Book Review: The Forever Song

safehTitle: The Forever Song
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genres: Speculative Fiction/Dystopian
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: ARC via NetGalley
Availability: Available April 15

Summary: VENGEANCE WILL BE HERS

Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster?

With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer.

MONSTER

Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions—her creator, Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost—the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie.

In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, triumph is short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone. (Via Amazon)

Review:
One wouldn’t think a book whose primary theme is family would be about killer vampires, but one would be wrong because with “The Forever Song,” Julie Kagawa finishes her epic Blood of Eden trilogy with a novel focused on family. If you read “The Eternity Cure,” you know that Allie, Jackal and Kanin make a good team, but in this novel, you get to experience them interact as a “family”.  And OMG is it hilarious! Allie and Jackal are the typical big brother and kid sister who love to hate each other, with Jackal getting some good zings in. And poor Kanin is the exhausted parent on the family road trip who puts up with the kid’s shenanigans until a certain point and then threatens “Do you want me to pull over” to calm everyone down. I loved the fact that despite being ferocious killers, Kagawa really humanizes the three with this familial , especially Jackal and Kanin, so by the end, the three of them are really a picture of a functional family.

Of course The Forever Song, being a novel with vampires and dealing with a crazy vampire such as Sarren, has “happy” times are equally punctuated by events that just hurt. I can’t go into detail without giving spoilers, but I can say there were a few moments in the novel where my heart broke. There were also a few times where I thought, “Should I really be eating while I’m reading this?” Kagawa does not insult her readers by holding back on descriptions of violence and I respect that quality of hers. The world that Allie lives in is desolate and dangerous with the struggle to survive in a land filled with raiders, psychotic vampires and rabids.

Lastly, one theme I really enjoyed throughout this book, and the series, is the concept of being human. Kagawa truly explores this concept by having Allie deal with the loss of Zeke, her link to humanity, and her struggle to maintain the monster she knows lurks beneath the surface. The questions that Allie ponders, and is challenged by Jackal, and encouraged by Kanin, really give a balance to the deep philosophical questions most of us would have if we were facing the end of our known world.

I’m sad that the Blood of Eden trilogy has come to an end because I greatly enjoyed the world that Kagawa created and being inside Allie’s head for a short time. While the novel ends in such a way that the story is finished, there is room for more. Ms. Kagawa, I’m not quite ready to leave Allie behind; is there a chance we’ll ever visit her again? Please?

Recommendation: You better go buy this book on April 15!

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New Releases

We found three diverse books that are being released this week. The fun thing is that one is historical, one is contemporary, and one is a dystopian. Here they are in chronological order.

silver Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions for only a few silver coins a day.

From the young “silver people” whose back-breaking labor built the Canal to the denizens of the endangered rainforest itself, this is the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, as only Newbery Honor-winning author Margarita Engle could tell it. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

drama Drama Queens in the House by Julie Williams

Roaring Brook Press

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Jessie Jasper Lewis doesn’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t surrounded by method actors, bright spotlights, and feather boas. Her parents started the Jumble Players Theater together, and theater is the glue that holds her crazy family together. But when she discovers that her father’s cheating on her mother with a man, Jessie feels like her world is toppling over. And on top of everything else, she has to deal with a delusional aunt who is predicting the end of the world. Jessie certainly doesn’t feel ready to be center stage in the production that is her family. But where does she belong in all of this chaos? — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

wanderers Wanderers (Wasteland, #2) by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan

HarperTeen

Summary: The former citizens of Prin are running out of time. The Source has been destroyed, so food is scarcer than ever. Tensions are rising…and then an earthquake hits.

So Esther and Caleb hit the road, leading a ragtag caravan. Their destination? A mythical city where they hope to find food and shelter – not to mention a way to make it past age nineteen.

On the way, alliances and romances blossom and fracture. Esther must rally to take charge with the help of a blind guide, Aras. He seems unbelievably cruel, but not everything is as it seems in the Wasteland.…

In this sequel to Wasteland, the stakes are even higher for Esther, Caleb, and the rest of their clan. They’re pinning all their hopes on the road…but what if it’s the most dangerous place of all? – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Review: Ruins by Dan Wells

Ruins Title: Ruins (The Partial’s Sequence, Book 3)
Author: Dan Wells
Genres: Post-apocalyptic, Science-fiction, Action/Adventure
Pages: 451
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Kira, Samm, and Marcus fight to prevent a final war between Partials and humans in the gripping final installment in the Partials Sequence, a series that combines the thrilling action of The Hunger Games with the provocative themes of Blade Runner and The Stand.

