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.

[Mini Reviews] The Vegetarian by Han Kang & Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

The Vegetarian Rating:

Buy Links:

Paperback           Hardcover         Kindle

This was pretty unsettling to read. Hard to really summarize the essence of what this was about. On the surface it was about a woman with severe mental health issues, but dig deeper (well, more like scratch the surface a bit..) and it is about renunciation – of societal expectations to get in touch with your most primitive reflections. This story is told in three POVs and interestingly, none of them is Yeong-hye’s. The story progresses with her turning vegetarian to finally giving up on food altogether because of certain recurring dreams and her finally interpreting what they really meant. We get glimpses into Yeong-hye and her sister In-hye’s childhood as they grew up in a patriarchal family system with an abusive father. In-hye later muses whether that was one reason for her sister’s current state. As her “dream” triggers her “madness”, we see the men in Yeong-hye’s life unable to understand her decision to go vegetarian. Instead, they literally try to force-feed her in one scene. Throughout the book, Yeong-hye keeps retreating further away from everyone else and well.. into herself as she resists everyone else’s attempt to tell her what to do to her own body.

I considered quitting this book mid-way quite a few times because I couldn’t connect to a lot of devices used in this story, be it the characters chosen for the three POVs, the three-part narration itself which felt disjointed or the depiction of vegetarianism. I mean, I understand that this book wasn’t really about “vegetarianism” as such, but since so much of the book was about her giving up meat, I really can’t look past it. I didn’t get the people’s reactions around her, and I am not talking about husband and father (both were A-Grade MCPs who were upset for reasons that had nothing to do with her well-being) but I couldn’t understand why the general reaction was one of shock and distaste rather than being supportive or well, checking out more healthy, wholesome vegetarian food options. There were also some other things about the book that I didn’t understand – like the triggering circumstances that caused Yeong-hye’s psychiatric condition. It felt like some sort of half-baked attempt by giving her the background of childhood abuse (like some sort of afterthought, because hey, I need to give a reason, so let me throw in some random reminiscences of childhood). Another aspect of this book that I found irritating is that it isn’t just Yeong-hye plagued by dreams; we also have two of the three narrators getting abstract, creepy dreams and being tortured by it as they are trying to decipher it. Honestly, it was overkill, and well, just way too many people for a less-than-180 pages book that I, as a reader am trying to make some sense of.

This is just one of those books that I can’t rave about, but I am glad I read it, and would definitely not shy away from recommending.

Holding Up the UniverseRating:

Buy Links:

Hardcover         Kindle           Paperback

Synopsis2Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything. 

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel.

Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

My reviewI was a bit skeptical after reading the synopsis and wondered whether this will be one of those stories about an overweight girl transforming herself into a svelte figure by the end of the book and shocking everyone. Then there is also this male protagonist who suffers from face-blindness (known as Prosopagnosia) . But body-image and self-esteem issues are addressed so well in this book that the love story stands on its own rather than not having any relevance beyond Jack’s neurological disorder and Libby’s struggle with weight.

I think what worked for this book is that by the time we meet Libby, she has already gone through some of the darkest phases in her life. We meet her when she is re-entering the “mainstream” life (high-school after months of isolation and counseling. So, when Libby makes friends, meets Jack, faces bullies, you know it is all on her own terms.

So, what about Jack? Well, he has had a different kind of struggle. While Libby’s lowest phase was telecast across electronic media and her struggle with weight is under glaring spotlight of bullies, Jack has somehow managed to hide his condition from everyone (so that people don’t make his life further difficult in school) until an incident forces him to reveal his secret to Libby. What follows after that is definitely one of the cutest YA love stories I have read so far.

There were few things I found a bit unreal – like the fact that Jack could hide his condition from everyone and that no one, not even his parents noticed anything amiss. This felt like one of those classic “clueless YA parents” tropes. I also felt some of the quotes, though mushy and cute, felt unrealistic when thought by or mouthed as dialogues by teenage narrators (especially some super-cheesy lines.. I couldn’t really imagine anyone talking like that)

I also thought the book had a pretty abrupt and quiet ending? I mean, it felt like the book started with a bang and ending with a whimper because the author didn’t know how else to finish it.

