Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Redd Becker Book Review

Sci-fi world building

Pierce Brown’s dystopian world is built on the brutal power of classes, each with their own color designation, with Golds in charge. Born as a slave in the Red’s mining community, Darrow is set on a course to free the world. A lofty challenge and common plot-line, not unlike Suzanne Collins Hunger Games.

As the story develops, a plethora of characters emerge. Brown had fun creating plot twist after twist. Some changes I anticipated, but many ingeniously altered my expectations, such as Mustang’s allegiance. None were out of character, however.

The action ramps up when Darrow competes in a deadly game against the elitist of Gold youths in order to establish their hierarchy. Obstacles come at Darrow from all directions.

Cliff-hanger chapter ending kept me at night. I forced myself to stop reading mid-chapter, rather than be propelled to the next chapter.

Sci-fi World Building in Red Rising

This novel is often sighted as an example of world building, so I had to read it. Brown creates a multi-layered world with individualized cultures, although his world is built around socio-political issues we know. Slavery becomes a key topic, as does the abuse of power.

Brown endeavors to create not one setting, but three very different aspects of his world. The world of enslaved Reds functions deep within mines. For me, this was the best part of the book, as Darrow shows us his world, from inside a slave colonies perspective.

From there Darrow finds himself a pawn of a ‘carver’ who recreates him physically, but at the premium price of working for the rebellion by infiltrating the world of Golds. The novel really takes off when Darrow competes for his place among the elite of the elite Golds.

Although each world came to life for me, Brown used extensive first person exposition to inform his readers of all aspects of culture and environs. This interested me, because exposition is exactly what teachers advise students not to do when world building. Brown uses his explanations well however. It’s in the details he chooses to tell about settings that keep us engaged.

I’m tempted to continue with the series, but I have got other books on the shelf for now.

Red Rising by Pierce BrownRed Rising (Red Rising, #1) by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #1
Published by Del Rey (Random House) on January 28th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 382
Goodreads

"I live for the dream that my children will be born free," she says. "That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them."

"I live for you," I say sadly.

Eo kisses my cheek. "Then you must live for more."

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity's overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society's ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies... even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

The Wish Granter by C. J. Redwine

Redd Becker Book Review

by C. J. RedwineC. J. Redwine writes with all the ingredients of her craft. She assembles protagonist, antagonist, helpers and obstacles with characters who grow within the telling.

The princess is a fun, food centric, tomboy, who’d rather not have become a princess. When her brother signs a contract with the Wish Granter, his life and kingdom are threatened. Princess Ari decides to save all, but it isn’t easy against one of the most powerful fairies alive.

I loved the food centric bits of the story. They make Ari personable, someone I’d like to know. It’s also refreshing to have an over-weight heroine, that’s compelling in all aspects of her personality.

Can use of POV thwart interest?

Redwine use of point-of-view (POV) interested me.  Writing in first person point-of-view (POV) from multiple characters proves effective in many novel. In The Wish Granter I questioned one perspective.

The story starts with Princess Ari’s POV, who introduces setting, challenges and primary characters. Toward the middle, the young weapon’s maker, Sebastian, becomes vital and his POV becomes more relevant. He introduces the reader to aspects of the world Princess Ari is not privy.

Andrews also choses to include the antagonists POV. Coincidentally, shortly after those sections, my interest in the story floundered. I didn’t care as much about Ari and Sebastion. Fortunately, I returned reading, but I wonder whether adding the protagonist’s POV, in this case, interfered with my commitment to Ari and Sebastian, hence my commitment to the novel at that point.

I particularly liked how Redwine inferred the next chapter’s POV in the wind-up of previous chapters. Although the references are often oblique, for me, they effectively set my subconscious up for the change in POV. As a writer this is worth noting.

C. J. Redwine’s attention to the craft

Redwine has a fondness for double alliterations. Rhetorical devices of this nature lighten the read and help drive descriptions forward. She uses anaphora (repeating words at the beginning of sentences), epistrophe (repeating words at the end of sentences), anadiplosis (repeating words at the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next), and the use of structural parallelism (to enhance the cadence of paragraphs) all freely.

A twist in the plot around page fifty, ramps up the tension. Andrew’s attention to full character development, in all aspects of their lives, brings new interest to this old fairy tale.

For a short version of Rumpelstiltskins click here. For other wonderful fairy tale retellings, check out Elle Enchanted or The Goose Girl.

