Review: Killer of Enemies

killer of enemiesTitle: Killer of Enemies
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Genres: Dystopia/Post-apocalypse, Steampunk, Action/Adventure
Pages: 358
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Received ARC from publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones—people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human—and there was everyone else who served them.

Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones’ pets—genetically engineered monsters—turned on them and are now loose on the world.

Lozen was not one of the lucky ones pre-C, but fate has given her a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities. She hunts monsters for the Ones who survived the apocalyptic events of the Cloud, which ensures the safety of her kidnapped family. But with every monster she takes down, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is not just a hired gun.

As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero. —(Summary and image provided by publisher)

Review: There are few things I find as sexy as competence in fictional characters, and Lozen has an abundance of competence. It was ridiculously enjoyable to read about Lozen hunting and taking down genetically engineered monsters—each one more dangerous than the one before—and so utterly satisfying. The monsters were mad-scientist worthy creations, and Lozen had to put her intelligence as well as her physical (and magical!) abilities to the test in order to survive. Every time she took one of the monsters down, I cheered.

The post-apocalyptic/dystopian world Lozen inhabits is a mishmash of high- and low-tech that took a while for me to get used to. For example, Kevlar still exists (and Lozen gets to wear it), but they no longer have the ability to manufacture it, and Haven (Lozen’s community) is essentially stripped back to a walking-only society thanks to lack of tech/fuel, a superbug that wiped out horses several years ago, and a local population of giant birds that enjoy snacking on bicyclists. It is a fascinating world, especially when you throw in hints of magic and elements from Apache folklore. (Of particular note is the unknown figure whose voice Lozen can “hear” in her mind but hasn’t seen.)

Lozen’s commentary on the pre-Cloud world is interesting from a “look how far we’ve fallen” point, and there are some great passages where she clinically lays out some of the more terrible ways people died as the world fell apart. I really enjoyed that aspect of Lozen—she’s a complicated character who has constructed an unlikeable (or at least unapproachable) façade out of the twin desires not to be seen as a threat to the Ones and to keep others at bay so they can’t be used against her like her family is. I’m not sure I would be friends with Lozen if she were real, but I loved reading about her.

I’d estimate a good 50% of the book is Lozen on her own, either hunting down monsters or making preparations for breaking her family out of Haven. Aside from her family, one sort-of-friend/mentor, and one sort-of-love-interest, Lozen’s interactions with the survivors in Haven are decidedly negative. There are some pretty despicable people who survived the end of the world, and that’s not even counting the half-mad Ones (who are delightfully evil and unhinged) who run Haven and are holding Lozen’s family hostage against her good behavior/monster killing.

I didn’t have any major complaints about the book, though this is one of the few times I wished that the romance got more screen time. As it is, I didn’t root for Lozen’s sort-of-relationship with Hussein as much as I wanted to, even if I do think they had a good foundation for the start of a romance. (Who can resist a gardener with a gentle disposition and a penchant for playing subversive songs on his guitar?) I also wished the book had spent more time developing Lozen’s magical abilities. Sometimes I was rather confused about how her skills were supposed to fit into the mythology of the world or the extent of her skill with them. However, I fully acknowledge that this lack of detail didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if the idea of a monster hunt through a post-apocalyptic landscape makes you giddy. The book is a fun, quick read, and the unique world-building makes it a distinctive addition to the dystopian genre.

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Hispanic Heritage Month

As a child, I remember hearing a lot about Black History Month, but until I was a teacher in Ft. Worth, Hispanic Heritage Month wasn’t really on my radar. I had been completely missing out on some incredible literature and a whole perspective of history. The National Hispanic Heritage Month website explains that this month is for “celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” It is celebrated between September 15th and October 15th (there actually is a reason for those dates). Here are a few excellent YA titles you could read in celebration.

yaqui

 

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass: Jessica reviewed this fantastic contemporary book earlier this year and we were fortunate enough to have an interview with Meg Medina too. This would be a two-for-one because you could also celebrate Banned Book Week with Yaqui after what happened earlier this month.
dreamer

 

 

 

 

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist: I loved this historical novel-in-verse by Margarita Engle that weaves a story around Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, an amazing young woman that I am eager to know more about now. She loved books, hated slavery, wanted equality for women, and spoke out to create change at a time when women were supposed to be decorative poperty. Excellent.

