Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Warcross by Marie Lu

Marie Lu is officially now the most reviewed author on this site! This may be due in large part to a very exciting event that took place at the bookstore I work at two weeks ago when I had the great of fortune of moderating a discussion between the lovely Marie Lu and her friend and fellow author, Alex London. 

Marie Lu

It was an absolutely delight to discuss everything from diversity in books to fan art with Marie, and I am happy to report that she is a genuine kind and compassionate human being. And while I wanted to record the interview and post the transcript here, in all my excitement I completely forgot to do so! So please settle for my review of her newest book, Warcross!

Synopsis

The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships – only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight success.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire, Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem… and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation will uncover a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Review

This is my favorite of each of Marie Lu’s books and I almost didn’t read it. First, it was pitched to us by the publisher as being a middle grades novel (definitely not the case), and second, as my husband often says, I didn’t have a “real childhood” because I never once played a video game. The gaming aspect didn’t appeal to me. For those who might hesitate to pick this up because you think it’s a gaming novel, let me put your mind at ease. Virtual reality is a closer description of Warcross and it is part of the plot, but most of the book does not take place in the world of Warcross, most of it takes place in the “real world,” in Tokyo.

For the number of books I read each year, I’m always amazed a, that I remember any of them, and b, I can still be wholeheartedly surprised to love a book that I didn’t expect to. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I would certainly like Warcross, but I didn’t expect to love it on a level close to that which I love the works of my favorite author, Sarah J. Maas. Emika is now one of my all-time favorite leading ladies, and she is, like her creator, quite the magnificent lady. She is brave, she is compassionate, she is driven to do what is right. And unfortunately, there are those in the story who would like to take advantage of those qualities. Well, not quite unfortunate because without other character’s motivations, there would be no story!

I don’t want to go into too much detail because I feel like just about anything I might say would lead into spoiler territory, suffice to say that if you have read Legend or The Young Elites, you will recognize Warcross as another book in Marie Lu’s catalog that is witty and enjoyable with just the right mix of adventure and a little romance. But it’s way better than Legend and The Young Elites and I enjoyed both of those very much.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $18.99 • 9780399547966 • 368 pages • published September 2017 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 4.35 out of 5 • read in September 2017

Warcross Website

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Warcross

Fiction, Science Fiction

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I had wanted to read Station Eleven for quite a while, since I first saw it sitting on a table in a bookstore. I picked it up regularly in stores and contemplated purchasing it before finally doing so two years ago. And then it sat in my to-be-read pile for far too long. So when I decided to start my book club, The Modern Readers, I thought it would be the perfect first book! In starting a book club, I hoped that if I picked the books, I would really want to read them and it wouldn’t feel like required reading… but, confession time, alas, it sort of did feel like required reading – I was flying through most of the second half of the book while half-awake early in the morning a few hours before our first meeting.

1 - October 2015 - Station Eleven

Synopsis

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. That was also the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves the Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as they story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Review

Station Eleven was a book I desperately wanted to love. As the first pick for the Modern Readers, I was hoping it would just knock my socks off. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find that I was struggling just to finish it, let alone enjoy it.

I don’t know what exactly was so disappointing about Station Eleven, other than to say all of my fellow book club members seemed to feel similarly. Our overall consensus was that the idea was completely intriguing – a disease decimates most of the population and those who survived must figure out how to survive in this new and unfamiliar world. My problem, specifically, was in the characters. They really just existed in the world and their connections and relationships to each other all felt a bit forced and contrived and didn’t really add to the reader’s understanding of the characters.

There was one big exception to this – Clark, the British friend of the man who started everything, Arthur, the great actor. While Clark is absent for the vast majority of the story, when he does come back into play, his presence is not meant to only draw other story lines together, but we really get some insight into who Clark is as a character – the first and only time we really get any character motivation injected into the story.

Other than a perceived lack of character development, we collectively agreed as a book club that we would have loved to see some of the drawings and pieces of the graphic novel mentioned throughout the story that lends the book it’s title, Station Eleven.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780804172448 • 352 pages • first published September 2014, this edition published June 2015 by Vintage • average Goodreads rating 4.02 out of 5 • read in November 2015

Emily St. John Mandel’s Website

Station Eleven on Goodreads

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Station Eleven

Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Everland by Wendy Spinale

I read Everland in one beautiful day sitting on the beach in the Bahamas. Last spring I decided I was going to catch up on my reading and for a five day vacation, I brought 10 books and I finished 7 of them (the total included graphic novels). I’d been meaning to read my ARC of Everland for quite some time and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. Whenever I happen upon a book that has any reference to Peter Pan in the description, I will read it. I shamefully must admit that I have yet to actually finish the original Peter Pan, but I’ve read just about every adaptation and retelling I have ever found.

