Kat Ross – Some Fine Day

katross-somefinedaySixteen-year-old Jansin Nordqvist is on the verge of graduating from the black ops factory known as the Academy. She’s smart and deadly and knows three things with absolute certainty.

She knows that when the world flooded and civilization retreated deep underground, there was no one left on the surface.

She knows that the only species to thrive there are the toads, a primate/amphibian hybrid with a serious mean streak.

Most of all, she knows there’s no place on Earth where you can hide from the hypercanes, continent-sized storms that have raged for decades.

Jansin has been lied to. On all counts. Faced with the truth in the form of a charismatic young survivor named Will, Jansin vows that her former masters will regret making her what she is…

Some Fine Day by Kat Ross was a story in a sub-genre I’d never heard of before picking up this book: cli-fi. Often set in the (near) future and with a speculative bent, it’s fiction that deals with the fall-out of global warming and climate change, such as Paolo Bacigalupi’s work or J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. In Ross’ version of our future, about sixty or seventy years from our present day, our world has been taken over by huge storms called hypercanes. A hypercane is a sort of permanent hurricane/typhoon that can grow to cover an entire continent. In the wake of their genesis, humanity has fled below the surface and has built a civilization deep underground. It is against this background that Ross has set her story and it’s one that is both impressive and fun.  Read More …

Naomi Foyle – Astra

naomifoyle-astraLike every child in Is-Land, Astra Ordott is looking forward to her Security shot so she can one day do her IMBOD Service and help defend her Gaian homeland from Non-Lander infiltrators. The one of Astra’s Shelter mothers, the formidable Dr Hokma Blesser, warns her that the shot will limit her chances of being a famous scientist – or helping raise the mysterious data-messenger Owleons that Hokma breeds – and Astra reluctantly agrees to deceive the Is-land authorities and all her family and friends in Or.

Astra grows up increasingly conscious of the differences between her and the other Or-kids – then Lil, an orphaned wild child of the forest, appears in Or and at last she has someone exciting to play with. But Lil’s father taught her some alarming ideas about the world, and Astra is about to learn some devastating truths about Is-Land, Non-Land, the Owleons, and the complex web of adult relationships that surrounds her.

Last year I reviewed Naomi Foyle’s Seoul Survivors and while the book and I didn’t really get along, I was very impressed with Foyle’s writing. And the premise of Astra sounded quite interesting, so I was really looking forward to seeing whether I’d get along better with Foyle’s sophomore effort. And I’m glad to say I did. Astra is just as thought-provoking as Seoul Survivors was, but without the problematic elements and Foyle’s use of language and imagery is just as good, if not better as it was in her previous novel.  Read More …

Sarah Harian – The Wicked We Have Done

sarahharian-thewickedwehavedoneEvalyn Ibarra never expected to be an accused killer and experimental prison test subject. A year ago, she was a normal college student. Now she’s been sentenced to a month in the compass room -an advanced prison obstacle course designed by the government to execute justice.

If she survives, the world will know she’s innocent.

Locked up with nine notorious and potentially psychotic criminals, Evalyn must fight the prison and dismantle her past to stay alive. But the system prized for accuracy appears to be killing at random.

She doesn’t plan on making friends.

She doesn’t plan on falling in love, either.

Sarah Harian’s The Wicked We Have Done is the first novel I’ve read that was labelled New Adult and I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it. I’ve always found the New Adult moniker a little vague and wasn’t sure how to interpret it. Was it YA but with slightly older protagonists and a little more risqué content in both action and language? Was it a novel for adults with YA themes, such as self-discovery and finding your feet when going out into ‘the real world’? The nature and necessity of a New Adult category in publishing has been debated and expounded on in great detail, so I won’t go deeper into that here. Still, Harian’s debut hasn’t really answered my questions in that regard and more importantly, it shouldn’t have to. What it did have to do was entertain me and tell a good story, which it certainly did.  Read More …

Julianna Baggott – Burn

juliannabaggott-burnIs the world doomed to an eternity of war and hardship?

