A gold star for Tin Star

Cover art for Tin StarTitle: Tin Star

Author: Cecil Castellucci

Publisher & Release Date: Roaring Book Press, Feb. 25, 2014

The Hook: 1) Cecil Castellucci. 2) A minority human having to survive on a backwater space station – beaten and abandoned by a cult leader when she asks too many questions. How will she survive?

The Lowdown (from Amazon): “On their way to start a new life, Tula and her family travel on the Prairie Rose, a colony ship headed to a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. All is going well until the ship makes a stop at a remote space station, the Yertina Feray, and the colonist’s leader, Brother Blue, beats Tula within an inch of her life. An alien, Heckleck, saves her and teaches her the ways of life on the space station.

When three humans crash land onto the station, Tula’s desire for escape becomes irresistible, and her desire for companionship becomes unavoidable. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill Brother Blue, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the farthest thing from her mind.”

Overall Impressions:  I loved it. I was entirely immersed in Tin Star, following Tula’s story from abandoned human afraid of aliens to someone who gains confidence in herself and eventually moves herself into something of a non-traditional role of power on the station.

In Castellucci’s universe, humans are considered rather backwater and isolationists, mostly ignored by galactic society. The power balance – major powers are early developers of space exploration, minor powers followed, and isolationists are irrelevant unless their planets have desired resources – is fascinating, and a coup in the center ripples out to their space station.The galaxy goes from a League of Worlds to an Imperium. For Tula, very little of this touches on her daily life; we see more of the effects through her interactions with mentors and friends Heckleck and Tournour, who are much more aware of the bigger picture and what it means when Imperium representatives arrive on Yertina Feray.

The story jumps forward three years and those ripples make more of an impression when three humans in green Earth Imperium Alliance uniforms show up and can’t leave. They want Tula’s help, since she’s like them; but she takes a long while to trust them – in three years she’s forgotten a lot about being human and feels (accurately) rejected and abandoned by humanity.

Now she must deal with a murder mystery, the killing of her best friend, hiding some major contraband, and her own desire for revenge.

The Highs: Tula is an awesome character, determined to survive and eventually thrive, becoming an expert in trading favors, learning to read the subtle body language of all the aliens on the station. Likewise, the fascinating Heckleck (black marketer and arranger) and Tournour (station security), who befriend Tula and help her in different ways. I wouldn’t mind reading a mini-prequel for each of them – how did they get to Yertina Feray?

How Tula views the three humans – Els, Caleb and Reza – first as inept and troublemakers, but gradually sees them as individuals, each with very different goals. She has to decide how she will help with those goals, because they need her, but she needs them too, to help widen her eyes. Castellucci make some really interesting choices with the trio.

Romance seems to play such a frequent role in YA that I feels as if my antenna are always alert for it (and whether it will be too treacly or overblown for me to want to continue reading). Tula does experience a strong attraction to one of the humans and enter into a relationship, but Castellucci rarely makes romance the focus, and the story went directions I didn’t expect but really liked.

Castellucci hints at more story to come – on one hand, I want to read it now; on the other, it’s very open to readers’ imaginations. And that’s a wonderful gift.

Buzzkills:  None!

The Source: eARC provided by publisher through NetGalley

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a trip into outer space was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.


This Beauty is kicking ass and taking names

Cover art for Cruel BeautyTitle: Cruel Beauty

Author: Rosamund Hodge

Publisher & Release Date: Balzer and Bray/HarperTeen, January 28th, 2014

The Hook: Taking Beauty and the Beast back to the myth of Cupid and Psyche, this thrilling fantasy features a kick-ass heroine, an intriguingly constructed world, and some sizzling romance.

The Lowdown (from Goodreads, because I hate the jacket description SO MUCH): Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle -a shifting maze of magical rooms- enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

Overall Impressions:  I was prepared to hate this book.  The jacket text and illustration screamed “TWILIGHT KNOCKOFF”.  But I got sucked in so quickly.  I liked Nyx almost instantly, even though she’s angry and bitter, and makes a lot of bad decisions.  It was the amazing world-building, though, that really won me over.  Hodge creates a world where Great Britain was magically cut off from the rest of the world during the age of the Roman occupation.  Magic clashes with science, and the author offers a fascinating look at what 19th-century British society might look like if the Romans had never left and Continental politics hadn’t influenced British culture.

The Highs: As I said, I liked Nyx a lot. She’s impulsive, and deeply pissed off (and who wouldn’t be, in her shoes?), but she’s likable nonetheless.  And Ignifex is your classic sexy, misunderstood “bad boy” love interest, with a lot of fun twists.  I also loved the elaborately-crafted world that the characters lived in.  It felt as detailed as a Bruegel painting to me, with lots of surprises and hidden corners, and pieces of a puzzle that all come together at the end.  But my favorite thing about the book might have been the mythology that Hodge worked with.  If you’re not familiar with the myth of Cupid and Psyche (and Pandora, as well), read up on them first in order to fully appreciate the story.  Cupid and Pysche form the basis for Beauty and the Beast, and Hodge did a wonderful job of weaving the myth and the fairy tale together to make something original and new.