Synopsis

London has been destroyed in a blitz of bombs and disease. The only ones who have survived are children, among them Gwen Darling and her siblings, Joanna and Mikey. They spend their night scavenging and their days avoiding the ruthless Marauders – the German army led by Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretschmer.

Unsure if the virus has spread past England’s borders but desperate to leave, Captain Hook hunts for a cure, which he things can be found in one of the survivors. He and his Marauders stalk the streets snatching children for experimentation. None ever return. Until the day they grab Joanna. As Swen sets out to save her, she meets a daredevil boy named Pete. Pete offers the assistance of his gang of Lost Boys and the fierce sharpshooter Bella, who have all be living in a city hidden underground. But in a place where help has a steep price and every promise is bound by blood, it will cost Swen. And are she, Pete, the Lost Boys, and Bella enough to outsmart Captain Hook?

Review

The publisher of Everland, Scholastic, was really excited for this book. They sent out manuscripts – unbound sheets of printer paper – to booksellers almost a year before the book’s release. In two years I’ve worked in a bookstore and for the 25 years before that the bookstore had been around, no one can recall being sent an unbound manuscript. Needless to say, as the resident lover of all things Peter Pan at the store, the manuscript found it’s way into my hands.

I enjoyed Everland. It has a clever premise with hints of steampunk and allusions to historical events. It is a quick and enjoyable read, the plot is well paced and well structured. I had found myself in a reading slump before I picked it up to read and Everland is a great book palate cleanser. It is serious enough to hold one’s attention and make you think, but light enough that it doesn’t cause any sort of book hangover that would inhibit one from diving directly into the next book on a lengthy TBR list.

The characters are intriguing, none are exact copies of their original Peter Pan inspirations, but they stay true enough to J. M. Barrie’s characters that certain personality traits and behaviors are predictable. However, Spinale makes the circumstances of those actions a surprise as her setting, while bearing a resemblance to the century-old Neverland, is unique to her story.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $9.99 • 9781338095531 • 336 pages • originally published May 2016, this edition published March 2017 by Scholastic Paperbacks • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 • read in May 2016

Wendy Spinale’s Website

Everland on Goodreads

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Everland

Fiction, Historical, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I purchased Leviathan shortly after I started working at a bookstore, nearly two years ago. It was not, however, until Scott Westerfeld came to said bookstore back in the spring that I remembered that I had the book at home, still sitting on my shelf unread. After a friend finished all three in the series in the course of one night, and I watched Wonder Woman, set during World War I as well, that I figured it was about time I finally read Leviathan.

Synopsis

Alek is a prince without a throne. On the run from his own people, he has only a fighting machine and a small band of men.

Deryn is a girl disguised as a guy in the British Air Service. She must fight for her cause – and protect her secret – at all costs.

Alek and Deryn are thrown together aboard the mighty airship Leviathan. Though fighting side by side, their worlds are far apart. British fabricated beasts versus German steam-powered war machines. They are enemies with everything to lose, yet somehow destined to be together.

Review

Like Marie Lu, Scott Westerfeld is an author who walks the line between middle grades and young adult. Each of his series, and there are many, including the Uglies, are accessible reads for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and adults alike. His effective storytelling and dynamic characters insures that one will never be bored when reading his books and they have great staying power – Uglies, published over 10 years ago, is still a staple in bookstores and on school reading lists.

But I wasn’t particularly intrigued by Uglies, I was much more intrigued by Westerfeld’s take on the start of World War I and his Darwinists and Clankers. The British Darwinists have woven together the “life-threads” of various animals to create everything from great flying whale ships to messenger lizards and many “beasties” inbetween. The German & Austrohungarians have crafted mechanical machines, referred to as “clankers.” Main characters Alek and Deryn are often trying to one-up each other in terms of determining which are better, beasties or clankers. Steampunk definitely suits Westerfeld’s storytelling style.

