Book Review: Stranger and Hostage (Books 1 and 2 of The Change Series) , by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Image- StrangerStranger (The Change, Book #1), by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Stranger is an enjoyable new young adult science-fiction novel that stands out among the many teen dystopian novels published since The Hunger Games made the New York Times bestseller list. Instead of predicting that humans can only respond to hardship with aggression and malice, Stranger imagines a world in which the best of human nature also comes out after disaster.

The story takes places generations after a catastrophic event rocked the world and wiped out most of its technology.  Leftover radiation changes some people, giving them unique powers.  The “change” tends to occur during times of strong hormonal upheaval—pregnancy, birth, adolescence, or menopause.

The City of Los Angeles has been reduced to a small frontier town now called, Las Anclas—full of diverse people— who work together, for the most part, to keep the town independent from despot King Voske’s nearby empire. In Voske’s empire, which looks a lot like the typical dystopian society, “the changed” are controlled by the king and used to keep the commoners in line.

While Las Anclas works to value all its citizens, there are those in the town who fear “the changed”. The town’s sovereignty depends on guarding the city walls against Voske’s army though. Volunteers, called Rangers, protect the city. The town needs every strong warrior and that means accepting any man or woman willing, including “the changed”.

Sheriff Elizabeth Crow rescues teen prospector, Ross Juarez, one of the stories main characters, during a shoot out with one of King Voske’s men. Now the people of Las Anclas must decide if they will protect Ross and let him stay—despite his change.

Brown and Smith fill their world with a diverse cast of fully developed characters, free of stereotypes, and full of progressive ideas about relationships. The story is told through five narrators: Ross, three teen girls, Mia, Jennie, and Felicité and another teen boy, Yuki— each with their own unique personality. Yuki is gay and his romance to another local boy is treated as if it’s any other romance.  In fact, there are a couple of non-straight romances in the book, between minor characters that are also treated as completely ordinary.

The multiple viewpoints made me very aware of the complexities of a town’s politics. As Ross, Yuki, Mia, and Jennie rush to defend their town’s unique hopeful nature, I felt like I was right in the center of a story of action and danger hoping for the best to happen right along with them.

 

Image- Hostage Hostage (The Change, Book # 2)

Target Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

I won’t say too much about this book except that it satisfyingly continues the story of Las Anlas and Voske’s Gold Point City, again using multiple points of view to tell the story from many sides.  I’m looking forward to the next 2 books in the series.

 

 

Book Review for: White Cat (The Curse Workers, Book 1), by Holly Black

Image- White CatHigh school student Cassel Sharpe lives in a world much like ours, except that the mafia is mostly made up of workers—people with the magical power of touch. Cassel makes up for being the only one in his family without a magical power by being the best con man he can be, another family specialty.

When Cassel dreams that a white cat has his tongue, and wakes up on the roof of his boarding school, he’s considered a health risk to his school and is sent home to his worker family.  Cassel has always felt uncomfortable around his family since they covered up for him when he murdered his childhood friend, Lila.  He can barely remember the details of the murder, has no idea why he murdered her, and wants to be back at school where he can forget all about it. Now Cassel must use all the con skills he’s learned to try to get himself back to school, but while he cons his way there, he stumbles upon secrets his family has been keeping from him.

I’m quickly becoming a fan of Holly Black’s writing style.  Cassel’s in-depth understanding of con jobs and lack of understanding about normal life makes him an especially fun narrator in this entertaining, tightly-plotted novel. I guessed one of the twists in the beginning but still enjoyed watching Cassel figure it out. The audiobook is excellent.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Age Range: Young Adult

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Version: Listened on audiobook by through Audible

Book Review: The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime, by Marie Rutkowski

Image- Winner's CurseThe Winner’s Curse ( Book #1 of The Winner’s Trilogy)

16-year-old Kestral, the daughter of a general in the Valorian Empire, is fast approaching the time when, by law, she must join the army or marry.  To distract herself, she buys a Herranian slave at the market, in a misguided attempt to help the young man. But her dealings with the new slave—Arin– open her eyes to how the Valorian Empire gained, and continues keep, its power.  Arin and Kestral are clearly drawn towards one another, but each is also fiercely devoted to their own country, and as they try to know each other better, their eyes are opened to the complicated political situation they are smack in the middle of.

This is an especially intelligent YA fantasy with a young women, who not only pursues romance, but also has her own political ambitions. I liked the way this story was told from both Kestel’s and Arin’s perspectives. Rutkowski sets up a believable living, breathing colonial-styled world full of political intrigue, and explores all the complex realities of trying to purse a relationship when there is an imbalance of power.  I identified with both Kestrel and Arin, and as their story unfolds, and felt just as swept up in their fondness for each other, even as the realities of their political situation forced itself in between the two of them, I kept hoping they’d somehow be able to stay together.

 

Image- The Winner's CrimeThe Winner’s Crime (Book 2 of The Winner’s Trilogy)

I’m not going to say much about the plot of this book because I don’t want to spoil the ending of The Winner’s Curse.  I will say I enjoyed this book as much as the first.  The story becomes even more political and I like how the romance simmers behind the scenes of Kestral’s and Arin’s devotion to their countries, each to trying to figure out how to do the right thing. As Kestral and Arin become further pulled into the political world, it becomes harder to figure out what is the right thing.