Inside the Dome, Partridge has taken his father’s place as leader of the Pures who dwell there. His struggle has led him here, intent upon bringing down the Dome from the inside, with the help of a secret resistance force. But things are not simple from his new position of power and he finds himself tempted by his father’s words: perhaps if the world is to survive it needs the Dome – and Partridge – to rule it…

As Partridge’s resolve weakens, Pressia and Bradwell remain outside the Dome, continuing to piece together the clues left to them from the time before the Detonations. It is their hope that they will be able to heal the Wretches, and free them from their monstrous fusings and the Dome’s oppression once and for all. But everything depends, too, on Partridge. Separated by distance and history, can they still trust their friend and ally? Or is the world doomed to an eternity of war and hardship?

I loved Pure and Fuse, and I was beyond excited to get an ARC for the trilogy’s concluding volume Burn. It is a fitting conclusion to this bleak view of the future and human nature. If Pure and Fuse were bleak and bleaker, then Burn was bleakest and I found myself wondering how on earth Baggott was going to pull off a satisfactory ending, if not a happy one. But Burn provides a fitting conclusion to the tale started in Pure and while it may not be a Disney-style happy ending, it is an ending that leaves us with hope, hope for the characters we’ve become attached to and hope for a better world. Obviously as this is the last book in the series there will be spoilers for the previous books. If you haven’t read those and want to remain unspoilt: Beware, here be spoilers!  Read More …

David Towsey – Your Brother’s Blood

davidtowsey-yourbrothersbloodThomas is thirty-two. He comes from the small town of Barkley. He has a wife there, Sarah, and a child, Mary; good solid names from the Good Book. And he is on his way home from the war, where he has been serving as a conscripted soldier.

Thomas is also dead – he is one of the Walkin’.

And Barkley does not suffer the wicked to live.

Your Brother’s Blood is set in the far future, about 900 years from now, but at the same time it feels a little like weird west fantasy, such as Lee Collins’ books. As such I found it hard to classify the book ending up at dystopian fantasy. Apparently this is a far more common thing than I thought – really, who knew? Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things? – but to me this was my first encounter with it in this way and an interesting one it was too. Towsey mixes religion and zombies and a Western feel into an interesting amalgam that asks some pretty elemental questions of the reader.  Read More …

Joelle Charbonneau – The Testing

joellecharbonneau-thetestingIt’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony (the former Great Lakes) is celebrating. All Cia can think about—hope for—is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization. When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings (”Cia, trust no one”), she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever. Danger, romance—and sheer terror—await.

Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing is one of the latest additions to the crowded dystopian YA field. I’ve seen the usual comparisons to The Hunger Games, but I haven’t read any of the books in that series or seen the film, so it’s hard say whether they’re justified. In some ways the book reminded me of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, even if world-building and story largely have nothing in common beyond a Chicago-setting and the cut-throat competition between the candidates. Then again, in the flood of dystopian stories that have been published in the past few years, it’s unsurprising that certain elements become recognisable, even to one as sparsely read in the subgenre of YA dystopia as I. Whatever the resemblances might be, I rather enjoyed The Testing and found it an interesting read.
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Emily McKay – The Farm

emilymckay-thefarmFor Lily and her twin sister Mel there is only the Farm. . .

It’s a prison, a blood bank, a death camp — where fear and paranoia rule. But it’s also home, of sorts. Because beyond the electric fence awaits a fate much, much worse.

But Lily has a plan.

She and Mel are going to escape — into the ravaged land outside, a place of freedom and chaos and horrors, Except Lily hasn’t reckoned on two things: firstly, her sister’s ability to control the horrors; and, secondly, those out there who desperately want to find and control Mel.

Mel’s growing power might save the world, or utterly end it. But only Lily can protect Mel from what is to come . . .

