Nxyia Unleashed – Y.A. Book Review

Nyxia Unleashed book review
I really loved the first book in this triad (see my review on Goodreads
or on Amazon). After reading Nxyia, I thought this series totally filled a Y.A. sci-fi void with a diverse cast of characters, an intriguing plot, and though the 1st book had a lot of violence, there were a lot of good themes that were just plain wholesome. I couldn’t wait to dive into this sequel (Nyxia Unleashed), but honestly, it fell pretty flat compared to the first book (imo). It started out great, with the same terrific cast of characters, the suspense surrounding the Babel corporation, and the highly anticipated meeting with the Adamites (Imago), but then…I don’t know…it just tanked. Everything started getting stale, and I stopped caring about the characters as much.

The unraveling of the mysteries surrounding Babel and the Imago was a total let down and felt unoriginal. There were a few twists, but I saw most of them coming. I also felt like the character development was much more flat this time around. In the first book the characters are complex with a rich tapestry of back story and conflicting feelings that brought up plot developments that had no easy answers. The deep mental elements in the first book made the story so worthwhile, and they made you THINK. This time around it felt like the author was just coasting off the first book character-wise. There wasn’t much in the way of new growth or development. There were no “thinking” moments, for me anyway. It was all pablum and kumbaya. Even the action scenes had no tension or anything to them (imo). They were boring and just something to get through quickly in order to find out what happens via the main thread of the story.

I really didn’t like how the Imago (Adamites/aliens) were handled. Here you have this alien race on an alien planet and they are all way too human. Their responses are human… their mannerisms are human… their cultures are human. I felt like there was a lack of imagination in the world building and everything was too pat and easy. The author had an opportunity to make something really interesting out of the Imago, but I found myself hardly caring at all about them or their weak interactions with the main characters. The big plot twist was a yawner. I won’t share it, as I would spoil it for those of you who may actually enjoy the book, but I think part of the reason why it didn’t have much of an impact on me was that I didn’t really care about the Imago much because there was no development in their characters. I wasn’t emotionally invested in them, so I didn’t really feel the tension (or whatever I was supposed to feel) with their part of the plot twist.

There is also this little side story about “slings” (rogue Imago) and nothing is done with it. There is no insight, no depth…just a little incident that feels like a waste of time to read because it has no drama, suspense, or anything else built into it.

The way the teens interacted with the Imago also seemed forced and a bit ridiculous. Emmett talks to the Imago like they are “dudes” from his neighborhood. This is where the book really comes off as lazy Y.A. writing (to me). I believe the author has a lot of talent but everything surrounding the Imago felt rushed or shoved aside for other agendas and so it just didn’t live up to its potential or what I would hope it could have been.

There is also something else that happens in the book where you get a glimpse into the Babel spacecraft…and again, it’s boring, it’s rushed, and all of the potential in that side story is wasted (at least in my opinion).

I’ll interject a few parental thoughts in here as well while I’m on a roll (since I’m an adult who loves to read Y.A.)…the first book felt like it was for the younger teen crowd, but had a lot of depth for older Y.A. readers and even adults. My review for the 1st book talked about how it was “clean” with hardly any cursing, etc. This 2nd book took a dive in that area. There is a lot of swearing….to my eyes anyway. So much so that it was starting to become distracting. There is a teen pregnancy – which is fine and maybe something that needs to be written about…but there is no depth there (yet again with this book) and that sort of thing throws it more out of the young teen league. There is also the current trend to have a LGBT character. I say “trend” because I believe that’s what it is (in the way it’s being handled lately imo) and every Y.A. author out there seems to be scrambling to add some sort of character in his/her story that fits that mold. There was ZERO hint of that in the first book. Then all of the sudden you have it thrown into this one as if that box can now be checked off.

I hate to give this book 2 stars. I SO loved the first one, but this 2nd effort feels rushed and is lacking the depth in the first one. I still want to read the 3rd book and am hoping that it will go back to the roots of the 1st one (since the focus will probably be off planet). If you read the first one, you will probably want to read this one, and I do encourage you to do so – so that some of the mysteries in the first get wrapped up. I just can’t say I’m enthusiastic about it for any other reason (except to know the answers to what you are probably wondering if you read the 1st). It’s no longer a series I would recommend for a teen/student who likes or wants to try out the sci-fi genre. Here’s hoping that the 3rd book will redeem the series.