I really liked the book though and some of Libby and Jack’s inner monologues were pure gold. I think my 2017 TBR will now comprise of Niven’s previous works.

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.

The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker – By Kat Spears

Rating:

Buy Links:

Hardcover           Kindle

*Note: I won this book through Goodreads giveaway program*

Synopsis:

Luke Grayson’s life might as well be over when he’s forced to go live in rural Tennessee with his Baptist pastor father. His reputation as a troublemaker has followed him there, and as an outsider, Luke is automatically under suspicion by everyone from the principal at his new school to the local police chief. His social life is no better. The new kid in town is an easy target for Grant Parker, the local golden boy with a violent streak who has the entire community of Ashland under his thumb.

But things go topsy-turvy when a freak accident removes Grant from the top of the social pyramid, replacing him with Luke. This fish out of water has suddenly gone from social outcast to hero in a matter of twenty-four hours. For the students who have lived in fear of Grant all their lives, this is a welcome change. But Luke’s new found fame comes with a price. Nobody knows the truth about what really happened to Grant Parker except for Luke, and the longer he keeps living the lie, the more like Grant Parker he becomes.

My Review: (contains mild spoilers)

Being bullied is hard. Standing up to bullies is harder. But what about suddenly being in the same position of power as the bully? How does one wield that? As Luke finds out, that’s probably the hardest for him.

I am so conflicted about my ratings (kept toggling between 3 and 3.5). I loved the whole idea behind this book – being on both sides of bullying and how one can get weak when it comes to making the hard choices when everything is suddenly going hunky-dory for you. I rarely read books from the POV of a male teenager. So, this was something different and a change from reading about all the high school pressures faced by teenage girls.

Kat Spears does a very good job of showing it from a guy’s perspective. I really empathized with Luke’s situation – a city kid used to the anonymity provided by Washington – as he ends up in a small town where he sticks out and is soon known to everyone. Right from his flashy T-Shirts and lack of interest in hunting; to his agnostic beliefs, he just feels at odds with everything and everyone in Ashland. The only people who sort of seem to get him are Delilah, one of his classmates and the local police chief’s daughter and Roger – a garage owner who offers Luke a part-time job.  The isolation, embarrassment and dreading over facing school every morning, and then avoiding people and situations amidst all of this – all those feelings were just so spot-on.

The first half of the book is really good and I totally got and understood everything Luke was going through. But, it was after the “freak accident” that I just began to feel disconnected with him.  Luke’s account went from feeling personal to ..well.. me feeling like an outside spectator to the entire in-his-head ordeal. Sure, he is still saying things like him feeling bad about his former friends being bullied and him not doing anything about it or, him feeling uneasy about alienating Delilah and Roger – but it just didn’t feel forceful or honest enough. While I loved that Spears made him a sort of anti-hero and not-so-perfect or likeable teenage protagonist, I just couldn’t understand what I should make of his “introspection” later on. It felt more like a matter of convenience for him – as if he changed only because he wanted people like Delilah and others not to be angry with him anymore; and because the other “cool kids” just bored the hell out of him. Oh, there was also this slight issue of Grant Parker’s former girlfriend (and his current girlfriend) nagging him daily to change him and turn him into some kind of suave social butterfly. So, it basically felt like Luke changed back to his previous self only because he realized it is too hard to don the mantle of Grant Parker’s social self – and not because Luke felt like repenting.

I also felt there were too many secondary characters and none of them made any kind of lasting impression. Those who could have – such as Delilah and Roger – were given sort-of background facts about their earlier life; so I just felt they were given a raw deal when they were ignored in later part of the book. People closer to home – such as Luke’s dad and step-mom were written as weird caricatures of religious people.

This book was a pretty fast and easy read. I liked the theme of the book and Spears’ approach of keeping a lot of the storytelling simple. But, I just felt this “simplicity” ended up being more of a weakness in the later part of the book.

Teaser Tuesday #4

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!

