Category Archives: sci-fi/fantasy

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

black-witchI recently went through the list of the YALSA 2018 Teens’ Top 10 nominees and made a plan to read all of the books I hadn’t yet read.  There are 25 books on the list and I had only read 7 of them.  Gah!  While I recognize that I may not get it done before they announce the winners, what with all the other books I keep on adding to my TBR list, I figured I had to at least try!  I had just finished my audiobook and this one was readily available to me, so I went for it.  I didn’t even read any of the summaries before getting started with requesting books and audiobooks.  I decided I would read them “blind” because they are included on the list of nominees and that is all I need to know to trust that I will enjoy them.  My verdict so far?!?  Wow!  At a time when real world racial tensions are high and the “religious right” are working to pass laws that justify and allow for bigotry in the US, this book sometimes felt a bit too real and less like an escape.

In Erthia, there are many different races — Elves, Fae, Gardnerians, Icarals, Kelts, Lupines, Selkies, Urisks, Vu Trin, etc. — and they have all been raised with certain beliefs and prejudices about each other.  Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the famed Gardnerian Black Witch, though she has been raised in seclusion and without any magical training.  Why bother when she has no magical abilities of her own, right?  When her uncle allows her to attend the illustrious Verpax University to persue her life-long dream of becoming an apothecary, he asks that she focus on her studies and promise him NOT to be wandfasted (think arranged marriage) until after she has completed her studies.  Unfortunately, though, Elloren’s Aunt Vyvian would like nothing more than to wandfast her to a powerful Gardnerian in order to compensate for the girl’s lack of magic and to protect their family’s socio-political standing.

I appreciated the fact that Forest so thoughtfully explored stereotypes and prejudices.  Though it was tough in the beginning of the story to see how accepting Elloren was of the racist ideals and stereotypes with which she had been raised, I think it was very necessary to set the stage for her awakening.  From xenophobia and racism to misogyny and homophobia, this story line pushed Elloren/readers to challenge her/their pre-conceived notions and to see how people in power often try to skew people’s perceptions to suit an agenda.  One of my favorite quotes was from Professor Kristian, when he was talking to Elloren about how history books written by different groups of people had very conflicting depictions of what actually happened:

Real education doesn’t make your life easy. It complicates things and makes everything messy and disturbing. But the alternative, Elloren Gardner, is to live your life based on injustice and lies.

Happy Reading!

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

forest-of-a-thousand-lantersnXifeng is a beautiful girl, but she has an ugly secret.  Her aunt has been teaching her dark magic, and she plans to use that magic to fulfill her fate — to become the Empress of Feng Lu.  The only problem is that, while foretold by the cards, this fate is not guaranteed.  Xifeng still has choices to make, and some of those choices are nearly impossible.  Will she be able to sacrifice a relationship with the man she loves in order to become a lady in waiting for the current Empress?  Will she be able to kill people who potentially stand in her way?  This anti-heroine reminds me of Malificent (from Sleeping Beauty) or Queen Levana (from The Lunar Chronicles).  No matter how much I want to detest her, I felt sorry for her because I knew some of her history and how it shaped her to be so cold and calculating.  A marvelous fantasy, but not for the feint of heart.

Happy Reading!

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

spill-zoneOh. Em. Gee!  I didn’t even know this book was out until I saw something about the second book coming out this July.  Even though I am not a huge graphic novel reader, I try to push myself to read at least a couple a year so that I can stay in touch with what it out there for my library patrons who do prefer graphic novels.  Since I am also a huge fan of Scott Westerfeld’s work, especially the Uglies series, I figured it was a good bet that I would enjoy this one.  I am happy to report that reading this was a lot more fun than work!  😉  In fact, I read this entire book in only three sittings because it was so hard to put down.

In Poughkeepsie, NY, there has been a Spill.  No one really seems to know what exactly happened.  They just know that it is no longer safe inside the Spill Zone.  Military personnel guard the perimeter and people don’t tend to go inside except government scientists in hazmat suits.  There are all sorts of weird things happening.  Animals morphing into strange creatures.  Inanimate objects moving around despite a lack of wind.  And, in the words of Addison Merrick, the dead have become “meat puppets.”  Though she was not in town when the Spill happened, he little sister was.  Because they are allowed to stay in their home, which is inside the Spill Zone, Addison has taken to exploring and taking pictures she can sell to support her sister.  But, how long will it be before her explorations take her too far?!?

Happy Reading!

P.S.
Speaking of Westerfeld’s Uglies series…  Check this out!  (#squeeeeeeee)

 

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

renegadesContrary to popular belief, heroes are not always perfectly behaved and villains are not always evil.  In fact, heroes sometimes act out of spite or self-interest, and villains sometimes act selflessly to help other people.  In this story, both the Renegades and the Anarchists are comprised of prodigies — people with special powers, much like the X-Men — but their vastly different ideologies have placed them on opposite sides of the hero-villain spectrum.  The Anarchists honestly believe that society would fare better without so much governmental oversight and interference, i.e. with anarchy.  The Renegades, on the other hand, think that they are doing society a favor by overseeing everyone and bringing back law and order.  Though both sides think their way would be best for the greater good, neither side seems capable of seeing the other side’s point of view.

