Revisiting Outpost

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Deuce’s whole world has changed.

Down below, she was considered an adult. Now, topside in a town called Salvation, she’s a brat in need of training in the eyes of the townsfolk. She doesn’t fit in with the other girls: Deuce only knows how to fight.

To make matters worse, her Hunter partner, Fade, keeps Deuce at a distance. Her feelings for Fade haven’t changed, but he seems not to want her around anymore. Confused and lonely, she starts looking for a way out.

Deuce signs up to serve in the summer patrols—those who make sure the planters can work the fields without danger. It should be routine, but things have been changing on the surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks have grown smarter. They’re watching. Waiting. Planning. The monsters don’t intend to let Salvation survive, and it may take a girl like Deuce to turn back the tide.

My complaints from the first one remain, lots of telling, and info dumping. However, the new intricacies and developments of the Freaks make a compelling enough story to look past that . . . for the most part.

The cunning, evolution, and truly human qualities that the Freaks take on give proof to the theory that they are mutations introduced in the first book. The sheer creepiness of their behavior in this second installment though gives such an interesting focus for the story and its characters. It also provides for some moral issues that begin to surface with Deuce. As she continues to grow emotionally – learning she can be more than just a warrior – she has to start looking at the Freaks as something other than . . . well, freaks. I think we are going to see a lot more of that idea develop in the last book, but it’s interesting to start thinking about.

Beyond the developments with the Freaks, most of this book focuses on the emotional climate between Fade and Deuce. I like Fade and Deuce, and it’s cute watching both of them struggle with their personal issues to be together. Deuce is still fleshing out what it means to love someone (in both romantic and familial relationships) and how to express that; while Fade has so many trust issues and emotional scars that it’s hard for him to open himself up to anyone. They have a really complicated relationship, it’s definitely dedicated, but they are dealing with so much that they never really have a chance to figure out how to have a functional relationship.

These two main focuses of the story show both the interesting developments of the stories main conflict, and a nice dose of character development. All the four characters from the first book are learning how to learn to let others into their lives in emotional ways, and all of them are also figuring out how to be friends in the new environment of Sanctuary and its social structure. While the main faults I found with the first book maintain, the story development is enough to mark a improvement.

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Elysia: Chpt. 1

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Chapter 1, Scene 1 of my WiP

“Brigid MacCray” the sterile voice pipes into the bare room, echoing slightly off the smooth walls. “Proceed to Entry Gate Two.”

My jaw clenches reflexively at the command, but I quickly ease the muscles. Over nineteen years I have been trained as an elite soldier of the Elysian Empire I have learned to school my initial reactions. I’ve focused countless hours of energy to tamping down the rebelliousness that my parents have spent equal hours lecturing me about. So, with a neutral expression I leave the oppressive room and march down the equally oppressive hall to stand in front of large double doors.

From my place I can see Milo, my final competition, out of the corner of my left eye. His broad shoulders are taunt with preparedness, his tanned corded forearms ripple under his arm braces as his fists open and close, open and close. His hard jaw is discolored with a fading bruise from his last trial. Only his eyes, so pale a brown they are almost yellow, show anything to contradict the force his body emanates. He catches my gaze, running his eyes over my person in his own assessment, before giving me a curt nod.

The stomping of the crowd above us sends sand into our hair. I fight the urge to scratch my scalp and dislodge the itchy impostors, instead sending my fingers over my belt to adjust my short sword, down to my calf where my trench knife rests, up to my shoulder where a pair of long daggers cross my back.

I take a deep inhale through my nose, exhale through my mouth. I let the beat of the stomping feet above my head center me, let it wash away the faces that will be watching me. I run over the past trials I have passed to make it to this point. The physical tests, the intelligence exams, the field exercises with each legion of The Commanders undefeated army. I note each victory, letting the reassurance of my abilities bolster my confidence. No matter how I hate taking commands, no matter how much I hate working with people obviously inferior to me, I am what I was trained to be. I am a soldier, and I am one of the best.

The doors creak open, their ancient wood revealing a large oval arena. The sand has been combed and washed of blood since yesterday. A large box juts from the opposite end of the stadium, and in it I can see the silhouettes of The Commander, flanked by his most trusted advisers, one of whom is my father. He’s easy to spot, we share the same pale skin, the same hair that sparks when light strikes it.

Milo and I stalk to the center of the arena, planting a fist over our hearts and bowing our heads. The sharp trill of a bell tells us that our salute has been received, and that it is now time to fight.

We spin to face each other, and I tilt my chin slightly to look him in the eyes as we both draw our first weapons. I pull my short sword from the leather sheath, and he his pair of daggers. I’m weakest with the sword, but use my fresh strength to swing, strike, and parry until he twists the weapon from my grip with a clever spin of his daggers on either side of my blade.

I spin out of his reach as soon as the weapon is gone and pull my twin blades as his hit the dirt and his sword is unsheathed. The first point goes to him, but I know that clever move too and soon have him disarmed and us both to our last weapons.

The sword and daggers are standard for every soldier, as well as a rifle and pistol, but those are not allowed in the trials. We aim to show out skill, not to kill one another. Milo pulls a staff from across his back, it’s narrow and elegant, and wicked with the speed at which he spins it.

