Thunderhead by Neil Shusterman

33555224 Thunderhead

Neil Shusterman

Goodreads

Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

Review (minimal spoilers):

The summary does not even begin to scratch the surface of all the things going on in this book. From what (I felt) was a fairly straightforward (but immensely enjoyable) plot in Scythe expanded into multiple overlapping storylines as well as new characters.

At a certain point in roughly the middle of the book I thought to myself, “Is this too much?” And then I decided that I didn’t care because the ride was too enjoyable. I was rewarded in the end by having all the storylines neatly wrap up and then abruptly be cut off by an amazing cliffhanger that has me desperate to see what comes next.

The main star of the show in this novel is Citra, or Scythe Anastasia. Her growth from novice overachiever in the first book to political savvy junior scythe in this adventure is seamless and wonderful to read. Rowan, I feel, takes a bit of a back seat. Or perhaps I was so thirsty for more of Rowan’s story after Scythe that nothing would satisfy me. The secondary star for me was definitely Greyson Tolliver whose storyline had me as interested as any of the main characters. While in the previous book, each chapter had some quotation from a scythe’s journal — notably Scythe Curie — in this novel we have insights from the Thunderhead itself which I feel adds so much to the worldbuilding of this novel and bookends all the chapters with just enough commentary to make you understand how the world and the Thunderhead thinks (which often syncs up with what you’re thinking).

And oh the worldbuilding. So much was added and shaped and honed. So much that I didn’t understand or was annoyed by now makes sense. The Tonists! The Tonists!

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Renegades by Marissa Meyer

28421168Renegades
Marissa Meyer
Goodreads

Secret Identities. Extraordinary Powers. She wants vengeance. He wants justice.

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies—humans with extraordinary abilities—who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone…except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice—and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.

Review:

With an intriguing summary and the promise of superheroes and villains, I couldn’t resist picking this book up and giving it a read.  And, overall, I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s hard to really mess up a book about good versus evil and it’s even harder when the author doesn’t show a bias to side of good or the side of evil so the reader can make the choice on who and what they agree with.

The book is, however, a little long in spots.  I think a good fifty to a hundred pages could have been cut off to make it flow a little better but that’s a minor quibble.  The book does have a large cast of secondary characters and the author seems to try and provide some backstory to them even if it’s very brief.  I will admit to not retaining the real names and superhero names of some of the characters because they were glossed over and nothing made them jump out and be memorable.

Adrian and Nova, the two main characters are two sides of a different coin.  One is the son of two of the greatest superheroes in existence and the other is the niece of one of the greatest villains ever.  Nova is full of anger and resentment towards the superheroes and she’s hellbent on bringing them down.  So, she goes undercover, joins the Renegades and in doing so gets closer to Adrian.  There is, of course, the prototypical beginnings of a love story between the two leads and while I could take it or leave it, it was pretty cute and adorable.

As I mentioned earlier, I liked the attention paid to the philosophical part of a world run by superheroes.  How regular people would become lax and lazy and would not help themselves, always relying on someone else to be there.  How they became complacent and unwilling to even try to better themselves.  The villains in the story are still villains but they’re given a good, proper motivation for what they do and what they’re working towards.

My favorite character in the story is the character of Max, the ten year old superhero with a power that’s more dangerous and deadly than anything anyone else has known.  I’m hoping he gets to be a little more of a factor in the next book because of his ties to the main villain and how he helped bring him down.

Overall, not a bad book.  Slow in parts, a little predictable, but enjoyable.  I’ll be reading the follow up.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

19364719Slasher Girls & Monster Boys
April Genevieve Tucholke (Editor)
Goodreads

For fans of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lois Duncan, and Daphne Du Maurier comes a powerhouse anthology featuring some of the best writers of YA thrillers and horror

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Review

(Note: This is an old review I pulled from my Goodreads!)

4 stars evened out between the really great stories and the just okay stories. Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is a fantastic anthology, featuring some current popular YA writers coming together to write a bunch of horror stories. And it’s fantastic. I had high hopes for this, and though there’s always one or two short stories in an anthology that can bring the book down, I thought each story here did well. Some weren’t as good as others, but only one was a true clunker for me.