So, I read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson after Cristina recommended it in her post here. I really liked it, especially the way it addressed the impact of social isolation in the minds of high-school teenagers. However, the main issue it tackles is PTSD in the aftermath of rape; and without giving away anything, I almost wished there were 50 more pages …

This book was released more than 15 years ago and I can see why it was considered path-breaking at that time.  I loved the narrative voice and though the book is pretty short (around 200 pages) , it feels longer because of the way it is written; – short but many chapters.

My teasers from the last couple of pages:

“I draw them without thinking – flight, flight, feather, wing. Water drips on the paper and the birds bloom in the light, their feathers expanding promise.”

 

Passenger (Passenger #1) – By Alexandra Bracken

Rating:

Born in an era when African slavery was a norm, Nicholas Carter is one of the lucky few to have escaped that ill-fated destiny. Captain Nathaniel Hall purchases his freedom from the powerful Ironwood family, trains him as a sailor and privateer for British ships and raises him as his own. But Nicholas is not just an Ironwood slave but the illegitimate child of one of the Ironwood sons. He is also, as he later finds out when grudgingly revealed by the Ironwood patriarch, an inheritor of the time-travelling ability. The number is dwindling, there are less than a hundred travellers left, and all do the bidding of, and play by the rules set by the Ironwood grandfather. He would like nothing to do with Nicholas, but with his empire crumbling and timelines becoming unstable, he needs an ancient lost artefact to restore order. Tempted by the promises of being trained in time travelling wisdom and a legitimacy which has eluded him, Nicholas foolishly agrees to a binding contract with the Ironwoods, the terms of which stipulate that he has to accompany his half-brother across different centuries in search for this lost object. The search is unfruitful with disastrous consequences. He is exiled back to his natural timeline and forbidden to travel again. He makes peace with reality and gets back on his job of capturing ships. One of the prize captures holds two passengers and that throws him back to the Ironwoods path.

Etta Spencer has her future figured out. As a violin prodigy, all she has ever dreamed of is to render melodies, make her mentor proud and win the affection of her reticent mother. She has battled stage fright and isolated herself from a social life to achieve this dream. Her performance at a forthcoming event is supposed to be her grand debut, testing waters to get rid of her nerves. Just when she thinks she has got a grip on herself, she overhears an unsettling conversation. This, combined with unexplained acoustic reverberations when she is playing on stage, causes her to fumble her way through her performance. A murder and kidnapping later, she realizes that this is just the beginning of her nightmare, a journey that begins with a ship she is a passenger on – in a different century.

My experience with time-travel fiction is severely limited, the closest being a few chapters from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But I feel that time-travelling is a tricky bit of fictional concept to handle, due to its inherently contradictory nature. It is something that can get ludicrous and messy very easily if the author doesn’t have a hold over the self-imposed set of “rules” for it. But Bracken tackles it with nimble plotting and a sleight of hand that is entertaining to read. All this would have not counted for much if the characterization had fallen flat. But the people fleshed out in the book are not just distinctive in their backgrounds, ways and motives but also .. uh .. not boring to read about. Cyrus Ironwood is sufficiently ruthless, but over the years his actions are blinded and driven by a reason that is not just power. Sophia, another distant Ironwood kin, is denied of her rights like Nicholas, but she turns out to be a cankerous version of what she could have been. Rose, Etta’s mom is … well.. I am not sure what to make of her. I don’t know how to say anything without throwing in spoilers, but let’s just say, I don’t like her.

I loved Etta and Nicholas and totally dug the way their relationship progressed. It was unhurried and (thank god!) they didn’t lose sight of the very real problems of the .. time between them. There were times I got impatient with the romantic proses, but I must admit, they were well-written, without getting too cheesy and out-of-place. I loved Etta and Nicholas individually as characters too. I think one of the reasons they worked for me is that despite how young they were (I think Etta is seventeen and Nicholas is twenty), they showed maturity and common sense (not that this has much to do with youth though) in situations that necessitated it, but didn’t always look self-assured or worldly-wise belying their age and life experiences. Theirs was a love story and journey that was so much fun to read about and visualize because it, quite literally, transcended time and space. Witnessed wars, relics in ruins and wildlife in its tranquil best. And satisfyingly, it was also about individual journeys of two equals, in every sense. That is another arc I loved – Etta steering Nicholas into that headspace where he can believe that equality is probable beyond the parables.

