ARC Review: “The Ward” by Jordana Frankel

The WardThe Ward (The Ward #1) by Jordana Frankel

Goodreads | Amazon

Sixteen-year-old Ren is a daredevil mobile racer who will risk everything to survive in the Ward, what remains of a water-logged Manhattan. To save her sister, who is suffering from a deadly illness thought to be caused by years of pollution, Ren accepts a secret mission from the government: to search for a freshwater source in the Ward, with the hope of it leading to a cure.

However, she never expects that her search will lead to dangerous encounters with a passionate young scientist; a web of deceit and lies; and an earth-shattering mystery that’s lurking deep beneath the water’s rippling surface.

Jordana Frankel’s ambitious debut novel and the first in a two-book series, The Ward is arresting, cinematic, and thrilling—perfect for fans of Scott Westerfeld or Ann Aguirre.

3 1/2 stars

Thank you to Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books for this eARC! This book is now available.

Can you suspend your disbelief well? If so, then read on. If not … this book may not be for you.

The story starts out with a three years earlier prologue, where a 13 year old Ren is sneaking out of her orphanage to go race in her first mobile race. In this we learn that she is immune to the deadly illness that is ravaging the Ward for one reason or another, and that the Ward is actually what’s left of Manhattan  though most of it is underwater. The important points are that she shouldn’t be able to race at 13 (but she’s going to), she is “un-adoptable” because she … doesn’t like people? (I didn’t really understand that; after all she’s IMMUNE, someone’s going to notice she doesn’t get sick and she’d be the prized stallion by that alone.), she hates this girl called Aven who’s always hanging around her and she will never work for the government as a mole, informing on who’s sick in the Ward so the peacekeepers (or Blues) can come and arrest them, since being a contagious carrier of the illness is now a crime.

Cut to three years later, when Ren is now an undefeated mobile racer who was never adopted despite all her fame and fortune who loves Aven, her “sister,” more than anything else in the world, so much so that she became a mole for the Blues to keep her safe and fed.  Do you see how some disbelief could be cutting in? Ren is at once everything she said she would be and everything she said she wouldn’t be. She also looses the first and only race we see her in, because the Blues tell her to go searching for freshwater. She ends up almost dying in the attempt, but lo and behold–she finds it. Freshwater. Freshwater with powerful, secret properties.

The world-building throughout this story was rather iffy, but it never really bothered me that much. I tend to be really easy on world building as long as I can’t poke huge holes in it, and I got enough as the story went on to breeze through it really quickly. It’s just better if you don’t think about it too hard. I thought it was a really cool idea, and I just ran with it.

The plot itself was okay as well; not great, but not desperately horrible. The focus is really on Ren and her personal struggles, while connecting to the larger problem of the disease filled Ward. Though it would have been easy to find this annoying, I found that Ren’s debate over saving just Aven or the whole Ward refreshing. I think protagonists too easily accept sometimes that it is their destiny to save the entire world. Ren’s only goal was to save Aven from the sickness, and her zeal to heal the Ward stemmed from that. Her constant flip-flopping about whether it would be safer to just save Aven is also realistic and unique, and I enjoyed the fact that her character explored the possibility of saying to Hell with the rest of the world and just saving what mattered to her.

Besides Aven and Ren, however, the other characters in this story were pretty weak and verged on the stereotype. Very few had their motives explored, and their use and actions were fairly shallow. This was particularly annoying in the love interest, Derek. I much rather enjoyed Ren’s friendship with the scientist Callum, which was more real and at least made sense. Ren even liking Derek at all didn’t seem to have much of a basis. I certainly didn’t.

All in all, I’d recommend this to people looking for an unique dystopian to breeze through. Don’t come to it looking for rock solid writing, but rather for a fast-paced adventure in a unique location that asks real questions in the actions of its characters. This might not be one to buy, but if you see it at your library I strongly suggest that you give it a go.

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ARC Review: “MILA 2.0” by Debra Driza

Mila 2.0MILA 2.0 (MILA 2.0 #1) by Debra Driza

Goodreads | Amazon

Mila 2.0 is the first book in an electrifying sci-fi thriller series about a teenage girl who discovers that she is an experiment in artificial intelligence.

Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past—that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do.

Now she has no choice but to run—from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology. However, what Mila’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and it just might save her life.

Mila 2.0 is Debra Driza’s bold debut and the first book in a Bourne Identity-style trilogy that combines heart-pounding action with a riveting exploration of what it really means to be human. Fans of I Am Number Four will love Mila for who she is and what she longs to be—and a cliffhanger ending will leave them breathlessly awaiting the sequel.

3 ½ stars

Thanks to Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss for this eARC! This title is now available.

I was pretty excited about this premise; I’ll be honest with you. I don’t read much scifi, and this seemed right up my alley. Then it begins like this:

Mila is a normal girl who has a hard time fitting in at school while trying to deal with the loss of her father, who was really close to her. Her mother has turned distant and her best friends are so mercurial they may not as well be called friends at all. (Actually, her “best friends” are so annoying that I really began to dislike them vehemently and hoped that whenever this robot thing actually broke they’d get trapped in a burning building or something.) But then she meets Hunter, the boy who finally gets her, and she starts to fall in love. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s a pretty basic plotline.

