Book Review Sunset Rising by S.M. McEachern

17312777Title: Sunset Rising

Author: S.M. McEachern

Genre: YA Dystopian

Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange for an honest review.

February 2024: Desperate to find refuge from the nuclear storm, a group of civilians discover a secret government bio-dome. Greeted by a hail of bullets and told to turn back, the frantic refugees stand their ground and are grudgingly permitted entry. But the price of admission is high.

283 years later… Sunny O’Donnell is a seventeen-year-old slave who has never seen the sun. She was born in the Pit, a subterranean extension of the bio-dome. Though life had never been easy, lately it had become a nightmare. Her mom was killed in the annual Cull, and her dad thought it was a good time to give up on life. Reyes Crowe, her long-time boyfriend, was pressuring her to get married, even though it would mean abandoning her father.

She didn’t think things could get any worse until she was forced upstairs to the Dome to be a servant-girl at a bachelor party. That’s where she met Leisel Holt, the president’s daughter, and her fiancé, Jack Kenner.

Now Sunny is wanted for treason. If they catch her, she’ll be executed.

She thought Leisel’s betrayal was the end. But it was just the beginning.

Sunset Rising is Book One of a series.

Sunset Rising is a young adult dystopian novel that brings a familiar theme in a new jacket. Sunny, short for Sunset, and her family have lived in the Dome for all their lives, as did their ancestors before them, and as they’d done for about three hundred years. Forced to work in the Pit in the most dire of circumstances, and culled – as in, killed – at age thirty-five, life is anything but enjoyable for Sunny. When she’d asked to serve food during a bachelor party for the Bourges, the people who don’t have to live in the Pit, and who get everything Sunny is deprived of, she reluctantly agrees because she doesn’t have much of a choice. Along with her best friend Summer, she goes into unknown territory.

At the party, she draws the attention of Liesel Holt, the daughter of the president, who begs her to come home with her and her fiancé, Jack Kenner. Liesel fears someone may want to kill her on her wedding day. She comes up with a daring plan – Sunny should wear a bullet proof vest, and pose as the bride instead. While Sunny and Jack reluctantly agree, little do they know Liesel has an entirely different plan waiting for them…

When all goes to hell, Jack and Sunny have to work together to survive. They take on another identity and head back down into the Pit, where the seed of revolution has been planted, and people are crying out for justice…

Sunny was an awesome character. She’s so dynamic, strong and intelligent that she’d almost be a Mary Sue character, if it weren’t for how truly broken she is inside, and how scarred she’d been by the life she’d led. She lets others define her. With her dad being sick, she worries more about him than about herself. When they’re both in danger, she’s only worried about Summer’s safe-being. Even though her boyfriend Reyes is anything but good for her, she sticks by him and is willing to forgive all his flaws.

In that regard, Jack really makes her a better person. When he enters the picture, Sunny finally begins to make some selfish choices, and it’s about time. There’s only so much of a selfless person one can be. She starts to believe in herself, starts to see herself as others see her, and the closer she gets to Jack, the more we see the real Sunny peeking through.

I absolutely loved Jack. He was charming and witty, but clever and brave at the same time. He’s supposedly twenty in the book, but he acted more mature than his age, like twenty-four or something, and I actually kind of liked that.

The supporting cast of characters was diverse as well, although they all stayed kind of superficial. Even Summer, Sunny’s best friend and probably the person with the most screen time apart from Sunny and Jack, lacked personality. She was just there, but apart from caring about Sunny, there’s nothing we really know about her as a person.

The characters made this book intriguing for me, in particular the main characters, since, liked I mentioned, the secondary cast wasn’t nearly as developed. I also liked the plot, even if it lacked a bit of originality. I’ve heard the nuclear apocalypse, everyone runs into a bio dome scenario, countless times now. The rich people vs. poor people plot has been done often as well. It also didn’t make all that much sense to me how, at the start, the general of the dome could just go “I’m president now, everyone must follow my rules” and everyone, including all the soldiers and people, would be okay with that. I thought it was rather random behavior, and I wish there’d been a better explanation for why they made some people work in the Pit, and others were priviledged. Also, at the start the general complains that there’s now about 300 people more than they bargained for in the dome, whereas when Sunny’s story starts, there’s supposedly 30 000 people in the dome. How does that work then?

Apart from the few things left unexplained, and the at times predictable plot, I really enjoyed this book though. The author has a fluent writing style, and she knows how to write good dialogue. And what impressed me the most, was how convincing the romance was. Writing believable romance requires some real talent, and S.M. McEachern certainly has heaps of talent.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, and find out what happens next to Sunny and her friends.

Book Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

10048874Title: Dearly, Departed
Author: Lia Habel
Genre: YA, Paranormal Romance, Zombies, Steampunk, Dystopian
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: October 18th 2011
Author Website | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

Love can never die.
Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?
The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.
But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.
In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

Dearly, Departed is one of the most original, earth-shattering, ground-breaking novels I’ve read all year and I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It wasn’t perfect, but I did fall in love with the main characters, Nora and Bram, the society in which they live, the New Victorian era, and the delightful combination of zombies, dystopia, science-fiction and fantasy. This book is a must read. Even if you read no other books this year, you have to read this one. Before the zombies get you.