 

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The Last Summer of the Death Warriors: “When Pancho arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, he knows his time there will be short: If his plans succeed, he’ll soon be arrested for the murder of his sister’s killer. But then he’s assigned to help D.Q., whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. D.Q. tells Pancho all about his “Death Warrior’s Manifesto,” which will help him to live out his last days fully–ideally, he says, with the love of the beautiful Marisol. As Pancho tracks down his sister’s murderer, he finds himself falling under the influence of D.Q. and Marisol, who is everything D.Q. said she would be.” — summary via Goodreads

ari

 

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Jessica also reviewed this powerful book earlier this year. If you haven’t yet read it, you will want to grab it immediately. Warning – you may need tissues.

 

under

 

Under the Mesquite: This is another novel-in-verse and it has an autobiographical quality to it that McCall explains in this post at Lee & Low. It is a beautiful story of a Mexican American family maintaining hope through difficult times. Summer of the Mariposas, McCall’s second novel is also not to be missed. Audrey reviewed it here. It is a mix of contemporary and fantasy, but again is focused on family.

The Summer Prince

 

The Summer Prince: For a bit of dystopia, you will want to pick up this one. And just like the cover, the book is lush. We had a discussion about it earlier this month. *Spoilers* were included so look carefully if you haven’t read it yet.

**Quick edit here – this is actually not Hispanic, but rather Latin@ since it is set in Brazil. I made that mistake late at night while working on the post, but didn’t catch it right away.

 

cover

 

Gringolandia: This is historical fiction dealing with human rights in Chile. It is also a book about family and how it shapes us. We were lucky enough to have Lyn Lachmann-Miller visit Rich in Color to share about writing outside of her culture.

 

 

 

witches

 

Hammer of Witches: If it’s history with a bit of fantasy that you are looking for, this will fit the bill perfectly. I reviewed it back in April and the author Shana Mlawski also wrote a post for us about Diversity in Fantasy.

 

worm

 

The Tequila Worm: A young teenage girl named Sofia tells of her coming of age in McAllen Texas. She’s part of a close community that loves and supports each other. Sofia works through her feelings for her family and culture as she attends an elite boarding school on scholarship.

 

 

 

 

 

boy

Mexican WhiteBoy: This one is on my TBR list. “Danny’s tall skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front of his face.” — summary via Goodreads

revolution

 

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano: This is another book on my TBR list. “There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and Papo? her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who’s come from Puerto Rico to live with them. Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest. When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation. Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.” — summary via Goodreads (By the way, there is a giveaway of this book going on at Vamos a Leer through Sept. 29)

If you still want more titles, School Library Journal had a post in January listing many Resources for Finding Latino Kid LIt, the new blog Latin@s in Kid Lit is a great resource too, the Florida Department of Education created a Hispanic Heritage Month Recommended Reading List, and the Hub also posted a great list this week which included links to other resources. Finally, I found this excellent list of Hispanic Authors on Cindy Rodriguez’s blog. Now, if there were only more hours in the day so we could read all of these!

If you have recommendations, please share them in the comments. Thanks!

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New Releases

We’ve found four books coming out this week that look like they are full of action and suspense. I am hoping to start Kat Zhang’s series soon. Jessica reviewed the first book in the series earlier this year and they both look intriguing. Are any of these catching your eye?
Frozen

Frozen (Heart of Dread #1)
By Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

Putnam Juvenile

Summary: Set in 111 C.D., one hundred and eleven years after a Catastrophic Disaster has wiped out 99% of humanity and left the earth covered in ice, this new series introduces readers to a ragtag group of friends and the dawning of a new time. The world of reason, of mathematics and science, is ending, and a new civilization is being born from the ice: a world of magic and mayhem, sorcerers and spellcraft. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

 

 

once

Once We Were by Kat Zhang
HarperCollins

Summary: “I’m lucky just to be alive.”

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever. — image and summary via Goodreads

Dead

Dead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Walker Children’s

Summary: Rachel died at two a.m . . . Three hours after Skyler kissed me for the first time. Forty-five minutes after she sent me her last text. 

