Shadows of Sherwood

by Kekla Magoon
First sentence: “The sign on the fence said BEWARE OF DOGS.”
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Content: There’s some violence, but it’s mild, as well as some intense action. I would say the reading level is 5th grade and up, but I’d give it to a 4th grader who was interested. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Robyn has had a good life, one of luxury living in Loxley mansion. She has loving parents — one white, one black — she has everything she needs, and she even manages to sneak out once in a while to go to the dump to look for old tech so she can fiddle around.

Then, in one night her life changes: when she goes to sneak back in from a tech run, she discovers that the MPs, under the direction of Crown who has declared himself dictator of Nott City, have taken her parents. She’s on her own.

Notice anything familiar there? Yes? Good. The re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend is one of the best things in the book. It’s basically Robyn’s origin story: she flees the house, ends up in jail, escapes, and becomes a fugitive. She meets a street girl, Laurel; a mysterious boy with a pretty sweet tree house; another tech wizard, Scarlett; and a student of religion, Tucker. She even has a friend from her days in the Crown District, Crown’s niece, Maryann. I loved seeing how it all fit in with the old legends.

But this one is so much more than that as well. While it could be contemporary, it feels vaguely futuristic and distopian, and there’s a bit of Moon Lore that deals with prophecies (but no magic yet). It’s very tech-savvy with portable pads and scanners and imbedded chips that allow the government to identify everyone.

It’s a very action-packed book, with chases and near escapes. Sure, there are moments of melancholy — it takes Robyn much too long to gather her team and figure out how to work with them — and the moon lore stuff seems kind of tacked on. But I didn’t mind it so much because I was so very tickled with the Robin Hood element of the story. It made me happy to see a bi-racial girl take center stage and have her identity mean more than just the color of her skin. It also made me happy to have a range of interests and both male and female kids playing multiple roles, none of which are tied to their gender.

It definitely sets itself up for a sequel, which I am eagerly anticipating.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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The Testing

by Joelle Charbonneau
First sentence: “Graduation Day.”
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Content: It’s violent, but not graphically so. And there’s kissing, but no sex. Which means it’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. However, much like Hunger Games, I’d be wary of more sensitive readers liking it.

This book has been out for two years now, and I’ve been putting it off for just as long. Mostly because the whole post-apocalyptic/dystopian genre has been SO overdone, that I really didn’t want to read yet another one.

Then we scheduled Charbonneau to come to the store — they’ve been working on it since the first one came out and the rep mentioned it was set in a futuristic Wichita — and I was tasked with reading and reviewing the book before she gets here. And so I did, smacking myself when I finished for waiting too long to get around to this one.

Sixteen-year-old Cia Vale has just graduated from her colony’s small school near the top of her class. She’s excited: in this post-Seven Stages War America, now called the United Commonwealth, that means she’s likely to be chosen to attend The Testing in the capitol, Tosu City (aka Wichita, though it took me nearly the whole book to figure that out). Except her father — a former Testing candidate and University graduate himself — doesn’t want her to go. However, once Cia’s been chosen, she can’t say no; refusing the Testing is an act of treason, punishable by death.

So, Cia travels to Tosu City with her father’s warning — TRUST NO ONE — echoing in her ears, and discovers what he meant. The Testing is not just high-pressure and high-competition for the twenty university slots. It’s deadly.

While the plotting and writing isn’t as tight as Suzanne Collins’s, it’s still a quick, engaging read. Charbonneau sets the stakes high right away, with Cia’s roommate committing suicide, and doesn’t let up until the final pages of the book. There are twists and turns — some of which I saw, some of which I didn’t — and Cia is a good, strong narrator to carry this story on her shoulders. It’s definitely post-apocalyptic; Charbonneau cleverly gave us a brief history of how this country came to be in a series of short written test questions early on. The dystopian part is harder to see — Cia comes to hate the Testing officials, and the government as an extension, but I’m not sure I ever felt the way she did about the officials. Unlike, say, President Snow in The Hunger Games. (Yes, comparisons are inevitable.) I do think, on the other hand, that it’s a tighter, more interesting story than Divergent (yes, there’s a love interest, which I think was mostly unnecessary).

But the best thing about waiting to read this one is that the whole series is out already. And I don’t have to wait to read the second one. And I’m invested enough in Cia’s story that I’m quite curious to find out what happens next.

All These Things I’ve Done

by Gabrielle Zevin
First sentence: “The night before my junior year — I was sixteen, barely — Gable Arsley said he wanted to sleep with me.”
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Content: There’s talk of sex and a lot of kissing, but nothing graphic. And there’s talk of violence, but again, nothing graphic. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-9) of the bookstore.