Like the first book, the second book wraps up the current plot and opens up an entirely new situation for the third book.  The third book looks like it will come out March 2016.  I can’t wait!

PS- The audiobook version of both books is excellent!

 

 

 

 

Review for: Stray (Touchstone #1), by Andrea K. Höst

Image- StrayWhile walking home from school in Australia, 17-year-old Cassandra Devlin mysteriously ends up in another world that looks similar to Earth, but isn’t.  She’s not sure how she got into this new world and can’t seem to get back to Earth, so she focuses on surviving alone in the wilderness of her new strange world.

This is an indie published novel and currently available for free on Kindle or Nook.  It’s the first of three books in the series.  I really liked Cassie’s basic common sense at the beginning of the story.  She’s clearly terrified by her situation, but manages to trundle on—as most people would—and figure out how to survive in her weird new world.

The story is told in journal form, so there’s an awful lot of telling at first, but that changes in the second half of the book.  The story was oddly hypnotic for me.  I kept wanting to read more and more.  The new world Höst creates is pretty cool.  As someone who enjoys learning languages, I could relate to Cassie’s struggles with becoming fluent in an alien language with no one who knows English around to help. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Age Group: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction /Fantasy

Book Review for: Paris in Love, by Eloisa James

Paris in Love

After surviving breast cancer, Shakespeare professor and romance novelist, Eloisa James, takes a year long sabbatical in Paris with her husband and their children. James’s memoir is made up of expanded vignettes from her Facebook and Twitter posts. Her thoughts on Paris are literary, witty, insightful, and a tad pretentious— in the fun way one would imagine a romance novelist to write about Paris.  James really gets into the fantasy of “living in Paris” with detailed descriptions of museums, fashion, cooking, eating, and shopping.  The fantasy is balanced out though with the realities of life, such as her children struggling with their new school and her struggles with gaining—and then trying to lose— weight, due to all her enjoyment of French food.  I listened to this audiobook over the course of a week and felt like I was visiting with an entertaining adventurous friend each day.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Age Group: Adult

Genre: Memoir

Audiobook Version:  Yes. Enjoyable and read by the author— though her voice takes a little getting used to at first.

TV Review for: iZombie pilot

iZombieiZombie has the potential to be a younger, less aging Castle or Bones-like procedural with entertaining cases, lots of humor, and likable quirky characters. It has the same executive producers as Veronica Mars and is based on the comic iZombie. Basically it’s like, what if Veronica Mars was a med student who got turned into a zombie.

Liv Moore—another acerbic, tiny blond, much like Veronica or Buffy — has the perfect life as a brilliant medical intern with the perfect fiancee.  That’s all destroyed the one time she goes to a party with a colleague and is turned into a zombie. Now she works at a morgue, in order to have access to brains, and discovers she gets flashes of the person’s life when she eats their brain.  Her zombie-knowledgable morgue co-worker volunteers her to help a cop solve the murder of the latest Jane-Doe, but tells him she’s a psychic, instead of a zombie, and Liv begins to build a new life for herself.

It’s on the CW on Tuesday nights at 9pm ET,  available to stream on Hulu and the CW, and episodes are available for purchase on iTunes.

Favorite Movies Watched in 2013-2014

Romantic Comedies

Obvious ChildObvious Child –  In this funny, feminist rom-com movie, Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a New York City stand-up comic dealing with the break up with her long-term boyfriend and with an unwanted pregnancy after an amusing one-night stand. The movie deals with abortion in a funny, sweet, no-nonsense way as Donna figures out how to deal with the earnest guy from her one night stand. Jenny Slate, who played the hilariously obnoxious Mona-Lisa in Parks and Recreation, is both appealing and humorous as Donna.  I also loved the interactions between Donna and her parents—overall an enjoyable movie. (Available on Netflix DVD and Amazon Prime, also on iTunes for purchase.)

Dramas

PersepolisPersepolis– This movie had been on my to-see list forever and I’m glad I finally broke down and watched it.  It’s based on the graphic novel of the same title and follows a young girl’s experience growing up in Iran during the Iranian revolution.  Her family has some connection with France too, because she and her family speech French—so the whole movie is in French with English subtitles. I remember watching the Iranian revolution as an American teen but only knew the details from an outsider perspective.  This movie shows how the revolution personally affected its own citizens, especially young intelligent women.  (Available on Netflix Instant and for purchase on iTunes or Amazon online.)

Frances HaFrances Ha– One of those slice of life movies about some lost young creative person living in New York. I tend to like these kinds of movies.  In this one, Frances is a dancer who is coming to terms with the fact that she’s probably not going to make it professionally in dancing. It’s a more likable Girls or Woody Allen movie. (Available on Netflix Instant, Netflix DVD, and available for rent or purchase on iTunes.)

 

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars- (Available on Netflix DVD, also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Online.) I think by now everyone’s heard about John Green’s charming romance about two teens with cancer.  While I slightly prefer the book, the movie does an excellent job.  If you’re one of the few people who haven’t read or seen it, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s sad at the end, but it’s also funny, insightful, and utterly charming all the way through.

 

Animated

Princess MononokePrincess Mononoke– (Available on Netflix DVD) – My son watched this movie with me when I was super sick with thyroid issues.  I can see why it’s one of his favorite movies.  It’s unique to western animation films in that there really is no “good guy” and no “bad guy”.  Instead there are two groups with opposing ideas that they are equally passionate about.