Review: Exo by Fonda Lee

Title: Exo
Author: Fonda Lee
Genres: Science-fiction
Pages: 384
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: eARC received via Edelweiss
Availability: Available now

Summary: It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip. But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

Review: It has been a while since I’ve read any science fiction, and Exo reminded me of several of my favorite aspects of the genre: aliens, moral quandaries, and cool technology.

Unlike a lot of my favorite science fiction, the aliens that Fonda Lee has created for Exo are very un-human-like, what with their mushroom-like bodies with six legs, six eyes, fins, and armor. The scattered information we got about the War Era and the conquering of earth—a billion people dead, the reshaping of political boundaries, a new social system—was intriguing. Occasionally, I felt like the world of Exo was too wide for just Donovan’s point of view and wished to see it from inside someone else’s head. Particularly someone from a less privileged life.

Donovan was an engaging character, and it was easy to root for him even when I didn’t think he was making the right choices. Watching him start to question the way of life he was raised in—while simultaneously criticizing opposing views—was a satisfying character arc, though it doesn’t feel complete. (But I suppose that’s what sequels are for.) While I wanted to see more of his life not centered around his job, I have to admit that there were several riveting action scenes because of it. Lee did a great job with her action scenes and in creating the tension- and dread-filled scenes leading up to them.

Perhaps my most significant complaint about Exo is the limited development of several significant side characters, most notably Anya and Donovan’s father. While we were told some formative parts of Anya’s backstory, even Donovan had a throwaway line about how little he really knew her and speculation that his attraction to her was more the result of trauma and loneliness than anything else. Considering the great personal risks he takes for her in the climax, I wish that Anya—and her relationship to Donovan—had been more fleshed out. Similarly, I don’t feel as if we ever got to know Donovan’s father very well on an intimate level, which was a shame, considering how important he was within the story.

I also noticed something that concerned me: the use of Native American imagery. Saul Strong Winter is the name of the Sapience cell leader in the Black Hills, so I presume he is of Native descent, but we are never given a specific tribe or nation for him. A “Native American eagle” design is a symbol of Sapience, referred to as a symbol of freedom, but it gets put on bumper stickers, and features in a tattoo (by a character I believe is non-Native) that turns out to be an important clue for Donovan later on. I don’t know enough about Native American representation to talk about this further, but I would appreciate hearing from any Native American readers about their thoughts on this book.

EDIT (2/20/17): I have been informed by the author that she and her editor made changes to the book prior to printing regarding this imagery. While an eagle tattoo still features in the plot, it is no longer a Native American design. They realized that Sapience’s use of a Native American design would be problematic and corrected that for the print version of the book.

Recommendation: Get it soon, if alien conquests in science fiction are your thing. While Exo isn’t without problems, it is a fun, fast read with some interesting world building. I’m looking forward to the next book.

Extras
Interview with Fonda Lee at Rich in Color

Excerpt of Exo

Shades of Grey – Developing Unique Characters That are a Blend of Evil and Good by Fonda Lee

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Review: Mirror in the Sky

25802922Title: Mirror in the Sky
Author: Aditi Khorana
Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary
Pages: 352
Publisher: Razorbill
Review copy: Library
Availability: June 21st 2016

Summary: For Tara Krishnan, navigating Brierly, the academically rigorous prep school she attends on scholarship, feels overwhelming and impossible. Her junior year begins in the wake of a startling discovery: A message from an alternate Earth, light years away, is intercepted by NASA. This means that on another planet, there is another version of Tara, a Tara who could be living better, burning brighter, because of tiny differences in her choices.

The world lights up with the knowledge of Terra Nova, the mirror planet, and Tara’s life on Earth begins to change. At first, small shifts happen, like attention from Nick Osterman, the most popular guy at Brierly, and her mother playing hooky from work to watch the news all day. But eventually those small shifts swell, the discovery of Terra Nova like a black hole, bending all the light around it.

As a new era of scientific history dawns and Tara’s life at Brierly continues its orbit, only one thing is clear: Nothing on Earth–or for Tara–will ever be the same again. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: If you’re into space (and who isn’t, considering all the exciting discoveries happening in the last few years), then Mirror in the Sky has, from the start, an arresting premise. Tara Krishnan is starting junior year at prep school without her best friend when the world is rocked by a discovery of, well, another alternate Earth somewhere in space. The effects of the discovery start to influence Tara’s life little by little.