This one is a hard one to sum up, partially because the world Zevin created is so complex. It’s futuristic, but not exactly a post-apocalyptic or dystopian. It’s a world where things are strictly rationed, and coffee and chocolate and books are illegal. So, much like alcohol in the 1920s, there is a strong black market for those items. And our main character, Anya Balanchine (her friends call her Annie), is part of the Balanchine mafia family that has a strong presence in the chocolate market. Her father was the head of the family until he was shot and killed (in front of her) when she was 9. Annie and her older brother, Leo (who is slightly mentally disabled due to another hit meant for her father that killed their mother and disabled Leo) and younger sister Natalya have been raised the past 7 years by their grandmother, whose health is slowly failing.

Over the course of the year, things spin out of control for Annie. Her ex-boyfriend, Gable, ends up poisoned by chocolate, and Annie ends up in juvenile prison because of that. She falls for and dates the son of the assistant DA, in spite of the extreme pressure to break it off. She stresses about Leo, especially since he begins working for the family. And her grandmother finally passes away.

All that managed to fill up the book, which I wanted to like very much. But, aside from world creation, there really isn’t much there. Annie is a fascinating character, but I got tired of her waffling. I wanted her to step up and take charge. It’s not good when the most interesting character is the head of the Japanese mafia family who shows up for probably 10 pages. I hoped for more out of this one, and was disappointed.

I might give the second one in the series a try, just to see if it gets any better.

Slated

by Teri Terry
First sentence: “I run.”
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Content: It’s a pretty intense book, and I think the plot would be a bit difficult for younger readers to understand. But there’s nothing “objectionable” it. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Kyla has no memory beyond the past six months she’s been in the hospital in London. See, she’s been Slated by the government: a process done to criminals and terrorists to remove their memories. It’s most effective the younger you are — Kyla is only 16 — and after the process, they tie your consciousness to a device called a Levo, which monitors your endorphin levels. If you get too low, you black out. And die. Obviously, it’s supposed to reform the people who have it done, make them happy, productive members of society.

Except it didn’t quite work on Kyla.

While she doesn’t have any memories of her former life, she has nightmares. And she’s not as compliant as she should be. And so, back with her “Mom” and “Dad” in their small village outside of London, she starts noticing things. Noticing things which leads to questions. And we all know that in books like this, questions are never good.

This is a much less futuristic dystopian fantasy than most, and that’s one of the things, I think, that make it stand out. (The other being that it’s set in London. It’s nice to know that Big Brother is happening over there, too!) Sure, it’s set in the future — roughly 30 or 40 years — but there’s a lot that ties it to contemporary culture. The anti-terrorism movement, which leads to a really broad definition of “terrorist”. A government that seeks to control their population. The other thing that made this one unique for me is that Kyla wasn’t (for this book, at least; it might change) a lynchpin on which the Revolution of the Evil Government resides. She’s a girl who’s lost her memory but retained her consciousness. And it’s not until her friends start disappearing that she feels she needs to take action.

That lack of action is also a downside. I’m hoping that this is mostly just a world-building book, and that there’s more going on in the next one. While I did find the situations Terry put her character in fascinating, by the end of the book, there was more unanswered questions then there were answered ones. Additionally, I think the love interest was a bit forced; there was no need for her friendship to end up as a romance, and because of that, there was no underlying chemistry between the two of them.

That said, it was unique enough to hold my attention, I am curious to see where the next book goes.

Landry Park

by Bethany Hagen
First sentence: “Two hundred years ago, America found itself at a crossroads.”
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Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There’s some talk of violence, though it’s all offscreen; a few mild swear word; and an illusion to an affair. It’s in the YA section (6-8th grade) of the bookstore, but I’d have no problems giving it to a younger child if they were interested.

Madeline Landry has grown up in a luxurious world: she’s the only child of an elite family and surrounded with opulence. She’s not particularly happy: she has struggles with her father over her education. She wants to got to university; he (and his will, not to mention the law) wants her to stay home, get married, run the estate, and pop out an heir. But she’s not entirely unhappy either: she loves her family and her home and the life. That is, until David Dana — the un-landed son of a gentry — comes into her life. Then, the things that have been skirting around her life — the class issues, the environmental concerns, especially with the lowest class, the Rootless — come front and center. Not to mention that David’s pretty dreamy.

In many ways, Hagen is treading the same ground as every dystopian book before her. America falls to the Eastern Empire, only managing to hang on by a thread. In the aftermath, a class system is formed — not based on race, as Hagen is so careful to point out — based on money and influence. And at the bottom are the Rootless, who handle the nuclear charges the gentry’s energy — and much of the wealth, especially the Landry wealth — comes from. And they’re getting restless. Where Hagen’s dystopian diverges from the pack is in the focus: Madeline is one of the elite, not the underclass. And when she has her eyes opened, she stands to lose everything. And I respected that.