The Wish Granter by C. J. RedwineThe Wish Granter (Ravenspire, #2) by C.J. Redwine
Series: , ,
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 14th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 432
Goodreads

An epic, romantic, and action-packed fantasy inspired by the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, about a bastard princess who must take on an evil fae to save her brother’s soul, from C. J. Redwine, the New York Times bestselling author of The Shadow Queen. Perfect for fans of Graceling and the Lunar Chronicles.

The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of Súndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, National Book Award

Redd Becker Book Review

by Neal ShustermanIn Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman puts us into the mind of a fifteen year old, however, this youth is challenged with schizophrenia. Shusterman writes from the character's point-of-view (POV). This popular narration style is particularly effective in this book. The author blends real with delusional worlds as he takes us on a surreal journey. While issues about family, friends, paranoia and effects of medicinal drugs arise, they come from the patient's perspective.

A good read for those interested in teen schizophrenia, however, I found myself skimming. Perhaps the novel captured the perspective from the inside too realistically, for my taste. Events become muddled and difficult to follow, such as a mentally ill person may experience and which happened to me while reading.

Neal Shusterman draws inspiration from family

Shusterman grew up with mental illness in his family. His brother suffers from the disease.  Because he knows the topic well, he captures the insiders view in every aspect of his story.  An interview on National Book Organization's web site provides some background on the author.

Try Belzhar by Meg Woltzer for another perspective on teen mental health.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, National Book AwardChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Published by HarperTeen on April 21st 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 308
Goodreads

Caden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship's artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

A captivating and powerful novel that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by one of today's most admired writers for teens.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

 Redd Becker Book Review

An ancient style Rome sets the background for Sabaa Tahir’s world, where an austere life and a harsh regime take their tole. The king orders death as retribution for any sign of rebellion.

From the ashes of this by Sabaa Tahircivilization a girl, desperate to protect her brother, risks everything. By spying on a military commandant, she hopes to gain the information needed to save his life. 

Sabaa Tahir writes An Ember in the Ashes from two protagonist’s point-of-view. Laia lives an impoverished life, while Elias claims the position as the leading student warrior.

Through Elias’s intellect and ability, he rises through the ranks of his school, consequently becoming a threat to Laia and the rebells. Although Elias shines as a leader and becomes the apparent ruler for the next dynasty, he doubts his desire to serve the brutal regime.

Romance plays a secondary role to the plot, but romantic tensions entangle Laia and Elias. As with many romances, when they become reluctant alleys, they can’t deny their attraction.

Sabaa Tahir engaged me from the start

Tahir clearly lays out the dynamics of her plot and characters early. In the first scenes we meet Laia’s family including worries, worships and warts. The empire enforces its rules harshly, intimidating its citizens with their all-mighty military. They quickly retaliate in response to the actions of Laia’s brother, which puts Laia between them. Laia’s struggles demand our empathy, and the focus of family creates a tension we all relate to.

This story of friendship has it all including: loyalty, wickedness, romance, jealousy, revenge, betrayal, fear, family, cruelty and hope. Enjoy the ride.

For more information on Tahir check out the interview on Bookstacked and NPR.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill on February 9th 2016
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 446
Goodreads

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.   Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.   It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.   But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.   There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

From the Hardcover edition.

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

Redd Becker Book Review

I picked up Chuck Wendig’s book, Under the Empyrean Sky, because I liked the sci-fi inspired cover. His reputation precedes him as the author of many Star Wars books, however, so it shouldn’t have taken me the cover to delve into his books.

by Chuck WendigAs the first in The Heartland Trilogy, the story focuses on farmers resisting the government, because they are forced to grow a modified corn plant that is taking over the land. A timely idea. 

Chuck Wendig writes prolifically and has a huge following. He wrote this book in third person in a uniquely personal style. Although the style didn’t motivate me, his books appeal to thousands. His name appears on the NYT Best Seller list often.

Wendig’s blog Terribleminds reflects his prolific creativity and varied interests. His books sit front and center as we expect, but he also writes about game design, food, pop culture, his family and anything else he chooses. Warning: his language may not be for everybody.

Chuck Wendig Controversies

Wendig’s Star Wars novel, Aftermath, created a lot of controversy in 2015 over the inclusion of a gay character. The Guardian wrote a review that included Wendig’s response to the complaints.

