Afterworlds – By Scott Westerfeld – On YA authors, publishing and cultural appropriation

Afterworlds (Afterworlds #1) Rating:

Synopsis2BELIEVING IS DANGEROUS…

Darcy Patel is afraid to believe all the hype. But it’s really happening – her teen novel is getting published. Instead of heading to college, she’s living in New York City, where she’s welcomed into the dazzling world of YA publishing. That means book tours, parties with her favorite authors, and finding a place to live that won’t leave her penniless. It means sleepless nights rewriting her first draft and struggling to find the perfect ending… all while dealing with the intoxicating, terrifying experience of falling in love – with another writer.

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, the thrilling story of Lizzie, who wills her way into the afterworld to survive a deadly terrorist attack. With survival comes the responsibility to guide the restless spirits that walk our world, including one ghost with whom she shares a surprising personal connection. But Lizzie’s not alone in her new calling – she has counsel from a fellow spirit guide, a very desirable one, who is torn between wanting Lizzie and warning her that…

BELIEVING IS DANGEROUS.

In a brilliant high-wire act of weaving two epic narratives – and two unforgettable heroines – into one novel, Scott Westerfeld’s latest work is a triumph of storytelling.

My reviewTold in dual-narrative, Afterworlds, the title of this book is actually the title of the book that Darcy Patel, the protagonist is working on. Darcy, eighteen years old, has landed a two-book contract for almost a quarter million, and her life, as she knew it, changes overnight. From someone who has never lived alone, she moves from Philly to NY, and is thrown into the rigmarole of what goes into the few months leading to the big debut. It was absolutely delightful to read about everything you have always suspected being a blogger, about how the life of such a debut author would be. So I guess a part of it was wish fulfillment, to see it all on page, even if it felt slightly exaggerated and surreal – all the YA author parties, gatherings, pre-pub tours, the discussions about what makes a good book, “originality” versus writing what sells, the brainstorming during editing and rewrites and so on. Then you also have Darcy’s friends, through whom you see yourself on page too, as they are yapping on about how they have read or heard about most of the not-yet-published books because of their well-connected school librarian who always got hold of the latest ARCs.

The entire book, i.e Darcy’s book “Afterworlds” is within this book. It is interspersed with Darcy’s story every alternate chapter and right off the bat you know that everything works out okay and atleast the publishing goes without a hitch, because you are practically reading the finished book within this book. But Westerfeld manages to make it interesting, especially by showing Darcy’s inexperience at pretty much everything – as an author, a lover and well, as someone terrible with her finances. Darcy can’t stick to her own schedule, is caught up with the bling of a new city and you just get a feeling that she has a “I will just wing it in the end” attitude sub-consciously. All the self-doubt about whether she was even a real author was done pretty well. At one point she wonders whether she is a fluke as she finished first draft in 30 days but she is taking months to rewrite the final chapters.

I personally felt that some of the Indian rep was done well. There were so many little things – about Darcy’s parents being believers but not that religious, her sister Nisha being great at math and hence looking over the family’s tax filings, her engineer dad, her mom’s story about how they didn’t spent any money on clothes when they first came to US and got everything from India, Darcy being naïve and clueless about a lot of things in NY because she has never lived alone, screwing up the budget allocation Nisha planned for her .. and so on.. It was a good balance between atypical and stereotypical .. because hey, there is no one “true rep” and the truth is always somewhere in between. And gosh, I loved all the moments when Darcy was searching for an apartment and ended up going atleast 500$ over-budget with the final monthly rent. She pretty much tears Nisha’s financial planning to shreds, it was a bit of a trainwreck tbh  – Darcy paying 3500k per month in NY without taking in any roommates and then casually blowing up money on food every eating outside frequently instead of, well, spending on setting up her kitchen so that she can cook at home. I think she finally does that (?) through her aunt gifting her some stuff and her dad driving over with some items(? I am not sure) but she continues to blow up money anyways. Nothing extravagant, but frugal or budgeted living is definitely not her cup of tea. She did give the impression of someone who knew she has a safety net of a stable loving home and a reasonably well-off family to return too if her writing career doesn’t take off as early as she expected.

Darcy ends up falling in love and living with another writer with Imogen and I thought the author contrasted the difference in their personalities pretty well; some of it due to their age difference. Imogen has been in atleast one relationship more than Darcy, and also has a markedly different work style when it comes to her writing. All this sort of manifests into challenges they have get through while living together, especially with Darcy struggling to give Imogen her space and privacy. Imogen, in turn worries about how Darcy will handle Afterworlds’ success (or failure). In some ways, Imogen takes charge of their present by making some difficult decisions so that they have the promise of a better future to look forward to.

I think what I struggled with the most as a reader is getting through the entire book (within the book) Afterworlds. I loved the idea TBH; Yamaraj is someone I am familiar with since I am Indian. But gosh, Yamaraj was made to be such a watered down and bland representation. Westerfeld might have as well written Twilight 2.0. Lizzie and Yamaraj’s love story was THAT kind of Hot YA commonplace. Look, I get it, the author’s intention was to show how so many stories publicized as “epic” YA romances are finally clones of one another and that so many authors have those breakthrough debuts with such stories (?). After reading Darcy’s novel, you do wonder – How on earth did THIS book get her a hundred grand in advance? The most interesting function of this book is however the conversation it generates regarding cultural appropriation. It raises questions with no definitive answers; but just further questionable topics for debate. Under what terms is “cultural appropriation” acceptable? Is there even such a thing as acceptability? Does Darcy being Indian exclude her from the criticism of getting the “essence” of her cultural history wrong when translated to paper? Considering she isn’t even that religious, can she be considered an “authentic” source of authority over the “correct” representation of Hinduism? So much of this brought up in the book, and in between Darcy is shown doubting herself. But, Darcy’s internal conflict doesn’t manifest into any real, tangible consequences.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the world-building in Darcy’s book. It was a pile of confusing mess, like Inception on steroids, except that you have ghosts and your ghostly selves on different astral projections. It was hard to keep track of the different worlds (Overworld, Afterworld, Underworld) along with the permutations and combinations of time, space, visibility and travel constraints in different worlds. So yea, definitely not my kind of fantasy novel. But if is something you enjoy reading, and can get past the slightly simplistic (deliberate?)plot stretched across half the book, then I think you would definitely enjoy Westerfeld’s Afterworlds in totality.

