Mini-Review: Rose Eagle

roseTitle: Rose Eagle
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Publisher: Tu Books
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Romance
Format: Digital only
Review Copy: Digital copy via Edelweiss
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: A prequel e-novella to the award-winning Killer of Enemies.

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, seventeen-year-old Rose Eagle of the Lakota tribe is trying to find her place in a post-apocalyptic world.

Before the Silver Cloud, the Lakota were forced to work in the Deeps, mining for ore so that the Ones, the overlords, could continue their wars. But when the Cloud came and enveloped Earth, all electronics were shut off. Some miners were trapped in the deepest Deeps and suffocated, but the Lakota were warned to escape, and the upper Deeps became a place of refuge for them in a post-Cloud world.

In the midst of this chaos, Rose Eagle’s aunt has a dream: Rose will become a medicine woman, a healer. She sends Rose into the Black Hills on a quest to find healing for their people.

Gangly and soft-spoken, Rose is no warrior. She seeks medicine, not danger. Nevertheless, danger finds her, but love and healing soon follow. When Rose Eagle completes her quest, she may return with more than she ever thought she was looking for.

Review: Rose may be “Gangly and soft-spoken,” but she is no slouch when it comes to fighting the terrifying monsters that are wandering the country. At first, I was afraid that Rose was much the same as Lozen from Killer of Enemies. While I really enjoyed that novel and Lozen’s rather kick-ass ways, I didn’t want to read the same story again with different names. It quickly became apparent though, that Rose was distinctly herself. She has a special gift (no spoilers here), but she also lives in a state of uncertainty and reserve. She keeps to herself and believes that she’s unattractive. Beyond that, Rose is tentative about social interactions, in spite of the fact that she can face down monsters.

I enjoyed getting to know Rose and would love to learn more about her. It may be the nature of a novella, but I didn’t feel that I had enough time with the characters. The relationship also had moments that felt rushed. Fortunately, Bruchac is already working on a sequel to Killer of Enemies that will allow us more time with Rose. The sequel will connect the paths of both Lozen and Rose.

Rose Eagle has a wonderful mix of action and moments for thought. It takes place in South Dakota and the controversy about Crazy Horse Monument was brought up among other things.

Recommendation: Rose Eagle was entertaining and I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys dystopias and especially for those who read and enjoyed Killer of Enemies. Get it soon.

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Review: Stranger (The Change #1)

StrangerTitle: Stranger (The Change #1)
Author: Rachel Manija Brown, Sherwood Smith
Genres: science fiction, dystopia
Pages: 432
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Review Copy: the library
Availability: November 13, 2014

Summary: Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, “the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. “Las Anclas” now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The book Stranger centers on what happens when Ross Juarez, a teenaged prospector, is rescued and brought to the town of Las Anclas, a post-apocalyptic take on the classic Western setting in the desert — complete with saloons and mysterious strangers. The town is under constant threat by invaders and is walled off from the desert by huge, mechanized gates. Out in the desert, crystalline trees kill anyone who happens upon them. Inside the town, some people are Changed and have certain powers, while other people remain Norms… naturally, there’s conflict and tension between the two groups.

The detail and strong worldbuilding in Stranger are both its strength and its weakness. The detail-heavy prose, combined with the huge cast of characters, made the book difficult to get into at first… but, once the stage was set, the story really hit its stride. It’s a thrilling adventure to read, once you get far enough in.

The story is told from five perspectives — Mia Lee, Felicite Wolfe, Ross Juarez, Jennie Riley, and Yuki Nakamura. The variety of characters in the book is portrayed in a skillful way and each provides a unique view of the story. People of different ages, sexualities*, and ethnicities are integrated seamlessly into the world. It’s so rare to find a book that depicts POC and LGBTQIA characters in a way that doesn’t rely on stereotyping or tacky descriptions… in this regard, reading the Stranger was a refreshing change from the norm. Diversity is done well in this book.

The best part was the relationships — the friendship between Mia and Jennie, the bond between Mia and her father, and Yuki’s romance. This, together with the cool setting, made Stranger a delight to read. If you’re into Westerns, or well-written somewhat dystopian fiction, the Stranger is worth reading. Pick up Stranger when you have the chance!

Recommendation: Get it soon! The post-apocalyptic Western take is definitely worth a read.

*SPOILERS: I was so sure that this one character would turn out to be aro/ace and hugely disappointed that (once again, SPOILER), it wasn’t to be. I guess you can’t have everything…

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Review: Frozen (Heart of Dread #1)

frozenTitle: Frozen (Heart of Dread #1)
Author: Melissa de la Cruz, Michael Johnston
Genres: fantasy, dystopian
Pages: 336
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Review Copy: the library
Availability: September 17th 2013

Summary:
Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.

At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she’s heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.

