Renegades

by Marissa Meyer
First sentence: “We were all villains in the beginning.”
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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.

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One Trick Pony

onetrickponyby Nathan Hale
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Release date: March 14, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary bits, but it’s pretty tame overall. It will be in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Aliens have invaded, and their primary goal is not to destroy the humans but to gather the technology. Everything and anything that can be considered tech — from forks and knives to guns to computers and robots — is gobbled up by the aliens, whom the humans have taken to calling Pipers.

On the outskirts of one of the “hot zones” (places where there is lots of piper activity) there’s a mobile community — the Caravan — of people whose main goal is to keep the tech — and thereby “civilization” — alive. Then one day, a few kids from the Caravan uncover a robot pony in the middle of the hot zone. Suddenly pipers are after them, and it ends in a confrontation that will either result in the loss of humanity or its salvation.

It’s an intriguing story, and I loved the way Hale told it. So very good.

This Savage Song

thissavagesongby Victoria Schwab
First sentence: ”
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Content: One of the main characters smokes, and there’s three f-bombs as well as a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I’m going to say this up front: this one isn’t easy to sum up.

Kate is the daughter of the North City’s main mob boss. You pay him for protection from the monsters that go bump in the night. And if you can’t pay, well… let’s just say there’s very little mercy. All Kate wants is to be accepted and loved by her father. Which isn’t easy when he’s such a cold, hard bastard.

August is one of those monsters that go bump. In a world where there are several types of monsters — the Corsai, which basically just eat you alive; the Malchai, which are like vampires — August is the “worst”: a Sonai, which use music to suck people’s souls out of them. He is at conflict with this, but awful things happen when he doesn’t “feed”.

So, when August and Kate cross paths at a posh boarding school — August is there on the orders of his older “brother”; Kate as a last-ditch attempt to prove to her father that she’s tough enough — things, well, explode.

Lest you think this is romance-y (I did, at first): it’s not. Sure, August and Kate end up  doing things together, and (I think) caring for each other, it’s not all kissing and swooning. It’s a book that swims very heavily in the grey areas. Kate’s not especially likable as a character, and she does some pretty awful things. And yet, she’s one of the “good” guys. August is more complex as a character, and yet you’re told from the outset that all monsters are “bad”. And August, too, does some pretty awful things. It’s fascinating exploring this world.

Sure, there are questions: how did the monsters come to be? Why did the United States fall apart and reform into these territories? What happens if the monsters take over and kill off all the people? What’s going to happen next?

Schwab is a fantastic storyteller, and this is definitely a unique cross between paranormal and post-apocalyptic. I’m curious to know what happens next to August and Kate, especially since the ending of this one was so, well, final. (There are doors left open for a sequel, and this one is billed as #1, so there will probably be more.) It’s definitely a world I’ll want to revisit.

The Last Star

laststarby Rick Yancey
First sentence: “Many years ago, when he was ten, her father had ridden a big yellow bus to the planetarium.”
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Review copy sent to me by our publisher rep.
Others in the series: The Fifth Wave, The Infinite Sea
Content: It’s violent and intense; Yancey pulls no punches. There’s also a lot of (understandable) swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

If you can, read them all one right after the other; the impact of this one will be that much greater. Like the past two, I’m not going to go that much into plot; it’s really better if you just hit these as blind as possible.

I re-read my review for Infinite Sea, and my thoughts are mostly the same here. It’s intense. bordering on hopeless. Cassie and Zombie and Evan and Ringer and Sam are trying, against the odds, to prevent the end of the world. In many ways, it’s too late: the aliens have pitted us against ourselves:  if there’s no trust, there can be no civilization. But maybe, just maybe, they can prevent the world from completely imploding — Evan’s assured them that the aliens will start bombing the cities any day now — and keep millions more people from dying.

It was the hoping against hope that got me in this one. I read it slower; in small doses over several days this time because I couldn’t take the building hopelessness: will it work? There’s no glorious Independence Day or Men in Black climax here. Sure, it’s a small plucky (though increasingly small and increasingly desperate) team against incredible odds, but Yancey never shies away from the cost of those odds. I found that I appreciated it very much. It’s an incredibly intense series (I’m actually kind of sad the movie didn’t catch on the way Hunger Games did), and an powerfully written one.

I’m sad to see it end.

The Fog Diver

fogdiverby Joel Ross
First sentence: “My name is Chess, and I was born inside a cage.”
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Content: There’s some intense moments, and it’s a bit difficult to follow plot-wise, but it’s great for grades 4 and up. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

It’s the distant future, and the nanites that the world had designed to clean up the smog went crazy and created a fog that is inhabitable for humans. They’ve moved up to the tops of mountains to survive and have developed a whole society up there. Chess and his friends are at the bottom of the totem pole, being junk divers: they troll the Fog in their airship and it’s Chess’s job to dive in the fog to find relics of the lost age. The reason why Chess is so good at this is because he was born in the fog and his eye is swirling with nanites. He’s in hiding, somewhat, from the evil Lord Kodoc, who will take Chess and work him to death if he ever finds out he exists.

Huh. I’m not sure if that does this justice. (Probably not.) It’s a fantastic, wild weird world that Ross has created. My favorite part? The obscure references to pop culture. Harry Otter, or the X-Wing Enterprise or skycatchers (instead of skycrapers), all made me smile. It’s was a wink to current times without being too trendy and it was perfect. I also loved the supporting characters. Chess was pretty great, but so was the captain Hazel, the pilot Swede, and the gear girl (who had shades of Kaylee from Firefly) Bea. They worked well as a team and I ended up loving all of them equally.

I do have to admit that this took me a bit to get into. It’s slowish to start, but once it gets going, it’s a LOT of fun. And fun is just what I needed right now.

The Scorpion Rules

 scorpionrulesby Erin Bow
First sentence: “Once Upon a Time, at the End of the World.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are exactly two f-bombs, some mild swearing, and one illusion to sex. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a 7th grader, if they had no objections to the content.

At this point in my life, I’m very much been-there, done-that when it comes to dystopian/post-apocalyptic books. I feel like I’ve read/seen them all, and there’s really nothing new to explore there.  So, my first thought was that this was just going to be more of the same-old, same-old, and I passed on the ARC. Then it came in, and on the back were quotes from authors I respect, so I thought (somewhat begrudgingly), that I would give this one a try.

(I know, I know: I’m not “supposed” to start these with “I’m not a fan of x”. But bear with me.)

It didn’t take me too long to realize that I was utterly wrong. First of all, the premise is something I haven’t encountered in a long while: humans have destroyed the world through climate change and war, and somewhere along the way, invented artificial intelligence. One of the AIs decided that enough was enough, and took over — by blowing up a number of huge cities — ruling the world. And the way Talis, the AI, decided to keep the peace? By keeping the children of the world’s rulers hostage. If they enter into war, their children would be killed.

Brilliant, no?

Greta is the Crown Princess of the PanPolar Confederacy, a major North American power formed out of what we know as Canada. She’s also a hostage of Talis, living in the prairies of Saskatchewan at the Precepture with her compatriots, fellow hostages. Then one day, war breaks out, one of her friends dies, and a new boy, Elian, shows up. He’s the grandson of the leader of a new alliance, and he’s not at all willing to take his role as a Dutiful and Humble hostage. He fights every step of the way. And somehow, this awakens Greta (and the rest, including her best friend La Da-Xia) to the horrible reality that is her life.

There is so much more to it than that, but I don’t want to give it all away. I adored the combination of high-tech (there are flying battleships and smart pads and cameras and, of course, the AI) and low-tech (the children at the Precepture are basically farmers, thinking about raising goats and bees and harvesting vegetables. There’s a monastery-like feel, as well: they call the AI in charge “Father”. But I also loved the diversity: Bow rightly depicted people from all over the world — African, Asian, Native American, Hispanic — but it felt natural and organic rather than some sort of forced diversity.

But what I really loved was the fluidity of the romance. There’s a love triangle of sorts, but not your typical one; Greta is bisexual and there’s no angst or heartache about this. She’s in love with both a male and a female, and it’s just the way she is. And even Talis, when he shows up, was more gender fluid in his depiction (as benefiting and AI, no?). It was all very different, and very, very refreshing.

It’s the start of a series, and I’ll definitely be picking up the next one to see where Bow takes Greta’s story.

Station Eleven

by Emily St. John Mandel
First sentence: “The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are a half-dozen f-bombs, spread throughout the second half of the book. It’s a bit meandering, but otherwise, it’s a good crossover story, and I’d give it to a teen interested in the post-apocalyptic genre. It’s in the Fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s difficult, I think, to write a linear plot for Station Eleven. There’s a pandemic, obviously: the world has to end somehow. An aside: I think it’s interesting that the way the world ends in fiction these days is through sickness or climate change rather than some horrific nuclear event. Times have changed since Canticle for Leibowitz.

Anyway, a pandemic — Georgia Flu — sweeps through the world, with a 99% fatality rate. It kills you within 48 hours of catching it, so it doesn’t take long. That simple thing, changes the world. Station Eleven follows an actor, Arthur, and everyone his life touches — ex-wives, son, paparazzi, best friend, the child actors he was in King Lear with — before and through the pandemic, exploring the connections between them and the way everyone handles the New World.

The book was less about the pandemic or the world collapsing as it was about the connections between people. The action flipped between before the pandemic to 20 years after, only vaguely hitting upon time in-between. There was enough movement to keep me interested; the huge cast of characters were always doing something, and the non-linear plot helped with that as well. I think it was an intriguing reflection on the way our lives touch one another, how seemingly random occurrences to one person have great significance to another. Admittedly, there were times when I didn’t get the connections: the paparazzi’s story, for example, was so disconnected from the rest, I wondered why his was included. But for the most part, I found the book to be an intriguing examination of connection and humanity in a time of crisis.