Science Fiction · YA

Nyxia Unleashed – Scott Reintgen

4 stars

The sequel to last year’s NyxiaNyxia Unleashed is just as fun and satisfying as the first.

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Cover from Goodreads

Getting to Eden brought Emmett and his crewmates one step closer to their promised fortune. But surviving Eden may be the biggest reward of all. Discover book two in the trilogy Marie Lu called, “a high-octance thriller.”

Emmett Atwater thought Babel’s game sounded easy. Get points. Get paid. Go home. But it didn’t take long for him to learn that Babel’s competition was full of broken promises, none darker or more damaging than the last one.

Now Emmett and the rest of the Genesis survivors must rally and forge their own path through a new world. Their mission from Babel is simple: extract nyxia, the most valuable material in the universe, and play nice with the indigenous Adamite population.

But Emmett and the others quickly realize they are caught between two powerful forces—Babel and the Adamites—with clashing desires. Will the Genesis team make it out alive before it’s too late?

Nyxia Unleashedis the third book in the Nyxia triad (not a trilogy?) by Scott Reintgen, and manages not to suffer from middle-book syndrome. The book manages to be more than getting us from point A to point B, despite the fact that much of the book is the team literally moving from points A to B.

Emmett is once again the star of the book and has grown into himself. He’s got a clear moral compass and is letting that be his guide in an unfamiliar world with unfamiliar people and customs. More than ever, his code of honor drives him and his decisions.

Through the description of the ring caste system, and how Emmett and his peers engage with it, Nyxia Unleashed offers a lens through which we can view our own world. We already know from the first book that the Genesis crew is made up of kids from the poorest backgrounds from all over the globe. That backstory informs how they interact with the Adamites – despite the show the Adamites want to offer them. It is however, a little over simplified and comes across a little heavy handed. I prefer my social commentary to be more subtle.

Heavy handed (valid) social commentary aside, Nyxia Unleashed was an action packed adventure full of wild landscapes, beasts and other more familiar dangers. Nicely paced, Nyxia Unleashed is full of tension, but won’t leave you desperate for a massage in the wake of the action.

Nyxia Unleashed is available in stores and online on July 17, 2018.

Thank you to Crown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

*This post contains affiliate links. Please consider supporting this blog by purchasing this book using my affiliate link. 

 

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Fantasy · historical fiction · YA

Smoke and Iron – Rachel Caine

4 Stars

Happy bookday to Smoke and IronThe fourth in the five-book The Great Library series by Rachel Caine is a strong entry in the series. Like many avid readers, I’m like a moth to a flame with books set in and around libraries.

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Cover from Goodreads 

To save the Great Library, the unforgettable characters from Ink and BonePaper and Fire, and Ash and Quill put themselves in danger in the next thrilling adventure in the New York Times bestselling series.

The opening moves of a deadly game have begun. Jess Brightwell has put himself in direct peril, with only his wits and skill to aid him in a game of cat and mouse with the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. With the world catching fire, and words printed on paper the spark that lights rebellion, it falls to smugglers, thieves, and scholars to save a library thousands of years in the making…if they can stay alive long enough to outwit their enemies.

I previously reviewed book 3 in the series, Ash and Quill. The rebellion against the Archivist reaches a fever pitch and it’s impossible not to see the parallels between our raggedy cast’s struggle for the soul of the Great Library and the political turmoil in the United States.

How do we separate something we love from its leadership? How do Jess and Morgan and Khalila and the rest of the main cast of characters separate the Great Library from the Archivist and his cabinet of corrupt leadership? How do Americans separate love for country from a Congress and President that care more for short-term power than for the long-term good of the country’s people and land? How do you convince others of that same separation in hopes of saving the institution while dismantling the corrupt head, and hopefully garnering their aid? Or, if not aid, at least their lack of opposition?

These meaty questions are the same that our central cast must wrestle with as they move forward in their plot to overthrow the corruption at the core of the Great Library. Can they save that which they love, without losing life, limb and love?

