Starswept by Mary Fan

Starswept

Starswept by Mary Fan

Published by Snowy Wings; Scheduled for August 29th

Genre: Young Adult, Sci-fi

Pages: 400

I just realized the irony of this: the last two books I read were called Starswept and Starfish, both with Asian MC’s! How coincidental. I love it.

Starswept by Mary Fan

All the Wrong Chords Book

In 2157, the Adryil—an advanced race of telepathic humanoids—contacted Earth. A century later, 15-year-old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to attend Papilio, a prestigious performing arts school powered by their technology. Born penniless, Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get hired, and competition is fierce.

A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy upends her world. Iris longs to learn about him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities arrest him for trespassing, the only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to her.

When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. Then, she discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music.

But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world to a strange planet lightyears away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien allies that shatter everything she knows.

Starswept by Mary Fan

I was immediately intrigued by the premise of Starswept. I honestly went into it expecting to love it more than I did. But there is a lot to love here, and the premise is a huge part of that.

First, there’s a lot going on. It’s dystopian, there are aliens, there’s this whole music school element. It doesn’t seem like it should all mesh but it does, very well for me.

The music school where we start is great because it feels almost commonplace, though it’s run, to a degree, by aliens and holograms. There’s so much pressure, so much realistic detail of band kids, and I really enjoyed that. The descriptions of the school, the performances, are all beautiful to me.

I found the dystopian aspect of this fascinating, though for the most part I’m burnt out on that. I love that this is an entirely new take on that. Aliens that could easily have taken over Earth don’t, because they’re so intrigued by human art. Instead they “sponsor” humans they like, and bring them to their planet. Meanwhile, everyone on Earth has it pretty terrible.

I like the aliens, too. I think their powers are fun and interesting, and the way they’ve chosen to interact with Earthlings is very cool.

So, overall, I like the story very much. I will say I’m confused because as far as I’m aware, this isn’t part of a series? Or at least it wasn’t introduced to me that way. If this is a stand alone book, the entire world remains unresolved at the end. That may seem like a spoiler, but I think it’s important to know because I would have liked to have known. I am left feeling distinctly unfulfilled because the parts with closure weren’t the parts I cared about.

The Characters

Our narrator, Iris, I have mixed feelings on. I think she could be a little boring at times, but I did root for her, which is mostly what I’m looking for. The problem for me is that I’m mostly interested in the story, the world that has been built, but the big focus is on Iris and Damiul, and I couldn’t really get invested in either of them.

Damiul is the alien that Iris meets. I wanted to like this so much, I am SUCH a sucker for interstellar love. This was a little too insta-love for me. There was a lot going on behind the scenes that we didn’t see, we saw few of their meetings. But they were short and Damiul had to keep so much from Iris that their love didn’t excite me, it confused me. I can understand how it happened, when we have a girl so obsessed with finding “her prince,” but I couldn’t connect with their love story.

My two favorite characters are side characters, and both are only around for one half of the book or the other. I love Milo, Iris’s best friend on Earth. He’s fun, and considerably less naive. Then, on Adryil, we meet Cara, whom I also adore.

Starswept by Mary Fan

Overall, I liked it. The descriptions were beautiful. The world-building, especially during the second half, are phenomenal.

There are some pacing issues, and I think that’s the biggest problem I’m having overall. Some parts moved quickly and were really fascinating, some parts were too slow and it was hard to stay engrossed in the world.

Starswept by Mary Fan

Is that I would have LOVED for this to be split into two books. I think if the story between Iris and Damiul had been given more time to develop, I could have been on board with them. And I will be very disappointed if there is no closure for the world itself.

Thanks to NetGalley for advanced access to this book in exchange for an honest review!

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish: You Have to Read It

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Published by Simon Pulse: scheduled for Sept. 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 320

OH MY GOD. I’m honestly still freaking out. I love this book so. Effing. Much. There are hardly words to describe how much it means to me, so let’s get started and I hope I can do it justice.

Starfish Novel

All the Wrong Chords Book

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

The Characters

I could write an entire essay just on how much I love Kiko, our narrator. But let’s start with those around her.

For a little while, we get a really great female friendship between Kiko and her best friend, Emery. I love it for a lot of reasons, but especially because though Kiko has issues with her own appearance, she never takes it out on Emery. It’s so, SO rare that I see a book with two female characters where “I’m mad because she’s prettier than me” isn’t a main plot point. None of that here, though. Their friendship is so loving and beautiful.

