[REVIEW] Faceless – Alyssa Sheinmel

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Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 5/5
Setting – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“No one will know that I used to be an athlete, that there used to be freckles on my nose, that I used to have a dimple in my left cheek. They might wonder how I got these scars, but they’ll be too polite to ask, and I won’t ever tell.”

Review
When Maisie wakes up from a medically induced coma after going for a run in a storm, she discovers that half of her body has been burnt beyond recognition. Constantly told how lucky she is to be alive, to be found in time, to be brought to this particular hospital, Maisie doesn’t feel very lucky at all. Given the option of a face transplant to repair the damage caused by her accident, Maisie grabs the chance to slip quietly back into normal life without considering how difficult her plan really is.

The plot of FACELESS is a relatively simple but moving one. Maisie is left to rebuild her life in the wake of her accident: going to school, applying for college and trying to keep up with her best friend, Serena, and her boyfriend, Chirag. It’s unfussy, and the simplicity of the story perfectly compliments the inner chaos Maisie experiences as she tries to make sense of what’s happened to her and learns how to look at herself in the mirror again. The book is punctuated with everyday challenges that she once took for granted – her first day back at school, finals, dates and getting up early to go for a run.

The majority of the characters surrounding Maisie are just as believable and honest as she is. Serena is unflinchingly supportive, loyal at cost to her own happiness, while her parents work together as a united front despite their years of fierce arguments. Each has their own problems and lives outside of Maisie’s recovery, and these strong facades start to crumble piece by piece as Maisie slowly begins to understand how her accident has touched the lives of those around her too.

Alyssa Sheinmel presents Maisie’s recovery in what feels like a very truthful and sensitive way. There are no miraculous cures which take the pain away, no great moments of realisation. Each discovery and progression is creeping and gentle, slowly catching up to Maisie as she works through her new appearance as well as the emotional consequences of her surgery. Seeing a stranger every time she looks in the mirror and tied to taking medication for the rest of her life, Maisie has a lot to come to terms with. The difficulties she faces can’t be swept under the carpet, no matter how much she tries to avoid herself.

Set against the typical, YA high school setting makes Maisie’s story a lot more digestible for that younger audience. Such a huge and unimaginable trauma, both mentally and physically, works really well with a relatable background to bring the story back to something understandable. There are many layers to FACELESS, with self-acceptance being one of the major underlying themes.

I received FACELESS from Chicken House in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

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[BOOKTOUR] The Awakened – Sara Elizabeth Santana

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Zoey Valentine is concerned with two things: surviving the multitude of self-defense classes her dad makes her take and avoiding Ash Matthews.

Then the Z virus hits, wiping out a third of the population in a matter of weeks. If that weren’t frightening enough, the bodies of the victims disappear and suddenly reappear, awakened from their dead state.
Faster, smarter, working together to get the one thing they crave, human flesh.

The United States is in a panic and then the government decides the unthinkable: to bomb every major city overrun with the awakened.

Now Zoey is on the run, with her dad and Ash, desperate to find a place of safety amongst the ruined remains of the country.


0081ce_f0504e6999e74d0d830f8a11e8d785e4Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 3/5
Overall – 3/5

Review
Zoey is physically strong and seemingly well prepared for the end of the world. Between shooting lessons and a proficiency in almost every martial art on offer, she can certainly take care of herself.

Her bravery and powerful right hook can be a little too good to be true at times, especially with her tendency to hide her emotional vulnerability, but she does eventually open up as she warms to Ash and comes to terms with her losses along the way.

Whilst in places the plot was somewhat predictable, the awakened are a brilliant twist on the classic, slow zombies which usually haunt apocalypse books and movies. Distinguished by the blue tint to their skin, the awakened are intelligent, vicious, fast and light on their feet; surviving in this new world is a truly brutal affair.

I loved Zoey as a protagonist but felt that occasionally the author was trying a little bit too hard to mould her into a relatable character. She’s super into reading and makes a lot of references to popular novels and characters in the YA community. Sometimes these shoutouts felt a little shoe-horned in, to me, but I definitely think they will go down well with less cynical readers (I’m a grump, what can I say?).