Of course, as with most science fiction, a certain amount of good ol’ suspension of disbelief needs to happen. With this book in particular, I had to work especially hard to suspend any disbelief. I had a hard time believing the physics explanation introduced to explain a parallel Earth where they had their own version of Virginia Woolf, named Virginia Wool — and so on. (To be fair, I definitely switched out of my high school physics class in favor of TA-ing for English… so I may just be bad at physics.)

Tara’s narration of the changes in her world – in school and in the universe – is strong and distinct, with plenty of detail. There’s a definite melancholy, here-is-what-i-am-thinking tone to it, which may or may not be your cup of tea. There’s also Tara’s life at Brierly as she’s plunged into the social lives of the popular kids. It gets very Mean Girls, but with a much more serious tone to it, which melded well with all the space intrigue.

Honestly, if you need your sci-fi to have a strong scientific basis, or if you dislike school drama, then Mirror in the Sky may not be for you. These factors, along with the final events at the end, threw me for a loop.

But if you’re looking for a solid YA science fiction book, Mirror in the Sky is it. Definitely check it out when you get the chance! In my opinion, YA can always use more sci-fi, and this is a great addition.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday, especially if you like science fiction!

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New Releases

Happy early book birthday to the following new release coming out this Tuesday (7/19)!

26114232Flying (Flying #1) by Carrie Jones

People have always treated seventeen-year-old Mana as someone in need of protection. She’s used to being coddled, being an only child, but it’s hard to imagine anything could ever happen in her small-town, normal life. As her mother’s babying gets more stifling than ever, she’s looking forward to cheering at the big game and getting out of the house for a while. But that night, Mana’s life goes haywire.

First, the hot guy she’s been crushing on at school randomly flips out and starts spitting acid during the game. Then they get into a knockdown, drag-out fight in the locker room, during which Mana finds herself leaping around like a kangaroo on steroids. As a flyer on the cheerleading squad, she’s always been a good jumper, but this is a bit much. By the time she gets home and finds her house trashed and an alien in the garage, Mana starts to wonder if her mother had her reasons for being overprotective.

It turns out, Mana’s frumpy, timid mom is actually an alien hunter, and now she’s missing–taking a piece of technology with her that everyone wants their hands on, both human and alien. Now her supposed partner, a guy that Mana has never met or heard of (and who seems way too young and way too arrogant to be hunting aliens), has shown up, ordering Mana to come with him. Now, on her own for the first time, Mana will have to find a way to save her mother–and maybe the world–and hope she’s up to the challenge. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

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New Releases

Here are two new releases for this week:

Summer of SloaneSummer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider
Disney-Hyperion

Warm Hawaiian sun. Lazy beach days. Flirty texts with her boyfriend back in Seattle.

These are the things seventeen-year-old Sloane McIntyre pictured when she imagined the summer she’d be spending at her mom’s home in Hawaii with her twin brother, Penn. Instead, after learning an unthinkable secret about her boyfriend, Tyler, and best friend, Mick, all she has is a fractured hand and a completely shattered heart.

Once she arrives in Honolulu, though, Sloane hopes that Hawaii might just be the escape she needs. With beach bonfires, old friends, exotic food, and the wonders of a waterproof cast, there’s no reason Sloane shouldn’t enjoy her summer. And when she meets Finn McAllister, the handsome son of a hotel magnate who doesn’t always play by the rules, she knows he’s the perfect distraction from everything that’s so wrong back home.

But it turns out a measly ocean isn’t nearly enough to stop all the emails, texts, and voicemails from her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, desperate to explain away their betrayal. And as her casual connection with Finn grows deeper, Sloane’s carefree summer might not be as easy to find as she’d hoped. Weighing years of history with Mick and Tyler against their deception, and the delicate possibility of new love, Sloane must decide when to forgive, and when to live for herself.

Genius the GameGenius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout
Feiwel & Friends

Trust no one. Every camera is an eye. Every microphone an ear. Find me and we can stop him together.

The Game: Get ready for Zero Hour as 200 geniuses from around the world go head to head in a competition hand-devised by India’s youngest CEO and visionary.

The Players:
Rex- One of the best programmers/hackers in the world, this 16-year-old Mexican-American is determined to find his missing brother.

Tunde-This14-year-old self-taught engineering genius has drawn the attention of a ruthless military warlord by single-handedly bringing electricity and internet to his small Nigerian village.

Painted Wolf-One of China’s most respected activist bloggers, this mysterious 16-year-old is being pulled into the spotlight by her father’s new deal with a corrupt Chinese official.

The Stakes: Are higher than you can imagine. Like life and death. Welcome to the revolution. And get ready to run.

