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 of a Y.A. dystopian: The Ward

The Ward

The Ward (Click here to view the book on Amazon. It will be released on April 30, 2013.)

I LOVE dystopians and was totally intrigued by the cover of The Ward. It didn’t disappoint. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my heart was pounding while reading various sections and that NEVER happens. Needless to say I read it all in one sitting because I didn’t want to put it down.

The Ward is set in a futuristic Manhattan that is completely flooded. Only the tops of skyscrapers pierce through the water after a meteor collided with a glacier in the Antarctic sometime around 2048 causing high-temperature gases to be released which caused a rise in the sea level. As the Ocean levels rose, fresh ground water was contaminated and the landscape totally changed. Instead of asphalt roads, canals thread their ways through the upper stories of remaining buildings. Boardwalks and suspension bridges stretch from area to area and instead of cars, there are water vehicles.

“Upstate” NY is its own country and, after a conflict with New York City in 2054, they embargoed access to fresh water. New York City is now separated into two areas: the West Isle and The Ward. When the government closed access in and out of the Ward, everyone who was there was stuck for good, even if they lived and commuted from the West Isle. World building is released in little bits of information here and there and while you understand what’s going on in the NY area, very little if anything is said or described about the rest of the world or what happened to the United States. Still, it’s enough information to set the stage and satisfy.

The West Isle is filled with the upper class who have relatively easy lives with plenty of access to water despite the embargo while the Ward is cordoned off to contain people infected with the deadly HBNC virus and is more like a slum with little access to life-giving water. The residents of the Ward filter their rainwater but it’s always a struggle. From the book: “…and (I) look down into the murky water. To think – people used to fill toilet bowls with fresh. Pissing into a pot you can drink out of. Unbelievable.”

It’s a crime to transmit the HBNC virus and roving bands of enforcers test residents to see if they are contagious. Test positive and you’ll be arrested. Those that live in the Ward live in constant fear of either contracting the disease, if they don’t already have it, being arrested if they do or dying if they’ve been infected and can no longer transmit the virus. It’s an ugly world where the dying scrape together money for injections to relieve the pain and the healthy are just surviving.

Sixteen year old Ren lives in this world and struggles to take care of her younger sister Aven (actually a friend who grew up in the same orphanage) who is infected with the HBNC virus, but no longer contagious. A tumor bulges out from the base of her skull. She’s dying and Ren races to earn money to take care of Aven and buy the meds that give her temporary relief from the excruciating and debilitating pain she suffers. Through Aven you get to see a very tender side of Ren underneath the tough exterior. She truly loves this fragile girl who has become her only family.

Ren has a secret; she’s working for the hated enforcers to earn extra money for Aven, looking for a freshwater source during the races. What she finds under the water’s surface will be the beginning of a dangerous journey where age-old mysteries are unraveled (along with a little bit of a fantasy element). Ren finds water, but it isn’t just any water…and what it can do is the catalyst behind a world-rocking change and plenty of personal imperilment.

To say The Ward is riveting is an understatement. Besides the intriguing premise, it delivers with rich characters, plenty of twists and plenty of heart-pounding action. There were some underwater scenes where I was nearly gritting my teeth. You know the kind where a vehicle plunges into the water and water starts rushing in and someone is trapped and gulping air and….yeah…that kind. Definitely intense.

I loved it that the characters in The Ward are fully fleshed out. Ren is completely likable as well as genuinely funny. The novel is told in first person from her perspective but there is plenty of world detail along with her humorous insights. Thankfully The Ward is lacking the usual sickly-sweet love triangle Y.A. dystopian novel focus. There is a little bit of a love interest but it’s such a mild sub-plot that it doesn’t steal from the show.

The racing part of the story (Ren races some sort of water vehicle that skips across the top of the water and skids across the sides of partially submerged buildings) is NOT my usual fare, however I found myself enjoying it. It’s a technical, sci-fi type of racing that would make a terrific action scene in a movie. Ren is struggling to make it in what is apparently a male-dominated venue but her tenacity and raw skill earn her reluctant respect. As the story progresses, the racing takes a back seat to the plot twists surrounding Ren’s discovery and the revelation that everyone isn’t who they appear to be as the story unfolds. I don’t want to share anymore because part of the fun is seeing how the story unravels and twists as you read along.