Fun side note: each story is based on some form of pop culture – films, stories, poems, etc. Some I realized right away, and others I didn’t know until I checked the footnotes. It became a sort of game for me to see if I could spot the reference.

The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma – 5/5
Teenage girls know more than we’re given credit for.

Nova Ren Suma writes some fantastic teenage girls, and Birds features a great snapshot of them. Three teens (among others) have dealt with the long stares and thinly veiled longing from their older male neighbor, but of course the parents believe he’s completely harmless – he’s a wonderful baker, after all. The girls deal with his mostly harmless leering until the night they see him bring a young girl home…and the weirdness begins.

The reveal is easy to see pretty early on, but it didn’t detract from the impact of the ending one bit. Nova Ren Suma knows how to pack a punch in such a short time frame, and it’s obviously a very strong start to the book.

Spot the reference: Didn’t catch this one as I read.

In the Forest Dark and Deep, by Carrie Ryan – 5/5
I’m giving this one a full five stars for how deeply fucking unsettling it was. Donnie Darko meets Alice in Wonderland in this one, and Donnie Darko has given me a life-long fear of man-sized rabbits. (Fuck you, Frank.) The moment I read the description of the March Hare I had to turn on the lights in my bedroom to finish the story.

Spot the reference: Pretty obvious right from the start.

Emmeline, by Cat Winters – 3/5
One of the shorter stories, Emmeline is a story that would sound really fantastic around a campfire late at night. It has some good atmosphere, but it felt a little too obvious as the story went on. The reveal didn’t have as much weight as it should have, but I’m still not sure if it was meant to be a twist/reveal as such, or only the obvious conclusion to the story being told.

Spot the reference: Apparently three different ones, none of which I got.

Verse Chorus Verse, by Leigh Bardugo – 2/5
I was a little surprised that the story I found one of the weakest was by Leigh Bardugo. I enjoy her Grisha series, but there was little I liked about this one. It focuses too much on the life of a pop starlet and the supernatural isn’t clear at all. Ultimately the ending left me dissatisfied.

Spot the reference: Not one I got, and a surprising one.

Hide-and-Seek, by Megan Shepherd – 3/5
Annie has to win a game against death, and death never loses. Taking place over the span of 24 hours, Hide-and-Seek is a story that is an adrenaline rush, moving from moment to moment with very little time to breathe. I was captivated for the first few scenes, but it quickly became difficult to stick with my suspension of disbelief as thing after thing after thing kept happening. I’m not quite sure I liked the ending, but the story accomplishes what it wants very well.

Spot the reference: Did I mention I was pretty bad at this? Also, very surprising.

The Dark, the Scary Parts and All, by Danielle Paige – 3/5
I spent the majority of this story wondering where it was going, then when I got to the end, I laughed. I don’t think laughter was intended by Danielle Paige. [SPOILERS, highlight for easier reading] When it’s revealed that Damien is actually Hades’ (or the Devil’s?) son and he just wants to claim Marnie, it reads two ways for me. First, it’s a basic creepy ending, all oh no, whatever will she do, she can’t escape him!. Second, every step of the way, Damien reminded me of SO MANY YA LOVE INTERESTS that all I could think of was this story as a scathing indictment on the mysterious, super gorgeous and deep love interest trope. Yeah, Damien is deep and has a mysterious past – he’s the fucking devil. DON’T FALL FOR THE DEVIL, GIRLS. [/SPOILERS]

Spot the reference: Well, one is actually mentioned in the story, so sure, I got it.

The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh, by April Genevieve Tucholke – 3/5
I rated this pretty highly because I really love how April Genevieve Tucholke evokes a mood right from the start — that feeling of being on the cusp of high school and college, when your life is finally changing and every plan you’ve been making is coming together. Except something brings it all crashing down.

The actual plot of the story is really good, but…it comes crashing down with the ending. Very dissatisfying.

Also, the narrator is a dick.

Spot the reference: Finally got another one!