There is no avoiding it—the war to decide the fate of both humans and Partials is at hand. Both sides hold in their possession a weapon that could destroy the other, and Kira Walker has precious little time to prevent that from happening. She has one chance to save both species and the world with them, but it will only come at great personal cost.

Review: The final book of the Partials Sequence had everything I hoped it would: lots of people being clever, a strong command of multiple plotlines and POVs, philosophical discussions about what it means to be human, great action sequences, and lots of death. (At one point, I thought Dan Wells wouldn’t dare and then I immediately thought Of course he would, and then he did, and I was both thrilled and filled with despair.) I adored the opening chapter—the Partials’ relentless hunt for Kira and their attempt to force the other humans to give her up was chilling and set the mood for the rest of the book.

There is a lot going on in Ruins, and Wells did an excellent job of following a ridiculous number of plotlines and characters without making the book feel disjointed. Most of the plotlines had been set up nicely in the previous book, but there were also a few mysteries and surprises that popped up. (Some were better executed than others. I’m still not certain what to think about the Blood Man thing. From a thematic and loose-ends-tying perspective, he was absolutely necessary, but he seemed to come out of nowhere for me, and not always in a good way.) The different POVs were much stronger in Ruins than in Fragments, and I especially enjoyed Ariel and her near-all-consuming rage toward Nandita. I wish we could have spent more time with her.

Kira was, as she has been through the series, an intelligent, capable narrator. I often have to suspend my disbelief when teenagers become leaders despite there being capable adults on the same side (mostly because I doubt the adults’ ability to acknowledge the teenagers’ competence and to trust them), but Kira’s growth into one of the leaders of the last remnants of humanity was believable as it was heartbreaking. She was one of the rare humans who still pushed for and believed in a solution that did not involve mutually assured destruction, and she refused to give up. More importantly, she refused to make the same kind of awful “it doesn’t matter what happens so long as there are survivors” choices that many of the adults around her made. There was a great moment early in the book where Kira decides that what’s more important than survival is that the humans and the Partials are still worth saving. I loved her for that, and that was the moment where I began to believe she was the kind of leader that the rest of humanity could follow.

Samm and Marcus were also great narrators. (Marcus, in particular, was hilarious. Was he this funny in the previous books?) I really enjoyed how quiet, almost reflective, Samm’s POV was. He got to do a lot of thinking in this book and puzzle-solving/theory confirming, and it was a great reminder that even though the Partials were created for war, they were more than just sentient killing machines. He came through as a much stronger personality in this book, and his interactions with Heron were especially interesting.

The romance was still delightfully understated, and I adored how honest and open Kira was about her confused feelings re: Samm and Marcus. (I may or may not have done a little fist-pump when she outright acknowledged that while she’d like to get things sorted out, they had people to save, and romance could be shelved until a more appropriate time.) Both boys never made her feelings about them or succumbed to petty jealousy or shamed her for her choices.

Recommendation: Buy it now. Wells has created a series where the end-of-the-world stakes actually feel appropriately apocalyptic and populated it with characters you can root for. The characters explore all sorts of important questions when it comes to the morality of survival without giving us easy answers, and their struggles are complicated and fascinating. While I had a few minor issues with particular plotlines, the book is a spectacular end to the Partials Sequence.

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Review: The Shadow Hero

heroTitle: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second
Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy
Format: Graphic Novel
Pages: 176
Review Copy: Netgalley
Availability: July 15, 2014, but digital issues are being released monthly until then.

Summary: In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity… The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

With artwork by Sonny Liew, this gorgeous, funny comics adventure for teens is a new spin on the long, rich tradition of American comics lore. Cover image via Goodreads, summary via publisher

Review: After reading an interview with the creators of The Shadow Hero, I couldn’t wait to get it into my hands. Fortunately, it turned up on Netgalley so I only waited two months. The Shadow Hero was worth every bit of that time though.

Yang and Liew have taken a super hero from the past and built a backstory for him that combined Chinese American culture, a tiny taste of the supernatural, and a rather colorful mother. She is not the most nurturing person, but she had other strengths. She certainly provided comic relief. I have seen women keep money, keys or other random things down their shirts, but this was my first experience with storage of pork buns in that particular location. We get to know her early in the story because Yang starts the backstory way back – before the boy who would become The Green Turtle is even born.

