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!

These things I've done by Rebecca Phillips

Q&A with Rebecca Phillips: Author of These Things I’ve Done

I could not be more honored to be part of the blog tour for These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips!

The release date was the first of August, so go get the book! You need the book!

I love These Things I’ve Done, y’all. Here’s my review if you haven’t read it, where I say things like:

My favorite contemporary of 2017.

It is really special when a book tells you from the very beginning exactly what’s going to happen, and still makes you cry when it happens.

…it killed me. In the best way possible.

So, needless to say, I’m THRILLED to have a Q&A with Rebecca on Off-Color Literature today!

These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

Before:
Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

After:
It’s been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn’t racked with guilt over her role in her best friend’s death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn’t half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day. Not just because he’s a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she’s betraying her best friend one final time.

 

So without further adieu, here’s my Q&A with Rebecca!

I was so, immediately intrigued by the idea of your book. What inspired you to write These Things I’ve Done? Which part of the story came to you first?

The idea actually came from my lovely author friend, Cara Bertrand. She was driving one day and came across two girls playfully scuffling on the sidewalk next to her. She had a horrifying flash of “OMG, what if one of those girls ended up under my car?” She thought it would make for a powerful story—a girl accidently causing the death of her friend. She suggested I write it because I already had experience writing guilt and grief in my book Out of Nowhere. But this idea was a lot heavier, and at first I was against it. Too disturbing for me. But after a few days I started coming around and the next thing I knew, I had an outline.

Writing always has its difficulties, of course, but do you think it’s harder to write difficult/dark subject matter?

For me, absolutely. It’s hard for me to get into such a difficult headspace. I’m a mom, and the thought of one of my teens going through something so traumatic tears me up.

I cried reading your book, which is one of the best compliments I could give. Did you cry while writing it?

Thank you! It’s one of the best compliments I can receive. Yes, I cried while writing it, which was a first for me. I also cried when I finished, because it was so hard and because I got very attached to the characters.

Since These Things I’ve Done is written in alternate timelines, did you write it the way we read it? Or did you write each timeline separately?

I wrote it the way you read it. It was really challenging to switch tenses and tones with each chapter, but that was the only way I could see myself doing it.

Did this book go through any significant changes while you were writing? 

While I was writing, no. I pounded out the draft in 3-4 months and didn’t change anything during that time. It didn’t go through significant revisions until it reached Catherine, my HarperTeen editor. We went through two big revisions, and I think it’s so much better now. Catherine is amazing.

Do you base your characters on people you know?

Sometimes, but always very loosely. Aubrey’s character was sort of based on one of my daughter’s friends. Ethan’s band was loosely based off a band my husband played guitar for in high school. As for Dara, I was binging Friday Night Lights while writing the first draft, so she started to look like Julie Taylor in my head. And I was going for a gruff, quiet type like Coach Taylor for Dara’s dad.

I think everyone has a special book they remember as the first that emotionally devastated them. What was the first book that you cried over?

It was a middle grade book called With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin. I used to read it every year when I was a kid, and I cried every time. I read it recently and cried again. It’s incredibly touching and well-written.

Does writing exhilarate or exhaust you? Does that change depending on what you’re writing?

Both, and it definitely depends on what I’m writing. There’s a particular scene near the end of These Things I’ve Done (you probably know the one) that emotionally drained me so much that it took me hours to feel happy again after writing it.

Do you go through writing slumps? If so, what do you do to get out of them?

Oh God, yes. I don’t really do anything to get out of them. I basically just wait for them to pass, which they always do (knock on wood). I was extremely burnt out after finishing These Things I’ve Done and wondered if I’d ever write another book. Well, I did write another book (which comes out in 2018 with HarperTeen), and I can’t wait to get started on my ninth book this fall.

I read that you have been writing since you yourself were a teenager! Has your writing process changed over time? 

It got less sucky? I hope? I read stuff I wrote back then and cringe. It was so, so bad.

There are so many great books that sadly don’t get the attention they deserve. Do you have a favorite lesser-known or under-appreciated novel? 

I agree! My answer to this question is always Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas. I have (sometimes literally) shoved this amazing, twisty book on everyone I know. It honestly boggles my mind that it hasn’t sold a zillion copies and been made into an amazing, twisty movie.