Jamie, Kiko’s other best friend, is so wonderful. He’s such a perfect example of how a guy can be supportive and helpful and still incredibly sexy, no “boring nice guy” trope here.

Hiroshi, Kiko’s mentor, is AMAZING. I love his whole family. I love young girl – old man friendship, and I am obsessed with this one. They made me cry more than once.

And then there’s Kiko’s family. I cannot describe to you how happy it makes me when I thoroughly despise a character. There’s nothing I hate more than a lackluster antagonist. Kiko’s mom kills me, because she is so awful and so perfectly well-written that you can’t help but loathe her. I won’t ruin it, but I bawled my eyes out when I read the starfish metaphor, because EVERYONE HAS A FUCKING STARFISH IN THEIR LIFE. You will feel it so hard.

And then we have Kiko! I love Kiko. I love her so much. I love her art, I love her character. I even love her inability to stand up for herself because I completely get it. Kiko’s journey as an artist and a victim and a Japanese woman is so gorgeous. I cried so many times watching her grow, and that is the best compliment I could ever give. I can, occasionally, find timidity exhausting, but I understand and empathize with Kiko at every step though we couldn’t be more different.

The Writing

Is gorgeous! The pacing is on point, I was never bored for even a second. I love contemporary that keeps you going as easily as a suspense does. The tension is so palpable, and I had to know what would happen to Kiko. I had to keep reading.

I’m a painter, so I may be biased, but I LOVE the art in this! I’ve read stories about painters where we know the character is an artist but we don’t see or feel it. We feel Kiko’s art. We know exactly how she feels, we’re tuned into her drawings and paintings and I just adore that art is such a major part of this.

I don’t know Akemi, the author, but I’d be willing to bet she’s a feminist. And I love that. I love YA with feminist ideas peppered throughout; we need young people to see it.

So here’s what I thought about the representation in it:

We get this amazing story about a half-Japanese girl whose (white) mother seemingly hates the Asian parts of her. She doesn’t know a lot about her culture, she’s upset about not fitting in, not looking like the people around her, etc. I think this is beautiful, SO great for young Asian people to see the progression in Kiko, and any mixed-race people can, I believe, empathize. It is so hard to not feel like part of any culture.

Miss Akemi is on Twitter and you should most definitely follow her <3

Thanks to NetGalley for advanced access to this book in exchange for an honest review!



All The Wrong Chords book

All the Wrong Chords

All The Wrong Chords by Christine Hurley Deriso

Published by Flux; scheduled for December, 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 204 (ebook)

Wellll I broke my streak of super happy reviews, but that’s okay! Three in a row was great, and I’m thankful, and this one is not the end of the world. I think it’s time for another pro/con list!

All the Wrong Chords book

All the Wrong Chords Book

Scarlett Stiles is desperate for a change of scenery after her older brother, Liam, dies of a drug overdose. But spending the summer with her grandfather wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. Luckily, Scarlett finds something to keep her busy–a local rock band looking for a guitarist. Even though playing guitar has been hard since Liam died, Scarlett can’t pass on an opportunity like this, and she can’t take her eyes off the band’s hot lead singer either. Is real happiness just around the corner? Or will she always be haunted by her brother’s death?

Pros:

All the Wrong Chords Book

I really liked every secondary character! Scarlett’s grandpa is awesome. Her best friend, Varun, is hilarious and I love their texting throughout the book. Her sister is great, the band members are great. You get it. Everyone is awesome. Except Scarlett, but we’ll get to that in the cons.

All the Wrong Chords Book

Is really easy to get through. It’s not a super long book, and it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a very quick, simple read.

All the Wrong Chords Book

I love any story that works music into it. I really like that Scarlett uses the band to help her with her feelings about her deceased brother.

All the Wrong Chords Book

I think it is portrayed very realistically, though, that said, I haven’t lost anyone as close as a brother to death. Everything associated with grief, like the sense of guilt and the “what if” and the heartbreak, that all felt very natural and realistic to me.

Cons:

All the Wrong Chords Book

Ohhhh Scarlett. I am conflicted, because Scarlett does get better as the book progresses, and her decisions become much better toward the end also. Scarlett has some of my least favorite fiction “girl behavior” though.

  1. Scarlett is endlessly jealous of her sister’s looks/way with guys, though it’s mentioned several times that they’re often mistaken for identical twins?
  2. Scarlett ignores everyone and alienates her friend/sister to try to get closer to a guy who is clearly garbage.
  3. She treats the other band members poorly with the shitty guy, in order to establish some sense of camaraderie.

