Book Review: Complicit

complicitTitle: Complicit
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 248
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Review Copy: Library
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Two years ago, sixteen-year-old Jamie Henry breathed a sigh of relief when a judge sentenced his older sister to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbor’s fancy horse barn. The whole town did. Because Crazy Cate Henry used to be a nice girl. Until she did a lot of bad things. Like drinking. And stealing. And lying. Like playing weird mind games in the woods with other children. Like making sure she always got her way. Or else.

But today Cate got out. And now she’s coming back for Jamie.

Because more than anything, Cate Henry needs her little brother to know the truth about their past. A truth she’s kept hidden for years. A truth she’s not supposed to tell.

Review: Often times when I figure out the twist in a book I usually stop reading because the result of the twist is often predictable. With Complicit the opposite happened. I figured out the twist maybe about 3/4 of the way, but was so involved in the mystery of how, and what would Jaime do with the information once he realized it, that I kept reading – well past my bedtime in fact and when I finished the book, I was lost for words. Seriously. Kuehn ends this book hitting you right in the gut and you take it because she has you travel this road with Jaime while he searches for answers, you end up really caring for Jaime, wanting happiness and peace for him, and then Wham! She throws that ending and you’re left dumbfounded. And then you do a slow clap for Ms. Keuhn because you realize you have just experienced a master storyteller at work.

I’ve heard a number of criticism about YA not being “literate” enough or deep enough or just full of romance and angst (ugh, whatever!) and I wish to throw Complicit at them as the example of what smart writing for young adults looks like. Kuehn’s writing is crisp, her dialogue realistic, and moves at a pace that doesn’t let up from the first word until the last. Weaved within the present story is the moments before Jamie’s sister went to jail, focusing on their relationship. These moments do not slow the pace of the story, instead they drive the mystery that Jaime is attempting to solve (and also, if one is astute, foreshadow the plot twist). Kuehn’s writing doesn’t talk down to the young adult reader, rather she treats her readers with respect and presents the subject matter of mental illness as one would with an adult novel. I must applaud Kuehn on how she presented mental illness as a real, daily struggle for Jaime rather than use it as a gimmick for shock value.

So let’s talk about Jaime, shall we? He’s an unreliable narrator if I ever saw one, but you connect with him, feel for him because you know that he’s had a troubled past that he doesn’t remember much about but desperately wants to know. Jaime is adopted and is struggling, like many adoptees go through at a certain point, to want to know more about his birth mother. His only link to her is his sister, but she and he have a troubled relationship. They clearly love each other, but Cate acts horribly to Jaime sometimes and he doesn’t understand why. With his confusion about his mother and his sister, one can really empathize with Jaime. However, there are hidden clues sprinkled throughout that makes the reader, if they are paying attention, not really believe what Jaime is saying. There are periods of his life, in the present narrative, that Jaime doesn’t remember. How can a reader trust the narrator when the narrator doesn’t even know what he’s doing sometimes? And that is the beauty of Complicit, in that even though Jaime is unreliable, he still is relate-able. We care, deeply, for the one who is living the lie. Kuehn has written him so well, so earnestly, that I didn’t care that Jaime’s narration was unreliable until the very end. Actually, I felt sorry for him at the end because…well, I think you just have to read the book and then you’ll understand my feelings.

I haven’t read Charm & Strange, but based on what I experience with reading Complicit, I’ll be running to my library to check it out. I’ll also be eagerly awaiting anything else Ms. Kuehn writes because the thrilling ride she sent me on with Complicit, I can’t wait to go on again.

Recommendation: Get it Now!

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Book Review: While We Run

While We RunTitle: While We Run
Author: Karen Healey
Genres:  Sci-Fi/Dystopian
Pages: 327
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Review Copy: Library/Purchased
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Abdi Taalib thought he was moving to Australia for a music scholarship. But after meeting the beautiful and brazen Tegan Oglietti, his world was turned upside down. Tegan’s no ordinary girl – she died in 2027, only to be frozen and brought back to life in Abdi’s time, 100 years later.