Book Review Blitz: Taken – A dystopian for teens

Taken book review

Taken will be released on April 16, 2013. I received an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion!

Taken is one of those books that grabs you from the beginning and never lets you go. Even at the end I was sitting there wanting the next book in the series NOW. I’m adult reader of Y.A. dystopian & sci-fi fiction and I can confidentially say that Taken is one of those books that successfully crosses the age barrier. It has a terrific premise, fleshes it out with great characters & situations along with twist and turns that leave you wanting to find out more.

I’m going to be careful about what I say in my review because part of the fun of Taken is NOT knowing what is going on and having it unravel for you thread by thread right along with the main characters. There is a feeling you get while reading the book – the same feeling the characters are experiencing…something isn’t quite right sprinkled liberally over a sense of unease. Just as a layer of one mystery is revealed, you still are left suspicious and wondering until yet ANOTHER layer is uncovered as it turns out that everything you thought you knew had another dimension to it – as lies are slowly peeled away and the truth begins to shine through.

Taken is told from a first person POV by Gray, a 17 year old in the village of Claysoot. His older brother Blaine is 18 and today is the last day Gray will spend with him because…there are no men in Claysoot. Every boy becomes a man at the age of 15 and then, at 18, they are all gone. Taken. They call it the Heist.  No one knows why it happens,  just that it always has.

There are other mysteries to the town. How it began, and why there is a wall that surrounds the countryside.

“When the Wall was discovered, Bo volunteered to go over first and scout things out, but he was unable to see what lay on the other side. The view from a large oak tree in the northern portion of the woods yielded nothing but pitch blackness beyond the Wall, and he deemed it unsafe. He tried to talk others out of climbing, but a few tried. Their bodies came back a charcoaled mess, burned and lifeless…”

After Blaine is taken by the Heist, Gray is left…alone as his mother died years ago. He discovers a note to his brother hidden behind a picture frame:

“And so I share this with you now, my son: You and your brother are not as I’ve raised you to believe, Gray is, in fact…”

…and then there is nothing more. The missing part of the note propels Gray to start searching for answers and what he finds just raises more questions. He discovers he’s not who he thought he was and that just might be the key to finding out about his town, his people’s origins and the Heist.

It’s no surprise that Gray makes it over the wall (as the book blurb states) but what he finds there is unlike anything he could have imagined. As answers to his world start pouring in, things get even more complicated and just when it looks like he finally understands what’s going on, there is yet another layer of truth to unravel.

I’m going to refrain from saying any more about the plot details, because as I stated before,  part of the fun of this book is discovering that what you thought you knew isn’t necessarily correct. Everything is revealed to you as it’s revealed to Gray. There are no obvious answers, just hints to keep you guessing.

I really enjoyed the world building in Taken. It was like a cross between Running Out of Time by Margaret Haddix (which is similar to the movie The Village) and Revolution 19 -only done RIGHT (because the characters move from a rustic world to an advanced one).  The book blurb compares it to The Maze Runner, but I have to disagree. Maze Runner felt a lot less sophisticated than this book and seemed like it was intended for younger teens. Taken is a much more mature novel.  Don’t think that Taken copies other dystopians because of the comparison to other books. I found it fresh and original in many ways.  It’s not just a dystopian though. There are also a few sci-fi elements, but these are understated and there’s nothing like aliens or anything like that.

As far as the world building goes, Erin Bowman paid attention to little details that made Gray’s observations very realistic. She takes a young man transported  from a rustic village to an entirely different type of world and makes it believable. Some of the history of the current world’s situation is glossed over, but you have enough information to securely know what’s going on (at least by the time you hit about 70% in the book).

I also think Bowman did well with the relationship building between the characters.  Nothing seemed forced or unrealistic. There is a love interest but it’s not the focus of the book and doesn’t drown the plot in teenage angst. I won’t write any details about it because there is a bit of a twist and surprise in this realm that I don’t want to spoil. Suffice it to say that it contains a “triangle”, as most books seem to do, nowadays.

At the end of Taken (which I read in one sitting except for a necessary trip to the grocery store), I was sitting there thinking NOOOO… because I wanted more! It’s clear there is going to be a 2nd book and I can’t wait to read it! Taken is Erin Bowman’s first novel and I suspect she’s going to get a brand new legion of fans with this first foray into novel writing. I know I’m one!