I quite enjoyed it for its unique idea. I might have liked it more if we didn’t end up getting Darcy’s entire novel and instead got snippet like say, Simon Snow’s fanfic in Fangirl, just enough to get an idea (and enough to drive discussions about appropriation). But I really liked all the “real” characters – be it Imogen, Nisha, Darcy or her friends. And I definitely enjoyed reading about Darcy more than Lizzie.

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The House that Spoke – by Zuni Chopra

The House that Spoke Rating:

Synopsis2Fourteen-year-old Zoon Razdan is witty, intelligent and deeply perceptive. She also has a deep connection with magic. She was born into it.

The house that she lives in is fantastical—life thrums through its wooden walls—and she can talk to everything in it, from the armchair and the fireplace to the books, pipes and portraits!

But Zoon doesn’t know that her beloved house once contained a terrible force of darkness that was accidentally let out by one of its previous owners. And when the darkness returns, more powerful and malevolent than ever, it is up to her to take her rightful place as the Guardian of the house and subsequently, Kashmir.

My reviewIn her debut novel, the author, Zuni Chopra, doesn’t just make a house speak, she makes the Kashmir valley sing with ferocity – of yearning for its glorious past and longing for a present that stills its beauty as an untarnished snapshot. The prose in this book is absolutely gorgeous. The author infuses magic and personality into everything around Zoon, be it the house she has grown up in (which, quite literally, holds magic) or the valley that makes up her entire world. So whether it is a fireplace being possessive about his fresh stock of logs, or a wise-sounding armchair maintaining order among bickering bookshelves, you just buy into her imagination of the house and what it stands for.

I loved the fact that the author didn’t write this book from any political standpoint. She also steers clear of demonizing any country, religion or military institution. The book is deeply allegorical, and through the idea of Zoon being a “Guardian” of her house, the author explores what it means to call a geographical area your home, and to what extent is it your duty to guard it. The “villain” of this story is basically the manifestation of all things vile and sinister plaguing the valley, and I loved how the book conveys the idea of securing your home, purging or keeping “evil” at bay, before expanding the same to your town or city.

This was magical realism at its whimsical best, the kind where even “non-magical” mundane moments are elevated to something else. There is humor in everyday observations; my favorite was probably the one where walking across a floor of people in sleeping bags was likened to navigating through fat bed bugs. The only criticism I can make is this – there were times when I felt the writing was too wordy. It got better as the book progressed but I did struggle with the initial chapters – especially with too many sentences like this:

“Instantly, every man on the doorstep felt suffused with a cosy, quiet calm – not a heated, eerie sort of silence, but the calm that wafts like pure cotton around one’s healing heart”

There are a few passages that are set in 16th/18th century to give some context about the history of the house and its magical origins. However, such parts are kept to a minimal in the book, thereby avoiding info-dump and slowing down the present-day plot. Moreover, the theme of this book is such that it doesn’t really need a fleshed out background to convey ideas effectively. However, I did feel that we didn’t get to know Zoon’s mom as much as we should have. I wasn’t sure about how much she was privy to regarding the house’s history. I didn’t connect to her and to her and Zoon’s relationship as much as I should have through most of the book. The last few pages did make up a bit for it though..

In contrast, Zoon’s grandma had a much more compelling presence and relevance to the story, and with Zoon’s new-found friend Altaf, and some neighboring families completing the secondary cast of characters, there are enough human stories to keep us invested in their lives.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough; especially since this is a recently released book with not much buzz in the blogging community… Do check it out, it is a precious little gem of a novel!

 

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)   Rating:

Hardcover:  336 pages
Expected publication: September 6th 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Note: I won an copy of this book via Samantha’s YA Halloween giveaway.

overview Alejandra “Alex” Mortiz is not just any other Bruja. She is one of the most powerful Brujas of her generation.  But if she could have it her way, she doesn’t want anything to do with the magic that runs in her lineage; her blood. All Brujas usually show or start exhibiting their magical abilities before they are sixteen. Well, so has Alex; a long time ago. But she has hidden this fact from her mom and sisters. Showing it the first time killed her pet cat and drove her dad away from home so she wants nothing to do with magic. But with her Deathday celebration just days away, she is worried that she can no longer exercise the choice to subdue her magic. After all, the whole point of the Deathday ritual is to invoke the blessings of her ancestors’ souls so that she is able to control and use her powers in the best possible way.When Nova, a mysterious Brujo boy with a shady past tells her that there is a way to refuse her “rite-of-passage” to become a proper Bruja, she is determined to see it through.  With hopes of living a “magic-free” life, she takes matters in her own hands and tries out a different Canto in her Deathday ceremony. But instead of wiping out her magic, it wipes out her entire family and guests…

Now, she has to turn to Nova for help to get them back. But getting them back from Los Lagos – a place where the dead rest before passing on and where Brujas are banished into exile by the Deos  – is not going to be easy.