Nora, the protagonist of this story, is more interested in warfare, machinary and politics than she is in the things every respectable girl in the New Victorian society should be interested in – manners, etiquette and finding a suitable husband. Before he passed away, Nora’s Dad was one of the most prominent researches in the field of warfare and techonology, and she inherited this passion from him. But ever since he died, she’s been forced to follow her aunt’s ambitions and act more and more like the person she doesn’t want to be. When she has to go home for the summer – to the stately mansion owned by her aunt – being attacked in the middle of the night and being rescued by a horse of zombies almost sounds like the most exciting thing that could happen. Almost.

When she’s captured by the zombies who, instead of simply being marked as evil, turn out to be Nora’s rescuers, Nora finds herself slowly adapting to their world, the world of the undead. When she falls in love with one of her captors, Bram, who also happens to be a zombie. But it didn’t take long for me to look behind Bram’s zombie-ness as well and see what it was Nora fell for. He’s charming, witty, caring, considerate, everything a girl could wish for. I’m glad to see there was no love triangle for a change, and that the love interest, albeit being a zombie, wasn’t a “bad boy” or a troubled individual, but a guy any girl could fall for, in real life as well. I’m a big fan of Bram. He defied all the zombie stereotypes, being so much more than just a flesh-eating, meat-craving walking corpse, but an actual individual with a wide array of emotions and feelings.

Another big bonus for me in this book was the relationship between Nora and her best friend Pam. Now that’s one believable friendship I’d gladly cheer for. If Pam gets her own books, I’d definitely read them. I loved her.

The only thing I found disappointing about this book were the multiple POVs and the lack of explanation. While I think the latter is because we’re going to find more answers in the next few books, there’s no reason for the multiple POVs except to confuse some readers. While I didn’t feel confused, I did think it was hard getting into every character’s head especially because the POV changed so often. But that’s the only “bad” thing I could find about this book, which is saying something.

Dearly, Departed is an intriguing, original mish-mash of genres written by an author who certainly isn’t afraid to think outside of the box. Fantasy with paranormal elements, dystopian, zombies, science-fiction, romance, steampunk and some cyberpunk collided into a wonderful, fascinating story I would recommend to all YA fans. Add this to your TBR list. Right now. You won’t regret it.

Book Review: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

8573642Title: Incarnate (Newsoul #1)
Author: Jodi Meadows
Genre: Dystopian, Utopian, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: January 31st 2012
Rating: 3,5 stars
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

NEWSOUL
Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why.NOSOUL
Even Ana’s own mother thinks she’s a nosoul, an omen of worse things to come, and has kept her away from society. To escape her seclusion and learn whether she’ll be reincarnated, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are suspicious and afraid of what her presence means. When dragons and sylph attack the city, is Ana to blame?HEART
Sam believes Ana’s new soul is good and worthwhile. When he stands up for her, their relationship blooms. But can he love someone who may live only once, and will Ana’s enemies—human and creature alike—let them be together? Ana needs to uncover the mistake that gave her someone else’s life, but will her quest threaten the peace of Heart and destroy the promise of reincarnation for all?Jodi Meadows expertly weaves soul-deep romance, fantasy, and danger into an extraordinary tale of new life.

I have trouble making up my mind about this book. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline and thought it was highly original. And with highly original, I mean probably the most original book I’ve read all year. Sure, considering the year has only just begun, but I’m sceptic about any other book released this year surpassing this one when it comes to originality. Don’t believe me? Let me introduce you to the world of Ana.

In Ana’s world, souls are reincarnated, but they keep the memories of previous lives in their new lives. As such, the current one million minus one souls on the planet have all known each other for over fivethousand years. Everyone is familiar with each other, everyone knows how to read from the start of their new life, they know how to do housechores, how to garden, etc. On top of that, mosto f them are excellent in at least one profession as well, something they have perfected over the years. People die of course, but whenever a child is born then, it holds the soul of the deceased, ready for another reincarnation round. That is, until Ana came around. You see, Ana is a newsoul, or a nosoul as her mother occassionally names her in a hateful fit. She has never been born before, nor has she been reincarnated. And the soul who was supposed to be born on the day Ana came to this world? Gone. Lost forever.

Ana is forced to grow up with her mother, Li, caring less than nothing about her. In fact, Li’s hate for her daughter is so predominant that on the day of the latter’s departure to the big city of Heart, in hopes of finding an answer to all her troubles and to who she really is, Li sabotages Ana’s compass. Ana naturally gets lost – unlike the other souls, she doesn’t know these lands – and runs right into a sylph trap. Sylphs are vicious creatures who burn you, and an encounter with them is almost always lethal. In a desparate attempt to escape from the sylph, she jumps into a river filled with ice-cold water. Ana is convinced this is the end for her, but then somebody manages to pull her out of the river. Meet Sam. From point one we know that he’s going to be Ana’s love interest for the rest of the story. And although his name implies that he might be a boring, ordinary, laid-back fellow (sorry to everyone out there called Sam, but when I hear that name, it just reminds me of the stereotypical boy-next-door. Not exactly ideal for a character in a book in this genre.), he proves to be at least somewhat entertaining. While Ana recovers from her injuries, manages to save Sam’s life a little later, and gets over her fear of being not-worthy enough to walk on this very earth, Sam and Ana grow closer together. When it’s time to leave for Heart, Sam decides he will show Ana the way.

