Friday, March 10, 2017

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

From the publisher: 

She's a soldier. Noemi Vidal is 17 and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything - including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel. He's a machine. Abandoned for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he's an abomination. 

They are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but not without sacrifice. The more time they spend together, the more they're forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.

Defy the Stars had me from page 1. The plot plunges right into action, with interesting characters and world building. I’m not a huge fan of the robot (or whatever) who wants to become “real,” but the author does a good job with this particular plot device and I bought into it.

Earth is approaching collapse after years of environmental destruction. The people of Earth have created “gates” that allow them to visit other solar systems, and they have chosen four planets as replacements for Earth. However, the people still living on Earth have learned nothing about good stewardship. The settlers on the planet Genesis have taken the mistakes made on Earth to heart and are trying to keep their planet healthy. They are fighting to keep the people of Earth from ruining Genesis as well.

Noemi is a Genesis soldier. She has volunteered to go on a suicide mission with other volunteers. I would have preferred that Noemi be a little older – maybe 21 or 22 rather than 17 - but this book is aimed at young adults and so she is a teenager.

Noemi and Abel, the “mech” (aka robot) that she finds on an abandoned Earth ship, are both strong but flawed. I liked them both and enjoyed the alternating points of view. Noemi and Abel embark on a mission Noemi hopes will end the war between Genesis and Earth. This takes them to each of the other planets and to Earth. The best part of the book by far for me was the descriptions of the four colonized planets, all very different and with very different inhabitants. Some of the people they meet get caught up in their plans and have their own moments to shine. (Oddly, one character is mentioned multiple times throughout the book but never actually appears. Perhaps he will appear in the sequel.)

Let’s face it, the plot is not particularly original, but I enjoyed the ride all the same. There is a fair amount about faith and God, which surprised me, but I didn’t find it heavy handed. I look forward to reading the sequel some day.

Defy the Stars will appeal to fans of the Starbound series by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. I read an advance reader copy of Defy the Stars. It is scheduled to be published in April 2017 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library. 

The Vicar's Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack

From the publisher: Cassie, the youngest of six daughters, is bold, bright, and ready to enter society. There's only one problem: her older sister Lenora, whose extreme shyness prevents her from attending many social events. Lenora is now entering her third season, and since their father has decreed that only one Wilton girl can be out at a time, Cassie has no choice except to wait her turn. Evan Glenside, a clerk, has just been named his great-uncle's heir and he struggles to feel accepted in a new town and in his new position. A chance meeting between Evan and Lenora promises to change everything, but when Lenora proves too shy to pursue the relationship, Cassie begins to write Mr. Glenside letters in the name of her sister. Her good intentions lead to disaster when Cassie realizes she is falling in love with Evan. As secrets are revealed, the hearts of Cassie, Evan, and Lenora are tested. Will the final letter sent by the vicar's daughter reunite the sisters as well as unite Evan with his true love?

The Vicar’s Daughter is a Proper Romance from Shadow Mountain Publishing.  Proper Romances are clean romantic stories that contain interesting issues. In this one, a young woman is affected by social anxiety but is expected to follow the same path as her older sisters and find a husband all the same. While her anxiety keeps her from being able to do that, her younger sister must wait in the shadows, unable to pursue a romance of her own.

I found the plot a bit jumpy, and some of the Messages were a little too heavy handed for my liking, but overall I enjoyed this unusual romance. The character with social anxiety  showed positive growth, as did her family’s understanding of her condition. The characters grappled with right and wrong, and with how to ask for forgiveness and bring oneself to forgive. The plot is more somber than many traditional romance novels, but the ending was satisfying.

The Vicar’s Daughter is recommended for readers looking for clean historical romance with religious overtones.  It could be an excellent book club choice for the right group of readers, as there are moral and societal issues to be discussed.

I read an advance reader copy of The Vicar’s Daughter.  It is scheduled to be published in April 2017 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.