An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

by Hank Green
First sentence: “Look, I am aware that you’re here for an epic tale of intrigue and mystery and adventure and near death and actual death, but in order to get to that (unless you want to skip to chapter 13–I’m not your boss) you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I, April May, in addition to being one of the most important things that has ever happened to the human race, am also a woman in her twenties who has made some mistakes.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore, but a high school student who was interested could definitely read this one.

April May is just living her life — and not really her best one, at all — when she stumbles upon a… thing… in Manhattan at three a.m. She has enough presence of mind to grab her filmmaker friend and upload a video about the phenomenon that will come to be known as The Carls, which shoots April into the world of the famous. She  is at the forefront of everything Carl-related: TV stations want interviews, her YouTube and Twitter followers skyrocket. And, yet, no one knows what the Carls really want.

Soon, April is experiencing the darker side of fame: There are factions out there that want to defend the world from The Carls, and see April as a traitor for being a “spokesperson” for them. And it doesn’t help that April keeps burning the bridges between her and everyone in her life that cares about her.

There are two ways you can read this book:

1) as a straight-up science fiction story. And, to be honest, it kind of lacks on this level. It’s not really a great plot; you only find out what The Carls are up to at the end of the book, and it turns out to be rather anti-climatic. April is a questionable human being, more concerned about her own fame than the lives or feelings of the people around her (though I do wonder if I’d feel the same way if Green wrote April as a man). There’s a bit of action, but not much; it’s mostly talk about coding and uploading videos and dealing with people.

2) as an exploration of what fame can do to a “regular” person. This is where I thought the book actually worked. If you know anything about Green (one half of the Vlogbrothers, etc.), it seems that he is coming to terms with the way fame works, especially in the era of social media, and how that affects people. I found that part of the book to be fascinating; how the masses glom on to someone — anyone really — who says things we like (or don’t) and by the sheer force of numbers make that person famous. And how that fame — and the money advertisers and corporations and “news” stations are willing to throw at them — ultimately changes a person. It was an interesting exploration into April’s psyche and the ups and downs of fame.

An interesting read, in the end.

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Ruin of Stars

by Linsey Miller
First sentence: ”
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Others in the series: Mask of Shadows
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a lot of violence (but not overly graphic) and one tasteful sex scene (that’s more implied than anything). It’s still in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’m thinking about moving it.

When we left Sal, they had  just become part of the Queen of Igna’s right hand, taking up the mantle of Opal. But, since that moment, Igna is facing imminent war. Their neighbor, Erland — they of the restrictive gender norms and constricting policies, they who also wiped out Sal’s birth land — has invaded Igna, taking back some of the land they lost in the war ten years earlier. And Sal has  been asked to put a stop to all this by killing Erland’s leader and those who conspired against Igna. It’s easy for Sal to take this assignment: the names of the people coincide with the names on their list of people to exact revenge for wiping out their home and family.

The problem? The cost that assassinating these people and stopping the war is extremely high: costing Sal their friends, their love, and possibly their life.

This is a fantastic end to Sal’s story. Seriously. Miller’s got pacing and writes action incredibly well. I found myself getting anxious for Sal and their mission as I went through the book. I still think that Miller handled the fluidity incredibly well; it was part of the plot in that Erland’s culture was incredibly homophobic and suppressed anything that didn’t buy into traditional gender norms, and Miller was a bit heavy-handed with letting readers know that this was part of the reason Erland was the “bad” guys (though she makes a much more compelling case for readers to dislike people — or at least those in charge — from Erland later), but she settled into the plot and the book went super fast.

Incredibly exciting, and I really loved the ending. A strong series.

Seafire

by Natalie C. Parker
First sentence: “Cadelonia stretched along the prow of the Ghost as the ship sliced through black water.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There’s some violence and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Caldonia Styx is the captain of a rogue ship, Mors Navis, one of the few that’s not in the clutches of the feared drug lord, Aric Althair. She has a crew of all girls, ones that Caldonia and her best friend Pisces, have collected and saved from Althair. They also are a thorn in Althair’s side — hitting his barges and collection ships, trying to stop him whenever they can.

But, they end up with one of Althair’s Bullets — his soldiers — on board and even though Caldonia doesn’t trust him, he has information about Caldonia’s and Pisces’s brothers, information that will allow them to be rescued. If only the Mors Navis can get to them.

Going in, I was expecting pirates and old-fashioned ships, but got something more futuristic: these ships are solar powered and cut through the water at high speeds. There’s scuba diving equipment, bombs and some heavy-duty drugs that brainwash people. There’s a drug lord that kidnaps little kids as “payment” and subjects them to a life of servitude. There’s awesome girls, and Parker’s a ruthless author: no one is safe in her world, which ramps up the tension. It’s action packed — there are several battles and narrow escapes in this book — and even though Caldonia carries a secret that I felt like yelling “just tell it already”, she was a good character to spend a book with. She’s a smart captain, and gets Parker gives her the respect she’s due as that. And her crew works together really well, as well.

It’s a great start to a series, one I’m definitely going to keep an eye on.

Rules for Thieves

by Alexandra Ott
First sentence: (I’d put it here, but I’ve misplaced my copy of the book!)
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Content: There’s some intense moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Twelve-year-old Alli Rosco has a problem: she’s in an orphanage (which she hates and has tried — unsuccessfully — to escape from) and doesn’t want to be adopted (she tried that, too, and ran away because the family was so awful). So, when faced with another adoption day, she takes the most reasonable alternative: she runs away (again). And gets caught (again)… but this time, things go differently. She gets hit with a magic curse, and then a boy helps her escape. His name is Beck, and he tells her that 1) the curse she was hit with is deadly, and that she has about 10 days to live and 2) the Thieves Guild is real and can help get her the money it will take to heal her curse.

