Here we are friends, with the very last batch of review books for 2021 (I do have a blog tour review for You’ll Be the Death of Me coming up in a week or so, so stay tuned for that). Can you believe it? I don’t know about you all, but this year flew by. Also, I had really good luck with books, and each of these was among the good ones!
In Compound Eleven, freedom from tyranny is impossible.
My name is Eve Hamilton, and I’ve managed the impossible.
I am free.
Until just like that, it is wrenched from my grasp. And this time, the corridors of the dark underground city are even more dangerous than ever before. But my brief taste of freedom has left me with something useful, something powerful, something that terrifies the leaders of Compound Eleven.
And now I have a monster inside.
One I’ll need to learn to control, and fast, or I’ll lose everything and everyone I hold dear. Starting with Wren Edelman. The one boy who has taught me that anything is possible if we stick together.
But will that matter if I become the very thing he fears the most?
**TW link awesomely provided by the publisher at the start of the book, here
I really enjoyed the first book of the series, Escaping Eleven, so naturally I was excited for this sequel. Happy to report that it fully delivered, and I am even more excited for the finale! I think that overall, this is a more solid offering than the first, and I loved the direction the author went with both the story and the characters.
I will address my only minor negative up front, and that is that I was really questioning some of the choices the characters made in the beginning. Like to the point where I couldn’t quite understand their choice(s). However, once I got past this hiccup, it was awesome sailing, and I completely devoured the rest of the story.
The stakes are higher, the characters’ development and growth continues to be fabulous, and it is exciting throughout. Even in quieter, more character-driven moments, the undertone of the precarious situation is always present. There are tons of impossible choices and gray morality, which I always adore. Plus, the author includes tons of great twists to keep the reader constantly engaged.
Bottom Line: A fabulous installment in a series that has engaged and entertained me since the start.
If you had the chance to change your future, would you take it?
Perfect for fans of Neal Shusterman and Jason Reynolds, this powerhouse, mind-bending YA debut follows two teens, a generation apart, whose fates collide across time--and outside of it.
During arguably the worst week of Esso's life, an accident knocks him into an incredible world--a place beyond space or time, where he can see glimpses of the past and future. But if what he sees there is true, he might not have much longer to live, unless he can use his new gift to change the course of history.
Rhia's past is filled with questions, none of which she expects a new physics tutor to answer. But Dr. Esso's not here to help Rhia. He's here because he needs her help--to unravel a tragedy that happened fifteen years ago. One that holds the key not only to Rhia's past, but to a future worth fighting for.
Soon to be a major Netflix movie starring Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya! (Get Out, Black Panther, Judas and the Black Messiah)
Before we get into the book itself, can we please have a chat about that Netflix movie? Starring Daniel KaluuyaI!? I am such a fan, have been since he literally stole the entire show in this old weird British zombie show The Fades. Anyway, I was thinking about how awesome this would be visually as I was reading, so it will be on my watch list, suffice it to say!
So the entire premise is fairly awesome- we’re in the past (but closer to our present) with Esso, then the future with Rhia (and Esso, too). We’re basically seeing how Esso got to this point where he needs some help fixing the past. Without giving too much away, the book explores how the two are connected, how these glimpses into time work, and if it is even possible to change the past.
I loved reading about Esso and Rhia’s lives, frankly. They are very likable and sympathetic characters, and I was really rooting for them. And the whole thing is incredibly interesting and thought provoking! Granted, it is fairly science (predominantly physics) heavy. And look, I won’t lie to you, I have never taken a physics class in my whole life, nor do I plan on it. So a lot of it went over my head. That is really my only complaint with the book, and I think if you are even a little more into physics you’ll be fine. Even I was fine- I just kind of went with it, you know? Like “sir says this is how it works, then this is how it works”.
I was surprised to hear that there was a sequel, since I felt that it wrapped up fairly well, but there is a ton of potential for more from this world, and I am certainly game for more of Esso and Rhia’s stories, so sign me up!
Bottom Line: Super interesting premise with great characters, and science abound.
True Grit meets Sadie in this #ownvoices near-future revenge thriller that tackles capitalism, queerness, and revolution.
Seventeen-year-old Dinah runs her family’s farm in the Ozarks. When she finds her grief-stricken mother dead in the living room with wealthy rancher Gabriel Gates standing over her, Dinah’s life narrows to a single point: kill Gabriel Gates.
But Gates has built his wealth giving out bad loans and surrounds himself with bodyguards. Dinah’s mountains are now one giant foreclosure, including her own farm. It all belongs to him. Once he puts a ten-thousand-dollar reward on Dinah’s head, everyone in the starving county wants a piece of her.
