Review: Obsidian Mirror

Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher. Dial Books for Younger Readers, a member of Penguin Group. 2013. Library copy.

The Plot: Time travel with a magical mirror.

You want more?

There are also the Shee. You know, the cold blooded not-human beings of legend who steal human children and never really age.

You want more?

A present-day boy searching for his father and a future girl looking for a way to save her world.

Did I mention the time travel?

The Good: Did I mention the time travel?

Jake Wilde has deliberately gotten himself expelled from boarding school and sent to Wintercombe Abbey, the home of his enigmatic guardian, Oberon Venn. A teacher is his reluctant guardian on the trip home, but no worries there. It’s Venn’s home, not Jake’s. And Jake has no intention of running away. He wants to confront Venn, convinced Venn has murdered Jake’s father.

Sarah is running. The Replicant is chasing her. She is alone, running, determined. She has a goal: Wintercombe Abbey. And she has a mission. Wintercombe Abbey is familiar, even though it’s not the place she remembers. She talks herself into a job so she can stay and find what she seeks.

Oberon Venn is surprised to see Jake. And when Sarah shows up, he isn’t sure who she is but he thinks he can use her. Oberon Venn is, you see, a man with a mission. His beloved wife is dead. So what to do? Find a way to travel through time to prevent it from happening. Jake’s father, Venn’s loyal friend, was involved.

I don’t want to give too much away about these overlapping stories —  but I really loved how it wove together. Not only is Venn researching time travel, using the Obsidian Mirror, but Sarah has traveled through time to stop him. While she is vague about sharing the details of her own dystopian future, one thing is clear: the cause is the mirror. Destroy the mirror, save the world. So, as you can see, Jake, Venn, and Sarah have competing interests. Jake, to find his father; Venn, to change the past and save his wife; Sarah, to change the future. Not only are there interests in conflict with each other, no one quite knows all the secrets to the Mirror and how it works. So it’s not as simple as finding the Mirror. It’s not as simple as possessing the Mirror.

As you can imagine, this means that there are peaks at Sarah’s future; Jake’s present; and a trip or two to the past as Venn tries to control the mirror.

But wait, you ask, what about the Shee?

All of this time travel stuff — what you might call the science fantasy aspect of the book — is played out against what is happening on the grounds of Wintercombe Abbey. A place where the Shee live, including the Queen of the Wood, and an ageless (or only slowly aging) human, Gideon — a child taken hundreds of years ago. Venn is aware of them; knows about them; and I loved this odd mash up of genre and expectation.

Oh, and trust me: it may seem that I have given too much away. Trust me, I have not. There is still plenty of reveals and plot twists for you to uncover on your own. There is the Scarred Man! And Mortimer Dee! And Moll! My favorite may be Moll.

The Obsidian Mirror has a sequel, The Slanted Worlds, coming out in March.

Other reviews:  Forever Young Adult; The New York Times; The Book Smugglers.


Review: Tandem

Tandem: The Many Worlds Trilogy, Book I by Anna Jarzab. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. 2013. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Sasha Lawson is an ordinary teenager. She lives with her grandfather; is a good girl; has friends.

Princess Juliana is rich and privileged, and facing an arranged marriage for the good of her kingdom.

When Juliana disappears, the powers that be fear the resulting chaos.

Sasha and Juliana live in parallel worlds; they are alternate versions of each other, identical in looks, but two different people.

Sasha is kidnapped, taken back to Juliana’s world, convinced to pretend to be Juliana to keep the peace. Being a princess isn’t easy; being the person responsible for keeping a fragile peace isn’t easy; and pretending isn’t easy. The longer Sasha is Juliana — the longer she pretends — the more she becomes connected to the people of Juliana’s world.

Where do her loyalties lie? Where does Sasha belong?

The Good: The whole idea of alternate universes is one I find intriguing. Someone who looks like you, but isn’t you? It’s like the ultimate alternate universe fan fiction — what if you were you, but you were a princess? Or, for the princess longing for normality, what if you were you but a regular student?

Sasha’s world is ours. Or, at least in this volume, appears to be our world. One can never be sure in science fiction!

So, not that Sasha’s world is boring — sorry, Sasha — but Juliana’s world being so different is what interested me more. Juliana is a princess of the United Commonwealth of Columbia. Long story short: the American Revolution didn’t end there the way it did here. The UCC is, roughly speaking, the eastern half of the United States; the western half is also a kingdom, called Farnham. Juliana’s arranged marriage is to the heir of that kingdom. While that may be the place our two worlds branch out from each other, the existence of alternates — identical people in each universe — it’s not simple. Sasha and Juliana may look alike, but they don’t have the same parents (or, rather, their parents are not alternates of each other). Other alternates exist; they are not unique.

I loved discovering all the things where there world was different from ours. My favorite elements of Tandem were Sasha’s negotiation of this brave new world.

Tandem includes some of the science and physics of alternate worlds, how they work, how someone travels from one world to the other. The UCC is more advanced in their scientific progress, because they have figured out all of this while our world, well, it’s still theory. While the UCC is more ahead in some areas, not so much in others.

