Archive for the Young Adult Category

By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

Posted in Events, Fiction, New release, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2015 by jaclemens

IMG_0764“Babilar was starting to grow on me,” David comments in Firefight, a book that is growing on me. Babilar, short for Babylon Restored, is what they call Manhattan after it has been flooded by They Might Be Giants an Epic called Regalia. Only the tops of the skyscrapers now stick up above the waterline, and the denizens of Babilar live on the rooftops. They survive at the whim of Regalia, but they are sustained by the strange glowing fruit that inexplicably grows inside the upper floors of the buildings, courtesy of a mysterious force known as Dawnslight. A former judge, Regalia rules Babylon Restored with her own brand of law and order, just as Steelheart ruled Newcago. Now that Steelheart has been deposed, Regalia sends other Epics to draw the Reckoners out of Newcago. The Reckoners are accustomed to moving from one base of operations to the next, but David isn’t. He’s never been out of Newcago, and Babilar is completely outside his comfort zone. But Firefight is there, and she and David have unfinished business.

FullSizeRenderI was excited to find out how David and Firefight would resolve their differences; I was not expecting the introduction of Newton, Obliteration, and Regalia as the main threats (although I did manage to collect all three cards). Brandon Sanderson is a world builder at heart, so he takes us on a little journey to see another transfigured city, how another Epic despot does things, and how the residents react differently. The change of scenery is effective as progression for the characters, and introduces a new cell of Reckoners. Firefight is the titular character, but she’s not front and center in the story. She is deserving of the marquee, though. When she is Firefight she is spectacular, and, when she is content to be Megan around David, the interaction is authentic. My expectations were met in that regard, but Sanderson didn’t stop there! All of his foreshadowing was brought out by the eerie neon glow of Babilar as he continues to build toward Calamity, the conclusion to the Reckoners series.

In Person

Posted in Events, New release, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2014 by jaclemens

Rob (with therapy dog) and Dan (wearing Bavarian hat)

I recently watched the first season of Battlestar Galactica at my older brother’s insistence. He thought I would like it, and he was right! It’s an excellent series, and – although I came late to it – the timing was perfect for me.

At the end of March I went to see Dan and Robison Wells at Weller Book Works. Dan was back in the U.S. touring for Ruins, the finale of the Partials sequence, so I passed on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s appearance at the University of Utah the same night to meet the brothers Wells.

Partials was inspired in part by Battlestar Galactica, and Ruins examines many of the same ramifications: what if the Partials not only look human, but are programmed to think they are human? What would happen to the offspring of a Partial and a human mating pair? War between the two sides has decimated the human population, and a faction of humans consider using the nuclear option against the Partials, condemning their own kind in the process. Humans created the Partials and bio-engineered them with certain fail safes to make them dependent on humans, so all sentient life on the planet will be eradicated  if the two sides can’t work together.

Wells was aware of the disappointing conclusion to BSG (I haven’t gotten that far yet myself, but I’ve heard the reactions) and promised to deliver a more-satisfying ending to his series. There is a payoff to the conflict, but the resolution left more to be desired. If the two peoples are to be interdependent, why do the romantic pairings split neatly down the human/Partial divide? It is a YA series, so it has the requisite love triangles. It does not have a fitting demise to the villain of the first two books, however. Her arc gives way to other monstrosities with which Kira must reckon. Ultimately only one of the geneticists who had a hand in creating the Partials survives, and that too seems unbalanced.

EJOI have finished reading the Partials sequence, but I haven’t finished watching BSG. Some of the big reveals have already been spoiled for me, but my brother isn’t to blame. He tried to warn me, but it was unavoidable. I had to go see Edward James Olmos (Admiral Adama) when he came to the Salt Lake Comic Con’s Fan Xperience in April! If you’re going to get spoilers, you might as well get them from the show’s star! His panel was stellar, and I was able to shake his hand the next day at his table. My brother wanted me to ask him if Deckard was a replicant, and Olmos said “Of course he was a replicant! I was the only red-blooded American in the movie [Bladerunner]!”

After I told Olmos I admired him I realized I was wearing a silly Kermit hat!

I told EJO I admired him while wearing a silly Kermit hat!

Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol) was also a guest at FanX, but I missed his panel due to a scheduling conflict. Douglas didn’t miss Karl Urban watching BSG on their flight to Salt Lake City, however! Urban (Bones) claimed to be just like us as a fan, but I found that statement suspect. Urban has most recently appeared in the tv show Almost Human, in which he played a human detective with an android partner, after all.

SpinerAnd then there was Brent Spiner, who played Data, the greatest android of them all! He was pretty great at playing the crowd as well! Given the heavy emphasis on Star Trek actors at FanX, I wanted to go in a Khan costume from Star Trek Into Darkness.

Ultimately I had to settle for reading the graphic novel Star Trek: Khan, by Mike Johnson. It details how Khan came to be bio-engineered (twice) in addition to memory tampering. It reminded me of  Isolation, the point-five story in the Partials sequence. Both show how the genetically-modified warriors were trained and manipulated by their creators; both stories result in biological warfare that destroys the ecosystem and the population.

My FanX read was Infinity Blade: Redemption by Brandon Sanderson. He was a FanX guest, as was ChAIR Entertainment, the developer of the Infinity Blade games. An oversight scheduled their panels concurrently, so I only got to see Sanderson. This installment of the Infinity Blade lore tells of how the God King (Raidriar) and Siris (Ausar) came to be Deathless through – you guessed it! – the wonders of bio- engineering! I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t the secret to Sanderson’s prolific writing!

The epilogue to my Fan Xperience took me back to the prologue; it was a final panel featuring Rob Wells, Brad R. Torgersen, and other local authors of dystopian literature. I read Blackout before FanX (and before Ruins, in fact). It explores what happens when a virus interacts with the developing brain of teenagers. Some of the teens (and only teens are susceptible) who have the virus manifest superhuman abilities. It’s the X-Men minus the mutated x gene! Most of the teens are unaware of their unique powers, and go about being typical teenagers. Others have been identified early and trained – as terrorists. All the typical teens are rounded up and screened for the virus, as the Army intends to fight virus-fueled fire with virus-fueled fire. It’s an interesting premise for X-Fans, and it features a fine diabolical mastermind. Establishing the story takes some of the energy out of the equation, leaving it incomplete. There will be a sequel, Dead Zone, coming this fall, and, like the Partials sequence, it has a point-five story called Going Dark. I’ve already ordered Dead Zone (war with Russia!), and may go on to download Going Dark for the additional world building. Come to our store to meet Robison Wells in person and get his new book signed when it comes out!

Strikes Again

Posted in New release, Recommendations, Young Adult with tags , , on September 24, 2013 by jaclemens

15704458Sanderson strikes again in Steelheart, released today! It’s his second YA book this year, and like The Rithmatist it features a non-powered protagonist who gets ahead by meticulous attention to detail. David also lost his father, but, unlike Joel, he witnessed his father’s death. He watched as Steelheart brutally murdered an ordinary man who thought Steelheart was the hero they needed. They need a hero because every Epic who gained superpowers at the advent of Calamity became a villain. There are no heroes save for the Reckoners, a shadow ops group of humans that take down the Epics within their reach. They choose their battles carefully, picking the Epics who appear unbeatable yet possess hidden weaknesses. Not even the Reckoners will stand up to Steelheart, however. His rule of Chicago is uncontested until David alters the already altered landscape. He saw Steelheart bleed the day his father died, and will stop at nothing to strike again.

That is the premise of Reckoners #1, but it’s not what makes Steelheart so gripping. Sanderson’s take on the superhero genre is full of great characters who don’t need to wear spandex suits to be colorful. That’s how he succeeds in taking something familiar and reinventing it – by creating characters with motivations and secrets in addition to special abilities. I should point out that I’m describing the Reckoners and not the Epics. It’s their series, and they make it work. The Epics may have impressive powers – Nightwielder is the Epic version of the Darkling – but the Reckoners have impressive personalities. It’s David’s heart, not Steelheart’s immunity, that makes the difference!

It’s worth noting that both Sanderson and Wells – friends who share a writing group – use alternate versions of Chicago. In Steelheart much of Newcago has been turned to steel (including part of the lake), and in Fragments the lake has flooded the low-lying part of the city (including Soldier Field, site of an important scene in Steelheart).