Now, for the MOM part of my review. 😉

Because of some of the more mature themes that are implied at in the book, I wouldn’t recommend it to younger kids. Of course each family/individual will want to make the decision about whether it’s appropriate or not based on their family’s values and beliefs. Here are some possibly objectionable items:

The boys of Claysoot are slated to sleep with different girls with the intention of getting them pregnant (how else can the little town repopulate itself since men don’t exist?). There are several times where it’s made clear that teens are sleeping with other teens (or supposed to) but nothing is explicit. In the context of the world, the teens aren’t doing anything rebellious or bad.

There are a few moments where attention is drawn to a young woman’s curves or clinging undershirt and that type of thing (slight s*xual tension for the main character). You have descriptions like “lips taste like rain” and “Her limbs are long and lean, her curves itching to be touched.” The last quoted sentences is about the extent of it and there are about 11 instances of that type of thing in a book of approximately 247 pages. There is an incident where it’s mentioned that Gray and someone are stopping things from getting too “heated” because they don’t want to end up making a baby.

The characters drink alcohol and get drunk, act inappropriately (it’s clear that if he would have given in, a girl would have kissed Gray or perhaps more because she was intoxicated) and several have hangovers.

The characters play a drinking game called Little Lies where they have to pick out truth from lies and if they get it wrong they have to take a drink.

There is a minor amount of swearing, mainly the word d*mn , one incident of bullsh*t and the expletive “scr*w you”.

Summary: Taken is an engaging, interesting story with lots of twists and turns and a refreshing male POV. I think it will be well received by  Y.A.  readers and new fans will be clamoring for the sequel! It does, however, have some items of concern for younger teens and conservative families. Although I enjoyed the book, I’m not ready to hand it over to my 14 year old.  For me as an adult, it was quite tame compared to what you find in most contemporary novels, but it’s still a bit much, in my opinion, for a young teen.

Want to read more of my book reviews (for adults, teens and children)? Click here!

Book Review: Revolution 19

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I love YA (young adult) sci-fi and dystopian books and blaze through them on a regular basis. I’m always on the lookout for another great YA read along the lines of Hunger Games, the Delirium series, Starters, etc.

Revolution 19 looked like a great new title (just look at that beautiful cover with the eye implant!) and the book description sounded intriguing and interesting enough for me, an adult, to want to pursue. I jumped at the chance to snag an ARC (advance reader copy) and promptly sat down to devour what promised to be such an interesting story. Instead I had to force myself to finish it (a rarity for me!). It’s what my husband and I call a “Wesley Crusher” story (if you remember the young man on Star Trek Enterprise who would amazingly save the day when all the brilliant adults around him couldn’t) where the dumb kids save the stupid grown-ups and everything is fluffy and unbelievable along the way. Maybe whomever wrote the book jacket should have written the story. All of the great writing ends there.

Before I eviscerate the book, let me say upfront that the 10 year old in me liked it. Although I think this book is marketed at the YA audience, after reading it, I’d throw it into the very lowest age range of that category, specifically tweens or younger. If I was a kid and I didn’t pick apart books yet (or expect much from them) and just want a fast paced story where the kids win and nothing is really scary (although we’ll pretend it is) and I wasn’t going to notice inconsistencies…then this books is perfect. If I was ten I’d give this book 5 enthusiastic stars and would be itching for the movie to come out. In fact, if they ever do make a movie out of this, it’s one of the rare cases where I think the movie would be much better than the book.

Now, with that out of the way, it’s time to tear the book apart. The story centers around a group of teens varying in age: Nick 17, Kevin 13 (almost 14!) , Cass 15 and later Lexi and some others. Although we have some older teens featured, they all feel flat and much younger. Nick, his brother Keven and their adopted sister Cass live in the wilderness to hide from the robots who’ve apparently turned on humanity and are rumored to enslave people in the cities. The first problem I had is that the community seems fairly well established and somehow the robots don’t discover them (even though they throw out small bits of tech called chaff that people might pick up and take back to their camps for the purpose of locating them). In a bit you find out that the wilderness area turns out to be within walking distance of a city filled with robots. The robots are smart enough to run a city, enslave humans (as the rumor goes) and yet they can’t find these pockets of people living within 2-3 days walking distance. Hmm.