Since it’s through Sasha that we learn about the UCC, what the reader learns is limited to what she is told or what she discovers. Juliana is her father’s heir, and there is a complicated story involving her father, mother, and stepmother that means she doesn’t get along with her stepmother or half siblings. Sasha, without Juliana’s emotional baggage and history, sees them differently. There are at least two threats to the UCC: a revolutionary group called Libertas, and the neighboring country of Farnham. Here, too, Sasha’s ignorance serves her well. When she meets Prince Callum, she’s more open to him, and his friendship (and maybe more), than Juliana would be.

Much as I love reading about the British Royalty, it’s not the government I wish we had. So, going in, my sympathies are with the group Libertas. (Anyone watching the time travel mystery series Continuum on Syfy? I have the same thing, there, in a slightly different context. My sympathies are to the future revolutionaries, not the future corporations.) I’m not sure if that’s me as a reader, or not, but I’m really curious how this plays out over the trilogy. The politics, and who is good and who is bad, is muddied and unclear, all the more so because Sasha has such limited context to put anything in. It was a bit frustrating at times, and I reminded myself that this a trilogy so, of course, there would be unanswered questions. And, of course, the most important thing is not the politics of the UCC but Sasha’s own survival.

One last thing: Sasha is forcibly taken into Juliana’s world and made to take her place. The theory is, the marriage with Prince Callum has to go forward; and the government is so shaky that the heir missing could cause upset. The person who does this is a young member of the King’e Elite Service, Thomas. Let’s just say, without any spoilers, that Sasha ends up being more willing to forgive Thomas and his reasons than I am. I have a feeling that, as the trilogy continues, I’ll have to get over my feelings towards Thomas.

Other reviews: Alexa Loves Books; MegaMad4Books; Alice Marvels.

Review: Fuse

Fuse: Book 2 of the Pure Trilogy by Julianna Baggott. Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group. 2013. Review copy from conference. Sequel to Pure. Part of my “vacation reads,” books for adults to read during their vacation — hey, it’s summer vacation! Also, this is a sequel to an Alex Award winner; and just like Pure, there is plenty of teen appeal. Spoilers for Pure.

The Plot: Fuse takes up right after the events of Pure. To recap, it’s nine years after the Detonations, a world-wide series of nuclear explosions. “Pures” survived, unscathed, in a protected Dome ruled by controlling dictator; wretches outside where burnt and fused and scarred by both the Detonations and the world that resulted.

In Pure, a group of teens from both inside and outside the Dome came together, put aside prejudices and preconceptions to start trusting each other to try to make a difference in their world.

In Fuse, those efforts are interrupted when Partridge, 18, a Pure, discovers that his father (leader in the Dome) will not let me go. His father takes a small child, a wretch, and “cures” her, returning her back to the world to tell his message: “This girl is proof that we can save you all. If you ignore our plea, we will kill our hostages one at a time.” Why is his father so desperate to recover his son?

As Partridge and Lyda, another Pure, try to figure out whether to return to the Dome, those from outside the Dome — Pressia, Bradwell, El Capitan, Helmud — race to try to uncover the secrets of Partridge’s father, Ellery Willux. They already know that he engineered the Detonations, that he is a cruel and evil man who is also brilliant and manipulative. Willux is not brilliant enough: his “cure” is imperfect. Part of the answers that Pressia and the others seek is the complete, real cure.

In a destroyed, dangerous world, Partridge, Pressia, and their friends rush to find answers and to create a better future.

The Good: Guys, it was tough to try to describe that plot!

At this point, let’s assume that you have either read Pure or don’t care about spoilers.

Baggott has created a stunning dystopia, both inside and outside the Dome. Even before the Detonations went off, the world was ours but not-ours. Similar historical events and geography, but the names are just a bit off kilter and the pre-Detonation politics and society such that it’s not quite our world before. I’d go so far as to say that the government at the time of the Detonation was a dystopia. Those are the type of world-building details that I really, really like.

Inside the Dome, Willux has created his idea of a perfect world. Everyone knows their place, especially women. People are re-engineered to make them better. Partridge escaped this world, but he also wants to return there to save it. It’s his home, his friends, and it’s safer than life outside the Dome. Lyda, another former Dome inhabitant, views the Dome differently. She was not the privileged (albeit neglected) son of the Leader. She loves Patridge, but she doesn’t want to  return to the Dome.


“[Lyda] doesn’t despise her old self as much as she fears her. Her trapped life was so comfortable that she’d still be in it if she’d been allowed a choice. If her old self had been told that she would one day find herself out here, living among the wretches, she would have pitied her new self. But she’s lucky she got out.” You know what I love about this, aside from the obvious? That it’s also a metaphor for growing up. Childhood is comfortable, a place one would want to stay, but once one has independence, and growth, once one is an adult — how lucky one is! Yes, Lyda has to worry about food and clothes and safety now that she’s left the Dome, but it’s a much better place to be.

Outside of the Dome, life is dangerous and cruel, but it can also be beautiful in its honesty. Pressia, Bradwell, El Capitan and Helmud do not so much want to enter the Dome and be “saved” as to create a safer, better world for everyone outside the Dome.

