Partials (Partial Sequence, #1)

partials-hc-c2First Lines: Newborn #485GA18M died on June 30, 2076, at 6:07 in the morning.  She was three days old.  The average lifespan of a human child, in the time since the Break, was fifty-six hours.

It’s like throw-back dystopian week over here.  This is a book that I truly had no intention of reading, except for the fact that one of my best friends from college is constantly telling me I needed to read this.  We tend to enjoy the same kind of books, except I lean more toward romances and she favors sci-fi, and neither one of us really likes to jump that divide.  But I finally picked it up going, “If I read this, I can finally get Heather off my back about it.”

Because the plot is a bit complicated, I’m going to copy the summary from Goodreads: Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. But sixteen-year-old Kira is determined to find a solution. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that that the survival of both humans and Partials rests in her attempts to answer questions about the war’s origin that she never knew to ask.

Playing on our curiosity of and fascination with the complete collapse of civilization, Partials is, at its heart, a story of survival, one that explores the individual narratives and complex relationships of those left behind, both humans and Partials alike—and of the way in which the concept of what is right and wrong in this world is greatly dependent on one’s own point of view.

I really hate to say this, but Heather was right.  I enjoyed this book a lot.  (Isn’t that always kind of galling?  Like you hate to be wrong, but you’re also happy about it??)

Kira definitely steals the spotlight in this book.  She’s tough and gutsy, always pushing to do what’s right.  She realizes what she needs to sacrifice in order to do something big like saving the human race from extinction.  Even when that path is filled with danger and possible death, she charges forward because someone has to and it might as well be her.  What I thought was interesting was that Kira isn’t necessarily the most physical, the smartest, or the most take-no-prisoners heroine, but she’s driven and determined.  That goes a long way to helping her throughout the story.  Sometimes bravery and determination get you farther than brains can.

And actually, the minor characters brought a lot to the story too.  They all felt really well-developed, which doesn’t always happen when there are a lot of characters.  I was really attached to characters like the warrior Jayden, the fierce Xochi, the charming Marcus, and the secretive Samm.  (There are also tons of minor characters with weird quirks: enter a man who shall remain nameless with his pet camel.)  They all helped make the story so much fun.

Also a good note?  There’s not a huge focus here on romance.  Surprisingly enough, Kira is not interested in finding love while she’s being shot at.  Crazy, I know.  (Please tell me you picked up on my sarcasm.)  There are some underlying character shifts that you know could lead something, but it’s not the crux of the book.  And that actually seemed to fit Kira’s personality and situation really well.

The plot really plays out well and comes together well.  …That sounds a bit strange.  But what I mean is that it was always so fast paced; there was always something going on.  Sometimes that came in political maneuvering, Kira figuring out why certain things are happening, or legit fights with explosions and weapons.  Something was always happening.  But it was always happening with a purpose, and it tied together really well at the end.

My reluctance toward this book really stemmed from the Partials.  I was afraid they were going to come across like aliens or something, humanoid in features but something truly Other, like in a 1960s B movie.  Turns out I didn’t need to worry about that.  The Partials are actually really interesting to read about.  They aren’t the alien-figures I thought they would be; they have depth.  Thank God.

Overall, this is actually a really good read.  It goes fast, it’s mysterious and funny, and it’s really hard to put down.

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Awaken (Awaken, #1)

kacvinsky_awakenFirst Lines: My mom gave me an old leather-bound journal for my seventeenth birthday.  At first the blank pages surprised me, as if the story inside was lost or had slipped out.  She explained sometimes the story is supposed to be missing because it’s still waiting to be written.

This book has been sitting on my to-read shelf for ages and I always kept it around because the rating is pretty high on Goodreads and the premise seemed interesting.  And when I felt like reading a dystopian, this finally tripped my trigger.  (…Is that like a weird colloquialism from where I’m from in the Midwest or do lots of people say that?  I kind of feel a bit dorky for this whole parenthetical side note right now.)

In Maddie’s world, everything is done on computers.  Finding friends, going to school or movies or concerts, dating.  It’s all computerized.  And Maddie’s ok with that, until she meets Justin.  Justin is unlike anyone else Maddie’s ever met.  He craves being around people, seeing them face to face.  He thinks people aren’t meant to be alone.  Suddenly, Maddie begins noticing the world around her and the feeling inside of her that Justin may be right.  But with society and her parents telling her that this is wrong, Maddie’s going to have to learn how to stand up for herself if she’s going to be able to do anything about it.

