Smoke and Iron

The Great Library #4
Rachel Caine

It’s hard to believe it’s already time for the fourth book of the Great Library series! Last year I freaked out when we realized that the series was going to be five books instead of three, and that cliffhanger… gah! But now the wait is over, and we finally get to know what happens next to our favorite book loving rebels. And unlike the other books, Smoke and Iron introduces multiple perspectives so we can follow everyone as they are split around the world. Spoilers for the first three books from here on out!

Summary36595619

The opening moves of a deadly game have begun. Jess Brightwell has put himself in direct peril, with only his wits and skill to aid him in a game of cat and mouse with the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. With the world catching fire, and words printed on paper the spark that lights rebellion, it falls to smugglers, thieves, and scholars to save a library thousands of years in the making…if they can stay alive long enough to outwit their enemies.

Musings

Right from page one, we’re thrown back into the action. Jess is in Alexandria, under the guise of his brother Brendan; Khalila is on Anit’s ship, waiting for the sword to drop; Wolfe is in the prisons, alone and losing his mind; and Morgan is back in the tower, trapped, but ready to fight. The Archivist will stop at nothing to kill them: already he doesn’t trust Jess/Brendan, who must play the role perfectly or risk meeting a terrible death. But to save his friends, and the world, Jess will do anything. New alliances need to be forged. Weapons built. Friends betrayed.

Smoke and Iron is incredibly exciting. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, worrying about this crew, hoping they can make it out. At the same time, some of their plans were pretty… bad. That’s something I quite like about this series, as Jess is a YA hero who doesn’t have things miraculously work out for him every time. The stakes are real, and they’re high.

The writing is perfect in that it never impedes the plot. The world has been so strongly established and built now that Caine can take us on an adventure without having to stop and introduce us to new elements. Adding this to the already fast-paced story, I feel like I read this book in a blur: it feels shorter than the other books despite being just as long, if not longer. Everything fits together perfectly to bring us to the grand finale, the epic ending that leaves you breathless. How can I wait another year for book five?

While things went by so fast, a few plot points kinda fell to the side. Morgan’s storyline was fascinating, but I felt like there was quite a lot of deus-ex-machina on her end. She’s just so incredibly powerful. That, and her relationship with Jess seemed added a little like an afterthought? Maybe I’m just being nitpicky, or maybe I just missed them working together. But one thing’s for sure, the Iron tower needs to fall.

Thrilling and fast-paced, this book left me breathless. I cannot wait for the next one!

Expected publication: July 3rd 2018 by Berkley Books
I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher, Berkley Books, for providing me with this ARC!

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The Final Six

By Alexandra Mornir

Last month I received the coolest book box ever from Beacon Book Box, and with it, their book of the month: THE FINAL SIX. Immediately I could tell it was right up my alley: it’s YA/SF, my favorite genre, and involved a trip to Europa, one of my favorite moons (I even have a poster of it on my wall!). It took me a while to sit down and read it, but when I did, I couldn’t put it down.

Summary

 

36491465When Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, and Naomi, a science genius from California, are two of the twenty-four teens drafted into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever altered. After erratic climate change has made Earth a dangerous place to live, the fate of the population rests on the shoulders of the final six who will be scouting a new planet. Intense training, global scrutiny, and cutthroat opponents are only a few of the hurdles the contestants must endure in this competition.

For Leo, the prospect of traveling to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—to help resettle humankind is just the sense of purpose he’s been yearning for since losing his entire family in the flooding of Rome. Naomi, after learning of a similar space mission that mysteriously failed, suspects the ISTC isn’t being upfront with them about what’s at risk.

As the race to the final six advances, the tests get more challenging—even deadly. With pressure mounting, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo, and the two grow closer with each mind-boggling experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.

Musings

The world is at war with the environment. Every day, new reports of devastating Tsunamis and destructive earthquakes fill the news. Earth is no longer a loving world: it’s turned against us, and wants us gone.

When Leo and Naomi are drafted by the new International space committee, they are given a once in a lifetime shot of leaving our world and forging a new home for mankind. Leo is a swimmer, strong and athletic, who dives the flooded streets of Rome in search of treasures to scavenge just to stay alive. Naomi is an Iranian-American science prodigy, smart as a whip and stubborn to match. She’d rather stay on earth to protect her brother, who cannot get the medical care he needs as the world is focused on other things, but knows this is her only chance to see what is really going on with this mysterious trip to Europa.