Homeless and alone in the woods, all she has is Johnny, the moonshining bootlegger at home in the caves. He begs her to leave the mountains, to start over with a new life. But Dinah is hell-bent on sparking a county revolution. She’ll lose her life to see this killer dead.
Okay, Dinah Caldwell needs a break, y’all. This poor girl has been through it and then some, honestly. She’s living in the Ozarks, in an extremely rural town. And frankly, I didn’t realize how far into the future it was, because it seems fairly true-to-Ozarks, at least as far as I had known in my own head. But basically, what has happened in the decades that have passed since our current one is nothing good. Some big corporation owns literally everything, making the poor even poorer. We as a society clearly learned nothing from COVID and such, and basically things are more dire than ever.
So as if that isn’t a bleak enough picture, Dinah’s family up and dies. Well, is murdered, more like. And Dinah is not going to rest until she avenges their deaths. Which I got, truly. A lot of times I get mad when characters’ whole personalities are based on revenge, but how could she not be!? Her entire world has been taken from her, and so in her eyes, her life means nothing without them, so vengeance she shall seek. Of course, another huge plus of this is keeping everyone else she knows (friends, more-than-friends, even random strangers who simply don’t deserve to live in such hellish conditions) safer. Because the guy who is responsible for her family’s deaths? Yeah, that guy kind of controls everything, and everyone.
She encounters Johnny, a dude from “town” (going to use that term loosely), and they form a reluctant (at first, anyway) partnership. Dinah is maybe catching some feels, but she’s also had a loooong term crush on her best friend, who is still with her family back in the little outpost in which they lived.
It is a bit slower paced in parts, especially since you already know who the Big Bad is here, but the characters are great, and it’s impossible not to feel sympathetic for them. The world building is really interesting as well, and it was great seeing the characters taking back their agency.
Bottom Line: A bleak world, but with a cast of characters who will fight to make it a little brighter.
Part coming of age, part call to action, this fast-paced #ownvoices novel about a Deaf teenager is a unique and inspiring exploration of what it means to belong.
Set in an ominously prescient near future, All the Words that Matter is the story of Piper: sixteen, smart, artistic, and rebellious, she's struggling to conform to what her mom wants--for her to be 'normal, ' to pass as hearing, and get a good job. But in a time of food scarcity, environmental collapse, and political corruption, Piper has other things on her mind--like survival.
Deaf since the age of three, Piper has always been told that she needs to compensate in a world that puts those who can hear above everyone else. But when she meets Marley, a whole new world opens up--one where Deafness is something to celebrate rather than hide, and where resilience and hope are created by taking action, building a community, and believing in something better.
Published to rave reviews as Future Girl in Australia (Allen & Unwin, Sept. 2020), this unforgettable story is told through a visual extravaganza of text, paint, collage, and drawings that bring Piper's journey vividly to life. Insightful, hopeful, and empowering, All the Words that Matter is very much a novel for our turbulent times.
This book was first put on my radar thanks to Cait’s lovely review. At that time, it was only available in Australia, and I had put it on my wishlist in hopes it would eventually be somewhat affordable. And then! It was going to be released in the U.S., oh happy day! And I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy, and here we are. Let me start with this: you must must must buy the physical version of this book. Heck, I am going to, just to see all the illustration in color! It’s so beyond gorgeous, I haven’t any words.
The plot itself is pretty great too. And I liked almost everything! So I will break it down for you, yeah? Let’s do it!
What I Loved:
- The (#ownvoices) Deaf rep! I don’t think I have ever read a book that goes this deep into Deaf representation before. Scratch that, I know I haven’t. Heck, I can’t even recall reading about many deaf folks at all as main characters. The author does such a tremendous job of putting the reader in Piper’s shoes. She is struggling to not only understand where she fits in the Deaf community and how she wants to move forward with learning sign language, but she’s had to deal with her mom’s extremely ableist reactions to her deafness. We’ll go into more detail of their relationship in a bit, but yeah. Mom has made Piper wear hearing aids that give her extreme headaches, never allowed her to learn AUSLAN (which is Australian sign language- I’ll be honest, I have no idea how much that differs from ASL), basically forces Piper to “hide” her deafness, which is obviously not great.The fact that Piper was discriminated against also made my blood boil. And like, is that a thing that can happen in Australia? I mean- I know here, companies can like, use crappy loopholes, but you can’t just tell someone you won’t hire them because they’re deaf! But maybe it is partly because the world is going down the toilet. Which brings me to my next point…
- The world is going down the toilet! You all know I am a complete sucker for Bad, Bleak Worlds™. Love ’em, can’t get enough of ’em. And this one seems so very plausible! Gas prices start rising, no one can afford to drive, then public transport costs go up, no one can afford to go anywhere, etc etc. Piper and her mom have to leave their comfortable house to live in the cold, hot waterless shed. And Piper now must find a bike to go everywhere now, which leads her to meet Marley and his mom, who happen to be the next point!
