Heroine Worship

Heroine Complex, Book 2
By Sarah Kuhn

If you read my review of Heroine Complex last year, you’d know I’m all over this amazing series! Two badass  female Asian-American heroes, fighting demons and taking names? I’m in! So when I saw the sequel was coming out this year, I pounced. And Heroine Worship delivers everything I wanted and more!

Summary30955863

Once upon a time, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang) was demon-infested San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine, a beacon of hope and strength and really awesome outfits. But all that changed the day she agreed to share the spotlight with her best friend and former assistant Evie Tanaka—who’s now a badass, fire-wielding superheroine in her own right. They were supposed to be a dynamic duo, but more and more, Aveda finds herself shoved into the sidekick role. Where, it must be said, she is not at all comfortable.

It doesn’t help that Aveda’s finally being forced to deal with fallout from her diva behavior—and the fact that she’s been a less than stellar friend to Evie. Or that Scott Cameron—the man Aveda’s loved for nearly a decade—is suddenly giving her the cold shoulder after what seemed to be some promising steps toward friendship. Or that the city has been demon-free for three months in the wake of Evie and Aveda’s apocalypse-preventing battle against the evil forces of the Otherworld, leaving Aveda without the one thing she craves most in life: a mission.

All of this is causing Aveda’s burning sense of heroic purpose—the thing that’s guided her all these years—to falter.

In short, Aveda Jupiter is having an identity crisis.

When Evie gets engaged and drafts Aveda as her maid-of-honor, Aveda finally sees a chance to reclaim her sense of self and sets out on a single-minded mission to make sure Evie has the most epic wedding ever. But when a mysterious, unseen supernatural evil rises up and starts attacking brides-to-be, Aveda must summon both her superheroine and best friend mojo to take down the enemy and make sure Evie’s wedding goes off without a hitch—or see both her city and her most important friendship destroyed forever.

Musings

That’s the longest blurb I’ve seen in a while, so I won’t talk about the plot! The biggest change compared to Heroine Complex is the different POV: we’re no longer following Evie, we’re following Aveda. Aveda feels awful for the way she treated Evie in the last book, and is working hard on fixing their relationship, and being a good friend. But it’s not always easy: now Evie is San Francisco’s beloved leading lady, and nothing Aveda can do seems to make the blogverse happy. This throws her into an identity crisis: is she Annie Chang, or Aveda Jupiter? Is she a hero or a sidekick?

My favorite thing about this series is how unabashedly honest the characters (and the author) are. There is absolutely no sugarcoating. The fallout from the last book is still being addressed, and Aveda is trying very hard to be different, but nothing seems to work. And they actually TALK about it. The unhealthy history is addressed in length, as they try to resolve their issues like adults.

I was surprised to see so little of Nate in this story, but he’s just a supporting character for Evie (they’re engaged! Finally!). The love interest in this novel is Scott, which will come as no shock to readers of Heroine Complex. Hearing Annie/Aveda’s story with him, how she say the events Evie told us about in the last book, gave us a fresh new perspective and reason to root for them together as a team. And just as in Heroine Complex, Kuhn gives us quite the relationship! There’s an intensity there that the author writes incredibly well, and we need more healthy couples in literature! (Dang, that’s hot!)

While the demonic plot was a little all over the place and I’m not quite sure was about, the real heart of this novel was on Aveda Jupiter coming to terms with Annie Chang. She is an incredibly complex character, and relatable all the way through her identity crisis. She strives for perfection in everything she does, and it still isn’t enough for the people of San Francisco, or even her own parents. People are always telling her how she should be, and not giving her the space to actually be herself. Honestly, her characterization could be the subject of hour long book club debates.

I noticed a few readers found her unlikable (at first), but for me she was more relatable than Evie. I guess I’m a lot like her: headstrong, extroverted, perfectionist, and assertive. Traits that usually get called “Bossy.” There’s an idea that since she’s a woman hero she needs to be held to a higher standard, but she’s doing her job, and she’s doing it well. Here we are talking about how Aveda needs to be a better friend to Evie, and I’m wondering if Evie couldn’t try a little more herself.