Her entire relationship (using the term loosely) with Declan is awful and painful and full of red flags she chooses to ignore. Now, I know, teenagers do this. We all choose people who are wrong for us (see 90% of everyone I’ve ever been involved with) but she becomes obsessed with Declan despite his ignoring her to hit on her sister, his constant dgaf attitude about their band, his actively treating her poorly, and his trying to get her to move faster physically than she wants to. NOT OKAY.

Again, people do this. We like the wrong people. But I thought back while reading this to some of my worse relationships, when I was my least rational, and I could at least always say things like:

“Well he’s a really charming alcoholic.”

“I know she’s mean but she’s really funny!”

“Okay yeah he lies a lot but he’s also really brilliant.”

My point is, they had good qualities. I’m sorry, but Declan has zero good qualities. She’s obsessed with him based solely on his looks, and lets it mess up everything for her for more than half the book. I can’t say that I’ve ever been so attracted to someone’s appearance that I’ve been willing to overlook character flaws in EVERY OTHER CATEGORY. Is this a thing? Maybe it’s just me, and please let me know if you’ve ever been so hot for someone that you didn’t care that they had nothing else going for them.

This made it really unrealistic for me, as you can see, and it made it hard for me to connect to Scarlett.

All the Wrong Chords book

So, this quote from Scarlett really upset me:

“I’m being overly critical, right? Of course any normal guy is going to try to push things physically as far as he can. How many dudes are dying to “talk” in the middle of a make out session?”

Ooooookay. So, we have our narrator asserting the idea that a lot of young women have: “normal guys” can’t help themselves around us. They cannot control their impulses. They are mindless, vagina-seeking zombies, who want us for sex and only sex. This line of thinking disrespects everyone. That she attributes his fucked up behavior to his being male infuriates and disgusts me.

Even if she comes around to eventually seeing that Declan was a shit show, she doesn’t ever acknowledge that he put her in a bad situation, where she felt uncomfortable. She made this excuse and many others for the behavior, but never addressed it as a legitimate problem.

We. Cannot. Have. Narrators. We. Like. And. Want. To. Root. For. Contributing. To. Rape. Culture.

This makes me crazy.

 

 



 

 

13 novels to read in one sitting

13 Novels to Read in One Sitting

You know the feeling: it’s late, you should be sleeping. Instead, your bedside lamp is on and you are cozy af, with a good book in your arms long after you ought to have gone to bed.

I love that feeling. I live for that feeling.

To that end, I have gathered thirteen novels (in several genres) to keep you up at night. Novels you will read compulsively. Novels you won’t want to put down.

Without further ado, in no particular order:

Science Fiction

Archetype by M.D. Waters

Archetype Novel by M.D. Waters

I was lucky enough to have bought this as an impulse purchase at the Dollar Tree! They seriously have amazing books for just $1 just because they’re a few years old.

So Archetype is about a woman who wakes up and can’t remember her past, and almost anything else about the plot is a spoiler, unfortunately. But it’s science-y and written beautifully and so worth your time. I stayed up until one in the morning, after having read Archetype in one sitting.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Why everyone needs to read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter explores a fun idea in physics that’s been floating around for a while now, but in a way I hadn’t yet seen! It’s also about love and regret and is just totally, beautifully heartbreaking. I read it in one sitting for my 27th birthday.

Consider by Kristy Acevedo

Consider novel by Kristy Acevedo

Consider is newest to my list! About holograms/portals that show up all over the world, telling the people of earth that they are there to save them from impending doom. SO good. So original. Written gorgeously.

Also, lots of nerdy sci-fi references to Dr. Who and Star Trek. Fun stuff.

 

Romance

Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein

Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein

I don’t know that I’ve ever read another romance that kept me up reading at night, but Shuffle, Repeat definitely did! About two kids forced to ride to school together, who bond over their hatred of each other’s music.

The characters are so hilarious and you’re rooting for them so hard and there is a compulsive need to turn page after page.

 

Fantasy

The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron

The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron

Fantasy is a little difficult for this because it tends to run so long, which is what makes The Spirit Thief perfect! About wizards that can speak to the spirits inside of objects, not to reduce it too much.

It’s a short, quick, uber entertaining read. I laughed out loud on the very first page, got to love that!

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

I saw this a few years ago and had to buy it. What a funny idea! Dorothy has become a tyrant in Oz, Glenda the good witch is creepy af, and the munchkins curse and have tattoos.