This is one of those crazy sci-fi/dystopian novels that is like, freaky accurate.  SERIOUSLY.  I kept getting fricking goosebumps.  This book was written nearly 5 years ago, and so much has started coming true since then.  All that stuff that Maddie’s doing on computers is the same stuff we do now, just at a more extreme level. (Or maybe some of us are already there??)  But the freakiest part of the whole book was how this huge push toward things like Digital School (a forced online school for anyone under 18) came out: a massive elementary school killing spree.  While the one in the book was on an unfathomable level, I could not help but draw comparisons between that and Sandy Hook.  And that happened a year after this book came out.

But the whole premise of this book is just scary real.  People are getting addicted to technology.  They would rather spend time chatting with friends online than actually going out and meeting new ones.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been out with people who can’t give up their phones for a dinner or a date or a concert or…anything.  Maddie’s world is already starting to come true, and that’s frightening.

Moving past the delightful if frightening social commentary in this book, the characters were quite enthralling.  Maddie has lived this sheltered life, but she’s always felt that something’s not quite right and that leads to a slightly rebellious nature that her parents attempt to squash.  She’s smart and clever while still being curious about everything and caring.  And Justin.  He’s so driven and completely committed to his cause.  He loves being around people and experiencing the world to the fullest.  The best part is that he has this rather ironic weakness that I don’t want to spoil because it’s so worth discovering.  I love irony.

The only slight drawback I had about this book is that it takes a long time to get the ball rolling.  (Geez, I’m just full of euphemisms and colloquialisms today.)  The plot was a bit slow in the beginning, but you kind of need that to understand Maddie’s world.  But once it gets going, it’s fabulous.  It moves very quickly after that and I was thoroughly invested and entertained.

Really lovely, even if it was freaky at times.  It’s not very often I find a book that has as much social commentary as this in a YA novel.  Definitely worth checking out.

Spotlight Friday (144)

Hello my lovelies!  I know it’s been a little bit of a dry spell with my posting in the past week (especially compared to how I was posting daily earlier this month!) and I promise that I’m working on it.  I have another review just waiting to be posted.  But in the meantime, let’s look at some new books, shall we?  Apparently the theme for today is ships and pirates.  Which is kind of awesome.

salt-to-the-seaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Release Date: February 2, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are  Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

What’s To Like: I feel almost like I’m asking a rhetorical question with “What’s to like.”  Because seriously?  I don’t care if Ruta Sepetys is writing about the Napoleonic wars, the history of pennies, or life for a slug.  I’m reading it.  I have been dying to read another one of her books since Out of the Easy.  And the fact that she’s going back to World War II with this one only has me drooling more.  I’m just hoping this book doesn’t turn into some YA version of The Old Man and the Sea.  That’s all I ask.

unhooked-lisa-maxwellUnhooked by Lisa Maxwell

Release Date: February 2, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): For as long as she can remember, Gwendolyn Allister has never had a place to call home—all because her mother believes that monsters are hunting them. Now these delusions have brought them to London, far from the life Gwen had finally started to build for herself. The only saving grace is her best friend, Olivia, who’s coming with them for the summer.

But when Gwen and Olivia are kidnapped by shadowy creatures and taken to a world of flesh-eating sea hags and dangerous Fey, Gwen realizes her mom might have been sane all along.

The world Gwen finds herself in is called Neverland, yet it’s nothing like the stories. Here, good and evil lose their meaning and memories slip like water through her fingers. As Gwen struggles to remember where she came from and find a way home, she must choose between trusting the charming fairy-tale hero who says all the right things and the roguish young pirate who promises to keep her safe.

With time running out and her enemies closing in, Gwen is forced to face the truths she’s been hiding from all along. But will she be able to save Neverland without losing herself?

What’s To Like: I’ve always been drawn to the story of Peter Pan, especially as I started feeling like Wendy when I started growing up and things started changing.  But taking a darker spin on things and throwing dangerous fey into the mix?  Yeah, I think that may be a selling point.  Who doesn’t love stories of pirates and heroes and magic?  I really want to know who this fairy-tale hero is (if it’s actually Peter) and who the young pirate is (if he may be Captain Hook?  The titled is Unhooked).

blackhearts-nicole-castromanBlackhearts by Nicole Castroman

Release Date: February 16, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.

