[Zeroes] Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti

Zeroes was a confusing mess of names and events that were loosely tied together by the time the book ended, but it was a long road to get there. Unfortunately, having three big authors write a book together does not automatically make it a success. Scott Westerfeld is an author I really enjoy reading. I loved the steampunk Leviathan series, and his Uglies series was probably the first young adult dystopian novels that I read. But in Zeroes I felt nothing that drew me in the way that these other series did. I haven’t read the other two authors so I can’t speak for their writing style or series, and I don’t know who wrote what characters or if it was a collaborative effort. I don’t know what happened with Zeroes, but what should have been an interesting and exciting novel about teenagers with powers became a rather dull novel with a lot of internal reflection and coming to terms with controlling your powers.

This is the first novel I’ve read this year where I’ve been disappointed. And I can’t believe it’s a Westerfeld novel. Part of the problem was that although the writing was very good, the story was super long. If things had happened, I think I would have been more engaged. But the pacing was off. Everything was clustered at the end and I feel like most of the middle could have been condensed down. There needed to be more events in the middle to justify the length of it.

I will say that the ending was very exciting. I saw the potential for the series there. If more of that had been in the middle I definitely would have loved this book. The characters all came together, the threads that had been woven throughout the novel brought the story to a close. I loved that we were finally able to see all of their powers when they were working together to achieve something. They became more than just teenagers who were playing around with their powers in that moment; they had a purpose. That’s something that I can get behind.

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[Shadowsong] S. Jae-Jones

What are monsters but mortals corrupted?*

Strange and queer, the lot of them. Elf-touched, they were called in the old days…The mad, the fearful, the faithful. Those who dwell with one foot in the Underground and another in the world above.*

*     *     *

We were grotesques in the world above, too different, too odd, too talented, too much. 

S. Jae-Jones is a brilliant writer.

I will admit that I didn’t love the entirety of Wintersong––I loved the first half but thought the second was a little slow––but I always thought that S.Jae-Jones’ writing was beautiful and spectacular. Her writing shone in Shadowsong. The images she creates with her words are utterly beautiful, forming Liesl’s world for the reader in a very poetic way. It’s perfect for the setting of fairy-tales and goblins and music. S.Jae-Jones is someone who can create a world with her words that I just want to immerse myself in. Couple that with the fact that Shadowsong is a fantasy novel with a historical setting and I’m hooked.

Although Shadowsong is fiction, S. Jae-Jones gives her readers an author’s note at the beginning warning that not everything inside of this novel is so easily read as a fiction. Shadowsong deals with the very real subjects of self-harm, addiction, reckless behaviors, and thoughts of suicide. The author is open with her own diagnosis of bipolar disorder and how she gave it to Liesl. There were moments that were difficult to read because of how Liesl was struggling. I could relate to certain thoughts she had regarding creation of art and fear of failure and doubt. I thought it was wonderful that S. Jae-Jones was completely open about this at the beginning of her novel.

I waited for some mood or inspiration to strike me, for the desire to play to overtake me, but there was nothing. Solitude around me and silence within me. I had not dreamed once since we came to the city. The voice inside me––my voice––was gone. No ideas. No drive. No passion. My nights were quiet. Blank. The dullness was seeping into my days.*

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[When Dimple Met Rishi] Sandhya Menon

I love this cover! It makes me happy.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a novel about a girl meeting a boy. Or a boy meeting a girl, depending on whose perspective you’re currently reading. The novel is split between the perspectives of Dimple and Rishi, two people who couldn’t be more different. It’s a perfect formula for a young adult romance novel. Dimple is an aspiring web developer whose dream is to code apps that will change peoples’ lives; Rishi is hoping to meet his betrothed before heading off to college across the country. Their parents set up a meeting at Insomnia Con–a convention where the number one prize is having your app funded and put out there. For Dimple, it’s a dream come true; for Rishi, it’s a way to meet his future wife, to see if the match is meant to be. There’s only one problem: Dimple has no idea.

