December 29, 2016

Thursday Review: HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR by John Corey Whaley

Synopsis: It might not be easy to picture a story that takes heavy stuff—mental illness, coming out—and weaves them into an often-hilarious, totally recognizable story of friendship and love. Highly Illogical Behavior (which takes place in, of all conceivable locations, UPLAND, which is very close to where I lived as a child) uses the alternating viewpoints of Solomon Reed—who is agoraphobic and hasn't left his house in three years, ever since one fateful day in eighth grade—and Lisa Praytor, who seems to be his polar opposite in just about every single way. Lisa is extroverted, ambitious, and she just happens to want to get into the second-best psychology program in the country.

Through happenstance, Sol's situation falls across Lisa's radar, and she gets a possibly brilliant, audacious, and definitely ethically questionable idea: she will make Sol her project. She'll fix his agoraphobia. And then she'll write about it in her application essay, thus demonstrating her prodigious psychological talents. Unsurprisingly, neither her best friend Janis nor her boyfriend Clark think this is such a good plan, but that doesn't stop Lisa.

Of course, as she gets to know Sol, and over time becomes his friend, things get a lot more complicated than she anticipated. This is, after all, someone's LIFE, someone's mental well-being. And because she, too, has grown to care very much about Sol, her straight-out USING him to pad her college application becomes even more painful to witness, more and more thorny and entangled and questionable. And yet it's undeniable: Sol is changing. Does the end justify the means? Is their friendship a true one? And can the reader finish this story without wanting to SLAP Lisa across the face just one time? (I would guess, no.)

Observations: This book does so much to show that panic and anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia, are not what defines a person or their character. It's a critical point that those of us who suffer from this type of mental issue will recognize: the need to truly understand and accept that you are not your illness. Getting that message across to those readers who may be just starting to realize they have a real issue? And setting them on the path to understanding and accepting themselves? It could be lifesaving.

The message comes across so clearly in part, I think, because of how recognizable these characters are—it's easy to see and KNOW the ambitious, obsessively college-bound, driven Lisa Praytor. Sol is just as familiar, especially to anyone who has ever experienced social anxiety on any level, but also as a human being with desires and hopes and interests of his own. The characters are all rounded and complex, and it's refreshing to see that Sol—the one with the mental issues—is the one with the MOST functional and loving family. His parents and his grandmother support him and love him unconditionally, and they aren't relegated to bit parts, either.

It drives home the point that mental illness is not a decision that you can simply will yourself out of; that sufferers should not face blame for their condition; and that there is a biological component, meaning that you can have a good life and a happy family but still suffer from a mental illness—Sol's home life and family circumstances are not at fault for his situation.

Conclusion: Though a few aspects of the story stretched credibility—mostly, it seemed, to keep with the book's sense of humor and overall madcap kind of tone—I ended up loving these annoying, sweet, and ultimately very real characters.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR by John Corey Whaley at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 22, 2016

Winter Greetings

Here in the North Central region of California, the winter is scarcely wild (though it is a bit frosty and rainy) and we are all wearing sweaters and coats and boots and scarves as though freezing to death. (Pause for laughter from everyone east of the Rockies and north of...California.)

I therefore can't provide you with any snowy scenes of my house or other picturesque seasonal tableaux (note: my spell checker demanded the French spelling). However, I do have this adorable picture of a penguin that I took just over a year ago when we were in Australia. Granted, he (or she) is not in the snow or looking particularly wintry (this was at St. Kilda Pier, Melbourne in November) but there you go. It is a Little Penguin, aka a Fairy Penguin. How cute is that? IT IS SO CUTE. You're welcome. Merry Christmas.

Or Happy Hanukkah, or Joyous Festivus, or even if you celebrate no holidays, you still have to live with positive vibes and this penguin.

Also, don't forget-- on a more kidlit-oriented note, Cybils shortlists come out on January 1st, and Multicultural Children's Book Day is later in the month on January 27th!