But once they arrive in Heart, Ana is less than welcomed. She is put under strict surveillance, and it’s obvious that not everybody likes her. Some people openly detest her. Ana must struggle to find out more about who she is and why she’s here while she must also try to find her way in this new city, surrounded with strangers, allies and foes alike.

Well, that’s the best I can do for summarizing this story. And till that point in the story, I must admit that I was thoroughly enjoying Incarnate. I loved the idea of souls incarnating with all their memories intact, and the history of the world and the city of Heart itself was intriguing as well. Dragons and sylphs roaming the place occassionally added an odd, but delightful mix of fantasy and dystopian/utopian to this novel. However, from the moment Ana arrives in Heart, the entire story goes downhill. It’s so peculiar for the author to suddenly throw everything she built up so carefully behind, and focus solely on a romance story, that I could hardly believe this was the same book. I mean, you have every potential in the entire world to make the best story ever out of the material Jodi Meadows presented her readers with, a story epic enough that movie makers would beg her for the film rights. We have a girl who’s entirely new in a world where everyone’s been aroudn for five thousand freaking years. Instead of diving into the library searching for clues for her existence, and hopefully enlightening us with some more interesting history details of this strange world, or looking for reasons behind things that Ana finds undeniably odd, like the Temple suddenly having a door nobody noticed in the last millennia, Ana is too busy doing other stuff. Other stuff like learning how to play the piano. Learning how to dance. Going to Masquerade Balls. And most importantly…falling in love.

It’s like at some point the author decided “Let’s throw everything I’ve built up out! I want something new, something fresh, something…romantic.” And then the book went entirely downhill. The majority of the second part doesn’t focus on any substantial life questions, as it should (for instance, how is it that people keep their memories from the previous times they’ve reincarnated? How does society work, do they always choose the same person to be the leader?, and I have like a million more questions I won’t bother you with now), but it focuses on the blossoming love between Ana and Sam. It’s not that they’re not a cute couple. I mean, I sort of like Sam – he has mood swings, he’s afraid of dragons, he plays music, he’s kind-hearted and generous, so he’s not exactly your stereotypical love interest – but I simply don’t understand why Ana, instead of looking for answers she has been craving for her entire life, is happy just doing things with Sam. Sure, the author could’ve squeezed some romance in if she had to, but this book didn’t really need it. It’s strong enough on its own. Additionally, focusing more on the romance than the storyline was a bad move. Thank god there isn’t any mention of a love triangle yet, or I probably would’ve stopped reading alltogether, no matter how much I liked the initial premise.

As the second part focuses mostly on Sam and Ana, there are no major discoveries to be made. Their love is sweet, romantic and all about the “I don’t want to admit I have feelings” part. Generally I would understand this, Sam being a five thousand year old man with all the memories of those lifetimes, not to mention the many times he was reincarnated as a woman, and Ana being barely eighteen years old. Then there’s also the question, if Sam falls in love with Ana and she dies, will she return or not? I mean, if she returned, all would be merry and happy, but if she doesn’t, he would be seriously heartbroken. But nah, these aren’t the kind of things our main characters worry about though. The only thing they’re really concerned about is the other person returning their feelings. Ah, children. (Except that Sam is bloody five thousand years old, and not a little kid anymore!)

The ending is a bit disorienting. A lot of things happen at once, big secrets are revealed and all of the sudden we have answers to just about half the questions that have been burning in the back of my mind since page one. It’s a bit of an anticlimax really. Also, I thought some parts in the final chapters weren’t really clear, and I had to reread a lot of sentences to actually get who was where at the time and what exactly was happening to them. It would probably make a nice ending if this was a movie, but for a book, I would have liked the answers to come at a slower pace, and not all in the final chapters. The big answer left me going: “whaaaaaaaaat….” and I was, needless to say, very dissapointed. I saw that one coming from page one, but dismissed the idea because it would be just too cliché. At least I’ve learned another valuable life lesson: nothing is too cliché. Additionally, it felt like some plot elements didn’t add up in the ending sequence. The writing, which was enjoyable so far, was erratic and all over the place. It’s like the author wanted everything to happen at once, but that just doesn’t work in literature.

Also, and I forgot to mention this before, when they arrive in Heart, Sam sneaks out a couple of times. Although Ana says she will confront him about this, no explanation is given whatsoever throughout the entire novel as to why he left the house in the dead of night, and plot-wise, it doesn’t seem of much value as well. It’s like Jodi Meadows forgot this alltogether by the time she got to the end. Or, maybe she will use it in her second novel. But I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking on my part.

As you probably gathered by now, Incarnate is a mix of genres as well. Science fiction, dystopian, utopian, romance and fantasy with dragons and sylphs. This will probably not work for everyone, but I have to admit that I liked it. I thought it was brave to mix fantasy with a dystopian setting. I have to applaud the author for her bravery, and I must say that, in my opinion, the mix worked very well.

