Review: Summer of the Mariposas

Summer of the Mariposas Title: Summer of the Mariposas
Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary
Pages: 355
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning home to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.

With the supernatural aid of ghostly La Llorona via a magical earring, Odilia and her little sisters travel a road of tribulation to their long-lost grandmother’s house. Along the way, they must outsmart a witch and her Evil Trinity: a wily warlock, a coven of vicious half-human barn owls, and a bloodthirsty livestock-hunting chupacabras. Can these fantastic trials prepare Odilia and her sisters for what happens when they face their final test, returning home to the real world, where goddesses and ghosts can no longer help them?

Summer of the Mariposas is not just a magical Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, it is a celebration of sisterhood and maternal love. (Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: There are a lot of things I liked about Summer of the Mariposas, and chief among them was the magical realism. The world that Odilia and her sisters find themselves in is a fascinating blend of modern life, Odyssey checkpoints, and Mexican folklore. I wish there were more YA fantasy books focusing on Central and South American cultures. (If there are any good ones, please let me know. I want to read them!) The lechuzas were delightfully terrifying, and McCall did an excellent job of redeeming the character of La Llorona. Her story was one of the two points in the book where I teared up.

For as much as I loved the magical realism, the true heart of this story is the familial bonds between Odilia with her sisters and the sisters with their mother (and even grandmother). And despite saying that, I wish that either the book had been longer so that I could get to know the sisters better or that there had been fewer sisters to devote time to. As it stands, I don’t feel as if I got to know anyone besides Odilia very well. There was a lovely moment between Juanita and Odilia where Odilia got to subtly remind her younger sister that she doesn’t always know what’s right and that sometimes older sisters have useful things to contribute (buying sodas at the gas station, for those who have read the book), and that was a conflict I wish McCall had spent more time on. While I’m generally fond of the fire-forged-friends trope, I wish there had been slightly less physical peril with the girls and more emotional peril to draw them together.

That said, Part III: The Return, was everything I wanted it to be. If you’re familiar with the Odyssey, then you know about the ousting of the suitors. The ousting in this book involved a great deal less blood, but it was still a crowning moment of awesome. I loved how Odilia was able to reconnect with her mother and that the journey she and her sisters went on really did make their happily ever after possible—and believable.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re interested in Mexican folklore, have a fondness for road trip stories or the Odyssey, or want to read books that focus on sisters or mother-daughter relationships. I’m going to have to check out McCall’s Under the Mesquite sometime soon to see if it is just as good.

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Review: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

yaquiTitle: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Author: Meg Medina
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 260
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review copy: friendly local library
Availability: March 26, 2013

Summary: One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? In an all-too-realistic novel, Meg Medina portrays a sympathetic heroine who is forced to decide who she really is. (image and summary from Goodreads)

Review: Right from the get-go, I loved this book. It starts out with a memorable opening line — “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass” — and keeps right on to the end without losing momentum. Piddy Sanchez tells her story with a unique, genuine voice. The immediacy of the narrative kept me hooked for the two hours it took for me to finish the book.

I love funny books of any kind, so this book was right up my alley in terms of humor. At the same time, it deals with pretty serious subjects — bullying and, indirectly, abuse. The way these issues were handled was pretty well done. The book manages to stay away from being grimdark in tone while keeping things relevant.

What I loved most about the book was the family and friends of Piddy Sanchez. Piddy picks up a motley assortment of friends — friends who are stuck-up, geeky or cool. They all have their flaws and Piddy doesn’t gloss over them, which makes the friendships in the book seem all the more realistic. On top of that, the family around Piddy are just as complex and fascinating as her friends. Her mother’s best friend Lila is like the cool aunt I always wanted. She’s sassy, beautiful, and dispenses wisdom like she’s giving out candy — here, try it and you’re welcome. Piddy’s relationship with her mother is what really gets me. Her mother reminds me of my mother — snippy, full of strange advice, and strong. The story isn’t just about bullying. It’s about the mother-daughter relationship that is growing and changing. Strong female relationships are front and center in this book.

This was a fantastic book that I wouldn’t hesitate to put on the reading list of everyone in high school.

Recommendation: Get it soon.

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Mini Review: Unspoken

UnspokenTitle: Unspoken
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Mystery, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 373
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: September 11, 2012

Summary: Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him? —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Rees Brennan lets her love for gothic romances and lady sleuths shine through in Unspoken, and I heartily approve of the combination. Kami and her friends are a delight (particularly Angela), and I enjoyed their antics as they tried to uncover the mysteries around the Lynburn family. Most of the teenage characters in the book were a lot of fun, but I’ll be the first to admit that I cared very little for the adults.

The humor in Unspoken left me with mixed feelings. Rees Brennan’s characters have a lot of witty banter, but the humor didn’t often strike a chord with me. (I felt much the same about her Demon’s Lexicon series, which is a shame, as I really enjoy the author’s tumblr.) The ending was not very satisfying for me for several spoiler-y reasons, but I truly enjoyed the last-minute emotional sucker-punching that has had most of Rees Brennan’s fans in a tizzy since the book came out.