Fat Girl with a Knife, by Jonathan Maberry – 4/5
So, I was very dubious about this one thanks to the title and how it starts, but damn if Jonathan Maberry didn’t make me fall in love with Dahlia. While the length constraints don’t leave much of her to be fleshed out, what Maberry does include makes for a very clear picture of who Dahlia is in this snapshot of a moment in her lifetime.

Oh, and some other stuff happens that’s pretty rad. This one has the least creep factor of all the stories, but I really enjoyed it.

Spot the reference: Hell yes.

Sleepless, by Jay Kristoff – 2/5
I was very unsure about this story for a majority of it, since a huge part of it takes place in IM format, which drove me nuts. Pretty sure nobody really uses txt spk when having online conversations these days. Anyway, it was a very real, very grounded, and very…unimpactful story, especially compared to the others. I didn’t even really enjoy the resolution the way I think we’re intended to.

Spot the reference: One of them, and I thought the ending was a reference to something obvious, but apparently wasn’t.

M, by Stefan Bachmann – 1/5
I was flying through the book and then I got to M, which brought my momentum to a grinding halt. The initial set up of a blind girl being “witness” to a crime was interesting, but I didn’t quite like most of the story, and I didn’t like where it went. I really wanted something to happen with the creepy children, but that wasn’t meant to be.

Spot the reference: Nope.

The Girl Without a Face, by Marie Lu – 2/5
Eeehhhh? This had promise, but then the reveals started to happen and I lost interest very quickly.

Spot the reference: Nope.

A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow, by McCormick Templeman – 2/5
Not a great stretch of stories here. I was a bit confused as to where the story started out, and found the characters felt more like cardboard cutouts than anything. Mysterious girl, sympathetic guy, his menacing brother, etc. I enjoyed the ending a bit.

Spot the reference: No, but I googled the film and I’m totally interested in watching it.

Stitches, by A.G. Howard – 4/5
Ohhh hell yes. This was so strange and it starts off with an in your face bang. I enjoyed the atmosphere, the reasoning behind what was happening, the sheer creepiness and horror of the reveal. This was the only story in the entire book that made me gasp “oh SHIT!” out loud. Fucking body horror, I love it and love to hate it.

Spot the reference: Oh yes, it’s very obvious.

On the I-5, by Kendare Blake – 2/5
A very disappointing finish to the book, which surprises me as I really loved Kendare Blake’s previous novels. The real intentions of the character are shrouded too much to make her all that interesting, and it isn’t until the reveal that my interest perked up. I liked the idea behind the story, but the part I liked was only a couple pages at the very end.

Spot the reference: Nope!

Warcross by Marie Lu

29385546Warcross
Marie Lu
Goodreads

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Review:

I’m upset that I’m no longer reading this book.  I really am.  Marie Lu’s always been a consistently good author but this is probably my favorite of all the books of hers I’ve read.  It was high octane, fast paced and speeding towards a satisfying resolution from the get go.  I wanted to get to the end to see if some of my guesses were right but I didn’t want it to end.

I was, at first, worried that Emika was going to fall into the ‘quirky, whimsical, too cool for her own good’ trope that some main characters are, unfortunately, slotted into but she wasn’t.  She was layered and complex, full of dark places and flaws that made her all the better in my eyes.  I could have done without the frequent mentions of her rainbow colored hair but it’s a small quibble that’s easily forgiven.

Hideo Tanaka’s my new boyfriend.  I’m gonna write my name and his all over my slam books.  But, then again, maybe that’s not the best idea.

The twist (one that I don’t want to go too far into to avoid outright spoilers) left me both incredibly surprised and incredibly deflated (because it involved a character I’d come to love).  I’m intrigued to see how this all plays out in the sequel (that’s too far away) but I’m definitely in this series for however long Marie Lu wants to write it.

 

Miles Morales, by Jason Reynolds

32793053Miles Morales
Jason Reynolds
Goodreads

“Everyone gets mad at hustlers, especially if you’re on the victim side of the hustle. And Miles knew hustling was in his veins.”

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

But lately, Miles’s spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can’t shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher’s lectures on the historical “benefits” of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It’s time for Miles to suit up.