My thoughtsBringing in elements of Latinx culture and folklore into its world-building of magic systems and ancestry, this book was all kinds of wonderful. I loved how centered it was on family and traditions passed down from generations. It is something that I don’t read a lot in fantasy world-building these days. I mean, maybe it is just the genre- but everything is so large-scale with huge stakes, kingdoms, and borderline-dystopian, if not dystopian. The world in Labyrinth Lost felt “smaller” in geography but cozier. Even when the story shifts from regular Brooklyn to the magical Los Lagos, it felt like some strange private island and not an open battlefield. I think by keeping the actual magical locations easy to remember and understand, the author could focus more on what Alex was going through emotionally in trying to understand and process what is happening around her and within her. (Psst.. it does help that we get a map of Los Lagos).

I can also now understand why this book made it to so many of the LGBT recs list last year. Alex’s bisexuality is presented in the same way any cishet characters’ romance would have. This is how it should be in fiction, and I needn’t have to be “applauding” a book for it.  But it doesn’t happen that often.  So kudos to the author for such a casual, non-gimmicky rep. Thank you for not unintentionally othering Alex.  There is enough of that nonsense going on in real life.

I loved all the Mortiz family scenes, especially with her older sister Lula. It was nice to see her not being the usual older sister stereotype – rude, bitchy, insecure and aloof from the rest of the family. I can’t wait to read about all of them again in the next book and maybe see more of them. This book, understandably, was all about Alex getting her family back so we don’t read much of them in this book. Although, the author does manage to make their presence felt as much as possible during Alex’s journey.

I rarely see Hindus as one of the MCs, so it was nice to see Rishi Persaud not just being a token desi character. (Sidenote – Rishi is a very uncommon choice of name for a girl.) It was also nice change to see a desi who is not shown as conforming in terms of styles or choices. (I am not saying that it is not accurate rep, but it is just that I have already seen such characters in too many books, so Rishi was a welcome change) Oh, and thank god she is not eating “naan-bread” or “chai tea” but just roti and dal. No, seriously, I thought if I did look twice, I would see “roti-bread” or “dal-lentil” instead.

I am not sure how I feel about Nova though. His backstory and motivations were explained in the end but it was all at once and it felt rushed, and I don’t think I even understood it in terms of the “magic logic”. I also feel that in terms of magical concepts, the plot might have been.. stronger (?) if all the explanations didn’t come back to (or rely heavily on) souls. (So many of the other elements that we see throughout the book, like magical creatures, just come together in the end like some sort of a monolith.) That just made some things in the end feel less menacing than it should have been. The main villain – the Devourer – definitely should have creeped me out. But I felt like I could have probably taken a kitchen knife, jumped into the pages and stabbed her in the – well, wherever her heart is supposed to be.

Alex is more likeable and personable once she is more accepting and open about how special her family and heritage is, and how special Rishi is to her. But just by herself, she is pretty clueless through most of the book .. which works. There is nothing more eye-roll worthy than a Chosen One being a know-it-all. Alex gets a lot of help and pretty much blunders her way through a good portion of the book before having direct advice handed out to her about just how exactly being a conduit of magic works. But I feel  I would have probably liked and know more about HER (rather than all that comes with being a Bruja) in the next book (assuming the next book features her..)

I can’t wait for synopsis of the second book to come out. The tidbit released by the author last month has me wondering whether it is again going to be from Alex’s POV or someone else’s.

Teaser Tuesday #7

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Furthermore

My Teasers:

When their world was built it was so breathtakingly beautiful-so rich and colorful- the sky wept for a hundred years. Tears of great joy and grief flooded the earth, fissuring it apart and, in the process, creating rivers and lakes and oceans that still exist today. (Page 100)

Furthermore – By Tahereh Mafi

Book Spotlight/Guest Post by Robert Eggleton

It isn’t very often that I receive review/spotlight request for a book with such a unique premise – its contents addressing child abuse and mental health against a backdrop of     SciFi/Fantasy cross-genre. I am so pleased to feature Rarity from the Hollow on my blog today.

Rarity from the Hollow

Synopsis2Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in the hollow is hard. She has one advantage — an android was inserted into her life and is working with her to cure her parents. But, he wants something in exchange. It’s up to her to save the Universe. Lacy Dawn doesn’t mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first.

Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy, comedy and satire. The second edition was released on November 3, 2016.

praises

“The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in years.” Temple Emmet Williams, Author, former editor for Reader’s Digest

“Quirky, profane, disturbing… In the space between a few lines we go from hardscrabble realism to pure sci-fi/fantasy. It’s quite a trip.”  – Evelyn Somers, The Missouri Review

. “…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse…tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…profound…a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” — Awesome Indies (Gold Medal)

“…sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved…a brilliant writer.” —Readers’ Favorite (Gold Medal)

“Rarity from the Hollow is an original and interesting story of a backwoods girl who saves the Universe in her fashion. Not for the prudish.” —Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling author

“…Good satire is hard to find and science fiction satire is even harder to find.” — The Baryon Review

About the Author:

Robert Eggleton

Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. He is best known for his investigative reports about children’s programs, most of which were published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997, and which also included publication of models of serving disadvantaged and homeless children in the community instead of in large institutions, research into foster care drift involving children bouncing from one home to the next — never finding a permanent loving family, and statistical reports on the occurrence and correlates of child abuse and delinquency.

