Review: Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund

Review: Academy 7 by Anne OsterlundAcademy 7 by Anne Osterlund
Published by Speak
Pages: 272
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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With a past too terrible to speak of, and a bleak, lonely future ahead of her, Aerin Renning is shocked to find she has earned a place at the most exclusive school in the universe. Aerin excels at Academy 7 in all but debate, where Dane Madousin - son of one of the most powerful men in the Alliance - consistently outtalks her. Fortunately Aerin consistently outwits him at sparring. They are at the top of their class until Dane jeopardizes everything and Aerin is unintentionally dragged down with him. When the pair is given a joint punishment, an unexpected friendship - and romance - begins to form. But Dane and Aerin both harbor dangerous secrets, and the two are linked in ways neither of them could ever have imagined...

Thoughts: There is only one thing I hate about this book: it’s too damn short! I could have kept on reading Academy 7 for another 500 pages – it was just that good.

Don’t be fooled by the cover: Academy 7 is Science Fiction YA. But like all good Science Fiction it is about so much more than space, it’s about character. And even while it is all about character, it’s also about politics, and intelligence, and standing up and thinking for yourself. Academy 7 managed to weave a complex world behind the main narrative – a world both believable and intriguing that would have kept me hooked even if I hadn’t liked the main story. It’s part what makes any book great, but in Academy 7 it is what made it brilliant.

While there was a romance between the two main characters – Aerin and Dane – Academy 7 wasn’t about them getting together… it was about them getting over the misery that had been their lives. Both Aerin and Dane reminded me, in a way, of Katniss from The Hunger Games. Neither one of them wanted to open up to each other, but life brought them together to do just that. I love it when characters need to overcome real emotional obstacles… when their bond with another character develops out of the mistrust that everyone feels for strangers. Aerin and Dane were complex individuals, and watching them grow together was just beautiful…

I also loved how intellectual this book was. Academy 7 is an institute that brings together the brightest minds in the galaxy, and it shows. Aerin and Dane are there because of their extraordinary intelligence, and Anne Osterlund lets it shine through the pages. Here’s what I mean:

Aerin was reminded frequently over the next two months that Dane was still exasperating: the way he drilled her on the small points of an argument, then turned and argued the flip side against her in class; the way he refused to use certain openings in combat, claiming that to do so went against his sense of moral conduct; the way he managed to let others’ snide remarks slide past him as if they meant nothing. If Aerin had been asked at the end of their second term to describe Dane, the first word she would have used would have been maddening. She would also have added stubborn, intelligent, and, to her surprise, funny. His sense of humor, couched in irony, took her a while to appreciate, but it was also bluntly honest; and, by the start of Academia’s damp season, she found herself looking forward to his unvarnished opinions on every topic from flight paths to Ausyan philosophy.

There were no pedestals in Dane’s world. No crystal vases to be treated with supreme care. No heroes. But there was a constant willingness to take out a topic, test it, shake it apart, mix up the pieces, and test them again.

Perhaps that’s why he spends time with me, Aerin found herself thinking one afternoon as she negotiated the Great Hall’s uneven stairs on her way to report for work. Because I haven’t made up my mind about this part of the universe.

– Chapter 14, Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund

In case you hadn’t gathered, I just loved this book. There were a few flaws, mainly due to the short length of the novel. I think Anne Osterlund had enough plot to fill at least 100 more pages and it was a shame to see some pretty key scenes rushed into a few pages. But the somewhat-uneven pacing is not enough to distract from the sheer brilliance of this novel.

Bottom line? Academy 7 is a stunning, emotional, and realistic novel. I adored the characters, the verse, and – hell – even the villains. When I say YA fiction can be astounding, this is the type of novel I’m talking about!