Jaycee and Rachel were best friends. But that was before. . .before that terrible night at the old house. Before Rachel shut Jaycee out. Before Jaycee chose Skyler over Rachel. Then Rachel is found dead. The police blame a growing gang problem in their small town, but Jaycee is sure it has to do with that night at the old house. Rachel’s text is the first clue—starting Jaycee on a search that leads to a shocking secret. Rachel’s death was no random crime, and Jaycee must figure out who to trust before she can expose the truth.

In the follow-up to her powerful debut, Jennifer Shaw Wolf keeps readers on their toes in another dark, romantic story of murder and secrets. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

Kinslayer

Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff
Thomas Dunne Books

A SHATTERED EMPIRE

The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Review: The Eternity Cure

eternityBefore I get to the nuts and bolts of my review, I must give a loud Thank You to Julie Kagawa. Thank You Julie for making vampires scary again. Your vampires are ruthless and deadly and snarky and a reminder of why vampires have always been popular. Also, Thank You for having a female Asian character in Allison who completely kicks butt. And lastly, Thank You for making her the vampire, hereby ending the “vampire guy/human girl love story” trope.

Obviously, based on my praise for Julie’s vampires, specifically Allison, I loved The Eternity Cure. I ended up reading the first book of the series in order to understand Kagawa’s world, and really loved “The Immortal Rules”, hence my expectations for “Eternity Cure” were very high. Kagawa didn’t disappoint in this sequel of what I believe will be either an amazing trilogy or an intense series. In fact, I hope it’s a trilogy because I don’t know if my heart can take another punch like it did at the end of Eternity Cure…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

What makes Eternity Cure such a fantastic read is primarily the work Kagawa puts in creating her characters. Allison Sekemoto is a tough, Katana wielding heroine who has learned to fight for survival. In this second book, the readers continue with Allison as she learns how to balance being a vampire yet still hold on to her humanity. Kagawa’s world is very dark, very self-serving, yet Allison manages to be a bright spot, showing compassion towards both humans and vampires. She is easy to relate to as she makes some hard decisions and struggles with her loyalty to her sire, Kanin, and her desire for Zeke. Speaking of Zeke, the romance between him and Allison does not overpower the main storyline, but is understated, given weight at appropriate moments, specifically when they are not fighting for their lives. Another plus I have to give Kagawa in writing the romance between Allison and Zeke is the fact that Allison is not a passive participant in the relationship – at all. She doesn’t always wait for Zeke to make the first move, many times initiating affection. I found the portrayal of their relationship realistic instead of the passive girl/aggressive boy trope that pervades some many novels. More YA novels need to have this healthy view of relationships and I’m thankful that Kagawa was able to weave such a portrayal in an otherwise dark story.

If you haven’t read either “The Immortal Rules” or “The Eternity Cure”, stop what you are doing (after leaving a comment below first) and run to your nearest bookstore (support your local bookstore) and buy these books! I promise, you will not be disappointed.

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Mini-review: What’s Left of Me

what's left of meTitle: What’s Left of Me
Author: Kat Zhang
Pages: 343
Genre: science fiction, dystopian
Publisher: Harper
Review Copy: library (that beautiful place)
Availability: September 18, 2012

(image from Goodreads)

Instead of a book summary, have a book trailer!

Review: Though science-fiction/dystopian isn’t really my cup of tea, I’ve been trying to read more of it lately — and enjoying it. What’s Left of Me is a fast-paced story with a sort of Golden Compass feel to it, what with the double souls and the dark hospital experiments. The world-building in the book is tight and fascinating. The book’s treatment of foreigners in the non-hybrid Americas was interesting, and reminded me of the controversy around immigration reform that’s happening today. It’s easy to fall into the world of Addie and Eva, though I wish some more of the national history had been elaborated on. I got the feeling that the history that was hinted on in the book was only the tip of the iceberg. Overall, it was an entertaining read and definitely worth the time.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re a big fan of The Golden Compass.

