Book Review: MILA 2.0

MILA 2.0, Debra D (Katherine Tegen Books, 2013, Book 1 of a trilogy, 470 pp.)

A dark-haired girl, with part of her skin drawn as blocks drifting off to the right
Book Cover

At the time of this review (3/14/2019), the book holds a 4.1-star review on Amazon with 251 reviews.

Young Adult, mystery/thriller with a sci-fi edge

Book Obtained By: Won as part of a YA basket of books donated by Editor Lydia Sharp of Entangled Publishing, at the NEORWA Cleveland Rocks Conference, Sept. 2018).

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the back cover

“Mila was living with her mother in a small Minnesota town when she discovered she was also living a lie. She was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was never supposed to remember the past—that she was built in a 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 a mysterious group who wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology.

Evading her enemies won’t help Mila escape the cruel reality of what she is, but what she’s becoming now is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own . . . and that just might save her life.”

Spoiler-Free Review

Get ready to cheer for Mila as she struggles to find herself after making the earth-shattering discovery that she was created in a lab. Her mom has a lot of explaining to do, but Mila’s not ready to hear much of it. She’d rather chase after the boy who’s caught her eye.

One by one, the stories she knows about herself fall under her analytical gaze. What and who can she believe, trust? That cute guy teases against everything her mom has taught her. This is YA, so with that hint of first love, I know it’ll play a role in the book. Driza sets a fast, tense pace, filled with teenagers you’ll love and hate.

You’ll disappear into Mila’s slightly off world. BFF Kaylee pops from the page with her rapid-fire talk and her boy-hungry eyes. From homeroom to wandering the halls to hanging out after school, or home with her mom-vet at the place they’re renting, Driza sets up this cool girl who doesn’t quite fit in, but who does when you’re the dreaded new girl at the school? Just wait until Driza reveals more of Mila’s background, building us to the impending tipping point in Mila’s life.

Those discoveries ratchet up the tension. Who wants her back, and what will they do to Mila, her mom, her friends, if they find her?

As Driza introduces characters, I connect with some and dislike or hate others, all for the right reasons. Driza shows me the world through Mila’s eyes, and I trust her view. When she senses a person’s off, I believe it because Driza has shown me that through the character’s actions. Some of these characters I hope to see redeemed. Others, I’m fine if they turn out as dark as they seem, and Driza has me rooting for them to get the end they deserve.

By the end of the book, Driza ties off the story lines so that this stands as a complete novel, but I know more is coming since this is a trilogy. All the books have been released, along with prequel. Towards the end Driza introduced another character and gave me clues hinting the character is NOT the fully in-control person she thinks herself to be. I’m betting she’ll be in a future book, and if so, it’ll be fun seeing where Driza takes her.

I enjoyed this strong debut (the first book the author has released). I gave it a 4 rather than a 5 because it was easier for me to put down versus the books that allow me to set aside what I’m supposed to be doing in favor of a few more chapters. Mila’s a smart girl, but there were places where I figured she should have “gotten” something before she did. Writers like to give us readers the chance to figure it out, adding the tension as we ache for the character to make the same connection. While I didn’t find the book predictable, no plot twists took me totally by surprise.

All in all, and enjoyable read. While I do want to continue her story, I have so many books on my shelves, I’ll turn to them. I do intend, someday, to either borrow the rest of the series from the library or ask for them for as birthday gifts.

About the Author

Learn more about Debra Driza at her publisher’s page.

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Book Review: Thin Space

Thin Space, Jody Casella (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, 2013, 243 pp.)

Black and white image of a figure, walking through the woods, snow on the ground.

Cover, Thin Space

At the time of this review, the book holds a 4.6-star review on Amazon with 38 reviews.

Young Adult, Paranormal

Book Obtained By: Purchased from Amazon after the author presented workshops at the Upper Arlington Library (Ohio) Write Stuff event in November 2016.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4.5 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the back cover

thin space n. A point where the barrier between this world and the next is thin enough for a person to step through to the other side.

Ever since the car accident that killed his twin brother, Marshall Windsor has been consumed with guilt and crippled by the secrets of that fateful night. He has only one chance to make amends and set things right. He must find a thin space—a mythical point where the barrier between this world and the next is thin enough for a person to step through to the other side.

But when a new girl moves into a house down the street, the same house Marsh is sure holds a thin space, she may be the key—or the unraveling of all his secrets.

As they get closer to finding a thin space—and closer to each other—Marsh must decide once and for all how far he’s willing to go to right the wrongs of the living … and the dead.”

Thin Space, Jody Casella (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, 2013, 243 pp.)

Spoiler-Free Review

Jody Casella builds a likeable, hurting character in Marshall (Marsh) Windsor. His family and school are at wit’s end with his obsession of shuffling around in his bare feet, despite the freezing cold and snow on the ground. He’s going through the motions at school, detached from everyone he used to call friends, even picking fights with them, as he beats himself up for the accident that busted up his face but killed his twin brother. All the while, he needs his feet bare in case he touches a thin space.