Rachel Caine is a master at making each book in a series feel like an escalation to the Final Battle and pulling a surprise twist at the end that results in another book. Her Morganville Vampires series did this to my frustration, and I abandoned the series without finishing it. The Great Library series, however, will end in the fifth and final book. The upside of this talent is that books in the middle of series rarely feel like filler books. Rather, each is important in the larger story and really can’t be skipped.

Smoke and Iron* is in stores today!

I received an eARC from Berkley in exchange for my honest review. 

*This post contains affiliate links. Please consider supporting this blog by purchasing this book using my affiliate link. 

 

Fantasy · YA

Moonlight and Midtown – Christina Bauer

3 stars

Moonlight and Midtown is a fluffy novella, filling the space between the first novel of the Fairytales of the Magicorum series which came out last year, and the second novel which comes out later in 2018.

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After battling werewolves and evil aunties, Bryar Rose is ready to enjoy her new life. No more crazy aunties. Her curse is toast. And Bry’s new man, Knox, is literally a dream come true. Best of all, Bry will soon attend a regular high school. Forget those sketchy tutors! To get ready, Bry is dedicating the rest of her summer to some serious back-to-school shopping with her best friend, Elle. It’s a blast, except for one thing:

Mysterious strangers are following Bry across Manhattan.

All these stalkers have oddly familiar scents and an uncanny ability to slip into the shadows whenever Bry tries to confront them. Even worse, their presence is making Knox act crazy with a capital C.

But Bry’s having none of it. Enough of her life has already been ruined by secrets. With Elle’s help, Bry plans to confront these strangers, find out what they want, and send them packing. Trouble is, the truth about their identity won’t be so easy to manage, especially when Bry finds out how these stalkers could change her future with Knox…and not for the better.

Just as much fluffy fun as Wolves and RosesMoonlight and Midtown sees Bryar trying to navigate through the new-to-her world of the Magicorum. She’s always been on the fringes of that world, but now she’s neck deep and in desperate need of clothes that won’t be destroyed when she shifts.

All Bry wants to do is meet her new classmates without being forced to literally wear a potato sack.

Moonlight and Midtown is a fun whirl through the world of the Magicorum and just the refresher I needed as I look forward to Shifters and Glyphs later this year.

Moonlight and Midtown is available now!

Thank you to Monster House Books and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Science Fiction · YA

Lifel1k3 – Jay Kristoff

4 Stars

Happy Book Birthday to Lifel1k3! This wonderful ride of a book hit shelves in the US today.

Point of order: When reading a book Jay Kristoff is involved in, do not get complacent. Just when you think you see where the story is going, be prepared to be proven wrong. Repeatedly.

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Cover from Goodreadss
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Australian cover from Goodreads

On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

Well, it’s exactly what it says right there on the tin. The Australian tin, that is.

It’s Romeo and Juliet meets Mad Max meets X-Men, with a little bit of Blade Runner cheering from the sidelines.

That’s a pretty accurate description of the whole book, complete with guns a-blazing car chases through the irradiated desert. It’s a frantic story that grabs you by the hand as it’s running away from explosions and kind of throws story at you while it’s on the move. Just, as I said before, don’t get complacent.

Jay Kristoff is a snake. He lulls you into a false sense of security and then while the sirens are blaring, explosions in the background and the whole team is running for their lives, he’s gonna pull the rug out from under you. Not once, not twice, but over and over again. Lifel1k3 is full of moments when just as I’ve fallen into the rhythm of the story I’m tripped up by a twist in the plot.

Jay is the King of the Plot Twist.

The main cast is comprised of loveable misfits.

  • Eve who just wants to make enough to buy her Grandpa’s meds
  • Lemon Fresh, Eve’s bestest and greatest ally, sweet cinnamon roll, important
  • Cricket, the sassiest logika I ever did see
  • Grandpa, sage old wise-ass
  • Kaiser, who’s a good puppy!?
  • Ezekiel, capital T TROUBLE and the trigger for all their woes (OR IS HE?!)

