A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchison

13576618A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchison
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Length320 pages
GeneraFiction
Subjects: Hamlet, Shakespeare, Abuse, Retelling, Boarding School
How I obtained the bookLibrary; hardcover

Rating: 

There’s a girl who could throw herself head first into life and forge an unbreakable name, an identity that stands on its own without fathers or brothers or lovers who devour and shatter.
I’VE NEVER BEEN THAT GIRL.

Sixteen-year-old Ophelia Castellan will never be just another girl at Elsinore Academy. Seeing ghosts is not a skill prized in future society wives. Even when she takes her pills, the bean sidhe beckon, reminding her of a promise to her dead mother.Now, in the wake of the Headmaster’s sudden death, the whole academy is in turmoil, and Ophelia can no longer ignore the fae. Especially once she starts seeing the Headmaster’s ghosts- two of them- on the school grounds.At the center of her crumbling world is Dane, the Headmaster’s grieving son. He, too, understands the power of a promise to a parent- even a dead one. To him, Ophelia is the only person not tainted by deceit and hypocrisy, a mirror of his own broken soul. And to Ophelia, Dane quickly becomes everything. Yet even as she gives more of herself to him, Dane slips away. Consumed by suspicion, rage, and madness, he spirals towards his tragic fate- dragging Ophelia, and the rest of Elsinore, with him.

YOU KNOW HOW THIS STORY ENDS.

Yet even in the face of certain death, Ophelia has a choice to make- and a promise to keep. She is not the girl others want her to be. But in Dot Hutchison’s dark and sensuous debut novel, the name “Ophelia” is as deeply, painfully, tragically real as “Hamlet”.

Don’t tell anyone, but the truth is I have never read Hamlet. So, reading A Wounded Name was a bit of an adventure for me and I don’t think I experienced it in its entirety, but even so, I really adored A Wounded Name.

A Wounded Name is a very hard book to like. There are some very uncomfortable themes and it’s a very dark book. If you prefer not to read books with abuse (emotional and physical) and suicide, this is not the book for you.

What makes Hutchison’s retelling different from most retellings (whether they are Shakespeare retellings or not) is the atmosphere. Most authors try to modernize their retelling by making the overall story lighter, but Hutchison definitely did not. A Wounded Name is morbid and disturbing and it makes your skin crawl while reading it. At risk of sounding a bit cliche, I must say that there is honestly no light in this book.

The writing in this book is something that makes two distinct groups of readers – those who loved it and those who hated it. It really depends on how flowery you can handle your language. Personally, I thought the language fit the book perfectly, even if it did at times make reading incredibly slow. The language felt like it was straight out of a Shakespeare play.

One mountain to overcome while reading this book is the fact that you will not like anyone in the book. This isn’t a retelling where Hamlet is a lovable character and you can relate to Ophelia. At some parts of the book, you’ll want to scream because there just isn’t a character that is truly likable except for maybe Horatio, though he is a very minor character.

This will work for some people, but for others it won’t. The majority of complaints about this book center around the characters. They are not meant to be likable, and it can get heavy at times. Unsurprisingly, Hamlet is a very unlikable, repulsive character. It doesn’t detract from the story, in my opinion, but rather strengthen it.

The famed relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet is portrayed in a dark, foreboding manner. It is unhealthy and abusive, yet Hutchison managed to make it strangely alluring. While she does not romanticize the relationship, the general foggy, ethereal tone to the novel manages to draw the reader into the dark reality of the relationship – with its ups and its downs.

According to what I’ve heard, A Wounded Name follows the original play very closely. Instead of the original setting, A Wounded Name is set in a tight-knit boarding school. While the boarding school theme is incredibly overused and dull at this point, I didn’t mind it too much in A Wounded Name. The way the author fit the royal family of the original into the ruling family at an elite school was very well done.

In all, I really loved this absolutely fantastic retelling. It’s not a book for everyone and a lot of people will, and already do, not like it but I think it’s definitely worth reading if you see yourself enjoying this type of book.

