Posts Tagged ‘Children’s’

cinder_cover

Premise :

Cinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing. Unfortunately, she’s also a cyborg, and cyborgs are considered the lowest of the low in Earthen and Lunar societies. Cyborgs are even used as test subjects for plague research. So the last thing Cinder expects is a business call from Crown Prince Kai of the Eastern Commonwealth. But before Cinder gets a chance to fix his droid, her horrible stepmother volunteers her for plague research.

Things aren’t going well for the prince, either. His father, the king of the Eastern Commonwealth, is falling to the plague and the evil, power hungry Lunar Queen Levana is threatening to glamour the prince into political marriage in exchange for the cure. YA Sci-Fi/Fairytale Retelling, published 2012. Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee for Young Adults (2014), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2014), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2012).

First Impressions :

I decided to listen to the Cinder audiobook after hearing how popular it still is among my library’s 2016 summer reading teens. For the first quarter of the book, only the technological developments (such as Cinder’s cyborg traits and the little robot droids wandering around everywhere) kept me entertained. The worldbuilding is interesting on the surface, but unfortunately, it remains undeveloped. The characters, while not simplistic themselves, fall into simplistic groups of “good guys” or “bad guys,” until we meet my favorite character later into the book. I was still unsure, at 20-25% percent, what the book was going to be about

What I Liked :

But when Dr. Erland injects Cinder with the plague, I was immediately intrigued—how would she get out of this one? I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but this is where things start to get fun. The plot becomes clearer, as we find out that it hinges on several questions: Will Dr. Erland find a cure to save all of Earth? How can Prince Kai resist the evil Lunar Queen’s powers? Are all Lunars as evil as she is? And—perhaps most important—could there be another Lunar heir?

Even though some of these questions have predictable answers, I still enjoyed the ride, especially once Dr. Erland was introduced. This morally ambiguous doctor is a kind of a trickster—I couldn’t figure out where his loyalties lay until the very end. But his loyalties matter, big time. I also enjoyed the clever nods to the Cinderella story—reimagined, of course.

But my favorite aspect of the book is how the author develops the theme of prejudice by showing how we, as humans, can unintentionally fall into the “ist” traps. The prejudice, particularly surrounding the Lunars and their mental abilities, is complex and interesting, and as I have just started the audio version of Book II, I can tell you that the prejudices continues to be examined there.

Other Stuff :

The only actually irritating thing about this book is that Cinder refuses to tell the prince she’s a cyborg. I mean, seriously. JUST TELL HIM ALREADY! He’s telling you state secrets and you’re like, “What if he finds out I’m 30% metal?”

Overall :

Overall, this is pretty good YA. The plot is very “Cinderella,” but the idea is much more sci-fi than a lot of YA out there, and I enjoyed the themes developed by Meyer. Unfortunately, since the setting is painted almost entirely from Cinder the Cyborg mechanic’s perspective, we don’t get much in the way of cultural examination or character study. But we do get a fun, super clever sci-fi retelling of the Cinderella story and an ending that left me excited for more.

Recommended To :

Teens in general. It’s not too nerdy or too romantic for any particular group, and the story questions will probably keep them entertained. Some adults will enjoy this, as well, if they don’t mind the predictability and general lack of worldbuilding.

The Audiobook :

The audiobook is a perfect, relaxing way to enjoy this book. There’s no real “adult content,” so this would be a fun story to listen to with family.

3.5/5 STARS

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Bookshelf roundups” are just what they sound like: they “roundup” my latest reviews and upcoming reviews.

Recent Reviews

Yo readers! I’ve been reading a TON of YA, this month. Here’s the roundup, thus far:

First up was The Children of Icarus, a YA Fantasy by young author Caighlan Smith.

Children of Icarus

Kiersten White’s fabulous Alt Historical YA, And I Darken, was next:

My favorite of the bunch was a crossover fantasy from the 1980s: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.

The-Blue-Sword

I’m always looking for fantasies like this book, so I welcome your suggestions! This was a five-star, for me.

My latest review was of a new serial YA Dystopian called “ReMade,” put out by Serial Box Publishing.

Remade

Multiple authors, including the author And I Darken, Kiersten White, will contribute to this serial; episode one, authored by Matthew Cody, will be released on Sept 14th, 2016.

Upcoming Reviews

But in the next two weeks, I’ll be reviewing a couple of adult picks, in addition to an upcoming YA:

The Thief of Kalimar by Graham Diamond, a 1979 middle-eastern-flavored Fantasy that was recently republished as an ebook.

The Golden Torc by Julian May, book 2 of The Saga of the Pliocene Exile, an adult sci-fi published in the 1980s and republished by Tor in 2013.

Aaaaaand Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, a Latin-flavored YA Fantasy which will be published Sept 6th by Sourcebooks Fire. [Review now available!]

Labyrinth Lost.jpg

Isn’t that cover creepy!?

What have you been reading lately? What are you planning to read next? I do hope you’ll link your next “bookshelf roundup” to this post so I can see what you’re reading, too!

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!

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?

“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

I would like to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you the book lover’s 7 booktag! Do steal it and pass it around. You can do it on Facebook, too…
A Book or Author You Wish More People Had Read:
The Scorpio Races!!! Everyone seems to have read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver series (which I don’t like) or her Raven Boys series (which is fine) but The Scorpio Races is by far her best. It won the Printz Award, a screenplay is being written and it is my most hearted book. Like, ever.
Scorpio
A BRILLIANT Book or Author You Just Discovered:
I adored Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth! The audiobook was absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this memoir. A fascinating look into the social problems, healthcare and midwifery of the 1950s east end.
callthemidwife
A Book or Author That Has Been On Your TBR List For WAY TOO LONG:
I have been meaning to read Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler for WAY TOO LONG, people, way, way too long. Ever since I read about it in Donald Maass’s Writing The Breakout Novel. Which was long ago. So I just checked it out and I’ll let you know what I think of it.
wildseed
Your Last Guilty Pleasure Read:
Hehe. Vampire Academy. I was quite surprised by the character-building and the structure in Mead’s world. I particularly liked the social fabric between the guardians and the Moroi–the stigma of being a “blood whore,” the single-mother situation among the female guardians, etc. That was really well developed and added credibility to the world.
vampire
A Book You Are Proud to Have Recently Finished:
The Penguin Guide to the Constitution, I suppose. *BRAG*
const
An Author or Genre You Need to Read More of: 
I tend toward children’s and YA because they’re quicker and often happier, so I need to read more adult fiction, particularly sci-fi and epic fantasy. Asimov, Brent Weeks, Mercedes Lackey, Vonnegut, etc.
A Book or Author that Really Is Next TBR:
Well, I’m currently alternating among three: Brandon Sanderson’s lively Mistborn: The Final Empire, Flannery O’Connor’s terrifying Wise Blood & the fascinating The Nations Within by Deloria and Lytle. After that? Wild Seed and probably The Martian.
mistbornwise bloodthe martianTheNationsWithin
I would love to hear your answers to the 7 questions! Link me to your post, if you do the tag.

For Christians everywhere: we should  welcome magic in fiction, not fear it.