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck WendigUnder the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy, #1) by Chuck Wendig
Published by Skyscape on July 30th 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 354
Goodreads

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow. And the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie, his first mate and the love of his life, forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry, angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

Remember Yesterday by Pintip Dunn (Forget Tomorrow #2)

Redd Becker Book Review

Pintip Dunn fills every chapter of Remember Yesterday with driving action.  by Pintup DunnWe quickly learn our heroine’s sister, Callie, committed suicide to stop future memory research. The nation’s leader pushes on, however, with her vision to mold a society with precognition. A society that already knows its future because future selves send information backward in time. The chairwoman’s plans include winnowing out anyone who doesn’t have precognition. The young Jessa commits herself to fulfilling her sister’s wish to stop the project.

Jessa makes an intriguing heroine. She’s dynamic, conflicted and opinionated. Since she and her twin possessed the power of precognition, she believes she has a chance of stopping the research.

The tension of romance muddles Jessa’s perspective, however, when she collaborates with the young scientist, Tanner, to save her sister. Jessa is both aroused and ethically repelled by what Tanner represents to her. But the twist at the end puts their relationship in new light.

Pintip Dunn’s story comes full circle by the conclusion. Fresh imagery make this a fun read. This is the second book of the series, and Dunn leaves plenty of room to continue to story.

Pintip Dunn Wins the  RITA

Although Goodreads readers didn’t classify Dunn’s book in the Romance genre, Dunn won the RITA Award from the Romance Writers of America for Forget Tomorrow in 2016. Dunn placed in many other award lists as well, which recognizes her fresh writing style, intriguing heroines and driving plots.

For a list of 25 great paranormal romances, check out the  Best Fantasy Books website.

Remember Yesterday by Pintip Dunn (Forget Tomorrow #2)Remember Yesterday (Forget Tomorrow, #2) by Pintip Dunn
Published by Entangled: Teen on October 4th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Goodreads

Follow-up to the New York Times bestselling novel, Forget Tomorrow!
Would you change the past to protect your future?
Sixteen-year-old Jessa Stone is the most valuable citizen in Eden City. Her psychic abilities could lead to significant scientific discoveries, if only she’d let TechRA study her. But ten years ago, the scientists kidnapped and experimented on her, leading to severe ramifications for her sister, Callie. She’d much rather break into their labs and sabotage their research—starting with Tanner Callahan, budding scientist and the boy she loathes most at school.
The past isn’t what she assumed, though—and neither is Tanner. He’s not the arrogant jerk she thought he was. And his research opens the door to the possibility that Jessa can rectify a fatal mistake made a decade earlier. She’ll do anything to change the past and save her sister—even if it means teaming up with the enemy she swore to defeat.

salt to the sea by Ruth Sepetys

Redd Becker Book Review

The brutality of war from the civilian refugee perspective comes to life in Ruth Sepetys’ historical fiction novel salt to sea, the story of refugees evacuating Germany during WWII.

by Ruth SepetysRussia’s invasion of Germany comes alive through four refugee’s perspectives. While they flee, the atrocities behind their struggles and the secrets they carry haunt them. Joanne struggles to protect her travel companions, while nursing everyone she can. Alfred, a german soldier stationed on a ship, writes letters in his head. His love back home destined not to receives them.  Emilia, a fifteen year old polish girl who lost her family, fights the demons trapped in her mind. And Floria, a German civilian who saved Emilia’s life, distrusts everyone, especially himself, as he runs from the country he once honored.

Written in first person point-of-view, Sepetys’ story focuses on  individual refugee’s perceptions and internal struggles.  Short dialogue sequences capture interactions between them.

It’s clear a lot of research went into Sepetys’ plot, but she manages to create a story that touches the cord of humanity so deeply that the historical components of the story support the characters, rather than the other way around. It would do us well, however, to remember this harrowing piece of history lost in common knowledge.

Ruth Sepetys Writes for Writers

Beyond the integration of history in Sepetys’ story she offers much to learn for any writer. She uses every means she can to develop character. Note the sparse language used to create settings and establish emotions, while still driving the story forward.

Instead of each chapter telling what that person did, Sepetys often choses to develop characters through others’ observations. An example from Emilia’s chapter follows. “The shoe poet woke early, rapping our feet with his walking stick.”

Another example from Joanne’s perspective: “I had woke in the middle of the night and imagined I saw the German standing above me in the dark. When I blinked he was gone and I realized it was a dream.” or was it?

The climax wraps around the converted cruise ship Wilhelmina Gustoff. For pictures and a history of the Cruise Liner Wilhelm Gustloff check out feldgrau.com

salt to the sea by Ruth SepetysSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 393
Goodreads

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.