How unsafe is their world? Each of them was scarred by the Detonations, forever fused to what they were near: Pressia’s hand is a doll, Bradwell’s back contains birds, brothers El Capitan and Helmud are fused together. Children born afterwards are not “Pure,” because the damage done to DNA. It’s not just that their DNA has been altered and society destroyed. It’s a world with cruel, hungry beasts that may have some human in them; even the ground cannot be trusted to be safe. (No, really, there are — things — that live in the ground and can eat you.) Food and water outside the Dome are hard to come by. The technology, the resources, the medicine in the Dome could make the outside world better; and the daily bravery of those outside are something those inside need to see.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Those scarred outside can be scarred inside. El Capitan is on a journey to changing from a hardened military man to a caring young man; while part of the paramilitary he made some brutal choices. His name still causes fear. “Mothers” — women from a suburb who were fused to their children — are now fierce warriors who call all men “Deaths,” blaming them for what the world now is. Lyda they welcome and protect; Partridge they look at with suspicion. (There is also some humor; the Mothers battle the Basement Boys, teenage slackers who fused with video game controllers. Weapon of choice? Lawn Darts.)

In addition to the world building, I just love these characters. Pressia discovered that her life is a lie: her grandfather was not her grandfather, but rather a kind man who saved her and took her in and named her after the Detonations. She had a different name and a different life; she is Partridge’s half sister. She wants to know her past and her self, the parts she forgot; she wants a real hand; and she fights the feelings she has for Bradwell.

Bradwell’s parents were involved in fighting Willux even before the Detonations, so his motivations for seeking answers are different from Pressia’s. He is driven, but in different ways, and I love the half-dance of falling in love these two engage in as they try to survive the world and make things better.

Partridge could easily be dismissed because his life has been, well, soft and easy, but the hard truths he’s learned — especially about how monstrous his father is — has toughened him a bit. (And how’s that for teen appeal! The parent you think is a monster IS a monster!)

Lyda, as mentioned above, is finding herself in the freedom of life outside the Dome.

But El Capitan! Cap is, hands down, my favorite. In Pure, he began as one of the bad guys, but only because, like the others, he was an orphaned teen doing his best to survive. He also had Helmud, his brother, permanently attached, who he had to take care of. Before he meets Pressia and the others, surviving means doing some brutal things. By the events of Fuse, Cap has changed. He’s still tough, but he’s become more compassionate, in part because he has expanded his world of people to care about beyond his brother.

Plot wise, Fuse early on separated the group, so while their is a common, shared goal, everyone ends up in a different circumstances, working towards that end. I won’t give the details, so will avoid sharing the cliffhangers and reveals, but there is lot of action and danger!

So, Fuse (like Pure) is a Favorite Book Read in 2013. And I cannot wait till 2014, when the third and final book, Burn, comes out!

Links to reviews: Rhapsody in Books; Beth Fish Reads; Interview at Caroline Leavitt; BookReporter.

Review: The Fifth Wave

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Book website. First in a trilogy.

The Plot: It is months after the aliens first came, the Others, and sixteen year old Cassie Sullivan is huddled in a tent, alone with just her baby brother’s teddy bear for company.

Cassie is alone and terrified and surviving. So far, she has survived each wave, the waves that have killed billions and continues to kill the handful of human survivors.

The waves of attack started shortly after the alien ships appeared in the sky. Cassie has survived each one: the 1st Wave when the electricity went out, the 2nd Wave of superstorms that wiped out the shorelines and killed billions, the 3rd Wave of disease that killed billions more, and the 4th Wave, of Others who look like humans and are intent on killing the handful of humans who are still alive.

Before Cassie realized what the 4th Wave was, she waved good-bye to her five year old brother Sammy as he was rescued by soldiers.

Cassie is alone and scared. With the Others looking like any other survivor, can she trust the people she meets? Can she rescue her brother?

Ben Parish is in a refuge camp. Like Cassie, he has survived each Wave. Unlike Cassie, he has no family left. He is given a chance for revenge, for vengeance, for redemption, by becoming a soldier in the attack against the Others. He is being trained to hunt and to kill, along with other children and teens. Children and teens who have been rescued by soldiers.

Who do you trust, when the enemy wears familiar faves? Who is the enemy? And what is the 5th Wave?

The Good: I read this the first time on a plane ride home from ALA Midwinter. By the time I got halfway through, by the time Cassie encountered Evan Walker and was trying to figure out whether she could trust him, by the time Cassie’s former high school classmate Ben was being trained to be a soldier by those I (and Cassie) knew to be others, I was so worried for Cassie and Ben and Sammy that I rushed through the second half of the book, fast reading to find out what happens next.

The second time I read this book, knowing what happened, I was able to sit back and see how the pieces fit together. There is the question of battlefields, and that the battle is not just physical attacks but also what is going on internally. “And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.” There is figuring

This is primarily Cassie’s story, her voice is in the first and last chapters, telling the story, but along the way, other chapters are told through other people’s points of view. That’s how we find out about Ben, and a little bit about Sammy, and a little bit about one of the Others. “The Others are so far ahead of us, it’s like comparing the dumbest human to the smartest dog.