Bracken divides the book into different eras, as travelled by Etta and Nicholas, but as I read the book, I personally felt, it could also be seen as two halves – the second half beginning with Etta and Nicholas’s journey to find the object. It was here that I felt the pace of the book began to ebb. It started taking the form of a typical archaeological treasure hunt by people escaping goons. But as the story marches into the final hundred-odd pages, it veers towards some exciting strides. And oh boy, Bracken ends the first instalment of this series with a flourish! She teases us with some startling revelations and unexpected alliances. And a huge chunk of family history and heritage left to be discovered. I can’t wait to see what she serves up in the next book!

Buy Links (Amazon) :

 Hardcover
Kindle  MP3 CD

A Fatal Family Secret (The Morphosis.me Files, #1)

Rating:

Author : Samantha Marks
Publication date : May 26th 2015
Genres : Fantasy, Young Adult

Note : I received an e-copy of this book from xpressobooktours in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?

On the first day of high school, Kayleigh wishes she could be taller, curvier, and cooler. But when she discovers she’s a shape-shifter, she bites off more than she can chew. Overnight, she becomes a target, and surviving the school-year means defending herself against cyber-bullies, learning to control her new-found powers, and hiding from the ancient secret society that kidnapped her mother. Morphing has consequences, and Kayleigh begins to realize that being able to change into anything can mean losing herself in the process.

My Review:

I am not sure how to start my review, because this book is like a really cool goodie bag with a lot of cute stuff. Aaaahhh…. Well, I guess I can begin by mentioning what drew me to pick this book – It’s super adorable book cover. And the cute factor doesn’t stop there.. There is something so cute (Yes, yes, I know I have overused the word) and quaint about the entire story; the world, people and setup. Irish folklore, characters with diverse backgrounds, fairy tales, mysterious antique jewellery, secret notes and lot more. There is such a picturesque, and an almost Disney-like magical feel to the entire narration. I think part of it is because of the main “superpower capabilities” featuring in this book: morphing. It looks like it is unrestrained with near-limitless possibilities – people can change into pretty much anything (and anyone) tangible. So it is a lot of fun reading about ..say.. someone changing from an old man, into a crane and then a panda all in the span of a few minutes.

The story is paced pretty well, covering an entire term at high school, and I never felt lost with respect to where we are in terms of the passing of time from the first page, because we are taken through the descriptions of seasons changing from winter to spring and the festivities of Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s day. This school year is particularly tumultuous for Kayleigh – it has been two years since her mom went missing, and she feels like she needs her now more than ever, what with her facing bullying at school, going through puberty, and suffering from a really low self-esteem because of which she is not able to stand up for herself or be confident around the guy she has a crush on. To be honest, I wasn’t totally convinced about the whole bullying theme in the book, maybe because I couldn’t really understand why she got cowed down so quickly. Because from what I saw, it was Kayleigh who had a larger circle of friends than the “mean girl” who just had two girls tagging along with her. As I read along, I think I slowly got where Kayleigh’s anxieties and fragility stemmed from. There was a point in the book where she breaks down because all the events of the past couple of years – beginning with her mom’s disappearance, to recent strange discoveries about her mom’s past, cyber bullying, the typical high school stress related to grades, friends and dating, physical changes to her body due to puberty and morphing – take a toll on her.

My favorite moment in the book is a conversation between Kayleigh and her friend. I can’t discuss it much because it is a major spoiler, but I will say that it was a mix of sad, profound and ironical. I just found it so fitting and “right” that the “limitations” of morphing was addressed so succinctly. You need to identify and get comfortable with your core self before trying to perfect morphing. And sometimes the cards life deals you feels so unfair, and no amount of morphing can completely heal or change that.

The book is strewn with some red herrings, so I had fun guessing. I got a few right, and was totally off the mark with some others. I thought this was a really good start to the series with so many things left to discover in the next book. The only thing I am a bit sceptical about is how the whole “international secret evil organization” is going to play out. There are times I feel the whole scope and premise of that track is so… vast, that I wonder whether the rest of the story will be able to gracefully handle the weight of it. So I am curious to see how that turns out.

