Tag Archive: science fiction

Review: Champion by Marie Lu


Champion by Marie Lu

This is the third and final book in the Legend trilogy and it does not disappoint.  June and Day have almost entirely stopped communicating with one another now that Day has his brother Eden to care for and June is busy learning to be the next leader of the Senate.  Day also is keeping his deteriorating health secret from everyone, though he is finding it harder and harder to deal with the blindingly strong headaches.  Eden may be the key to stopping a plague that threatens an invasion of the Republic by the Colonies, so June asks Day to join her in Denver without mentioning his brother.  Reunited, the two feel their connection immediately, but both are holding secrets that they don’t want to reveal.  Yet they are also the only two people who have the ability to change the course of a war where winning could be the biggest loss of all. 

Lu has written her entire series with a grand feel of cinematography behind it.  In each of the scenes, they come to life as if shown on a mental screen.  Her writing is crisp and clear, yet it also delves into murky situations that are less than clear.  The question of loyalty to a government that has hurt your own family, killing some members, grapples with dark issues.  It is this wonderful mix of action and adventure but also thoughtful questions about larger issues that make this series compellingly readable. 

The characters of Day and June have grown throughout the entire series.  Both started at very different places than they ended up, and yet the growth has been natural, with distinct reasons for the changes.  Their romance, flawed and consistently stumbling, is gut wrenching and entirely beautiful.  They are a couple that are drawn together like moths to flames and then burned, retreat and then burn themselves again.  The romance just like their character development is honest, natural and glorious.

An action filled, taut ending to an incredible series, this book also has plenty of heart, romance and wisdom.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

More Than This by Patrick Ness

more than this

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Released September 10, 2013.

After Seth drowns, bones smashed against rocks, muscles clenching in the icy water, he wakes up.  He is naked except for some bandages and very weak, but most disturbing, he is back in England at his childhood home.  A home that contains many of the worst memories of his life, except for his most recent ones.  There is no one else around, even the insects are silent and no birds or planes fly overhead.  Seth is completely alone in a world that is covered with dust and dirt.  Seth can’t sleep either because whenever he does, memories sweep over him, specifically ones that he would prefer to never remember and it’s as if he was living them all over again.  Is this the afterlife?  His own personal hell?  Seth has to first figure out how to survive and then start finding answers.

Ness creates a world, a hell, an afterlife, a future that is breathtakingly haunting.  It is profoundly empty, amazingly personal, and intensely confusing.  Readers who enter this book will be taken on a journey that is astonishing.  It is a puzzle that they will solve along with Seth and the answer will be astonishing.  I don’t want to give things away because the book is such a journey to the truth.

Ness writes powerfully of first loves, suicide and having to life with one’s decisions.  Seth’s death in the water is described in great detail, each moment captures, each pain explored.  As the memories flash into his head, the reader starts to understand what drove Seth to kill himself but also other deep truths about Seth and his life. 

Complex, gritty and profoundly beautiful, this book is a wonder of writing.  It is beyond inventive, taking readers to a place they never expected to find.  You are in the hands of a master storyteller here in one of his best books yet.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

lord of opium

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

Released September 3, 2013.

This is the sequel to the award-winning The House of the Scorpion, which came out in 2004.  Matt, clone of the dead drug lord El Patron, is now master of the Land of Opium, his own country.  All of the problems he saw as he grew up in Opium are still there.  The eejits, people who have been made into zombies by having computer chips placed in their brains, are still required for Opium to thrive.  Making opium and selling it is still the way that everything is funded.  And everyone expects Matt to step quickly into the same brutal ways as El Patron used.  Matt desperately wants to fix everything wrong with Opium, but he comes up against many obstacles.  Matt must quickly learn who to trust in the web of lies that El Patron created. 

I was thrilled to see a new book in this series, but concerned that I would have to re-read the first one because it has been nine years.  Somehow Farmer manages to place you right back into the world without rehashing the first book.  I found myself immediately recalling the first book, probably because of the strength of Farmer’s stories and world building.  It all came rushing back with no problems.  Now that is amazing writing!