Edward “Teach” Drummond, son of one of Bristol’s richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There’s just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.

Following her parents’ deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to Curaçao—where her mother was born—when she’s stuck in England?

From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.

What’s To Like: A little known fact about me is how much I love researching pirates.  I went to a naval/ocean museum when I was like 13 with my family and they actually left me behind because I was taking so long reading the plaques about pirates and cannons and buried treasure.  (They actually do this whenever they take me to any museum.  It’s their own fault, really, expecting that I can just look at the artifacts and move on.)  Anyway, Blackbeard has been on my radar for years.  He has such a fascinating story, and it see it fictionalized in a YA story totally has me bouncing with excitement.  I cannot wait to see how this turns out!

The Summer After You and Me

9781492619031First Lines: I open the window shade in my third-story attic bedroom anticipating my usual–somewhat obstructed–ocean view and instead get an eyeful of Connor Malloy, sans shirt, on the roof of his parents’ bungalow.  Better than a mocha latte with two shots of espresso and whipped cream, as far as early-morning eye-openers and guilty pleasures go.

This is one of those books that keeps haunting me before I’ve even read it.  It crops up everywhere!  It kept popping up at the library, in my Black Friday deals, everywhere!  But it was one of those where I wanted to make sure I was in the right mood for it.  The dead of winter was it.

Eh, I’m just going to copy Goodreads on this one too: Sunbathing, surfing, eating funnel cake on the boardwalk—Lucy loves living on the Jersey Shore. For her, it’s not just the perfect summer escape, it is home. And as a local girl, she knows not to get attached to the tourists. They breeze in over Memorial Day weekend, crowding the shore and stealing moonlit kisses, only to pack up their beach umbrellas and empty promises on Labor Day. Lucy wants more from love than a fleeting romance, even if that means keeping her distance from her summertime neighbor and crush, Connor.

Then Superstorm Sandy tears apart her barrier island, briefly bringing together a local girl like herself and a vacationer like Connor. Except nothing is the same in the wake of the storm. And day after day, week after week, Lucy is left to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and broken home. Now with Memorial Day approaching and Connor returning, will it be a summer of fresh starts or second chances?

This was pretty much what I expected it to be: melodramatic and cute.  Which was, frankly, kind of perfect while dealing with a stressful week.  I didn’t have to think too hard to follow along.

Lucy is a strong girl.  She’s pretty independent and wants to go after her dreams, but she’s not exactly all that great with relationships of any kind–family, friends, or dating.  That’s what creates most of the drama here, as she struggles with dating her best friend, crushing on her neighbor, and fighting with her twin brother.

I thought the way the story unraveled was kind of cool.  Most of it is in the present, but it does jump back every now and then to the summer before.  It didn’t happen so frequently to be annoying, which was good.  It was only a couple of times, really.  Just enough to give you information about what happened with Connor.  Also the writing style was fluid and easy to read, something that I appreciated because I could get through this quickly.

It’s just kind of a cute romance.  Don’t look for anything too deep here, because you’re not going to find it, even about Superstorm Sandy.  (Lucy does talk about it and remembers what happened, but it’s still somewhat glossed over.)

Serious question time: Since this is based around an actual event (even if it was only 33-4 years ago), does that make it a historical fiction?  It always gets weird when it’s something that happened in your lifetime.

Sword and Verse (Sword and Verse, #1)

220650671First Lines: I never knew Tyasha ke Demit, but her execution started everything.

This was just on my most recent Spotlight, and I thought now was a good time to read it.  Why?  Well, I always like to read ARCs before they actually come out, even if I was kind of pushing it with this one.  But I haven’t read a high fantasy in a while and this sounded like fun.

Because the plot is so intricate and I know I’m going to screw it up, I’m going to copy this from Goodreads: Raisa was only a child when she was kidnapped and enslaved in Qilara. Forced to serve in the palace of the king, she’s endured hunger, abuse, and the harrowing fear of discovery: everyone knows she is Arnath, but not that Raisa is a Learned One, a part of an Arnath group educated in higher order symbols. In Qilara, this language is so fiercely protected that only the King, the Prince, and Tutors are allowed to know it. So when the current Tutor-in-training is executed for sharing the guarded language with slaves, and Raisa is chosen to replace her, Raisa knows that—although she may have a privileged position among slaves—any slip-up could mean death.