The premise of this book is really adorable. I liked that Dimple and Rishi switched the typical young adult roles. Don’t get me wrong, I love contemporary romances (or romance in fantasy or…), but it was really cool to see that Dimple was focused on her future instead of finding a boyfriend/husband. She wants to have a career before she gets married–and she doesn’t even know if marriage is in her future. Menon wove the pressures of what her parents wanted v. what Dimple wanted through the pages of this novel in a way that had Dimple challenging her preconceived notions about relationships.

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[Blackhearts] Nicole Castroman

Literally the first words of this book’s synopsis are “Blackbeard the pirate” but that is not what Blackhearts is about. I kept waiting for pirates to show up! For excitement to happen! For anything other than the flimsy romance that was the focus of this novel. Honestly, I’m quite disappointed. I thought that this was going to be a really exciting, quick read, but I couldn’t really find a point in the early part of the story that was interesting.

When I first started writing, one of my teachers told the class that oft-used phrase: Start in the middle of the action. I’m fairly positive this advice has been given to me every time I had any sort of creative writing class. I wish that Blackhearts had heeded that advice. While Castroman does a good job of setting the scene and giving both Anne and Teach their backgrounds, I thought that there was a bit too much telling instead of showing. I love getting pieces of the setting when it’s mixed in with the story. I love seeing the character of a protagonist when they’re up against adversity. I feel like Castroman should have focused more on showing that as the plot progressed instead of making the first half of the book heavy on the telling side.

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[The Last Magician] Lisa Maxwell

I love the ouroboros element on the cover.

Find the Magician. And stop him before he destroys our future.*

The Lost Magician starts with a connection, though they don’t know it yet. Esta is a thief who uses her old magic to manipulate time, slowing it down and even jumping to the past and present. Dolph is the leader of a gang of Mageus who use their powers to protect those who cannot. And Harte is trying to blend in as a Sundren magician, hiding his Mageus powers in plain sight in a time when having old magic marked you as a target for the Order of Ortus Aurea in their climb to power. Their stories are connected by the Ars Arcana–a book that was thought to be lost. A book that is said to hold the secret to magic itself. A book that they all want.

Lisa Maxwell has created a story full of fascinating characters, a vivid setting, and an interesting plot. At 512 pages, it may seem a little long, but it kept me fascinated the entire time. As the story progressed and the twists began to show themselves, I seemed to read it faster, hurtling toward an end that made me angry–because it was over and I wanted to read more! While I initially thought The Last Magician was a stand-alone novel, it turns out that it’s the first part of a duology. I’m so glad I get to spend more time with the people and places of Maxwell’s Mageus society, even though I’m not happy about having to wait. I will just have to practice my patience.

The bulk of The Last Magician is set in the world of 1900s Manhattan, in the city before it became soaring skyscrapers and cacophonous noise at all hours of the day and night. The Manhattan of The Last Magician is full of the clip-clop of horse drawn carriages through cobblestone streets, the sickly-sweet smell of opium nests, and the thrill of living in a city that looks toward the future. The city has elements of hope and fear as the Sundren and Mageus live together, sometimes unknowingly. For the Mageus, having the old magic means that you have an affinity: power that allows you to manipulate time, know someone’s thoughts, or kill someone without touching. Naturally, the Sundren fear this, because people often fear what they don’t understand. The old magic is palpable in the air, with a warmth and a hum that is so different than Esta’s Manhattan.

In present-day Manhattan, the old magic–the magic that Esta and the rest of the Professor’s Mageus crew have–is nearly dead. The one thing that connects the two times, other than the magic flowing through their veins, is the Brink. The Brink, to those without magic, is nothing. To those with magic, it is terrifying. If they get too close to the Brink, it seems to pull at the magic in them, desiring to take it from them. To get close is to feel like you are losing part of yourself. To pass through means the loss of your mind and certain death. The Mageus have been trapped on the island ever since the Brink was created by the Order. And in 1902, more and more Mageus flock to Manhattan and the promise that they will not be persecuted there like they have been in their old countries, only to find that they are trapped there by the Brink.

