Archive for July, 2016

changeplaceswithme

She woke.

And for a split second saw nothing but a cloud of red light.

‘Where am I?’

Premise :

Rose Hartel woke up, today, feeling…different. A voice in her mind urges her to be different, to be happy, to try new things.

This is what you should do, she told herself. Grab things, exist at the center of your life, not the edge.

She can’t say why, but her old life doesn’t fit anymore. Her routines, her solitude, even her pajamas feel suddenly wrong.

But why?

YA Sci-Fi, published June 14th 2016 by Balzer + Bray

About :

If you read one young adult sci-fi this year, make it Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger. Its spare economy and compelling tension mark Metzger as a true, experienced storyteller. It’s very short—I flew through it, unable to put it down. It’s not flashy or romantic, but every word counts and it will stay with you.

The plot relies on a secret, very much in the style of The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, but I enjoyed Changes Places With Me much more. It’s been a long time since I read Pearson’s book (I was a teenager, at the time), but I remember it being very dark. In Change Places With Me, something feels subtly wrong, but there’s no creep factor and [highlight to read spoiler: no “preaching.” The Adoration of Jenna Fox explores the morality of bioethics, but Change Places With Me concerns itself more with Rose’s character arc.]

Theme :

The really interesting thing about this book is that there’s no “bad guy.” There could have been, but the author refused to simplify things that way for the reader. Instead,Change Places With Me just asks a question: “Who do you want to be, Rose?” This story isn’t about right and wrong; it’s about Rose making choices that will define her. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen—these are young ages to begin defining your whole future, but that’s our lot, as humans, and that’s what all teenagers, like Rose, face.

Rose pressed the buzzer next to the camera lens. 

“May I help you?” said a woman’s voice that was flat and generic.

Rose just stood there, frozen.

“Yes?” said the voice. “I can see you’re still there.”

‘I know your voice,’ Rose said. ‘The kinds of things you say.’

There was a sigh….”This is Rose Hartel, isn’t it? The hair’s different—it threw me. Listen, go home, Rose. You never came here.”

“I’m not leaving,” Rose said, with a flash of what felt like a long-familiar streak of stubbornness.

Another sigh.

The door buzzed. Rose opened it and stepped inside.

Recommendation :

I recommend it to everyone, especially teens, looking for a short, compelling sci-fi with questions of identity at its center. You won’t find aliens or dystopian arenas, here; rather, you’ll find thoughtful, character-driven tension.

****4/5 STARS

You can check out the awesome book trailer for Change Places With Me below!

Thank you to Lois Metzger and Balzer + Bray for my beautiful review copy of Change Places With Me!

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Premise:

T. H. White retells the Arthurian epic with a modern touch. King Arthur attempts to use “Force, the metal illness of humanity” for human good, creating an age of chivalry that will one day come again. Published 1958, considered the literary pinnacle of the fantasy genre.

About:

T. H White actually wrote five books about King Arthur, but only four of them were published together in The Once and Future King. The Book of Merlyn was published later, in 1977. So my copy of The Once and Future King contains The Sword in the Stone (upon which the Disney movie was based, delightful humor and all), The Queen of Air and Darkness (a much darker book about life in the Middle Ages before the Round Table), The Ill-Made Knight (a book about the glorious Round Table and its darling knight, Lancelot), and The Candle in the Wind (about King Arthur, in his weary old age, as his Round Table falls about him in ruins).

What I Liked:

(1) Book I. All of it. It’s adorable, hilarious fun (Merlyn is…so funny. And The Wart is adorable), and it really brings the Middle Ages to life, especially for children. My favorite joust in all of literature:

“The knights had now lost their tempers and the battle was joined in earnest. It did not matter much, however, for they were so encased in metal that they could not do each other much damage. It took them so long to get up, and the dealing of a blow when you weighed the eighth part of a ton was such a cumbrous business, that every stage of the contest could be marked and pondered.”

(2) The whole book really enlivens the Middle Ages in humorous, detailed ways:

“The Dark and Middle Ages! The Nineteenth Century had an impudent way with its labels.”

“Did you know that in these dark ages which were visible from Guenever’s window, there was so much decency in the world that the Catholic Church could impose a peace to all their fighting—which it called The Truce of God—and which lasted from Wednesday to Monday, as well as during the whole of Advent and Lent? Do you think they, with their Battles, Famine, Black Death and Serfdom, were less enlightened than we are, with our Wards, Blockade, Influenza and Conscription?”