That would be challenging enough, but training alongside Prince Mati could be her real undoing. And when a romance blossoms between them, she’s suddenly filled with a dangerous hope for something she never before thought possible: more. Then she’s propositioned by the Resistance—an underground army of slaves—to help liberate the Arnath people. Joining the rebellion could mean freeing her people…but she’d also be aiding in the war against her beloved—an honorable man that she knows wants to help the slaves.

Working against the one she loves—and a palace full of deadly political renegades—has some heady consequences. As Raisa struggles with what’s right, she unwittingly uncovers a secret that the Qilarites have long since buried…one that, unlocked, could bring the current world order to its knees.

And Raisa is the one holding the key.

Get it?  Got it?  Good.

So I clearly forgot how much work goes into reading a high fantasy.  I mean geez.  It took me ages to get rolling in this and I even contemplated giving up on it once.  Not only are we building the Qilarite world, we’re also setting up all this intricate little language stuff.  Like slur words that you don’t realize are slurs until 5 pages later.  I get that you don’t want to explain everything in the beginning, but I could have used a little more help.  And a bit more of a transition into this world.

And it’s totally possible for Raisa to get on your nerves.  Or at least mine.  She’s so wishy-washy.  One minute she stands for fighting for her freedom and the next she’s right there with Mati, supporting the oppression.  Girl, get a grip.  It’s not that she’s not an interesting character, because she is, but she just gets kind of annoying.  It doesn’t exactly help that we start this story when she’s 14 and we watch her grow to 17.  There’s a lot of annoying in those teenage years, regardless of who you are.

As I thought about this a few days ago, I realized there weren’t really any characters in this book that I really clicked with.  Normally there’s one, right?  Usually the main guy or girl, sometimes a minor character who just speaks to you.  But no, I didn’t have that.  And that was a bit strange considering how much I love books with court politics and backstabbing. I can still usually find one redeeming character, but here?  Eh.  I could take ’em or leave ’em.

One pretty redeeming quality of this book is how the action picked up in the end.  I’d say maybe the last 35-40% of the book.  While the beginning of the book is really slow, this change of pace made for a nice…change.  I used “change” twice in that sentence and I don’t like it.  But there are some pretty amazing action sequences and, of course, some lovely backstabbing.

Really, I just think this book didn’t work for me.  Maybe it was too high of a fantasy for me.  Maybe now just wasn’t the right time for it.  Either way, it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Sad News…A Tribute to Bear

I was originally going to get on here and post a book review, but the longer I sit here, the more I don’t think I can do it right now.

We had to put our oldest dog down today, which is a little ironic when you consider how I told you guys the other day that my friend had to put hers down.  We’re going to be such messes at work tomorrow, the two of us.  Our dog was a 15.5 year old Lab mix, who pretty much outlived all of his litter mates by a lot.  I even started calling him immortal because if you could just see this dog, you’d be kind of amazed at how good of shape he was in.  He spent all day just pacing.  (We think that’s part of why he lived so long.  He definitely got his workout.)

Screenshot 2016-01-20 20.59.00This is Bear.  …was…I guess.  This was taken just a few days ago.  Totally got the old man whiskers going on.  He’s had them for so long now that he doesn’t look the same without them.

We got him when I was only 9 years old, about 2 months after we moved to a new house.  I was really upset about moving, but a puppy does wonders for making you feel better.  I suddenly had a buddy.

This dog was such a watch dog.  If anyone jogged on the street past our house, he had to bark at them.  A squirrel is too close?  Bark.  Constantly.  But that meant he was really protective and I totally believe that even up to today, he wouldn’t have let anyone into the house that he didn’t approve of.  (One of my more mentally-lacking boyfriends in high school stupidly put his hand in Bear’s crate even though Bear was growling and the bf could have lost some fingers if he didn’t have such fast reflexes.  Common sense, dude: if a dog is growling, don’t put your hand closer to his face.)

He was so much fun to watch growing up because he just never seemed like a dog.  He loved jumping as a young dog, and I don’t mean jumping on people.  He had quite the vertical, one that basketball stars would be envious of.  He would jump with excitement rather than wag his tail.  When we went up to the lake, he spent hours pouncing in the shallow water and barking when it splashed him in the face.  Which it always did.  It was a vicious cycle, but one that was so entertaining to watch as a 12-year-old.