In short, here’s what I love about this series: healthy relationships, dang good romance, powerful female friendships, leading ladies of color who are aware of the power of this own image, incredible honesty, downright perfect writing about what it is to be human, and the most dynamic duo since… ever.

And of course: hilarious, laugh out loud moments! Fantastic geekery! Love in all its forms! Sexiness and dildo jokes! WHY AREN’T PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS SERIES?

I got a copy of this book from DAW books, which in no way affected my review. Thanks, DAW books!
Expected publication: July 4th 2017 by DAW

Advertisements

You in Five Acts

By Una LaMarche
Reviewed by SA

Gosh, why is it that October becomes insanely hectic? I barely had time to read this week, but when I picked up this book, I realized I could not put it down. It was only when I finished it that I realized it was now midnight, and that there were tears streaming down my eyes. Gosh, I had no idea what to expect from this book, and I certainly didn’t expect it to stomp on my heart so painfully. Of course I loved it.

Summary28588461

In the high-pressure months leading up to the performance that will determine their futures, a group of friends at a performing arts school look back on when an unexpected event upended everything. The moment that changed their relationships, their friendships, and their lives forever.

At a prestigious New York City performing arts school, five friends connect over one dream of stardom. But for Joy, Diego, Liv, Ethan and Dave, that dream falters under the pressure of second-semester, Senior year. Ambitions shift and change, new emotions rush to the surface, and a sense of urgency pulses between them: Their time together is running out.

Diego hopes to get out of the friend zone. Liv wants to escape, losing herself in fantasies of the new guy. Ethan conspires to turn his muse into his girlfriend. Dave pines for the drama queen. And if Joy doesn’t open her eyes, she could lose the love that’s been in front of her all along.

In a prestigious, and very demanding, New York performing arts school, five teens are getting ready for the summer showcase, where they will perform in front of an audience made up of all the bigwigs of the industry. It’s a do or die moment. The pressure is on, and it’s up full force. Probably not the best time to deal with feelings.

Joy is a ballerina. Joy is also black. She knows the odds: she calculated them herself, and being a black ballerina with a national company is not going to be easy. She’ll do anything to perform her best at the summer showcase, even if it means dancing on an injured ankle. Diego is also a dancer of color, who’s been crushing hard on Joy ever since day one. He’s in the friendzone, and is madly in love with her.

Liv is an actor, who deals with the stress by mixing some prescriptions… pain killers that were never meant for her. Ethan Is a playwright, who writes his obsession over Liv into a script he wants her to perform. And then there’s Dave, a successful child actor who’s grown and has a lot on his plate. Their five lives are linked, for better or for worse.

The characters al have their own portion of the story, their own POV. But what’s interesting, is that it’s always addressed to You: you as in the person they have been pining over, you as in the one they love. All this under the ominous countdown to the summer showcase – unless it’s counting down to something else entirely.

I loved this novel. Joy and Diego’s pieces were by far my favorite, and I loved the evolution of their relationship. Their love is special, and beautiful, and everything you want out of young love. Even though I know nothing about ballet, watching it performed through their characters transported me, and gave me a deeper appreciation for the art. There were also cute little hints about Hamilton or fame that made me chuckle.

But it was the ending that had me in tears. I could not believe it. At all. And I think that was the point. I will not say it here, as I do not want to spoil it for anyone, but it is incredible relevant for today. It made me sad. It made me angry. It hit me like a bullet train.

Definitely a book to put on your TBR pile… A fantastic read that will hook you from page one. Expected publication: November 1st 2016 by Razorbill. Thank you Penguin First to Read for giving me a copy.