As you can see, I have a lot of trouble classifying this book. I liked the premise and the world-building, and if I’m being honest, I thought the main character was enjoyable as well. I certainly did like her and felt for her, especially in the beginning. Sam is decent for a love interest, but he didn’t really catch my interest. I’m not sure if he’s the kind of guy you want to take home and show your parents. His personality is fine – glad it’s not a bad boy type for once – but it’s the reincarnation fact that might be a bother. In this dystopian/utopian world however, he is definitely one of the good guys. However, action, mystery and suspense are lacking greatly in this novel, especially in the second part, where romance is the main focus. The ending is all over the place and confusing. But in the end, the story isn’t necessarily bad. It could have been much more, but eventually it is what it is, and what it is, is entertaining and enjoyable. If you’re not a big fan of romance, I would say, skip this one. But if the world-building and premise has intrigued you enough, I would say, go for it. If you’re a fan of dystopian/utopian, you should at least give Incarnate a try.

This book counts towards the Debut Author Challenge 2012, TBR Reading Challenge 2012 and The Dystopia 2012 Challenge.

Book Review: Under The Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

11594257Title: Under The Never Sky
Author: Veronica Rossi
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Dystopian, Romance
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: January 3rd 2012
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.
As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.
They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers abarbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love – one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY

The first book in a captivating trilogy, Veronica Rossi’s enthralling debut sweeps you into an unforgettable adventure.

When Aria stops receiving message from her mother, Lumina, who is currently residing in a pod called Bliss and doing scientific research on a secret project, Aria knows something is terribly wrong. Desperate to find answers, she attempts to seduce Soren, the son of one of the Councel members, to help her find her mother. Things however go horribly wrong as they make it to Ag6 with three of their friends, and Soren decides to light a fire. Living in the Realms, where everything happens using virtual software, no real pain is ever felt and no real fires are ever lit, it’s natural that teenagers who are in the real world for the first time, want to experience a bit with what they can and can’t do. Unfortunately, Soren isn’t just any teenager. He’s also a tad bit insane, so he ends up practically burning down an entire forest and trying to trap Aria inside of the forest as well. Luckily for Aria, an outsider named Perry, who is other protagonist of this book, decides to intervene on her behalf. He wounds Soren severely and rescues Aria.

As Aria is led before the council to go to trial, she discovers her best friend Paisley died in the fire. Like that isn’t bad enough, the Councel Member who held her trial happened to be Soren’s Dad. And not surprisingly, rather than helping her, he lets his men ditch her in the middle of the desert-like land outside of Reverie and the Realms. Aria has been raised to believe that exposure to the Outside world will kill her, but apparently it doesn’t. Meanwhile, Perry is struggling to face the reality of his little cousin’s approaching death and his continous struggles with his own brother, Vale, the Blood Lord of their tribe. To make matters wars, when the Dwellers appear – a name the Outsiders use for Aria’s people – they grab Talon and take him along. Vale blames Perry for his son’s disappearance, and the latter is forced to flee their tribe. Coincidentally, he runs into Aria again. She’s looking for her Smarteye, to read her mother’s last message and to find the recording she made of what Soren did to her. Perry is looking ofr a way to save his cousin. Both of their goals lead them to Marron, someone who can allegedly fix the Smarteye, so Perry reluctantly drags Aria along for the adventure of her life.

I must say that it took me about sixty or more pages to be convinced of this book. But once I was, Under The Never Sky completely and utterly blew me away. The imaginary, the descriptions, the setting, all of these are amazing. The dystopian world of Aria and Perry is one where people live through emotions and their daily lives by using software and visiting virtual Realms. They can travel back to Realms portraying the Middle Ages, they can visit Fantasy Realms where dragons linger, or even underwater Realms. Everything is possible. Babies are designed using a selective genetic process and DNA combinations. People live well into their second century. Illness is unheard of, injury unthinkable. The downside of all of these perks is that nothing is real.

In Perry’s world however, everything is a little too real for Perry’s liking. The Outsiders live, gathered in tribes. They don’t use modern technology and their villages and rituals reminded me of paleolithical settlements. Yet some of the Outsiders are Gifted. There are Auds, Scires and Seers. Auds can hear thoughts and somtimes even emotions, because their hearing is enhanced. Scires can smell these kind of things, and Seers can see perfectly clear in the dark. Perry however is an anomly because he’s both a Seer and a Scire, and an extremely powerful Scire at that. He can smell emotions. The world outside of the Realms is harsh and brutal and cruel. Aether storms are raging everywhere, food is scarce and illness common. There is a sharp contract between the world outside and the Realms, between Perry’s and Aria’s world.

That’s why it’s amazing to see how their interactions change throughout their journey. At first, Perry hardly answers any of Aria’s questions, and he behaves rigid and cold towards her, although he does threat her wounds and offers her a share of food. But as their journey progresses, and they grow closer together and become actual friends, we as readers are confronted with the fact that the contrast between their respective worlds may not be as immense as we thought at first glance. The more we learn about the Realms, the more we realize it’s a threatening place as well. Ilness roams through the Realms just as it does through the world outside. The difference is that the council members simply hide all evidence of it. And as Aria msut come to terms with the fact that her own, protective shelter, is corrupt, Perry must come to terms with a harsh truth about his own reality, and that they may not be so different from the Dwellers, or Moles as they like to call them, as they’ve always anticipated.

