Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 6:17 PM

Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

Ren Segura is the Hope of Ko; chosen at birth to lead her people into a new era, a representative of the corporation that hopes to become a global power, one of the elite in the new EarthGov.

There's just one problem: Ren's entire life is a lie.

We meet Ren, aka Jackal, on the worst day of her life, when everything she's ever known begins to crumble -- which turns out to be a perfect way to get to know her. Because Jackal is at her magnificent best under pressure, and things are only going to get worse.

I don't actually want to get into plot much, because I think the journey is an integral part of the book, with the reader sharing in Jackal's uncertainty and fear. And you will.

I tend to avoid 'adult' sci-fi because the whole 'Other' dynamic gets in the way of connecting with the characters -- I feel like I'm watching them from behind a glass, or through some slightly garbled translation. I know that part of it is due to the alien setting, and Ko is certainly different from today's world -- but there were enough similarities to keep me grounded, especially since Eskridge kept her focus on the human element. I think that is really the key to any good sci-fi: never let the shiny tech get in the way of the human heart of the story (or alien/cyborg heart, whatever). We connect to people, not computers, no matter what channels we're going through, and Jackal's experience makes this wrenchingly clear.

Eskridge's prose complements her story with a light touch, sparse without being sterile, balancing calm with sudden moments of sledgehammer force. And those moments hit hard -- this isn't a horror piece at all, but a few moments felt worse than all the zombies I've been slogging through lately. Possibly because I cared much more.

The worldbuilding is also elegantly done, with a neat trick of introducing how things work in Ko by showing characters' reactions as they start to fall apart. Plus, I'd just finished a management class and I was getting a real kick out of the 'Corporate Culture Eats the World' vibe. I was a bit hazy on the wider world workings but since my focus was on the main characters, I didn't really mind.

And what fascinating, lovely, challenging characters. My adoration goes out mainly to Jackal and Snow, but Scully and terrifying Chrichton and loon-bat-gorgeous Estar all deserve good shoutouts (and Jane, oh you are awesome!).

I'm glad that I got this book via Early Reviewers, because I honestly wouldn't have picked it up otherwise. And that would have been a shame.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 8:05 AM

Review: 4 / 5 stars

Cammie Morgan is basically invisible.

Despite being the daughter of the headmaster of Gallagher Academy, a boarding school for geniuses and other promising talent, Cammie 'the Chameleon' mostly slips by, unnoticed and unremarked.

Cammie loves this. She considers it her greatest asset, since Gallagher Academy is also a school for spies. In her world, being noticed is the first step towards being dead. And Cammie never wants to end up like her father: disappeared on a mission, body never recovered.

Cammie still wants to be a spy, despite her father's death -- after all, when your mother can disable bombs with bobby pins and runs a school for spies, there's a certain legacy to live up to. She's finally fifteen and ready to start Covert Ops field training with her friends, brainy Liz and tough-as-nails Bex. Only things aren't as easy as they seem, with the new Covert Ops teacher making pointed remarks about Cammie's father and running them all ragged...and then, Cammie gets noticed in town. By a boy. Named Josh.

This is bad.

Now Cammie's torn between two worlds, the spy world she grew up with and that weird thing called 'normal life,' and she really just wants to know if Josh is going to kiss her or blow her cover completely.

A cute, breezy read for the tween set, this belongs to the family of The Princess Diaries and other girl-teen dramas. Cammie's voice is light and easy to follow, even if she does have a fondness for excessive exclamation points. She doesn't take herself too seriously and she's a good guide to the World of Spies, letting you in on a shared secret. The pacing is brisk and the plot has enough twists to keep it interesting. Overall, a lovely antidote to the apocalyptic/brooding supernatural/cynical scion series crowding up YA fiction land.

Dust by Joan Frances Turner


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 6:12 PM

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Jessie doesn't have much of a face left, she's missing a fair amount of skin, her feet are black and bloated, and today her right arm fell off.

But they caught the deer anyway, so that's okay.

Jessie loves her life. Or, afterlife, I guess. She's not even really sure what to call it -- zombie is a stupid hoo term that she'd never dream of using, but undead lacks a certain flair. Her gang is called the Fly-by-Nights, so that's as close as she needs to a definition. Better than the Rat Patrol, skulking around the cities and dragging out luckless hoos for a terrified snack.

No, Jessie likes in out in the country just fine. It's peaceful, there's no maniacs with flamethrowers to worry about, the deer's good, and she has her gang with her. She's even got Joe, who has always looked out for her, right from the day she clawed her way out of the coffin.

But now things are changing -- there's a strange stink in the air and hoos are showing up all blue-tinged and wrong looking, and oh Mighty Leader Teresa's sneaking off on her own, acting more paranoid than ever. Worst of all, Joe isn't talking to her about any of it.

This is another nifty twist on zombies to add to my 'I Don't Like Zombie Stuff, But...' collection (right along with Shaun of the Dead and Feed). We've got Zombies with Stories here -- Jessie and her gang have their own language (it's all 'barg arrrgh' to the humans), along with dreams, fears, relationships and petty feuds. And they kick the snot out of each other a lot.

Jessie's a great narrator - no nonsense, sarcastic and sharp, but pulling these crazy stupid stunts for her friends so you know she really cares. She's living the end of the world, and all she wants is to keep the gang together and find a quiet spot to decay in peace.

Poor, dead Jessie.

The main thing I didn't like about this book was its tendency to draw things out. The gore I could deal with (note: eating while reading is NOT recommended), but there were several Fraught Moments where I was halfway hoping for a napalm strike to just End It Already. Overall, the story pulls through, and the atmosphere was a lovely mix of despair, decay, and defiance.

So I'd recommend checking it out, if you have a steady constitution. Hey, if the zombies are gonna take over the world, you'll definitely want Jessie on your side.
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