Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Scarlet - Marissa Meyer

Title: Scarlet (sequel to Cinder)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 452 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: February 23, 2013
Finished: February 27, 2013

From the inside cover:

The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth...

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison-even though she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information about her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

After reading Cinder back in November, I knew this was one series I'd be keeping my eye on. I loved the concept, the fractured fairy tale twists, and the cyborgs, you can never have enough cyborgs. Thankfully the second installment, called Scarlet after the inclusion of a Little Red Riding Hood-type arc, is as exciting as the first book and just as satisfying.

The book opens in a small town in France with Scarlet making deliveries from her family farm when she receives word that the police have called off the search for her grandmother, Michelle Benoit. Shortly after, she meets Wolf, and after piecing together information from her father, figures out that Wolf knows something about her grandmother and why she disappeared. At the same time, Cinder is trying to break out of prison in the Commonwealth, and picks up a fellow prisoner named Thorne on her way out. After reinstalling Iko as their ship's computer, they discover a lead from Cinder's past that involves Michelle Benoit. And when both parties meet, everything starts to come together...

Although the inclusion of a new story line and characters did seem slow at first, once I became invested in Scarlet's story I was hooked. I love how the author once again incorporates the fairy tale elements, but they're so subtle you almost don't realize it's a retelling. There are a couple mentions of Scarlet's favourite red hoodie, the weird sexual undertones from the original fairy tale are present here (not anything overly graphic or inappropriate, just hints at the wolfish blood lust and how they're drawn together, it's fairly PG-13), and the fact that Scarlet delivers food from the farm. I liked how I kept guessing about Wolf and his motivations, and Thorne was entertaining in a charming play-boy sort of way. It wasn't hard to figure out how Scarlet and Cinder were connected, but I still enjoyed the ride.

If you liked Cinder, you'll have already picked up Scarlet by now. If you haven't read either one yet, read them! The third book, Cress, comes out next year, and I'll be waiting ever so impatiently for it.

Thoughts on the cover:
Not as impressive as Cinder's cover, but I like the swooshing effect of Scarlet's hoodie, even though it's portrayed as more of a cape than an actual hoodie (but drawing it as a hoodie wouldn't give the dramatic swoosh).

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ashfall - Mike Mullin

Title: Ashfall
Author: Mike Mullin
Publisher: Tanglewood Publishing, 2012 (Paperback)
Length: 456 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Apocalyptic Fiction/Dystopian Fiction
Started: February 19, 2013
Finished: February 23, 2013

From the back of the book:

Under the bubbling hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Most people don't know it's there. The caldera is so large that it can only be seen from a plane or satellite. It just could be due for an eruption, which would change the landscape and climate of our planet.

For Alex, being left alone for the weekend means having the freedom to play computer games and hang out with his friends without hassle from his mother. Then the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, plunging his hometown into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence. Alex begins a harrowing trek to search for his family and finds help in Darla, a travel partner he meets along the way. Together they must find the strength and skills to survive and outlast an epic disaster.

I love apocalypse stories but don't see them very often with the recent rise in dystopian fiction. I love a good dystopia, but sometimes I like seeing exactly how the society got to that point, something which is often glossed over in dystopian fiction. Hence why I picked up Ashfall, plus you can't beat a realistic apocalypse (aka natural disaster), it makes it eerily applicable.

Alex is a frustratingly average almost 16-year-old: ignores his nagging mom, plays WoW, does taekwondo, and thinks his sister's a pain in the butt. He's a decent kid though and his average-ness works for this story, because characters with distinct advantages aren't as interesting in scenarios like this. In the aftermath of the volcanic eruption in the span of a few hours, Alex goes from carefree Friday evening to watching his house on fire and spending the night with his neighbours (yay for the GLBT couple!). It's amazing how quickly he adapts and how decisive he is once he makes the move to venture out.

I thought Darla was incredibly awesome. Slightly rough around the edges, intelligent, mechanically inclined, saves Alex on numerous occasions (to Alex's credit, he saves Darla just as often, I like equal opportunity rescuing), and not afraid to get her hands dirty. She meets my criteria for a good YA female role model, so it was nice to see such a strong character accompany Alex.