Today, he is a recently retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome physical and sexual abuse, and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel. Its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines: Wingspan Quarterly, Beyond Centauri, and Atomjack Science Fiction. The second edition of Rarity from the Hollow was release on November 3, 2016. Author proceeds have been donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. http://www.childhswv.org/ Robert continues to write fiction with new adventures based on a protagonist that is a composite character of children that he met when delivering group therapy services. The overall theme of his stories remains victimization to empowerment.

Buy Links : 

Amazon     Lulu    Dog Horn Publishing

Connect with Robert:

Website Facebook Twitter 

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Here’s a guest post from the author about writing books with emotional triggers.

courage-n-spirit

Do you cry during sad or uplifting scenes in books or movies? Some people are so sensitive that they weep during fund-raising infomercials for Save the Children or another heart-felt cause.  

Good fiction, unless you are a total narcissist and unable to feel empathy, does trigger emotions on some level. Since adolescence is often a period of strong egocentrism, and since empathy is an acquired skill that develops as we mature, young adult content often prompts basic feelings – romance, excitement, or anger using plot and action. Whereas, literary fiction tends to be more complex and prompt contemplations about emotionally charged issues long exposures to the content, such as the book/movie Precious or The Color Purple.

People who avoid triggers of strong and complex emotions may be considered by some to be “faint hearted.” Some individuals are so faint hearted that they faint when there is no medical explanation, such as at the sight of blood, a condition that may have neurological roots: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/838. They avoid, for example, horror movies or books because the content causes them to feel so uncomfortable that it could even cause nightmares.

Other people appreciate and pursue the powerful emotions triggered by some fiction. We each have individualized comfort zones, often reflected in our entertainment choices. In general, however, some psychologists believe that people should strive to break out of their comfort zones: http://lifehacker.com/the-science-of-breaking-out-of-your-comfort-zone-and-w-656426705.  

Rarity from the Hollow is an adult literary social science fiction novel full of tragedy, comedy and satire. Here’s what one book reviewer concluded after reading it, the second of two Gold Medals: “… Full of cranky characters and crazy situations, Rarity from the Hollow sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved….” —  https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/rarity-from-the-hollow

Emotional triggers prompted by fiction may also be related to warm or harsh personal memories. Memories of very bad experiences, such as rape, car accidents, war, child maltreatment, can traumatize a person. For example, one of the characters in Rarity from the Hollow begins the story as a war damaged Vet having returned from the Gulf War with PTSD. There is also one violent scene in the story, a flashback of domestic violence. And, there are references to child maltreatment and puns about sex (no actual scenes).

Perhaps more important than parental guidance advisories meant to define adult content appropriate to youthful consumers, book and movie reviews play an important role in helping people scarred by trauma, not merely the faint hearted, from unpleasant experiences in entertainment. We each take one step at a time in putting our bad memories to rest.  

While some degree of cautionary statement is appropriate to advise potential readers of Rarity from the Hollow, the early tragedy amplifies subsequent comedy and satire: “a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only instead of the earth being destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, Lacy Dawn must…The author has managed to do what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse, and written about them with tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…Eggleton sucks you into the Hollow, dunks you in the creek, rolls you in the mud, and splays you in the sun to dry off. Tucked between the folds of humor are some profound observations on human nature and modern society that you have to read to appreciate…it’s a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.http://awesomeindies.net/ai-approved-review-of-rarity-from-the-holly-by-robert-eggleton/

As a retired children’s psychotherapist, the novel was written to be a fictionalized road map from victimization to empowerment, especially for those victims still symptomatic after having been involved in mental health treatment or currently involved in treatment. This story is pure fiction, based on people that I’ve met during over forty years as a child advocate. It is not a self-help manual. It is a genre bender that uses science fiction as a backdrop.

To readers who have PTSD and who decide to check out Rarity from the Hollow, I do recommend please reading beyond the third chapter. Several book reviewers privately disclosed to me that they had experienced emotional trauma, and one publicly disclosed for the first time that she was a survivor of rape: “…As a rape survivor… found myself relating easily to Lacy Dawn… style of writing which I would describe as beautifully honest. Rarity from the Hollow is different from anything I have ever read, and in today’s world of cookie-cutter cloned books, that’s pretty refreshing…taking you on a wild ride you won’t soon forget….http://kyliejude.com/2015/11/book-review-rarity-from-the-hollow/

If you decide to read Rarity from the Hollow, yes, I hope that your emotions will be triggered. Its mission is to sensitize readers to the huge, world-wide, social problem of child maltreatment through a comical and satiric science fiction adventure. Author proceeds have been donated to child abuse prevention. “If I could, I would give it all the stars in the universe…I was hesitant to accept. I usually do not read or review books that discuss child abuse or domestic violence; however, I was intrigued by the excerpt and decided to give it a shot. I am glad that I took a risk; otherwise, I would have missed out on a fantastic story with a bright, resourceful, and strong protagonist that grabbed my heart and did not let go….”  http://www.onmykindle.net/2015/11/rarity-from-hollow.html
If you decide not to read Rarity from the Hollow but want to help maltreated children, there are several ways to contribute. There are hundreds of under-funded emergency children’s shelters all over the U.S. Google to find one, and then send an unwrapped anonymous gift to a kid, any size will do because maltreatment comes in all shapes and sizes. It is the Holiday Season. Furthermore, some community-based providers of social and mental health services are likely to be concerned that there could be cuts in federal funding of their programs under the new administration. Your help may be needed more than ever before.

 

The Diabolic – By S.J. Kincaid

The DiabolicRating:

Buy Links:

Hardcover          Kindle        Paperback

Synopsis2A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for.

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.

When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.

As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.