Before the aliens came, Ben was a golden boy at his high school: charming and athletic, popular, the boy Cassie had a crush on for years. Cassie was boring and average and not really noticed. The truth is, as is shown in The 5th Wave, is we don’t know what we’re made of until bad stuff happens. Cassie, that average sixteen year old, turns out to be brave and strong and resilient. She may cry (“When I cry — when I let myself cry — that’s who I cry for. I don’t cry for myself. I cry for the Cassie’s that gone“) but it doesn’t stop her. It doesn’t stop her from picking up a gun and firing in self defense. It doesn’t stop her from firing when the person facing her may be a dangerous Other or a human. When the instinct is to run or to face what is happening, she faces what is happening.

Ben ran. When Ben had to face the worst, he ran. His running away, and what he ran away from, is why he’s so intent on becoming a soldier. It’s his chance to show that he he can do the right thing, to stand and not run. Like the other children being groomed as soldiers, he discards his old name for a nickname: “Zombie is everything Ben wasn’t. Zombie is hardcore. Zombie is badass. Zombie is stone-cold.” Here’s the thing, though — and the reader knows it before Ben does because of what Cassie has told us — Ben is trusting the wrong people. Part of the growing dread and the reason I turned the pages is knowing that Ben has trusted the wrong people and wondering when he will realize it and what will happen then.

Trusting the wrong people — and then there is Evan. Evan Walker. Should Cassie trust him? But isn’t trust important, part of what makes us human? “How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.” Whether Cassie should trust Evan is not so much about Evan as it is about Cassie.

The 5th Wave joins my list of Favorite Books Read in 2013, because I adore a book that works on so many levels at the same time. It’s a fast paced turn-pager that also provides much food for thought about what it is to be a human. It gives us the evil alien Others who are intent on eliminating all humans but then gives us a peak into one such Other so that we realize it’s not that simple. There are two equally sympathetic characters, Cassie and Ben, with very different paths — and each of those paths alone makes this an easy book to booktalk. Combined, The 5th Wave will booktalk itself.

And there is so much more! Remember when I mused about characters in books getting their periods? Early on, Cassie is packing her backpack and figuring out what to take? Now, I have to confess to being one of those list-lovers, both in real life and in books, so list = happy anyway.  But this list does something else: it makes us think if, when you only have that one backpack, what do you bring? What is worth the weight? Underwear and photos, toothpaste and sardines. And, for Cassie, tampons, because “I’m constantly worrying about my stash and if I’ll be able to find more.” And this is damn near perfect, because it’s realistic. Society is destroyed and you just can’t run down to the drugstore anytime you want. It acknowledges that Cassie is sixteen so getting her period happens and so it’s part of what she has to be prepared for. It’s not a major plot point, but it’s as important to her survival as getting drinkable water.

And then here is something else, there is so much in The 5th Wave I want to talk about and discuss, that this could go on for another thousand words. Like how, just as Cassie cried for her younger, innocent self, I cried, too — and at how The 5th Wave conveyed just how big and small the losses are, to the world, with wave after wave of attack. Like missing hamburgers or forgetting what someone’s face looks like. Or how my thoughts turn to “would I survive” and then “would I want to.”

The 5th Wave is the first in a trilogy. The question I ask anymore for part of a series is, “does the book answer the question it raised? does it give an ending to its primary plot?” Here, the answer is “yes” and “yes.” The 5th Wave reveals just what the 5th Wave is; and there is a resolution to what I see as the main plot. (See how I avoided spoilers there? “Resolution” is so open and I haven’t said what I see as the “main plot.”) In point of fact, the story was resolved so well that it makes me even more curious as to what will happen in the next book.



Review: When We Wake

When We Wake by Karen Healey. Little, Brown. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: “My name is Tegan Oglietti, and on the last day of my first lifetime, I was so, so happy.” And Tegan, sixteen, was happy. No, her life wasn’t perfect or flawless. Her father, a soldier, had died when she was little. But she had a best friend, and a boyfriend, and a brother and a mother and her music and free running and all that goes away when she dies.

She wakes up in 2128 and it’s all gone. She died, and she thought her donor card meant her organs would be used to keep others alive, but instead her body was used to test cryonics and it worked because now, over a hundred years later, she’s alive. She’s the first  person who has been woken up and she’s in a government lab and everyone she knew is dead.

The world is a very different place, and it’s not just that no one knows who the Beatles are. Australia is not the country she remembered, and it’s not just the climate or slang that has changed. It’s the Australia for Australians movement that bars any type of immigration; it’s the fringe religious group convinced Tegan has no soul and should kill herself; it’s the secrets being kept from her about what the cryonics project is really about.

Tegan is more than a body. She refuses to be bossed around, to be treated as if she is owned by the government. She insists on trying to have a life, again; she goes to school, makes friends. But the secrets are still there. Tegan’s not content to just go with the flow; she’s the type of girl who asks questions and will follow the truth no matter what.

The Good: “We all begin with our past.”

Where to start? Let’s start with Tegan, and the way she shares that one perfect day to show how happy she was in the past. Tegan is a great, nuanced character. That shared day allows us to see Tegan at her best; or, at least, what she thinks of as her best. Both conventional and unconventional; both going with the status quo but also questioning; valuing friendships and love. When her life ends, and her new life begins, we, like Tegan, have a reference point of who and what she was, as she tries to rebuild her life. We understand what she mourns. I liked Tegan, and I rooted for her, and admired her dedication to doing the right thing, not the easy thing.

