Saturday, September 30, 2017

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Patty has a lot of things that keep her running.  She is struggling to adapt to her new fancy school where she feels out of place.  She is taking care of her younger sister.  She is coming to grips with the fact that they now live with her aunt and uncle since how mom can't take care of them after she lost her legs to diabetes.  And she's trying to handle her bad attitude on the track because if she doesn't, Coach will make sure he finds a way to help her run it out.  Patty is used to taking care of everything and relying only on herself.  But now she has to work on a group project at school and running a relay race at track.  Can she trust other people to do their part, or will it be up to her to make it all work out, as usual?

This sequel to Ghost picks up right at the end of the previous book.  Literally, right at that second.  But you don't have to have read Ghost to understand Patty's story at all because it is completely about her life.  As always, Reynolds' writing is lovely and understated.  So understated that I didn't come to a full appreciation of this book until I'd had some time to reflect on it and let it sink in.  Patty is so used to taking care of everything in her life, and we are seeing her life through her eyes, that I was slow on the uptake of realizing that the conflict in the book is her finding ways to let down her guard to those who want to help her.  Patty is such a winning character that I found myself feeling her anxiety as I was reading.  She will be so easy for my middle schoolers to relate to because so many of them are dealing with a lot of stuff themselves.  Another great book from Jason Reynolds!

Your One & Only by Adrianne Finlay

Althea-310 is as shocked as the rest of the Altheas when she sees Jack for the first time.  Jack is human, a species that died off 300 years ago in the slow plague while Althea-310 is one of ten Althea clones in the city of Vispera.  In an effort to keep humanity alive, nine scientists cloned themselves, refining their genetic make up in each succeeding generation.  Now, every ten years a new batch of clones are "born" with ten of each of the original scientists.  Jack is the first human any of Althea's generation has seen.  Jack's introduction into Vispera doesn't go smoothly, but Althea still finds herself fascinated with him and becomes more distressed by the way he is treated by some other members of her society.  One of the bigger questions, however, is why the older generations made a human in the first place?  And what is happening to their society?

I really liked the concept of this book.  So much so that I was drawn in despite my initial eye roll when reading the synopsis that made it clear this was obviously going to be a romance.  Of course there is the forbidden romance between Althea and Jack, but there is a good sci fi world and story as well. 

Vispera sounds like a great place to live where things are peaceful and orderly.  I've read enough to know that it can't possibly be as perfect as it seems, but despite the initial problems with Jack's introduction to society, it still seemed pretty nice there.  The problems with this perfect world were revealed quite slowly throughout the book which is not a criticism at all.  In fact, I enjoyed the pace all the way until the end.  (More on that later.) There is a nice balance between showing us the day to day life of Vispera and the action sequences that keep the story moving.  I also liked the pace of Jack and Althea's growing romance which was not insta-love but rather a realistic getting-to-know-you relationship. 

As I mentioned, the book lost my admiration quite a bit at the end where the pace suddenly sped up considerably.  It was much more of a narration of "Then they went here.  Then this happened.  Then some of them left.  Then she saw this thing."  So much happened in those last couple of chapters but it was all just explained rather than being part of the storytelling.  I also had issues with Sam's final days and his sudden love of Jack which I hadn't felt at all before.  Sam needed to step it up a lot sooner in Jack's life!!  But despite those two criticisms, this was enjoyable and unique.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Truthers by Geoffrey Girard

First of all - this is not the official cover of the book.  It is a dog reading a book with the official cover and I loved it so I decided to use that picture rather than just the cover.

Katie knows how to fend for herself since her dad spends most of his time high or investigating conspiracy theories.  But even that chaotic life is disrupted when he ends up in a mental institution, so medicated he is almost unable to communicate at all.  When Katie visits him he does something shocking to make himself more lucid for just a few minutes.  In his babbling he tells Katie that he was in Pennsylvania on September 11 and saw people being unloaded from planes.  He also claims that a woman handed Katie to him and that she is not his biological daughter.  Instead, she might be the smoking gun that proves the existence of a huge government cover-up.  In order to have her father released from the hospital Katie needs to prove that his beliefs are not crazy and in order to do that, she needs to investigate what really happened on 9/11 for herself.