My reviewSet against an intergalactic background, this dystopian fantasy was just pure adrenaline rush!!! To be honest, I haven’t read too many fantasies set in space, so I don’t know how this novel measures up to some of the others in its genre, but just speaking as someone who was a bit bored with dystopian fiction, this was just what I needed to get back into the genre again. It had all the elements one would be familiar with, right from political coups, murderous monarchies, forbidden love, a whole lot of “post-apocalyptic” mess and a ruling elite family that thrives on renouncing past history to hold onto power. But there was something so fresh and fluid about the storytelling, that all the sheen of exciting descriptions – of the world, the humanoids, the spaceships, technology – doesn’t take your attention away from what forms the crux of the book – Just how transcendental are the lines between love, loyalty and servitude? In the beginning, I was a bit worried that Nemesis will get boring as the book progresses, for being (literally!) robotic. But, I just fell in love with how the author, S.J. Kincaid, managed to strike the balance between her being an “invention” to her actually having the capacity to develop humane feelings. It never felt ridiculous because Kincaid sets up the details and groundwork pretty well. The Diabolic’s entire “construction” is based on loyalty to one person.

Nemesis and Sidonia’s relationship was beautiful and as Sidonia keeps trying to convince Nemesis, just because she was “designed” to feel loyal to her, it doesn’t mean that “forced” love isn’t real. This is something Nemesis struggles with throughout the book, whether she can really submit herself to another person’s cause and beliefs, especially after circumstances end up bringing her and Tyrus Domitrian (the corrupt Emperor’s nephew) together as they team up and try to bring down the Domitrian clan. I was surprised that the love story didn’t bother me at all in this book though it did take up a significant part of the story. Maybe because it was written in a way that wasn’t distracting and actually felt very integral to the objectives of the main story – whether it is revenge, political power-play or just survival. It just felt natural that there had to be a Nemesis and Tyrus partnership.

I absolutely loved the female characters in this book, not just Nemesis and Sidonia but a whole lot of others. In fact, it is probably the women more than the men who not just wielded actual power, but also knew how to manipulate and use it for their version of the “greater good”.  I also liked how clear the class demarcations were vis-à-vis the planet and space dwellers. I was just so happy and .. impressed with how neat everything was – the world-building , history, tech-stuff, sci-fi, politics and power-hungry families. Was it perfect? Well, maybe not. But it was as neat as one can expect from a standalone fantasy. I was satisfied with – this is a bit of a shocker – not just the love story but also the love triangle (yup, there is one, a very unusual one).

I was a bit taken aback with the sort-of-happy ending which came after some very twisted maneuvers and shocking revelations. I would have probably preferred a darker ending which would have fit in perfectly with the rest of the book. Nevertheless, it was a really good way to end the book. Kincaid finishes it off in a way which leaves you with a slight doubt about what exactly happened and who is telling the truth. That just about sums up what a lot of the book was about – finding a way to keep your love alive amidst a whole lot of backstabbing.

Holding Smoke – By Elle Cosimano

Holding Smoke Rating:

Note : I received an ARC of this book via Veronica’s blog giveaway. Do check out her lovely blog here.

Synopsis2John “Smoke” Conlan is serving time for two murders but he wasn’t the one who murdered his English teacher, and he never intended to kill the only other witness to the crime. A dangerous juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, known as the Y, is Smoke’s new home and the only one he believes he deserves.

But, unlike his fellow inmates, Smoke is not in constant imprisonment. After a near death experience leaves him with the ability to shed his physical body at will, Smoke is able to travel freely outside the concrete walls of the Y, gathering information for himself and his fellow inmates while they’re asleep in their beds. Convinced his future is only as bright as the fluorescent lights in his cell, Smoke doesn’t care that the “threads” that bind his soul to his body are wearing thin-that one day he may not make it back in time. That is, until he meets Pink, a tough, resourceful girl who is sees him for who he truly is and wants to help him clear his name. 

Now Smoke is on a journey to redemption he never thought possible. With Pink’s help, Smoke may be able to reveal the true killer, but the closer they get to the truth, the more deadly their search becomes. The web of lies, deceit, and corruption that put Smoke behind bars is more tangled than they could have ever imagined. With both of their lives on the line, Smoke will have to decide how much he’s willing to risk, and if he can envision a future worth fighting for.

My review I havent read too many YA books which just have that slight touch of paranormal. The few I have read recently have been disappointing especially a couple of them which are about mind-body-soul because the book somehow ends up reading like religious fiction instead of what was promised in the synopsis. Thankfully, Holding Smoke not just lives up to what is promised in the cover blurb, but also exceeds it by miles.

No aspect of the book threatens to eclipse the other – the murder mystery complements beautifully with the human stories of the inmates. That’s a rarity in mystery books with a sizeable secondary cast – where sub-plots often tend to test your patience and make you question their need. But here, you actually do enjoy and empathize with everyone – with all their background stories that have been added cleverly into the book through Conlan’s paranormal power. I loved all the prison scenes, there was no unnecessary amped up melodrama but yet it is so effective – whether it is the counseling sessions or the power play in the yard. I feel like this is probably one of the biggest strengths of the book – to never lose sight of the fact that this is a juvenile rehab and NOT an adult prison. No matter how “hardened” they might be because of the circumstances, their vulnerabilities as teens are always bubbling beneath the surface.

I loved how we got the background story of how Conlan ended up in the detention center. The author takes her time to build it up gradually – whether it is the details of the fateful day or nuggets from his earlier difficult years with his abusive father. Conlan’s life is a template of childhood degraded, a present devalued and a future lost – A future that had a college degree and a well-paying job.  This is also the story shared by a lot of characters at the center. Of course, if you are lucky you might have an empathetic warden or a counselor taking an interest in you and reinforcing the belief that you can finish your education and making something of your life once you get out. But no inmate seriously believes it.

