Stand Alone Sunday: Mars One

Title: Mars One

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Themes: Space, love, terrorism, family, engineering, friends/teamworks

Setting: Near future Wisconsin then space

I really liked Mayberry’s zombie series, the Rot & Ruin series with teen Benny Imura. When I heard he had a new book out, a science fiction one  which was getting great reviews, I couldn’t wait to read it, and then the library had a copy just sitting there with the new books. It was meant for me.

Tristan is a typical high school guy. He has a best friend, he’s kind of a nerd, he’s crazy about his girlfriend Izzy. But maybe he’s not entirely typical. He’s a brainiac, has an entire assembly dedicated to him plus a reality TV show, he has terrorists trying to kill him, he has two bodyguards who go everywhere with him, and oh yeah, he’s going to Mars. His whole family is going. His dad is a botanist and Tristan and his mom are both mechanical engineers.

His family was accepted a couple of years ago, but time is running out and they’re finally ready to leave earth. Now he has to say goodbye to his girlfriend Izzy, then say goodbye again for the cameras, and make his way to mission control. It’s time to leave for Mars.

I really liked this book, so much that I finished it in a day. I keep saying I’m done with YA, but books like this are the reason I read it. It takes all the same issues that an adult book would have but condenses them down to the essentials so that what’s left is the central story, no political subplots, no sex (usually), no gloomy angles, just the story. And it’s a good story.

My family has actually discussed this–would you go to Mars, knowing that for now at least, it’s a one way trip? Knowing that you’d never see your family again, that life would be completely unpredictable and that you’d die on an alien planet? Knowing that you’d be doing something no one else in the history of life has ever done? We’re divided. I wouldn’t do it, but I have one kid who absolutely would. (That one is also the hugest Star Trek fan, which is no coincidence, I think.)

Reading this book would make you think about what choices you would make and why. It’s a fast read and a compelling one. I’m giving it an easy 4.3 stars and I recommend it for anyone who likes space or well-written YA.

Two DNFs

I’ve got a couple of recent DNF (did not finish) that I thought I’d mention. Sometimes people are surprised by how fast I read, but they don’t realize that I count ALL books I read, including the ones I try, but just don’t like for whatever reason. Here are a few I didn’t finish lately.

Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan

This one was just what it sounds like, a collection of stories about Greek heroes written as though told by Percy Jackson. I love Percy, but when he’s telling someone else’s story, I find him a little more annoying than when he’s telling his own. My main problem here though is that I really already know most of these stories, so I wasn’t interested in reading them again. There was one in there I hadn’t heard, but I know about Daedalus and Theseus and so on. Just wasn’t interested.

Belle Dame Sans Merci by Astrea Taylor

Belle is a cool heroine, but for some reason reading a story set in Hell was stressing me out! I skimmed this one, so I mostly read it and then skipped to the end. I’m betting this one has a sequel. If you like stories about demons and stuff like that you’ll probably like it more than I did.

 

Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard

16058610Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Author: Susan Crandall

Setting: Mississippi & Tennessee 1963

Themes: family, race, justice, religion, secrets

Starla Claudelle is not looking forward to a summer spend with her strict grandmother, but with her mother up in Nashville trying to be star and her dad working on an oil rig, she’s got no choice. Starla can’t take it anymore and decides to run away and she meets Eula and everything changes.

We read this for book club, and once again, I was the only person who didn’t love the book. Starla is 9 years old, but the author makes her sound like she’s at least 14 years old. Only occasionally does she sound like the child she is. She’s too independent and too smart for her age, but at the same time, she gets into situations that could just be so dangerous – and then they are dangerous!

Then there’s Eula, who takes risks that I just can’t believe a woman in her position would take. I can’t say more without giving away everything in the book, but I just didn’t find it believable. I liked Eula and I liked Starla, but it wasn’t enough for me to really accept the events in the book and that they would happen this way.