- Marley and his mom Robbie open up new worlds for Piper. I honestly didn’t always like Marley, because I thought he was pretty unfair to Piper at points, but I loved Robbie. Not only was she able to properly introduce Piper into the Deaf community, she and Marley taught Piper to sign. Then, Robbie assisted Piper in learning to garden so she could provide food for her family, and help her neighbors do the same. Since getting the food they were used to was now out of the question, teaching Piper these skills was such a gift, not only because Piper could feed herself, but because she felt like she had found something to be a part of, felt a purpose.
- Piper was so very naïve and often made terrible choices. Yes, this is a pro! Look, I don’t know about you, but when I was sixteen, I probably wasn’t making choices based on what was best for my mother’s career or whatever. So yeah, she makes some mistakes! But I love that she was able to make mistakes and learn from them, and heck, glad that she was able to act like a teenager who makes mistakes! Made the story feel so much more authentic.
What I Didn’t:
- The ending felt a little easy. Like, I enjoyed it and all, but after reading a whole story, it felt a bit easy. And I can’t go into it more, but there we are.
- I feel like we should have talked more about the predatory and abusive boyfriend subplot. So, I get that it was not happening to Piper, but to her best friend. But these are sixteen year olds, and her “boyfriend” was in his late twenties, I believe. No bueno, friends. And while I was glad that the friend realized that this guy was abusive, I felt like it should have been discussed more. Like “wow you probably shouldn’t shack up with grownass men”, or “let’s get some adults involved and have this perv arrested!” I get that obviously the whole book cannot be devoted to this, but I think it would have sent a better message if it was at least fleshed out a tad more.
Bottom Line: Beyond gorgeous inside and out, I was so thrilled to get the opportunity to read Piper’s story, and learn about the Deaf community too.
Ara . . . I made a mistake, we all did . . . go back to the beginning . . . it’s not too late.
As the only female to survive the devastating virus, Ara hasn’t seen another human in months―not since her father disappeared. The plague has swept away humanity, and Ara’s world is desolate, haunted by the ghosts of her former life. Her mother. Her sister.
Kaden and his crew live by a code: stay alert, stay alive. When they catch Ara stealing from them, they are furious―and confused. She is the first girl they have seen in three years. And while Kaden knows taking her captive is wrong, he tells himself he’s doing it to protect her.
But with Ara determined to follow through on her father’s mission―Go back to the beginning. End the plague―Kaden becomes mesmerized by Ara’s will and beauty. He knows he will do anything to help her, even if it tears their worlds apart.
The Last She is pretty much my jam. We’ve got an apocalypse plague, some survivors surviving, some traipsing around, and some mysteriousness. What’s not to love!? When we meet Ara, she’s just trying to survive after losing everything and everyone to a devastating plague. She also knows that historically, females do not survive this illness. Yet, here she is. She is also smart enough to know that she probably doesn’t want to be found, with everyone thinking she’s the last (or certainly among the last) females in existence.
But despite her best efforts, she’s discovered. And although she tries to pretend she’s a boy, it doesn’t work for long. What ensues is some high stakes, high octane survival, with an added mystery thrown in. Once its clear that Kaden and his cohorts (at least, the ones he trusts) are among the good guys, the enemies become clearer. Kaden’s group is split into factions, and of course, one group isn’t exactly planning to respect Ara or her uterus.
And while they’re trying to remain safe, Ara has a bit of a side project: her father has left her instructions to basically save the world. Ara has no idea what that will entail, but she’s determined to figure it out. Kaden, for his part, finds himself willing to follow her to the ends of the earth to do it.
I really enjoyed the characters. Ara was a tough cookie, and was going to try to survive at any cost, which I obviously respected. Kaden had a found family (and some actual family, even) that he was determined to keep safe as well. I loved how Ara bonded with them, too. It was great getting to not only get to know the characters, but to see their relationships develop.
The whole book is just so readable, frankly. The pacing is great, there are plenty of twists and turns, and I simply could not put it down!
Bottom Line: I’m going to need the sequel. Like, immediately.