The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary E. Pearson (contains spoilers)
This teenage book is soft sci-fi in that it's set in the future, but focuses almost entirely on the feeling and experiences of its 17 year old protagonist.
Jenna was in a terrible accident and has woken up from a year-long coma. She can't remember very much about who she was or what she was like. Why is she kept so isolated in the family's new home, and why does her own grandmother seem to hate her?
I felt like I knew what the big secret was from the outset, there were a lot of clues and foreshadowing in the text -though the cover kinda gave it away too. It wasn't actually cloning (my initial theory), but it was a similar sort of thing. A very advanced replica made from biotech, with the original mind (or part thereof) downloaded into it. Luckily, unlike other teenage books that have had a big but obvious secret (Fallen I'm looking at you), the big reveal comes halfway through, and there is plenty of subsequent exploration of what this means.
The author seemed to be exploring the ethical implications of advanced technology, especially in the arena of medicine and human biology. In some respects this book is about something that could become transhumanism, although the book didn't link to other SF ideas, and the epilogue suggests that things don't go that far. Though the wider concerns of such advances are mentioned, the focus is on what this miraculous process does to a family, and to the unwilling recipient of such a procedure.
Generally I found it to be an emotional and interesting book, which incorporated normal teenage themes and behaviours (rebellion against parents, not being a child anymore, becoming independent, identity issues) with a major crisis about how you define humanity.
One bit I liked is when Jenna's father explains that she's no less a human than a genetically modified tomato is a tomato. "But I'm not a tomato." I really hope that was intentional on the part of the author, cos it made me smile.
The Bride that Time Forgot - Paul Magrs (pronounced Mars)*
5th in excellent Brenda and Effie series.
If you haven't read this series you really should, it is weird and funny and very imaginative. The first in the series is Never the Bride.
Oddly enough it's kinda like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if the hellmouth was in Whitby, Buffy was an old, not-quite-natural B&B owner, and the Scooby gang was made up of ladies of a certain age, a 30 year old gay man and a Goth receptionist. See how that sounds exactly the same?
The series works very well because it combines the wildly supernatural, spooky, and horrific with the practical and mundane. The whole series is based on horror and pulp themes, which come thick and fast in a delightful stew of the weird and wonderful. This is all confronted by our intrepid investigators, after a good cuppa, a natter and a hearty helping of fish and chips.
The characters really make these books. Brenda is the main character and the heart of the book. With her strange anatomy and centuries of bad memories, she really is a great invention. The kind of person you'd love to have as an aunt or next door neighbour. Effie is a less friendly but very familiar character, a slightly prickly and disapproving old woman. Like Granny Weatherwax, but with less obvious witchiness. There is a lot of warmth for and between the characters, and as we regularly see things from their point of view it is easy to understand them, even when they are at odds, as happens in this book.
This book riffs off pulp adventure stories, especially Rider Haggard's She books. It also takes an renewed look at human-vampire relationships (something which featured in earlier installments), but with none of your poncy angst-filled, pubescent vamps. In fact at one point a character bemoans the existence of scally vampires, proving that vampirism doesn't automatically equal a sense of style, or even an appreciation of the gothic. There's also a Dreadful Flap and some time-travel shenanigans. All in all it's good fun to read.
* I was told this by a friend, who has a friend who knows the author. Although I noticed that this advice was also included in the author's bio. I think he must be fed up of people mispronouncing his name.