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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Book Review: Ignite Me

courtesy of Goodreads

courtesy of Goodreads

Title: Ignite Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genres: Speculative Fiction/Dystopian
Pages: 408
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she’ll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew-about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam-was wrong. (Via Goodreads)

Review: Sigh. Another series ending and another disappointment. Maybe I had built up too much in my head, or maybe I had hoped for a meaningful conclusion, but either way, I was less than thrilled by the final book of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series. This installment focused less on the rebellion and more on the developing romance between Juliette and Warner. Maybe because Warner is one of my least favorite characters that I didn’t enjoy the direction this book took, or that Adam seemed to be acting completely out of character for the entire book (though Juliette does comment on it), I just felt like this last book was all about the “love triangle” and not about Juliette becoming free from the Reestablishment. I felt like Mafi wanted Ignite Me to go in a certain direction and forced that direction by having the reader (via Juliette) learn that events from previous books were not what they seemed to be. I feel like I was manipulated to like Warner, and have him be the best romantic lead ever, when in reality, despite learning more about him, he still reads, at least to me, as an ass. I know we are creatures made from our surroundings, but some of the things Warner does, even when you can see his rationalization, makes him still a jerk. I just don’t like him and as the book progressed, my enjoyment of the story continued to decline. I was just not feeling the romance angle of the story, and it seemed to occupy about 90% of the plot! I liked Adam from the beginning, and granted because Juliette has changed so much that she outgrew their relationship, his behavior towards her throughout the book was appalling. The way Mafi wrote him, he was a completely different character. I kept waiting for an apology or for some explanation as to why he was acting so strange, but it never came. To me, the decision to make Adam so crazy and never explain it is a loose end that Mafi needs to wrap up somewhere. Speaking of loose ends, I don’t feel like the story is finished. As I was reading, I was noticing my remaining pages were getting low, but there was still so much more story, at least I felt, to go. The novel just kind of ends. I would have liked an epilogue or something – just to know what happened after. Maybe Mafi has more hiding up her sleeve, but I know that also added to my dissatisfaction with the novel.

On the plus side, Mafi’s writing is as beautiful as ever. So many wonderful passages written like poetry and she is able to wield stream-of-consciousness writing like a master swordsman; her prose was made me fall in love with the series in the first place. As Juliette became more sane, the style of the writing changed, but in Ignite Me, there is a wonderful balance. There is one chapter that after I read it, I had to put the book down and just linger in the beauty of the language, the exquisite metaphor used. Mafi also makes a daring choice in one chapter, a moment between Warner and Juliette that I hadn’t seen in a YA book before, and I applaud her for it. I feel like in that instance Mafi didn’t insult her readers and beautifully dealt with an aspect of relationships that other YA books work hard to avoid. It was handled in a way only Mafi can do and allowed the reader to truly feel how Juliette would be able to be so daring.

Recommendation: I don’t want to say wait a while, but I don’t say read it now. However, if you’re a fan of the series, you’ve probably already read it. However, Juliette is a good character and her growth throughout the series is beautifully done. If you are in the mood for reading about a young lady discovering her self-worth and becoming empowered, the Shatter Me series is a good place to start.

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Review: The Lost Girl

the lost girlTitle:  The Lost Girl
Author: Sangu Mandanna
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 432
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: August 28, 2012

Summary: Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her “other,” if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.

But sixteen years of studying never prepared her for this. Now she must abandon everything and everyone she’s ever known—the guardians who raised her, the boy she’s forbidden to love—to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I went into this a little wary since science-fiction-dystopian isn’t really my thing, but — wow. This is one of those books that you just have to read all in one sitting.

The Lost Girl starts out slow, letting the reader really get to know not only Eva, the echo of her counterpart Amarra in India, but also her patchwork family made up of her adopted mother figure, guardians, teachers, and friends. The narrative voice of Eva is distinct and descriptive. Through her perspective, the other characters gain dimension and life. When Eva is finally torn away from her precious family so that she can fulfill her roll as an echo, the pain she experiences feels genuine. And when she meets her new family, they are just as fully realized as her old one.

The setting of The Lost Girl is both its strength and weakness. The story is set in what feels very much like our world, with the exception of the existence of Weavers and echoes. Weavers who can create life from scratch sounds like something that belongs in the future with all of the accompanying science innovations. Instead, the Weavers and their methods are shrouded in mystery, which renders the story’s premise a tad unbelievable.