Recommendation: Get it soon, if gothics and mind-reading romances are your thing. If not, borrow it someday, because the Lynburn Legacy trilogy has a lot of promise. I have high hopes for the second book, which comes out later this year.

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Mini-review: A Match Made in Heaven

cover27644-mediumTitle: A Match Made in Heaven
Author: Trina Robbins
Illustrator: Xian Nu Studio & Yuko Ota
Pages: 128
Genre: fantasy, contemporary, graphic novel, romance
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Review Copy: NetGalley
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Aspiring comic book artist Morning Glory Conroy already has too much to juggle at her San Francisco high school–mean girls, inconsiderate cliques, wannabe gangbangers–without the complication of falling for new student Gabriel. Glory’s best friend, Julia, was interested in him first, and if it weren’t for Julia’s deteriorating home life, Glory wouldn’t have had a chance to get Gabriel to herself. But does he count as a real boyfriend if his overbearing guardian forbids even kissing? Soon Gabriel is pushing Glory to show her work at art events, and the new relationship starts taking Glory away from her bff just when Julia needs her. Glory is in for a startling revelation when she discovers not only Gabriel’s true identity, but also that of his mischievous cousin Luci, who trails their every move just to cause trouble. Can Glory and Gabriel keep their relationship aloft when the heavens themselves seem to be against it?
image and summary from Goodreads

Review: Glory and her friends kept me giggling and smiling. This was definitely light-hearted with a bit of quirkiness too. In one scene, readers are even treated to a paper doll type of layout with an attractive young man in his boxers. The illustrations were a lot of fun — especially since Glory’s comics are mixed in and they are a different style than the main storyline. Several startling action scenes are scattered about to keep you alert. I loved it. If you need a laugh or a quick read, this would be the perfect fit.

Recommendation: Get it soon. It would be just the thing when you need a bit of relaxation.

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Review: Awakening (Tankborn #2)

awakening Title: Awakening
Author: Karen Sandler
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic; Science Fiction, Hard
Pages: 400
Publisher: Lee and Low Books/Tu Books
Review Copy: Arc from NetGalley
Availability: April 9, 2013 (on shelves now!)

Summary: Once a Chadi sector GEN girl terrified of her first Assignment, Kayla is now a member of the Kinship, a secret organization of GENs, lowborns, and trueborns. Kayla travels on Kinship business, collecting information to further the cause of GEN freedom.

Despite Kayla’s relative freedom, she is still a slave to the trueborn ruling class. She rarely sees trueborn Devak, and any relationship between them is still strictly forbidden.

Kayla longs to be truly free, but other priorities have gotten in the way. A paradoxically deadly new virus has swept through GEN sectors—a disease only GENs catch. And GEN warrens and warehouses are being bombed, with only a scrawled clue: F.H.E. Freedom, Humanity, Equality.

With the virus and the bombings decimating the GEN community, freedom and love are put on the back burner as Kayla and her friends find a way to stop the killing . . . before it’s too late. Image from Amazon and summary from IndieBound.

Review: Last week in her review of Fragments, Audrey wrote, “Second books in a trilogy are always complicated.” I couldn’t agree more. Middle books often seem to wander a bit merely waiting for the final wrap up in the third. In this case, the first book, Tankborn, left quite a few strings untied and much open for speculation, but this second book raised even more questions and provided very few answers. A completely new storyline is introduced and only a smattering of clues come with it.

Karen Sandler certainly leaves the reader begging for more, since the book ends rather abruptly in the middle of some major action. The author has created characters that the reader can care about, so it can be a bit frustrating for the reader when faced with a cliff-hanger. You may want to wait until the third book is a bit closer to release so you can read them close together. Revolution is slated to be released in the spring of 2014 and that seems like a long time to wait to find out what will happen next.

The benefit of a trilogy though, is that the world is already created, the characters are in place and a lot more development can happen. In Tankborn, Kayla’s physical and emotional strength were demonstrated on many occasions and the reader could get to know her to a certain degree. In Awakening, Sandler takes that next step and  shines more of a light on her inner strength. Kayla has many choices to make and Sandler really takes the opportunity to flesh out who Kayla is and what she truly values.

This book also delves deeper into the caste system and the effects it has on the entire society. The ranking of GENs, lowborns, and trueborns is extremely rigid and even the privileged people who are “helping” still don’t always see how little respect they show those who are lower in the order. As the truth is exposed, characters come face to face with the ugliness in their society and must make the choice to let it remain or take steps to make a change. Fortunately, there is hope for a better future.

One of the cool things about this book is the wildlife on the planet Loka. I found the “pet” seycat to be pretty awesome. Kayla noted that, “Seycats like Nishi might be barely knee-high to the tall GEN boys, but they could slash even a full grown man to ribbons with those claws and teeth” (16). They generally eat rat-snakes (venomous spider creature with a rat-like head and long snake-like body) and sewer toads. Nice.