I love re-tellings, and I loved the idea that our beloved childhood characters could be so broken. Dorothy Must Die is delightfully morbid.

 

Mystery

One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One Of Us Is Lying novel by Karen M. McManus

I had mixed feelings about One Of Us Is Lying, but ultimately, I did read it in one sitting (as did many others, from the reviews I read). About five kids who go to detention, but only four make it out, as the fifth has died in the room.

It is an exciting journey with these four kids, and my mind was genuinely blown by the twist.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

The beauty of this book is in its simplicity, and in its singularity. A kid finds his neighbor’s dog dead, and tries to solve the mystery of who killed him.

The narrator is a teenage boy with autism (the author had worked with children with autism, so it’s very, very realistic). I have a soft spot for any and all things autism, as my dad has Asperger’s. Reading a mystery from such a POV is so completely fun.

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

This one genuinely surprised me! About a guy named Odd Thomas who sees dead people and tries to help them move on. He has a premonition that something bad with massive casualties is going to come to town, and tries to stop it.

I had never been a fan of Dean Koontz, and I’m still really not, yet Odd Thomas remains one of my favorite books of all time. Because it moves through a period of one day, it’s so easy to keep reading and reading until the devastating, gorgeous end.

 

Children’s

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game by Ellen Raikin

I had to throw some children’s books in, because they’re my favorites. This is about a millionaire who dies, and in his will is a mysterious game that sixteen strangers have to play to see who wins his fortune.

I read The Westing Game in school, in sixth grade. I re-read it as an adult to see if I was romanticizing it, sure it couldn’t be as brilliant as I remembered. But oh my god. It is a hilarious, mind-bending game, and whether you have kids or not, you should read it.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I still haven’t watched the movie, because I’m nervous about how well this could have been adapted. The Giver is a gorgeous masterpiece, and it should be required reading for every single person.

 

Thriller

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

Heart Sick by Chelsea Cain

I don’t read a lot of thrillers, it’s probably the one area I avoid most. They have to be really particular for me to enjoy them. I read Heartsick because Chuck Palahniuk, who is one of my favorite authors, said the female serial killer in this was amazing. A recommendation from Chuck P plus a female serial killer? I was in, and Heartsick doesn’t disappoint. The series did get a little meh after this one, but the first book is so worth it.

 

Horror

Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

I hesitate to even call Diary horror, but it’s probably the closest genre we’re going to get. It’s written in the form of, get this, a diary. A woman writes to her husband who is in a coma, and whom she occasionally stabs with pins because she hates him. It is weird and disgusting and so, utterly fantastic.

***

What about you?

What books have you read in one sitting?

 

 



Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

Published by Waterbrook Press on June 13th, 2017

Genre: Contemporary, romance.

Pages: 308

I was so excited for this modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility. There is a lot to like about Jane of Austin, and there are some things I really didn’t love. I’m not quite sure how to wrap up my feelings? So I think it’s time for my first book review in the form of a pro/con list.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

Just a few years after their father’s business scandal shatters their lives, Jane and Celia Woodward find themselves forced out of their San Francisco tea shop. The last thing Jane wants is to leave their beloved shop on Valencia Street, but when Celia insists on a move to Austin, Texas, the sisters pack up their kid sister Margot and Jane’s tea plants, determined to start over yet again.

But life in Austin isn’t all sweet tea and breakfast tacos. Their unusual living situation is challenging and unspoken words begin to fester between Jane and Celia. When Jane meets and falls for up-and-coming musician Sean Willis, the chasm grows deeper.

While Sean seems to charm everyone in his path, one person is immune – retired Marine Captain Callum Beckett. Callum never meant to leave the military, but the twin losses of his father and his left leg have returned him to the place he least expected—Texas.

In this modern spin on the Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, the Woodward sisters must contend with new ingredients in unfamiliar kitchens, a dash of heartbreak, and the fragile hope that maybe home isn’t so far away.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

The Re-telling

I love a good re-telling, especially when something I love gets remade into something more modern, and this aspect of the book I think is really fun. I thought the updated details were cute while paying homage to the original. For instance, rather than their father dying, he flees the country after having been caught up in a financial scandal. Instead of going on a trip to London with their new family, they go to South By Southwest (a music festival in Austin). It’s cute! And it stays very, very close to the original story. The only big difference being that in this, the girls own a tea shop, and move to Austin because they are evicted from the premises.

