Thursday, December 31, 2015

"The Adoration of Jenna Fox" by Mary E. Pearson

You know I read & loved "Cinder," and am waiting on library hold lists to continue the series. While waiting, Book Riot published a list of books to read after The Lunar Chronicles, and it pointed me in the direction of "The Adoration of Jenna Fox."

While Jenna Fox was in an 18-month coma following a traumatic accident, her family moved from Boston to California. Jenna doesn't get to go to school anymore, and her family won't discuss her old life or her accident. Jenna has weird gaps in her memory - she has to learn less about the world around her than about herself and her own life.

As Jenna begins sorting through family videos and trying to remember who she is, she pushes to go back to school and begins to uncover bits of her own life that her parents would rather she didn't know. Though she lacks the bravado of a Katniss or Cinder, Jenna is a quietly determined heroine. She doesn't want to hurt those around her, but she works to figure out who she is and what is being hidden from her. When push comes to shove, she stands up for what she believes in. Most impressive is the way in which the novel explores her thought process in developing her own beliefs and deciding what is worth fighting for.

Though the premise of the book hinges on some science fiction and wades into bioethics and who decides who is human, the book's focus on relationships really shines. Jenna remembers her friends from home, but does not know why she is no longer in contact with them. She makes new friends at school and navigates the ways teenagers interact. Above all, her relationships with Lily, her grandmother, and her parents tie into the themes of the book, providing believable counterpoints on the central bioethics questions through realistic lenses.

Verdict: Affirmed. A surprise read that I listened to in a just two days. I think this is going to be a book whose central questions stick with me. Audio narration is also excellent.

"The Adoration of Jenna Fox" by Mary E. Pearson, published April 29, 2008 by Henry Holt and Co. Audio narration by Jenna Lamia, published April 29, 2008 by Macmillan Audio.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Cinder" by Marissa Meyer

With the recent release of the final installment in the Lunar Chronicles, I figured it was about time I dig into "Cinder," the first in this highly-acclaimed series. I was not disappointed.

The premise: in the future, humans still live on Earth, but another group living on the moon has evolved. Known as Lunars, these people have the power to change what others see and believe. Cinder is a cyborg, living on Earth in New Beijing while a lethal plague is running rampant. Cyborgs aren't considered full citizens, so she works to support her stepmother and stepsisters. Prince Kai is holding a ball, despite his parents' having caught the plague. On top of all this, the feared and reviled Lunar Queen is coming for a diplomatic trip.

Yes, it's a Cinderella retelling - each book in the series is. But it's a fresh take. Cinder is a determined, intelligent, loyal heroine. Her deep love for her stepsister rings true, despite her terrible treatment by her family. Her interactions with Kai, although they are a normal YA-trope romance, feel far more realistic than other novels that shove the male and female characters together to check the box of a central romance plot. She gradually warms to him, instead of falling head over heels immediately. Her stepmother is perfectly awful, but she offers a critical lens into the society that Meyer has crafted.

I'll speak vaguely to avoid spoilers. Did I know where this was going as soon as the android started talking? Yes. Did I care? No. I was excited to see how the characters got there & developed along the way. While the broad arc of the series seems clear to me at the conclusion of this installment, I'm still excited to read on and see how it all unfolds.

Verdict: Affirmed. Highly recommended for YA fans, SF fans who don't mind the YA romance with their futuristic societies, and anyone who loves a fresh take on a classic fairy tale.

"Cinder" by Marissa Meyer, published January 3, 2012 by Feiwel & Friends. Audio narration by Rebecca Soler, published January 3, 2012 by Macmillan Audio.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"The Sword of Summer" by Rick Riordan

The opening installment in Rick Riordan's newest series about the children of gods does not disappoint. The series are beginning to feel formulaic - a child is thrust into a new world populated by mythical beings, meets a dedicated group of friends within the mythical world, goes on a quest, and saves the world. But it's still incredibly entertaining.

Magnus Chase is the new protagonist, son of the Norse god Frey. Unlike the heroes of earlier series, Chase dies before he enters Valhalla, the mythical resting place for those preparing to fight in Ragnarok at the end of days. Like previous series, Chase learns of his parentage and embarks on a quest. His quest is to locate a weapon that will play an important role in Ragnarok.

I give Riordan credit for his commitment to diversity in his books. In this series we see a homeless protagonist, a deaf elf friend, and a Muslim Valkyrie. (The book doesn't get into the mechanics of how one's religious beliefs are impacted by the discovery of an active pantheon or four, possibly because it's a children's book and such explorations could get pretty heavy pretty quickly.) Like the previous series, Riordan has set up a larger battle that will continue throughout the series and the audio narration is impeccable.

