‘Bloom’ – Kenneth Oppel

The last book I read by Kenneth Oppel was Inkling, so this was quite a different experience but similarly engaging.

Our story takes place on a small island, and our main focus is three younger characters who are somewhat isolated from their peers. We have fostered Seth, Anaya who is allergic to everything and Petra who is allergic to water. We are not quite sure what unites these three at first, but when the rain comes we start to get little clues that there might be more going on than we might have ever dreamed of.

With the rain comes new plants…black vines that grow rapidly and spread pollen that causes extreme allergies in anyone coming into contact with them. Before too long the vines are taking over and we have a worldwide state of emergency. Something has to be done, but we see that nobody really knows what to do when they’re facing something they’ve never dealt with before (the parallels with the current situation regarding Covid-19 make this all the more terrifying). The only thing we do learn quite early on is that Seth, Anaya and Petra are seemingly immune to these plants.

What we get is a rather slow start but the tension is quickly ramped up once we find out a little more about the plants. Oppel creates a drama-filled experience and an awful lot gets thrown into the mix, but it works.

It was great to see the bond develop between the three characters, and there were positives in terms of the initial threat. They come out on top. But the chilling ending serves as a reminder that we’re dealing with something new…something that might have more to come…what will the people of Earth do when the second wave hits? I can’t wait to find out.

 

‘Supernova (Renegades 3)’ – Marissa Meyer

A fitting end to this superhero series, where we get a lot of what we expected but not everything is as straightforward as it seems.

Picking up after the events of book two, Nova is all too aware that it is only a matter of time before her double identity is revealed. While she is in love with Adrian and has come to respect the Renegades, the years preparing her have ensured she is hard to sway from her intended course of action. Determined to rescue Ace, Nova takes greater chances and there were times where I wondered if this was really the same girl we’d seen through the previous two books.

Regardless of our views on Nova’s behaviour, she is plunged into the thick of the action here. Some are determined to make her pay for her actions, but there are others prepared to look beyond what they’ve been told – who think there’s a chance of a different approach.

Nova is placed in some difficult circumstances here. Not everyone behaves honourably, and yet there’s support for Nova where we might not have foreseen it. If you’re in this for the action you won’t be disappointed, and there was a clear attempt to answer some of the questions we’ve had about these characters and their lives.

You need to know that not everyone survives. Everyone is changed, in some way. And there’s a wonderful reveal at the end – which we had been given little clues about – that hints there could be more to come.

 

‘Girls with Razor Hearts’ – Suzanne Young

Girls with Razor Hearts focuses on our group, led by Mena, after they leave their elite school, determined to bring down Innovations. We know they’re capable of extreme violence, but get the impression it’s something that happens as a consequence of the way they’re treated rather than an innate character trait.

The girls find an old student, and they are given help to enrol in a new high school as they attempt to bring down the company that made them by going after the investors.

The story focuses on their experiences in this everyday high school, and their reaction to the commonplace misogyny in evidence. We see boys being trained for their powerful roles, and the girls being primed for their role on the sidelines.

Things don’t quite go to plan. There’s always a sense of someone being just that one step ahead – which I presume sets us up well for part three. The girls are great in their love for and support of one another. They mean well, but it seems the odds are stacked against them which is a rather cynical message to convey.

 

‘The Last One’ – Alexandra Oliva

When I first agreed to buddy read this a while ago it sounded like a novel idea, experimenting with the concept of post-apocalyptic events and tying it in with the excitement surrounding social media. The idea of a group of reality TV contestants taking part in a survival show, and being unaware of the fact that the outside world they left was no more, sounded so extreme that I was imagining a thrilling read. However, recent world events and the issues surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic lent this read an eerie sense of foreboding. At times I had to steel myself to continue, gripped but not in a way I was necessarily enjoying.