December 20, 2016

Cybils Speculative Reader: THE DELPHI EFFECT by RYSA WALKER

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader!

As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.


Time travel! Ghosts! Plotting adults! Secret facilities! Teens Who Save The Day! All your favorite adventure catnip rolled up into one book, kitties! This novel, the first in a trilogy, jumpstarts, and doesn't quit.

Synopsis: Anna has only a year left in the foster care system, and her bestie and heartbrother, Deo, has three. Anna was left in a mall, clutching an Orange Julius cup with her name and a warning pinned to her dress when she was just a toddler, and Deo's got scars from injuries sustained before he could walk. They've been both bounced around so many times that they're pretty determined to first, stay where they are, and second, stay together, as the chosen-family they are. It's hard for Anna, though, since she sometimes - okay, frequently - speaks to ghosts. On one hand, they're responsible for the extra help in getting through high school and into junior college well before other kids her age. On the other hand, her "hitchers" occasionally are unfriendly or angry, and once one tried to hijack her body to finish the unfinished business which has tied them to the earth. After months of a stubborn hitcher named Molly badgering her to contact Molly's grandpa, Anna's desperate to get rid of her. She was murdered - and her grandfather doesn't believe in things paranormal. Anna's been following him, begging to be heard - and he's been talking -- and that talk has attracted trouble just a bit too close. He's been shot - and someone is shooting at Anna, too. And it seems that the people who've come to "help" may not all be as helpful as she thought. Someone is leaking information to the police - and maybe someone else. Anna's not safe anywhere -- and it turns out that neither is her passenger ghost. Using her own resources, Anna flees -- and then Deo disappears...

Suddenly, all the mysteries in the world don't matter. Anna's family is on the line, and she will do anything to get him back - make any promise, take any chance, break any rule.

Observations: Each year there are several horror novels nominated. This year there were three significant ones with the blood-spattered covers. One was... just gross, the other a bit over the top. One made me roll my eyes. This novel wasn't one of the horror picks but this to me comes closest to the true definition of the word. Hitchhikers in your head is probably number one on the list of Things People With Mental Health Challenges Fear, so shudder, with a side of yikes. Walker writes utterly engaging, utterly believable characters. The minute you open the door to this story, you're in -- the dialogue is perfectly reasonable, the strained patience with which Anna has to deal with a disbelieving public, the weird quirks of the world in which she lives are all beautifully believable. Her characterizations just work.

This review, in an attempt to avoid spoilers, spends a lot of time on inconsequentials, but these, in part, are the things which make this a really vivid and engaging story. And it is an entire story - it does end, although, you know there's much more to come. Which is going to be serious adventure catnip for someone!

For those who want to know, there is mutual attraction in this novel,

Conclusion: Book One in the Chronos Files trilogy, we've got a bit more of this world and these characters to explore before it's over. Look for more in 2017, I think. If you love a fast-paced novel about kids who are best-friends-turned family, with a little nascent romance thrown in for fun... have I got a book for you.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find THE DELPHI EFFECT by Rysa Walker at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 16, 2016


Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader!

As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.


This is a Cybils year with an interesting spate of novels with a dystopian social justice/labor/unions bent. RAILHEAD by Philip Reeve examines the rights of the nonhuman. METALTOWN by Kristen Simmons, explores the rights of workers, and then I discovered this novel, which explores differences in class and race... in a fully unique way. Some readers may be scared off by the brown face on the cover, but I know you're all wiser than that. And since this September release hasn't had the buzz the other novels received, you can consider this me buzzing.

Synopsis: Akhié Ugiagbe's whole name means "Sorrow," which tells you a lot about her father's state of mind when he named her. Life has included a lot of sorrow, including her father's recent death, and a reversal of fortune for her family as a whole, but once she's out of school on Seraffa, Kia, as she calls herself now, will do her best to use her quirky gift for languages to carve out a good life for herself. Part of doing what she can at sixteen is taking an under-the-table job translating at a sketchy casino joint... only to find herself witnessing her older sister, trying to gamble their family out of debt, gambling herself into indentured servitude - for three long years in the Salarian mines where people routinely DIE.