Sunny Day

Posted in New release, Reading List, Young Adult with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2013 by jaclemens

Siege and StormI’m always glad when summer turns to fall, but I haven’t finished reviewing summer books yet! So if you didn’t get enough summer sun, I give you the Sun Summoner, Alina Starkov! She doesn’t just walk in darkness (see previous post) she dispels it, allowing safe passage through the deadly Fold that divides Ravka. When last we saw Alina, she was escaping the Darkling who had enthralled her power to increase his own. She abandoned him in the Fold, leaving him to perish in the everlasting darkness he created. Alina rescued her friend Mal, and together they sailed to a distant land to lead ordinary lives. That would be nice for them, but it would make a rotten second book in the series. Fortunately the Darkling tracks them down – he survived, and gained terrible new powers in the process! Even so he still requires Alina’s ability, and they go off in search of another amplifier to increase its potency. All the conflicting plans come to fruition with minimal resistance. A new character is introduced, and he spirits Alina and Mal away from the Darkling. What follows is a tour of the other districts countryside, complete with pseudo-love triangle, that reminded me too much of the second book in another young adult series. There is another overwhelming confrontation with the Darkling and his hordes, but Alina and her ragtag band of freedom fighters manage to slip through the siege. They take refuge in an underground bunker, and the Mockingjay Sun Summoner becomes a symbol of the uprising to come in the last book in the trilogy. I didn’t care for the third book in that other popular series, so I wouldn’t continue reading this series if not for a singular surprise in the ending. I prefer Bardugo’s short fables set in the same world, such as “The Too-Clever Fox,” to the tired trilogy approach.

FragmentsFragments by Dan Wells is an example of a second book in a series that is more exciting than the first. It’s not an example of a summer book – came out in February – but I read it in June and I’m reviewing it in September. I deliberately waited until I read Siege and Storm so I could review the two books together. I anticipate doing the same with the third books – Ruin and Rising (Grisha #3) and Ruins (Partials Sequence #3) – when they come out next year.

After learning that she is neither human (as she was brought up) nor a standard Partial (the enemies she was brought up to fear), Kira sets out on a voyage of discovery. She hopes to discover the truth about her own nature and hopefully unlock the secret to the survival of both races. Leaving behind Marcus, her human companion who wouldn’t understand, she goes off with Samm, her Partial counterpart with whom she cannot link. She is trying to embrace both sides, to bring them together and save both sides, but she is rejected by both sides. Kira is not mistaken for a saint or fanatically followed like Alina. She does get to travel cross-country, but in the place of the Shadow Fold there is the Desolation of the Midwest caused by the destruction of the oil fields of Texas. Flying monsters are replaced by acid rains. No edible forage remains for their horses, no bridges remain for crossing overflowing rivers. Kira and her traveling companions don’t have a fantastic flying contraption like Alina uses to traverse the wasteland, so they have to find their own innovative ways to cross. Where Ravka is thinly veiled, this post-apocalyptic America is nuanced and believable. First they travel to flooded Chicago, then on to ravaged Denver. It is a long journey on horseback, but the pace doesn’t slow down. Surviving the trip is challenging enough – one of the foursome doesn’t see the end destination – and finding the information they seek hits snag after snag. In pursuit of Kira and her peculiar genetic profile is the nefarious Dr. Morgan, from whom Samm helped her escape in book one. Wells broadens the scope and deepens the plot in book two, making it more compelling as the story progresses. I read Partials in May and Fragments in June, but even with waiting until September to write this review it still seems like a long wait for the conclusion of the series in March!