At the beginning there were clues that things were going to change in ways we were not imagining. While we got to see all the characters and their interactions everything was tempered somewhat by the filter of our main character, Zoo.
I got rather frustrated by the presentation of the characters on occasion. The attempt to pigeon-hole people and force their actions to fit a preconceived notion of how they would be seen by others meant I felt a lot of events were written about in order to present a particular slant.

Where the story really picked up was once we followed Zoo through her time following her surviving whatever she had experienced. She emerges from the woods in a dazed state. She can’t see. When she meets young Brennan she is convinced he is merely part of the crew. All her experiences in her mind form part of the test she has agreed to.

Yes, a little more background to the scenario would have been good. Understanding how this occurred might have been helpful, but the isolation Zoo has experienced does mean the detachment and lack of information makes sense. A bleak ending may have been appropriate, but I actually felt heartened by the potentially hopeful resolution to this story.

Now, as Boris Johnson has just announced a lockdown in Britain with immediate effect this seems like an apt time to find something a little cheerier to dip into…

 

‘Calamity’ – Brandon Sanderson

While it’s always good to see how an author chooses to resolve a series, this one felt quite different to what I imagined.

This time around David and the Reckoners are following Prof to the city of salt. They know he has something planned, but can’t tell what. They do, however, know that they need to offer him the chance to face his fears and claim the darkness, as opposed to simply killing him now he is an Epic.

The story focuses on the planning and development of resources we aren’t expecting. We see Megan come into her own with her ability to use her powers, and we also see some characters that we wouldn’t expect to get involved playing their part in this battle.

Prof remains a threat. He seems determined to vanquish anyone in a position to oppose him. David and his group come up with some very daring plans. They rescue Tia and even bring back Prof’s child from an alternate world to try and battle him. Nothing is seeming to work.

While I don’t want to give away exactly how this resolves itself, the presence of Calamity is instrumental – as is David’s willingness to confront his own weaknesses and fears.

 

‘Starsight’ – Brandon Sanderson

Having been so invested in Spensa’s life after book one it felt a little strange to plunge into a much broader scale for this instalment.

After a relatively swift update on what our team have been doing, we are disrupted by the events taking place on a much larger scale. We learn of the dangers facing Detritus and the determination Spensa has to learn more about why the Krell keep attacking them.

Events conspire to send Spensa and M-Bot on a risky mission…to infiltrate Starsight and learn about their technology, with the aim of eventually stealing the secret of hyper travel.

This was a more ambitious scale of world-building. We’re introduced to different groups and learn a little more of their past and their interactions. It’s necessary, and was well done, but it meant we lacked the pace of book one.

Without giving away details, we quickly learn that Spensa is a pawn in someone else’s game. She has to challenge her own prejudices and decide to what extent she will use the teachings of her grandmother.

There’s more flying. There’s a lot of information about the characters and the way their historical beliefs have shaped their current behaviour. There’s some intriguing developments regarding Doomslug and M-Bot, and a rather momentous end-scene that has me curious to see what comes next.

 

‘The Unadjusteds’ – Marisa Noelle

Now that’s what I call an exciting YA fantasy…full of action from start to finish, and with a great cast of characters.

In this world people are used to adjusting their appearance through the taking of nanites, an advanced technology that alters a person’s physical appearance and capabilities. Silver Melody’s parents invented the technology, but she has always been vehemently anti-nanite. Having watched close friends die, she is understandably nervous about the implications.

From the opening drama, which succinctly outlines Melody’s perspective, we’re plunged into a nightmare scenario. There are plans to force anyone ‘unadjusted’ to take nanites, so Melody and her father are forced to flee.

Unfortunately, there are people in power who are very keen to get their hands on Melody and her father.

What follows is a fraught battle. Melody is forced to develop skills she never knew she had, and rely on a very mixed group to help her.