Review

I gave this a solid three stars on Goodreads because that’s what it feels like – I like the book, but it’s nothing incredible or mind blowing. It’s an important book that will mean a lot to many people (I wish I’d had this when I was still a teen growing up in NY!), but for me right now, it’s just a solid like.

The book follows Miles as he deals with being a high school kid, having a crush on a girl, worrying about his parents’ financial issues, wondering if he has bad blood in his veins like his uncle Aaron. Oh, and being Spider-Man, of course.

I found this book presented a very different take on the Spider-Man dilemma: it’s not just about Miles’ personal life, but his personal life in that it represents an entire livelihood, his way out and up. I really liked this aspect of it, which made the actual super villain (if you can call it that?) plot fall a little flat for me. I can absolutely see where Reynolds was coming from and going with the idea, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way.

Like I said, I gave this three stars overall because I liked it for what it is – an important book with some good storytelling that kind of falls flat in the end for me.

Waste of Space by Gina Damico

28473381Waste of Space
Gina Damico
Goodreads

Cram ten hormonal teens into a spaceship and blast off: that’s the premise for the ill-conceived reality show Waste of Space. The kids who are cast know everything about drama—and nothing about the fact that the production is fake. Hidden in a desert warehouse, their spaceship replica is equipped with state-of-the-art special effects dreamed up by the scientists partnering with the shady cable network airing the show. And it’s a hit! Millions of viewers are transfixed. But then, suddenly, all communication is severed. Trapped and paranoid, the kids must figure out what to do when this reality show loses its grip on reality.

Review:

Waste of Space is a harmless, fun little book.  I’ve always enjoyed Gina Damico’s brand of humor and heart so I was pretty excited to read her latest.  This book is a little heavier on the humor and lighter on the heart.  It’s still good but I think the  book suffers just a bit from having such a large cast of characters that you can’t really fall in love with any of them.  There’s just not a lot of background on any of them.  You get brief insights, little visits to their pasts and some slivers of their backgrounds but no one is really fully developed.

Still, I laughed quite a bit.  The book takes the reality television craze and shoves every single stereotypical character into it and revels in how cliche and predictable reality television can be.  There’s the requisite villain, the quiet one, the disabled one, the minority, etc etc.  Everyone is a caricature of their ‘trait’ and, thankfully, the book moves fast enough and doesn’t focus too much on that to make it offensive or boring.

The ending of the book threw me for a bit of a loop because, up until then, it had been a funny and superficial romp.  It had been funny and witty and, at times, poignant but the ending was actually very serious and sad.  It wasn’t bad by any means and I could see where it was coming from as I thought about the whole novel once I’d finished reading but, at the time, it made me tilt my head.

Still, it’s a good, funny book.  Perfect for a quick read or to decompress after reading something heavy and angsty.

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

30226723King’s Cage
Victoria Aveyard
Goodreads

In this breathless third installment to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling Red Queen series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when the Lightning Girl’s spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother’s web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare’s heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down.

 

Review:

The third installment in Aveyard’s Red Queen series, King’s Cage starts fast and never stops.  I’m pretty much biased because I’ve really enjoyed this series since book one but this was a tense, violent, heartbreaking edition to the series.  While I really do like the characters of Mare and Cal, I was so so so excited to see my favorite character, Evangeline Samos, getting a much expanded part in this book.  With the way the book ended, it looks like she might be an even bigger part of the fourth book which is, sadly, set to be released in 2018.  That’s such a long, long wait.

I really enjoyed the exploration of Mare and Maven’s relationship.  It’s an awful, horrible, codependent thing (more so on Maven’s side than Mare’s) but there are also those very, very brief flashes of softness and, strangely enough, love that makes me want them to kiss and make up before realizing what I’m hoping for and slapping myself in the face.

The battle scenes were vivid and visceral, putting me in the midst of the chaos at Corvium.  My only quibble there was that it ended very abruptly as I would have liked to see the effect House Samos, House Iral, and House Lerolan had on the battle.

But, there’s another book coming so I’ll hope for more there.  More Evangeline too.  And hopefully much more of Maven getting his comeuppance.