The book is really interesting in contrast to Revolution by Deborah Wiles, which I reviewed here. The Wiles book was so much better, maybe because it was told from more than one POV and because the characters were older. This one just touched the surface of the civil rights issues and only seemed less plausible because of it. 3/5 stars, but I will admit that for younger kids I’d rate it higher.

Review: Midnight Pearls

Title: Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of the Little Mermaid (Once Upon a Time #4)

Author: Debbie Vigiue

Genre: fairy tale, YA romance

reprinted review

I am a big fan of the retold fairy tale, so I was happy to find this series of familiar tales and fables rewritten for teens. I just finished this one yesterday, and I enjoyed it. Finneas is out fishing one night when a terrible storm blows up. Just when he is ready to give up and surrender to the sea, he spots a child floating in the ocean. He rescues the girl and together with his wife, they raise the girl as their own. They name her Pearl. It’s a promising beginning, and I did enjoy the book. It’s not really anything unique, pretty much a classic tale. All the regulars from the original story are there – the handsome prince, the Sea Witch – but there are a few twists. I read it in a day, a quick fun story.

If you like this genre, I can recommend some titles from the ‘Once Upon a Time’ series. Overall, the writing is uneven. Some of the stories are really well done. My favorites are The Storyteller’s Daughter (1001 Nights), Sunshine and Shadow (The Magic Flute), and Golden (Rapunzel). Before Midnight, based on Cinderella, is my very favorite. But there are a few I just couldn’t read, one based on Little Red Riding Hood that has her falling in love with the wolf, and some one I can’t remember set in France during World War I. I got this one at the library.

 

Review: Spindle Fire

30653924Title: Spindle Fire #1

Author: Lexa Hillyer

Themes: sisters, sacrifice, jealousy, curses, love

Plot: “Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and her voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood—and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.”

Isabelle leaves everything behind to find a cure for her sister and break the curse. Meanwhile, Aurora is trapped in a dream world, looking for a way to escape and return to her own home. But are the two sisters living their own lives, or are they doomed to repeat a legend?

Reaction: I always love stories about sisters, because I have a sister and I’ve fought many battles for her. And I love fairy tales, so this seemed like a real winner. Unfortunately I felt like something was missing.

I’ve gotten away from YA for the most part, but a good fairy tale is one thing that will suck me right back in. (That and steampunk.) Sleeping Beauty is not my favorite story, but I do like it, especially when the hero is the sister! But this one was nothing like say Two Princesses of Bamarre. There’s a LOVE TRIANGLE. 3 men, 2 women. I did like the characters. I wasn’t crazy about Aurora to start with, but she gets more interesting the longer she’s out of the palace.

I thought Isabelle’s blindness made a lot of her actions unbelievable. How does she get around so well in the forest and on a ship? It was never explained in a way that really made sense to me. And while I’m pointing out plot holes, how does Aurora learn to speak so quickly? It takes babies a long time, and she does it in a day.

I don’t know whether to recommend this one or not. I’m not going to continue the series, but I didn’t hate it. I liked the way Hillyer wove together the story of these sisters and the fae sisters. That was almost enough to make me read more. But in the end, the love story was just not working for me. 2.5 stars out of 5.

 

Cover – 1, Story – 0

Emerson sees ghosts. Or something. That would be enough for any average teen to freak out a bit, but she’s also dealing with the death of both parents in a car accident. She’s been away at boarding school, but her scholarship funding ran out and now she’s back home, facing her demons. Not literal demons, unfortunately; that would have been cool. Her brother keeps trying to fix her, get rid of her visions. Medication helped, but she quit taking it. So now he’s called in the latest expert, a guy named Michael who works for a clinic or something called The Hourglass.

Michael is a hottie. And he sees the ghosts too. Turns out they’re not ghosts, they are shadows from the past. I can’t tell you much more without spoiling the plot, but let me say it becomes a lot like X-Men, but not as good. There was a love triangle like Twilight. Apparently that’s required for teen fiction now. And the whole series ends with a lot of unanswered questions, stuff about what the bad guy is really after, and something about saving the world, and something about it reminded me of Harry Potter.

