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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Book Review: The Living

the livingTitle: The Living
Author: Matt de la Peña
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genres: Dystopian, Action/Adventure
Pages: 320
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all.

But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s  only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed.

The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it’s a fight to survive for those left living. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: On the surface, The Living appears to be a typical survival story with the possibility of a romance, but there are intriguing layers to this story that the reader can catch glimpses of along the way. Matt de la Peña is an excellent storyteller, but aside from the action and suspence, he is also tackling both race and class issues. Yes, there is an earthquake and shark infested waters, but those aren’t the only things Shy will need to navigate.

A summer job on a cruise ship sounds glamorous, but for Shy it’s like any other summer job. Shy is a Mexican American from a working class single parent home. He is trying to earn enough money to help out his mom and grandma and have a little left over for himself. He has fun with his co-workers and has fairly light  responsibilities. Occasionally he must deal with obnoxious wealthy people, but it’s not a hard job. Life gets complicated very quickly though. On his first cruise out, Shy witnesses something that inspires nightmares and brings a man in black to follow him around.

This mystery takes second place though when a huge earthquake and the subsequent chain reaction of disasters hit. Shy is in a fight for his life and for those around him. The man against nature portion of this book is excellent and Matt de la Peña really created a believable character in Shy. He is a good kid and tries to follow the disaster procedures for his job, but he is in over his head in more ways than one. I felt like I was right there witnessing the disaster first-hand through his eyes feeling all of his fear and frustration.

Beyond the fight with nature, there are dangers among the people around him too. It’s difficult to discuss without revealing too much, but this book deals with race, class, and ethics on a scale that I was not anticipating. Matt de la Peña discussed a little bit about this in his interview with NPR.

Recommendation: Buy it now. This is a fantastic read for entertainment purposes, but it also provides a lot to think about. I am very eager to see what de la Peña has in store for us in the sequel.

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December Releases

On Mondays we usually post New Releases for the coming week, but to allow for a brief break, today I’m posting all of the releases that we know of for the rest of the month. We will resume our regular New Release posting schedule in January. Watch for these upcoming titles throughout the month.

CyCy in Chains by David L. Dudley
Clarion Books

Release Date: Dec. 17th

Summary: Cy Williams, thirteen, has always known that he and the other black folks on Strong’s plantation have to obey white men, no question. Sure, he’s free, as black people have been since his grandfather’s day, but in rural Georgia, that means they’re free to be whipped, abused, even killed. Almost four years later, Cy yearns for that freedom, such as it was. Now he’s a chain gang laborer, forced to do backbreaking work, penned in and shackled like an animal, brutalized, beaten, and humiliated by the boss of the camp and his hired overseers. For Cy and the boys he’s chained to, there’s no way out, no way back. And then hope begins to grow in him, along with strength and courage he didn’t know he had. Cy is sure that a chance at freedom is worth any risk, any sacrifice. This powerful, moving story opens a window on a painful chapter in the history of race relations. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

ControlControl by Lydia Kang
Dial/Penguin

Release Date: Dec. 26th

When a crash kills their father and leaves them orphaned, Zel knows she needs to protect her sister, Dyl. But before Zel has a plan, Dyl is taken by strangers using bizarre sensory weapons, and Zel finds herself in a safe house for teens who aren’t like any she’s ever seen before—teens who shouldn’t even exist. Using broken-down technology, her new friends’ peculiar gifts, and her own grit, Zel must find a way to get her sister back from the kidnappers who think a powerful secret is encoded in Dyl’s DNA.

A spiraling, intense, romantic story 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. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

warriorWarrior by Ellen Oh
Harper Teen

Release Date: Dec. 31st

Warrior (Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who protected her kingdom in Prophecy, is back . . . and her dramatic quest is far from over. After finishing Ellen’s first novel, Prophecy, School Library Journal said they were “ready for a sequel.” Well, here it is Filled with ancient lore and fast-paced excitement, this page-turning series is perfect for fantasy and action fans.

Kira has valiantly protected her kingdom–and the crown prince–and is certain she will find the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Warrior boasts a strong female hero, romantic intrigue, and mythical creatures such as a nine-tailed fox demon, a goblin army, and a hungry dragon with a snarky attitude. — cover and summary via Indiebound

real as it getsReal As It Gets by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
K-Teen

Release Date: Dec. 31st

She can uncover the biggest celebrity secrets. But now Maya Morgan’s hottest story ever is way too up-close-and-personal . . .

For once, everything in Maya’s life is falling perfectly into place. She’s getting serious media cred uncovering the source of a new designer drug doing major glitterati damage. And the new man in her life is giving Maya all the cool bling and attention she craves off-camera. But the truth behind her scoop is about to cut too close to home–and put Maya and her family in the crosshairs. Soon, she’ll have to decide just how far she can afford to go to save her family, her career. . .and herself. — Cover image via IndieBound & summary via Amazon

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Book Review: Diverse Energies

diverse
Title: Diverse Energies
Edited By: Tobias S. Buckell & Joe Monti
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction
Pages: 314
Publisher: Tu Books an imprint of Lee and Low
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves Now

Summary:  In a world gone wrong, heroes and villains are not always easy to distinguish and every individual has the ability to contribute something powerful.

In this stunning collection of original and rediscovered stories of tragedy and hope, the stars are a diverse group of students, street kids, good girls, kidnappers, and child laborers pitted against their environments, their governments, differing cultures, and sometimes one another as they seek answers in their dystopian worlds. Take a journey through time from a nuclear nightmare of the past to society’s far future beyond Earth with these eleven stories by masters of speculative fiction. Includes stories by Paolo Bacigalupi, Ursula K. Le Guin, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Daniel H. Wilson, and more. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I was excited to get my hands on Diverse Energies. Dystopia is an area of young adult literature that has been flourishing over the past few years especially following the release of The Hunger Games, but there is still a need for more works featuring protagonists from diverse backgrounds. To spell it out more clearly, it would be great to see more young adult dystopias with protagonists that are something other than straight white teens. With Diverse Energies, the editors and contributors were hoping to help fill this need and create change in the landscape of young adult science fiction.

Before the stories begin, readers find a quote from John F. Kennedy: “The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.” This demonstrates the spirit of this book. There is a high value placed on diversity. The stories shared here reveal the strength and beauty of that diversity even in the midst of chaos.

Dystopian stories typically have a corrupt entity taking unfair advantage of the masses often after war or another apocalyptic event. Since that is a fairly standard storyline, I was wondering how unique these short stories could be. It turns out that the voices were distinct and each one has a different storyline with its own particular  flavor. There are stories of war, rebellious robots, child slavery, extreme economic disparity, time travel, among others.

Most of the stories manage to end with a bit of hope, but like many dystopians, they are all pretty bleak so they do tug on emotions. In the very first story by Ellen Oh, the pain took me by surprise. I didn’t expect so much intensity right away. These authors meant business. The very next story, Freshee’s Frogurt by Daniel H. Wilson, is told in a lighter tone though the subject matter is also intense. I appreciated hearing the stories told in radically different ways.

An anthology for me is like an appetizer sampler. The variety almost ensures that there will be something to appeal to everyone. Also, there isn’t such a large investment required of the reader when stories are so brief. I was happy to meet some new authors through this book and will be seeking out more of their works.

Recommendation: Dystopian fans buy it now and even if you aren’t a dystopian fan, I would recommend you read it soon. The worlds and characters are rich and it is amazing to see what the authors have imagined into being within just a few pages.

Extras: 
A Chat with Diverse Energies Authors
Joe Monti Discusses Diverse Energies and Book Covers
Excerpt from Diverse Energies

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