The book is now available to download for free from kindle store, and I would definitely recommend that you check this one out!

(Amazon) Links:

Kindle
Paperback

Gambit (The Prodigy Chronicles #1)

9781942111061 Rating:

Author : C.L. Denault
Published by : REUTS Publications
Publication date : March 31st 2015
Genres : Dystopia, Young Adult

Note : I received an e-copy of this book from xpressobooktours in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):

In Earth’s battle-ridden future, humans have evolved. Those with extraordinary skills rise to power and fame. Those without live in poverty.

Sixteen-year-old Willow Kent believed she was normal. But when a genetically-advanced military officer shows up in her village and questions her identity, long-buried secrets begin to emerge. With remarkable skills and a shocking genetic code the Core and its enemies will do anything to obtain, Willow suddenly finds the freedom she craves slipping through her fingers. Greed, corruption, and genetic tampering threaten every aspect of her existence as she’s thrust, unwilling, into the sophisticated culture of the elite Core city. To ensure peace, she must leave the past behind, marry a man she’s never met, and submit to the authority of a relentless officer with a hidden agenda of his own.

Her life has become a dangerous game. How much will she sacrifice in order to win?

My Review:

The book has a lot of elements you would expect and be familiar with from a classically modern-day dystopian novel. But the first few pages gave me a queasy sense of deja vu with its all-too-familiar introduction of a girl in her teens living with the simpler folks from the outer villages who are governed and at the mercy of scraps from the oppressive main city. However, the story took off amazingly well and set itself apart due to the author’s deft handling of all the revelations about Willow’s identity and the murky politics of the Core city. We are never given all the information completely and yet enough to keep us inquisitive and interested. I quite liked reading Willow’s peaceful, normal life with her siblings and parents in their family-owned pub and her friendship-with-romantic-potential relationship with Tem. And then there is the school in a slightly decrepit building that she attends where she also gets a bit of defence training from her instructor Kane. The stable life that she knows turns on its head when Reece, an officer from the Core pays a visit to their pub. She is forced to leave everything that she has grown up with and move into an uncertain future.

The world-building is pretty cool, I totally dug the idea of the Core city run by powerful councils and families who own the major power and medical industries. Some of the futuristic initiatives by the Core such as an almost-complete reliance on solar energy and tree conservation (by entirely doing away with paper) gave me a vibe of a utopian-tomorrow for a fleeting moment. I loved the whole concept of the Surge, which takes place when kids turn sixteen and may or may not result in them developing a “skill” (translation: superpower). The first half of the book is pure adrenaline rush, very entertaining and everything that a first book of a dystopian-fantasy series should be like. I loved the power-play between Reece and Willow. I liked how Willow was written; she was angry, conflicted, rebellious, and almost felt cheated that she has no control over the rest of her life. I thought the way she reacted was raw, natural and just the way I would expect a sixteen year old to react when told that she has to leave behind her family and country ways and take on another identity.

So what didn’t I like? Well, pretty much most of the second-half of the book. It turns Willow-Reece centric and let’s just say, it is something I couldn’t wrap my head around. Why? Well, the author does too good of a job establishing Reece as a cold-blooded, abusive, murderous and manipulative guy, so it is difficult to see past that later on in the book. I honestly found him nothing less than loathsome. Is he a layered, interesting character? Yes, definitely. And that’s what made all the Reece-Willow (and Reece-X/Y/Z) confrontations so chillingly effective in the first half of the book. But their equation starts changing after the story shifts to the Core city and that’s when I felt both the pace and narrative of the book drops. We meet new characters, but they are just not allowed more breathing room. Some of them are in a position of power and actually seem nice and capable of empathy, so I couldn’t understand how they seemed undisturbed by some of the violent goings-on. There are a lot of “Willow settling in and getting used to her new surrounding” pages, and while it is nice and also a bit amusing to see her staring and questioning about all the new gadgets and stuff, it gets a bit boring after sometime. I started missing some of the characters from earlier part of the book. And as I said, there was way too much of Reece-Willow, and to be honest, it turned into more of a Dystopian-Romance. The romance bit troubled me, because Reece does too many things in the beginning of the book which is hard to forgive and brush over, so the attempt to humanize him in the second half of the book and Willow softening towards him didn’t sit well with me. Nor did his blow-hot-blow-cold, physically and emotionally aggressive behaviour towards Willow.