I guess that was part of my trouble. It just struck me as derivative. I also didn’t like Michael, the love interest, at all. He seemed too secretive and too perfect otherwise. Every girl who sees him, and I’m not exaggerating, immediately starts drooling. I guess he’s so hot Emerson didn’t stop to think about the way he treats her like a kid and won’t tell her anything. Hm, it really DOES sound like Twilight.

Like I said, it’s the first book in a planned series, but I won’t be reading more. I wouldn’t have picked up this one either, except it’s for  book club, so I needed to read it. Looks like two duds in a row for book club. This one is not recommended. I hesitated between 2.5 stars and 3, so I split the difference and have it 2.75.

*This is an encore review, repeated here for new readers.*

Book Review: Steelheart

I’ve been on a Brandon Sanderson binge lately. I got this bundle through Humble Bundle lately, and part of the proceeds go to charity. But then I didn’t have enough storage on my Kindle for all my lovely new books, so I’ve been frantically reading them all day today. I’m not called Speedy Reader for nothing! I got through several short stories today alone. But I also have a review on Steelheart.

Title: Steelheart, Book 1 of Reckoners series

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Superhero sci-fi, near future

Found it: Favorite author

Format: Physical book

Synopsis: “Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart — the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning — and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.”

David is this nerdy guy who wants to take down the Epics – the Superheroes. But I have to say that the character he reminds of the most is Spiderman. See, David/Spidey has secret knowledge/spider senses and that gives him an edge over the city bad guys. The twist here is that the bad guys are the Supers, and David is just a nerdy guy. Instead of spider senses, he has detailed dossiers of information on every Epic known, their strengths, their allies, their habits, their weaknesses. And despite what you might think, they all have a weakness.

David hasn’t shared his information with anyone, because the cops are all working for the Epics. Average people are just trying to keep their heads down and not attract attention. The only ones willing to stand up to the Epics is the Reckoners. So David’s job is to join them and then convince them to go after the biggest target of all – Steelheart.

I really liked this series. It’s written for teens, but it’s a very complex world. I followed it up with the short story Mitosis, which is 1.5 in the series, between this one and Firefight. I loved the worldbuilding in here. Sanderson is great at that, always, he just really thinks the world through before he writes anything. I’m anxious to see what happens next. So anxious, in fact, that I went back on my promise to stay out of the library until I read some of my own books and got the next book in the series. If you like superhero stuff or dystopian books, I’d definitely recommend this one.

Book Review: Ashes

Title: Ashes (Book 3, Seeds of America) 

Author: Laurie Halse Andersen

Setting: Virginia 1780-1781, including the Battle of Yorktown

Escaped slaves Isabel and Curzon have been looking for Isabel’s sister for years, and they finally have an idea where she is. Unfortunately, Ruth isn’t as excited to see them, and they’re stuck in the path of a battle. They could ask the Americans for help, but Isabel is still bitter about the way the so-called Patriots have been treating escaped slaves. Curzon doesn’t like it either, but he doesn’t trust the English even less than the Americans.

And that is the central point of this book – for a war of independence, people of color were never treated with equality or fairness. Huge numbers of Blacks fought in the war, and many of them were former and current slaves. But you never hear the story of these soldiers.

Washington, Jefferson, and other American heroes were all slave owners. Both chased down slaves who had escaped during the war and brought them back. At least Washington freed his slaves in his will and has never been accused of fathering any children with them, so I’d say he sort of tried to the right thing. But Jefferson is different story.

Back to the story – Isabel has no interest in getting involved in the war, so she is trying to find a safe place to wait it out. She hopes to go back to Rhode Island and buy her own farm there, one where she can live with her sister in peace. But her sister won’t even speak to her and the only way to get to Rhode Island is to survive the fighting right now. Curzon’s loyalty to the American cause drives a wedge between the friends and Isabel has no one to rely on but herself.