Never mind that Kia will lose her scholarship at University of Translators and Interpreters, never mind what she promised the Order of Universal Benevolence, who are paying her scholarship: family sticks together. Except it seems the Adepts and the religious folk are leveling the field, for once. Kia's been asked by them to go to the Salarian desert to ...translate for her Adept-in-training friend, Agatha.

Though they got close when they both spent time in Malem, Kia thinks it's a terrible idea to send Agatha - Agatha is kind of a disaster as an Adept, whimsically curious one moment, by-the-book the next; determined and unpredictably undisciplined by O.U.D. standards. Agatha can't speak a straight sentence of the Salarian language, and the Salarians are the most easily offended race on the planet, literally. And then she hears about her disguise, and Kia is even more skeptical. The O.U.D.'s going to send her to Salaria white face? They're going to medically kill off her melanin so she can pass as a Salarian, some Adept's dead daughter??? Not going to happen. Stubborn, cagey, yet determined to save her sister, Kia makes compromises, tells lies, deceives herself, and gets dragged along against her will. Once she's in Salaraia, she's already in over her head immediately. And then, the real fun begins.

Is wanting to help someone enough? Or do you need Divine Guidance - a lot of luck - and foreknowledge of everyone's agenda? Kia's about to find out.

Observations: The desert dwellers are the lightest-skinned, fairest-haired, poorest folk in Saaria, initially not choosing the desert by choice, but by necessity as squatters. Salarian's culture is matriarchal, and the money is passed from mother to daughter... so that men have no wealth, little say, and cannot leave their homes and families without permission. On both Saffare and Salaria, teens are expected to pull some of their own weight - whether from attending school and preparing for the job market with seriousness, as Kia is doing, or participating in the Salarian Desert Game, which allegedly makes women out of girls. The worldbuilding provides a lot of fascinating compare-and-contrast with our contemporary world, and examines ideas of rights of classes, races, and eternities.

Kia is characterized as stubborn and self-determined, bullheaded, regardless of how easy it would be to do what's expected of her by so many people. The issues with which Kia contends on Salaria, as she feels pinched between the faith she barely ascribes to asks of her, what political expediency demands and what her heart wants are also thorny and difficult, never giving the reader an easy answer of "which direction is right?" This is a novel full of deep thoughts and conviction, and will be enjoyed by teens who don't mind a bit of mulling-it-over to go along with their fast-paced adventure. There's a tiny helping of a believable, mutual attraction, but no time for romance for Kia, as there's a lot of stuff going on, including people who may or may not be trying to kill her.

Conclusion: I love these covers, and the cover model's brow game is strong!

Readers will encounter mention of the city of Malem in this nove as a place where something nearly disastrous had happened - and may wonder if they will ever find out exactly what. FYI: Kia has another book, THE OCCASIONAL DIAMOND THIEF, which was her first adventure with Agatha! I'm excited to know this, and from this way this novel ends, I'm convinced that the author isn't finished with this character or her world yet.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher via Cybils. You can find THE SALARIAN DESERT GAME by J.A. McLachlan at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 15, 2016

Thursday Review: RUINED by Amy Tintera

Very classy cover
Synopsis: I'm pretty sure this one is also a Cybils Spec Fic nomination—but since I don't see it on Tanita's immediate review docket, I'm jumping on in! I decided to treat myself with this one because I enjoyed Amy Tintera's Reboot and the sequel, Rebel, which were really thought-provoking sci-fi action.

Ruined is the start of a new fantasy trilogy, and I'm already excited for the next two books. If you like your fantasy laced with plenty of intrigue, romance, and revenge—I'd say, if you enjoyed Marie Rutkoski's Winner's Curse trilogy—then you'll want to check this one out.