(3) T. H. White manages to humanize everyone, especially King Arthur, Queen Guenever and the knight Lancelot, despite their questionable decisions and outright mistakes. Arthur, despite his preoccupation with justice, prefers to overlook the affair between his wife and Lancelot. Lancelot, despite his preoccupation with holiness, cannot keep himself from the queen. And the queen herself?

“People are easily dazzled by Round Tables and feats of arms. You read of Lancelot in some noble achievement and, when he comes home to his mistress, you feel resentment at her because she cuts across the achievement, or spoils it. Yet Guenever could not search for the Grail. She could not vanish into the English forest for a year’s adventure with the spear. It was her part to sit at home, though passionate, though real and hungry in her fierce and tender heart. For her there was no recognized diversions except what is comparable to the ladies’ bridge party of today. She could hawk with a merlin, or play blind man’s buff, or pince-merille. These were the amusements of grown-up women in her time. But the great hawks, the hounds, heraldry tournaments—these were for Lancelot. For her, unless she felt like a little spinning or embroidery, there was no occupation—except Lancelot.”

What I Didn’t Like:

(1) I didn’t enjoy book II or think it necessary. It drags, it’s dark, and most of it seems unnecessary. The point of it is to humanize “the Orkney faction” while Arthur, Lancelot and Merlyn conceive of the idea of “the Round Table.” But mostly, it’s a lot of unpleasant or boring episodic “showing” that could have been condensed into a few scenes. (2) King Arthur’s questions, the questions asked by the whole book, get only very vague answers, at least to my understanding. The thematic questions are mainly these: (a) Why does humanity fight and go to war? (b) How can we stop ourselves from doing so?

His solution appears to be that humanity must rid itself of political boundaries.

“The imaginary lines on the earth’s surface only needed to be unimagined. The airborne birds skipped them by nature. How mad the frontiers had seemed to [the birds], and would to Man if he could learn to fly.” OH, OH, and also EDUCATION! “The hope of making [the new round table] would lie in culture. If people could be persuaded to read and write, not just to eat and make love, there was still a chance that they might come to reason.”

I don’t really mind the vagueness of the dear king’s answer to his own troubling questions; perhaps his are the best humanist answers. And the book is too lovely for me to really mind; the answers aren’t the point, after all. Fortunately, this little piece of culture (or, rather, big piece of culture, coming in at 639 pages), instructs us in history, empathy and how to laugh at ourselves.

Overall:

I loved this book. Everyone who loves fantasy literature, or wants to read just one account of the Arthurian epics, should read this book.

Recommendation:

Book I is a great kid’s book, in addition to being a fun read for teens and adults. Books II-IV are fine for teens +.

*****5/5 STARS

What’s Up Next?

Split_the_Sun

Premise:

We killed all independent planets outside house borders by extracting fuel from their cores. And once we burn through all the garnered energy, where do we think the next batch will come from? Right now, planets on the Brink are rationed down to five hours of energy a day, while here we gawk at nonstop ad-screens and control the temperature outside.

House Galton has a rebellion on its hands: citizens from independent planets want revenge on Galton’s empire for destroying their planets to steal energy for wasteful consumption. Unfortunately for Kreslyn “Kit” Franks, the Enactors think she’s involved in the rebellion. But unlike Kit’s mother, a terrorist who blew up the nation’s digital core, Kit herself was never involved in the rebellion. She just wants to survive the fallout. That becomes more difficult as her mother’s terrorism continues, and everyone looks to Kit for a solution she doesn’t have…or does she? YA Sci-Fi, Romance. Will be published December 6, 2016. Thanks to Tessa Elwood, Running Press & Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of Split the Sun.

That sounds like a cool premise, right?

What I Liked:

(1) The cover. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Splithesun

(2) The worldbuilding of book II was much improved over book I; although there was less emphasis on politics, until the very end, the author brings some texture to the blank slate of book I’s intergalactic milieu. (3) The premise. It’s a cool idea.

The Problem:

The premise was buried in distractions and I spent most of the first 70% trying and failing to decipher a plot line. I didn’t understand, for most of the book, that the real conflict came from energy politics.

Most of the conflict appeared to come from two places: Kit’s family dispute over the basic essentials of living off the streets—money, housing and drugs; and the romantic tension between her and Niles, a mysterious neighbor boy who won’t leave her alone, even as Kit says (over and over again) that she wants him to. Neither of these conflicts was very interesting and I couldn’t decipher the plot through their distractions. As a result, I was bored, confused and irritated throughout most of the book.