Then there is how the story is told: yes, Tegan is telling the story, and it’s clear it’s a little bit after the events in When We Wake, but this is not straightforward narrative. At one point, Tegan tells us something she learns about her future world and accepts it and so did I, as the reader, but then Tegan as narrator tells us: “I can’t believe I was such an idiot.” So, she is letting us know — not all we are reading is to be trusted. This is not just about Tegan’s rebirth into a strange new world; it’s about Tegan realizing there’s more she doesn’t know than simply how to use the toilet. (Don’t ask.)

OK — the toilet. First, though, Tegan is sixteen in 2027. Even her “present,” her “now” is our future. This allows things to be familiar enough — just as there is enough familiar between 1999 and 2013 that certain things are the same, as familiar to the reader as to Tegan. Her love of the Beatles, the foods her mom cooks. Somethings are different: the weather has gotten worse and warmer, for example. Why even set it in the future? Partly, it’s to have the scientific and medical knowledge available to freeze Tegan but not to have enough knowledge to wake her up any sooner. Partly, it’s to set the stage for what Tegan discovers about the future in terms of the military, environment, and government.

Oh, and about the cryonics. I was super-creeped out that Tegan signing her donor card meant this happened to her. I perhaps got a little bit over-obsessed about what it means, exactly, to donate one’s body for science and the complications.

So. The toilet. Who would think that in just over a hundred years toilets would be that different? But think back a hundred years, and yes, the little things and the big things have changed. The Beatles? No one has heard about them. I loved discovering the world along with Tegan. There are good things about the future and for a while Tegan thinks that her old friends and family helped make the world a better place. Tegan tries hard to adjust, to create a new life, to understand why it’s happening…. And why is it happening?

As Tegan learns more about the present, she realizes that while some prejudices are gone (Tegan herself is white, but her new and old friends are a diverse group) others have replaced them. (One funny thing: her new friends assuming she shares the prejudices of the past.) There is no perfect world. And  yes, I’m dancing around the secrets she discovers, so that you can discover them with her. It’s both about the way the world is now and why she was brought back, and then what she is willing to do when she learns the truth.

Healey is from New Zealand and When We Wake is set in Australia. Australia is the center, and it is refreshing for a book not to be US-centric. This becomes even more true when more is revealed about current world politics. Short version: the USA is not at the top of the heap.

When We Wake works as a standalone, Tegan waking up like Sleeping Beauty. There will be a sequel, from the perspective of a different character.

Other reviews: Book Smugglers; Far Beyond Reality; Forever Young Adult.


Review: Yesterday

Yesterday by C.K. Kelly Martin. Random House. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: 2063. Freya Kallas is sixteen, locked in her room, while something terrible happens with her brother. She struggles as she is forcibly evacuated, crying out for her brother, hating her father, wishing for her mother to do something. The Toxo is spreading, she overhears, as a needle slides into her arm.

1985. Freya Kallas is sixteen, starting a new school, mourning the death of her diplomat father in an explosion, adjusting to life in Canada after a life spent travelling from country to country.

Freya feels different from the students around her. Her mother says it’s recovering from the flu; her mother says it’s grief. So Freya spends time with her younger sister, mother, and grandfather, trying to make friends. Then she sees him. Garren. She knows she knows him, even though she doesn’t know how, even though he has no idea who she is.

Freya pushes for answers. The more she pushes, the more dangerous it gets, and suddenly she and Garren are on the run and the stakes are bigger than either dreamed.

The Good: OK, first things first. A sixteen year old named Freya in 2063; a sixteen year old named Freya in 1985. Strange dreams, flashes, and a tag line on the author’s website that says “what do you do when your only future is in the past?” It’s time travel, baby!

What I won’t tell you: why Freya is now in 1985. Why she didn’t remember 2063. Who is after her, and Garren, once they begin to realize something is off about their present. I also won’t tell you what 2063 is like. Or what happens to Freya’s brother….


This is time travel the way I like it, no, love it. It makes sense. A scientific explanation is provided. And the reason for it, for the time travel, also makes sense.

There are bad guys; in the first chapter we feel Freya’s anger at her father and as the story progresses, we find reasons to dislike future Freya’s parents. In the present, bad guys are chasing Freya and Garren and it becomes a life and death situation. But . . . . but it’s not that easy. Or simple. It’s not black and white. Instead they are flawed people, doing the best under the circumstances with what they know and believe at the moment. How far is someone willing to go to fix something broken, to save something lost? By the end of Yesterday, I was surprised at the people I ended up respecting because of the choices they’d made.

Freya is wonderful: so determined, no matter what, to obtain the truth. She won’t let feelings get in her way. She’s smart, she’s bright, she’s clever.

The details! I am such a fan of details in books like this. I am the reader asking, what about clothes, what about money, where do they sleep, what about brushing your teeth? Yesterday provides all those answers.