Emelina Flores—Em—is from the war-torn kingdom of Ruina, where she is the only person in the royal family without any Ruined magic. Her sister, heir to the kingdom, has been kidnapped by the neighboring country of Lera, and the rest of her family massacred. Determined to get her revenge and find her sister, she masquerades as the betrothed of Lera's Prince Casimir, with the goal of getting close enough to lead an attack from inside the kingdom—and to kill the entire royal family. Of course, as you might guess (but not in an easy, predictable way), Cas isn't exactly the war-obsessed, bloodthirsty prince she assumed he would be, and everything gets really complicated really fast.

Observations: I really thought the world-building was effective here. I've started to truly appreciate fantasy books that keep the world itself RELATIVELY confined and simple—a few kingdoms, one or two (or no) types of magic, leaving the focus on the characters, the immediate action, and the emotional arc and making for a more robust story at the end of it. The bells and whistles are icing on the cake without distracting from the story or being confusing. Here, the Ruined magic varies but is essentially an ability to manipulate the natural world (including living creatures) at an elemental level.

But, rather than being a sort of magical Chosen One, Em is the one without magic, who must rely on her wits and natural abilities to complete her quest. It's an interesting twist, and makes her easy to relate to even in the beginning when she is revenge-obsessed and in anguish. And the romance was very satisfying because it doesn't develop arbitrarily and suddenly (ye gods, I hate that) but happens over time, slowly, under difficult but not impossible odds. Our heroes Em and Cas have to work at it, and earn each other's trust even as they are forced to break it again and again. As a reader, I found this definitely added to the book's unputdownability.

Conclusion: SO good. And a plus is that the characters populating the book are sort-of-kind-of-vaguely Latinx, not in an obtrusive way but it's nice to see epic fantasy that taps into cultures other than Anglo-Saxon-Celtic (though I certainly loves me my Celtic mythology).

I purchased my copy of this book on Amazon. You can find RUINED by Amy Tintera at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 13, 2016


Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader!

As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.


We've noticed plenty of "hidden princess" novels this Cybils term, plenty of books about royalty in embroiled kingdoms, waiting for - or fighting for - their kingdom's return. This standalone fresh fairytale is a sideways step away from the typical princess-in-disguise book, and has many elements which will be appealing to a reader in search of an adventure...!

Synopsis: The town's best baker she might have been, still no one in Glassforge has ever forgotten that Kerianna Aileen's mother was once a housemaid in Lord Dorric's household, and had caught herself a baby girl before being cast aside - like the rest of the Lord of Nimmira's women - to make her own way in the world. Keri has been raised on spiky pride and little else, and since her mother passed away, sometimes even pride hasn't been enough to get by. She's learned the trade her mother taught her, and unobtrusively serves the community with cakes and bread and pies - all the while loathing Lord Dorric, the three half-brothers who have been raised in relative security and privilege, and the people who snub her. Then Lord Dorric passes away - and the Timekeeper comes. He tells Keri that the Magic of Nimmira has named her inheritor of her father's skill. She is now the Lady of Nimmara.

It's what she's always dreamed of -- except it isn't. In her dreams, her brothers - who snubbed her - are humbled and respectful, and very, very sorry. In Keri's dreams, the Magic has always chosen the Lord or Lady of Nimmara - and then imbued them with a sense of dignity and nobility. In her dreams, the Magic, which has always been there, remains, keeping the tiny land invisible from its encroaching neighbors. Reality is somewhat worse - one of Keri's brothers is sneering, the other is scowling, and the third is smirking, like it's all a great joke. She's not graceful nor regal, and the magic that protected the little kingdom -- it's gone. Currently, life is a lot more like Keri's nightmares: nothing is right, and she's been left in charge. And all she knows how to do is make... cake.

Fortunately, her best friend, Tassel is on hand, to remind her of who she is, and what she can do. And, Tassel's humorless cousin, Cort, who tells it like it is. It will take all of Keri's allies and all of her wiles to negotiate a truce between all eyes on the crown... and maybe even then, she'll fall short of saving her corner of the world.