Let’s talk about Kit, for a minute. I liked her, at times. Case in point, her snark, exemplified here in her description of her apartment building:

“I swear something died in the elevators once, and you can always spot visitors by who hits the call button.”

She’s a tough, scrappy girl, eking out a living and caring for a thankless family. Her humor adds lightness to the heavy setting and tension.

But I didn’t enjoy being in her head. Her prickly, dark personality makes her difficult to get along with, even for the kind people in her life (few and far between though they are). Here’s a normal conversation between Niles and Kit:

“‘So, how are your feet?’ ‘None of your business.’ ‘Are you bleeding anywhere else?’ ‘Why do you care?’ ‘Just making conversation.’ ‘Don’t.’”

Can you guess which one is Kit?

I also found myself bored, reading from her perspective. In her plot arc, she’s a constant victim of other people’s avarice, instead of a proactive agent for positive change (like Asa Fane was, in book I, Inherit the Stars). During the first 70%, Kit doesn’t engage the real problem of the book—she avoids it; and it’s hard to root for her, if she’s not working on the problem and illuminating the clues for the reader.

I think the author withheld secrets (like the purpose of Kit’s mother’s terrorism) to keep readers wondering, in suspense, “Who is really the antagonist, here? Kit’s mom? The gang of goony kids who chase Kit around the city? [Highlight to read spoiler: The author doesn’t reveal until much later that these are the energy rebels.] The Enactors?”

Unfortunately, the lack of information left me in confusion, not in suspense. Kit wasn’t chasing “other” bad guys who turned out to be benign, or something like that; she was just trying to survive, which was completely unrelated to the real plot. As a result, her actions during the first 70% felt inconsequential and the pace felt like it dragged.

The last 30% of the book was a marked improvement, in my reading experience. All of a sudden, clues were making sense and I was much less frustrated. One of my favorite moments in the book was discovering the true identity of the philosopher Gilken.

But this book had so many problems, I would have DNFd it, if it wasn’t my very first Netgalley arc: I didn’t get the answers I was hoping for, after the cliff-hanger of book I; the prose didn’t improve much, if at all; and this sequel lacked the speed, tension and drive of book I.

Recommendation:

Book I, with its quick pacing, complex milieu politics and proactive, sympathetic protagonists might still be worth reading, since these books are standalones; but I recommend skipping book II.

*1/5 STARS 

InheritTheStars

Premise:

Three royal houses ruling three interplanetary systems are on the brink of collapse, and they must either ally together or tear each other apart in order for their people to survive.

Of course Asa Fane, youngest daughter of House Fane, worries about the collapse of her royal house. But, she wonders, why does no one else spare a thought for the health of her beloved, comatose sister, Wren? Asa determines to save both her house and her sister—a determination that leads her to impersonate her older sister in a marriage party, run away from her new home in Westlet, and even change her own blood signature. Published December 8th 2015 by Running Press Kids.

What I Liked:

(1) The immediate, engaging style of the prose and the action immediately drew me in. (2) The grey-scaled politics of the interplanetary milieu produce a few good twists. (3) Asa’s constant proactivity makes her a fun protagonist to read about. She isn’t just born to into power; she grabs the power because she knows what’s important and is determined to fight for it. She forges the best solutions to problems that no one else seems willing or able to solve. She takes responsibility, instead of just letting her domineering father or Eagle, her arranged husband, make decisions for her. Along that line, (4) I like the friendship/romance between Asa and Eagle. Eagle respects Asa’s right to make her own decisions, and they make a great team, solving problems, causing trouble and learning to respect each other. They actually *gasp* COMMUNICATE! Not in an instaluv mind meld, but in a natural progression from enemies->allies->friends->sweethearts. It’s great. Best of all, their relationship arc involves very little “ya angst.”