Matt is such a complex character, just as he was in the first book.  He is both indebted to Opium and yet despises it.  He loves the land and the place itself but hates the reason it exists too.  He resents the money and wealth that surrounds him yet finds himself unable to not use it.  Matt is trapped in the most complicated of moral and ethical dilemmas and there is no clear way forward at any time.  The result is a novel that is riveting thanks to those deep questions.

The setting of lush Opium is written with care and detail.  Farmer lingers over descriptions of Opium as the last green place on earth and the fact that it is probably the only salvation for the rest of the world.  Her pacing is also nicely handled.  She slows it at times to allow relationships to build but the action keeps the pace fast and the book flies past.

A worthy successor to a great first novel, this book does not suffer from any sophomore slump.  Welcome back to the world of Opium!  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

love in the time of global warming

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Released August 27, 2013.

Seventeen-year-old Pen has survived the earthquake and tsunami wave in her native Los Angeles, but all of her family and friends have disappeared.  For weeks, Pen stays in her destroyed home, living off of the canned goods that her paranoid father kept in the basement.  But when the group of men come, she flees, aided by one of them and given a van, food, water, a map, and the promise of her family being alive.  Leaving her home, Pen finds only desolation and monsters.  There are giants on the loose, stomping around and leaving piles of gleaming clean human bones behind.  When Pen meets her first giant, she blinds his last good eye and flees.  She lands in a house where everyone is high on lotus juice and meets Hex who encourages her to dally there with him.  But Pen is on a quest to find her family, hoping that they are alive in Las Vegas.  Hex joins her and soon others aid her in her journey that is filled with love, butterflies, and danger.

A retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, Pen is a modern Odysseus on her own journey home.  Block’s writing is amazing.  There are passages that are piercingly true like her description of a mall: “The mall, with its greasy smells and labyrinth of silver escalators leading nowhere, always made me hungry and tired like I needed something I could never have.”  Her phrases sing and move, illuminating the truth beyond our surface world.  Block writes of crushes and lust and love in a way that speaks to what happens in the heart and under the skin, a blistering wonder.

Pen is a curious heroine.  She is a reluctant hero, at first unable to leave her home, then blinding the giant in defense.  The book is about her transformation from normal teen girl to rocking hero willing to put it all on the line for those she loves.  She grows in confidence and skill in natural way.  But much of this book is wonderfully unnatural.  The ties to The Odyssey make for a book that is monstrous as well as beautiful.  It is a tale that is unable to be categorized thanks to its genre-bending mix of dystopian fantasy, myths, and modern reality.

Block has created another amazing read in this book.  Her fans will rejoice at a new book from her, but this is also one that will create new fans.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Henry Holt and Company at ALA.


Starglass by Phoebe North

Terra lives with her abusive, drunken father aboard the Asherah, a spaceship the size of a city.  Hers is the generation that will finally arrive at their destination planet after traveling for over 500 years in space.  Terra’s mother died of cancer, a disease completely unknown on the ship before her death, leaving Terra with her absent older brother and cruel father.  Terra is now 16 and assigned to a job, botanist, though she had wanted to be an artisan because she loves to draw.  Her father doesn’t approve of her art and Terra does not enjoy her dull work as a botanist.  Soon Terra is being courted by her father’s apprentice and is drawn into a mutinous scheme to change the hierarchy aboard the ship.  Her work as a botanist is also getting more interesting.  What more could a girl want than romance and a good job?  Terra definitely wants more, she wants answers.

Out of a standard spaceship story foundation, North has crafted something very special.  This small city-sized spaceship is filled with secrets, ones that spell freedom but also ones that can kill.  Yet the story is less about the endless travel and the claustrophobia of a closed society and much more about one young woman, her choices and the way in which an individual can impact the community around them.  It is a story of opportunities both good and bad, choices that are impossible to make, and a responsibility beyond oneself. 