I also really loved the world Hagen built, even though she never really gave us an explanation why the women were corseted and shoved into ball gowns and paraded around like it was Victorian England. I’m sure I could come up with some hypotheses — fancy dresses are synonymous with wealth? the women are as shackled as the Rootless? — but they are just that. No matter: Hagen is tackling issues that aren’t (readily, I think) usually seen in dystopia. Also, she doesn’t have a Romeo & Juliet love story going on here: both Madeline and David are from the gentry, and have to come to terms with their increasingly dissenting opinions.

It’s not a perfect beginning, but it is an intriguing one. I’m going to be curious to see where the rest of this series goes.

Cress

by Marissa Meyer
First sentence: “Her satellite made one full orbit around planet Earth every sixteen hours.”
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Content: Some violence, none of it gruesome. It’s shelved in the YA section (grades 6-8th), but I’d have no problems giving it to a capable younger reader.
Review copy given me by our MPS rep, who likes to enable my addictions.
Others in the series: Cinder, Scarlet

Obviously: If you haven’t read the other two, there will be spoilers.

So, our fearless (of sorts), rag-tag crew of a cyborg, a scruffy-looking nerfherder of a pilot, a disembodied android, a human girl, and a Lunar wolf-man operative are on the run from the Commonweath government. What are the most-wanted on Earth supposed to do? Especially when there’s an insanely evil queen who’s trying to take over the world by marrying the super-hot emperor? (“Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped”) Well, hang out in space, of course. And then go rescue Rapunzel in her tower. Or Cress in her satellite, that is.

Except the rescue operation goes wrong, and our group of rag-tag outlaws are split up. Scarlet ends up on Lunar (and doesn’t figure much in the story), Cress and Captain Thorne end up in the satellite, crashing in the Sahara desert. And Cinder, Wolf, and the New Guy end up looking for the crazy Dr. Erland. As the plot thickens….

C’s biggest complaint with this one was that there were too many plot lines. Which is true, to an extent. Meyer is juggling a LOT of balls here. And there are at least 5 (if not more) story threads running through the book. BUT. I thought she managed all her threads well. With the exception of Scarlet, who really wasn’t interesting until nearly the end of the book (oh, but then her story line is tantalizingly interesting, setting up the last book in the series, Winter, well), I thought what all the characters were doing were fascinating. My favorites — probably goes without saying — are the two MAIN main characters in this one, Cress and Thorne. I adored Cress as a character: she’s a bit insecure around people, having been trapped in a satellite for 7 years. And she’s a total fangirl. But she’s also a smart hacker, and a resourceful and determined (if a bit naive) girl. And Thorne, well, let’s just say Thorne is that perfect mix between all the roguish bad good guys in all the books and movies I’ve ever loved. (It’s hard NOT to have a crush on him.)

And even though Cinder’s finally coming into her own, and there are some brilliant moments, it’s still a middle book in a series. It doesn’t stand as well on its own as Scarlet did, but I wasn’t disappointed with where the story is going. Meyer has created a terrifically interesting world, and is doing some fun things mixing the fairy tales in with the cyborg/futuristic elements. I can’t wait to see how it all ends.

Allegiant

by Veronica Roth
First sentence: “I pace our cell in Erudite headquarters, her words echoing in my mind: My name is Edith Prior, and there is much I am happy to forget.
Others in the series: Divergent, Insurgent
Content: There’s violence, some swearing, and a whole lot of kissing. In the first half, anyway. It’s in the Teen (grades 9-12) section of the bookstore, but I wouldn’t have an issue giving it to someone younger.

I’m going to get hate for this.

This is how my opinion on the series has gone (without looking at my reviews): Divergent is a unique dystopian idea, with some cool action scenes. The movie might be good. Insugent I don’t remember a thing about. Not a thing. Except that I don’t remember liking it all that much. And I had no interest in reading Allegiant. I only picked it up because I succumbed to the hype and stuck my name on the hold list at the library.

So, if I gathered right, after the events of Insurgent, Four’s mom has taken over things, deciding that the factions are to be done away with. Except that’s not working. And she’s executing people right and left. So, there’s an underground movement to fight against the Man (still) and to get people out to explore the world outside the fence. Tris and Four are part of that group. And when they get out they discover that 1) their life is an elaborate experiment by a government bureau in order to make people’s genes “normal” again after a gene war (or something like that) and 2) I was so over it.

I was. I didn’t care that Four was angsting about not being a true Divergent. I didn’t care Tris stressing about Who She Was. Their hallway snogging did nothing for me. I found the world to be trite and simplistic. I was over caring about government conspiracies or parental abuse or revolutions.

So I bailed. I admit I’m a little curious to know why the whole fandom was up in arms about the book, but I have so many other books to read, that I honestly don’t care if I don’t finish this one. Ever.

There’s just not enough time to waste it on things that I’m so over.