of the power of love to set us free, wrapped in a glamorous—and dangerous—bow.

Sometimes you come across a book whose theme stops you in your tracks. Perfected is just such a book. We’ve seen many interpretations of humans controlling and manipulating other humans, usually young girls, but breeding them to be pets is something else entirely. Most of us love animals and think of our pets as part of the family but what if some of those pets were actually human?

So much about Ella’s world is so wrong from the day these girls are born (and isn’t it telling that they’re apparently all girls?). To be born into a kennel and raised in caged conditions before going into training is horrendous but the actual training is worse. Only the education that’s necessary to make them docile and beautiful and appealing is offered; no thought is given to teaching them to read or to giving them more than the most rudimentary knowledge of life. They are, indeed, viewed as nothing more than dogs or cats or whatever we might keep as pets.

Ella is a striking character with her naivete and her fear of displeasing her owner and her dismay as she learns what she doesn’t know, like how to swim or how to read. Her curiosity is somewhat limited, though, and I think that might be the most telling thing about her, giving us insight into how being under other people’s control for so long can damage the natural curiosity we all have.  Her developing relationship with Penn, a truly nice guy, is unforced and quite believable and what he’s willing to do for Ella makes him a real hero in my eyes. As for the rest of the family, they’re all so well-drawn, likeable or not, that they seem very real. The congressman, of course, makes a truly unpleasant villain, especially since he sees nothing wrong with keeping people in luxurious slavery.

Ms. Birch does a really nice job of depicting the world of pets with humans substituted and, in all honesty, there are shades of questioning the validity of our keeping pets at all as well as very subtle comparisons to slavery. Really, my only quibbles with the story have to do with worldbuilding because there is almost none. We don’t know when this takes place although there are many hints that it’s intended to be the very near future as there are still television, normal cars, gas stations, border patrols, etc.  We also don’t know how it came about that Congress could possibly pass such legislation, no real evidence of what the government is like. I’d like to know so much more to get the full effect of the story.

Now, about the ending…I honestly don’t know whether it was intended to be a humdinger of a cliffhanger that will be resolved in future books or simply an invitation for readers to use their own imaginations about what will happen next. Either is acceptable to me but I’m selfishly hoping there are going to be more books 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

About the Author

 

Kate Jarvik BirchKate Jarvik Birch is a visual artist, author, playwright, daydreamer, and professional procrastinator. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be either a unicorn or mermaid. Luckily, being a writer turned out to be just as magical. Her essays and short stories have been published in literary journals including Indiana Review and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and three kids. To learn more visit www.katejarvikbirch.com

                               

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Book Review: Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt—and a Giveaway

Written in the Ashes
K. Hollan Van Zandt
Balboa Press, July 2011
ISBN 978-1-4525-3515-9
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback and electronic editions

From the publisher—

Who burned the Great Library of Alexandria?

When the Roman Empire collapses in the 5th century, the city of Alexandria, Egypt is plagued with unrest. Paganism is declared punishable by death and the populace splinters in religious upheaval. Hannah, a beautiful Jewish shepherd girl is abducted from her home in the mountains of Sinai and sold as a slave in Alexandria to Alizar, an alchemist and successful vintner. Her rapturous singing voice destines her to become the most celebrated bard in the Great Library.

Meanwhile, the city’s bishop, Cyril, rises in power as his priests roam the streets persecuting the pagans. But while most citizens submit, a small resistance fights for justice. Hypatia, the library’s charismatic headmistress, summons her allies to protect the world’s knowledge from the escalating violence. Risking his life, his family, and his hard-earned fortune, Alizar leads the conspiracy by secretly copying the library’s treasured manuscripts and smuggling them to safety.

When Hannah becomes the bishop’s target, she is sequestered across the harbor in the Temple of Isis. But an ancient ceremonial rite between a monk and priestess inside the Pharos lighthouse ignites a forbidden passion. Torn between the men she loves, Hannah must undertake a quest to the lost oracles of Delfi and Amun-Ra to find the one thing powerful enough to protect the pagans: The Emerald Tablet.

Meanwhile, the Christians siege the city, exile the Jews, and fight the dwindling pagan resistance as the Great Library crumbles.

But not everything is lost. . .

Leave a comment below to enter the drawing

for a copy of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt.

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Way back in the Dark Ages when I was a teenager, I fell in love with history and, in particular, with the ancient lands of Egypt, Greece, Italy, Britain, etc. I seriously considered going into archaeology as a career but, fortunately, I figured out early on that I’m a couch potato at heart and really not cut out for all that sweat and hard work. Despite that setback, I’ve never lost my love for those places and their stories.

Then, in 1989, I had the great good fortune to go with my younger daughter to visit my older daughter who was studying in Greece. We did the tourist thing in Greece and then went on to Egypt. I don’t expect to ever again experience anything like it and that wonderful trip confirmed my belief that those two countries, in particular, have history that’s magical.

That magic is what the reader finds in Written in the Ashes. From my first introduction to Hannah, I was captivated by her and by what happens to her, and she became a very real person in my imagination. I could feel her emotions, her fear, her strength. I could once again experience the heat, the red dust, the intense sun, the incredibly blue sky, the sense of being in a place that would have an immense effect on the rest of humanity for eons to come. And Hypatia—what an incredible woman she is in the author’s hands and must have been in real life. To think that she played such an integral role at a time when religions and the empire were in great turmoil, a time when an intelligent woman was looked upon with suspicion and distrust, is mesmerizing.

These two very different women and the secondary characters that touch their lives for good or bad, bring to life the story of what happened in Alexandria and the massive changes that occurred in the religious world of the 5th century. Whether the reader is Christian or Jewish or pagan or of any other belief—or even atheistic—really doesn’t matter because we all live today with the ramifications of those events. Ms. Van Zandt has done a masterful job of creating a compelling and absorbing story around a fascinating piece of history.

Ms. Van Zandt is also to be commended for her meticulous research but, most of all, for her flowing, striking prose that frequently caught my breath; I’d find myself re-reading passages just to see if they sounded the same a second time. (Hint: they did and, sometimes, were even better.) I really do hope this author will offer us either a sequel or another novel entirely without making us wait too long.

One note of caution for those readers who are easily offended—while you’ll find love and excitement and danger and even a little humor, the author does not hold back when it comes to scenes of violence and abuse and I applaud her for that. After all, slavery, rape, murder, arson and mob behavior are all about brutality and should be portrayed accordingly, but I highly recommend Written in the Ashes for any reader who enjoys tales from our past that are grounded in truth and written in beauty.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.


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You have two chances to enter the drawing for an ebook

copy of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt. Leave

a comment below and then again on September 26th

on Kaia’s guest post. The winning name will be drawn

on the evening of October 3rd.

Follow the tour here.