When I received my review copy for The Farm I’d already seen some buzz and reviews around the blogosphere and those while quite positive didn’t do the book justice at all. They made the book out to be a bit of fluff reading, with vampires, teenaged protagonists, and the obligatory romance. So while I planned to read and review the book, I went into it with medium expectations thinking I’d probably like the story well enough, but my overall reaction would be meh. Honestly, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead I found a well-written, well-developed world, with three interesting main characters, and a really exciting plot. The Farm utterly won me over, despite my expectations.

To start off with, there is the excellent characterizations. The Farm is told from three different perspectives: Lily, her twin sister Mel, and Carter, past-crush and would-be-saviour. I really liked the three very different voices McKay created for these characters, especially that of Mel. McKay switches point of view at the start of chapters, not every other chapter, but each chapter is told from one perspective. Lily’s chapters are told in first person past simple, while Mel’s are first person present, and Carter’s is told from third person limited past simple. This doesn’t just make it easy to distinguish between view points, but it also helps build the way we see the characters. We get really close to Lily, because we are literally in her head, while Carter is kept at a bit of a remove. Mel’s viewpoint was brilliantly done. Mel suffers from Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and while quite high-functioning in the Before as they call it, she’s regressed quite a bit into herself. Her chapters reflect that, by showing us how Mel interprets the world around her through a musical lens and how in her own circuitous way she’s actually quite often spot on in her observations. McKay keeps Mel’s chapters few in number though, so they don’t lose their impact, both on the story and as a device.

Beyond the writing aspect of the characterizations, there is the excellent character development. The character we spent most of our time with is Lily. She’s very protective of her sister and quite distrustful of the world in general and Carter in particular, something which manifests in an extremely prickly and antagonistic attitude. Over the course of the story, she softens and she comes to realise that Mel is not just a burden; she’s also what’s kept her going on the Farm. I loved this arc, though its eventual consequences at the end of the book, took me completely by surprise. The development of her relationship with Carter was fascinating as well, both because of their interactions based on their belief that she is an abductura – a person who can control other people through their emotions – and their history together. I really enjoyed the push-pull of their attraction. Carter is a lovely lead, trying to balance both his feelings for Lily and his need to get her to safety because of the role she could play in the rebellion against the forces behind the Tick-manifestation. These three are joined by three others on their flight from the Farm: Sebastian, Carter’s vampire ally, Stoner Joe, and McKenna, who were both at school with Lily, Mel, and Carter. Each of these has their own character arc and role to play in Lily’s development and I found them all to be interesting in their own right.

Beyond the characters, what surprised me most was the wonderful world McKay created. Not that the world is such a happy place, far from it, but it was well-thought out and quite frightening. I was glad of the fact that there weren’t many info dumps beyond the initial set up at all. We got more information as it came up and was relevant to the story, in other words this was showing not telling, which I really appreciated. The events after the Tick outbreak and the way government reacted are frightening, even more so when you think about its plausibility. Not so much the Tick outbreak, as I don’t expect there to be a mass vampiric creature manifestation any time soon, but the rules and regulations and the ‘protective’ incarceration of teens in camps might not be as far-fetched as one would like.

The Farm was an engrossing read, and while fun and thrilling, it’s very much not just a bit of YA fluff. The Farm is a thoughtful exploration of what it means to love a sibling with special needs, how it’s not just a burden, but can be a gift as well. It examines why some people choose to fight and others choose flight instead of cooperation. It’s a surprising book and one that cleverly mixes dystopia, horror and vampires into a story that is as compelling as it is touching. The Farm, thus far, is the surprise of the year for me and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel The Lair hopefully later this year.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Julianna Baggott – Fuse

juliannabaggott-fuseAfter a young Wretch is abducted by the Dome and ‘cleansed’ of her fusings and imperfections, she is only able to repeat the Dome’s latest message: ‘We want our son returned. This girl is proof that we can save you all. If you ignore our plea, we will kill our hostages one at a time.’ Willux will go to any lengths to get his son Partridge back, including murder. Partridge sacrifices himself and returns, in the hope of taking over the Dome from within, only to uncover more of his father’s chilling, dark secrets.