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

18077836The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
PublisherDelacorte Books for Young Readers
Length400 pages
Genera: Fantasy
Subjects: Friendship, Steampunk
How I obtained the bookNetgalley; e-arc

Rating: 

Piper lives in a world where the veil into others is thin. Meteor storms rain down objects from other lands, which Piper and her neighbors gather and sell to the rich citizens of the Dragonfly territories. Scavenging these strange odds and ends is the only way to make money in the outer provinces.Piper is good at gathering debris from the storms, but it’s dangerous work. And one day, proof of just how dangerous is lying amongst the rubble of her carriage, unconscious.

The girl is beautiful and well dressed, and the dragonfly marking on her wrist confirms that she is the most valuable thing Piper’s ever stumbled upon. But people don’t leave valuables in the wastelands, so Piper decides to take her home.

It’s who comes for the mysterious girl that begins a journey that will change both of their lives forever.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only place I will truly be happy is in middle grade books. No matter how much I love young adult – and I do – it seems like I can only really enjoy middle grade books anymore. Middle grade books are aimed at a group that hasn’t yet lost their sense of adventure, unlike the often more somber young adult novels. The Mark of the Dragonfly was honestly very refreshing.

While not perfect, The Mark of the Dragonfly was engaging and interesting. The two main characters, Piper and Anna, were two very different girls, with very different strengths and weaknesses. Piper’s headstrong confidence melded nicely with Anna’s more quiet demeanor. Neither girls were very fleshed out, but they were endearing and sweet. Seeing a female friendship is always welcome, after reading a plethora of YA books that bank on female rivalry.

The plot was engaging and drew you in from the first page. The first chapter has the perfect mixture of action, world building, and allure and the rest of the book delivers very well. The plot, despite mildly predictable, was as endearing as the characters. It was chock-full of adventure and just a twinge of mystery.

On the flip side, the worldbuilding was incredibly lacking. I’m honestly not sure where this is set – whether another world or perhaps a parallel world. It could have even have been Earth, in the future. I’m not sure whether this was intentional or just lazy writing. Either way, I would have preferred to have a little more to go on while reading.

My main complaint is the unnessecary addition of a romance subplot. It wasn’t poorly done, but it irritatingly detracted from the plot. I could have, most definitely, done without it.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Mark of the Dragonfly. It was a pretty good book only a couple flaws. Honestly, the biggest flaw is that it was too short! I can’t wait to read what else Johnson has in store for us.

Rise Again Below Zero by Ben Tripp

13547546Rise Again Below Zero by Ben Tripp
PublisherGallery Books
Length352 pages
Genera: Science Fiction
Subjects: Zombies, Dystopia, Action, Adult
How I obtained the bookLibrary; paperback

Rating: 

It began with isolated reports of mass hysteria. Screaming mobs. Sudden death. The plague spread around the world, slaughtering billions. For the survivors knee-deep in corpses, it didn’t seem things could get worse. Until the dead stumbled to their feet. Mindless, shambling, they were repulsive—but harmless. And then a warning came, too late…

Sheriff Danielle Adelman, a troubled war veteran, has pursued her runaway kid sister across the end of the world, and now Danny realizes her problems have only just begun. Danny thought she had seen humanity at its worst in war-torn Iraq, but nothing could prepare her for the remorseless struggle to survive in a dying world being overrun by the reanimated dead. Now, Danny’s epic and dangerous journey challenges her spirit—and brings her to the precipice of sanity itself.

Filled with adventurous human drama, and shocking inhuman horror, this sequel to the acclaimed novel Rise Again continues a vivid and powerful fiction debut

It look me a long time to get into the zombie hype. Zombies just felt flat to me, compared to the surplus of other, far more interesting, monsters. Why go for zombies when you can fight a kaiju or a wendigo? However thanks to a certain television show with a hot cowboy, I think its time to apologize to zombies, and all the fantastic books like Rise Again Below Zero I would have missed out on if I continued to refuse to read zombie books.