I jump out of range, landing a kick to his knee as I go, and grip the hilt of my knife tightly, resisting the slip of my sweaty palm and squeezing until the loops of the trench knife’s knuckles bite into the soft webbing of my fingers. Father has always hated my preference for the “uncivilized” weapon, but I appreciate it’s ability to multi-task.

We circle one another, breathing hard, slightly crouched, poised to strike at any moment. A bead of sweat falls over my brow and into my eye, I blink hard to relieve the sting and hear the whoosh as his staff fights the air, angling to strike my shoulder.

Before my eyes are completely open, I’m dodging the blow. Rolling toward the sandy ground of the arena, my shoulder connecting with a soft thud. Throwing my weight to send me up again, lashing out with my own strike and connecting with a sickening thud. Milo’s head snaps back, a bubble of blood welling from his split brow. His body follows his head and he staggers back a step, I lower my weight, swinging a leg forward. My ankle hooks behind his and he’s on his back, the staff falling from one hand.

My foot shoots out, smashing down onto the knuckles of the fingers still clutching the polished wood. He grunts loudly before pulling me off balance by the tail of my braid, sending me hard to the ground. Utilizing the backwards momentum I swing my legs overhead, rolling into a reverse somersault. Landing in a crouch I launch myself froward, grasping Milo around the middle as he tries to regain his feet, sending us both to the solid earth. The impact purges his lungs of air and while he hiccups for breath I straddle his torso, pinning his arms and resting the point of my knife against his soft throat.

The cheers from the stands erupt, deafening me. Milo regains his normal breath, his eyes narrowing to vicious slits and pairing with a hiss of breath that escapes through his teeth. I bare my teeth at him in a feral grin before pulling myself up, squaring my shoulders, turning to The Commanders observation box, and presenting him a small bow, fist clenched over my heart.

When I straighten I flick my eyes over The Commander’s shoulder to Father. He looks resplendent in his tailored and polished uniform, a more refined version of my close fitting pants and shirt, stiff leather breastplate and arm-guards. When our eyes meet for a moment there is a softness in his silver eyes that few ever see, and a small nod tells me I have made him proud.

The Commander raises a hand, almost daintily, his wrist barely higher than his hip, and the arena falls silent.

“Congratulations Student MacCray,” his voice is soft but strong, echoing effortlessly across the stone and sand. “You have impressed us all, and strengthened the reputation of your illustrious family. It gives me great pleasure to award to you the position of Apprentice to the Chief Interrogator.” He angles his head slightly, focusing his gaze one me, and even though I can’t see the harsh angle of his eyes, I can feel them boring into my skin, looking for a weakness. “I look forward to the revelations you two unravel from our newest prisoner from Calypso,” he finishes.

His gaze shifts to Milo, standing half a step behind me. “Student Reznik. A valiant effort, especially for a young man from one of our colonial Academy’s.” A murmur drifts through the stands at the mention of a colony. Students from the colonies face additional trials before they can participate with Elysia’s students, few make it into this arena, and fewer still finish this high in the rankings. I see Milo tense out of the corner of my eye, a pink tinge brightening the tips of his ears.

Pretending to stifle an amused grin behind his hand, The Commander continues. “Such a fine prize we have for you. Apprentice to the Warden of our Special Prisoners Block at The Fortress.”

It’s not a bad job actually. Prisoners of war and enemies of the state are housed in the SPB of The Fortress. Very high profile. It’s where I will be trained to become the next interrogator.

An involuntary shiver runs down my spine. I clench my fists, willing my stoic facade back in place. Interrogation, a fancy synonym for torture here. The realization of my new job chills my bones. I knew this was the prize for victory, yet I couldn’t help myself, sometimes I hate my arrogance as much as my peers.

With a small nod of dismissal from The Commander, the crowd once again burst into cheers, flower petals rain down on us, filling my nostrils with a sweet scent that temporarily washes away the stench of sweat, blood, and dirt. As soon as we sink deep enough into the bowels of the arena for silence to overtake us Milo speaks up, his voice is rough with defeat but laced with respect “Congratulations Peer MacCray.”

Peer. The title that shows we have graduated from The Academy, faced our trials, and been placed within Elysia’s vast legions. I meet Milo’s gaze, it’s distant and professional, but something lurks underneath, just out of sight. “See you at work,” I respond before we branch off into different tunnels to prepare for the nights festivities.

Revisiting Enclave

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Goodreads Synopsis:

New York City has been decimated by war and plague, and most of civilization has migrated to underground enclaves, where life expectancy is no more than the early 20’s. When Deuce turns 15, she takes on her role as a Huntress, and is paired with Fade, a teenage Hunter who lived Topside as a young boy. When she and Fade discover that the neighboring enclave has been decimated by the tunnel monsters–or Freaks–who seem to be growing more organized, the elders refuse to listen to warnings. And when Deuce and Fade are exiled from the enclave, the girl born in darkness must survive in daylight–guided by Fade’s long-ago memories–in the ruins of a city whose population has dwindled to a few dangerous gangs.