While I was older than Freya in 1985, oh the details! The movies, the TV shows, the music, the clothes — I loved falling back into that time and just wanted to listen to all the 80s music mentioned.

The ending is — well, perfect. One of the best final lines in a book, ever. Fingers crossed, there will be a sequel.

Other reviews: Joint Review by Presenting Lenore and GalleySmith; YA Reads; Dark Faerie Tales.

Review: Adaptation

Adaptation by Malinda Lo. Little, Brown. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Reese and David are returning home from nationals for debate  (they lost, don’t ask) when the world seems to go crazy. They are at the airport when birds begin attacking planes; a series of crashes forces the shut down of all air travel. Their teacher manages to rent a car for the long drive home from Phoenix to San Francisco, but panic on the streets has led to traffic, road closures, evacuations, and worse.

The car hits a bird and crashes; twenty-odd days later, Reese wakes up on a military base. She and David are lucky to be alive. They return home, to relieved parents, to a world that is has recovered from the panic but still has some measure, such as curfews, in place.

All seems normal; even Reese’s best friend, Julian, still believes in conspiracy theories. Only thing is now his theories involve birds and what’s been happening after the crashes. Things even start looking up for Reese personally. After a disastrous encounter with her crush, David, before nationals (don’t ask), Reese meets someone new. All seems normal.

Seems normal.

Except, it’s not. What happened with the birds? And what happened to Reese and David in the military hospital? Why did they have to sign confidentiality agreements about their treatment? Reese is noticing strange things, having strange dreams —

It all comes together in a way Reese couldn’t imagine, couldn’t predict, when she saw the first birds die outside a Phoenix airport.

The Good: So many twists and turns! Just when I thought, aha, THIS is what is going on, BAM, twist, BAM, secret, BAM, not what you think. Why would I ruin this roller coaster adventure ride for you by telling those secrets?

As you can imagine, from that, Adaptation has action and adventure and romance and science fiction, along with other things, and it’s all woven together wonderfully. More than wove together; sometimes, those elements are almost red herrings for what is “really” going on. One minute, birds are attacking and Reese and David are in a horror-type movie, taking a road trip from hell to get back home; the next, they are in a hospital wondering just what happened during the previous month. Next thing, Reese is home and adjusting to being back home, and part of that includes meeting Amber Gray, the girl who sets Reese’s heart racing, so things slow down, a bit, to a cute romance.

Or should I say hot romance? “[Amber] pulled at her hand, like a girl tugging on the string of a balloon that has floated nearly all the way up to the sky, and just like that balloon, Reese felt herself drawn downward, half-floating, half-sinking, towards Amber.”

Reese is dating Amber, adjusting to the realization that she likes girls (but she also likes David), but that doesn’t stop Reese’s nightmares or concerns about what went on while she was at that military base.

Reese, Amber, David — let me say this is one of my favorite love triangles in a YA book. Reese is attracted to both Amber and David; there are no good or bad guys. Yes, Reese likes boys and girls (well, at least one boy,  David, and one girl, Amber), and that’s another aspect about Adaptation. It’s multicultural and diverse, in a casual way, meaning it’s no big deal. It’s not a thing. The teens and adults in Adaptation are straight, bi, and gay; they are white, African American, Asian American. Except, it is a big deal to YA readers because too often the “default” for books is all white, all straight.

Because Adaptation is as diverse as our society. Because it kept twisting and turning, from adventure to romance to love triangle to conspiracy theories. Because I didn’t realize just where it was going to go, even though all the clues were there. Because Reese is smart and vulnerable. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2012. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Elliot North, 18, has spent the last four years trying to keep her family’s estate running. It means not just making sure there is enough for herself, her father, Baron North, and her sister; but also enough to feed and shelter their many servants. The main reason this year there will be enough food is the family is renting out some property to a bunch of successful explorers.

Four years ago, Elliot had a chance to escape her disapproving, controlling father, and to join her best friend and sweetheart, Kai, in running away. Elliot chose duty. Kai, a servant, left, and she hasn’t heard from him since.

Elliot meets the explorers – including Captain Malakai Wentforth. Kai. No longer a teenage servant; now a very successful man. One who doesn’t forget, or forgive, that four years ago Elliot chose her class and her family over him.

The man, Malakai, is different from the teen Elliot knew; still, Elliot sees the boy she once  loved, and wonders if they have a second chance.

The Good: Sound familiar? Yes, this is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I’ll be honest; I haven’t read the book, but I adored the film with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds.

The world in For Darkness Shows the Stars is post-apocalyptic; generations ago, genetic re-engineering and other scientific experiences “went too far.” The result was wars and a general destruction of society. The primary survivors were the Luddites, the people who had traditionally rejected the scientific and technological experimentation they saw around them. They are now a ruling class of Barons and Baronesses, owning estates and controlling the land. The other survivors were “the Reduced,” people intellectually damaged by the genetic treatments and biological experimentation around them. The Luddites both took care of the Reduced because the Reduced could not care for themselves, but they also used the Reduced as a free work force. They are basically serfs, tied to the land.