This is a great series. With the popularity of Hamilton, books set in the 18th century are really hot right now. I won’t say that I liked it as well as Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, but it is really good. Recommended for any teen.

Book Review: Allegedly

Title: Allegedly

Author: Tiffany D. Jackson

Challenge: Read Diverse Books

Setting: Modern day, not sure about place

Themes: Race, family, criminal justice system, mental illness – just wow, so much going on in here, it’s hard to wrap my mind around it.

Story:

Mary is fresh out of prison, what she calls “baby jail.” She’s been stashed there since she was convicted of murder at 9 years old. Which makes no sense, because that’s not at all what would have happened, but this is a book about how messed up things can get. As soon as she’s out, she gets stuck in a group home and given a job working at a nursing home. That’s where she meets Ted, who’s also living in a group home. Now Mary’s pregnant, and if she doesn’t do something, the state will take her baby.

Because Mary was convicted not just of murder, but of murdering a baby. A white baby. And Mary is black.

My Reactions:

This is one messed up book. It’s also really good, so I was torn between wanting, needing to know what happened and having to take break from the horror of it all and where I thought it was going. Everything in this story is so messed up. Her mother is horrible. The workers at the group home don’t care about anyone. The other girls, wow, there’s some seriously bad stuff going on there. But what really made this book good was Mary. Just when you think you have her figured out, the author changes things up and you don’t know what to believe. By the time you get to the ending, you think nothing will surprise you. But you would be wrong.

Would I recommend it? It depends. I admit that I found it so tough to read that I skipped a big chunk in the middle. Then when I got to the ending, I had to go back and read more. But I know that a lot of my friends are not going to be interested in something so dark and grim. I tried to tell my kid about the book (they’re 21), and they found it very upsetting to even hear about it. What hooked me was the mystery aspect of the story – did she or didn’t she? But this is a murder of a BABY, and I should have been more prepared for the emotional impact of that.

Book Review: Revolution

You say you want a revolution, well you know

We all want to change the world.

 

Title: Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy, #2)

Author: Deborah Wiles

Challenge: Women’s History Month, Read Diverse Books

Setting: Mississippi, 1964 – Freedom Summer

Themes: Civil Rights, racial equality, social change, blended families, coming of age

It’s the year when everything changes for three young kids, Sunny, Gillette, and Raymond. It’s a year of revolution, of violence, of triumph, of fear and of hope.

Sunny can’t wait for summer to begin. Swimming at the pool with her friends, going to the movies, listening to The Beatles, visiting her grandma, and going to see A Hard Day’s Night. It’s going to be the best summer of her life.

Until a group of “invaders” come to town and suddenly, her perfect summer becomes something else. People Sunny has known her whole life start acting in new and unpredictable ways. Tempers flare. And the colored folks at the edge of town start showing up in places they’ve never been.

Gillette has a new family, a new father, and a new sister who he just can’t figure out. She doesn’t have any idea how good she’s had it. Meanwhile, he just want wants to play baseball.

Raymond lives in the colored part of town. His parents work at one of the cotton farms, and he helps out by picking cotton in the summer. Now a group of Northerners have come to town and are trying to get everyone riled up. His parents are worried about it, but Raymond figures it’s time for a change. He might be too young to register to vote, but he’s sure like to go to that nice air conditioned movie theater.

I moved around a lot as a kid, mostly living in the Midwest, but also in the South. Never in Mississippi. And as a white woman, I’ve directly experienced racism. But I’ve grown up with it around me, in my schools, in my communities, even in my home. My parents were not overtly racist, but they weren’t perfect either. But I’ve definitely never experienced anything like this.

I loved this book. Her previous book, Countdown, introduced me to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s the same style, combining news stories, photography, and storytelling. Don’t be intimidated by the size of these books. The extra content makes them look bigger than they really are, and both books are pretty fast reads. I would definitely recommend this for kids junior high age and up. I’m anxious to read the next one, which I think will be about the Vietnam War.