Fairly early in the book Katie confesses that the events of 9/11 are basically the same as any other ancient history to her since she was a baby when it happened.  I, however, remember it well and am still devastated by the attacks so I went into this book with caution and curiosity as to how Girard would handle things.  I am not a truther so I was dismayed with the overwhelmingly persuasive arguments presented that seemed aimed at convincing the reader of a cover up.  Despite my feelings, I was willing to go along with the story in that direction so then I was dismayed again with the ending that seemed to completely negate all the previous conspiracy build up.  It felt like a sell out to me or an attempt to appease both sides of the truther spectrum.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Empress by S.J. Kincaid

This sequel to The Diabolic begins with everything going their way for Tyrus and Nemesis.  Tyrus no longer has to act like a madman and is recognized by everyone as the emperor.  Everyone knows that Nemesis is a Diabolic and the future empress and while they might not be thrilled about that, it is clear that Tyrus will have it no other way.  However, although Tyrus has the scepter that gives him control over all the bots in the kingdom, it is not working.  Some research reveals that a majority of the vicars need to give their approval of the emperor for the scepter to work correctly and most of them have problems with the empress being nonhuman.  In addition to their problems with gaining approval for their match, Tyrus and Nemesis have to scheme against the cunning Senator Pasus who is bent on revenge for his daughter's death and determined to rule the empire one way or another.

This book was such a letdown from The Diabolic that my initial rating was one star.  After giving myself 24 hours to reflect, I bumped it up to two stars because it is not bad, just really suffers in comparison.  I seldom read sequels and when I do and am disappointed, I wonder if it's because the sequel is actually not as good or it it's because I've seen the author's tricks already.  I don't have an answer to that question with this one but here are some of my issues:
  • Tyrus is described on several occasions as always being ten steps ahead of everyone in his planning and yet he allows Pasus to get the drop on him more than once.
  • Despite his careful planning (which we are told about but don't always see materialize) he never tells Nemesis what he has in mind but instead asks her to trust him.  Then they leave their secret chat room and he turns on her and she's supposed to not act.  But when she does act, he later tells her she didn't do what he wanted.  Maybe he could give her a clue about what he's going to do so she won't inadvertently mess something up?
  • I missed the story and character development because the entire book was jumping from one life-threatening situation to another.  There's a blazing star that is meant to cook everyone!  There are Diabolics that are meant to kill Tyrus!  There's a black hole that will suck them in!  Here's someone else Nemesis wants to kill to protect Tyrus without his knowledge!  Here's a spaceship ripping the roof off their room!  The pace and action left no room for much of anything else and made it choppy for me.
  • Nemesis does grow as the story progresses but a huge part of the book is whether she is human or not and for quite awhile her reactions are complete devoid of empathy.  I feel sure that we, as readers, are supposed to believe she is capable of love and emotion but that is not shown in her interactions with others.
  • Why, why, why do neither Tyrus nor Nemesis kill Pasus in any of the situations where they had that possibility?  He is evil and has made it clear he plans to use them for the rest of their lives to his own ends.  As I noted above, he manages to back them into corners on several occasions so he's not a dolt who can be easily manipulated like so many others at court.  The reason to keep him alive: contrived narrative necessity.  
  • I read a review of the first book months ago that described it as a romance set in a space opera and that seems to be an apt description. That formula really seems to fit here as Nemesis and Tyrus are kept apart by forces but then have moments where they can really express their love but then she doubts whether he actually loves her or not but then he does but then maybe he doesn't....  My husband has a plausible theory about what is happening with Tyrus towards the end of the book which has to be what happens or else any reconciliation that comes about (and it must come about for the romance to be complete) is ridiculous.  
  • There is a great deal of use of drugs throughout the book.  I don't mind the references in general because it is clear that drug use is a part of the life for the royalty in the book.  Furthermore, Nemesis and Tyrus both seem to disdain their use and only use them as required to be social with Nemesis not feeling any effects from them and Tyrus working to limit their effects on him.  But one passage in particular stood out after Nemesis rescues Neveni from death:  "I made sure to dispatch a service bot her way with recreational narcotics.  Venalox was a dreadful narcotic, but I still had faith in other sorts.  Drugs were a most excellent means of coping with grief."  Two sentences, so not a big deal overall.  But it still stood out as something that concerns me in its message.
A disappointment all around.  I should've stuck with my usual never reading sequels policy.