Enter Nova, aka Nightmare.

Nova was raised by her Uncle Ace [the leader of the Anarchists] after the Renegades failed to protect her family.  Nova has been consumed by a desire to avenge their deaths for as long as she can remember, but none of her plans seem to work out.  Luckily, the Anarchists have an alternate plan that just might work.  Because the Renegades don’t know Nightmare’s true identity, the Anarchists decide to send Nova to Renegade try-outs so that they can use her to gather intel and take down the Renegades from the inside.  Of course, it doesn’t take long for Nova, who takes on the Renegade name of Insomnia, to start to feel conflicted.  Not only does she start to fall for a guy who is a part of the Renegades, but she starts to see *why* the Renegades operate the way they do and that their methods actually have some merit to them.  What’s a girl to do?!?

Happy Reading!

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

eye-of-mindsBecause I enjoyed Dashner’s Maze Runner series, and am not-so-patiently waiting for the theatrical release of Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline), I thought this seemed like an audiobook I should probably check out.  I mean, what’s not to like about a fast-paced technological thriller, right?!?  Much like in Ready Player One, a lot of this story took place in a virtual world.  Rather than just using goggles and gloves to connect to that virtual world, though, the people in this story use “coffins” that provide their bodies with physical sensations to make it feel as if they are actually experiencing the sensations (both pleasure and pain) of the VirtNet.

Michael is a gamer who spends more of his time in the VirtNet than in actual reality.  And, who can blame him?  Most of his friends are people he has never met in real life, and his hacking skills mean that he can be better, faster, and stronger with only a few lines of code.  Rumors begin to circulate about a “bad” hacker who is using his skills to trap people in the VirtNet against their will, which causes the victims to suffer brain damage and memory loss in real life.  Shortly after meeting a girl who claimed to be a victim, Michael was contacted by someone from the government who asked him to use his hacking skills for good by tracking down the perpetrator.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Yeah…  Definitely not!  If you want lots of action and adventure set in a high-tech virtual world, you’ll definitely want to read this one.

Happy Reading!

The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth

one-safe-placeDevin never knew life before the Earth got too hot.  All he knew of that time was what his grandfather told him.  But, despite the fact that he grew up in the “after,” he wasn’t really aware of the hardships that affected most people.  Growing up on the farm, he learned how to make due with what the animals and the land provided.  As long as he and his grandfather worked hard, they had all they really needed.  When his grandfather died, though, it became too much for a single person to manage.  So, Devin set off to the city to see if he could find anyone to help him work the farm.  For the first time in his life, Devin experienced true thirst and hunger.  He was also exposed to the darker side of humans when he encountered people who were willing to hurt others and steal in order to survive as well as those who ignored the suffering of others.

After settling in with some other orphaned children who taught him to scam and scavenge enough to get by, Devin began to hear rumors about a special home for children.  If the rumors were to be believed, it was a place in which children would have more than enough food and toys for all.  Even better?  There was a chance that the children could be adopted by families that could provide for them!  Some of the orphans believed in this place, but others thought it was a mere fairy tale.  When Devin met an older boy who promised to bring him to this home for children, though, he decided to take a chance.  As it turns out, this home really did exist… but something was not quite right.  This book is technically “middle grade” fiction, but teen and adult fans of dystopias should definitely check it out.

Happy Reading!

Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy

divided-we-fallDanny Wright signed up for the Army National Guard when he was 17 years old because he felt compelled to both serve his country and to honor the memory of his father, who died while serving in the Army.  At first, he was proud to wear his uniform and excited to get to train with high-powered guns… but that all changed only a short time after he finished bootcamp.  Why?  He was called in by the Governor of Idaho to help with protests in Boise (about a proposed new federal ID card) and things got very out of hand very quickly.  One accidental shot turned into a firefight in which civilians were injured and killed, and people started making comparisons to the Kent State shootings that took place during a Vietnam War protest in 1970.  Knowing that he fired the shot that started it all, and seeing how quickly people snapped to pass judgement when they did not have all the facts, he was glad that the Governor pledged to protect the identities of the guardsmen who were involved.  But, how long would the Governor be able to protect them when the President of the United States of America was demanding answers?

I especially appreciated the way Reedy worked in both extreme news coverage and polarized social media reactions.  I was impressed to see a YA novel tackle the very complex topic of federal government/federal laws vs state government/states’ rights, but the audiobook impressed me even more.  Much like Countdown, this audiobook uses a variety of sound effects and multiple readers to create sound bites that mimic news broadcasts and to set apart the non-narrative portions of the book.  The only “down side” to listening to this audiobook all at once (on a road trip) was that the “near future” setting seemed entirely too plausible and actually made me feel a little anxious as if I were really listening to the news.  :-/

Happy Reading!