Review: LIFEL1K3

By Jay Kristoff
Published May 29, 2018 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

In typical Jay Kristoff fashion, LIFEL1K3 is an action-packed thrill ride of a book. It opens with a gladiator-style fight between robots, and the action never lets up.

Eve is eking out a life on an island that used to be Los Angeles. She has a best friend, Lemon, and she lives with her grandfather, her adorable cyborg dog, and a hilarious robot named Cricket. Life in their post-apocalyptic world is rough. Criminal gangs roam Lifelikethe streets, and a group of religious fanatics are looking to crucify anyone who’s different. Eve fights in the arena to earn money to pay for medicine for her dying grandfather. When she exhibits strange powers during a fight, she gets a lot of unwanted attention.

Eve and Lemon end up on the run with a very handsome android named Ezekiel, who seems to have a past with Eve, but one she can’t remember. As they journey through a hellish landscape, running from a scary bounty hunter and other “lifelikes,” extremely realistic androids like Ezekiel, Eve tries to put together the pieces of her past.

So, there are a lot of things I liked about this book. Eve and Lemon are awesome best friends, and they’ve always got each other’s backs. The post-apocalyptic hellscape the characters travel across is very cool, and I particularly loved the description of a city that’s made of ships that have run aground. The mystery of who Eve is was well done, and there are a lot of cool plot twists (some I guessed and some I didn’t). There’s a mystery loosely based on the history of the last Romanovs. The plot never stops moving, and it’s a very engaging story.

There were some aspects I didn’t like as much. The romance was very blah and did nothing for me. I’m not opposed to fictional human/android relationships, but Ezekiel is really dull. Much of the romance is seen in flashbacks, and I just never felt any investment in it. The tone of the flashbacks is very different than the rest of the book, and the tonal switch is a little weird.

Overall, the stuff I liked outweighs the stuff I didn’t like, and I really enjoyed the book. There is a last act revelation that sets up some really interesting possibilities for the sequel, and I’m very interested to see where Kristoff takes the story from here.

I received an ARC for review from Amazon Vine.

Review: Girl Made of Stars

Girl Made of Stars
By Ashley Herring Blake
Published May 15, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers

“This. This is why I never said anything. Because no one ever believes the girl.”

Girl Made of Stars is an important book. It’s a searing look at rape culture in high school that is a quick read, but not an easy one.

Made of StarsMara McHale is a feminist. She’s an out and proud bi girl, and she’s the founder of a group at her school that empowers young women. She and her twin brother Owen as close as two peas in a pod. She recently broke up with her girlfriend Charlie, and since she and Charlie were best friends before they were a couple, Mara is struggling with their post-breakup relationship.

Then Mara’s close friend Hannah accuses Owen of raping her. Owen and Hannah were dating, and she says he raped her at a party, while Owen claims they had consensual sex. Mara is caught in the middle. She believes her friend, but she also loves her brother and doesn’t want to believe he could be capable of rape. But she was at the party where it happened, and she saw how drunk he was.

“I can’t believe it,” I say to Charlie, locked-up tears strangling my voice. “I physically can’t. How can I believe either one of them? How can I not believe them?”

Sadly (and all too predictably), people are awful to Hannah because she’s accused a popular, good-looking boy of rape. On her return to school, she’s greeted with a chorus of “Hey, slut, welcome back.” Mara’s mother insists that it’s all just a “misunderstanding.” Mara’s confusion and distress feel very realistic, especially as it becomes clear that she’s got a secret that she’s been keeping for years that’s she’s now being forced to face.

This book is beautiful and moving. It’s also enraging, because there are no easy answers and no simple happy ending, but it shows that there can be healing and a chance of moving on, and the book does give some hope for the characters’ futures.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

Review: Brightly Burning

Brightly Burning
By Alexa Donne
Published on May 1, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Adapting a much-loved classic into a modern or futuristic setting can be tricky. So much of the conflict in Jane Eyre is related to the societal restrictions of the time. In a modern world, there wouldn’t be any need to hide your insane wife in the attic. She would hopefully have good medical treatment (the Rochester money would mean probably yes). Maybe modern advances in psychiatric drugs would have helped her. Maybe she and Rochester would never have married in the first place, in a world where people don’t have to marry someone they barely know.

BrightlyBy setting Brightly Burning in the future (how far in the future isn’t clear), Alexa Donne adds back into the mix some social structures that work with the original plot. There’s a dystopian quality to this version. After a new ice age, Earth became uninhabitable, and the remains of humanity took to space, living in large spaceships that orbit around Earth. There is some serious inequality (orphans get shipped off to the worst ships to do jobs like growing food for the other ships, the wealthy get to live on better ships, and the super-rich can afford their own private ships). Resources are limited, and there’s a definite hierarchy of ships. Life expectancy is low, and people get married early. When a ship’s outlives its usefulness, it may be forced to de-orbit back to Earth, but no one knows whether Earth is even inhabitable.

The Jane Eyre character, Stella Ainsley, lived on the Empire, a ship with some luxuries. Her parents both died when she was young, and she was briefly in the care of her aunt. After a virus killed many people on the various ships, the fleet instituted an orphan transfer program, and the aunt sent Stella off to the Stalwart, a much less desirable ship populated mostly by young orphans. The Stalwart grows food for the other ships in the fleet, and living on it is definitely a step down. Against this backdrop, it’s not hard to see why Stella might want to leave the Stalwart. She works as an engineer, but her dream is to be a teacher. Poor orphans don’t have a lot of opportunities, so Stella leaps at the chance to become a teacher on a private ship, the Rochester.

Life on the Rochester is a revelation for Stella. Owned by the wealthy Fairfax family, the ship is large and luxurious. There is ample food, water, and anything else Stella might want or need. Her pupil Jessa is delightful, and the rest of the crew seem nice enough, if a little odd. The swoon arrives in the form of the ship’s captain, Hugo Fairfax, Jessa’s older brother. At just 19, he’s the captain of the ship and in charge of a large family fortune. (Yes, the age difference between Jane and Rochester has been eliminated, but I’m fine with that. The age difference is kind of creepy when it’s not the 19th century.)

Stella and Hugo bond over their shared love of books (the ship is unusual in that it has actual paper books), and an attraction develops, but Hugo is the brooding type and he drinks too much. There’s clearly something odd happening on the ship, and the rest of the crew are tight-lipped when Stella asks any questions. The story begins to play out much as you would expect from a Jane Eyre retelling, but the author has made enough changes to the original tale to keep things interesting.

Brightly Burning is a fast-paced retelling that takes the original story to some interesting new places. Stella in an engaging heroine, and the romance, while not quite rising to the emotional resonance of the original, makes you root for them to overcome their circumstances. I think fans of the original will enjoy it (although purists may have some issues), but you don’t need to have read Jane Eyre to read this book.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.