Iron Cast

by Destiny Soria
Reviewed by SA

One look. That’s all it took. One look at the cover, and it was love at first sight. I picked up this book and devoured it excitedly. Oh, my gosh. It’s so good. Not only is it diverse, but it has an iron tight female friendship, beautiful prose, and it combines all the best genres. It’s at the same time YA, Historical Fiction, and Fantasy, with mad scientists, secret clubs, gangs, and superpowers. All of that on the eve of prohibition. What’s not to love?

Summary28818313

It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

Ada and Corinne are hemopaths, able to manipulate people with their dangerous abilities. Ada charms your emotions to her will through her violin. Corinne can weave illusions with poetry. Together, they work for the Cast Iron, a nightclub which secretly holds illegal hemopath performances… and is the front for Jonny Dervish to run his hemopath cons from. After one con gets too big and goes bad, Ada is imprisoned in Haversham Asylum, a place designed to ‘rehabilitate’ hemopaths, and it’s up to Corinne to get her out.

I feel like the summary doesn’t do this book justice, because that’s where we actually start the novel: with a daring escape in the dead of night. Ada and Corinne make it back to the Cast Iron, their safe haven, only to learn that everything is now falling apart. More heists going wrong, fears of a mole, and now Jonny’s missing  and Ada’s still a wanted prisoner. And, to make matters worse, Corinne’s rich brother is marrying the daughter of the man who owns the hemopath institution she just broke Ada out of.

I absolutely loves Ada and Corinne. Their friendship was #ladygoals. They’re so close, able to tell each other everything and push each other to be better. They love each other in a way that makes you love them even more. And it’s not just them: all the secondary characters, the hemopaths and bodyguards working in the Cast Iron, all seem to form their own little family. They support each other through thick and thin, and it’s cool to see these complex characters working together.

Not only that, but the description of their abilities in use is just… lyrical. It’s beautiful. The author weaves together beautiful prose to tell just how the two women grip their audience. And they grip us, too, in the process. At the same time, we feel their fear of Iron. Hemopaths basically are allergic to it, repulsed by it: it burns their skin, and just being near it can make them feel ill. As a reader, we get both ends of hemopathy: the beautiful illusions and the awful pain.

The pacing of the novel is a little off. It starts out strong, with the break out, but then is a lot more easy going for a while. There’s a lot of mystery going on: there’s this feeling of cold, as everyone is trying to keep on running their own lives as things go south around them. But I almost, almost put this book down halfway through. I’m so glad I stuck through, because that’s when things really hit the fan and it’s gets crazy fast and exciting. So if you’re thinking of putting this book down, don’t! It has one of the most brilliant endings I have ever read!

You’re definitely going to want to read this book, when it comes out on October 11th. Thank you NetGalley and Amulet books for letting me read this amazing novel.

Looking for some Urban Fantasy? My novel Inside Out is available for free – no signup or anything required – for a limited time only. If you like the X-files, you’re going to like this! While supplies last. 

The Devourers

by Indra Das
Reviewed by SA

The second I read “werewolf” on the first page, I was ready to put this down. Thank god I kept on reading, because this is NOT a werewolf story: no, this novel is something much more. It’s incredible, unique, unforgettable in so many ways. If you’re a fan of indian folklore, and aren’t afraid of some pretty hard topics, then you’re going to need this book right away.

CW/TW: Sexual Assault, Rape. 

Summary27245999

For readers of Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, China Mieville, and David Mitchell comes a striking debut novel by a storyteller of keen insight and captivating imagination.

On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

Shifting dreamlike between present and past with intoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel.

It is the story of Alok, a lonely professor in India, who is approached by a stranger who wants him to type up an old manuscript. It’s the story of Fenrir, the story of Cyrah, the story of the stranger, and the story of Alok, all at once, each one flowing into the other effortlessly.

It was interesting to see the trope of werewolves in such a way. Only they’re not werewolves, they’re shape shifters, but it’s complicated. Their race has a culture, has a history, has rules and dogmas. And it’s so vastly complex it’ll make you rethink any story you’ve heard of them, ever. For it to be set in India only makes it more interesting.

