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.

Review: Caminar

caminar

Title: Caminar
Author: Skila Brown
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Historical
Format: Poetry
Pages: 208 pages
Availability: On Shelves Now
Review Copy: Hard Copy from Publisher

Summary: Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck:Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

Review: It’s probably not news to you, but April was poetry month. Being a teacher, that means I have been reading a large amount of poetry lately. I also posted a list of novels in verse last month which got me wondering why they appeal to me so much. I’ve heard many readers ask why books are in that format and make comments about how they sometimes don’t even seem like poetry or that they think readers may not understand novels in verse. I am not sure why they work or don’t work for other people, but I have an idea of why they work for me. When I read a novel in verse like Caminar, all of the white space focuses my attention even more closely on the words – especially when they are as powerful as those written by Skila Brown. In addition, the variety of cadences and frequent pauses allow for a lot more thinking on my part. There are many, many breaks in the writing that make time for this reader’s responses. In Caminar the pauses felt natural even though I am certain they are very deliberate.

The topic of the Guatemalan civil war is grim, and Skila Brown has given the conflict a face. Carlos is a young boy who plays soccer and carries marbles in his pockets, though he is yearning to be a man. He is still willing to obey his mother, but is beginning to question that. He wonders if following her orders is keeping him from becoming a man. In the midst of his questioning, the soldiers and rebels step into his life and his world is shattered. At this point, I will just go ahead and admit that I did not make it through the book without tears. The dedication hints at what is to come, “In memory of the more than 200,000 people who were killed or disappeared in Guatemala between 1960 and 1996. May they always be remembered.”

Brown weaves the story through many individual poems. She plays with the arrangement of words on the page and most are visually very distinct from each other. Some of the poems are concrete showing the shape of what they describe. A few bounce back and forth between two columns and could even benefit from being read aloud by two people. One is read down the page and then is inverted to be read again providing a different perspective. I really enjoyed experiencing the variety of forms and even though the shapes changed greatly, the voice remained consistent and clear.

Carlos is young, but is being forced to grow up quickly. Caminar is a coming of age novel which shifts it into the young adult category a little though it is often labeled as a middle grade book. I think it is on the borderline. Brown tackles the topic of war in a way that is accessible and appropriate for younger children, yet is complex enough to work with older readers too.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the concept of the nahuales or animal spirit protectors. I loved the poems that dealt with that. Early on, Carlos scoffs a bit at the idea, but his beliefs shift over time. It led me to remember the book How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle as it also features the idea of animals as protectors. I think that the two books have many similarities. In both, a group of people are being targeted and a young boy must face fears in an attempt to help loved ones. They would likely be good books to read together.

Recommendation: Buy it now particularly if poetry appeals to you. If you typically avoid novels in verse, I would still say grab this one. I was unfamiliar with this history and truly appreciated the story. Above all though, poetry is about word choice and placement and Skila Brown chose well.

Extra: 

Interview with Skila Brown

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

Book Review: The Forever Song

safehTitle: The Forever Song
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genres: Speculative Fiction/Dystopian
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: ARC via NetGalley
Availability: Available April 15

Summary: VENGEANCE WILL BE HERS

Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster?

With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer.

MONSTER

Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions—her creator, Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost—the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie.

In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, triumph is short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone. (Via Amazon)

Review:
One wouldn’t think a book whose primary theme is family would be about killer vampires, but one would be wrong because with “The Forever Song,” Julie Kagawa finishes her epic Blood of Eden trilogy with a novel focused on family. If you read “The Eternity Cure,” you know that Allie, Jackal and Kanin make a good team, but in this novel, you get to experience them interact as a “family”.  And OMG is it hilarious! Allie and Jackal are the typical big brother and kid sister who love to hate each other, with Jackal getting some good zings in. And poor Kanin is the exhausted parent on the family road trip who puts up with the kid’s shenanigans until a certain point and then threatens “Do you want me to pull over” to calm everyone down. I loved the fact that despite being ferocious killers, Kagawa really humanizes the three with this familial , especially Jackal and Kanin, so by the end, the three of them are really a picture of a functional family.

Of course The Forever Song, being a novel with vampires and dealing with a crazy vampire such as Sarren, has “happy” times are equally punctuated by events that just hurt. I can’t go into detail without giving spoilers, but I can say there were a few moments in the novel where my heart broke. There were also a few times where I thought, “Should I really be eating while I’m reading this?” Kagawa does not insult her readers by holding back on descriptions of violence and I respect that quality of hers. The world that Allie lives in is desolate and dangerous with the struggle to survive in a land filled with raiders, psychotic vampires and rabids.

Lastly, one theme I really enjoyed throughout this book, and the series, is the concept of being human. Kagawa truly explores this concept by having Allie deal with the loss of Zeke, her link to humanity, and her struggle to maintain the monster she knows lurks beneath the surface. The questions that Allie ponders, and is challenged by Jackal, and encouraged by Kanin, really give a balance to the deep philosophical questions most of us would have if we were facing the end of our known world.

I’m sad that the Blood of Eden trilogy has come to an end because I greatly enjoyed the world that Kagawa created and being inside Allie’s head for a short time. While the novel ends in such a way that the story is finished, there is room for more. Ms. Kagawa, I’m not quite ready to leave Allie behind; is there a chance we’ll ever visit her again? Please?

Recommendation: You better go buy this book on April 15!

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.

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.