Observations: This book is exactly what's needed to remind people that little roots are what hold up a tree; that from tiny little bits of seed the most massive redwoods grow. We talk a lot about "pluck" and "grit" but rarely does anyone say how to have it... Readers will especially relate to this heroine, because truly, Keri doesn't have anything but her two empty hands. She has to trust in her people, and that she's making the right decisions.

Of course, there are people who don't want to graciously trust Keri to do anything - wasn't she just a baker last week? Keri's half-brothers, as well as other men in this narrative act as they've been trained to - as the only ones with a brain and a will. They try to take over, and speak with Keri's voice. They coerce and persuade and attempt to outright force her to their will. Readers will want to punch someone, repeatedly, during those parts of the book. Just when she gets things nearly figured out and settled, there's another big plot wrench -- which, when readers think about it, they probably saw coming. But, the more important thing is how Keri sets aside her rage before it cripples her, and the fear before it incapacitates her, and goes on. That was great to see.

Though there's a strong female protagonist, this novel will be equally enjoyed by boys and girls - there's fast-paced adventure, as well as plot which requires thought. The lack of romance as an overwhelming emotional tide was a real positive, though attraction exists in the form of a deepening, broadening friendship and mutual respect. While readers might wish for more obvious diversity in terms of gender, ability or ethnicity, most will feel happily sated that this substantial book has a proper beginning, middle, and satisfying conclusion.

Conclusion: Especially right now, novels with themes of Ragtag Band Defeats Incredible Odds By Sticking Together And Combining Their Strengths are incredibly uplifting. If you're looking for a little guidance for how to go on once your kingdom has been exposed to power-hungry predators, -- have I got a book for you!

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find THE KEEPER OF THE MIST by Rachel Neurmier at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 09, 2016

Cybils Speculative Reader: TITANS, by VICTORIA SCOTT

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader!

As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.


While some girls are horse-crazy from the minute they're tall enough to reach a stirrup, others of us... are not into Pony Club books and that type of thing. I find that I'm mainly into the equine only when they're a.) bloodthirsty unicorns, a la RAMPANT, by Diana Peterfreunde, or b.) slightly rage/possessed water horses, a la THE SCORPIO RACES. Otherwise, meh. I could take 'em or leave 'em. Which is why this book tickled me. We gotcher insane horses, we gotcher mystical man-eaters, and now we've got... androids? Right. The Uncanny Valley widens.

Synopsis: Detroit once was a place for the people. Its working-class denizens knew where a good time was to be had - where the music was, where the best food was, and where to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon - at the races, sliding tickets across the counter, cheering and shouting, taking a chance, and making book. But, the racetrack where horses ran fell into disuse with the Titans came. Good, clean entertainment, it was supposed to be. Safer for everyone - for horses, for riders. But the Titans came and crushed a very old industry, and the betting on this new breed was easier - faster paced, and more addictive than anything that had come before. The rich got richer, the backers, the steel manufacturers, those in the right position...and the poor - betting on a dream of breaking even someday - got poorer. Families were losing houses, jobs, and everything was sliding downhill. Astrid could feel it -- and see what was coming for them. But she could no more ignore the Titans than her father. Only, her bailiwick wasn't the betting... it was the dream of a ride.

Astrid is betting on the "just one shot" like everyone else. She's given sweat, blood, time, and silence to put her hands on a single dream: to keep her family together. She just wants to make up for the one mistake she's made -- but is it possible? Can you ever really have back what you've lost?

Observations: This novel doesn't have a romantic storyline that toils away surreptitiously beneath the surface then rises up to swamp the narrative. Let's just caress that thought for a moment and gaze at it fondly.


There aren't a lot of YA novels featuring grandparents, and how we love them. There really aren't a lot of YA novels featuring irascible, cranky old people whom we love anyway. I like the grudging affection in this novel; Astrid's for the Titans, Rags for Astrid and Magnolia, even a family grudging affection for each other's failures. This novel is about the distance that is between people - between classes - and how it extends and expands. It is about the fractures that come into families in pursuit of security. It is about worry and strife and betting on yourself with your whole heart. There is a lot of heart in this novel, as well as a lot of math and guys with good tools.