I also have to go out on a limb here and say that I really did not like Ash. He does go through some serious character development throughout the story arc (thankfully), but until the effects of these changes are felt, he is utterly insufferable. I do maintain, however, that a good character doesn’t always have to be likeable, and Ash is the exact kind of smooth, flirtatious, persistent irritant that seems to make other YA readers go weak at the knees.

THE AWAKENED has some seriously steamy moments for a YA novel which took me by surprise. Sometimes sex in YA can produce very stilted, timid, ‘fade to black’ scenes that make it very obvious that the author didn’t feel confident or comfortable writing about it. In THE AWAKENED, these moments are pitched at the perfect level for an emergent audience and are well-written and handled appropriately across the board.

While this certainly wasn’t a major feature of the plot, it is so refreshing to read a YA novel where the 19 year old protagonist actually behaves like an adult. Even little things like Zoey wanting to brush her teeth on the road and having her period add together to make this a wholly more realistic (and therefore frightening) experience.

As a publishing student, the real triumph here is seeing how Ben’s (Benjaminoftomes) hard work has paid off. Setting up a micropublishing house is an amazing feat in itself, but he has also managed to take three books to publication since September with more in the pipeline for early 2016! I can’t wait to see how Oftomes Publishing grows and am certainly looking forward to reading more books from a publishing house which is so in tune with what the community really wants to read.

Overall, THE AWAKENED is fast-paced and exciting, with danger lurking on every road between Zoey’s New York brownstone and her mother’s farm in rural Nebraska. Facing more than her fair share of tragedy, Zoey has to learn how to hone her survival instincts as she slowly becomes aware of how and where these mysterious awakened came from.

I received THE AWAKENED in exchange for an honest review from Oftomes Publishing. My reviews always represent my own opinion. 

[REVIEW] The Selection – Kiera Cass

imagesSummary
Characters – 2/5
Plot – 2/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 2/5
Overall – 2/5

Quote
“I hope you find someone you can’t live without. I really do. And I hope you never have to know what it’s like to have to try and live without them.”

Review
Prince Maxon has finally come of age and all eligible young women across the kingdom have been invited to take part in The Selection. The entire process is televised throughout Illéa, showing the 35 lucky girls as they are whisked away from their families to live in luxury and compete for the hand of the prince.

America didn’t think she stood a chance when her letter arrived, having to be pushed by her mother and boyfriend, Aspen, to take the chance for a better life. When her name is called as one of the chosen few, America’s life changes forever. Automatically bumped up the caste system whether she wins or loses, America can never return to her normal life again. Fiercely loyal to her family but heartbroken by Aspen’s recent betrayal, America plans to stay in the palace for as long as possible just to escape reality – Prince Maxon doesn’t even factor into her ideas.

While I ultimately enjoyed THE SELECTION as an easy break from more taxing reads, I took great exception to the simpering nature of the main character, America. She spends the vast majority of the book fawning over her first (and secret) love, Aspen, while simultaneously falling for the bland Prince Maxon. Love triangles and relationship drama are no new phenomenon in YA, but it’s the positively pathetic and generic way America handles herself that frustrated me most of all. She has all the makings of a perfectly acceptable (if not boring) heroine, but her one dimensional thoughts just perpetuate the outdated stereotype of women swanning around in pretty dresses and weeping over men.

THE SELECTION comes complete with a tiered caste system, vague mentions of poverty, rebellion and a general resentment of the upper factions to create a generally predictable world. There is even a somewhat embarrassing attempt at exposition, with a whole history class on the Chinese invasion of the US. Then the Russian invasion of the US. Then the US becoming a monarchy. Sigh.

It’s a perfect example of the infuriating trap of the modern ‘dystopian’ trilogy. For a start, there is hardly any motivation for this book to be a dystopia. Throwing a poorly judged and terribly insipid few paragraphs on World War 3 completely undermines the reader’s intelligence. Worldbuilding like this needs to be explored sensitively and expansively; not simply comprise of a throwaway reference in order to classify as a popular genre.