Outside the Dome, Pressia, Bradwell, and El Capitan are decoding the secrets from the past – tucked away in one of the Black Boxes – to uncover the truth that might set the wretches free of their fusings forever. Those fighting Willux will be pushed over boundaries, both land and sea, heart and mind, in their quest – further than they ever imagined.

A little over a year ago I started off my reading year with Julianna Baggott’s Pure, the first book in this trilogy. I found it a fantastic read, which engaged the reader on several levels, had some fabulous characters and world-building, and most importantly, was just a compelling story. Cue January 2013 and in a month’s time the sequel, Fuse, will be out and I get to review that as well. While I was very much looking forward to reading the book, because I was curious to see what would happen next, I was also a little hesitant. What if the story didn’t hold up or the book would suffer from Middle Book Syndrome? But the story did hold up and the book didn’t suffer from Middle Book Syndrome and I was just as drawn in by Fuse as I was by Pure.

Fuse reunites us with all the main characters from the previous book, with the points of view being shared by Pressia, Partridge, El Capitan, and Lyda. After the final events of Pure, they’ve split up, Partridge and Lyda going with the Mothers and Pressia going with El Capitan and Bradwell to create an army to take on the Dome. From there, they all embark on a journey, one to save those outside of the Dome and to discover who they really are. All of them show tremendous emotional growth in this second book in the series. They have to learn trust, vulnerability, and that love, unrequited or not, is a source of strength and hope, not necessarily a weakness. They all need to learn how to be confident in their abilities, though some more than others. As with Pure, the character that impressed me most in this regard was Lyda. She learns to rely on herself and discovers a competence in herself she’d never have believed possible while she still lived in the Dome. Similarly, El Capitan’s gradual softening towards and the acceptance of his unavoidable relationship with his brother Helmud was heart-warming and believable.

If in the last book we learned the reasons for the Detonations, in Fuse we see how far-reaching they actually were and how hard it will be to change life both in the Dome and outside of it. The story is split in three, following Pressia and her friends outside of the Dome, Lyda with the Mothers on the outside, and Partridge on the inside. All three of them are equally exciting, though Pressia’s in the most action-filled. Through Partridge’s viewpoint we get a better look at the Dome, its society, and at how nefarious his father truly is. While Fuse didn’t suffer from the usual Middle Book Syndrome symptoms, it is very much a middle book, in that it sets up things neatly to be resolved in the last book, at least as far as events in the Dome are concerned. Outside the Dome, however, is a completely different matter and I’m really curious to see how Baggott will get Pressia and her friends back to the Dome.

Baggott’s world-building deepens, providing the reader with even more history of the Before; history discovered contained in the Black Boxes found in the last book. I loved these time capsules, these ‘libraries of data’ as Bradwell calls them. One of them, Fignan, was one of my favourite things about the book. It’s surprising how easily such an unlikely subject as an animated Black Box anthropomorphises into something with awareness and feelings. His function in the book is fascinating; he is a combination of information source, puzzle box and semi-sentient pet. Even if at times he’s a rather convenient way to move along the plot, it doesn’t take away from the narrative. We also get glimpses of what is left of humanity in the rest of the world. We move past the direct environs of the Dome and the city close to it, we see what is left of DC and even across the Atlantic. The consequences of the Detonations seem to have been different across the world and I hope we’ll find out more about this in the last book in the trilogy.

I called Pure a ‘cracker of a read’ and Fuse is that and more. It’s a dense story, with a lot to unpack, but it’s never less than entertaining. Baggott has once again succeeded in making me care deeply for these characters and I really hope they’ll get a somewhat happy ending in Burn, even if it seems unlikely in the wreckage that is the world of the Pure trilogy. Fuse is set in a bleak and dangerous world, but at its core it is a story about hope, love and human resilience. The Pure trilogy is shaping up to be a stunning series and Fuse is a worthy sequel to Pure.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Julianna Baggott – Pure

We know you are here, our brothers and sisters. We will, one day, emerge from the Dome to join you in peace. For now, we watch from afar.

