October 8, 2015

Review: Evolution

Evolution Third book in the Extraction trilogy
By Stephanie Diaz
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin (Macmillan)
Review copy
Read my reviews of Extraction and Rebellion

Clementine has been to the center of her planet and back.  She expected to find a better life, but instead found corruption and a horrific plan to sacrifice everyone on the Surface to save those in the Core.  She joined a rebellion, but recently discovered a truth that changed everything, and an external threat that just might be more of a danger to her people.

I must admit, I was worried that the aliens would let Commander Charlie and the other officials off the hook.  Invading aliens with advanced technology would be a reason for some to resort to extreme measures.  I think there's never a reason for the kind of medical experimentation that they were doing, but at least it is more of a reason than they were doing it because they're the bad guys and thus do bad things.

I've been looking forward to the arrival of the aliens since the end of EXTRACTION, when their existence was revealed.  REBELLION dealt with the eponymous rebellion instead of picking up that thread. While I was quite satisfied by the alien's appearance in EVOLUTION, I wish Stephanie Diaz had seeded some more information about them earlier in the trilogy.  I was really interested in their past interactions with humans and sad that that was only a fact in this book.

I continued to enjoy Clementine and Logan's relationship, as well as the refreshing lack of a love triangle.  There are not many YA dystopians without one.  Both of them are ridiculous about offering to sacrifice themself for the other, but I believed in their connection and their worries. 

I can't say I'll ever be a dystopian fan, but I truly enjoyed the Extraction trilogy.  I think it is because it leaned more towards the science fiction end of things, and really expanded beyond the government versus one special girl.  I look forward to seeing Diaz's next novel, now that her debut trilogy is done.

Stephanie Diaz is half-Latina and has written about what diversity means to her at Latin@s in Kid Lit.

October 6, 2015

Review: The Nest

The Nest By Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Available now from Simon & Schuster BFYR
Review copy

Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen are both titans of children's literature.  Their first collaboration is a creepy confection sure to delight fans of CORALINE.  I hate to make the same comparison as the marketing, but this is one of those cases where it is true.

Steve's baby brother is sick.  It is a congenital problem, and he needs surgery, and he might not ever be completely normal.  That's when Steve first dreams about the angels, the wasps, who offer to help.  At first it seems like his dreams might just be a sensitive boy dealing with a tough time, experiencing his family's stress the only way he can.  But the dreams are getting more sinister, and Steve is starting to suspect that he shouldn't have agreed to let the wasp queen help.  Of course, no adults will believe him that they need to protect the baby from the wasps.

Klassen's art is a terrific accompaniment to the story.  In black and white his distinctive style looks quite sinister.  It's startling white shapes on black backgrounds and shadows on shadows.  Although the illustrations look quite simple, each enhances the mood of the text.

Oppel's writing is in fine form.  The text is rather large on the page, so THE NEST is even shorter than it seems.  The words are as deceptively simple as the illustrations.  Even a slower reader probably won't take to long to get through THE NEST, excepting for breaks to slow the creepy-crawlies.  As short as the story is, it's the kind that burrows into you and makes you look at the world around you in a different way, as everyday things become sinister.  It's also a well done portrait of childhood anxieties, both normal kid fears and trying to understand the fears of your parents which you can sense even when they try to hide them.

I expect this scary story will become a new children's classic.  If it doesn't, that's a true shame.

October 5, 2015

Movie Monday: Attack on Titan, Part I

This past week, the Attack on Titan: Part I movie premiered in the US.  You might be more familiar with Attack on Titan by its original Japanese name, Shingeki no Kyojin.  It is an extremely successful manga series that has been adapted as an anime (second season coming soon!), a video game, and now a movie.  It has also spawned spin-off mangas and novels. 

The producers of the movie took several risky liberties with the story.  They keep the premise, that the remains of humanity are living in a walled city under siege by giant beings that eat humans.  They jettison much of the rest of the story.  Unfortunately, these risks don't pay off.

It's understandable that a long series would have to cut quite a bit of material to fit into a movie, even two movies.  Still, it is inexplicable that they would cut the most popular character, Levi, among others.  Worse, the missing characters are replaced by new characters we're given no reason to care about.  If there was space for a character there, why not use the original?