Annnd here’s a video of the author (!!) Kat Zhang reading from her book:

 

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Review: Shadows Cast by Stars

Shadows Cast by StarsTitle: Shadows Cast by Stars
Author: Catherine Knutsson
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic; Fantasy; Romance, Steamy
Pages: 456
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Copy: Checked out from library
Availability: June 5, 2012

Summary: Old ways are pitted against new horrors in this compellingly crafted dystopian tale about a girl who is both healer and seer. Two hundred years from now, blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet—especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antibodies that protect them from the Plague ravaging the rest of the world.

Sixteen-year-old Cassandra Mercredi might be immune to Plague, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe—government forces are searching for those of aboriginal heritage to harvest their blood. When a search threatens Cassandra and her family, they flee to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory protected by the Band, a group of guerilla warriors—and by an enigmatic energy barrier that keeps outsiders out and the spirit world in. And though the village healer has taken her under her wing, and the tribal leader’s son into his heart, the creatures of the spirit world are angry, and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument….

Incorporating the traditions of the First Peoples as well as the more familiar stories of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend, Shadows Cast by Stars is a haunting, beautifully written story that breathes new life into ancient customs —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: I wish I liked this book more.

As a moving-to-a-new-town book, Shadows Cast by Stars is serviceable. Cass’s struggles to fit in with the people on the Island—including wanted and unwanted attention from boys—make for some interesting character dynamics and conflict. I particularly enjoyed Cass’s scenes with Madda and her (sort-of) friendship with Helen. The women are the most memorable characters in the novel, though the boys don’t give them much competition in that regard (more on this in a bit).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t invested in Cass’s relationship with Bran. They fall for each other far too quickly for my taste, and their relationship crosses off most of the plot devices for romances (down to an ex-girlfriend stealing a kiss in such a way that the heroine thinks the boyfriend is cheating on her). It doesn’t help that Bran spends large chunks of the story away from Cass, so they end up hitting their relationship milestones really quickly compared to how many hours they actually spend together on-screen.

I have three major complaints with the book, and the first is a matter of expectations. Based on the summary, I was expecting there to be a lot more time invested in exploring this particular disease-ridden world. I wanted to see the cultural, social, and legal ramifications of a world where the government is totally okay with draining people of all their blood in order to stop the spread of Plague. The premise promised me all sorts of interesting possibilities, from a black market for blood to exploitation to national testing and IDs.

I got none of that. The most I got was a chip in all the Corridor citizens’ wrists which let them…connect to the internet? The details are supremely fuzzy and leave more questions than answers: Why doesn’t the government keep better tabs on the people who are the only cure for the Plague? How could our heroes possibly have had time to run when a new plague outbreak occurs? Why isn’t there some kind of set-up where everyone immune to the Plague donates plasma/blood/etc. every [X] days, gets paid handsomely for it, and then the government distributes those vaccines/cures to the people who can afford to get them? Do the antibodies in Others’ blood grant immunity like a vaccine or is it more of a medicine given once the illness has been contracted? Does this government really think it’s an awesome long-term solution to execute the only people immune to the Plague? What is the government going to do when they’ve “overhunted” to extinction?

My second complaint is that many of the characters in the book feel distressingly shallow. Paul spends the entirety of the book as an enigma, and once they get to the Island, Cass spends more time with Bran than him. Neither Cass nor Paul seem to care much about getting ripped out of their lives—the closest we get to them missing anything is when Cass asks her dad if the Island has a school system. (As far as I remember, this never gets answered.) Neither Cass nor Paul apparently had any friends or even extended family in their previous lives. There was one attempt to humanize Avalon, which fell flat for me, Cedar was creepy and probably triggery, and Grace was creepy with a side order of broken. Much of the time these characters (except for Madda and Ms. Adelaide) simply didn’t seem to live in the world they inhabited.

My third complaint is that the culture of the Island felt really off to me. I’ll be the first to admit that my experience with literature starring or written by native people is pretty limited, but even I was able to pick up on many of the problematic bits that Debbie Reese identified. The mixture of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend didn’t mesh well with the story and were distracting (minor) players in the narrative. Frankly, I would have much preferred that they weren’t included at all.

Recommendation: Just skip it, unfortunately. While there are a lot of interesting ideas in the story, they got all tangled up around each other.

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