This book covered humanity's descent into chaos fairly quickly, and it's not pretty. Violence, rape, killing of animals, military rule, violation of rights, you name it it's in here. I loved how realistic the portrayal is, because let's face it, if English class teaches us nothing else it's that humanity abandons all civility in the absence of rules and order; however more sensitive readers need to be aware of the severity of the content here (even I had a hard time with the rape scene). There's also sexual content regarding Alex and Darla, but it is portrayed very responsibly (and they're both super cute together) so it's unlikely to offend everyone's sensibilities.

Well-written, realistic plot with excellent characters; makes for a thrilling read. Warning for extreme violence and sexuality, so sensitive readers beware. This is the first of a trilogy, so I'll definitely be picking up the other two (second one is out now).

Thoughts on the cover:
The picture above is the redesign for the paperback edition, and the sequel has a similar cover. I definitely like the redesign over the original, this one actually looks like an adult best-seller, I would never have thought it was YA just by looking at it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Woot, 300 reviews!

I'm going to be self-absorbed here and take a moment and congratulate myself on finally reaching 300 reviews. It took longer than I anticipated (I reached 200 back in April 2011), becoming a sleep-deprived mommy really made reading lower on the to-do list. But now baby girl sleeps like a champ and I have worked reading back into my routine. I hope the pace hasn't suffered too much, and I hope to keep going at the current rate. 

Thanks for reading, commenting, and being awesome blog followers in general :)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Lost Crown - Sarah Miller

Title: The Lost Crown
Author: Sarah Miller
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 412 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: February 9, 2013
Finished: February 17, 2013

From the back cover:

Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia - the daughters of Nicholas II, the last Romanov tsar, grand duchesses living a life steeped in tradition and privilege. Each girl is on the brink of starting her own life, though, and this, the summer of 1914, is that precious last wink of time when they can still be sisters together: sisters who link arms and laugh, sisters who share their dreams and worries and flirt with the officers of their imperial yacht.

But with a gunshot the future changes - for these sisters and for their country.

As World War I ignites across Europe, political unrest sweeps Russia. First dissent, then disorder, mutiny - and revolution. For Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, the end of their girlhood together is colliding with the end of more than they ever imagined.

I'm a Russian history geek, especially regarding the Romanovs. My husband is too, hence why we named our daughter Anastasia (he wouldn't go for Olga ^_~). So anytime a novel comes out about them, particularly about the daughters as a whole or Anastasia, I tend to pick it up. I'm a stickler for well-researched historical fiction, but thankfully that wasn't an issue here. If nothing else can be said about this novel, it's well researched, and that itself is an understatement. Pages upon pages of references, plus usage of information in the book that only a scholar would know.

The novel incorporates four alternating first person points of view, one for each of the grand duchesses, spanning from 1914-1918. Normally this would be a turn-off, many authors simply cannot do multiple points of view very well. Here however, it works surprisingly well. Anastasia and Tatiana are the most obvious voices: Anastasia the joker with the more forceful personality out of the sisters, and Tatiana the caregiver, most concerned for their mother. Olga and Maria are a little less obvious and can sometimes meld together, but overall the four voices were distinct and I didn't have much trouble distinguishing each one.

There's a glossary at the beginning thankfully, since the author incorporates a lot of Russian words and nicknames. It made for a lot of flipping back and forth from text to glossary, but at least I know some Russian vocabulary now.

There is a lot of history tied up in the story of the Romanovs, and someone without general knowledge of WWI and what was going on in Russia at the time might have a hard time following. I think I know more about those two areas of history than the average person, and even I had to look some things up to refresh my memory. Thankfully the author does include several historical notes to clue people in to more obscure details, but basic history is still up to the reader.

Since anyone who knows the fate of the imperial family will know the ending of the book, then the beauty is not in the plot but in the details. I like the portrayal the author's done here: naive, somewhat sheltered about events yet still aware, but completely in the dark about how everyday Russians lived and why citizens would want the monarchy gone. I like how the author has portrayed their double whammy vulnerability as young women and as deposed royals with increasing fear for their own safety. I like how the author included the many ways they were vilified through propaganda in contrast to the way they likely were, sheltered but not intentionally cruel or negligent.