Over the course of the book, Kristoff raises many questions, and I dearly hope he answers them in the next book. The core question of Lifel1k3 is one that Asimov first raised when he outlined the three laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Are robotics and by extension, Artificial Intelligence, ethical? Many a science fiction writer has played with the ramifications of these laws, and how they might play out should robots gain true intelligence. In Lifel1k3, Kristoff takes us through another interesting interrogation of the ethical dilemma of those who would create robotic life. Under all the fluff and flair, buried beneath the frantic energy and bubble-gumption is a story with an interesting ethical quandary in the center. What does it mean to be alive?

Lifel1k3 hit shelves today in the US and is available now from all your favorite retailers.

Thank you to Random House Children’s/Knopf Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Contemporary · YA

Anger is a Gift – Mark Oshiro

5 Stars

Anger is a Gift is a book for now. Anger is a Gift (affiliate link) is a book that crystalizes what life in America is like for so many people of color, especially those living in urban areas. It is a necessary book. It’s not comfortable, nor is it comforting, but it is necessary and beautiful. This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC through a friend. While reading Anger is a Gift I frequently stopped reading, pressed the open book to my face and had to sit with my feelings. At times I was elated, so full of happiness that I thought I might dance into the sky. Other times I was so angry, so frustrated that I thought I might burst into flames. And once, I had to hold back tears. Anger is a Gift is a rollercoaster of emotion.

This book has two sides. On one side, it’s a love story. It’s a sweet, fluffy book that will make your heart soar because it is about friendship and relationships and all your dreams coming true. On the flip side, this is a book about social justice, systematic injustice and what one boy and his community do in response. It’s a heavy, unflinching book that feels like a punch to the gut and filled me with so much anger.

The main character, Moss is a sweet cinnamon roll, too pure for this world. He’s a sweet kid. He’s got a wonderful relationship with his mother – it’s so full of trust and love. Throughout the book, Moss struggles with the world reacting to his blackness, his gayness and his anxiety. Anger is a Gift is told 100% from his perspective, giving readers a look at Moss’s inner monologue. He’s such a kind kid. He wants to learn, he wants to love, he wants to be loved, but he also wants a world that hasn’t ever been fair to change. He’s polite and gentle and tries his best to be a good friend and a good person. He feels powerless against a system that has increasingly treated him and anyone even remotely like him as less than. He’s suffered injustice after systematic injustice in his life and Moss has finally had enough.

The supporting characters are equally interesting. Bits, a non-binary character, is one of my favorite side characters. They’re full of wisdom and kindness and sadness. I love Bits’ story and personality.  Rawiya is my second favorite. As a former punk, it’s easy to see why a punk-rock Muslim girl would steal my heart. Moss’s mother Wanda is the kind of mother I wish everyone had. She’s patient, kind, supportive and absolutely there for her son when he needs her.

The remaining supporting characters are all fantastic as well. There’s a wide rainbow of diversity in the cast: many sexualities and gender identities, races, religions and abilities. Mark writes these characters so real and so believable that anyone who calls it forced or unbelievable hasn’t read the same book I have.

The social justice elements of the book were visceral. Anger is a Gift is unflinching in its portrayal of underfunded schools, full of cracks and peeling paint and mistrust (sometimes outright hatred) of the student body by administrators and empty of empathy, school supplies and basic human rights, with the exception of a small few bright spots of light in teachers who get it.

I grew up in an agricultural town in Central Washington. My school was 50% white and it wasn’t until I graduated and moved to another part of the state, a more affluent part of the state, that I found out having a dedicated school police officer wasn’t normal. It was to me. They’d always been there. Every school I attended had one. The officer at my high school singled kids out, including my sister. He pulled her out of class at the drop of a rumor. She missed more class because of him than because of illness. It’s no stretch of the imagination to believe the world Mark’s built in Anger is a Gift. Police forces around the country are already militarized on the streets, why wouldn’t they be in schools as well?

The ending was probably the least believable part of the book. It’s not a bad ending, but it felt a little abrupt and unrealistic. But it’s a hopeful ending, and one I’m satisfied with.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Mark Reads, support him on Patreon and had the pleasure of meeting him when he went on tour for Mark Reads a couple of years ago. Anger is a Gift is very different from the excerpt he read for us then, on tour, but is absolutely the kind of book I’d expect from Mark. My one big regret is that there’s no way for Mark to do a Mark Reads reaction video of his own book since he’s already been spoiled.