Rise Again Below Zero is my first encounter with Ben Tripp and I’m hungry for more. I haven’t read the first book of the Rise Again duology, but it was not necessary to fully enjoy this book.

Ben Tripp doesn’t fall for the same mistake that many authors do in sequels. The relationships between the characters aren’t taken for granted, but instead are reinforced and reintroduced in the second novel. Even the characters experience growth throughout the book. In fact, the relationships were extraordinarily strong and they played a large part in the book.

I’m less interested in the zombies and more interested in the human interactions. Rise Again Below Zero showcases this aspect of the subgenre incredibly well. Character driven at its core, Rise Again Below Zero keeps the reader going because of the very well conceived characters and relationships.

Tripp took an interesting turn with his monsters, as he added a sort of “class” system. Class systems are rarely utilized in zombie books, from what I’ve seen and this was an enjoyable edition to the book. It definitely helped to keep the action aspect of the book from getting stale.

While the plot and world building is well crafted, it’s obvious that Tripp’s main strength is in his character building. Danny is a beautifully flawed character who’s actions are not always commendable but understandable and relatable. She breaks the mold, as Tripp refuses to let her fall into neither the Cold Warrior trope nor Damsel in Distress trope.

While the book has a large focus on Danny and her reflections, the secondary characters are incredible in their depth. Rise Again Below Zero is full of genuinely good people, despite their flaws. Tripp was able to create the depth needed for this book and he did it perfectly. He was able to create multi-dimensional characters, instead of making black and white; good and bad archetypes. “Good” was not completely and utterly pure. “Bad” was not despicable, nor one sided and flat. Showcasing some of the most morally grey situations and characters, the characters of Rise Again Below Zero were strong, flawed, and respectable.

Despite Rise Again Below Zero being a heavily character driven book, the plot was not lacking. It could be pretty slow at times, especially during the heavily retrospective sections, but the tension and excitement was perfectly utilized. The circumstances which Danny found herself in were engaging and at times genuinely frightening. The plot twists were brilliant and kept me at the edge of my seat.

Rise Again Below Zero was a fantastic, entertaining read with characters that I felt connected with and genuinely cared for. I recommend it to anyone looking for something other than the average zombie/dystopian book.

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

17817631Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig
PublisherSkyscape
Length354 pages
Genera: Dystopia
Subjects: Friendship, Farming, Action, Rebellion
How I obtained the bookNetgalley; e-arc

Rating: 

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It’s the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it.
As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families.But Cael’s tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He’s sick of the mayor’s son besting Cael’s crew in the scavenging game. And he’s worried about losing Gwennie his first mate and the love of his life forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed.
But most of all, Cael is angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn’t seem upset about any of it. Cael’s ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

Under the Empyrean Sky was a thrilling and exciting ride, full of memorable characters and memorable places. While most definitely not flawless, Under the Empyrean Sky is extremely entertaining and enjoyable.

While the book wasn’t especially unique, Wendig used some more commonly used tropes and elaborated on them. He, however, forgot to explain lots of these tropes, and they seemed nonsensical and random. There were a few things that just didn’t really add up in the book such as the Hunger Games-esque lottery where life couples are chosen. I’ve never really understood these, and in this book less so. What’s the point in the government choosing your partner if it’s totally random? Is it to break moral? Is it because they could? Was it the aliens? The world may never know.

Cael is a memorable character with a very defined personality that you don’t often see in YA literature. He’s not a perfect nor always likable character, but I thought he was written fairly well. He wasn’t the best protagonist but he wasn’t a bad one either.

The secondary characters were, while not nearly as well developed as Cael, also relatively enjoyable and interesting characters. I had issues with the similarities between Cael’s two friends. They often seemed to be the same character. Pop, Cael’s father, was a surprisingly well done character. It’s not often that fathers – or parents in general – are given the time of day in YA and I’m always really happy when they are!