Now for the Mom part of the review: I would rate The Ward PG-13. The Ward is definitely a gritty novel that doesn’t shy away from Ren’s inner dialogue or violent events. There are several instances of instances of cursing (or “near” cursing) like: hell, dam*it, effed up, brack (I guess it’s the Ward’s version of a cuss word), bada$$ery, slut, a couple mentions of giving the finger and so on. There is no s*x, although this topic exists in various venues, such as the time when Ren is naked in front of one of the guy characters at one point and there is a kiss and Ren gets distracted by a young man’s hands lifting her by her armpits (“dangerously close to other places”) and other similar instances. There is also mention of two dragster “girlfriends” (apparently homos*xual although no further details are fleshed out) and Ren talks about her breasts and backside (but not in detail, just in the context of an outfit). There is some underage drinking, although it doesn’t play a big part and Ren herself doesn’t like it but “takes a sip” to be “polite”.

I would say The Ward is more appropriate for older teens vs. the younger crowd and it definitely has an adult edge to it mixed with a strong “teen flavor”. Ren is a strong character leading an adult life despite her age. Conservative Christian families will probably not feel comfortable with some of the situations she finds herself in, even though The Ward is a bit more tame than other novels in this genre with less specific “adult” material. Ren has a crush and she’s in adult situations, but it’s straight forward and there isn’t much, if any, fluff. The focus is on the action, not on a love story or a heavy does of s*xual tension as Y.A. novels sometimes tend to lean towards.

I read other reviews of The Ward written by teens and apparently many of them were kind of “lost”  or not drawn into the story as frequently and easily as I’ve seen for other titles. The Ward is more subtle in letting you know what’s going on as far as world building goes and how it describes the past. I’ve summed it all up in the beginning of my review, but that info was gleaned from multiple areas in the book. I think the fact that the racing scenes were described but the reader is not told the “hows” behind it was probably a bit mildly disconcerting to some readers as well. The thing I read over and over was how the readers enjoyed the main character Ren and I have to agree she’s the one that anchors the book as a whole. While I would have liked more background or world building, Ren kept me from caring too much about whatever might be lacking as the action barely ever let up from start to finish.

Quick Summary:

I found The Ward to be a refreshing entry into the dystopian genre and even though it’s a Y.A. novel, as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ren is such a strong character that she manages to pull the book through any potential weak spots. The action swept me along and I’m looking forward to the next book. Even though the ending was wrapped up nicely, there were a few big elements where you are left hanging and hungry to read more. I can’t wait for book #2 and recommend The Ward to anyone who likes either dystopians, a bit of modern/futuristic worlds with a fantasy/mild sci-fi twist or just a good action story.

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Book Review: Madman’s Daughter

The Madman's Daughter

The Madman’s Daughter is a Y.A. (young adult) novel inspired by H. G. Well’s classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. I’m not usually a fan of Gothic fiction. The last I read a Gothic novel was twenty years ago when I was in college and forced to read assigned  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I remember cringing when we were assigned that title, but was pleasantly surprised. The classic story of an unorthodox scientific experiment and the sad, rejected monster created by it turned out to be an interesting narrative that held my attention and stayed with me for a long time. It was certainly better than my first taste of this genre which I didn’t like one bit. That disaster of a book was Wuthering Heights and I wish I had never picked it up. I hated it. Fortunately, I ‘m adding The Madman’s Daughter to my short list of Gothic successes. After wading through the very first part set in London (I almost stopped reading the book), it totally captured my interest and held it until the surprising cliffhanger ending.