So exciting that These Things I’ve Done has such great reviews already! Do you read reviews on all your novels? How well do you deal with any negative feedback?

I read all my reviews, good and bad. The good ones (like yours!) make my day. The negative ones sometimes hurt, but I still learn from them. Not everyone is going to like my books, and that’s fine. I appreciate every review.

__________________________________________________________________

Rebecca Phillips

Rebecca Phillips has been writing YA since she was a YA herself. She’s the author of:

The JUST YOU series
OUT OF NOWHERE
FAKING PERFECT (Kensington)
ANY OTHER GIRL (Kensington)
THESE THINGS I’VE DONE (HarperTeen)

Rebecca lives in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada with her husband, two children, and one spoiled rotten cat. None of them say “eh” or “aboot.”

Visit Rebecca on her website www.rebeccawritesya.com and on Twitter @RebeccaWritesYA

__________________________________________________________________

Thanks so much to Rebecca Phillips, her agent Eric Smith, and HarperTeen for access to this book and the chance to be a part of this blog tour!

 

 



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!



Sunshine is Forever novel

Sunshine is Forever is a Great Depiction of Depression

Sunshine is Forever by Kyle T Cowan

Published by Inkshares; scheduled for August, 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 270 (ebook)

So! I have a lot of feelings about this book. There’s a lot to love here and some things I definitely didn’t dig. So let’s get into it!

Sunshine is Forever novel

All the Wrong Chords Book

After a life-changing decision, Hunter decides that he can’t go on…

…which lands him in Camp Sunshine, a rehab center for depressed teens. Hunter is determined to keep everyone there out of his head, especially his therapist. But when he meets Corin, a beautiful, mysterious, and confident fellow camper, all Hunter wants to do is open up to her, despite the fact that he’s been warned Corin is bad news.

When Corin devises a plan for them to break out of the camp, Hunter is faced with the ultimate choice — will he run from the traumatic incident he’s tried so hard to escape, or will he learn that his mistakes have landed him right where he’s meant to be?

The Characters

I really liked the secondary characters! Quint, a boy at Camp Sunshine is completely amazing. The other kids at CS are really unique and easy to keep straight, and I really enjoyed them.

Hunter, our narrator, is so easy to empathize with. Especially if you’ve ever been depressed. His character isn’t always likable, but he’s very real and completely easy to connect to.

Corin, though, Hunter’s love interest, I had some real problems with. And we’re going to get to that.

The Writing

Makes this such an easy read. It’s so humorous, so sharp, filled just enough with sarcasm and sadness and I love it. The pacing is spot on, carrying you through really quickly.

It’s also one of the most accurate depictions of this level of depression that I’ve seen. It’s first person narrative, so we get to experience with Hunter how he feels. He doesn’t want to get better, he assumes his life will end in suicide, and it’s not pretty, but it’s real.

There are a fair amount of triggers here, so be aware of that. Self-harm, talk of former sexual abuse, suicide attempts. That’s kind of just the nature of the beast here.

Problematic attitudes about sex

So, I’d like to make clear that I have never been a sixteen year old boy, so I can’t say how realistic this is, but Hunter is pretty sure that sex will cure his depression. His “love” for Corin is really just lust, and their relationship is really bothersome for me.

I can’t stand when two people have almost no interaction, but decide they’re in love. I get that they’re teenagers, I get that people can be intoxicating and you can meet someone who feels like your everything very quickly. But I didn’t feel an “aww!” about Corin and Hunter, I felt “What? Why? How?” And because of this, I could never root for them.

I also just genuinely didn’t like Corin. She felt very trope-y to me. She’s the crazy girl that’s so exciting and mysterious and seductive! But also mean and hateful and kind of awful? I couldn’t stand it. In nearly every interaction, she’d call Hunter a girl, tell him to man up, tell him to grow a pair, the list could go on forever. All my least favorite phrases came out of her mouth. Hunter even said he hated the name calling, she made him feel like less of a man, and her controlling nature bothered him. So their “love” for me was mostly upsetting.

