Review: Zeroboxer

ZeroboxerTitle: Zeroboxer
Author: Fonda Lee
Genres: Science-fiction, Sports
Pages: 360
Publisher: Flux
Review Copy: eARC from Netgalley
Availability: Available now

Summary: A rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, Carr “the Raptor” Luka dreams of winning the championship title. Recognizing his talent, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association assigns Risha, an ambitious and beautiful Martian colonist, to be his brandhelm––a personal marketing strategist. It isn’t long before she’s made Carr into a popular celebrity and stolen his heart along the way.

As his fame grows, Carr becomes an inspirational hero on Earth, a once-great planet that’s fallen into the shadow of its more prosperous colonies. But when Carr discovers a far-reaching criminal scheme, he becomes the keeper of a devastating secret. Not only will his choices place everything he cares about in jeopardy, but they may also spill the violence from the sports arena into the solar system.

Review: I haven’t been reading much science-fiction lately, but Zeroboxer was a great way to get back into the genre. Fonda Lee has done a great job building a science-fiction world that feels lived in, in both small and large details, from the station Carr lives in to the political tension between Earth and Mars to the regulation of genetic engineering to the fact that Risha is still physically uncomfortable with being on Earth.

Of course, nowhere is this worldbuilding more evident than in the titular sport, zeroboxing. While I am not experienced with boxing or any fighting sport, that did not stop me from getting into the book at all. The fight scenes can occasionally be disorienting, but it is easy to keep track of the ebb and flow of the fight. Here, Lee makes excellent use of some classic sports tropes: the underdog, the rival, bad sportsmanship/cheating, etc. Zeroboxer hits most of the right notes in that regard, with difficult moral quandaries along the way.

The core cast of characters is largely compelling. Carr is a protagonist that is easy to root for, even when he makes choices I (strongly) disagreed with. Risha, his brandhelm and then later girlfriend, is a clever and steady part of the story. She was often busy in the fringes, pulling off little scheduling or sponsorship miracles, and I wish that we had been able to see more of her work up close instead of just being told about it all. The other main characters–Uncle Polly, Bax Gant, Enzo, Sally, Detective Van, Mr. Rhystok–slip into their roles easily, though I do wish that some of them had been able to step further outside their designated boxes. (I felt that Sally, in particular, was neglected and that Detective Van could have been more than he was.)

Perhaps Lee’s greatest strength is in her descriptions; sports stories in books can fall flat if the reader is kept too far from the action. Instead, Lee is able to get the reader as close to Carr as possible, not only in the cage, but also outside of it. I was less enthusiastic about how the non-zeroboxing plots came together on Mars and felt that several of the elements were rushed. The ending especially left me torn about whether or not I felt satisfied about it, and there were some social issues Lee touched upon but did not fully explore. For the most part, this didn’t sour my enjoyment of the book, though I do think a little wistfully about what else this book could have done.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you enjoy the drama and tropes associated with sports stories, but borrow it someday otherwise. The not-so-distant nature of Zeroboxer allows the reader to explore questions of poverty, corruption, marketing, and more. Lee’s experience with martial arts and her fast-paced writing made for a largely engaging read. A few problems with the last third of the book and uneven character depth in the supporting cast means Zeroboxer probably won’t make my reread list any time soon.

Extras: Debut feature interview at Page Turners

Envisioning Zero Gravity Combat at Michael Sci Fan

Interview and book giveaway at Literary Rambles

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Review: Rebellion (Extraction #2)

18625184Title: Rebellion (Extraction #2)
Author: Stephanie Diaz
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 324
Review Copy: publisher
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Availability: February 10th, 2015

Summary: The uprising has begun.It’s been seven days since Clementine and Logan, along with their allies, retreated into hiding on the Surface. The rebels may have won one battle against Commander Charlie, but the fight is far from finished. He has vowed to find a way to win—no matter the cost. Do the rebels have what it takes to defeat him…and put an end to this war?
As Clementine and Logan enter a desperate race against time to defeat Commander Charlie—and attempt to weaken his power within his own ranks—they find themselves in a terrifying endgame that pits them against a brutal enemy, and each other. With every step, Clementine draws closer to losing Logan…and losing control of herself. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Rebellion is the sequel to Extraction, which is definitely a great dystopian/sci-fi YA book to get on your reading list! As with most dystopian and sci-fi books, there’s plenty of detailed settings and descriptions used to set the tone in the first book. If you don’t read Extraction first, you’ll be at sea with Rebellion.

That said, Rebellion is a solid follow-up to Extraction. At the beginning of Extraction, Clementine is one of the chosen few who gets to be taken to the Earth’s Core to live, safe from the poisonous acid that rains down from the moon and poisons the surface of the world. Clementine then uncovers various conspiracies that would be super spoilers if I mentioned them here, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that the ending takes the series to the next level. The book goes from standard dystopian to awesome sci-fi in one big plot twist.

As with Extraction, Rebellion is slow going at first. It follows the tried-and-true dystopian story line of Girl Against the Government, but with one main difference: Clementine’s past traumas and fears do play a role in the book, and are portrayed consistently, for the most part. The book hits its stride in the second half, when it switches gears from dystopian to a more sci-fi take.

Still, Rebellion leaves a few questions unanswered. Like a lot of dystopian YA, there’s always the mystery of what makes the protagonist so special? Why is she the One to rise up against the government? But with the Extraction series’ track record of sweet sci-fi plot twists, I have faith that any mysteries about Clementine will be resolved in the last book.

