Book Review: Rebellion (Tankborn #3)

Rebellion FCTitle: Rebellion (Tankborn #3)
Author: Karen Sandler
Genres: Fantasy/SF
Pages: 396
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: June

Summary: In this final installment of the Tankborn series, Kayla has been kidnapped by the group that has been bombing GEN warehouses, and she must pretend to sympathize with them in order to escape.

In the wake of a devastating bomb blast, severely injured Kayla has been brought to the headquarters of the organization that planted the bomb-and many others like it in GEN food warehouses and homes. Her biological mother tells her that Devak is dead and that Kayla must join her in the terrorist group, which is ramping up for something big. Now Kayla must pretend that she embraces this new role in an underground compound full of paranoia as she plots a way to escape and save her friends. Meanwhile, Devak has emerged from his healing in a gen-tank, only to be told that Kayla is dead and his family has fallen from grace. Can he overcome his grief at the loss of his power to see the clues that point to Kayla being alive? As Kayla and Devak overcome the multiple obstacles put between them while trying to free GENs without further bloodshed, the Tankborn trilogy rushes to a thrilling conclusion!

Review:  Being the third and concluding book of a series about teenagers working to over throw a system of oppression, I expected Rebellion to be about the big battles of a revolution, but instead it is more of a story about two people fighting for their love against the individuals who wish to keep them apart. I was quite surprised that the ending of the Tankborn series was actually not about a global revolution but a personal fight for freedom; the ability to make one’s own choices.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but as I continued to read and get more involved with Kayla’s and Devak’s struggle, I enjoyed the change from a “rebel against society” to a personal rebellion. Both Kayla and Devak have been manipulated by two different factions, the FHE and the Kinship respectively, who want to use the teens for their own means. Instead, because both Kayla and Devak are smart, neither really trust what they’ve been told and set out to discover the truth. This sets in motion the personal rebellion by each to find the other. This key change, this personal struggle for freedom, made me really enjoy Sandler’s novel. In a landscape of books about teens challenging and winning against an corrupt government, to have two young people who just want to be together and work hard to achieve that goal was refreshing.

Sandler doesn’t make the journey easy for both Kayla and Devak and both experience setbacks in their search. Maybe I’m sick and like to see characters suffer, but if the journey to find each other had been to easy (as the love story is in some books) then the pay off would not have been worth it. Through the first two books Kayla and Devak learned that rebellion against society is hard and comes with a price, and in Rebellion, both learn that the same costs come with fighting for one’s own freedom. Both experience some losses, but their determination to be free from the organizations who wish to use them and be able to love each other, is what keeps them fighting. I loved that aspect of both of their characterizations and it felt realistic. It took them two books to realize how much they love each other and in this book, they were willing to do something about it. I really loved this aspect of the story and rooted for Kayla’s and Devak’s happy ending.

Like the other two books, Sandler’s world is just as engrossing as ever. In Rebellion, the story takes on a broader scope and we travel with Devak, and Kayla to a certain extent, to the outer areas of Svarga and even spend some time in the Badlands. The way Sandler writes her world, it feels so real, that when I was done reading I wasn’t ready to leave Kayla and Devak. In fact, I’m hoping that Sandler is willing to write a fourth book, or even another book set in this unique world. The way she describes Svarga, including all the little details, makes me imagine that Kayla’s & Devak’s world actually exists somewhere in this wide universe of ours.

Recommendation: If you haven’t read the series, go buy it and if you’re anxiously awaiting Rebellion – get it as soon as it comes out.

P.S. I just adore the cover. I could stare at it all day. It’s just that beautiful.

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Review: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

ashalaTitle: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe #1)
Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: April 8th 2014 in the USA, July 2012 in Australia

Summary: The Reckoning destroyed civilisation. Rising from the ashes, some people have developed unique abilities, and society is scared of them. Guided by the ancient spirits of the land, Ashala Wolf will do anything to keep them safe.