Conclusion: The idea of mechanical horses I've not seen elsewhere, and I really like this interestingly post-contemporary world-building. There are big-picture themes in this novel, as well as fast-paced racing action and amusing characterizations. I can see this book appealing to boys and girls - it's very entertaining and engaging, as well as STEM-oriented. With its familiar feel, this old story of an old sport - betting and racing - is given a truly fresh, original face.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find TITANS by Victoria Scott at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 08, 2016

Thursday Review: THE ORDER OF ODD-FISH by James Kennedy

Synopsis: This is another one I acquired and got signed at the KidLitCon in Wichita a couple of months ago—and I got to meet and hang with the author as a fun bonus! Interesting aside—James Kennedy is founder of the really awesome 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, which brings students, teachers, and librarians together to produce condensed, often hilarious film versions of Newbery Award winners. As it turns out, he was in the running for the Newbery himself for this very book, but lost out to that pesky Neil Gaiman and his Graveyard Book. *shakes fist* NEIL GAIMAN!!!

Neil may have won, but this book still has it all. Hilarity: check. Mayhem: check. A level of quirky-cool-things-per-page that is heretofore unseen: check. Jo LaRouche, our thirteen-year-old protagonist, lives with her aunt Lily LaRouche—who seems to be an aging Golden Age film star of sorts—in a wild, gaudy mansion in the California desert. Jo was dropped on the doorstep as an infant, bearing only a note saying she was a "DANGEROUS baby." This is intriguing, since for much of the book, we bear witness to Jo being possibly the least dangerous or threatening (and definitely the least weird) in a rather amusing lineup of characters that includes a vengeful Chinese millionaire, a freakish reality-show host known only as the Belgian Prankster, various cockroach butlers, and previously unheard of orders of mysterious knights.

Of course, these orders of knights include the Order of Odd-fish, for which the book is named…and as the plot unfolds, the reader finds out the nature of Jo and Lily's connection to the Odd-Fish, as well as the secret of Jo's birth and her ultimate destiny in the magical realm of Eldritch City….

Observations: I see this one appealing greatly to fans of Terry Pratchett, in its combination of silly-yet-serious. Also, like Tiffany Aching, Jo LaRouche is kind of the heir apparent to a hidden world of magical weirdness. And boy, is it weird! And fun. And hilarious. Ever read something and think, in reference to the author, "Good grief, is THAT what it's like inside your brain? Whoa, man." It takes quirky to epic heights. And as such, it might not be for everyone—the ever-growing whirlwind of bizarre might be too much for readers who prefer realistic fiction—but I thought the author maintained the balance with a believable, relatable main character who somehow manages to remain a regular girl in many ways, despite all the strangeness going on around her.

Conclusion: Very, very enjoyable. Also impossible to really describe, so you'll just have to go read it. I'd call it middle-grade-ish, but appropriate for older audiences, too.

I acquired my copy of this book at KidLitCon 2016. You can find THE ORDER OF ODD-FISH by James Kennedy at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 06, 2016

Cybils Speculative Reads: VICARIOUS by PAULA STOKES

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader!

As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.


Writing inclusive speculative fiction is easily doable for a lot of people -- just, craft your imaginary world, know a great deal about the community and individuals who you're portraying -- de rigueur for any writer -- and then add them to the imaginary-ness of your speculative fiction. Done. I'm grateful that Paula Stokes decided to not white-default this novel. Though the Kim girls' culture doesn't figure largely into the story, it's worth having an Asian girl on the cover of the novel, and

Synopsis: Winter and Rose have been sisters like matching gloves, striving together all their lives, from their time in the Korean orphanage to their being brought to the U.S. and "adopted" only to be exploited and trafficked. Now they're out and away from their past -- though it has left indelible scars on them both. The girls work for Gideon Seung, Rose's onetime boyfriend, recording their thrill-ride life experiences for his Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. Dancing all night, jumping from a bridge, hooking up with random hotties: the girls have done it all -- and will do it all -- for Gideon. After all, he saved them.