The Problems:

Although there’s a lot to like about this ya sci-fi adventure debut, it also has some major issues. (1) The speedy pacing comes at the cost of description, setting and imagery. Without sufficient worldbuilding, the book almost feels more like a political thriller with slight sci-fi elements, instead of a sci-fi adventure. (2) The actual writing, while swift and utilitarian, could have used a good editor. There aren’t “typos,” per se, but the prose is choppy, voiceless, repetitive and, at times, disorienting. The author also overused sentence fragments. This is not what I expect from traditionally published fiction. The choppy flow caused some confusion, for me. Sometimes, the characters seemed to read each other’s minds and I couldn’t understand the “subtext.” Other times, I couldn’t tell the flow of time between scenes. (3) The Ending. Even though I kind of liked the twist at the end, I would have been frustrated with it, if I didn’t have the guarantee of a sequel in hand. It’s too vague and leaves too many loose ends [highlight to view spoiler: such as, “What happens with Asa’s mom? Is she lying about her absence from Fane or is Asa’s father lying?”]. I hope book II resolves my questions.

Overall:

A ya sci-fi with interesting politics and adventure, but only bare bones worldbuilding and style. I have the Netgalley eARC of book II, and I’m definitely going to read it because, like I said, this debut author shows promise in her quick pacing and sci-fi ideas. There’s so little genuine sci-fi or adventure in the romance- and dystopia-driven YA market—I just have to give the author a second chance.

Recommendation:

I definitely wouldn’t say, “Don’t read this.” It depends on your priorities. In fact, I think reluctant girl readers would devour this. (And I’m going to find out if that’s true, in my next teen library event, “speed dating books”! Inherit the Stars will be in the book pool.) The proactive female protagonist, the gorgeous cover, the immediacy of the writing style, the engaging first chapter, and the depth of the friendship/romance all recommend it to reluctant readers. I would have loved it, as a teen. Other genre fans may enjoy it as a quick, fun read; however, the long list of problems may understandably deter a wider audience. Hence only 2.5/5 stars. But we’ll see if book II improves!

2.5/5 STARS

“The Great Network is an ancient web of routes and gates, where sentient trains can take you anywhere in the galaxy in the blink of an eye.”

Premise:

A drone follows Zen Starling to his home world, after the young thief steals a necklace from a goldsmith’s shop. Everyone assumes Zen is just getting what he’s always deserved. But no one, including Zen himself, expects him to take up with an intergalactic criminal, steal a mysterious, prized object from the emperor’s own sentient train and unveil the truth about The Great Network. YA Sci-Fi, 2015. Philip Reeve is also the author of the The Hungry City Chronicles, which won several honors for teen fiction.

What I Liked:

(1) Railhead’s worldbuilding is much more layered and complex than much YA fare I’ve read. Its short, lyrical explanations suspend disbelief, cover whole galaxies and invent a fluent, unique Railhead vocabulary. It’s all very nonchalant—no infodumps stall the action. This sci-fi reads like wonder-filled fantasy, not like a physics textbook.

(2) The writing itself is decent—it tells the story well, with occasional flairs of poignance or humor. Philip Reeve is a true writer, not just an excellent storyteller. He portrays each world with quick, but keen details and in such a personal way (to Zen) that the reader feels like they know it, too:

“Zen’s home town was a sheer-sided ditch of a place. Cleave’s houses and factories were packed like shelved crates up each wall of a mile-deep canyon on a one-gate world called Angat whose surface was scoured by constant storms…Between the steep-stacked buildings, a thousand waterfalls went foaming down to join the river far below, adding their own roar to the various dins from the industrial zone. The local name for Cleave was Thunder City.

(3) It is morally and emotionally complex. Zen isn’t just a “good kid” from “the wrong side of the tracks.” He enjoys thieving, as a way of life, and the ultimate heist plot appeals to him even before he finds out that Raven, his new boss and author of the heist, may have purer motives than everyone assumes. Raven himself is a very complex character who certainly agrees that the end may justify any means. But the book doesn’t attempt to judge anyone’s behavior—it simply shows the results of their choices. Raven suffers every imaginable agony, due to his lifestyle, and Zen’s actions bring consequences that both touch the reader and awaken Zen to questions of right and wrong. It’s a very realistic awakening, and I think the reader is certain to feel it, as I did.

(4) It explores concepts like gender and artificial intelligence in subtle ways that are perfect for a teen readership. There’s no preaching or titillation, here.

Minor Complaints:

My complaints are minor, overall. (1) Although the story interested me intellectually from the very beginning (the worldbuilding immediately fascinated me), it didn’t engage my emotions until around ch. 19 (out of 50), when Zen starts to feel conflicted; and the plot didn’t have me racing through the pages until the end of ch. 20, when the danger finally makes the leap from theoretical to physical. (2) The characters aren’t particularly intriguing. There’s no voice, little personality and less rumination. Thankfully, the many settings—and the trains—are satisfying characters.

