ARC Review: Eliza and Her Monsters

Eliza and Her MonstersEliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Release date: May 30, 2017

Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of Monstrous Sea, a wildly popular webcomic, but when a new boy at school tempts her to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, smart, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school, and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. With pages from Eliza’s webcomic, as well as screenshots from Eliza’s online forums, this uniquely formatted book will appeal to fans of Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

As the blurb suggests, if you loved Fangirl, you will certainly love this book. Eliza and her Monsters takes us into the mind of Eliza, a fangirl and a creator. She writes the webcomic Monstrous Sea under her psuedoname LadyConstellations, thus maintaining a separate identity from the creator of the webcomic. In real life, Eliza is the quiet loner in school, the one who has social anxiety and tries to stay under the radar. Her main life in online, her friends are online and her community and space is online. If you are part of a fandom, you can relate to how liberating it is to lead a life online, in the midst of others who share your own passion.

The main reason to like the book is Eliza herself. Aloof, geeky, and vibrant, Eliza is a girl you can relate to. For her, her webcomic is her baby, and she is protective about her secret. She keeps her real identity from her fans so that she can live her life in relative peace, without the burdens and expectations that would come from being out. When she meets Wallace, who is a fan of her comic (but doesn’t know who she is) and is a popular fan-fiction writer for the series, she is blown away by how much he understands her work. The two essentially bond over a shared passion, and fangirls and fanboys will recognize that connection. Being a creator and putting her work out for the world to see along with her heart bared is something that she isn’t prepared for when she gets outed. Here, I would like to mention that I am not a writer – I don’t know how it would feel to have the expectations of a million people hanging on to your next written word. But Zappia makes me understand the loneliness that Eliza feels, the burden of pleasing the fans, the fear of not being enough, the guilt over her block.

As readers, we voraciously demand content and yes, that is passion, but also sometimes it can be something constricting to the creator, and even if I realized it subconsciously before, the author actually put it in words. It is a beautifully written book about what is means to have an identity, the change in definition of interactions in this digital age, the myriad options opened up to creators, and most importantly, choosing to do what you love. That final message is the one that is the most significant for the target audience.

Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide in the book on more than one occassion.

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss.

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ARC Review: Breakwater

BreakwaterBreakwater by Catherine Jones Payne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Release date: May 30, 2017

A red tide is rising.

As the daughter of one of the mer-king’s trusted advisors, seventeen-year-old Jade has great responsibilities. When her fiancé murders a naiad, plunging the underwater city of Thessalonike into uproar, tensions surge between the mer and the naiads. Jade learns too late that the choices she makes ripple further than she’d ever imagined. And as she fights against the tide of anger in a city that lives for scandal, she discovers danger lurking in every canal, imperiling her family and shattering the ocean’s fragile peace.

Can the city’s divisions be mended before the upwelling of hate rips apart everything Jade loves?

An underwater fantasy about a city of mermaids and naiads, Breakwater takes a contemporary topic and applies it to a different setting. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you will see the allegorical lines between the book and racial tensions in USA. The king of Thessalonike had provided sanctuary to naiads, but they are not accepted by the populace as a whole. Racial and class differences drive the majority of the plot, in which a privileged noble mer Jade has to decide whether to report her fiance murdering someone and risk open civil war in their city.

In the world of Breakwater, the mers and the naiads are living in a reef in the ocean, protected from the deeper parts and thus essentially corralled into a single city. Travel outside is risky and naiads rarely risk moving out of the city and venturing to other, more favorable places. So, they accept their low status in the city and try to coexist with the mers who treat them like servants and in some cases, expendable. Jade is quite naive in that regard, because she doesn’t see the injustice of it until she gets involved in protecting the naiads, and even then she frequently defaults to worrying more about what the whole ‘scandal’ is doing for her reputation rather than focusing on the fact that, you know, mers are oppressing the naiads. She is not a likeable protagonist in that way, and I was rolling my eyes quite a few times with her, much like the naiad Pippa who has to frequently educate her on the subject.

As for the world, there is nothing much different about it from a standard historical novel set in the Victorian times. The society structure is similar, and the class system is too. For a society of mers that literally can swim in all directions, the city seems awfully confined to traditional land-like houses. Why have walls and courtyards, canals and doors and such in a REEF? It made no sense, and the world-building did not lend to the plot in any manner. And the writing was haphazard, starting with an abrupt introduction and then plunging headlong into the ‘scandal’, devoting half the book to the murder case and Jade’s fashion (of all things).

Overall, as a concept Breakwater is interesting but the book need to be have written/edited better.

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Fathom Ink Press, via Netgalley.