Now, all they want is for things to return to normal (or as normal as they can be), but the government has other ideas. Especially since the two just spilled the secrets behind Australia’s cryonics project to the world. On the run, Abdi and Tegan have no idea who they can trust, and when they uncover startling new details about Project Ark, they realize thousands of lives may be in their hands.

A suspenseful, page-turning sequel to When We Wake that will keep readers on the edge of their seats and make them call into question their own ideas about morality – and mortality, too.

Review: I have to say this straight out. I LOVED THIS BOOK!! So much that I read it twice and was enthralled the second time. While We Run is just that good. The first time I read it was during summer vacation and I think I read the book in a matter of hours. I couldn’t put it down. Karen Healey’s pacing in this sequel is much better balanced with heavy hitting points mixed with quiet moments between characters that really showcase the relationships in this novel. The themes Healey presents as well, such as the concept of collateral damage, she handles with skill and a deftness that allows explores the grey areas of political revolutions. Many YA dystopian novels that focus on revolution often have an “Us vs. Them” mentality and the fight is usually a “good vs. evil” trope. While Abdi, Tegan, and their friends view the Australian government as evil, through their experiences they eventually learn what it means to have to make those tough decisions and that sometimes you have to lose to win. It’s a very grown up lesson to learn and Healey presents those ideas well.

The one aspect of the novel that I loved the most was Abdi’s voice. In When We Wake, I enjoyed Abdi’s presence in Tegan’s life and found him to be a well-rounded character, love interest for her. While We Run is told entirely from Abdi’s perspective and he is a fascinating character. I felt his voice is much stronger than Tegan’s, more introspective and thoughtful, owning a maturity far beyond his 17 years. He often very blunt with the reader while at the same time hiding information from the other characters. In Healey’s sequel, we get a real sense of Abdi’s inner self, what drives him, and what made him the deep thinker he is. Because he is still a teenager, he does make some stupid mistakes but unlike some YA characters, he does own up to them, eventually. He is also able to take criticism from his friends, internalize it and then work to change his behavior. I have to say that is one quality that I loved in him. Healey also handles instances of racism that Abdi experiences and comments on extremely well. These are usually comments that Abdi keeps to himself and rarely says aloud, and by doing that, Healey captured the internal dialogue a person of color usually has to racist comments or experiences. I greatly respect writers who understand that when writing cross culturally,  characters of color would have to internalize their reactions to racist situations. I feel like Healey did her homework when writing Abdi and it shows; I practically feel in love with him.

I don’t know if there is a 3rd book planned for the series, but I hope there is one. I want to know what happens to Abdi and Tegan next, what their future holds, and how they handle the decisions they made at the end of the novel. The world that Healey created is very believable and one that I’m not ready to leave just yet. In the meantime, I’ll just read While We Run one more time.

Recommendation: GET IT NOW!

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Mini-Review: Hungry

hungryTitle: Hungry
Author: H.A. Swain
Genres:  Dystopian, SciFi
Pages: 372
Publisher: Fiewel and Friends
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: In the future, food is no longer necessary—until Thalia begins to feel something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She’s hungry.

In Thalia’s world, there is no need for food—everyone takes medication (or “inocs”) to ward off hunger. It should mean there is no more famine, no more obesity, no more food-related illnesses, and no more war. At least that’s what her parents, who work for the company that developed the inocs, say. But when Thalia meets a boy who is part of an underground movement to bring food back, she realizes that most people live a life much different from hers. Worse, Thalia is starting to feel hunger, and so is he—the inocs aren’t working. Together they set out to find the only thing that will quell their hunger: real food.