My biggest complaint with Under the Empyrean Sky was its rampant misogyny. Women were portrayed as weak and never mentioned without talking about a man. Women were docile and it often seemed like their only merits were their attractiveness. Attractiveness is a deciding factor on whether a woman is good or bad, such as with the two main female characters. One of them, Gwennie, was described as attractive numerous times, and was considered to be the ‘good’ one. In constrast, Wanda was the ‘ugly’ one and therefore the ‘bad’ one. Under the Empyrean Sky definitely does not meet the Bechdel expectations.

Wendig’s writing was the novel’s strength. It was incredibly unique and defined. The colloquial way of writing that Wendig uses is rarely something I like but it fit very well with the themes and characters of Under the Empyrean Sky.

While not perfect, Under the Empyrean Sky is an enjoyable and fun read. It’s often irritating, but I can see many people enjoying it.

Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

10479750Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown
PublisherDelacorte Books for Young Readers
Length303 pages
Genera: Fantasy
Subjects: Mermaids, Romance, Revenge
How I obtained the bookLibrary; hardcover

Rating: 

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans and absorb their positive energy. Usually, they select their victims at random, but this time around, the underwater clan chooses its target for a reason: revenge. They want to kill Jason Hancock, the man they blame for their mother’s death.It’s going to take a concerted effort to lure the aquaphobic Hancock onto the water. Calder’s job is to gain Hancock’s trust by getting close to his family. Relying on his irresistible good looks and charm, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock’s daughter Lily. Easy enough, but Calder screws everything up by falling in love–just as Lily starts to suspect there’s more to the monster-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined, and just as the mermaids threaten to take matters into their own hands, forcing Calder to choose between them and the girl he loves.One thing’s for sure: whatever Calder decides, the outcome won’t be pretty.

I went into Lies Beneath with extremely low expectations and, honestly, in some ways, I was pleasantly surprised. Lies Beneath is not the worst book I’ve ever read, nor the worst book published in 2013 like pretty much everyone was saying. It’s not an exceptionally good book at all, but it’s not a horrible one.

Lies Beneath opens with Calder, a young merman, contemplating abstinence – abstinence from murder that is. The first chapter was beautifully done, alluring and dark. I was immediately sucked in by the tone and by Calder himself. The morally grey Calder definitely appealed to me and I was excited to see what would come next. For much of the book, he did not disappoint.

Calder isn’t a very good evil merman, for a lot of reasons. While he’s got the drive, he fails to deliver. The book is supposedly about him and his sisters trying to get back at the man who killed their mother but he not only manages to fail spectacularly in getting revenge but also falls in love with the daughter of said man. It’s okay Calder, you tried your best.

On the bright side, the romance between Calder and Lily was very well done at first. I liked how they didn’t immediately fall together. Lily is smart, bold, and an overall likable character. She could have done way better than Calder, but hey, whatever floats your boat, Lily.

However, later on, it became kinda off when it went from a cute flirting to a very serious relationship, after a couple of days. As insta-love goes, it wasn’t as bad as I’ve seen but it was uncomfortable, suffice it to say. The plot really started lacking once the romance started, which was incredibly sad because I was really interested in it. Calder’s sisters role was heavily reduced as well. I wasn’t too fond of that. I think the romance was just way too strong. It was overwhelming.

I didn’t have high hopes for this book, but the characters were surprisingly interesting. Calder was a refreshing character in YA lit. We don’t often get to see morally grey characters, and I enjoyed him a lot. Lily was fairly one dimensional, but she wasn’t bad. I’m hoping the next book will fix her flatness. The sisters were really great characters, and I am very disappointed by their small roles in the book.

While Lies Beneath wasn’t a good book, I don’t think it was as bad as everyone says. While the romance wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible. The plot was pretty interesting when Calder and Lily weren’t too busy with each other. I don’t really recommend to it anyone because, in the end, it falls flat.

The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C Carleson

17910573The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C Carleson
PublisherKnopf Books for Young Readers
Length304 pages
Genera: Realistic Contemporary
Subjects: Royalty, Self Discovery, Religion
How I obtained the bookNetgalley; e-arc

Rating: 

From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.
When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations? J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.