The Madman’s Daughter is the quintessential Gothic story full of dark, lush landscapes with a good dose of  preternatural events and mystery. For those of you unfamiliar with the elements of a Gothic story, they are as follows:

  • An atmosphere of fear and suspense / mystery
  • High, overwrought emotion
  • Supernatural or inexplicable events
  • A woman in distress (a lonely, wistful, oppressed heroine)
  • An ominous building and/or wild landscape
  • Element of romance, often with rivals or multiple suitors
  • The dark side of human nature is explored
  • Protagonists are often isolated or alone or in circumstances outside of his/her control
  • A heightened sense of drama

Megan Shepherd takes these elements and wraps them into an attention keeping story about sixteen-year-old Juliet, daughter of Dr. Henry Moreau.

Juliet is struggling to survive in London after a scandal brought about by rumors of her father’s experiments. When she runs into a former servant named Montgomery (now a young gentleman) she finds out her father is alive and living on a tropical island. Juliet insists on accompanying Montgomery back to the island and while traveling on the ship to be reunited with her father, she meets Edward – a mysterious young man who is the only survivor of a shipwreck. Edward is harboring secrets of his past and Juliet slowly finds herself drawn to him, despite the childhood affection for Montgomery that has begun to blossom into something more.

On the island Juliet discovers just how depraved and yet brilliant her father really is. The natives of the island aren’t really natives at all, but rather humans her father has created from creatures. While the creatures are gentle and child-like, there is something out in the jungle that’s not. As the body count starts rising, Juliet realizes that she needs to get off the island before it’s too late.

Throughout the story she is torn between horror of her father’s actions and experiments and pride at his brilliance. There is a huge conflict in her heart over the loving father she remembers as a child and the one she discovers as a young adult. Mimicking this conflict there is the tension she feels as she vacillates between her affection with Montgomery and her growing, inexplicable bond with Edward. As she discovers more about the two young men, her choice becomes clouded from secrets both of them harbor. No one is who they seem to be, not even Juliet herself.

I’ll stop here with the plot so I don’t ruin the twists and surprises, because there are several and a couple of them completely astonished me! I’m usually good at figuring out these types of things, but the revelations in The Madman’s Daughter were unexpected.

Reading my review, I probably wouldn’t be tempted to pick up the Madman’s Daughter, but despite the creepiness, it really was a worthwhile book that examines the thought of what it really means to be human (not unlike Shelley’s Frankenstein) and the battle between darkness and light that occurs in all of us. I enjoyed the lush setting and the Victorian era accouterments, the mystery, suspense and the plot twists. The Madman’s Daughter is a fresh and different entry into a super-saturated Y.A. market that will likely be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.

Now for the MOM part of my review. Please note that there may be minor spoilers in the material below.

This is a dark book with adult themes. It has quite a few more than the norm of things I would consider possibly objectionable:

  • There is a near rape scene in the beginning that is perpetrated by a lecherous older man at Juliet’s employment. Juliet retaliates by hacking at his hand with a mortar scraper: “And my God, as wicked and wrong as it was, I liked it.”
  • There are approximately 21 incidences of some sort of s*xual tension or mention of that type of thing. Examples:
    •  “He took my wrist lightly. He kissed the soft, sensitive flesh, and then ran his finger up my arm. This is what people talk about, I thought, when they say they could die of pleasure.” (That is the most explicit scene in the book. It’s pretty tame and a little sophomoric but may be a bit much for younger teens.)
    • “I had a vague memory, more like a dream, of him wrapping his arms around me, breathing in the scent of my hair, muttering against my cheek. I could have stopped him. But I feigned sleep instead, and held him closer.” (This is when Juliet and one of the young men find themselves sleeping in a cave after a chase through the jungle by an unseen foe.)
    • It’s implied that Juliet’s mother, before she died, was someone’s mistress in exchange for money.
    • Juliet sees one of the young men bathe in the nude.
  • There is violence and cruelty to animals. A vivisection (live dissection) of a rabbit is described and there is screaming when other animal-humans are being created or experimented on.
  • There is drinking mentioned a couple times – in the beginning of the book a friend is tucked on a sofa between two young men with a half empty rum bottle dangling from her fingers. Juliet drinks Brandy but is reprimanded for it by her father who says its not for a lady. She replies, “Good. Then it’s perfect for me.”
  • There is some cursing such as d*mn, hell, g*dd*amn, bastard
  • Juliet’s father says that Christianity is a bunch of fairy tales

Because of the above, I don’t consider this acceptable reading for my 14 year old. In fact, The Madman’s Daughter almost felt more like a book for adults than the Y.A. market except for the “teen” triangle element. I think it will be a successful book but it will definitely take a lot of people out of their comfort zone. The WOW twists will bring readers back for the next in the trilogy.