Pressia Belze has lived outside of the Dome ever since the detonations. Struggling for survival she dreams of life inside the safety of the Dome with the ‘Pure’.

Partridge, himself a Pure, knows that life inside the Dome, under the strict control of the leaders’ regime, isn’t as perfect as others think.

Bound by a history that neither can clearly remember, Pressia and Partridge are destined to forge a new world.

I’m starting my year of well in the resolutions department, by having my first review be a YA one! And it is a great book to start off with. Pure is a fabulous story. It is a look at nuclear fall-out and what could happen to a society and its people when they get caught in it and survive. The Fusings that follow – where people caught out in the blast have whatever they had near them fused to their bodies, ranging from wires, tools and toys to entire people – and other results are scary, but also imaginable. And they raise some interesting questions. What would it be like to be forever chained to your beloved dog, meaning you’ll die when it dies? How do you deal with an arm or a leg that’s been replaced with garden scissors or a bike wheel? Now these are combinations I just made up, but there are stranger ones in the book. It does show a resilience to humanity that I hope we’d truly possess if push came to shove.

Not everyone was caught out in the blast though, as preparations for just such an occurrence were being made in the form of the Dome. A haven, protected from the outside atmosphere and radiation, where a chosen few were allowed to take refuge to wait out the destruction and to be able to swoop back in and rescue the rest of mankind once the dust settled. Of course, the Dome is anything but a haven. Its society is oppressive, food is ingested in the form of nutrition pills and the population is enhanced through Coding—physical alterations which give them enhanced speed, strength and intelligence among others. I liked the way the Dome goes from a heaven-like dream to an evil reality. It makes it easier to like Partridge; the Pure – which is what Dome dwellers are called by those on the outside – who flees the Dome to find his mother and to see what life is like on the outside.

The characters in this book are very strong. Pressia is a strong voice, who does what she must to survive. She tries to evade capture by OSR – the resistance army everyone has to join once they turn sixteen – but once caught she tries to survive in their midst. But nothing is as it seems. The same goes for Partridge, he is an outsider due to his parentage and living in the Dome turns out to be far worse than Pressia imagines it. I liked Partridge’s rebellion and critical thinking, though he was incredibly naive. The link between Pressia and Partridge is a little too convenient, but I didn’t mind that, because they made for a great combination to discover this world. Bradwell, the true rebel of the book, isn’t Pressia’s insta-love but it did go rather quickly, however, I loved their story anyway, because Pressia’s growing realisation of her feelings is so very well done. El Capitan is fantastic; he is the character that gives us the clearest view of what it is like to be fused. Yes, both Pressia and Bradwell have fusings too, but neither seems to have as much trouble with them as El Capitan does. I love the way he deals with his fused brother and comes to realise they are one and the same.

The secret star of the novel to me, however, was Lyda. She gets drawn in accidentally and doesn’t let it break her spirit, even if it looks like her future is all but lost. She is put through the wringer, locked into a mental institution and then thrown out of the Dome as bait, all because she went to the dance with Partridge. Her treatment is grossly unfair, but she doesn’t let it take away her oomph, she’s feisty and never stops thinking for herself. Hopefully we’ll see more of her in the next book.

One last aspect that has to be mentioned is the world building, not just the current world of the Dome and the outside, but also the glimpses we get of the Before. It is both intricate and small-scale. The Dome, Pressia’s town and its surrounding land is well-built, but what happened to the rest of the world? The answer to that question remains rather nebulous and I hope we’ll find out more on that in the future. The Before is fascinating. It seemed a rather bleak future – as bleak as the now of the book – with the Return to Civility and the way feminism was ground down and turned back, with girls and women only valuable (and allowed to breed) when they are soft-spoken, obedient and subservient. Can we say nightmare? But how did we get there? What happened? There are many questions as yet unanswered and I hope that we will get answers at some point.