Obviously, as he got older he mellowed out.  His energy lessened.  His hips started paining him.  He had cancer in his tail that had be to be amputated.  Eventually, he got really bad arthritis that made him walk with a hunch and take 10 seconds to fully lower his butt to the ground to sit.

And that’s what tipped us off that there was a really serious problem lately.  Yesterday while I was at school, I guess he started like, walking sideways because his hips were bothering him so much.  And then he couldn’t get his back legs underneath him to stand, so he looked kind of crippled.  He wasn’t eating.  But otherwise, he was the same Bear in personality.

I actually didn’t believe my mom when she told me he was so bad because when I saw him last night, he was the same as usual.  Pacing the floor, begging for ice from the freezer, hoping we’ll give him treats, annoying the hell out of our 7 month old puppy.  Totally normal.  But she and my dad made a vet appointment for him for today and I pretty much knew that was it for him.  How many vets are going to look at a 15 year old dog who is 2-3 years past his breed’s life expectancy, half-deaf and -blind with arthritis and say he’s ok?  I can’t imagine that many would.

And this one didn’t.  He said that from this point on, it was really just going to be a matter of time before his quality of life just became awful (can’t walk, can’t control his bladder, etc.).  So my dad made the decision we all knew (more or less) was coming.

I knew this was going to affect me, obviously, and it is, but I’m also lacking that element of surprise that often accompanies death.  I’ve been mentally preparing myself for this since I left for college in 2010, fearing that he would die while I was gone.  There were many mornings when we’d go to check on him, unable to tell if he was still breathing or not.  (There were even mornings when I made someone else get him up because I was terrified of being the one to find him.)  Morbid?  Possibly.  But I have so little experience with grief and loss that it kind of made sense at the time.

So here’s to Bear, the jumping bean, the comforter, the protector, and most importantly, the dog that shared my birthday.  25 is going to look very lonely without you, buddy.

The Only Alien on the Planet

cvr-theonlyalienontheplanet2First Lines: The first time I ever say Smitty Tibbs, I was having one of the worst days of my life.  Truth–up until then, I’d been a happy person–happy, cheerful, confident, easy going, reasonably popular even.

Fact: I first saw this book in a Barnes and Noble about 7 years ago.  Didn’t know a lick about it, and still didn’t when I put this on hold at the library a few weeks ago.  Fact: I legitimately thought this was about aliens.  (It’s not.)

Moving cross country just after her closest brother leaves for college is Ginny’s worst nightmare.  Out of her element and feeling lost in her own life, Ginny struggles to feel normal again as she starts her senior year.  That is, until she spots Smitty Tibbs in her English class.  He never speaks to anyone and never makes eye contact.  Everyone calls him The Alien.  But to Ginny, he’s a mystery she wants to understand.  She’s convinced there’s more to him than his exterior.  But breaking through his defenses could cause more harm than good…

Like I mentioned above, I legitimately thought this was going to be about aliens.  So when I started reading this and it didn’t go that way, I was taken a little by surprise.  But it was a good surprise.

The subject matter is actually really dark and a bit gritty.  I wasn’t expecting that.  But it was so real.  And because it was first published in 1995, it just reads differently than the YA books I’m used to.  There’s not a whole lot of fluff just to give you a happy ending.  It was actually really refreshing.

The characters were interesting, particularly Ginny because we get to see everything through her eyes.  She starts off the book hurting because of all the changes in her life, but it was cool to see her make friends with Hally and Caulder and adapt to her new environment.  And the way she interacts with Smitty was truly character gold.  And, of course, the mysterious Smitty is definitely fun to read about.  And why not?  He’s a complete mystery and doesn’t react at all like a normal person.  It’s actually sad.

I saw a couple of reviews that warn that the book moves slow, but I don’t agree with that.  There’s a lot of character development, sure.  There’s a lot of set up about Ginny’s family that takes away from the “action” of unraveling Smitty’s mystery.  But it really helped to get into Ginny’s emotions and understand why she’s so interested in Smitty without being weird.

On a final note, there was a really awesome quote in this book that I just have to share.  It’s where the book gets its title, but it’s just generally really good advice:

In a desperate bid for sanity, I told myself, This is the first day of school for all these people, everybody’s got to be a little off balance.  I could hear Paul telling me, “Never, never make the mistake of thinking you’re the only alien on the planet.”

See?  Isn’t that just perfect?