The second book is going to be based on the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I have my own guesses as to which characters might return for the next installment and look forward reading more about the strong and lovely Juliet.

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Book Review: Beta by Rachel Cohn

Beta

Beta by Rachel Cohn

I’m a dystopian junkie. I can’t get enough of them. Otter also enjoys them so I’m always on the lookout for a book we both might like. We both enjoyed the Hunger Games as well as other titles like The Maze Runner.

I was really looking forward to reading Beta which appears to be a dystopia/sci-fi mix, but it turned out to be a colossal disappointment. I’m giving it two stars (for an adult reader) instead of one because the concept was terrific but the execution of the story fell totally flat. As a parent looking for a book for my teen it gets a huge thumbs down.

Beta started out with an interesting premise: On a island built around luxury, dead humans are cloned and created to serve in a variety of positions. These clones, while functioning like their human counterparts are missing a very important component: a soul. They function, but they don’t taste, wish or feel. They are mimics programmed to serve and please their human masters.

The main character of Beta is an untested clone, one of the first teenage “experimental” models – a Beta named Elysia. She is born, not knowing who she is, learning about the world around her by accessing the chip implanted in her brain and slowly acclimating to her role of servitude. She is a “good girl” doing what she was programmed to do and fitting into her new family in a role not unlike a pet.

The first part of the book was intriguing. Elysia seems to be very good at certain things like swimming and diving…holdovers from her “First” – the person she was cloned from. She discovers she can taste. She experiences flashbacks of her previous, human life. She begins to realize she’s different from the other clones. Maybe something is terribly wrong? And yet it feels so right! Elysia carries this secret with her – afraid of what it might mean. Perhaps she is defective…

Sadly, the story started falling apart as it progressed and felt like something a tween would write with wooden non-varied sentence structure that reminded me of a second grade primer. The potential to have a deep, meaningful, haunting narrative turned into something shallow sprinkled with sex scenes including a rape that did NOT fit the character who committed it (this is a DISNEY book??!!) and quotes like “blond surfer god”. (Where is a spoon so I can gag myself?)

The insipid teen verbiage became a total distraction. Maybe it’s that I’m not in the targeted age group for the novel, but I found it totally irritating.

The teen characters in the book are constantly getting high on “Raxia” and are flat representations of the spoiled rich. Almost all of the supporting characters are trite and predictable. The plot twists can be seen miles away and the story’s credibility started unraveling about half-way through. There is also have a case of “insta-love” that is totally unconvincing (and drug-induced by the way) where by the 4th “date” they were ready to get intimate (and this is already after planning on running off together previously).

I also didn’t care for the world building. I can see what the author was trying to do, but I found that it just wasn’t believable and I didn’t care about any of the characters other than the little sister Liesel and Elysia – but only at the beginning.

Of course the ending was a cliff-hanger (to suck readers into a sequel) but absolutely outlandish. There is only one element (which I won’t mention since it’s a spoiler) that had me the least bit curious about taking a look at the next book. I’m sure the readers who liked the story will be clamoring for the next book.

Bottom line: If you are an adult who likes the dystopian YA book genre, Beta may not be a good fit. I see it appealing more to younger teens unlike some other dystopians that are able to cross the teen/adult divide. Because of the gratuitous sex (that serves no purpose other than to titillate as far as I can tell), drugs (seen as positive and even necessary), violence and lack of a real message – I don’t think it’s a good fit for that age group either. If you are a conservative, Christian family – you probably won’t want your kids anywhere near this title.

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