North has woven Jewish traditions into the story and carefully changed them as if the passage of time had both torn at them but also strengthened parts of them.  The community on the ship is cohesive but deeply fractured.  It is this society that makes the book very compelling.  It is also Terra herself too, a young woman deeply grieving the loss of her mother and seemingly without any choices in life.  Yet she finds strength to fight back, to choose and to love on her own terms. 

Startling, beautiful and richly written, get this one into the hands of science fiction readers.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The author of the Monstrumologist series returns with this riveting story of alien invasion.  The planet knew that the aliens had arrived, but the silence for days left them feeling hopeful.  Then the 1st wave took away electricity and cars.  The 2nd wave took out the coasts.  The 3rd wave brought the Red Death.  The 4th wave took away trust.  Cassie is one of the survivors of all four waves and just may be the only remaining human on earth.  She has seen her family die, her mother from the Red Death and her father killed right in front of her, but her little brother may still be alive, since he was taken to safety on a school bus.  But Cassie also knows that it is death to trust anyone at all, so she is not sure whether where Sammy was taken is safe or not.  Now she is alone, just her and her M16, trying to reach him.  Then Evan Walker enters her life, saving her from a gunshot wound.  Cassie knows to trust no one.  So how does she deal with a situation where she was to trust to heal and maybe even to save her brother.

This is one incredible novel.  The pacing is what I have to talk about first.  There are moments where I could not turn the pages fast enough, then others where I had to walk away for a bit to deal with the latest heart-shattering reveal.  This book is a dance of hope and terror, trust and knowing better.  Yancey proves quickly that he is not afraid to shock, to kill, to maim.  This book is filled with death, filled with despair, yet it is also about strength, hope and humanity.  Yancey writes this perfectly, keeping readers on a razorblade of tension throughout. 

A large piece of the success of this book are the characters and the book tells their individual stories.  Cassie is one strong heroine, who is willing to go through hell to get her little brother back.  She is not fearless but is always courageous and willing to do what has to be done.  Readers find out before Cassie herself does what happened to her little brother.  This adds to that tension, especially since one doesn’t trust Yancey not to do horrific things even to the littlest of children.  There is Zombie, a boy that Cassie went to school with, who has been trained to be a child soldier since the aliens came.  And finally, there is Evan, the farmboy heartthrob who is dangerous but delicious too.

Expect this to be one of the big books this summer.  It would be a pleasure to booktalk, since the alien invasion in waves basically sells this.  Perhaps most telling of all is that this is now the only way that I see an alien invasion happening.  It is clever, chilling and deadly.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

Review: Slated by Teri Terry


Slated by Teri Terry

Kyla is just about ready to be released from the hospital after being Slated, her memory erased after she committed a crime.  She is sent to live with a new family and in a new life, unable to find out about who she had been and what caused her to be Slated.  But Kyla is different.  She has horrible nightmares that may or may not be flashbacks to her past.  She can draw, with both hands, something that she realizes could cause problems if discovered.  She has a voice in her head, cautioning her about things and not revealing too much.  But because Kyla is different, she may also be in more danger than anyone else.  Can she continue to follow the rules and pretend to be just another happy Slated teen?  Or will the truth she discovers be too much to maintain the façade?

In her debut novel, Terry has created a dystopian science fiction future that is dangerously possible.  The setting is the United Kingdom, but one that has changed entirely to a police state where ideas that are dangerous to those in power are worthy of getting Slated.  Against that already tense background, the drama of Slated teens plays out, struggling to learn to live, to think for themselves, and to find their way.  Teens will see their own struggles here, relating quickly to the premise.

Kyla is an intriguing heroine, she realizes she is different, but has no perception as to why.  Terry allows Kyla to be a true enigma to herself and to the reader.  This makes for a compelling read, but the reveal is placed so close to the end of the book that it feels hurried.  I would have liked to see either another chapter after the final one to help with that feel or for more hints to have been given ahead of time and along the way.  But that is a minor quibble and I was happy to see that this is the first in a series.

This fascinating and dark look into a possible future is filled with foreboding and lifted by strong writing.  Fans of Hunger Games will enjoy this new heroine facing different challenges in an equally ferocious world.  Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.