Of course, the characters that remain are butchered.  Their motivations are either missing or replaced by something far weaker.  This means that most of the characters make no sense, despite character being a strength of the original.  (Jean, I think, suffers the worst inexplicable motivation.)  And what is done to Mikasa (Mizuhara Kiko) is a tragedy.  In the Attack on Titan manga, she's a force to be reckoned with.  She's the best fighter and quite smart.  Here, she sits and cries while a titan approaches and makes no effort to run or hide of anything.

Trailer still of Mikasa-in-name-only
There are a few reasons to see the movie.  The special effects for the titans are pretty cool, nightmarishly distorted human beings.  They're pretty goofy until the blood starts flowing, and then they're just plain unsettling.  There are some good jokes, plus lots of unintentional comedy.  Attack on Titan: Part I is the kind of movie that you watch with friends in order to mock how stupid it is.  This is basically a horror movie where the humans only exist to get killed using the coolest special effects the filmmakers could manage.

If you've been curious about giving this story a try, don't start with the live-action movie.  This is a sad cash-in on a popular franchise.  I'd recommend starting with the anime, then the manga.  (Isayama Hajime's art is rough, making it difficult to get into the story at first.)  As it turns out, the book is better transcends language and culture.

October 4, 2015

A More Diverse Universe 2015

Today is the first day of the third annual #Diversiverse, hosted by Aarti of BookLust.

So what is #Diversiverse?  It is a two-week celebration of speculative fiction by authors who are not white.  Bloggers read these books, write reviews, and then link to them at the round-up post.

The goal is to help people understand the truth of this statement:
Reading diversely may require you to change your book finding habits.  It ABSOLUTELY does not require you to change your book reading habits.

Reading more diversely does not require you to change what kind of books you like.  You can keep on keeping on, because authors of all sorts write books of all sorts.  Hopefully, #Diversiverse will help you find some of those books more easily.

October 2, 2015

Review: The Aeronaut's Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass First book in the Cinder Spires series
By Jim Butcher
Available now from Roc (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Jim Butcher, author of the popular urban fantasy series The Dresden Files, takes on steampunk fantasy in the first book of the Cinder Spires.  I find the cover for this one somewhat misleading.  It's clearly taking cues from the covers of his most famous series, with one man in a long dark jacket filling the cover.  But THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS is truly an ensemble novel.  Even some of the antagonists get sympathetic passages through their point of view.  More than that, the novel's two most prominent narrators are female.  There's also a cat (who speaks Cat, which some humans can understand) who is probably very insulted that he is not the focus of the cover.

The AMS Predator is a small privateer ship that was recently severely damaged.  Captain Grimm finds a way to get the repairs he needs, but it involves working for the Spirearch (the ruler of Spire Albion, the novel's setting) on a rather ill-defined mission.  With him are two mad etherealists (think wizard) and three soldiers.  Two of those soldiers are Gwen and Bridget, and the third is Gwen's cousin Benedict.  Gwen is from one of the Spire's greatest families and thus arrogant and somewhat naive, but she's also aces at getting the job done.  Bridget is also from a great family, but of the sort that has fallen into genteel poverty.  Both girls are brand-new recruits, but still have skills to offer the mission.

It's hard to pick out what my favorite parts of THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS are.  I loved everything about Rowl (the cat), even though I'm not a cat person.  I found the villains suitably terrifying, but liked that many of the Auroans (that is, the people of the opposing Spire) where essentially honorable people trying to carry out their duty and minimize the impact of the actually evil antagonists.  I loved Gwen, and Bridget, and Folly, and admired how much Butcher has grown in the way he writes women since the first Dresden Files books.

THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS presents a rather complicated world, in which the surface is uninhabitable and covered with monsters and thus people live in Spires and sail through the air in ships.  But it is delightfully inventive and it is fun to see how it all works together.  It is definitely more fantasy with a steampunk aesthetic than an alt history type series, at least for now.

The book is well paced, with plenty of action amid the worldbuilding.  There was one long battle that I couldn't believe wasn't the climatic battle until the story kept going and I realized that of course that was the battle Butcher was building up to.  It was very neatly done and gave THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS a nice sense of closure despite the many threads left dangling for future books in the series.  I'm eager for the second book, to see how those threads get picked up.


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