While I enjoyed the ending, it left me with an awful lot of questions. I can’t help but wonder whether we haven’t heard the last of Melody Silver…

 

‘Skyward’ – Brandon Sanderson

‘Claim the Stars’ is what Spensa’s father tells her from early on. She recalls standing with him and seeing a gap in the clouds above them, and has always felt that she can hear things others can’t, but when he is shot down for deserting his squad life changes for Spensa and her family. Known as the daughter of a coward, Spensa has spent the last nine years facing people’s judgments of her.

Dreaming of becoming a pilot is the one thing that keeps Spensa focused.
In this futuristic world, humans live on a planet where they are regularly attacked by what they call Krell. Nobody knows what the Krell look like, or what they hope to achieve, but everyone fears their attacks. The heroes are the pilots who face them, and Spensa yearns to take on this role. However, because of her father’s actions Spensa seems to be destined to be cut off from this opportunity.

From the outset we see Spensa’s determination and stubbornness. She doesn’t back down, and her outspoken attitude is one of the things that seems destined to get her into trouble. However, these very traits also serve her in good stead.
For reasons that we come to see eventually, Spensa earns the opportunity to train as a pilot. She loves it, but with these new opportunities come the realisation that not everything is as clearcut as Spensa has always believed. Sometimes when you go rooting for answers to difficult questions you get them, and more than you were expecting.

While a substantial part of this book focuses on the day-to-day training of the pilots (which definitely had me reminiscing about Top Gun), there’s a lot of other things to keep you focused. I wanted to know what this ‘defect’ was that everyone kept talking about; I wanted to know more about the background to the people surrounding Spensa and their situation; I wanted to see Spensa grow as a character and I couldn’t wait to see just what was going on with M-Bot, the mysterious ship that Spensa finds and repairs. Some of these questions were answered, but not all.

I loved the pacing of this and the gradual heightening of tension as Spensa draws closer to coming to understand a little more of who she is. There was a good range of characters, and some unexpected humour.

All in all, this was a read that kept me focused from the start. I am now eager to read book two and learn a little more of this situation. Sometimes trying new things pays off…this was one such occasion.

‘Shatter City’ – Scott Westerfeld

Sometimes the second book in a series doesn’t really capture your imagination, though it sets things in place. I honestly didn’t feel that – as there’s a lot of distractions here to flesh characters out and start to develop the bigger picture.

Having willingly chosen to remain behind, Frey now has to convince everyone she is her sister. She puts in place a plan to marry Col and seems to be in support of her father. The menace coming from this guy cannot be underestimated – when he tells Frey the plans he has to maintain power over the city of Paz, it made my heart sink somewhat.

To cut a long story short, Frey finds herself outside the protection of all she’s loved as she tries to find her sister and save a city. There’s a lot of events that take place to keep you entertained, yet they all seem to fit within the bigger picture of what is to come.

Clear parts to this keep the story moving nicely, and there’s plenty of hints about characters/events that really have me quite excited about what’s to come.

 

‘The Chosen’ -Taran Matharu

 

 

An intriguing idea, and a bit of an odd one – though I can see this Maze Runner-style scenario going down well with certain readers. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

This is one of those books that may not appeal to everyone, but it certainly entertains.

Our main character, Cade, is in trouble when he is accused of stealing laptops and trying to sell them at school. He’s encouraged to plead guilty, and is given the opportunity to attend an alternative place for his punishment. Along with a number of other boys who are accused of crimes they didn’t commit, Cade is resigned to a rather odd existence.

One day – for reasons I am still unclear about – Cade finds himself in an unfamiliar scenario being attacked by strange creatures (what he refers to as piranha chimps). Along with others from his ‘school’ he learns he’s been plunged into a game. Nobody knows who’s in charge or what they’ll win for playing, but it seems their lives depend on it.

At this point things get very odd. They learn they’re facing death and encounter creatures that haven’t existed for millions of years.

Although there’s lots of action, we’re never sure what’s at the root of this or able to see the characters develop particularly. The ending came about very quickly and once we learn what’s behind this situation it does rather require us to suspend our disbelief.