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.  

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Renegades

by Marissa Meyer
First sentence: “We were all villains in the beginning.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s violence, but nothing graphic, and some mild swearing. It is is the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Nova grew up on one side of the divide, as an Anarchist. It was their side that was in charge for so long, until the Day of Reckoning, where the Other Side, the Renegades, took power. So, Nova grew up as a “villain”, resenting the Renegades, training to defeat them.

Adam grew up on the other side of the divide, as the son of the two most prominent Renegades. He believes in the mission of the Renegades, to bring justice to those who want to be outside the law.

When Nova’s home and life are threatened (because she was part of an assassination attempt that went bad), she is persuaded — mostly because she’s not well known — to join the Renegades and spy on them for the Anarchists. But, when she ends up on Adam’s team, things get… complicated.

This is a solid first in a series book. I like the world that Meyer has created: while she’s playing off the ideas behind the X-Men — there are people with special “abilities” that were shunned by society, and Meyer’s playing with what would happen if those people were in charge. There’s also a bit of Captain America: Civil War going on here, as well, with the exploration of the amount of responsibility a superhero should have for the “regular” people. And I liked the characters: both Nova and Adam were conflicted in their own ways. And while the (slight) romance felt a bit forced, it wasn’t enough to take me entirely out of the story.

I am definitely curious to see where Meyer takes the story from here.

Undertow

undertowby Michael Buckley
First sentence: “You can hear them coming from blocks away, a low thrum like the plucking of a bass string.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher (I think).
Content: It’s violent. There is an attempt at a sex scene, but it doesn’t get off the ground. There is some domestic abuse. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d be wary about the 6th grade end of the scale.

In this alternate not-so-distant future, there are these humanoid creatures called the Alpha, which have come out of the ocean and onto the shores near Coney Island, sending the community — and the country — into a tailspin. The Alpha aren’t exactly like humans — they have scales and different coloring, and sword-like things coming out of their arms. It’s not been an easy adjustment for the humans in Coney Island and the surrounding area. In fact, many of them haven’t adjusted at all, choosing instead to fight the “intrusion” of the Alphas on their territory.

For Lyric and her family, the appearance of the Alpha has caused some conflict, because Lyric’s mom is one of them. Sure, she’s been “passing” for 20 years, pretty sure her people abandoned her. But, since their appearance, the other Alphas that have been passing are being targeted. They’re outcasts among their people, and they’re outcasts among the humans as well. And things are getting more complicated: the government is insisting that select Alpha attend school, which just complicates matters more. Especially since Lyric is tapped for one-on-one lessons with the Alpha prince. Fathom.

I’m not doing a very good job describing this one. I suppose it sounds weird, but the thing that struck me most, especially in this political climate, was the whole immigration deal. You could substitute Alpha for any ethnic group, and you’d have a story that’s reflective of the way America currently reacts to immigrants. Sure, it’s exaggerated, but the hate and the discrimination are there. I found it all a fascinating way to deal with the whole issue. Buckley’s also being clever with the Atlantian myths and I thought that the whole Alpha-mythos building was quite unique and clever.

As for the rest of it, it’s a fairly typical YA dystopian. Buckley’s fairly brutal with his characters, which adds a level of intensity. And, sure, there’s a romance and the ending is sufficiently open-ended to make room for the sequel. It was a clever take on this genre, and definitely a fun read.

Mockingjay

by Suzanne Collins
ages: 14+
First sentence: “I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! (Though you probably already have.)

NO SPOILERS. Promise.

Like Hunger Games and Catching Fire, this book is very unputdownable. Thankfully, I set aside the day to sit and read, otherwise I’d have been biting my nails and obsessing over the book. Better to get it all over with in one sitting.

And, for the most part, I really really liked the book. I liked what Collins did with Katniss, and the rebellion, and Gale, and especially Peeta. I liked the direction Collins was taking the books, the whole Katniss-as-Mockingjay thing. There were touching moments, some kick-butt moments, she kept me guessing as to where the plot was going, and she generally laid foundation work for something absolutely incredible to happen. There’s a lot of good anti-war stuff in there, how rebellions don’t always work right, how killing ourselves isn’t always the answer.

There are some things I wished she would have done: I missed Cinna, I wished Haymitch had more to do, I wished she had done something more with the District 13 government. Those were minor quibbles, though.

Because, the book fell apart for me. Completely and totally by the last 45 pages. There’s a moment near the end — and if you’ve read the book, you know where it is — where I was on the edge of my seat, disbelieving. However, in the pages that followed, Collins made choices — with characters, with the plot, with narrative — that completely derailed the rest of the book. It would have been so much better if… but it wasn’t. The whole ending was anticlimactic, and took the book in a direction that felt forced. I ended up feeling dissatisfied with the whole book, in the end. I’m not sure what I wanted, really, but it wasn’t the ending that Collins gave me.

Which, unfortunately, left me with a less-than-stellar reaction to the book overall. (And am I the only one?) And that’s too bad. Because it’s a great series: thought provoking and intense. I just wanted something better to end with.