Plus, bonus points for Annabeth's appearance as Magnus's cousin - hopefully we'll see more crossovers as the series continues.

Verdict: Affirmed, if you're a Riordan fan. I like learning about various pantheons through Riordan's inventive tales. Aside from the mythology involved, this series doesn't stand out from others. If you enjoyed his previous books, this will be no different.

"The Sword of Summer" by Rick Riordan, published October 6, 2015 by Disney Hyperion. Audio narration by Christopher Guetig, published October 6, 2015 by Listening Library.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass (Pt. 2)

 The second half of this review ended up super delayed because the holds list for the audiobook of "The Heir" was huge! I knew this series was popular, but I did not think I'd be reading the latest installment while bundled up in sweaters. But before I get ahead of myself, let's talk "The One."

"The One" is the final book in America's trilogy. Based on the title, who the protagonist is, and the entire premise of the series, you can probably figure out how this dystopian version of "The Bachelor" ends. And the ride to get there wasn't that great. As I said in my review of the first half of the series, the rebel plot and the hints at Illea's history were what really kept me reading. They really weren't fleshed out too deeply in this third installment, which was a major disappointment.

"The Heir," was a strange fourth novel. We get a new protagonist - Eadlyn, Amera's daughter, who will be holding her own Selection to quell unrest in Illean society. The premise is a bit suspect, since the caste system was dismantled, and one would think the Selection runs counter to that notion. But the bigger problem is that Eadlyn is awful - she's selfish, self-involved, and has no empathy or understanding for anyone else. She's also one big fashion-focused stereotype who finds math difficult. (Though, kudos for her determination to figure the math out.) For the first two parts of the audiobook, I wasn't sure if the character was deliberately insufferable, but later developments made it clear this is a story about Eadlyn's self-discovery and personal growth, complete with Bachelor-style dating.

Unlike the first three books, the secondary characters really made this novel. Henri, a contestant who doesn't speak English but loves to cook, and his translator Erik, were particularly endearing. Eadlyn's twin also takes an action that stands out as the only surprising twist in the series to date. Is there another love triangle coming? Yes. Will Eadlyn discover she's an awful person, change her ways, and realize she's in love with the boy next door? I'm betting yes. I wish Cass would spend more time exploring the dismantling of the caste system, or how it was even established in the first place. This late in the series, I'm not getting my hopes up, though. The fifth installment comes out in May 2016, and despite all of my frustrations with this series, I'll be adding my name to the wait list anyway. I've read too far into the series to turn back now.

Verdict: Jury's Out. This series is definitely not for everyone. I can't put my finger on exactly why all the things that irk me don't add up to a more intense dislike for these books. At the end of the day, they're still entertaining,

The Selection series by Kiera Cass, published by HarperTeen. Audio narration for "The One" by Amy Rubinate and for "The Heir" by Brittany Pressley, publsihed by Harper Audio.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"The Last Ever After" by Soman Chainani

[Review necessarily contains minor spoilers for the first two books, including endings. I'm as vague as possible, but you shouldn't read this book if you haven't read the first two books. If you don't want to risk spoilers, the short & sweet of it is that this novel wraps up the series well. I affirm & recommend it and the series as a whole].

Not worried about spoilers? Good. We last left Sophie and Agatha separated with their respective beaus from the end of "A World Without Princes." The final installment of "The School for Good and Evil" lacked many of the weird bits that struck me funny from the previous books. Instead we have two strong, powerful heroines trying to figure out what they want from life and who they want to be. The way in which the series wraps up, tying together the girls' pasts and the foundations of their friendship was surprising and fitting. The focus was appropriately back on friendship and the types of  non-romantic relationships that shape and influence our lives.

A quick complaint: I do not understand Tedros. Is he deliberately blah? I don't buy him as a character that two smart girls would be fighting over, nor as someone who would hold Agatha's interest. I believed Agatha and Tedros most when they were bickering, and less the more devoted to each other they became.

Tedros aside, the book's shining moments come from the former stars of story book characters who must face their nemeses again due to Agatha and Sophie's undoing of their story. Cinderella is particularly not-charming as a bawdy, rude woman, whose surprise twist on her background will break your heart. The book felt long and wandering at times, perhaps because I was listening to audio instead of reading. The narration was superb, nonetheless.

Verdict: Affirmed. The final installment redeemed the rest of the series and tied everything up in a satisfying, enjoyable novel.

"The Last Ever After" by Soman Chainani, published July 21, 2015 by HarperCollins. Audio narration by Polly Lee, published July 21, 2015 by HarperCollins.