Light Years by Kass Morgan

For the first time ever, the Quatra Fleet Academy is accepting students from all 4 planets occupied by the Tridian people. Settler children from Loos, Chetire and Deva and children of Tri journey to the secretive academy with hopes of becoming officers in the elite Quatra Fleet, and protecting the solar system from annihilation by the Specter species.

Morgan beautifully weaves together the lives of her ensemble cast in this story about students forging new lives for themselves in this exclusive boarding school. She manages to write characters that anyone can relate to, and you can’t help but hope for the best for them. We got to struggle with Vesper as she grappled with her expectations of herself. Arran’s anxiety and insecurity is something so many young adults can identify with. Cormak takes the concept of hiding behind a mask to a whole new level. And Orelia’s problems may not be the most relatable, but they work to make all of the characters seem so much more human

The timing of this novel was so well done; the suspense and anxiety was eating at me. There was a point in the middle of the novel that had no action, but was make-or-break for Cormak and it literally had me sweating. The point of view rotates every chapter, and I appreciate that time moves continuously for every person. The rise and fall of conflict in each characters chapters synchronize so well with their friends. It helps to reinforce the supportive dynamic Squadron 20 shares.

I wish the blurb on the back had focused less on “finding love.” It’s a high school story, of course people are going to hook up. But the romance wasn’t the center of the story by a long shot. There were so many other themes that were explored more thoroughly than romance, like classicism and war ethics. On that note, the romance that was present was uplifting in a story that couldn’t carried a lot of weight. The relationships the cast formed helped push them to be better, instead of being toxic and hindering them.

It was a quick read, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It lacked the excessive cheese factor that I thought plagued The 100. The characters were so easy to relate to and so likeable. Their motivations were clear and they worked hard to push each other to be better. Watching them grow over the course of the semester was such a joy. I give this book a 5/5. I literally cannot find anything to complain about.

TL;DR

  • 5/5 stars
  • great character & plot development
  • really fun read
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Giveaway: The Light Years by Kass Morgan

Book Expo 2018 is over, which means I’m looking for a way to get rid of some of the books I brought home. I recently reviewed Light Years by Kass Morgan, scheduled to come out in October, so here’s your opportunity to get your hands on an ARC before all your bookie friends.

  • To enter, fill out the form below
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  • Must be a resident of the US or Canada with a valid address
  • The winner will be notified via the email provided, and they will have 7 days to accept. If they do not accept within 7 days, another winner will be chosen
  • The giveaway begins at 12:00PM on 18 July 2018 and ends at 11:59 PM on 25 July 2018.

 

 

The Girl Who Knew da Vinci by Belle Ami

Angela is an American art historian with a concentration in the Italian Renaissance. That makes her perfect for her internship at the Getty museum, where she’s working (and being sexually harassed) when she meets Alex, an international art detective. He’s investigating a lost painting believed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Alex and Angela find they have an immediate connection fueled by centuries of their reincarnations finding each other and suffering tragically for it. Together they set out on a fast-paced mission to find the missing painting before the sleazy, scheming curator of the Getty can get his hands on it.
I liked the idea of the novel. European history is fascinating, and the truth is there’s a lot of information from that time that has been lost. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but the most interesting is the practice of destroying documentation from that time period. Some powerful people from that time period were really invested in keeping certain events quiet. I also liked this book because it was a well-timed read for me. I just arrived back home from my own study abroad experience in Florence studying art history, which is where a large part of the novel takes place.
The layering of the different timelines was done really well. This book was really three stories told in one, but it would have been overwhelming to go through them all at the same time, and it would have been boring to only go through one at a time. The choice to provide relevant flashbacks when they’re useful was good for pacing and for allowing the reader to really absorb the story.
The dialogue is choppy and awkward. It works for how we assume people of the Renaissance era talk, but it works less well for the storyline that takes place in WWII, and even less for the conversations that take place in the modern time period. The author also needs to work on her strategies for making significant reveals. This book is supposed to suspenseful, but any major moments lacked the necessary subtlety or tact to give it the gravity it deserved.
The relationship Angela and Alex share is enjoyable, I might even call it steamy. But I don’t like how Alex views Angela, or, more specifically, how Alex’s view of Angela is portrayed as virtuous or chivalrous in some way. There’s a point where he’s going on about how she’s hard to resist, even though she’s in a vulnerable position. That doesn’t make him better than a decent person, but the author attempted to attribute a lot of gravity to the situation. That made me uncomfortable.
It’s eventually revealed that Alex and Angela are reincarnations of several couples throughout history. I loved that because I like the idea of reincarnation and “one true love” and all that nonsense. I get it, it’s cheesy. However, when it’s written well, it’s swoon-worthy. Alex and Angela’s relationship lacked the nuance and subtlety necessary for it to feel like a well-fleshed romance story.
I eventually give The Girl Who Knew da Vinci 2 out of 5 stars. There were some things I liked a lot, but my biggest complaints were with the writer’s technique. This book amounted to a lot of unfulfilled promise for me. I do recommend this book to people who are interested in European history (for example, if you enjoyed the storyline for The Da Vinci Code, Reign, The Crown, etc.), but would dissuade anyone for whom writing style can be a deal breaker.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Quentin Coldwater thinks there should be more to life than the daily grind. More than growing up, going to school, going to college, getting a corporate job and then dying. Maybe something more like Fillory from hisfavorite children’s novel Fillory and Further. Turns out Quentin is right. On the day of his interview for Yale, weird things keep happening until he finds himself transported to a strange house with a strange exam that he manages to pass and is accepted to a strange magic school. His journey toward becoming a Magician is long and more difficult than he expected, but Quentin finally feels like he’s where he belongs, like his life has a purpose.

