[ARC Review]Genesis (Project Nemesis #2) by Brendan Reichs

Genesis (Project Nemesis #2)Rating: 

Synopsis2Noah Livingston knows he is destined to survive.

The 64 members of Fire Lake’s sophomore class are trapped in a place where morals have no meaning, and zero rules apply. But Noah’s deaths have trained him–hardened him–to lead the strongest into the future . . . whatever that may be. And at any cost. 

Min Wilder knows that survival alone isn’t enough. 

Trapped in a violent world where brute force passes for leadership, it’s tempting to lay back and let everyone else fight it out. But Min’s instincts rebel against allowing others to decide who lives and who dies. She’s ready to fight for what she believes in. And against whomever might stand in her way.

My review [Contains mild spoilers from Nemesis]

It was kind of hard to gather my thoughts for this review as I kept forgetting where Nemesis ended and Genesis began. I read this immediately after Nemesis, so the lines separating the events in both the books kept blurring in my mind. Moreover, it has been a while since I finished this book.

But, oh my, this was so good! I am happy I managed to get an ARC and didn’t have to wait till March to read this. This was such a fantastic sequel and .. well … an amazing example of how you up the ante on everything, while resolving some unanswered issues too:

  1. Genesis starts off with Min and Noah pondering about everything they do know. And still don’t. I loved that Min kind of spoke for me as a reader. Spoke for all my doubts. Through the characters, the book wastes no time tackling a gaping existential plot hole of the first book – how on earth can you make a book about murders interesting when no one can really… stay dead?
  2. I found the inclusion of so many characters in the first book sort of overwhelming, But this book explains the need for such a large “book population”. New alliances are formed, old ones are broken and some just go underground. Oh, there is a lot of emphasis on strategy, vantage points, “brute force v/s brains” and the clash of personalities. Of people choosing to die instead of “sinning”.
  3. Min’s best friend – Tack avoids coming across as the generic best friend / sidekick stereotype we usually see in fantasies with the “strong female teenager” as the main character. In fact, none of the three – Min, Noah and Tack, ever come across as invincible. It is quite the opposite – All three of them – at some point or the other (or, for most of their lives) – have been shown as people bullied by others, lacking confidence, and shirking the responsibility of leading. It is something they have to learn to “fake” – the poise – in order to survive.
  4. At different points in the story, the three of them get separated from each other and re-group with different characters. I think that was such a great way to not just see them as “individuals” (instead of, as a “pack of three” – like it usually happens in fantasies”), but also let the secondary characters share the spotlight and be integral to the plot.
  5. I loved how, for the most part, Min and Noah were just stumbling around for answers. How they never came across as the Chosen One or “special snowflake” stereotype. In fact, for all the time taken to set them up as lovers/antagonists, it was two other characters who stole the show –  whose actions set up some of the concluding moments in the book.

There were a few things that could have been better. After all the violence in the book, the ending gave a “wrapped in a neat little bow” vibe. And, I feel the inclusion of so many characters diluted the effect of some of the “twists” in the book. It is hard to get “shocked” about a X,Y or Z character betraying one another if I barely remember who they were in the first place.

Overall impressions If you loved Nemesis – If you were spooked by the Guardian, daunted by the Silo and wondering whether there was more to the beta-testing, then you would love Genesis. It is gory, twisted and perfect for readers who love books with people dropping dead every other page. And yaayyy!!!! There is a third book coming!! Can’t wait!

Note: I won an ARC of this book from Amanda MacGregor. Genesis releases on March 6th , 2018

Wintersong – A semi-spoilery rant.

Wintersong (Wintersong, #1) Rating:

Synopsis2All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

My reviewThis is one of those books which starts out really strong, loses steam mid-way and then splutters into such a mind-numbing conclusion (not! there is a sequel) that .. you are just left to wonder – How can a novel intended to have Music as its backbone leave you feeling so empty?

  • Liesl was annoying, the Goblin King was annoying and well.. their romance was annoying . I couldnt take anything Liesl said or felt seriously because I never got the sense that she even knew what her priorities were or where her loyalties lie… Her “love” for her family members kind of flits around.. Sometimes she has Kathe in her thoughts, sometimes it is her brother.. but most of the time.. none of them seem to matter in comparison to her new-found proximity and place in the Goblin king’s life and the “freedom” she finds Underground.. And, she remembers her parents occasionally as an afterthought…
  • And oh, dont let the synopsis fool you.. Liesl’s strength doesn’t come from the Goblin King – “musically”, “physically”, or “emotionally” – it comes after they have sex – which you might miss if you flip the pages to skim over musical or flowery metaphors. Gosh, there was something so… needy and whiny about the way Liesl craved for physical intimacy – and that too so quickly after she is practically blackmailed into being held captive.. that despite all her affirmations throughout the book that it is “her choice” to be in the relationship – I just couldn’t shrug off feeling so creeped out by their unhealthy and almost Stolkholm-Syndrome-like dynamics..
  • The writing in general is beautiful.. with a great concept.. But I just wished the book didn’t spend such a major chunk of its page time on Liesl grumbling and the Goblin King playing the most boring version of the Brooding YA Hero trope ever written.
  • The world-building is kind of confusing… and gave the impression that the author just put in a lot of pretty dressing and sparkly icing to cover up a wafer-thin setting. What could have been summarized in five sentences is spread thin throughout the book and presented very …. very….. slowly..
  • Oh, how I wish there was more of Kathe , and less of Liesl’s condescension and judgement about her… It was the most blatant .. “My sister is shallow and pretty but I am ordinary and deep and beautiful from inside” trope ever. Except that Kathe is so much more .. – that we are robbed of seeing because of – Liesl.GoblinKing.Epic.Love.Story