Circle in the Chalk

Posted in New release, Reading List, Recommendations, Young Adult with tags , on July 24, 2013 by jaclemens

RithmatistTriangles within circles within squares – it’s an indecipherable puzzle. But these aren’t crop circles; they’re chalk circles. The magic system in The Rithmatist is based on geometric lines written in chalk. It comes as no surprise that Brandon Sanderson is a whiz at inventing magic systems, but it’s refreshing to see a protagonist who’s a whiz at that system without any magical ability. Joel is a 16-year-old student at Armedius Academy, a school that instructs both traditional and magical students. Joel is neither a Rithmatist nor a traditional prep school student; as the son of a humble chalkmaker and a cleaning woman, he’s an aberration at a place like Armedius. He doesn’t fit in with either group, although he longs to be a Rithmatist. He’s memorized all the complicated variations of the defensive chalk circles they use in duels, as well as the history of the duelists who used them successfully. He’s a student of the game without the specialized skill set needed to participate. But when a mysterious attacker begins abducting the most skilled Rithmatists at Armedius, it’s up to Joel’s understanding of the magic, not his innate ability to use it, that unravels the secret plot.

I’m an unabashed fan of Sanderson, and there is a lot to love about this book. It’s a fantastic reworking of the magic school concept, with academics applying the magic to their advantage. Joel is an outsider who finds his way into the inner circle. The alternate history is great, with the United Isles of America bearing new names. Armedius is one of eight academies that teach Rithmatics, and it’s located in Jamestown on the Isle of New Britannia. Europe was conquered by the JoSeun Empire, and the exiled monarch of England is the one who discovered Rithmatics. That ties magic to the Monarchical Church, building another layer to the clockwork culture that developed in America. Joel is surrounded by a colorful cast of characters, and his interactions with them are perfect. The illustrations of the chalkings – chalk creatures drawn to assist in the duels – are delightful, and the diagrams of the different defenses are highly detailed. The Rithmatist is also Sanderson’s most personal book to date, with a main character who shares a name with the book’s dedicatee, and a dark menace located in Nebrask, the state based on Sanderson’s home state of Nebraska. The Rithmatist is a sheer delight for Sanderson fans like me, and would serve as an excellent introduction to a younger generation of new fans.

Backlist

Posted in Fiction, Reading List, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2013 by jaclemens

Appointment in SamarraBacklog may be the more accurate term, as I failed to blog the past two months, but I have been brushing up on my backlist. The Marriott Library had a sale in April, and I managed to pick up paperback copies of two books already on my list: A Separate Peace by John Knowles and How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. The first is a book I should have read ages ago. My grandfather also went straight from high school into the war. It was the only option. Now I have a better grasp of what that would have been like for him and his older brother. As for the second, the best I can say is the cameo appearance was brilliant!

While I wasn’t blogging about those books I was playing the game Infinity Blade, so I downloaded the story Infinity Blade: Awakening by Brandon Sanderson. I don’t read many adaptation stories, but I’ll read just about anything by Sanderson. I also dipped into Partials, the first book of a series by Dan Wells, one of Sanderson’s cohorts on the Writing Excuses podcast. I’ll be starting Fragments, the second book, this weekend. I’m also working my way through A Blaze of Glory by Jeff Shaara in preparation for the next one, A Chain of Thunder.

But the pinnacle of my backlist reading has to be Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara. I received one of the new Penguin Deluxe Classic Editions of O’Hara’s quintessential first novel, which went on sale at the end of April. I read the majority of it in an appropriately opulent location, a salon outside the Grand Ballroom of the Grand America Hotel. I was there to sell books for the Congress for the New Urbanism, and one of the Congress members commented on the rarity of seeing anyone reading this classic work in the current day. O’Hara’s style of writing feels anachronistic, but the man wrote one hell of a backstory! One might think my blog has had an Appointment in Samarra (a phrase that has likewise fallen from our vernacular), but I have a great many new releases to review this summer!

Low-Res

Posted in New release, Young Adult with tags , , on February 25, 2013 by jaclemens

Different GirlThe Different Girl is a different book for Gordon Dahlquist. It’s written for a different audience and told by a different voice. I’d like to hear what that voice sounds like on the audiobook, for the narrator is no ordinary girl. Not by our standards, at any rate; by her own standards the only thing that distinguishes Veronika from Caroline, Eleanor, and Isobel is the color of her hair. It’s not until May arrives on the island that Veronika begins to recognizes differences, for May is a very different girl.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of what makes a girl different, and the story only works in Veronika’s voice. I felt constrained by her limited first person point-of-view, however. Without the larger picture available the story had an unfinished quality to it, which may have been intentional.  As a fan of Dahlquist’s books for adults (very different books), this seemed decidedly low-res.