Each page, Marsh’s hurt grows as he searches those public spaces while he yearns to enter the empty house where an old lady died. She was the one who told him and his twin of thin spaces, and it’s the best shot he has. But when a family from down south buys it, he finds a girl hurting in her own way at this abrupt move—Maddie. Her drawl sets her apart as much as her sadness, but around Marsh, she has glimmers of happiness. With their friendship built on a lie—his desperate need to get into that house—what will happen between them when everything unravels? Guidance Counselor, parents, friends and former friends, neighbors, each other, who can these kids trust?

You’ll ache for Marsh, wanting him to find peace. You’ll cry for Maddie and Marsh, wanting them to find each other sooner than they may find that thin space:

I’m already past the driveway when I turn to see Maddie dragging her arm across the glass. I don’t know what I’m thinking, but I stride back, step between her and the car, and swipe the snow off fast. I can see her out of the corner of my eye, shivering in her thin jacket, looking down at my boots.

She leans toward me, whispers, ‘Are you okay?’

Funny thing. I don’t remember anyone asking me that in a long time. Another funny thing: I have no idea what the answer is. Before I can say anything, a horn beeps and a car rolls up to the curb. (p. 85)

This book, solidly written, carries all that hurt of high school, deepened by the need to make up for one horrible decision you’d do anything to take back.

Now that it’s getting colder, why not curl up with Thin Space?

About the Author

Learn more about Jody Casella at her website.

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Book Review: Rules for Theives

Rules for Thieves, Alexandra Ott (Aladdin, 2017, Book 1 of Rules for Thieves, paperback, 312 pp.)

A pendant hangs from the title; a marketplace with tents, and two kids running through it

Cover of Rules for Thieves

At the time of this review, the book holds a 5-star review on Amazon with 19 reviews.

YA Fantasy

Book Obtained By: Purchased from the author after she presented at the Red Sneakers Writers Presents Write Well Sell Well Conference in Oklahoma over Labor Day weekend.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the back cover

“Twelve-year-old Alli Rosco is smart, resourceful, and totally incapable of keeping her mouth shut. When she escapes the miserable orphanage she has called home for the past nine years, she finally feels free.

But Alli quickly learns that freedom comes at a price. After a run-in with one of the city’s protectors she is marked by a curse that’s slowly working its way to her heart. There is a cure, but the cost is astronomical. And the clock is ticking.

Enter Beck, a boy who seems too good to be true. He tells Alli that the legendary Thieves Guild, long thought to be a myth, is real. Even better, Beck is a member and thinks she could be one too. All she has to do is pass the trial that the king of the Guild assigns to her, join the Guild, collect her yearly reward, and buy the cure. The Guild is her ticket to the cure, and it just might be the home—and the family—that Alli has always wanted.

But when her trial goes horribly wrong, innocent lives are in danger—including Alli’s. Can she follow Beck’s rules, even if it means compromising her own? In this thrilling and fast-paced debut, Alli learns how much she is willing to sacrifice in order to survive.”

Spoiler-Free Review

Rules for Thieves, Alexandra Ott (Aladdin, 2017, Book 1 of Rules for Thieves, paperback, 312 pp.)

In Azeland, Alli Roscoe plots her escape from the orphanage. Once she’s free, the enormity of her life change hits her—she’s got nowhere to sleep, she’s got the clothes she’s wearing, and the shoes that mark her has out of place in any nice shop.

Based on the book’s cover, and Ott’s descriptions, I pictured an arid climate and a marketplace-driven, non-industrialized society. Protectors keep law with brute force and magic. She must evade them because she’s a runaway, but that’s harder because a Protector hits her with a curse.

What’s a twelve-year-old on her own to do, when she can’t legally work until thirteen? Lift food. That sets the dominoes falling, tangling her multiple times with the Protectors and with Beck, the boy she desperately wants to believe. How can she, though, after her survival lessons at the orphanage? Ott slowly feeds us those stories, about both the characters, so Alli can’t believe his friendship even when hope wants her to. He has so many rules. She thinks,

“I add one more to the list: Don’t think about who the marks are. Looking at what they carry, not who they are, makes it easier to ignore the lurch in my stomach that might, maybe, be guilt.

That should be a rule too: There’s no place for guilt in thieving.” (p. 48)

Ott keeps the pacing fast, whisking Alli and Beck through their friendship with one lesson in thieving, one escape after another, and the eventual reveal about the Guild and all it can offer her if she joins and accepts those hard rules Beck shares. At the Guild, Ott expands the cast of characters. It became harder for me to keep track of who was who as she unveiled first or last names, and quick snippets about the kids. The Guild’s location marks a huge contrast to Azeland, adding snow and a game that’ll make you worry for Alli.

Through all of this, she’s learning more about being a thief and deepening her friendship with Beck. Stakes do rise, and it’s deliciously fun seeing the lengths Alli goes for her trial, needing disguises, and what she’ll do for friendship even if it breaks a Guild rule or two. I loved the flying creature Ott introduces as a mode of transportation, the giant thilastri.

The story fell shy, when I couldn’t suspend my disbelief at the final stage of the trial. Past the time Alli figures something out, I was asking myself why anyone had let the trial get to that point. It’s still a set of exciting scenes, but my logical side called it a hole in the storytelling.

Alli’s an engaging character, and you can follow her adventures in book two, The Shadow Thieves. The paperback edition of Rules for Thieves contains a teaser chapter for that

About the Author

Learn more about Alexandra Ott at her website.

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