I was more than a bit apprehensive about The Tyrant’s Daughter at first. While the synopsis sounded great, numerous warning flags popped up in my head. Not only was the subject matter was hard to pull off, but at the end of the day, J. C. Carleson was still a white, American author – no matter how extensively they’d traveled – and the book was about Muslim nonwhite royalty. Considering my last encounter with YA books concerning Muslim teenagers, I was cautious with the book.

Thankfully, Carleson very much exceeded my expectations for the novel. Laila’s story is an extraordinary one. After her father was killed in a coup, Laila is relocated to the US along with her brother and mother. The Tyrant’s Daughter chronicles Laila’s adjustment to American high school life while having to deal with her family – including her brother’s irritatingly carefree demeanor.

J.C. Carleson’s biggest strength is in her empathetic writing. While it was clean and minimalistic, it conveyed the intensity of the events with depth. It was abounding with a sense of desperate longing for her home, her old life and uncertainty.

Laila was an incredibly realistic protagonist. Flawed, yet ultimately relatable, Laila’s plights became ours as we read. Her selfish, haughty tone mask deep insecurities, as she struggles to accept her current way of life as a reality. Beautifully crafted, Laila is easily one of my favorite protagonists in a long time.

While I enjoyed the characterizations of Laila’s people – her family and the other families from her home, I felt that the American characters were severely lacking and one dimensional. Even Laila’s American friends such as Emmy and Ian were missing the spark that the other characters had. I couldn’t like either of them because they were just too cardboard for my liking.

The story of The Tyrant’s Daughter was engaging and eye-opening. Laila’s whole life was turned upside down when she and her family are rushed out of their country. They are forced to exchange a life of decadence and opulence for a dingy little apartment and financial insecurity. Her struggles were human, and I felt deeply for her.

At the end of the day, the book was mainly about Laila trying to come to terms with who and what her father was and how her perfect family wasn’t as pretty as she wanted it to be. It’s also about Laila’s journey of self-discovery. The ‘love triangle’ (a term I use loosely) was less between two boys and more of an internal strife between two parts of herself.

Laila’s story was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While it wasn’t perfect, it was really good and I wholeheartedly recommend it to people looking for a deep book about family, love, and finding the true ‘you’.

Hereafter by Kate Brian

17393021Hereafter by Kate Brian
PublisherDisney-Hyperion
Length320 pages
Genera: Science Fiction
Subjects: Afterlife, Mystery, Romance
How I obtained the bookLibrary; paperback

Rating: 

Rory Miller thought her life was over when a serial killer set his sights on her and forced her into witness protection. But a fresh start on Juniper Landing Island was exactly what she and her family needed. For the first time in years she and her sister hang out at the beach, gossip about boys, and party together. She’s also made friends with a local clique–including a magnetic and mysterious boy named Tristan.
But Rory’s world is about to change again. Picturesque Juniper Landing isn’t what it seems. The truth about the swirling fog that rolls in each morning, the bridge that leads to nowhere, and those beautiful locals who seem to watch Rory’s every move is more terrifying than being hunted by Steven Nell. And all Rory ever wanted was the truth. Even if it means learning that she can never go home again. From the best-selling author of the Private and Privilege series comes the second novel in a heart-stopping trilogy about a girl who must pick up the pieces after the only life she’s ever known ends.

This review contains unmarked minor spoilers for Shadowlands, book one of the Shadowlands trilogy.

When I read Shadowlands last year, I couldn’t really say I was impressed with it. I loved the murder mystery but the characters were incredibly lacking for me and I couldn’t really connect with any of them. Hereafter was a very lackluster book, but I could see potential in it. Hereafter was a very disappointing read, as I had higher hopes for it. While the characters slightly improved in Hereafter, the plot took a turn for the worse.

Shadowlands had a very interesting plot. The mystery and heart pounding tension made it an enjoyable read at times. Sadly, Hereafter suffers from Second Book Syndrome and what made the first book good was lost in this installment. It was mediocre, but not great by any stretch of the imagination. The big ‘twist’ of the novel was uninspired at best, as Brian all but spelled it out in the first two chapters. The overall plot was fell flat compared to Shadowlands.