What marked me most about this novel was really how it did deal with rape. Not once is it defined as anything but. The way the novel deals with monsters and man intertwines with this, and heck I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say this marked me and will probably be a passage I will never forget.

This novel is complex. Unique. It really is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. The last chapter left me shaking. If you’re looking for something incredible to read, well, you’ve got it.

Comes out today from Random House.

Foul is Fair

by Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
Reviewed by SA

This week we’re tackling an amazing fantasy novel for Self Published Saturday, a novel you’re sure to love: Foul is Fair, the first novel in the recently concluded Fair Folk Chronicles. It’s a brilliant book that takes you deep into the heart of Faerie, full of magic and danger… and dancing, too.

Summary25512566

Lots of girls play Fairy Princess when they’re little. Megan O’Reilly had no idea the real thing was like playing chess, guitar, and hockey all at once. Megan had known for a long time that she wasn’t an entirely typical girl. But living with ADHD—and her mother’s obsessions—was a very different thing from finding out she wasn’t entirely human. Somewhere out there, in a completely different world, her father needs help. There’s a conflict, revolving around Faerie seasonal rituals, that could have consequences for humanity—and if Megan’s getting the terminology straight, it sounds like her family aren’t even supposed to be the good guys. As she’s further and further swept up in trying to save her father, Megan may be getting too good at not being human.

When Megan discovers her dad – as well as her best friend – are mythical, she takes it all in one stride: she’s got a quest to follow! She has her father to save, let alone the whole world, the balance of which rests upon him being able to attend a dance that changes the seasons. She’s focused and determined, even without her medication, and she’s ready to take on this challenge if it means making things right for the world.

Megan is a skilled artist (thought she might be addicted to doodling) and begins to slowly see the power of music and signing. She’s got a knack for it, which some might call a little magic. I loved Megan as a character, and her friend Lani just as much. Their friendship is a powerful drive in Megan’s life and gives her strength and determination, as well as support as her world is turned on her head. And I’m such a sucker for female friendships in great novels.

My favorite characters, however, were not the main ones: no, I loved Cassia and Ashling a whole lot. Ashling might be my favorite pixie of all time: she’s sassy, funny, and crazy witty. Not to mention she’s technically living with a pixie disability, and her ‘service animal’ is a crow named Count who’s a personality all to himself. I’ve NEVER read a book like this before! Ashling’s comedic responses to Megan’s whole slew of questions – especially her variety of answers as to why Count is names Count  or where fairies come from – had me rolling on the floor laughing.

While some parts of the novel were exposition heavy, I found the overall creativity of the novel to make up for that. I loved the use of other myths from around the world that I had never heard of: Lani, for example, is part Menehune, which (I only just learned this) is a myth from Hawaii. This gives her a talent for engineering and creating things.

To recap all the amazing things about this book: great representation, love of art and music, love of science and creativity, the world of Faerie, myths from around the world, great adventure… and did I mention it’s a great read for any age?

“I’ve been a huge mythology nerd most of my life, so getting to play with the old myths, and have a series centered around the 4 treasures of Ireland, the 4 lost cities of the fae, and the 4 big seasonal events of the calendar was a lot of fun,” The author told me when I asked about his inspiration, “Thor #279 was one of the first things I ever really read, when I was 5. It sent me scrambling to learn the real myths. So I liked the idea of writing something where readers, especially teens, maybe could, or even would occasionally go running to google some of the things in the books, or read Celtic myth, Hawaiian myth, etc.”

And it worked! I ended up by starting to google “Menehune”and spend a few hours just browsing the interwebs, using this book as a guide. And I learned so much!

If you want a fun and creative take on the world of Faerie, then you’re going to love Foul is Fair. There are four books to this series, all available on amazon. The ebook for book 2 is on .99 sale on kindle through this weekend, as it is the summer solstice!

Like Self Pubbed Saturday? Use the hashtags #SelfPublishedSaturday and #IHeartIndieAuthors to spread the love!

Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/readcommendations/
On Tumblr: http://readcommendations.tumblr.com/
And on twitter following @Readcommends

Seven Ways We Lie

by Riley Redgate
Reviewed by SA

I was very excited to read this book, having heard nothing but good things about it so far. I was blown away by it: first of all, by how well the author juggled seven different perspectives, but also by the sense of realism and character depth Not only are there seven points of view, but the voices are unique and relatable. This takes immense skill and I found myself loving the read.

Summarycover77563-medium

The juniors at Paloma High School all have their secrets, whether it’s the thespian who hides her trust issues onstage, the closeted pansexual who only cares about his drug-dealing profits, or the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal. But it’s Juniper Kipling who has the furthest to fall. No one would argue that Juniper—obedient daughter, salutatorian, natural beauty, and loyal friend—is anything but perfect. Everyone knows she’s a saint, not a sinner; but when love is involved, who is Juniper to resist temptation? When she begins to crave more and more of the one person she can’t have, her charmed life starts to unravel.

Then rumors of a student–teacher affair hit the fan. After Juniper accidentally exposes her secret at a party, her fate falls into the hands of the other six sinners, bringing them into one another’s orbits. All seven are guilty of something. Together, they could save one another from their temptations—or be ruined by them.

I feel like the blurb doesn’t really capture the story. Let’s just say this: Seven different, flawed people, are brought together by one secret and the knowledge of a scandal that could ruin lives. But their lives aren’t so perfect either. How does that sound?

When it comes to YA, a lot of times the author who writes it makes assumptions about how high school life has changed since they were teenagers, which takes away a lot of realism. Not so in this case. Here, the students really feel like my peers.

When you look at the cover, you can see the seven deadly sins, but I’m having trouble putting a face to each one. It’s more subtle than that: just like how a person isn’t just made up of one trait, each character had so much more to them than their one problem. The depth makes it all the more real.

Each of the characters struggles with lies and secrets, with family issues and/or friend problems, as they move through Junior year of high school. They are all connected some way or another, by blood or through crushes, and there is a certain depth added to the narrative when we see each person through another’s eyes. Personally, I really liked that, especially when we see Claire’s world view, and her incessant judgement. Juniper’s parts are always in verse, which adds so much to her character.

The plot deals with a lot of issues: illicit relationships, divorce, pansexuality, asexuality, sex, drugs… the list goes on. This means it kind of gets, well, messy. Each could fill their own novel (and have) but dealing with them all at once is a real juggling game. I feel like a bit of depth was zapped from each issue (though I think Olivia’s ‘rant’ at one point really covers a whole lot) since there was only so much time for each of them.

It’s just so compelling to follow these people, even if they can really be unlikable at times (Claire, come on! Grow up!). There are a few one liners that really hit me, and I’m sure they’re going to be quoted in quite a lot of reviews. Surprisingly, I wasn’t bored with any one character, as I tend to get with multiple POV books. Though admittedly, I did have my favorites (Olivia FTW) and some of them I wanted to shout at, I wasn’t ever bored by their story. It was just that good.

The thing about this book was that it was just such an enjoyable read. I could not put it down, and devoured it in a two hour sitting. I got really caught up in these people’s lives, and thoroughly enjoyed the resolution. In other words – OHMYGOSH THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD, READ IT ASAP.

The Art of Being Normal

by Lisa Williamson
Reviewed by SA

I had very high expectations when I saw this book, and wow, wow wow wow, it did not disappoint. I just have to share it with everyone, it’s fantastic. I picked it up, thinking it was going to be published at the end of may 2016, but it turns out another edition came out a whole year ago, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it yet. I think it should be required reading for teenagers everywhere.

Summary25689042

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth: David wants to be a girl.
On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal: to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long , and soon everyone knows that Leo used to be a girl.
As David prepares to come out to his family and transition into life as a girl and Leo wrestles with figuring out how to deal with people who try to define him through his history, they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens as well as the courage to decide for themselves what normal really means.