There is no romance in this book. What Conlan and Pink have between them is more of a strained-friendship-with-romantic potential and that’s a good thing because both have a lot of things going on in their individual lives. Pink is practical and gosh – just so gutsy! Not some wannabe badass. Conlan initially seeks her out because he needs her help but later does start valuing her and respecting the life she leads. He also feels like he is losing out on someone important to him when turns her away at one point in the story. Despite his feelings for her, I liked how Conlan never turns reckless in using his paranormal ability just to meet her.

I really liked the murder mystery though I guessed the “who” halfway through the book. But I think it is more due to the fact that I have gotten pretty good at guesswork than anything else. I couldn’t guess the “why” though. I also liked all the red herrings the author used and explained in the final pages. The only issue I had is probably the presence of another girl – Vivian – in the story. I felt like the book didn’t really need her. I think any other existing character(s) could have contributed whatever she did to the story. But it is a pretty minor gripe and well, I understood why she was there once I read the Author’s Note in the end. (Do read that once you finish the book!!! You will find some great personal insights there.)

There is an epilogue that I felt was not required. I got my closure even without that. Well, with or without the epilogue, it was such a bittersweet conclusion and an immensely satisfying one.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne

  Rating:

Synopsis:

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Review: 

After reading all the reviews, and after all that I came to know about the book, I wasn’t really planning on buying it. But, my husband surprised me by taking me to B&N under the pretext of  “let’s just roam around a bit and spend the evening browsing books”  and buying it for me. I was all “Oh, umm… I heard it isn’t really that good, and well you know.. it isn’t exactly Harry’s story.. for me, the story ended after seven books…. “  and so on.. . Then, I kept staring at the huge stack of the Cursed Child copies… and I said “Oh screw it, let’s buy it!”

Since I never planned on reading it so soon – I had just booked it at my library and would have had to wait for months to read it as there were more than a hundred holds for it – I carelessly browsed through quite a few major spoilers online. I didn’t mind it either because the whole idea of Cursed Child felt weird to me so  I was pretty okay with reading some of the big spoilers. But now that I actually ended up reading it, I am in a bit of a conundrum about how to review it.  As I cannot really exclaim that “I was surprised by this” for some of the things that I knew beforehand.

So you must be wondering whether I even managed to like or enjoy the book?

Well, hell yeaahhh!!!

*Note : This review contains mild spoilers, with me gushing and maybe using the word “nostalgia” and it’s variants a dozen times*

The story pretty much hinges on time-travelling being done by more than one character multiple times. The whole thing was unconvincing and that wasn’t the only one. Time Turners and Polyjuice Potions were spoken about, summoned and used so casually, you would find it hard to believe that there was a time when these two concepts were stressed about, discussed and explained with such detail in past books. So yes, the writers take a lot of “magical liberties” with time, space and appearances. You have Transfiguration being used as a temporary substitute for Polyjuice Potion in one scene, and Time Turners creating alternate realities in so many others (and I know all about that, okay??  Wrote an entire review on it, so don’t tell me – time-travel<>alternate reality, what’s the difference?)

But damn, I wasn’t prepared for all the nostalgia that is going to follow with being re-introduced to so many characters (some dead in real-time) in the other timelines. All that going back and forth time sprung up those lump-in-my-throat moments which probably wasn’t possible by just following the lives of older characters in real time.  And speaking of the older characters, oh geez, it was so weird to see this side of Draco; and weirder to see him and Harry having polite conversations. Well, it was all-round surreal to see everyone older, introspective and making candid admissions like both Ginny and Draco confessing that they were jealous of the Harry-Hermione-Ron friendship at Hogwarts!! To see Ron being this goofy dad and uncle cracking lame jokes. Ron still being the first one to get affected by Draco’s snark, take the bait and get up to punch him. Despite the seriousness of that scene, I had a huge smile on my face and thinking “Some things never change….”

What about the younger ones, you ask? Well, the Cursed Child focuses mostly on Albus and Scorpius as they travel through time more than once. Scorpius was too kind and well, positively angelic right from the first scene, Albus already seemed to be over-burdened with being Harry’s son and named after Dumbledore and Snape. He has a less-than-pleasant time at Hogwarts, but from whatever I gauged, Hogwarts might have made it worse but it felt like he had already made up his mind that school is going to be terrible. And Scorpius seemed to be speaking for us readers, always trying to be positive and making the best of things and chiding Albus for always whining about his life. I guess what I am saying is that, both the characters felt a bit contrived. As if Albus was written to always sulk and Scorpius was written to always be nicer, sensible and pleasing to read about. Then again, just the idea that it is Albus and Scorpius – a Potter and a Malfoy becoming best friends – is what made their scenes interesting to me.

If I really think about it, the shared history is what made everything interesting. I mean, who would have thought that two decades later Harry and Draco will be having a conversation about how they don’t understand their sons? Or that, Ron will exclaim about how similarly geeky Hermione and Draco’s son are? These small moments – and not the big, but frankly; bordering-on-the-ridiculous Time Turner plot – that makes this book worth reading and cherishing – Reading about both Hermione struggling to balance work and home, Harry getting dreams about his childhood with the Dursleys, Ron finally learning how to be expressive about his feelings towards Hermione and Draco struggling with the process of grieving.