In the first book, the mystery second narrator was purposefully obvious, I think. You were supposed to know who it was, at least vaguely. In this book, clearly it was meant to be a surprise. Instead of gradual foreshadowing, Brian went straight for a semi-reveal.

All the characters were some sort of modified trope – the MIA parent trope, the cold ‘slut’, ect.

After looking at the cover (I’m assuming it’s her sister in the background), you’d think that she and the father would play a major role in the book, especially due to some key plot points. But, no, not really. She spends hardly any time with either family member, as she was much more interested in spending time with Tristan. I don’t buy it. Her dad would be worried sick about her, especially because he thinks Steven Nell is out there. Would he really let his daughter spend practically all of her time out in the town, without any protection?

The hate between Nadia and Rory was really stupid, honestly. Rory immediately took Nadia for a provocatively dressed, man-stealing bitch and Nadia hated Rory for some unexplained reason. I’m not sure what started this immense dislike for her, but damn, Nadia hated Rory.

Rory’s obsession with Tristan was just plain annoying to read. I don’t like pining in my books and this was no different. Rory just wouldn’t shut up about Tristan’s sexiness or his amazing bod. I don’t care, Rory. I don’t care. The cheap excuse for a ‘romance’ reduced the impact of the ending.

The mystery of the souls going to the wrong place was literally all Hereafter had going for it, and it did it fairly well. The tension was well done in places and I felt involved in the story.

Shadowlands was perfect as a stand-alone and Brian should have left it at that. Shadowlands was an incredibly disappointing book, only occasionally entertaining. This book is only worth reading if you really enjoyed the first book – and even then, maybe it’s best to forget this book ever happened.

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

17084242The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
PublisherChronicle Books
Length356 pages
Genera: Urban Fantasy
Subjects: Vampires, Mystery, Cults, Sherlock Holmes,Time Travel
How I obtained the bookLibrary; hardcover

Rating: 

Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there’s no one more qualified to investigate.Now fierce Evaline and logical Mina must resolve their rivalry, navigate the advances of not just one but three mysterious gentlemen, and solve murder with only one clue: a strange Egyptian scarab. The stakes are high. If Stoker and Holmes don’t unravel why the belles of London society are in such danger, they’ll become the next victims.

I’m afraid that Colleen Gleason was trying just too hard with this book. The Clockwork Scarab was Gleason’s first venture into YA and it seems that she put all of her ideas for a book into one 356 page novel. The Clockwork Scarab is a book chimera; with vampires, Sherlock, steampunk, time travelers, and cults centered on ancient Egyptian goddesses.

Most of the aspects blended fairly well, except for the time traveling. It felt like it was slapped in because it had no real impact on the story. Dylan, the time traveler, wasn’t even a major character. He had maybe one major plot changing appearance and that’s it. He was really only in the novel for comedic effect.

The Clockwork Scarab is set in a (subtle) steampunk London, which was really interesting. I enjoyed seeing how Gleason only took little aspects of London and changed them instead of a mass overhaul. London is still as Victorian as ever, except there are steam-powered robots to help dress people.

Both of the main characters, Mina and Evaline, were undeveloped. Mina’s personality was generally unlikable and irritating, as Gleason went for the bookworm trope with her. Evaline was unremarkable, and even less memorable than Mina. I don’t know what to say about her because she wasn’t really anything. At least Mina had some emotion and personality, while Evaline had pretty much nothing going for her.

The story was surprisingly enjoyable. It wasn’t very remarkable, but it was entertaining enough to carry the book. The mystery was in the novel was well developed, if eccentric. I was genuinely interested in the mystery and I don’t often feel that.

The Clockwork Scarab was an enjoyable read, without any depth. While the characters were awful, the plot was definitely fun to read and I would recommend it to someone looking for a nice, light read.

