Monday, February 16, 2015

The Great Blog Merge!

At age fourteen, I started this blog as a resource to help teens find good books and a way to share my favorites with the writing world. Of my three blogs, this is the most neglected. I post about once a month. I know how annoying it is to constantly check a blog for updates and get nothing. Since I regularly talking about writing, stories, and YA publishing trends on Erica Eliza Writes, my newest blog. I'll be posting reviews there from now on. The archives will stay here if you're sentimental, but don't check here for new content. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Remake by Ilima Todd

Genre: Dystopian
Pages: 288
Series: Open ended. I smell a trilogy coming on.
Rating: ****
Nine has never felt comfortable in her own skin. In Freedom, that's a temporary problem. When she turns seventeen with the rest of her Batch, she'll have one chance to choose her name, job, gender, and everything else that defines her.
But when her shuttle crashes on the way to the Remake continent, Nine washes up on a rebel island where people live without Batches and Remakes. Here, diversity is the new normalcy. People accept variety in hair color, skin tone, and even disability as facts of life. Even odder are the units they live in: families. Nine bonds with the family that pulled her from the ocean, especially with the oldest son, Kai. But Kai's got a grudge against the entire civilization of Freedom and Nine still isn't over the loss of her first boyfriend, Theron.
Nine spends a third of the book in Freedom before crash landing on the island. That was longer than I expected, though the setup is necessary. After she adjusts to initial shock of island life, it becomes idyllic for a few chapters, which is nice but boring. Except for the chapter when Kai teaches Nine to hunt octopus. Fortunately, she gets back into action before long.
Remake bravely tackles topics like gender identity and traditional families, but it does so through the eyes of a naive, innocent character. I never felt preached to, but some readers will feel differently. It's also a dystopian novel that treads well worn tropes, but the characters and daring themes breathe life into it.
On the surface, Remake may look like a cliché-ridden, potentially offensive story, but give it a chance and it just might hit home.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Atlantia by Ally Condie

Genre: Sci fi with some fantasy elements
Series: Nope, stand alone
Pages: 320
Rating: ***

When the air Above grew too polluted, Earth's inhabitants retreated to Below. Rio Conway lives in the underwater city of Atlantia with her sister, Bay. If she went Above, she wouldn't have to hide her siren powers, but how could she ever leave Bay? After their mother's murder, they're all they've got. The Conwy sisters vow to stay together. Then, on choosing day, Bay abandons Rio without a word of explanation.
Shocked and alone, Rio combs Atlantia for answers to her sister's leaving and her Mother's death. Her only lead is Maire, the siren aunt her Mother warned her never to trust. And that was before Mother died on Maire's doorstep. Though Maire claims she has a way to reunite her nieces, Rio's sure the only to join Bay is to break Atlantia's greatest law and swim above.
Rio's strongest relationships are with her mother (dead) and Bay (absent for most of the story). Her beautiful siren's voice lets her control any normal human, but to conceal them, she's forced to speak in a flat, dull voice that prevents her from making friends. After a whole lifetime of this she has no desire for social interaction outside of her family. There's a love interest, a boy named True, but their romance is extremely understated due to Rio's personality. Some readers will applaud this as a "sisters before misters" story. Others will find the characters flat as Rio's voice.
The world building is fantastic. Atlantia is a fully fleshed out setting that incorporates ocean folklore and myths in a way that makes the fantastical familiar and believable. The city also has it's own religion, which enriches the story.
Atlantia has an assertive but introverted heroine. The writing's beautiful in a watery sort of way: smooth and flowing, but sometimes it all looks the same. The setting's definitely worth reading, but the characters will make and break the story for different readers. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Faces of the Dead by Suzanne Weyn

Genre: Historical fantasy
Series: Nope, standalone
Pages: 201
Rating: ***
Princess Marie Therese Charlotte, daughter of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, lives in a bubble. When she switches places with her maid, Ernestine, she expects to find adventure and freedom. Instead, she stumbles into a gritty, poor world where the people of France cry out for bread and royal blood. Then revolution strikes. Marie Therese and Ernestine switch places again, this time for her safety. She finds work as a head collector at the guillotine and romance with Henri, a peasant boy. But Marie Therese isn't the only one who's more than she seems. Their friends Madame Groshaltz and Rose (the future Madame Tussaud and Josephine, Napoleon's wife) conduct strange experiments on the decapitated heads that seem designed to raise the dead.
At barely 200 pages, Faces of the Dead is scrawny for historical fiction, especially one that takes place in such a dramatic time period. The French Revolution comes to life through grotesque details, like the way Marie Therese comes home from work covered in blood splatters each day. We see her fall from princess to pauper, which means character growth for her and balanced perspective for us. Fantasy elements and historical elements compliment each other, and though it's more factual than fantastic, the magic gives the story a dramatic twist at the end. The romance doesn't develop as much as I would've liked, again, thanks to the length. I read it in a day easy. If that's what you're going for, Faces of the Dead is quick look at the French Revolution with more grit than glamour. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Blackout by Robison Wells

Genre: Dystopian
Series: One sequel, Dead Zone, released earlier this month
Pages: 426
Rating: ****
Jack and Aubrey just want to survive homecoming night. But when superpowered terrorists destroy the nearby Lake Powell Dam, they're rounded up along with the rest of their school for military testing. The Erebus virus only mutates the young. That means any American teenager could be a terrorist-or the nation's only hope. Alec and Laura are captured, too. Alec's just biding his time until he finds a way out, but Laura couldn't be more thrilled. Finally, she's on the inside.
Wells' characters' powers are more diverse than stock abilities, like flight and shape shifting. Jack's senses are enhanced and Alec can subtley alter memories. Those who do have common powers, like Aubrey's invisibility, get unusual twists. Aubrey's powers only affect those standing near her, leaving her vulnerable to snipers and security cameras. They also come with physical drawbacks ranging from weight loss to kidney failure.
The terrorist's motives are extremely vague. It's not until the end that we find out which country Alec and Laura work for. Though they often allude to being trained as terrorists from childhood, we don't get many details. No doubt we'll learn more in the sequel, though.
My favorite, tried and true dystopia tropes are here. Post-apocalyptic hysteria! Rot and ruin! Tyrannical government! Black Out takes place close to the present day, so we get to watch the government crumble instead of picking through the rubble, and the characters comment as it falls. And, of course, what would any YA dystopia be without the oppressed teens? Emphasis on the teens. The author uses the word "teens" in dozens of situations where a real teenager would say "people", "guys", or "crowd.
Aside from that, Black Out's wholly enjoyable. Chapters are short and readable, but not so short that they lack substance. The POV switches off between the four main characters, but it's told in third person, so no confusion there. Yes, Alec and Laura are main characters. No, they aren't sympathetic. They're manipulative liars who aren't content to let the world burn unless they light the match. Some readers, those who look for relatable protagonists, will be turned off by this. But I read for variety.  They're a refreshing departure from the typical Good Heroes.
Black Out is another great read in the ranks of YA dystopia.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Extracted by Sherry D. Ficklin and Tyler Jolley

Genre: Science fiction, time travel, steampunk
Pages: 310
Series: First of The Lost Imperials series
Rating: **
Ember is a Rifter. She remembers nothing of her life before Nicola Tesla recruited her to travel through time. Lex is a Hollower. They recruit the children Tesla abandons to history. When his Stein, is killed during a mission, there's only once gadget that can bring her back: the Dox, hidden deep in Tesla territory. Lex breaks into the Tesla Institute to retrieve and comes face to face with his past.
Ember and Lex are revealed to be Anastasia and Alexei Romanov. Come on, that's not a spoiler, is it? Not with "lost imperials" in the name. It's certainly fun to imagine the Romanov siblings as dirty fighting, cool hat wearing, world saving time travelers. But their identity is just another ornament. Lex being Alexei doesn't enhance the story-or his character-anymore than the fact that he owns a jester hat. There's also at least one historical error: Ember's told that the English language was implanted in her head using futuristic technology. In fact, Anastasia grew up speaking English in addition to her native Russian. A rhyming English poem by her oldest sister, Olga, is included at the back of the book, so I can't help but wonder how the authors missed this, or if they just chose to ignore it.
I know it's fiction, but Anastasia not speaking English jars me more than Anastasia being alive. But when I got past that, I loved the vivid world building. Top hats and leather vests. Katanas and killer robots. What impressed me most was that the Hollows and Tesla's Rifters have different methods of time travel. The Hollows swallow a pill that takes them to a specific destination while the Rifters use mechanical armbands called Tethers. The fight scenes are well written, and scenes we've got two authors on board, it's not hard to distinguish between two first-person narrators.
Though the way the Romanovs were used made me flinched, Extracted is overall an exciting story set in a fully fleshed out steampunk world.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Body in the Woods by April Henry

Genre: Mystery
Pages: 263
Stars: ****
Series: The second book, Blood Will Tell, is scheduled for release next June. The total amount of books is not known at this time but may include up to nine. The best part? The spine has a little number one on it so you won't pick up the wrong book by mistake.

Nick signed up with Portland Search and Rescue for the adventure. Ruby wants to explore her passion for true crime. Alexis is just there to look good on her college application. What they didn't sign up for? A serial killer on their tails. When a search for a missing autistic man turns up a teenage girl's body instead, Ruby's sure she's connected to the last girl who turned up dead in the woods. The police refuse to believe it's the work of a serial killer. After all, serial killers have types, and these murderer girls have nothing in common at first glance. But when they dig deeper, the three of them can't shake the feeling that a murderer is cutting down teenage girls in the Portland area-and now he's got his eyes on Ruby.
If you're looking for a novel about mental illness but don't feel like picking up an issue book, this is the read for you. Ruby's implied to be autistic, Nick's described as ADHD, and Alexis has a bipolar mother. While Nick and Ruby's disorders never take center stage, Alexis' struggles to hide her mother's problems make up a significant subplot. The story is told from all three characters' points of view, along with occasional chapters from the killer's perspective. Told in third person, you don't need to worry about confusing the voices. Readers will enjoy the gritty details about crime scene investigation and, when Alexis goes undercover, homeless life.
The Body in the Woods is a fast paced, realistic murder mystery that balances well researched details about everything from serial killings to wildlife.