Ann Aguirre’s thrilling young adult novel is the story of two young people in an apocalyptic world–facing dangers, and feelings, unlike any they’ve ever known.

I read this series a couple years ago and remembered really enjoying it, so I decided to revisit it. This seems to be the year of re-reads for me, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. My original post about all these books are really spoilery (It was still the start of my blog days, I hadn’t fully figured it out yet), so I’m just going to start fresh.

I still really appreciate the originality of this dystopian, I feel it is more realistic in it’s segmented and fragile social structure. It’s twist with the “Freaks,” also gives us something not seen in much YA Dystopian with the mutated results of past issues – something I think we are seeing more in today’s entertainment in general. Aguirre also does a ton of research for her new societies and what a decimated city and its resulting occupants would look like, which I love – I’m always impressed by good research!

Aguirre’s characters are all different and interesting. Our MC Deuce is a very strong and sure character, who has always been curious. It’s interesting to watch her deal with the drastic changes she goes through, especially with her needing to learn a plethora of emotional signals and responses. Fade is a very dark character, he hides a lot under the surface and it’s hard to figure out who he really is, though it’s clear that he is very scarred emotionally from his past. Stalker and Teagan provide interesting qualities to both of our main characters, bringing out certain traits and providing windows into their personalities.

Though all the characters are intriguing, I did not love how Deuce was such a ‘teller.’ This lack of showing really annoyed me, and provided my main critique to the writer. Duce tells us how everyone feels and what they are thinking, which based on her emotional ineptitude I did not find believable. This book is also really focused on the world building aspect of the series, which I understand, but it was a bit anti-climactic for a first book. While the characters achieve their main goal, I felt like with so much going on in the background there was a better ‘cliff-hanger’ esque opportunity at the end.

Coming This Week: April 25

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We are basically settled, and starting to get into a routing in KS, yay! Still waiting to hear from the museum as to whether they want me to help, but I’ve got my fingers crossed. There was a good vibe from the person I talked to and I think I could do a lot of good.

So now that we aren’t running around as much I am going to start testing that new blog segment I had mentioned a little while ago. Starting this week, Wednesday’s I’m going to release scene’s from the WIP I have been working on for the past couple years. We’ll see what the response is after, lets say, four weeks and then I’ll decide if it’s going continue or not. So this week look for the first part of Elysia!

As for book reviews, I have a series I re-read, and never really posted about, so the first two installments of that will be up:

Review: Wink Poppy Midnight

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

I’m still not completely certain what I think about this book, but one thing is clear, it’s sticking with me. And that’s a pretty good indication that this book has some winning qualities.

I really enjoyed that each of our three characters had a little hero and a little villain in them. And they all have their secrets. There was a good plot twist, quick catchy and smart writing, and each character had a clear voice.

Certainly worth a read of you’re looking for something outside your usual genre, or a quick read with a different voice and intriguing characters.

Review: The Winner’s Kiss

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Goodreads Synopsis:

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?

I waited so long for this book! I really enjoyed the first one, loved the second, and could not wait to get this in my hands. The wait was worth it, this was pretty close to perfect.

I loved that while we picked up right where we left off in the second one, time still passed pretty quickly in the beginning, catching us up on the drama of war before swiftly moving into the drama of Arin and Kestrel. Man, they have never had it easy, and I was not prepared for what would happen in this one to give them yet another challenge to overcome.

I really enjoyed though how they got to know each other again. Outside of the politics of the Imperial palace, they were able to be themselves around each other, for probably the first time in their relationship. It was so nice to see them both admit how much they have changed, to see them both reconcile who they now are, and to see if and how they could work themselves together. It was so well done, painting a more realistic romance than often happens in these sorts of books as a result to the stressors they have been through.

Also another thing about the romantic element, is that it’s not the only major thing happening in this story. All of the political turmoil that has been developing in the previous books is finally at its boiling point and we are in the middle of a war the entire time. We’re watching Arin navigate the need to save his country with the political chessboard of tricks and secrets of his allies; seeing Kestrel come into her own as a warrior – though on her own terms – and utilizing her tactical strengths to fight for a country she loves; and watching a ‘new’ character sit in the middle of all of these emotional and political arenas and have to decide where he lies.

I can’t lie, I did want a little more swoon, if only because it was such a long road for these two, but like I said, this was basically a perfect conclusion. It didn’t want for action, resolution, or new plot twists and supplied great character arcs and intrigue. I’m definitely going to be rereading this series regularly.

 

Coming This Week: April 18

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I’m back! Kind of, I’m at about 90% at this point. Most of our moving in is done, and only a few things remain before I think I have a routine down here. I still need to find a yoga class, and get into a museum here as a volunteer – as there are no jobs currently open in my specific area.

That said, I have been doing alright on my reading, only a couple delays, mainly with the actual move-in process. But I am looking forward to getting into some new books and I think my Percy Jackson re-read is coming on the horizon! Though a handful of my highly anticipated sequels come out in the next few weeks, so that re-read may be delayed for a bit deeper into the summer.

That said, this week I have these book reviews to look for: