Mirage

by Somaiya Daud
First sentence: “He is the only one of his family without the daan.”
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Content: There is some violence, and a few mild swear words. It was in the teen section (grades 9+) but I moved it to the YA, partially because there was nothing really “offensive” in it, and partially because I think 6-8th graders might be a better target audience. 

I’ve been thinking of this one as Star Wars with a Persian flair. Let me explain: in this universe, there is a cruel imperial overlord, the Vath, who conquer lesser systems, including the home world of our main character, Amani. The cruel overlords (and their droids) have wiped out the native language and customs, though they do keep some. 

The daughter of the emperor is about to come of age, and it turns out that she is very disliked on Andala, the world she is set to rule. So, Amani is kidnapped — because she looks exactly like the princess — and made to serve as a body double, something she resents, until she discovers (you guessed it: the resistance). See? Star Wars. 

The Persian flair is what made this book stand out to me: Daud infuses the world with a rich mythology, religion, and history, sewn together with poetry and family. I liked the developing relationship between Amani and the princess’s fiance, Idris. And I even really liked where the story went, though it took a long time to get to the climax. My only complaint is the usual one: I do wish it had been a stand-alone. 

Even so, it was a unique and interesting tale. 

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Not Even Bones

by Rebecca Schaeffer
First Sentence: “Nita stared at the dead body lying on the kitchen table.”
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Content: There is a LOT of violence, and some of it is gory. There is also swearing, including a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore. 

First off: this is being billed as a horror novel, and in some ways, I guess, it is. I was wary about starting this one, mostly because I really don’t do horror, but it’s more surgical gross/violent. And I do better with that in print than I do on the screen. So, if there is ever a movie made of this one (and it’d be a cool movie), I probably wouldn’t see it. 

Nita’s parents — her mother, mostly — deal in the black market. Body parts of supernatural beings, specifically. And for as a long as she can remember, Nita has been doing the dissecting. Until one day, Nita’s mother brings home a live “specimen” and Nita decides that she has some ethics, and refuses to dissect a non-dead body. However, that ends up badly: Nita is kidnapped and finds herself on the wrong side of a cage, in a parts market along the Amazon river. Which means, since she really doesn’t want to die, she needs to find a way out. 

It was one part moral dilemma — all of Schaeffer’s characters are “bad”, ranging from despicable to just morally questionable — and one part suspense novel (will Nita make it out alive and in one piece? How did she end up kidnapped? Who sold her out?). But it was immensely readable, and highly unputdownable. I thought Schaeffer had a very clever take on mythical creatures; unicorns, for example, were men who preyed on virgins, but whose bones, once ground up, were more addictive than crack. It was a unique and interesting world, one I definitely would like to learn more about. I also liked that this book is compact: Nita has one goal, to get out, and while questions are raised, Schaeffer doesn’t spend a lot of time chasing them down. 

It’s a first in a series (at least two), which means Nita will have more adventures as she tries to figure out the answers to her questions, and I think I might be willing to follow her there.

Dread Nation

by Justina Ireland
First sentence: ” The day I came squealing and squalling into the world was the first time someone tried to kill me.”
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Content: There’s a lot of violence and some swearing and some references to the sex trade. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) but I think it’d be good for a younger reader, if they were interested. 

It’s the 1880s, and America is still trying to overcome the zombie — they call them shamblers — infestation that began during the Civil War. Sure, the war kind of petered out, but the south is pretty much wiped out, given over to shamblers. And the east coast is partially fortified, but mostly because the government ships blacks and native peoples into schools where they get training to be, well, shambler killers. 

Our main character is Jane McKeene, a half-black girl from a plantation in Kentucky, who has attended Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore. She’s set to graduate and become an Attendant, protecting some rich white woman, when she discovers the seedy underbelly of the city. Which puts her into some definite hot water. And lands her in the West, where there are no rules. Especially for someone like her. 

I loved this one. Seriously. It’s a lot of fun, first of all (and I don’t really read zombie books), and I really liked the alternative history that Ireland created. It felt like it could have been a real history, just with zombies. But, I also really liked that it wasn’t all fluff and nonsense, that there were some real issues of racism and sexism and even zealotry in there. Things that would make for a good book discussion. 

And while there will most likely be a sequel, the story did come to a satisfactory conclusion. Which is always nice. 

A really really good book. 

Blanca & Roja

by Anna-Marie McLemore
First sentence: “Everyone has their own way of telling our story.”
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Content:  There are some references to sex and some swearing (including a few f-bombs). It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the library.

