The Ultimate Filler

Title:  Hungryhungry

Author: H. A. Swain

Publisher & Release Date: Feiwel & Friends, June 3

The Hook: Another dystopian tale with romance; this one pretty convincing in how the circumstances came about – a corporation manipulating the government to agree to its demands in ‘feeding’ the population as climate change destroys great swathes of the ecosystem.

The Lowdown (from jacket): In Thalia’s world, there is no more food and no need for food, as everyone takes medication to ward off hunger. Her parents both work for the company that developed the drugs society consumes to quell any food cravings, and they live a life of privilege as a result. When Thalia meets a boy who is part of an underground movement to bring food back, she realizes that there is an entire world outside her own.

Overall Impressions: Thalia and her family live inside a bubble of privilege,  one so well-constructed that Thalia and her friends have no inkling of the second-class that are starving beyond the walls of the city. Thalia rebels in small ways, but it’s only when her hunger pangs, ineffectively suppressed by her formulated Synthamil, drive her away from her “our medicine will cure anything” parents that she really cracks the carefully constructed facade of corporation-created perfection.

She does have emotional support in the form of her more traditional (pre-Synthamil) grandparents and a friend, who’s also a little deeper than she appears. After discovering the attractive Basil with (essentially) a magic box of delicious smells, Thalia and Basil venture outside the walls and quickly careen from anarchist protests groups to angry riots to opportunistic scavenger – and finally a commune that is far less idyllic than it first appears.

The Highs: I most enjoyed the world-building in creating a dystopia that had a very clear cause and cascading effects; many that I’ve read leave it to a sort of “ultimate war” or simply “previous events” that aren’t terrifically clear. The mega-corporation One World is an effectively intimidating Big Bad, one with Big Brother-esque control over most of the inner city and tendrils of power that catch our heroes by surprise.

The social construction is also food for thought (ahem) for teens thinking about current society – the more stark separation of inner and outer city residents was very plausible, when you look at how parts of American society are today, and how it could get much worse in times of crisis. (I would love to see this talked about in a book club, actually.)

Buzzkills:  “Privy” is short for privilege in this context – but is also an antique word for toilet, which is hard to ignore.

The ending doesn’t leave the reader with a great deal of solutions – clearly there’s a future trajectory (to be explored in later books?), but for now the heroes are very much still on their journey.

The Source: NetGalley

Many apologies for the late post!

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor Synthamil was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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Mars needs mercenaries with a heart of gold

Cover artwork for Invisible Sun Cover art for Black Hole SunTitle: Black Hole Sun, Invisible Sun, Shadow on the Sun

(Surprise, it’s the trilogy!)

Author: David Macinns Gill

Publisher & Release Date: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2010-2013

The Hook:  For me, the hook was Book Riot post on Tin Star readalikes, saying series was like Firefly. Two things I love? Sign me up!

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Mars stinks.

“The air reeks of burning fuel; the rivers and lakes seethe with sulfur. In the shadows, evil men plot terror and beasts hunt the innocent. Out on the barren crags of the terraformed planet, there is nowhere to hide. No one to heed a call for help.

“No one except Durango.”

Overall Impressions: Telling me something is like Firefly is like waving chocolate in my face, and when I checked the catalog and saw the first book was on the shelf at the library branch where I was working… Let’s just say I devoured the first book that night and immediately wanted the next book. And at 9:30 p.m. in a town that pretty much shuts down at 8 on weeknights, that meant ebooks – yay library ebooks!

I agree wholeheartedly that the series has a Firefly flavor – the feel of the society, former military protagonists who were on the losing side of a great war, the importance of made family, snappy banter and snarky commentary, living on the fringes. Also crazed cannibals. (Who have a diabolical queen.) But it’s not a slavish imitation. And it’s flat-out awesome. The first book opens with Durango, a 16-year-old disgraced soldier turned mercenary, high above Mars, preparing for a space jump to rescue two kidnapped children, and the action really never lets up. He and his partner Vienne assemble a crew to save a settlement of miners from cannibals, catch on to a bigger conspiracy, and spend the next two books getting in ever deeper. I think every time he’d try to catch a little sleep, someone would interrupt because they were under attack or they’d gotten some new bad news.

I just want to infodump his background:

Durango, once known as Jacob Stringfellow, the son of one of Mars’ wealthiest and most powerful men, carefully educated and trained to be a “prince of Mars.” But his dad’s push to take over the planet fails, and Durango (not in on that plan) has to survive in the aftermath. And a soft heart, as much as he tries to hide and/or ignore it. Good thing he’s quick-witted and has the advantage of Mimi, an AI flash-cloned in his brain, and the amazing Vienne.