Aria is an interesting character. I really liked her. She does her best to adapt to her new living circumstances, she doesn’t spent hours whining about going home or anything along those lines, and even though her feet hurt like hell, she just continues walking as long as she has to. She doesn’t utter a word of complaint and thus shows a great inner strength. She’s also intelligent, witty and reliable. Perry on the other hand is an entirely different story. I’m not that fond of Perry, to be honest. He’s brave and strong, but he’s also whiny and a bit childish. He continously blames himself for everything that goes wrong to everyone rather than to grow up and accept the fact that the world doesn’t always evolve around him. On top of that, there was just something about him that made me go ‘yuk’. Although I don’t exactly know what. I certainly would never be interested in him. No, I’m more of a Roar fan myself. Roar is one of Perry’s friends who shows up half way through the novel. Now, that’s an interesting character with a charming personality I could see myself falling for. Roar is bright and shiny, whereas Perry is dull and boring. He is exotic and exciting, whereas Perry simply reminds me of a caveman.

Perry and Aria’s love affair is rushed, boring and predictable. I’m not a big fan of it. But thank god this book at least doesn’t offer a love triangle. I’ve been there and done that, thank you very much. What I’m hoping for the next book is to see some Roar and Aria moments (although I highly doubt it, the author’s mind seem set on Perry) and I would like to see Soren return. I like him as a bad guy, since he has something predictable about him. I would recommend Under The Never Sky to all fans of young adult dystopian novels, and I myself will definitely look forward to the next installment in this series!

This book counts towards the Dystopia 2012 Challenge, the Fantasy Challenge 2012 and the Debut Author Challenge 2012.

Email Subscribers to I Heart Reading can win a copy of this book during the month of January. Read more!

Book Review: Possession by Elana Johnson

8337087Title: Possession
Author: Elana Johnson
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult, Drama
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: June 7th 2011
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Rating: 4,5 stars
Review copy provided by S&S Galley Grab.

Vi knows the Rule: Girls don’t walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn…and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi’s future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they’re set on convincing Vi to become one of them…starting by brainwashing Zenn. Vi can’t leave Zenn in the Thinkers’ hands, but she’s wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous–everything Zenn’s not. Vi can’t quite trust Jag and can’t quite resist him, but she also can’t give up on Zenn.

This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.

Vi is a Goodie, which basically means that she lives on the Goodgrounds, plugs in for transmissions from The Thinkers every night (she doesn’t really, but that’s beside the point), that she follows all the rules The Thinkers come up with, and that she certainly doesn’t run off with a boy in the middle of the night, not even if he happens to be her Match. When Vi does exactly the latter, she is caught and transported to a prison. But it’s not like Vi to give up that easily. When The Thinkers tell her she’s going to be transported to the Badlands, but she’ll be tagged first, Vi isn’t about to let them get away with that. Fortunately for her, her cell mate Jag seems to have the same idea. Together, they manage to escape, and to find their own way to the freedom of the Badlands, and probably the way to each other’s heart as well. But as Vi begins to fall for Jag, she is also forced to question his trustworthiness, and that of her best friend and Match, Zenn. With two guys in her heart, each of them on opposite sides, Vi has to make a choice. Will she let herself be controlled? Or will she be the one doing the controlling?

I love the dystopian genre, although I have to admit that there’s still a long list of YA Dystopian novels I should probably read. I’ve read The Hunger Games and Wither, but that’s about it. Possession is another Dystopian novel, and I must admit that although I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed The Hunger Games, it came fairly close. Possession is original, fast-paced and it focuses on the balance between Good and Bad – and the blurry line inbetween – on what it means to be controlled or to control others, and what that can do to a person. It asks the most prominent question of all: if we are controlled, day and night, by others – be it through transmissions, reading thoughts or mind manipulation, as is present in Possession, or some other way – how can we still be an actual, genuine human being then? How can we be human if we cannot think for ourselves? And how far are we willing to go for our freedom of mind? What and who will we sacrifice to be released from said control? The people we love? Would we be prepared to control others in exchange to longer being controlled ourselves?

It is a vital and important question, and the fashion in which Elana Johnson answers it, is most humbling for our kind. Vi starts off as the heroine-type we’re used to: she’s one of the few people willing to think for herself in a generation where people let others do the thinking for them, she refuses to listen to the transmissions from the Thinkers every night and she’s a rebel enough to hang out with a guy – and even kiss him! Although this behavior might not sound extremely rebellious to us, it is instantly recognised as an act of rebellion in Vi’s world. A world seperate in Goodgrounds and Badlands, where the Goodies are continuously forced to think as The Thinkers order them to, and at least the Baddies preserve some freedom. Freedom enough so guys and girls can walk in hand in hand and wear whatever clothes they want, instead of having to cover up most of their body to prevent direction sunlight – which the Thinkers swear is deadly. Vi is the rebellious hero, an outspoken and stubborn girl, with a strange affinity for techtricity, which is everywhere in the Goodgrounds. I didn’t find her personality all that original, but I liked her, and I found this kind of hero very fitting for the time of story. She had a nice sense of humor, and although she had a soft spot for long and unnecessary inner dialogue, I couldn’t help but root for her anyway.