Where, then, does Kai fit in? As years and years passed, children began being born to the Reduced who, well, were not reduced — smart, inquisitive children like Kai. The Luddites call them “COR”s, or Children of the Reduced; they prefer the label “Posts”, as in Post-Reductionists. A significant part of the class struggle shown in For Darkness Shows The Stars involves how the Luddites treat the Posts no differently from the Reduced. Posts like Kai illegally run away from their estates to make their way in the world. It’s not easy; Kai’s success is remarkable. While some Luddites are like Baron North in their view towards Posts, others (like Elliot and other numbers) view Posts and Luddites as equals. Because the Luddites avoid anything new or any type of progress or change, Posts such as Kai bring new thoughts, ideas, and even fashion into the Luddite world.

As for Kai’s name, most Posts rename themselves, abandoning their servant identity. Thus, Kai becomes Malakai. One of the many clever touches in the world-building? All the Reduced are given simple, one syllable names because, well, it’s believed that is all they can handle. So the Posts are not just rejecting their past, they are also asserting themselves as full members of society by taking on newer, multi-syllable names.

I go so much into Peterfreund’s world-building because Persuasion’s plot hinges on significant class issues; so, at least for me, where a retelling succeeds (or fails) is in believably creating a world with equal class issues. In many ways, Elliot’s world seems more pre-Industrial (i.e., Jane Austen’s world) than post-apocalyptic. What ups the ante, what makes Elliot’s decisions and thoughts that much more heartbreaking, are the reasons for the class distinctions: the fear of science and progress, the fear of things that are new or different. At various times, Elliot cannot help but revert to the basic Luddite philosophy that any change is wrong. She is not, however, a total Luddite; she sees the stagnation around her.

I said that Elliot stayed to “take care of” the servants on her father’s estate. That is not entirely accurate. Yes, some are the Reduced, but even those who are so impacted are shown to have talents and depth and to be more than child-like or helpless. As Kai has shown, the Posts can take care of themselves and the Posts on the North estate end up working with, rather than for, Elliot. Posts can and do leave their estates. However, that is neither simple nor easy, even though Kai returns triumphant. The stories of other Posts tells the risks faced by those who run away.

Excellent world building does not a plot make; For Darkness Shows the Stars is not just the Persuasion story (reunion of separated lovers) but also about Elliot’s own struggles to do what is best for everyone around her. What is best for running the estate? How can she manage her father, who doesn’t care what happens to the servants on his estate as long as his own wants are met? Is it better to stay on the estate or pursue her own dreams? Does she even know what her own dreams are, since four years ago running away was Kai’s dream?

Oh, and as for the Persuasion story line. Loved it. Full of romantic drama: Elliot wanting Kai, Kai thinking Elliot thought she was too good for him, misunderstandings and angst. Lovely!

While For Darkness Shows the Stars is a standalone, as you can tell, I love the complex world created in it and would love to see more stories set in it. At the moment, Peterfreund has a short story companion to the novel, telling more of Kai’s time away from Elliot: Among the Nameless Stars.

Other reviews: Leila Roy at the Kirkus blog; Stacked; YA Librarian Tales.

Review: A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix. Harper Collins. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Prince Khemri is one of the ten million Princes who rule the Empire. To “ordinary folk,” these Princes seem immortal. And, it’s true, that they can be reborn in certain situations; and that they are augmented in what may appear to be super-human ways. Augmentation is around three types of technologies, or “teks”: Mektek (machinery); Bitek (biology); and Psitek (mental powers).

The sixteenth anniversary of his selection as a Prince-candidate is Khemri’s day of investiture as full Prince. He even gets assigned a Master of Assassins! Khemri has big plans, based on his grooming as a Prince and the things he’s been taught. He’s going to get a warship, go explore, make his mark, and become the next Emperor.

Turns out, his education wasn’t complete. Some details were left out. Like the competition between Princes can be deadly. Instead of sitting back and living out the adventures lived in his favorite Psitek experience, The Achievement of Prince Garikm, he finds himself being saved from assassinations attempts and enrolled as a Naval candidate because the Academy is one of the few safe places.

That’s all in the first thirty pages. That doesn’t even cover Khemri’s three deaths. Action, suspense, space pirates, and, yes, even a touch of romance in this intergalactic adventure.

The Good: Khemri is an idiot. No, really; he’s arrogant, because he’s a Prince; ignorant, because his education has been limited; and an idiot, because it takes him a while to realize his arrogance and ignorance are not positive qualities. Luckily, he has an experienced Master of Assassins, Haddad, and Khemri has enough self-preservation to know to listen to Haddad. It keeps him alive; and makes Khemri realize that he has things to learn. Fortunately for the reader, it takes Khemri a long time to stop being a total idiot. Part of why I loved this book is Khemri’s evolution from spoiled, privileged Prince to … well. I can’t tell everything.

The immersion into the Empire, via the experiences of this new Prince, is a second reason I enjoyed The Confusion of Princes. It’s clever, the way Nix shares knowledge of how it works with the reader. Instead of someone “new” entering this world, Khemri is someone who is privileged and of high rank. Someone who has had information downloaded to him, or tutors. He is supposed to know it all; and believes he does. The twist is Khemri keeps discovering what he doesn’t know. His frustration and rage are shown, and, I confess — at times made me laugh. Khemri may be an idiot but he’s my idiot. (Also? Khemri is telling this story after the fact; he knows what he was. He calls attention to the stupid things he does, and well, it’s funny.) Aside from that, the Empire is a complex, detailed place and I loved finding out more about it.