But, oh, I am interested in reading the sequel because the twist in the later part of the book is interesting and kind of sets up the sequel to focus on a slightly different plot. And it looks like (fingers crossed) we might get more of another love story too..

Edit: Amidst all the metaphors and flowery prose, the bit that actually had the most impact on me (maybe because I had just watched Coco) was this bit :

Image result for coco movie images This was the immortality humans were meant to have: to be remembered by those who loved us long after our bodies had crumbled to dust.

 

 

[ARC Review] Vinegar Girl – By Anne Tyler

Rating:

Note : I received this ARC from the publishers via the Reading Room (https://www.thereadingroom.com/) giveaway program. Thank you Penguin Random House!

Buy Links:

Kindle
Hardcover
Audio CD

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Pulitzer Prize winner and American master Anne Tyler brings us an inspired, witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies

Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.

Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.

When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?

My review:

Well, I am only vaguely familiar with Taming of the Shrew, so though I am not in a position to compare or debate upon the finer points of distinction between both the versions, I did get the sense that this is probably more of a “watered down” version of the original. And maybe that it isn’t such a bad thing, given all the flak the original has got for being misogynistic. I think Anne Tyler did a fine job adapting it to the present day. To be honest, I think somewhere between all the deluge of  bad-ass female leads from fantasy, paranormal and dystopian books that has found its way to my Read and To Be Read pile, it just felt nice to sit down and read about someone who isn’t cursed, doesn’t have super-powers, or isn’t trying to save the world.

Kate was probably one of the most relatable female characters I have come across in my recent few months of reading. See her from afar, and she is probably not the most “likeable” person in the sense that she doesn’t make any extra effort to befriend people.  Some people are just naturally charming, effortless in complementing others and making them feel good. Kate is none of it, and in a touching moment of self-reflection, she realizes she doesn’t have a single close friend left, all of them having moved on with their lives, with jobs, marriage and kids. Kate, who dropped out of college in her final year, has spent nearly a decade as a teaching assistant in kindergarten. Her daily routine is packing meat-mash lunches for her dad and sister, watching over four-year olds and gardening.  When her father starts cajoling her to get married to his lab assistant Pyotr, she is hurt that he is as usual placing his work and his research over Kate’s desires. But when Kate does agree to play along, she is faced with some interesting dilemmas and questions. Just what does she exactly want in her life? Or what kind of a life does she want to lead? With or without someone? And will that someone just like her for who she is? Just what does it mean to change or compromise in a marriage?

The book is primarily about four characters – Kate, her dad, her sister Bunny and Pyotr. Put them all together and it is a whole lot of fun watching their dynamics change as the story proceeds. The Kate and Pyotr interactions were really sweet, and I loved how some of the things Kate found irritating about Pyotr, (such as him not being in sync with all the English idioms and slangs) was what she found cute and charming about him later on. So it is actually quite fitting that the book derives its title from one of these conversations. Speaking of conversations, my favorite was probably one between Kate and her dad. I think it came at a point when it was much needed for Kate to hear from someone – someone who is family – that she is not indispensable. And then there is Bunny – She is all chirpy and cool with Pyotr until she comes to know he and Kate are going to get married. She is further irritable when she realizes Kate is slowly getting “used” to the idea of getting married to him. All this leads to a final heated argument between Bunny and Kate in the end. Without giving away much, let’s just say that I personally didn’t find the dialogues during the confrontation that compelling or relevant to what was being addressed. I think there could have been a better buildup leading to this scene throughout the book. I really would have liked more of the “real Bunny” moments where she isn’t being her put-on “I-want-attention” self. We did get a hint from Kate about how she felt closer to her sister when she was younger. It would have been nice to see a bit of that later on in the book. I mean, Bunny clearly struggled with mixed feeling about the Kate-Pyotr impending wedding, and an honest conversation (even if it is an awkward one) between the sisters before the wedding would have probably made some of the later events work better for me.

Nonetheless, I really liked the book and would definitely check out more titles from the Hogarth Shakespeare Project.

The Ugly Stepsister (Unfinished Fairy Tales #1) by Aya Ling

Rating:

Kat is seventeen and raised by a single, working mom. Her typical day comprises of going to school, writing for the school newspaper, focussing on landing college scholarships and taking care of her kid sister in the evenings. She is a bit of a klutz, both in the “tripping over my own feet” way and “tripping over my tongue while talking to hot guys” way. She is also a huge book nerd.

The thing with people who discover their book nerd-iness very early on is that they buy dozens of books pretty much soon after they have figured out how to read. Then they move onto books for “grownups” but the first book haul remains in attics or the highest bookshelves and collects dust till one day your mom calls you and tells you that the books must LEAVE because there are too many and all it does is eats up space. That’s pretty much what happens to Kat when her mom asks her to haul the books downstairs so that they can give it to the yard sale.

So when she sits down and goes through her books, she comes across an old battered copy of Cinderella. When she accidentally drops it, the pages fall apart. As she gets up and climbs down the stairs, she trips and becomes unconscious. When she gets up, she finds herself in strange, but familiar surroundings. She can’t quite point out what is familiar, till a levitating, ghost-like goblin Krev appears and informs her that the Cinderella copy was actually created by his goblin king, and as a punishment for the book falling apart, the king has cursed her to inhabit the Cinderella tale as one of the stepsisters. Her only chance of escaping the Story World is finishing the story, by finding Cinderella, and getting her married to the Prince with the wedding bells ringing in the background. But how? Where is the fairy godmother to transform a pumpkin into a coach and mice into coachmen? How is she going to stop her insufferable but gorgeous Story sister from courting the Prince? And most importantly, how is she going to make the Prince and Cinderella fall in love with each other?

The best thing about connecting with bloggers is having book recommendations fill your reader or twitter timeline. I saw this book mentioned quite a few times but the review that really got me interested was the one in Cheryl’s blog here. I had vaguely heard about fairy retellings but to be honest I seriously had no idea it was a genre by itself. I am quite glad I picked up this book as my first fairy retelling read. It was fun, quite creative, and magical without relying too much on literal magic. Kat had this feisty, stubborn streak which I think everyone do have to some extent. Just that it stays latent until you are pushed to a corner and then have no option but to be gutsy and not think of consequences. And that is what happens with Kat. If she wants to see her real mom and sister again, she has to adapt to the world she has accidentally entered into.

Nothing goes right for Kat in the Story World. As the Story progresses, she finds it hard to make things happen as she remembers from the book she has read. She slowly starts noticing the “not so fairytale-like” aspects of the world, such as kids as young as five years old working 14 hour shifts in factories and girls expected to attract wealthy men in soirees and parties before they turn twenty-one. For a book-within-a-book that is supposed to be a well-known magical fairytale, there is actually very little “magic” as such. (And well, Cinderella wasn’t really about sorcerers waving wands throughout the tale, so…). The tale is more reminiscent of historical fiction – a world where there are estates owned by Earls, and Princes throwing ballroom parties to announce their brides. I enjoyed reading about and grew fond of everyone, even if half of them are your generic clichés such as rich, spoilt girls who are look like born supermodels, handsome wealthy aristocrats, callous employers and good-hearted poor maids. In a weird way, it kind of just fit, and didn’t seem like something negative. Maybe it is because it is supposed to be a Story World of a very well-known children’s tale.  And plus, I liked that the author sort of even acknowledged that she is using well-known tropes through quotes like this:

“Honestly, we’ve met coincidentally so many times that it feels like I’m in a badly written novel. Oh, wait, I actually am”

There are more such quotes sprinkled throughout the book which made even some done-to-death scenarios interesting to read. And all the book and movie references that Kat makes in her head (probably to keep herself from going insane), Harry Potter, LoTR, Narnia, Inception .. did make me smile. Harry Potter was a bit overdone though. The book has everything in phases, a lot of carefree moments, tinge of sadness, couples falling in love, couples with unfinished love stories, divide between rich and poor, some good men and women, and some others who are never going to change.  I also liked how “living through” the story made Kat more self-assured and confident about certain things.

There were a few things that I felt could have been presented better. I just thought that the magic bit was too conveniently and suddenly introduced to make things fall in place for Kat in the end. It would have been easier to “believe” it if the magic was actually established and dwelled upon with more details. I guess what I mean to say is, that bit was never really fleshed out well. In fact, the main reason for Kat “falling into” this world itself was sort of flimsy – dropping an old book. Another thing that I found hard to fathom is when Kat, owing to certain circumstances, has to reveal her secret to some people as the Story progresses. And the characters easily believe that they are not “real” but a part of a book. A more normal reaction would have been to think Kat is off her rocker. And it is funny how you view something differently if you are in someone else’s shoes. I mean, for the Story world people, their world is the “real” one and Kat feels otherworldly.

I hope this long review didn’t end up being too spoiler-y. If you want to try a fairy retelling, this is a really good book to start with. It is light-hearted without being frivolous and has a sprightly protagonist to root for.

Buy links:

The Ugly Stepsister – Kindle
The Ugly Stepsister – Paperback