I loved the characters here. They were instantly engaging, though sometimes annoyingly flawless. Then again, these are the best teenagers on the planet, they’re allowed to be geniuses. While being run through over the top simulations in order to test and train the candidates, Leo and Naomi form a strong bond and fight to find the answers to secrets being kept by them: what is this vaccine they’re being given? And why is the mission being pushed forward so rapidly?

The fantastic scientific realism, proof of the author’s formidable research, was a bit of a double-edged sword. Because of her attention to detail, it was hard for me to suspend my disbelief when things appeared unlikely. For example, how quickly events are moving forward, or the ‘training’ the teens are receiving. I suppose we’re not seeing everything they’re being put through, but I felt like they weren’t being properly prepared for their mission: however, the details about Europa really brings some awesome planetary science to the reader, even if they don’t think they’re into it before the read. The book manages to highlight science without being bogged down by it.

All in all, it’s a fantastically fun read. The last three chapters really had me hanging on the edge of my seat, and I can’t wait for the next book to come out. I really loved Leo and Naomi’s relationship, and I find myself hoping things work out between them. Let me know when I can get book 2!

Gork, The Teenage Dragon + Sweepstakes!

by Gabe Hudson
Reviewed by SA

This book was so insanely different from anything I’ve read lately! As I started to read the novel, I thought “ok, this is not for me. Probably someone in High School or Middle School would like it more.” But to my amazement, the book was stuck in my hand: I couldn’t put it down! Even after finishing the book I can’t put my finger on why, all I know is this was insanely fun!

Summary32766443

Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave.

Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork’s biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.

A love story, a fantasy, and a coming-of-age story, Gork the Teenage Dragon is a wildly comic, beautifully imagined, and deeply heartfelt debut novel that shows us just how human a dragon can be.

Musings

At WarWings academy, graduation isn’t like what we’re used to here on earth. You don’t ask a date to prom – you ask a dragonness to be your queen. Together you set off in a spaceship to colonize a new world with your hatchlings. Gork might have survived High School (though only by the skin of his teeth) but can he survive graduation? Can he convince his crush – who he’s never even heard speak – to be his queen?

To make matters worse, Gork suffers a chronic illness that makes him pass out multiple times a day, and keeps his social ratings and rank near the very bottom of the pile. His horns are stubs. His heart is huge. Not exactly mate material…

I think what really drew me in was the world building: it was spectacular! What’s not to love about technically advanced Dragons with spaceships? With robots?  With body switching evolution machines? Time machines – and time junkies? It’s brilliant for fans of science fiction, with throwbacks to famous tropes (my favorite throwaway gag was the reverse grandfather paradox, it had me in tears!). Its Dragons  – IN SPACE!

Gork is witty and fun, and his world is interesting and totally off the wall crazy. I loved the creativity there! But the plot wasn’t really my cup of tea, and the ending got me a little confused. The author has a habit of repeating himself/certain plot points that made me eye-roll. Yet I’m still unsure about a few things? I have questions!

But I have to admire the twist at the ending. I definitely do not want to spoil it here, but I have to say that most of the things that annoyed me about Gork’s goals were resolved, and I felt like it was a really important lesson for teenagers everywhere.

While there was just something I personally couldn’t connect with, I am sure other readers will instead latch on and go crazy about it. I would seriously recommend this to teens 8th-10th grade!

Expected publication: July 11th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group


SWEEPSTAKES! 5 lucky readers will get their claws on Gork, The Teenage Dragon

A wacky, exuberant, heartfelt debut novel: the unholy child of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter, and Sixteen Candles—and this time with dragons.

Knopf is having a giveaway! YOU could win a hardcover copy of Gork before it even comes out! Follow this link here to enter the sweepstakes. 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:01 am (ET) June 7th, 2017 and 11:59 pm (ET) June 28th, 2017. One entry per person. Open to legal US residents who are 18 and older.

 

The Impossible Fortress

by Jason Rekulak
Reviewed by SA

This book was not at all what I expected, and yet it was a fun and awesome read. A book that made me feel like I was living the teen years my parents had, a book that made me fall in love with coding, a book that conjured up the magic of the 80s in a way you only see in movies like War Games and Tron.

Summary30753698

The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.

The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.

Musings
Billy is not your usual nerd – his grades are awful, he doesn’t care for books or role playing games. He is, however, more than slightly obsessed with his Commodore 64. He codes for fun, and he’s outstandingly good, not just for a 14 year old. It’s a hobby he doesn’t expect his friends or family to understand, but it’s something he loves to do.

So when he meets Mary, a girl his age who might just be better at coding than he is, a friendship blossoms that could change everything.