Leviathan, told in third person but in alternating perspectives between Deryn (Dylan) and Alek, weaves together a complex tapestry of the motivations behind the start of World War I, blending fact and fiction until you have to forcibly remind yourself that the British didn’t set off across the continent in a giant whale zeppelin. As with LegendLeviathan is the perfect book for both boys and girls of all ages, especially for teenagers who love a good adventure that doesn’t center on romance.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $11.99 • 9781416971740 • 440 pages • originally published October 2009, this edition published August 2010 by Simon Pulse • average Goodreads rating 3.91 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Scott Westerfeld’s Website

Leviathan on Goodreads

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Leviathan (2)

Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Legend by Marie Lu

In May of 2015 I traveled to NYC for my first BookCon, and what an experience it was – completely overwhelming, but wonderful as well. My favorite part of the experience, was a panel with Marie Lu, Sabaa Tahir and Renee Ahdieh and I told myself I would read all of their books! I started with Marie Lu’s Young Elites series, and when I found out she would be coming to the bookstore I work at in September, I figured I should read Legend as well!

Synopsis

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Review

Marie Lu is a fabulous writer. And while not my personal favorite (Sarah J. Maas is), she is my favorite author to share with others. I love recommending her books to people because she has such wide appeal. Boys, girls, lovers of fantasy, science fiction, survival fiction (a la The Hunger Games), there is something in her books for everyone. Her writing is accessible to middle grade through adult readers. As a former middle school teacher, I understand the struggle that arises when trying to find books for 12 year olds that are challenging enough, but also appropriate to their maturity level. Marie Lu is one of very few authors that write about older teenagers in a way that doesn’t make parents of middle schoolers cringe.

In regards to Legend, I love how Marie Lu portrays her characters – June as a rule following member of the military, and Day as a kind-hearted fugitive. As their paths intersect, they both grow and evolve as characters, given the effect that each has on the other’s sense of responsibility and loyalty. Told in alternating perspective chapters, readers get to know both June and Day equally well and both are so intriguing that the balance is near perfect – you don’t want to skip either character’s chapters to get to the other’s.

I have been asked by customers at the store if Legend is too much like The Hunger Games or Divergent and while I mention that they are considered to be part off the same dystopian genre, there is a uniqueness to the diversity of characters that Marie Lu includes, as well as the story telling – in my opinion, she is a better writer than the authors of The Hunger Games and Divergent and therefore a better selection for young readers and budding writers.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $9.99 • 9780142422076 • 305 pages • originally published November 2011, this edition published April 2013 by Speak • average Goodreads rating 4.19 out of 5 • read in October 2016

Marie Lu’s Website

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Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Traveler by L. E. DeLano

Back in January, a publicist contacted the bookstore I work at and asked if we wanted to do an event with a recently published YA author, L. E. DeLano, who lived close to the store. Rarely do we turn down an author event with a major publisher, so without a lot of information, we said we would host her first ever event. After doing a bit more research and discovering the her debut is the first in a duology and is a YA fantasy, I got even more excited! The success of the event ultimately surprised us, and I can happily admit it’s one of the first “event books” I’ve actually read!

Synopsis

Jessa has spent her life dreaming of other worlds and writing down stories more interesting than her own, until the day her favorite character, Finn, suddenly shows up and invites her out for coffee. After the requisite nervous breakdown, Jessa learns that she and Finn are Travelers, born with the ability to slide through reflections and dreams into alternate realities. But it’s not all cupcakes, pirates, and fantasy lifestyles – Jessa is dying over and over again in every reality, and Finn is determined that this time he’s going to stop it… This Jessa is going to live.

Review

Traveler has an interesting premise which is not entirely conveyed accurately by the publisher marketing summary I included above. Jessa is a Traveler, and so is Finn. He is not a character she writes about, he is someone she has seen over and over in alternate realities and dreamed of him in her “original” state.

L. E. DeLano plays with the time/space continuum, a la The Doctor, in a wonderful way. By looking through a reflective surface, Jessa and Finn have the ability to trade places with versions of themselves in alternate realities. There are many questions that this raises, logistically and plot-wise, but as Traveler is the first in a duology, I can only hope that they are answered in the second book. But logistics aside, DeLano crafts an engaging and enjoyable story, but her characters are your stereotypical high schoolers, don’t expect anything too original on the love story/witty banter front, through there is certainly plenty of it to go around!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9781250100405 • 352 pages • published February 2017 by Swoon Reads • average Goodreads rating 3.85 out of 5 • read in March 2017

L. E. DeLano’s Website

Traveler on Goodreads

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Traveler