But, then, Rose vanishes. Her ViSE is returned - with her murder on it. Winter can't find her emotions anymore -- she bounces from panicked to terrified to determined. All she wants is revenge, served ice cold. But nothing is as she thinks it might be -- and as the clues mount up, and her friend Jesse does his best to help her recreate Rose's last days, what Winter thought she knew turns out to be a lie.

Observations: There are many novels about women who have survived abuse, and novels about their emotional struggles. Though we're told early on that Winter and Rose are both struggling emotionally, we don't know how bad it is. I am not yet sure how I feel about the plot twist, and the girls' struggling from the past coming through as part of the plot twist. We get so many "strong female character" novels that when I read one which features a strong woman who breaks, it's uncomfortable. Many won't have seen the plot twist coming, and others will find it upsetting in that it draws into question the whole first half of the novel. Will this turn you off from finishing the novel? Probably not, especially since the novel rebounds and ends on an upswing which promises more story to come.

Conclusion: An adventure, this novel has some suspenseful thriller elements, and a plot twist which may be seen coming by some, but may be an affront to others. The novel ends this episode, but there's clearly room for more -- and this is a duology after all, so there will be another story in this universe. All in all, this is a fast-paced, engaging novel to pack in a bag to keep you engrossed during a long train ride.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Tor Books. You can find VICARIOUS by Paula Stokes at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 02, 2016

Cybils Speculative Reader: MEMORY GIRL by LINDA JOY SINGLETON

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader!

As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.


There are elements to this novel which are so familiar -- THE GIVER vs. DIVERGENT vs. OLD MAN'S WAR vs. NEUROMANCER -- we've dealt with the "downloaded human consciousness" trope before. However, the dystopian grotesqueness of seeing it up close, using teens who are already seeking identity and trying to hold onto it -- who struggle with peer pressure and the overarching adult desire for them to conform make this a compelling read regardless.

Synopsis: At ShareHaven, life is shared -- and extended. Jennza knows it's not her lot to be herself forever -- the ultimate use for her is to take on the memories of someone who has passed away, and live again for that family, with those memories. She's meant to take on another life... but she worries. Is her life going to have her good friends Lorelei and Marcus in it? Will it have trips to the seaside, her silly little pet Petal, and her love of climbing? How do you keep all that makes you... you, if you have to grow up to be someone else?

There's not too much time to worry over that, however; Jennza is

Observations: We don't often, in dystopian novels, get a real sense of "what brought us to this point," and this novel offers only the barest hints of "some big terrible thing happened, and then we decided on this idea." The novel explains more than once that there was no choice but to do this - and the characters don't really react to this as much as the average teen. Though they're conditioned somewhat to accept their place and revel in the idea of exchanging it -- it seems there'd be more than one who rejected this idea.

Religion is pitted against Science in this novel; Scientists are the keepers of wisdom, and belief and faith and even praying are frowned upon as backwards and problematic behaviors in this brave new world. I really wished that the novel had delved further into these ideas, as things like assisted suicide seem compatible with Believers in this world, not Science. Which I found intriguing but a bit odd.

This seems to be a truly post-racial society in some ways - the question of whether someone who didn't look like your long-lost whomever could stand in for them never came up -- which for me was something I was looking forward to exploring. Do people pick their youth based on appearance, or is it only their scores? There is a lot more going on in this society than this book got into.

Conclusion: Though the slang is new, the trope is familiar. A bright, shiny, clean dystopia which walks familiar medical/scientific/we-have-all-the-answers paths, yet prolific Singleton has provided worldbuilding which gives a new depth and provides new ideas to explore for the reader.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of CBAY Books. You can find MEMORY GIRL by Linda Joy Singleton at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!