While in prison, Vi meets Jag Barque, a fellow rebel but from the Badlands, with tanned skin and a mischievous smile to make him all the more appealing. Plus, Vi needs to share a prison cell with him. As the two of them start to get along, mainly because Vi admires Jag’s hair and he admires her, they form an alliance and manage to escape together. Jag is a likeable character, although he’s a bit stereotypical as well. He’s your typical bad-boy-with-a-good-heart character. He has the appearance and rebellious side of every YA novel’s bad boy, but he has a heart of gold and instantly falls for our main protagonist. They even have an own language: “Vi speech for… and Jag speech for,” which is probably the most annoying part of the book in my opinion. It just made the storyline drag. Anyway, apart from that, there are a couple of traits that make Jag more authentic than he might seem at first. He’s more heroic and brave than he appears, he has his own agenda, and he might not be that trustworthy after all. I enjoy characters who are not all good or all bad, and who have their own purposes and reasons. It’s fun trying to find out what drives a character, even if it isn’t clear from the beginning. That’s probably why I like Jag as a character: he’s multifacetted, I didn’t really know what exactly to think of him, and he made me laugh every now and then. I could easily understand why Vi would fall for him. He is the living image of freedom in a world where she’s only known control. He portrays everything she ever wanted to be, but was too afraid to be.

But then there’s Zenn. Vi’s Match, and a Goodie, and initially the reason why Vi ended up in prison to begin with. He’s the only person Vi really trusts, the only true friend she’s ever known, but as the story progresses, Vi cannot be sure of this anymore. It seems quite likely that Zenn had an agenda of his own as well, and that he might not always have had her best interests at heart. As she loses her faith in Zenn, Vi practically loses her faith in humanity, uncertain of who she can trust anymore now. She faces some heart-wrenching decisions, one of them being to help Zenn or not to help him, even if it turns out he may have betrayed her (I’m using vague terms not to spoil anything). But what can I say about Zenn? He might not be the most trustworthy fellow out there, and we hardly see him in this book – he gets a lot less screen time than Jag does, which is blatantly unfair in my opinion – but I’m Team Zenn all the way. Even if he may have betrayed Vi somehow, he always chose her interests above his own, and he didn’t act out of his free will, and if he did, it was to protect her. I can’t really explain why I like him more than I like Jag, especially since we don’t get to know him all that wel in this book, but somehow I do. Maybe it’s the mysteriousness. Maybe it’s the sense that I had while reading that when she needed it the most, Vi could always count on Zenn. Or maybe it’s just because I hardly knew anything about him, and I wanted to. Or maybe it’s because I instantly made the connection in my mind between Zenn and another character from an entirely different series, namely Zero from Vampire Knight. Alright, they have nothing in common but a Z in their name, and a four-syllable name. But when I imagined Zenn, I pictured Zero in my mind. I don’t care if they don’t look the same based on their description. From the moment I first read his name, I totally and completely adored Zenn, and this didn’t dissappear as I kept on reading. So, I’m Team Zenn all the way.

Possession is a rather long young adult novel, at just over 400 pages, but it doesn’t feel that long while reading it. The characters are interesting, the storyline is fast-paced and action-packed, the setting is absolutely breathtaking in its authenticity and originality. I have to admit that I loved the characters and I adored the dystopian setting, the mention of techtricity and Vi’s possible affinity with it, the notion of Goodgrounds and Badlands, Goodies, Baddies, Thinkers and Rangers. The entire world felt new, innovative and refreshing to me. Although I was a bit wary at first at the world-building, because it seemed so different from our own world and so much had to be explained, I grew to like this world, and the endless possibilities it offers in terms of potential adventures, upcoming wars, etc. But what I loved the most, was the conflict at heart of the book.

At its core, Possession is not about a dystopian world or about a girl falling in love with some ‘bad’ guy. It’s about betrayal, trust and breaking that trust. It’s constantly about being controlled or being the one in control. Control is everything. Freedom is practically non-existent. Your friends, family, your own parents could turn against you. Or they could be ripped away from your life from one day on the other, murdered or dissappeared, like Vi’s sister and father. Everything depends on having control and being in charge. The Thinkers are the ones in control: they set the rules, they decide who gets to live and who needs to die, they say what’s right and wrong. The Goodies and sometimes even the Baddies are the ones being controlled. From page one till the very end of this book, Vi is fighting for that control. She wants to be able to control herself and her own actions, and not be controlled by The Thinkers. She wants her mind to be her own, and she doesn’t need mind manipulation or some Thinker’s voice in her mind telling her what to do. But from the moment Vi struggles for that control, everyone else is struggling to take her control away from her. It’s all a game of who can be trusted, and who controls who.

The only remark I had while reading this book, was that the storyline was confusing at times. Sometimes nothing happened for several pages besides inner dialogue (unfortunatley, Vi’s inner dialogue isn’t all that interesting) and then plenty of stuff happened in only a couple of pages, leaving me confused and forcing me to reread entire paragraphs to actually understand what was going on.

Possession is so much more than a young adult Dystopian novel. It’s a suspenseful thriller, a praise for our most basic and significant human ability: our freedom of mind, and a girl’s continuous struggle to keep hers. It’s about resistance and rebellion against submission, and individual’s need for freedom against a society’s need for law, order and control. It’s about all the things we come across in our own society nowadays, but expanded, enhanced, and all the more breathtaking and suffocating. There’s a thin line between how we are nowadays controlled by the media and the government and between how Vi and her fellow citizens are treated in this book, with even their minds being controlled by others. The potential truth of this future is what is so utterly mesmerizing, shocking and confrontational. I would recommend it to all fans of dystopian novels, and to everyone who’s ever wondered what would happen if we got to the point where governments, media and other sources could somehow control our minds as well. Possession is an excellent read.

Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

8525590Title: Wither (Chemical Garden #1)
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 22nd 2011
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Author Website
Rating: 4,5 stars
Review copy purchased by yours truly.

What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

Ever since Wither was first released on March 22nd, I’ve been dying to read it. With dying I mean, literally suffocating under the aomunt of sadness I had to cope with thanks to the fact it seemed almost impossible for me to get my hands on this book. Problem number one: I was as broke as people can get, thanks to my latest contest – an Iron Fey giveaway – and I had barely enough money to buy food (I’m slightly exaggerating to get my point across). Problem number two: my Mom was fed up with me ravishing through my cash account to buy books from Book Depository, and she threatened to put me in a mental asylum if I ordered one more book. Thankfully the problem solved itself, because last week I magically stumbled across a dutch version of Wither in the local book store. Coincedence? I think not, I believe God has finally answered my prayers. I didn’t necessarily want a dutch version, but hey, one cannot complain about Godly interferences. So I managed to buy the book without my Mom’s knowledge and I have devoured it in one day. Was it everything I hoped? Certainly.

Wither is set in a dystopian world much alike our own, but in the future. Humans have experimented with immortality and not-aging and eugenetica and cloning people. And not only have they experimented with that – they’ve actually succeeded. Now the problem is that while the first generation suffers from nothing and manages to live extraordinary long lives, that the second generation does not. They are prone to a virus so devestating that it kills all men at age twenty-five and all women at age twenty. With so little left to live for, and only roughly twenty years to spend on this earth, Rhine really doesn’t want to spend what little time she has left locked up in a mansion with a husband she cannot trust nor love, and without her twin brother and only living relative, Rowan. After her capture, Rhine solemly vows to escape, a vow that might be hard for her to maintain, as her new husband’s father, Master Vaughn, turns out to be a far more dangerous person than at first expected, and he is not inclined to let his son’s new wife leave that easily…

The premise is extraordinary, as we are once again faced with humanity’s greatest flaw: our desire to play God, although we are well aware from history and logical reasoning, that this can only lead to our own destruction. The fact that Lauren DeStefano does not only focus on Rhine, our protagonist, or on the other girl’s nearing death – like Rose”s, a minor character and Linden’s (Rhine’s husband) first wife – but actually expands the topic is highly intriguing. She lays the focus not on one individual’s perish, but on the end of an entire world, the self-destructive nature of humanity led to the point where our entire world is dying. It is a fact almost too large to grasp. Secondly, the title of the trilogy, Chemical Garden, is most fitting. As we learn from the novel, most of nature has already perished on this strange dystopian world that seems so close to heart. Underwater, we see holograms of fish and sealife, but in reality, all of that is gone. Chemicals substitute for flowers and trees, simple ways of procreating have been replaced by cloning and other scientific methods. Nothing is natural anymore, everything is fake, false, delusional. We see that monstrosity portrayed in all its rawness as we take a look at Linden’s mansion – there is beauty in it, but it is a deformed, fake beauty, horrible in all its monstrosity. Rhine and her sisterwives laugh, play and enjoy themselves occasionally here: pathetic attempts of happiness in the midst of events that can only be described as horrifying. Vaughn’s basement, and the terrible things he does in there, from mutilating corpses and possibly even killing infants, hidden behind the charade of finding a cure and a beautifully-looking mansion, is probably the most significant example of the twisted beauty this world holds.

Rhine is a charming heroine, but not an easy one to understand. While her choices always appear to be rational, they also come off as cold and distant. When she hears a girl being shot, she flinches and feels anger towards the people who did it, but otherwise her reaction is quite unemotional. She feels sick and disgusted when finding out what Master Vaughn has done to Rose’s body, but hardly enough to take any measures against Master Vaughn, or to confront him on the matter. She is a passive, practically dispassionate character. It is believable that she acts this way because the circumstances she lives in do not leave a lot of room for choice, but still, I would have liked her to stand up for herself once. At the beginning, I thought her behavior to be smart and calculated: in a situation where others would have pleaded, run, screamed or tried to escape right away, she adapts to the situation, manipulates Linden from day one, and awaits the right moment to escape. But somewhere along the way, any normal person would just freak, or scream or rage, or let go of that calm, passive behavior at least once. Rhine doesn’t, which is unfortunate, because it would have made her more believable as a character.

The most intriguing thing about the story, despite from the imaginative dystopian world Lauren DeStefano created and the highly original plot, is the relationship between Rhine and her sisterwives. That’s really the heart of the story. As Rhine is forced to marry Linden, a wealthy twenty-year-old man, she is not the only forced to do so. On the one hand, you have quiet and detached Jenna, who cares deeply for Rhine and Cecily, but hates Linden with a passion, blaming him for the murder of her sisters, who happened to be some of the girls who were shot earlier on in the book. On the other hand, there’s Cecily, who is young and hopeful enough to live in the fantasy created at Linden’s mansion, who does not see through the beauty and luxury to notice the harshness and coldness lying underneath. She is, by all accounts, a child, innocent and trusting, and she is eager to please Linden in every way, willing to do whatever it takes to make this fantasy reality. Although all three of them are different, they learn to trust each other and count on each other, and what starts off as a fragile and rocky friendship soon turns in true sisterhood, love and care. It is beautiful and heart-warming to see them interact. All of their personalities are well-developed, distinct and fitting, and together they make a team truly worth rooting for.

