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.

A Little Bit of Everything

So, going to an amazing writer’s conference and being inspired, then coming down with the stomach flu left me with lots of thinky thoughts. I had so much I wanted to say that it became nothing because I couldn’t form a coherent thought. Still working on that, actually, but I needed to sort some of the words rattling in my brain for you, dear readers, and this is what I came up with.

1. Our “Barnes & Noble” Experiment

Barnes--Noble-in-New-York-006A part of me feels like it ends up being a bust because after visiting a few different stores, as well as talking to folks, and folks reporting in, it seems like each Barnes & Noble’s diversity numbers is different depending on the location. The one that sparked the post was not nearly as diverse as the one near my mom and the one near my house was in the middle of the two. One reader stated that the B&N in Manhattan was incredibly diverse, while the one near her home in Long Island was not. After hearing so many diverse (pun intended) responses, my angry balloon deflated a little because how could I really accuse a large book chain of discrimination when the product in each store differs so greatly. I live in a very diverse neighborhood, so I don’t understand why the store I went to was lacking, but I feel I need to take up my issue with the individual store, rather than the entire company. I feel like if the manager of the store I frequent knew of my concerns, he or she could work to making sure that particular store was as diverse as store in another city. I know Barnes & Noble could still work on being more diverse, but as someone suggested to me, we should also express our displeasure to the publishers as well. I intend to send a letter to the buyer at my local B&N expressing my desire to see more diverse books on the shelf, and I hope, if you find your B&N in need, you will do so as well.

2. Holy Blogosphere!
shannonThe internet has been buzzing lately with some great articles on the need for diverse texts, specifically in Children’s & Young Adult literature. On the eve of her book, Dangerous, release Shannon Hale wrote a post entitled “On Neutral Characters and Relating to the Specific.” The post was about Maisie, in her specific-ness, and how Hale was advised to make her more “neutral” so readers could relate better. Thankfully, Hale followed her instincts and continued to write the book her way and a lovely character of color is on the shelves. Her post sparked a good discussion and she later followed up with a post about the default male.

Walter-Dean-Myers-with-son-ChristopherAnd then…over the weekend, father and son, Christopher and Walter Dean Myers, gave the New York Times a one-two punch with their OpEd pieces, “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” and “Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” Both articles were quickly quoted and spread among Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr (I’m sure others, but that is the extent of my social media). Both authors do not hold back in their assessment of the dire situation of diversity and children’s/Young Adult literature. I found myself wanting to stand up and clap so many times. I feel all publishers need to read both these articles and then take a good look at their author list and really work to make significant, effective change. As a writer and a reader, by standing up and using my voice, I hope to be a part of a positive change in the publishing industry so that when my beautiful niece and nephew become teenagers, they will be represented in the literature they choose to read.

3. What about the children?
This article “You Can’t Do That! Stories have to be about White People!” has been on my mind lately. Published in December, it ever so often springs up in the continuing conversation of diversity and Children’s/YA literature. This particular blog article resonated with me because it took the issue from a teacher’s perspective and dealing with the issue of the types of characters students create during creative writing activities. I could commiserate with the author, especially when I scared a few students who, when I was giving them assignment about writing a hero’s story, one child asked, “Can we make our main character a girl?” and I was a little too enthusiastic with my “Yes”.  The fact that she asked that saddened me because it spoke to the idea that “girls can’t be heroes” because there is a lack of women represented in today’s hero-driven mass media. I’ve always been hyper aware of the ethnic make-up of the characters my students create, and luckily for my students, because I have them read books with diverse characters, they are able to see themselves reflected in the books they read therefore they are able to create diverse characters. This was ever so apparent in the superhero paper dolls my students made of their main characters. I posted all 145 on the walls outside my classroom and it was a lovely collage of the human rainbow. That rainbow is what the publishing industry should be reaching for – to have all the beauty of the world represented in our books.

Whew, that was a lot of thoughts and as I write, more keep rushing forward. I’ll stop here, but I encourage you to check out the articles and share your thoughts with me. Let’s have a conversation and brainstorm what we can do to bring about change.