Review: I admit that the premise of Hungry sounds both interesting and a bit far-fetched at the same time. The concept of having meal replacements is not a new concept in science fiction, but it is one that if the science isn’t done right can be very unbelievable. In her novel, Swain almost makes it work. She provides the science of how it works; society takes a substance called Synthamil that is calibrated for every person’s specific nutritional needs. The reason for the Synthamil is that there was a war over food, hence food shortages, and Synthamil was the answer. Therefore, one can assume that in Thalia’s world there has been a population explosion which immediately made me wonder “what about the poor folk?” And this is where Swain’s premise gets deep and the book becomes less about the fact that people don’t eat food but the social inequalities that exist because of it. At it’s core, Hungry is a study of the “Have” and the “Have Nots” as Thalia learns that the privilege life she has lived comes at a cost. By becoming involved with Basil (one of my critiques was the food names for people) Thalia is able to see how the other-half lived and really see how controlled her society has become.

While I enjoyed the novel and felt that it moved at a good pace, I was thrown out at times because I questioned a bit of the world building. I wondered how far into the future the novel took place because based on small clues given, it seems like Thalia could be my future granddaughter’s generation. If that is the case, some of the science Swain includes, such as Thalia’s genetic mutation for hunger, doesn’t work. In fact, Thalia’s mother is the inventor of Synthamil therefore making the product a fairly recent change. Because of that, I couldn’t believe that a society could completely change from one dependent on food (and the controls that went with it) to one without. I feel with Synthamil being so recent in Thalia’s world, that more people would be resistant and still feel hunger. I feel that Swain’s premise was an interesting one and attempted to ask questions about fairness and privilege, but her science just didn’t fully work. And when one is writing a science fiction/dystopian novel, one’s science really needs to work.

Recommendation: Borrow it

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Book Review: Otherbound

otherTitle: Otherbound
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Genres: Fantasy/SF
Pages: 387
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: Now! Just came out on Tuesday!

Summary: Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

Review: At first glance, the premise of this novel seems like it could be confusing and have the potential to go dastardly wrong. I’m thrilled to let you know that in fact, the opposite happens! You can’t put this book down. My plan was to read the book slowly over a series of nights and instead I ended up staying up way too late to finish it. Corinne Duyvis knocks it out of the park with this amazing debut of a novel.

Both Nolan and Amara are instantly likable characters that the reader is able to connect with, despite their extreme differences. Because of his connection to Amara, Nolan’s life is in constant flux and poor guy cannot get a break. In fact, he has lost a leg because of his connection to Amara and his family believes that he has seizures, when in reality he is in Amara’s world. Amara is a servant to a princess on the run, and she is actually mute, and communicates using sign language. Despite their disabilities, both Nolan and Amara are like action heroes, really. Once Nolan figures out how to “chat” with Amara, they work together to solve a mystery, so to speak, putting both their lives at risk. I find that characters who make the choice to be heroes are braver than the ones who are “destined for greatness”. Both Nolan and Amara fit into the description of the former and do not let their disabilities to hamper their goals in any way. For me, while the novel is a fantasy, the way Nolan’s and Amara’s disabilities were presented, as more background and just how they get about in the world, is realistic. I loved that this novel was not about them overcoming their disabilities, but more about the mystery of how Nolan and Amara, people from two different worlds, connect and overcome an oppressive government.

Another aspect of the novel I loved, and why Corinne’s book is so enjoyable, is how she writes the narration. The story is told from both Nolan’s and Amara’s point of view, which could be confusing especially when Nolan blinks and/or is with Amara. The way Corinne chose to break down those moments is what makes the novel interesting. The novel is particularly from Nolan’s point of view, and when he is drawn from Amara as some moments, you scream in frustration with him. When Nolan is fully with Amara, then the novel is in her point of view. The transitions between the two points of view is seamless and pulls the reader into the story. I can honestly say it was one of the reasons why I stayed up too late reading. Both voices are strong and like I said earlier, I was able to really connect with Nolan and Amara.

Lastly, the world that Corinne creates, Amara’s world, is just a diverse and real as our world. It was a foreign place, a unique world all it’s own, but there was hints of our world dropped in here and there. A reason exists for those small hints and the explanation given is just…you have to read the book to find out!

I greatly enjoyed this book and was sad when I finished. I don’t think there is a sequel planned, but I would love to spend more time in Amara’s world and even spend some time with Nolan

Recommendation: Get it now!

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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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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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