It’s worth mentioning that I specifically sought this book out because it’s a current television show on the Syfy network that I happen to really enjoy. There are some changes between the media, but overall the adaptation is pretty true to form. I am a little sad that I watched the show before I read the book because there are some reall blow-your-mind moments that I knew were coming because I’ve already experienced them. I would have liked to have the full impact when I read them for the first time, so if you’re considering watching the show/reading the books, just think about that.

I’m sure Grossman’s gotten this mroe times than he can count, but The Magicians is basically the adult crossover of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It lacks the iconography, historical references and morality lessons from either of the stories, but that contributes to the atmosphere of the novel. It’s very much intended to be an imagining of what would happen if these whimsical stories of childhood wizardry took place in the real world, where there isn’t always a lesson and there are consequences for the choices you make or don’t make.

Mental illness and addiction are undercurrents of the novel. Quentin, for example, the main character, suffers from chronic depression. It shapes his worldview and taints it. It’s why he’s always looking for more, why he’s always so whiny when things don’t go the way he hoped they would, and why he’s so good at self-sabotage. He’s not an incredibly likable character, and he’s not meant to be. This also contributes to the complexity of the story and speaks to the intended audience of the novel. The Eliot of the television show says something about where he thinks magic comes from: pain and suffering. There a reason that not everyone can do magic. They simply don’t have the misery to draw from. That’s probably why they all feel the need to numb everything with alcohol or drugs or whatever they can find really.

The pacing is a tad confusing. They get through the entirety of their time at Brakebills in Book One, but the novel still has three acts left. We don’t really have the time necessary to grow with the characters. Suddenly they’re in college, suddenly they’ve graduated. Next we spend a lot of time doing nothing in the real world until Penny shows up to take us on an adventure. One of the brightest spots of this novel when compared with other novels about magic is it’s inclusion of magical theory. That could have been used more effectively to expand upon the growth of the magicians.

I’m really excited to read the sequel and subsequent novels of the series. Thankfully, I am at a point in my binge-watching of the television series that will allow me to enjoy the novel version the first time through. I give this book a hopeful 4 out of 5 stars for characterization and world-building. Those who grew up on fantasy novels and are looking for a more adult take on their genre will enjoy this.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Juliette has a curse. When she touches another person, she absorbs their energy. Since a terrible incident when she was younger, Juliette’s been locked away and isolated in an asylum to protect others from her. Until she gets a roommate. A boy roommate. Juliette tries to keep her distance from Adam, but he’s just so clueless. Or… is he? Because the next thing Juliette knows, their both being pulled from the asylum to work for a deranged military commander named Warner, and Adam seems pretty chummy with the other soldiers.

This book felt like such an X-men meets Delirium kind of story. Juliette is literally Rogue. The romance is what makes it feel like Delirium. There’s the tyrannical government sectioning people off, only allowing them to live in Zoned in Areas. I forget what it’s called in Delirium, but in Shatter Me, the governing body goes by the Reestablishment. They limit personal freedoms and people live in squalor in the name of protection from a world ruined by people. Then both of the love interests names start with “A”, and the steamy love scenes just felt so similar and had really similar dialogue. I don’t know, it’s just what it reminded me of.

Juliette’s been in the asylum since she was 13, so her tendency toward hyperbole is understandable. What’s really impressive is Mafi’s handling of the internal dialogue. She manages to convey Juliette’s naivete without making her seem juvenile. Mafi’s writing is poetic and hypnotic, and while I’m not usually a fan of writing in vernacular or purposefully messing with grammar to make a point, but Mafi does it so beautifull. Instead of thought and ideas coming in a sudden rush, like with many writers who write to mimic thought patterns, Mafi has a way of slowing the thoughts down and giving them space to breathe.

Adam’s reason for loving Juliette is the same reason that I don’t love her as a character; she’s whole-heartedly and unfailingly good. She has this power to hurt people, and it’s terrible, but people have also alienated her because of it for her entire life. Any normal person would have considered retaliating, especially when she’s taken by Warner. Any interesting character would have an internal struggle over the issue. But Juliette is uncomplicated this way, and as such, loses what would have been the most compelling part of her character.

