Monday, May 27, 2013

Til the World Ends

Til the World Ends is comprised of three short stories: Dawn of Eden by Julie Kagawa, Thistle and Thorne by Ann Aguirre, and Sun Storm by Karen Duvall. All of the stories are apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic and feature some sort of romance.

In Julie Kagawa's Dawn of Eden, a disease threatens to wipe humans off the face of the planet. Red Lung is widespread and only a small percentage of people survive. After a mysterious man, Ben, and his friend show up at Kylie's clinic, a new symptom appears: bleeding from the eyes. Then the people who died get up again and savagely attack any human around them.  These zombie-vampire hybrids are wild, insanely strong, and bloodthirsty.

The situation basically a zombie apocalypse situation except the zombie aren't around during the day. I liked this story, but it seemed a little run of the mill. The plot was very typical for a zombie situation with one slight difference. The romance is based on instalove (eyeroll) with one sex scene, which was unexpected since it's the prequel to Kagawa's teen series Blood Eden and it did seem a little out of place and out of character for Kylie. I think the characters make pretty stupid decisions and don't stand out much, simply being defined by their attraction to each other. The writing was engaging and really the only reason why I liked this story at all. Overall, it was an ok story with a lame romance and zombie-vampires.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Thistle and Thorne features a post-apocalytic world ravaged by pollution and chemical spills. The only law of the land is kill or be killed and the mob bosses have taken control of each city, ruling with fear and intimidation. The extremely rich get to live in protected communities, away from the harmful pollution. Everyone else, including Mari Thistle, gets to live in the Red Zone, scavenge for valuables, and protect what is theirs at all costs. Mari takes jobs as needed to provide for her little brother and sister. A heist goes wrong when she tries to steal a figurine from a rich community based on out of date plans. She goes into hiding to escape the mob boss Davros that hired her and teams up with Thorne, who works for the mob boss but is using Mari's situation to plan his downfall. Together, they hope to bring Davros' reign of terror to an end.

I loved this story the most out of all of them. There was a sense of companionship between Mari and Thorne  and the story didn't focus too much on their romance. There is initial attraction and they get to know each other over time, but that's about the extent of it. Other events were much more important. These characters had the most development out of any of the other stories and the world was much more interesting. I found the structure of society fascinating and utterly believable if the pollution levels got that bad. I loved that Mari is tough, but has a soft spot for her siblings and will do anything to protect them. The storytelling was good and the pacing added tension and kept me interested. My only real complaint is that the ending feels too abrupt and I want to know what happens to the characters and that world after the ending. This is the only one I would have liked to see as a full length novel.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Sun Storm describes a world where sun storms cause radiation and either kill people or give them cool powers. Sarah Daggot has the power to predict the sun storms and chases them to warn the potential victims and to get power from the storms. She meets another Kinetic who can control the weather, but he's on the run from a rogue government agent set on caging and experimenting on Kinetics.

I did not like this story. I love a good sci-fi story, but emphasis on the science part. There was no real explanation for the sun storms or the radiation or anything else for that matter. I would have preferred a straight fantasy story with magic if there was going to be no effort to scientifically explain the extreme climate change. The love story was frustrating. One moment, Sarah doesn't trust the guy and then she does and then she doesn't. Ugh. The changes came out of nowhere and didn't really make sense to me. The developments and revelations were cheesy and unbelievable. The ending was too convenient. The characters didn't develop much and the villains were practically cardboard cutouts. I would not read another story by Karen Duvall.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mila 2.0

Mila lives with mother in a boring, tiny Minnesota town. She's used to bigger cities and larger populations, but due to her father's death, her mom felt they needed a change of scenery. Mila has gaps in her memory and doesn't remember when her father died or even if she was there when it happened. Needless to say, she is overwhelmed with dealing with her emotions, adapting to her new surroundings, dealing with her overbearing mother, and coping with the death of her father. A car accident that leaves Mila injured uncovers a shocking secret that her mother tried to keep from her: she's actually an android. Now, she and her mother have to run because the government and another mysterious organization are after them. While running from people who want to kidnap her, Mila has to come to grips with her newly discovered state of being and the relationship with her mother that was essentially built on lies.

There have been a few teen series with artificial intelligence as the focus and they seem to be quite similar to each other. I had a set of expectations going into Mila 2.0 because of this, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it didn't follow the typical formula I had become familiar with. The first part of the story establishes Mila as normal teenage girl in a very emotional situation. She keeps to herself and is very shy, but has her own circle of friends. Her social life is thrown into turmoil when Hunter, a mysterious and hot boy, comes to live in the small town. Her friends turn on her when Hunter shows her more interest and this leads to the car accident and revelation of her true nature. I hated her best friend Kaylee, who dropped Mila over a random boy she doesn't even know, but the portrayal is disturbingly accurate. Although I'm usually not a fan of cliche romances, I didn't mind this one. The actual romance is paper thin and based on instalove, but the reason it is there is necessary. It gives Mila something that is only hers, not manufactured by her mother or the people who made her, and it cements her humanity. It's a small portion of the book, but gives her an anchor and something to fight for when she feels despair.

The next portion of the book follows Mila and her mother on the run. Mila finds out what she is and has to process that information. She could have just allowed her anger and despair to consume her, but she pushes through. Not only does she have to rethink her entire self image, but she also has to figure out how to use all her android programming as uncomfortable as that makes her in order to survive. Their journey also makes her differentiate how much of her memories and personality are programmed and how much are hers. The rest of the story is emotional, exciting, heartstopping, and addicting. I love the third act the most because it gives insight into one of the groups out to get her and shows how her humanity and emotions make her a unique hybrid that has the best of both worlds.