A wonderful, well-written addition to the line of 'Romanov' books, it will surely be of interest to a fan, but might bore someone with nothing invested in the history.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it how the face is cut off so the 'identity' is questionable, and that the model used is dressed in such a way that she actually looks like either Maria or Anastasia. The other three girls are on the back of the cover, but that image is intentionally blurred so you can't see details either. I love the cream and yellow colour scheme with the pearls, very appropriate.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Bridge - Jane Higgins

Title: The Bridge
Author: Jane Higgins
Publisher: Tundra Books, 2012
Length: 340 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: February 9, 2013
Finished: February 13, 2013

From the inside cover:

The City is divided. The bridges gated.

In Southside, the hostiles live in squalor and desperation, waiting for a chance to overrun the residents of Cityside.

Nik is still in high school and is destined for a great career with the Internal Security and Intelligence Services, the brains behind the war. But when ISIS comes recruiting, everyone is shocked when he isn't chosen. There must be an explanation.

Then the school is bombed and the hostiles take the bridges. Buildings are burning, kids are dead, and the hostiles have kidnapped Nik's friend Sol. Now ISIS is hunting for Nik.

But Nik is on the run with Sol's sister, Fyffe. They cross the bridge in search of Sol, and Nik finds answers to questions he had never dared to ask.

The Bridge is a gritty adventure set in a future world where fear of outsiders pervades everything. A heart-stopping novel about friendship, identity, and courage from an exciting new voice in young adult fiction.

I'll start off by saying my opinions on this book are divided. It's well-written, the characters are realistic and endearing, the plot is original and engaging, but I didn't fall in love with it.

The reason for this is because the author did her job too well here. She wrote a novel about the cruelty and insanity of war, about fear of the other and the unknown, about the dangers of fanaticism...which is all fine and good, lots of books contain these kinds of themes. I love it when books are true to life, but I also expect them to have a glimmer of hope, a way out of the insanity, and I didn't get that here. I don't read books to remind me of the limitations of the real world, I live them every day. I read books to reinforce my hope that certain things triumph and prevail. If I wanted to live cruel reality and nothing more, I wouldn't read at all.

This book is excellent in all areas, but it lacked the one thing I expect books to provide, especially young adult ones, the message of hope.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. The juxtaposition between Cityside modernity and Southside squalor, and the menacing look of the bridge itself.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Lynching of Louie Sam - Elizabeth Stewart

Title: The Lynching of Louie Sam
Author: Elizabeth Stewart
Publisher: Annick Press, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 283 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: February 4, 2013
Finished: February 10, 2013

From the back cover:

A murder, a scapegoat, and a terrible injustice...

It's 1884 and 15-year-old George Gillies and his family are immigrants to the new Washington Territory, where white settlers have an uneasy relationship with Native Indians.

When George and his siblings discover the murdered body of a local man, suspicion immediately falls on a Native named Louie Sam. George and his best friend follow a mob of angry townspeople north into Canada, where the culprit is seized and hung.

Soon George begins to have doubts. Louie Sam was a boy, only 14-could he really be a vicious murderer? Are the mob leaders concealing a shocking secret? As George tries to uncover the truth, he faces his own part in the tragedy. But standing up for what's right is a daunting challenge.

This powerful novel is inspired by the true story of the only recorded lynching on Canadian soil, recently acknowledged as a historical injustice by Washington State.

As soon as read the title, I knew I had to read this. Once I read the summary and saw that it was about the only lynching that ever took place in Canada (I was actually surprised we have only one recorded, I honestly thought there would have been more), it cemented my decision to read this.

The author does an excellent job of keeping the main story based on historical facts, and only uses creative license regarding the events after the lynching: where George develops a conscience and seeks out the truth of what really happened and tries to get Louie Sam's name cleared. It's well documented that people living in Nooksack in the Washington Territory knew very well who really committed the murder, but because no one wanted to appear to be sympathetic towards Natives and risk their livelihood amongst the other settlers, and also didn't want to jeopardize the territory's claim for statehood by admitting to being involved in a lynching, even the authorities at the time looked the other way and allowed Louie Sam to take the blame. On the Canadian side of things, the government promised justice and sent their own authorities down to investigate, but eventually didn't want to upset relations with the US and didn't pursue it.

There's a lot of excellent themes and discussion topics here: the bullying, harassment, and threats experienced by George and his family for going against the grain; racism against the Natives and other groups, being biracial in a time of extreme prejudice, vigilante justice, and trying to do the right thing even though it's incredibly hard. These themes require a lot of discussion and explanation for students, particularly the racism, it's true to history and therefore disturbing.