I devoured the book in a few hours (well, obviously!) and as the book neared its last few pages with a very familiar scene from the past, I wished it was a few pages longer. A few more scenes with the trio+Ginny+Draco as parents, as colleagues, as friends, as former Hogwarts students…. Sigh, how much I’ve missed reading about these fictional characters 😦

[ARC Review] The Infinity of You & Me – By J.Q. Coyle

Rating:

Hardcover:  256 pages
Expected publication: November 8th 2016
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Note: I won an ARC of this book via Goodreads giveaways. Would like to thank the publishers!!
Buy Links:

Kindle      Hardcover

Synopsis

What if every life-altering choice you made could split your world into infinite worlds?

Almost fifteen, Alicia is smart and funny with a deep connection to the poet Sylvia Plath, but she’s ultimately failing at life. With a laundry list of diagnoses, she hallucinates different worlds—strange, decaying, otherworldly yet undeniably real worlds that are completely unlike her own with her single mom and one true friend. In one particularly vivid hallucination, Alicia is drawn to a boy her own age named Jax who’s trapped in a dying universe. Days later, her long-lost father shows up at her birthday party, telling her that the hallucinations aren’t hallucinations, but real worlds; she and Jax are bound by a strange past and intertwining present. This leads her on a journey to find out who she is while trying to save the people and worlds she loves. J.Q. Coyle’s The Infinity of You & Me is a wild ride through unruly hearts and vivid worlds guaranteed to captivate.

My thoughts

I think I must be going through a blogger’s block because I am really struggling to come up with complete reviews these days. So I thought I will do something different this time:

multiverse Alicia finds out that the world contains NOT a universe but a multiverse and that all her nightmares are actually real lives and scenarios playing out. It took some time for me to realize a basic fact – what makes her special is not that she has different selves, but that she has the ability to consciously flit between the bodies of all her selves. She has the “awareness” that there are more lives of hers out there. The term for such people is – Spandrel (this is an actual word in English, btw). This was interesting and in some ways reminded me of another genre – time-travel. Now, time-travel is something that I have slowly gotten familiar with, atleast familiar with some “rules” that a lot of authors employ. For example, your past and present selves can’t meet without bad consequences.  But with multiverse being new to me, and with this book being a standalone (?), I felt that there was probably too much of complications packed in. This is not exactly a criticism. Considering it is a standalone, I felt the authors did a really good job staging everything. But there were a few things which could have made better sense if brought up by Alicia. Like for example, why didn’t she ever question anyone what will happen if people’s two selves meet? For most of the book I thought maybe that is not even possible because, from what I had understood this is not like time-travel but alternate realities. So, I thought maybe two selves meeting each other isn’t a possibility. But, something like that actually happens with a character in the end. But Alicia isn’t freaked out or wondering at all. I was surprised she wasn’t curious what would happen in such a case. I felt that is such a big thing to be sprung out at us in the end without any explanation as to how that works. Apart from these issues, I found it quite entertaining and fun to read. And may I say, despite all the problematic logic, I understood this better (whatever was put on paper) than a time-travel fiction I read earlier this year.

diversity.jpgAlicia’s best friend is Hafeez, an American-born of Pakistani descent. I rarely come across best friends of South Asian ethnicity in the books I read. Since the focus isn’t really on Hafeez or his family in this book, we don’t get to know much from his POV. But still, I liked how his family’s background and what he might have gone through all his life was subtly incorporated.

parenting.jpgAlicia has been diagnosed with everything you can think of when one says “mental health” – from ADD and anxiety to hallucinations and paranoia. She struggles to make daily decisions and it is so severe that the thought of choosing from the cafeteria menu can trigger a panic attack. So, I found it ironical that the one decision that Alicia is sure of – accept what she can do and be in a multiverse – is not met with encouragement but resistance by her mother.  However, truth be told, I could see where her mother was coming from. It is a pretty perplexing way to live. Moreover, I could understand why she didn’t want to lose a “single” Alicia to someone with knowledge of her different selves.

eternityIn the book, we see a character that set off a chain of unfortunate events with the intention of doing the right thing. But, I found it interesting that the “selflessness” was borne out of the knowledge that the person can have or branch into many selves and a “sacrifice” in one branch of life is palatable when you can live a “happily-ever-after” version in another branch.  But, the character is never really able to create or live a proper and fulfilling “family life” because the other participant is tired of inhabiting different realities and abandons the idea. So the character creates a partial reality that plays out the desired phase of life. It was honestly kind of sad to read about because the whole scene was set up like a doomed end to an incomplete love story.

final.jpgThis wasn’t perfect and there were couple of other things that I felt could have been dealt with better:

  • Addressing mental health – I would have liked it if a clear distinction was made between the symptoms manifesting as a result of what Alicia was actually suffering from all her “universal” life and the symptoms which were a result of her turning into a spandrel. The way it was explained, it looked like everything was because she was turning into a spandrel and that she never really had any mental health disorders in the first place.
  • Love Interests – There are teens developing crushes and falling in love, but that made no difference or impact on the story whatsoever. Alicia is attracted to the boy – Jax – from her “dream” from the first time she sets her eyes on him and well, it is clear that this is the “REAL” love story (and not Alicia-Hafeez, because, well, of course Hafeez being the best friend will be friend-zoned). But it didn’t make any impression on me whatsoever. I didn’t care whether they would get their happily-ever-after or not.

But.. but… but… despite all crinkles, I really enjoyed the book. It was wildly entertaining and imaginative.  I had so much to think about and say once I finished reading, so I couldn’t wait to start typing and get out of my reviewing block!