What I love is that The Shadow Hero has such a nice balance of action, adventure, humor, seriousness, and flirtation. There are action sequences in each issue and several doses of comedy. I didn’t want it to end. I have not been a reader of many superhero comics. That just never was my genre of choice, but Yang and Liew are winning me over. This comic was extremely entertaining.

Like Yang’s previous work, there are some potentially offensive racial slurs, but they make sense for the time and place. The mother is also quite  exaggerated, but she grew on me in spite of her obsession and dangerous single-mindedness.

As for the illustrations, Liew wowed me. I am relatively new to the comic/graphic novel scene, but it seemed that Liew used a color palette pointing to an earlier time. That would make sense with this resurrection of a superhero from the 1940s, but it could just be his style. There were many shades of brown and most colors appeared a bit muted especially in the beginning when they were setting the stage. It made me feel like I had stepped back into time. The artwork was also fantastic. The reason I didn’t read a lot of comics in the past was that pictures slow me down. I am a plot fan and want to know what happens next. Right now. I zip through the words and tend to ignore illustrations. These pictures required me to take my time and pay attention, but I didn’t mind in the least. Liew added so much life and personality to each of the characters and the surroundings were rich in detail. To see for yourself, there is an excerpt available here. Gene Luen Yang also provides some background on the creation of the book here which includes the text, rough sketches, and final images of the first few pages. Sonny Liew also gives some background information on his blog.

Finally, as an added bonus, the hardcopy includes a section at the end that provides facts and rumors about the original comic that was created back in the 1940s. It also includes pages from the original. I have to admit, I enjoyed the updated version significantly more, but I appreciated the history involved.

To hear about this collaboration, watch this video.

Recommendation: Buy it now or at least as soon as it is possible. The first issue is available now digitally and the second issue will be released on March 18th. The digital copies look amazing so I would recommend them as they are released. Otherwise, get the hardcopy in July. I will be singing the praises of The Shadow Hero for quite some time and I hope that this is not the last we see of the Green Turtle.

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Review: Black Dog

Black Dog Title: Black Dog
Author: Rachel Neumeier
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 443
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic and protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs.

Before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them and their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

They must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.

Review: This book left me with a lot of conflicting feelings.

Rachel Neumeier does an excellent job with the black dogs, though I’ll be the first to admit that my familiarity with werewolves in fiction is strictly on the broad pop culture level. Still, having the black dogs’ shadows be…almost demonic was fascinating for me. There is a lot of fire and smoke and “fell”-ness lurking around the black dogs, and the descriptions of how Alejandro loses his ability to understand either Spanish or English or humanity in general when his shadow rises up is delightfully disturbing. The black dogs are terrifying in their violence and their rage—this is a book filled with a lot of vicious battles and gore. When the black dogs fight, everyone else had better be far away, or they’ll be dead. (They still might end up dead.)

I also loved that Neumeier left a lot of the history of this world for us to fill in on our own. There are a few references to a previous supernatural war and how with the vampire magic gone, “normal” humans have started to figure stuff out about the black dogs, but by and large this world is one you have to piece together on your own. This is quite the feat, considering the primary action of the book takes place roughly within a single week in a very small geographical area (memories of Mexico and a quick side-trip to Chicago aside).

Neumeier makes good use of her dual narrators: Natividad, and Alejandro. By giving us POVs from both of them, the reader gets a better grasp on what it’s like to associate with or be a black dog, which is essential to understanding some of the subtler pieces of storytelling. They both spend a lot of time thinking about what their body language conveys on the not-a-threat to definitely-a-threat spectrum, and the small details of whom sits/stands next to whom are important for understanding what’s going on.

(I had one minor annoyance with the narration, and that was how often Natividad or Alejandro explained to the reader—not to another character—what a Spanish word meant. Every time that happened, it yanked me out of the narrative. It even happened sometimes with words I thought were easy cognates or things that could be inferred from context.)

So far as the characters go, there’s a pretty good ensemble cast. There are standouts and there are bit players, but most of the characters are unique enough to be remembered. The three siblings are great, though I wish we had gotten more of Miguel. Grayson and Keziah were also favorites of mine. My one significant complaint in this department was Vonhausel, who despite being the major antagonist, gets very little screen time. So little screen time, in fact, that the only thing I remember about him aside from an end-of-the-book spoiler is that he really likes having his black dogs and shifters kill people.