Once in a while it felt a bit like the vocabulary was forced in and a bit deliberate so the world would seem radically different than Earth, but for the most part it worked. Karen Sandler has a vivid imagination and she uses it to spin a tale complete with deadly meter-high spiders called bhimkays and Genetically Engineered Non-humans who often times appeared more humane than their human “superiors”.

Recommendation: If you cannot take suspense, I would say wait until the final book, Revolution, is closer to release. Otherwise, get it soon along with Tankborn if you haven’t already read it. You would miss a lot — particularly the backstory of Kayla’s relationship with Devak without reading that first. Both books are thought-provoking and entertaining with plenty of action, mystery, and a bit of romance.

Extras:
Booktalk with Karen Sandler Discussing Genetic Engineering and Caste Systems

Sketches from planet Loka (including the above mentioned seycat, bhimkay, and rat-snake)

Karen Sandler Discussing Tankborn

More videos about Tankborn

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Review: Fragments

Fragments
Title: Fragments
Author: Dan Wells
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic; Science Fiction, Hard
Pages: 564
Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
Review Copy: Received as a birthday gift
Availability: February 26, 2013 (on shelves now!)

Summary: Kira Walker has found the cure for RM, but the battle for the survival of humans and Partials is just beginning. Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is. That the Partials themselves hold the cure for RM in their blood cannot be a coincidence—it must be part of a larger plan, a plan that involves Kira, a plan that could save both races. Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron, the Partials who betrayed her and saved her life, the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, what’s left of humanity is gearing up for war with the Partials, and Marcus knows his only hope is to delay them until Kira returns. But Kira’s journey will take her deep into the overgrown wasteland of postapocalyptic America, and Kira and Marcus both will discover that their greatest enemy may be one they didn’t even know existed.

The second installment in the pulse-pounding Partials saga is the story of the eleventh hour of humanity’s time on Earth, a journey deep into places unknown to discover the means—and even more important, a reason—for our survival. —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Second books in a trilogy are always complicated. They’re rarely satisfactory on their own since their primary purpose seems to be setting everything up for the final book. Even if you do get answers to questions, you’re immediately peppered with more questions.

My feelings about Fragments are equally complicated. On the one hand, yes, Kira finds out who and what she is in this book and what the Trust is—that is awesome. (And this is the point where I highly recommend that you re-read Partials before you launch into Fragments. The science-y plotlines will be much easier to follow if you do.) On the other hand, very little else in this book gets resolved. All the other movements, particularly with the other POVs, seem specifically designed to position all the pieces for book three. As a reader, that’s frustrating, but it also has become standard for the trilogy format. (I had a higher standard for Wells as Mr. Monster was an amazing and satisfying second book, and I’d hoped that magic would extend to Fragments.)

One of the greatest weaknesses of this book is the other points of view. From a story standpoint, these POVs are crucial as they develop plotlines that Kira can’t (since she spends the entirety of the book away from Long Island). However, these other POVs weren’t as “in character” as Kira’s were—most weren’t distinctive enough for me to tell them apart easily. This was particularly disappointing with Marcus as the summary made it sound as if he would have a heftier amount of the book devoted to him. While he had more POVs than anyone other than Kira (and I enjoyed his sense of humor most of the time), I wish we had seen more from him as I felt that the events on Long Island could have merited additional screen-time.

What Wells excels at in this book is the ongoing discussion between Kira and other characters (especially Samm) about morality. What extremes do you go to for survival when the human population has been reduced to 35,000 people and there are 500,000 enemy super-soldiers still around? Fragments spends a lot of time exploring this theme, and it is done superbly. I’d talk about it more, but my favorite conversation involves major spoilers for the book.

I especially enjoyed the wider look at the ruined world. Wells clearly spent a lot of time figuring out what would happen to various cities after twelve years of neglect, and the results were stunning (and a bit terrifying and depressing, honestly). The more we got to know about ParaGen and its creations, the more fascinating (and repulsive) the world got. As a character, Afa also helped widen the scope of the world (and raise the possibility of other humans surviving outside Long Island), though he was emotionally taxing most of the time.

The romance that developed in this book was delightfully un-dramatic, and the action scenes were superb. I have a deep fondness for action scenes that rely on the character’s intelligence (and not necessarily skill) in order to win, and Kira’s smarts are often the key to her survival, especially as she learns to use the link. Give me brainy characters over brawny characters any day. (That said, there were some moments where I thought the characters needed to put the dots together sooner, like what the use of “control” meant. Come on, Marcus, you worked in the hospital. Even I figured it out, and I haven’t had a science class since 2005.)

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re already invested in the trilogy and are willing to put up with all the frustrations inherent in second books. Wells does an amazing job of expanding the world in many ways, but in the end, the book isn’t as satisfying as Partials was. If you’re not already invested, I’d say wait until book three is out and read the series in one go. I have confidence that Wells will give us a fantastic and satisfying ending, especially now that all of the pieces are in the right place. You’ll just have to wait until next year for that to happen.

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