Having not read the blurb in its entirety, Leo revealing that he had been born a girl came as a huge shock to me. I feel like the summary is giving away a huge spoiler! You’re over 50% through the novel when he reveals it, and I did not see it coming at all. Maybe I should have!

Not only is this a book about transgender teens, but it tackles questions of race and class as well, and everything that makes you different to ‘normal’. Characters struggle with fitting into a very distinct boxes, and are often bullied for sticking out. Whether it’s your financial status, where you come from, or what you look like, people can be cruel if you’re not like the others. Both David and Leo see that first hand, as well as many students around them… and a lot of us readers, too.

David and Leo’s points of view alternate through the novel, giving you the chance to follow two very distinct lives. David is financially privileged, and is afraid to telling his parents that he’s actually a she (I’m using he pronouns here because David does too, for the large majority of the book). Leo comes from a poorer household, lives in the projects with his single mom, and has been identifying and passing as male for quite a while (and quite successfully at his new school, too). But their friendship will grow into something fantastic. They have a very distinct voice (you don’t need the chapter indications to know who you’re following) and are incredibly relatable, even vividly real.

Tackling this kind of story would be incredibly difficult for any author, but Williamson does it masterfully. The writing is beautiful and gripping, and the characters have such depth. She doesn’t fall into the tropes of the YA genre, which makes the novel unpredictable, and gives it a realistic feel. The ending was a little magical, but in a way that felt unique and not forced. As I said before, this book should be required reading, not just because it tells an important story, but because it tells it well.

This book is brilliant, fun, and poignant: read it at your own emotional risk.

One thing that bugged me about the edition I read was that I felt like it had been americanified. Is that a thing? When I read it, there were words and odd things that seemed off, and added just for  an american audience. A small example would be the use of the word ‘soccer’ over ‘football’. I believe the edition I read is the American edition, which will come out on May 31st: and I suspect the original book doesn’t have this sort of problem. In any case, it broke me out of the novel a little. 

Sanctuary Bay

By Laura J. Burns & Melinda Metz 

Reviewed by SA

Have you ever read a book that just clicked for you? That defied all expectations, that had you clutching the pages wishing for more, that had your heart pounding so hard your friends and family were worried about you? Every once and a while, a book like that comes into my life. The rare five star reads that make you feel like you need to shout off rooftops. Sanctuary Bay was one of those books for me, and I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to say how much of a great read it was.

Summary 

When Sarah Merson receives the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the most elite prep school in the country-Sanctuary Bay Academy-it seems almost too good to be true. But, after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, escaping to its tranquil setting, nestled deep in Swans Island, couldn’t sound more appealing. Swiftly thrown into a world of privilege and secrets, Sarah quickly realizes finding herself noticed by class charmer, Nate, as well as her roommate’s dangerously attentive boyfriend, Ethan, are the least of her worries. When her roommate suddenly goes missing, she finds herself in a race against time, not only to find her, but to save herself and discover the dark truth behind Sanctuary Bay’s glossy reputation.

In this genre-bending YA thriller, Sanctuary Bay by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz, Sarah’s new school may seem like an idyllic temple of learning, but as she unearths years of terrifying history and manipulation, she discovers this “school” is something much more sinister.

From what you’ve just read,and by looking at the cover, let me outline what you’re probably thinking: so you have a girl elevated from poverty who’s going to be very snooty about it, a super school where everything is secrets (could they all be wizards? Or secret agents? Or vampires?), there’s going to be an awkward love triangle, maybe some cheating, and then she’s going to be accused of her roommate’s murder and… something. Maybe she’ll go on the run.

WRONG. That’s what I thought when I picked up this novel, and it quickly became obvious that would not be the case. It grew from what looked like a simple premise to something amazing.