Tandem by Anna Jarzab

15829686Tandem by Anna Jarzab
PublisherDelacorte Books for Young Readers
Length428 pages
Genera: Fantasy
Subjects: Parallel Universes, Monarchy, Romance
How I obtained the bookLibrary; hardcover

Rating: 

Everything repeats.
You. Your best friend. Every person you know.
Many worlds. Many lives–infinite possibilities.
Welcome to the multiverse. 
Sixteen-year-old Sasha Lawson has only ever known one small, ordinary life. When she was young, she loved her grandfather’s stories of parallel worlds inhabited by girls who looked like her but led totally different lives. Sasha never believed such worlds were real–until now, when she finds herself thrust into one against her will.To prevent imminent war, Sasha must slip into the life of an alternate version of herself, a princess who has vanished on the eve of her arranged marriage. If Sasha succeeds in fooling everyone, she will be returned home; if she fails, she’ll be trapped in another girl’s life forever. As time runs out, Sasha finds herself torn between two worlds, two lives, and two young men vying for her love–one who knows her secret, and one who thinks she’s someone she’s not.The first book in the Many-Worlds Trilogy, Tandem is a riveting saga of love and betrayal set in parallel universes in which nothing–and no one–is what it seems.

Forget about black – Stockholm Syndrome is the new sexy. Well, at least according to Tandem and Ms. Sasha Lawson it is (though I’m sure a certain Gemma would agree).

Thomas, one of the love interests, not only kidnaps her but also lies to her about who he is and emotionally manipulates Sasha. Either he is so good at his job or Sasha is so exasperatingly illogical that she ends up being so conflicted about her feelings that she completely loses any sense of self preservation that she ever had.

“I rescued it,” he said. “It was the only thing I had from… us, in your world. I guess I didn’t want to let it go. I meant what I said to that night on the beach. It was the best night of my life, being with you; it was the one time I really felt like myself. Ironic, huh?” I nodded, pulling him in for a soft, lingering kiss.

“Thomas,” I whispered. “That’s very romantic, you know.”

No, that’s not romantic. He pretty much kept a memento of that night he tricked you into falling for him and following him to a beach where he then kidnapped you. There are no blurred lines here – just very, very defined ones.

While, the romance was certainly the worst part of the novel, the rest of the book was really good as far as most books dealing with parallel universes go. The world building was incredibly in-depth and very well done, and the plot was interesting.

The world building in Tandem was artfully executed – from the science behind parallels to the United Commonwealth itself. Science is probably the most ignored part of world building in fantasies and dystopias. We’re often given either no explanation and told to just accept it or we’re given a flimsy explanation based in faulty science. Tandem however addressed all my questions with a sensible explanation.

This, however, came with a price. Jarzab spent all of her energy building her world and as a consequence, not enough time on their characters. While the United Commonwealth of Columbia was fully fleshed out, there was a lot to be desired in the characters.

At times the characters were okay but more often than not, I felt little to no connection with any of the characters. Sasha was wholly unlikeable and at times I couldn’t stand her. She darted from incapable to overly and impossibly competent. It feels like she takes Juliana’s position way too quickly, and easily, to be realistic.

Thomas was irritating and clichéd – not to mention a huge dick. There was absolutely nothing new to his character. He was smart, incredibly handsome, and, of course, entirely unpleasant. He has the nerve to be surprised when Sasha doesn’t like him at first after he kidnaps her. What did he expect – Sasha to thank him for saving here and taking her away from her world? It doesn’t work like that.

Thomas works for the King’s Secret Service, at the age of 18 mind you. The only reason he got this job was because Daddy Dearest is the great and powerful General. Did someone say nepotism? He then at one point tries to tell himself, feebly, that the General did not display favoritism when it came to the ‘Academy’.

The other love interest, Callum, was the embodiment of the cute, cuddly love interest cliché but at least he was likable and quirky as opposed to Thomas who definitely wasn’t.

Before I end the review, I have one more thing to cover quickly. The tagline.

Everything repeats.
You. Your best friend. Every person you know.
Many worlds. Many lives–infinite possibilities.
Welcome to the multiverse.

