Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Solitary (Escape from Furnace 2) by Alexander Gordon Smith


Alex Sawyer and his mates should have known there was no way out of Furnace Penitentiary. Their escape attempt only lands them deeper in the guts of this prison for young offenders, and then into solitary confinement. And that's where a whole new struggle begins—a struggle not to let the hellish conditions overwhelm them.  Because before another escape attempt is even possible, they must first survive the nightmare that now haunts their endless nights.


Published December 21st 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

The Elliott Review:

This book continues Alex's journey after his first unsuccessful attempt to escape from furnace. He and Zee are placed in solitary confinement in the underbelly of the prison for one month. Usually, no one can survive even a week in that hellish environment. Alex and Zee develop a strange, banging code to communicate with each other. They also find that the intrigue of the prison extends beyond what anyone in the general population comprehends.
Beneath the prison is where the wheezers conduct their tormenting experiments on inmates, changing them into super-powered, mutant monsters. Some of these experiments have gone horribly awry, and these creatures live beneath the surface, always threatening to eat the prisoners in solitary. Alex finds an ally in Simon, one of these experiments who has not lost his sense of self. Together with Zee, they concoct an escape plan. 

There are so many moments in the book that make me want to look away, but I just can't. I'm like, "No, this is horrible. I can't believe I'm reading this. How could they do this? This is so evil and demented and twisted." And I put the book down for a minute, but then I can't stop thinking about it and pick it back up again. Every moment spent reading this book is one of utter terror and disgust and very intense interest. There are so many heart-rending moments, disturbing moments, and even humorous moments that kept me completely gripped from start to finish.

Based on the summary of the next book, Death Sentence, it's pretty obvious what will be happening to Alex and Zee next, and even though the thought of that horrifies me, I am pretty much dying to get my hands on it!!!

Young Adult Notes:

Mention of suicide, grotesque violence, torture

Source: Won

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Lockdown (Escape from Furnace 1) by Alexander Gordon Smith


Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison. 

Together with a bunch of inmates—some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace’s deeper, darker purpose, Alex’s actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that’s hidden from the eyes of the world.


Published August 3rd 2010 by Square Fish (first published October 27th 2009)

The Elliott Review:

I expected this book to be intense, but I didn't expect that it would scare the crap out of me the way it did. This is something utterly original, fast-paced, and horrifying! As Alex learns the ropes of his new life in Furnace Penitentiary, I felt as though I was being sucked into the abyss with him. This book is unlike any prison book that I've ever read. There are so many dark, raw secrets here, but surprisingly none of them involve any kind of prison rape like one might expect. The horrors that Furnace holds are a terror all their own.

After a string of gang murders one summer, the nation decides that a hellish prison for juveniles is the way to deter murders. Alex, after being framed for the murder of his best friend by some of the prison's worst masters, is thrown into this hell hole for life without parole. With the help of his cellmate, Donovan, he learns the ropes - how to navigate the gangs, hard labor, and nightly terrors. Eventually Alex and his friends find a way that could be an escape, and they grasp onto that hope against all the dangers they face.

There are so many disturbing events in this book, and I mean this in a good way. I kept reading and reading kind of like people passing a car wreck keep looking and looking. I wash terrified at what I might see, but I wanted to find out how Alex would deal with each thing he encounters. This book had me riveted from start to finish with the quick flow of writing, likeable characters, and unique content. 

Although I think a wide readership would enjoy this, I think that boys would be especially drawn to the fast paced adventure and disturbing horror.

Young Adult Notes:

Violence and grotesque images; no language or sexual content

Source: Thanks to Zeitghost Media and Macmillan Publishing for providing a copy of this book for a fair review.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway: Stories Are Simple (Ryan Jacobson)

Stories are simple. Most of them do exactly the same thing—in their own, unique ways. This doesn’t mean that writing a story is easy, but it does mean that aspiring writers need not be quite so scared or intimidated by the big, bad “story.” You just need to understand what you’re trying to do.

And what is that? What’s this “same thing” I just mentioned? Well, it goes a little something like this: There’s this character. S/he suddenly has a problem. The problem gets worse…and worse…and worse. Then the character solves the problem (or doesn’t). The end.

That’s it. That’s a story. The truly brilliant ones do it with a few surprises and twists, but most storylines can be boiled down to two basic components: (1.) a character with a goal and (2.) conflict.

When I work with writing students, I tell them to start with a goal. What does the main character want to do? Destroy a precious ring? Get a guy to dump her in 10 days? Win the lead in the high school musical? Overthrow an evil galactic empire? The goal can be just about anything. (One of my favorite student stories was about two kids who wanted to buy a bag of Skittles.) But there’s a catch. In order for a story to work, the goal has to be really important to the character. More on that in a minute.

Next comes the fun part. Conflict is, quite simply, anything and everything that prevents the character from achieving the goal. That’s easy enough to add—whether your conflict is a blizzard, Darth Vader, an overbearing mom, a best friend who’s dating your character’s secret crush or an evil stick of butter. Writing conflict is great because this is where you get to let loose your inner monster (bwahahaha)! You get to make life miserable for your character. The trick is to keep cranking up the conflict throughout the story. Don’t let up. Don’t give your character an easy way out. Make the conflict/problem worse…and worse…and worse. I mean, even in Disney movies, there’s always a tear-jerker song just before things get better.

This brings us back to the goal. Why does it need to be really important to the character? Because if it isn’t, either the character will give up (boring!) or the story will not be believable (bad!). I mean, let’s say your character’s goal is to balance her checkbook. All of a sudden, a crazy man with a hockey mask and a chainsaw shows up and tells her to stop. Um, yeah, I’m pretty sure she’s going to stop. Right? As it stands, the goal isn’t important enough; it’s definitely not worth battling a crazy man with a chainsaw. Now, if she were racing to balance her checkbook to win Justin Bieber tickets, that’s another story…

See? That’s not so bad. Your story awaits. All you need is a character, a goal and problem. But remember, the evil stick of butter was my idea.

Follow Ryan:

Win a copy of Can You Survive Jack London's Call of the Wild!!!

US only.
Ends November 1st.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Trailer + Giveaway: My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody

...Brooklyn Pierce, a fifteen year-old girl notorious for making bad decisions, enlists the help of the online blog reading population to vote on how she should live her life. But some things in life simply aren't a who you fall in love with.


Enter to win a copy of MY LIFE UNDECIDED!

Thanks to Zeitghost Media I have a copy of this title to give away.

US/Canada only.
Ends October 13th.

Please fill out THE FORM to enter!

Good luck!