A wonderfully written novel about a dark part of our shared history (and by a Canadian author, yay!), with a great breadth of powerful themes for readers. It does contain some disturbing content (the racism, the lynching itself, the threats against the Gillies family), so this is a book that will require discussion for younger or more sensitive readers.

Thoughts on the cover:
Disturbing once you realize exactly what you're looking at (my husband's thoughts echoed mine when he saw the cover). I like the colours for some reason, the neon green and the slate blue don't seem like they belong on a cover like this, but for that very reason they seem to soften the blow that the whole image delivers...again, not sure if that's a good thing or not.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia - Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Title: After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia
Author: Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Editors)
Publisher: Hyperion, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 370 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: January 31, 2013
Finished: February 3, 2013

From the inside cover and back cover:

If the meltdown, plague, meteor, World War III, new ice age, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow, or next year, or next decade look like?

Nineteen best-selling and award-winning authors imagine these scenarios and many others to tell us what happens after the world as we know it comes to an end. This brilliant collection brings together these original short stories, which are by turns poignant, funny, terrifying, romantic, haunting, and hopeful-and all are spellbinding, original, and utterly unforgettable.

With stories from:
Richard Bowes
Sarah Rees Brennan
Cecil Castellucci
Carolyn Dunn
Carol Emshwiller
Jeffrey Ford
Steven Gould
Nalo Hopkinson
N.K. Jemisin
Caitlin R. Kiernan
Matthew Kressel
Katherine Langrish
Gregory Maguire
Garth Nix
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Beth Revis
Carrie Ryan
Genevieve Valentine
Jane Yolen

Short story collections tend to be a hit or a miss with me. I tend to view them like albums on iTunes, I wish I could just select the ones I like and package them into my own playlist-type short story compilation. Since After is a collection about dystopian/apocalypse fiction, I figured I'd give it a try since there's a greater chance I'll like more of the stories since it is my favourite genre. Plus, I've already read works from several of the authors listed and really liked them, so bonus there as well.

I think the trick with short stories, regardless of genre, is to give the reader just enough information and development to keep their interest, but not too much to leave things dangling and readers frustrated at the end of the story. It's difficult, but some authors do manage to pull it off here.

My favorites:

The Segment by Genevieve Valentine - Once you realize exactly what's going on, you get the creepy-in-a-good-way vibes. An excellent idea and well executed.

After the Cure by Carrie Ryan - I love a good zombie-related story, which is what Carrie Ryan does best. I love the idea of the Recovered and how they struggle with being human again after crossing that line.

Valedictorian by N.K. Jemisin - I love this one, it's so awesome on so many levels. Darwinian selection, social commentary, the idea that humanity values mediocrity over intelligence...I just love it.

Reunion by Susan Beth Pfeffer - Weird, but intriguing enough to make me read it.

Blood Drive by Jeffrey Ford - Considering all the talk in the past few weeks about arming teachers in schools in the US, I think this is amazingly fitting though obviously not purposely intended. Plus, LGBT for the win!

How Th'irth Wint Rong by Hapless Joey @ homeskool.guv by Gregory Maguire - I like this purely for the dialect, but the message is good too. I'd like to read an actual novel about this universe and expand on this.

Faint Heart by Sarah Rees Brennan - I desperately want to read a full novel or series about this whole concept, love, love, love it.

Fake Plastic Trees by Caitlin R. Kiernan - Nothing like biochemical and ecological warfare to liven up a story.

You Won't Feel a Thing by Garth Nix - Shade's Children by Nix was one of the first dystopian pieces I read as a child way back in the 90s and fueled my love for the genre, the fact that this story is a mini-prequel is pure awesome.

There's enough variety here for everyone to find something they like, the fact that I had this many stories I liked is something I've never seen in other short story collections I've read. Plus, there's an LGBT, multicultural and bi-racial presence here, which always gets the thumbs up from me. All in all, I really enjoyed it and will be picking it up for my classroom to cure the short story hate our students seem to have.

Long list of amazing authors with wonderful stories, there's lots here to appeal to all readers.

Thoughts on the cover:
They picked an interesting image, seems more of the apocalyptic sort than dystopian, but it gets the point across.