After an attack by the robots (well I guess they found them after all!) the 3 siblings are left to fend for themselves in the woods when their parents don’t show up at a designated “safe” area. The kids decide that must be due to the fact that their parents must have been captured by the robots and so they make the next logical decision – they must go into the city to save them!

The very first part of the story wasn’t so grating. It had an interesting premise and I was still in the mode of giving the characters time to be fleshed out. However, right after the robots attacked, it started falling apart with juvenile, magically perfect scenarios that will appeal to younger readers but not the teens I think it was intended for.

The teens end up in the city and things aren’t as they expected them to be. Humans are living peacefully alongside the robots. Things don’t seem right…Ah, here is an opportunity for the book to redeem itself, as this new development could have been eery and interesting. Sorry to disappoint. The kids end up in a cafeteria and since they were hungry, decided to order food, nevermind they’ve never been in a cafeteria or restaurant before.
“Oh my G*d,” said Kevin, looking through the menu. “You can get anything you want here.”….”Chicken or steak or pizza or hot dogs or French fries….”

Hold on a sec. Here you have kids raised in the wilds who have never known anything but living in the forest and somehow they know what steak, pizza, hot dogs and French fries are?

They meet a girl (Lexi) who basically saves them rears after realizing they are “freemen”…complete with providing a disguise of a hat and sunglasses! From there they have all sorts of adventures like learning about the reeducation centers (another chance at being interesting but nope), getting fake chip implants, going to school (for one day) and so on.

It’s so amazing how they also run into their parents and how these country bumpkins manage to think up an amazing (I’m being sarcastic) tech solution to defeating the robots! Wow! With all the intelligent adults living in the city, you’d think someone would have thought of that before! I won’t spoil what happens. It’s not really all that exciting though. Unless you’re ten. 😉 It’s certainly not the “REVOLUTION” I had envisioned.

In the meantime we have a very juvenile romance (well not quite that but…they do have to slip a kiss in there don’t they?) where one kiss is exchanged but there is no real relationship or anything complex. It felt like it was thrown in there for the twelve year olds.

The robots themselves (Peteys….such a scary name) are basically floating boxes with slits in their faces and lasers that shoot people. At the reeducation center there are robots that look more human…and even seem to sound human at times (another glimmer of hope that things might get good but no…).

I hate to tear this book apart because there WERE moments that were interesting or had a huge amount of potential. However, as a whole it was predictable, juvenile and unbelievable. I think the best part of the book was the very end in the epilogue!! Now that was interesting and perked my interested up again. Too bad it was only a few pages long and it certainly wasn’t worth wading through the rest for! I wish that last element had been developed more somewhere in the story.

So, if you are an adult looking for your next YA fix, I’d not recommend Revolution. However, if you have a younger child into sci-fi or dystopians, Revolution might be a winner. It’s fast paced and pretends at being scary which might appeal to a younger tween not ready for a darker or more involved read.

Having said that, I’ll now give the “mom” part of my review and mention any potential items of concern. The first is the cussing. There are quite a few instances and variations of d*mn as well as hell, God’s name taken in vain, & bastard. There is one instance of kissing with mention of a girl’s body pressed into the boy’s chest. One of the characters suggests Cass draw a nude (she is going to exchange artwork, which is illegal, for the insertion of fake chips that would allow them to integrate into some parts of society) and there is mention of “homebrew” and pretending to be drunk in order to draw the attention of the bots.

Compared to some of the YA drek out there right now (like Beta), Revolution 19 is quite tame by comparison.

Quick summary: I was very disappointed with Revolution 19. I felt like the beautiful cover was misleading (there is a girl with an implant featured on the cover and that is not the case in the book) and the book description didn’t convey how bubble-gummy the story was going to be. While I think it could be a hit with younger kids, I don’t think it will resonate with older readers, even the ones in the intended age group. The ending was enough to tempt me to read a sequel, should one come out, but only because that’s the only part of the book fleshed out a small glimmer of great sci-fi promise. The rest of the book was simply a kiddie-romp that didn’t flesh out its beautiful grown-up package.

Note: I received a free ARC copy in exchange for my honest review.

Want to read more of my book reviews (for adults, teens and children)? Click here!