Per the author’s acknowledgement, the book owes a lot to the experiences of the people who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki, horrors which are often left underexposed when discussing World War Two. And has made me wonder about that side of the war and what happened to the people there, something I had never thought about before. So kudos to Ms Baggott for that. I hope the book will have a similar effect on teens reading it, because there might be lessons learned from such reflection.

Pure is a cracker of a read, one I really enjoyed. It united a very interesting premise with great, vivid writing. It might have prompted as many – if not more – questions as it answered, it may end on a new mystery, but it made me think. I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Pure will be published by Headline on February 2. Be sure to check it out for an interesting dystopian read and a new series to get hooked on!

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Veronica Roth – Divergent

One choice decides your friends, defines your beliefs and determines your loyalties … forever.

When sixteen-year-old Tris makes her choice, she cannot foresee how drastically her life will change. Or that the perfect society in which she lives is about to unfold into a dystopian world of electrifying decisions, stunning consequences, heartbreaking betrayals and unexpected romance.

One choice can transform you.

Divergent was one of the books that was recommended to me by Liz. It’s a book I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own, because the YA section is one I often overlook, even though I really like most of the YA books I’ve read, but I loved it! Divergent is set in an post-apocalyptic and firmly dystopian Chicago. Society is split in five factions, and if you don’t make it past initiation in your chosen faction, you’ll be living factionless, doing the most menial of jobs and often going homeless and hungry.

The concept of the factions is fascinating; they are like the Hogwarts Houses writ large. They are centred in on one character treat, to the exclusion of all else. The Abnegation, for example, live their lives according to the philosophy of selflessness, always putting others before your own needs. Candour believes in telling the absolute truth at all times in all situations, even if it might be hurtful to others. Similarly the other houses are Dauntless (bravery), Erudite (knowledge) and Amity (kindness). The thought that at some point humanity split up according to what they thought would be the way to bring peace-everlasting, is an interesting one and the fact that Ms Roth chose benign treats (at face value at least) even more so. She shows us that anything taken to extremes can be bad and that humans are always human and perhaps not meant to live in a utopia.

I love Tris. I love how she struggles to find her true, divergent, self and how hard she tries to fit in. She’s flawed and she knows it, but tries to be her best despite that. Tris is special not just because she is divergent, but because she has a good heart and a good head on her shoulders. She is taught to do some pretty hard stuff during her initiation and ends up having to do even harder stuff to save her life. And while she just gets on with things and does what she has to do, she doesn’t do it without consequences to her spirit. I liked that Ms Roth doesn’t just let everything glide off her protagonist, but that each action, or non-action, has emotional repercussions. It makes Tris’ growth seem more real and natural.

I loved Four, the main male lead. I actually fell a little in love with him myself. He’s fierce, brave, and strong – everything a Dauntless should be, but also kind and smart. He is another one that follows his conscience, rather than the rules. And while he is protective of Tris, he never underestimates her strength and always pushes her to her limits. Their slow romance is enticing and never feels forced of abrupt. I cheered out loud when it finally fully bloomed. Next to the romance aspect, Tris builds other relationships in her new home. She makes some amazing friends, not just among the transfers, but among the Dauntless-born initiates as well. I hope we see some of them return in the rest of the series.

While I loved the plot and found it riveting, I did miss some of the exposition; how did the world end up like this, what is beyond the city gates, why is everything going to hell in a hand basket only now? Hopefully we’ll see some of these questions answered in the next book.

Divergent was a smooth read, written in first person present. This lent it an immediacy and intimacy, that made it almost impossible to put down. While part of a trilogy, the book can be read as a standalone. Divergent is not just about the politics, but also a story of growing up, letting go and finding oneself. I really loved this book; it’s among my favourite reads so far this year. So thank you Liz. And yes… You told me so.