The action and adventure! Khemri is constantly on the go, either escaping assassins or alien attacks, or fighting duels, or accepting secret assignments. Sometimes it felt like Khemri was in the middle of some type of computer game; and it turns out there is an online game tie-in. Now, as that article explains, the game tie in didn’t work out quite like planned. But you know what? I love this type of stuff; thinking of new ideas, new ways to tell story, taking advantage of new technology, and, well, just playing with new ideas presented by today’s technology. Aside from that, I’m curious as to what gamers will think of the story, of the pacing.

Reviews: The Book Smugglers; Tor; io9.

Review: Pure

Pure by Julianna Baggott. Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group. 2012. Holiday reads. (Here at Tea Cozy, holiday reads aren’t books about holidays; they’re grown up books for grown up readers to indulge in over the holidays.) Edited to add: Alex Award winner.

The Plot: Pressa, almost sixteen, was only seven when the Detonations happened. Her face has the burns and scars that mark her as a survivor; fused onto her hand is a doll’s head. She and her grandfather have somehow survived the years after, the violence, the hunger, the other desperate survivors. As her sixteenth birthday approaches, the danger grows: it’s the age that the OSR comes to take you. The lucky ones are trained as soldiers; the unlucky ones are the live targets for training.

Partridge, eighteen, is a Pure, raised in the protection of the Dome. He is the son of a leader, but that doesn’t protect him from the “coding” done to make people smarter, faster, stronger, more obedient. It doesn’t protect him from his father’s disappointment that the behaviour coding doesn’t take. His father blames his mother: “your mother has always been problematic.” With that statement, Partridge realizes his mother didn’t die during the Detonations.

Pressa, on the run from the soldiers. Partridge, lost in the nightmare that is Pressa’s world.

Their paths cross, and each are pulled into the journey of the other. Nothing and no one is safe.

The Good: Pressa’s and Partridge’s world is one destroyed and shattered; even the Pures untouched and isolated and protected within the Dome do not live in a familiar society. Pressa’s story of survival is told while Partridge dreams of a way to escape the Dome and his father and find his mother. Not only does the reader learn more about their worlds, just as important, the reader learns what they do and don’t know about those worlds. Pressa doesn’t know much beyond her tiny neighborhood, but she is knowledgeable about the dangers of that world. Partridge has no idea the reality of life outside the Dome, and what he’s been taught isn’t always accurate.

At first, I thought that their world was our world, but as Pure unfolds, as more is learned of the Before leading up to the Detonations and about what happened after, I realized that even more this was an alternate universe. Names and politics are different, but places and songs are the same. Never has a Bruce Springsteen song been so heartbreaking. At times, reading Pure was unsettling because I had to keep up with those changes, of what was different, but in a way, it’s the same sense of unfamiliarity that Partridge feels when he leaves the safety of the Dome.

Partridge and Pressa are the two main people telling the story, but not the only ones. There is El Capitan, about Partridge’s age, a member of the dreaded OSR militia. He joined as a child, after the Detonations, because it was safety and he had himself and his brother Helmud to take care of. Helmud, who is fused to El Capitan’s body. Lyda is girl from the Dome who pays a high price for dancing with Partridge.

The twists and turns of Pure surprised and delighted me. Even better, Partridge and Pressa are smart enough to figure out what is going on. Sometimes they are a step ahead, sometimes a step behind, and the stakes keep getting higher and higher. It’s no longer simply avoiding the OSR or finding a lost parent. Partridge, Pressa and the others realize that there is more going on in and outside the Dome than they ever dared dream.

Pressa’s world broke my heart. So much damage, so much loss. Pressa doesn’t want pity or sympathy; she is a survivor, she is smart, she is capable. But still, the loss. The loss not just of the Before, because as becomes clear the Before was not entirely safe or peaceful. Still, it was a world where a little boy could dream one day of flying, and now years later he knows that dream is dead and lost: “He used to know all there was to know about flying planes, and he knows he’ll  never get to. But maybe this will fell like it, just a little.”

The survivors are  not just physically changed; they are also forced to make hard choices to live. “In a different world, could he be a better person? Maybe they all could be. Maybe, in the end, that’s the greatest gift the Dome can offer: When you live in a place with enough safety and comfort, you can pretend you’d always make the best decision, even in the face of desperation.” I was reminded of a line from Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly that haunts me: “Once you were brave. Once you were kind. You can be so again.” Pure is about a handful of teens fighting for a world where they can afford be brave and kind.

The fusings — the ways the bodies of the survivors are impacted. Since reading this book, I think, if the Detonations happened now, what would I be fused to? A keyboard, a window pane, a cat?

Because I cannot stop thinking of that girl with a doll for a hand. Because the world building of Pure, Before, during, and after, is so wonderfully complex. Because Pure answered all the questions it needed to, and gave resolutions to Pressa’s and Partridge’s journeys, and then raised more questions and created a new quest. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.