Recommendation:

I think most readers would enjoy this quiet, thoughtful adventure, and I would recommend it much more highly than, say, Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, a highly-lauded and much less enjoyable YA sci-fi of several years back. I know the cover attracts grown men because one snatched the book up before I got a chance to read it, and I caught another staring at it, where it lay on my circulation desk at the library! I think any fan of speculative fiction would find a treat in this quick read. I will definitely be reading more Philip Reeve.

****4/5 STARS

Premise:

When life is complicated by technology and intergalactic relations, time travel is, ironically, the only refuge for the anachronistic personality. Eight characters with various motives travel back in time to the Pliocene era to start afresh. But none of them expected to find that others already had the same idea…1981 Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (1982), Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1981), Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1982)

Why I Read It:

A long-time reader of spec fiction recommended it to me. In fact, he loved this series so much, he ordered it through a special library program and paid the shipping for me, just so I could read it. I was intrigued, when he insisted that Julian May’s work had been suppressed because of her gender. Which…I mean, have you ever heard of Julian May, author of fabulous fiction? I hadn’t. Books 1 & 2 weren’t in our system and we couldn’t order them because they’re not on Amazon Prime. I don’t know if Julian May’s work was suppressed, or not, but I thought I’d highlight The Many-Colored Land because it’s pretty good.

Impressions:

I enjoyed everything about The Many-Colored Land except for the first 55ish pages, which switched perspectives 10+ times. For example, here’s the first paragraph of the long prologue:

“To confirm that it was indeed near death, the great vessel broke through into normal space with lingering slowness. The pain of the usually swift translation was prolonged as well, until the thousand, for all their strength, cursed and wept within their minds and become convinced that they would be trapped. It would be the gray limbo endlessly. That and pain.
But the ship was doing its best.”

…What? The ship? Did May just open the long prologue of a brand new book in the perspective of a spaceship? Maybe more hardcore speculative fans wouldn’t mind this, but I was confused throughout most of the prologue because it was unclear who was supposed to be narrating this thing.

And it didn’t get any easier—not for a while, at least. I felt like I was reading Game of Thrones, again. I prefer getting acquainted with a small cast of characters, which is, perhaps, a vestigial preference from my childhood reading. But I was pretty irritated, by page 54 (not to mention the unnumbered the prologue), because I couldn’t see where the story was going at all.

But then I suddenly breached the real story and everything made sense. If someone had told me, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s only ten perspectives, then the plot unsticks,” I might have enjoyed the beginning more. In the exact sentence when two characters agree to travel back in time, I suddenly understood what all these people had in common: they all wanted a fresh start in the Pliocene. After that, I raced through the pages—their excitement, their united goal, got me excited. Little humor, voice or (reputedly) viable science characterized this book, but once I understood “the point,” I didn’t care. I just wanted to see what would happen to the characters in the new world—and, of course, I wanted to see the new world itself.

My Favorite Bits:

Confession: I adored Richard almost immediately, even though he’s a jerk, in the beginning. What can I say? Growth makes a character shine. He’s basically Han Solo. Who ever hated Han Solo for being a jerk? Well, probably lots of people. Whatever.

I also loved the lush, engaging worldbuilding in the Pliocene. It’s the best part of the book. I really got a sense of why these characters were so keen to ditch the 22nd century and settle into the past. You may be able to imagine the excellent narrative detail of the Pliocene just from the prologue quote. There’s some really lovely stuff. The worldbuilding is also kind of…fantasy-esque. Which was a total and welcome surprise, to me!

The plot is nice, but it moves rather slower than I expected, like with Dragonflight. Perhaps that was the plot norm, in the 80s, or perhaps the saga was just warming up.

Overall:

A really fun read. 3.5 stars. It wasn’t my favorite thing ever, but I’m going to continue reading because my friend is ordering them for me (hah, free books? Yes please!). Otherwise I wouldn’t be in any particular hurry…after all, I haven’t yet gotten to read the last installment of The Raven Boys! But I’m really glad I got to read this.

Recommendations:

I won’t set any age limit on this. I think anyone might enjoy it, if it appeals to both my friend and me; his tastes in speculative fiction are very different than mine. (He’s the one who didn’t like The Scorpio Races!) Children, teens and adults of both genders would probably enjoy it. The audiobook is also a decent option.

3.5/5 STARS