A view of the Brooklyn Bridge, where the Brink is located.

Maybe it was because the Order of Ortus Aurea and all they’d done so long ago seemed more like myth than reality. The stories had been so monstrous, but in actuality, the Order itself had always been little more than a shadow haunting the periphery of Esta’s vision, the boogyman in her unopened closet.* 

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[Emma in the Night] Wendy Walker

There are so many pieces to our story, pieces that, if taken away, might have changed the whole course of it. […] And…it took all of us, our flaws and our desires. My hunger for power, which I will get to next. It was all in it, in our story, like the ingredients to a complicated recipe.*

Daughters of Mothers with Narcissism: Can the Cycle Be Broken?*

That is the name of the fictional paper that Emma in the Night keeps going back to explore: Can daughters escape a narcissistic cycle when it’s the only thing they’ve known their whole life? Three years ago, Cass and Emma Tanner disappeared. When Cass comes back this cold case reopens, and with it comes things that Dr. Abby Winter tried so hard to forget. It was the case that stuck with her and now she has a chance to solve what happened the night that Emma and Cass disappeared. Something didn’t add up to Abby then, and it doesn’t add up now. As Cass weaves a story of betrayal, kidnapping, and lost time, Abby has to untangle the truth from Cass’ words. Her return doesn’t mean it’s over.

I think there are two types of people. Ones who have a scream inside them and ones who don’t. People who have a scream are too angry or too sad or laugh too hard, swear too much, use drugs or never sit still. Sometimes they sing at the top of their lungs with the windows rolled down. I don’t think people are born with it. I think other people put it inside you with the things they do to you, or say to you, or the things you see them do or say to other people. And I don’t think you can get rid of it. If you don’t have a scream, you can’t understand.*

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[Caraval] Stephanie Garber

Once people leave this isle, the things they’ve done here don’t just unhappen, no matter how much they wish them undone.

Well, I’m glad that I didn’t pursue the idea of buying a UK edition. While Caraval did suffer from the fact that I went through a major reading slump while reading it, it wasn’t just that. I feel like Caraval was far too long for a story where very few things happened.  We were promised a carnival-esque setting, but I feel like I didn’t see much of it. The story primarily focused on Scarlett and Julian instead of the scavenger hunt / performance of Caraval.

Anytime I heard anything about Caraval, I heard about carnivals and circuses.  The people who participate in Caraval are supposed to solve a mystery–the disappearance of Scarlett’s sister–by following a set of clues like a scavenger hunt. It was something that sounded so interesting–a carnival steeped in a fantasy world. At the beginning of the novel, we’re introduced to several characters who are participating in this scavenger hunt, so it seems like Scarlett will have to compete against people who only want the prize, where she has a lot more at stake because it’s her sister. However, as the novel progresses, the only characters we consistently spend time with are Scarlett and Julian. The other characters are somewhere else, only showing up when they need to give hints to Scarlett or reveal that another character is villainous. There’s been other novels where I’ve complained about this before, but Caraval was the absolute worst that I’ve read to date. It basically was Scarlett and Julian wandering around Caraval and happening upon clues. I was really disappointed that the novel ended up focusing on the romance (instant-love, by the way, no matter how much Scarlett feels it’s meant to be and complains about her sister doing the same thing).

I wanted to know more about the tattooed young man and the woman who records all of Caraval–both past and present–in her book. There were shops where you answered truthfully or lost a day of your life–in the sense that you literally die for a day and then wake up the next. Those little bits of fantasy elements that were thrown in were so fascinating that had they been focused on and expanded, I think I would have liked Caraval more than I did. Despite it being about a performance, we didn’t see much of any performance. It had so much potential that wasn’t met, despite the fact that it was heavily marketed as a fantasy-circus novel. I think that Caraval is a prime example of book marketing done right–in the sense that many readers, myself included, were eagerly looking forward to getting our hands on this book. I feel so disappointed that it disappointed me.

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