Note: Academy 7 reads as a standalone novel and will likely remain a standalone. Although Anne Osterlund envisioned the book as the first in a trilogy, there aren’t any plans to publish any more in this series (although, please, someone tell me I’m wrong about this!). It’s depressing when I think about it…

Review: Dark Life by Kat Falls

Review: Dark Life by Kat FallsDark Life by Kat Falls
Series: Dark Life #1
Published by Scholastic
Pages: 304
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Ty has lived under the ocean for his entire life. Following global warming and the rise of the seas, his family joined an underwater community in hopes of living in the new frontier of the ocean floor. But When Ty meets Gemma, a girl from "topside", who is searching the seas for her brother, she quickly makes his life very complicated. Together Ty and Gemma face dangerous sea creatures and venture into the frontier town's rough underworld as they search for her missing brother. But the deeper they dig, the more attention they attract, and soon Ty and Gemma find themselves being hunted by a gang of outlaws who roam the underwater territories causing havoc, and who seem to have eerie abilities. But Ty has a secret of his own, living underwater for his entire life has meant he has also developed a "special" power. Can he keep it a secret from Gemma and his family or is it time for him to finally tell everyone the truth?

Thoughts: I adored Dark Life. Lately, I’ve been reading books that have been on my wishlist for eons and have turned out to be extremely disappointing. (The Body Finder is a fantastic example of a book I was in lust with – and like most superficial relationships, it fell apart upon actually reading it.) So, my high expectations for the Dark Life were worrying.

But Dark Life lived up to every expectation. It’s science fiction only, instead of space, we’ve colonised the ocean. The book follows some sort of apocalyptic disaster – the opening of the novel has Ty swimming around what seemed to be the ruins of New York City. But, society had moved on, and the apparent overthrow of the modern world is old news.

Dark Life has action, cool underwater gadgets, a couple of quasi-paranormal abilities and a dash of romance. All the perfect ingredients for a brilliant YA novel. But what made me love it were the things that you aren’t thrown at you. Dark Life deals with some pretty serious social, scientific and political issues without seeming preachy. In fact, they are so subtly handled, they can almost be overlooked in favour of the action.

I love, love, love that. Of course, books which wrap up with a take-away message can be great – but I adore the ones that make you stop and think, whilst gently nudging you in a particular direction. Dark Life is that kind of book.

Bottom line? Faaantastic! Read Dark Life if you are looking for something fun yet thought-provoking. Ooh, it also has a male narrator! Isn’t it sad that that is rare enough to warrent excitement?

Review: Time Riders by Alex Scarrow

Review: Time Riders by Alex ScarrowTime Riders by Alex Scarrow
Series: Time Riders #1
Published by Puffin
Pages: 432
Genres: Science Fiction YA
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Liam O'Connor should have died at sea in 1912. Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2010. Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2029. Yet moments before death, someone mysteriously appeared and said, 'Take my hand ...'

But Liam, Maddy and Sal aren't rescued. They are recruited by an agency that no one knows exists, with only one purpose - to fix broken history. Because time travel is here, and there are those who would go back in time and change the past. That's why the TimeRiders exist: to protect us. To stop time travel from destroying the world...

Thoughts: This book has two things that usually make me stop reading: short chapters and Nazis. They are serious pet peeves of mine because a) I am capable of an attention span greater than 5 minutes, thank you very much, and b) haven’t you heard the war is friggin’ over???

And yet… TimeRiders was awesome. Awesome in that kind of action-packed, bad-ass, yes-we-may-kill-off-your-favourite-character sort of way. This book felt like a blockbuster movie – but with a superior script. Alex Scarrow writes action scenes with handful of main characters and ten dozen extras zooming across the page without breaking a sweat – a talent I seriously admire.

Scarrow also created some fantastic villains. I read an interview of his where he described his desire to make 3D characters who – one could argue – were merely misguided. He lived up to his claim in TimeRiders, writing a villain with pure intentions that became twisted by circumstance and insanity. A villain who is trying to save the world, just in a somewhat psychopathic way.  It is a welcome relief from the typical twirling-moustache villain!

However, I found the main characters a bit flat. Although perfectly enjoyable, they were rather secondary to the plot. So much crap happened to them, but there is very little emotional payoff. I also found a couple of the time-travel sequences rather… convenient. The sequences that took place over two times – but appeared in the book simultaneously – felt somewhat contrived. Just one of the many dangers of time-travel, I guess!

Bottom line?  TimeRiders is a fun, action-packed, addictive book.  Will likely appeal to teenage boys as well as girls – just don’t expect too much emotional depth.  I think Scarrow is saving it all for the sequel.

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