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Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us

24790901Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us (The Abyss Surrounds Us #1)
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 288
Publisher: Flux
Review copy: Library
Availability: February 8th, 2016

Summary:  For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea. But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I will admit I had a few false starts with The Abyss Surrounds Us. It’s definitely not the kind of book you can pick up and read casually like you’re eating chips — one chomp, and you’re done. When I finally sat down to read it for real, though, I went through the book in one sitting.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is sci-fi, set in a future world where the countries we know have been rearranged to be something else, and ships on the open sea are defended by Reckoners, giant sea creatures that fight off anything that threatens its ship. Usually, that means Reckoners take down pirate ships.

When Cassandra Leung’s first stint as a Reckoner’s sole trainer goes horribly wrong, she ends up on a pirate ship, where she has to figure out a way to survive. Meanwhile, her captors are determined to change the power balance in the seas.

It’s the power balance between Cas and Swift, the pirate put in charge of her, that drove the story forward. Swift is ambitious, charismatic, and reckless — and as the novel progresses… (spoiler, kind of! skip this paragraph if you want to avoid it) there’s a spark between her and Cas. The handling of the power imbalance between them was done well. That being said, I really hope their relationship works out in the upcoming sequel. It would be extremely disappointing for this series to go for the “lesbian (or bi/pan!) love meets a tragic end” trope. I’m rooting for the sequel to NOT do that.

Speaking as someone who used to dream of being a zookeeper (I was five), I really loved the loving detail spent on describing Cas’s relationship with her Reckoner — the care regimen, training methods, and personality quirks. This, more than anything else, served to flesh out the new, future world shaped by these giant creatures.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is a fast-paced, incredibly vivid sci-fi book. If you’re looking for that kind of book, or just want to read about cool pirate stuff and giant sea monsters, definitely get this book. I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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Review: Future Shock

futureTitle: Future Shock
Author: Elizabeth Briggs
Genres: Science fiction, thriller
Pages: 272
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Review Copy: Received an e-ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
Availability: Available now

Summary: Elena Martinez has hidden her eidetic memory all her life–or so she thinks. When powerful tech giant Aether Corporation selects her for a top-secret project, she can’t say no. All she has to do is participate in a trip to the future to bring back data, and she’ll be set for life.

Elena joins a team of four other teens with special skills, including Adam, a science prodigy with his own reason for being there. But when the time travelers arrive in the future, something goes wrong and they break the only rule they were given: do not look into their own fates.

Now they have twenty-four hours to get back to the present and find a way to stop a seemingly inevitable future from unfolding. With time running out and deadly secrets uncovered, Elena must use her eidetic memory, street smarts, and a growing trust in Adam to save her new friends and herself.

Review: I wish I liked this book more than I did. There are some points in Future Shock’s favor, but several significant stumbling points (or, perhaps, personal pet peeves) kept the book from fulfilling its potential.

I’ve seen several people praise Future Shock for its diverse cast, but there were a few not-insignificant moments where I felt that representation was misguided or problematic. Chris’s introduction, for instance, involves him menacing Adam, the love interest, in his first line, and the text mentions Chris’s size three times (“the biggest guy in the room gets right up in [Adam’s] face,” “the first guy has to be double [Adam’s] size,” and “‘I know your type,’ the big guy says”) before describing his race. And if you happened to guess those things meant Chris was black, you probably would have sighed as much as I did when that was confirmed (right before a fourth mention of his size—“large, muscular arms”—and all before revealing Chris’s name). While Chris does gain more depth beyond the Scary Black Man stereotype, this introduction casts a long, sour shadow over his character, particularly every time he gets into a fight with another character. And anyone who has been following LGBTQIA representation in television in the last month or so won’t be surprised at all by Zoe’s fate.

While I think short timelines are wonderful for thrillers as they can help keep a story focused, the romance between Elena and Adam suffered greatly for it. I simply could not believe that these two fell for each other within, roughly, two days. The romance was distracting—I was far more interested in the deadly mysteries the present and the future had for them than whether or not the two of them were going to get together. I honestly wish that the time spent on the romance had been spent on developing Chris, Zoe, and Trent’s relationships with Elena instead, especially since those four were the ones at risk.

Elena was an engaging narrator whose initial “real-world” hurdles easily paved the way for her science-fiction adventure. As her fears about the future transitioned from ageing out of foster care to staying alive when her death was around the corner, I empathized with her fear, frustration, and desperation. While I didn’t find the ultimate mystery that difficult to solve as a reader, I did understand why Elena and the rest of her group would have struggled with it.

Recommendation: Just skip it. While the premise and the heroine are engaging, Future Shock falls short of what it could have been and features some questionable representation choices.

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