On the other hand, I do have to mention that the male characters unfortunately lack personality. Linden is a presence, not a real character. He appears to be stupid, eager to trust people who hardly deserve his trust, and way too easy to manipulate. It got to the point where I felt like slapping him occassionally. Gabriel on the other hand, proves to be no better than Linden. He is dispassionate, emotionless and unwilling to fight even for the things he supposedly cares about. He needs Rhine to drag him along, because he himself will not do anything. He seems to have accepted his fate, as one of the other wordless, unknown servants in the mansion, whereas he could be so much more. I would have liked to see more of his inner struggle, especially when he suddenly vanishes for about one hundred pages.

And then the bad guy in the book, Master Vaughn. Whereas he is portrayed as being a vile criminal who cannot even leave the dead be, I would have liked it more if he had been sketched as a tragical villain instead. Because if you think about it, there is something tragic about him anyway. He has already lost one son due to that wrecked virus, and he is going to lose another in four years time. He is supposedly working on a cure against the virus, which would naturally put him in the good guys category. On the other hand, he kidnaps brides for his son, does things with Rose’s body after her death, and there are some other horrible things later on in the book that can be accounted to him. But then my question is: why? Never once in the book do we see an explenation as to why Master Vaughn is making these choices. I refuse to believe it’s simply because he’s evil. He needs to have other motives. I would have loved to see his inner struggle as to what things have to be done and whether or not he should go through with that. I would have liked the villain to have a human side, rather than just being portrayed as ‘the monster’.

That said, Wither had a lot of potential, and lives up to it in most of the occassions. The plot is solid, fast-paced and highly original. The world-building is exquisite. The main characters are well-developed and have interesting personalities, which become even more interesting in their interactions with each other. Unfortunately, the supporting characters have no personality whatsoever, and are merely ‘there’ without actually contributing anything. The villain is flat and shallow, and could have been better developed. Luckily for the reader, those flaws go unnoticed as the story unfolds and you feel yourself more and more drawn into the highly disturbing but endlessly intriguing world Lauren DeStefano created in this book. I would recommend it to all fans of dystopian and/or young adult novels.

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

2767052Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Rating: 5 stars

Twenty-four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives. In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Winning will make you famous. Losing means certain death.

Typically me to be ages behind with the best books of 2010, and only discover this gorgeous novel early january. On the bright side however, I now get to read the entire trilogy in one row – that is, when I find the budget to purchase the other novels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Now I know everyone and their pet chihuahuas has already read this novel and voted it the best thing since the invention of the wheel, but I thought I’d give my two cents anyway.

For starters, The Hunger Games really is amazing. It grabs you, puts you in your seat, eyes fixed on the novel, and the world around you starts to dissapear. It’s like some time machine thing. Then when you’re done reading and the world reappears, you somewhat expect that you’re in a TV show with your life at stake and you have to kill everyone else in order to survive. Thank God I didn’t respond to those feelings right away. No, but seriously: The Hunger Games doesn’t let you go, until you’ve finished reading it. And even then, it’s hard to put those thoughts aside about what will happen next, why “insert random person” had to die, etc. It’s been a while since I’ve read a novel as enthralling and surprising at this one.

The story focuses on Katniss, a young but independent girl who tries to take care of her family – her mother and younger sister Prim – by hunting rabbits and other small animals in the forest, accompanied by her best friend Gabe. Now although life in district 12, where Katniss lives, is difficult, and a lot of people die from starvation or working too much; the worst is yet to come. Because every year, two children, one boy and one girl, from each district are chosen to participate in The Hunger Games, a way for the Capitol to show they still hold power over the people they have supressed. Against all odds, Katniss’ younger sister Prim is chosen. However, unable to let her innocent kid sister participate in an event that might very well cause her to die, Katniss offers to participate instead of Prim. The other chosen one is a young boy called Peeta and whom Katniss is somewhat familiar with. Then, The Games have begun and it’s time again for the greatest hypocrysy thinkable, as The Almighty Capitol lets children murder other children.

How disgusting The Capitol may seem, it does make for a brilliant, well-written, fast-paced, exciting and highly original storyline. The characters are equally enthralling as the story, and not only did I start to feel for Katniss and the continuous trials she has to put up with, but for Peeta – who is so much braver than I at first anticipated – as well. Slowly but most definately I was starting to feel utter disgust towards the corrupted beings who choose to let innocent children murder each other for the entertainment of the public – not that most of the public is entertained, mind you. Most people hate The Hunger Games, which isn’t curious considering it might as well be them or one of their beloved who has to fight there one day. As the novel continues, the feeling of rebellion and revolution becomes very heavy, in the little acts commited, the little gestures done, both by the main characters and by the public. It adds a new sense of tension to the novel that I very much appreciated.

Well, what else can I say? The characters are wonderful, with a lot of good qualities, and their fair share of bad ones. Katniss and Peeta are so honest and loveable in every thing they do; I could not help but keep wishing they wouldn’t die. And as I already mentioned, The Hunger Games grabs you and pulls you in, and it doesn’t let you go, not even after you’ve finished the novel. It’s my best reading experience of the year (that includes 2010), and I would advise everyone: go grab a copy, and enjoy this amazing story that will keep you coming back for more.