Review: The Memory Key

17697565Title: The Memory Key
Author: Liana Liu
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 244
Publisher: HarperTeen
Availability: October 16th, 2015

Summary: Lora Mint is determined not to forget. Though her mother’s been dead for five years, Lora struggles to remember every detail about her—most importantly, the specific events that occurred the night she sped off in her car, never to return. But in a world ravaged by Vergets disease, a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Usually Lora is aided by her memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories just the way a human brain would. Then a minor accident damages Lora’s key, and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these formerly forgotten memories? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ve been trying my hand at reading more science fiction, so coming upon The Memory Key was a happy accident. The premise — a world hit by a forgetting disease that sounds like Alzheimer’s and the resulting emergence of ‘memory keys’ to treat this issue – is just close enough to real life to be an accessible and fascinating story.

Memory keys that preserve, well, memories are planted in nearly everyone after Vergets disease sweeps the nation several decades previous. When Lora Mint’s memory key is damaged, she starts to remember things that throw her whole life — and her mother’s death — into doubt. The weaving of memories insistently resurfacing with Lora’s struggle to discover the truth is well-executed. Sleuthing-via-memories was fascinating to read.

The presence of a variety of characters — friends, family, random adults — lent realism to the world. Lora certainly doesn’t live in the mysteriously adult-free world that quite a few YA books seem to be set in. Unfortunately, the resemblance to real life goes a little too far. In a futuristic world where chips can be implanted in your brain, every other technology is curiously non-futuristic, more like the good ol’ 90s than anything. It was hard to get a real grasp of place.

Similarly, figuring out who Lora was, despite being inside her head for a good portion of the book, proved difficult. Her personality came out the strongest in her forays into romance — I admit, despite being a little squicked out by the end game. The high point of Lora’s character and the story comes through in Lora’s search for the truth about her mother. That was enough to pull me in and make me invested in the story.

The Memory Key is a solid, accessible science-fiction YA book. I especially recommend it for anyone looking to get into science fiction but is wary of getting in over their head. It’s definitely a page-turner!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

Review: The Hunted

Title: The Hunted (The Living #2)
Author: Matt de la Peña
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 384
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller, Action/Adventure
Availability: May 12, 2015
Review Copy: ARC from publisher

Summary: When the Big One hit, Shy was at sea in style. The Paradise Cruise luxury liner he worked on was a hulking specimen of the best money could buy. And now it’s at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, along with almost all of its passengers.

Shy wasn’t the only one to survive, though. Addie, the rich blond daughter of a mysterious businessman, was on the dinghy he pulled himself into. But as soon as they found the rest of the survivors, she disappeared.

The only thing that filled the strange void of losing her was finding Carmen, his hot coworker, and discovering a way to get back home. But Shy’s luck hasn’t turned. Not yet.

Back on the dinghy, Addie told him a secret. It’s a secret that people would kill for-have killed for-and she has the piece that could turn everything on its ear. The problem? Shy has no idea where Addie is. Back home in California seems logical, but there are more ways to die back home then Shy could ever have guessed.

And thanks to what Shy now knows, he’s a moving target.

Review: Sometimes series books can be read out of order. I would not recommend that in this case. A reader would likely understand most of the book, but there would be way too much backstory missing without the first book. If you haven’t read The Living yet, it’s probably best you stop reading this review and go do that first. It was one of my favorite books of 2013 (review here).

This second book picks up right where the first left off. Shy and his companions are on the run. They’re trying to get away from some people, but they are also running for another purpose. Because of the intrigue, it’s difficult to talk about plot without giving things away, but there are many life-threatening events and stressful circumstances that have to be faced as they move closer and closer to their intended destination.

The Hunted moves at an even faster pace than The Living. Chase scenes and violence are sprinkled throughout. This is definitely an action book, but the characters begin to gain more depth too. We find out that Shy’s friend Marcus isn’t what he seemed to be back on the cruise ship. Shy learns about himself and sees he’s capable of more than he expected. The characters also get a small glimpse into Shoeshine’s past.

Shoeshine is an interesting part of both books. He is inscrutable and also has amazing strength, wisdom and prescience. Even in seemingly impossible situations, he is likely to save the day often at great risk to himself. The phrase magical negro kept popping into my mind. Usually that trope has the character subordinate to a white person, but here Shoeshine is saving and guiding a Latino protagonist so it’s not exactly the same.

Lest you think it is all seriousness, there are still moments of lightness. Shy, Marcus and Carmen joke and jab at each other once in a while and there is good news on occasion. Readers get to smile sometimes. I especially liked the scenes with a young brother and sister they meet along the way. The playful wrestling and teasing were a lot of fun.

I enjoyed both of the books in this series, but they had quite different textures. This first book was more about the intrigue and the second felt like a race. Thankfully, the second one wasn’t just a revamping of the first. It was something new. I don’t know when the next book is scheduled to be published, but I’m eager to get it into my hands.

Recommendation: Buy it soon if you enjoyed the first installment. This second book is another wild ride. If you haven’t read The Living, get it now.

Review: Of Dreams and Rust

23309705Title: Of Dreams and Rust (Of Metal and Wishes #2)
Author: Sarah Fine
Genres: romance, steampunk
Pages: 288
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Availability: August 4th, 2015

Summary: In the year since the collapse of the slaughterhouse where Wen worked as her father’s medical assistant, she’s held all her secrets close. She works in the clinic at the weapons factory and sneaks away to nurse Bo, once the Ghost, now a boy determined to transform himself into a living machine. Their strange, fragile friendship soothes some of the ache of missing Melik, the strong-willed Noor who walked away from Wen all those months ago—but it can’t quell her fears for him.

The Noor are waging a rebellion in the west. When she overhears plans to crush Melik’s people with the powerful war machines created at the factory, Wen makes the painful decision to leave behind all she has known—including Bo—to warn them. But the farther she journeys into the warzone, the more confusing things become. A year of brutality seems to have changed Melik, and Wen has a decision to make about him and his people: How much is she willing to sacrifice to save them from complete annihilation? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review:  Of Dreams and Rust is the sequel to Of Metal and Wishes — if you haven’t read that, what are you doing here? Go read it first, or check out RIC’s review of it! Okay, moving on…

Of Dreams and Rust is a solid follow-up to its predecessor. At first, the book falls into the classic pitfall of sequels — a slow, drawn-out beginning that introduces the essential plot points of the first book. But, once I got past that, I was drawn into the story to the point that I was a weeping mess by the end.

The plot of Of Metal and Wishes covers the rebellion of the Noor people against their oppressors. The book’s characters occasionally take a backseat in favor of the progression of the plot. Fortunately, the main character Wen’s narration prevents the book from feeling too plot-driven.

As with the first book, Of Dreams and Rust’s strength is its gorgeous language and worldbuilding. While more melancholy than Of Metal and Wishes, the writing in Of Dreams and Rust is a pleasure to read. The worldbuilding and conflict were believable and detailed. Plus, I’m a sucker for steampunk robot spiders and machines. In that regard, the book can do no wrong.

If you enjoyed Of Dreams and Rust, this book is a must-read… and if you’re at all interested in a book inspired by Phantom of the Opera with gorgeous worldbuilding, then Of Dreams and Rust is the book for you, and once you read that, check out the sequel! I thoroughly enjoyed the sequel, and can’t wait to read Sarah Fine’s next book.

Recommendation: Get it soon! This is a wonderful sequel to Of Metal and Wishes.

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

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!

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.