But oh, by the way, Mila isn’t human. She’s a robot.

Though it took a really look time to get to that point, which we were made aware of in the blurb, I was really hoping that Driza was going to take this opportunity to rip away from the basic young adult plotline she had going in the beginning of the book. For a while, I thought I was going to be right. When Mila finally starts coming into her robot own, she kicks serious butt. Hearing her android brain in her head was also really cool.

However, then certain events happen that I can’t tell you because it would be spoilers, and the plotline begins to re-conform a little bit. Oh yeah, the plot is still plenty crazy, but I can sniff out a cliché a mile away and this would has one coming on like a freight train. I can’t tell you what or I’d get in trouble for being spoilery. But I can tell you I’ll be forehead slapping coming the next book.

That said, however, I do like how Driza plays with the concept of “What is humanity?” The second half of the book is pretty darn amazing. This isn’t a book for softies, either. It isn’t graphic, but it isn’t light fluff. Mila. Kicks. Serious. Butt. And receives a bunch in return.

This all, however, fell apart from me in the end. In the second half of the book, there is a person who’s identity is “secret.” I have to be vague here, bear with me. But I put “secret” in quotation marks for a reason. The first second this person was mentioned, I knew who it was. How Mila is unaware I have no idea, but in the end I just kept shouting, “STUPID. STUPID. STUPID.” Mila can take out guys double her size but can’t put two and two together multiple times in this book, actually, and I just kept getting frustrated, and that kept me from loving it completely.

In summation, though, I would still recommend that you give this book a try if it’s something you think you’d be interested in. Driza doesn’t do a bad job in the slightest. I read this book straight through in one go because I was invested in the pacing of the plot. It’s certainly action packed! However, that said, if you’re on the fence about it, I wouldn’t be pushing you to pick it up.

ARC Review: “Insignia” by SJ Kincaid

Insignia (Insignia #1) by SJ Kincaid

Goodreads | Amazon

More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.
Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?
Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

4 1/2 stars

This ARC was received via a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. Thank you Goodreads and Katherine Tegen Books! You can get a copy of your own on July 10, 2012.

You know those books that you never want to end because you’re having so much fun?

This is one of those books.

In all honesty, when I won this off Goodreads I wasn’t sure what to think. I certainly wasn’t dying to read this book by any means, but I figured it would be a neat present to give my brother. However, because I’m a good girl and I totally enjoy the opportunity First Reads gives people, I knew that I HAD to at least try to read and review it.

I am SO GLAD I did.

I don’t usually read books with 14-year-old male main characters. Usually I find them annoying as the species themselves. 😉 However, Kincaid brings Tom to life with fantastic ability. I feel his adolescent pain and really get to know how he ticks. Whereas sometimes I feel YA/middle grade books can present caricatures of adolescent life, Kincaid brought forward a REAL fourteen year old boy.

And it wasn’t just Tom, either. All his friends, from his best friend Vik to loner girl genius Wyatt were just fantastic. All the dialogue, the reactions and the jokes were spot on for the age range and wonderfully written. Plus, the humor wasn’t tired or cliché. I literally doubled over laughing in places, remembering the ridiculous jokes that I had as a kid. I want to throw around more adjectives, but I’ll bottom line with: characters in Insignia = perfect.

I was also impressed with Kincaid’s world building. There was a LOT going on, and you can tell that every facet is thought out. I could almost picture the new world map. The new governmental structure, the whole fight–it’s a wild concept, but it all had concrete “facts” to make sense of it. Yes, in places it felt a little bit like an info dump, but Kincaid usually managed to dole out the finite details in manageable doses. I could not find one hole in the extensive explanation.

I also really loved how the plot kept moving. There was plenty of action and suspense, all written excellently. This was also one of the few books were I looked forward to the slow downs, too, because Tom and his friends were just so fantastic when they were simply hanging out. I mean, a whole chapter where they run around trying to put virus in each other’s heads and Wyatt ends up making them all impersonate sheep? Pretty irrelevant to the larger plot, but MAN that was FANTASTIC.

To be sure, there were a few things that I found a little farfetched, such as Tom’s friendship/courtship of a certain enemy who shall remain nameless to avert spoilers. It just didn’t make sense as a thing that would legitimately happen. Also, while I enjoyed the range of bad guys and the fact that there was really no black and white where they were concerned, I felt that we weren’t given enough time with the “bad guy” at the end, or even proof of something that would make him act the way he did. I also had to wonder why a few characters, such as Heather, were even there.

All in all, I really enjoyed Insignia the whole way through. It was one of those books where I just sat back and allowed myself to enjoy the ride. I am still certainly going to let my brother read it, but now he HAS to give it back. This is one that I’ll enjoy rereading when I need a laugh and some excitement.