At the same time, the setting fits with the tone of the book — the narrow perspective and voice of Eva, a teenage girl who knows little about the outside world. It also renders Eva’s experiences in both England and India all the more real. Her stay in Bangalore is rich in details about the humid weather and ashoka trees.

The plot leaves quite a few issues unresolved, but that keeps alive the hope for a sequel. The Lost Girl is a beautiful emotional roller coaster that explores death, identity, and love of all kinds. (And the references to Frankenstein are spot-on, so if you enjoyed Mary Shelley’s classic novel, then you’ll want to read this.)

Recommendation: Buy it now! And get some hot chocolate ready to comfort you.

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Review: Control by Lydia Kang

Control Title: Control
Author: Lydia Kang
Genres: Science-fiction, Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic
Pages: 393
Publisher: Dial Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Set in 2150 — in a world of automatic cars, nightclubs with auditory ecstasy drugs, and guys with four arms — this is about the human genetic “mistakes” that society wants to forget, and the way that outcasts can turn out to be heroes.

When their overprotective father is killed in a terrible accident, Zel and her younger sister, Dylia, are lost in grief. But it’s not until strangers appear, using bizarre sensory weapons, that the life they had is truly eviscerated. Zel ends up in a safe house for teens that aren’t like any she’s ever seen — teens who, by law, shouldn’t even exist. One of them — an angry tattooed boy haunted by tragedy — can help Zel reunite with her sister.

But only if she is willing to lose him.

Review: I think the balance of the science-fiction and dystopian genres in Control was a little off for my tastes. I prefer my science fiction books to have a lot more emphasis on the puzzle-solving part of the science, especially for the reader. I want to be able to piece together clues and spend less time in lab accidents. There was too much time spent on trying to get a good copy of Dylia’s DNA instead of experimenting with the stuff that’s important in the final act. I also prefer my dystopians to focus a lot more on how evil society has become—not that there aren’t plenty of ways in which the government in Control is horrible—but Zel isn’t even really aware that she should be concerned about anything until her sister is kidnapped. The scope of the story was also surprisingly narrow; part of the draw of speculative fiction for me is exploring a different world, and Zel spent much of the book in a single building.

On the other hand, I was thrilled that the driving force of this entire book is Zel’s desperation to rescue her younger sister. Maybe it’s the big sister in me—I’m the eldest of ten children—but any time the older sister or brother is on a mission to rescue her/his siblings, I’m definitely going to be rooting for her/him. I do wish we had gotten to see more of Zel and Dylia in their normal sibling relationship before the death of their father or afterwards in their shared grief. I wanted to miss Dylia as much as Zel did, and for a while I felt more like I missed the idea of her than the actual character. Still, the goal to rescue Dylia (and the multiple deadlines involved in the process) kept the plot moving at a fast pace.

Some of the most memorable parts of the book involved the day-to-day interactions between Zel and the inhabitants of Carus. I took particular delight in her almost-frenemies relationship with Vera, and any of her encounters with Ana were all the right sorts of creepy. Cy, Zel’s romantic interest, was the sort of cold and standoffish hero that I actually cheered for. The two of them made a cute pair, and they had some excellent makeout scenes. The slow-building attraction between Zel and Cy was a lot of fun, and I liked that it took a while for them to open up to each other.

Zel was a clever heroine, but most of all I appreciated that she frequently called people out on their crap. I also enjoyed that Lydia Kang made Zel’s condition—a somewhat fictionalized Ondine’s curse—an important part of the story. It could have easily been handled poorly, but Kang did a great job showing how Zel managed her condition and how it affected her life.

The final act is filled with a few unexpected plot twists (one of which completely blindsided me) and a lot action. It was a great way to show off everything Zel had learned through the course of the book, including some things I hadn’t anticipated would be important to the plot again. I always appreciate it when an author can take something from a romantic scene and turn it into a key part of the action later on, so nicely done.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. If you’re looking for a fast-paced dystopian book with a fun premise and a heroine who know what she wants and goes for it, then you should give Control a shot. It’s an interesting start to a series, and I look forward to the second book, which will be out in 2015.

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Book Review: The Living

the livingTitle: The Living
Author: Matt de la Peña
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genres: Dystopian, Action/Adventure
Pages: 320
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all.

But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s  only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed.

The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it’s a fight to survive for those left living. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: On the surface, The Living appears to be a typical survival story with the possibility of a romance, but there are intriguing layers to this story that the reader can catch glimpses of along the way. Matt de la Peña is an excellent storyteller, but aside from the action and suspence, he is also tackling both race and class issues. Yes, there is an earthquake and shark infested waters, but those aren’t the only things Shy will need to navigate.