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ARC Review: The Gauntlet

The GauntletThe Gauntlet by Megan Shepherd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cora and her friends have escaped the Kindred station and landed at Armstrong—a supposed safe haven on a small moon—where they plan to regroup and figure out how to win the Gauntlet, the challenging competition to prove humanity’s intelligence and set them free. But Armstrong is no paradise; ruled by a power-hungry sheriff, it’s a violent world where the teens are enslaved and put to work in mines. As Nok’s due date grows closer, and Mali and Leon journey across space to rescue Cassian, the former inhabitants of the cage are up against impossible odds.

With the whole universe at stake, Cora will do whatever it takes, including pushing her body and mind to the breaking point, to escape Armstrong and run the Gauntlet. But it isn’t just a deranged sheriff she has to overcome: the other intelligent species—the Axion, Kindred, Gatherers, and Mosca—all have their own reasons to stop her. Not knowing who to trust, Cora must rely on her own instincts to win the competition, which could change the world—though it might destroy her in the process.

The conclusion to the Cage series has Cora as the savior of the human race throughout the galaxy in the form of being their champion in the Gauntlet. However, interstellar politics means she has to first fight her way across to even reach the planet where the gauntlet will be held. The squad has to face many challenges, including separation from one another, betrayal and mistrust, and what they learnt through the Cage, the Menageries, the Dollhouse and the Hunt comes to save them now in this test. As the plot evolves, we learn that running the Gauntlet is not just about elevating humans to a superior race, but also about protecting the existing ones.

As a conclusion to the series, The Gauntlet works but I was not overly impressed with it. I remember (even though it has been almost a year) that The Cage and the Hunt were involved books – you could connect to the characters. Here, we get fewer perspectives (Lucky died *sob*) and even with more pages devoted to Cora, I felt essentially out of touch with her. Moreover, once the secret of the Gauntlet was revealed, the plot kinda lost the individual meaning to the characters. It became a Plot Ex Machina at the same time – tying up the threads raised by the new threat in this book too soon. There is much more unbelievable science (or is it spirituality?) involved in this book, and that kind of renders the threats impotent. A series of conveniences and boom, the book ends on a hopeful note. Overall, if you had loved the series, chances are you might still like this book and the ending, but you might not be awed by it.

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss.

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Book Blogger Hop: May 26-June 1

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer

This week’s question is:

What is the most fun part/aspect of being a book blogger?


Interacting with followers/other bloggers.

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see comments on blog posts – well, partly because someone READ the post, but also because there is another person out there who loves books as much as I do! Book blogging is a social activity in some aspects, and it is good to know that I am not shouting mumbling into the void.

And when somebody says they got interested in reading the book, as a comment in my review, well that just makes my day.

Review: The Love Interest

The Love InterestThe Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

One of the books I was looking forward to eagerly was this one – The Love Interest. The premise of two spies who were supposed to the rival honeypots, instead falling in love with each other had me excited. As a concept, it is definitely novel and I was excited to see how the story would play out. When I did read through a third of it, though, I was starting to get disappointed. I don’t know if I hyped it in my mind, but it was not the amazing novel I was hoping for.

In the world of the Love Interest, a secret organization above the law keeps and brings up orphan or foster kids as Love Interests, spies whose only mission is to integrate themselves into their assigned targets’s lives and pass on information. Now, this of course makes you suspend belief because it assumes that the person has to be a lifelong partner – like they are expecting them to hang on in relationships in this century! (It is explained away in the ending, but I was not wholly convinced) Caden and Dylan are a Nice and a Bad, respectively, a call out to the trope of the nice guy and the bad boy, often found in YA lit. In fact, the novel subtly and sometimes even overtly pokes fun at YA lit tropes, especially those that are usually found in contemporary fiction.

Anyway, Caden and Dylan start to bond and form a friendship, and before long Caden starts to realize that he is falling for Dylan. Their being rivals for their target, Juliet, and a death sentence for the one who fails, their relationship is of course the opposite of ideal circumstances. It grows and they sneak around, but neither can deny that there is no future for them. It is kind of a YOLO love plot, and it is cute, but you know what would have been better? If we had a Dylan POV as well! And the whole targeting teenagers for lifelong spy partners was on shaky ground. Aged up characters (like maybe college or post-college) would have probably been more apt for this storyline.

Moving onto the world-building, I felt it was very basic and explained away simply as – secret spy organization so secret that even the government does not know. They have all this cool tech and all, and are hiding away these kids in centers all over the world, but nah – NO ONE KNOWS! *sigh* I expected better. Even Juliet and her tech comes across as rudimentary. The girl is a freaking genius, but it is all pushed aside for teenage angst. The science fiction element of the plot felt wasted when Caden had a handler who sometimes could listen to him, but sometimes did not. The whole implant thing itself was barely explained! It is speaking telepathically or reading thoughts? Because it seemed to be both at once!

Overall, I was sort of disappointed in the book. Don’t get me wrong – it was enjoyable, and the writing is pretty good, but it felt like the book tried to be many things and just settled on being a gay romance plot, rather than being a genre fiction with gay characters.

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