But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson to take her there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Frozen felt like a story of adventure — you know, a ragtag band of youths go travelling. That sort of adventure. Natasha, a blackjack dealer with a past that is a mystery even to herself, wants out of New Vegas. Everywhere is covered in ice and is, essentially, a frozen wasteland — save for the legendary place called “the Blue,” where the tropical waters are (surprise) blue and not frozen.

Natasha has a magical secret and dark voices in her head — a few of the many things about herself that she doesn’t understand. What she does know is that her secrets — betrayed by her colorful eyes — are dangerous to her. To avoid persecution and gain her freedom, she must flee New Vegas and search out the mythical Blue with the help of a band of boys lead by the oh-so-mysterious-and-hot Ryan Wesson, he of the tragic backstory.

While the worldbuilding and characters had a lot of potential, there was little to no follow through. The imagery of the frozen world was vivid and fascinating, but there was barely any explanation as to how the world had ended up frozen. There was only a cursory explanation about why magical beings were hated and hunted. Aside from the prologue, there is very little set-up or foundation for a lot of the elements in the story — magical marks, colorful eyes, frozen lands, and so on.

The romantic subplot was, unfortunately, the usual fare… dangerous, heterosexual longing, overlaid with a heavy sense of doom. Similarly, the ‘colorful eyes equals special and different’ device was also one that was all too familiar. Though Frozen is set in a frozen world vastly different from the settings of most YA lit, I still felt like this book was treading very, very familiar ground.

While the book was a fun read, it was hard to get away from the feeling that I had dropped into the middle of a book series by accident… even though I was reading the first book in a series. While the world and characters of Frozen are intriguing, the lack of explanation or follow-through made it difficult to fully enjoy the book.

Frozen is a great book for anyone who is looking for an adventure story with an interesting post-apocalyptic frozen wasteland setting.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday

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Review: Extraction

Extraction

 

Title:   Extraction (Extraction #1)
Author: Stephanie Diaz
Genres: Dystopian, science fiction
Pages: 416
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: the library
Availability: July 22nd, 2014

 

 

Summary: Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be tested for Extraction in the hopes of being sent from the planet Kiel’s toxic Surface to the much safer Core, where people live without fear or starvation. When she proves promising enough to be “Extracted,” she must leave without Logan, the boy she loves. Torn apart from her only sense of family, Clem promises to come back and save him from brutal Surface life… (Summary cut to avoid massive spoilers!) [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: There’s a certain formula that is expected from most dystopian YA. You know, one girl who happens to be a unique, special snowflake fights the dystopian government, powered by her heterosexual love. Extraction is no exception to this proud tradition, but does it slightly better.

Extraction‘s feisty protagonist Clementine is one of the chosen few who is extracted from the desperation of life on the Surface and brought to the earth’s Core. The world is divided up into layers, literally, and the most oppressed are on the surface. The rich, safe and privileged live in the Core, far away from the moon’s toxic acid. When Clementine goes to the core, she excels in almost everything she does — powered by her wish to save her love Logan, who is still on the Surface.

This is definitely a plot-driven book. The characters have little depth, but serve their purpose in propelling the plot forward. Many plot elements ring familiar: evil government! simulation tests! training montages! injections! I was reminded of both Divergent and Ender’s Game, but the writing in Extraction is much stronger. And unlike in Divergent (SPOILER ALERT? Sort of?)… the stock character of the cruel hot guy does NOT become the love interest, which was awesome.

What sets Extraction apart from other dystopian YA is the twist ending. The end of Extraction lands the book firmly in science-fiction territory, and makes the entire book far more interesting. This, in addition to the better-than-average dystopian worldbuilding, is the strength of the book.

Extraction is a solid book as far as dystopian YA goes. While I wish the plot and characters were a bit stronger, the worldbuilding and plot twist at the end make it all worth it. I look forward to picking up the sequel, just to see how the new direction Extraction takes at the end will pan out.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday, particularly if you’re a fan of dystopian YA!

Further reading: Stephanie Diaz, YA Author of EXTRACTION talks about diversity and her debut novel at Latin@s in Kid Lit

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Book Review: While We Run

While We RunTitle: While We Run
Author: Karen Healey
Genres:  Sci-Fi/Dystopian
Pages: 327
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Review Copy: Library/Purchased
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Abdi Taalib thought he was moving to Australia for a music scholarship. But after meeting the beautiful and brazen Tegan Oglietti, his world was turned upside down. Tegan’s no ordinary girl – she died in 2027, only to be frozen and brought back to life in Abdi’s time, 100 years later.

Now, all they want is for things to return to normal (or as normal as they can be), but the government has other ideas. Especially since the two just spilled the secrets behind Australia’s cryonics project to the world. On the run, Abdi and Tegan have no idea who they can trust, and when they uncover startling new details about Project Ark, they realize thousands of lives may be in their hands.

A suspenseful, page-turning sequel to When We Wake that will keep readers on the edge of their seats and make them call into question their own ideas about morality – and mortality, too.