Additionally, there is absolutely no need for this book to end on such a poor cliffhanger except to make it ‘fit in’ with the current market. YA publishers seem to be forgetting that, no matter how many books in a series, each novel needs a complete story arc. There is nothing even close to a complete story arc in THE SELECTION – we don’t even see the whole selection process! Is there any reason to drag this plot over three books that doesn’t boil down to money? Not that I can see.

I can appreciate why this has become so popular with the slightly younger YA readers, but it’s the kind of novel that I dislike myself for finding even somewhat entertaining. I’m growing so tired of the incessant bandwagon that is YA dystopian trilogies. Light, fluffy, mindless reads are only going to satisfy the community for so long and I can’t wait for the industry to finally move on.

[REVIEW] Mosquitoland – David Arnold

mosquitolandSummary
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 5/5
Setting – 4/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all. Remember this when I describe the antics that follow, for though I am not a villain, I am not immune to villainy.”

Review
Being called out of class isn’t exactly a new one on Mim, but overhearing the principle discussing her mother’s deteriorating health with her father and step-monster certainly is. And it’s the last straw. Dragged 1,000 miles away to live in Mississippi when her parents divorced, Mim decides it’s about time she made good on her plans to visit her mum in Ohio. Stealing all the money in the house she can find, Mim jumps on the next Greyhound bus and sets off into the world to make things right.

MOSQUITOLAND has a simple but fast-paced plot that is built around the characters Mim encounters on her journey to find her mother. Making plenty of friends and enemies on the way to her mother, Mim’s story is one of humanity and, like all good road trips, figuring out where she stands on family, friends and matters of the heart (in all their incarnations). I never knew what was coming next with Mim, she’s as unpredictable as they come, with all the accompanying excitement.

David Arnold’s style is perfectly pitched between humour and gravity, and feels incredibly genuine from our young heroine’s mouth. Despite spending a fair amount of time travelling and waiting, there is never a dull moment in MOSQUITOLAND with a pace which flows quickly throughout the whole novel.

Told through a combination of letters to Isabelle and an up-close and personal first person narrative, getting inside Mim’s head is an extremely simple, if not occasionally uncomfortable, experience. Medicated at the insistence of her protective father, knowing that what Mim is thinking and feeling is real isn’t entirely straightforward.

Mim is just about the bravest, most relatable, most human YA protagonist that I have yet to come across (and please let there be more). Melinda Salisbury gave a passionate speech at YAShot this year on feminism and the notion of strong female protagonists. She said that being strong is so much more than just having a ‘sassy’ narrative or a physical advantage, that there a million different ways to be strong, from standing up for what you believe in to having the courage to walk away. For me, Mim represents exactly what Melinda was talking about. She is a real human being who is full of the bravado of a confident teenager to the world but, in reality, is just as confused and anxious as everyone else.

Mim may have a funny, nonchalant voice but it is her true self that really makes MOQUITOLAND stand out as honest, liberating and most importantly, believable. The way she interacts with other characters isn’t always flattering, but she does have more redeeming features than she probably even realises. Her partners in crime: Arlene, Walt, Beck and a whole host of Carls, are just as well developed and endearing as she is.

It’s the things that Mim learns about herself on the way to rescue her mother that absolutely brings this novel to life; it takes guts to drag yourself 1,000 miles from home. I truly loved the deeper message of self-acceptance behind this book and can only hope that more readers find that same warmth, to make MOSQUITOLAND a quiet classic for years to come.

I received MOSQUITOLAND in exchange for an honest review from Headline. My reviews always represent my own opinion. 

[REVIEW] Idyll – James Derry

IDYLL_Cover2cSummary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“Their loss was like the sea. When judged with distance, it seemed placid, something ethereal, something that could be abided. But to dwell on their loss, to give in to close scrutiny, led to turmoil. They might start to wallow; they might drown. Fixating on their grief, drawing it close and making it the dominant geological feature of their lives, would be a very bad thing. Then again, ignoring that absence entirely could be just as bad.”

Review
A bizarre plague named The Lullaby has Mother Earth’s second chance, Idyll, in its deadly grasp, and it seems that the only guaranteed way to survive is permanent quarantine. Three years after their father left in search of answers, Walt and Sam finally decide that they’ve had enough of hiding and move on from the family ranch to track him down. Travelling through decimated cities forgotten by everyone but faceless monsters, the brothers take their chances on a journey with their infected mother to find a cure and reunite their family.

Carefully and gradually terraformed over hundreds of years, Idyll has been shaped with the best parts of Earth in mind ready for colonisation. Rid of the unnecessary technology and life-extending pharmaceuticals we have come to rely upon, Idyll has been cultivated on the basis of earning your place, proving your worth and allowing natural selection to do her work. Beginning with the humble and tender care of earthworms and insects, generation after generation of the Starboard family has been trusted to farm creatures great and small. Now experienced ranchers, it is a large responsibility that Sam and Walt must leave behind, in the hope of a better life in the capital – Marathon.

The terror of falling into an endless sleep, infecting anyone close enough to hear the endless comatose mumbling of the trigger phrase, is exceptionally psychologically haunting. Destined to waste away and doom the people you love, The Lullaby is a brilliantly crafted motivator behind the narrative and poses much more than simple mortal threats. The details of the epidemic are well thought-out and small nods to its origins and purpose are intelligently woven into the story through short interludes. The reveal is intensely satisfying with every small piece of the puzzle falling logically into place in way that makes sense while still managing to catch you by surprise.

Our narrators’ opposing personalities make their interactions tense and intriguing, as while they have the same ultimate goals, Walt and Sam must juggle their differing methods and come to terms with their changing priorities. At times, Walt and Sam can be more alike than they realise, the dual narrative giving the reader an insight into how their time in quarantine has both wrenched them apart and solidified their shared morals and values.

Miriam and Virginia are fiery characters who push the brothers beyond their comfort zone and give them something tangible to fight for. With a mother wasting away on Walt’s basic medical training and a father they can only dream of finding, Miriam and Virginia keep them focussed on the road ahead. The sisters struck me in particular as, while they are manipulative and brave, they are still vulnerable and scared. They are neither damsels in distress nor one dimensional strong female characters, they are an honest blend of the two, characters that science fiction and YA needs right now more than ever.

From scientific discussions of the primordia teeming on the planet to the soft glow of the sister moons, it is apparent that a large amount of care and attention to detail has been paid in crafting the world of IDYLL. With a bittersweet ending that plays hope against despair, IDYLL is an exciting and heart-stopping race across a tragically beautiful new planet. Exploring both the physical and psychological effects of a sleeping curse-like plague, IDYLL challenges the reader to delve deeper into the story to discover what really caused the world to fall apart.

I received IDYLL from James Derry in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[BOOKTOUR] Show Time – Phil Harvey

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Visit the SHOW TIME tour on BookBear!

Future viewing audiences have become totally desensitised to violence and entirely dependent on sensation to escape their boring workaday lives—an addiction nurtured by the media with graphic portrayals of war and crime and with so-called reality programming. Now, TV execs in pursuit of the only things they care about—higher ratings and bigger paychecks—have created the ultimate reality show: Seven people, each bearing the scars of his or her past, are deposited on an island in the middle of Lake Superior. Given some bare necessities and the promise of $400,000 each if they can endure, the three women and four men risk death by starvation or freezing as the Great Lakes winter approaches. The island is wired for sound, and flying drones provide the video feed, so everything the contestants do and say is broadcast worldwide. Their seven-month ordeal is entirely unscripted, they can’t ask for help or they forfeit the prize, and as far as the network is concerned—the fewer survivors the better.

AMAZON
APPLE
BARNES & NOBLE


Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
Setting – 4/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“‘People have to believe they’re living on the edge of a precipice,’ Heather said. ‘Otherwise they’re just living boring, ordinary, meaningless lives. That doesn’t work. Does it?’ Jimmy and Janice did not respond. ‘So we all conspire to escape, and violence is the key. Take away the violence and you won’t have real humans anymore. You’ll have another species.’ She paused and took a breath. ‘I want to be a member on this species as it is.'”

Review
14646032I loved the core idea behind this tense and dramatic dystopia, studying the effects of desensitisation, violence and boredom through an extreme lens. SHOW TIME explores what desperation truly means and questions human nature from all angles – as participants broken enough to desert themselves on an island for money and as spectators gladly watching them die for entertainment.

The tale is suspenseful and told with a blunt and detached voice. It reads as though we are the spectators of the reality TV show, dispassionately observing the daily struggle as summer turns to winter on Peshekee Island. The days, and the temperature, count down towards the end, interspersed with glimpses of the characters’ checkered pasts and the meddling of the TV producers.

Ambrose seems to be the reluctant leader of the group, coming up with plans that he hopes will keep them alive. All seven contestants have their reasons for taking on the ultimate challenge and each one has their own ideas on how to survive. Initially driven apart by clashing personalities, eventually necessity brings the team back together. It was interesting to explore the dynamics of the group amongst such a raw and harsh backdrop. The island is a cold and wild environment; no help, no relief, they either make it on their own or they die.

Posing some horrifying questions about our own society, SHOW TIME pushes readers to think about the way reality TV, the media and violence are catering to us on a daily basis. Mollified and controlled by the escapism these shows provide, this is one dystopia that doesn’t seem so impossible after all.

I received SHOW TIME from BookBear in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[REVIEW] Shadows of Self – Brandon Sanderson

Shadow-of-SelfSummary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 5/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“To the eyes of a man burning steel, Elendel was alight and full of motion, even while shadowed by darkness and mist. Metal. In some ways, that was the true mark of mankind. Man tamed the stones, the bones of the earth below. Man tamed the fire, that ephemeral, consuming soul of life. And combining the two, he drew forth the marrow of the rocks themselves, then made molten tools.”

Review
SHADOWS OF SELF sees the return of Waxillium Ladrian, trying to balance his responsibilities as a lord and a lawman. When the Governor’s brother is murdered whilst hosting the cities corrupt noblemen and women, Wax is quickly drawn into the investigation. With the city falling apart and the killer always preternaturally one step ahead, Wax is forced to come uncomfortably close to accepting the possibility that this is one case he simply can’t handle.

In the same style as ALLOY OF LAW, Wax ends up once again drawn into a tangled mess of crimes, mysteries and thrilling experiences. There is a distinctly Wild West feel to these Era 2 novels that widens the genre and brings a completely new aspect to the fantasy landscape. I really enjoyed this crossover and as a reader who usually avoids crime and thrillers, this sideways introduction might encourage me to give some of the more traditional novels in this genre a try.

My absolute favourite features of the Wax and Wayne novels are the subtle nods to the original trilogy. While ALLOW OF LAW and SHADOWS OF SELF can both be appreciated without having read the Mistborn books, Wax’s thrill being at one with the mists is so beautifully aligned with my memories of the first novels. It’s incredibly nostalgic to read about the religions dedicated to serving Kelsier, Vin and Sazed as well as revisiting old places with new characters.

As what is essentially the fifth book of a series, at first SHADOWS OF SELF doesn’t seem to have much scope for building on an already well established world. But, of course, this is Brandon Sanderson we’re talking about. Taking on the industrial boom of Scadrial, where Kelsier and Vin once raced through Elendel’s streets in darkness, Wax now flies above motorcars and electric lights. It’s amazing to see such a familiar world through fresh eyes and I loved getting to know this newly developed Scadrial 300 years after the main events. Even since ALLOY OF LAW there has been rapid development in weapons and transport; this world is vibrant and free from the ashes that plagued Vin’s era.

The new characters continue to develop and I’ve really grown to like the determined Marasi more and more throughout these novels. She has just the right amount of impatience and tempestuousness thrown in with her intelligent and determined demeanour. Wax continues to be brilliant and terrible in equal measure, making reckless decisions that both serve his pride and protect his people.

We see the return of some huge characters and creatures from the Mistborn trilogy to shake the plot up and I’m very excited to see where Brandon takes the future books. The twists were just that little bit more sophisticated, complete with a truly unpredictable and devious villain, and the pace is pitched perfectly, keeping the narrative steaming ahead straight into a shattering conclusion. Dropping some serious bombshells towards the end, it’s clear that Wax, Wayne and Marasi definitely have a lot of story left to tell.

I received SHADOWS OF SELF from Orion in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.