The pacing is phenomenal. The author is so aware of the purpose that every even must serve to the story. She’s aware that every moment must mean some learning or action item for Juliette and it must help the reader to discover something new about his world. This knowledge is also helpful for the necessary world-building aspect of a dystopian. The exposition is delivered within the context of the story, not set aside to be synthesized on its own.

I’m excited to see where the story goes next. We leave Juliette and Adam in a promising place for character development and upcoming action. This book is fun, if familiar. The familiarity of it lends a sense of safety, like we know how this will end. I hope the author uses those expecations to her advantage and surprises us with the next installment. I give it a 3 out of 5 stars and recommend to those looking for a steamy YA, with a quickly moving plot and beautiful writing.

The Last City of America by Matthew Tysz

This review was originally posted on Online Book Club, and the original review can be found here.

In The Last City of America, a virus has rendered most of the human race sterile, leading to widespread panic and chaos. The United States government has been disassembled and the Seven Cities of America, where corruption and oppression run deep, were established. Meanwhile, the secretive Rush University in Chicago, the birthplace of the original Hephaestus virus, has been working to further scientific advancement and destroy what’s left of humanity.

This book is macabre and depressing. In fiction, the villain is rarely out to ruin the world just for the sake of ruining it. They’re usually vengeful and angry, or they think that they’re doing something terrible that will eventually pay off in some great gain. Not in this book. The people in power in this novel are just crazy and they enjoy manipulating and ruining lives for the funsies. And while we’re talking about characters, it’s important to talk about how female characters are represented in the novel. There are few female characters, and none of them have any ambition. They’re placed as plot points to further the ambitions of the men in the novel. Language used to discuss these women is disgusting and gives me the heebie-jeebies. These women need to be fleshed out as full characters and less objectified in order to work.

Little effort is made at world-building. The reader is dropped into the Seven Cities with very few contextual clues as to the history and customs of this new post-apocalyptic world. The author does have a good understanding of long-term story development. Pacing is not usually the strongest skill in debut authors, but this author’s ability to effectively establish and follow the pace kept it moving along. I’m not usually a fan of point of view changes or the short chapters (think Dan Brown style), but it was an important tool in this story because of the geographic diversity and number of significant players.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars because it’s a decent story and the pacing is good, but I need more in terms of character fleshing and world-building.

Becoming the Dragon by Alex Sapegin

Becoming the Dragon by Alex Sapegin, is the first novel in a fantasy series. When Andy was younger, he was struck by lightning. Now he can’t get anywhere near technology without it failing to work. That’s my theory about why his father’s teleportation device transported him to another world. In this other world, he is captured and tortured, but he also befriends a powerful dragon who, when Andy is mortally wounded, helps him be reborn as a dragon.

The writing was just confusing, but I don’t think it was the translation. The translation was actually handled really well; grammatically, everything made sense and the writing style was eloquent, but nothing made sense in terms of actual events and dialogue. For example, near the beginning of the story we find out that Andy’s dad works on a government project to build a teleportation device. I was not only surprised that Andy knew about his dad’s super secret, classified government project, but the internal dialogue he when he was transported someplace unfamiliar by accident was almost entirely non-sequitur. Things that were said didn’t fit well with events happening, so I had to read things multiple times to try and piece together what point the author was trying to make.

This author broke up the story too much with the star breaks. There was a set of stars at least every three pages. If you’re using that many breaks, you likely should consider adding more events to a certain time point, or not cutting to a different character. For example, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the scene with Andy’s father at work. Leave your audience in the same position Andy is, wondering what happened. It could have been explained with more effect if it had been saved for later in the story, and it would have reduced the number of breaks and point of view changes that pull readers out of a story.

I like Andy a lot. Except for the fact that he’s good at everything (which is annoying), he’s relatable. He likes to frustrate people who deserve to be frustrated and his meltdown in the forest is almost exactly how I would react to the situation. His love for his family is also admirable. On that note, I wish we had spent more time with Andy than switching POVs. Switching back and forth is distracting, but also keeping readers in the dark about things going on elsewhere in the novel can be more powerful for building suspense.

I rate Becoming the Dragon 2 out of 5 stars. This story would be okay for younger teens or older children. It’s not quite complex enough for a YA designation, but the characters may be too old and the vocabulary too advanced for younger children to relate to. I didn’t enjoy the story mostly because it didn’t make sense most of the time. While there were few technical errors, there were many non-sequitur moments that made this story hard to follow. The story also had pacing problems and I don’t like changes in point of view. Some redeeming qualities were the likability of characters and the amount of fun the premise of the story is.

This review was originally published on Online Book Club and can be viewed here.