This is a drastic oversimplification, but: The Extraction series is like Divergent and Ender’s Game had a baby. A less problematic, more girl-power-awesome baby. Rebellion is a great book for anyone who’s a fan of dystopian YA or sci-fi. (Seriously, though, read the first book Extraction before Rebellion, or you’re going to be so confused.) I’m definitely looking forward to reading the sequel to Rebellion!

Recommendation: Get it soon!
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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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Book Review: Love is the Drug

Love Is the DrugTitle: Love is the Drug
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Genres:  Speculative Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 335
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Review Copy: Bought from my local Barnes & Noble
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC’s elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.

Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus–something about her parents’ top secret scientific work–something she shouldn’t know.

The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.

Review: Having loved Johnson’s “The Summer Prince”, I was really looking forward to “Love is the Drug.” I can’t say that I didn’t like it because it was a compelling read, moved at a fast pace, and I enjoyed Johnson’s lush writing. I think what makes me pause, and this is strictly a personal thing, is that I figured out the twist way before (like early in the book), so I was constantly waiting for the reveal and for Bird to discover the truth. The fact that she doesn’t learn it until practically the very end bothered me. I wanted to spend more time with her after she learned the truth and how it effected her relationships with the important people in her life. Instead, we’re given a solution to one of the conflicts, which I will commend Johnson here for not making it an easy solution, and then the novel is over. There is a part of me that longs for a sequel to the book, though I’m pretty sure the story is finished.

One of Johnson’s greatest strengths is to create compelling characters that we all can relate to, and Emily Bird is no exception. Bird, as she comes to call herself, through her experience with a fateful night grows from a scared young girl under her mother’s thumb into a smart, vibrant, young woman holding her own. The novel is told in third person, but slips into first person occasionally, which I believe is to show how the woman within Bird emerges. I will admit, some of those parts threw me out of the story, but aside from those sparse moments, Bird’s voice is strong and she learns to stand up for herself, even fight for herself. She comes to an awareness of how empty and shallow her life was turning out to be, and realizes that she is much happier following her heart. A moment in particular that stands out to me is when Bird decides to cut off her hair, reveling in the afro she now has. She knows she’s going to receive criticism from her mother, lose her social status as school because of it, but she doesn’t care. She owns herself in that moment and stands up for her rights to anyone who tries to tell her otherwise. That wisdom that she has, many women are still searching for, and I commended her for it. It didn’t seem out of character or unrealistic at all for a teenager to feel that way because I know a number of African American young girls who have decided to own their beauty and wear their hair natural. Bird also doesn’t hold back on her comments regarding privilege and race, which I found refreshing in a Young Adult novel. Often times the concept of privilege and race, specifically from African Americans with money, is glossed over (or not even written about!), that I loved how Johnson, through Bird, hit the topics head on. Bird is a type of young girl I would like to know and is one of the reasons I enjoyed the novel.

Lastly, while “The Summer Prince” was otherworldly and fantastical, the tone of “Love is the Drug” is vastly different. While a time period is not explicitly stated, it feels like it could be our current day as the world wide tensions focus on Venezuela and Iran, two countries of concern to our government right now. The novel could take place in our very near future, and the aspect of such an event intrigued me. Like Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower”, Johnson takes our current society and asks, what if this happened as a result of our actions? Asking these type of questions, looking into a potential future is was speculative fiction is all about and Johnson hits all the right notes in this novel.

Recommendation: Get it soon.

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New Releases

Here are a few diverse new releases hitting the shelves this week.

bettingBetting Blind by Stephanie Guerra
Skyscape

The cards are stacking up against Gabriel James: first there’s Phil, the guy paying the bills for Gabe’s mom (but not leaving his wife). Then there’s Gabe’s new school, filled with kids competing for the Ivies, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street—while Gabe’s just trying to swing enough Cs to graduate.

Gabe’s luck seems ready to change when he meets Irina Petrova: a hot violinist who is home-schooled by her strict Russian parents. When Gabe gets her number, he impresses the top guys at his school. When he becomes the drug connection for parties, his reputation is solidified. How else is he going to afford hanging with his new crew and impressing Irina? Anyway, it’s not really dealing if you’re just hooking up friends…right?

Gabe’s never been loyal to a girl before, but he finds himself falling for Irina hard. As the stakes are raised, Gabe will have to decide how high he’s willing to bet on school, on friends, on Irina—but most of all, on himself.

Mature content, ages 14 and up. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

sixThe Silence of Six by E.C. Myers
Adaptive Books

“What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?”

These are the last words uttered by 17-year-old Max Stein’s best friend, Evan: Just moments after hacking into the live-streaming Presidential debate at their high school, he kills himself.

Haunted by the image of Evan’s death, Max’s entire world turns upside down as he suddenly finds himself the target of a corporate-government witch-hunt. Fearing for his life and fighting to prove his own innocence, Max goes on the run with no one to trust and too many unanswered questions.

Max must dust off his own hacking skills and maneuver the dangerous labyrinth of underground hacktivist networks, ever-shifting alliances, and virtual identities — all while hoping to find the truth behind the “Silence of Six” before it’s too late. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads
the walled cityThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

There are three rules in the Walled City: Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife. Right now, my life depends completely on the first. Run, run, run.

Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live in the Walled City, a lawless labyrinth run by crime lords and overrun by street gangs. Teens there run drugs or work in brothels—or, like Jin, hide under the radar. But when Dai offers Jin a chance to find her lost sister, Mei Yee, she begins a breathtaking race against the clock to escape the Walled City itself. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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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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