[Blog Tour: Review+Giveaway] – Loreena’s Gift by Colleen M. Story

Rating:

Buy Links:

Amazon –  ( Kindle      Paperback)     ~   Barnes & Noble  ~  Book Depository  ~  Chapters Indigo

*Note: I received a print copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review for iRead book tour*

Synopsis:

A BLIND GIRL’S TERRIFYING “GIFT” ALLOWS HER TO REGAIN HER EYESIGHT–BUT ONLY AS SHE FERRIES THE RECENTLY DECEASED INTO THE AFTERLIFE.

Loreena Picket thinks she knows herself. A blind young woman who lives with her uncle, a reverend at a small-town church, she’s a dutiful niece and talented pianist for the congregation.

But they’re both hiding a terrible secret. Loreena can kill people with the touch of her hand.

While her uncle sees her as an angel of mercy, helping usher the terminally ill members of his flock into the afterlife, Loreena has her doubts.

Torn between doing her uncle’s bidding and the allure of the fleeting moments when her eyesight returns on the journey to the other side, Loreena cooperates with her uncle until her troubled older brother returns to town. When she reveals her power by saving him from a local drug dealer, she is drawn into a sinister and dangerous world that will test the true nature of her talent and force her to consider how far she is willing to go to survive.

An exciting debut that crosses fantasy and literary fiction,Loreena’s Gift is a thought-provoking meditation on life and death and what ultimately lies beyond this world.

My Review:

When we first meet Loreena, she is walking back from the Church to her uncle’s home. The opening scene does establish a lot of things about her. With the best of intentions, her uncle has provided her with quite a sheltered life revolving around playing the piano at the church. We soon learn that this is just partly him being protective about her. Well, maybe he would have been more open about her exploring the world a lot more once she became an adult if not for the fact that along with reaching adulthood,  she also ends up with “poisonous hands”. When she accidentally kills the gardener, her uncle decides that he can take her help to relieve the terminally ill people of his congregation out of their misery. Maybe, this can be Loreena making amends for her sin of killing a perfectly healthy, innocent man.

The author’s idea of the afterlife is pretty interesting. To be honest, I didn’t know that there would be so many references about the Church and the almighty. I don’t read Christian fiction so I was wondering whether the whole book was going to be filled with religious references. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and the concepts of heaven and hell are discussed in a way that is probably relatable irrespective of whatever faith you subscribe to. In a weird, morbid way, it was actually kind of fun to see what kind of fate is waiting for the different people Loreena ends up killing.

The story is told in third-person but mostly from Loreena’s POV. So, the author does a really good job of walking us through her shoes by not making us see but “feel” and “hear” what’s happening – there is a lot of description about the footsteps and flooring and weather.

The drive was long, but the air still smelled of rain, and it came in fresh through the front vents.

-Pg. 192

The ground was soft, her flat shoes sinking into the dirt with each step.

-Pg. 194

A series of events leads Loreena right amidst a gang war between two groups trying to wrest control of a small town. She is captured by one group and blackmailed into killing their rivals in exchange for her brother’s safety. It was interesting to see her introspecting after she causes each death and whether the person deserved the scenario of heaven/hell that waited for them.

I just couldn’t get into the whole cloak-and-dagger and crime aspect of this book though. It was way too predictable and none of the deaths surprised me either. I could see what went down in the final few pages even before I finished 1/4th of the book.  As stated by the synopsis, the book is about life, death and what lies beyond; told by metaphorically using the fantasy element of a girl “literally” walking people into their afterlives. I think that was a really cool idea and one of the book’s stronger suits. But the book also has quite a lot of “crime fiction” as the backdrop. I found this aspect of the book a bit half-baked and just very… linear.

I liked the book though. It had a different concept and well, if you want to read the book more for its transcendental ideas, then you would probably enjoy it a lot more than I did.

Book Trailer:

About the author: 

Colleen M. Story
Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction and is also a freelance writer, instructor, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her latest novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” was released with Dzanc Books April 12 2016. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” is a North American Book Awards winner, and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection (Young Adult). She is the founder of Writing and Wellness (writingandwellness.com) a motivational site for writers and other creatives.

Connect with the author:

Website  ~ Twitter

Check out all the tour stops! : 

July 18 – Cheryl’s Book Nook – review / author interview / giveaway
July 18 – Bound 4 Escape – review
July 19 – Writing Pearls – review
July 19 – Jayne’s Books – review
July 20 – Young In Rome – review
July 20 – And the Buck Starts Here – review
July 21 – Writers and Authors – book spotlight / guest post
July 22 – Corinne Rodrigues – review
July 22 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! – review / giveaway
July 25 – A Bookaholic Blog – review
July 25 – Nighttime Reading Center – review / author interview / giveaway
July 26 – JBronder Book Reviews – review / guest post
July 27 – T’s Stuff – review / guest post / giveaway
July 27 – Book reviews nature photos and everything in between – review
July 28 – Sahar’s Blog – review
July 29 – Life as Leels – review
July 29 – The Autistic Gamer – review
Aug 1 –    Bookishly Devoted – review
Aug 1 –    Olio By Marilyn – review / author interview
Aug 2 –    Heidi’s Wanderings – review / giveaway
Aug 2 –    Bookaholic Banter  – review / author interview / giveaway
Aug 3 –    Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – review
Aug 4 –    The Travelogue of a Book Addict – The Book Drealms – review / giveaway
Aug 4 –    bookmyopia – review / giveaway
Aug 5 –    Svetlana’s Reads and Views – review
Aug 5 –    Jessica Cassidy – review / author interview / giveaway

Giveaway!

Win a signed copy of Loreena’s Gift. One winner will also get a $15 Amazon GC (Open int’l). Click on the link below to enter the giveaway:

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