Review: I have to say this straight out. I LOVED THIS BOOK!! So much that I read it twice and was enthralled the second time. While We Run is just that good. The first time I read it was during summer vacation and I think I read the book in a matter of hours. I couldn’t put it down. Karen Healey’s pacing in this sequel is much better balanced with heavy hitting points mixed with quiet moments between characters that really showcase the relationships in this novel. The themes Healey presents as well, such as the concept of collateral damage, she handles with skill and a deftness that allows explores the grey areas of political revolutions. Many YA dystopian novels that focus on revolution often have an “Us vs. Them” mentality and the fight is usually a “good vs. evil” trope. While Abdi, Tegan, and their friends view the Australian government as evil, through their experiences they eventually learn what it means to have to make those tough decisions and that sometimes you have to lose to win. It’s a very grown up lesson to learn and Healey presents those ideas well.

The one aspect of the novel that I loved the most was Abdi’s voice. In When We Wake, I enjoyed Abdi’s presence in Tegan’s life and found him to be a well-rounded character, love interest for her. While We Run is told entirely from Abdi’s perspective and he is a fascinating character. I felt his voice is much stronger than Tegan’s, more introspective and thoughtful, owning a maturity far beyond his 17 years. He often very blunt with the reader while at the same time hiding information from the other characters. In Healey’s sequel, we get a real sense of Abdi’s inner self, what drives him, and what made him the deep thinker he is. Because he is still a teenager, he does make some stupid mistakes but unlike some YA characters, he does own up to them, eventually. He is also able to take criticism from his friends, internalize it and then work to change his behavior. I have to say that is one quality that I loved in him. Healey also handles instances of racism that Abdi experiences and comments on extremely well. These are usually comments that Abdi keeps to himself and rarely says aloud, and by doing that, Healey captured the internal dialogue a person of color usually has to racist comments or experiences. I greatly respect writers who understand that when writing cross culturally,  characters of color would have to internalize their reactions to racist situations. I feel like Healey did her homework when writing Abdi and it shows; I practically feel in love with him.

I don’t know if there is a 3rd book planned for the series, but I hope there is one. I want to know what happens to Abdi and Tegan next, what their future holds, and how they handle the decisions they made at the end of the novel. The world that Healey created is very believable and one that I’m not ready to leave just yet. In the meantime, I’ll just read While We Run one more time.

Recommendation: GET IT NOW!

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Review: Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

KaleidoscopeTitle: Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories
Editors: Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic
Pages: 437
Publisher: Twelfth Planet Press
Review Copy: Received review copy from publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy and science fiction stories.

What do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgendered animal shifter have in common? They’re all stars of Kaleidoscope stories!

Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life.

Review: Science-fiction and fantasy are my favorite genres, but I’ve been painfully aware of how few people like me survived an apocalypse, let alone got to be the main character. So it comes as no surprise that I did a mental fist pump when I came across “A Note From the Editors” in Kaleidoscope:

“…in some ways this is a purely selfish drive: we want to see ourselves reflected in the stories we read. But it’s not limited to that; we also want everyone else to have the chance to see themselves, and we want to see stories about people who aren’t like us.”

Oh, does Kaleidoscope deliver. It’s filled with all sorts of diversity—racial, ability, sexuality—and several stories feature characters who are diverse in more than one way. There are people of color who have disabilities (“Signature” by Faith Mudge), LGBTQ characters who deal with mental illness (“Ordinary Things” by Vylar Kaftan), and a host of other intersectional combinations. Many of these stories don’t have their diverse characters exist in isolation, either. Throughout the 400+ pages of this anthology, the writers have resisted the white/straight/cis/able-bodied-character-as-default way of thinking and have created rich, vibrant worlds that are much closer to representing the real world in spite of the SFF trappings than many other books I’ve read.

Perhaps the best part about this Kaleidoscope is how genuinely entertaining these stories are. Editors Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios did an excellent job of curating this anthology. There are dystopian societies, time-travelling, parallel universes, superheroes, mythology tie-ins, aliens, and more. Chances are, if you’re at all interested in SFF, you’ll find a story in here that you’ll love.

As in all anthologies, not every story is perfect. Some stories simply don’t linger once you’re finished with them, but I don’t remember disliking any of them in particular. My personal favorites were some of the darker ones: “The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams, “Krishna Blue” by Shveta Thakrar, “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar, and “The Day the God Died” by Alena McNamara. Some of these stories have triggering content, such as suicidal thoughts, violent deaths, or homophobic slurs (“Celebration” by Sean Eads is set in a conversion therapy center). I should note that the anthology as a whole is not all grim—it has a good mix of fun, lighthearted stories, too.

Recommendation: Buy it now. (Or, if you have a U.S. mailing address, you could enter to win a copy below.) Kaleidoscope features a great mix of twenty stories with diverse characters. The variety of stories is a great thing for people who like to read widely in the SFF genres, as I do.

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