The catch? She has to pass a trial to become part of the Guild.

The other catch? She’s not a great thief to begin with.

But, with Beck and the Thieves Guild, she finds a family that she can be a part of, and even though the trial is obscenely difficult, she is game to do the best she can for her friends.

The thing that impressed me most about this was the world building. Ott created something familiar, yet wholly its own with patron saints and 53-day months, and unusual creatures and technology and magic. It sucked me into the story, which I also enjoyed. Alli is a headstrong character, willing to go out on a limb for those she came to care about, and willing to risk everything to save her own life. It’s a decent heist and a good adventure story, and it wraps up quite nicely at the end, while leaving a thread open for the sequel. I’m definitely interested in where Alli’s story is going.

Heart of Thorns

by Bree Barton
First sentence: “On the eve of her wedding to the prince, Mia Rose ought to have been sitting at her cherrywood dresser, primping her auburn curs and lacing her whalebone corset.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is an on-screen almost rape, some talk about other rapes, and a lot of violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d probably be a little hesitant giving it to the younger end of the age range.

MIa has spent her whole life believing two things: 1) any woman could be a Gwyrach – a witch, who can (and will) kill anyone they touch  and 2) Gwyraches are evil and must be eradicated. So, when on the day of her (forced) marriage to Prince Quin, Mia discovers that she’s a Gwyrach, her whole world’s foundation is shattered. If she’s a Gwyrach, that must mean her beloved (dead) mother must have been a Gwyrach. And since a Gwyrach killed her mother, what did that mean? And does that mean that Mia is evil?

On the run from assassins with the prince, Mia sets out to figure out answers to all the questions she now has, and to rethnink everything she has believed her whole life.

Okay, yes, this is probably more than a little tropey. It was pretty obviously “HEY LOOK AT ME, I”M FEMINIST”. But, even though the parallels were kind of obvious, I still really liked this book. I thought Barton created some interesting characters, and Mia’s journey was a fascinating one (especially since I like character growth arcs). I thought the magic system Barton dreamt up was a good one, and I liked the world she built. I wouldn’t mind spending more time in the different countries (which is good, since the  book leaves things hanging) and I want to see how Mia and Quin develop. It was a solid debut book, and not a bad fantasy, even if it was a bit heavy handed with the metaphors.

Sea Witch

by Sarah Henning
First sentence: “Two small pairs of boots echoed on the afternoon cobblestones — one pair in a sprint, the other in a stumble and slide.”
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Content: There’s some intense action, and a few violent moments. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

In this small Danish sea town, Evie is a bit of an outcast. The daughter of a fisherman, she grew up best friends with Prince Nik and their mutual friend, Anna. It was tolerated when they were little, but after Anna’s death by drowning, Evie and Nik’s friendship was really frowned upon, and Evie felt the disapproval even more. Especially since she felt she was to blame for Anna’s death. So when a girl — Annemette — shows up out of the blue on the eve of the towns festival, Evie grasps it as her chance at redemption. Especially since Annemette looks and sounds exactly like Anna.

But Evie finds out that things aren’t exactly as they seem, and by that time, it’s too late to stop what has already been put in motion.

I’ve been telling people that what Wicked is to Wizard of Oz, this is to The Little Mermaid. It’s essentially the origin story of the Sea Witch character in the Andersen fairy tale. But, it’s also a re-telling of that fable (with a bit of Disney thrown in as well), and Henning does it extremely well. I haven’t read the original tale in years, but I adored the way Henning wove in the familiar parts of the tale while giving us something completely new. I liked Evie’s internal conflict with her magic and her commitment to her friend, and I loved the nice twist at the end (which I kind of saw coming but was much, much more than I ever expected). The romance is nice, though it’s not really the focus of the story. The friendship between Evie and Anna (shown mostly through a series of flashbacks throughout the book) is, which I also appreciated. It was just a compelling story, all around.

If you like fairy tale retellings, definitely pick this one up.

Thunderhead

by Neal Shusterman
First sentence: “How fortunate I am among the sentient o know my purpose.”
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Others in the series: Scythe
Content: There is violence (less than in Sythe) and swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Scythe, obviously.

K picked this one up first, and because we swore her to silence (no spoilers!), she suffered in silence. Then A read it, and she and K had to go off in a separate room to discuss it (because there is much to discuss). By the time I got to it, they kept asking “Where are you?”  “Have you gotten to The Part yet?” (and there are a couple of The Parts). And when I finished, K looked at me and said, “I couldn’t talk to ANYBODY!”

Because this book demands to be discussed.

It picks up nearly a year after the events in Scythe: Citra has become Scythe Anastasia and is serving her junior scythe years under the guidance of Scythe Curie. She has a very unique method of gleaning her subjects, one that gives her peace of mind at night which is good. Rowan, on the other hand, has become Scythe Lucifer, going around gleaning scythes that have become corrupt. Both are doing what they feel called to do. But then, things go wrong.

There’s also a side plot with a new character, Greyson, whom A loved and was wholly invested in and whose life becomes intertwined with Anastasia’s. And Rowan? Well, let’s just say his plot line made me super anxious. And Faraday’s plotline is interesting, but as K pointed out, kind of gets dropped near the end.

Oh: and I want to see the ending of this book on the big screen.

I know I’m being evasive, but really, the less you know, the better it’ll be. There’s really a lot to talk about: violence and corruption and religion and tradition and freedom. But mostly, just what an excellent storyteller Shusterman is.

I can’t wait for the next part of this story!