Buzzkills:  This buzzkill is less of a problem with the story itself than a problem of different perceptions, but here goes: I discussed the story with another early reader, who complained that she was uncomfortable with the book because it was, and I quote, “rape-y”.  Not because there’s any actual rape in the book (there absolutely isn’t), but because Nyx is not initially a completely willing participant in the marriage, even though there is no actual consummation of said marriage until much later, after her feelings have changed.  Now, I think the argument can be made for being uncomfortable with situations where a captive is brainwashed into feeling sympathy and even love for her captor, because that is a pretty screwed-up scenario, but that’s not the case here.  If you’re at all familiar with the Beauty and the Beast storyline, you know that already.  What I really objected to was the use of the term “rape-y”.  Because rape either is or isn’t.  Rape is someone being forced into sexual contact against their will, or in a situation where they can’t willingly and knowingly give consent.  Rape happens, and it’s awful, and using words like “rape-y” to describe situations that make us uncomfortable does nothing to help people who are actually dealing with the impact of rape. And using it describe a book is just plain silly.  But, that being said, if you’re uncomfortable with books that include a shifting balance of power between two people sharing a sexual relationship, avoid this story.

The Source:  Advance Reading Copy from the publisher

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor the tools of assassination were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly…

Title:  If I Ever Get Out of HereCover photo

Author: Eric Gansworth

Publisher & Release Date: Arthur A. Levine, June 2013

The Hook: Beatles references combined with a historical story (at least to people my age and younger: the 70s!), with a teen Tuscarora Indian as the main character, which I haven’t read before. I was happy to see that it was also just named the AIYLA Honor Book.

The Lowdown (from Amazon): “Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?”

Overall Impressions:  This book has pretty broad appeal, and I would also happily push this onto fellow fans of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” though there are some significant differences. Sherman Alexie is irreverent, foul-mouthed, and hilarious, which is the essential voice in “Part-Time Indian.” Gansworth takes a more serious tone with many of the same issues – poverty, bullying, the meaning of friendship and family relationships, and navigating between the very different worlds of the reservation, high school, and military families. However, similarities included: a strong-willed and lovably awkward hero; a infuriating system that you want the hero to take down; showing the significance of little things; making me cry.

The Highs: I love it when characters connect with a friend over music, and Gansworth deftly brought in many satellite issues, like girlfriends, parents, bullies, and lies, while still holding on to that central theme. Lewis, George, their families and friends were all great characters, each with their own quirks that led to moments that rang very true.  I loved Lewis himself, his persistence and pride, even his fish-out-of-water awkwardness – I think most teens will be able to empathize with that feeling. The ending made total sense to me, even though it was bittersweet.

Buzzkills: This is more of a lack of amazingness than an actual buzzkill: I really wanted there to be a playlist of samples that I could download to my phone. A lot of the music references will probably sail over the heads of most teens, unless they have a rare penchant for classic rock, and it would be so cool to get teens get hooked on the music that Lewis fell in love with.

The Source: Netgalley.com

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or any Queen LPs were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Antici….pation for February 2014

grim Title: Grim: An Anthology

Editor: Christine Johnson

Publisher & Release Date: HarlequinTEEN, Feb. 25, 2014

The Hook: “Inspired by classic fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today: Ellen Hopkins, Amanda Hocking, Julie Kagawa, Claudia Gray, Rachel Hawkins, Kimberly Derting, Myra McEntire, Malinda Lo, Sarah Rees-Brennan, Jackson Pearce, Christine Johnson, Jeri Smith Ready, Shaun David Hutchinson, Saundra Mitchell, Sonia Gensler, Tessa Gratton, (and) Jon Skrovan.”

Title: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Outbeyond_magenta

Author: Susan Kuklin

Publisher & Release Date: Candlewick, Feb. 11, 2014

The Hook: “Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.”

Title: The Tin StarCover art for Tin Star

AuthorCecil Castallucci

Publisher & Release Date: Roaring Brook Press, Feb. 25, 2014

The Hook: “On their way to start a new life, Tula and her family travel on the Prairie Rose, a colony ship headed to a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. All is going well until the ship makes a stop at a remote space station, the Yertina Feray, and the colonist’s leader, Brother Blue, beats Tula within an inch of her life. An alien, Heckleck, saves her and teaches her the ways of life on the space station.

“When three humans crash land onto the station, Tula’s desire for escape becomes irresistible, and her desire for companionship becomes unavoidable. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill Brother Blue, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the farthest thing from her mind.”

Title: Cress (Lunar Chronicles #3)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Publisher & Release Date: Feiwel and Friends, Feb. 4th, 2014

The Hook: Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard. “

“In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.”

“Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. ”

“When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.”

Title: The Prince of Shadows: A Novel of Romeo and Julietprince_of_shadows

Author: Rachel Caine

Publisher & Release Date: NAL, Feb.4, 2014

The Hook: “In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and—if they survive—marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.

Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona—and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona… And will rewrite all their fates, forever.”