Anger is a Gift is out today, and you should absolutely pick up a copy.

*This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a copy from Amazon, please consider supporting this blog and purchasing via my affiliate link.

Science Fiction · YA

3-in-1 Review: Illuminae Files – Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman

4 stars

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman on their US tour celebrating the release of Obsidio, the third and final book in the Illuminae Files. They graciously posed for a photo with my husband and me.

The Illuminae Files follows different sets of teens as their stories intersect while they flee from a Bei-Tech invasion force. Each book builds on the previous. The first book, Illuminae features Kady, Ezra and AIDAN. Gemina adds Nik, Ella and Hannah, and in Obsidio Asha and Rhys get added to the mix. Lots and lots and lots of people die in inventive and horrific ways.

The stories themselves are fun, fairly quick reads. They’re full of action, emotion and are easy to get swept away by. All three stories include some kind of time-clock that helps raise the tension of the book so it’s easy to want to flip pages at lightning speed. The stories aren’t particularly fresh. They’re somewhat tropey and read like classic YA sometimes. There’s a little diversity (Ella! Asha!), but the books are painfully straight. What makes them fresh and has garnered the books a dedicated fanbase is the format.

The books are formatted to tell the stories via chat messages, emails, transcripts of videos and audio files, diary entries and pictures. The books themselves are massively thick, around 600 pages each, but they aren’t long stories; it’s easy to blow through one in a night. The format makes a regular sized story take MANY more pages to tell. Even the audiobooks are produced in such a way that they convey the story with additional layers. But the Illuminae Files are a visual experience.

And that’s part of my problem with them.

The books themselves are beautiful, and obviously took a TON of work to put together. At the book signing Jay said he spent a lot of time involved in the layout, and in Gemina one of the designers actually shot a book to make one of the visual effects as realistic as possible. That being said, they sacrificed a lot of readability in the design of these books. They’re printed in black and white, so there’s often shades of gray overlapping with more grey. Grey text on grey and black text on black is very challenging to read. Some of the pages feature text in swirly lines that force you to turn the book this way and that to read it or have light text superimposed over maps or drawings. I don’t have visual impairments and found the book challenging to read. My visually impaired husband would have found them IMPOSSIBLE to read.

I am all for books as artistic objects, and I admire the hard work and dedication to creating these books the way they are. But when that hard work forgets that these are books and need to be legible I find myself frustrated. They took something and made it beautiful and exclusive. People with moderate visual impairments are actively excluded from the experience.

That being said, I enjoyed the series and if you’re looking for an emotional rollercoaster ride, check out the Illuminae Files.

Fantasy · YA

Sky in the Deep – Adrienne Young

3.5 stars

If you’re looking for a Viking-inspired story with a bit of a Romeo and Juliet vibe, with a lot of axe throwing and battles, Sky in the Deep is the story for you.

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Cover from Goodreads

 

OND ELDR. BREATHE FIRE.

Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

Sky in the Deep was a fun read if a bit predictable (the synopsis gave a lot away). I enjoyed the read, but I am only giving 3.5 stars because nothing about the book blew me away. It was a solid, enjoyable read.

The book is set in a Viking-feeling settlement of Aska just as they go to battle with the enemies of their god, the Riki. Eelyn is a warrior for her clan, and raring for battle. Throughout the book she’s feisty and angry. She flip-flops between desolation and rage when she is in the Riki village and never quite feels like her emotions make sense.

She never seems to be able to care for herself. She’s either injured and making it worse by making herself fight despite serious injury or she’s flailing about forcing Iri or Fiske to come to her rescue against their own people. Why they didn’t just kick her down the mountain I don’t know. Fiske didn’t seem to have much personality, so despite knowing that it was coming, I didn’t really understand why Eelyn fell for him.

Despite those pitfalls, Young’s writing was evocative and full of beautiful imagery, vivid during battle sequences – which is something to keep in mind if you’re not a fan of gore.

Adrienne Young’s debut YA novel Sky in the Deep is a standalone, but Young has a “companion” novel planned for 2019. I’ll definitely be checking that out when it hits shelves. Young is a writer to watch.