There were two major things about this book that gave me pause. The first item is 15-year-old Natividad’s status as breeding stock. This is acknowledged frankly in the book—the fact that she is Pure (and oh, how I cringe at that title, even though I know it has nothing to do with virginity) and likely to give birth to black dog sons and Pure daughters is one of the kids’ main bargaining chips to being allowed to enter Dimilioc. And while she’s allowed to pick whichever black dog she wants as a mate once she turns 16, 1) all of them are older than her and 2) one of them outright says that if she picks someone who is not him, he will kill that other person. That squicks me on so many levels that I could probably write an entire essay on that topic alone. The end of the book was probably intended to mollify me a little, but it didn’t do a good enough job at persuading me that this set up could truly be 100% consensual. (Which means it is not.)

The second item is one that I’m not sure was intentional, and that bothers me more. One of the main plotlines of the book is essentially “people of color seek out stronger white people for help (and/or are pressganged into joining them).” Granted, said white people are nowhere near as strong as they used to be, and by the end Dimilioc only survives because of those people of color, but there are some seriously unfortunately implications when it comes to race in this book. Especially considering Thaddeus, one of the black dogs, falls very neatly into the Scary Black Man trope, complete with being the only black dog to fight in half-man form, being huge and rather violent, and being forced into joining Dimilioc (with a bonus of being dragged there in what are essentially chains with his wife and son as hostages).

Recommendation: Borrow it someday or just skip it. If it weren’t for the last two items (and a few small disappointments in the resolution), this would be a book I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. The prose is great, the action gets your heart going, and Natividad and Alejandro are fun characters, but the unfortunate implications left me with an awful aftertaste.

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Book Review: Warrior by Ellen Oh

warriorTitle: Warrior
Author: Ellen Oh
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 327
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who protected her kingdom in Prophecy, is back . . . and her dramatic quest is far from over. After finishing Ellen’s first novel, Prophecy, School Library Journal said they were “ready for a sequel.” Well, here it is Filled with ancient lore and fast-paced excitement, this page-turning series is perfect for fantasy and action fans.
Kira has valiantly protected her kingdom–and the crown prince–and is certain she will find the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Warrior boasts a strong female hero, romantic intrigue, and mythical creatures such as a nine-tailed fox demon, a goblin army, and a hungry dragon with a snarky attitude. – cover and summary via Indiebound

 
Review: First Julie Kagawa ends The Eternity Cure with a cliffhanger and then Ellen Oh does the same thing with Warrior! Really, ladies?! Why must you be so cruel? Why must you break my heart so? I will say, based on the ending of Warrior, the third book will probably be amazing and I can’t wait to get it into my eagerly awaiting hands. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 
Warrior picks up just days after Prophecy leaves off,  the events of the first book still very fresh in the hearts of Kira and her family. The book also deals with the political fallout of the events and Oh spends some time dealing with the issue of what would happen to a kingdom that has lost both its King & Queen and is now ruled by another. I greatly enjoyed this aspect, exploring the after effects of war both from a psychological and political perspective. The reprieve is short lived when the new King is assassinated, and Kira’s life and that of her cousin Taejo is put in jeopardy. In Prophecy, Kira was tasked to find the first of three magical objects signifying the fulfillment of the Dragon King prophecy and this new threat to Kira and Teajo’s lives is the catalyst for them to go in search for the jeweled dagger. Off their troupe travels, this time meeting new mythical helpers as well as fighting an even creepier demon army than before. Seriously, this demon army that the Demon Lord creates is effective and deadly. There were times when I seriously wondered who would get out alive in the battles and was praying for some of my favorite characters.

 
One of the treats of this novel, for me, is that Oh explores more of the world of the Seven Kingdoms. This time we head north, via an adventure at sea and then traveling through the snow to the mountains. I love watching Korean Dramas, and after watching so many, I have a visual picture in my mind of the landscapes that Oh describes so beautifully. I imagine the world that I’m familiar with layered with the fantastical elements Oh adds. The strength of the novel lies in Oh’s descriptions of her world and having us truly feel what the characters are feeling. The cold that Kira and her group experience as they travel towards the mountains, I could feel in my bones. Many times I curled up tighter in my blankets because I could clearly imagine the chill that Kira felt.

 
While I’m angry that Oh just ended the story on a cliffhanger, I know that the next novel will be a thrilling conclusion to the series and I can’t wait.

 
Recommendation: Go buy it now!

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