Tag Archives: Lee

Not Your Sidekick (#1)

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The characters in this novel will make your heart flip. They kick some ass and save the world and bond with friends and oh! fall in love in the absolutely cutest possible way.

It is post-WWIII Nevada, and almost 17-year-old Jessica Tran is a bit of an aberration in her family. Her parents are local superheroes (not that anyone knows thanks to their impeccable secret identities), her sister is following in their footsteps, and her younger brother is a super genius and college student that spends his days building things that tend to singe body parts. She’s not athletic, not motivated in school, and not sure what she’s going to do when she turns 17 and everyone realizes she has no powers.

The nuclear fallout from the Disasters one hundred years before caused a mutation in the gene and certain people are born with super powers. Some become heroes, and some become villains. Each city gets a set of each. Since Jess is without powers, she decides to get a job and find out what she can be good at. Bonus: getting a job gets her out from under her parents’ disapproving looks and constant questions about what she’ll do with her life.

And she ends up interning for her parents’ arch nemeses. AND with her secret crush, Abby. This could be the best job EVER. But her dream job takes on a dangerous element when she discovers that the heroes and villains are not all that they seem.

Holy crap, this is a fun book to read! It is charming and endearing and the characters are believable and likable and my heart truly melted over the romances.

Jess is an Asian-American child of immigrant superheroes, her dad is Vietnamese and her mom Chinese.  She is a wonderful protagonist for the story – kind and friendly and desperate for her powers to manifest. She lives with superheroes, collects comic books to read more about them, and belongs to the Captain Orion fan club. She is bisexual, asks people for their pronouns because she does not want to misgender them, and is totally intimidated only by her first real crush. As the child of immigrant parents of two cultures, Jess faces familiar issues. Although comfortable with the food and customs, she is not fluent in either language and never quite feels like she fit in with the Vietnamese or the Chinese communities in her town, while also feeling like an outsider in her own country.

Best friends Bells and Emma are also perfect. Bells is transgender and bright and hard-working, while Emma is cisgender, flirts with every boy that walks by, and is completely oblivious to the fact that Bells is in love with her. They are dynamic and quirky and completely hold their own in the story. And first-love Abby is red-haired and gorgeous and smart and athletic, and Jess is adorably tongue-tied and nervous around her. Their romance is funny and sweet and filled with hope and promise.

All the relationships in the novel are beautifully explored and developed. Author Lee takes everything from casual friendships and acquaintances to first loves and marriages and truly respects the different ties that people have to each other. Not one character seems like a token representation in this novel – various races and gender identifications are present and feel genuine to the story.

The world building in the novel does not take a back seat to the characters or plot. Fallout due to radiation is a common enough superhero backstory, but it is the perfect set-up for this novel. The world is now made up of Confederations, and water and food are not rationed but rather respected and not wasted. Lee has created a dystopian world filled with contrasts; each city has an assigned supervillain and hero to create havoc and order, there are wastelands and well populated big cities, there is extreme wealth with access to perks unavailable to the common population.

At the heart of it is the difference in perception and reality; who or what makes someone a hero or a villain? How do you resist pressure to be something you aren’t, and stay true to your own convictions? Especially when you learn that everything you thought was true is the opposite.

This is a great novel for everyone to read. No age limits, no restrictions. It is fun with fabulous messages, and I am just giddy waiting for the next book in the series!

Not Your Sidekick was published September 8th, 2016 by Duet Books.

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This Monstrous Thing

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Well, talk about a book hangover.  The Serpent King gave me the worst one I have ever suffered, with three DNFs following that novel. But I have found the cure: an awesome, clever, original, steampunk retelling of Frankenstein.

Alasdair Finch is a Shadow Boy, one of the illegal group of craftsmen that build and maintain the clockwork parts some people need to survive. Legs, arms, even lungs and hearts. The clockwork people, known as Frankenstein, live shunned by society that thinks them less than human. And one horrible night in Geneva, in 1816, Alasdair loses the only three things that matter to him: his older brother Oliver dies, his secret love Mary leaves, and with their loss, his chance to escape his smothering life in the city and study at the university is gone.

Alasdair does the unimaginable. He resurrects Oliver. But it is not as simple as replacing bones and adding gears. Oliver’s clockwork heart beats and his oil paper lungs breathe, but he is a misshapen shadow of his former self, with few memories and a violent temper. Alasdair must keep him hidden, for his own safety, and the safety of the city. In the process, Mary disappears. Forever.

But two years on, Alasdair receives a package containing a book with a title but no author: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. And it is his story. His, and Oliver’s. And the book sparks a rebellion.

I have been reading a lot of retellings lately, and the good ones all have a couple of things in common: they pay tribute to the original and add unexpected twists and innovative elements to keep readers enthralled. Author Mackenzi Lee does just that.

Alasdair is a fabulous main character. He is a mechanical and medical genius, curious and intuitive, but severely lacking in emotional skills. It is perhaps his youth, or maybe being blinded by first love, but he misses a LOT of what, to others, would appear obvious. He is selfish in his need to resurrect Oliver, then selfish again in his desire to free himself from his obligation to his brother. But he is also capable of growth; he faces his fears and inadequacies and, in the end, stands up for what is right and just.

It is difficult to call Oliver and Mary and Clemence and Geisler secondary characters when they are beautifully alive and so central to the story. Mary is selfish and awful and true to life, Clemence is independent and vulnerable, Geisler is pure obsessive evil, and Oliver is a wonderful mirror for Alasdair’s own conflict.

The plot echoes the original’s creation myth, adding steampunk clockwork and weaving in  Shelley’s real-life exploits. It is about humans and monsters, and how often they are two sides of the same coin.

The world that Lee creates shows that she has clearly done her research. The literary references, the university, the attitudes, the cities and the people, are true to the period and the original. While Lee massages a few facts and timing to make her reimagining work, and the clockwork people are products of her amazing imagination, the overall feeling of the novel is authentic and reflective of the then societal fear of a rapidly changing  world.

And that cover. OH, that cover. Gorgeous and creepy and gothic and so promising of a story that will chill you to your bones.

This novel is appropriate for all ages, and is a must-read for a fan of the original.

This Monstrous Thing was published September 22nd, 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books.