At over 550 pages in paperback, it is a long book but there is enough meat in the first half to go through the entire book easily. Gambit ends on a promising note, with the significance behind the title revealed and Willow trying to ascertain herself in the position of being able to make more choices. It is clear that there is a lot more to the series in terms of Core politics and Willow’s destiny. I always find it a bit irksome when the romance ends up taking away the focus from other (and, in my opinion, stronger) aspects of the story. But keeping that aside, it is a pretty decent series-opener.

Buy links:
Gambit : Paperback
Gambit : Kindle

The Probability of Miracles – By Wendy Wunder

Rating:

Campbell “Cam” Cooper is seventeen, lives in Florida and is from a family of Polynesian dance show “Spirit of Aloha” performers at Disney.  When she isn’t dancing alone in front of the mirror, she is doing morning work shifts at one of Disney’s restaurant kitchens. She has also recently received a letter of acceptance from Harvard. And oh, she has cancer.

When she isn’t visiting doctors, she spends time in feeding her canary and crossing off things to do (before you die) from a “Flamingo List” (like erm.. shoplifting) , a list penned by her best friend and another cancer fighter, Lily. After being in and out of trials, treatments and hospital visits for years, she is finally told that science just isn’t going to cut it anymore, miracle is what she needs.

What follows is a road-trip with her mother and kid sister, journey to a hard-to-find quaint little town called Promise in Maine, which is said to have healing powers. Where queer things happen; like sunrise and sunset in the exact same spot, dandelions growing purple, and flamingos flocking near winter.  Where she meets Asher .. and her heart skips a beat *winks*.

Is it also where Cam gets another shot at life? Just what are the probabilities of miracles happening here?

My thoughts:

Cam is a rockstar! Though she wouldn’t like to admit it, she is such a goofball even when she is perpetually moping around.  I loved the entire family unit – her mom Alicia, sister Perry and her Nana. None of them ever give up on her till the end, and keep trying to advocate “in favour of” Promise being a miracle town.  So when Cam tries to orchestrate miracles of her own to keep up their belief, they feel affronted and hurt.

It was such a sad irony that a Disney dweller seeks for a fairy tale ending in another place, away from the make-believe settings that Cam keeps jesting about. But I loved how the story comes to a full circle.. when she is homesick and looks back with fond memories of the place she came from.. Maybe that is the miracle that worked for Cam.. to realize that the probability of a miracle doesn’t increase or depend on a place… nor can be forced or conjured.

It is about believing.. of finding happiness .. in your first love, or a first part time job, the one best friend who has stood by you, breaking curfews under your mum’s nose, sharing egg creams with your sister, or rescuing a newly hatched flamingo!  Just recognizing that the cancer doesn’t have to define the entire “You”.

I felt the story meandered a bit though (the kind of meandering that would probably translate better into a screenplay), and the “Flamingo List” plot device was kind of a weak spot … or maybe just wasn’t used too well. She sort of unintentionally ends up crossing off most of the things in the list every time, so it isn’t like the list acts as some source of motivation to achieve something. More than anything else, the author used it just to bring up Cam and Lily’s zany friendship in the book occasionally. Or maybe I just didn’t get it.

For those who have read The Fault In Our Stars:

Well, one big similarity is that both have a female teen protagonist (Cam and Hazel) diagnosed with cancer. However, unlike TFOIS, where the love story plays out as a major part of the book and also in Hazel’s personal journey, the Cam-Asher story didn’t make much of an impact in my mind. This is perfectly fine with me, as the book had an array of other characters that enriched Cam’s life. I liked that the author focussed on Cam and we meet and get to know everyone else through her (including Asher) and not letting the teen romance overwhelm the later part of the book.