Admittedly, the first third of the book felt like it was going to be that way. Sarah is a young woman who’s very mature for her age, who also has an absolute perfect memory: she replays everything that has ever happened to her in her mind, in clear detail, like rewinding a movie. She’s very smart, loves chemistry, but the foster system never really let her have a chance to flourish. Now, with this scholarship, she can have the opportunities she never thought she would have.

Of course, his means rubbing shoulders with some very entitled people. At first, she has this slight superiority complex about the fact that she’s had to work for everything in her life, while her schoolmates have access to $600 designer sweaters. I thought this was going to be annoying, but then someone pointed it out to her, told her to snap out of it, and… And she did. She learned and grew. All of a sudden, this character became real to me, she became someone I could relate to. She was maturing right in front of my eyes. Sarah is a character with depth and determination, and is so incredibly human, even with her strange memory.

True, the relationship drama was annoying, at first. All these people making out in corners and doing much more. School-wide knowledge of every hook up and knots. This annoying guy, Ethan, hanging around Sarah even though he’s with Karina, who seems to love him for no reason (spoilers, there is a reason. Oh gosh there is a reason). Nate, who seems to like her from the start, though Sarah’s not really let any personality shine yet. However, this quickly becomes secondary to the plot, as intriguing things start to happen. What are they doing in the wolfpack? why is everyone remembering their evenings wrong?

What has really happened to her roommate?

And then… you get answers. You get more questions. The last half of the book seems to whoosh by in mere seconds, going from one revelation to another big reveal, which asks so many more questions. I sat there the whole time wondering who I could trust, my theories switching from one minute to the next,  my heart pumping through my chest.

Talk about a roller coaster.

If this is a standalone, then I have questions! If a sequel is coming, what will happen next? I am dying to know. And I am so sorry everyone, because you have to wait until January 19th to get access to this great book! It feels like Shutter Island at times, a thrilling, intriguing book where nothing and no-one is as they seem.

Zero World

by Jason M. Hough

Reviewed by SA

I didn’t think I’d find another thrilling science fiction book this summer, but I was proven wrong the second I picked up this amazing novel. Thrilling, intriguing, smart and most of all, fun, this novel rocketed up high on the list of my favorite books of 2015. There’s so much to love about this novel, and if you’re looking for one last book to read this summer, make sure it’s Zero World.

Summary – From Goodreads

Technologically enhanced superspy Peter Caswell has been dispatched on a top-secret assignment unlike any he’s ever faced. A spaceship that vanished years ago has been found, along with the bodies of its murdered crew—save one. Peter’s mission is to find the missing crew member, who fled through what appears to be a tear in the fabric of space. Beyond this mysterious doorway lies an even more confounding reality: a world that seems to be Earth’s twin.
 
Peter discovers that this mirrored world is indeed different from his home, and far more dangerous. Cut off from all support, and with only days to complete his operation, Peter must track his quarry alone on an alien world. But he’s unprepared for what awaits on the planet’s surface, where his skills will be put to the ultimate test—and everything he knows about the universe will be challenged in ways he never could have imagined.

The basic premise of the novel – if it can even be called basic – is what really got me. I hadn’t read the blurb before picking up the book, so it started off as a particularly well written novel about an assassin whose memories are wiped after every mission. Already pretty cool. But only a chapter or two in, they send you into space. Then the author ads the extra dimension of a TWIN EARTH. And then… then it becomes much more. I was, in a word, captivated.

I seriously could not put this book down: I wanted to know everything, about this new world, about the mission. So much happens in such a small amount of time! There’s no time for the novel to slow down, it keeps going strong, against the clock, forcing Peter to push himself to his limits. It’s so fast paced you’ll need running shoes to keep up.

It’s amazing that in such a fast, action packed novel, there is still room for character development. Peter begins as a hardened assassin, but as details of his mission start to change, he does too. It’s almost as if he is an entirely different man from one minute to the next, and the man at the end of the novel is not the man we met at the very start.