When Ashala is captured, she realises she has been betrayed by someone she trusted. When her interrogator starts digging in her memories for information, she doubts she can protect her people forever. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: True to its title, Ashala Wolf is a captive of a detention center that holds Illegals like her — people with abilities such as changing the weather, causing earthquakes, starting fires, and healing. After the Reckoning that destroyed the environment and civilization, a new civilization arose — one that attempts to maintain the Balance to prevent yet another Reckoning. In the name of maintaining the Balance, the government tests, targets, and captures children with certain abilities. As leader of a tribe of young Illegals, Ashala Wolf is determined to save her tribe and survive her interrogation.

Reading The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, I almost forgot it was about a dystopian future. The detention centers, the illegal status of certain people, and the political machinations reminded me of current issues — illegal immigration, deportation, discrimination and so on. It was a harsh reminded that fiction holds up a mirror to life. Dystopias are not such a stretch, when you take a good hard look at injustices today.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is a breath of fresh air in YA dystopia land. Instead of the usual white-girl-vs-the-government, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is casually populated with people of all skin tones. The mentions of nature, such as the Tuart forests, and the Saurs, add dimension to the setting. And the worldbuilding is strong and believable, with just the right hint of the ancient and supernatural to get things going.

While The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf relies heavily on flashbacks to tell the story, it actually works — I read straight through the whole book in one sitting. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the sequel.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

And the author Ambelin Kwaymullina addressing whitewashed covers

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Book Review: Grim

grimTitle: Grim
Author: Julie Kagawa, Malinda Lo, Ellen Hopkins, Amanda Hocking & More
Genres: Fantasy/SF
Pages: 474
Publisher: HarlequinTeen
Review Copy: Purchased by Amazon
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Inspired by classic fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today.

Review: Short story anthologies are becoming popular again, specifically YA, as many readers of series are now getting used to authors publishing short stories or novellas between books. These short stories allow readers to spend more time in the world the authors create, thus a market has been born in the YA world for short stories. HarlequinTeen realized this and gathered a group of authors together to write around a common theme – the stories by the Brother’s Grimm.

Unlike the Disney versions of Grims Fairy tales, the short stories in this anthology are anything but fluffy. Some very dark themes are explored such as incest, death, dark magic, and deals with the devil. There is even a story about skin eaters, which…was quite gross. Anyway, it’s somewhat hard to review an anthology because there are some stories that I liked more than others, but overall the fun of reading these stories was how each of the author’s turned their Grims fairytale on it’s head. Sarah Rees Brennan’s “Beauty and the Chad” was a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” where the “Beast” was clearly a spoiled California surfer dude and “Beauty” was from a different time period. Their misunderstandings, and especially Chad’s characterization, had me giggling. Julie Kagawa’s “The Brother’s Piggett” was the Three Pigs, but with a twisted ending that shocked me. Let’s just say, I really felt for the wolf. “Untethered” by Sonia Gensler” was a beautiful story about death and moving on. My favorite, however, was Saundra Mitchell’s “Thinner Than Water” that just knocked me in my gut but had me cheering for the main character at the end. Many of the stories in Grim delve into the darker parts of the human psyche and explore the murky aspects of humanity much like the original Grimm stories did. I love that in all of these stories, made for a YA audience that is usually coddled, do not hold back on the darker themes that teens experience. While these are re-tellings of fairy tales, they did not seem “Disneyish” in the least.

My only wish for this collection, and other anthology collections such as the dystopian anthology titled After, is that it had more diversity in it. First, there were only 2 authors of color represented, which is disappointing, and with the opportunity to rework Jacob’s & Wilhelm’s immortal words, very few authors decided to build diversity into their worlds. To know that there was potential here for authors to stretch themselves, make one of the princess or even the princes a character of color, or set the world in a non-European historical period, is disheartening. All of these authors are excellent storytellers, do not get me wrong I enjoyed all the stories, it’s just I wish in 2014, a book that is all about the re-imagining of classic fairy tales, was reflective of the diverse lives of its readers.

Recommendation: I’m not too sure. If you like short stories and fairy tales, Grim is one to pick up. If you don’t then borrow it.

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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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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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