My final thought

Sunshine is Forever is good for what it is. I think it’s a great conversation around depression and all forms of mental illness, I think there is some great stuff about taking accountability for yourself and your actions. But I also think the relationship between Corin and Hunter being labelled as love is extremely problematic, and only made more so by its being a book for teens.

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



 

Nyxia novel

Nyxia: I’m Conflicted

Nyxia (The Nyxia Triad #1) by Scott Reintgen

Published by Crown Books; scheduled for September 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Sci-fi

Pages: 384

I was super intrigued by the premise of Nyxia, and after a reading/blogging slump after a bad mental health week, I was so excited to jump into it! It met my expectations in some areas, missed in others, so here’s a pro/con list review for you! A little different from my usual format.

Nyxia by Scott Reingten

All the Wrong Chords Book

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden–a planet that Babel has kept hidden–where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human. 

Pro:

I thought this was a really cool concept, and I was intrigued right away. I love the space travel, the competition between kids who thought they were shoo-ins. The people who have recruited you maybe not being who they seem. I love it. And there is a lot to love about the way it was handled.

Con:

Now I want to start by saying I am in no way trying to insult anyone, at all, whatsoever. This isn’t even a con. It’s a con-ish. I immediately saw the bible references in the description, Eden, Babel, etc. I am not a religious person, and I’m not currently, particularly interested in reading biblical allegory. I asked on Goodreads, before reading, whether the story was religious, and the author answered me (which is so polite, so wonderful) and gave me a really awesome, full description saying that the story wasn’t necessarily an allegory.

There are some pretty heavy undertones, though. The story of Babel being turned upside down with the kids all coming together to speak the same language, as opposed to the opposite. Rest days being called the Sabbath. Some bible quotes. What threw me off is that this was never really explained? They’re a company called Babel, on a ship called Genesis, going to a planet called Eden, populated with people they’ve called the Adamites. That’s pretty explicit, right? But there’s no talk of why they’ve named anything the way they have. Is the Babel corporation trying to be/reach God? Idk. I’m only putting this out here in so much detail so you can see why it kind of threw me off, even though there’s nothing wrong with it.

All the Wrong Chords Book

Pro:

I love an ensemble cast, as I’ve spoken about before. I did enjoy the group, watching the dynamic between them twist and change throughout. I especially love that the kids are poor, or as one character describes them all, broken. They come from messed up situations, which is how Babel has convinced them to go on the mission in the first place.

 Con:

I don’t know if this is just the nature of the beast, because it’s first person from only Emmett, so we can only see through his eyes. But I didn’t get a great feel for the whole cast. It’s a decent amount of characters, but even halfway through I’d sometimes have to remind myself who one of them even was. I just didn’t care about a lot of them. With how closely Emmett interacted with them, I’d liked to have had a better feel for all of them. Especially since some of them will be returning in later books, and I know I won’t remember the characters when that time comes.

There is one point, huge spoiler so I won’t say too much, but there is a death on the ship. I should care, but I don’t. I don’t know how else to explain that. I really care about Emmett, and I care about his reactions to things, but I don’t care about the ensemble enough to care about such a huge moment, and that’s not the best.

 

All the Wrong Chords Book

Pro:

The writing is beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. It’s first-person, present-tense, so you really get into Emmett’s head through the whole competition. His emotions come through, loud and clear. His issues with poverty are beautiful and realistic. His constant fight to grow and change while not turning into something ugly is gorgeous to watch.

Con:

I did have some issues with the pacing. I found myself occasionally getting bored, because I like my sci-fi (at least of this nature, with spaceships and crazy new substances and other planets) to be really sci-fi, and a lot of this was character driven. Which is great in its own right, and I definitely feel connected to Emmett, so there’s that. I just found the story to move too slowly in many areas.

 

Pro:

There are actually a few, but one big one right at the end had me yelling, which you know I love. I give props to any story that can make me make noise, and this definitely did.

 

Pro:

Is wonderful. The whole point is pulling kids from all different backgrounds together and forcing them to speak the same language and interact regardless of culture differences. We look at poverty/brokenness from all over the world, rather than just what that looks like in America.

 

Overall, I think there are tons of people that would/will really enjoy this book! For me, it had its hits and misses.