Melni, the woman from the alternate earth, is an amazing woman, and develops alongside Peter during the course of this story. She too begins hardened and focused, and in the end, her focus has shifted to a much larger scope than she had started with… though I won’t give you any spoilers there. She is an outcast in this world, but also a talented spy, with firm conviction and amazing skill. I liked moving to her perspective, have her view of Peter to balance with Peter’s view of her world. It was fantastic writing, as you would really tell the difference between whose mind you were in.

The relationship between the two of them just works. There’s a chemistry there – nothing sexual – just a great match and great teamwork. While Peter and Melni didn’t always see eye to eye, they managed to plan (which Peter hates) and get the job done. I am so glad to have read a great book without a weird love story to set it off balance: their relationship only served to add balance to the novel.

But my favorite thins about Zero World isn’t the plot or the characters – as awesome as they are – but the world building. My gosh! Creating this alternate Earth, a new history, with depth, huge events, small events, thinking all the way down to clothes and architecture, even considering the ethnic diversity of the population, and the discrimination! A work of art. The language, however bugged me – why are “shoes” now called “Treadmellows” but “boots” are still boots? It probably shouldn’t bother me, it’s such a small detail. But with all the attention everywhere else, it made me laugh just a little bit.

Now this book also comes with an entire novella, which is awesome as well. But reading on kindle, I was at 75% when the novel ended – I was shocked! I thought it had more to go! I think i even yelled at the book for ending too soon. I may be greedy, but I was more! I’m very excited for the sequel, which I hope comes out soon.

Zero World comes out August 18th. Be sure to pick it up – though I know you’ll never put it down.

On another note, the reason we didn’t write last week was because we both decided to take a week off and spend time with out families. Happy summer everyone!

Signal to Noise

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Reviewed by SA

Magic. Sometimes you pick up a book, and you just feel the magic flowing through it. Signal to Noise was a novel that surprised me in the way it caught me so early on; there was an instant connection between reader and characters, and the magic in the music just compelled me to read more.

Summary – Curtesy of Goodreads

Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends — Sebastian and Daniela — and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. With help from this newfound magic, the three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love…
Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father’s funeral. It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, and it revives memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? And, is there any magic left?

I can’t think of any teenager that didn’t dream of magic when they were young. Who dreamed of being able to influence events, to make the world go their way, especially in that awkward period of your life where everything is zits and school and crushes. Meche is no different: she is a smart young woman who struggles with boys she likes and teachers that cause her trouble. Her friends are as awkward as her, each trying to navigate high school and adolescence. So of course when Meche realizes she can use her record collection to influence the future, the three of them take matters into their own hands.

What’s fantastic is that the Magic comes from the music Meche loves, from classic rock to jazz, fantastic songs that don’t make you doubt for a second that magic really does exist. Someone even made a playlist from the songs mentioned int he novel – check it out here!

The one thing that annoyed me slightly when reading this novel was the lack of information on the rules of their magic. What are its limits? What can they do with records, and why is it that sometimes, music is not needed? However, I like to think that ads to the charm: the teens are inexperienced with Magic, they are not instantly experts. They go with what works, play and expand on stories and gut feelings. The magic is more, well, magical in that way.

The novel bounces from 1988 to 2009, between Meche the teen and Meche the woman. It is strange to see Meche in the present. She’s followed the career she always wanted to, lives in Europe, can be considered quite successful, and very accomplished. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any magic left in this present: it reads colder, maybe because of the death that hangs in the air. Sometimes it was hard to relate present Meche with the girl she used to be, but even so, the author still manages to make us care for the young woman.

Signal to Noise is a fun, peculiar novel. It’s magical in and of itself, enjoyable, and you can’t help but feel captivated by the plight of the awkward trio; while at the same time, I felt odd while reading it, a slight worry in the pit of my stomach that I knew what was coming. Fueled by hints dropped by the author, some ominous foreboding hung over me. This did not make the read any less enjoyable, it only made it more unique.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia comes out February 10th.