New Releases

Happy book birthday to Alpha Goddess!

Alpha Goddess by Amalie Howard

In Serjana Caelum’s alphaworld, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.

Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The Shadow Hero

heroTitle: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second
Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy
Format: Graphic Novel
Pages: 176
Review Copy: Netgalley
Availability: July 15, 2014, but digital issues are being released monthly until then.

Summary: In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity… The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

With artwork by Sonny Liew, this gorgeous, funny comics adventure for teens is a new spin on the long, rich tradition of American comics lore. Cover image via Goodreads, summary via publisher

Review: After reading an interview with the creators of The Shadow Hero, I couldn’t wait to get it into my hands. Fortunately, it turned up on Netgalley so I only waited two months. The Shadow Hero was worth every bit of that time though.

Yang and Liew have taken a super hero from the past and built a backstory for him that combined Chinese American culture, a tiny taste of the supernatural, and a rather colorful mother. She is not the most nurturing person, but she had other strengths. She certainly provided comic relief. I have seen women keep money, keys or other random things down their shirts, but this was my first experience with storage of pork buns in that particular location. We get to know her early in the story because Yang starts the backstory way back – before the boy who would become The Green Turtle is even born.

What I love is that The Shadow Hero has such a nice balance of action, adventure, humor, seriousness, and flirtation. There are action sequences in each issue and several doses of comedy. I didn’t want it to end. I have not been a reader of many superhero comics. That just never was my genre of choice, but Yang and Liew are winning me over. This comic was extremely entertaining.

Like Yang’s previous work, there are some potentially offensive racial slurs, but they make sense for the time and place. The mother is also quite  exaggerated, but she grew on me in spite of her obsession and dangerous single-mindedness.

As for the illustrations, Liew wowed me. I am relatively new to the comic/graphic novel scene, but it seemed that Liew used a color palette pointing to an earlier time. That would make sense with this resurrection of a superhero from the 1940s, but it could just be his style. There were many shades of brown and most colors appeared a bit muted especially in the beginning when they were setting the stage. It made me feel like I had stepped back into time. The artwork was also fantastic. The reason I didn’t read a lot of comics in the past was that pictures slow me down. I am a plot fan and want to know what happens next. Right now. I zip through the words and tend to ignore illustrations. These pictures required me to take my time and pay attention, but I didn’t mind in the least. Liew added so much life and personality to each of the characters and the surroundings were rich in detail. To see for yourself, there is an excerpt available here. Gene Luen Yang also provides some background on the creation of the book here which includes the text, rough sketches, and final images of the first few pages. Sonny Liew also gives some background information on his blog.

Finally, as an added bonus, the hardcopy includes a section at the end that provides facts and rumors about the original comic that was created back in the 1940s. It also includes pages from the original. I have to admit, I enjoyed the updated version significantly more, but I appreciated the history involved.

To hear about this collaboration, watch this video.

Recommendation: Buy it now or at least as soon as it is possible. The first issue is available now digitally and the second issue will be released on March 18th. The digital copies look amazing so I would recommend them as they are released. Otherwise, get the hardcopy in July. I will be singing the praises of The Shadow Hero for quite some time and I hope that this is not the last we see of the Green Turtle.

Four Releases Yesterday

We’ve got quite the mix of genres for you this week! If you haven’t heard of these books already, you should check them out. I know my to-read list just got longer.

secretsideThe Secret Side of Empty by Maria Andreu

Acting like a potential valedictorian who tutors other students while still finding time to ride shotgun in her best friend’s car as they flirt with boys is fairly easy for Monserrat Thalia–it is exactly who she is. And combined with her blondish hair and pale skin, M.T. is as apple-pie American as a high school senior can get. Almost.

The one simple, very complicating exception: M.T. was born in Argentina and brought to America as a baby without any official papers. She is undocumented and illegal in the eyes of the law. And as questions of college, work, and the future arise, M.T. will have to decide what exactly she wants for herself, knowing someone she loves will unavoidably pay the price for it.

Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience of formerly being an undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that is relevant to thousands of teenagers and countless families, schools, and communities.

promisePromise of Shadows by Justina Ireland

A teen who is half-god, half-human must own her power whether she likes it or not in this snappy, snarky novel with a serving of smoldering romance.

Zephyr Mourning has never been very good at being a Harpy. She’d rather watch reality TV than learn forty-seven ways to kill a man, and she pretty much sucks at wielding magic. Zephyr was ready for a future pretending to be a normal human instead of a half-god assassin. But all that changed when her sister was murdered–and Zephyr used a forbidden dark power to save herself from the same fate.

On the run from a punishment worse than death, an unexpected reunion with a childhood friend upends Zephyr’s world–and not only because her old friend has grown surprisingly, extremely hot. It seems that Zephyr might just be the Nyx, a dark goddess that is prophesied to shift the power balance: for hundreds of years the half-gods have lived in fear, and Zephyr is supposed to change that.

But how is she supposed to save everyone else when she can barely take care of herself?

Violet HourThe Violet Hour by Whitney A. Miller

Some call VisionCrest the pinnacle of religious enlightenment.

Others call it a powerful cult.

For seventeen years, Harlow Wintergreen has called it her life.

As the adopted daughter of VisionCrest’s patriarch, Harlow is expected to be perfect at all times. To other Ministry teens, she must be seen as a paragon of integrity. To the world, she must be seen as a future leader.

Despite the constant scrutiny Harlow has managed to keep a dark and dangerous secret, even from her best friend and the boy she loves. She hears a voice in her head that seems to have a mind of its own, plaguing her with violent and bloody visions. It commands her to kill. And the urge to obey is getting harder and harder to control . . .

RuinsRuins by Dan Wells

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: For Today I Am a Boy

for today i am a boy


Title: For Today I Am a Boy
Author: Kim Fu
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 256
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: January 14th 2014





Summary: Peter Huang and his sisters—elegant Adele, shrewd Helen, and Bonnie the bon vivant—grow up in a house of many secrets, then escape the confines of small-town Ontario and spread from Montreal to California to Berlin. Peter’s own journey is obstructed by playground bullies, masochistic lovers, Christian ex-gays, and the ever-present shadow of his Chinese father.
At birth, Peter had been given the Chinese name juan chaun, powerful king. The exalted only son in the middle of three daughters, Peter was the one who would finally embody his immigrant father’s ideal of power and masculinity. But Peter has different dreams: he is certain he is a girl. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ll be honest. I was hooked in by the cover design, which is gorgeous. (It looks even more beautiful in person.) When I read the description, I thought — I’ve got to read this. I read For Today I Am a Boy on a three hour train ride. When I got off the train, I still had the last quarter of the book to go, so I walked about the city in a daze, still reading.

For Today I Am a Boy matches its cover — it’s beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking. The story of Peter’s life, from her childhood to her thirties, is told in a series of memories, conversations, and moments all woven together. While far from straightforward and linear, it’s still very easy to fall into the rhythm and flow of the story.

At first glance, For Today I Am a Boy seems to be an issue novel about growing up as a transgender girl, but it’s not quite that. Though Peter yearns to be the girl she knows she is, the pressure and influence of her father forces her to conform to his standards of masculinity, even as her sisters’ flee from their father’s control. This is a story as much about sisterhood and culture as it is about gender identity. Fair warning, the book is incredibly grim for a large part of the book (despite an ambiguously happy ending). Do not read this as a pick-me-up.

I would hesitate to say that For Today I Am a Boy is strictly Young Adult literature, but I wouldn’t call it adult literature either. (What defines YA lit, anyway?) That being said, the categorization is unimportant. For Today I Am a Boy is a beautiful and incredible read that I would absolutely recommend to just about everyone.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday.*

EDIT: This book grapples with a number of issues, including homophobia, transphobia, sexism, assault, and more. Please be aware that this is not a light book and can be triggering. For an article that discusses the book’s problems with trans representation, please read this.

*Rating has been revised after further reflection.