Wrong. It’s explicitly stated that not everything repeats. Not every person Sasha knew was in the multiverse. For example, Juliana had totally different parents in the other universe and Sasha’s parents didn’t even exist.

Overall, Tandem has an enjoyable plot and world building. Was it a great read? No, but it was entertaining enough for me to finish it. I recommend it to people who can read through a book without paying too much attention to the weaknesses.

Anomaly by Krista McGee

16124145Anomaly by Krista McGee
PublisherThomas Nelson Publishers
Length312 pages
Genera: Dystopia
Subjects: Romance, Genetic Engineering, Nuclear War
How I obtained the bookLibrary; paperback

Rating: 

Thalli has fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds left to live. The toxic gas that will complete her annihilation is invading her bloodstream. But she is not afraid.Thalli is different than others in The State. She feels things. She asks questions. And in the State, this is not tolerated. The Ten scientists who survived the nuclear war that destroyed the world above believe that emotion was at the core of what went wrong—and they have genetically removed it from the citizens they have since created. Thalli has kept her malformation secret from those who have monitored her for most of her life, but when she receives an ancient piece of music to record as her community’s assigned musician, she can no longer keep her emotions secreted away.

Seen as a threat to the harmony of her Pod, Thalli is taken to the Scientists for immediate annihilation. But before that can happen, Berk—her former Pod mate who is being groomed as a Scientist—steps in and persuades the Scientists to keep Thalli alive as a test subject.

The more time she spends in the Scientist’s Pod, the clearer it becomes that things are not as simple as she was programmed to believe. She hears stories of a Designer—stories that fill her mind with more questions: Who can she trust? What is this emotion called love? And what if she isn’t just an anomaly, but part of a greater design?

Before I start the review, I want to make it clear that my review will be biased and I will not attempt hide this in any shape or form. I am not the intended audience for this novel (deeply, devout Christian teens). Despite how naïve this may be, I do not believe that religious novels should only be read and appreciated by religious people. I have read novels written to and by people of many faiths and have enjoyed some of them. I’ve seen that the main issue of these sorts of books is not the presence of religion but the fact that the authors seem to make religion a singular focus in a book instead of simply an influential aspect of the book.

Despite the genre, books should always have strong characterization and an engaging plot, not to mention being well-written. Anomaly has none of these three things. The characters are pitiful cardboard cutouts that bear little to no resemblance to actual people. The main character, Thalli, is the one of the only characters that actually has emotions yet it would be impossible to tell had it not been for her constant reminder of how superior she was. One of the supporting characters’, John, only purpose in life is to preach to Thalli. The plot was one dimensional and boring.

Anomaly had a strong beginning, as far as dystopias go. It’s set in a futuristic world, destroyed by a nuclear war. Thalli’s society lives underground and is ruled by ten scientists. These scientists have genetically designed human beings to have no emotions, since they believed emotions were the downfall of civilization and the reason for the war. Not much background is given for the book nor any concrete world building. It seems like everyone is white, cisgender, and heterosexual, though. Not that sexuality matters because neither romance nor sex occurs in these Pods.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was engaging enough. If the book continued the way it started, it could have easily gotten a decent 2.5 – 3. But alas, it was not meant to be and around 100 pages in, the dreaded preaching came in.

Religion is totally okay in books, I am completely fine with it. However, I cannot tolerate excessive preaching in novels. The main reason I couldn’t enjoy Warm Bodies was because of the overwhelming feelings of being lectured to. I cannot stand that. I don’t want a book where I feel physically uncomfortable reading it because there isn’t a page where a character isn’t preaching about God. I expected religion to play a major part in the book, but instead it was the only driving force in the novel.

If only McGee had more skill in writing, this book may have been saved. But, sadly, her writing is as bland and lifeless as her plot and characters. It’s emotionless and boring, as McGee seems to have little skill in the art of storytelling.

Anomaly was an extremely disappointing way to start the new year with. I can’t say I’ll be reading any of McGee’s books again, nor any subsequent books in the Anomaly series.