The Tea Shop

It’s hard to explain how cute this is, because yeah, it’s a shop. But I fell in love with the shop, with the sister’s passion about it, and even though it was early on, I was devastated that they lost it. Their search for a new shop in Austin is a big part of the story, and you really fall in love with Jane’s (the Marianne character) idea of what it should be. She grows her own plants and makes her own tea blends, and they’re intensely in love with pastries, and you find yourself wrapped up in that while you read. Especially because at the end of some chapters, there are recipes! It’s so cute.

Jane of Austin Book

The Narration

Alternates between being told from Jane’s point of view and Callum Beckett’s (the Colonel Brandon of the story). I didn’t expect to, but I found myself enjoying his chapters the best.

Dash!

Is a therapy dog with three legs. A therapist convinces Callum (who is missing half of one of his legs) to adopt him, and it’s amazing. Dash is a great character, and I love when a book has a family pet we actually give a crap about.

Adorable

The book is pretty, and that’s worth mentioning.

Jane of Austin book

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

The Re-telling

But you just said you love the re-telling! I know, I’m sorry. I did. But when an old story gets a modern update, I expect a new story. I don’t mean I want them to stray from the original plot; I like how close this one is. I mean that I don’t want the new book to rest on the novelty of it. Maybe that’s unrealistic, considering a big strength of Jane of Austin is how much we like Sense and Sensibility. But I think it needs to appeal just as much to people who don’t love the original, and I don’t know that that is possible here. Mostly because of

The Characters

I just… umm… I don’t know. I had a hard time, here. I really, really like Jane. She feels the most real and the most well-developed in every sense other than one, and it’s a big one, but we’ll get to that. She isn’t happy about their move, she is picky about their new shop, she is super passionate/particular about tea and her family, and she is altogether a real and relatable human. I had issues with every other major character, save their youngest sister Margot.

Callum is a great guy, he really is. And we get to see just how much of a good man he is, since part of this is first person narration from him. But he’s just a little too great. Zero flaws, really. He’s a veteran and he takes care of absolutely everyone and there’s not a lot more to him. It’s nice, yeah, but it’s also exhausting and hard to believe. We need flaws. We need depth.

The Various Love Stories

And then there’s fucking Sean. Now, okay. Sean is Willoughby, so we’re not supposed to like him. We know from the original story that he’s going to break Jane’s heart and leave a string of sad women behind him. I’m okay with all of that, because it’s a re-telling and that’s how that works. BUT. In this book, which has to stand on it’s own and not rest on novelty as I said previously, the love between Sean and Jane is not believable at all. We know Jane, we know she’s an intelligent, particular woman, and she falls in love with Sean based on nothing but good looks and musical talent. And I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. Now a lot is going on behind the scenes, here, it’s alluded to that Jane and Sean spend a lot more time together than we see. But we do see them together a fair amount, and we don’t see anything that great. Sure, their brief interactions are flirtatious and they obviously have physical attraction between them, but that’s honestly it. I didn’t care about Sean for even one second. What WOULD impress me is a re-telling that gets me to love the Sean/Willoughby character, so I actually give a shit when he’s gone.

Because I don’t care about Sean, I cannot connect to Jane as she goes through her break-up and resultant depression and illness. If our narrator hurts, I need to hurt with her. And I didn’t here. I would even have preferred if I had hated the Sean character, because then I would have felt something. But I was offered a character that is neither likable or unlikable. He is bland and boring, and I felt nothing through a good portion of the book because of it.

And then there’s Callum, the good-hearted Texan who picks up the pieces after Sean has abandoned not one, but two women close to Callum. He somehow falls in love with Jane, even though we see them together like… three times? And alone only once for about three minutes. I know he’s supposed to fall in love with Jane. I know Colonel Brandon falls in love with Marianne. But, again, (I know I’m a broken record here), this needs to stand alone, and the love Callum feels for Jane isn’t realistic, either. And it bothered me most because of this quote:

“I hadn’t realized until that moment how much I knew her, that even from hundreds of feet away I could see the way she stood, the tilt of her head, and know her at once.”

That quote is supposed to make us say aww. But I said uhh, what? Because we’ve barely even seen them together. How could he possibly know her this well?

In fact, in going back through the notes I wrote to prepare to write this review, I found this one:

Jane of Austin Book

Yeah. I write in books. Come at me.

When Callum says he loves Jane, I’m not excited, I’m confused.

Thanks to Blogging For Books for advanced access to Jane of Austin in exchange for an honest review!