A summer job on a cruise ship sounds glamorous, but for Shy it’s like any other summer job. Shy is a Mexican American from a working class single parent home. He is trying to earn enough money to help out his mom and grandma and have a little left over for himself. He has fun with his co-workers and has fairly light  responsibilities. Occasionally he must deal with obnoxious wealthy people, but it’s not a hard job. Life gets complicated very quickly though. On his first cruise out, Shy witnesses something that inspires nightmares and brings a man in black to follow him around.

This mystery takes second place though when a huge earthquake and the subsequent chain reaction of disasters hit. Shy is in a fight for his life and for those around him. The man against nature portion of this book is excellent and Matt de la Peña really created a believable character in Shy. He is a good kid and tries to follow the disaster procedures for his job, but he is in over his head in more ways than one. I felt like I was right there witnessing the disaster first-hand through his eyes feeling all of his fear and frustration.

Beyond the fight with nature, there are dangers among the people around him too. It’s difficult to discuss without revealing too much, but this book deals with race, class, and ethics on a scale that I was not anticipating. Matt de la Peña discussed a little bit about this in his interview with NPR.

Recommendation: Buy it now. This is a fantastic read for entertainment purposes, but it also provides a lot to think about. I am very eager to see what de la Peña has in store for us in the sequel.

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Favorite Diverse YA from 2013

Narrowing down my favorites for the year was pretty tough. There are so many that I don’t want to leave out. I finally narrowed it down though.

Dystopian

proxy

 

Proxy by Alex London was a fast paced novel that kept me flipping the pages both times I read it. And yes, I did read it twice already. I reviewed it here

prodigy

 

Marie Lu’s Legend series got even more amazing with Prodigy. June and Day are compelling characters and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

unravel

 

Juliette from Unravel Me is another character that fascinates me. Tehereh Mafi is weaving a tale that has completely sucked me in and I’m excited for the next installment.

Contemporary Books

Rogue_JKT_FINAL
Rogue author Lyn Miller-Lachmann visited out blog earlier this year and shared a bit about her writing. After learning about the book, I knew I wanted to read it. This is on the younger side of YA with the main character in middle school. I loved that readers see into the world of a person with Asperger’s syndrome, but Kiara is much more than that. She is an X-Men enthusiast, a loyal friend, a movie maker and much more. Kiara is a character that I wished I could meet in person.

yaqui


In Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Piddy Sanchez is bullied. This is a gritty book that tugged at my heart. Fortunately, Piddy has some amazing people in her life. This book brought me to tears, but also brought laughter and smiles. Author Meg Medina was kind enough to grant us an interview and Jessica also reviewed Yaqui on Rich in Color back in May.

 

Historical

eleanor and parkEleanor and Park takes place in the 80s so those headphones are leading to a Walkman not an iPod, thus the historical label. It also earns a romance label. The relationship between Eleanor and Park was simply sweet in contrast to some of the rather horrible things in Eleanor’s life.

If I ever get out of here

 

 

If I Ever Get Out of Here was another fabulous book set in the past – specifically the 70s. I reviewed it on my personal blog here, and we also held a group discussion (with spoilers) earlier this month. Gansworth manages to handle some serious issues like bullying and poverty with a nice balance of humor. Lewis, the main character, is a teenager from the Tuscarora Indian reservation and he is attending a mostly white high school. Watching as Lewis navigates the social life of that school is both humorous and heart-breaking. 

Poetry – Historical

dreamer

 

The Lightning Dreamer is based on the life of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). She was a feminist and abolitionist. Margarita Engle used this novel-in-verse to express some of Avellaneda’s ideas.

Here is a sample:
Beyond these convent gates, books
are locked away
and men
hold
the keys.

 

Graphic Novels – Historical


Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 9.39.08 PMBoxers and Saints is actually two books, but they should be read together. They are both telling the same story during the Boxer Rebellion in China, but from two different perspectives. The first time I read them, I was impressed, but on a second read through, they were even better. I reviewed them here. They are a set of books that should not be missed even if graphic novels are not something you typically read.

Comedy

Asked

Since You Asked was a bunch of fun. I reviewed it here. In it, Holly Kim writes a column in her high school newspaper. She is a bit snarky and has the goal of shaking things up around school. I loved her interactions with her mother and she also has a great group of friends. This one is sure to have you laughing.

Have you read any fantastic books that I might have missed? What were some of your favorites this year? Please share in the comments.
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