Stung by Bethany Wiggins

When Fiona wakes up in her bedroom, something is very wrong.  All of her clothes are faded and there is dust and trash everywhere.  The house has obviously been abandoned for some time.  When Fiona looks in the bathroom mirror, she is not looking into her own face.  Yes, those are her eyes, but she suddenly has breasts and hips, not the flat thirteen-year-old body she had been expecting to see.  She also has a strange tattoo on one hand, a black oval with ten marks around it.  Monsters are walking the city, attacking people and others have banded together to fight them off.  Fiona recognizes people she knows, but they are not friendly.  Chased through the ruined city, Fiona takes shelter in the sewers where she discovers help that comes with a price. 

Wiggins has created such a compelling scenario here.  It is a story of human hubris, the death of the honeybees, human intervention and eventually the fall of society itself.  The details of society’s collapse is told tantalizingly slowly in the novel.  Readers learn of things as Fiona’s memories return, and the pieces click into a whole background that is believable and impressive. 

Fiona herself is a heroine who will appear immensely to teen readers.  She is completely out of place in the world, but through it all shows tremendous grit and determination.  The characters around her are equally fully depicted: her romantic interest, younger brother, and various villainous characters.  They are complicated enough that it is difficult to tell hero from villain at times, adding to the thrill of the read.

The writing is solidly done with a brisk if not breakneck pacing.  This book does not slow down, it simply moves forward from one evil to the next, slowing only for romantic moments that are natural and fully developed. 

Get this into the hands of Hunger Games fans who will find the same mix of romance, horror and action here.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

maggot moon

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Standish Treadwell thinks differently than all of the others.  He can’t read and can’t write because the letters move around in front of his eyes, but he does come up with amazing thoughts.  That’s one of the reasons that he and his best friend Hector get along so well.  Hector sees past Standish’s different colored eyes and understands that Standish is really brilliant.  So when Hector disappears, Standish is left alone to be bullied.  It’s all because Hector went to the other side of the wall and saw what was happening there.  It’s a secret that the Motherland doesn’t want anyone to know about, but Standish starts to figure everything out when the Lush family is taken and the Moon Man appears.  This dark, violent novel shows us a bleak future where differences are stomped out but as Standish demonstrates are just as vital as they are today.

This is one of those novels that unfolds as you read it, layered and complex.  Science fiction set in the 1950s, readers will try to figure out where the book is set and how this happened.  Set in a totalitarian regime in what appears to be England where World War II ended very differently, this book is stark and tension filled.  Just the illustrations alone with the fly and the rat mark this as an unusual read. 

What I found most amazing about this book is that we are not just told that Standish thinks differently than others, we are shown it in his narrative voice.  The book is far from linear, journeying almost as a stream of consciousness through the past.  Standish will have readers themselves looking at the world through his eyes and what an accomplishment that is!

This book defies description by genre and really is impossible to summarize well.  Let me just say that it is powerful, brutal and set in bleakness but never far from hope.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer


Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

The second book in the Lunar Chronicles continues the story of Cinder, who is now imprisoned waiting to be taken to Luna.  It is also the story of Scarlet, a newly introduced character, whose grandmother is missing.  Scarlet refuses to give up on her grandmother, though no one is willing to help her.  Eventually, she meets Wolf, a street fighter, who is willing to take her to where her grandmother is being held.  Along the way, the stories of the two girls draw closer and closer together as the ties between them are clarified.  The book rings with action and adventure, the echo of spaceships, and the wonder of mental Lunar abilities.  Identities are revealed, friendships are forged, and one is left breathlessly waiting for book three.

Meyer writes an amazing tale.  Her pacing is just right, lingering at moments that readers want to never end and rushing headlong into the action.  The result is a riveting read, where the author has also created a world that is believable and intriguing.  Her characterization is also strong, with now two incredible female protagonists.  Perhaps best of all is that you can rely on Meyer to not have men rescue her heroines, in fact they are much more likely to be the ones rescuing the men. 

So many series succumb to the sophomore slump, but this book is just as wild, riveting and immensely readable as the first.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.


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