Vienne, Durango’s second in command / partner, is thoroughly fantastic. Her strength of character, her all-around massive competence, her no-holds-barred driving, her disinclination to suffer fools… she’s just impressive. Loyal, but not blindly so.

And yes, Durango and Vienne do have some sizzling chemistry, which has no time to go anywhere in the first book. But Durango’s also got a giant streak of self-sacrifice and self-denial, and Vienne has her own angstly backstory. She just also has family who loves her.

Mimi, cloned from his former commander (also awesome, but dead, boo), helps run the augmented parts of his body and senses, and is extremely snarky. She’s his secret ace-in-the-hole, and utterly vital in the third book. I love her.

The story expands in scope in books two and three. Vienne bears the brunt of horrible things happening to her in the second, Durango in the third. Wonderful new characters do not all make it.

The Highs: Honestly, the whole trilogy was a rush. One I raced through in about two days. I loved pretty much every moment of it.

Buzzkills: The one thing I really would have liked from this book was opportunities for Vienne – Mimi interactions. Mimi was Vienne’s original crew chief as well, and Gill does an excellent job of showing how much she meant to both Durango and Vienne, and I wish there was a way for Vienne to have that connection with Mimi again. But since Mimi’s living inside Durango’s head….

I spent a fair amount of time trying to decide if this book passes the Bechdel Test, which the first one does in a minor way, but mostly off-stage. However, I attribute that to the narrative style rather than a lack of wonderful female characters. Durango is the primary narrator of the first book with occasional sections from the diabolical queen of the cannibals – who is gleefully, strategically advancing her plans. In the second book, it’s Durango and a new deranged villain. So we don’t really see a conversation without him present. In the third book, we finally get Vienne POV, and it definitely passes the Bechdel test.

I’m not that crazy about the cover art. I’ve included the original hardback cover art for the first book and the second book in the current style.

The Source: Public libraries.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor an awesome AI was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Antici….pation – June 2014

(And we are running a  week behind  this month. Apologies!)

Summer! Time to grab a blanket and some popsicles and read outside. Here’s a few of the titles coming out this month that we think sound intriguing. (Summaries are from Edelweiss.)

Title:  The Truth About Alice

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Publisher & Release Date: Roaring Brook Press, June 3

The Hook: anybody.

“Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the “slut stall” in the girls’ bathroom: “Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers” and “Alice got an abortion last semester.” After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they “know” about Alice–and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there’s only one person to ask: Alice herself.”

Title: Say What You Will

Author: Cammie McGovern

Publisher & Release Date: HarperTeen, June 3

The Hook: “Born with cerebral palsy, Amy can’t walk without a walker, talk without a voice box, or even fully control her facial expressions.

“Plagued by an obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matthew is consumed with repeated thoughts, obsessive rituals, and crippling fear.

“Both are in desperate need of a friend to help them reach out to the world. When Amy decides to hire student aides to help her at school, Amy and Matthew are thrust into each other’s lives. As they begin to spend time with each other, what started as a blossoming friendship eventually grows into something neither expected.”

Title: Fan Art

Author: Sarah Tregay, illustrated by Melissa DeJesus

Publisher & Release Date: Katherine Tegen Books, June 17

The Hook: “Senior year is almost over, and Jamie Peterson has a big problem. Not college—that’s all set. Not prom—he’ll find a date somehow. No, it’s the worst problem of all: he’s fallen for his best friend.

“As much as Jamie tries to keep it under wraps, everyone seems to know where his affections lie, and the giggling girls in art class are determined to help Jamie get together with Mason. But Jamie isn’t sure if that’s what he wants—because as much as Jamie would like to come clean to Mason, what if the truth ruins everything? What if there are no more road trips, taco dinners, or movie nights? Does he dare risk a childhood friendship for romance?”

Title: Otherbound

Author: Corinne Duyvis

Publisher & Release Date: Amulet Books, June 17

The Hook: “Nolan doesn’t see darkness when he closes his eyes. Instead, he’s transported into the mind of Amara, a girl living in a different world. Nolan’s life in his small Arizona town is full of history tests, family tension, and laundry; his parents think he has epilepsy, judging from his frequent blackouts. Amara’s world is full of magic and danger–she’s a mute servant girl who’s tasked with protecting a renegade princess. Nolan is only an observer in Amara’s world–until he learns to control her. At first, Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious. But to keep the princess–and themselves–alive, they’ll have to work together and discover the truth behind their connection.”Cover art for four books