For their whole lives, the del Cisne sisters — Blanca and Roja — have known that one of them would live and one of them would be turned to a swan.

All their lives, Blanca and Roja — named so because Blanca was blond and fair, and Roja had red hair and darker skin — tried to thwart the swans. They weren’t going to be divided, one of them was not going to be left behind. Then, the swans came. And behind them, two boys: Page and Barclay. 

One part fairy tale retelling (Snow White and Rose Red) and one part love story, Blanca & Roja is incredibly lyrical. I love the way McLemore writes, with spare chapters and magical language. I loved the way she used the fairy tales, and the way she was exploring the consequences of racism and white preference. It was a fascinating story, incredibly well-told, and thoroughly enjoyable!

Beneath the Citadel

by Destiny Soria
First sentence: “Four people were supposed to die at sunrise.”
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Content: There’s multiple instances of one swear word, and some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Things I really liked about this book:

  1. The time frame was super condensed: most of the action took place (shock) beneath the citadel, where the council of Eldra has been hiding, listening to prophecies, and determining the Fate of the citizens of their country.  Likewise, the entire book took place over four days. 
  2. Even though there was shifting perspectives (I really am kind of over that) between the five characters, Soria kept the action propelling forward, and I never found myself losing interest in the story. 
  3. Which is to say: Soria really knows how to write. No, the sentences weren’t lyrical and lovely all the time, but the characters and dialogue popped, and she kept me guessing throughout the whole book. And she doesn’t hold back any punches. 
  4. I really liked the world Soria built, and the conflict between prophecy and free will. It was a nice tension, and the fact that who the “bad guy” was kept shifting was pretty impressive as well. 

In short? I really enjoyed this one. 

The Agony House

by Cherie Priest
First sentence: “Denise Farber stomped up the creaky metal ramp and stood inside the U-Haul, looking around for the lightest possible box.
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Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils. 
Content: There is some violence, but it’s not bad. And some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. 

Things I really liked about this: I liked that it was set in New Orleans, post-Katrina, and that white people moving into underdeveloped neighborhoods and displacing the black population was an issue, if only in passing. I liked the subtle feminism in the story, as well as the fact that the parents were really good. I liked that Priest highlighted a New Orleans that wasn’t voodoo or jazz music. And I liked the way she wove the graphic novel into the story.  

Things I didn’t like: it just really didn’t work terribly well as a ghost story, for me. I never felt terribly threatened or scared by the ghosts, or even terribly worried for the characters (even though the ghosts were causing a LOT of damage to the house). I also didn’t like that the main character was balancing her new life in New Orleans — her mom and step-dad moved her there right before her senior year — and her old life in Houston. It was realistic, sure, but it felt unnecessary to the overall plot (which was the ghost story). 

It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t as good as I was hoping. 

LifeL1k3

by Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “They kill my father first.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils. 
Content: There is some mild swearing and some very offscreen, alluded-to sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. 

Eve doesn’t remember much — just snippets, really — from her childhood. She mostly just remembers the two years she’s been living in the Dregs with her grandfather, scrapping for work, and fighting the bots in the WarDome. But then, one fateful night, everything changes. Eve “manifests”–she destroys a bot with a wave of her hand — and suddenly she, and her best friend Lemon (Lemon Fresh, named for the box she was found in as a baby) and her bot Cricket are on the run for their lives. But what they find — a Lifel1k3 bot, which everyone assumed had been destroyed, among other things — will rock their worlds forever. 

The best thing about this one, for me, was that Kristoff is playing with the old “robot rules” that Asimov had set up. Not only does he envision a future in which bots are a huge part of everyday life (and the world is run by megacorporations, which is probably the way it’s gonna be), but a world in which bots can not only “pass” as human, but aren’t subject to the “rules”. Which begs the question: are they human or not? 

I was describing this to a friend at work, and she said “oh, like the Romanovs in Russia” and she’s right:it is, very loosely, based on the Romanovs as well. Which kind of makes it cooler. A futuristic, dystopian, robot story based on Russian history. Kind of cool.

I really liked the world Kristoff built: It actually felt a lot like Uglies to me, with the slang and the shortcut languages and the techie world. But I could see how the slang would get tiresome to some readers. Even so, I loved that it was fast-paced, and I loved that it was playing around with ideas of how tech might play a role in the future. 

I really enjoyed this one.