Mila 2.0 is a wonderful debut novel. It isn't perfect, but the writing flows well and kept me reading for hours on end. I can't wait for the next book in the series and I would recommend this installment to fans of science fiction and artificial intelligence stories.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond

Oz Reimagined is basically Oz series fanfiction by published authors. The majority of them are either mediocre or bad. A select few proved to be just as magical as the series it's based on. I'm a huge Oz fan. I read most of the series as a kid and the 1939 film is still one of my favorite films. I love reading retellings and reimaginings of the stories, but a few things really annoy me. Stories that completely ignore the existence of Ozma, the ruler of Oz (I'm looking at you, Oz the Great and Powerful movie) annoy me because she's a central and very important character. Also, writing about the wizard like he actually has magical powers is flat out wrong. The whole point of his character is that he is a charismatic charlatan, not a true magician or wizard. A few of the stories fall into these pitfalls, but there were a few stand out stories that I loved.

Seanan McGuire's Emerald to Emerald, Dust to Dust is a definite standout. Dorothy is in disgrace after being rejected by the manipulative and bitter Ozma, but she remains the Wicked Witch of the West and the leader of the Winkies. Ozma threatens her in order to get her to solve a murder in the Emerald City. McGuire brings so much into the story: political intrigue, class war, drugs, bigotry, and complex relationships. This Dorothy is jaded and tired, but still does what is right, even if she receives no recognition. People like her from our world are seen as riff raff that need to be kept out. Much of Oz lives in poverty while the rich in the Emerald City blind themselves with emerald glasses. The sands from the Deadly Desert are turned into dangerous drugs. I would have loved to see this story fleshed out into a full length novel, especially because of the shocking revelation at the end.

One Flew Over the Rainbow by Robin Wasserman retells the basic Oz story in a mental institution. Dorothy is manipulative and draws Tin, Crow, and Roar into a group. The Wicked Bitch of the West is head of their ward and a yellow stripe runs through the east and west wings of the hospital. Together, the group of misfits grow bolder as they barter for alcohol and attempt to escape, but not everyone gets to go home. This contemporary retelling of Oz really stuck with me and used the Oz allusions the most successfully. It's a dark, gritty story that doesn't have a happy ending.

The Cobbler of Oz by Jonathan Maberry is the sweetest story that is great for all ages. Nyla, a winged monkey who can't fly, goes on an adventure with the help of a cobbler to fix  pair of magical silver shoes made of dragon scales. This one is the closest in tone and style to the original Oz stories. It's full of whimsy, magic, and tinged with sadness. The writing is wonderful and touching. I loved the story and it was a wonderful ending to the anthology.

I did enjoy a few of the other stories, but these are the ones that stayed with me. Too many of these stories just didn't stand out, but the ones that do are worth the read.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pretty Girl-13

Angela Chapman is thirteen years old. The last thing she remembers is going on a Girl Scouts trip and encountering a frightening person in the forest. Now, she is wearing weird clothes and has scars she doesn't remember getting. When she returns home, her parents tell her she has been gone for 3 years, but she still has no recollection of even being gone. As she is getting used to being 3 years older than she feels and acclimating to her new life, strange things start to happen. Angela finds chores done around the house, but no one admits to doing it. She wakes up exhausted after getting full night's sleep and finally finds a note written by a fragment of her personality called an alter. Dissociative identity disorder is the name of her condition, more famously known as multiple personality disorder. Now, Angela has to embark on a terrifying journey to collect the memories of her abduction and put her life back together.

I have read a few books on dissociative identity disorder, which is still very controversial and many still doubt the veracity of the disorder. I always thought the subject was much too adult for teens because of the descriptions of abuse that contributed to the fracturing of the main character's psyche. Liz Coley describes these events without an overabundance of detail and makes it palatable for a teen audience. The emotional impact is just as strong even without the more graphic descriptions that would be seen in an adult novel. Angela's story brings to mind the victims of prolonged abuse in the headlines today. I was disgusted, saddened, and filled with rage when further abuse in her past was dismissed by her relatives, by the way her so called friends treated her after she returned to school, and by the three years of abuse she had to endure. So, be prepared for an intense emotional roller coaster.

Angela and her personalities are very different from each other. Angie is an innocent, normal thirteen year old girl. She's confused and wants to find out about what happened to her. Her alters protected her from the horrible truth and in turn protect the reader as well by doling out information bit by bit. Girl Scout is resourceful and excels at cooking. Little Wife is forward, daring, and sexual. Tattletale is a shy, scared little girl. These are only the main ones. Some of the minor ones are much less fully realized. All of them have different opinions, senses of style, and preferences. The readers never get to experience the point of view of any of the alters, like Angela. We only see their written narratives, tape recordings, or the aftermath of their actions. I think it would have been nice to see them more up close and see the world through their eyes, but it was a strong narrative choice and makes us sympathize more with Angela.

Pretty Girl-13 is an addicting read that I finished in one sitting. I needed to know what happened and some of the revelations caught me by surprise. The only problem I had with the novel was the use of technology to instantly get rid of the alters. I'm not sure if that was made up, but it sounds too convenient. It takes decades of therapy to get to that point for most people. Other than that, I would recommend this book for those not afraid of an emotionally heavy, but ultimately inspiring novel.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins