[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] Magonia – Maria Dahvana Headley

21393526Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 3/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“I’m dark matter. The universe inside of me is full of something, and science can’t even shine a light on it. I feel like I’m mostly made of mysteries.”

Review
Aza Ray has been drowning in thin air since she was one year old, kept alive on experimental drugs and countless trips to the hospital. Her condition is so rare that it’s been named after her – she’s the only one to ever be diagnosed. When she begins to hallucinate giant ships in the sky and hundreds of birds following her a few days before her 16th birthday everyone puts it down to her medication, and then she disappears.

MAGONIA is an exciting story that bridges the gap between young adult contemporary and fantasy. Whisked up into the sky, Aza discovers a fascinating new world of flying ships, pirates and magic. She can breathe, she can sing, but she can never return home to Earth. The story alternates between Aza’s new life in Magonia and her best friend, Jason, desperately trying to find a way back to her.

I have to give credit here for an exceptionally original and exciting plot. Magonia is a brilliantly unique world of mythology, politics and magic, somehow feeling possible and fairytale all at the same time. Based on 8th century folklore, Aza’s new world brings to life the original UFO story, anchors falling from the sky, sailors drowning in the air and crops mysteriously disappearing. The plot of MAGONIA was something entirely fresh and ever-changing, fast paced with an explosive conclusion.

Whilst we don’t get to experience much of the physical world of Magonia, limited mostly to the ship Aza joins, the culture she experiences whilst aboard is rich and well thought-out. There are norms unique to the pirates of the ship and certain rites and rituals that must be respected. Aza must learn to earn her position rather than strut straight to the top – she might be a bit of a special snowflake but she’s got to work first.

I got on well with Maria’s writing style and thought her occasional poetic touches were perfect – words falling down the page in shapes and spirals, using empty brackets to show the words that best remain unspoken. The relationship between Aza and Jason was well crafted and felt quite realistic, but the inclusion of a love triangle irritated me.

I feel like a lot of YA novels feel the need to add some kind of love complication as an attempt at a side-plot, when in reality it just ruins the story more often than not. Well done romance is certainly a welcome addition to a story – Aza and Jason were definitely headed in the right direction – but throwing in a second love interest often just doesn’t fit with the personality and direction of the protagonist. Aza is loyal, thick-skinned, sarcastic and biting, and Jason has tried for 10 years to make her go weak at the knees. I just don’t see this Romeo and Juliet kind of relationship with another guy even crossing her mind. I completely appreciate the parallels Maria was trying to draw here with Aza’s loyalties now split between two completely different worlds, but her jellylegs for someone she just met seemed disingenuous to her true character.

Whilst overall I really enjoyed MAGONIA, there was a little something lacking that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. It niggled at me the whole way through and I wasn’t sure whether it was in the storytelling, the characters or something else entirely. This little something bothered me and I wish I could have let it go to fully immerse myself in the story.

Regardless, I’m definitely interested to see how Aza’s story pans out in the planned sequel as I’m expecting some serious repercussions and drama based on the final chapters of MAGONIA. A completely original story with an exciting plot, I’m absolutely looking forward to reading more from Maria Dahvana Headley.

[REVIEW] Lorali – Laura Dockrill

24910026Summary
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

In a Tweet
Mermaid-turned-human, Lorali washes up on an English beach. Found by a sweet natured boy and hunted by everyone, can they survive the storm?

Review
I picked up LORALI expecting it to be a harmless summer read to pass the time, not sure on whether I would actually enjoy it. The tagline doesn’t inspire much confidence (“An extraordinary mermaid in an ordinary town”) but I thought I’d give it a chance. Needless to say, it completely blew my expectations out of the water.

In the grim seaside town of Hastings, young Rory celebrates his birthday the way he always has. Standing out to sea with a bag of chips, wondering if this year his dad might remember a card or even make an appearance, and planning his evening trying to get served in the local.

Lorali is a princess that has always been unusually fascinated by the world above. When her Resolution, a mermaid rite of passage, doesn’t turn out as she’d hoped, she decides to seek solace in the human world. Washing up on the shore, alone, afraid and suddenly with legs, she soon discovers both the kindness and horrors of the human nature.

Punchy, exciting and gripping, LORALI is fantastically original and told with a melodic style. I would say that it’s only very loosely based on The Little Mermaid, definitely not a straightforward retelling. The plot is full of surprises and I don’t want to give too much away with my review; it definitely kept me on my toes. Splitting the narrative into three perspectives (plus the occasional newspaper clipping and blog post) kept the story moving, flowing quickly from chapter to chapter.

Rory’s voice is incredibly fresh and real, portraying the true nature of a 16 year old stuck in a dead town. I was surprised at how funny he was and how realistic his words and actions were – it’s been a long time since I’ve really believed in a character in this way. He could very easily walk off the page and straight into any high school in Britain without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow.

Lorali is just as wonderfully complex, her background and motives are dripped throughout the story to draw you in and fascinate you. She brings with her the mystery of the mermaid culture and the wonder of learning a new one. Her early moments are bright and funny, and when her true personality begins to be unearthed we find she’s feisty, brave but still quite vulnerable.

The Sea as a narrator was an absolutely brilliant choice. Able to give insights on the goings-on both below and above, The Sea became the wise and sassy omnipotent perspective, although that doesn’t make her any more reliable. Tripping the reader up in her own quirky voice, The Sea drops the hints and lets the reader do the work.

The mermaid kingdom is vivid and imaginative, full of fun little details. Laura has given the merpeople their own heritage, culture and secrets with side characters that are much more than just backdrop. The Sea takes care to fully introduce our pirates and people, meaning every character feels valuable to the story.

I feel like the ending is set up for a sequel, but honestly I would be happy to leave the world how it is. There’s the hint of what’s to come in the future and I would prefer to just connect the dots myself. The conclusion is exciting and vicious, with a good measure of hope thrown in at the end.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with LORALI and would absolutely recommend it to lovers of YA contemporary and fantasy alike. With elements of romance, action, adventure and mystery, it’s not only a tale of finding yourself but also learning what’s important and what to let go.

[REVIEW] All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

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

Quote
“The thing I realise is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

Review
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES tells the story of love-struck Finch and Violet, as the unlikely couple meet on the edge of the school bell tower, neither certain if they really want to jump. Still grieving painfully after the tragic death of her older sister, Violet’s depression is crushing her with an iron-grip, while Finch constantly re-invents himself to find a reason to stay awake every single day.

Built completely around Violet and Finch, the plot has a simple premise that allows the personality and prose to shine through. Brought together for what they expect to be a lame school project, the pair are sentenced to wander Indiana and learn what their state has to offer. As Violet slowly begins to reconcile with her loss and start to live again with Finch’s coaxing, Finch is struggling to hold it together and pulls further and further away. The parallels between their lives are both healing and heartbreaking, set against the background of Finch’s exciting and imaginative wandering sites.

Violet and Finch are both wonderfully complex and well developed characters in every aspect. They feel like real people with real actions and emotions; their presence just leaps off the page. Reading their story felt like experiencing it all first hand, with a relationship so beautifully crafted it makes you ache. Both Finch and Violet have distinct voices when narrating their own chapters, and are brought to life with quirks that make them unique in personality too. There is nothing cheesy or embarrassing about their romance, just an honest telling of the lives of these fully-fleshed teenagers.

While some of the other characters are little lacking in the same all-encompassing depth and emotional complexity, I really didn’t mind. This is completely Violet and Finch’s story, everyone else falling away to show how truly wrapped up in each other they become.

Jennifer Niven’s style is simply stunning. Each sentence, paragraph and chapter is constructed with a purpose and reads beautifully. There’s real passion behind her story and it’s evident she has drawn on some intense personal experiences to create this level of raw energy in her writing.

The sentiment behind the whole story comes from a very real place, as such, ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES handles teenage mental health in a mature and powerful way. Neither romanticising or sweeping aside Finch and Violet’s personal struggles, this novel creates an honest and sensitive space to discuss depression and grief. A difficult one to get right, Niven really nails what it is that love can do, and more importantly, what love cannot do for those with depression.

There isn’t a thing about this novel that I didn’t love. ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES is believable, rich and raw and I was completely glued to it beginning to end. Finch in particular made this story for me with his vulnerability and easy charm. Simply perfect.

[FUN STUFF] Things literature has taught me about love

Inspired by Valentine’s Day and the uncountable displays of public affection hitting social media all over the world, here’s a little list I put together of things I’ve learnt about love from my reading adventures.

Image(Clary and Simon – The Mortal Instruments Series) 

1. Your best friend is absolutely, 100%, secretly head-over-heels in love with you and has been since the day he first laid eyes on you. How you remain persistently oblivious to this is kind of baffling, I mean have you seen the way he looks at you?! You totally lead him on too. You’re mean.

Image(Cole and Nikki – Everneath Series)

2. You will ignore your best friend’s frustratingly obvious affections and become obsessed with a seemingly unattainable rebel and/or supernatural being instead. Not cool.

Image(Bella and Jacob – Twilight Saga)

3. When the rebel and/or supernatural being inevitably breaks your heart, your best friend will wipe your tears and pick up all the broken pieces for you. He might even refrain from saying ‘I told you so’ (even though he so desperately wants to).

Image(Ron and Hermione – Harry Potter Series)

4. Your best friend will probably turn out to be the perfect guy after all. I told you so.

Image
(Tris and Four – Divergent Trilogy)

5. If you’re a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man, it turns out you probably need a man. Because romance, right?

Image(Karou and Akiva – Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy)

6. Opposites attract. Yeah, things might get a bit rocky when you realise he’s slaughtered hundreds of your people, but true love conquers all, right?

Image(Hazel and Gus – The Fault in Our Stars)

7. No matter how you might see yourself, someone somewhere loves every single inch of you. Whether you like it or not (hopefully not in a creepy way).

Image(Cersei and Jaime – A Song of Ice and Fire Series)

8. Forbidden love is forbidden for a reason. No more Joffreys, please lord no more Joffreys.

Image(Ethan and Lena – The Caster Chronicles)

9. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Image(Pat and Tiffany – The Silver Linings Playbook)

10. Never give up. There is someone out there who will understand your particular brand of crazy and love you for it, not in spite of it.

I feel far too mushy and sentimental now, ew gross. Do you have any favourite literary couples? I want to hear what books have taught you about love, life… anything!

[REVIEW] Freak of Nature – Julia Crane

ImageSummary
Characters – 2/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 4/5
Science – 2/5
Overall – 3/5

In a Tweet
“Teen robot/human hybrid keeps her emotions secret, until her feelings for a handsome doctor spill out as she finds out she must leave him.”

Review
Kaitlyn is no longer human. After donating her body to science, she’s been upgraded with the most advanced technology available and her memories have been wiped in order to hone her into the perfect killing machine, ready to be sold to the highest bidder.  Except Kaitlyn isn’t all robot; she can still feel, and her confusing emotions are never more apparent than when Dr Lucas is near.

I was initially quite excited to get my hands on FREAK OF NATURE, with a gorgeous cover and an intriguing plot it looked like a book I could really enjoy, although it wasn’t long until I discovered it wasn’t really my ‘thing’.

The developing relationship between Kaitlyn and Lucas is really what drives FREAK OF NATURE forward. Admittedly while I expected some romance I was definitely hoping for more science, however nothing was explained in any depth or seemed to have any boundaries. If Kaitlyn needed to be updated all it took was a few taps on the keyboard and an upload to the device in her back. I feel like FREAK OF NATURE is a gentle introduction to the scifi genre than a true member; with romance as the main plotline.

The romance itself was interesting enough to make me want to keep reading and the pace and flow of the novel was handled quite nicely. I found FREAK OF NATURE really easy to digest thanks to a light and simple style of expression; although I’m not a huge fan of romance novels I still found it a reasonably enjoyable read.

Kaitlyn and Lucas weren’t extraordinarily complex characters. While they both had a few internal struggles related to conflicts with their relationship ultimately their behaviour felt predictable and the secondary characters were quite one dimensional. This usually bothers me as I place a lot of value on a strong cast, however, as they were all easy enough to like and the plot was unashamedly romance driven, I let it go.

However, there was something about FREAK OF NATURE that I just couldn’t let go. References to popular culture and modern society really irk me as a reader as I feel it immediately dates the novel. The repeated mentioning of ‘Facebook’, ‘Siri’ and ‘iPhone 5’ really bothered me; I guess it’s just a pet hate!

I found myself disagreeing with the way some of the more mature content was confronted at points in the book. Sexual experiences, both consensual and non-consensual, were handled sensitively for the most part but not consistently, sometimes being thrown in for seemingly no reason. I think discussing content of this nature for a young teen audience is a difficult line to tread and while I don’t believe there was anything disrespectful or upsetting about the way it’s handled in FREAK OF NATURE, I do feel it could, and maybe should, have been limited.

I’m no romance expert but everything was played out very sweetly between Kaitlyn and Lucas, rounding things up satisfyingly at the end FREAK OF NATURE caught me off guard and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Overall, I did enjoy the novel despite it subverting my original expectations. I wouldn’t recommend FREAK OF NATURE to hardcore scifi fans; I feel it’s more of an intermediary novel bridging the gap between contemporary teen literature and science fiction.

I received FREAK OF NATURE for free from the lovely people at Indie Inked. My reviews always represent my own honest opinion. 

[REVIEW] Everneath – Brodi Ashton

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

Quote

“Stay with me, Becks. Dream of me. I am ever your’s.”

Review
When Nikki Beckett suddenly disappeared six months ago she left her world in a state of turmoil. Her friends and family have no idea where she’s been and they wouldn’t believe her even if she told them. Taken to the Everneath, Nikki has been entwined with immortal Cole as he fed on her energy. Now she has six months left to say her final goodbyes and find forgiveness before she disappears again. This time for good.

The thing that initially drew me to this book was the plot; I love Greek mythology and the promise of a modernised Persephone myth caught my attention. It worked nicely on the whole but there are a few unanswered questions and holes once you start to dig deeper into the Everneath (the Underworld) and the premise of the Everlivings’ feeding process. Some of these are answered in the sequel, some I’m still a little confused about.

Nikki, Cole and Jack are all nicely rounded with multi-faceted personalities and motives but some of the supporting characters like Jules and Nikki’s dad felt a little flat. Ashton’s emotional style gave Nikki a really raw and honest voice which I appreciated, it suited the plot very well.

Although there is a love triangle between Nikki, Cole and her ex-boyfriend, I felt it was well explained/justified and didn’t make me want to roll my eyes like most YA romances. Nikki doesn’t tend to flit between the two boys or try to play them against each other; she’s set on what she wants to achieve with her time on the Surface and has a firm approach to it. A breath of fresh air in a genre overcrowded with indecisive and immature teases.

I have to say that I did feel like I was always one step ahead of Nikki and I definitely figured out the ending well before it happened. That could be down to my previous knowledge of the mythology Ashton drew from, but it didn’t make the book any less enjoyable in the slightest!

The organisation of the novel was clear and the non-chronological timeline kept it interesting. A combination of the present day and pre-disappearance memories, each chapter is marked with exactly how long Nikki has left on the Surface or how long until she disappears. I liked this jumping timeline as it filled in the gaps slowly, revealing the full picture of Nikki’s situation and why she chose to leave with Cole piece by piece.

EVERTRUE, the final installment in the trilogy, will be released on 21st January 2014.