It’s important to remember that we’re int he mind of a 14 year old, here. Billy’s friends Alf and Clyde share one goal – to get the newest issue of Playboy, and get a look at the nude goddess that is Vanna White. It’s all they can think about, and they’re hatching a plan to get their hands on it. And they need Billy to seduce Mary as part of it.

This doesn’t seem like a problem for Billy: it even gives him an excuse to hang out with this brilliant girl, and work together on their video game, the Impossible Fortress, which could win them fame and fortune… all without getting mocked by the boys. You see, Mary is a little chubby. Or outright fat, if you believe Alf and Clyde. She isn’t really worth Billy’s time, they say. Plus, she has a reputation – if you know what I mean.

Some of the characters felt a little flat to me, but I don’t think it’s a problem, since Billy and Mary have so much depth. The story is about them, after all. It’s partially love story, partially friendship – though maybe you could say the real love story is between Billy and coding, or the reader and the 80s.

And while part of the story was a little predictable, the real twist came right out of left field. Totally unexpected, though made perfect sense all in the end, answering questions we didn’t know we had. It’s also fun to read a book intended for 14 years olds as an adult, seeing how bad a lot of the decisions are, wanting to reach in and tell a character to their face that what they’re doing is a bad idea.

It’s also fun, if you want to go deeper, to look into the symbolism of impossible fortresses through the book. There are the evident ones: like the game itself, impossible to code, or the school at the very end, or even the heist itself. But you’ve also got the impossible fortress of Mary herself – can you break down her walls, and navigate the maze of her personality? Maybe life itself is an impossible fortress.

It’s a book about expectations, a book about first impressions, a book about being a teenager in the age of arcade games. It combines the tropes of the teenage heist with the ultimate competition, all wrapped up in a coming of age story. I mean, what’s not to love about a love letter to the 80s?

Expected publication: February 7th 2017 by Simon & Schuster

By the way, you can actually play the game Billy and Mary create, On the author’s website! http://jasonrekulak.com/ (Click ‘play the game’ at the top!)

When Reason Breaks

by Cindy L. Rodriguez

Reviewed by SA

I am always nervous when I pick up YA novels (I say pretty much the same thing every time I start a review of a YA), as it is so hard to find a book that defies formula, breaks into new territory, and rips your heart out. Guess what? When Reason Breaks (Cindy L. Rodriguez) is most definitely a great novel. Plus, it’s a diverse book!

When Reason BreaksTwo sophomore girls come from different worlds. Emily is the sweet, smart daughter of a lawyer/politician father who controls most aspects of her life; she loves her friends Sarah and Abby, and her boyfriend, Kevin. Elizabeth is a dark goth girl whose father has recently run out on, making her the ‘basket case’ of the school, with anger issues and a tendency to draw dark pictures. When their English teacher, Ms. Diaz, places them together in class, they grow together over a love of Emily Dickinson, whose poetry will push them to reconsider many aspects of their lives.

The novel deals with the harsh topics of mental illness and suicide, while drawing parallels between the lives of the two young protagonists and Emily Dickinson herself. It will have your heart racing, your hands stuck to the cover, unable to put the book down.

Full disclosure; for the first half of the novel, I wasn’t convinced about if I liked it or not. I found the protagonists slightly pretentious, slightly predictable, and I felt as if I had seen them before. But as the plot progressed, I realized that the feeling of familiarity came from the fact that I did  know people just like them. I recognized their thoughts and feelings as those I had myself felt, or had experienced second hand as I stood alongside a friend through a tough time.

It was honestly the end of the third act (if you would want to call it that – you’ll know what I mean when you read it yourself) when the book grabbed me. The book begins with a dark chapter, after which the novel then takes you back eight months, to show what series of events has brought them to this point. Just like Ms. Diaz, I made assumptions about this moment; when I saw that I was wrong, my entire perception of the book shifted. My heart raced as I realized… “I am part of the problem,” a scary thought. I suddenly saw the novel in a different light; when I finally finished it, I had to put it down, stare at the ceiling, and think everything over in my head. Just… wow.

But what made it so much more interesting was the introduction of Emily Dickinson as the inspiration for the women. During the course of the book, the protagonist offer different interpretations to some of the most famous poems, making them their own. And after the novel ends, the author offers insight into the life of our favorite lady poet, showing us just how every character reflects part of her past. It’s fantastic how she is able to do this without making the book feel like a perfect replica of Dickinson’s life, or preachy in any way: it’s subtle.

It was an actual emotional roller coaster; it reminded me of Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher), crossed over with The Breakfast Club. I recommend tissues!

When Reason Breaks comes out February 10th.

Oh look, a book trailer!